I love going to schools and teaching baking as science – particularly bread. We make batches of sandwich bread, varying the amount of yeast. As they’re rising, we make batches of soda bread and vary the amount of baking soda. While the soda bread bakes, we watch the sandwich bread rise, and I get to explain the chemical processes that make each bread delicious: the simple chemical reaction with the baking soda that releases carbon dioxide, the more complex process with yeast that yields the same result, the fact that the yeast also eats sugars in the flour and releases additional chemicals that give yeast breads their distinctive flavor. And then there’s gluten, the protein in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt that gives bread its stretchy, springy texture. Students are always fascinated by this. Who knew how complicated bread could be?
And yet, for all that, knowing the precise scientific processes that produce tasty bread, I find there’s also an art to making bread. You adjust the amount of flour you add to account for the humidity of the air. You knead it to line up the strands of gluten so that they trap bubbles of carbon dioxide. Too little kneading, and you get flat, shapeless bread. Too much, and you can exhaust the dough, making it tough and chewy. You gluten cloak it, stretching a flat layer around the loaf, to give it a nice crust. You add water to the oven to make that crust crispy. And kneading dough is deeply therapeutic and satisfying. This is the alchemy of cooking, the small, unquantifiable details you add to make it more that mere bread. I love the challenge of it, to balance all the elements of the recipe to produce a delicious work of art.
This is the most basic recipe for bread I know. You can easily double it or halve it. I have bad wrists, so I knead my dough in a stand mixer, and I know it’s ready when the dough just pulls away from the sides of the bowl and peels neatly off the dough hook.
White Sandwich Bread
1-1/2 Tablespoons instant yeast
1-1/2 Tablespoons salt
3 cups lukewarm water
6.5 cups flour (bread flour is best, but all-purpose will work as well)
Combine the yeast, water, and salt, then add the flour and combine. If it’s a rainy or humid day, you may need to add as much as a cup of extra flour. Knead the dough by hand on a floured board or in a stand mixer with a dough hook until the dough just ceases to stick to anything and becomes a smooth ball. Place in a container and cover but DO NOT seal. Let rise for two hours.
While the dough rises, prepare two loaf pans by coating with butter or spraying with a neutral-flavored oil such as canola or sunflower oil. When the dough has risen, cut it in half. Gluten cloak each loaf by shaping into a rough ball and stretching the surface of the dough from top to bottom and side to side, tucking the ends underneath. Lay the loaves in their pans and allow to rise another 40 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the bottom of a broiler pan on the bottom rack and place another rack in the center of the oven. When the loaves have risen, slash them three or four times across the top. Place on the center rack of the oven. Pour one cup of water into the broiler pan CAREFULLY. Watch out for sudden steam. If you prefer a softer crust, you may omit the water and brush the tops of the loaves with melted butter or oil.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Turn them out onto a cooling rack immediately or condensate will form inside the loaf pan and make the loaves soggy. Wait ten minutes or so until the loaves have cooled a bit before slicing.
For a healthier version of this, you may replace up to half of the flour with whole wheat flour. I like to replace one cup with whole wheat and one cup with rye for a rich, complex flavor.
For a more complicated, enriched bread, see my recipe for Molletes.
For even more recipes, pre-order my new novel, A Pixie’s Promise.
I am super busy with the Kickstarter campaign, so no time to bake, let alone test complicated recipes. Let’s go with something really simple this week: No-Bake Nutella Tart. The original recipe for this claims to require only five ingredients (also has much prettier pictures. I’ve whittled it down to four. It’s the perfect dessert to whip up in a hurry. Just keep Oreo pie crusts in stock (never a bad idea). In the photo above, I actually ran out and used a brownie mix as the base, pouring the ganache on top. Decadent!
NO-BAKE NUTELLA TART
- 1 Oreo crust pie shell
- 6 oz Nutella
- 10 oz bittersweet chocolate
- 8 oz heavy cream
- raspberries (optional)
- chopped hazelnuts (optional)
In a small saucepan, heat heavy cream until just starting to boil. Add chocolate and reduce heat to a simmer, stirring until the chocolate is fully melted. Remove from heat and add Nutella, stirring until fully blended. (Note: you can also just heat the cream and chocolate in the microwave, but I like the stove for finer control.) Pour into pie shell. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes or in the fridge for 2 hours. Decorate with raspberries and chopped hazelnuts, if desired, then serve.
I found the original version of this recipe in Tapas and Spanish Cookery by Hilaire Walden, and I adapted it to more Southwestern tastes, as well as simplifying it for Instant Pot cooking. As the descendent of many generations of sheep ranchers, I love lamb passionately, and this is probably my favorite lamb dish.
For those who do not live in the Southwestern United States, you can find adequate canned Hatch green chiles at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, but I recommend ordering El Pinto’s Green Chile on Amazon.com. Likewise, any red chile powder, or even some good quality smoked paprika, will do, but Hatch or Chimayo red chile powder is best. Note that if this seems too spicy to you, you can simply substitute bell peppers for the chiles.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1-1/2 lb lean lamb, cubed (lamb stew meat will do in a pinch)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small Spanish onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup dry sherry (optional)
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup diced Hatch green chiles
- 4 beefsteak tomatoes, peeled seeded and chopped, or a 12-oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon red chile powder
Set your Instant Pot to saute and heat the olive oil. Brown the lamb thoroughly, in batches if necessary. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add the onion to the Instant Pot and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add sherry and deglaze the pot. Stir in green chiles, tomatoes, and red chile powder. If using fresh tomatoes, simmer for about five minutes until the tomatoes break down into a chunky sauce.
Return the lamb to the Instant Pot and stir briefly to coat with sauce. Close the Instant Pot and set it to Meat/Stew for 45 minutes. Allow the Instant Pot to depressurize naturally. Serve with rice. Serves 6.
Wow! Look at that! I actually got my act together enough to post a recipe ON TIME! It must be all the gorgeous spring weather inspiring me.
I discovered this recipe entirely by accident. My younger daughter, Nora, requested waffles for her birthday breakfast – I always bring the kids breakfast in bed, and usually I make face pancakes. But she wanted waffles because I hadn’t made them in ages. Well, there’s a reason for that. They’re messy, they take forever to cook in the waffle iron, and they’re just annoying.
But necessity is the mother of invention. Dutifully, I dug out the waffle iron that morning at dawn, and then I went looking for the recipe book that came with it. No dice. I have absolutely no idea where it went. So I went to my go-to source for new recipes, The Joy of Cooking, which has several waffle recipes. And lo, I discovered that I had only one egg, which sharply limited what I could do. Most of the recipes were too complicated to easily cut down. All except the very last actual waffle recipe (I do not count French Toast Waffles, which is just french toast made on a waffle iron, I kid you not).
Chocolate waffles is a relatively simple recipe that does not require much in the way of exotic ingredients, nor many eggs. The original recipe calls for cake flour, which I completely ignored and used King Arthur all-purpose white flour instead. The results were surprisingly excellent. The batter becomes thick and foamy, almost like merengue, which makes for wonderfully light waffles. The flavor is rich and satisfying. The original recipe states, “Delectable with ice cream,” and I wholeheartedly agree, but for breakfast, I served them with warm raspberry sauce and whipped cream. For the face waffle, I used apple slices for the eyes and mouth and fried ham for the hair (bacon also works well, but that was a little too much multitasking at that hour of the morning).
The one downside to these waffles is that they dry out very quickly and get rather hard, so make sure to store any leftovers in air tight containers as soon as you’re done stuffing yourself. In my next attempt, I may try adding applesauce to improve the moisture level. I originally made a half-batch of this recipe, then made a triple batch a few days later to bring in to Nora’s class, and I had no trouble with either adjustment, other than that tripling the recipe was complete overkill, and we are still swimming in leftover chocolate waffles.
I’ve altered the recipe to make use of modern tools such as a microwave, which makes it considerably easier. The original recipe considers the cinnamon and nutmeg optional, but I think they’re essential to the rich, delicious flavor.
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 oz unsweetened chocolate
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1-1/2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 cup milk
Place the butter and unsweetened chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and melt on 100% power for 1-2 minutes. If you put the chocolate on top, this will prevent the butter from splattering all over your microwave. Stir the butter and chocolate together until all ingredients are thoroughly melted. Add sugar and beat in well. Add eggs and beat in well. Stir in vanilla.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add to the egg batter in batches alternately with the milk, combining thoroughly until no lumps of flour remain. The batter should be fairly stiff, resembling merengue. If too stiff to spread easily, add a little more milk.
See that batter? It’s trying to escape! Apply sparingly to the iron to avoid messy spills.
Perfectly toasted chocolate waffles
Ladle sparingly onto a hot waffle iron. This batter rises a LOT, so try to just barely cover the iron. Otherwise, you’ll have batter overflowing the sides. Follow the directions for your waffle iron, but note that this batter cooks quickly (about twice as fast as Belgian waffles in my experience), so keep a close eye on them. Makes about 6 waffles, depending on the size of your iron.
One of the great frustrations of growing tomatoes in New England, particularly heirlooms such as Brandywine, is that the growing season is never quite long enough. You can’t plant until Memorial Day, and the big heirlooms take around 100 days to begin producing. Just as you’re starting to get fantastic tomatoes, the weather turns cold, production slows to a crawl, and when the first frost rolls around, you’ve got a garden full of green tomatoes. If you’re very lucky, the weather will hold until Thanksgiving week, but this year the first frost landed last Wednesday night.
Relish making with my neighbor, Suzanna. Matching aprons were a total coincidence, which we love using whenever we cook together.
I used to go to elaborate lengths to help these last few tomatoes ripen, swathing the plants in plastic or wrapping the green tomatoes in newspaper and storing them in a cold cellar to gradually ripen inside. Then, I discovered something amazing: green tomatoes are delicious.
Nearly everyone has heard of fried green tomatoes, but I found recipes for green tomato relish and green tomato chutney in one of my favorite cookbooks, the Gardeners’ Community Cookbook. Now I celebrate the first frost with glee. Green tomato relish may well be the origin of my belief in cooking magic. Putting it on a hamburger in January is like transporting your taste buds to July.
This year, I don’t have an enormous garden to supply me with green tomatoes, so last Tuesday, I asked my neighbors if they had any unpicked green tomatoes I could use. One intrepid neighbor, Suzanna Schell, contacted her CSA provider, and they showed up with fifteen pounds of green tomatoes, three of which ripened before we could process them Tuesday morning. We divided the greenies equally between the two recipes below. Result: an insane amount of relish and chutney, which we’ve shared with our community. Note: jelly jars full of relish and chutney make fantastic Christmas presents.
GREEN TOMATO RELISH
1 lb green tomatoes, finely chopped
1-1/2 lb onions, finely chopped
1-1/2 lb bell peppers, assorted colors if possible, finely chopped
1 large jalapeno, stemmed and finely chopped (I substitute Hatch green chile)
2 tablespoons pickling salt (any non-iodized salt will do)
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup distilled white vinegar
3/4 teaspoons turmeric
2 Tablespoons pickling spiced tied in cheesecloth (allspice berries, bay leaves, black peppercorns, cloves, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, red chili peppers, etc. Use your favorites.)
Place the tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, jalapeno, and salt in a large bowl. Add water to cover and set aside to soak overnight at room temperature. Next day, drain and rinse the vegetables. Set aside. Prepare 3 pint jars and lids for canning. Combine the sugar, vinegar, turmeric, and bag of pickling spices in a large nonreactive pot and bring to a boil. Add the drained vegetables and return to a boil. Remove from heat immediately and ladle into jars. Seal and process in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes, or cool, cap, and store in the refrigerator. Will keep in the fridge for 6 months, one year if processed.
GREEN TOMATO CHUTNEY
2 lb green tomatoes, rinsed and quartered
2 lb tart green apples, peeled, cored, and quartered (I have some big Northern Spy apples)
1 lb shallots, peeled
2 heads of garlic, peeled (20-24 cloves each)
6 fresh red chili peppers, stemmed and seeded (In a pinch, use green chile)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped and tied in cheesecloth
1/2 lb golden raisins (I like to substitute some dried apricots)
1 lb Demerara or other crystal-form brown sugar
2-1/2 cups distilled white or cider vinegar (cider is better)
Put the tomatoes, apples, shallots, garlic, and chiles through a mincer or finely chop in a food processor, taking care not to overchop them into a mush. transfer to a nonreactive canning kettle or very large pot. Add the ginger, raisins, sugar, and vinegar and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring from time to time. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour or until all the ingredients are soft and the mixture has thickened into a loose syrup.
Meanwhile, prepare 4 quart jars and lids for canning. Remove the ginger bag and ladle the chutney into the jars. Seal and process in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes, or cool, cap, and store in the refrigerator. Let mature for 1 month before using. Will keep up to 6 months in the fridge, 1 year if processed.
The weather here in New England has finally turned cold, with Arctic air on course to hit us this weekend. That means virus season is upon us, and in fact my husband is sick. Many people turn to simple comfort foods when they catch a cold: soups, macaroni, chicken pot pie.
I think spicy. Chile peppers contain more vitamin C than oranges, and their capsaicin can help with those achy joints. Also, the spicy chile helps clear your sinuses and relieve sore throats. So tonight for dinner, I made a classic New Mexican staple, papitas con carne al caldo. Growing up, we ate this as a main course with sides of rice, beans, and a green vegetable such as zucchini or sauteed spinach, along with one of Abuela’s fresh flour tortillas, but in the age of Chipotle, I use it as a burrito filler. My kids love this because they can choose exactly what they want to put in their burrito. It’s a modular meal, with a healthy balance of meat, carbohydrates, and vegetables.
Plus you can add as much or as little spice as you want. My husband and my older daughter prefer red chile powder, which they sprinkle over their cheese and then melt in the microwave. I personally prefer salsa, and my go-to brand is El Pinto, which is thankfully now available on Amazon. Occasionally, I’ll add a dash of sriracha. My ten-year-old still doesn’t like spicy food and puts none in her burrito.
The basic recipe is simple meat and potatoes, and the key to its flavor is Mexican oregano. A completely different species from Italian or Greek oregano, it has a marvelous, pungent flavor that’s essential to all Southwestern cooking. It’s now generally available at Whole Foods where you find dried chile pods, and of course, like everything, you can order it from Amazon.
PAPITAS CON CARNE AL CALDO
1 lb. lean ground beef, preferably organic, grass fed beef
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon Mexican oregano
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large or 2 medium potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold or russet
1 carrot, shredded
Place the ground beef in a large skillet or everyday pan on medium heat. Add the garlic. Put the oregano in the palm of your hand and rub your palms together to sprinkle it over the meat. Add the Worcestershire sauce. As the meat begins to cook, break it up into small, bite-size chunks and toss it around to combine all the ingredients.
As the meat is browning, dice the potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces. If you are using a thin-skinned potato such as Yukon Gold, you can leave the skin on, but peel russets to make sure you find any bad spots. When the meat is almost completely cooked, throw in the potatoes and toss to coat them in the fat from the meat.
Finish browning the meat and add just enough water to cover the meat and potatoes. Turn the heat up to medium high and cook until the water is almost completely gone and the potatoes are tender. You may wish to turn on your hood fan; it will get steamy! Just before the water completely disappears, add the shredded carrot and let it steam on top. When the water is completely gone, stir in the carrots and remove the pan from heat.
Serve with beans, rice, and whatever condiments you prefer in a burrito. Also perfectly fine in a taco. Recommended condiments: shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Mexican blend), diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, diced bell peppers (for even more vitamin C), avocado slices or guacamole, roasted or grilled vegetables, salsa, chile powder, sriracha. Pro tip: don’t overfill your burrito. You can always have a second one!
Another day, I’ll discuss how to make beans from scratch in an Instant Pot. Homemade frijoles are a bajillion times better than canned beans, but I didn’t have the time to make them tonight.
Happy eating, and may the chile burn out any cold you come across this season.