Friday, May 20, 2011

Panda Bread!

I was planning to get a bunch of chores done today, but someone ended up spending most of the day baking instead.

It all started last night with a failed attempt at Amish Friendship Bread.

Above are the sad, but tasty remenants. The center wasn't totally done, and really, considering how many times I have made this, I should have known better. But you know how sometimes you know better, but you just want to eat already?

Bummed by last night's efforts, I decided that it was time to attempt something I've been dying to try---


It's essentially just a white bread---with a very entertaining center. It's not really too difficult, but you do need a LARGE bread pan. I only had a small one, better suited for banana breads, etc., and so ended up using a square cake pan, just so it would fit. This resulted in a rather weird shape, but it worked anyway.

If you'd like to take a stab at panda bread, there are various recipes for it online (apparently, it first came from Japan, where all good things seem to originate), but here's the one I used: Panda Bread

Monday, April 11, 2011

Meat takes a back seat.

Every week, the husband and I make a grocery list of foods were going to eat for the next week. We used to do this together, but as you're in a relationship longer and longer, you start to get more comfortable with each other, and reveal certain truths about yourself.

Dave does not really like to grocery shop. I know. I was shocked too.

I, however, love to grocery shop almost as much as I like eating, so the task of shopping and making the food list has slowly come to me.

I'll admit, however to a slight bent towards spitefulness at being left to my own devices (if you can call it that). Lately, I've been throwing a meal in the mix that admittedly sounds intentionally bizarre and/or vegetarian enough to give my husband pause---sort of the equivalent of intentionally doing the laundry wrong so that you don't have to do it anymore.

This last week, I went with something that sounded way more vegi-rific than it probably was (bwahahaha!).

Stir-Fried Sichuan Green Beans

These beans are stir-fried over very high heat to give them a nice wrinkly char, then tossed with crumbly cooked pork (I used pork sausage) and a homemade Sichuan sauce, and served over rice.

I really enjoy this dish, not only because it is tasty, but because it makes meat take a back seat to the star vegetable, using meat instead as an enhancer to flavor. However, I sadly failed to horrify my husband back into participating in meal selection. I'm going to have to bring out the Tofurkey soon.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Kolache Revolution

When it comes to what's popular, food is really no different than clothing fashions. Every year, it seems like there is something different that everyone is talking about, whether it is cupcakes or glammed up hotdogs. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for a food trend. I was a huge fan of the rise of the cupcake, and instantly wanted to make those delicate almond macaroons when I learned that they were becoming all the rage on the east coast.

The downside of living in middle America is that all of these trends manage to find their way here 1-2 years after they've already become old news on the coasts. Again, with amusing similarities to fashion. There is exactly one dedicated cupcakery in Sioux Falls, OhMyCupcakes, which opened a good year after everyone started saying cupcakes were passe. So it goes.

So I'm going to start my own culinary trend. Are you ready?


Unless you are, or live near a Czech community, you may not be familiar with these delicious little pastries. Essentially, they are a sweet roll, similar to the dough used to make cinnamon rolls, filled with a fruit, nut, or savory filling.

When I was a child, we would attend The Chicken Soup and Kolache supper in Fairfax, IA, hosted by the Free Masons in my grandparent's hometown. Local women would prepare many dozens of cherry, apricot and poppyseed filled Kolaches in their own home kitchens, then bring them to the supper to share and sell for fundraisers. The soup was nothing amazing, but I would look forward to the supper all year, in anticipation of one of those delicious poppyseed kolaches. They're adorably compact (usually being no larger than the palm of your hand), rich, and permanently associated in my memory with traditions, comfort and home.

What's more interesting, as far as I can see, you almost never see kolaches as a standard bakery item. Somehow, the kolache has fallen behind the cinnamon roll and the muffin into a realm of obscurity. Why not resurrect it?

 Take this recipe, friends and go forth! It's actually my grandmother's so be nice to it.

Grandma Eileen's Kolaches

The dough

2 c. cold water
2 sticks oleo, hacked up (I used butter---but I still hacked it up)
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
………. Heat all of the above slowly in a sauce pan to 120 – 130 degrees

6 c. flour
2 pkgs dry yeast
2 eggs, beaten

Mix 3 c. flour and the yeast in large bowl . Add to this the heated liquid from above, mixing slowly. Add to this 2 beaten eggs & mix at slow speed ½ min. and then beat at high speed 3 min. Add 3 more cups of flour, beating in by hand.

Cover the bowl with greased saran wrap, and let rise 30 min to an hour. I let mine rise for the full hour, and it expanded just a bit.

After the dough has doubled in volume, remove on to a lightly floured board. It helps to use a greased or sprayed spatula to remove dough from the bowl.

After removing dough on to a floured board, take a tablespoon and cut dough off in chunks and form into 2 in. domes. Think about the same size as a ball of cookie dough.

Now the fun part: Baste thoroughly with lard.

My mother claims that commercial lard just isn't what it used to be, and is really not any better than using butter in this case, although I disagree. While I'm sure it tastes different than it used to, I think that lard is definitely a pivotal element to this recipe. It gives the rolls a slightly richer, more savory flavor than butter, which I think is not to be overlooked. I'd also like to take this opportunity to apologize to a few of my vegetarian friends, who I covertly fed these kolaches to, forgetting about the whole lard thing. Well, you guys liked them anyway!

Gently make impressions in the centers and fill with fillings. I used cherry pie filling and a modified poppyseed filling.

Poppyseed Filling
Mix 1 can poppy seed (Solo), 4 graham crackers (4 of the qtr sections) & 3 tbsp milk.

Let kolaches rise again [10-15 min.]. Top with a mixture of ½ c. flour, ½ c. sugar, 1 tbsp. cinnamon. 

Bake until golden to light brown. When taken out of oven, baste thoroughly with lard one last time.

Eat, enjoy and start the kolache revolution!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I am thankful for...

Waking up to the smell of ready-made, delicious coffee.

Yeast that rises and rises past all expectations (and expiration dates)

Family that overlooks imperfections, like misshapen, over-proofed bread, to declare it delicious regardless. Conversely, there is my husband, who, with a wonderful honesty, will always tell me if my bread misshapen, while also telling me it is delicious.

Yummy snacktime interludes, always available when I need a break. Can you believe that these were just waiting for us when we arrived from a long 7.5 hr drive?

Tried and true recipes that can be made year after year by heart. This one happens to be the beginnings if veggie stuffing.

Dinner plates filled to the brim.

And side plates too!

Hope everyone had a wonderful thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

How to Make a Birthday Dinner: Part Two

And as promised, the second half of the birthday meal....

Problem #2: Steakhouse at Home

A good steak dinner makes a special, and delicious birthday meal. Fortunately, cooking steak is relatively simple, as long as you remember to keep it simple. For this dinner, I purchased two giant T-bones from the grocery store---this state might not have the strongest appreciation for cheese or microbrews, but it sure does appreciate good cuts of beef. The steaks were sprinkled with kosher salt and fresh pepper, then seared in a pan with a tablespoon of oil for 3-4 minutes per side. I used a meat thermometer to cook mine to medium (about 150 degrees) and Dave's to rare (about 120 degrees).

With the steaks I served corn, twice baked potatoes and a bottle of Dave's favorite wine. The corn was, well, corn and the wine was delightfully as expected, but the potatoes were a high-calorie masterpiece in themselves. I highly recommend these---just don't weigh yourself afterwards.

Twice Baked Potatoes
Serves 2

2 large baking potatoes
1 tbs melted butter
1/2 c sour cream
1/4 c milk
2 tbs butter
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese
2 green onions, sliced
2 strips bacon, cooked and broken into pieces

1. Preheat oven at 425. Pierce potatoes all over with a fork. Microwave on high for 5-10 minutes until fork goes through potatoes with light resistance. Check every three minutes or so; cooking times can vary depending on the size of your potatoes.
2. Let potatoes cool for 5 minutes. Slice about 1/3 of the top of each potato, length-wise.  Scoop out the flesh from the potato skins and put into a bowl, leaving about 1/4 in. of potato flesh remaining inside skins for stability. Brush inside of skins with melted butter and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
3. Add sour cream, milk, 2 tablespoons butter, salt and pepper to the potato flesh, mashing with a potato masher to smooth out lumps. Add 1/4 cup shredded cheddar and one chopped green onion and mix.
4. Scoop potato mixture back into skins. Top with remaining cheddar and bacon pieces. Bake for another 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. Top with green onion slices to garnish.

Alright. I really better get back to that gym now.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How to Make a Birthday Dinner: Part One

Birthdays, even if they aren't my own, are times I always look forward to. After all, anytime you have an excuse to go out, eat at a fancy restaurant, consume cake and have a drink at your favorite bar is pretty much a good day for everyone involved.

So what happens when your birthday boy is sick of restaurants, is not a big fan of cake and hasn't yet found that perfect Cheers-quality bar?

Problem #1: Cake Apathy

I love desserts, in pretty much all its forms. I don't think that's a secret. The Husband, on the other hand, seems to have an underdeveloped sweet tooth. He regularly turns his nose up at cakes of all kinds, calling them too sugary, too fluffy, too dense, too boring, too bland (my response to this is usually "but its CAKE."). The one type of cake that he does like (other than cupcakes, due to a long standing and little understood dessert dispute with a friend --don't ask) is cheesecake, specifically pumpkin cheesecake.

For the past 5 years or so, I've made the same cheesecake for this man's birthday, despite my nagging desire to tweak everything I make more than once. He likes it how it is, and since it's his birthday, I restrain myself.  After all, I suppose it is pretty good as is.

Dave's Birthday Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake
adapted from Renee at

1 1/2 c crushed gingersnap cookies
1/2 c pecans, chopped fine
1/3 c melted butter

16 oz cream cheese, softened (Philadelphia is best)
3/4 c white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1 c canned pumpkin (Libby's only)
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
dash of allspice and ginger
caramel sauce

1. Preheat oven at 350. Mix the crushed gingersnaps, pecans and melted butter together in a bowl. (I pulse the gingersnaps and pecans in a blender to crush them, though a food processor would probably work better. If you want to go low tech, a plastic bag and a rolling pin will also work just fine, though it will take more time.) Press the mixture into the bottom of a springform pan, and up the sides about an inch. Don't worry about getting it perfect; it won't really matter later.

2. Bake the crust in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, and set aside to cool.

3. Blend the cream cheese, vanilla and 1/2 c sugar in a mixer until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, blending well between. Set aside 1 cup of this mixture.

4. To the remaining mixture, add the pumpkin and spices, blend well. Pour the pumpkin mixture over the cooled crust. Drop spoonfuls of the reserved cream cheese mixture on top and swirl with a knife.

5. Bake the cheesecake for 45-55 minutes, or until set. The top of the filling will begin to crack around the edges when it is done, but the filling at the center will still wobble slightly when the cake is shaken. This is fine: the cheesecake will continue to firm up in the pan while it is cooling outside the oven. If you cook it until it is completely firm, it will be overdone. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely, and leave in refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving. Run a knife around the edge of the pan before releasing the springform.

6. Serve slices of cheesecake with drizzled caramel sauce. Personally, I think this is crucial; it really brings out the pumpkin flavor, and makes the entire dessert seem more decadent and special.

Well guys, that's one awesome cheesecake for you. In my next blog we'll cover, in admittedly backwards order, how to do a killer main course. Vegetarians beware, this one's not going to be quite as up your alley!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gumbo: Part of a Balanced Work Out

The work out freeze has ended!

Finally after nearly an entire year stuck in a contract with our old gym in Madison, the contract has finally expired and Dave and I can finally justify joining a gym!

Its been months for me, and probably over a year for the hubby, but we're determined to return these flabby abs and weak little chicken arm to their former glory. The biggest change I've noticed, however, after working out consistently for about two weeks is unfortunately not a pair of rock hard abs, but instead something rather counter productive: I'm hungry ALL THE TIME.

I suppose making (and eating) a batch of oatmeal cookies doesn't help the situation.

In an effort to get the most out of his work outs, Dave is seeing a personal trainer for a few sessions.  Along with a butt-kicking work out schedule, the trainer has suggested a few foods as part of his new work out diet.  He was practically giddy when he showed me one item on the list.


I don't like shrimp. I'll eat them ever now and then, but mostly, I think they just taste like fishy meat grapes.

Dave loves shrimp. When I tell him that they taste like fishy meat grapes, he replies "mmmm, yes exactly. Delicious."

I'd prefer to just not bother with the funky little crustaceans (is that what they are?), but it's doctor's orders. Plus, I'm not one to back down from the personal challenge of trying to make something that I don't like actually palatable for ME.

So of course, whenever I'm out to make a recipe that is guaranteed to be good (and likely packed with plenty of lengthy extra steps), I turn to my good old Cook's Illustrated. This time, its Creole Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo.

Not being from the South, I mostly just know OF gumbo; I've had it maybe once of twice before, but its definitely not part of the standard meal line up.  As it turns out, there's probably a good reason for that.

Gumbo is not for the faint of heart, or the short on time. Like many southern dishes, its designed around the assumption that you have the time and the love in your heart to Do. It. Right.

First, there is the roux, which is where any good gumbo starts. It's made from vegetable oil and flour, which is heated for about 20 minutes while stirring literally constantly until it turn a deep chocolate brown. The roux is the base of the soup and if you don't take care of it, there's no point in doing the rest.

To the roux, you add diced celery, red bell pepper, onion, garlic, assorted spices, and a fish stock made from shrimp shells and clam juice. This cooks for another 30 minutes.

Then my favorite part, the andouille sausage goes in. Another 30 minutes. Finally, the final element that precipitated the entire affair comes to the stage--shrimp,added only in the last 5 minutes of cooking. Finish with chopped scallions, parsley, and a spoonful of rice and volia! You've got a gumbo.

All in all, the entire process took about 2 hours, which is a pretty long time for what is essentially a very meaty stew. But it's like I said; lots of care, lots of time.

Dave thought the gumbo turned out great. In his words, "Ah, Southern food. Tastes great, but always manages to look like poop."

I agreed that it tasted pretty good, but really...I could have done with less shrimp. They were palatable, but really, after all that effort, I mostly just wanted to eat the broth and the sausage. So I guess in the end, it's a part win. If I had to eat shrimp to survive, this would definitely make it easier. But given the choice between shrimp and not shrimp---verdict still goes to not shrimp.

The recipe for Oatmeal Cookies used in this blog can be found in Baking Illustrated: The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker. The recipe for Creole-Style Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo can be found in The Best of America's Test Kitchen (2008)