Rainy Day Bread

The fact that I haven’t yet posted any dessert-type recipes on here is exceptionally misleading. I love dessert. I love licking the batter off the spoon. I love the smell of whatever it is baking in the oven. I guess I do more cooking  because I feel like it’s harder to mess up. For instance, I made cupcakes from scratch for the first time a few months ago, and I had to throw away the entire first batch. They were a disaster. It took me awhile to get them right. Sometimes you need to be really precise in baking, and do things in a very particular way. I like cooking because you can experiment with different ingredients and flavors, and chances are you won’t mess it up too badly.

One dessert-y thing that I love, and is not too difficult to make, is pumpkin bread. OK, so I don’t know if you can classify something you can eat for breakfast as dessert. (Am I the only one who eats it for breakfast?) But whatever. It is sweet and delicious, (and easier than cupcakes). I had a couple cans of pumpkin in my cabinet, and clearly, fall is the perfect time to be eating pumpkin-flavored things! Last year my friend gave me the most delicious recipe for pumpkin bread made with pumpkin beer, and oh my gosh, it is SO good. I hate the word moist, but this bread is just that. I can’t get enough of it. Perfectly moist (ugh), perfectly flavored, sweet with a little spice, slightly crispy exterior. YUM! Luckily, this recipe makes about 3 loaves, so there is plenty to go around.

This whole week has been cloudy, rainy, and chilly. Perfect for doing a little bit of baking. There’s nothing better on a rainy fall afternoon than cozying up with a blanket and a slice of warm pumpkin bread.

Pumpkin Ale Bread
Puree (make first):

15 oz. can pumpkin
2/3 cup sugar
1 12 oz. bottle pumpkin ale (I used Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale)
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
Combine all puree ingredients and stir slowly (because the beer makes everything fizz out of control). Set aside until ready to use. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.
————————————-
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 cup puree that you made above
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Combine sugar & oil with electric mixer. Slowly add eggs. Stop mixer and add 1 cup of the puree you just made. Turn mixer to low-medium speed and leave it running for 4-5 min. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients. Stop mixer and add dry ingredients. Mix for 1 minute at low speed or until ingredients are mixed & smooth. Pour mixture into 9 x 5 well-greased loaf pan, leaving room to rise. Bake at 350° for about an hour (usually more like 65-70 min.), or until knife comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 min, then out of pan on wire rack. Once cooled, dust with powdered sugar, and devour enjoy responsibly.

The puree mix is enough for 3+ loaves, so you will have about 2 cups left over after you make one loaf. If you make all 3 loaves, you will still have about 1/2 cup of the puree left. This was annoying to me, because I didn’t want to just throw it away. So I just estimated the amount I would need to make a little bit more puree to get one more loaf out of it. I added about 1/4 bottle of beer (drink the rest!), 1/4 can of pumpkin, 1/6 cup of sugar and 1/4 tsp. of pumpkin pie spice. Hurray! One more loaf of this delicious bread! If you are like me and absolutely do not need 4 loaves of mouth-watering, diet-breaking goodness sitting in the kitchen tempting you, keep one and give the rest away to friends. They’ll love it and your waist will love you.

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A Simple Fall Meal

This weekend we had some friends over for dinner, and I couldn’t decide what to make. If you know me, this will come as no surprise, because you probably know I am the most indecisive person on the face of the earth. I also like to exaggerate. I get this from my Mom. (Hi, Mom). Sometimes when we have people over for dinner I really want to make some big, elaborate recipe so I can impress them with my cooking. But I also just really enjoy hosting. I like feeding people a deliciously satisfying, home cooked, vegetarian meal. However, I did not have the energy for going all out and making six different things, so in the end I ended up making — you guessed it — soup. One of the simplest and most delicious meals I can think of is soup and bread. It doesn’t get much better than that. I love slathering my bread with butter (well, actually, we use Earth Balance, which is so delicious, and perfectly vegan, and tastes just as good as real butter), and dipping it in my soup. Mmmmmmm….

We had some butternut squash from the farmers market, so I decided to make a recipe that I made a million times last fall. It is super easy and super delicious. Not a lot of ingredients required, not too much peeling and chopping, and doesn’t take long to cook. Perfect, right?

I also made a simple no-knead bread to go with it. Now, if you’ve never made bread before, don’t be intimidated. Before I made bread, I thought only professional bakers made their own bread. Nonsense. I found this ridiculously easy recipe last year on Steamy Kitchen. Anyone can make bread. You do, however need a large covered pot (at least 5 qt.) that can withstand 450° temps for this recipe. I think a dutch oven is best. You could go spend hundreds of dollars on a pretty Le Creuset, or you could run on over to Target and buy a 5 qt. cast iron dutch oven for $35. That’s what I have, and I have to tell you, as much as I love Le Creuset’s fun colors, I don’t think it’s worth the extra bucks. Mine works just great.

Now that I’ve finished advertising for Target, let’s get to the cooking. First the soup. I got this recipe from the cookbook Clean Food by Terry Walters, and added a couple of things to modify it. This is a great cookbook, and a good guide for seasonal eating.

Apple Squash Soup (serves 8-10)
1 large butternut squash (or 2 packages of peeled & chopped squash from Trader Joe’s, which makes life way easier)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
4 large apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup rice milk (or any unflavored milk alternative. I used plain almond milk)
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
About 1 Tbsp. curry powder (optional)
About 1 Tbsp. brown sugar (optional)
Sea Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste (optional)

Peel squash, cut in half, and remove seeds. Cut into 2 inch pieces.

In large pot (at least 6 qt.) over medium heat, sauté onion in oil until soft (about 5 minutes). Add squash, apples, stock, rice milk, coconut milk, and nutmeg. Cover, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until squash is soft. Remove from heat to cool slightly. Add salt, curry, brown sugar, and pepper. Puree with handheld blender.

The original recipe did not include the curry, brown sugar, or pepper, but I found the soup the tiniest bit on the bland side. I felt like it could use some extra flavor. The curry gives it just the right kick, while the brown sugar sweetens it up a bit. FYI — I estimated on the amounts I added, so don’t feel like you need to go by those too strictly. I just kept adding and tasting until I thought I got the flavors right. The end result is a beautiful, smooth soup, perfect for a chilly fall night.

Quick and easy, right? On to the bread. The bread may be easy, but it’s certainly not quick. It will take a little bit more planning on your end. You can’t decide to do it last minute, because the dough really needs to sit overnight. If you’re planning on having it for dinner the next day, my advice is to mix the dough before you go to bed (It takes all of 2 minutes). That way, you can time it so that it’s fresh and warm from the oven for dinner the next night.

No-Knead Bread
3 cups bread flour (you can use all-purpose flour but bread flour will get you better results)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt (or 3/4 Tbsp of kosher salt)
1 1/2 cups warm water

Covered pot (five-quart or larger cast iron, Pyrex, ceramic, enamel…something that can go into a 450° F oven.)

1. The night before, combine all ingredients in a big bowl with a wooden spoon, until the dough just comes together. If you want to add any dried herbs to flavor your bread (basil, rosemary, oregano, etc.) you can add those here, too. I’m not sure if it would make a huge difference, but if I’m using fresh herbs (or cheese), I wait to add them in the next step. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 12-20 hours.

2. After sitting overnight, the dough will be wet, sticky, and bubbly. With a wet spatula or wet hands, dump the dough on a floured surface. Nudge the dough into a ball shape. Make sure you keep your hands or spatula wet so the dough doesn’t stick. If you want to add in any fresh chopped herbs (I used rosemary) to flavor your bread, you can add that in here. You can basically add in anything you want to flavor your bread. I’ve done little chunks of parmesan cheese, fresh rosemary, fresh ground pepper… Use your imagination. The bread will taste amazing with or without the added flavor.

After you’ve mixed in your herbs, etc., generously dust a cotton towel (not terrycloth) with flour and set the dough down onto it. Fold towel over the dough and let sit for 2 hours. You can leave it on the countertop if you want a flatter loaf, or you can put it into a bowl with high sides if you want the dough to rise a little more. When you’ve got about a half hour left on your clock, stick your covered (empty) pot into the oven and preheat to 450° F.

3. After your 2 hours is completely up, uncover your dough. It should have doubled in size.

Remove the pot from the oven, and dump the dough in the pot. You will need to use your fingers to get the dough completely un-stuck from the towel. Cover the pot, and back in the oven it goes. Bake for 30 minutes. Now, uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes until you have a beautiful golden-brown crust. Let cool on a wired rack before serving.

Enjoy it warm and buttered, right along with your soup.

Don’t judge a soup by its color

Finally, fall is here, which like I said in my last post, this means soup. Lots of delicious, hearty soups. Yum.

My favorite fall soup to make is one that I discovered on Allrecipes.com, listed as “Sweet potato, carrot, apple, and red lentil soup.” Quite the mouthful. Well, last year I was in need of a lentil soup recipe and thought this looked good. I was right. It soon became our favorite. So delicious. But when I first made this soup, as well as when I made it tonight, I was without red lentils. I even went to the store today specifically for red lentils, and they were all out! The truth is, any color lentil will do for this recipe. I don’t think there’s a difference in taste. But I wanted the red lentils. Why? Because they make a prettier soup. A little more festive than the putrid color that regular lentils turn out. I didn’t want ugly soup on my blog.

But alas, the store did not have pretty lentils. I had to go with boring old brown lentils. Or whatever you call the regular kind. Of course I wanted a pretty picture for my blog, but you know what? That’s not always going to happen. I am not creating recipes in some pristine laboratory with the finest foods available. I’m making real food, in my real kitchen. Making a big mess while I’m at it. And sometimes the store is going to be out of the thing you want, so you have to compromise. Sometimes your culinary creations will not turn out picture-perfect. But that’s OK. I am here to tell you, that even though this soup may be ugly, it is mouth-wateringly good. So, without further ado, I present to you, what I have now dubbed, “ugly lentil soup.” (Which, really, when you think about it, most lentil soups are probably not all that attractive…)

Ingredients

1/4 c butter (Use olive oil if you want to be a bit healthier! I usually do)
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 c red (or any old color) lentils (You can use even more if you want a thicker soup)
1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
4 c vegetable broth
Feta cheese for garnish

We got carrots and cippolini onions in our CSA box this week, so I used those. Clearly, the carrots and onions are pretty small, so I had to use more of them. I used that whole bunch of carrots, and about 6 of the wee baby onions. What’s worse than chopping an onion? … Chopping 6 of them. Ugh. I need a pair of those onion goggles. Yep. So cool.

Chop up all your veggies, and try not to cry too much. If you’re lucky enough to own onion goggles, strap ’em on.

I had so much veggie-waste after peeling and chopping, there was no way it was going to fit in our compost bins (read: old yogurt containers), so I had to break out the big guns. AKA a big bowl. Looking at this makes me wish we had pigs so I could feed it to them. Ahhh I can’t wait to have a yard someday… Get some chickens, maybe a pig. Sigh.

Once you’re done chopping, throw your butter in a large pot over medium-high heat (Of course, if you want to make this vegan, leave the butter out and use olive oil instead). I like to use my 5 quart cast iron dutch oven.

Once your butter is melted, toss in your chopped carrots, onion, apple, and sweet potatoes. Stir and cook until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

While you’re waiting for your onions to cook, measure out your spices and the ginger.

Once your onions are done, toss the spices along with the lentils into the pot…

…Followed by your vegetable broth.

Bring your soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-low, cover, and let simmer until the lentils and vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.

Once your veggies are soft, you’ve got a few choices. You can leave it as is, or you can puree it. If you want to deal with puree-ing one batch at a time in a blender or food processor, God bless you. I don’t have the patience. Last year I invested in a Cuisinart SmartStick, and I. love. it. Seriously, it changed my life.

However, I don’t use that for this. I like this soup somewhere between chunky and pureed. So I just sort of mash up the sweet potatoes and apples in the pot. I use a fork, because for some reason I don’t own a potato masher. But it’s up to you. Do as you please!

Serve with feta, if you’re going the non-vegan route. De-lish! Enjoy! (And remember, the soup is tastier than it appears.)

One last summer salad

Well, it looks like fall is here after all in the Windy City. On Monday it was 85 and sunny. Today is 62 and cloudy. I love fall! I love the crunchy leaves on the sidewalk, a chill in the air, and most of all soup! I love making soup in the fall. But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. More on fall soup recipes another day.

I had most of the ingredients on hand to make one last summery salad. This was my faaaavorite salad this summer. Oh my goodness, so flavorful and so simple. I made it for parties, cookouts, and potlucks and everyone loved it! Everyone. Really. I first discovered it on a friend’s tumblr, but I recently found the source of the recipe on Pinterest.

Side note – can we talk about how much I love Pinterest? I could spend hours scrolling through everybody’s pins (especially the food. Drool.) Want to be my Pinterest friend? You can find me here.

OK, anyway – a friend pinned this recipe, so I was able to find the original source of this tasty dish. It came from Jehan Can Cook. Thank you Jehan!

I modified the recipe just a bit.

Corn, Avocado & Tomato Salad
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in halves. (I prefer heirloom tomatoes)
2 ripe avocados, roughly chopped
3-4 ears fresh sweet corn OR one bag frozen corn (of course, it’s way better with fresh corn!)
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

Dressing
Juice of 1 lime (Lemon juice is fine, too. I’ve got a big bottle of it in the fridge, so that’s usually what I use)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp sea salt
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced (the original calls for 1 clove, but hey, garlic is awesome. go crazy)
Ground pepper to taste
Dash of cayenne pepper

As you can see, I’m doing the lazy version of the recipe, and using frozen fire roasted corn from Trader Joe’s. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any fresh corn. Also, I didn’t have cilantro. It’s still good without it, but the cilantro adds the perfect flavor to the recipe, so I would definitely recommend using it.

If you’re using fresh corn, you can grill it as the original recipe calls for, or if you’re like me and don’t own a grill, boiling is fine. If you’re using frozen corn and making the recipe a few hours before it will be eaten, you can just throw the corn as is in the bowl, and it will defrost on its own.

If you’ve got fresh corn, after grilling or boiling, cut the corn off the cob and set aside to cool.

Add all of the ingredients for dressing in a bowl, and whisk to combine.

Mmmmm, can’t you just smell the garlic? (If you’re wondering what the floaty things are – that’s the garlic skins. I pull them out of the garlic press after I use it and throw them in. I don’t like to waste food.)

Now add your tomatoes…

Look at all those pretty tomatoes! …. After you’ve admired your tomatoes, you can add the avocado, corn, and cilantro! Mix gently, making sure not to smush your avocado. You can throw it in the fridge for an hour if you want to serve it chilled, but I think it tastes great, warm corn and all.

Voila! This recipe will serve 6-8.

Enjoy this one… because it’s going to be a long time until summer comes around again.

Mother of ______!

What. the. hell?!

These were my thoughts when I pulled the following out of my cabinet the other night:

Yes, that is white wine vinegar. Yes, those are monstrous jellyfish aliens inside of the bottle. No, I don’t know how they got there.

OK, well now I do. After a little googling magic, I discovered that these beasts are actually called Mother of Vinegar. According to my friend Wikipedia, it can form in any store bought vinegar if there is any non-fermented sugar and/or alcohol in the bottle. “While not appetizing in appearance, mother of vinegar is completely harmless and the surrounding vinegar does not have to be discarded because of it.” Really, wikipedia? Not appetizing in appearance? You might want to change that to vomit-inducing in appearance, thanks.

Anyway, apparently this mother is totally natural, and I don’t need to worry about it. Still…. I might think twice the next time a recipe calls for white wine vinegar. Ugh.

cheese, glorious cheese

Mmmmmmmmmmmm, cheese.

I’ve been a vegetarian for over 3 years now, sometimes dabbling in veganism. But what brings me back is always the cheese. I don’t know if I can live without it. Yes, there are some decent vegan cheeses out there, but they can not live up to the glorious, delicious, drool-inducing flavors of goat cheese, for instance. Or brie. Oh my gosh, brie.

My husband and I recently subscribed to a CSA (community supported agriculture.) I was super excited to get new vegetables and try new recipes. When we started it a few weeks ago, though, we were on a break from cheese. We both decided we had been eating a wee bit too much, and a break from dairy was needed.

But then we got beets in our box, and my goodness, so many people recommended eating those suckers on a baguette, shmeared with goat cheese, and a bit of olive oil. Maybe some arugula. YUM.

But we were on a cheese break. So, I found a recipe for roasted beets. I roasted them. I tried them (for the first time ever) just on their own, with a little salt. I was seriously not looking forward to eating that beet. I don’t know what it is, but the crazy intense red, counter staining, finger staining, everything staining color, grosses me out. I reluctantly ate a piece…. and I kind of liked it. I mean, it was not bad. But then I didn’t know what to do with all of them. The rest of the beets sat in my fridge uneaten for awhile, until hubby concocted some recipe with them involving quinoa and avocado. I also very (very) reluctantly ate that, because it was all red and gross looking! It was ok.

Well, the beets are back. And hallelujah, we are NOT on a cheese break any longer. So I decided to roast up some beets, and go crazy with the goat cheese on some crusty baguette.

Roasting beets is super simple. Take some beets and rip off the stems & leaves. You can save the leaves if you like and cook with those. I just compost mine, because I have enough kale & lettuce in my CSA box that I don’t need any more leafy greens to worry about going bad.

You might want to rinse/scrub the beets to get rid of any dirt. Take a large piece of aluminum foil and stick the beets on there. Drizzle some olive oil over them, and fold the foil up over the beets to make a little packet. Stick them in the oven at 375F and wait 30-60 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. Shorter time for smaller beets, longer for big ones. They’re done when you can stick a fork in them and they feel soft.

Once they’re out, wait for them to cool. I then use a paper towel to rub off the skin. You can leave the skin on, though. Either way, you’re gonna get pink fingers, and probably pink stains on your cutting board. Once the skin is off, and the ends are cut off, slice them up.

Serve on a crusty sliced bread, like a baguette. I toasted my baguette in the oven, sliced it up, spread goat cheese on each piece and drizzled with olive oil. Then I added the beets on top. OK, so I know this picture is horrid. Please, forgive me for the awful lighting. Also, I admit this doesn’t look this appetizing. The beets look like weird pepperonis. But I wanted to have at least one picture in my post. I promise for better, more aesthetically pleasing & appetizing pictures next time.

I must say, it was pretty tasty. There’s nothing better than cheese and bread. Oh, right, beets too. The beet and goat cheese flavors worked well together, but I have to admit I liked a little more goat cheese and a little less beet. If beets keep coming in our CSA boxes, I’ll keep making this recipe. Buuuut, I probably wouldn’t be too likely to go buy beets on my own. Meh. Nevertheless, if you want to have a good first experience with a beet, I’d say this is the way to go. Thank goodness for cheese.