Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Beer and Onion Rye Bread

It must have been at least ten years ago that I got excited enough about trying new bread recipes that I set up a nice journal to record my adventures. It turned out to be a short-lived project. I wanted to move on to new thing after new thing and when too many recipes needed tweaking or improved skills, my enthusiasm kind of fizzled.

I didn’t stop making bread, though. I kept making loaves and doughs that worked well (like this sandwich bread and this baguette and this pizza crust), improving my skills and improving recipes recipes. Now, when I try a new bread recipe, I shift it a little bit to match the way I know bread works for me. In other words, I take the new flavors and make them into bread my way.

I did this recently with a Beer and Onion Rye Bread. I used my usual method of making a sort of mini starter (at least that’s how I think of it) to let the yeast ferment a bit and let some good flavor develop. I find that this step somehow makes bread rising more predictable. I use a Kitchen Aid stand mixer to do my kneading, and I only add as much flour as I need to make a stretchy, still fairly tacky dough.

But theory is nothing without flavor, and this bread has lots of good stuff in that department. I used a brown ale in the bread, which gave it a pleasant, dark bitterness, which was complemented and nicely balanced by the sourness of a bit of vinegar and sour cream. The classic additions of onion and caraway with rye flour add even more great flavor. That rye flour (I used some good, stone-ground flour) makes the bread soft, but it’s still hearty and rich. Really delicious stuff!

This loaf is a bit larger than my usual sandwich loaves. I shaped it into an oval loaf, but it’s still big enough around to make slices for sandwiches. I recommend roast beef, ham, or a really awesome grilled cheese. It’s just fine all on its own, too.

Beer and Onion Rye Bread
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
¾ cup brown beer or ale
1 teaspoon sugar
4 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast (2 envelopes)
½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup stone ground rye flour
2 ¾ cup bread flour, divided
1 ½ teaspoons salt

1. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and just beginning to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

2. Warm the beer to 100 F to 110 F. Pour the warm beer into the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the sugar and yeast. Let stand about 5 minutes or until the yeast is bubbly.

3. Stir in the sour cream, white vinegar, caraway seeds, and egg. Add the rye flour and 1 cup bread flour. Stir together using the paddle attachment until a thin, batter-like dough forms. Cover and let stand about 30 minutes.

4. After 30 minutes, the batter should have risen lightly and have a puffy, slightly foamy appearance. Add the onions, salt and about half the remaining bread flour.

5. Fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead the dough on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes, kneading in as much of the remaining flour as the dough will take while still remaining soft and slightly sticky.

6. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and shape into a smooth ball. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray and place the dough ball inside. Spay the dough ball with cooking spray and place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top. Cover the bowl with a towel and let stand about 1 – 1 ½ hours or until doubled in size.

7. Gently deflate the dough and shape it into an oval 8-10 inches long. Place the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Cover with a towel and let stand about 30 minutes or until roughly doubled in size.

8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 F. When the dough is ready, take a very sharp knife and cut several slashes in the top of the loaf. Bake at 400 F for 30 minutes or until golden brown and the bread tests done. (The bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom or when an instant read thermometer reads about 200 F.)

Makes 1 large loaf.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Apple, Cheese and Walnut Salad

I don’t know how good I am at lightening up my meals and snacks in January. On the one hand, I quite like delicious, perky things like these lentils and this celery salad. On the other hand, I made a batch of these cookies earlier this week (with craisins in place of the apricots), and I just took a pan of brownies out of the oven.

To tip the balance slightly in favor of good behavior, I’ll share with you this delicious apple salad I made recently. The photos aren’t that great, since I have trouble with lighting this time of year, but you get the idea. It’s mostly apples, with a savory bend provided by scallions, parsley, salt and pepper. It also gets a big pucker-y kick from lots of lime juice.

I really liked the lime juice, here, and don’t think any other citrus juice would serve quite as well in its place (lemon juice might be good if it is sweetened slightly). I also really liked the walnuts and walnut oil combo. I used a good, roasted walnut oil and toasted the walnuts in the oven. Actually, I toasted the walnuts just to the edge of edibility, I think, but they were really, really flavorful.

I got my hands on a nice white cheddar cheese gently flavored with apples and cinnamon (I can’t remember if it was a Wisconsin or a Vermont product.) This beautiful cheese was perfect in this dish, but any good cheddar, especially a white cheddar, would be nice. Other cheeses would work, too, as long as you like them with apples.

Really, I was never much of a fan of the apple-cheese combination, but I loved it in this salad. Maybe that cheese takes the dish a little out of the light and healthy spectrum, but I’m happy for the protein in a fresh and zesty side. Besides, those brownies can’t have all the fun!

Apple Salad with Lime Juice, Walnuts and Cheese
Based on a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine

¾ cup chopped walnuts
2 apples, cored and coarsely chopped
½ cup scallions, thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1-2 limes)
2 tablespoons walnut oil
½ cup diced white cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet. Toast in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until browned (but not burned). Set aside to cool.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the apples, scallions, parsley, salt and pepper. Toss together. Add the lime juice and walnut oil. Stir to coat well. Stir in the cheese cubes and walnuts.

Makes 4-6 side dish servings. Leftovers can be refrigerated for a few days, but the salad is best served right away.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Warm Lentils with Lemon Dressing


I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather, and it’s very frigid weather. I’d like to stick with the fresh flavors and healthy profiles of something like a salad, but I’ve been too cold. I did make some simple bean soup as well as a pot of Soup Beans lately, but I’ve also found that I can have my salad and my warmth all together. Sort of.

This is a very simple dish of warm lentils cooked with a bit of carrot, onion, celery and herbs (you could replace the fresh herbs with dried.) One then basically makes a salad out of them without waiting for them to cool. It’s not only warmer than a bean salad, but it’s faster as well. 

You might be able to use a different bean here, or add and subtract vegetables. I really liked the olives, parsley and green onions, but I think sun-dried tomatoes would be a good addition, or diced fresh tomatoes if they are in season.

You could also probably serve this dish as a salad, that is, cold. Since it’s January, however, these warm lentils are just right.

Warm Lentils with Lemon Dressing

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
¼ cup finely chopped carrot
¼ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup finely chopped celery
3 cloves garlic, divided
3 cups water
1 cup dried lentils
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup finely chopped green onions

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrot, onion and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are slightly softened and just beginning to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, finely chop 2 cloves garlic. Stir the chopped garlic into the vegetables and cook 30 seconds more.

2. Add the lentils, water, thyme and rosemary. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and boil gently 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender.

3. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the dressing: Chop the remaining garlic clove. Sprinkle with the salt and continue chopping the salt into the garlic. Continue chopping and scraping the salt and garlic together into a paste as described in this post.

4. In a small bowl, combine the garlic-salt paste, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, black pepper and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Whisk together until smooth. Set aside.

5. Drain the tender lentils and place in a medium-size bowl. Add the Kalamata olives, parsley and green onions. Pour over the dressing mixture and stir to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Another recipe like this one: Lentil Soup with Winter Vegetables and Kale