Monday, July 28, 2014

Sage and Onion Bread with Cornmeal

Baking through all the hot days of summer may qualify as a relevant definition of insanity, but this has been a fairly cool summer here and there’s a day once in a while when having the oven on isn’t so bad. Besides, you can’t expect me to eat home-grown tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches on store-bought bread, can you?

Even more than the lovely tomatoes coming at this time of year, the sage that I plant in pots on my patio inspired the ending of my procrastination in trying this flavorful bread recipe. Sure, I’m happy to use up most of that sage on this fabulously delicious white bean concoction, but sometimes you have to venture outward and share the sage.

I got this bread recipe from The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens, but took it out of the bread machine (I haven’t had one for years) and rearranged the procedure for mixing and kneading in a heavy-duty stand mixer or by hand. I used pretty much the same techniques I usually do when making yeast bread, namely making a mini-starter with the liquid and some of the flour and allowing that to stand for at least 15 minutes to encourage yeast growth and develop flavor. I also did not bake this in a loaf pan, opting to make a long loaf instead. You could bake this in a pan to make a sandwich loaf, but I would add about 5 minutes to the baking time.

The flavor of this bread is fantastic, and its herb and onion aroma is a gift that keeps on giving. You get it when cooking the onions, when kneading the loaf, when shaping the loaf, when baking the loaf, every time the bread is sliced, and, possibly most of all, when it is toasted. Although the sage and onion combination may seem like something you’d expect in late fall and winter holiday roasting, this bread manages to smell and taste like summer.

Which is great, because, lightly toasted and smeared with mayonnaise, this soft loaf crackling with cornmeal is in fact a fabulous vehicle for my summer staple: tomato sandwiches. Although I suppose a grilled cheese wouldn't be too shabby on this bread, either. Yum!

Sage and Onion Bread with Cornmeal

¼ cup warm water (about 100 F)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cup warm milk (about 100 F)
2 ½ cups bread flour, divided
½ cup cornmeal
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer (or another large bowl if you are mixing your bread by hand), combine the water, yeast and sugar. Stir together and let stand for about 5 minutes or until the yeast appears foamy.

2. Add the milk, 1 ½ cups bread flour, and cornmeal. Stir, using the paddle attachment, to make a loose batter. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let the mixture stand for at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft and beginning to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

4. Fit the mixer with the dough hook. (Or continue the next step stirring by hand.) Add about half the remaining bread flour to the yeast mixture, along with the onion mixture (including as much of the butter as you can), sage, salt and pepper. Stir together on low speed until the flour is incorporated.

5. Continue kneading, increasing the speed if desired (or turn out onto a floured surface and knead by hand), and adding as much of the remaining bread flour as you can. Knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is elastic. (The dough won’t be especially smooth because of the texture of the cornmeal.)

6. Grease a large bowl or spray it with cooking spray. Shape the dough into a smooth ball. Place it in the prepared bowl and spray the top of the dough. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Cover with a towel. Let stand until the dough has roughly doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

7. Gently deflate the risen dough and form into a new ball. Let stand for about 5 minutes. Prepare a baking sheet by greasing it or lining it with a silicone baking mat. Shape the dough into a long loaf about 10 inches long. Cover with a towel and let stand until roughly double in size, about 30-45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 F.

8. Cut a few diagonal slashes in the top of the dough. Bake at 375 F for about 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Or, use a more accurate test for doneness by inserting a probe thermometer into the bread. It should be about 200 F.

Makes a 1 ½ pound loaf. Store in a zip top bag at room temperature or freeze for a month or so.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blueberry Thyme Cornbread

I think I have at least one recipe stashed away somewhere in what at some level is an organized fashion for a blueberry cornbread. It’s really the idea that I wanted to hang onto, however, since I’m very happy with the basic cornbread recipe I use (and occasionally vary slightly) from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. All I needed to do was add some blueberries to my favorite cornbread and I would probably have something good.

I wanted this cornbread to be something I could serve as part as supper, an accompaniment to a savory meal (first, beans and rice, and then the leftovers with black bean soup), so I didn’t want something sweet enough to be confused with cake. At the same time, I wanted the blueberries in a batter that had a little sweetness, so I used a bit more honey than I usually do to make cornbread. Also, to make a little bridge back to savory, I added some fresh thyme leaves.

I was pretty excited at how successful this cornbread recipe was. I quite liked the blueberries with the cornmeal and the combination of thyme and blueberries was especially delicious. I admit that, even though I put the thyme in the cornbread myself, its bright, herbal taste was a pleasant surprise. Usually, I’d go for sweet spices like cinnamon and cloves with blueberries, but the thyme was great as both a compliment and a contrast to the fruity blueberries.

I particularly like to use a cast-iron skillet to make cornbread of any kind. I love the way it makes delightfully brown and crunchy edges. Using Madison’s method of preheating the pan and greasing it by melting some of the butter for the recipe in the process, then brushing it up the sides of the pan, helps to create those delicious edges. I like to use a good-quality stone-ground cornmeal for great flavor and a pleasant, slightly crumbly texture. I also highly recommend using whole wheat pastry flour along with the cornmeal for a more complex but still delicate grain flavor, but all-purpose flour could be used instead.

This Blueberry Thyme Cornbread was great in its intended place as part of supper rather than dessert. Of course, making this blueberry cake or adding blueberries to this yogurt cake might be just as nice and easy if you do happen to be looking for dessert. There are lots of blueberries out there, so I hope you find someplace you love to feature them.

Blueberry Thyme Cornbread
Based on a recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

6 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
¼ cup honey
1 cup milk
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Place 2 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Place in the oven to melt. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium-size bowl, combine the cornmeal, whole wheat pastry flour, salt, and baking powder. Whisk or sift to combine well. Set aside.

3. In a medium-size bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a whisk. Whisk in the 4 tablespoons melted butter. Whisk in the honey and the milk until well combined.

4. Pour the egg mixture into the cornmeal mixture and stir until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Stir in the blueberries and thyme.

5. Remove the skillet with the butter from the oven. Brush the melted butter all over the inside of the skillet. Pour any excess butter into the batter and stir in.

6. Pour the batter into the skillet. Place the skillet back into the oven and bake at 425 F for about 20 minutes or until golden brown along the edges and a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cornbread comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Makes about 8 servings. The cornbread is best the day it is made, but leftovers are still good stored in a zip-top bag and warmed in a microwave.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Farro and White Bean Salad with Fennel

I’ve been hoping to make some more hearty salads lately. They’re just right for simple suppers in the heat of summer and I love to take them to work for lunch. I finally got around to cooking up a small, very nice bag of farro I’ve had in the cupboard for a while, and I finally got around to cooking up the white beans stored next to that. What pushed me past that procrastination, however, was the purchase of a lovely little fennel bulb at the local farmer’s market. The bulb was smallish, but it was so fresh that the heavier parts of the stalks were also quite nice. It also had a beautiful head of lush green hair that hung out of my market bag as I shopped. Pity I didn’t get a photo.

Anyway, this is similar to other bean and grain salads I’ve made, and just as good, too. The flavor is very fennel forward, but it’s underlined by the nuttiness of the farro (gentle) and walnuts (a little nuttier). The vinaigrette dressing it pretty standard and you could substitute the walnut oil with another nut oil or olive oil, but I quite liked it here (especially since I also included the walnuts). You could also substitute the cider vinegar with another vinegar or with citrus juice. Again, I liked the cider vinegar.

This salad is also an interesting play of textures. The farro is chewy and a little starchy. The beans are creamy and mild. The fennel is crunchy, but not overly so. The interspersed walnuts also have a pleasant crunch. Very nice, I must say. And if you cannot find (or don’t care for) fennel, don’t let that keep you from experimenting with some version of this hearty, nutritious salad.

Farro and White Bean Salad with Fennel and Walnuts

½ cup chopped walnuts
2 cups cooked farro
1 ½ cups (about 1 16-ounce can) cooked white beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium-size fennel bulb and firm stalks, sliced
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
a few grinds of black pepper
¼ cup walnut oil

1. Toast the walnuts in a dry saute pan over medium heat until just beginning to brown. Set aside to cool.

2. Combine the farro, beans, and fennel in a medium size bowl. Toss to combine.

3. In a small bowl, combine the cider vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk together to combine well. Whisk in the walnut oil until the mixture is smooth. Pour over the farro mixture and toss to coat. Stir in the toasted walnuts.

Makes 6-8 servings. Leftovers last for several days in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Simple Berry and Rhubarb Galette

It’s hard to argue against a simple dessert of a nice bowl of perfectly juicy, sweet berries at the peak of their season. Really, those berries don’t need to be fiddled around with at all. But people like me just have to fiddle. And if another level of dessert deliciousness can be achieved with just a bit more effort (and an available pie crust), hey, why not?

This is a very easy, almost rustic berry and rhubarb free-form pie that I’ve thrown together a couple of times when I’ve found myself with plenty of luscious berries and, of course, plenty of rhubarb. I’ve got rhubarb growing in proliferation in my back yard from early spring through most of the summer, so it’s delightfully sour self finds its way into desserts without really trying. If you don’t have rhubarb available, however, don’t let that stop you from making this simple berry dessert. Just leave it out and, probably, adjust the sugar content as needed.

This pie comes from Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison, who is happy to allow good ingredients, like berries in season, to be the star of a dish. I just tossed together some berries (I had blueberries, strawberries and raspberries on hand when I took these photos) with rhubarb and brown sugar. A splash of lemon juice keeps flavors and colors bright, and I added what I thought was the right amount of cornstarch to thicken the juices a bit. I used more sugar and cornstarch than you might need if you don’t have rhubarb in the mix, which is sour and especially juicy.

This is just such a delicious dessert, largely because it’s all about the fruit. I even made it with a mediocre store-bought pastry and it was still fabulous, although I preferred it with this easy crust. (The crusts in this post and this post would also be good, of course.) You’ll really need to bake it on a large baking sheet, since there’s a good chance the beautiful berry juices are going to leak out of some breach in the crust’s integrity. For me, that’s an acceptable hazard.

An acceptable hazard made all better with juicy, delicious berries and rhubarb. And ice cream. Don’t forget to serve this with a scoop of ice cream. 

Berry and Rhubarb Galette
Adapted from Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison

You could leave out the rhubarb if you don’t have any on hand, in which case you may want to use less sugar. Taste your berries to see how much sweetening they need.

Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and sliced strawberries are all great here.

Pastry for a single crust pie, such as ½ recipe Easy Cream Cheese Pastry
3-4 cups mixed berries and rhubarb, your choice
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon (or so) cream or half and half
coarse sugar

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or foil or parchment. Set aside.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the berries and rhubarb with the brown sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Gently toss together to mix well.

3. On a floured surface, roll out prepared crust dough into a circle about 10-11 inches. Carefully transfer to the lined baking sheet.

4. Spread the berry mixture over the crust leaving about a 2-inch border. Fold the dough border up over the berries, gently draping and trying to avoid gaps out of which the berries can spill (they probably will anyway). Brush the cream or half and half over the crust. Sprinkle the coarse sugar over the crust.

5. Bake at 425 F until the fruit is bubbly slightly gooey and the crust is golden brown, about 35 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream. (Of course eating the completely cooled leftovers is perfectly good as well.)

Makes 6-8 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Apricot and Raspberry Tart with Crumble Topping (I’m soooooo hungry for this one right now!), Open-Face Blueberry Pie, Rhubarb-Ginger Galette