Monday, January 30, 2012

Dinner Tonight: Spinach Feta Turnovers

2:08 PM 0 Comments
Spinach and feta has to be one of my favorite flavor combinations of all time: there is just something about how creamy feta balances the delicate texture of cooked spinach. Growing up in Chicago, spanikopita was available at just about every corner family restaurant and I have long loved it. This recipe replaces the typical phyllo dough for store-bought pizza crust. The result is a super yummy, super easy weeknight dinner that was a huge hit around here.

While I have not yet actually done this, I like the potential adaptability of this recipe. There are so many things you could seal into two triangles of pizza dough, from the obvious pizza ingredients for a quick calzone to an adaptation of samosas, with potatoes and peas and curry. I got this recipe from the free magazine they give you at my grocery store if you spend $50 or more. You never know where a good recipe is going to pop up.

Enjoy!
 

Spinach Feta Turnovers
Prep: 15 minutes
Bake: 10 minutes
Serves 6

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  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • 3/4 cup crumbled low-fat feta cheese
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tube (11 ounces) refrigerated thin-crust pizza dough
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray large cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In 10-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook 4 to 5 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. Add spinach and stir until well combined. Remove skillet from heat; stir in feta, dill and pepper. Let filling stand at room temperature 5 minutes to cool slightly.
  3. Unroll dough onto prepared pan. Cut dough into 6 equal squares. In center of dough squares, evenly divide spinach mixture. Fold 1 corner of dough over filling to the opposite corner to form a triangle. Press edges of dough to seal tightly. With sharp knife, cut 3 small slits in top of each turnover to allow steam to escape. Brush tops with beaten egg.
  4. Bake turnovers 10 to 12 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is hot. Serve turnovers warm.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Photo Contest

12:04 PM 3 Comments
So I'm thinking about entering an amateur photography contest. These are the pictures I am considering....whaddya all think? I would love your thoughts/criticism/input.

Taken at Brasserie du Pays Welche, France

Taken at Heart Lake, Montana

Taken at the Strasbourg Market

Taken in the Strasbourg Cathedral

Taken at Brown Lake, Montana

Taken in Paris

Taken in my neighbor's yard

Taken in my yard

Taken on the North Shore of Lake Superior

Taken at Grama and Grampa's house

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thinking about Bread

6:56 AM 0 Comments
When I started this blog back in October, one of my goals was to bake more bread. I'm now several months in and, looking back, I've done alright. I feel like with every new bread recipe, I get a better sense of the basics of breadmaking, and I've enjoyed seeking out new recipes to try. If Finn does indeed become a baker, maybe I can convince him to give me a few shifts in his bakery.

I think one of the greatest lessons I've learned is that baking a homemade loaf of bread does not have to be that difficult. It takes some time (though, in many instances, not as much as I would have guessed), but the hands-on is fairly minimal and the payoff extraordinary. The cost effectiveness is pretty remarkable, too, when I see what the grocery store bakery charges for a loaf of whole wheat artisanal bread. Admittedly, I have the privilege of being home with my boys this year so I can get a loaf of bread going in the morning while they are playing...but I think I could just as easily make a loaf in the evening in the hours between dinner and bedtime. Bread turns a simple dinner (soup, for example) into something kind of special; I think of it as an upgrade of sorts. It also makes your house smell really good.

Today is a great example of the use of bread to step up a meal. My friend dropped off a great big container of gumbo for our family to try for dinner. Since the effort required by me for this meal is exactly zero, I thought I'd make some bread to go with it. I found an interesting recipe in what I think is the very first cookbook I ever owned: Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest (1995 edition). I remember getting my hands on this book when I was in college and realizing for the first time that cooking could be a joyous process as well as a means to an end. It's still one of my favorites. As an added bonus, it's got a great basic illustrated guide to making yeast breads that is super useful for getting started.

I was looking for something kind of dense and flavorful, and I came upon this recipe. Unlike most of the breads I've been baking lately, this is not a yeast bread. Rather, it's a savory batter bread. I honestly don't think I've ever made a savory batter bread before; batter breads in my world generally come with bananas or pumpkin in them. The wonderful advantage to a batter bread is that it takes minutes to throw together and is then ready to put in the oven; no rising, no punching, no kneading. I made the recipe exactly as written  and it turned out really well. I think I would cut back on the sugar next time, as it was a bit too sweet in combination with the herbs, but I will definitely be making this again. I would also consider trying different herb combinations, or maybe different savory ingredients like olives or sun dried tomatoes.  I didn't get any help from Finn on this one; in fact, I had it made and in the oven before he even realized I was making bread. Emmett was in the mei tai, so I guess I can give him a cooking credit here.

Yogurt and Herb Bread
adapted from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest

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15 minutes to prepare (seriously!)
40 to 45 minutes to bake
Yield: 1 medium sized loaf

a little butter or oil for the pan
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup plain yogurt
5 tbsp. melted butter
2 eggs
1/3 cup honey or sugar
2 tsp. dill
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. basil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a medium sized loaf pan.

2. Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the dried herbs.

3. In a separate bowl, beat together the yogurt, butter, eggs, and honey/sugar.  Pour this mixture into a well in the dry ingredients.  Mix with a wooden spoon until thoroughly blended (it will be stiff).

4. Spread into the prepared pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let it sit for about 5 minutes then rap the pan sharply to remove the bread.  Cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes before slicing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Recipe Conundrum

2:06 PM 5 Comments
If your love for cooking and recipes is anything like mine (and I would venture to guess that for many of you it is), you have a recipe problem. Not a problem with the recipes per se but a problem with organizing the recipes in a way that they are usable. They are everywhere, in all kinds of formats, and they are driving me bananas.

Way back when I was in library school, I picked up a key phrase in the world of library and information science. It went something like this: information is only as usable as it is findable. I'm sure that the scholar who coined the phrase said it far more elegantly than that, but you get the idea. What's the point of having a bazillion recipes if, when you are making your grocery list for the week, you can't find the recipe you want?

At present, my recipes are in the following places:
  • in cookbooks - These are the easiest to find as they have indexes and are all together on a shelf. They subsequently get used the most.
  • in magazines - If the magazine in question is Everyday Food, then they are on the top shelf in chronological order going back to 2005. A print index is occasionally released, and I think there is an index on the website as well. If the magazine in question is any of the countless other magazines to which I subscribe, the recipes are likely still in the magazine with the corners bent over. They are then in a huge pile waiting for the day when I get a system figured out. On a side note, I find it hilarious that all of my January magazines want me to "get organized" when one of the areas in my life most needing organization is...figuring out what to do with my magazines.
  • in a folder on my hard drive - Those that I download from the Internet get saved in an aptly named "Recipes" folder. This does not mean I ever look at them again.
  • in a folder in my email - Those recipes that I receive by email often end up here. Per the above re: ever looking at them again.
  • in my allrecipes account - Those recipes that I save in allrecipes get saved in the "recipe box" feature.  The catch is remembering what recipes I saved there when I am looking for a recipe.
  • on my pinterest board - Again, there if I remember to look.
  • on sheets of paper in a folder on my shelf - These are generally recipes that I find online then print out or recipes that I photocopy from books I check out from the library. This collection may also include recipes clipped from magazines or recipes given to me by friends. To be filed into aforementioned desired system, of course.
  • on this blog - With a grand total of 33 entries at present, I can generally remember what recipes I've included here...for now.

Does anyone out there have this figured out? Or have any brilliant ideas?Anyone?


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Snow Day Bread

6:13 PM 2 Comments
We finally got some snow here in central Illinois. My kids spent an entire morning watching it accumulate before I deemed it time to get dressed and head out into the long-awaited winter wonderland.


While waiting for the snow to fall, Finn and I baked a loaf of bread.  The recipe came from a cookbook that he picked up at the library last week. For the last six months or so, Finn has been consistently declaring that he wants to be a baker when he grows up. His determination to be a baker is so set that if he comes up with another career objective, it is always preceded by his baking tenure (e.g. "After I'm a baker, I think I'll be someone who drives a boat"). In fact, Santa (and Melissa & Doug...) even brought him a baker's costume for Christmas:


The cookbook is called The Children's Baking Book and it's published by DK. As a K-5 school library media specialist, I am intimately familiar with cookbooks for kids; they are heavily used and I have purchased a lot of them over the years. The DK ones are good - full of step-by-step directions, lots of color photographs, and, for the most part, yummy recipes. Because many of them were initially published in Great Britain, there are sometimes ingredients that may not sound familiar. For example, many recipes in this book call for "golden syrup" which, as far as I know, is not something readily available in the States (it recommends substituting with equal parts light corn syrup and honey). Alternatives are generally given (or you can figure them out, as in "dessicated coconut" in place of "shredded coconut"), so this by no means affects the usability of the book.

We picked this recipe in large part because Finn liked the picture. And what is wrong with that, really? It's a lovely multigrain bread that has lots of aesthetic appeal because it is braided rather than loafed. It turned out very nicely and was the perfect accompaniment to big bowls of borscht (I do love me some beets) on a snowy night. I don't typically include step-by-step pictures with my recipes, but I did take a few of the braiding process for your reference.

Multigrain Braid
adapted from The Children's Baking Book

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1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
3/4 cup lukewarm water
4 cups multigrain bread flour (I used half white and half whole wheat)
2 tsp salt
1 oz. butter
extra flour for dusting
oil for bowl and baking sheet

1. Place the yeast, sugar, and 1/4 cup of the water in a small bowl.  Stir well and leave in a warm place for ten minutes, until the mixture turns frothy.

2. Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter until it is thoroughly mixed in.

3. Make a well in the center and pour in the frothy yeast mixture and remaining water.  Stir with a wooden spoon to form a dough, then use your hands to form a ball.

4. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for ten minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

5. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean, damp dish towel, and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

6. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.  Lightly punch down the dough.

7. Shape the dough into a rectangle, then cut it into three equal pieces.  Use your hands to roll each piece of dough into a 12" long "sausage."


8. Make an H with the dough pieces, weaving the middle piece over the piece on the left and under the piece on the right.


9. Braid from the center downward, then turn the dough around and repeat (this doesn't exactly work out, you have to kind of twist it to make the second part of the braid. Or at least I did).


10. Tuck the ends under and place on the baking sheet. Leave to rise for another 30 minutes. Bake for 30 minutes, or until hollow when tapped. Remove from the pan and let cool.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

On the Needles: Slipper Socks

10:19 PM 2 Comments
I first started knitting when I was studying abroad in college. A friend had showed me the basics the year before, and for some reason I picked up needles and yarn somewhere in northern India during that long ago semester. I particularly remember knitting during the independent study portion of the program, at which time the forty or so of us studying together all branched out to different places throughout India and Nepal to do a field-based research project. I was in Darjeeling, high in the tea-covered mountains, and boy, was it cold. Maybe that is why I started knitting, now that I think about it. Anyway, I had a lot of time to myself, and I knit my first scarf. I remember bringing it down to the Tibetan woman who worked at the front desk of the guest house where I had been staying for several weeks and somehow explaining to her, without words, that I had no idea how to cast off. She, without words, taught me. I've been knitting ever since.

Like any knitter, I love me a good yarn shop. I love fancy yarns and unusual fibers and hand dyed wools. I have a gigantic stash of yarn that I just had to have, with no particular project in mind, and I love going to new yarn stores when I visit new places.

Some of my favorite projects, however, come from your average balls of yarn that I buy at Michael's or Jo-Ann's and from patterns that I download for free from Lion Brand. As I've previously mentioned, I'm not the fastest knitter. That said, I love projects that use thick yarn, and I particularly like the Lion Brand Thick and Quick. Over the last few years, I have made probably a dozen of these hats: they stitch up beautifully, are very warm, are flexible for sizing (which helps, since I'm typically mailing them to the receiver), and look adorable. As an added bonus, I can usually finish one in the time it takes to sit down and watch a movie.



Last week, I got an email from Lion Brand with a link to a pattern for socks made with Thick and Quick yarn.  Interestingly enough, I learned to knit socks from a Mongolian friend entirely in Mongolian and to this day the only "pattern" I've ever used are the notes I scratched down during our demonstration-based lessons ten years ago. So I think I'm going to give this a try. The floors in my house are always cold, so I'm happy to have a pair of thick warm slipper socks in my near future. I'll let you know how it goes! 

Lion Brand Longford Hat

Lion Brand Slipper Socks




Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Christmas Dessert: Buche de Noel

2:44 PM 2 Comments
For the very first time in the history of our marriage, Sean and I decided to spend Christmas Day in our own home. In previous years, we've always spent Christmas Day with either my family in Chicago or his family in Montana. After running around like ragged last Christmas Day with two kids in tow, we decided that 2011 was the year to focus on our immediate family unit and put off the traveling until the 26th. It was a wonderful decision. The morning was blissfully slow (and full of yummy French toast), the kids were in pajamas until 3 pm, and I got to plan and prepare a five course Christmas dinner, which made me so happy! We even had a cheese course.

The entire meal was delicious, but the pinnacle of the evening was dessert.  When we invited a few friends to join us, I decided that I wanted a really impressive capstone to the evening. I came across a recipe on allrecipes.com for Buche de Noel. It's essentially a flourless chocolate cake baked in a jelly roll pan then rolled around chocolate flavored whipped cream and decorated to look like a log. It was exactly what I was going for: creamy, chocolatey, and visually impressive. I didn't make too many changes to the recipe as written, so I'll just include the link here. Make sure you read the reviews as there are some good tips. You probably won't have much need for this recipe until next December, but definitely file it away in your Christmas memory - it was delicious! I decorated the log with little mushrooms made out of bell-shaped Reese's peanut butter cups stuck onto miniature marshmallows and decorated with little white icing spots. It was very Smurfy and very festive and as pretty to look at as it was tasty to eat.



Happy belated holidays, all!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Christmas Eve Dinner: Fettucine with Roasted Beet Sauce

8:50 AM 1 Comments
I was somewhat ambivalent about beets in my youth. They didn't show up often at the family dinner table, and on the rare occasion that they did, they were typically the pickled-in-a-jar variety. Then I went to Mongolia. You see, Mongolia doesn't have a lot going on in the vegetable department. Bitter, long, arid winters don't make for great growing conditions, so the diet there is mostly based on flour, meat, and potatoes. The vegetables that were available in the regional center where I lived included onions, carrots, rutabagas and - you guessed it - beets. So I learned to appreciate beets and included them in just about everything I cooked.

Now, I LOVE beets in a ridiculous way, particularly when they are roasted long and slow. This divine recipe comes from my dear friend Maggie who writes at Kitchie Coo and, oh boy, is it ever good! Knowing my love for beets, she prepared this for us when we visited her family last summer, and I have been meaning to make it again ever since. It was the perfect dish for our family Christmas Eve celebration, particularly given its festive ruby red coloring set against our green stoneware. If you have the foresight to roast the beets in advance, it is also a very quick recipe to throw together. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Fettucine with Roasted Beet Sauce
adapted from epicurious.com

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1 pound beets, cleaned
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water
1 pound fettucine (we used fresh, but dried would work - adjust timing accordingly)
6 tbsp butter
1 heaping tablespoon poppy seeds
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup pasta water
1/4 pound goat's milk cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the beets in a glass or ceramic baking dish. Cover with the olive oil and water. Bake until soft, about 1 1/4 hours. Let cool.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

3. Peel the beets and cut into chunks. Add to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process to a rough puree. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions.

4. Add butter to a 10-inch skillet. Turn the heat to high. Brown the butter, about 2 minutes. Add the poppy seeds and toast for 2 minutes. Add the pureed beets, salt, and 1/4 cup pasta water to the skillet. Stir well.

5. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the sauce. Stir to combine.

6. Divide among plates and sprinkle each serving with goat cheese. Serve immediately.