Sunday, February 27, 2011

WAIT! Don't throw out that sourdough yet! There's hope!

I have a confession to make. I am horribly lax in maintaining and using my sourdough starter! I bought my starter from King Arthur Flour more than a decade ago, and their instructions encourage weekly feeding, though I usually opt for monthly, and that's when I'm on the ball with it! There are times when I've gone a couple of months, forgetting about it in a crock in the back of the fridge, and though the resulting product looked worrisome, I have yet to ruin the starter completely. As insurance, I do have a few bags of dried starter in the freezer, just in case, but so far, I haven't had to resort to using them.

If you have neglected your starter as I often do, you may find it very flat-looking and covered with a thick layer of yellowish or grayish liquid referred to as "the hooch." I pour this off and then rinse off the thick starter below with clean water, then feed it a couple of times until it gets going again. No biggie. But recently when I pulled the crock out of the fridge, there was pinkish, yucky-smelling liquid on top and some mold around the edges. Now, conventional wisdom would tell you to discard, but I don't give up that easily! I am not guaranteeing that all starters in this advanced state of decay can be rescued, but it's certainly worth a try.

I have found this method to be successful. First, I pour off the hooch and rinse the starter below. Then I take a spoon and remove any mold left around the edges. Then I take another clean spoon and scrape off the top layer of starter. Next, I take a third clean spoon and carefully remove about two tablespoons of clean starter from the very middle of the crock, trying not to touch the very bottom layer. Setting the reserved starter aside, I wash the crock very well with hot, soapy water. Then I put the rescued bit of starter back in the crock and stir that together with a cup of flour and enough water to make a thick, pancake-like batter. Sometimes I add a pinch of sugar to give the yeast a quick wake-up meal, too. I leave this mixture to work overnight. The next day, I remove about a half cup of the starter, add another cup of flour and water to make a thick batter and let it work again. You want to keep feeding it in this manner for another day or two until it starts to get really active and doubles between four and eight hours, I'd say. Then you can stash it in the fridge again and ignore it for another month! Tee hee.

In the process of trying to revive your mostly-dead starter, you are going to pitching out a lot of viable starter. Again, as I despise waste, I wanted to do something with some of it. I had an idea inspired by this chocolate walnut loaf that one of my students gave me for Christmas that was very good. I asked for the recipe and was surprised to find that it was cake-mix based. But I am no snob about such things. The problem was, it also called for a box of chocolate pudding, which I did not have on hand. What I did have was that crock of sourdough starter bubbling away on the counter. So I thought I might try throwing some of that in, along with making a few other tweaks. The loaves turned out YUMMY! I will share the original recipe first then my sourdough version. Both are delish.

Heather Kelley's Double Chocolate Walnut Bread

1 (8oz.) box chocolate cake mix
1 package chocolate pudding mix
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Mix cake mix and pudding mix together. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into 2 greased and floured loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

Double Chocolate Sourdough Walnut Loaves

1 box dark chocolate cake mix
1 cup active sourdough starter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups roughly-chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, mix everything except the chocolate chips and walnuts (about 50 strokes, just until it all comes together). Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts. Spoon evenly into two loaf pans sprayed with flour-added baking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until a tester comes out with just moist crumbs clinging to it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Snowmageddon rages on leaving its victims exhausted...and hungry!

Seriously, this weather has got to give us a break! There was so much snow piled up over the porches last week, that we had to hire our wood guy and his helper to come over Saturday morning and scrape the icy mountains off so that the rooves wouldn't collapse from the weight. Then it was 40 degrees yesterday morning and everything was melting, we had a mini-blizzard that evening, and by 8am today, The Weather Channel reported that the wind chill was making it "feel like" 23 below! And yet, they say by Friday, it may hit 50 degrees! BIZARRE! Clearly, winter isn't done having its way with us yet. So we still need some hearty, stick-to-your-ribs fare to carry us through the last few arctic blasts. And I've got a couple for you that are quite YUMMY!

The first recipe is my twist on a dish posted on the Fix It and Forget It website for barbecued black beans with sweet potatoes, which would make a wonderfully flavorful and filling vegetarian meal on its own. But I found some boneless baby back ribs at Sam's Club recently that I decided to involve in the dish. So I spiced them generously with some BBQ rub and browned them in my large Dutch oven in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Then I fished them out and in the leftover oil, I sauteed two celery ribs, one large onion (diced), and two cloves of minced garlic.Then I added 1/2 teaspoon each ground cumin, coriander, and black pepper, two bay leaves, a tablespoon of hot sauce, and about 1 1/2 cups of Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce, mixing it all together. I put the meat back into the sauce, covered the pot, and put it in the oven at 300 degrees. About an hour later, I added a large (29 oz?) can of drained black beans and and two large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks. I returned the covered pot to the oven, lowered the heat to 275, and let it cook for another 2-3 hours until everything was sufficently tender and super-delicious!

Then tonight, my roommate and collaborated on a pretty easy and very tasty Beef Stroganoff that's worth making a record of for a return engagement in the future. By the bye, I remain completely enchanted by my Le Creuset dutch oven that I bought last year, but both of these dishes would be excellent candidates for the crock pot!

Beef Stroganoff

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 lbs. stew meat
one large onion, chopped
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon paprika
3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon hot sauce, or to taste
1 cup beef broth
1 can golden mushroom soup
1 cup sour cream

Heat a large skillet or braiser, add the olive oil and brown the meat. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Saute the onions and mushrooms in the skillet, and when almost fully tender, add the minced garlic. When the vegetables have cooked through, season with salt, pepper, thyme and paprika. Then stir in the worcestershire sauce, ketchup, hot sauce, beef broth, and the golden mushroom soup. Add the beef back and combine everything. Simmer for 2-3 hours or until beef is tender enough to suit you, then stir in the sour cream, and serve over hot egg noodles.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I hope you all had a lovely Valentine's Day and that your sweeties (or family members or special friends) treated you right, and let you know how much you are loved! My dear BFF and roomie made me a Valentine's gift bag with a blu-ray of the The Social Network, a cd of my little bubby, Justin Bieber (ha ha), and some chocolates. I got her a mop. In my defense, it was a special of those steam cleaning thingamabobs...and she had been saying she wanted one for quite some time. And I also got her chocolates and a funny card with Sue Sylvester from "Glee" wishing her a Happy Valentine's Day. Tee hee.

For my work colleagues and friends, I baked some decadent chocolate chip cookies made in a cute Valentine's molded pan from Wilton. I tried out a new recipe over the weekend after hearing Ina Garten make mention of Tate's Bake Chop in the Hamptons. Apparently, people lose their minds over their thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies. I thought they were delicious, and interestingly, the recipe is practically identical to my very favorite Levain Bakery copycat, except for using less flour. The Tate's recipe calls for two cups of flour to one cup butter, while Levain uses three. When I made the heart-shaped cookies in the molded pan, I split the difference and used 2 1/2 cups so that they would hold their shape better and not spread. Then I packed them up in some cute little treat bags that I found at Wal-Mart (though they look more like Tar-ghay!), and distributed to them to all of my Valentines at work. Cute, huh?

Tate's Bake Shop Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Source: Food Network)
Yield: 3 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup salted butter, 2 sticks
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 2-3 cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt.
In another large bowl, cream the butter and sugars, then add the water and vanilla. Mix until just combined. Add eggs to the butter mixture and mix them lightly. Stir in the flour mixture. When flour is mixed in, fold in the chocolate chips.

Using a cookie scoop, drop the cookie dough 2-inches apart onto prepared cookie sheets. Make sure the cookie sheets are well greased, or line them with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Bake for 11-13 minutes or until the edges and centers of the cookies are golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire rack.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Superbowl XLV

Happy Superbowl Sunday to you! I hope you were rooting for the Packers (I was--I am fond of those cheese hats).  But even if you're a Steelers fan, you have to admit, it was a good game. Then again, what do I know about such things?  I hate sports and only tune in for the commercials and the halftime show. The rest of the time, I'm in the kitchen, whipping up the party food. I didn't go all out this year, as it was just me and my roommate. But I did make a few simple, tasty, though admittedly artery-clogging treats. ;-)

To begin with, I made some Swedish meatballs that were just okay, so I won't bother posting a recipe for them. And devilled eggs hardly seem worth blogging about, but Cyd said they were my best batch EVER, so for posterity's sake, I will note that I hard-cooked a dozen eggs and mashed the yolks with about 1/3 cup mayo, a squeeze of yellow mustard (1 teaspoon?), a tablespoon or so of onion relish (zucchini relish is good, too), maybe 1/2 teaspoon of sriracha for a little bite, salt and pepper, plus a sprinkle of paprika. Pretty basic, but darn good!

Next, I whipped up a quick Rotel dip to be eaten with tortilla chips. I tried making the traditional Velveeta-based version over the holidays, but I just LOATHE processed cheese sauce, and even all zhooshed up with a lot of add-ins, I just can't get past the texture. A friend of mine from college told me that she makes the same sort of thing with cream cheese, so that's what I tried this time. It's not a very attractive-looking concoction (=understatement), but it's delicious. In fact, if you're a "mild" person that eschews hot sauce, you might want to add a little (sweet) chili powder and/or paprika to turn the greyish hue to something pink or reddish. It's still going to have a certain...emetic...quality to it, but the flavor will far outweigh its appearance.

Lastly, instead of the classic Superbowl hot wings, I made a stellar batch of teriyaki wings--perhaps my best yet. However, they may have been even better with honey, but I was out, and I didn't want to make my way through yet another dumping of snow to get to the store today. So I made do with brown sugar. As I said, they were really good, but the honey would have given them a certain gloss and stickiness that I find desirable in party wings.

Whatever you munched on, I hope you had fun with your family and friends feasting at your own Superbowl throwdown. And if your team didn't win, there's always next year!

No-Velveeta Rotel Dip

1/2 pound mild sausage
1 small onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 8 oz. package cream cheese
1 can Rotel tomatoes with cilantro and lime, drained
1/2 can seasoned chili beans, drained
1 tablespoon hot sauce (or to taste)

Brown the sausage with the onion and garlic. When cooked, drain off the fat, and add the remaining ingredients. Let everything melt over low heat. Serve with tortilla chips.

Teriyaki Wings

2 1/2 lbs. chicken wings, thawed
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar or honey
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon sriracha (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Mix all ingredients together and marinate wings overnight. On a lined baking sheet, place the wings so that they are not touching and bake at 375 degrees for about an hour, turning them over at a little past the halfway point, or when they've taken on enough color on one side.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Snowpocalypse 2011

Normally, I enjoy a snow day as much as the next kid. But this past Wednesday when schools were closed for the onslaught of snow that was paid forward to us from the midwest, I was, shall we say, less than enthused. My day started with foraging through a maze of boxes and Halloween decorations in the garage to get to the snow shovels so that I could then dig a path all the way around the house to clear the kerosene monitor's exhaust pipe. This was followed by a lesser shovelling out front so the dogs could have a spot to potty (as they had begun using the porch...ewww).

The whole premise of this particular snow day was annoying, because I missed the first night of a once-a-week class, which is nothing short of a disaster that screws up the following week, too, and basically throws the whole schedule off for the semester before we've ever even met! I did email the class to tell them how to get caught up for next week's class, but most of them won't read their school email. So I had to spend more than an hour calling 20 people and repeating the same message over and over again to as many voice mail systems. Ugh.

I realize, however, that grumpiness in the face of an unexpected mid-week day off is a highly inappropriate response. To reframe my attitude, I bought very cheap airfare for spring break (Burlington, VT to Charlotte, NC=$222 round trip!), took a two-hour nap, and when I awoke, set about making a ginormous cauldron of a quick and easy, but very hearty and healthy soup. The original recipe came from my high school friend, Sheri, but of course, I had to put a few of my own twists on it. I can't believe how fast this came together, and yet it was so savory and satisfying. Definitely put this one in your snow day soup repertoire--in fact, it's simple enough for a harried week night, too.

And let us heed the words of my wise friend, Vicky: "Just being home and able to make soup is a great thing. These are the days that break the monotony of our lives, make time slow down, and force us to rely on our own talents and resources. Love the snow day! Don't struggle against it, ride it!"

Snow Day Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 8 oz. package sliced mushrooms (I used baby bellas)
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 lb. chicken sausage, sliced (I used a 12 oz. package of Italian)
1 lb. artichoke hearts, if frozen, thaw & halve (I used one 15 oz. can, drained and very roughly chopped)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 or 2 teaspoons vegetable bouillon (I like Better Than Bouillon)
64 oz low sodium chicken broth (I needed extra stock, so I used one 48 oz. box of chicken and two cans of vegetable=77 oz.)
1 bunch (1 lb) greens (chard, kale, etc) stemmed & roughly chopped (I used half of a ginormous bunch of kale)
2 cans cannellini beans, drained

Garnishes: fresh lemon juice, shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil, and saute the onions until translucent. Then add the mushrooms and garlic and cook until tender. Add the sausage and brown. Add the artichoke hearts, oregano, red pepper, black pepper, vegetable bouillon and both kinds of broth.

Bring to boil, turn down and let simmer ten minutes, then check seasonings. Add greens and white beans and simmer three more minutes until the kale is tender and beans are heated through.

Garnish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a generous sprinkle of shredded parmesan cheese. Serve with a crusty bread.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Brownies, brownies and MORE brownies!

Ever since I got the FABULOUS Baker's Edge pan for my birthday, I find that I cannot stop making brownies! And when the latest issue of Bon Appetit arrived and it had Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts on the cover, it felt like my density...err..destiny. As luck would have it, I was invited over last weekend for another potluck/game night at my friend June's house. Unfortunately, I had to spend most of the day Saturday in traffic school due to my little auto mishap back in October, so I couldn't bring anything elaborate to the party. Thus, I had the perfect excuse to try the brownies that Bon Appetit decreed the "BEST EVER" and warned that, if you made them, you would eat the whole tray!

I followed the recipe exactly and did not make any changes as is usually my way, other than to bake them in the edge pan. Our verdict? We did finish them off in short order, and they were certainly very fine brownies, and the browned butter gave it an interesting depth of flavor.  But all in all, they were not THE BEST BROWNIES IN THE WORLD or anything. In fact, and I know I may get hate mail for this, but a college friend shared her favorite brownie methodology with me, and I daresay that they were OUT OF THIS WORLD and among the best brownies I've ever made--and they were from a MIX!  Now I don't agree with his philosophy, but my friend, Tom, purports that all brownies are "the best" brownies. Maybe you'll have to make both and decide for yourself--what a delicious dilemma!

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts
(Source: Bon Appetit, February 2011)

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup walnut pieces

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Cut into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 brownies. Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Wendy's "Enhanced" Brownies

As for the other "recipe," my friend Wendy says: "My favorite enhanced mix brownies are as follows: I start with Ghiradelli brownie mix. I add Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips and (the secret ingredient), just a little bit of Heath toffee chips in the mix, and a few more toffee chips on top (total toffee chips - in the mix and on top - is only a little more than a tablespoon). Bake until barely done. YUM."

My follow-up remarks: I've always thought that Ghirardelli made the best mixes, and baked in my edge pan, they make extra-super-fabulous brownies! The one I had on hand was dark chocolate and already had chocolate chunks in it, so I didn't add any extra. But I did use Heath milk chocolate toffee bits (like chopped-up Heath bars rather than just plain toffee bits), and I used 1/4 cup in the batter, and sprinkled another 1/4 on top. CRAZY GOOD! Thanks, Wendy! :-)