Girl Versus Dough

Round Twenty Three — Blue Cheese & Walnut Wheat Crackers

Blue Cheese Walnut Crackers

Dear Ina Garten,

If ever you feel the need to invite a big fan of yours to your lovely abode in the Hamptons and fill her up with fine cheeses and wine, I wouldn’t be opposed to accepting your invitation. Just saying.

Sincerely,

Stephanie

P.S. Tell Jeffrey I said hello. Though I truly love the Midwest and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else for the rest of my existence, I sometimes get wanderlust to places like Greece, or Australia, or even the Hamptons. Kelly Ripa talks about it all the time; I’m pretty sure there’s some version of “Real Housewives” set there; and I wouldn’t complain about wearing the obligatory over-sized floppy hat. And, of course, Ina Garten lives there (I think — I haven’t stalked her enough yet to know for sure, but wherever she lives is magical). Plus, if I lived in the Hamptons, I would get to eat fancy-schmancy crackers like these all day long, complete with a glass of wine (which I hear, in the Hamptons, is perfectly acceptable to drink at 11 o’ clock in the morning).

But for now, I’m stuck here, with a cornfield instead of a coastline. But at least I can still have the crackers.

I don’t know what inspired me to bake crackers this time. Maybe it was the wall of cheese at the co-op that fascinates me so (What a bounty of cheese! Such variety!). Maybe it was the practicality of making crackers as opposed to stollen or lebkuchen. Whatever the reason, the result has left me and my husband happily full in the hours between meals.

And, as my friends well know, a full Steph is a happy Steph.

Debrief: These crackers are very versatile. If you don’t like the strength of blue cheese, try cheddar and chives. Or parmesan and thyme. Or rosemary and… manchego, perhaps?

Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers Adapted from Food Network

Yields: 30 crackers

Ingredients: 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature 5-8 oz. blue cheese, crumbled (Ina recommends Stilton, but Maytag worked just fine for me), at room temperature 1 cup whole wheat flour 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 2 tsp salt 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper 1 large egg beaten with 1 tbsp water for egg wash 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Directions: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and blue cheese together for 1 minute, or until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, salt and pepper and mix until it’s in large crumbles, about 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon of water and mix until combined.

Dump the dough onto a floured board, press it into a ball, and roll into a 12-inch long log. Brush the log completely with the egg wash. Spread the walnuts in a square on a cutting board and roll the log back and forth in the walnuts, pressing lightly, and distributing them evenly on the outside of the log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 4 days.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut the log 3/8ths-inch thick with a small, sharp knife and place the crackers on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 22 minutes until very lightly browned. Rotate the pan once during baking. Cool and serve at room temperature.

Extra punches: I’d suggest chopping the walnuts really well before coating the crackers. As you can see with mine, the pieces were a little big and had trouble sticking to the sides of the crackers. They still basically stuck, but I think a coating of finely-chopping walnuts would not only look prettier, but would also save you the headache of trying to keep them stuck to the edges.

Round Twenty Two — Rhubarb Muffins

Rhubarb Muffins

When I’m old and cranky and wear house shoes and smell a bit like mothballs, I hope that if I can’t muster the strength to bake anything else, I still bake these muffins. They are delicious, and versatile enough to withstand the test of time. To be completely honest with you, I hadn’t eaten rhubarb before until about a year ago, when Elliott’s wonderful grandmother, Marlyn, made a rhubarb pie. Even then, as good as the crust of the pie looked, the red celery-like chunks of rhubarb made me think it would taste just like that — a pie with celery chunks. But I decided to be brave (and polite) and gave it a go, and the last thing I remember after that was that only a quarter of the pie was left standing in the pie tin. I am now rhubarb enlightened, and I do not regret it.

Being that rhubarb is in season, and being that I had some leftover buttermilk from a previous recipe and a good ol’ hankering for fruit muffins, I used my knowledge of first grade math and put two and two together, which equals rhubarb muffins. Really, this recipe could work for any fruit — blueberries, strawberries, bananas, oranges, heck, even kiwi, if you want to get adventurous (I’m not sure how this would turn out, but if you want to try it and let me know, be my guest). But with the sweet, tart taste of rhubarb, along with the crunchy, gooey brown sugar topping, I’d say any other fruit would have to pick a fight with rhubarb if it thinks it would taste better.

I doubt it. Debrief: If you want to make these more of a breakfast muffin rather than a dessert muffin, I’d suggest omitting the brown sugar topping. The muffins lose about a third of their calories and fat, and still taste just delightful. You can also split the 2 cups of chopped fruit between rhubarb and something else, like strawberries. Yum. Be-bop-a-rhubarb, a-rhubarb-pie. Rhubarb Muffins

Yields 15-18 muffins Ingredients: 2 cups King Arthur Bread Flour 1 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp salt 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, packed 1/2 cup vegetable oil 1 egg 1 cup buttermilk 1 tsp pure vanilla extract 2 cups chopped rhubarb

For the topping (optional): 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed 1 tbsp butter, melted 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda. In a separate medium bowl, combine sugar with oil. Add egg, buttermilk and vanilla, and stir ingredients together well. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients along with chopped rhubarb. Spoon batter into greased muffin tins about 3/4 full (or almost all the way like I did). Mix together ingredients for the topping, and sprinkle over each muffin. Bake for 20-25 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes before removing from tins. Extra punches: This batter can also be used to make two rhubarb loaves instead of muffins. Just divide the batter between two greased 8×4-inch loaf pans and bake them for 40-45 minutes.

Knockout Gear — about me

About Me

Well, hello you. This is my face. Nice to meet you.

I consider updating my “About” section to be part of my bread baking gear. Why? Because you wouldn’t trust me if you didn’t know me better. And if you didn’t trust me you wouldn’t be baking what I bake. So, now that you do, you should get to making bread.

But seriously, I was encouraged by a few other blogs I often read to make a more extensive, more personal mini-bio of myself and how I got here. It’s like a handshake through a computer screen (someday that will be REAL).

So enjoy. And glad tidings to you, dear reader.

Round Twenty One — Apple Walnut Flax Seed Bread

Apple Walnut Bread

After mourning the loss of my old kitchen and all it’s brightly-lit wonders (and pretty counter tops), I decided to come to terms with my new kitchen, its electric stove/oven and dim, grim non-windowness. (I’ve also taken to making up my own words.) And in order to come to terms with my new kitchen, I had to make it smell nice. And put it to the test. Can it deliver a tasty quick bread?

Oh yes. Yes, it can.

I’ve been drooling over the tasty delights of Joy The Baker and finally thought it good timing to make one of her creations. And I do not regret it one bite — er, bit. My place, which once smelled a little like old Indian food and body odor (apartment life, I tell you), is now a heavenly abyss of scents of swirly cinnamon, tart apples and crunchy walnuts. And it was so simple, too! After a hectic first week on the job (as an A&E reporter for the local paper, schwing!), the last thing I wanted to do was deal with yeast. A note to yeast: I love you, but sometimes our relationship just does not work out. I only have so much patience. Love, Me. But back to the bread — with the combination of flax seeds, walnuts, grated AND chopped apples, sprinkled throughout a mixture of wheat and all-purpose flours, topped with cinnamon and cane sugar… you get the idea. It’s so good. And my oven did most of the work for me. I guess that makes up for the vampiric conditions of my poorly-lit kitchen. That, and I have a shoddy camera right now (but a fantastic photographing husband!), so the bread only looks a quarter as good as it tastes. Sorry. Make it now, and you’ll know what I mean (especially if your own abode has funky smells too, which I’m SURE aren’t coming from you, oh of course not…). Happy baking!

Debrief: You are free to omit the flax seeds if they freak you out or you just don’t want to get up off the couch and go buy some (because who honestly has flax seeds just lying around, anyway?). But they actually come in handy in a multitude of other foods (hot cereals, muffins, other breads), so maybe go wild and give them a try.

Apple Walnut Flax Seed Bread Courtesy of Joy The Baker

Yields: One 9×5-inch loaf

Ingredients: 1 cup all-purpose flour 3/4 cup whole wheat flour 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon generous pinch freshly ground nutmeg 2/3 cup buttermilk 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2 large eggs, lightly beaten 1 cup grated apples 1/2 cup coarsely chopped apples 1 tablespoon flax seeds 3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, divided cinnamon and sugar for sprinkling

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9×5×3-inch loaf pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, melted butter and vanilla extract. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Add the grated apples, chopped apples flax seeds and half of the chopped walnuts. Fold to incorporate thoroughly. Spoon batter into prepared pan and top with granulated sugar, cinnamon and the rest of the walnuts. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes then invert onto a cooling rack to cool before wrapping.

Extra punches: As you can see from the pictures, my bread sort of fell apart when trying to cut it, even after letting it cool completely. I suggest freezing the bread and slicing off individual pieces while it’s frozen, and either warming up the individual slices or letting them sit out on the counter until they reach room temperature. Or, you can enjoy the imperfection of the crumbliness and eat it that way.

Sifted Words — a new home!

New Home

Friends! It’s been a while, I know. But, as I mentioned before (if you were LISTENING), I was on the lam to my new stomping grounds — the lovely Iowa City (where Elliott will be learning about bones and nerves and the purpose of the appendix at the University of Iowa’s physician assistant graduate school program). A humble beginning, maybe, to the untrained eye, but I intend on discovering all that this quaint city has to offer and making the best of it. I’ll keep you posted on my adventures.

For now, welcome to my new home! Take a look around (a second apology for the poor photography — I was in a hurry to show you my place). Our office/study room/my friend Ashley’s bedroom/place where I write my love letters to you.

The bedroom/room that IS a bed.

Yea 100-year-old television!

Couches. Comfy cozy.

My adorable kitchen! I’m in love.

I’ve got some exciting things to share with you coming up this week (including bread, of course!). But in the meantime, a happy Easter to you all. I’m going to go enjoy the thunderstorm brewing outside.

Round Twenty — Olive Oil Flatbread

Olive Oil Flatbread

Disclaimer: These photos are lacking in the zeal of my past posts’ photos. Why, you ask? Because, unabashedly, my mother took her lovely camera (that I borrow for my photo-taking, for I am too lowly and poor to afford such an expensive item) on vacation with her, to Saint Maarten (or Saint Martin, if you’re on the French side as opposed to the Dutch… in case you wanted to know). The nerve. Regardless, I hope you enjoy the experience of reading about this bread, and maybe the tasteless photos will assist in improving your use of the imagination. Always look on the bright side of life!

I was going to bore you with another “Sifted Words” post on an article I recently read in The New York Times’ “The Minimalist” by Mark Bittman, but when I really dove into his article/recipe on Olive Oil Matzo and realized it takes only THIRTY minutes from start to finish, I decided to instead make the darn bread instead of wasting my time writing about it, which would probably take longer. And if I keep talking about why I made this bread in the first place, I may waste more of your time than you would actually making this bread. So here we go. It’s quite ironic, actually, that I discovered and decided to bake this particular bread. Bittman mentions in his article that the origin of matzo (or, “unleavened”) bread is from way back in the day when the Jews were forced to flee from Egypt after Passover. In their haste they had no time to let their bread rise: thus, matzo bread. He digresses, however, that their bread was not so good. This recipe is worlds away from the original unleavened bread — salty and crispy, with the slightest olive oily taste. It’s also known as “carta musica,” or sheet music, for its incredible thinness. But the reason it is so ironic that I happened upon this recipe is because, in a few short days, the husband and I are embarking on our own journey across the land. Of course, there’s no fleeing involved for us, and we’re not traveling across continents (really just from Illinois to Iowa), but still, it’s a metaphor. At least in the sense that, amid packing and preparing to move, I’ve not much time to bake bread, let alone eat it. So a quick and tasty recipe like this is perfect for times when bread is necessary, but time is short. Very short.

The process is as simple as the list of ingredients, which I’m sure you already have in the house (don’t you just love it when that happens?). The only difference I encountered with my experience versus Bittman’s was the length of time the bread needed to bake in the oven. While he suggests a mere three minutes, mine took about 6-8 minutes for both sides. As sensitive as this bread is to bake, I’m sure it’s different for every oven, so baby the bread as much as possible by watching it constantly until the edges are just about to burn. Then that’s it. You’re done. Now, time to flee.

A side note: It may be some time before I am able to post another yummy recipe for all of you to enjoy, and for this I am eternally sorry. You can blame Iowa for purchasing our souls and beckoning us to move to its greener pastures on such short notice. And, once you are done blaming Iowa, I’m sure enough time will have gone by that you can check back here again and voila! A new post will appear before you.

Debrief: This flatbread is deliciously crispy and multidimensional in taste all on its own, but a little hummus and capers don’t hurt, adding a little oomph to your unleavened snack.

Olive Oil Flatbread Courtesy of The Minimalist (of The New York Times)

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients: 2 cups flour 1/2 tsp salt 1/3 cup olive oil 1/2 cup water sea salt for sprinkling (optional) Directions: Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Combine flour and salt in food processor. Combine olive oil and water in small bowl, whisking them together into a “vinaigrette”-like substance. While running the food processor, add olive oil and water mixture to the flour mixture slowly. Run the food processor until all ingredients combine into a firm dough ball. Remove dough from food processor and knead slightly into a ball. Cut ball in half, then in smaller pieces, until you have 12 small pieces of dough. Roll each piece into a ball. Flatten each piece on a well-floured surface into a 3-4 inch patty. Roll out with rolling pin into a 6-8 inch circle. Make sure it is very, very thin (you should be able to see your fingers on the other side when looking through the dough with light behind it). Place thin circles on ungreased cookie sheets and sprinkle with sea salt if desired. Bake circles for 2 minutes on one side and one minute on the other (for me, this was give or take 3-4 minutes on each side; just keep a very close watch on the dough until it is thisclose to burning, then remove from the oven). Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Extra punches: As I’ve mentioned twice before, and will do so again — WATCH THE BREAD. Seriously. Sit on the floor (pillow is optional), look through the glass and watch the bread bubble and brown, because there are crucial seconds between that necessary browning and irreversible burning.