Tuesday, December 31, 2013

English Muffin Bread

This bread is for my dad. Literally. I made it for him for his birthday earlier in December. You see my dad loves English muffins. So I decided to make him this delicious bread that is very reminiscent of that crackly perfectly toast-able muffin. Instead of individual muffins, it is a slice-able bread. Which makes it SO EASY to make. Easiest yeast bread I've ever made. Truth.

All you do is throw the ingredients into a bowl and mix. Let it rise. Separate into two loaves. Let them rise. Bake. No kneading necessary. This is so easy that I have made it three times in the past few months. The first time I was just trying it out for myself. Second time was for my dad's birthday present. Third time was when I was home visiting the family for Christmas.

Besides being easy, it is delicious. So perfect. My family was begging me to make it again after we demolished Dad's birthday loaf in two days. Hence the third time. This is your gateway recipe to yeast breads if you have never made them. You won't regret it. I promise.

English Muffin Bread (adapted from Foodie with Family)
2 3/4 cup warm water
1 tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp + 1 1/4 tsp yeast
1 tbsp kosher salt
5 3/4 all-purpose or bread flour*
Cooking spray
Melted butter (about 1-2 tbsp)

Combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl (the bowl of your stand mixer works well). Let the yeast bloom for about 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and flour. Mix until just combined. It should be very sticky and lumpy still. Spray a piece of plastic wrap with cooking spray and drape over the bowl. Let the dough rise in a warm area until very puffy and about double in size.

Spray two bread pans with cooking spray. Sprinkle with cornmeal and shake to cover all of the surfaces of the pan. The dough will be very sticky so spray your hands with the cooking spray. Then, lightly punch down the dough, separate two pieces, and place them in the prepared pans. Each pan should be filled about halfway. Cover loosely with cooking spray covered plastic wrap and let rise about 30-60 minutes until they puff over the top of the pans.

Preheat oven to 350 F while the dough is rising. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the pans and brush with melted butter. Bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove and brush with the rest of the melted butter. Turn the loaves out on a wire rack to cool.

Serve toasted with butter or jelly or whatever you desire. Or make it into a delicious grilled cheese.

Makes 2 loaves.

Note: If you don't want to eat both loaves right away, give the second one to a friend. Or wrap it completely in plastic wrap followed by foil and place in the freezer. Thaw at room temperature or in the fridge.

*I have used all all-purpose flour or a 50/50 mix of bread and all-purpose. Use whatever you have in your pantry.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Chocolate Mint Cookies

Christmastime is the time for baking cookies. Pull out your KitchenAid mixer (or hand mixer or wooden spoon) and start to cream some sugar and butter together. Stir in some flour and something to give it a little bit of flavor. Shape them and throw them in the oven for about 15 minutes. There you go. Cookies.

When I'm home to my parents for the holidays, we have certain cookies that we always make. It just wouldn't be Christmas without cutout sugar cookies, peanut blossoms, and pecan thumbprints. What are your cookie necessities?

But I can never just leave it at that. If you know me, you know I love a new recipe. So last year I tried out gingerbread cookies. This year I made some chocolate mint cookies. They are perfect for the holidays. Do me a favor and throw them in freezer-- divine! They may be reminiscent of another cookie you've had before...

Chocolate Mint Cookies (adapted from Taste of Home November 2011)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup 2% milk
3/4 tsp mint extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1/4 cup cornstarch
dash of salt
1 lb chocolate candy coating

In a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the milk, mint extract, and vanilla extract. Stir together the flour, cocoa, and salt. Add the dry ingredients gradually to the stirring creamed butter and mix well.

Shape the dough into two 1 inch diameter rolls and wrap in wax paper. Freeze for about 2 hours until dough is firm.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Unwrap and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Place prepared baking sheets. Freeze additional dough if you can't fit it all on the baking sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes until set. Let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Melt the candy coating in a glass bowl according to the package directions. Dip the cookies into the melted chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off. Place on waxed paper and decorate with sprinkles. Let stand until set.

Makes about 7 dozen cookies.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Stout Mac and Cheese

What is your favorite Christmas song?

That is it. I just want your feedback. :) While you think about it, make this cheesy, beery, spicy mac and cheese. Packed full of flavor with chorizo and multiple cheeses, it is guaranteed to make you sing.

Now what song are you singing?

Stout Mac and Cheese (adapted from Cooking Light)
4 oz small pasta (I used shells)
1 tsp canola oil
2 oz chorizo
1/3 cup diced onion
1 1/4 tbsp flour
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup stout beer (I used Guinness)
3 tbsp milk
1 1/2 oz freshly shredded cheddar cheese
1 oz velveeta cheese

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Cook pasta according to package. Drain.

Heat the oil in pan over medium heat. Add the chorizo and onion and cook about 6 minutes, crumbling the meat. Add the flour and a grind or two of freshly ground pepper. Stir about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Whisk in the beer and then bring to a boil. Stir constantly for about 3 minutes until it thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the milk and cheeses until melted. Stir in the pasta and toss to coat completely. Divide into two individual casserole dishes coated with cooking spray.

Bake for 10 minutes until browned.

Serves 2.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mushroom and Sausage Ragu

Winter is certainly here. In central Illinois we have wind chills below zero already. I bundle up to head outside in a puffy coat, scarf, hat, and mittens and I am still cold. The wind... the wind gets me every time.

With the weather chilling our bodies, it is essential that we eat good warm comfort food. Something like the lasagna soup I showed you earlier this week. Or let's be honest, any kind of soup will do. Maybe you aren't feeling soup, so please try this quick and easy mushroom and sausage ragu. I served it atop some creamy cheesy polenta in order to make it complete comfort. It'll warm your soul. I promise.

Mushroom and Sausage Ragu with Polenta (adapted from Cooking Light The New Way To Cook Light)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces Italian sausage (I used hot but pick your spice level)
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 lb button mushrooms, sliced
1 large garlic cloves
1/2 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth (homemade or low sodium store-bought)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup uncooked polenta
1/4 cup Neufchatel cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese)
1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat 1 tsp of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 3 minutes, stirring to crumble. Remove sausage to a plate.

Heat another 2 tsp of oil in the skillet. Add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic and cook for another 1 minute while constantly stirring. Return the sausage to the pan and mix in the tomatoes. Season with a dash of salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes.

Bring the broth and water to a boil in a saucepan. Whisk in the polenta. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes until thick, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cheese and butter and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the polenta topped with the ragu.

Serves 2.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lasagna Soup

Oh hey there fancy pants!

I have been wearing my fancy pants for almost all of November and fancy pants apparently do not allow for blog posting. Actually, I kid, it is the job interviewing and flying all over the country that does not allow for blog posting. I do [almost] officially have a job as a professor starting Fall 2014. I'll tell you details at a later point once I dot all the i's and cross all the t's.

For now I'll just share with you a comforting fall or winter soup. I love lasagna but with an always busy schedule I rarely have the time to assemble and bake the whole casserole. This soup completely lives up to the flavors of tomato, cheese, and pasta that I crave but without the time commitment. I filled it with a little bit of ground beef and a ton of mushrooms because that is how I prefer my lasagna, but feel free to do your thing.

Lasagna Soup (adapted from Paula Deen)
1/3 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1/2 tsp ground thyme
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 cups chicken stock (homemade or low sodium store-bought)
2 cups water
28 oz can petite diced tomatoes
15 oz can tomato sauce
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp salt (+ more to taste)
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 cups broken lasagna noodles
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
shredded mozzarella cheese, about 2 cups

In a Dutch oven, cook the ground beef, onion, bell pepper, and garlic over medium-high heat for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beef is browned. Drain. Stir in the mushrooms, thyme, brown sugar, stock, water, tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the broken noodles and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the parmesan cheese.

Preheat the broiler. Ladle whatever soup you are going to eat into ovenproof crocks/bowls. Sprinkle each with about 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese. Broil about 6-inches from the heat for about 3-4 minutes until melted, browned and bubbly.

Serves 6-8.