Ode To Julia, The Original Daring Baker

>> Friday, February 29, 2008

I have had my eye on this group called The Daring Bakers for a while now. I first spotted them on another blog just before the holiday season was approaching. I knew because of all the baking I would be doing for Christmas there was no way I would be able to fit a baking challenge in for at least a couple of months. Well January rolled around and I finally got brave enough to do it, to become a Daring Baker. But since January was half over I would have to wait until February's challenge. No problem, I thought to myself. This would give me a bit more time to wonder if I would measure up to all the other amazing Daring Bakers and their beautiful creations. So, along comes February, and with it comes my first Daring Baker challenge. At this point I am very excited to get my first challenge but also a bit hesitant. After all, these are DARING Bakers!! So I opened up the email and there it is: Julia Child's French Bread recipe, all 16 pages of it. A 16 page recipe. My very first challenge. What have I gotten myself into here?

I do own a Julia Child's Cookbook. And let me tell you the recipes in that book are amazing. The crostatas, and the tortes, and the beignets, all amazing. Have I tackled any of these recipes yet? Well, not exactly although I do pull it off the shelf every now and then just to admire, in the hopes that one of these days I will dive right in.

I can remember watching Julia as a kid. The first cooking show I ever saw. She was kind of kooky with her slurred words I always had such a hard time understanding. I think I always chalked it up to too much wine. And boy could she do it all, souffle, flambe, even pick up a chicken she had dropped on the floor and continued on like nothing had happened. You gotta love Julia, she was a real hoot.

The rules of the DB's are pretty simple. Someone picks a recipe and we all follow it pretty much to a T (unless otherwise noted). And then at the end of the month we all post our finished products on our blogs to share with the world, or at least the blogosphere world.

Needless to say I put off making the bread, not only because I was a bit intimidated by the whole process, but also because you needed a good 10 hours from start to finish.

But finally a weekend rolled around where I could devote most of my day to baking bread. So I rolled up my sleeves and I did it. I measured and mixed and took temperatures and kneaded and rose and punched and rose some more, I shaped and I baked and I tried to turn my oven into a brick oven. I learned a lot along the way. But the most important thing I learned is to not take this whole DB thing so seriously. After all, I chose to become part of this amazing group of people because I enjoy baking, and hopefully along the way I would expand my baking horizons. There is no written test at the end, no critical judges (other than myself). Just a wonderful feeling of accomplishment for baking a recipe that I probably would have never tackled on my own and the best darn french bread I have ever tasted. I think Julia would have been proud. After all, all ya gotta do is pick the chicken up off the floor and keep on cooking. Thanks Julia, the original DB, for not taking yourself too seriously.

If you want to check out the other wonderful amazingly talented DB's you can find them here.

If you think you want to give this bread making thing a shot yourself you can find the recipe here.

Bon App├ętit!


Easy As Pie...

>> Monday, February 18, 2008

It wasn't until I traveled to New Mexico that I knew what a fresh flour tortilla tasted like, what a flour tortilla should taste like. They are soft and fluffy and delicious enough to eat on their own, nothing like we get here. I figured I would have to wait until we traveled back to New Mexico until I could experience a real flour tortilla again.

Then I remembered the cookbook I had picked up in Santa Fe, Seasons of Santa Fe. Flipping through it I noticed a recipe for flour tortillas. I had not even thought of making my own before. You must need special equipment, I thought. Special ingredients? I scanned through the recipe, nothing special about it. Could it be so simple?

And it was. If you can make pie dough you can make homemade flour tortillas. A few things I learned along the way. Don't over work the dough or you will end up with tough tortillas. I find it best to roll out a few tortillas at a time and cook them as you go. My electric griddle worked wonderfully to cook them because you can do more than one at a time. But any cast iron pan would work fine too.

To keep them warm wrap them in a clean kitchen towel. To reheat them wrap them in foil and put them in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes.

Use them to make soft tacos (one of our favorite meals) or fajitas. They are wonderful served warm and rolled up with a little butter to go along side a bowl of soup or chile. Also can cut them into wedges and fry them in some oil to make wonderful tortilla chips. Actually they can be served with just about anything.

Flour Tortillas

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup warm water

sift together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in vegetable shortening with a fork or pastry blender until mixture is the texture of course meal. Add the water, pouring evenly over surface of dry ingredients. Mix until dough comes together in a ball. Let stand for 15 minutes, uncovered at room temp.

Shape the dough into 1 1/2" balls. Using a rolling pin roll each ball into a circle on a lightly floured board. The dough should be slightly thinner than pie crust. Cook tortillas in a lightly greased skillet until browned on both sides. Serve hot.


Back To The Table

>> Monday, February 11, 2008

We lost our power for about four hours last night. What a relief. Its amazing what a little silence can bring to a household. No TV, no computer, no humming of all things that run on electricity. Just peace and quiet. I have to tell you, it was a welcome change! Made me realize that we rely way too much on all these modern amenities. Cyndee and I decided that a few nights a week it is off with all things that plug in, and I can't wait! Although it also made me realize how lucky I am that I do have an oven to cook in and a computer to blog on! Otherwise I would not be able to share with you this wonderful, comforting recipe.

As a child growing up my most favorite food was homemade macaroni and cheese. My aunt used to make it for us in a big stainless steel bowl. I can still picture the size and the heft of that bowl that was filled with the most comforting meal in my small little world. It had to hold at least two pounds of macaroni, maybe even more. She used to make it with Velveeta cheese and put cut up hot dogs in it. Heaven. The Velveeta got so creamy and smooth as it baked in the oven, I can still remember the yellowy goodness of it all melted together.

This version is a bit updated, no Velveeta or cut up hot dogs, but just as comforting. It uses three different kinds of cheese. Sharp cheddar, American , and parmesan for the top. I use Land O Lakes American cheese from the deli, not the kind that comes individually wrapped (is that really cheese?). You can also use all cheddar if you prefer. But I do recomend you trying it with the American . It adds a really nice creaminess to it and seems to balance out the cheddar a bit. This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family. It is a wonderful book about food and Family. It has beautiful photographs and wonderful homey recipes like: Refrigerator Pickles, Apple Butter, and Sweet-potato Pecan Waffles, all delicious. This really is a cookbook I find myself turning to again and again.

Three Cheese Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb. Pasta of your choice ( I like penne or med. shells)
1/2 stick butter
1/3 cup flour
4 cups milk, heated
8 0z. (2 cups) extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
8 oz. (2 cups) American cheese, cut into small cubes
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Cook pasta according to directions on package, drain well, set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a deep casserole dish.

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for a minute or two. Gradually whisk in warm milk. Bring to a simmer while stirring constantly. Let sauce thicken and reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes more.

Remove from heat and stir in cheeses. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Put in casserole dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes until brown and bubbly. Let cool a few minutes before serving.


Life Is Sweet... And Smokey

>> Saturday, February 09, 2008

Cyndee had surgery this past week and , once again, my blog moved to the bottom of the list. But I cant say I mind. I would much rather take care of my family and help nurse them back to health . Cyndee is doing just fine, she is already back at work. But it amazes me how much one person does to contribute to the running of a household. Cooking, and cleaning, and kids, and homework, and bus stop, and garbage, and dishes, and taking care of the animals, and appointments, and laundry, and shopping, and ... the list could really go on and on. And it all runs smoothly and we really do have it down to a science until...one of us is out of commission. So I just want to say how much I truly appreciate us working together as a family and how much I truly appreciate you, Cyndee, as my partner. But I do have to say that I am so glad you are up and running again, because Im beat!

This week we are also celebrating our 12 year anniversary. Yes, I said 12 years. It truly does amaze me how far we have come together. We will celebrate by going to one of our favorite restaurants over the weekend while my brother Josh watches the kids for us (thanks Josh). But I couldn't let the day go by without cooking Cyndee one of her favorite foods, shrimp!
This is a really easy recipe that I found while flipping through my friend Jens Rachael Ray magazine. I adapted it a bit to suit our tastes. One of its key ingredients is Smoked Paprika. It just so happens that I picked up a tin of Sweet Smoked Paprika on our glorious weekend away at The Cape. Smoked Paprika has a wonderful smoky flavor, much more so than regular paprika. I would not recommend substituting it.

Shrimp Pil-Pil

1/2 cup olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (add more if you like it really spicy)
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
2 lbs. large shrimp, peeled with tails left on
salt to taste
fresh parsley, chopped
loaf of hot crusty bread

Season shrimp with salt and set aside.
In large skillet heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add garlic, crushed red pepper, and paprika. Cook for about 1 minute.
Add the shrimp to pan and cook a few minutes per side. Remove from heat and throw in a handful of chopped fresh parsley.
Put shrimp in individual serving bowls with plenty of the liquid.

Serve with hot crusty bread to soak up all the spicy sauce.


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