11.22.2011

Bread Stuffing with Sausage, Pecans and Dried Apricots - Recipe


Since it is Thanksgiving week it's a good time to share one of my favorite turkey sides, stuffing.  I've been told it is stuffing when it is stuffed into a bird and dressing when it is baked separately.  I personally like both.  The stuffing has more turkey flavor and is evenly moist, but I also love the crunchy top of the dressing. You can do either or both.  I vote for both.

Since I am pregnant, although still in the first trimester for two more weeks, I am not going to worry about how much I'm eating.  Plus since I can't drink I won't be getting any calories from wine, beer or cocktails.  I'm a little sad about that. Not the lack of calories, rather sitting around while sipping on something late into the night around the dinner table is part of family tradition.  I am trying to look on the bright side by thinking "well now I can eat those calories instead." Writing that statement seems funny.  I am not going to think about it too hard. 



My families traditional stuffing recipe is a simple sage with onions and celery affair.  It's absolutely delicious, but it is definitely a side dish and is only enhanced by gravy and cranberry sauce.  This Sausage, Pecan and Dried Apricots stuffing can be a meal unto it self.  Gravy would just cover up the subtle sweet apricots and earthy pecan flavor.  This is the stuffing you want if you aren't doing a million recipes and you want a stand out. 

This stuffing recipe comes from my favorite cookbook: Cooks Illustrated New Best Recipe and in the notes it mentions that, "The stuffing can be cooked inside the holiday bird if you prefer; just reduce stock to 1 cup. Stuff a 12 to 15-pound turkey with 6 cups of stuffing. Then add an additional 1/2 cup of chicken stock to the remaining stuffing and bake it separately in an 8-inch pan."

For the base of stuffing, I like a combination of wheat and white for bread crumbs.  Start by making stale bread crumbs. Then, you can do this either the fast more effort way or the lazy long way.  
Lazy long way: First cut the bread into 1/2-inch slices, and lay them in a single layer on baking sheets or cooling racks, b and leaving them out overnight. The next day, cut the slices into 1/2-inch cubes and allow them to dry for another night.

Fast but more effort way: If you are in a hurry, rush the process by drying the slices in a 225-degree oven until brittle but not brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Then cut them into cubes and proceed.
Bread Stuffing with Sausage, Pecans and Dried Apricots

1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from the casings and crumbled
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (you will also use the sausage grease, so you made need less depending)
1 large onion, chopped
4 medium ribs celery, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried sage or (1 1/2 teaspoon of the fresh herb)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or (1 1/2 teaspoon of the fresh herb)
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram or (1 1/2 teaspoon of the fresh herb)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped fine
2 cups pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup dried apricots, cut into thin strips
1 teaspoon salt
12 cups dried bread crumbs (from about 24-36 slices of bread)
1 cup homemade turkey or chicken stock
3 large eggs, slightly beaten 

  1. Cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat until browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a large bowl with a slotted spoon. Pour the grease off that remains and measure it.  (Don't scrape the pan you want the fat to be clear.  Then measure the grease and add enough butter to bring it up to six tablespoons.  That sausage fat will add great flavor.  Waste not, want not!  That's the Thanksgiving way.  I doubt the Pilgrims or the Indians ever threw meat fat away. 
     
  2. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until soft and translucent, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the herbs and pepper, and cook for another minute. Transfer to the bowl with the sausage; add the parsley, pecans, apricots and salt, and mix to combine. Add the bread cubes to the bowl. 
     
  3. Whisk the stock and the eggs together in a small bowl. Pour the mixture over the bread cubes. Gently toss to distribute the ingredients evenly. Stuff the bird or bake the dressing, covered with foil, at 400° F until hot throughout, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the foil; continue to bake until a golden brown crust forms on the stuffing, about 15 minutes longer. 
This is such a good recipe you don't have to save it for just Thanksgiving.  Anytime you are craving a fall comfort food make this dish. 

What's in your favorite holiday stuffing?

11.20.2011

Big News



Wait? Does that make me a mommy blogger?

There's so much to blog about. I'm concerned about my diet. I think most pregnant women want to do anything in their control to give their baby a healthy beginning. I know so very little. None of my close girlfriends have had a baby. I've never been very interested in babies or the gestation of them. I prefer growing plants to growing people.

We did a good job getting pregnant when we wanted.  First try!  Whoohoo! Doubt that will happen again.  I'm due a couple weeks after finals. Jeff will have time to get his grading done and then he'll have the whole summer to hang out with baby and me.  The life of a professor is a pretty good deal. 

I've got a lot of learning to do. On this blog for the next seven months, in addition to recipes, I'm going to write about what I learn and how I apply it to what I am eating, how I am exercising and dealing with baby stuff.

Jeff and I intend to stay true to our tasty, healthy, responsible eating roots as well as be mindful of how this little bump will change our lives. We plan to keep baby possessions to a minimum and buy as few new things as possible.

Want to see how this goes? So do I. Come along for the ride as I explore Garden. Cook. Write. Repeat. ^Pregnant. Don't worry this will still be a mostly recipe blog just with another flavor mixed in.

11.03.2011

Daily Bread - My Simple Bread Recipe


I make a simple wheat bread a couple times a week.  This is a versatile recipe and becomes the base for sandwiches, an accompaniment to soups and a side for curries.  Or I just put some butter on it to hold me over until dinner!  Depending on what I want I make round rustic loaves, traditional pan loaves, hamburger buns, bread bowls or dinner rolls. 

I didn't really get into bread making until we did Peace Corps and lived in the middle of nowhere without electricity or a grocery store.  One of our splurges was an oven that ran off a propane tank. 

I had a simple soft pretzel recipe that I learned in eighth grade home-economics that became the basis for my bread.  Lots of trial and error and four years later, making bread is a natural part of making dinner.  I wish I hadn't been so isolated when I was starting out.  A post like this would have really sped up my learning curve!

I've been tweeting with @ChrisKamprath trying to help him trouble shoot his bread making.  This post was inspired by him.  It takes way more than 140 characters to explain bread.  Although I think the best way would be to teach someone in person.  Here's my attempt to blog about it!

I should warn you all that this bread does not keep particularly well, once cut it gets dry over night. But it is perfect fresh out of the oven. The two of us, I have a very hungry husband, we can usually eat most of a loaf by ourselves.  I use any left over bread for eggy-in-a-basket, peanut butter toast or to make bread crumbs in the next day or two. 

This bread recipe is easy. The last time I bought bread it was because I had stitches in my hand and couldn't do the kneading for a couple weeks.  It does take some time to do two rises, but if you plan it right, it is perfectly practical for daily dinners even if you hold a full time job.  Plus it is cheaper and healthier than anything you can buy at the grocery store.  Here's how you do it. 

Simple Daily Bread Recipe
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (plus or minus a bit)

  1. Start by proofing the yeast.  Proofing means to make sure the yeast is growing before you start making the bread.  First warm a cup of water.  You want the water as warm as you can stand to touch it.  Yeast loves water about 115 degrees F.  If it is too hot the yeast will die and if it is too cold the yeast won't bloom quickly. 


    Pour the warmed water into a large bowl and mix in the sugar.  Sprinkle the yeast over the top.  The sugar is the food the yeast will consume to start growing.  Cover the bowl with a towel and let it set a couple minutes.  The yeast will bloom becoming fuzz over the water that's how you know it is alive and growing.
     

  2. I usually wait until the fuzz covers the water before adding the salt and oil.  Depending on the day I use olive or canola oil or if I have any chicken or bacon fat on hand I use that.  You could also use butter, really any fat will do as long as it is in a liquid form.


    Next, mix in the wheat flour with a wooden spoon.  I find wooden spoons are excellent for mixing dough.


    Then cover the bowl again with a towel and let it sit another five minutes.  This allows the wheat flour a chance to hydrate before adding in the white flour.  If you skip this step it is easy to wind up with a dry, dense loaf.
     
  3. Next add in the all purpose flour slowly mixing it in until you can't mix with a wooden spoon anymore. 


    Then, use clean, dry hands to kneed.  Start by kneading in the bowl to incorporate all the loose flour. 


    If the dough is sticking to your hands, add a little more flour.  Then turn the dough out on to the table and kneed for five minutes.  (I've got some tips at the end of this post for how to know when you've reached the right consistency and troubleshooting if you have dry, dense, flat or other issues.)


  4. Lightly cover the dough with oil and let rest in a bowl covered with a towel.  Put the dough in a warm place and let rise until double.  I don't usually keep very close track to how much time this takes.  This time I used a stop watch and I let it rise 40 minutes. 


     
  5. Then punch down the dough and shape into your final form.  I often just make a ball for a round loaf.  Today I wanted bread bowls for chowder so I cut the dough into quarters and shaped it into rounds.


    The most important thing to remember when shaping is to get all the air out so you don't have any air pockets in your bread.  When I bake bread on cookie sheets I put down corn meal underneath to keep it from sticking to the sheet.  For a loaf I roll it out with a rolling pin into a rectangle, roll it up into a log and then tuck the ends under.  Then I put it into a well greased loaf pan.
     
  6. Let the dough rise again until double. I let it rise for 50 minutes which was actually longer than my first rise, but I was working on making the chowder and time got away from me.  Bread making is not an exact science if you go over or under with raising time, it's usually not a big deal.
     
     
  7. Bake the bread in a 350 degree oven.  For my four bread bowls it took 28 minutes to get a nice even golden brown all the way around.  The larger your loaf the longer it will need to bake.  I can usually tell when my bread is done by smell.


  8. Remove your loaf from the pan or sheet and put it on a cooling rack.  This will keep condensation from forming and making the crust soggy.  Allow the bread to cool at least 5 minutes before cutting into it.  Then enjoy your daily bread however you choose. 



    Today's daily bread was bread bowls for corn chowder.  I froze whole kernel and creamed corn this summer just so I could make this soup when sweet corn isn't in season.  It is divine in a bread bowl! Simply cut a circle out of the top of your bread and then use your fingers to pull out the soft insides being careful not to puncture the walls of your bowl. 
How to adapt bread making to a 9-5 schedule:

Make the dough in the morning and put it in the fridge to rise.  It will rise slower when it is cool. By the time you come home from work you can take it out of the fridge and do the second rise.  Putting the dough it a warm place will help the yeast get moving and raise the bread for a second time.  Bake as normal. 

Why the ratio of wheat to white flour?  I know 100% whole wheat is healthier, but in order to get a 100% whole wheat bread I have to add almost a half cup of oil.  Otherwise the bread is super dense and dry.  Through experimenting, I've found the most wheat flour I can add without increasing the oil is one cup of whole wheat.  I make sure to add it in the beginning and allowed it to hydrate before mixing in the rest of the needed white flour.  I've also found seven grain cereal to be excellent in bread instead of the wheat flour.  I usually make the seven grain cereal first so it is completely hydrated. One cup cooked cereal works well.   You can even use the leftovers from breakfast.  If you don't have wheat or don't want a wheat loaf just use all white flour. 

Crispy crust: If I'm feeling naughty I add extra oil to the loaf pan so the bread is sitting in a couple millimeters of oil.  As the bread cooks the bottom gets a crispy almost fry-bread like brown.

Why use corn meal under loaves when baking?  Cornmeal can handle higher heat than wheat flour.  I learned this trick from making pizza dough.  Think about your favorite pizza I bet it has cornmeal underneath!  Pizza is often baked at very high temperatures, think at least 500 degrees F.  Cornmeal can take it, wheat flour would burn. 

How to make this recipe into pizza dough: Simply up the oil to 1/4 cup.  After the first rise shape into crust and then only rise 15 minutes for the second rise.  Prebake in a 375 degree oven until just starting to brown.  Then pull out the crust put on the sauce, toppings and cheese and bake for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  The extra oil makes for a crispier crust.  Make sure to put cornmeal underneath your crust!

Why cover with a towel?  The towel allows the yeast to breath but keeps the humidity high so the dough doesn't dry out.  Some folks use plastic wrap, but I like a towel better because it is reusable. 

Options for warm places to raise dough: I like to use a sunny spot if it is to be found otherwise I'll put it in the oven with it set to "warm".  I've been told the ideal temperature for yeast growth is 82 degrees.  In Panama I would put the dough in the cold oven with a lit candle.  The warmth from the candle was enough to get a good rise.   Just make sure to keep the towel and the candle well apart.  My mom would put the bread to rise on the hot air vents in the winter.  I've also had friends tell me they put it next to the fireplace; just remember to rotate the bowl so the yeast grows evenly.  If you really want to know your bread, keep it in your lap; body heat works too. 

How to know if you have added enough flour to your dough?  There is no exact amount, it is a range.  Slightly sticky, lighter dough will rise faster, have a courser texture and tend to be taller.  If the dough is no longer sticky and hard to knead it probably has too much flour.  Add a tablespoon of oil and knead it in.  It will take a bit of work, but it should save your dough.  I tend to err on the side of sticky if I want good bread for soaking up soups or curries.  If I want sandwich bread that will hold up to juicy tomatoes and be denser I add more flour.

I hope this encourages you all to make more bread!  Good luck and happy baking! 

** I love that I am getting your tips and hard won bread knowledge in the comments!  Please share your special tricks for making bread. 

Nutritional information:

11.01.2011

Extravagant Grilled Cheese - Simple Recipe


The onion bread is baking right now its aroma is making my stomach growl.  Bread baking can only be improved by the smell of roasting onion.  However, I'm going to try by adding extra sharp aged cheddar, some thin slices of the last of the season's tomatoes and grilling the whole thing.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it. 

The onion bread recipe is Rosemary Onion Bread, minus the rosemary, as their isn't any fresh rosemary and dried rosemary just isn't the same.  I also substituted a cup of whole wheat flour for some of the unbleached. 


Cut off some fairly thin slices of bread.  Thin is good because it allows the heat to get to the cheese.  Assemble your sandwich: bread, cheese, tomato, bread.  Butter the bottom of the bottom piece of bread. 


On a grilled cheese sandwich it is important to cover it with a thin even coat of butter so it browns up and has that nice crunch!  I usually butter the top side while it is in the skillet.  Then when the cheese is starting to melt and the bottom is a lovely golden brown, flip! Toast up the other side and then eat while the cheese is still gooey and the bread is still crispy.  A nice glass of ice cold milk is also recommended. 

In hind site, I might have grilled the tomatoes separately first because they kept popping out side as I ate.  Luckily I have plenty of ingredients to try again.  Perhaps next time I'll make some tomato soup too!