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Garlic Soup (and why I don't want to be a vampire)

Garlic Soup
At risk of being devoured by team-Edward fans, I'm gonna have to admit that I do not understand the attraction to vampires.  And by attraction I mean, wanting to date a vampire or be a vampire.  Don't get me wrong, I like a good vampire flick as well as the next person, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna don prosthetic fangs and red...or eerily attractive lenses.

And I'm sure as hell not gonna drink blood for fun.  Sure, I've had my fair share of that metallic-flavored substance touch my tongue...I was a kid once.  I rode bikes and roller skated and jumped rope...and subsequently fell down and scraped my knee...and then licked the blood instead of running in the house.  No time to waste...daylight spends fast!  Don't tell me you didn't do that.  I know you did.  And maybe juuuuust maybe I've even done it a couple times as an adult. But if I did, it was from a knife cut to the finger...pretty sure I can't lick my knee the way I used to.

My point being...I do NOT want to squeeze the cut and fill a cup and then savor it like a cocktail. Oh, and, Ummmm...did I mention that I like food?  A LOT.  Turning into a vampire would mean that I'd have to give up food.  Now that gives me the shivers.  I am also going to admit that I prefer the vampires that I grew up with to those new-age, sparkle-in-the-sun ones.  Now these...these are vampires...

Skillet Pear Crisp

I know I often mention how I bring food over to share with the neighbors.  Well, that's not a one way street...they bring me food, too! Hooray for food-bringing neighbors!  Usually it's a gorgeous mushroom they've foraged or some game they've hunted or some fruit or veggie from a relative who grows tons and always organically, I might add.  This is all aside from the open invitation to their garden goodies.  Yes indeedy...I have some amazing neighbors.  I will overlook the fact that they throw their verdolagas into the compost.  A few weeks ago, they offered up an overflowing bag of pears.  I should say they asked me if I'd like some. many times do I have to tell  you to stop asking...I will ALWAYS say yes.  Just unload all the food you want on me.  I promise I won't turn it away!  One of their relatives has six pear trees on his land and doesn't eat ANY of the fruit they bear.  What a shame.  The upside is that I was gifted with some of the beautiful, imperfect, bug-holed (ie. organic, un-sprayed...and no spray is good...hence, beautiful in my eyes) yellow pears!
Skillet Pear Crisp
from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless
serves 6

4 oz. unsalted butter, softened (and divided)
2 pounds pears, cored and peeled (if desired...I didn't desire), cut into ½" slices
 ½ c. plus 2 Tbs. white sugar (divided)
2/3 c. whole wheat flour
½ c. packed dark brown sugar
½ tsp. ground Mexican canela (cinnamon)
½ tsp. salt
¾ c. (3 oz.) toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

Preheat oven to 400° F.  Set a 10" skillet w/ ovenproof handle over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of the butter.  When it begins to brown, add the fruit.  Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of of the white sugar.  Cook, stirring regularly, until fruit is soft and most of juice as evaporated and it's beginning to brown, ~10 minutes.

While fruit is cooking, stir together flour, remaining white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl.  Add remaining butter, working in until homogeneous mixture is formed.  With a spoon, stir in pepitas.

Crumble the streusel topping evenly over cooked fruit mixture.  Slide skillet into oven and cook for 10-15 minutes, until topping is crispy.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
...and yes, I did return the favor by dishing some up and bringing it back to my neighbors.  Hopefully that's incentive enough to keep them offering up good bounty!
I am sending this to GYO #46 (Grow Your Own), which is being hosted by MomGateway this month.

Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread

Drama Queen was in the mood for some raisin bread the other what was I to do?  Why, make some of course!  Since the yeasties and I have only been tight for less than a year, I didn't yet have a good raisin bread recipe under my belt.  So I went on the hunt...and found one that claimed of course to be "the greatest raisin bread recipe in the whole wide world" basically.  I'll admit, it did sound good...and all of the reviews that I read were pretty positive.  The only downside was that it used a whole lot of white flour and white sugar.  I do try to be healthyish whenever possible, without sacrificing flavor, so I made a few modifications...using half whole wheat flour and subbing honey for the white sugar in the dough and brown sugar for the white sugar in the swirl (which I know from experience works way better).  I used both purple and yellow raisins this time, but you could use all of one of a mix of others, if that's what you have.  I think it's important to soak the raisins, as well.  DQ actually commented on how juicy the raisins in each bite were!  This is definitely a favorite and we'll make it does make 3 loaves...but you can freeze them or give them away.  Need I say it's fabulous when toasted?  Didn't think so...

Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread
from the kitchen of girlichef
inspired by/adapted from this recipe
yield: 3 loaves

1½ c. milk, scalded & cooled to lukewarm
1 c. lukewarm water
½ c. honey
1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. yeast
3 eggs, at room temperature
4 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 c. whole wheat flour + extra for bench
4 c. unbleached ap flour
1 tsp. sea salt
1 c. raisins, plumped in hot water & drained

cinnamon swirl
1 Tbs. milk, lukewarm
1 c. brown sugar, not packed
2 Tbs. ground cinnamon

~2 Tbs. melted butter (optional)

Begin by putting the scalded milk, water, and honey in a very large bowl.  Sprinkle yeast over the surface. Let it bloom and become creamy, ~10 minutes.  In the meantime, whisk together the butter and eggs.  Once the 10 minutes is up, whisk in the egg/butter mixture.  Stir in the flours and salt with a wooden spoon.  Fold in raisins.    Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead until the dough becomes silky and workable.  Dough may seem a bit sticky at first...simply add more flour to the bench as needed, using a bench scraper to lift dough in between if it starts to stick.  This should take ~10-15 minutes.  Form into a ball and place into an oiled bowl, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let raise until doubled in size, ~1½ hrs.  This dough is superman...just look!!!
Punch dough down.  Lightly flour your work surface again and turn dough out.  Gently roll the dough into a very large rectangle-ish, approximately 24"x12".  Combine the sugar and cinnamon.  Gently rub the milk across the whole surface of the dough, then sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar mixture evenly over the moistened dough.
Roll the dough (jellyroll style), keeping it as tight as possible.
Cut the dough into three even sections, ~8" each.
Pinch the open edges together and tuck underneath the dough.  Place in well-greased loaf pans.  I tried two different sizes, both of which worked just fine...but I prefer the smaller, skinner one which measures about 4¼" W x 8½" H x 2¾" Deep.  That said, it was just the aesthetics, so use the loaf pan you already have if it's a different size.  Cover with plastic or towel and let rise until doubled in size, ~45 minutes.
Again...this loaf is so superman...rises up all big and beautiful...and fast!  Preheat the oven to 350° F. during last 20 minutes or so of rise time.
Bake in your preheated oven for ~45 minutes, or until golden (should register ~185° F., if you're temping it).
Let bread cool in the pans on a rack for ~10 minutes.
If you want, now is the time to brush the top of the loaves with a bit of melted butter.  The butter gives it a pretty sheen, but it doesn't add or take away from the loaf in the end.  I think if you're going to store it, I'd leave the butter off.
Turn the loaves out of the pans to finish cooling.
Once it's cool, you can wrap it well and freeze it, if you wish.  Or give some away...your neighbors will appreciate.  I know this from personal experience.  Or slice in and take a bite of cinnamon raisin bliss!
Our next raisin bread loaf will be an oatmeal loaf- no swirl.  We'll compare and let you know the results!!

I am sharing this post with:

Herbed Cheese Polenta

Giada and I were at peace in the kitchen this week.  We both had a lot on our plates and were busied with other things, so when she suggested making "the Italian version of mashed potatoes"...I didn't have any qualms with that.  Any version of polenta...cornmeal mush...corn hearty and filling and comforting, rib-sticking goodness to me. So, I made a big bowl of comfort food to bring to the IHCC Potluck this week.  Wonder if anybody brought any rich, roasted meat to go along with the succulent juices of oxtail stew...drool...?

Herbed Cheese Polenta
slightly adapted from Giada's Family Dinners
yield: 8-10 svgs.

9 c. water
1 Tbs. salt
2½ c. yellow cornmeal or polenta
1½ c. finely grated parmesan cheese
1½ c. whole milk
10 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
~½ c. chopped mixed herbs...I used flat leaf parsley, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, fresh chives
¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Bring water to a boil in large, heavy pot.  Add salt. Gradually whisk in cornmeal.  Reduce heat to low, stirring often, until mixture thickens and cornmeal is tender, ~15 mins.  Remove from heat, add cheese, milk, butter, herbs and pepper.  Stir until butter and cheese melt.  Serve.
For those of you who were anticipating a cat fight in the kitchen this week...sorry to disappoint ;) 
Check back, though...Giada and I still have plenty of time together.  Ha!

*This post is linked to:
IHCC cookbook sundays tailgatingtime Hey What's For Dinner MyMeatlessMondays

Four Cheese and Bacon "Macaroni"

People sometimes ask me if my kids eat all of the ______* foods that I make in my kitchen. *insert choice of adjective here...some examples: strange, different, gourmet, unique, fancy  The short answer is NO.  Of course not...they're kids.  But I can honestly say that they will at least try everything.  They have pretty adventurous palates.  I must say, though...that to's not really strange, different, gourmet, fancy, or unique.  It's actually pretty normal.  With a mom who spends most of her time in the kitchen and a dad whose eaten pretty much anything you can think of and that's just the way he was raised- to not waste any part of an animal...or any animal for that matter...can you say skunk!?, it's just what they "know".  Food made with loving hands...mostly from scratch.  Another thing people wonder is if my kids don't just want macaroni and cheese or poptarts or pizza rolls...of the boxed/bagged variety?  Pssshh.  Of course!  Do I give it to them?  Yes, I do.  Sometimes I choose convenience.  I'll be honest though, I was never one of those kids that asked for mac 'n cheese from a box.  It didn't really taste that good to me.  My sister on the other hand...  Although I could suffer Velveeta shells and cheese...those were pretty creamy and I remember.  So, yes...I buy boxed mac and cheese for convenience...but 99% of the time, it's the "thick and creamy" variety.  Not that I eat it...just that I figure they should have "the best" of the boxed {snicker}.  I do, on the other hand....ADORE homemade mac and cheese....especially when it uses four types of cheese and glorious bacon.

Four Cheese and Bacon "Macaroni"
yield: ~12 svgs.

1 lb. cavatappi
6 slices bacon, diced
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
3 Tbs. ap flour
2 c. milk
½ tsp. onion flakes
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
½ lb. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 c. (4 oz.) colby-jack cheese, shredded
1 c. (4 oz.) mozzarella cheese, shredded
8 slices (6 oz.) American cheese

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Grease/spray a 3-qt. broiler-safe baking dish.  Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Cook cavatappi 8 minutes in boiling water, then drain.  Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp.  Transfer to paper towel lined plate to drain.  Pour all but 2 Tbs. of drippings from pan and add butter.

Whisk in flour until smooth.  Whisk in milk in a thin stream.  Stir in onion, salt, & pepper.  Bring to boil over medium-high, then reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes.  In large bowl, toss together first 3 cheeses.  

Remove milk mixture from heat, whisk in American cheese and 1½ c. of 3-cheese mixture.  Toss bacon pieces w/ remaining cheese.

Combine cooked pasta and cheese sauce. Pour half in to prepared dish.  Sprinkle w/ a generous cup of bacon-cheese mixture. Repeat.

Bake in preheated oven for ~20 minutes.  Increase oven temperature to broil and broil 3 minutes, until top is lightly browned.
Now THIS is my kind of mac 'n cheese!  Creamy cheesy goodness to appease the inner cheeseslut...with a golden, crispy, salty, bacony crust to please please every bit of my being.  Did somebody say mac and cheese came in a box?  Hmmm...I didn't think so....

*This post is linked to:
~Presto Pasta Nights is hosted by Tigerfish of Teczcape this week
PrestoPastaNights familyfoodfridays fatcampfridays MagazineMondays

Cheddar Serrano Bread <-----makes killer garlic toast!

When I first ran across a recipe for cheddar serrano bread, I pictured a warm, crusty loaf that I could rip hunks from whilst contemplating the meaning of life.  If I'd have paid closer attention, I would have realized that this was not a crusty bread recipe, but rather an enriched bread.  It was soft, spongy and worthy of a good pop in the toaster.  It makes a great sandwich loaf (which I think I may have preferred to the free-form loaves that I made).  The thing wasn't all that spicy, even with the extra chile I added.  It wasn't all that cheesy, either.  Hmmm.  Go figure.  Don't get me wrong.  It was good!  But it wasn't fabulous.  UNTIL I toasted it, that is.  Toasting brought out all of the fabulous hidden flavors.  Funny what a little heat can do, isn't it?  I sliced it and stuck it on the grill...then rubbed it with some cut garlic and butter for a killer piece of garlic toast.  It was the perfect compliment to a plate loaded with a grilled ribeye, a baked/grilled potato, and a nice salad.  With a cold beer to wash it all down.  I think it would be wonderful with a bit of corn flour subbed for some of the regular flour, so I'm gonna try that next I'm going to roast the serranos first...and add even more cheese!!  That said, it's still plenty enjoyable as is...
Cheddar Serrano Bread
adapted from this Rick Bayless recipe
yield: 2 loaves

2½ tsp. yeast
1 c. lukewarm water
 ½ tsp. sugar
2 eggs
2 Tbs. olive oil
2½ c. bread flour
1¼ c. ap flour (or finely ground corn flour for something a little different) + extra for bench
big pinch of sea salt
4 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded & finely diced
6 oz. shredded EXTRA sharp cheddar cheese

Dissolve yeast in large bowl with water and sugar.  Stir and let sit 10 minutes, or until bloomed & creamy.

Mix in eggs and oil.  Toss cheese and serranos with flours and salt.  Mix all into wet ingredients with wooden spoon.  Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, ~10-15 minutes.  Place in an oiled bowl and cover w/ plastic or a slightly damp towel.  Let rise until doubled in size, ~2 hours.  Punch down.
Turn dough out and divide in half.  Form into two loaves on a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal.  Alternately, grease two loaf pans and place the dough in them.  Drape with a clean kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in size, ~90 mins.  Preheat oven to 425° F during last 30 minutes of rise time, with a stone placed on center rack if using free-form loaves.

Slash the tops if you'd like and dust with a bit of extra flour or corn flour, then transfer to oven and bake for ~30 minutes or until golden and cooked through.
*I'm sending this over to Rebecka from At Home with Rebecka because she was the host of this month's Culinary Smackdown Battle: Chile!   This bread has been Yeastspotted!  Also another BYOB entry!

Wordless Wednesday... from the earth

Oktoberfest Pizza, with a Pumpernickel Crust and Currywurst Sauce

Oktoberfest Pizza
What do you think of when you think Oktoberfest?  Pizza...right!?  No?  Okay, me neither.  I think BEER!  But I also think bratwurst and hearty bread and lederhosen and beer wenches in puffy peasant blouses with laced up bodices and braids on each side of her head. What can I say?  It's definitely been a dream of mine for a long time to get over to Germany and celebrate it "for real' one of these years!  So, being October...and being that Joanne chose Germany as our Regional Recipes destination this year...I have Oktoberfest on the brain!

That said...I've also had pizza on my mind this month...for a couple of reasons.  One that no longer matters...and another that does.  Our flick of the month over at Food 'n Flix this month, chosen by my co-host Ree, just so happens to be Mystic Pizza! I don't think I'd actually sat down and watched that since the eighties until this month...and now I've watched it three times (and subsequently ordered and received my very own copy from swap-a-dvd)!  It's so fun seeing the likes of Vincent D'onofrio, Julia Roberts, Conchata Ferrell, and Lili Taylor 20-some years younger.

Bavarian-style Whole Grain Pumpernickel Bread ...for World Bread Day 2010

How can something be kind of bitter...yet also comforting all at the same time?  It looms so prominently in front of you.  It beckons you with an unspoken promise of satisfaction...fulfillment...riches.  You can smell it.  It's luring you into its web.  Then suddenly you take a bite and are confronted by something far more strong and complex than you imagined.  Each move of the jaw releases a pungent...yet not unpleasant...assault to your taste buds.  Almost jaw-achingly chewy crust gives way to warm, tender insides.  Sure, that initial bubble of dreams you got caught up in has vanished...but a new world, full of possibilities looms before you.
Am I talking about Pumpernickel or my elimination from PFB 2010?  Perhaps both.  You decide.  Either way, I want to make sure that everybody who supported me and voted for me throughout the process knows how much I appreciate guys rock my world! I'm of the mind that whispers inspiring things like..."when one door closes, another one opens" and "things happen for a reason", no worries, my friends. 
Bavarian-style Whole Grain Pumpernickel Bread
from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day
yield: 4 lbs. dough (easily halved or doubled)

2½ c. whole wheat flour
2¾ c. rye flour
2½ c. unbleached ap flour
1½ Tbs. granulated yeast
1 Tbs. kosher salt
¼ c. homemade liquid caramel color *see recipe below
¼ c. vital wheat gluten
1 Tbs. caraway seeds
2 Tbs. molasses
3¾ c. lukewarm water

Whisk together flours, yeast, salt, vital wheat gluten, and caraway seeds in a 5 quart bowl of lidded food container.

Combine liquid caramel color, molasses, and water and then mix them into dry ingredients, using a wooden spoon...switching to your hands in the end if necessary to mix in the dry ingredients.  Dough will be wet. 

Cover (not airtight), and allow dough to sit at room temperature until it rises and collapses (flattens), ~2 hours.

Use dough immediately, or refrigerate covered (not airtight) and use over next seven days.  Dough is easier to work with when refrigerated.

When you're ready to bake, cut off a piece of dough according to what you need.  I used a 1½ lb. piece to make this loaf.  I have yet to get myself a brotform/banneton (basket mold made for rising wetter dough), so I lined a bowl w/ a linen towel and dusted it very well with flour.  Sprinkle some flour on your work surface, then form dough into  a ball by stretching the surface of the dough to the bottom while rotating, quarter-inch turns.  Place loaf into bowl (or brotform/banneton), rounded side down.  Cover loosely w/ plastic or a floured towel and let rise at room temperature for ~90 minutes (or ~40 if using immediately w/out refrigerating).  This type of bread doesn't get a huge rise here.  (You could also make a free form loaf and let it rise on a floured pizza peel.)

Preheat oven to 450° F. during the last 30 minutes of rising time, placing your baking stone on the middle rack.  You can either place an empty metal broiler tray on a different rack (and add a cup of boiling water immediately after putting loaf into oven) or simply be ready to throw in some ice cubes like I do.  I did read somewhere that this lowers the temperature of the oven a bit duh!, but I like to do it this way.

Gently turn your basket/bowl upside down onto preheated stone.  Make ¼" deep slashes in a cross pattern on top.  Bake for ~35-40 minutes, until firm.  Allow to cool on rack. 
*Caramel Coloring
yield: ~¼ c.
(Caramel color powder is made by overheating sugar until it almost burns, use this in place of it if you can't find it, decreasing water by the amount used...which is what I already did in recipe above.)  This is very important for pumpernickel breads because it imparts a bitterness that compliments the wheat and rye flavors, as well as enhancing the color of the bread.

3 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. water
pinch Cream of Tartar
(¼ c. boiling water- reserved until the end)

Place sugar and water in a small saucepan.  Melt sugar over low flame, then increase heat to med-high.  Cover boil for 2 minutes.  Add cream of tartar and continue to boil, uncovered, until mixture becomes very dark.  WARNING: this happens in the blink of an eye...almost immediately w/ this amount, actually!  Remove from heat, allow to cool partially.  Very carefully stir in the boiling water to dissolve the caramelized sugar.  Store in fridge until needed (unless making and using immediately).

You decide to take that wisdom...the wisdom gained from having your expectations turned upside down and rearranged...and use it in new endeavors.  Perhaps you'll even slice it, butter it, grill it...add a little swiss and make it all melty, some hot corned beef, smelly-delicious sauerkraut, and that oddly-fascinating Thousand Island dressing...and make yourself a Reuben.  The world is your oyster...
World Bread Day 2010 (submission date October 16)

How will you celebrate World Bread Day 2010?
This bread has been Yeastspotted! A baked good for BYOB.  The reuben is heading over to Souper Sundays!
World Bread Day 2010 - Roundup