Monday, October 28, 2013

Honey Yeast Rolls

Making bread or rolls from scratch has been a real hit or miss for me.  Sometimes the bread comes out wonderful and has the perfect light fluffy texture and other times, well, things just haven't turned out the way I wanted.  Just to name a few of the issues I have experienced: expired/dead yeast, killing the yeast with too hot water, using too cold water and not activating the yeast, under kneading the dough leading to weird textured bread, overcrowding the pan and having under baked rolls, realizing half way through making the dough that I am out of something like eggs.....yea umm that was just a full on air-head moment, but the list goes on.  Although all of these bread making issues have been extremely frustrating, they have been good learning experiences and I have yet to repeat any of my errors.  So even though making breads has not come as naturally to me as other types of cooking and baking have, I will continue to keep trying because when I did finally get it right all of the mistakes were well worth the effort.  Having the patience and taking the time to follow all the steps through is worth every minute because there is nothing quite like warm homemade delicious bread right from the oven.  Plus there is the added benefit that baking bread makes your entire house smell amazing.  These rolls specifically are sweet and light with a slightly chewy buttery top.  They are a wonderful compliment to a hearty weekend dinner like pot roast, an amazing addition to a holiday dinner table, or just the right side for chicken and rice soup (as pictured.)  You will absolutely love these sweet dinner rolls; they are certainly one of my favorite bread recipes.

Honey Yeast Rolls
Inspired by Annie's Eats

1 cup warm water
1 packet (2 1/4 tsp) instant yeast
1/4 cup honey
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 egg
4 cups bread flour
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp honey

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine warm water (around 110ºF) with yeast and honey.  Give this a mix with your paddle attachment and let stand for about 5 minutes to allow for the yeast to begin activating.  Once the yeast is starting to look foamy and is fragrant, add the vegetable oil, salt, and egg and mix well. Add 3 cups of the flour and mix until the flour is well combined into the wet ingredients.  The dough will be very sticky at this point. Remove the paddle attachment, scrape well, and attach your dough hook. Turn the mixer on low speed and add the remaining 1 cup of flour.  Once the flour is combined, turn the mixer to medium speed and "knead" for 7-8 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Coat a large bowl with oil or cooking spray.  Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and form a smooth ball with your hands.  Place the dough ball in the oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm place for about 2 hours until doubled in size. I usually stick mine in the oven (turned off) because my kitchen can be pretty cool and drafty and this is the best place for the dough to rise.

Lightly flour your counter top and transfer the dough out of the bowl.  Knead the dough very briefly and then cut into 10-12 evenly sized pieces.  Carefully shape the dough pieces into balls (you don't want to overwork the dough) and place in a greased 9 or 10 inch round baking dish. Be sure to leave space between each one so there is room to rise.  Cover the rolls and let rise again for about 30 minutes.  Preheat your oven to 400ºF.  If you are letting your dough rise in the oven, make sure you take it out before turning the oven on to preheat.  Mix together the butter and additional honey and brush over the tops of the risen rolls.  Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.  If desired, brush the cooked rolls with the butter and honey mixture again for a shiny finish.  Let the rolls cool for at least 5-10 minutes before serving.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

BBQ Ham & Onion Quesadillas

Funny story about quesadillas, every single time I make these, no matter what size tortillas I buy, no matter how many come in the package, and no matter how much filling I make, I always have one, just one extra unused tortilla left over at the end.  I don't understand how this can happen to me every single time?  What the heck am I supposed to do with one tortilla??? Well I finally figured it out.  Save the pesky tortilla and when the craving strikes, make a rolled up grilled cheese!  Just take that tortilla, add a thin layer of cheese, roll it up into a spiral, and butter the outside.  Cook this up like a regular grilled cheese and ta-da, no more stinking left over tortilla. 

Despite my lack of proper portioning skills, I would say quesadillas are probably one of my top five dinner choices. I love making them at home and trying out all kinds of different combos but I also find myself ordering them often when we are out to eat if I find them on the menu.  I'm not really surprised about how much I love them because quesadillas are basically a kicked up grilled cheese on a tortilla instead of bread.  And if you didn't know this about me or you couldn't tell from my rolled up grilled cheese enthusiasm, I think grilled cheese is the perfect food!  They have the same golden brown crunchy outside and warm gooey cheese filling.  Plus the addition of the salty, savory, and sometimes a hint of sweet fillings bring the concept of grilled cheese to a whole new level.  This ham and onion filling has a great balance of flavor and texture and is one of the simplest filling combos to put together.  Quesadillas are a great weeknight dinner option because everything can come together in less than 30 minutes.  I hope you give these a try!

To make the filling for these quesadillas, I cook the onion until slightly caramelized and then add the ham and cook until heated through.  I add the barbeque sauce right before everything is finished so that it has a minute to thicken and coat everything in the pan.  If you aren't a big fan of ham, this recipe is equally as delicious with chicken.  In fact, there are tons of different fillings you could try such as grilled chicken with maybe some bacon and pico de gallo, or shaved steak with onions and peppers.   I have also seen some really great looking breakfast quesadillas with scrambled eggs and sausage.  Basically, anything that you think would taste good smothered in cheese and toasted between tortillas probably will be amazing.

I like to set up an assembly line so that everything I need is right there and ready to go.  Once you get started toasting these, things go pretty quickly.  So I line up my tortillas, a small dish of olive oil and pastry brush, grated cheese, and the ham filling. 

Start off with one tortilla and brush one side with a bit of olive oil.  Place the oiled side down on the grill pan or skillet and top the whole thing with cheese.  Then add the filling to one half of the tortilla.  That way when you close the tortilla up, the cheese melts all around the filling.  

When things start to look a little bit melty (wait a bit longer than I did for the picture below), fold the cheese only side over the filling side using a pair of tongs.  Give the tortilla a chance to brown on the outside and flip over to the other side and continue to brown.

Once the tortilla is toasted on both sides and the cheese is nice and melted, remove from the pan and let set while you cook the other quesadillas.  You don't want to cut them too soon because the cheese might ooze all over the place.

Once they have cooled, I like to use a pizza cutter and slice into three wedges.  Sour cream would probably be really great on these, but we hardly ever keep it in the house so we skipped it.  Quesadillas are also commonly served with salsa and you can totally go that route if you want, but I don't really think the flavors of this particular filling go well with salsa.  Really, just serve these however you would like.  I like to have a garden salad with this meal to balance out all that cheese!

BBQ Ham & Onion Quesadillas

2 cups diced ham steak or deli ham
1 small medium onion, sliced thinly
2 tbsp barbeque sauce
8-10 large flour tortillas
3-4 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, monterey  jack, american, etc)
3 tbsp olive oil, divided

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion slices until tender and slightly caramelized, about 6-7 minutes.  Add diced ham and cook for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally.  Add the barbeque sauce, cook for about 1 more minute, and remove from the heat.  Preheat a griddle, grill pan, or non-stick skillet to a medium high heat.  Set up an assembly line with the remaining olive oil, tortillas, shredded cheese, and ham mixture.  Brush one side of each tortilla with a coating of olive oil and place oiled side down on the hot griddle.  Spread a layer of cheese over the entire tortilla and place a bit of the ham mixture on one half of the tortilla.  Make sure you don't over fill the tortilla with cheese or ham.  Using tongs, fold the cheese only side half of the tortilla over the ham side to form your quesadilla.  Continue to cook and flip the quesadilla until both sides are nicely toasted and the cheese is completely melted.  Stack on a plate or cutting board and let sit for a few minutes while you cook the rest of the quesadillas.   Use a pizza cutter or a large sharp knife to cut each quesadilla into 3 or 4 wedges.  Serve with sour cream, if desired.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Classic Brownies

When you live in New England, every year there comes the "peak" leaf season when many of the leaves have turned color and the trees are still holding most of the leaves.  This is the perfect time to take that autumn drive along the country roads and soak up the beautiful scenery.  Of course, you have to watch out for those other pesky leaf peepers that decide to come to a complete stop in the middle of the highway for a bright red tree or something equally as silly ;) 

 K and I love driving around aimlessly listening to our ipod anytime of the year, but we always make it a point to take at least one big photo trip every fall so that I can take some lovely landscape shots.  This year we headed about 45 minutes west of our house up to one of the higher points in the area, where we could overlook the still very foggy valley that we had just driven out of.  Even though it was still fairly early in the morning the sun was shining brightly and the yellow, orange, and red leaves were glowing with color.

The first three shots here depict the perfect crisp, fair autumn day that is greatly anticipated as the hot summer months come to an end.  Days like these are usually few and far between but very much enjoyed before six months of cold winter settles in.  The remaining shots were taken on a typical cool, drizzly fall day but are still a lovely reflection of how amazing nature can be.

This cooler fall weather means finally having a kitchen that it is bearable to cook and bake in.  I was more than happy to take advantage of this and decided I needed a chocolate fix.  Holy cow, these brownies were CHOCOLATEY! If you are a chocolate lover, these are the perfect brownie for you.  They have the beautiful crackly, crunchy top layer with a fudgy, rich, chewy layer underneath.  Perfect brownie texture, in my opinion.


The instant espresso powder and vanilla extract in the brownies really enhance the chocolate flavor. The original recipe called for 1 1/2 tbsp of espresso powder, which I thought was a little bit too much because the brownies did have a mild coffee flavor.  I reduced the amount in the recipe below to 1 tbsp, which I think will still add a depth of flavor without actually making the brownies have the hint of coffee.  Of course, if you prefer, you can leave it out all together.

You could make other flavor modifications to the brownies, like adding mint extract or different candies. I liked the simplicity of the classic brownie with some whole chocolate chips mixed in for a little texture.   The recipe that I followed suggested topping with caramel sauce and sea salt. Yum!  And we can't forget the option of serving the brownies à la mode style :)

Sitting here typing about how delicious these brownies were, is making me wish that I still had one left to eat.  I don't know if you are an edge or middle of the pan person, but either way you can't go wrong.  The middle brownies are super smooth and extra creamy, but the edge pieces have the crunchy, chewy edge and a bit of the smooth middle too.  I always make sure I get a piece of each and then I have to find someone to give the rest away to before I eat the whole pan!

Classic Brownies

Inspired by Ina Garten

1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter
8 oz semisweet chocolate chips
3 oz dark or bittersweet chocolate chips
3 large eggs
1 tbsp instant espresso powder
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tbsp white sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (omit of using salted butter)
6 oz semisweet or milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, melt butter and 8 oz semisweet chocolate plus 3 oz dark chocolate together over a double boiler or in the microwave.  If using the microwave, heat in 30 second bursts, stirring between each burst until melted.  Let cool slightly and beat in eggs, espresso powder, vanilla, and sugar.  In a medium bowl, stir together 1/2 cup flour, baking powder, and salt.  Combine with the chocolate mixture.  Let this mixture cool until approximately room temperature.  Toss the 6oz remaining chocolate chips in 2 tbsp of the flour and then stir into the brownie batter.  Pour the batter into a greased 9x13 inch pan and bake for 35 minutes. Let the brownies cool completely before serving.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Crockpot Beef Stew

I always eat beef stew with a fork, but then I end up going back at the very end and getting a spoon to finish the soupy part of the stew.  K thinks that this is weird and beef stew should be eaten with a spoon only.  I don't know, I just can't get over trying to eat chunks of potato or beef with a spoon.  It just doesn't feel right.  You are probably sitting there thinking that I am crazy right about now.  But I am all about the texture when eating and that doesn't just mean the texture of the food. It also means the texture of eating certain things off of a spoon or fork and sometimes the meal just doesn't seem right unless I have the right utensil.  Come on, please tell me I am not alone on this one?   The beef has to be tender and flake apart between the tines of the fork and the potatoes and carrots have to be just firm enough to spear but not fall apart.  You can't get these same results with a spoon!  All of these textures, along with the hearty, full flavors make this stew a perfect comfort food. 

 This recipe is extremely customizable. Beef stew is one of those meals that you can just throw into a crockpot and pretty much forget about it.  I chose to brown the beef , onions, and celery before slow cooking, but if you don't have the time you can skip this step.  The browning does give the stew an extra depth of flavor, but it's not 100% necessary.  I bought this stew beef pre-cut at the grocery store, but I actually ended up cutting it into smaller pieces after I browned it. You could also buy a large piece of meat and cut it yourself; just be sure to get a cut of beef that will stand up to the long cooking process.

You can add whatever vegetables that you like or have on hand.  I used red onion, celery, baby carrots, and yukon gold potatoes, but feel free to change these up.  You could try adding other root vegetables like parsnips or turnips or maybe add some mushrooms or peas towards the end of the cooking time. 

We like putting a slow cooker seasoning packet into the stew because we like the flavor of the seasoning, but if you don't like cooking with these packets, just leave it out.  Try adding some of your favorite spices instead.

You can also play with the cooking times depending on what your schedule is like.  I made this stew last Sunday and got a later start than I had originally planned.  So I cooked the beef, onion, celery mixture for 2 hours on high and then added the potatoes and carrots and finished on low for a little over 4 hours. If you won't be around in the middle of cooking to add the potatoes and carrots, just add everything right at the beginning.  As long as the beef gets a long, slow bath in the crockpot, you can't really go wrong with this recipe. 

This beef stew is a wonderful rich and hearty meal.  It was the perfect dinner for the cold, rainy autumn day that we ate it.  The liquid is a cross between a thick soup broth and a luscious gravy.  The onions and celery melt right into the stew and you are left with delicious chunks of tender beef, potatoes, and carrots.  This beef stew will warm you from the inside out.

Crockpot Beef Stew

2-3 lbs stew beef, 1" chunks
2 tbsp flour
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
4-5 large potatoes, cubed
32 oz chicken or beef stock
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 packet beef stew seasoning, if desired
Salt and pepper, to taste
Water, if necessary
Shredded cheddar cheese, to garnish if desired

Preheat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Coat your beef chunks in salt, pepper, and flour.  Add a single layer of beef to the skillet and brown in batches until seared on the outside, about two minutes per side.  Remove the beef from the pan and add chopped onions and celery, cooking for several minutes until slightly softened.  Add about 1/2 cup of the beef stock and scrape the browned bits on the skillet with a wooden spoon.  Pour the onion, celery, beef stock mixture into the crockpot and add the beef chunks.  Stir in the remaining stock, worcestershire sauce, and seasoning packet to the crockpot.  Cook on low for 4 hours or high for 2 hours.  After this time add the chopped carrots and potatoes and continue to cook for another 4 hours on low or 2 hours on high.  If you need more liquid at this point, add a bit of water.  The beef and vegetables should be mostly covered in liquid.  About 30 minutes before you are ready to serve, remove about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid from the crockpot and add the cornstarch to dissolve.  Return this mixture to the crockpot and stir well.  You can also check the seasoning at this point and add additional salt and pepper, if needed. The cornstarch should help thicken the consistency of the stew.  When the stew had thickened to your liking, serve with a hunk of fresh bread and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese, if desired.