Sunday, August 21, 2011

Italian Herb & Cheese Pull-Apart Bread

Even though I do a lot of baking, I don’t really try a lot of bread recipes. I think part of the problem is that with just my husband and I, fresh bread goes stale before we manage to get it eaten. We make plenty of Italian at our house, but I rely far too often on grabbing the 99 cent garlic bread from the store. However, when I saw a recipe for Italian herb & cheese pull-apart bread, I couldn’t resist making it myself.

This recipe seemed pretty simple. In fact, it doesn’t even require a bread maker. (I actually do have a bread maker, but don’t ask how many times I’ve actually gotten it out and used it.) Of course, nothing sounds bad about Italian herbs and cheese. Just the name of the recipe alone makes me want to make up a big batch of pasta and sauce to dip it in. I was also intrigued by the design of the bread. Once rolled out, the dough is cut into squares and stacked in the pan. Once baked, a slice can be torn off easily with your fingers, hence the “pull-apart” in the name.

The recipe comes from the blog Pink Parsley, which I’d recommend checking out. The pictures are mouthwatering and I’ve found other delicious recipes there before.

•2 cups bread flour
•1 cup all-purpose flour
•1 cup warm water
•1 packet instant yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
•3 Tbs sugar
•3/4 tsp salt
•2 Tbs butter, melted

• 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
•3/4 cup herbs (I used a dry mix of Italian herbs)
•1 cup cheese (I used an Italian blend of about 5 cheeses)
•4 Tbs butter, melted
•kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the water, sugar, and yeast. Add the first 2 cups of flour, and mix until combined. Switch to the dough hook, and with the mixer on low speed, add the third cup of flour, a few tablespoons at a time, until the dough forms. Knead 6-9 minutes, until soft and pliable, and it no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead to form a smooth ball. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and allow to rise 1-2 hours, until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the herbs and garlic, melt the butter, and grate the cheese.

Roll the dough out into a 12x20 inch rectangle. Brush with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, then sprinkle the dough with the garlic, herbs, and cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Cut the dough into 6 equally sized strips using a pizza cutter or knife. Stack the strips on top of each other and cut into 6 equally-sized squares.

Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan, and stack the squares on top of each other in the pan. I found the best way to do this was to hold the pan on its side and stack them that way. If you lose some of the filling as you stack, just sprinkle it on top once the dough has been stacked. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the top.

Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the bread 35-45 minutes, or until the top is golden-brown and the inside is cooked through. If the top browns too quickly, cover the bread with foil.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes.

I love the design of the bread. It is so easy and simple to pull off a slice. I think next time I try it, I will have to use some cheddar or a slightly sharper cheese. I will also have to try the cinnamon and sugar version sometime.

Bacon Apple Risotto

Lately I’ve been on a mission to perfect risotto. It’s been a bit of a learning experience. I’ve had many tries where no matter what I do, the rice doesn’t quite cook enough.

I had found a recipe for bacon and apple risotto. It sounded a bit different, but definitely worth a try. Along with the bacon and apples, the recipe called for garlic and thyme. As I began cooking all of these together, the recipe began to remind me of Thanksgiving. Smelling the ingredients while I cooked made me wish for fall.

I tried something a little different with the rice this time. The recipe suggested par boiling it for a few minutes in order to soften it up. The problem is that the starch from the rice is what gives the risotto some of its creaminess, so I didn’t want to drain out all the starchy water it had boiled in. The trick then became how to boil it with as little water as possible, so I could reserve some of the water and the starch.

Here’s the recipe, as taken from Drizzle and Dip:

• 250gms arborio / risotto rice
• 1 brown onion finely chopped
• 1 Granny Smith apple peeled and chopped
• Approx. 4 slices bacon, chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic, minced
• 1/2 cup of dry white wine
• about 2 cups chicken stock (hot).
• a small handful of thyme leaves
• 1 knob of butter
• salt and black pepper
• approx. ½ cup shredded Parmesan

While I par boiled the rice for 5-7 minutes, I heated a high-sided pan. I chopped up 4 slices of bacon and diced up some onions with a Pampered Chef chopper. The onions I used were some cute candy onions that I’d found at the local farmers’ market. They almost smelled sweet enough to take a bite out of, so I thought they’d go great with the apple.

While the onions and bacon cooked for a few minutes, I peeled a Granny Smith apple and chopped it up into small pieces with the same chopper I used for the bacon.

Once the bacon was starting to look slightly crisp and the onions were becoming translucent, I added the chopped apple to the pan. At this point, I also added the garlic.

I let that mixture cook for a couple minutes before adding the rice that I had par boiled. I didn’t drain much of my water so that I could reserve the starch. Once the rice is added, I stirred it together to make sure the bacon grease coated the rice. Next I added the wine and allowed it to cook down. At this point, I added some thyme and about ½ cup of the chicken stock. (This was the point I mentioned where it began to smell like Thanksgiving. This was also probably the point where my stomach started growling.) As the chicken stock cooked and became absorbed, I added another ½ cup. I continued this process until I’d used approximately 2 cups of chicken stock.

Once the liquid had been absorbed and I tested the rice to make sure it was done, I removed it from the heat and stirred in a pat of butter and about a ½ cup of shredded parmesan cheese. I also added a little salt and pepper to taste.

I realize my measurements aren’t too precise, but sometimes I go more by taste with risotto. This recipe really makes enough for at least four servings. The apple, bacon and thyme go so well with the creaminess of the rice. My husband was especially happy with this recipe because he thought it had more flavor than some of the other risottos he has tried. I was impressed enough with the recipe that I had to write my mother and let her know that I’d found another side dish for our Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Scallops with Cherry

Sometimes I run into the grocery store for certain ingredients and something else grabs my attention. This is exactly what happened one day when I went to get some hamburger, but instead found myself in front of the counter looking at some giant scallops. Where I live, it’s not very often that I find fresh scallops much bigger than a marshmallow. When I do, I can’t resist the temptation. I asked for three of them, which came up to about ½ a pound.

I have far too many scallop recipes stowed away. This time I felt like getting away from the traditional garlic and herb method. I remembered seeing some recipes using cherries, and it just so happened that I had some sweet red cherries in my fridge. Cherries with scallops seemed a little adventurous, but sometimes that’s the best part of cooking. I knew I would need something to bridge the two. I used shallots for their slightly sweeter flavor.

I first rinsed the scallops and patted them dry with a paper towel. I then sprinkled them with salt & pepper. To sear the scallops, I poured some olive oil into a skillet and let the oil heat up. Once the oil was very hot, I placed the scallops in the pan.

I’ve always heard that you only want to flip scallops once. I let one side cook for 3-4 minutes before flipping them over to the other side for the same amount of time. This may take less time depending on the size of the scallops. I like my scallops to have a nice, caramelized top.

While the scallops were cooking, I pitted and chopped up about ¾ cup of fresh cherries. The hardest part about this step is getting all the cherries to a bowl instead of snacking on them as I go. I also diced one shallot.

When the scallops were done, I placed them on a plate & tented them with foil. I added the shallots to the leftover drippings and cooked for a couple minutes. Next I added the chopped cherries, a splash of white wine and a splash of chicken broth. I let that cook on medium low heat until the cherries started to soften and form a bit of a mash. Once the sauce was cooked, I plated my scallops and poured the cherry mixture over the top.

There are some food combinations that I joke should be married in the food world. I’m beginning to think that scallops and cherries may be one of them. This is one slightly risky recipe that really paid off. Now I just need to decide what scallop recipe to try next. Now that I know fruit worked out well, I could try scallops with watermelon soup. I could also get even more adventurous and try vanilla bean. The possibilities seem endless, but that’s yet another one of my favorite things about cooking.