Image

King Cake

WARNING!  Scrumptious delight ahead!  You might gain about 10 pounds feasting your eyes on this

I’m pretty sure I did

A king cake is very much like a cinnamon roll.  The dough is rolled out into a large rectangle, spread with a sugar & cinnamon mixture, then rolled up, jelly roll style.  The ends are brought together into a circle (or crown).

Fresh out of the oven
Fresh out of the oven
Powdered sugar glaze
Powdered sugar glaze
First slice...
First slice…

Before last month, I’d never even heard of a King Cake.  I stumbled on a recipe in my church bulletin.  It was lacking, so I did a bit of research online to answer the questions I had with the bulletin recipe.  This is my second attempt.  It is decidedly better than the first go.  

Advertisements

Garlic Herb Focaccia


Want focaccia?  Right here I’ve got an easy, no-fail recipe.  All you do is mix, rise, stretch and rise again before baking.  Give it a whirl and let me know how it works for you…

Ingredients

DOUGH
  • 2-¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon yeast
  • 2 teaspoons table salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1-¼ cups water
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
TOPPING
  • ¼ cup olive oil (you may not need all of this)
  • coarse salt

Directions

PREPARING THE DOUGH

Preheat your oven to “warm” – anywhere between 150º-200º F – while you proceed with steps 2 – 6.  When preheated, be sure to turn the oven OFF.

Measure both flours, yeast, salt, garlic powder and dried oregano into the bowl of your food processor.  Pulse about 10 times.

In a 2-cup (or larger) measuring cup, pour in water and the 3 Tbsp olive oil.  With machine running, pour in water & oil.  After about 10-15 seconds, all the ingredients are wet and the dough comes together. It is wet and sticky.

Dump mixture into an oven safe bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Let rise for at least an hour in your warm oven.

 PREPARATION FOR BAKING

When your dough has risen, take 2 Tbsp of the TOPPING olive oil and pour onto a rimmed baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper.  Get a bit of this oil on your hands, remove the dough from your bowl and shape into a rough ball.  Coat the dough with the oil on the baking sheet.  With your oily hands, stretch the dough as much as you can.  Then, wash your hands and cover the dough and baking sheet with plastic wrap.

Let dough rest a little while then stretch again.  (The beauty of covering it with the plastic wrap is you don’t have to wash your hands before and after every time you stretch the dough a bit more.)  This may take a while.  Be patient.

When the dough has been stretched as much as your baking sheet will allow, let it rise undisturbed for at least 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 450º F.

Before removing plastic wrap, dimple the dough surface with your fingertips. Then, uncover the dough and drizzle as much or as little of the remaining olive oil over the dough.  Sprinkle with coarse salt, to taste.

Bake for 10-15 minutes to desired golden brown color.

Enjoy as an appetizer or meal accompaniment.  (I can’t advise you on what to do with leftovers because we never have any!)

Happy New Year! Going Forward!

Dear Reader,

I know.  I know.  It’s been so long since I last wrote!  I hang my head in shame.  😦  

Every time I feel ashamed of previous behavior I remember a simple yet inspiring phrase I once heard.  And that magical phrase is “going forward”.  To me, it’s sort of like the change from calling the sacrament “Confession” to “Reconciliation”.  With Confession, the emphasis is on what you did wrong.  With Reconciliation, there is still the element of wrongdoing, but the emphasis is shifted to making it right.  Likewise, going forward implies something not so good in the past, but the emphasis is on better actions for the future.  So, going forward, my goal is to be a blogging winner (not the blogging loser of yesteryear!).

Here goes…

Recently, I found myself in a bit of a cooking rut. The meals I prepared for my family were disappointing even though these were tried and true recipes. When I stopped to reflect on why this would be happening, I realized that I was robotically following recipes. And what’s the one thing a robot cannot do? You guessed it! LOVE! At the risk of sounding corny, love really is the most important ingredient. That holds true in just about everything we do whether it is parenting, teaching, driving, shopping, cooking, blogging. As much as you may know about any of these things, if you are not truly present and paying attention, you’re lucky if it turns out the way you like.  So, when you find yourself in a rut, any sort of rut, just ask yourself one question… Did I remember to add LOVE?

Happy New Year!  I send LOVE to each one of YOU!  (Do you see what I did there?)  😉

Beer Soup (a.k.a. Man Soup)

Sometimes, I think of this soup as Man Soup because its got my man’s two favorite foods… beer and sausage.  (Actually, I don’t think beer is his favorite, but he does enjoy a cold one.)  That said, I’m a woman and I LOVE this soup.  Back in the days when I wasn’t counting Weight Watcher points, Husband and I would eat this entire recipe in one night, along with half a loaf of Italian bread.  One of the reasons I like this soup is all the spinach it requires…plus I like the cheese and sausage.  🙂  If prepared properly, the beer is hardly noticeable, if at all.  I found this recipe in the December 2005 Hudson Valley Magazine.  It’s real name is Beer Soup with Spinach, Cheese and Sausage.

When I make this soup, I use frozen breakfast sausage, spinach in the bags, Sam Adams beer, 1% milk and pre-shredded cheddar cheese.  The end result is a hearty and very satisfying soup.  Perfect for cold nights.  We used to pick up a loaf of Italian bread to go with, but these days I prefer to bake my own Just Relax Bread.

Notes about the ingredients:

Sausage:  I cook the sausages in the microwave for half the time suggested on the box.  The goal is to cut them easily while not burning my fingertips.  Most packages these days are 6-7 oz.  That’ll do.  Also, I cut the sausages with my handy kitchen shears.

Spinach:  I use the pre-washed and bagged kind.

Scallions:  I’ve made this soup with and without the scallions.  They’re not a deal breaker, but better with the scallions.  I use my kitchen shears to cut these as well.

Milk:  I’ve used skim and I’ve used 1% with equally tasty results.  Higher fat milk will burn more easily, so adjust accordingly if you use.

Beer:  Sam Adams Boston Lager is a favorite at my house, but any full-bodied beer of your choice should work fine.  I measure out one cup, then drink the rest of the bottle.  😉

Cheese:  For convenience I use the pre-shredded type.

 To go directly to the recipe without pictures, click here.

Beer Soup with Spinach, Cheese, and Sausage
From Hudson Valley Magazine, December 2005

Serves 4

ingredients
Ingredients
Ingredients

8 oz. breakfast sausage
1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb fresh spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
4 scallions, finely chopped
¼ cup flour
2 cups skim milk
1 cup or more full-bodied beer
8 oz grated Cheddar cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Cut the sausage into small slices or pieces; brown in a pan that is large enough to hold the soup.

sliced sausage in pan

sliced sausage in pan

browned sausage

browned sausage

Drain and set the sausage aside.  Heat the oil.  (If there is enough fat leftover from cooking the sausage, I won’t add any oil.)  Add the scallions and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the chopped spinach.  Add the spinach in batches (a handful or two at a time) until it wilts enough to add more.  Cook and stir until all the spinach is wilted.

sausage out, scallions in

sausage out, scallions in

batch of spinach

batch of spinach

1 lb wilted spinach

1 lb wilted spinach

Add the sausage.  Sprinkle the mixture with the flour.  Slowly add the skim milk while stirring continuously.  *** If preparing the soup in advance, stop at this point.

sausage, flour and milk added

sausage, flour and milk added

When ready to serve, add the beer. Bring the soup to a boil. (This is very important. If you don’t boil it, the soup ends up tasting very beer-y. This is not pleasant.)

boiling after beer added

boiling after beer added

Add the cheese and cook until it has melted. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

YUM!

YUM!

Inspiration for Baker’s Alphabet

Baker's Alphabet Book cover

A few people have asked about the name I chose for my blog Baker’s Alphabet.  I suppose it’ll come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that it’s an homage to my most favorite, most loved and most important people…my husband and my children.  I mentioned in an earlier post that the idea of writing a food blog had rolled around in my head for some time.  My husband’s words of encouragement were the final push I needed.  Unknowingly, he helped me to take the leap into the blogosphere.  He didn’t specifically say, “Hey, Laura, why don’t you start writing a blog.”  No, his support was more subtle.  He told me that I’m a very creative person.  (Why, thank you!)  And then he told me that my art is in my cooking and baking.  I know it’s corny, but for the first time, I understood the phrase wind beneath my wings.  Spurred with this faith he has in me, I decided I could honor him by sharing my passion for cooking and baking with the world.  Then came the really hard part…naming my blog.  😉   I thought the name must something I will always love to say and hear.  I wanted something that is just right.  And it had to embrace all my loves.

I have two children, a girl and a boy.  I was in graduate school before, during and after my first pregnancy.  Shortly after I learned I was pregnant with my first child (my daughter), I had a class assignment to create an alphabet book.  Our teacher advised us to choose a subject about which we knew a great deal and about which we were passionate.  Naturally, I chose baking.  I named that book A Baker’s Alphabet Book.  I included a dedication page.  I wrote, “This book is dedicated to my baby.  I don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl, but I do know you’ll need to learn your abc’s.”  Sexist that I am (ashamedly and apparently), I thought that Daughter would surely follow in my footsteps and adore baking as much as I always have.  Yes, she has cooked and baked with me over the years.  But, her independent spirit urges her not to create with me, but rather, on her own.  (Pizza eggs and paprika pancakes are two results of her own culinary creativity.  I will never share those recipes.)  But I digress.  God graced me with a second child, a son.  Son, among other pursuits such as astronaut and architect, wants “to be a baker” when he grows up.  He helps me in the kitchen every chance he gets.

Me:  Would you peel these carrots for me?  Son:  Yes!
Me:  Would you stir the cake batter?  Son:  Yes!
Me:  Would you like to crack, scramble and cook your own eggs?  Son:  Yes!

I dedicate Baker’s Alphabet to my family.  I love them with all my heart and soul.  Taking care of my family is the most important job I will ever have.

Find a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.  ~Confucius

Just Relax Bread

Sliced on cutting board
Sliced on cutting board
“Baking bread is easy.  I can do that!”  That’s what I want you to think after you’ve read this post.  And then I want you to give it a go.  Yes, I, a Weight Watchers lifetime member eats bread.  I find the taste and texture of homemade bread far superior to anything I buy at the grocery store.  It is satisfying and wholesome and delicious.  And it is one of those things that I refuse to give up “on program”.
What is bread?  When you get right down to it, it is just flour and water mixed together and baked in some fashion.  Most bread that you and I eat, however, also has some salt, yeast and sometimes sugar and/or oil.  You already know what the yeast does.  The salt, sugar and oil?  They affect the taste and texture.
For a while, I was using this recipe for a crusty loaf of bread that went well with soup or stew.  My problem with it was time.  I needed to know YESTERDAY that I want the bread today.  One day, I wanted bread for that night’s dinner.  I found this recipe.  I am sure that if you follow the recipe to the letter, you will get a beautiful loaf of bread.  As luck would have it, though, I screwed up the recipe.  I added too much water to the dough and it turned into a rather shaggy looking dough.  This did not deter me because in the first recipe I mentioned above, you WANTED a shaggy looking dough.  End result?  THE BEST BREAD I HAVE EVEN BAKED AND EATEN.  🙂

Do you want to go directly to my recipe?  Click here.

This recipe requires a few basic supplies.  They are

  • a bowl,
  • a fork,
  • measuring spoons/cups,
  • a soup ladle,
  • parchment paper,
  • a tea towel,
  • a Dutch oven  (Don’t have a Dutch oven?  You can use the crock from a slow cooker plus a disposable lasagna pan.)
  • baking sheet (optional — this makes clean up easier. If you prefer, use your counter top)
I call this bread Just Relax Bread because I often need to remind myself to relax when handling this dough.  It does not behave like most bread doughs.  It seems like it is a lost cause.  But, I simply remind myself to “just relax” and it has always turned out great.

I hope you will try this recipe and then let me know how it turned out for you.  If you have any questions, please ask.  I am happy to help!

 

Ingredients
Ingredients

INGREDIENTS

14 oz. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. table salt
2 tsp white sugar
2 tsp dry active yeast
1-3/4 cup lukewarm water (80° ≤ 110° F)
1 Tbsp olive oil

 

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to “warm” (anywhere between 170° – 200° F). Once oven reaches desired temperature, turn it OFF.

While oven is preheating, proof your yeast. Dissolve sugar into some or all the water. Then gently stir in the yeast. After about 10 minutes, you can use the yeasty water. If you only used some water to proof your yeast, add more water to measure up to 1-3/4 cup.

Foamy yeast water
Foamy yeast water

In your oven safe bowl, combine the flour and salt with your fork. Slowly, start to add the yeast-sugar water. I like to use a soup ladle because it measures about 1/2 cup. Add some water, mix with fork. Repeat until all the dough is moist. You may or may not use all the water.

Moistened dough & measuring cup
Moistened dough & measuring cup

 

Place a piece of parchment paper over your bowl.

Dampen your tea towel and drape it over the parchment paper. Move your dough bowl into it’s warm and cozy “room” (a.k.a. the oven which is now warm and turned OFF)

After about an hour, your dough is ready to use.

Dough sticking to tea towel :'( Just Relax
Dough sticking to tea towel 😥
Just Relax

Take the dough bowl out of the oven. Preheat your oven to 425° F.  Then place your dutch oven, with lid, into the oven and let it heat for 30 minutes.

With well floured hands and a small bowl of flour at the ready, take the dough (or just pour it) out of the bowl onto a well floured baking sheet.  I use a baking sheet for this step because it makes clean up MUCH EASIER.  If you prefer, use your counter top.  Either way, make sure it is heavily floured.

Floured baking sheet
Floured baking sheet

Gently reshape the dough into a ball. Heavily flour the dough and re-cover it with parchment paper and/or tea towel. Let it rest and rise while your pot is heating up.

Dough with flour on top
Dough with flour on top

After 30 minutes, with oven-mitted hands, remove pot from oven and take off the lid. Coat the inside bottom of pot with 1 Tbsp olive oil.

Oiled pot
Oiled pot

When you remove the tea towel, you’ll notice your dough has risen again.  Yay!

Rested and risen dough
Rested and risen dough

 

With well-floured hands, transfer the dough from the baking sheet (or your counter) to the hot, oiled pot.  This is the tricky part.  The dough will be very loose.  It’ll have the consistency of jelly in a plastic bag.  The dough may stick to your hands and/or the surface on which it’s been resting.  Just Relax and tuck whatever you need to tuck to handle the dough enough to bring it to the pot.  Carefully place dough into hot oiled pot.

Dough in pot
Dough in pot

Replace the lid and bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes in oven Isn't she a beauty?
After 30 minutes in oven
Isn’t she a beauty?

 

Remove the lid and bake for another 5-10 minutes to brown it up a bit more.

Done baking (This was just 5 minutes)
Done baking
(This was just 5 minutes)

Remove pot from oven and tip the bread out of the pot. PLEASE BE CAREFUL!  Place on a cooling rack. It will be easier to slice, the cooler it is.

Sliced on cutting board
Sliced on cutting board

Enjoy!

Friday Night Pizza Revisited

Hello Friend!  Today I share with you my Friday Night Pizza complete with pictures & a slide show!  

INGREDIENTS

INGREDIENTS

INGREDIENTS

14 oz. all-purpose flour (or 3 cups)
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp dry active yeast
1 cup warm water (between 80º to 100º F)*
2 Tbsp olive oil (plus a bit more for oiling the bowl in which the dough will rise)
Note: *Cooler water is fine, but I wouldn’t use icy cold water. I recommend warm water simply because it makes the dough easier to handle.

 

 

 

DIRECTIONS

image

WARM & COZY OVEN 🙂

 

1.  Warm up your oven (anywhere from 170º – 200º F). Once it hits this temperature, turn the oven OFF. Coat the inside of an oven safe bowl with some (maybe 1/2 tsp?) olive oil.

 

 

 

 

2.  Place flour, salt and yeast in bowl of food processor fitted with either the plastic dough blade or the steel blade. (I’ve used both and noticed no real difference.) Mix for 5 seconds.

3.  Measure out the water and add 2 Tbsp olive oil.

image 

4.  With the machine running. Pour the water & oil into the bowl through the feed tube. Process for about 30 seconds. The dough should come together into a ball.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

5.  Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead a few times.

 

6.  Put the dough smooth side down into the oiled bowl, rub it around, then flip dough over.

IN OILED BOWL

IN OILED BOWL

7.  Place dampened tea towel, sprayed with cooking oil, over the bowl and place in that warm cozy oven or in another draft-free spot in your kitchen.

After just 3 hours in the warm oven…

AFTER 3 HOURS

AFTER 3 HOURS

 

8.  When you’re ready to bake, take bowl out of oven and dump the risen dough onto a floured surface.

RISEN DOUGH, AFTER ABOUT 6 HOURS

RISEN DOUGH, AFTER ABOUT 6 HOURS

9.  Knead dough a few times to reshape into a ball.  Dust with a bit of flour and cover again with tea towel.  Allow dough to rest while you preheat oven to 500°.

RESHAPED AND DUSTED WITH FLOUR

RESHAPED AND DUSTED WITH FLOUR REMEMBER TO COVER WITH SAME TEA TOWEL

10.  After 15-20 minutes, stretch out your dough.  This takes practice and PATIENCE.  If, when you’re stretching the dough, it bounces back a lot or tears easily, it needs to rest some more.  Reshape into a ball or just pinch the torn edges together, cover it and walk away for at least 5 minutes.

11.  Stretch to desired size and shape, then prick dough with a fork.

APPROX. 12" X 14"

APPROX. 12″ X 14″

12.  Bake the naked dough for about 5-7 minutes.  No color or a light golden color is good.  Remove from oven and lower the oven temperature to 375°.  Top your partially cooked dough to your liking.  I usually use store-bought jarred pizza sauce and pre-shredded mozzarella cheese.  Bake again for 10-15 minutes, keeping a close eye after about 8 minutes, to desired doneness.  Please note that the fat content of your cheese will affect how quickly it browns.

My family and I were so hungry on Friday night that I forgot to take a picture of the completed pie…

HALF EATEN PIZZA YUM!  :)

HALF EATEN PIZZA
YUM! 🙂