Dec 23, 2009

A Tisket, a Tasket, a Pretty Bread Basket

LOL, well wouldn't you use that title? Now that the song is stuck in YOUR head too...I thought I'd share a cute little trick for making an attractive Martha Stewart style vessel for serving those yummy holiday dips, stews, or even...bread rolls. Now, I don't do this that often, really, only when I have time and only when I want a really pretty festive looking know, somethin' special. So I made this bowl for an upcoming family Xmas party, to house the infamous spinach dip, that my family can't live without during the holidays. (I use the recipe on the back of Mrs. Knorr's Vegetable Soup Mix)

It's not as difficult as it looks either. Most of you know by now, I make my own bread, but you could really save yourself the time and effort by just buying a couple of cans of Pillsbury bread dough  (french bread). If you are making a bread bowl for stew however, I would suggest that you make it out of a heavier bread, like wheat or rye, so that it holds up better.  For this one, I used my traditional bread recipe. You will follow all of the steps and weave your bowl after the first rise. Since I was making bread for on the side too, I just used half of the recipe for the bowl and the other half I made 2 long baguettes that would be sliced up and placed around the bowl.

So, first you need to choose an oven proof bowl which will serve as the mold while the bread bowl bakes. You can use any shape or size that you'd like. (i.e individual smaller bowls for soup servings) For my spinach dip, I chose a 2qt corning ware dish, but I've done larger Pyrex glass bowls which worked fine also. You'll need to measure the depth of the side and across the bottom, this will give you an idea of how long to make the strips. Add just an inch or so to make sure that it's long enough.

After rolling out a rectangle, I use a pizza cutter to cut the strips. You can make the strips as wide as you'd like, but really, the smaller they are the prettier the pattern is. I use about 1" wide strips. Grease a baking sheet and the outside of the bowl generously with shortening so that the bread doesn't stick after baked. If you're doing a round bowl, then place them crisscross like I've done in the pic below, making the "spines" of the basket. Press down in the middle so that the strips stick together.

Next, start weaving your strips. You want to start a strip on the inside of one of the spines, use a dot of water so that the bread dough sticks to each other. Lift up every other spine as you work the horizontal strips around the bowl. Try not to stretch the strips too much while going around, but on the other hand, you always want the end of a strip to end up beneath a spine, so that it's on the inside and not showing. Start the next strip where you finished the last one and pinch them together slightly. Start your next row of horizontal strips a couple of spines over, so that all of your starting and stopping points are scattered.

Continue weaving around the bowl until you come to the bottom. Just be sure to get your weaved strips as close as you can to each other. If there are tiny holes that's ok, the dough will swell up and fill those in on the next rise. When you get to the end, trim all of the spine strips so they are all even with the weaved strips.

Next, to finish the top, take three long strips (you can stretch these out a bit) and do a simple three stranded braid. You can set something on the end to help hold them in place while you are braiding.

Once you have the braided strand, lightly moisten the bottom edge all around the weaved basket, again, this will help the dough to stick. Trim the ends of the braided strip before you start, this will give a neater look in the end. Now wrap the braided strand around the bowl and where the ends meet, trim and then pinch them together so that they stay in place.

Now it's time for the second rise. Set a oven proof plate on top. I just use a corningware plate which isn't that heavy, but it works fine. Cover the plate and bowl with a towel and let the bowl rise in a warm place for about 30-40 minutes. Next, make an egg wash using 1 egg with 1 or 2 tablespoons of water. Lightly brush on the sides of the bowl. This will help give it a beautiful color after baking.

Place the bowl and the plate into a 375F oven and bake for about 15 min. The plate helps to keep the bottom flat so that your bowl will sit level later. After 15 minutes, remove the plate and place the bowl back into the oven. Use more of the egg wash on the bottom so that it gets an even brown. Bake the bowl for about another 10-15 minutes. Of course you won't see the bottom of the bowl, but this step gives it more integrity so that it will hold up to the dip or whatever you are putting in there.

Once the bowl is a nice even brown all over, remove it from the oven and place the plate back on the bottom while it cools. Again, this will help keep the bottom level and also, more dense and sturdy.

Next, after the bowl has cooled for about 10-15 minutes and it is cool enough to handle, carefully turn it over to remove the bowl. You may have to run a butter knife along the inside edges just a bit to loosen it.

You may find that the inside is still a bit soft. If this happens, then just simple pop it back into the oven on the cookie sheet for about another 10 minutes.

If your (now) top edges are brown and you're afraid for them to get too brown, just use the pie crust trick and place some foil around the already browned areas. Now, the idea here isn't to brown the inside but just get it to crust a bit more so that it hold up during the party.

Once you take it out, it should look like this, see? The sides, top (and bottom) are nicely brown, the inside is not brown but it is crusted a bit.

This bowl also freezes really well. In fact, I have done them like 2 months in advance. Just set it on plastic wrap and bring the sides up and over, covering and tucking it into the middle. Then I wrap that in heavy duty aluminum foil. If you are using it for a dip, you can even fill it while it is frozen, that way, your dip will stay cool longer on the buffet table.

Waaaaalaaaaa! A pretty bowl that will be sure to impress your guests. You'll need to set it and keep it on a plate or platter for transport to your table. Now fill it and place bread slices, or chunks around the bowl. The very best part is, when you run out of the bread placed around the bowl, your guest can also eat the bowl! Trust me, they WILL eat the bowl, some say it's the best part! Of course, your guests will be reluctant to tear into your artwork, so you'll have to be the first one to cut into it. LOL


This will probably be my last post throughout the rest of the holiday season, so I wanted to say to those whom it applies, have safe travels..... and to all of you...  Happy Holidays!

Hugs, DD

Dec 22, 2009

Tapenade with Pita Triangles

Developed in the Provence region of France, a traditional tapenade usually consists of a combination of finely chopped black olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil. Tapenades are often referred to as “the black butter of Provence,” as well as “the caviar of the poor.” As tapenades gain popularity, like any other type of basic recipe, you’ll find there are as many variations as there are shades of green, which are, seemingly endless. Various types of pitted olives (preferably gourmet or deli)  are used and through my searches I found a combination of Kalamata and green olives being the most widely favored.

What is also interesting is the American influence on the traditional tapenade. To add anchovy or not to add is the biggest question.  I find that most Americans (or at least the non-foodie types) will cringe and turn their noses up at the mere mention of an anchovy, whether they’ve even tasted one or not. I suppose it’s a matter of personal taste yes, but what if you’re making it for a crowd? Then what? I’d say to be on the safe side, leave them completely out. On the other hand, the experimental foodie in me suggests that you may want to make at least a small dish with and set aside to satisfy all tastes. (Which I did btw, and it was fabulous, well, at least to me it was LOL)

The other (unfortunate) influence I’ve noticed is the complete hashing of the original recipe. For example, during my extensive online research, I found some recipes go as far as to use only roasted red peppers in place of olives mixed with cream cheese and still call it a tapenade. Is this really a tapenade? That’s like trying to make a version of potato salad that doesn’t contain potatoes. Let’s be fair here, if it’s a dip, call it a dip, don’t try to fancy it up with a label that doesn’t even come close to describing the original dish.

That said, I think subtle variations/additions of the basic dish is absolutely fine. Go ahead and experiment to suit your personal taste as long as the majority of the ingredients hold true to the original recipe, which are (as a reminder); olives and/or capers and olive oil.

One last consideration of preference is simply texture. Traditionally, tapenades were creamed using a mortar and pestle, making a fine spread for bread slices or sandwiches (hence the reference to “black butter”). However, today one would agree that it’s hard to beat the convenience of a modern food processor. Not only that, but you may prefer a finely minced tapenade, one with a bit more texture. Some will even prefer to finely hand chop the ingredients.  I guess this also depends on the destination of the tapenade. Will it be used as a base spread for an appetizer? Or perhaps sandwiches? Or maybe you want it to be the star of the show on a toasted baguette? I made a large batch of finely chopped for my family Christmas party then I took a little aside and added some anchovies and used my mortar and pestle. All I can say is, if you want more of a spread, you might want to use your food processor.

So here is a version that I came up with, while still trying to be true to the original dish. For the record, I prefer mine finely hand chopped :

Tapanade with Variations

1/2 C pitted kalamata olives
1/2 C pitted black olives
1/2 C pitted green olives
1/2 C roasted red peppers
1 Tbsp capers
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh flat leafed parsley
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice)
2 Tbsp olive oil (perhaps a bit more if needed)
ground pepper to taste


Thoroughly drain and roughly chop all olives, capers, and roasted red peppers.  Add in all other ingredients and pulse in a food processor to desired consistency. Alternatively, finely hand chop everything if more of a texture is desired then add in the balsamic, olive oil, and ground pepper to taste.

Here are some variations that I came across that sounded reasonable (at least to me) and I adjusted (guessed) the amounts according to my recipe above. While I wouldn’t use all of these additions at once, replacing a few of the ingredients above would make for interesting variations:

3-4 anchovy fillets (minced fine or ½-1 tsp anchovy paste)
1/2 C artichoke hearts (replace 1/2 cup of any of the olives)
Shaved or grated Parmesan cheese (on top or a handful mixed in)
Choose one (so as not to overpower original flavors): Thyme, basil, or rosemary (1 tsp dried OR 1 Tbsp fresh)
Sundried tomatoes instead of roasted red peppers

One last thing I’d like to touch upon is presentation. I mean, let’s face it, no matter how flavorful a food is on your buffet table no one will touch it if it looks unappetizing. Simply put, tapenade doesn’t look good. If you’ll be serving it in a dish as a spread or condiment, at the very least, put it in a colorful bowl and add some garnish. Maybe a sprig of whatever fresh herb is in there, or at the very least, a parsley leaf. I chose a glass bowl and then just put red pepper strips on top to brighten it up and make it look more festive. Here are some more serving suggestions:

Crackers, pita slices, or toasted baguette slices
With strips of green and red peppers for dipping
Serve in a hollowed out red pepper
Over a flattened out bed of softened cream cheese
Serve in hollowed out cherry tomatoes, as an appetizer
Spread a soft cheese, like Chevre or cream cheese, on a toasted baguette with a dollop of the tapenade
As a condiment for sandwiches

I loved having this on our Christmas buffet, even though it wasn't to most people's liking. You REALLY have to love olives to love this stuff. However, the dish was really colorful and added an alternative to all of the cheese, sour cream and other (usual) mayonnaise based dips and spreads. I hope you try it out and by all means, come back and share your variations and ideas!


Dec 14, 2009

White Chocolate Cherry Chunk Cookies

Ah yes, it's that time of year....Christmas. Do I even have to tell you why I haven't had the time to blog lately? Those of you who know me, know very well what I've been up to lately. Baking. And lots of it.....mostly Christmas cookies of course.  These cookies happen to be my hubby's fav.  Chunks of white chocolate (chunks, not bits), carefully chopped maraschino cherries and crunchy macadamia nuts in a soft and chewy almond flavored cookie. mmmm. mmmmm. mmmm.

However, I can't take full credit for the recipe, I was totally inspired by the beloved Paula Deen (Hey y'all, I just LOVE her). Although, I did change her original recipe quite a bit, so I feel ok about calling it my own (even still, I do like to give credit where credit is due). Her original recipe is more like a traditional chocolate chip cookie base using brown sugar, you can find it here. As good as they are, I thought they'd look fantastic and more "Christmasy" if they were a white cookie, allowing the red cherries to show up lending a more cheerful addition to the cookie platter. I only bake them a couple of times of year, if only at Christmas, because macadamia nuts can be so expensive. But really, I wouldn't like them any other way, the flavor and texture are perfect as is and sets them aside from the basic chocolate chip cookie. So without further ado, let's get it goin' awhn y'all.

White Chocolate Cherry Chunk Cookies

1 C      Butter ( no substitutes)
2C       White sugar
2 lg      Eggs, slightly beaten
½  tsp  Vanilla extract
½ tsp   Almond extract
3 C      Sifted all purpose flour
1 tsp    Baking powder
1 tsp    Salt
½ C     Coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
½ pkg  (6 oz) White chocolate chunks (or white chocolate chips, if you must. sigh)
½ C  (1- 10oz jar)   Chopped Maraschino cherries (whole ones, halved)

First, preheat your oven to 375 F. Next, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Very rarely do I sift dry ingredients for cookies. But in this case, it's a very stiff cookie dough, so I sift it in order to thoroughly  combine the ingredients (rather than for the texture). After sifting, set it aside.

Next, roughly chop the white chocolate into chunks. I use almond bark, which is a white chocolate candy coating. It comes in a block of 12 - 2oz squares. You'll need 3 squares (6 oz.). Alternatively, you can use 1/2 of a 12 oz bag of white chocolate chips. (but they wouldn't be "chunk" cookies then, would they? lol). I also use whole marachino cherries, drain them well, then I cut them in half. Then roughly chop the macadamia nuts. (or go crazy and leave them whole) I also always measure my extracts into my eggs, it's just easier that way. (plus I don't forget to add them) Just don't do it too soon and let it sit, else it may start to gel your egg.

Using the paddle attachment, cream your butter and sugar with a stand mixer. You can use an electric mixer, but be careful because after the addition of the flour, this dough does get pretty stiff. You may have to switch to mixing by hand.

Now add in the flour mixture, about 1/2 at a time. Mix it quickly, but thoroughly each time. So just enough to incorporate everything. The dough will be stiff (now's the time you'll think about asking Santa for a stand mixer if you don't have one ;) ) I know in Paula's original recipe she added a couple of tablespoons of milk. But I found that the cookies flattened out too much, so I leave it completely out. They are still moist and chewy provided you bake them correctly.

Now add in the nuts and the chocolate and give it a few whirls to incorporate them. Add in the cherries last and be careful not to over mix. You don't want to break them all up, and you don't want cookies that are too pink.

Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet or one lined with parchment paper. I like to use a (1 oz) cookie scoop which is like the perfect size. You'll get exactly 3 dozen out of this batch. Assuming of course, you haven't nibbled on too much cookie dough. ;) Look at that? Can you really resist that? Food porn I tell ya, at it's best.

You'll want to bake them for about 8-10 minutes in a preheated oven 375 F. It sounds high, but trust me, you want them to bake fast so they don't dry out. Be sure not to over bake and also, rotate your pans. What I like to do is only put two pans in at a time. After 8 minutes, I check them and switch the top rack with the middle rack. I set my timer for 2 more minutes. The cookies will spread out only a little, be slightly set, but NOT brown and they will be soft. (they'll be only slightly tanned, not brown, on the bottoms) Take them out and let them cool completely while still on the pan. If you try to move them to a cooling rack, they'll fall apart on you. If I'm doing a lot of baking that day and need to get the next batch in, I'll bake them on parchment paper. That way, I can just slide paper and all onto the counter and continue on with the next batch so I don't have to wait.

Oh man, I'm tellin' ya, heaven. Simply heaven.

The hardest part about this cookie is getting them wrapped up for the freezer before hubby comes sniffing in the kitchen. Ok, I do plan ahead and put a few in his "goodie" box that always sits on the counter. I'm not THAT much of a grinch. LOL

I'll have more Christmas cookies going on and I'll try to post what I can. Meantime, Merry Christmas Baking to you!