Homemade Sourdough Bread

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Bread is one of those foods that I love to eat, but had never made myself at home. Though it’s such a staple item eaten all around the world, I always found it a little intimidating. Those three simple ingredients (flour, water, and salt) needed to create a delicious loaf are in most households, but the process of converting those ingredients felt like nothing short of alchemy. Recently, I finally decided to just go for it and make my all time favorite bread: sourdough.

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The most important component of sourdough is the starter dough, which will give the bread that essential tangy flavor, and provide the yeast necessary for the dough to rise. To make the starter dough mix 4oz water with 4oz of all-purpose flour in a bowl. Cover and let sit at room temperature.

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The next day, ‘feed’ the dough by removing all but 4oz of starter and feeding it 4oz of flour and 4oz of water, mixing thoroughly. Repeat this process every 12 hours for a few days. The amount of time for the starter can vary, but it helps to keep it at a consistent temperature away from the cold. You will know it’s ready when it is very bubbly and even a little foamy on top.

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Place any extra starter dough in the refrigerator, and feed once a week to maintain. When it came time to discard and feed the ready starter, I poured some into jars instead of discarding, and gifted to some friends.

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To make the bread: add 30 grams of active starter to 75 grams of all-purpose flour, and 75 grams of water. Mix thoroughly, cover, and let sit overnight or for about 12 hours. Once the leaven is bubbly you know it’s ready. To double check that it is ready, drop a small dollop of the leaven into a bowl of water – if it floats, you’re good to go.

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Mix all of the leaven in a large bowl with 475 grams of room temperature water. Mix it in with your hands until the leaven has dissolved into the water. Add 350 grams of all-purpose flour, and 350 grams of whole wheat flour to the bowl with leaven and water. You can also do 700 grams of all-purpose if you don’t want whole wheat, but I think it gives it a richer flavor. Mix until you no longer see any dry flour. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours. Once the dough has rested, dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt into 50 grams of water and add to dough. Mix with your hands to combine.

Fold the dough, in the bowl, by grabbing one end and folding the dough in half. Then, move the bowl a quarter turn and fold again. Repeat until you have folded it over four times. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes, then repeat the folding process. Do this process a total of 4 times, every 30 minutes. After you have folded it for the 4th time, let the dough rest for about 45 minutes, until it looks a little puffed.

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Sprinkle flour on your countertop, and turn the dough over onto the flour. Cut the dough in half to pre-shape the loaves. Shape into rounds by running a pastry scraper or blunt knife around the bottom edge. This will start to make the top of the dough taut, and give you a more even shape. Let dough rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare two proofing baskets or bowls by lining with a kitchen towel and dusting them with flour. It helped me to lightly spray the towels with water first before adding the flour. Rub the flour into the towel to create a layer of flour on the towel.

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Give the loaves their final shape by dusting the tops with flour, then turning them over so the flour side is down. Gently take the top lip of the loaf, and fold it into the center, then repeat with the other three sides. The idea here is to make the top more taut. Cup your hands around the edges of the loaf to give it its final shape. Sprinkle with flour, then transfer to the towel lined baskets or bowls, smooth side down. Cover with plastic, and let sit at room temperature for 4 hours, or place in refrigerator and let sit overnight.

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When ready to bake – place a dutch oven or heavy pot with lid in the oven and pre-heat to 500F. Remove the hot dutch oven from oven, and place one of the loaves inside, smooth side up. Score the top with a sharp knife. You can do three diagonal lines like I did, or do an X in the middle.

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With the lid on, bake at 500F for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 475F for 15 minutes. After the first 30 minutes of baking, remove lid and continue to bake for another 20 minutes – or until the crust has a deep golden brown color.

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Remove from oven and place the loaf on a cooling sheet for at least 10 minutes before slicing. You will see the quintessential holes filling each delicious loaf.  Enjoy it fresh and warm with toppings of choice.

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Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

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I have never enjoyed what I’ve always known to be ‘maraschino cherries’ – the bright red, sickeningly sweet cherries that tend to adorn perfectly good milkshakes and sundaes. However, when I started ordering cocktails as an adult and received these new dark red cherries, I decided to give them a try, and have looked forward to getting them in cocktails ever since. These are the real maraschino cherries, and there is quite a difference. They’re easy to make at home, and are the ideal compliment to cocktails such as a Manhattan or Old Fashioned, and a delicious boozy treat on their own.

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These cherries are made with fresh fruit, contain no HFCS, and are flavored with just a few simple ingredients. The most important is Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, from which they get their name.

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Ingredients: 1 1/2 pounds cherries, 1 cup Luxardo, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp bourbon vanilla extract, 1 cinnamon stick, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, 2 tbsp lemon juice.

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Remove stems and pits from all of the cherries and set aside. In a saucepan combine water, sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice. Bring mixture to a boil, then add cherries, and reduce to a simmer. Let cherries simmer for about 5 minutes, turn off heat, add Luxardo, and let cool. Add cherries to jars, and refrigerate.

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Potato Salad with Homemade Mayonnaise

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Potato salad has always been a favorite side dish of ours. Whenever it’s available on a restaurant menu, we tend to opt for that instead of french fries. This recipe includes all of the traditional ingredients in potato salad, as well as some additions that give the salad a boost of flavor, such as toasted almonds and spicy mustard. One of the key components is the homemade mayonnaise. Freshly made homemade mayonnaise is light and fluffy, and adds just the right amount of flavor to the potato salad, while also avoiding the sometimes unpleasant texture of store-bought mayonnaise.

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Mayonnaise ingredients: 1 egg, 1 1/4 cup extra light tasting olive oil, 1/2 tsp mustard powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 3 tbsp lemon juice. Note: all ingredients should be at room temperature.

Mayonnaise instructions: add the egg, 1/4 cup of oil, mustard powder, and salt to a glass stand mixer bowl. Start mixer at a medium speed and run for a few seconds, until ingredients are combined. Raise the speed of the mixer to high, and slowly drizzle in the remaining cup of oil. It’s important for the oil to be added very slowly for it to emulsify and create the right consistency. Once the oil is completely added turn off mixer and add lemon juice, mixing in with a spoon.

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Potato salad ingredients: 10 medium red potatoes, 1/4 cup slivered almonds, 4 eggs, 2 tbsp chopped chives, 2 tbsp spicy brown mustard, 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion, 3/4 cup homemade mayonnaise, salt and pepper to taste.

Potato salad instructions: bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add potatoes and eggs. Cook the eggs for 10 minutes, remove from pot, and place in cold water. Once eggs are cooled peel and chop. Cook potatoes for about 15 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork, but still firm. Drain potatoes and set aside to cool.

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Add almonds to a frying pan, and toast on stovetop for about three minutes, until almonds have started to brown. Grind almonds into small pieces and add to a large bowl. Chop potatoes into small chunks and add to bowl along with mustard, onions, chives, eggs, and mayonnaise. Thoroughly mix all ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste.

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This salad is a great side dish for any entrée, or as a stand-alone snack. The almonds give it a great crunch, and the homemade mayonnaise is well worth the effort.

 

 


Homemade Falernum Liqueur

Before visiting Tiki themed bars in Los Angeles, and even at Disneyland, I admit I did not know much about Tiki cocktails outside of a traditional Mai Tai. However, once I began to learn more about the great variety of Tiki drinks, I started looking into how I can re-create some at home. I found that most of the flavors I enjoyed were due to the addition of falernum, a liqueur rumored to come from Barbados that is intricate in flavor, yet incredibly simple to make.

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Although it can be found premade, falernum’s ingredients are straightforward and the process is easy enough that I decided to make my own batch at home.

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Ingredients: 1/3 cup sliced almonds (raw), 40 whole cloves, 3/4 cup rum, zest of 8 limes, juice of 3 limes, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 3/4 cup warm water.

Instructions: add the almonds and cloves to a pan and toast over medium heat until almonds are just slightly browned. Add the almonds, cloves, lime zest, and rum to a jar then cover and shake. Let the mixture sit for two full days (one day if you don’t want it to be too potent with clove flavor – I recommend two days for the full effect).

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After the two days, combine warm water and sugar in a container and mix until the sugar has dissolved. Combine the sugar water, rum mixture, and lime juice into one container and mix thoroughly. The falernum can be refrigerated for up to one month. This liqueur combined ingredients that I already had at home, and I’m excited to use it in a variety of delicious Tiki cocktails.


Warm Egg Breakfast

One of my favorite meals from our honeymoon was a simple, straightforward, soft boiled egg breakfast. Although fairly minimal, the meal felt fanciful as we enjoyed it on a slow morning in Paris, and I instantly knew I would be recreating this meal at home.

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The main piece in this meal is a just a soft boiled egg. I boiled five cups of water, brought it back down to a simmer, then added four eggs to the water and set a timer for six minutes. After running the eggs under cold water immediately after cooking, I just sliced off the top of each egg and put them into egg cups.

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To scoop up the runny yolk inside the egg, I sliced up a few pieces of bread and lightly toasted them. To accompany the egg and bread, I set out a jar of delicious homemade jam and some butter. Just as we had experienced in Paris, I made coffee and squeezed a few grapefruits to make a fresh juice to complete the meal.

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This leisurely breakfast was just as satisfying and decadent as we remember, and it will certainly remain a staple in our home.

 


Homemade Sesame Pretzels

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As the weather continues to get chillier I have been thinking up comforting treats to bake at home. Now that we have a stand mixer, that task has become even more exciting. Recently, James and I decided to try out pretzel making for the first time. The results were absolutely delicious and the process was both fascinating and a lot of fun. I found a basic recipe online, and made just a couple of tweaks to the process.

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INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 cups of flour

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon dry yeast

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup baking soda

1 tablespoon salt

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons whole milk

Coarse sea salt and sesame seeds for sprinkling

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INSTRUCTIONS:

In a bowl mix the 2 1/2 cups of flour and 2 teaspoons of salt, set aside. In a small saucepan heat milk until it begins to simmer then turn off and let cool for a few minutes. Add yeast and honey to milk and stir until fully incorporated. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment add half of the milk and half of the flour mixture, stir with a wooden spoon to fully meld together. Then add the remaining flour and milk, and mix with paddle attachment for about five minutes. Once the dough is fully mixed switch to the bread hook attachment and knead on medium speed for about ten minutes.

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Add the olive oil to a large bowl and swish around to spread it out. Form a ball with the dough and add to bowl, cover and let sit for 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F. If you have a baking stone (or in our case a clay baking dish) place in oven while it heats up.

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Once the dough is ready, separate into twelve equal sized pieces.

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Roll the dough out into long strands and twist to form the pretzel shape.

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While you are twisting, bring a pot of water with the baking soda and tablespoon of salt to a boil.

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Gently place the pretzels (up to two at a time) in the water, flipping them over after twenty seconds. You will notice that the pretzels float once they are ready to be taken out. Place them on a rack to dry for a couple of minutes. In a bowl whisk together the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of milk. Brush each pretzel with the yolk mixture and top off with desired amount of sesame seeds and coarse sea salt.

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Place pretzels on a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper underneath and put in oven over the baking stone. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes, until pretzels and golden. Dip in your favorite mustard and enjoy!

 


Citrus Strawberry Shortcake

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Strawberry shortcake is one of those classic summer time desserts that’s liked by most and super simple to make. A couple of weeks ago we had some friends over for our first outdoor grilling of the summer season, and I decided to make a nontraditional version of this fun treat, by incorporating a burst of citrus flavor.

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I was short on time, so I stuck with a simple biscuit recipe, and used pre-made whipped cream. I prepared the biscuits ahead of time so that they could be cool and ready for the toppings later on. The key component to this version of strawberry shortcake is in the strawberries marinade.

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I chopped up a big bowl of ripe strawberries, removing the cores, and mixed in a few ingredients that I had at home: brown sugar, vanilla-orange liqueur, juice from 1/2 an orange, about two teaspoons of orange zest, and a dash of orange bitters.

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I covered the bowl and let it sit in the refrigerator until it was time for desert. Then all I had to do was put a couple scoops of strawberries on the small biscuits I had baked earlier and a swirl of whipped cream. Our guests loved the boozy orange flavors bursting through the sweet strawberries. This recipe will definitely keep coming back this summer.

 


Grilled Chicken and Freshly Made Tomato Sauce with Whole Wheat Angel Hair

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Finding meals that are both delicious and quick to make can of course be a common challenge. This meal only took about 20 minutes total, if that. It was low fat, healthy, and really yummy.

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Eating outdoors on cool spring evenings is always an added bonus to a home-made meal. It’s a fun treat for our cats to roam around on the patio for a bit too as you can see in the photo.

INGREDIENTS:

2 large chicken breasts (I cut them into slices)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 large can peeled plum tomatoes

1 medium white onion

2 sprigs fresh thyme

3 garlic cloves

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 lb 100% whole wheat angel hair pasta

INSTRUCTIONS:

Rub chicken breast pieces with salt and place on heated griddle, grill each side for about 5 minutes each – until both sides have griddle marks and meat is cooked through when sliced. While chicken is grilling heat a pan with olive oil and add the garlic and onions. Once garlic and onions are translucent add the tomatoes (with juices), thyme, salt and pepper. With a wooden spoon smush down the whole tomatoes, you can use sliced tomatoes too but I like the whole since they seem to hold on to their juices better for more flavor. Allow ingredients to simmer then add chicken breast slices to pan, let the chicken simmer with the sauce for another couple of minutes. Cook pasta per package instructions and serve topped with chicken and sauce.

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