White Bread Success!

I’m so excited. Even though I over proofed the dough I had  success with White Bread. I was too tired to wait for it to proof one last time and bake the dough in the oven. So I left it on the counter and went to bed. The rise was already very exciting…

Just as the recipe said. Almost an inch above the pan. Alas I should have put it in the frig for a slower rise. The dough had accumulated too much carbon dioxide which would normally be a good thing – because it is what creates the crumb inside the bread. It had popped through the top and my poor yeast had suffered from an overdose. The gluten had probably separated a bit. 

Not to worry. I took it out of the bread pan and kneaded it back to life, folded and shaped it again and put it back in the pan. I didn’t get as high a rise but I didn’t want to let my efforts go to waste so I baked it. 
It took 45 minutes just to preheat the oven. I put a sheet pan on the bottom and another on a shelf. When it came time to put the bread in the oven it had to be a precise dance. I quickly put the loaves in followed by five cubes of ice. I rushed to close the oven door because the point of the ice is to create steam. 

It came out 50 minute later looking beautiful and almost store bought but slightly better. I waited for it to cool 100% because if I had cut it right away it would have collapsed the crumb. Then I cut it and gave a piece to my wife. She’s my ‘taste tester’ and the look on her face was exciting and it was followed by a huge YUM!! Then a request for a second slice which she ate heartedly with strawberry preserves.    It was indeed “What Wonder Bread always wanted to be.”

I feel great! Like I could do anything, not only in the kitchen but in life. If I could make croissants I’d be home free. 


Delicious in the Morning

This is a base recipe I’ve been making ever since I can remember. My mother actually found the recipe and it was for Zucchini Bread. I love that but I wanted to change it up. Give myself options. Keep it alive. The recipe can also be used to make muffins. 

The role of the Zucchini is moisture. So if you’re not going to use Zucchini you have to replace the moisture. You can change it up for carrots which I love because I like to make Carrot Ginger Bread with Craisins and Walnuts. The Bread above is a five Berry Bread and I used Buttermilk as a replacement for the moisture. You can also use yogurt. I like to include Buttermilk for the health benefits. It is high in proteins, vitamins B-2 and D, calcium and it helps digestion. It also adds a slight sour note. 

When I use this recipe to make muffins, I like to use a ice cream scoop sprayed with Pam or an olive oil spray – keeps the batter from sticking – to transfer the batter to the muffin tin. I use an extra large muffin tin that I got from a restaurant supply house. (I will espouse on restaurant supply houses vs stores like Bed Bath and Beyond – a pet peeve of mine in another post).

Don’t forget to decorate your breads and muffins. Be creative. I used some of the Strawberries and Walnuts to decorate the top. You can also use oats or a sugar glaze or a crumble – like you would put on a fruit crumble or crisp. 

One more note. This recipe is healthy. Not like the muffins and breads you may get in the store or bakery. It uses Vegetable Oil instead of Butter.  If you prefer not to use All Purpose Flour then you can use Whole Wheat or anything else you want to experiment with. One tip though. Never use all Whole Wheat. Add some White Flour. Your bread will be very heavy and dry if you do. 

Here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

Morning Quick Bread: makes two loaves

4 Eggs 

1 Cup Vegetable Oil (I prefer Olive Oil for health benefits and the flavor)

2 Cups of Sugar

1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract 

1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt

1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Soda

1 1/2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder

4 Cups of Flour

2 Cups Zucchini or Carrots or 1 Cup of Yogurt or Buttermilk

1 Cup of Nuts or more to taste

Berries or other add ins to taste

Spices to taste such as Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger or Cloves. 

Optional: 1 Teaspoon Orange Oil or Orange, Lemon or Lime Zest

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare bread pans or muffin tins. 

2. Combine Vegetable Oil and Sugar and mix thoroughly. Add Eggs, Vanilla (add Zucchini or Carrots here) and other wet ingredients. Mix thoroughly. 

3. Then add dry ingredients – Flour, Salt, Baking Soda and Baking Powder and Spices. Fold in Nuts and Berries. 

4. Turn batter into bread pans or scoop into muffin tins. Bake for 1/2 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes depending on the size of what you’re baking in. Insert a cake tester to be sure it’s done, slice and enjoy. 

TIP: for preparing bread pans. Use Butter or Shortening to grease the pan thoroughly and then dust with flour. I like to put a tablespoon of Flour in the bottom of the pan and tap it around over the sink. Otherwise the Flour might wind up all over the kitchen. For muffins I use muffin papers.  No need for greasing and flouring there. 

Wake up to a beautiful day every day and may it always start with wonderful flavors in your mouth. 

Weekend Special: Brunch


What’s a weekend without a good brunch?  Every weekend I make something special to celebrate our making it through the week.  Today I made a Frittata and I have to say it was divine.  This is an example of how chef’s can inspire you.  I never thought of making a Frittata until I saw Lidia Bastianich make one.  She said it was like a Quiche without the crust and she was so right.  I guess I simply never understood it before and now it’s something I make once a month.

A word about eggs.  They’re not the little demons of cholesterol that we once thought they were.  The yolks are full of Folic Acid – particularly good for women – and Omega 3 oils that help lower your cholesterol.  They are also a good source of protein.  I like to eat them for the protein factor but they have so many other benefits.  Don’t eat them every day but I believe in eating them twice a week – especially for women because of the Folic Acid.

Lidia is right. A Frittata is almost like a Quiche without the crust.  (My favorite part of a Quiche is the crust but I’ll forgo it for this).  A Frittata is cooked in the pan first and then transferred to the oven so that it gets a nice crispy bottom.  You can use any kind of ingredients with it.  I used Asparagus, Sweet Red Peppers and Parsley with Jarlsberg Cheese.  You can make a Frittata for any meal of the day.   We like it for Brunch. It reminds us of an omelette. My spouse doesn’t like anything cured, smoked or brined which is too bad because I’d just love to add Prosciutto or Smoked Salmon.

Frittatta Assembled Just Before it Goes in the Oven

So here is my recipe for a Frittata

Frittata with Asparagus, Red Pepper, Parsley and Jarlsberg Cheese

10 Eggs – whisked until the yolks and whites are loosely integrated.

10 to 15 Stalks of Asparagus – cut into thirds

1 Medium Bell Pepper – cut into thin strips

1/2 Cup Curly Parsley – chopped

1/3 Cup Jarlsberg Cheese – grated

3 to 4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil – for greasing the pan

1. Turn oven to 350º.  Put the Asparagus and Bell Pepper into a small pan and start cooking. Put the eggs into a larger pan on a low to medium flame and start cooking. (This part should be done on your stove.)

2. When you see that a thick amount (but not all) of the eggs are cooked start assembling.  Put the Parsley in while the Eggs are still mostly wet.  Then add the Asparagus and the Bell Pepper.  Sprinkle the Cheese on top.

3. Transfer to the oven and cook for 20 minutes.

4. Transfer to a serving plate and cut into 8 slices – assuming everyone will have two slices.  Enjoy!

Frittata Just Out of the Oven
Frittata Just Out of the Oven

We like to serve it with Toast, Homemade Quick Bread or Muffins and a salad of some sort.  Berries are in season now so I made a Four Berry Salad with Mint and Almonds and we got Cranberry Muffins from our local bakery (They were good but mostly disappointing because there were very few Cranberries and a lot of Butter and Sugar).  It was all delicious though.

Frittata on a Plate with Muffins and Mixed Berry, Mint Salad
Frittata Served

Berry Salad Recipe

1/2 Cup each Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries

1/2 Cup Sliced Strawberries

1/4 Cup Mint – cut into a Chiffonade

1/8 Cup Almonds – sliced

1. Clean, Prep and Wash all of the ingredients.

2. Gently mix all of the ingredients.

3. Serve

You can put this into a bowl with a spoon on the table for everyone to take some. I like to give individual bowls on the plate.  Maybe it’s just me but I think it looks prettier and you don’t have to worry about ‘double dipping.’  I even indulge in eating it with my hands, picking the berries up as if they were potato chips.

Tip: You should gently toss the salad with your hands.  The Berries are easily crushed, especially by a utensil. 

I hope that this adds something special to your weekend or at least inspires you to treat yourself well and to relax.


Il Panere: Focaccia

Focaccia before it went into my oven

This is a recipe I adapted from a restaurant I used to work in. It was an Italian restaurant and pizza place. My station was next to the pizza chef and I watched him make hundreds of pizzas, garlic knots, focaccia bread, rolls, breads and more. I learned so much about working with dough. I loved what they called garlic sticks and decided to make them at home. I was successful on the first try because I bought some of the dough they used to make everything. So if you’re too chicken or rushed to make your own dough, you should be able to purchase some from your local pizza restaurant. Please don’t get dough from a chain, like Dominos. It’s usually made in a warehouse, frozen and shipped to the store. Go to a small local pizza restaurant. You’ll be guaranteed to get the freshest dough around. 

When you get the dough home let it sit for an hour or two. Make sure you put some olive oil in a room temperature bowl, move the dough around in it, being sure to coat the whole thing. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit. 

When the dough is ready take a sheet pan and brush it with olive oil. Spread the dough in the pan, cover it and let it rise for another hour. Make sure it’s evenly distributed in the pan. 

Turn your oven as far up as it will go. At the restaurant I worked in the ovens were 800+ degrees. At home my oven only goes up to 550 degrees but that was enough. 

Take a whole head of garlic and dice it very finely. Spread it all over the dough. Garlic has a natural oil that will make the dough just divine. Make sure the garlic pieces are evenly spread on the dough. Distribute sliced red onions (preferably paper thin) and sun dried tomatoes – also thinly sliced – and push them to embed them in the dough. Sprinkle Parmesan or Romano evenly.  Bake for 10 minutes. Cut into rectangles and enjoy. I cut off the edges but you can keep them on if you wish. 

A word about the cheese. If you are going to the trouble of making the garlic sticks from scratch please use only the best cheese you can get your hands on. Please don’t use the kind of cheese that you will find in your supermarket. Need I say that is subpar – which is an understatement. It is usually so dry that it might as well be a spice. 

We have a fabulous Italian Deli near us. It’s a real foodie’s paradise. They make their own Buffalo Mozzarella and the Proscuitto is to die for. I could buy everything in the store if I had the money and a reason to. 

The next time you have guests try putting these on the table. I’m sure they’ll be gone in minutes. Try experimenting. Use Olives, Basil and/or Proscuitto, wherever your imagination takes you and enjoy! 

Next week I will start to bake with my Sourdough Starter. I hope you will follow along. 

The Greenmarket: Fresh!!

Talk about fresh! All I have to do is go to the Greenmarket and I’m a whole new person. Finding things I’ve never tried cooking before, talking to farmers, seeing gorgeous produce and you’d think I’d just gone to heaven and returned. 

You’d probably also think I’d do fancy things with these ingredients, coaxing them to life with loving hands. Certainly not! These are the epitome of Fresh! Of taste all by themselves. Why ruin it?

One of the finds was Fiddlehead Ferns. I’ve never made these before and I asked the wonderful woman behind the stand what the best way to make them is. She said to parboil them and then sautée them in a pan with butter, salt and pepper. I did just that. I had to husk them first. I didn’t know they had husks and it was time consuming but well worth it. They have a kind of crunch with a slightly bitter taste that turns to sweet aftertaste. Almost like Broccoli Rabe They looked dark green at first but after I cooked them they brightened up and got the most interesting lines. 

I picked up three kinds of oyster mushrooms. Yellow, Pink and Brownish Grey. The man behind the table said he gathers them in the woods of Ithaca, NY and is a mushroom freak just as I am. He had things on a table to my right as I was paying that looked like shells from the beach. They were mushrooms! For decoration only because you couldn’t possibly eat them. I want to go foraging with this guy some day. 

I got THE most divine spinach and I made it with the mushrooms with olive oil and garlic. I also added Arugula and Basil. It was so good we almost ate the whole thing right there and then. 

I’m not really a huge fan of radishes but these were so beautiful that I could not resist them. I shaved them into a salad along with an Ugly Heirloom Tomato along with Shaved Carrots, Strawberries, Persian Cucumbers, the above mentioned greens as well as parsley, Walnuts, Asparagus, Roasted Squash, Baked Chicken Slices, and mine had a Blue Cheese from the neighboring Whole Foods that I just could not resist. I can’t believe how good salad can be. Like eating candy. Of course, I tossed it with my Homemade Italian Dressing. 

Tomorrow I want to make some focaccia bread which I usually make with pizza dough from the restaurant I used to work in. However I’m going to try making the dough myself. Whether I’ll use some of the sourdough is something I’ll decide later. I will post it as I go tomorrow. Keep those forks tuned.

Going Chinese: Without Takeout

In 1987 I went on a month-long journey to China and Tibet. It was the most amazing trip. I remember all of Tibet and not much about China – except the flavors. They varied from region to region and were like nothing I’d ever tasted before. The Chinese food that you get in the U.S. is far different from China. It has to appeal to our senses which are sweeter and involves more fat and sugars than in China. Of course, palates in the U.S. are becoming educated. We are seeking authenticity and Spice more and more. 

There are as many flavor variations in China as there are provinces. Sichuan cuisine has a lot of heat in it, while Guangzhou Province tends towards sweeter flavors. Guangzhou used to be known as Canton and inspires the food served in the U.S. The provences by the South China Sea are very fertile and are known for mushrooms. As our tour bus was driving down the road I saw the mushrooms right there. Right by the side of the road! There was a mushroom market right outside our hotel where there were mushrooms the size of large straw summer hats and as teeny tiny as a pin and everything in between. They were for medicinal and nutritional consumption. 

When I got home I was looking for the distinct flavors and textures in Chinese food sold in the U.S. I discovered Chinese Five Spice. I used to buy it in the supermarket and put it in my spice rack where it barely saw the light of day. Now I make my own. Here is my recipe. Adjust it to your liking.

Chinese Five Spice

1/4 Teaspoon of Salt

1/2 Teaspoon of Pepper

1/4 Teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon

1/4 Teaspoon of Ground Nutmeg

1/4 Teaspoon of Ground Cloves

1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger 

1/4 Teaspoon Ground Anise Seed

Mix evenly and add to your dish. If you like heat you can add red pepper flakes. The key is that these are all powerful flavors so less is more. You should adjust the amounts according to how much you’ll need for your dish. You can also premix it and store it in a jar for later. Chinese Five Spice should be used in conjunction with Soy Sauce or Teriyaki Sauce. I like Teriyaki Barbecue Sauce because it’s thicker. You can also use Hoisin, Black Bean or Plum Sauce. You can also try using it as a dry rub for Chicken, Beef, Pork or Fish. Just add a touch more salt so that it will permiate your protein. You can also try marinating your protein overnight for deeper flavors. 

The other night I made Cashew Chicken in a sheet pan that was so good we couldn’t believe it. The heck with stir fry. Roasting it on a sheet pan deepens and enhances the flavors. Here’s the recipe….

Cashew Chicken

1 family package of chicken cutlets – about eight

1 Tablespoon Chinese Five Spice (recipe above)

3 Tablespoons Teriyaki, Hoisin, Black Bean or Plum Sauce (if you like heat throw in a bit of hot sauce…if you haven’t added heat to your Chinese Five Spice)

1/2 Cup of Cashews (more if you like them)

2 Broccoli Crowns cut into small pieces

1 package baby carrots sliced

1 Red, Yellow or Orange Bell Pepper ( you can add one of each or get a package of baby bell peppers) cut into 1″ strips and then half the strips

1 Onion – halved and then sliced

1 to 2 Cloves of Garlic (more if you like it)

Olive Oil for the sheet pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the Olive Oil on the sheet pan. Combine Chinese Five Spice with Teriyaki Sauce. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl to toss until evenly integrated. Add Chinese Five Spice and Teriyaki mix and toss until evenly coated. Spread evenly on sheet pan and cook for 20 to 25 minutes (depending on your oven and how you like it). Serve. 


Gathering Inspiration

My goal for this blog is not only to give you great recipes but information that will inspire you to try new things on your own. Ever since I could read I have been gathering information about food and cooking. While my peers couldn’t wait for the cartoon section of the newspaper I would crave and devour the cooking and food section. Jump about thirty years later I began my cookbook collection and I now have over 100. Note the proudly displayed almost perfect copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by the woman who started the home cooking craze in the US – Julia Child, of course. Thank you to my mother for this treasure. I will probably never use it. It’s just too pretty and valuable. 

Note underneath that most of my books are about ingredients and techniques because I always want to try new things on my own. The more information you have about ingredients the better it is for your tastebuds and your health. For example do you really know what salt is for? Yes it’s for adding savory to your food at the table, it’s also for seasoning – like adding it to vegetables or meat before you cook it. Salt will bring out the water content and then bring it back in. It also helps to break things down. So if you’re Caramelizing Onions it will help to add a touch of salt before you put them on the stove. Salt also brings out the natural sweetness in food. Have you ever noticed that after you salt corn on the cob and bite into it, it gets sweeter? Case in point. A fascinating book to read on the subject of Salt is Salt: A World History by Mark Kulansky. I couldn’t put it down! 

I also like books about different types of cuisine. I have everything from Italian to Japanese to Irish and even a book on Native American cuisine. I live in Astoria, NYC also known as Little Athens because of the large Greek population here. Ever since I moved here twenty years ago I’ve been looking for the perfect book on Greek cuisine. It wasn’t until a lovely neighbor who is Greek gave me a cookbook that I finally had one. She also had a marvelous Fig tree. 

So my advice to you is to learn, learn, learn and don’t stop learning. Also don’t be afraid to experiment. Once you know what goes with what the world will be open to you. Also learn about where your food comes from. Try growing something. It wasn’t until I grew tomatoes – you can grow them in large pots – that I really understood what to look for in the supermarket and how to prep them. We have a neighbor across the street who has turned their yard into a veritable farm. I want to get to know them and ask them questions. Not that I won’t have an alterior motive of getting some fresh goods but making contact with them will be a fact finding experience. 

Remember that the more you know the better you will be in your kitchen.