Category Archives: Cooking/Baking

Whole wheat banana bread

Continuing in my quest for whole wheat goodness, I dipped back into an old favorite, banana bread. This recipe is from the King Arthur 200th Anniversary Cookbook.

I’ve always been a somewhat impatient person who prepares ingredients on the fly as the rest of the dish is coming together. Most of the time, it’s fine, but sometimes it is a pain to stop what I am doing to do something finicky, like zesting a lemon. I know the standard in cooking is to make a “mise en place,” and while I’ve resisted doing it for years, I finally have admitted that it is the smarter way to cook.

1/2 c butter (1 stick)
1 c sugar
2 eggs
2 very ripe bananas
1 glug vanilla extract
2 c white whole wheat flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

Heat oven to 350 F. Spray a 1-lb bread pan with PAM+flour.

Cream butter and sugar. Don’t just combine it – cream it until it changes color and turns pale. (With a hand mixer, this takes ~10 minutes.) The picture below shows it at the “just mixed” stage. Silly me, I forgot to take a picture when it was fully creamed. The aeration helps keep the texture lighter.

Add eggs 1 at a time, beating on high for at least 2 minutes after each egg. Add bananas and vanilla. I don’t mash the bananas ahead of time because the very ripe bananas will disintegrate (more or less) with only a little encouragement. The batter may look “broken,” but it’s fine.

Mix the soda, salt, and flour. (I tend to scoop up the soda and salt and sprinkle it into the batter, and I mix well to disperse before adding flour.) Add dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined. Smooth into the baking pan.

Bake for 60-75 minutes (until a skewer in the middle comes out clean). Tent with foil after 50-60 minutes to prevent the top from becoming overly brown.

This has a very different texture from regular banana bread. I would describe it as firm and almost “sandy” (but not gritty). It is not mushy or feathery. Deb of Smitten Kitchen once referred to whole wheat bread as being “earnest,” which is a great descriptor of a certain genre of baked goods (ie, it makes me think of whole wheat muffins with oat bran, raw carrots, coconut, sunflower seeds, eggs, and hardly any sugar). Anyway, this is not earnest banana bread, but it’s not cake-like, either. I’ve made this a couple times and have grown quite fond of it.

Somewhat healthy dinner rolls

I’ve been trying to incorporate whole grains into our diet, but having grown up eating white rice and white flour, the flavor and texture of whole grains are a little challenging to my palate. I kinda sorta get around it by making “hybrids” – we now eat 50/50 white and brown rice, and I replace part of the white flour in bread recipes with whole wheat flour. (Btw, Peter Reinhart refers to part-white-part-whole-wheat bread as “transitional breads” – doesn’t that sound elegant?)

In any case, I recently baked some excellent dinner rolls and thought I’d share. I used another recipe from King Arthur Flour. I took photos as I went along, all tutorial like, because we are all about the teaching experience here at Twosheep.

1 scant T active dry yeast
1 c lukewarm water
1/4 c orange juice
1/4 c unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 T honey
1 c all-purpose flour
2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/4 t salt (I used kosher)
2/3 c instant mashed potato flakes
1/4 c nonfat dry milk

Activate yeast in a little bit of water (from that 1 cup) plus a pinch of sugar. When it’s foamy, combine all ingredients in the mixer bowl.

Knead on low until everything is hydrated. The dough will be sticky at first.

Move the speed up to medium, and knead until the dough is springy and cleans the sides of the bowl. I meant to check whether I could get the gluten windowpane, but I forgot.

Punch down and place in a greased proofing container.

I have a ghetto proofing box that I bought at the local grocery store. I poured in water and marked the gradations with a Sharpie.

Let rise until double. I know advocates of a long, slow rise say it improves flavor. But I hurried this rise by setting it in a warm place (inside my gas oven – turned to 350 F and shut off after 2 min of heating).

Gently flatten the dough and divide into 16 approximately equal pieces. (Emphasis on the approximate…)

Pull the corners of each piece to a common point on the underside. This should give a fairly tight “skin” to each roll. Place in a greased 9×13 pan.

Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until almost double. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 F. (I did the second rise at room temperature because the oven had to heat up.)

Bake for 15 minutes, rotate pan, and tent with aluminum foil to prevent rolls from getting too dark. Bake for another 10-13 minutes. Gild gently – GENTLY! – with butter, remove from pan to a wire rack as soon as you can handle them.

Mmmm, dinner rolls. I have since learned that these freeze very well. To reheat, defrost in the microwave (in my microwave, nuke 4 rolls for 20 seconds at 100% power), finish reheating in the toaster oven set at 400 F for about 5 minutes.

These rolls also make fab buns for miniature hamburgers. In the sprit of White Castle sliders, I combined meat (ground buffalo!) with a healthy amount of onions. I grilled them on my… wait for it… George Foreman grill! 😀

Accompaniments – oven fries, lettuce, cheese, dill pickle slices.


Mabo-dofu is a Chinese-style dish that is very popular in Japan. It typically has ground pork, tofu, and scallions in garlic sauce. A couple of companies make mabo sauce in a retort pouch (look for “House” brand, and I think “Cook Do” makes one, too), and that’s always a tasty and near-effortless dinner right there.

After using the pouch sauce for years, I thought I’d try to make mabo sauce from scratch. I tried this recipe, which was good but too salty, imo. This is a modified version:

1 T vegetable oil
1 large garlic clove, through the garlic press
1 T grated ginger (grate it frozen, no fibers to worry about)
1 T kochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
1/2 lb ground pork
1 c water
2 T miso
2 T sake
1/2 t sugar
1 lb firm tofu, cut into small cubes
1 T cornstarch
1/2 t (or more, if you like) chili sesame oil
1 bunch of scallions, finely chopped

Mix water, miso, sake, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Heat vegetable oil on high and add garlic, ginger, and kochujang. Saute briefly to release the flavors into the oil. Add ground pork, saute until no longer pink. Add the sauce (water, miso, sake, sugar) and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium low, add tofu, simmer for 10 minutes. Dissolve cornstarch in a little cold water and pour in the pork. Stir to thicken. Remove from heat, stir in chili oil and garnish with scallions. Serve over hot rice.

Bread from heaven

Last August, I made a deal with myself. I promised myself that if I baked bread every week for 4 months, I would buy myself a major (as in multipart and spendy) baking treat. Well, that worked, sort of, except I got derailed around Thanksgiving when Family and I came down with the cold from hell. But I’d made it far enough (11 wks of bread) that I bought treat, part I. (Don’t ask me what I think of it. Sadly, I’ve not had time to read it yet!)

I finally staggered back on the bandwagon with the new year and have been producing a fresh loaf every week. I figure I have to make it through February before I can consider buying Treat II. Lately, the Baker’s Banter blog, hosted by the King Arthur Flour Company and written by their employees, has been a terrific source of inspiration. I “watched” them make challah earlier this month and just about swooned because challah is one of my most favoritist breads ever. Their complete recipe (with many pictures of the process) is here.

Pithy instructions follow:

1/2 cup lukewarm water
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast

Mix all of this and knead until the dough is smooth and the gluten is well developed. Rise (greased, covered) until doubled in bulk. Deflate, divide, and braid. Cover with a greased bit of plastic wrap, turn oven to 375 F, and rise at room temp until nearly doubled. Glaze with an egg beaten with 1 T of cold water. Bake for 20 min, tent with foil, bake another 25 min.

I used “active” yeast, rather than the “instant” yeast specified, but I don’t know that it made a difference. The dough was very easy to work with, and weaving it into a 4-strand braid was a cinch (har).

Traditionally, challah is kind of a dry (or stringy) bread. This often confuses people who aren’t used to it because the texture is somewhat like regular bread that has gotten a little stale. I thought this recipe bridged the differences nicely, not terribly moist, not weirdly dry. Don’t store this with the cut end exposed – keep it cut side down or in a plastic bag, and use it for French toast if it’s more than 24 h old.

It made a might fine-looking crumb, if I do say so myself. And of course, I like to eat mine slathered with local honey.

Panini of deliciousness

In graduate school, 2 of my fellow students convinced me to buy an As-Seen-on-TV George Foreman grill. It was great, they said, it would change my life. Ohhkay… I bought a generously sized one with a timer, but after using it a few times to cook a couple steaks and burgers, I put it away. It was OK for occasionally grilling vegetables, too, but it is kind of a hassle to clean, and I can do just as well on the stovetop or under the broiler. Also, for me, to “grill” without imparting the taste infusion of smoky charcoal goodness seems sort of silly.

The other day, I asked myself, “Self, is this grill really good for anything? Or is it time to donate it away?” Well, I learned this weekend that it is good for – sing it with me, grrls (and boyz) – it is good for panini, pa-NEEE-ni!

Of course, the cheapest way to grill sandwiches is to use your stove and your existing grilled-cheese pan (what? you don’t have a pan specifically dedicated to grilling cheese sandwiches?) plus a saucepan weighted down with a couple of soup cans. But since I already had the much-cheaper-than-this Foreman grill, I was glad to find a use for it. Last night, I made sandwiches for dinner. Matt ate one filled with hard salami, provolone cheese, mustard, and… cold lettuce, added after the fact. My sandwich was inspired by something I saw in Vegetarian Times.

1 parbaked baguette (my grocer offers “take-and-bake” bread that you finish at home before serving)
1 container of ready made baba ghanouj
1 box of frozen chopped spinach (thawed and drained)
1 box feta cheese crumbles
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts.
PAM spray

Heat grill. While that’s warming up, mix together as much spinach and feta as you care to eat. Slice baguette into sandwich-sized portions and cut each in half. Slather baba ghanouj on one side of the bread. Pile spinach-feta mix on the other half. Top with artichoke hearts. Carefully put the baba ghanouj side on top, spray both pieces of bread with PAM, and grill for 3-5 minutes.

Don’t press down on the sandwich too hard or else the filling oozes out the sides. Enjoy!!!

Carroty cake

Near my office is a bakery that makes a divine carrot cake. It’s super-dense and moist, and it tastes really good when it still has a chill from the refrigerator. I had a craving for their cake a while back, but I figured I might be able to make one that was similar.

I used the recipe here. The alterations – I substituted half of the vegetable oil with applesauce and left out the nuts and raisins.

Instead of making a 3-layer cake (as specified in the original recipe), I made a 9×13 sheet cake and a smaller one (8×6, I think). The amount of frosting shown below is more than enough for both of them. I brought the larger of the cakes to work and received rave reviews.

2 c sugar
3/4 c vegetable oil
3/4 c applesauce
4 large eggs
2 c all-purpose flour
2 t baking powder
2 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 t ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 cups grated peeled carrots (about 1 pound)

2 c powdered sugar
1 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 stick (1/4 c) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 t vanilla extract

Heat oven to 325 F. Spray pans (9×13 and 8×6) with PAM+flour. Beat sugar, vegetable oil, and applesauce together. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg to aerate. Slowly mix into the sugar and oil. Stir in carrots.

Split the batter, 2/3 into the larger pan, 1/3 to the smaller. This is a really wet and runny batter. After 45 minutes, check the smaller pan. The top will look lacey and covered in holes when done, but do a toothpick test to be sure. Leave the larger pan in the oven for at least 10 minutes more after the smaller pan is finished.

Frost when the cakes have cooled to room temperature. To make the frosting, beat the ingredients together until smooth. Apply liberally.

I saved a slice for you!

Lemon poppy seed bread

This is a classic recipe for syrup-soaked lemon poppy seed bread – great for the holidays, if baked goods are your thing. The syrup is what elevates this from merely good to outstanding. Don’t skimp on the syrup! This recipe comes from The Art of Quick Breads, by Beth Hensperger.

3 T fresh poppy seeds – “fresh” meaning “not rancid”
1/2 c milk
5 t unsalted butter, room temp
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 c flour
1 t baking powder
grated zest of 2 lemons
1/4 t salt

1/4 c sugar (regular sugar, not powdered)
1/4 c fresh lemon juice

Soak poppy seeds in milk for 1 hr. Heat oven to 325 F.

Cream butter and sugar till fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, mixing well after each. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt.

To the creamed butter, sugar, and eggs, add milk and seeds alternating with the flour mix in 3 equal passes. Combine just until smooth and pour into a large, greased loaf pan (I sprayed a 9×5 in pan with PAM+flour spray). Bake for ~1 hr or until a skewer down the middle comes out clean. Keep the loaf in the pan but put it on a cooling rack.

Make the syrup by heating the sugar and lemon juice until the sugar dissolves (I did mine in the microwave). Pierce the baked loaf all over with a skewer and pour the hot lemon syrup all over it. Leave the loaf in the pan for at least 30 minutes, then turn out onto the rack to finish cooling. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and keep at room temp overnight before serving.

Matt gave it a thumbs up! He doesn’t usually like lemon-flavored cakes (mindboggling, I know!), but he had a slice of this and smiled. Maybe he was just hungry.

Hold that thought

I was thumbing through an issue of Science magazine and came across this neat article about reCAPTCHA. I’m sure most of you know that CAPTCHA is that program that forces you to read a squiggly word and type it in to prove you’re a human before you can comment on ‘blogs, register at Web sites, etc. Well, reCAPTCHA is a variation on that theme. Computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have used CAPTCHA to harness human intelligence and apply it to digitization of books (specifically, humans decipher words that cannot be read through optical character recognition of scanned pages). I thought this was fantastic and have added it to my site. I hope it doesn’t deter you from commenting!

Thanks to Cathy for a lovely crocheted sweater for Meredith. Lilac is her color!

I made a quiche (spinach, cheese, ham, onion, egg – YUM) using storebought pie crust (Pillsbury “Just Unroll”). The crust comes 2 per box, in case you want to make a double-crust pie, but that meant I had an entire sheet of dough leftover. I find the dough pretty salty, so I didn’t want to make a fruit pie. Instead, I recalled Nicole’s egg tarts and figured that would be a good way to use up the last crust.

I cut the pie crust into small rounds (using the cover of a baby bottle!) and pushed them into a greased mini-muffin tin. I used a fork to dock all the crusts. I mostly followed the custard recipe shown on Nicole’s site, but where she says “whisk together sugar and egg yolks by hand until sugar is mostly dissolved,” I could not get the sugar to dissolve. It was more like sugar crystals coated in egg yolk. I added the milk, hoping that would help, but no dice. I strained the whole mix and probably discarded 1/3 to 1/2 of the original amount of sugar. Odd. The custard was still plenty sweet, though.

They were delicious – and the mini size was fun to eat. The dough was really hard to get out of the muffin tin, despite having greased the pan. A lot of the crusts crumbled when I took the tarts out.

I’d make this again, but I think I’ll use paper tin liners to improve presentation. And I might try adding a bit less sugar.

Happy news

My sister and her long-time boyfriend are now engaged! I’ve been waiting to hear this news for more than a year. 😀

They visited us a couple weekends ago to meet Meredith and soak up some Minn-eh-SOH-tah culture.

We had a get-together over Labor Day weekend, and I decided to make lemon-glazed madeleines.

The recipe is from David Lebovitz, and it is just fantastic! I finally got to use the madeleine mold that Matt and I received as a WEDDING GIFT (back in 2004), and it was worth the wait. This recipe makes 24 cookies (or slightly less, depending on how full you fill the molds).

3 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup (130g) granulated sugar
rounded 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup (175g) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (optional)
zest of one small lemon
9 tablespoons (120g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

1 1/2 cup (300g) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
4 tablespoons water

Heat oven to 425 F. Spray the madeleine mold with PAM+flour (or brush with melted butter and dust with flour).

Beat eggs, sugar, and salt for 5 minutes (frothy and thickened). It will be light in color.

Whisk the flour and baking powder to aerate, fold in small batches into the eggs.

Add lemon zest to cooled butter, slowly dribble butter into batter as you fold just until incorporated.

Fill each mold to ~3/4 full. Plop the batter in the center, do not spread. Bake for 8 or 9 minutes (a tich longer if you use the baking powder). Meanwhile, make the glaze by stirring together all ingredients until smooth.

Remove cakes from the oven, move to a cooling rack. While they are still warm, dip each cake in glaze (submerge, really), and remove the excess. DL recommends using a dull knife to scrape off the excess glaze, but I found it more efficient to do it with my fingers. Return cakes to the cooling rack to allow the glaze to set.

Note: DL recommends chilling the batter and freezing the mold before baking. This (afaik) is to promote the formation of the “hump” in the center of the cake. I didn’t care so much about the look, so I skipped that step.

Chicken tikka masala

Mmmm, tasty Indian food from a couple weeks ago:

This is from the Sept/Oct 2007 issue of Cook’s Illustrated.

Chicken tikka
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground coriander
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 t salt
2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 c plain whole-milk yogurt
2 T vegetable oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 T grated fresh ginger

Trim fat from chicken breasts. Combine cumin through salt in a small bowl, press chicken onto spices until evenly coated. Cover chicken with plastic wrap, refrigerate for 30-60 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.

Masala sauce
3 T vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced fine
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 t grated fresh ginger
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
1 T tomato paste
1 T garam masala
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 t sugar
1/2 t salt
2/3 c heavy cream
1/4 c fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven until shimmering. Saute onion until light golden. Add garlic, ginger, pepper, tomato paste, and garam masala and stir until fragrant. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes, stir in cream, and return to simmer. Remove from heat.

While the sauce simmers, put a rack 6 inches under the broiler and begin heating. Dip chicken in the yogurt mix and place on a wire rack set in a foil-lined jelly roll pan. Chicken should have a thick layer of yogurt on it. Discard excess yogurt. Broil until fully cooked (exterior will be lightly charred), turning as needed. Remove from heat. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, cut into small chunks, and stir into sauce. Add cilantro and serve over Basmati rice.

Afterthoughts: The chicken tikka was great – it browned wonderfully under the broiler (although if juices collect in crevices, it won’t brown, obv), and the thick yogurt marinade really clung to the meat. I did end up discarding a lot of the marinade, I could probably cut it by a quarter or a third to have less waste. For the sauce, I thought the full amount of cream made the dish way too rich. The next time, I’ll probably reduce it by at least a half.