Friday, January 9, 2015

Sourdough Adventures

Several years ago, I kept a sourdough starter for a while. I wasn't very good at making bread with the recipe that I had (I kept trying to add too much flour, and ended up with rock-hard bread every time), and eventually the starter was neglected into oblivion.

But recently, I started myself a new starter. I'm much more experienced with bread baking now, and have been turning out some lovely loaves of delicious sourdough bread. My kids really like having a sourdough starter, I've told them it's like "pet yeast" because we have to feed it and take care of it just as if it were a pet. But mostly they just really like all the stuff I make with it.

Before, I used to keep my starter in a pitcher in the fridge, and only pull it out to use every once in a while. Nowadays, fridge space is a valuable commodity, and there's just not room in there for a container of sourdough starter. So I keep it in an open cabinet, up high enough that the kids won't bother it, but visible enough that I can check on it and remember that it's there and needs to be used frequently.

See, there it is on the top shelf in the old ice cream bucket. Lots of people store their starter in a jar, but I like a container with plenty of space to stir the starter when I feed it. And I promise that someday I will get around to making doors for my cabinets. Let's just ignore the fact that this cabinet has been waiting for doors for over a year...

I'll share the same recipe I shared six years ago, just because. This particular starter uses flour, water, and yeast. I've seen starters that use only flour and water, taking advantage of the wild yeast that is found naturally in flour. But I didn't know about that type until I'd already had my starter for a while, and I'm not going to throw away a perfectly good starter just because I learned there's another kind. :)

Sourdough Starter
2 cups chlorine-free water (let tap water sit out on the counter for a while)
1 tbsp. yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour

Combine all ingredients. Use glass, plastic, or earthenware container. Metal is a no-no for sourdough starter. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 48 hours, until it foams and develops a pleasantly sour smell. At this point you can cover loosely and store in the fridge, like I used to do, or just leave it at room temperature, making sure every 2-4 days to either use or drain some of the starter (I always use it, I'm too tightwad to discard perfectly good sourdough starter), and then feed it.

For feeding the starter, I use equal amounts flour and water. I add back 3/4 of the amount I removed. For example, if I remove 1 cup of starter, I feed the rest of the starter with 3/4 cup water and 3/4 cup flour.

Sometimes the starter will separate, with a layer of liquid on top. That liquid is called the hooch. I just stir it in really well before using the starter.

Here's the recipe I've been using to make bread. It's simple, you don't have to make a sponge, it doesn't call for additional yeast. It turns out quite delicious.

Sourdough Bread
1 cup water
1 tbsp. salt
2 cups sourdough starter
4 to 5 1/2 cups flour

Dissolve the salt in the water in a mixing bowl. Add the starter, and then the flour (only as much as necessary to make a soft dough). Knead into a ball. Cover with a damp towel and let rise overnight at room temperature.

The next morning, punch down risen dough and divide in half. Shape each half into a round loaf, make an X-shaped slash on each top, and place the two loaves on a greased baking sheet. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise at room temperature for about four more hours. Place a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Bake for 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

I have also made this successfully in loaf pans (as shown above), and without the pan of water. Baking time and temp is still the same.

Sourdough bread is great and wonderful, but I don't need to make it every 2-4 days. So when I need to use/feed the starter, I have discovered several different things to make using sourdough starter. Isn't the internet awesome like that? Here are some of the things I've made since I started doing sourdough a few weeks ago:


I changed the recipe to use cinnamon chips instead of chocolate chips. I can't wait to try it with chocolate sometime. These cookies were very unique, and enjoyable. The texture was more bread-like than most cookies, almost like a biscuit. The flavor was sweet and tangy. If I weren't watching my calorie intake, these little guys could become quite addictive.

(recipe here)

I guess my starter is quite a bit less wet than the starter in the recipe, because I had to almost double the starter in order to go from crumbs in the food processor to dough. But once the dough was made, it was extremely easy to work with, and the naan turned out yummy. I made miniature naan, forming the dough into 16 small balls instead of the 8 called for.

English Muffins

I've made these sourdough English muffins twice now, and they've been delicious each time. I start the sponge in the evening, then mix up the dough in the morning to cook up the muffins for breakfast. They're delicious with butter and scrambled eggs, or topped with jam. Any leftovers are good split down the middle and toasted. They don't form huge nooks and crannies like store-bought muffins, but the flavor is wonderful.

I've found that pretty much anything you to which you add sourdough starter develops a wonderful flavor. It's tangy and rich, and downright awesome! That said, I have pinned several more recipes which I am eager to try. Pancakes, waffles, brownies, cake, donuts, cookie bars, muffins - the possibilities are endless! Here's my sourdough Pinterest board for anyone interested.

I do apologize for the poor quality of the pictures in this post. I admit that this post might have been an afterthought... And I can't find my real camera so for most of the pictures, I had to use my husband's little tablet to take some last-minute pictures in poor lighting.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Cranberry Oat Eggnog Muffins

Good morning, my poor little neglected blog! Let's start the day off with some delicious muffins, shall we?

It's shopping day, so the fridge is pretty bare. Lately, with homeschooling my kids, I've been taking the easy way out of breakfast, with just cold cereal or maybe branching out to scrambled eggs. Not necessarily the cheapest solution, but definitely fast and easy. However, today we were out of cereal, and had only two eggs. I thought about doing oatmeal, my other recent standby, but was kind of bored with that. So I put on my not-so-lazy pants and made muffins instead.

I made these using the universal muffin formula that I've posted before. I've never had a batch fail using this formula (except once when I forgot oil, and the muffins turned out rather tough). Formula cooking isn't for everyone, some prefer specific ingredients and amounts. But I actually really like recipes that I can play with to come up with new variations. In fact, I rarely follow recipes exactly as written, so formula recipes work really well for me.

Anyway, this was a delicious muffin, full of dried cranberries and oats, with a hint of eggnog flavor. Later in the year, this combo would be great for the holidays.

Cranberry Oat Eggnog Muffins
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup oil
1 cup eggnog
1 egg
Additional sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease muffin pan.

Stir together flours, oats, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and cranberries. In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, eggnog, and egg. Add wet ingredients all at once to dry ingredients and stir just until moistened.

Divide the batter evenly between twelve muffin cups in prepared pan. Sprinkle about 1/4 tsp. additional sugar over each muffin. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove to cooling rack immediately.

We liked these split through the middle and spread with butter. Jam would also be good, or even just eat them plain.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Acorn Squash Casserole

This is one of those awesomely sneaky recipes. It's called a casserole and served as a side dish, but it actually tastes like a dessert. Reminiscent of those delightful candied yams or sweet potato casseroles served alongside turkey and stuffing at Thanksgiving, this acorn squash casserole has a wonderfully sweet autumnal flavor. I found the recipe over at, where it was titled "Heavenly Squash Casserole." I have to agree, this stuff is heavenly.

Sorry about the picture, it was an afterthought. It wasn't until after dinner that I decided I needed to post this recipe so I could have it available whenever I wanted it. So I scooped out another serving just for the picture. Then I ate it. Of course. Can't let it go to waste. :)

Acorn Squash Casserole
(adapted from
2 large acorn squash
1 cup white sugar
1 stick butter, softened
4 tsp. vanilla, divided
4 eggs, well beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter
2/3 cup flour
1 cup pecans, chopped (didn't have these, but they would have been an amazing addition)

Split each squash in half and scoop out seeds. Place cut side down in two large baking dishes. Unless you have one large enough for all four halves. Then by all means use that one. Add 1/4 inch water around the squashes. Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until tender. Scoop out squash into large bowl and beat with mixer or potato masher until smooth.

Add sugar, butter, and 2 tsp. vanilla to the squash. Mix well. In a separate bowl, beat together the remaining 2 tsp. vanilla and eggs. Add to the squash mixture and mix thoroughly. Place in a greased 2 qt. baking dish or 9x13 pan.

Combine topping ingredients and mix well. Sprinkle over top of squash mixture in pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve warm.

This is great served on its own, but topping it with whipped cream takes it to a whole new level. Just saying.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dutch Oven Apricot Chicken

I made those snickerdoodle bars again, that same evening, at a campout for a dutch oven dessert cookoff. And because of all the extra heat in the fire pit where the ovens were, and because I didn't check on the cookie bars as early as I should have, I burned the bottom to a crisp. That having been only the second time I've ever cooked with a dutch oven, I wasn't too embarrassed or devastated or anything, I just scraped the bottom off and served the bars anyway.

I thought I was over it, and okay with it. But when I decided I wanted to plan a dutch oven meal to cook and eat this week, I kind of froze. Recipes I had looked at before and wanted to try suddenly looked too complicated, too easy for me to mess up. I was scared to try again. It took some facebook encouragement from my aunt and a couple friends to get me feeling okay again. I found a very simple recipe to try and wrote it on the menu calendar for today.

Then it rained all morning, and I thought I'd have to put it off until tomorrow. Luckily, by early evening the rain had stopped and the cement in the backyard had dried enough that I was able to go ahead and light up the coals.

I'm so glad I was able to get over my nervousness and give the dutch oven another try. This apricot chicken (again, from Dutch Oven Madness) was very easy to prepare and cook, and turned out very good. For one thing, it's just beautiful. And of course, the flavor is yummy - tangy, with bits of fruit from the jam and onion from the soup mix. I would not be opposed to making this again sometime.

Dutch Oven Apricot Chicken
12" dutch oven
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup apricot jam (I used apricot pineapple jam that my aunt made, super yummy)
1 cup catalina or french salad dressing (I used french, because the store I went to didn't have catalina in the generic brand)
2 tbsp. sugar
1 pkg. onion soup mix

Place chicken in your dutch oven. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over chicken. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. Easy peasy! I will say that my chicken didn't take the full hour to cook, it was done at about 45-50 minutes. Check for doneness before the full time has passed.

I served this over reconstituted potato shreds, the kind that comes in a food storage can. I was considering doing rice, but we've had chicken and rice a lot in the last few days, and wanted something different. Just in case anyone was wondering what that weird-looking stuff under the chicken is. :)

I used the Dinwiddie ring method for achieving the correct heat, coal counting works too if that's what you prefer. I had to add a few coals about halfway through as they got smaller. I thought that would be hard to figure out, but I just started more coals than I needed, kept the ones I didn't use right away all together so they would stay hot, and just tucked them in where needed. For longer cooking times, like several hours, I might start a new batch of coals partway through to replenish coals as they go out.

Mmm, look at that chicken swimming in all that tangy sweet sauce!

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Dutch Oven Snickerdoodle Bars

We recently had our bi-annual family reunion. At these reunions, there is always a big auction, where everyone contributes items to sell and the proceeds go toward funding the next reunion. It's kind of a big deal in our family. I posted about this a few years ago here.

Anyway, Jeff and I had a lot of fun at this year's auction, and got all sorts of neat stuff. Our biggest purchase was a dutch oven. It's a 12-inch, 8-quart dutch oven that has obviously been properly cared for and beautifully seasoned. The thing is, I've never cooked anything in a dutch oven. So I've been reading everything online that I can find about how to cook with and care for dutch ovens, and I was finally ready today to give it a try!

This recipe came from a great blog for anyone interested in using a dutch oven. Toni decided that she wanted to try something new, so she committed to cooking in her dutch oven(s) every day for an entire year! Wow! Her first month or two of recipes include helpful tips of things that she was learning along the way, and she has a few other resources scattered throughout that were helpful and encouraging. Plus she graded almost every recipe so you know what was really good and what wasn't good at all. Most of the recipes rated either a B or an A. These cookie bars received an A.

Dutch Oven Snickerdoodle Bars
(from Dutch Oven Madness)
12" dutch oven
2 1/3 cup flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
Cinnamon Filling:
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tbsp. milk

In a small bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl beat the butter until creamy. Beat in the sugars until fully incorporated. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Add vanilla. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients.

Spread half of the batter on the bottom of a greased 12" dutch oven. Mix together the cinnamon filling ingredients and sprinkle evenly over the batter in the pan. Dollop the remaining batter in teaspoonfuls over the cinnamon filling. Don't worry about it not completely covering the filling - everything will spread out in the oven and have a great marbled look.

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool completely, then mix together the glaze ingredients (adding more milk if it's too thick, or more sugar if it's too thin) and drizzle over the top of the bars.

There are different ways to get the dutch oven to the temperature you want. One popular method is coal counting - for a 12" oven to cook at 350 you would want 16 coals on top and 10 on the bottom. But this doesn't take into account the size of the coals - some are bigger than others. Toni at Dutch Oven Madness prefers the Dinwiddie Ring method, because it allows you to accurately cook with any size coals and makes it so you don't have to count. I chose to use this method and it was easy to figure out, and the bars baked up beautifully.

Dinnwiddie ring method - one ring of coals on the bottom, one and a half rings on top to achieve approximately 350 degrees.

Actually, my cookie bars were slightly undercooked, but that's because I jumped the gun and didn't actually test them for doneness with a toothpick. They could have used a few more minutes, but even underdone, they tasted incredible, and I'm so excited to try more recipes! I don't think I'll be cooking in the dutch oven every single day, but I can say for certain that my new toy will not be put away in a closet only to be brought out for camping. It's too easy and too fun to only be used once or twice a year!

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Chocolate Berry Truffle Cheesecake

When I was a teenager, my dad decided he wanted to learn how to make gourmet cheesecakes. He bought a recipe book featuring a large variety of cheesecakes, and started baking. These cheesecakes were a big departure from the no-bake Jell-O cheesecakes of my childhood. There was a year or two when we were almost constantly trying new fancy cheesecake recipes, everything from Chocolate Turtle Cheesecake to No-Bake Peanut Butter Cheesecake to Banana Split Cheesecake. Mmm. Those were good times.

The very first cheesecake that Dad made out of that beautiful little book was called Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake. It was a 10-inch cheesecake that used 2 full pounds of cream cheese, a lot of chocolate chips, and seedless raspberry preserves. He took the sides off the springform pan too soon, so it ended up being a giant shapeless blob in the refrigerator. But it was the richest, most decadently delicious shapeless blog any of us had ever experienced. It was amazing.

After that first cheesecake, Dad's skills improved and we had no more shapeless blobs occupying the place of honor on the fridge shelf. With each cheesecake, he (and those of us kids who watched or helped) learned about ways to keep the cheesecake from cracking, how to mix it properly to reduce lumps, how to bake it and cool it just right. For instance, scrape the sides of the bowl very frequently while mixing, especially after adding a new ingredient. The cheesecake is done baking when the middle half is still relatively jiggly - if it doesn't still jiggle it's overdone. Make sure to let the cheesecake cool completely (and slowly) before removing the springform pan sides. If your cheesecake cracks it's perfectly acceptable to top it with whipped cream or sweetened sour cream to hide the cracks! But still, no matter how many successful and beautiful masterpieces Dad turned out, that first sloppy pile of cheesecake-y goodness has always been my favorite.

The recipe calls for seedless raspberry preserves. But I can't always find those, I don't know why. So I'll sometimes use a different type of berry preserves, with great results. This time I used seedless blackberry preserves. I'll compromise on the type of berry the preserves are made of, but I won't compromise on the fact that they have to be seedless. To get the smooth, perfect texture in the chocolate truffles, you need to use preserves that don't have seeds or chunks.

Chocolate Berry Truffle Cheesecake
1 1/2 cups finely crushed cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs
2 tablespoons margarine, melted
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
9 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1/2 cup seedless raspberry preserves
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream

1. To make crust, combine cookie crumbs and margarine and press into the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan. Set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
3. To make filling, with an electric mixer set on medium speed combine 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese and sugar until well blended (scrape sides of bowl frequently throughout steps 3-7 to prevent lumps).
4. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
5. Blend in sour cream and vanilla and then pour into prepared crust. Set aside.
6. Combine 8 ounces cream cheese and melted chocolate, mixing at medium speed until well blended.
7. Add raspberry preserves, mixing together well.
8. Drop chocolate raspberry batter by tablespoonfuls onto plain cream cheese batter in pan (I used my 2-tbsp. cookie scoop). Do not swirl.
9. Bake for 1 hour and 25 minutes.
10. Remove from oven, loosen cake from sides of pan, and let cool on a wire rack for 1 to 2 hours before removing from pan (I actually leave it in the pan until ready to serve).
11. To make topping, cook chocolate and heavy cream over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate has melted and mixture is smooth.
12. Remove from heat and spread over cooled cheesecake.
13. Chill for 4 to 6 hours.

After dolloping on the chocolate truffle mixture and placing in the oven.

Immediately after removing from the oven. The cheesecake sinks quite a bit while cooling, that's normal. I baked the cheesecake last night, forgive my use of the camera flash!

After cooling, the cheesecake is at least half an inch shorter than it was before.

Freshly covered in chocolate ganache.

Rich, dense, chocolaty. The most intense cheesecake experience ever.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Biscuits and Gravy Casserole, and Milky Maple Soda

Everyone knows it's fun to have breakfast for dinner. It's one of my personal favorites, because it's usually easy and cheap, and I just love breakfast foods. Biscuits and gravy especially seem to be delicious and appropriate any time of the day.

This recipe takes those simple biscuits and gravy just a step further - a little fancier and a little funner. But without adding a lot of extra work. This recipe originally called for canned biscuits, which I'm sure are absolutely delicious when used in this dish. I took it a little step toward tightwaddery and used homemade biscuit dough.

These biscuits and gravy turned out so yummy. The bottom layer of biscuits soak up the gravy and take on almost a dumpling texture, while the biscuits on top are browned and fluffy like typical biscuits. The gravy is just a basic sausage gravy that complements both layers of biscuits perfectly.

Biscuits and Gravy Casserole
(adapted from lemon-sugar)
2 cups flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup milk
1/2 lb. ground sausage
3 tbsp. flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a small casserole dish (7x11) with cooking spray. Set aside.

Combine 2 cups flour, baking powder, and 1 tsp. salt. Cut in shortening. Stir in milk just until combined. Turn out onto floured surface and knead gently 2-3 times. Flatten with hand or rolling pin until 1/2 inch thick. Using a pizza cutter, cut into 1 1/2- or 2-inch squares.

Layer half of the biscuit squares in prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare gravy: In a heavy skillet, cook ground sausage over medium heat until fully cooked. Sprinkle the sausage with 3 tbsp. flour. Stir flour into sausage until completely absorbed. Lower heat to medium, and cook flour/sausage mixture 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add milk, salt, and pepper; stir to combine. Stir frequently until mixture comes to a slight boil. Taste, and adjust seasonings as desired.

Pour gravy over cooked biscuits. Layer remaining uncooked biscuit squares over the gravy.

Place casserole on a baking dish, and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

This soda recipe came from a book we got at the library. It's called Grandpa's Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Cookbook, based on the original story. It's got recipes for things like Spaghetti Twister with a Tomato Tornado, Foggy Pea Soup, Chewandswallow Chicken Legs, and Jello-O Setting in the West.

Jeff decided to mix up some Milky Maple Soda to go with dinner tonight, "just like they serve in Ralph's Roofless Restaurant."

Milky Maple Soda
Plain seltzer
1 tbsp. maple syrup

Fill 1/4 of a glass with milk. Fill the rest of the glass with seltzer, leaving a little room at the top. Add about a tablespoon of maple syrup (more or less, to your taste). Stir and slurp!

I think I added about an extra tablespoon of syrup to my glass, I like things to be sweet! Anyway, this was a fun and unique little treat.

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