July 2008


Ready for the Oven

Bread Close-Up

My name is Elizabeth, and I am a cookbookaholic. And a heat resistant spatulaholic. And a cake panaholic. And I know I’m not alone. You know who you are. Your Amazon ‘Wish List’ is full of the latest from Dorie Greenspan and David Lebovitz. In my quest to build the perfect cookbook collection, I recently came across Vegetable Harvest by Patricia Wells. Given my penchant for the sale rack and cookbooks, I couldn’t pass it up.

Tomato-Quinoa Bread

Whenever I get a new cookbook, I bring it home, snuggle down on the sofa with the blanket my mom made me when I was just a little kid, and go through it page by page. I mark the recipes I want to try with little sticky notes, and I scheme about when I can fit all these new recipes into the next week. It’s my version of a bubblebath.


I was nearing the end of Vegetable Harvest (and countless sticky notes later) when I came across the recipe for tomato-quinoa bread. The headnote mentioned that the bread was particularly delicious as a BLT. The rest of the cookbook was going to have to wait. I made haste to the kitchen to start baking. I’ll spare you from what could be my endless prose on how supremely delicious this bread is and just say that I’ve made this several times now. It does indeed make the perfect BLT, and I’m still not sure what recipes come after this one in Ms. Wells’ book. Perhaps when BLT season has passed, I will venture through to the end.


Tomato-Quinoa Bread
Excerpted from Vegetable Harvest by Patricia Wells

Equipment: A heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with a dough hook; a pastry scraper; a nonstick 1-quart rectangular bread pan; a razor blade or a sharp knife; an instant-read thermometer

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 cup seasoned vegetable juice – such as V8
1/2 cup quinoa
About 3 3/4 (1 pound) bread flour

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, and lukewarm water and mix to blend. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil, salt, juice, and quinoa.
2. Add the flour a bit at a time, mixing at medium-low speed until most of the flour has been absorbed and the dough forms a ball. Continue to mix at medium-low speed until soft and satiny but still firm, 4-5 minutes, adding flour to keep the dough from sticking.
3. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Let the dough rise in the refrigerator until doubled or tripled in bulk, 8 to 12 hours. (The dough can be kept for two days in the refrigerator. Simply punch it down as it doubles or triples.)
4. At least 40 minutes before baking the bread, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Punch down the down and form it into a ball again. Cover the bowl securely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
6. Punch down the dough again. Form the dough into a tight rectangle. Place the dough in a nonstick 1-quart rectangular bread pan. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
7. With a razor blade or sharp knife, slash the top of the dough several times so it can expand regularly during baking. Place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Place the bread pan in the center of the rack. Bake until the crust is firm and golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, about 45 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer plunged into the center of the bread reads 200 degrees F. Remove the pan from the oven. Turn the loaf out and place it on a rack to cool. Do not slice the bread for at least 1 hour, for it will continue to bake as it cools. The bread can be stored for up to three days, tightly wrapped in plastic. Serve in very thin slices.
*179 calories per slice, 2 g fat, 6 grams protein, 34 g carbohydrates

According to popular culture, I should have an insatiable desire for chocolate.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I like chocolate, but I do not go out of my way to procure it.  On the other hand, H loves chocolate.  In fact, he loves it so much that he keeps multiple bars of dark chocolate in our house at all times.  You know, just in case…

A couple of years ago, in my pre-baby, pre-marriage, still-trying-to-impress-this-guy world, I decided to bake H a cake for his birthday.  His request — a “chocolate, chocolate, chocolate” cake.  I scoured my growing collection of cookbooks and after a couple of days found one that looked like it might work.  You dust the pan with chocolate…you use cocoa powder in the batter…you stir in additional chocolate pieces…and you finish it with chocolate ganache.  This is one serious chocolate cake.  Not surprisingly, he loved it and now I bake this cake once a year to celebrate the completion of another fabulous year in the life of H.

Now, I am not a baker.  So when I do bake, I have to have a recipe and of course, all appropriate measuring devices.  I turn into a total nervous nelly, checking my recipe 5 times before adding my perfectly measured ingredients.  Of course, this is rarely an issue as I am usually in the comfort of my own kitchen with my 2 sets of measuring spoons and more cups than really necessary…oh and my trusty scale.  However, this year, we planned a trip out of town for the weekend, and I trusted that our destination would have what I needed.

Silly me!!  Measuring cups yes, but measuring spoons no.  Now, I have made this cake about a dozen times, but again, I am not a carefree baker.  I might be laid back about the chocolate, but never about baking soda and salt.   Those two simple ingredients strike fear in my would-be baker confidence.  I searched high and low in the kitchen for a set of measuring spoons, but alas I was completely empty handed.  I faced the reality that I would have to tell H his dreams of Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate birthday cake were destroyed.

I hear you seasoned bakers out there…just use a regular spoon.  I know, I should have thought of that sooner.  When I finally did think to use a regular spoon, it did not quell my anxiety, but it did present a fun challenge.  Would the cake turn out ok if I just guess at how much a 1/4 teaspoon is?  Would it be too salty?  What if I added too much vanilla?

In one of my jobs, I was told by my manager to just “fake it till you make it.”  So I did just that, I baked the cake like that was exactly the way it was supposed to happen, and in the end the cake was great.  H proclaimed it one of the best!  He asked what I had done differently, and all I could say was that I added a little something extra…some much needed confidence in my baking.

So for the nitty gritty on the cake…I used a Maryann Pan for this recipe and I must say it is one of my favorite pieces of cooking equipment. I just turn the cake out and fill in the middle well with whatever…ganache, lemon curd, whipped cream, etc…and people think I am amazing.  I LOVE this pan!  Of course often the reality is that I am hiding the spot I forgot to grease right in the middle of the pan.  When something does not release right just slather on a little more ganache.  Really who complains about extra ganache.

The recipe calls for semi-sweet morsels in the cake, but H wanted chocolate-chocolate-chocolate cake, so I have always swapped in chopped pieces of a bittersweet chocolate bar. The same for the ganache, which I have already doubled in the recipe below.  I kept finding that I needed just a little bit more.  Also, if you have some leftover cake, it gets very dense in the fridge and is best served with a tall glass of ice cold milk.

Chocolate Mary Ann Cake with Fresh Berries
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen


For the cake:
3/4 cup cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 tsp. baking soda
2 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups boiling water
12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. 70% cocoa dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces (of course you can adjust the type of chocolate to your liking)

For the ganache:
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 pints fresh berries (strawberries-sliced, raspberries, currents, blackberries, etc.)


Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 350°F. Grease a Mary Ann cake pan and dust with cocoa powder.

To make the cake, over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the 3/4 cup cocoa, the sugar and boiling water. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, eggs and vanilla. Pour into the cocoa mixture and whisk to combine. Whisk in the flour mixture in two additions. Pour the batter through a fine-mesh sieve into the prepared pan and stir in the chocolate chips.

Bake until the cake springs back when gently touched and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Tap the pan gently on a work surface, invert the pan onto the rack and lift off the pan. Let cool completely, about 1 hour.

To make the ganache, put the chocolate in a small bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the cream until bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute, then slowly whisk until smooth. Let cool for 10 minutes before using.

Pour the ganache into the well of the cake. Using an offset spatula, spread evenly. Sprinkle the berries into the middle well. Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes to set the ganache. Add more berries as needed.  Serves 12 to 16.

Ava Maria Grotto - Cullman, AL

Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, AL - stop here before you eat your way through Birmingham

If anyone had asked me ten years ago where I would go to celebrate my one year wedding anniversary, I can assure you I would never had said Birmingham, AL. Granted 10 years ago I probably didn’t think I’d end up married to a southerner and living in Nashville, TN, so there’s that too. When you grow up in the north, whatever you hear about Alabama is never very good. Alabama is images of grainy news reels of church bombings and Bull Connor. But C had visited Birmingham a year ago to watch a friend in a cooking contest, and came home raving about a different city. He waxed poetic about the Civil Rights Institute and the 5 Points neighborhood, and most of all he came home talking up the food. And after a year of raving about the city he wore me down and we set of for a long weekend in Birmingham to celebrate one year of marriage.

While this post will be mainly about the food, I will say that Alabama has several non-gastronomic sites that should not be missed. If you enjoy folk art, the intricately-designed miniature sculptures at the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, AL is a sight to behold. The Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham is one of the more powerful museums I’ve ever attended – and if the museum is offering walking tours of the adjacent Kelly Ingram Park and the surrounding neighborhood – take it. The walking tour follows the steps of the Civil Rights movement in the city and offers no sugar coating of the events that happened there. Also, the Birmingham Art Museum is a good municipal art museum that had several engaging exhibits.

But If I’m honest, one of the main reasons C was able to convince me to make this trip was Frank Stitt. Arguably one of the most famous chefs in the south, Mr. Stitt has several restaurants in Birmingham. We had Saturday night reservations at the Highlands Bar and Grill – the restaurant that focuses on combing fresh, local southern cuisine with classical techniques. We had heard amazing things and Highlands truly lived up to the hype. The fried oysters were succulent, the fish tender and flaky and the beef rich and flavorful. C had fried squash blossoms filled with goat cheese that he hasn’t stopped talking about since – it has lead to his current fruitless quest for fresh squash blossoms – all so I can try to recreate the dish at home. We also ate another amazing meal at the Hot and Hot Fish Club – we basically returned home stuffed and happy (see the pictures above, which are plates we ate at both restaurants).

Given that the traditional first anniversary gift is supposed to be paper, C had surreptitiously bought me a copy of Mr. Stitt’s cookbook Southern Table which he presented to me back in Nashville. Given how much C had loved Mr. Stitt’s food this may seem a bit self serving, but I must say we both enjoy the dishes from it. The recipes themselves are not hard – they just demand good fresh ingredients. And when I saw fresh Red Snapper at the grocery store I knew that I needed to try a en Papillote recipe from the cookbook. The recipe actually calls for Pompano – but Mr. Stitt identifies Red Snapper as a fine substitute. By cooking the fish with aromatics in parchment, the fish gets steamed perfectly and it saves me (or C) from having to clean up fishy-smelling pans. The fish tasted delicate and delicious and was the perfect reminder of our wonderful weekend away.

Red Snapper en Papilote

Red Snapper en Papillote

Pompano (or Red Snapper) en Papillote

Taken from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table


5 T. butter – plus more butter for the parchment at room temperature

2 Spring onion or 1 large sweet onion, finally sliced

Fresh ground white pepper

8 thin lemon slices

2 shallots, thinly sliced

Kosher salt

1/4 cup chopped chives and parsley, and chevil, basil or dill

4 6 ounce pompano fillets (Red Snapper and Flounder are also acceptable)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees

Melt 1 T. of butter in a saute pan over medium heat and add the onion and pepper and saute until softened. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Cut four 16 by 20 inch sheets of parchment. Rub a bit of butter on each parchment where the fish will lie and place 2 slices of lemon on each one. Top will sliced shallot and sauteed onion. Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of the herbs then top with the fish. Seaon each fillet with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the remaining herbs over the fish. Dot each fillet with 1 T. of butter. Fold up the parchment packet so that the edged are sealed.

Place packages on a baking sheet on the top shelf of the oven for 10 minutes. Transfer to serving plates and open the packages with a knife or scissors. Inhale and enjoy.

Hot Out of the Oven

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat store bought hamburger buns again . . . ever. I knew when I started I shouldn’t have made these. The moment I got the June issue of Gourmet magazine, I could think of little else. They were calling me like a siren’s song. I ignored the little warning voice in my head and pulled out the Kitchen Aid from its place on the shelf. There was no turning back.


I baked these on a sweltering July day, which made for a bit of misery in the kitchen but the rising dough filled the house with that comforting yeasty smell of fresh bread. I admit that I was a bit nervous at the start. Any time I work with yeast, I always question whether the yeast and sugar mixture is foamy enough to begin. Do I start over? Is it all dissolved? Will it rise? That being said this was the first time that I had no question that my yeast was alive and ready to work. I mixed the warm water, sugar, and yeast together and turned around to work on something else. When I turned back around to check its progress, the yeast had gone to work and the mixture was fluffy and foamy, rising high in the bottom of the mixing bowl. I was encouraged.

After a Couple of Hours

Since it happened to be a sweltering July day, I figured I would place the dough on the balcony outside where it would be free from draft and air conditioning. This, I believe, was the key to my success. The dough bubbled up and out of the large bowl where it was placed. The heat seemed to have the perfect effect. I’ve never had dough rise so high so quickly (granted it was still a couple of hours). I was encouraged further.

Ready to be Rolled Out

Back inside, the dough was easily rolled out and cut into the buns. My dough happened to be very sticky, which explains the thick layer of flour covering my counter top. I was taking no chances. The last thing I wanted after waiting two hours for the dough to rise was to have it all stick to the counter.

Taking Shape

The pretty dough now in the shape of buns was placed onto cookie sheets ready for the second rise. And quite to my delight, the second rise was as successful as the first. The little buns pushed upward and outward. Right before my eyes they bloomed into beautiful, full, fluffy buns ready for the oven. An egg wash was applied and into the hot oven they went. The waiting seemed so long. They smelled so good. The hamburgers were on the grill. The feast was ready to commence and out of the oven emerged golden, soft hamburger buns. That was the best hamburger I have ever eaten. As the juice of the first summer tomato was dripping down my arm from my hamburger, I commented to S that we could have been eating hours earlier. But it just wouldn’t have been the same and it never will be. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat store bought hamburger buns again . . . ever.

Ready for the Second Rise

Hamburger Buns
Gourmet June 2008

2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup war water (105-115 degrees)
2 (1/4 oz) packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup plus 1/2 tsp sugar, divided
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into TBSP pieces and softened
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 TBSP salt
6 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 large egg mixed with 1 TBSP water for egg wash
Equipment: a stand mixer with paddle and dough-hook attachments; a 3-inch round cookie cutter

1. Bring milk to a bare simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and cool to 105 to 115 degrees.
2. Meanwhile, stir together warm water, yeast, and 1/2 tsp sugar in mixer bowl until yeast has dissolved. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast).
3. Add butter, warm milk, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar to yeast mixture and mix with paddle attachment at low speed until butter has melted, then mix in eggs until combined well. Add salt and 4 cups flour and mix, scraping down side of bowl as necessary, until flour is incorporated. Beat at medium speed 1 minute.
4. Switch to dough hook and beat in remaining 2 cups of flour at medium speed until dough pulls away from side of bowl, about 2 minutes; if necessary, add more flour, 1 TBSP at a time. Beat 5 minutes more. (Dough will be sticky).
5. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled large bowl and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm draft-free place until doubled, about 2 1/2 hours.
6. Butter 2 large baking sheets. Punch down dough, then roll out on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 14 inch round (about 1/2 thick). Cut out as many rounds as possible with floured cutter and arrange 3 inches apart on baking sheets. Gather and reroll scraps, then cut out more rounds.
7. Loosely cover buns with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until they hold a finger mark when gently poked-1 1/2 to 2 hours.
8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds.
9. Brush buns with egg wash and bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are golden and undersides are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped, 14 to 20 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool completely.
*Buns can be frozen, wrapped well, up to 1 month.

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