Sunday, December 25, 2011

Braided White Loaf

It's Christmas Day and we're spending it on the boat since all of our family scattered in the various in-law directions.  Baking is the way I relax so it's a perfect day for a good loaf of bread.  This is my favorite recipe because it's so versatile.  You can make it in a regular loaf, in this braided loaf, in a braided loaf on a cookie sheet instead of in a pan, you can add some brown sugar and cinnamon to the dough and then roll it up jelly roll fashion with butter and cinnamon sugar to make some of the most fantastic cinnamon bread, and I've even added cheese to it at some point for a great cheese bread.  It will also make terrific soft rolls for sandwiches. If you've never made bread before, never fear - this is a very forgiving recipe perfect for yeast newbies! This recipe makes 2 loaves, but you can cut it in half.

In a large mixing bowl, mix 2-1/2 C. flour, 4-1/2 tsp dry yeast, 1 TBL sugar, 1 TBL salt.

Heat 1 C. milk, 1-1/4 C. water, and 3 TBL butter in a saucepan to 130°. The butter will not melt. Remove from heat and stir until butter is melted. Add to dry ingredients and beat rapidly with a spoon or whisk for 3 minutes.

Add 3 to 3-1/2 C of flour until dough forms a ball and begins to clean the side of the bowl. Add enough flour so you can handle the dough without it sticking excessively to your hands, but not so much that it becomes dry.  If the air is very humid it may take the whole amount, if dry it may take less.Knead the dough for 5-8 minutes, adding additional flour to keep it from sticking to your hands and your work area.  Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Grease a large bowl well with butter or oil.  Place the ball of dough in the bowl and turn over to grease the top.  Cover the bowl with a very damp towel and put in a warm place to rise (heat your oven for a few minutes and  then turn it off and put the bowl inside.) Keep the dough away from any drafts.

Let rise until almost double in bulk., 30-45 minutes.

Punch down the dough and gather it into a ball.

Divide into three evenly sized

Roll each portion into a rope about a foot long

Braid the ropes together from the middle to one end.  Press the ropes together and tuck underneath. Turn the braid around and braid from the middle to the other end.  Press the rope ends together and tuck underneath.

Place in greased loaf pan, cover with damp towel and put in warm place to rise, about 30 minutes.

When nearly doubled, preheat oven to 400°.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped on bottom and crust is golden brown.  If crust browns too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil the last 10 minutes.  Remove from pan to cooling rack.  Brush top of loaf with melted butter.  Let cool completely before slicing.

Merry Christmas and Enjoy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Maple Pumpkin Muffins

It's the 19th of December and the wind is howling outside the boat bringing tidings of a cold front and the announcement of Winter's arrival.  Inside, the boat smells of fresh brewed coffee and maple pumpkin muffins in the oven.  We have absolutely no where to go, I've had a fantastic night's sleep in the V-berth, I have a cookie-baking date with my three grandkids later today, and let's face it folks it just doesn't get much better than this. 

Part of cooking while cruising or living aboard is learning to make due with the ingredients you have on hand.  There's usually no quick trip down the street to the grocery store.  When I got up this morning I wanted pumpkin muffins and after searching the net for a new recipe and looking in the boat pantry (which is pretty empty this time of year due to removing the freezable stuff),  I came up with this modified recipe. 

Maple Pumpkin Muffins
1-1/2 C. Flour (I used the white that I had but you could use whole wheat pastry flour or 1/2 and 1/2)
2 Pkg of Instant Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
1 egg, beaten
2 TBL Vegetable Oil
6 TBL Maple Syrup (preferably real but I only had pancake syrup)
2 TBL Hot Buttered Rum Mix (see below for the recipe)
1 tsp Vanilla

1 C. Canned Pumpkin
1/2 C. Skim Milk (you could use evaporated or powdered milk reconstituted)
1/2 C. Chopped walnuts, or raisins, or dates, or any combination (optional)
Streusel Topping (optional):  Mix one envelope of instant maple flavored oatmeal, one TBL of cold butter and a tsp of cinnamon together well.  Keeps well in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 400°.  Grease the bottoms only of a 12-cup muffin pan.

Mix the dry ingredients together well with a whisk.

Mix the wet ingredients together.  In these pictures I put the Hot Buttered Rum mix in the dry ingredients, but it was difficult to mix it in so the next time I will mix it into the wet ingredients until it is completely incorporated.

Mix the two together just until dry ingredients are completely incorporated and divide evenly into muffin pan.

Top with optional streusel mix and bake for 18-22 mins depending on your oven.

If you're making these in a boat oven you will need to rotate hem in the
middle of the baking time, but be careful in your handling of the pan so they don't collapse.  Cool on a rack for 5 minutes and enjoy with a hot steaming cup of coffee.  Makes 12 nice-sized muffins.

Hot Buttered Rum Mix
1-1/2 C. Brown Sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 tsp of each of the following:
   Ground Cloves
Zest of one orange or 2 tsp dried orange peel mixed with 2 TBL water
Mix all well and place in an airtight container.  Keeps for a long time on the shelf in cool weather or you can store it in the refrigerator.  Use a heaping teaspoon in a bottom of a mug with a jigger of rum.  Mix well and fill the mug with boiling water.  Great for cool evenings in the cockpit.  Also great for seasoning many recipes, including cut up sweet potatoes, pancakes, muffins, etc.  Use your imagination. A steaming mug of this goes well with the maple pumpkin muffins by the way...

Friday, December 2, 2011

In Search Of The Elusive Perfect Omelet

"Too many cruisers waste too much time learning esoteric things about sailing, such as the relative merits of various brands of chart plotters or watermakers, when what they really need to learn is how to make a good omelet."  
Jim Trefethen, The Cruising Life

I'm asked for my omelet recipe probably more than any other so here is a photo tutorial for you just because I believe what Jim Trefethen said in his book.  I first learned to make this omelet by watching a cooking show back when cooking shows were really meant to teach you how to cook instead of subjecting you to the ego-maniacal rants of a reality show chef.  I practiced religiously and subjected Tim to many failed experiments, but he loves omelets and was ever so patient.  I believe his patience has been rewarded.

We usually make 2 egg omelets, but if you have a large enough pan you can do 3.  Beat the eggs with a fork and add a tsp of water and salt and pepper to taste.  Contrary to many popular recipes, do not use milk here, only water. 

Preheat your good non-stick 9" skillet, spray with your version of non-stick spray.  I use butter-flavored spray (and this is not any endorsement of Wally-World's products, just what I happened to have on hand.) 

Add chopped ham, or sausage, or bacon and chopped onion and peppers if you wish.  Saute them until they're heated through and onions are clear.  Set aside in a small bowl.

Clean your skillet after heating the fillings.  You must start out with a clean skillet.  Spray the skillet with non-stick spray, then add a teaspoon or two of butter and allow to melt over medium-high heat but don't allow it to scorch.

Add egg.  Do  not stir or touch it until you see the edges begin to cook as in the picture at the left.

Using a fork, start at one edge and smoothly push the egg to the other edge.  The liquid egg on top will fill in behind the fork.

Then take the fork and pull the cooked edge in the opposite direction, allowing the uncooked egg to fill in behind the fork.

Once more in the opposite direction, and you can see that there will be just barely enough egg to fill in behind.   At this point, you take your fork and gently scrape all the uncooked egg from the top of the cooked egg and push it toward the low point in the pan.

Add your cheese of choice.  I personally prefer Swiss, but the recipient of this omelet likes American so there you have it.

Add your meat and/or veggies to the other side.  Cover the pan with a lid or foil, and turn the burner off.  Let stand for a few moments to allow the rest of the egg to cook and the cheese to  melt.

Carefully using a spatula, fold the cheese half over the meat half.  The perfectly browned wrinkles are the result of the fork-pushing exercise in the steps above.
Add the toast of your choice (see the previous post on toast) and you have the Perfect Omelet - Enjoy!