Monday, February 27, 2012

The February 2012 Daring Bakers' Challenge

   The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lis stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.
     And this is what happened...

    I love yucky bananas. And the yuckier the better.  I'm a sucker for banana bread. It's moist, melts in your mouth, and has a perfect crunch with pecans. But I wanted to go with something new...
   So out go the pecans and in comes the chocolate - oh yeah! Do I have your attention now? Thought so.
   You'll need three bread pans. If you don't have any, go to the dollar store and grab some disposables. (Line them with foil and you can reuse forever.) You also need to either unbutton your jeans or put on some sweat pants. I'm just saying. Here's the recipe I used for the challenge, I hope you'll try it:

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

6 ripe bananas
4 eggs
4 c. sugar
1 1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 c. sour cream
1 1/2 c. mini chocolate chips
4 c. all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla

To start, heat your oven to 325 degrees and find your oldest 6 bananas.
 Some might think these are too old to use, but they are perfect. The black skin means they are full of extra sugar so don't worry about what they look like. Trust me on this one.
   Mash up your bananas. You can use a potato masher or a fork. Kids love doing this job. Add in the eggs, sugar, oil, and sour cream. Blend it all together until it's smooth. Now it's not gonna look too inviting right now.
  I promise it gets better. See?
 Chocolate makes everything better. (It's kinda like bacon that way.) So mix in your chocolate and smile.
   In a medium bowl, mix together your flour, baking soda, and salt. Take your flour mixture and add it to your banana mixture. Once it's all mixed up, add in the vanilla.
Now we're talking. Doesn't that look pretty? Get your 3 bread pans and grease and flour them. And I mean give them a really good coating. This is very critical or when you try to take your loaves out of the pan, they won't cooperate. At all. Trust me. Lots of grease and flour or you'll be eating your bread with a fork and the pan will be your plate. (It's not as wonderful as it sounds.) Divide the batter evenly into the three pans.
Space your pans in the oven to where there is at least an inch of space between the inside walls and the three pans. There should be an inch of space between all three pans as well. This lets the heat get to your loaves evenly. Cook for an hour and resist the compulsion to open the oven door and peek. Let the pans cool for about 15 minutes and then turn the loaves out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. These taste best warm, so dig in. You can wrap the extra bread up in plastic wrap and freeze for breakfasts or desserts later. Or you can lock the doors, grab a glass of milk, and enjoy.

   I hope you'll give this bread a try.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Blueberry Donuts with Blueberry Glaze

   I'm a sucker for blueberry donuts. My dad is a sucker for donuts. When we lived closer to him, he almost always brought donuts to the kids. I hated it and they loved it.  If he didn't bring donuts over, the kids grilled him about it. Dad was very manipulative. He knew that if he brought me a blueberry donut, I wouldn't complain too much about him bringing them sugar for breakfast. He's a smart man. Now that we live further away, we don't get those visits of, "Hey, I only have 10 minutes, but I wanted to say hi to the kids, give them some donuts, and leave as soon as the sugar kicks in." The kids hate it, and I have to admit, I miss my blueberry donuts. Grandview has a donut shop, but I can't justify driving 10 minutes each way to get donuts when they should be eating better anyway. Donuts have become a special treat.
    For Christmas, I asked for a cookbook. I always put off buying what I want so I can get something for the kids. So when Dad asked what I wanted, I gave him a list of some cookbooks that I had been wanting and told him to get any of them and I'd be happy. He surprised me with all of them!
   My donut cookbook is Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts by Mark and Michael Klebeck. Of course, the first donut I tried was the blueberry. I had trouble with the recipe as it was given. They said I'd have wet dough, and they weren't kidding. It was just too wet, unless you want abstract art donuts. I wanted the cute circles and holes. So I went to tweaking the recipe. For the dough, I changed the flour and spice amounts. I also changed the glaze just a bit. Here's what I came up with. I recommend making the dough the late afternoon or night before and then frying the donuts in the morning. I also make the glaze the night before and then heat it up in the morning.

Blueberry Donuts

3 1/2 c. of cake flour, plus more for rolling it out (Cake flour comes in a cardboard box and is    usually on the very bottom or very top of the cake aisle. You must use this type of flour.)
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
2/3 c. sugar
2 tbl. Crisco
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
2/3 c. whole milk
3/4 c. blueberries (smaller the size of the berry, the better)

You can use frozen blueberries, but if you do, add another 1/4 c. of flour, at least. You'll need a deep fryer or a pan with a lot of canola or vegetable oil in it. You also need either a donut cutter or use what I did, two circle cookie cutters. One being 2 3/4" across and the other 1 1/4" across.

First get a medium bowl and your sifter. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg together.

Then get your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, (or a new bowl and your rubber spatula) and mix the sugar and Crisco for 1 minute on low until it looks like white sand.

Then add the eggs and mix for a minute on medium. It should be light and thick. My mix will probably look a little darker because our eggs have more of an orange color to the yolks than those found at the store.

Then add a third of the flour mix, mix on low til just combined. Add half the milk and mix on low til just combined. Add another third of the flour, mix as before. Add the rest of the milk, mix like you know how. Add the rest of the flour and mix it again.

Add the blueberries. Mix on low until just combined so you don't crunch up the berries too much.

Put the dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the dough (like covering guacamole) and cover it again at the top of the bowl. Put it in the fridge for at least an hour, I put it in overnight.  In the morning, this is what you'll see:

Blueberry Glaze

3 1/4 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tsp light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbs. blueberry jam, jelly, or preserves
1/3 c. hot water

Mix all but the water together to get it started using a whisk. Slowly add the hot water until you get the right consistency - not real runny cause you want it to stick on the donut but not thick like an icing. You probably won't use all the water and whisk it real good or it will taste grainy. Make sure to get all the sugar incorporated into the wet ingredients.. You'll want it to be close to pancake syrup - the good kind that costs money and not the Walmart brand. Cover the bowl until you are ready to use it, if it cools down, warm it in the microwave.
Heat the oil up, either in your pot or in a deep fryer, to 370 degrees. On a clean counter top, heavily flour the surface with cake flour. Dump out the dough on the flour. If it still seems too wet to work with, lightly knead in a little flour. You don't want to work the dough too much or the finished donut will be dense and tough. On the other hand, if there isn't enough flour to hold the dough together, your donuts will not work. Once the dough is on the counter, sprinkle the top with flour so you can roll it out to 1/2" thick. Make sure when it's rolled out that there is plenty of flour on the top and bottom.

Cut out two donuts at a time. Make sure you dip each cutter in flour before each cut so it doesn't stick to the dough.

Pick up the donut shapes with a floured metal spatula. Dust the extra flour off both sides with your fingers. Slide the donuts into the oil carefully. Turn the donuts  over after the bottom turns a light brown. I used a long tea spoon to do this. (The kind to mix your sweet tea, not the kind to measure with.) When both sides are brown, put the donuts on a wire rack that has paper towels underneath it. As soon as you can touch the donuts, dip them one by one in the warm glaze and sit them back on the rack. You want to reroll the dough as little as possible, so make more holes than donuts in order to cut up as much dough at a time as possible. Everytime you reroll the scraps, the donut will be a little bit tougher. This is what it looks like if your dough is too soft because there wasn't enough flour.

See how the donuts have lost their circle and the holes aren't round? Too little dough. This is what you want it to look like.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Auction at West Auction Inc. in West, Texas

      Getting animals into a trailer is always easier said than done. But eventually we got two in to try our luck at the auction in West, Texas.

   We dropped the steers off at 10:30 a.m., registered just in case I could talk Pa into a bottle baby or two. Yeah, I know they're extra work, but they sure are cute when they're young.  (He didn't give in to their cute faces and wide eyes. He's a man of stone.)
   The 24 hour restaurant was fantastic. Pa and I had bacon cheeseburgers, Jake had a delicious looking grilled ham and cheese sandwich and Kylie splurged on Chicken Fried Steak. Pa is a sucker for Kylie. She gives him the puppy-dog-eyes, talks about all she'll learn and how it will help her be a vet (I still don't know how she correlated vets and watching an auction), and she's at the auction.
   So lunch was great.

   The four of us then went in and had a great time watching the different cows go through. The Longhorns were my favorite. It was funny to see these huge cows with extra long horns tilting their heads sideways so they can go through the gates.  Kylie and Jake had fun trying to figure out what the auctioneer was saying.
   The auction was incredibly long. We left at 5:30 p.m. and they still hadn't gotten to our steers. I really wanted to watch them be sold, but I knew we had to get home to help the other kids with their homework, make dinner, and milk Brindle.
   The auction was last Thursday and this Monday we got our check. The little calf was 455 lbs. and sold for $2.01/lb. and the big calf was 475 lbs. and sold for $1.91/lb. We were very pleased with our check.
   If you ever have a free day and are looking for some cheap entertainment, check out your local livestock auction. West has their auction on Thursdays. Cleburne has their auction on Saturdays. The biggest difference between the two is that West is mostly just for cows and Cleburne does other animals like goats. This Saturday we are taking some goats to the auction in Cleburne. Hope to see you there!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mexican Rice - Not Soggy, Just Right

     I absolutely love Mexican food. When I was pregnant with Kylie, we ate at Mexican Inn Cafe in Fort Worth at least twice a week. It got so bad that when we walked in, they sat us and just brought us our food and drinks without asking what we wanted. Yeah, we had it bad.      In Grandview, there is a fantastic Mexican Food restaurant called El Campesino. If you are ever in this area, you must try it. With four kids, it's hard to get out to eat as often as we used to, so now I try to recreate our favorite dishes. Plus, it's thrilling when we have leftovers (rare, though it is) because then I get a yummy lunch the next day.
     I've never been able to make the rice like the restaurants. It always came out bland and soggy. Too much like plain white rice at a buffet that had been sitting out all day. Yuck. But my friend and next door neighbor, Ginger, saved me and taught me the secrets to Mexican rice. And now I'll show you. Let the circle of love begin.

      Start with two medium saucepans. In the first pan, lightly cover the bottom with vegetable oil. Turn your burner on medium to warm up the oil.

      In the second pan, throw in three cubes chicken and tomato bouillon cubes and one packet of Sazon Goya's Con Culantro y Achiote seasoning. Then add seven cups of water. If you have chicken broth, you can use chicken broth instead of the water. (Whenever I boil whole chickens, I always save the broth. There are so many great things to do with it.) Bring it slowly to a boil.

      When pan #1's oil is warm (it shimmers), add three cups of plain white rice. With a wooden spoon, mix the rice and the oil. The idea is to coat the rice with the oil and toast the rice. Take a 1/4 onion, sliced, and throw it in with the rice. You won't be sauteing the onion, it will be releasing its flavor on to the rice.

Stir the rice and onion until all of the rice is browned. You don't want it to be a real dark brown, but a nice tan is good.

     Once the rice is browned, pour your boiling liquid into the rice.  If you want the fancy rice, add two small cans of drained mixed peas and carrots.

      Let it boil until the rice is cooked, you'll know because the rice will be plumper and close to the surface of the liquid. You'll still have a lot of liquid, but you'll be seeing the rice.

     Turn the heat down to low and cover. Cook it until all the liquid is absorbed.

Now serve it with some tamales, tacos, enchiladas, nachos, chicken fried steak, roast beef.... yeah, I could do this all day.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

January's Daring Bakers' Challenge: Scones a.k.a. Southern Biscuits

     Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host.. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!

   I am a member of the Daring Bakers and each month we have a challenge to bake from scratch. Every month a different member hosts a challenge, giving us a challenge recipe that we must display. This month we went back to the basics by making biscuits/scones. Aud is from Australia where they call our Good Ol' Boy Southern Biscuits a Scone. Sounds fancier, doesn't it? Anyway, let's give it a try.
   There are many variations you can use to personalize your biscuits to suit your family's taste. I wanted to show you the bare bottom, easiest and fastest way to get the bread on the table. There are way too many nights when time is short and I need to get the best meal on the table that I can in the least amount of time. Here's a fast, cheap, and delicious way to give the family a treat with their meal and make them think it took a long time. And by all means, let them think this took you at least an hour and they should repay you by cleaning your house and leaving you some hot water for the shower. (I know, I dream big...) I double this recipe. I think these biscuits are best with homemade butter and lots of honey after a good meal. My kids like to eat them with butter with their meal.

Now here's the recipe I had to work with:

Basic Scones (a.k.a. Basic Biscuits)
Servings: about eight 2-inch (5 cm) scones or five 3-inch (7½ cm) scones

Can be doubled
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm/5 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) (1/3 oz) fresh baking powder
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) salt
2 tablespoons (30 gm/1 oz) frozen grated butter (or a combination of lard and butter)
Approximately ½ cup (120 ml) cold milk
Optional 1 tablespoon milk, for glazing the tops of the scones


1. Preheat oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9.

2. Triple sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (If your room temperature is very hot refrigerate the sifted ingredients until cold.)

3. Rub the frozen grated butter (or combination of fats) into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces if you want flaky scones or until it resembles coarse beach sand if you want tender scones.
4. Add nearly all of the liquid at once into the rubbed-in flour/fat mixture and mix until it just forms a sticky dough (add the remaining liquid if needed). The wetter the dough the lighter the scones (biscuits) will be!
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, lightly flour the top of the dough. To achieve an even homogeneous crumb to your scones knead very gently about 4 or 5 times (do not press too firmly) the dough until it is smooth. To achieve a layered effect in your scones knead very gently once (do not press too firmly) then fold and turn the kneaded dough about 3 or 4 times until the dough has formed a smooth texture. (Use a floured plastic scraper to help you knead and/or fold and turn the dough if you wish.)
6. Pat or roll out the dough into a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle by about ¾ inch thick (15¼ cm by 10 cm by 2 cm thick). Using a well-floured 2-inch (5 cm) scone cutter (biscuit cutter), stamp out without twisting six 2-inch (5 cm) rounds, gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch (2 cm) layer and cut two more scones (these two scones will not raise as well as the others since the extra handling will slightly toughen the dough). Or use a well-floured sharp knife to form squares or wedges as you desire.
7. Place the rounds just touching on a baking dish if you wish to have soft-sided scones or place the rounds spaced widely apart on the baking dish if you wish to have crisp-sided scones. Glaze the tops with milk if you want a golden colour on your scones or lightly flour if you want a more traditional look to your scones.
8. Bake in the preheated very hot oven for about 10 minutes (check at 8 minutes since home ovens at these high temperatures are very unreliable) until the scones are well risen and are lightly coloured on the tops. The scones are ready when the sides are set.
9. Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process, serve while still warm.

There is a trick to these biscuits and it is all in how you handle your dough. (Sounds like a life lesson or weird fortune cookie, huh?) If you want to have more flavorful biscuits and tender, just use butter and make sure you work your butter into the flour until it looks a lot like beach sand. If you want a more flaky and higher rising biscuit, use lard and leave your lard looking like floured up beans. I liked a combination which I thought gave the best of both worlds: use an equal combo of butter and lard and keep big pieces of fat in the dry mix, kinda like dry peas before you plant them. If you want an even bigger rise, after you mix the dough, cover and put in the fridge for 20 minutes to rest. After you pat out your dough, put it back in the fridge for another 10 minutes. It helped, but for me, it wasn't enough of a difference to warrant the extra attention and time fussing with the biscuits.  Crazy how in a house with four kids, I couldn't find a ruler, so I put a foil box beside the biscuit for you to see how big they got.

I hope you'll try these and let me know how it went.