Saturday, October 30, 2010

Daily Bread

When sliced supermarket bread began to hit the three-dollar mark, I hauled out my old bread recipe and began making my own loaves. A bag of bread flour is only four bucks. If I make only two loaves a week, that's a considerable savings. Artisan breads are even more expensive!

Rapid-rise yeast makes an easy go of the whole process and if you've never attempted to make bread, it's really not at all complicated and a great weekend project. It's also a great excuse to use all those nice bowls you have tucked away in the cabinet---oh, you know what I mean! You will need one good heavy one to allow the bread to rise. Sorry, but I don't do bread machines.

I've made many, many bread recipes through the years, and this is the one I've settled on. It makes a nice loaf that slices thin, so it's great for sandwiches, and it's particularly great for toast. The egg yolk gives a nice "crumb" and texture to this loaf.

Everyday Bread

Makes one loaf*
  • 1 pkg. rapid, quick-rise yeast combined with 1/4 cup warm water and a pinch or two of white sugar
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey (or brown sugar)
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour
(To make two loaves, increase yeast to 3 teaspoons with 1/2 cup warm water, increase water to 1.5 cups, double butter, and honey but be careful of the salt. Use about 7 cups of flour.)

Preheat oven to lowest temp. Turn off and keep door closed.

Measure out the flour in a separate bowl.

Combine the yeast mixture in a one-cup glass measuring cup. Stir to dissolve yeast and place in the warm oven. This is "proofing" the yeast. If it's "alive" it will begin to bubble and froth. When it reaches the one-cup mark, remove.

Meanwhile, microwave the one cup of water until hot. In a large bowl, add the butter, honey (or brown sugar) and salt. Pour in the hot water and stir until butter is melted. Set aside for it to cool a bit. You want a temperature of about 90 degrees. Taste. Saltiness should be in the foreground with a hint of honey in the background. When warm, whisk in the egg yolk. Now add the yeast mixture. Stir.

To the yeast mixture, whisk in about one to one-and-a-half cups of flour until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap or towel and place in the warm oven until the mixture doubles in size and is bubbly. This is called making the "sponge." After about 30 minutes, it should look like this:

Now begin mixing in the rest of the flour one-half cup at a time and until the dough becomes difficult to mix in and flour begins to cling to the sides of the bowl. Scrape it out unto a floured surface and begin to knead. It will be sticky and you will have to flour it. The goal is to try and not to use any more of the 4.5 cups of flour that you originally measured in the bowl. 

Knead for a good 10-15 minutes. To knead dough: fold in half towards you and then knead/push with the bottom or heels of your hands. Give it a one-fourth turn, fold in half again towards you, and knead. Sprinkle with flour as needed and give another 1/4 turn. 

The dough will tell you when it no longer needs any flour because it will just begin to stop sticking and become elastic and firm and smooth. After about 10-15 minutes, it should look like this:
This is about two pounds and makes one loaf of bread.
Lightly grease a large, heavy bowl (I use olive oil). Place your dough ball in and then turn upside down so the greased side is now up. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap.

Place in the warm oven. If necessary, preheat the oven on warm while kneading the dough then turn off. Yeast needs a warm, not hot, environment to ferment. If too hot, the yeast will die.

After 30 minutes, the dough will have doubled. Gently, go around the bowl and fold the sides inward to deflate. If necessary, put a bit more oil on top. Cover and return to warm oven to double yet again. After 30 minutes is should be double and leave an indent when you fingers are pushed in it:

Meanwhile, grease your loaf pan. I used lard. It makes for the best crust:

I don't think anything should be "punched" and that includes dough. Many call for "punching" down the dough. Don't. You want those little air bubbles. Remove the dough to a floured surface. Gently begin forming into a rectangle, the width about as wide as the bottom of the pan you are using:

Fold one end to the center, and then the other:

Pinch the seams a bit and then begin to form into a roll by folding again and keeping to the size of the pan:

Pinch the side seams closed and place in your greased bread pan. Cover and place in warm oven until it doubles in size and is even with the top of your pan. Remove from oven and with a sharp knife or razor blade, make a 1/2 -inch slit down the center. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Place bread pan on center rack and bake for 30-35 minutes. The top will be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. If not sure, remove the bread from the oven and  gently tilt out the bread. Using an instant-read thermometer, insert in the bottom of the bread (you want to keep the steam in the bread--poking a hole in the top allows the steam to escape). You want a reading of 200-210. If not done, simply re-insert bread and bake more as needed. 

Your loaf should go from this:

to this:

The loaf will continue to rise once it bakes in the oven.
Remove the loaf and place on it's side across the pan to cool:

As tempting as it is, DO NOT cut and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes. Cutting into a fresh loaf of hot bread allows the steam to escape and will create a dry texture. 

Once it has cooled, slice away and enjoy! When it is totally cooled, it will be easier to make thin slices.

Toasting enhances the yeast flavor. Here I've slathered it
with my homemade strawberry/kiwi/ginger jam.
For the time being, simply put the bread cut side down on a plate. Once it has completely cooled, store in plastic wrap. I just use an old plastic bread sleeve. 

When my grandmother retired, she took cooking lessons at this cooking school in downtown Chicago:

A few decades letter she gave the cookbook to me:

'To my Grandson Gary. From Grandma Dason
Love you & Love Your Bread.

It is from this cookbook that my mother makes a family tradition: "Oysters a la Rockefeller." But that's another recipe and another blog.

(c) Gary T. Czerwinski 2010

Click below to watch 93-year-old Clara make bread like they did from The Great Depression. It's an interesting recipe and technique:

YouTube - Great Depression Cooking - Fresh Bread (Peppers and Eggs part 2)

Monday, October 25, 2010


Tender egg-pasta enclose savory ground meat simply and peasantly spiced with onion, garlic and parsley. Boiled, they are served in a butter sauce, heavily salted and peppered, with a side of boiled cabbage.

It has been a matter of speculation most of my life about any "jewish heritage" on my mother's side of the family. Growing up, I was often asked if I were Jewish as was my younger sister. I think it's my swarthy complexion and sexy lips! Or so I was told.

There are family stories of my great, great grandfather talking with "brethern" on synogogue steps in Chicago. And, somewhere along the way,  there is someone's birth certificate with the surname of "Jacobs."

Be that as it may, and even though we were raised devout Catholics, it just may be my family's culinary heritage that provides the most telling evidence. We grew up on kreplach and latkes; but, we called them "dumplings" and "potato pancakes." Those two words alone are enough to send any family member into a salivating swoon, regardless of religious affiliation. Or pouty lips.

Kreplach can be folded in many ways.
This is my preferred way. Hold the dumpling
in your left hand. Pinch and fold the ends all the way around.

Kreplach is labor intensive. I won't lie about that. But if you have an extra pair of hands or two, the work goes quickly. And they freeze beautifully, so always make extra.

A food processor makes easy work of preparing the dough. My grandmother used to heap the flour on the counter and make a well in the center for the eggs and water. It was always quite a mess, and clean up was horrible, which included each and every finger! With the processor, you actually get a better dough, I think. And you can easily prepare the meat the night before, which I often do to give it better flavor.

A food processor or mini-prep simplifies dough-making.
Basic Kreplach Dough Recipe
  • Basic Dough/Noodle Recipe:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 egg yolks (My Grandma used one whole egg.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil*
  • 1/4 cup tepid water + a bit more if needed
Egg yolks make for a richer dough!

Place flour and salt in processor. Pulse. Add egg yolks and pulse until fine. Add olive oil and pulse. With motor running and lid on, dribble the tepid water through the holes in the lid of the processor. When dough leaves the sides of the processor, it is done. You may need to add a tablespoon or more of water, but always add just a dribble at a time.

Remove to a lightly-floured surface and knead just a few times. If the dough seems a bit wet, knead in a bit more flour. (It's better to have the dough too wet than too dry.)

This dough is a bit too dry and needs just a dribble or two more of water.
This dough is a tad too wet, but okay.
It just needs to be kneaded on a floured surface a few times and it will be fine.

Cover dough with a piece of plastic wrap, towel, or bowl and let rest for 30 minutes. Do not attempt to roll out the dough until it has rested. Do not use paper towel, waxed paper or tinfoil to cover dough as they will end up sticking to the dough.

After 30 minutes, the dough will be soft and pliable. Flour a surface and begin rolling out the dough into a circle. I go thin. Think noodle. Using a 3-inch cutter, begin cutting out circles. Save the scraps of dough and re-roll. You should end up with about 20 circles.

I used an English antique biscuit cutter.
My grandmother used a glass dipped in flour.
 (I was bad and used 3 egg yolks in this dough--you can see the tinge of yellow.)

Meat Filling:
  • 8 ounces (1/2 lb.) finely ground chuck
  • 1/4 cup fresh, finely-cut curly parsley
  • 2-4 tablespoons finely diced yellow onion
  • 1-2 small garlic cloves, finely diced--smashed to a paste is even better
  • salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together. It's important to have a fine dice on the onion since the meatballs are rather small. I often cheat and just add dried onion flakes, garlic powder and dried parsley flakes. Form into small "meatballs." You are looking for about 20.

While I'm waiting for the dough to rest, I make the meatballs.

Stuffing can be ground beef, chicken, turkey, even salmon.
As you can see, the meatballs are not large
and should fit inside a tablespoon.


Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil as you fill dumplings.

Place one meatball off center in one of your cut circles of dough being careful to place it on the opposite side that has been floured. Fold over and seal edges. Place on a floured surface until done. Leftover meat can simply be added to the pot of boiling water along with scraps of leftover dough.

I prefer a ruffled or roped edge.

Carefully place the kreplach in the boiling water being careful not to overcrowd too much. Stir once so none stick to bottom of pan. Place on lid and return to the boil, keeping an eye on the pot so it doesn't boil over. Boil for about ten minutes. You know they will be done when the center puffs up from steam ( a reason to keep the lid on, not off).

Using a slotted spoon, remove to a large bowl. Ladle in a bit of the water and several tablespoons of butter. Add salt and pepper. Cover with a plate and allow to sit for about five minutes or so.

Traditionally, my family always served this with a side of boiled cabbage. Remember, pasta can take a lot of salt. I like to serve with a side of sour cream.

For added flavor, add a bit of onion to your cabbage when you boil it.
*My grandmother never used olive oil in her dough, but it makes for a much more tender dough. When I told her I added it, she grabbed me by the arm and exclaimed, "You improved it!"
TO FREEZE: place uncooked dumplings on a baking sheet and place in freezer. When frozen, put into plastic bags. To cook, simply put frozen into boiling water and cook per above instructions, adding about 5 minutes or so.
TO ADD TO SOUP: These are wonderful added to chicken or turkey soup. I never cook them in the soup, though, since the raw dough and flour compromises the taste of the stock. Cook separately in a pot of water and then add to soup.

If you are making several batches of kreplach, a latex glove helps. Mound the meat in the palm of your hand and gently squeeze out each meatball. It makes fast work of it.

I always intend to fry leftover kreplach, but there never are any. I would like to sautee them in a sage/butter sauce.

Kreplach is peasant food at its finest. And, it's economical.

Hi, Grandma! Look at that pose . . .

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Apple-Ginger Chutney

I've never understood why chutneys are not as popular here in the States as they are abroad. Yes, they involve a lot chopping, but sometimes after a grueling day, chopping just feels GOOD!!! So therapeautic! I usually do the following as a half batch. It is great served as an appetizer, such as soft brie on a simple cracker and topped with this! It's also great alongside pork and ham. And chicken ...... Put up in small jars, it makes for great holiday gifts.

  • 4 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 2 cups minced onion
  • 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar (or rice wine vinegar)
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly-packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 1 red bell pepper, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat to moderate and  stir occasionally for abut 40 minutes, or until it is thickened. Spoon into glass jars with tight-fitting lids. It  keeps chilled, for two weeks (I've kept it a lot longer).
(makes about six cups)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Veal Stew

I love this recipe. It's quite easy to prepare but don't be fooled by its simpleness and don't omit the white wine. Veal can sometimes be difficult to find at supermarkets. If it doesn't sell quickly, it's cut into stew meat at marked-down prices. That's when I snatch it! Veal often uses lemon and capers. This recipe does not.

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds veal, trimmed and cubed
  • 1, 8 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Andd onions and cook until onion is tender. Add minced garlic and stir just until fragrant.

Add meat to the pot and brown evenly.

Stir in tomato sauce and white wine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, or until meat is tender. Serve with plain white rice.

This recipe is easily halved.

Serves 6

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fast Tomato Sauce

I have difficulty eating most tomato sauces because of the acidity. And that usually is the result of canned tomatoes. I’ve made the following recipe several times and find it quite palatable. I think it’s even better the next day and great spooned over a simple grilled chicken breast. I have settled on the following canned tomatoes after sampling many: Muir Glen Diced/Crushed Organic Fire Roasted.

  • 28 oz. canned crushed tomatoes (see note above)
  • 1 tablespoon each olive oil, butter
  • 1/4 cup grated yellow onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed, dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1-2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/4 heaping teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons freshly-chopped basil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat the oil and butter in a heavy medium saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the grated onion and cook until it begins to brown, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and dried oregano. Stir just until warmed through, less than a minute. Stir in the tomatoes being sure to scrap up the brown bits from the pan. Add the brown sugar and stir. Raise the heat and bring to simmer. Lower heat and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until thickened a bit. Remove the pot from the heat. Sprinkle the sauce with the baking soda and gently stir. It will foam a bit as it reacts to neutralize the acid. Add a bit of pepper. Stir. Just before serving, add the butter and the chopped basil.

NOTE: I've also added a bit of red pepper flakes to the onion.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pork and Shrimp Soup with Sweet Potatoes, White Beans and Spinach

We know chicken soup (by the gallons) and even beef soups. But pork? Why not? I had my first pork soup at as small restaurant in Michigan where I had my art studio. I was hooked. It was a very simple, clear stock with bits of pork and flavored with marjoram and tomatoes.

Most soups, like a good face, begin with bone structure! For this recipe you will need pork bones, and I don't mean a ham bone or ham hocks. When I can find them, I always buy an extra pack to freeze for later use.

The shrimp adds depth to this soup. Look for it on sale at the seafood counter. For this recipe, it was only 4.99 a pound and all I needed was about 1/2 lb.

(NOTE: I'm always somewhat remiss to give exact measurements when it comes to soup construction. It's important to taste, taste, taste when it comes to soups.)


Prepare the stock--can be made one day ahead. You will want at least six cups of pork stock.

  • 1.75- 2.00 pounds pork bones, well rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, roughly cut
  • 2 smashed cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon blackpeppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme flakes
  • a few leaves of fresh sage (optional)

Pork bones will often have a lot of bone chips left over from cutting up, so be sure to rinse them well several times under cold water.

Place in a large pot together with the onion, garlic, pepper and salt, thyme, and sage. Fill with cold water to cover, at least six cups. Bring to a slow boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 2-4 hours, skimming off any foam that floats to the top.

Strain into a large bowl removing bones etc. and discard. De-fat the stock if necessary.

Make the Soup:

  • 2 cups canned chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups cut up pork meat
  • 1 med-large onion, diced (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 2 medium tomatoes, skinned and squeezed of seeds, roughly cut
  • 1, 16 oz. cannelini beans, rinse and drained (I use Progresso)
  • 4 cups fresh spinach, trimmed and roughly cut
  • 1/2- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram flakes
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

Peel the sweet potatoes until you reach the golden interior. Slice into 3/4-inch rounds and slice each round into fourths. You want a thick dice so the potato doesn't disappear to mush.

For the pork meat: use meat that has some fat in it, this is usually a cheaper cut with more flavor. I've used country-style pork ribs and pork butt and pork sirloin.

You could sub kale for the spinach, just be sure to cook it longer.

Drizzle some light olive oil in your soup pot over med-high heat. When hot, add the chopped onion and pork. Cook until onion is opaque and meat loses it pinkness. Add chopped garlic and marjoram. Stir just to heat through and until fragrant.

Measure your pork stock and add enough chicken broth to make 8 cups. Add to onion mixture. Stir. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook on low heat for 30-60 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper at this stage.

Now add the sweet potatoes, tomatoes and beans. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or so or until potatoes are softened. Add spinach and stir. Cover and cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Begin sprinkling with the smoked paprika, tasting as you go, until you're satisfied with the taste.

At this stage, you can stop and your soup will be ready. OR

Add 1/2 cup cut up fresh shrimp just before you add the spinach and allow to simmer until shrimp turn pink. Then add your spinach.

Taste and season as necessary.

copyright 2010, Gary T. Czerwinski