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bagels

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I absolutely love bagels. If it made nutritional sense, I would eat them several times each day – with butter, with cream cheese, with jam, as a breakfast sandwich with egg and cheese, as a lunch sandwich with turkey and mayonnaise. As it is, I eat one every day, half with butter, the other half with cream cheese. It’s one of my favorite meals of the day, and it never gets old.

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I’ve been making my own for years. The first recipes I tried were fairly standard bread recipes with the added step of boiling the bagels between the second rise and baking. Once I discovered retarding the bagels – replacing the second rise with an overnight stay in the refrigerator – my bagels improved dramatically. They became even better when I started using a pre-ferment.

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Unfortunately, all of these steps make homemade bagels a fair bit of effort. I had to take a break from making my own when my wedding became imminent, and I was moving and finishing my PhD and starting a new job. After eating perfectly good grocery store bagels for the past several months, I had to ask myself why I had bothered to make my own.

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Now I remember – because mine are better. And not only are they very tasty, I can add whole wheat flour to my heart’s desire and better control the portion size. I also get to enjoy one fresh from the oven, and nothing beats that.

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Bagels (adapted from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and Cooks Illustrated)

Make 12 small or 8 large bagels

Bridget notes: I’ve found that I get the best bagels when I use Cooks Illustrated’s ingredient list and Peter Reinhart’s methods. The recipes are similar; the biggest difference is that Cook’s Illustrated uses a firmer dough (i.e., more flour).

Both recipes call for high-gluten flour, which is difficult to find. You can make your own by adding some gluten flour to bread flour. Sometimes I do that. This time, I simply used about half white bread flour and half whole wheat flour.

Update 4.14.08 – I reduced the flour in the recipe to reflect more accurately how much I’m usually able to mix in before the dough gets too dry (from 11 ounces in the dough to 8 ounces).

Sponge:
½ teaspoon instant yeast
1¾ cup (9 ounces) bread flour
1¼ cup (10 ounces) water, room temperature

Dough:
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 3/4 cup (8 ounces) bread flour (approximately)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup
1 tablespoon cornmeal

1. To make sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the water, stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (like pancake batter). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.

2. To make the dough, add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Then add most of the remaining flour and all of the salt and malt. Mix on low speed with the dough hook until the ingredients form a ball, slowly working in the remaining flour to stiffen the dough.

3. Knead at low speed for 6 minutes. The dough should be firm and stiff, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour – all the ingredients should be hydrated. If the dough seems too dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.

4. Immediately divide the dough into 8-12 equal pieces. Form the pieces into smooth balls.

5. Cover the balls with plastic wrap and allow them to rest for 20 minutes. Dust a baking sheet with the cornmeal.

6. Form each dough ball into a rope 9 inches long by rolling it under your outstretched palms. Do not taper the ends of the rope. Overlap the ends of the rope about 1 inch and pinch the entire overlapped area firmly together. If the ends of the rope do not want to stick together, you can dampen them slightly. Place the loop of dough around the base of your fingers and, with the overlap under your palm, roll the rope several times, applying firm pressure to seal the seam. The bagel should be roughly the same thickness all the way around.

7. Place each of the shaped pieces about an inch apart on the prepared pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pan sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

8. Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the ‘float test.” Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water. The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it. If it floats immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days). If the bagel does not float, return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.

9. The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), adjust the rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better). Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). Stir and submerge bagels with Chinese skimmer or slotted spoon until very slightly puffed, 30 to 35 seconds. Remove rings from water; transfer to wire rack, bottom side down, to drain.

11. Transfer boiled rings, rough side down, to parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake until deep golden brown and crisp, about 12 minutes.

12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes before serving.

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Soon after I started dating Dave, we spent the weekend in his hometown, staying with his best friends (who are now also my best friends). Our hostess made lemon poppy seed muffins one morning for breakfast, and they were fantastic. A few months later, I asked my friend for the recipe, and she couldn’t find it. How does someone lose a recipe? I don’t get it. I have a number of recipe sources (cookbooks and websites), and if I can’t remember which one a recipe came from, I can generally figure it out with a few minutes of searching. Maybe my friend made the muffins from a mix and didn’t want to tell me. I don’t know.

Since then, I’ve tried a number of lemon poppy seed muffin recipes, looking for one that lived up to that memory. I won’t complain about any of them, because it’s an unbeatable combination of flavors, but none were as good as I was hoping for, until this recipe. These are light and tender and lemony without being sour, with a satisfying crunch from the poppy seeds. I’ll be sure not to lose this recipe.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins (from Cooks Illustrated January 1997)

Makes 1 dozen large muffins

CI note: Remember, if you’re short on time, you can melt the butter, mix it with the eggs, and stir it into the dry ingredients. When thoroughly mixed, beat in the yogurt and proceed with the recipe.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
½ teaspoon table salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar, less 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
1½ cups plain low-fat yogurt
Vegetable cooking spray or additional unsalted butter for muffin tins
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup lemon juice

1. Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, poppy seeds, and salt in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add lemon zest to butter-sugar mixture. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in one-half of dry ingredients. Beat in one-third of yogurt. Beat in remaining dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with yogurt, until incorporated.

3. Spray twelve-cup muffin tin with vegetable cooking spray or coat lightly with butter. Use large ice cream scoop to divide batter evenly among cups. Bake until muffins are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Set on wire rack to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and glaze.

4. For Glaze: While muffins are baking, heat 1/4 cup granulated sugar and lemon juice in small saucepan until sugar dissolves and mixture forms light syrup, 3 to 4 minutes. Brush warm syrup over warm muffins and serve.

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banana walnut pancakes

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Ack, I haven’t updated in a week. I suck. In my defense, it’s been a busy week, full of family and babies and eating out, then a flight home to friends visiting from out of town. Good times. And really, when I get to spend time with these guys, there’s no complaining.

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Ah, nephews, they’re so easy and fun. If I can’t get the baby to stop crying within a couple of minutes, I hand him over to one of his parents. I can play with the toddler during his bath, and then discreetly escape after he poops in the tub. Easy cheesy.

But now, I’m back in Philadelphia and the visiting friends have moved on, so it’s back to my old ways of cooking too much and trying to avoid eating too much.

I started with banana walnut pancakes to use up an old banana Dave hadn’t gotten to while I was out of town. I love pancake variations – the classic blueberry is my favorite, and apple, pumpkin, and banana are all good. The bananas add a nice flavor to the pancake, and the walnuts provide a satisfying crunch. The flavors are a great match for a drizzle of maple syrup.

Banana Walnut Pancakes

Makes sixteen 4-inch pancakes, serving 4 to 6

1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups milk
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
¼ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 large eggs
2 large bananas, mashed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1. Whisk lemon juice and milk in medium bowl or large measuring cup; set aside to thicken while preparing other ingredients. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to combine. Stir in walnuts.

2. Whisk egg and melted butter into milk until combined. Make well in center of dry ingredients in bowl; pour in milk mixture and whisk very gently until just combined (a few lumps should remain). Do not over mix.

3. Heat 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes; add 1 teaspoon oil and brush to coat skillet bottom evenly. Pour ¼ cup batter onto 3 spots on skillet; sprinkle 1 tablespoon blueberries over each pancake. Cook pancakes until large bubbles begin to appear, 1½ to 2 minutes. Using thin, wide spatula, flip pancakes and cook until golden brown on second side, 1 to 1½ minutes longer. Serve immediately, and repeat with remaining batter, using remaining vegetable oil only if necessary.

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Smitten Kitchen is my new favorite cookbook. In the past month since discovering Deb’s blog, I’ve made seven of her recipes. When I’m trying to come up with cooking ideas, I just scan through her recipe page. Rather than rehash each dish in detail, I’m combining them into one entry.

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Boozy Baked French Toast

Of all of Deb’s recipes that I’ve made recently, this is my and Dave’s favorite. For one thing, it takes all of 10 minutes to put together, and that can be done the night before. In the morning, just cook it in the oven for half an hour, and voila – a great breakfast. The recipe is supposedly adaptable to whatever flavors you’re in the mood for or you have available, but I’ve only made it one way. I was planning to follow Deb’s recent favorite, with triple sec and orange zest, but I use “planning” loosely, as I didn’t actually bother to get either triple sec or orange zest. Instead, I used Grand Marnier as the alcohol, the zest of one grapefruit, and a splash of vanilla extract. It was fantastic. It was like Creamsicle French Toast. I made it again a week later, exactly the same way. This is why I have a loaf of challah in my freezer right now, and a grapefruit languishing in my crisper drawer, waiting for me to get back from New Mexico and make this great and easy dish for my friends who will be visiting.

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Artichoke Ravioli

I love the idea of homemade ravioli. I enjoy working with fresh pasta, and I like the option of customizing my ravioli filling to whatever strikes my interest – mushrooms, squash, seafood, and in this case, artichokes. The problem is, I sort of suck at making it. Both times I’ve tried, the pasta has been too watery after being boiled. This particular recipe is baked after being boiled, which helped dry it out somewhat, but clearly I need to work on my technique. Ravioli is too much tedious work to get anything less than amazing results. I’m not ready to give up yet. This filling was, fortunately, very good. The simple sauce was good too, although I used canned tomatoes instead of fresh, it being February and all.

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Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

I already have a macaroni and cheese recipe that I love, but Deb’s photos of a crispy cheesy crust and creamy cheesy sauce had me intrigued to try a new recipe. Did I mention that it’s cheesy? This recipe uses twice as much cheese per pasta as my other favorite recipe. So I made it, and it was delicious, but Dave and I couldn’t decide if it was as good as my other favorite. So I made them side-by-side, which was, well, confusing. Neither recipe is particularly difficult, but I was making half recipes of each sauce, then storing half of that in the fridge so we could have an easy but fresh meal a few days later, which means that each sauce was topping only a quarter recipe of pasta. There was a screw-up here and there, but nothing vital. We weren’t able to pick a favorite. I know they’re both macaroni and cheese, but it felt like comparing apples and oranges. The Cooks Illustrated recipe is creamy and smooth, both in texture and flavor, while the new recipe was far sharper (did I mention that it has twice as much cheese as the other?) and a bit grainy, but oh, that crisp crust was fun. I think I’ll be combining the two in the future. I know Cooks Illustrated uses half cheddar because of its great flavor, and half Monterey jack because of its smooth melting qualities, but I’m going to try using 75% cheddar and 25% Monterey jack next time to get some more of that sharp flavor. I’m also going to skip the bread crumb topping and use more cheese instead, then put that under the broiler to brown the cheese. I think this will combine my favorite aspects of each recipe. (I was also just reminded of a recipe I used to love that uses smoked gouda, so I need to revisit that one. Hey, I love cheesy pasta.)

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Hoisin and Honey Pork Ribs

When I was a kid, pork ribs were my favorite meal, and I requested them for every birthday. I grew out of that when I decided that ribs were too much effort and mess to eat when there was so little meat. But these ribs were certainly worth the effort. I wanted to make them because I recently tried hoisin sauce for the first time and loved it. This was my first time cooking pork ribs, plus I’m not usually very good with the broiler, but everything worked out great. Because the ribs are boiled first, the broiler is just to crisp them and caramelize the sauce, so it was easy.

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Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares

This recipe called to me as soon as Deb posted it. Cheesecake filling, graham cracker crust, chocolate glaze, all mixed up with dulce de leche. I’m not really familiar with dulce de leche, but caramelized milk certainly sounds great. But wow, these were rich. I can usually handle rich foods without a problem, but these were too much even for me. It helped when I thought of them like candy instead of like a bar cookie and started cutting them into the 1-inch squares that the recipe recommends. I did enjoy them, but I don’t think I’ll be making them again.

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Truffles

It sounds like Valentine’s Day is becoming mostly an excuse for couples to enjoy a good meal together, which I think is great. Dave and I weren’t even going to do that (we were having the second day of mac and chz comparison on V-Day), and I was okay with that. I found out on February 13th that Dave wanted to do something extra, so I surprised him by making truffles the next day. I loosely followed the recipe for Robert Linxe’s truffles, except, less fancy. I didn’t use Volrhona chocolate, I didn’t wear gloves, and I didn’t simmer the cream multiple times. It wasn’t worried about details this time. It was my first time making truffles, and I think they came out well. I want to try them again, but comparing a number of different quality chocolates to see how much it really matters.

Pizza Dough

Deb discussed a recipe for pizza dough that replaced some of the water with white wine and added a little honey. I tried it, and while the dough wasn’t sweet and the wine flavor wasn’t obvious, it made a really good pizza crust. Even Dave, who didn’t know that I had changed the recipe, pointed out that it was particularly good. I forgot that this recipe was related to this entry in my blog, so I didn’t think to take a picture, which is unfortunate because the crust was really crisp and light.

Next on the list is Lighter-Than-Air Chocolate Cake. Flourless chocolate cakes are usually dense confections, so I’m interested in this very light version. And then, who knows? World Peace Cookies? Pretzel rolls? Risotto alla Barolo? There’s so many great recipes to choose from, all beautifully photographed and enticingly described.

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As much as I love a good, fluffy pancake, sometimes it’s good to mix it up, you know? Especially when there’s somehow all these extra apples laying around. (Who didn’t eat their daily apple this week? I’m blaming Dave.) And I think most of us know where to look when we want to “mix it up” – epicurious.com is a cornucopia of recipes that have been fancied up somehow. So how about apple pancakes with cinnamon butter?

This isn’t the big, puffy German apple pancake that’s basically a Dutch pancake with apple topping. These are more like regular pancakes with apples in them, which is just what I was hoping for. Like any good epicurious reader, I didn’t follow the recipe exactly.

The apples are shredded, and although I’m often too lazy to carry my food processor around my kitchen (I can’t store it on the counter in my tiny kitchen), I hate shredding non-cheese things with my cheese grater because I always ends up with bloody knuckles.

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While the batter set for 30 minutes, I put together the cinnamon butter. This sounded innocent enough, until I realized that I was basically making frosting. Gotta love cinnamon frosting on a Saturday morning!

The pancakes were really good, and a nice change from the normal routine. I ended up with quite a bit of extra cinnamon butter, which went wonderfully on the cinnamon muffins I baked the next morning.

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Apple Pancakes with Cinnamon Butter (from epicurious.com)

Serves 4

I didn’t have and therefore skipped the orange and lemon peels. I substituted Empire apples for Granny Smith and low-fat milk for whole milk. Just working with what I had.

Cinnamon butter
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon grated orange peel

Pancakes
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 medium Granny Smith apples (scant 1 pound), peeled, halved, cored

1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup whole milk
2 large eggs
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, divided

For cinnamon butter:
Using electric mixer, beat all ingredients in small bowl until blended.

For pancakes:
Combine lemon juice and peel in bowl. Coarsely grate apples into bowl, tossing to coat with juice.

Whisk flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Make well in center of dry ingredients. Whisk in milk, eggs, and 1/4 cup melted butter until smooth. Stir in apple mixture. Cover and let batter stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 250°F. Place baking sheet in oven. Heat heavy large nonstick griddle or skillet over medium-high heat 1 minute. Brush griddle with some of remaining 1/4 cup melted butter. For each pancake, drop 1 heaping tablespoon batter onto griddle, spacing pancakes apart. Cook until golden on bottom and bubbles start to form on surface, about 3 minutes. Turn pancakes over. Cook until golden on bottom, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer pancakes to baking sheet in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter, brushing griddle with butter before each batch of pancakes.

Arrange pancakes on plates. Top each with dollop of cinnamon butter and serve.

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Before we were married, everyday for breakfast my husband would mix quick oats with boiling water and just a bit of brown sugar. It was terrible – bland and mushy. At least he was eating healthy. But oatmeal doesn’t have to be bad.

The first trick is to toast the oats. Do it. Every time. It’s so much tastier. This recipe uses just a bit of butter to toast the oats on the stove, which I know makes the uber-healthy oatmeal just a tad less healthy. But one time I used quick oats to weigh down a blind-baked pie shell, and later on, those oats made some very tasty oatmeal. So no matter what kind of oats you’re using and how you toast them – get them toasted!

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I also like to use steel-cut oats. The resulting oatmeal has a texture more like hot tapioca pudding than a bowl of mush. They do take a lot longer to cook, relegating this recipe to a weekend morning. But what better way to start out a weekend than this filling and warm bowl of goodness?

Oatmeal (from Cooks Illustrated – no changes)
Serves 3 to 4

One thing to note – if you don’t make a full recipe, you’ll want to use a bit less liquid and a tad lower temperature.

3 cups water
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup steel-cut oats
¼ teaspoon table salt

1. Bring water and milk to simmer in large saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, heat butter in medium skillet over medium heat until just beginning to foam; add oats and toast, stirring constantly with wooden spoon, until golden and fragrant with butterscotch-like aroma, 1½ to 2 minutes.

2. Stir toasted oats into the simmering liquid, reduce heat to medium-low; simmer gently, until mixture thickens and resembles gravy, about 20 minutes. Add salt and stir lightly with spoon handle. Continue simmering, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon handle, until oats absorb almost all liquid and oatmeal is thick and creamy, with a pudding-like consistency, about 7 to 10 minutes. Off heat, let oatmeal stand uncovered 5 minutes. Serve immediately with brown sugar or maple syrup.

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