Lemony Broccoli and Chickpea Pasta

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I think one of the simplest and most pleasurable flavor combinations is olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper over pasta. Just seeing those ingredients triggers me like one of Pavlov's dogs. Of course, I naturally flitted to this recipe, which uses the holy trinity, as well as lemon juice, broccoli, and parmesan. How can you lose?

You can't. It's great.


Meyer's Lemony Broccoli and Chickpea Rigatoni (from Food & Wine)
-1 (19 ounce) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
-1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
-3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (**NOTE: I thought this was excessive. I used 1/4 cup in Step 1, then used about two quick swirls of oil in the skillet. I added a little extra lemon juice later on.**)
-Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
-1 1/2 pounds broccoli, cut into florets
-1 pound rigatoni (or whatever pasta you want)
-5 large garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
-1 cup grated parmesan

1. In a medium bowl, toss the chickpeas with the lemon juice and 1/2 cup of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

2. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the broccoli until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the broccoli to a colander and rinse under cold water until cool. Add the rigatoni to the boiling water and cook until al dente. (**NOTE: Below, you will see instructions to cook the broccoli for another 5 minutes. I really felt like the 4 minutes of boiling was sufficient to get my broccoli cooked to perfection. If it was cooked another 5 minutes, it would have been mushy. If you like your broccoli mushy, then more power to you--cook it another 5 minutes.**)

3. Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook over moderate heat until the garlic is golden, about 3 minutes. Add the broccoli and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the chickpea mixture and cook until warmed through, about 1 minute.

4. Drain the rigatoni, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the broccoli and chickpeas along with the reserved cooking water and season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the rigatoni is coated with sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Transfer the pasta to a bowl, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and serve.

-Serves at least 4, possibly 6.

Vote for the Last 11 Countries in My 50 Countries Challenge!

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It occurred to me yesterday that I only have 11 countries left for my 50 Countries, 1 Year challenge. 11! That's impossibly awesome. I even have a cushy buffer zone of two weeks before the end of the year, just in case I get lazy. Then...it's on to a brand new commitment: Baking!

Anywho, even though I'm very motivated by the prospect of only 11 more countries, I'm deflating rapidly. Finding authentic-ish cuisine for each country is a real pain in the ass some weeks, not to mention deciding what is doable when. I need a firm plan to stick to, and at this point, I prefer for the decision making to be out of my hands. So, to put a fire under my tuchus, I am going to let YOU decide the last 11 countries/dishes. There. Now don't you feel special?

You may choose from the following (OR you can give me a brand new suggestion for a dish, if you are so inclined):
-Greece: Spanakopita and Baklava
-Australia: Lamingtons
-South Africa: Melktert
-Brazil: Moqueca de Camarao
-Wales: Welsh Rarebit
-Netherlands: Hutspot or Stamppot
-Austria: Plum Dumplings or Sachertorte
-Switzerland: Zurich-style Cut Meat and Roesti
-Iceland: Icelandic Lamb Stew
-Portugal: Pastel de Nata (custard cups)
-Ecuador: Llapingachos
-Iran: Baghali Polo
-Malaysia: Sago Pudding with Palm Sugar
-Bolivia: Huminta
-Spain: Tapas and Sangria
-Pakistan: Aaloo Palak and Chapatis
-Tibet: The Dalai Lama's Momos
-Scotland: Shortbread
-Laos: Kai Lao
-Ukraine: Honey Horns with Almond Filling
-Puerto Rico: Asopao
-Russia: Chicken with Spicy Walnut Sauce (Satsivi)
-Mali: Maharagwe (Spiced Black Eyed Peas in Coconut Milk)
-Martinique: Colombo de Pork
-Colombia: Sopa de Chocolo y Coco or Ajiaco
-Argentina: Chimichurri Sauce put on...some sort of meat. :)

Okay....off you go! Vote! Tell me what you want to see me do! And/or give me your thoughts (and then I may put them up on the list)! Top 11 countries/dishes win my heart and my time.

Grandma's Stevens Point Cake

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An alternate name for this recipe would be "Jackson Pollock Cake." But, as it is, this recipe is sourced directly from Greg's grandmother. Stevens Point, WI lies directly in the middle of the state. While finding that Wikipedia entry, I found out that Joel Hodgson, writer/actor/creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000, was born there! Perhaps I will call this "Joel Hodgson Cake" when I'm feeling particularly nerdy.

Anyway. I got off track. While we're not entirely sure where Greg's grandma got this cake recipe, surely it must be from one of the following:
A) When she visited Stevens Point, or
B) She had a friend or relative living in Stevens Point who made this cake for her, she loved it, and then got the recipe.

This is all to say that many great things came out of Stevens Point: UW-Stevens Point, the world's largest trivia contest, Joel Hodgson, Kathy Kinney (from the Drew Carey show), Joe Pavelski (Woo! Go Badgers!), and this cake recipe.



Stevens Point Cake (from Greg's grandmother via Greg's lovely mother, Peg)
-2 oz. bitter choc.
-2 tsp. bak. soda
-1 cup very hot water
-1/2 cup shortening
-2 eggs beaten
-2 cups brown sugar
-1/2 cup sour milk  Add 1 TBSP. of lemon juice or vinegar to the milk
-1 tsp. vanilla
-2 cups flour

1. Chop the unsweetened chocolate and put it in a small bowl. Add baking soda and very hot water, mixing together. It will foam up a bit. Let it cool.
 
2. Cream shortening and sugar, add eggs, beat till creamy.  Add vanilla. 

3. Sift flour and add alternately with sour milk. 

4. Beat in the chocolate mix. 

5. Bake in 9 X13" greased pan for 30-40 min. @ 350.  Test with toothpick inserted in center (it will come out clean).
                                     
Boiled Icing
-2 egg whites 
-1 cup sugar
-1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
-1/3 cup water
-2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1. Beat two egg whites until stiff, and set aside.

2. Boil sugar, cream of tartar, and water in small covered sauce pan for 3 min. Then uncover and boil without stirring until small amount strings from spoon.  Test this step constantly (**NOTE: This could mean when you take the spoon far enough out into the air that the sugar makes a string (like spun sugar). At least, this is what worked for Greg and I. The first time, I didn't notice any strings, and the mixture burned very, very quickly. You must be vigilant, or you will be doing it all over again.**).

3. Beating all the while, pour slowly into beaten egg whites.  Beat until it is glossy and tastes like marshmallow goo.  Add 1/2 tsp. vanilla. 

4. Pour the frosting onto the cake and spread evenly. Don't worry if you get little drag marks--the frosting is magic and will even itself out.

5. Melt two ounces of unsweetened chocolate in a small saucepan. Drizzle some (not all) of the chocolate onto the frosting. Using a rubber spatula, drag little curves and lines through the drizzled chocolate to create your masterpiece.

6. Wait until frosting and chocolate hardens somewhat (maybe two hours) until cutting.

Sangria

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I was going to save sangria for when I did my Spain challenge (sangria and tapas...is there anything better?), but I got the urge. "The Urge" is a clinical condition which manifests with a longing for the flavors of fruit steeped in red wine and two types of liquor. Other symptoms may include drooling, munching, and excessive sipping.

Sangria (from Emeril Lagasse)
-1 (750-ml) bottle red wine
-1/4 cup brandy
-1/4 cup orange flavored liqueur (recommended: triple sec or Grand Marnier)
-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
-2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
-1/4 cup sugar
-1/2 orange, thinly sliced
-1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
-1 unwaxed apple, cored, and cut into thin wedges
-1 (750-ml) bottle sparkling water, chilled

Combine everything but the sparkling water in a large plastic container or glass pitchers. Cover and chill completely, 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve, add the sparkling water.



**Note: First off, I doubled the recipe…mostly because I had a 1.5L bottle of red wine to use. Secondly, this does NOT need the sparkling water--this is really up to your flavor-discretion.


Verdict: REALLY awesome sangria. I'm momentarily cured of "The Urge!" Good thing I have leftovers, in case of an emergency...

Feta-Chicken Pasta (a.k.a. Boy Bait Pasta)

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This delectable recipe is one of my old stand-bys. It's hearty, easy, comes together in no time, and can be modified any which way to please the eaters. Tonight, I was thinking about how damn great a meal it was, and how it has never failed to make me and anyone eating it happy. Then, something occurred to me: Sometimes, when we're trying to impress someone we like, we cook for them (at least, I know I always have). However, it's often the case that the woo-ers are not confident with their kitchen skills. They want a dish to impress and seduce their love interest, but the recipe has to be fool proof, has to come highly recommended.

Well. Ladies (and gents, as the case may be), I have your solution right here. I promise. You will love it, and so will your special someone.

Feta-Chicken Pasta (from Cooking Light)
-3 cups uncooked fusilli (short twisted spaghetti)
-2 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, thinly sliced
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon olive oil
-2/3 cup vertically sliced red onion
-1/4 cup sliced ripe olives
-1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
-1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled feta cheese (**Today I used a "Mediterranean" mix of feta crumbles. Oh my god….you should do that.**)
-Optional: Crushed red pepper, if you wanna spice up your night….wink wink, nudge nudge.

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.

2. Sprinkle chicken with salt. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sauté 2 minutes.

3. Add onion; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Stir in cooked pasta, olives, oregano, and pepper; cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

5. Remove from heat, and stir in cheese.

Thailand, Part II: Red Curry Squash & Tofu

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Hey, guess what? Blogger tells me this is my 100th post! Woohoo! I've had this blog for under a year and have already had 100 super-important things to share with you. And what better way to commemorate my 100th post than with the upper echelon of my curry-love: Curry Squash!

For having a huge amount of Thai restaurants, Champaign, IL does not offer Curry Squash in any of them. Given that husband and I first bonded over our love of Curry Squash (with tofu! how's that for true love?), we were heartbroken to learn that we could not purchase it here. So, when planning country challenges, this was the very first assignment for Thailand. We would have to soothe our souls the old fashioned way....by making it our damn selves.

I have never been impressed by a store-bought red curry paste. For that reason, and because making a curry in and of itself is not challenging, I decided to scrounge up a recipe for red curry paste. I will give you that first, because you will need to make it before beginning the real recipe.

Thai Red Curry Paste (from Epicurious.com)
-17 to 20 (2- to 3-inch-long) prik haeng (dried hot red chiles), halved and seeds discarded
-4 teaspoons coriander seeds
-2 fresh lemongrass stalks, 1 or 2 outer leaves discarded (or use reserved bottoms from iced lemongrass tea, page 160)
-1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
-4 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh or thawed frozen greater galangal (sometimes called kha)
-6 (4-inch-long) fresh or frozen Kaffir lime leaves (sometimes called bai makroot), finely chopped
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro roots or stems
-5 small shallots, chopped (6 tablespoons)
-1/4 cup chopped garlic
-15 to 20 (1-inch-long) red prik kii noo (fresh bird's-eye chiles) or serrano chiles, finely chopped
-2 teaspoons ga-pi (Thai shrimp paste) **OR, as I noted in my last post, if you're making this for a vegetarian/vegan, substitute 2 teaspoons of soy bean paste and ~1 teaspoon mushroom soy sauce.**
-1/2 teaspoon salt

* Special equipment: a large (2-cup) mortar and pestle (preferably granite) or a mini food processor. (**Okay...yes. I don't have either of these, but the paste would've turned out way better if I had. A mortar and pestle would really be the best way to do this. Otherwise, you WILL end up with peppercorn/coriander shells.**)

1. Cut dried chiles into 1/4-inch pieces with kitchen shears and soak in warm water until softened, about 20 minutes. Drain well in a sieve.

2. While chiles soak, toast coriander in a dry small heavy skillet over moderate heat, shaking skillet, until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes, then cool. Thinly slice lower 6 inches of lemongrass stalks and finely chop.

3. Finely grind coriander and peppercorns with mortar and pestle (or in mini food processor), about 2 minutes, then toss together with lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, cilantro, shallot, garlic, fresh chiles, and soaked dried chiles in a bowl. Pound mixture in 3 batches with mortar and pestle until a fairly smooth paste is formed, 8 to 10 minutes per batch, transferring to cleaned bowl. (If using food processor, add about 1 1/2 tablespoons water per batch.) Return all of curry paste to mortar, then add shrimp paste and salt and pound (or pulse) until combined well, about 1 minute.

-Makes about 1 cup. You can freeze the extra in an icecube tray in ~1 tablespoon helpings. This will make it way easy to use in the future!



Red Curry Squash & Tofu (adapted from Wikia.com)
-2 tbsp canola oil
-1 tbsp red curry paste (**I tripled this amount.**)
-1 garlic clove, minced
-1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
-2 cups coconut milk
-1½ tbsp brown sugar
-1 tbsp tamari soy sauce
-2½ lb acorn squash, peeled and cut into large cubes
-6 scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
-2 large red bell peppers, cubed
-1 can bamboo shoots, drained
-1 block of firm or extra-firm tofu, sliced into triangles, and fried (per the instructions I wrote here)
-½ cup Thai basil leaves, optional

1. Preheat oven to 425. In a shallow pan coated with cooking spray, place squash cubes. Spray cubes liberally with the cooking spray. Roast in oven for 25-30 minutes, until tender.

2. Heat large wok or skillet over medium heat until very hot. Add oil, and, when hot, add curry paste, garlic and ginger. Stir-fry 1 minute.

3. Add coconut milk, brown sugar and tamari soy sauce, and cook 2 minutes.

4. Add scallions, red peppers and bamboo shoots. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender. Add extra water/coconut milk/broth if the mixture is too thick.

5. When ready, add the cooked squash and tofu. Lower heat and warm up the squash and tofu until ready to serve.

6. To serve, garnish with Thai basil leaves, if using, and toss well.

Verdict: Very good, but needs some adjustments. I cannot even imagine how bland and flavorless this curry would've been if I hadn't made my own curry paste. I actually tripled the amount of red curry paste in it to help cut through all the coconut milk and brown sugar flavor. It was good, had a great amount of heat (mm, spicy), but could use some improvement. I will happily keep making red curry squash until I find the ultimate one. :)

Thailand, Part I: Eggplant & Fried Tofu Green Curry

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I think that I've made it abundantly clear on this blog that I love curries. All kinds, in all ways. Nine times out of ten, I will choose a curry over other types of food. So, you can imagine that when I thought of Thailand for the 50 Countries challenge, I knew I would make a curry....or multiple curries, as was the case. I may not have made two curries, were it not for the fact that we had our beloved cat sitters, Chelsea and Divya, over for dinner last night. When I have guests, I tend to go overboard.

Since one of our guests is vegetarian, I thought that Thai food would be a great option. Turns out that many Thai recipe writers do not consider fish sauce and shrimp paste to be meat-based. There are not many great alternatives that I could find for these two essential Thai ingredients. But, I did manage to find a general consensus that Healthy Boy Soy Sauce with Mushroom and Healthy Boy Soy Bean Paste were as close as you could get. I am fortunate to live in a place with 5+ asian grocery stores, so I was able to find these products in town, but you can order them online. So, now you all know! These work great in a vegetarian/vegan-related pinch.

This recipe is unbelievably simple, even though you're making your own curry paste. It's very versatile where the ingredients are concerned. If you would rather pack this with shrimp and pork than eggplant and tofu, go nuts! It would still taste great.



Eggplant & Fried Tofu Green Curry (adapted from About.com)
-1 + 1/2 cups firm or extra-firm tofu, cubed
-1 green bell pepper, chopped into bite-size pieces
-2 small-ish purple Thai eggplants, sliced into rounds, then cubed
-1 can bamboo shoots
-3/4 can coconut milk
-1/2 to 3/4 cup vegetable stock
-1/2 cup fresh Thai basil OR sweet basil to garnish
-Optional: 2-3 fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves ("optional," but if you can get them, PUT THEM IN!)

GREEN CURRY PASTE:
-1 stalk lemongrass, thinly sliced, OR 3 Tbsp. frozen prepared lemongrass (available at Asian stores)
-1/4 can coconut milk
-1-3 Thai green chilies OR jalapeno
-1 compressed cup chopped coriander/cilantro, leaves & stems
-1 shallot, chopped
-4-5 cloves garlic
-1 thumb-size piece fresh galangal OR ginger, sliced
-1 Tbsp. soy sauce
-2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
-1/2 tsp. ground coriander
-1/2 tsp. ground white pepper (available in most supermarket spice aisles)
-1 tsp. brown sugar
-1/2 tsp. sea salt

1. Place all 'green curry paste' ingredients in a food processor or blender and blitz to create a fragrant green curry paste (you may need to add more coconut milk if using a blender). To make sauce by hand: Mince and stir all sauce ingredients together in a bowl, OR use a pestle & mortar to mash dry ingredients followed by liquid ingredients. Set aside.

2. Place a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add a little oil and swirl around, then add all the green curry paste you just made. Stir-fry 1 minute to release the fragrance.

3. Add the tofu. Stir-fry until well saturated with sauce.
**NOTE: To fry your tofu, first slice the block into about 5 squares (horizontally through block). Then cut each square into 8 triangles. Heat a large skillet with peanut oil over medium-high heat (you will need to lower the heat as you process the batches) until very hot. Toss about two squares' worth of tofu in the pan at a time. Shake the pan occasionally while the tofu gets a nice golden sear on each side. Flip and cook on other side. As you process each batch, add more peanut oil, allow it to get hot, and continue. If you're frying tofu, do this before beginning the recipe.**

4. Add the stock, plus the lime leaves (if using). Stir and reduce heat to medium-low. Gently simmer 5 minutes.

5. Add 1/2-3/4 can coconut milk, plus vegetables (except basil) and continue simmering 5-7 minutes, or until softened (**NOTE: I had a high veggie-sauce ratio, so I covered the wok with a lid and let the veggies boil/steam**).

6. Remove curry from heat and taste-test for salt and spice. If not salty enough, add a sprinkle more salt. If too salty for your taste, add another squeeze of lime juice. If too spicy, OR if you'd like more sauce, add what is remaining of your can of coconut milk. If you'd like it sweeter, add a little more sugar. (**We added a touch more salt and a squeeze of lime.**)

7. Serve directly out of the wok, or transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle over the fresh basil (slice larger leaves into shreds). Sliced red chili can also be used as a topping, or to add more spice (as shown). Serve with plenty of Thai jasmine rice, and ENJOY!

Verdict: AWESOME. It was so flavorful and not too spicy. Our veggie friend was pleased to no end with the eggplant and the firm crunch of the fried tofu. This is a super-comforting bowl of curry, packed with rich nutrients. Great success!

Nepal: Vegetable Tarkari

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Madison, WI has 4-5 "Himalayan" restaurants. Personally, I think that's excessive, even if the cuisine is good. What's worse? The first time I tried the most heralded of these restaurants (a teeny place called "Himal Chuli"), I got food poisoning so badly that I thought I would die. Therefore, I didn't have a lot of motivation to try any of the other places around town--unfair though that may be.

One Sunday afternoon, Hubs and I were driving into town from Minneapolis and had to stop for lunch. The neighborhood we picked had NOTHING open....except a Himalayan place. We tried it, because we were about to fall over from hunger. I ordered something called "Tarkari." The waitress gave me two options--one was "saag," and I can't remember what the other was, because everything faded away when I heard "saag." What followed was one of the most intensely delicious and satisfying lunches I've ever had the pleasure of eating. There was saag, black eyed peas, rice, and me, very nearly licking my plate clean.

As I understand it, Vegetable Tarkari is the quintessential Nepalese cuisine. Typically, it is served over Dal Bhat, a spicy lentil soup over boiled rice. In fact, this combo is called Dal Bhat Tarkari, it's so common. Saag Tarkari is another variation of it. I just about peed in my pants when I found this out, because I might be able to make it at home! I looked all this up MONTHS ago, in a fit of saag-related excitement.

Sadly, I was unable to find a Saag Tarkari recipe. I did, however, find Vegetable Tarkari and Lamb Tarkari (which I will visit in the future). I have modified the instructions on this recipe, which is reflected below. It's worth mentioning that the recipe, as written on the original website, does not make a lot of sense. However, as I've plowed my way through this challenge, I've found that the recipes with the poorest directions are often the most authentic.



Vegetable Tarkari (from 43things)
-1 tspn ghee (soft clarified butter)
-1 tspn vegetable oil
-2 bay leaves
-1 tspn cumin seeds
-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
-2 onions, diced
-1 tspn crushed ginger
-2 small carrots, diced
-2 medium potatoes, diced
-1 tspn ground turmeric
-1/2 cup green peas
-3 tomatoes, diced
-1 tspn ground coriander
-1 tspn salt
-1/2 cauliflower, separated into florets
-1/2 cup water
-1 bunch fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped

1. Heat ghee and oil together in a pan.

2. Add bay leaves and cumin seeds and cook until golden brown.

3. Add garlic, ginger and onion and cook until the onions are soft.

4. Add carrots, potatoes, turmeric, peas, tomatoes, coriander and salt and mix well. Add 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook about 15 minutes, or until potatoes and cauliflower are cooked through.

5. Garnish with more chopped coriander (cilantro). Serve with steamed rice, roti, pappadums, cucumber raita, though this is traditionally served with Dal Bhat.

Verdict: This really fell short of my expectations...though, it's hard to live up to the memory of that Saag Tarkari. I felt like this was under-spiced, and I had to add a lot of salt to give it an extra flavor boost. This is not to say that it was bad--by no means. It was hearty, healthy ethnic fare. It was just not what I wanted. Boohoo. :(

P.S. This could VERY easily be made vegan if you switched out the ghee for more veggie oil or a vegan butter substitute.

Classic Sandwich Bread

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In my last post, I mentioned how I 'whipped up' some bread to go with my soup. This is the bread in question. Except that the loaf I made yesterday was not quite as eye-catchingly lovely as this one. Yesterday's loaf fell flat, like a quick-bread. It tasted good, but I was bummed over the appearance.

The problem, it seemed, was over-rising my dough. When I researched flat bread on the internets, this was the problem cited. I know immediately I was guilty. I didn't even feign innocence, like, "...Damn...er...stupid recipe...yeah, that's it. It's the recipe's fault." No, I was impatient. The dough rose WAY too quickly both times. I knew I was in for trouble when peeling the plastic wrap off the loaf (upon the second rising) made it sink into the pan. Over-rising can be caused by a) too long a rising time, b) too hot a rising area, or c) both. In my case, it was was both. B, followed by A. Drat.

Because this bread is an absolute snap to make otherwise, I tried my hand at a second loaf today. While it didn't rise quite as high as I hoped, it turned out much better than attempt number one. And now I have 1 1/2 loaves of COMPLETELY delicious, artisan-quality sandwich bread for the week. Sometimes it's bad to err.

Classic Sandwich Bread (from King Arthur Flour)
-3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*
-1/2 cup milk**
-1/2-2/3 cup hot water (enough to make a smooth, soft dough)**
-4 tablespoons melted butter, margarine, or vegetable oil
-2 tablespoons sugar
-1 1/4 teaspoons salt
-1 packet active dry yeast dissolved in 1 tablespoon warm water OR 2 teaspoons instant yeast (**NOTE: On the first loaf, I didn't read the bit about dissolving the yeast in warm water, so I just mixed it in dry. It worked fine. The second loaf found me actually READING the directions, so I did as directed. It did not work fine. Somehow, it made the dough gloppy and sticky. I had to add extra sprinklings of flour to make it kneadable.**)

*You may substitute King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour for up to half of the all-purpose flour in this recipe.

**Mix the cold-from-the-fridge milk with 1/2 cup of the hot-from-the-tap water to make a lukewarm combination

1. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir till the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased surface, oil your hands, and knead it for 6-8 minutes, or until it begins to become smooth and supple. You may also knead this dough in an electric mixer, or food processor, in a bread machine set to the dough or manual cycle. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise until puffy (though not necessarily doubled **this is KEY!**) about 1-2 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.

2. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, and shape it into an 8" log. Place the log in a lightly greased 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan. Cover the pan loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow the bread to rise for about 60 minutes, until it's domed about 1" above the edge of the pan. A finger pressed into the dough should leave a mark that rebounds slowly.

3. Bake the bread in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30-35 minutes, until it's a light golden-brown. Test it for doneness by removing it from the pan and thumping it on the bottom (it should sound hollow), or by measuring its interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer (it should register 190 degrees at the center of the loaf). Remove the bread from the oven and cool it on a wire rack before slicing. Store the bread in a plastic bag at room temperature.

Yield: 1 loaf

Lebanon: Chicken & Rice Soup (Shourbet Djaaj Bruz)

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I got married over Labor Day weekend! That's why there has been a noticeable lapse in my cooking and blogging about said cooking--not that anyone actually notices. Regardless, I like to make my excuses well known.

Anyway. I've heard it said that many U.S. presidents age quickly while in office and tend to die soon after relinquishing their seat. The idea is that the stress was so much that it sped up the aging process and lead to a speedy heart attack (or whatever). Knowing this, it was no surprise to me that I came down with a killer cold just a few days after my wedding ended. My immune system was stretched to its limits and just completely gave up after Saturday. That's okay, good buddy--you kept me healthy through the wedding, and that's the important part.


Here (pictured with my brother), I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown (public speaking--ack!). BUT, my immune system was still cranking away like a gorilla on meth.


All of yesterday, I was just miserable at work. The kind of miserable where coworkers give you a tilted head, a sympathetic grimace, and say, "Oh...you don't look good." And you're like, "I'mb fibe." *schlorrrkkk*

I fantasized about going home, getting into my pajamas, sticking my face into a cup of tea, and watching endless episodes of Project Runway. With the husband (ee!) gone this weekend, I realized I would have to fend for myself where food was concerned. I had a brief pity party (because who wants to cook when they don't feel well?), but then found a recipe for chicken & rice soup. Not only did this recipe satisfy one of my 50 countries, NOT ONLY was it chicken soup (so healing!), but it was filled with sinus-clearing goodies like lemon juice and cinnamon! Win!

I whipped up a delicious (and easy) loaf of crusty sandwich bread to go with my comforting soup. Then I invited my friend Gus over. While I hope Gus doesn't get the plague, I do think he enjoyed the bread and soup. I, for one, thought the whole deal was as good as it gets when you're sick. Hell, it would be amazing even if I were functioning at 100%.

Lebanese Chicken and Rice Soup
(Shourbet Djaaj Bruz) - from Wuzzle.com
-3 Pounds Chicken -- Cubed (**I used thigh meat**)
-4 Stalks Celery -- Chopped
-2 Large Leeks -- Chopped
-3 Cloves Garlic -- Chopped
-9 Cups Chicken Stock
-Salt And Pepper -- To Taste (**I used 1 generous teaspoon salt and about 3/4 teaspoon black pepper**)
-1 Stick Cinnamon
-2 Lemons Lemon Juice
-3/4 Cup Rice
-1/2 Cup Parsley -- Chopped
-Optional: Carrots, chopped

1. Bring chicken, celery, leeks, garlic and stock to a boil.

2. Add salt, pepper, cinnamon and lemon juice. Simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Add rice and simmer for 20 minutes (**NOTE: Because I was paranoid about the rice not cooking, I brought the soup to a boil, added the rice, put a lid on it, and then took it down to a simmer again**). Add parsley and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve.

-Serves 4 (VERY GENEROUSLY...probably more like at least 6, if not 8 normal-sized servings)



Verdict: People, I am SO happy that there is enough of this left for tomorrow. I might have it for lunch and dinner. It is so good. There is something uber-comforting about the addition of lemon juice and cinnamon to an otherwise ordinary chicken soup. This is the exact soup you want to feed a sick person. AND it's pretty much the easiest and quickest possible homemade chicken soup I've ever encountered. I am giving a big, fat A++ to Lebanon.