Foodbuzz Tastemaker: Nature's Pride Bread

Have I mentioned lately that I absolutely love food blogging? Because I totally do. Not just because it lets me ramble on to complete strangers about the things I make, but because it provides me with such a great creative outlet.

AND...because sometimes, you get free things. And by things, I mean food. Free food. I think those are the two most beautiful words in the English language.

In this case, through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, I opted in to receive a sample of Nature's Pride Bread. I'll admit that I completely forgot about asking to be included on this. So, imagine my surprise when last week I received a large box in the mail containing two--count 'em, TWO!--loaves of Nature's Pride OvenClassics Bread.

I will just go ahead and say it: I have the best hobby in the world.

Call it what you will: Egg in a Basket, Egg in a Hole, the One Eyed Monster... I call it delicious.

I received a loaf of Oatmeal bread and a loaf of 100% Whole Wheat. Greg was the first to notice that the bread claimed to have only natural ingredients. He flipped it over to read the ingredients and saw that, in fact, there were no scary sounding dyes or preservatives--no unpronounceable ingredients at all. It was like....well....a real loaf of bread. You know. Like one that you'd make yourself, or pay out the nose for at a bakery.

"What?? Really??" I said and grabbed the loaf of Oatmeal bread to look at the label. Sure enough. All natural. All delicious. I think what's almost even better than a mass produced bread having natural ingredients, is that they are only 90-100 calories a slice and are naturally low-fat. I have been enjoying that aspect of it almost as much as the bread itself.

What to do with leftover spanakopita mixture? Toss it on whole wheat bread with mushrooms and heat on a panini grill! Mmm....feta-y.

I feel obligated to give my official endorsement of this bread. I endorse you, you naturally tasty loaves! In fact, I salute you!

Seared Salmon, Sauteed Swiss Chard & Mushrooms with Herbed Potatoes

Now that's a dinner, huh?

After the gut bustingly, starchily epic proportions of International Food Night, Greg and I were looking forward to a long day of digestion and healthy eating. Fortunately, I'd had the foresight to buy salmon fillets at the store, along with a bumper crop of swiss chard. We had a quarter bag of red potatoes in the pantry, which I was anxious to use up for the first time in....well....ever (damn those grocery stores, making me buy potatoes in bulk!).

With little starch, low-fat protein and omega 3's, and loads of vitamins A, K, and C, this is a great meal to fill you up in all the right ways, as well as to fuel your brain and body.

Did I mention it's also delicious? Score!

Pan Seared Salmon with Mushrooms and Swiss Chard (modified a bit from Cooking Light)
-Cooking spray
-4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick)
-1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
-1/4 teaspoon black pepper
-1 teaspoon olive oil
-1 tablespoon thinly sliced shallots
-1 1/2 cups presliced mushrooms
-1 clove garlic, minced
-2 or more cups fresh swiss chard
-1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
-1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1. Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add fish to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove fish from pan, and keep warm.

2. Add oil and shallots to pan; sauté 1 minute. Add mushrooms in a single layer; cook 2 minutes (do not stir). Cook an additional 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add spinach; cook 30 seconds or until spinach wilts. Remove from heat; stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt, rind, and juice. Serve over fish.

-Serves 4
-Calories: 298

Herbed Potatoes
(from me)
-6 red potatoes (medium-ish in size), cut into eighths (or quarters, if small potatoes)
-1-2 teaspoons olive oil, to your liking of oiliness
-1 large clove garlic, minced (about 1 1/2+ teaspoons...I like it garlicky!)
-1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
-1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
-1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
-1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1. Preheat oven to 450.

2. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, so potatoes are well coated. On a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, place potatoes in a single layer.

3. Stirring once or twice, bake for 20 minutes, or until cooked through.

Greece: Spanakopita and the Legend of the Phyllo Whisperer.

Yesterday, Hubby's coworkers had an "international food party," in which all participants brought one or more dishes from different countries, and we watched the movie "Kick Ass." As you can imagine, it was a great time (one might even say that it "kicked ass"). I was so super-impressed with everyone's dishes. There was not one thing that was even remotely less than delicious.

We had a bevy of starches: Fried plantains, fried potato puffs, and two different types of Arepas from Columbia, Pelmeni from Russia, Potato and cheese pierogies from Ukraine, Veggie and rice noodle dumplings from China, Kugelis (both vegetarian and non) from Lithuania, Chicken & dumplings and garlic-cheese grits from the USA, a wonderful spicy chickpea-tomato-tamarind Indian appetizer (I forget the name), Lemon cookies from Italy, Banana-coconut-lime bread from Jamaica, Lamingtons from Australia, and of course, Spanakopita from Greece.

Whew. Yes. You can correctly assume that everyone was bloated with food. We all tried everything--just one of everything or a little bit of everything. And still, we could barely lift ourselves up to leave. I was the kind of full where you're thirsty, so you try to drink water, but it hurts to drink water. Yeah. But I don't regret it. Kick Ass International Food Night was totally Kick Ass.

But, on to the main attraction: Spanakopita!

I was terrified of working with Phyllo dough for the first time. As you probably know from tales or experience, Phyllo is a picky customer. Just a couple points to illustrate the finickiness:

1) You must unfreeze it slowly in the refrigerator, at least overnight, preferably closer to 24 hours. You may not unfreeze it on the counter or in the microwave, because it will accumulate too much moisture, and you will not be able to pick the sheets apart.
2) You may only work with one sheet at a time. All other sheets and/or finished products must be covered at all times.
3) The covered products must be covered with saran wrap or parchment paper AND THEN a damp towel. Not a wet towel. Lightly moistened.


Anyway, I knew all this, and I prepared very carefully. I took some deep breaths and said, "Okay. Okay. We can do this. Okay." I set the roll of Phyllo on parchment paper and gently unrolled it. I was pleased to see that nothing was stuck together. A triumphant joy washed over me, and I thought, See?? I KNEW you could do it! You're so silly, getting worried over nothing!

And then I attempted to pick up a sheet. It immediately ripped into at least 3 parts. Okay, I thought, that was the trial sheet. I put it aside and gently lifted the next sheet--to say I was gentle would be an understatement...I was downright ginger! But it tore in half. A panic rose in my chest. "This is not good, Greg," I said, "I cannot lift this up without it ripping."

Greg came in to try. I held my breath as he lifted up a sheet. It held together. He laid it down on my work surface so that I could brush it with butter. Of course, I managed to rip it as soon as the pastry brush hit the surface of the Phyllo. I wanted to scream. I may have screamed, I don't remember. This was all very stressful. Nonetheless, I was running short on time before the party, so just had to proceed with the ripped dough. It got easier once I got into a rhythm. The dough being slightly ripped doesn't matter much, since you're wrapping up layers. Besides, you slather it in butter and hide all the tears, anyway.

Greg's job became to lift the dough and bring it to me for butter brushing and assembly. He managed to not make even one tear over the course of nearly 20 sheets. Apparently, he has a gentle touch that belongs in a Greek bakery. Greg will forever be known as the Phyllo Whisperer.

Spanakopita (from the Smitten Kitchen)
-1 tablespoon unsalted butter
-1/2 cup green onions, sliced
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 pound fresh spinach (coarse stems removed, if necessary)
-12 ounces feta, crumbled
-1 tablespoon lemon juice
-Salt and pepper to taste

-10 (17x12") sheets of Phyllo dough, thawed if frozen
-1 stick (1/2 cup) butter

1. Melt one tablespoon butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add onions and garlic, saute for a minute. Then, cook spinach, stirring until wilted and tender an additional 4-8 minutes. Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes. Press mixture in a mesh colander to remove as much liquid as possible, then coarsely chop. Transfer to a bowl, stir in feta and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let filling cool.

2. Preheat oven to 375. Melt butter in saucepan or microwave, let cool a bit. Cover phyllo stack with 2 overlapping sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper, then a dampened kitchen towel (**it might help to spray the towel with water from a spray bottle**).

3. Take one phyllo sheet from stack, and arrange on a work surface with the long side nearest you (keep remaining sheets covered!), and brush with butter. Top with another phyllo sheet and brush with more butter. Cut buttered phyllo stack crosswise into 6 (12 x 2 3/4") strips.

4. Put a heaping teaspoon of filling near one corner of a strip on the end nearest you, then fold corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle. Continue folding strip (like a flag), maintaining triangle shape. Put triangle, seam-side down, on a large baking sheet and brush top with butter. Be sure to keep triangles covered with parchment paper! Make more triangles in the same manner, using all of the phyllo.

5. Bake triangles in middle of the preheated oven until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly.

-Pastry triangles can be formed, but not baked, three days ahead. Arrange in one layer in a heavy-duty sealed plastic bag, then freeze. Bake pastries (do not thaw!) in same manner as above.
-Your phyllo sheets may be differently size. You will need to adjust your strip sizes and amounts accordingly. For instance, my sheets were 8x14. I just cut them into 3 strips each, instead of 6.

Australia: Lamingtons


During my formative years, I watched a lot of Simpsons episodes. In one such episode, Bart learns about the Coriolis Effect (in which water in the southern hemisphere goes down the drain clockwise, instead of counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere). I'm sure this was also my first time learning this fact. Bart refuses to believe it, saying "No way! Water doesn't obey your 'rules.' It goes where it wants! Like me, babe." To refute Lisa's claims, Bart starts making a lot of collect calls to countries in the southern hemisphere, including Australia. He gets a child on the phone, pretending to be from the International Drainage Commission (or something like that), and asks him to check which way their toilets are draining. The adorable Aussie child says, "They're all draining clockwise, sir!" Bart says one of my favorite lines, "D'oh! She was right. Stupid Lisa, science queen!" Bart makes the poor kid go check with his neighbors--who are clearly hours down the road--while he waits on the line. Since it's a collect call, Bart gets in trouble with Australia, and gets sentenced to a "booting." Hilarity ensues.

Obviously, I just like to talk about the Simpsons. ANYWAY. The point is that there were a lot of stereotypes about Australians thrown around. For instance, a teenager shop keeper talking to Marge says that "Bull Frogs" is a funny name for them, and instead, he would've called them "Chazzwuzzers." I remembered that quote in particular when finding an Australian recipe to make. It seems that many Australian recipes are either too similar to American cuisine to be worth my while for this challenge, or they involve ingredients which I would *never* find here. I'm talkin' things like Wattleseed. Or Barramundi. Or Vegemite.

Lamingtons do not have such a crazy-sounding name. I find the name adorable....probably because it sounds like a sweet baby lamb with big doe eyes. But really, these snack cakes are pretty damn precious, too. All fluffy coconut and sponge cake with sweet, sweet chocolate. If you tilt your head and squint, they vaguely resemble the lamb in my head. Awww.

And one more bit of trivia before I give you the recipe! Apparently, these were named after Lord Lamington, the Governor of Queensland from 1896-1901. There are many stories about its origin in relation to him, but they all involve making these for fancy parties and the guests loving the results. The BEST part of the trivia is the following: Ironically, Lord Lamington was believed to have hated the dessert that had been named in his honour, referring to them as "those bloody poofy woolly biscuits." (from Wikipedia)

Lamingtons (from the Joy of Baking)
Cake Recipe:
-2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
-2 teaspoons baking powder
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
-3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar
-2 large eggs
-1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
-1/2 cup (120 ml) milk

Chocolate Frosting:
-4 cups (1 lb.) (454 grams) confectioners' (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted
-1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder (I like to use Dutch-processed)
-3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk

-2 cups unsweetened desiccated coconut, finely ground

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place oven rack to middle position. Butter, or spray with a nonstick cooking spray, the bottom and sides of an 8 inch (20 cm) square cake pan. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In bowl of electric mixer, beat the butter until soft. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.

3. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with flour.

4. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake in a preheated oven for approximately 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

5. Cool the cake in its pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Place a wire rack on top of the cake pan and invert, lifting off the pan. Re-invert. Once the cake has completely cooled cut it into 16 two-inch (5 cm) squares. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or even overnight. The reason for doing this is that it is much easier (less crumbs) to coat a cold cake with frosting.

6. Chocolate Frosting: Place the confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, butter and milk in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir the mixture until it becomes smooth and of pouring consistency.

7. To assemble Lamingtons: Make a production line; put the 16 squares of cakes on a wire rack that is placed over a baking sheet (to catch the drips). Have ready the coconut on a large plate and the chocolate frosting. Spoon or ladle the chocolate frosting over each square of cake, making sure you cover all sides. (It is best to do a few squares at a time.) With a small offset spatula or knife transfer the chocolate covered cake to the plate of coconut and roll the cake in the coconut, covering all sides. Gently transfer the lamington to a clean wire rack to set. Repeat with the rest of the cake squares. Once the Lamingtons have set, store in an airtight container for several days.

Note: When you ladle the frosting over the cake, some of the frosting will drip onto the baking pan. Pour this frosting back in your bowl and reuse (strain if necessary). If the icing becomes too thick to pour, simply place the frosting back over the saucepan of simmering water and reheat until it is of pouring consistency. (You may have to do this a few times as the frosting has a tendency to thicken over time. Add a little more milk to frosting if necessary to get pouring consistency.)

-Makes 16 2-inch (5 cm) squares.

Verdict: A very tasty homemade snack cake, indeed! Way to go, Australia! The brilliance of this is that neither the coconut or cake is too sweet, so it helps compensate for the uber-sweetness of the chocolate frosting. Mmm... Having one is making it difficult not to have another.

A few notes of my own:
1) The author says that typically lamingtons are dipped into the chocolate, but she prefers to ladle. Since I trust Joy of Baking, I went with this approach. I wouldn't recommend it. I think dipping is the way to go. It won't matter if your fingers smudge the chocolate, because you're coating it with coconut anyway. The ladling approach is good in theory, not so much in practice. I got chocolate literally everywhere, but then had to keep stopping to scrape all the excess back into the double boiler and wait for it to get melty again. If I'd had to do more than 16, I would've gone nuts!
2) I hope I didn't offend my Aussie friends. I love you and your country, really. I loved learning all about your country's history by reading "In a Sunburned Country" by Bill Bryson. I so seriously want to visit you some day. Kisses!

Pakistan: Aaloo Palak with Garlic Chapatis


Yesterday, I found a very helpful Wikipedia page about Pakistani cuisine. I googled this page after trying fruitlessly to hunt down a Pakistani Aaloo Palak recipe that was different than an Indian Aaloo Palak recipe. Turns out, eastern Pakistan and northern India share much of the same foods, just as western Pakistan and Afghanistan share much of the same foods. This turns Pakistan into a rich tapestry of culinary fabulousness, and I want in.

I also found out that Pakistan consumes three times as much meat as India (as you may know, India has a very large vegetarian population). Therefore, finding a vegetarian-anything in Pakistani cuisine is a bit difficult. It was easier for me here to use a technically Indian recipe and just call it Pakistani.

However, Chapatis are extremely common in Pakistani. They are the most common bread in a Pakistani household. So, I don't entirely feel like I'm cheating when I say this dish counts for my 50 Countries challenge as Pakistan. :)

*Note: I changed this recipe slightly from the way it was originally written. The version I'm giving here is what I made, not the original.

Aaloo Palak (from
-16 ounce bag of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
-6 medium red potatoes
-1 large onion, finely diced
-2 garlic cloves, finely minced
-1” piece of ginger, peeled and finely minced
-3 dried Japones chiles (red chiles), sliced in half diagonally
-1 3/4 teaspoons cumin
-3/4 tsp turmeric (haldi)
-1/2 tsp ground coriander powder
-3/4 tsp garam masala
-¼ tsp crushed red pepper
-1 teaspoon salt (may need a bit more)
-1/4 teaspoon black pepper
-1 teaspoon lime juice
-1-2 tbsp oil, vegetable of canola
-1 cup water
-freshly chopped cilantro leaves for garnish

1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, boil the potatoes until fork tender. Remove, drain well in a colander and run under cold water. This will stop the cooking process and cool them quickly. When the potatoes have cooled, either halve or quarter them depending on their size. Of course, peeling them is completely optional. Set aside until needed.

2. In a large skillet over medium high heat, add about 1 tbsp of the oil. When hot, add the dried red chilies. Stir and add the onions, cook until they are translucent (around 5-6 minutes). Now add the ginger and garlic. Stir fry for a few more minutes and add all the spices (turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander, garam masala, red chili powder, salt and pepper). If you need a little more oil, add it as needed. Let the spices cook for a few more minutes and then add the potatoes. Carefully toss the potatoes with the spices so that they are evenly coated. Now add the spinach and gently mix until the spinach has wilted. Finish with the lime juice.

3. This is a dry dish (meaning, it ain't saucy like most Indian dishes), so while you're making or cooking your chapatis, it helps to add up to 1 cup of water. It is because the water was added that I upped the spice amounts given in the original recipe. Mix well to combine all of the ingredients, reduce the heat to low and keep warm until ready to serve.

4. Garnish and serve with fresh chapatis and fragrant Basmati rice.

-Makes 4 entree-sized servings.

Garlic Chapatis
(modified slightly from
-1 cup whole wheat flour
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-1 teaspoon salt
-1-2 teaspoons garlic, minced very finely (depending on your taste)
-2 tablespoons olive oil (**Or, if you're not vegan, you can use Ghee. I did, and it was delicious!)
-3/4 cup hot water or as needed

1. In a large bowl, stir together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and salt. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the garlic, olive oil and enough water to make a soft dough that is elastic but not sticky. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is smooth. Divide into 10 parts, or less if you want bigger breads (**NOTE: I wanted mine large enough to fit in the bottom of a 12" skillet. To get that size, divide the dough into 6 parts, not 10). Roll each piece into a ball. Let rest for a few minutes, or cover and let rest until you're ready to use them.

2. Heat a skillet over medium heat until hot, and grease lightly. On a lightly floured surface, use a floured rolling pin to roll out the balls of dough until very thin like a tortilla. When the pan starts smoking, put a chapati on it. Cook until the underside has brown spots, about 30 seconds, then flip and cook on the other side. Continue with remaining dough.

Verdict: Greg said this is "very high on the list of contenders" for the best of the 50 countries. I have to agree. Though there are parts of this recipe that make it time-consuming (like boiling potatoes), everything is so incredibly simple to make. And honestly, it was the least time consuming and least complicated Indian recipe I've made to date. Let's just stop a minute and ask: Heather, why in the world haven't you made Chapatis before?? They are like an uncomplicated naan. Hell, they are even easier and more delicious than making your own tortillas. Let's do that more often, okay?

Sheboygan Hard Rolls (aka Semmel Rolls)

First off, I'd like to announce the winner of my 1st Blog Birthday Giveaway. The lucky lady is Amanda, proprietor of The Cilantropist! The Cilantropist is one of my very favorite food blogs, so I'm extremely pleased that Amanda is the winner. Amanda, you definitely deserve the chocolate for being such an innovative and badass food blogger.

Moving on to the latest post--Sheboygan Hard Rolls! My dearest darling husband is from Sheboygan, WI (aka 'Shebby' or 'Shevegas' or many other similar permutations). Being that Sheboygan is about 45-60 minutes straight north of Milwaukee, you would think that I'd have visited it sometime in the 24 years before meeting Greg. And you would be wrong. Greg took me there for the first time 3 years ago to meet the folks. But before we met the folks, we went to the Charcoal Inn. It's what you might expect--a townie-diner feel with cheap, greasy, tasty food. Greg recommended that I get the cheeseburger with onion rings, so I did. As I plowed my way through the middle of the burger, I bit into something unexpected....something creamy. I looked at Greg and said, "Uhhh....what is this? Mayo?" He shook his head, grinning delightedly. In the middle of my burger was a lump of sweet, creamy butter.

And that is Sheboygan. They put butter on your burgers and don't tell you about it on the menu. In short: Shebby is not for the faint of heart. Literally.

Sheboygan County is famous for its bratwurst. You may not have known this, but people in Wisconsin know--the best brats come from Sheboygan. At your grocery store, you probably have Johnsonville Brats. Guess where those bad boys come from? Sheboygan has Bratwurst Days and the Johnsonville World Bratwurst Eating Championship.

But what is the vehicle used to transport these brats to my mouth?, you may ask.

The Sheboygan Hard Roll, also known as "The Semmel Roll." They are similar to Kaiser rolls, except they have a dent across their super-crispy-crunchy-rye flour-dusted top (Greg calls it "The Butt"). Hard Rolls are perfect for eating a greasy brat, complete with onions, sauerkraut and plenty of mustard. They are substantial rolls--they do not fall apart under pressure. And, in the German tradition, the rolls are shaped like hamburger buns, despite the fact that the brats are not shaped like hamburgers.

Last night, we got together with our friend Gus for a night of beer, grilling, and Hard Rolls. Gus made "Sheboygan Brats" (so labeled from the meat merchant in town), bought local mustard, and I supplied the homemade rolls. It was Shebtastic.

Sheboygan Hard Rolls (there is really only one recipe for them on all of the internet, repeated in a couple places)
-4 1/2 cups bread flour (approximate)
-1 package dry yeast
-1 Tablespoon sugar
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 1/2 cups hot water (120-130 degrees)
-1 teaspoon malt extract
-1 egg
-1 egg white
-1 Tablespoon shortening
-Rye flour for dusting

1. Measure 3 1/2 cups of flour into a mixing or mixer bowl and add the yeast, sugar, and salt. Stir to blend well. Pour in the warm water and malt extract. Mix for 1 minute with a wooden spoon or mixer flat beater until a smooth but heavy batter forms.

2. Add the egg, egg white, and shortening. Beat together until the mixture is smooth. If with the electric mixer, remove the flat beater and continue with a dough hook. Add flour -- 1/4 cup at a time -- until the dough is a solid but soft mass that can be lifted from the bowl, or left under the dough hook.

3. Knead the dough with a strong push-turn-fold motion for 10 minutes, adding liberal sprinkles of flour if the dough is wet. If in the mixer, the dough will clean the sides of the bowl and form a ball around the dough hook. If, however, it continues to cling to the sides, add sprinkles of flour.

4. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside to double in bulk, about 1 hour.

5. Uncover the bowl and punch down the dough with your fingers. Cover the bowl again and allow the dough to double in volume again, about 45 minutes.

6. Place the dough on a floured work surface, roll it into a 12-inch long cylinder. With a sharp knife cut 12 pieces from the length (at every inch on the ruler).

7. Shape the pieces under a cupped palm into smooth rounds. Cover and allow to relax for 5 minutes. (**NOTE: If you want to do like I did in the photo below, this is when you want to do it.**)

I put some chocolate in one of the rolls upon Greg's musing "I wonder why nobody ever makes a Chocolate Hard Roll. You know, like a croissant." It was a very good idea.

8. Flatten each roll with your hand to about 1/2 inch thick. Dust lightly with rye flour. With a length of wooden dowel, a round wooden spoon handle, or a pencil, press a deep vertical indentation into the top of each roll. Press firmly and deeply, almost to the bottom (omit this procedure if shaping rolls into single-brat buns). As each roll is shaped, place it face down on a greased baking sheet.

9. Cover the rolls with a length of wax or parchment paper, and leave them at room temperature to rise -- slightly less than double in size, about 40 minutes.

10. In the meantime, prepare the oven by placing a pan under the middle shelf. Twenty minutes before the bake period preheat the oven to 450 degrees, quite hot. Five minutes before the rolls are to go into the oven, pour 1 cup of hot water in the pan to form steam and provide a moist environment for the rolls. Be certain hot water is in the pan.

11. Uncover the rolls, carefully turn them right side up, brush them with water or spray lightly with an atomizer of water.

12. Place the pan on the middle shelf of the hot oven. Three minutes later lightly spray the interior of the oven -- not directly on the rolls.

13. Midway through the bake period turn the sheet around so that the rolls are exposed equally to temperature variations in the oven. They are done when crispy brown all over, in about 25 minutes.

14. Remove the rolls from the oven. If, after the rolls have cooled, they are not as crisp and crusty as you like, put them back into a hot oven for 10 minutes.

Verdict: These are not the exact rolls you would get if purchasing them from a store or bakery in Sheboygan. Those rolls are typically very light and airy with a crisp crust. The rolls I made were chewy inside with a crisp crust, but they were FAR more dense and substantial than the rolls found in Sheboygan. I'm not sure if that's due to the amount of flour I had to add to make the dough non-sticky enough to knead, my lack of a baking stone, or what. BUT, Gus, Greg and I all give them an enthusiastic two thumbs up! Gus went on at some length about how they were the best brat buns he's ever had, and if I could make them again sometime, and Greg told me about how they're not the same as the Sheboygan ones, but that he liked these even better. Hooray!

One Year Blog Birthday & A Sweet Giveaway!

Oh, dear! I missed my blog's 1-Year Birthday on October 4th! Good thing it's not sentient.

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday dear bloggy,
Happy birthday to you!

I am so happy I have successfully maintained this blog for a year, instead of letting it fall to the wayside like so many other projects I've taken on. Silly as it might sound to non-food bloggers, I find food blogging to be a really fulfilling hobby. It allows me to get in my creative kicks through photography and writing, I learn new things all the time, and it serves the practical purpose of filling my belly.

Just over a year ago, I made my first post about Crusty Rye Bread. It was a superbly tasty loaf of bread....but, my food photography skills were...*ahem*... lacking.

Exhibit A: ....Enough said.

I had no food blog friends. My only reader was my trusty fiance, and occasionally, my mom. To get a greater online foodie community, I joined The Daring Cooks. The participants in The Daring Cooks are such a friendly, supportive, creative and uber-talented bunch. Joining this group strengthened my resolve to keep chipping away at my own efforts.

As of January 1st, I resolved (in addition to the monthly Daring Cooks challenges) to do my own challenge: 50 Countries, 1 Year. On the 4-hour car ride back from Madison on the 1st, Greg and I wrote down as many countries as we could think of that I might cook foods from--just to ensure that it was possible. Boy, was it ever.

Exhibit B: Look mom! I made my own paneer!
Then, in early June, The Most Awesome Brother in the Whole World (otherwise known as TMABWW or just "Michael") gave me his old camera. To this point, I had been using a tiny, crapass point-and-shoot Kodak whose batteries were running out after 5 photos or less--and I'm not exaggerating. Yes, I was amazing that I was turning out photos of the quality above with such a camera and not much in the way of editing software.

This new camera opened up a whole new world for me. A world where beautiful macro photos were a possibility.

Exhibit C: Eggshells can be artsy. Who knew?

I won $250 and an opportunity to be showcased for a month for a 24x24 meal from Foodbuzz. I bought some paper backgrounds and a "portable light studio". I was chosen for the Foodbuzz Top 9 for the below photo (and just another time recently). Things were looking up, and I was straight up addicted to food blogging.

Exhibit D: If you pay attention to both lighting AND colors, you get a nice photo.

Then I was blessed with a little gift I like to call Photoshop. I learn more about Photoshop every time I sit down with a new set of photos. I love it all to pieces. Then there is the fact that I am buying more props (Tip: Thrift stores are a god send! Cheap props!!) and paying more attention to setting up my shots. It's a process. And I am a titch obsessed with it.

Exhibit E: I am a food blogging addict. And I love Photoshop.
So, happy birthday to us, blog! I heart you.

In celebration of my blog's birthday, I would like to do my very first giveaway! While I very much wish that I had some sort of corporately sponsored swag to hand out, I don't--I have not yet attracted corporate eyes. Maybe that will be Exhibit F someday. :) Anyway, this is coming out of my own pocket--so it's meager. But delicious.

I would like to give you the chance to win two bars of Dagoba Chocolate! Dagoba chocolate is organic and comes from fair trade, sustainable sources. Dagoba makes incredibly delicious dark chocolate bars, but has many non-dark bars (with tasty goodies mixed in!) that are also fabulous. Hubby and I absolutely love Dagoba, and treat ourselves to it on a semi-regular basis. Because we are dark chocolate nuts, our favorite is the 87% Cacao Eclipse Bar.

To enter, please visit the Dagoba Products page and leave me a comment telling me which chocolate bars you'd like to try. While I will buy them locally and cannot guarantee you will get what you selected if you win, I will definitely try! Please be sure to leave a link to your blog, an email address, or similar, so that if you do win, I can contact you to get a shipping address. Due to shipping concerns, only U.S. Residents may win.

The contest closes at 11:59pm on Saturday, October 16th. A winner will be selected randomly with a number generator. Only one comment per person, please. :) Good luck!

Daring Cooks Challenge: Burrades y Sauza

Well, the challenge wasn't really "Burrades y Sauza." That's made up. The challenge was to make stuffed grape leaves, which are commonly called Dolmades (or Dolmas). They're a popular choice for appetizers and entrees in Middle Eastern cuisine, and variations are found all over the world (including Vietnam! Let's hearken back to those delicious Vietnamese grape leaves I made a couple months ago, shall we? Ahhh yeah...that was the stuff).

To sum it up, I have made Dolmades more than a few times, and have made a variation on it to boot. So, I decided to make up my own stuffed grape leaves. Since I can always go for Mexican food, I thought that I would take this opportunity to make little grape leaf-wrapped burritos ("Burrades") with a green chiles-sour cream sauce (or "Sauza").

Make sure you roll your r's while saying "Burrades." That way it'll sound legitimate.

-1 jar grape leaves
-1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups rice, cooked
-1 (15oz) can black beans, rinsed
-1/2 - 3/4 cup sweet onion, chopped finely
-1 fresh tomato, diced very small
-About 1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
-1 pickled jalapeno, diced
-Few squirts lime juice
-3/4 teaspoon salt
-3/4 teaspoon cumin
-3/4 teaspoon coriander
-3/4 teaspoon dried cilantro
-3/4 teaspoon chili powder
-1/4 teaspoon cayenne
-1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
-1 (14.5oz) can chicken or vegetable broth

Sour Cream-Green Chile Sauce
-1 tub (8 oz) sour cream
-1 (4.5 oz) can chopped green chiles
-1 pickled jalapeno, diced
-About 1/3 sweet onion, chopped finely
-1 large (or 2 normal) clove of garlic, minced
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon cumin

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix rice, black beans, onion, tomato, garlic, jalapeno, cheese, lime juice, and all spices.

2. Gently unfold grape leaves (they are delicate and will rip easily, so being gentle is key!). Place them vein side up. Depending on the size of your grape leaf, put about 1 tablespoon of the rice mixture on the leaf. Shape the rice into a 2" cylinder. Fold the bottom of the leaf up over the rice, then the sides over the center. Then, roll it up like a cigarette. Place each finished Burrade seam-side down in a 13x9" pan.

3. Pour a can of broth over them, saturating them well. Place in a 350-degree oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. (**NOTE: In the future, I might suggest covering them with tinfoil to prevent drying out.**)

4. While the Burrades are baking, prepare the sauce. Place all ingredients in a bowl, and mix well. If you leave this as-is, it makes for a mild-tasting, lovely chip dip! But, for a runnier, sharper-tasting sauce, use an immersion blender (or put into a regular blender) and process until smooth.

5. Serve the sauce next to or on top of the Burrades.

Verdict: I was so damn pleased with myself. This was the first thing that I've created all on my own that I felt totally proud of. It was utterly delicious--so spicy, salty/briny, and comforting all at once! I highly recommend you try these out for yourself! Oh, AND--the sauza is a totally fabulous chip dip. We ate the leftovers that way for a few days. :)

Blog-checking lines: Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

Rosemary-Red Pepper Quinoa Pilaf


Check it, dudes. I made up a recipe! This accompanied tonight's delicious meaty loaf of awesomeness. It classed up the plate a bit. You know...added some gravitas to a flippant and trashy main course.

In all honesty, this was really pretty great. I'm kind of proud, even though it's not especially complicated. In fact, it's very straightforward. It's an easy side to make, and is perfect for when you have something meaty going on in the oven for awhile. Start this about 20 minutes before your main course is set to come out of the oven, and you're good to go!

And it's super healthy. That could be a bonus for some folks.

Rosemary-Red Pepper Quinoa Pilaf
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1/2 a red bell pepper, chopped
-1/3 cup (or 1 small) onion, diced
-1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, minced (according to your taste preference)
-1/2-2/3 teaspoon dried rosemary (I can only imagine fresh would be way awesomer)
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/4-1/3 teaspoon black pepper
-1 cup quinoa
-2 cups water or vegetable broth (for additional flavor)

1. In a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute red pepper, onion, and garlic for a few minutes, or until onion gets a little browned. Add spices, stir well.

2. Add quinoa and water. Bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat to a simmer, and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until water is absorbed.

-At least 4 servings.

Savory Turkey Meatloaf


Many moons ago, I was a latchkey kid. Over a few years, my dad (who was a chef) taught me how to cook meals for the family. He would leave me pre-measured spices to add to things like spaghetti sauce, or meatloaf (really, not leaving the spicing up to a kid was a brilliant idea). Dad did not actually measure the spices. Eventually, I learned to eyeball my own spices, ruining me for a whole other generation of people who might actually want recipes written down.

So, here today--for the first time EVER--I give you a fully measured meatloaf recipe. This is more or less like what my dad and I would make....except there was beef, not turkey. The turkey is to give some saving grace to my poor waistline.

This is a really great, juicy meatloaf recipe. It reminds me of why I love meatloaf so very dearly. Sure, it may be hideous (it is, after all, a loaf made of meat). But I'm so blinded by adoration that I think it's pretty. Don't you want to feel that way about your meatloaf, too?

Savory Turkey Meatloaf
-1 (1.25 lb) package lean ground turkey
-1 egg
-1/3 cup cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
-1/3 cup quick oats
-1/3 cup water
-2/3 cup onions, diced
-1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon dried basil
-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
-1/4 teaspoon black pepper
-1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1. Preheat oven to 385.

2. Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl. There is no substitute for your bare hands here, people, so clean 'em good, suck it up, and get squishy with that sucker. Mix the ingredients thoroughly.

3. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray (just in case--it never hurt anybody). Place meat mixture into loaf pan, spreading out evenly.

4. Bake for an hour. Slice. Ketchup. Eat. Nom.

-4 servings (2 nicely sized pieces per serving)

The "World's Most Beloved Myth" Cookies

Story time, kids!

Sometime during high school (back when AOL charged a nickel a minute, if that gives you any indication), there was a chain email that got quite a bit of circulation. It was about Neiman Marcus' famous chocolate chip cookies. The story went that a woman was out to lunch, had the cookie, and loved it so much that she asked the waitress for the recipe. The waitress refused. The woman then offered to pay for the recipe, and the waitress accepted, saying the recipe was "two fifty." Thinking the waitress meant $2.50, the woman accepted. Only later did she find out that the recipe was really $250, and--get this--Neiman Marcus (THE THIEVES!!) told her there was no way she was getting her money back. She exacted her revenge by circulating the recipe for free all over the interwebs (which is what we called it back in the mid-late 90's).

What a great story. If only it were true.

I did make this recipe for the first time in high school. The pull of chocolate chips and instant coffee were too much for me and my friend Kali. I am surprised that I still remember us making these cookies in particular (we were in Kali's kitchen, making them far larger than they're supposed to be), but I guess that's the mark of a great recipe. If you still remember the first time the cookie passed your lips (at least 12 years ago), it's a keeper.

Neiman Marcus' Famous Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe (from Neiman Marcus)
-1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
-1 cup light brown sugar
-3 tablespoons granulated sugar
-1 large egg
-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
-1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1-1/2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder (**Or just regular instant coffee powder.**)
-1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream the butter with the sugars using an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy (approximately 30 seconds)

2. Beat in the egg and the vanilla extract for another 30 seconds.

3. In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and beat into the butter mixture at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in the espresso coffee powder and chocolate chips.

4. (**Note: I'm changing to my original recipe's instructions here.**) Drop balls by the large spoonful onto a greased baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes for a softer cookie, or 10-12 minutes for a crispier cookie.

-Makes about 15-18 hefty cookies.

Scotland: Shortbread

Dear Scotland,

I would like to thank you for creating Shortbread. Not only is it full of understated flaky-crumbly-goodness, but you've legitimized eating a big hunk of pastry crust by calling it a cookie.

I would like to join your ranks, if it's okay by you. I'm grabbing my kilt and bagpipes and coming over.


P.S. No haggis for me, though, thanks. There's something about minced lung that....well...makes me want to vomit. :) See you soon, Scotland! Mwah!

Sweet Scottish Shortbread (A combination of this recipe and this recipe)
-1 cup unsalted butter
-1/2 cup packed brown sugar
-2 1/4 cup flour (divided)
-1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 325.

2. Grease your baking tray. This recipe makes a roughly 8" square, so you can either put it in part of a low-sided baking sheet or a 8x8" cake pan...or whatever you have on hand.

3. Sift 1 1/2 cups of flour and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.

4. Place slightly softened butter (NOT melted or gooey at all) in a medium mixing bowl. Mash with a fork until it's soft and creamy with no lumps. If it gets warm to the point of being liquidy, put it in the fridge for 5-10 minutes, until it firms up a bit.

5. Add sugar and mix quickly with the fork until combined.

6. Add the salted flour a very little bit at a time, mixing with the fork. Combine well, mixing quickly until a dough forms.

7. Using your last 3/4 cup flour (about 1/4 cup at a time), flour your counter. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, reflouring as necessary, to create a soft dough that's not sticky. Don't let the dough get too warm from your hands. If it gets warm, put it in the fridge for a few minutes.

8. Pat with your hands or roll the dough out to the shape & size of your baking tray. The final product should be 1/2" thick. If you happen to have a baking sheet with sides, it may happen that the sides are 1/2" high--turns out that I had one, and it was very convenient.

9. Prick all over with a fork or toothpick--whether you make uniform holes or fun designs is up to you. :) Bake until golden-brown ~30-45 minutes. Once they come out of the oven, cut while still warm. Leave the pieces together until they have cooled before serving.

Shortbread will make you smile.

-Makes about 18-20 small squares. The recipe easily doubles to fit on a larger baking sheet or 13x9 pan.

Verdict: I think my statement at the top of this entry pretty well said everything. I think that you could just not ask for a simpler recipe--in all ways. The flavors are very delicate, and (again), understated. It is SO easy to make. I'd heard that shortbread was temperamental, but this recipe couldn't be any easier to follow....or any harder to screw up, really. So, whip this up in an hour and settle in with a cuppa. :)

Did I mention that this would make for a delightful holiday gift? No? Well, it would. See?

Brazil: Moqueca Baiana


If you were to use one of those "Where Have You Visited" maps on Facebook to chart out my 50 Countries project, it would look like I've 'been to' far fewer than 39 countries. That's because, for no apparent reason, I keep picking the tiny countries. But now....look out, everyone: I've gone to Brazil! Woohoo! Land mass, bitches!

Moqueca is a traditional seafood stew. Brazilians have been making versions of Moqueca for at least 300 years. The base of the stew includes fish, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and cilantro. Of course, there are many varieties of the stew, and as it happens, this one (which includes coconut milk, shrimp, and palm oil*) is Bahian.

I was interested to try Moqueca, but I wasn't totally excited about it. I'm never really excited about the idea of fish chunks in my soup (shrimp aside). But, I am excited about garlic, bell peppers, shrimp and coconut oil, so I gave it a go. And I am so glad that I did.

Moqueca Baiana (from Simply Recipes)
-1 lb of fillets of firm white fish such as halibut, swordfish, or cod, rinsed in cold water, pin bones removed, cut into large portions
-1 lb shrimp, ready to cook (shelled, de-veined, etc)
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-4 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
-Freshly ground black pepper
-Peanut Oil
-1 cup chopped spring onion, or 1 medium yellow onion, chopped or sliced
-1/4 cup green onion greens, chopped
-1/2 yellow and 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded, de-stemmed, chopped (or sliced)
-2 cups chopped (or sliced) tomatoes
-1 Tbsp paprika (Hungarian sweet)
-Pinch red pepper flakes
-1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped with some set aside for garnish
-1 14-ounce can coconut milk

-1 Tbsp peanut oil
-1/2 onion, chopped
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 cup white rice
-1 3/4 cups boiling water (check your rice package for the appropriate ratio of liquid to rice for the type of rice you are using)
-1 teaspoon salt

*Palm oil (also called dende) is traditionally used in Brazilian food--and specifically, in Moqueca. Unfortunately, palm oil can be a rare find in the U.S. Given that I have trouble finding normal ingredients on a semi-regular basis, it was a good bet that I wouldn't be finding palm oil here. I substituted peanut oil, which, while probably not giving the authentic flavor to Moqueca, did a great job.

1. Place fish pieces and shrimp in a bowl, add the minced garlic and lime juice so that the pieces are well coated. Sprinkle generously all over with salt and pepper. Keep chilled while preparing the rest of the soup. (**Note: I just kept mine out on the counter, since it wasn't too long before they were cooked. No big deal.**)

2. If you are planning on serving the soup with rice, start on the rice. Bring a couple cups of water to a boil. Heat one tablespoon of peanut oil in a medium saucepan on medium high heat. Add the chopped 1/2 onion and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the raw white rice and stir to coat completely with the oil, onions, and garlic. Add the boiling water. (The amount depends on your brand of rice, check the package. If no amounts are given, add 1 3/4 cup of water for every cup of rice.) Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat, cover, and let cook for 15 minutes, after which, remove from heat until ready to serve with the soup.

3. Back to the soup. In a large covered pan (such as a Dutch oven), coat the bottom with about 2 Tbsp of peanut oil and heat on medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook a few minutes until softened. Add the bell pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. (At least a teaspoon of salt.) Cook for a few minutes longer, until the bell pepper begins to soften. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and green onions. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, uncovered. Stir in the chopped cilantro.

4. Use a large spoon to remove about half of the vegetables. Spread the remaining vegetables over the bottom of the pan to create a bed for the seafood. Arrange the fish and shrimp on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Then add back the previously removed vegetables, covering the seafood. Pour coconut milk over the seafood and vegetables.

5. Bring soup to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. You may need to add more salt (likely), lime or lemon juice, paprika, pepper, or chili flakes to get the soup to the desired seasoning for your taste.

Garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice or with crusty bread.

Serves 4.

Verdict: This is everything I want out of a seafood stew. It's incredibly flavorful, rich without being overbearingly fatty, and has lots of interesting textures. The rice is incredible and adds a lot to the soup--I would not recommend using bread instead (use bread in addition, if anything!). In fact, I will make all of my rice like this from here on out.

Oh yeah--AND, it's easy to make. I mean, save for the part where I bought fish fillets with the skin still on, because I was all, "Oh, I can slice that off, that won't be a problem," because apparently I think I'm naturally endowed with ninja knife skills. Turns out, not so much. I stabbed myself with the boning knife, bled some (not on the fish, though), and swore to buy pre-skinned fish from here on out.

Brandied Pumpkin & Pecan Biscotti

It's a dreary day in Champaign. There's a definite hint of Fall in the air, which can only mean one thing: It's time to break out the cozy pumpkin recipes! And really, is there anything much cozier than curling up with a cup of coffee and a biscotti? This recipe is the result of me drooling over Gimme Some Oven's recipe for Cherry, Almond & White Chocolate Biscotti, but wanting the comfort of pumpkin, chocolate, pecans...and brandy.

Brandied Pumpkin & Pecan Biscotti (a brainchild from me and Gimme Some Oven)
-2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
-1 cup sugar
-2 teaspoons baking powder
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon cinnamon
-1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
-1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
-1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
-3 eggs
-1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used just slightly less than this)
-1/2 cup canned pure pumpkin (pureed)
-2 tablespoons brandy
-1/4 teaspoon vanilla
-About 1/3-1/2 cup chocolate chips (more or less, to your taste)
-About 1/3-1/2 cup chopped pecans (more or less, to your taste)

1. Combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Set aside.

2. Mix eggs, pumpkin, brandy, and vanilla with an electric mixer. Add in dry ingredients until the mixture gets too stiff to use an electric mixer. Do the rest by hand/wooden spoon until well combined. Add in chocolate chips and pecans, mix until combined.

3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface (**Be VERY generous with the flour!!**). Using floured hands, knead lightly a few times to ensure an even distribution of the chocolate chips and pecans. You may need to add more flour to the surface and your hands. Divide dough in half.

4. Shape each half into a long log and flatten to a 1" thickness. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Remove the rolls from the baking sheet and cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Then cut diagonally into 1/2" slices.

5. Place the slices cut-side down on the baking sheet. Reduce the oven temperature to 325. Bake 10 minutes longer. Remove, turn each slice over, and bake 10 minutes more. Remove and cool on wire racks.

6. Melting chocolate on top of or on the bottom of these is optional. I added 2 tablespoons of brandy to 2 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, melted over medium-low heat, and then dipped the biscotti's into the mixture.

-Makes about 36 biscotti of varying sizes.