Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ingredient Spotlight - Baking Soda

So I decided that I want to spotlight some of the ingredients that I use.  If you didn't know, I'm a bit of a natural health nutcase freak.  Whatever you want to call it, I like using things that may or may not be better for my health, and the health of my family.  I also like supporting American made products.  So for my first ingredient spotlight I chose to talk about baking soda, since I just posted the soda bread recipe.  I bet you didn't know that were "better" forms of baking soda.  Well, I think there is.  The baking soda I've been using come from Bob's Red Mill.  I'm sure you've seen their products in the store.  The difference with their baking soda is that it is aluminum free.  I've been trying to avoid aluminum in all area's that I can because I've read studies that have shown high amounts of aluminum in cancerous breast tissue and in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, among other things.  I also like to use this baking soda because part of me really just likes using an alternative to the usual stuff you can get.  I've always sort of been that way.   On the packaging it states:  "Our Baking Soda is made from the deposits of mineralized sodium bicarbonate.  It is extracted by an all-natural process that uses no chemicals.  When used in combination with acidic ingredients, such as buttermilk or molasses, it releases carbon dioxide that causes the batter or dough to rise.  It's also a great household cleanser and odor absorber."   Apparently, there is aluminum in Arm & Hammer baking soda - I don't have a box to look at or the time to research it right now, but I like my Bob's Red Mill baking soda - so I'm sticking with it.  It's really pretty baking soda too.  I compared it to some regular Arm & Hammer baking soda, and it's really sparkly!  :) 

In case you're interested, here's a link to the the Bob's Red Mill website:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cream of Asparagus Soup

I think this is my favorite way to eat asparagus, in soup.  Any time I have a bunch of asparagus I always end up making this soup.  We grew up having cream of asparagus soup.  When I made this soup yesterday my kids couldn't get enough!  It makes a good meatless meal too.  Just serve it with some bread or breadsticks and you're set.  You can pressure cook, steam, boil, or oven roast the asparagus for this soup.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

4 tbsp of butter
1/2 C onion or shallots (optional)
1/4 C flour
1 C hot chicken broth
6 C milk
1/2 C cream (optional)
salt and fresh ground pepper
1-2 bunches of fresh asparagus cut into 1 inch pieces and cooked (pressure cook, steam, boil, or oven roast)

Cook the onions in butter until translucent.  Add in the flour and cook for a minute more.  Remove from heat and whisk in the hot chicken broth.  Return to heat and slowly whisk in the milk.  Bring to a simmer and let thicken.  At this point, you can add in the cream if you wish.  If you like, add in about 1/3 of the cooked asparagus and use an immersion blender to incorporate the asparagus flavor into the soup.  Add in the cooked asparagus and serve.

A note on the asparagus:  To remove the woody ends of the asparagus start bending the asparagus at the very bottom of the stalk.  The stalk will snap at the point where the asparagus is no longer hard and woody!

Crepes with Almond Cream

I went to a cooking class last week, just for fun.  It's great entertainment!  The class was called "Celebrating Julia."  The instructors showed us how to make these delicious crepes.  They were a really nice change in pace for dessert.  The filling reminds me a lot of marzipan.  I had to make them the next day.  Crepes are so versatile.  You can make them savory or sweet, and they can be refrigerated or frozen and and used later.  I made a batch of them and used half for this dessert, and the other half for strawberries and cream breakfast crepes.

All-Purpose Crepes

1 1/4 C unbleached flour
2/3 C cold milk
2/4 C cold water
3 large eggs
dash of salt
3 tbsp melted butter

Mix all ingredients using an immersion blender (my favorite) or a blender or food processor.  Use an electric crepe maker or a nonstick frying pan to make the crepes.  If you are using a pan, add a little butter and cook them on medium low heat.  Pour in some batter and tilt the pan so the batter spreads out thin and evenly.  Cook for a minute and them flip them over to quickly brown the other side.

Almond Cream

1 egg
1 egg yolk
3/4 C sugar
1/3 C flour
1 C hot milk
3 tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 C pulverized almonds

Beat the egg and egg yolk in a mixing bowl.  Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is pale yellow and forms a ribbon.  Beat in the flour.  Beat in the milk in a thin stream.  Pour into sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.  When the mixture begins to thicken into lumps beat it vigorously until it smooths and thickens into a stiff paste.  Continue beating and cooking the mixture for 2-3 more minutes.  Remove from heat and add the butter, vanilla, almond extract and almonds.

Crepes with Almond Cream

Spread some almond cream onto a crepe.  Fold into wedge and place in baking dish.  Drizzle 2 tbsp of melted butter over the crepes.  Grate some semi-sweet chocolate on top of the crepes.  Put in a 350 degree oven until the chocolate has melted.  Dust with powdered sugar.

Irish Soda Bread

I love holidays, because they're such a wonderful inspiration for cooking fun things.  I really like this bread because it's so simple to make and so rustic.  Most of all I love it because there's no yeast involved, which means no rising and punching.  It's traditionally made with dried currants, but you could use golden raisins or even dried cranberries.  I like the currants because they're so tiny and give just a hint of sweetness without being overwhelming.

4 C unbleached flour
1/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp cold salted butter
1 3/4 C buttermilk, shaken
1 egg
1 tsp grated orange zest (optional)
1 C dried currants or other dried fruit
1 tbsp flour

 Add first 4 ingredients to your stand mixer and mix briefly.  Add cold butter in chunks and mix slowly until butter is slightly incorporated.  Mix buttermilk, egg, and orange zest and add while the mixer is running on low.  Mix only until dry ingredients are wet.  Stir the 1 tbsp of flour with the currants.  Add the currents to the mixer and mix until just combined.  Dump the dough onto a well floured surface and knead a few times.  Form into one large ball.  Cut a shallow x in the top of the dough.  Place the dough on a parchment lined sheet pan.  Bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes.  Test to see if it is cooked in the middle with a toothpick.  Cool on rack.  Serve warm or cool.  Good toasted the next day .