Thursday, February 23, 2006

Basic Bread

This easy and delicious basic bread formula comes from Chef2Chef. With only five simple ingredients, allow a short time to rise, and you have a beautiful loaf of Da Bread. It has been made many times in the La Vida Dulce kitchen with excellent results. It can be made by hand, with just a wooden spoon and a big bowl. It also mixes up easily in the Kitchen Aid mixer. Remember not to go above speed #2 or you will burninate your mixer. Try adding in a bit of olive oil, minced garlic, and fresh rosemary. Or some diced fresh jalapeno with grated cheese. Be creative! Get out your kitchen scale, because in baking, the ingredients need to be weighed accurately. 3 1/2 cups of flour may weigh a pound one day, and then weigh something different the next day. Have fun!

DA BREAD – ADAPTED FROM CHEF2CHEF – makes two large loaves
You can tweak it up some by adding olive oil, spices, herbs, corn, or whatever feels right that day. Note that the salt in the recipe is fine sea salt. Do not use kosher salt because the grains are too big and do not break down as easily. They can tear the gluten, which holds the bread together, and can interfere with the rising process.
2 1/2 cups water, warmed
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 pound 10 ounces bread flour

Whisk the honey and yeast into 2 cups of pure filtered water. The water should be warm, like 100 to 110 degrees, not too hot or you will kill the yeast. This wakes up the yeast and makes ‘em happy. Once the yeast is dissolved add the salt then the flour, and stir it all up to form a dough ball. You may need a little more flour depending on the humidity. Add any additional seasonings or herbs at this stage. Knead for 5 minutes then let rest 5 minutes more. Divide into 2 BIG loaves. Line a sheet pan with parchment and sprinkle with a little corn meal or flour. Lay the loaves on top and brush with water.

Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Occasionally re-brush with water to keep a skin from forming. You will know the dough is ready when you poke it with your finger like the Pillsbury dough boy and the indentation stays, after about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Brush with water once more and score three cuts across the top with a sharp knife. Bake at 425 degrees F in the center rack of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown. You will hear a good deep sound from thumping the underside of the loaf. Cool slightly on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes. Place on cutting board, just do not cut into the bread yet. It is still cooking. For best results let cool for a full 30 minutes before slicing. Serve with butter or olive oil.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Papas con Huevos y Jamon

Here it is, Saturday morning in the midst of a bread baking blitz, working with a new starter, new flours, and learning new techniques. Flour everywhere. (More on this later next week.) The issue became what to make for a late breakfast or early lunch, without losing momentum. In need of potato water, an ingredient sometimes used in starters, this dish was put together with the potatoes I had left over. Pop it into the oven, which is already pre-heating for the breads, and there you have it, a quick skillet meal that can easily be reheated when everyone wakes up. Tell them it's Italian.

4 large red potatoes, cooked and unpeeled
4 ounces cooked ham, diced julienne
1 tablespoon finely diced onion, if desired
4 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon water
2 ounces grated provolone cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Finely minced Italian parsley
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cook potatoes in pot of simmering water till fork tender. Remove and drain, set aside to cool briefly. As soon as potatoes are cool to the touch, slice each to about 1/4 inch thickness, leaving unpeeled. Preheat an oven-proof skillet, no plastic or wooden handles, cast iron preferred. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the skillet, allow to come up to heat, then layer in potatoes. Add more olive oil if needed. Season potatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Allow potatoes to brown slightly, then flip over once to finish browning, do not burninate. Add onion at this point. Evenly distribute diced ham over potatoes. Beat eggs in a bowl with teaspoon of water. Pour eggs into skillet, then sprinkle with cheese, parsley, paprika, and addtional black pepper. Place skillet in oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, till eggs are set and cheese is melted. Cut into wedges. Serve with slices of sourdough bread. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dog Show Hot Dogs

I love watching the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. We cheer for the Pomeranian, who actually won Best of Show one year. This year's Pom was cute and foofy, but he was beat out by the Pug in the Toy Group. Of course our little Pom, Nikk is much cuter, even at the ripe old age of 16! Well, the Dog Show this year had the misfortune to be scheduled right in the middle of a snowstorm in NYC and the Winter Olympics, but the dog lovers didn't care. Madison Square Garden looked packed with people cheering for their favorites as the dogs were paraded in front of the judges.

Having also been long-time fans of our local brand of Farmer John hot dogs, it seemed like the perfect choice for watching the Dog Show. Well, we recently tried Nathan's and I am sorry to report, we have jumped ship. Nathan's are delicious, great flavor, meaty and they grill up nicely. Ralphs has them on sale 2 pkgs. for $7 bucks. What, $3.50 for a package of weenies! Calmate, and say adios to Farmer John, and bienvenidos to Nathan---at least till Opening Day at Dodger Stadium.

One package Nathan's Hot Dogs
One package Roman Meal Wheat Hot Dog Buns*
Ralphs Dijon Mustard
Heinz Hamburger Pickle Chips
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
4 pepperoncini, thinly sliced, stems removed
1/4 cup diced onion
unsalted butter
*(If your store doesn't carry Roman Meal, select any other top of the line bun, these dogs deserve the best.)
Prepare the pickle chips, tomatoes, onion, and pepperoncini and place in separate bowls or on a condiment tray. Toast the buns in a toaster oven or on a dry skillet till lightly browned. Set aside. Heat a 10-inch skillet on medium, then melt about 1 - 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Do not burninate, you aren't making beurre noisette. Cut open the package and immediately add Nathan's hot dogs, along with the juices, and cook on each side till lightly browned, turning once or twice. Remove from heat and set aside. Invite your guests to assemble their own hot dogs, or if you must, place each hot dog in a toasted bun, add the pickles, tomatoes, onion, pepperoncini, dijon and serve them. Serves 4 - 6.
Note: If you have any leftover hot dogs as a result of not enough buns, save them for weenies con papas y huevos, another family favorite!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Hot Cocoa and Cookies

Snow shutting down the airports on the east coast---and we have sunny skies with temps into the high 80's. Go ask Fritz whatz up with that. Well, here is a decadent cup of hot chocolate to go with those little Italian cookies. Make it interesting with a liqueur like Kahlua. Too bad we don't have the weather to go along with hot cocoa and cookies.

LA VIDA DULCE HOT CHOCOLATE - adapted from "Barefoot Contessa"

2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 cups half-and-half
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (Ghiradelli's is a good choice)
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (try Tobler or Lindt if available)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso or instant coffee

Whipped cream, cocoa powder, ground cinnamon for garnish if desired

Pour the milk and half-and-half in a stainless steel saucepan and place on medium heat to just below the simmering. Look for little bubbles around the edge of the pan. Remove from heat and add both chocolates, whisking till combined. When the chocolates are melted, add the sugar, vanilla, and espresso and whisk vigorously. Reheat gently and then serve immediately in very large latte cups. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle a bit of cocoa powder and cinnamon on top.

Note: You can kick this up with an ounce of Kahlua poured into the cup just before adding the hot chocolate. Stir gently, then top with garnishes. Serve with Italian cookies, in honor of the Winter Olympics. Makes 2 to 3 very large or 4 to 5 medium cups.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Bolle di Neve al Torino

These are "Snowball" cookies from the Italian mountains. In honor of the Winter Olympics we have a cookie formula adapted from "The Italian Baker" by Carol Field, another great find from Chef Bob. That man is brilliant, a walking encyclopedia of baking and pastry knowledge. Check out his book, "Gourmet To Go" for sale on Amazon, an excellent resource on starting a food business. I asked him about the cookie known as "ossi di morere" and he immediately knew where to look. Rather than going through the time and trouble of grinding up almonds and powdered sugar, which is sometimes not a reliable method, we are using Odense almond paste, a very good product, sometimes a bit expensive, but for these little "bolle di neve" it saves a lot of time and energy. Similar in appearance to little Mexican Wedding Balls, they have a hint of citrus flavor from the candied orange peel. Excellent paired with a warm cup of cocoa or brewed hot tea while watching the Winter Olympics.

Bolle di Neve - makes about 4 dozen
9 ounces Odense almond paste (in the supermarket baking section)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons candied orange peel
1 level cup powdered sugar, minus 2 teaspoons
2 or 3 teaspoons egg whites, unbeaten
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a large baking or cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Place almond paste and orange peel in a food processor and grind to a coarse powder. Add to bowl of KA mixer, fitted with the paddle and add powdered sugar. Beat until blended, add 2 teaspoons egg white and mix well till dough becomes firm but not dry. If needed, add the last teaspoon of egg white gradually. Set aside. Dust the work surface with powdered sugar, keeping about 1/2 cup additional powdered sugar off to the side. Turn out the dough on to the work surface with a plastic scraper or large spatula and then roll into a log about 1 inch in diameter. Cut the log into 1 inch sections. Roll each section into a ball and then into the additional powdered sugar coating evenly. Place balls on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes till golden brown, turning pan from front to back about half way through baking time. Cookies will be soft inside. Let cool completely on racks.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


Think of everyone in your life. Now narrow it down to the one person with whom you can confide your deepest secrets. Come on, think of only one. You can tell that person anything and you KNOW in your heart it will go no further. That person is someone you can trust completely, someone who will always listen, and who will always tell you the truth. Add to this, proven over many years, that if you needed it, this person would kick your butt. More than a sister to me than my very own siblings, Viola is that one person in my life. We have taken turns, being the butt kicker and the butt kick receiver. Through all my failures and my triumphs, Viola has been by my side. She is much a part of my life as anyone else in this world. She has seen her share of triumphs and failures as well. I admire her sense of humor, her devotion to her family, her dignity, and her strength as she faces any challenges in life. Her faith is strong. I could only hope to be as good a friend to her as she has always been to me. Viola's birfcake is this week, and in honor of my dearest friend, here's my own recipe for Lemon Bars, sweet, tart, and tangy---just like her! It is a simple recipe, takes only minutes to prep, and no KA mixer is involved. Happy Birfcake to Viola!

LEMON BARS - makes 16
Cookie Base:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
pinch of salt

Lemon Topping:
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest, finely grated (thanks to Mark!)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon flour
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare cookie base by mixing all ingredients and press into a 8x8 inch pan. The amount of butter in the cookie is enough to require no greasing of the baking pan. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. While cookie base is baking, prepare the lemon topping by mixing all ingredients together in a bowl. Remove cookie base from oven and immediately pour topping into pan. Return to oven and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Bareback Mountain Brownies

Michael insists "Bareback" should be the name of the Oscar nominated movie "Brokeback Mountain" because he says it sounds better. In honor of his recent birfcake I came up with this formula. You can make these brownies without the KA mixer, but you gotta sift the dry ingredients. It is adapted from Fine Cooking magazine, which I discovered through Chef Bob's 1st semester Professional Baking class. It is an outstanding food magazine, and many of the recipes and baking formulas are available on the website. Google "Fine Cooking Magazine" and it will direct you to the publisher's site. Subscription rate is a bit pricey but well worth it.

These brownies are rich and nutty. Y'all giddyup, little buckaroos!!


1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted plus a little extra for baking pan if needed
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder, or instant coffee (I only use it for baking!)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans
1/2 cup Rolo candies, unwrapped and cut in two, or chocolate chips
Powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Take the wrapper off the butter and use it to grease an 8"x8" baking pan. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, do NOT burninate. With a wooden spoon stir the melted butter, sugar & vanilla in a large bowl. Add the room temp eggs in one at a time, mixing well. If you use cold eggs, the mixture will seize up and cause the sugar in the brownie to become grainy. Sift the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder, and salt into another bowl or onto a sheet of waxed paper. Whisk the flour mixture into the egg mixture a bit at a time, beating until blended. Add the nuts and spread batter into pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the brownies start to pull away from the sides of the pan. While still warm top with chocolate candies and let melt. Spread chocolate with an offset spatula for a rough texture. Dust lightly with powdered sugar for that "snowy bareback mountain" effect. Allow brownies to cool completely in pan placed on a rack, then cut into squares and serve with a scoop of ice cream, like toffee crunch or mocha.

Note: If using a glass pan, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F.