Sunday, October 26, 2008

Irma's Cranberry Nut Bread

When I was a kid, growing up in New Jersey, my family would spend every Thanksgiving with some family friends from Long Island. I guess that both families were rather far from blood relatives.

And even though "Aunt Irma" had six young boys, she could still cook! In fact, if I remember correctly, she was a terrific cook! Thankfully, at some point she shared her recipe for this most-awesome cranberry nut bread with my mom, who shared it with me.

As an adult, I make this bread every year. I bring it to our family Thanksgiving celebrations and will be sharing it with my coworkers for our pot luck tomorrow. I just know it will be loved and I will be admired, just as I admired Irma every time she cooked for us!

This recipe makes one large loaf, but just to make sure I have enough for myself, I set a smidgen aside and made this sweet little mini loaf just for me!

Eat what you want people! I still have my own personal stash.

I have a note on the recipe that Irma used to quadruple it and bake it in three larger loaf pans. After all, she had a big family to feed!

Irma's Cranberry Nut Bread

2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
juice & grated peel of 1 orange
2 tablespoons butter
boiling water
1 cup chopped, fresh cranberries
1 cup chopped nuts (pecan or walnut)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Blend in the egg.

Combine the orange juice, peel, butter, and enough boiling water to measure 3/4 cup. Mix it into the flour mixture.

Add the nuts and cranberries and mix by hand until well-blended.

Turn the batter into a well-buttered 8 1/2 inch loaf pan and bake for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. The top of the loaf will crack while baking.

Cool on a wire rack. Wrap in foil and refrigerate overnight before slicing.

FYI: This bread is delicious toasted!

FYI(2): you can quadruple the recipe and bake it in 3 larger loaf pans.

Irma's Cranberry Nut Bread

When I was a kid, growing up in New Jersey ...

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

My new little chocolate buddy!

I have a new little friend on my sidebar thanks to Teresa at Mexican Chocolate Lore and More:

And then I got it again! Thank you Gloria at Cookbook Cuisine.

This award is perfect for me! And it's awful cute!

I am a chocoholic. And I don't think a day goes by without a little smidge of my favorite thing, be it M&M's, part of a Lindt or Vosges bar, or a truffle from a favorite mail-order chocolatier. And I'll admit that I've been known to drive 50 miles just to try a chocolatier who is a bit out of the way.

And let it be known, that if all goes well, my next post will be for Pumpkin Pie Chocolate Truffles. My ganache is cooling in the refrigerator right now.

So my new little buddy is a wonderful addition to Inspired Bites.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Stuffed Sweet Dumpling Squash

Fall is my absolute favorite season. I love the crisp air, the morning frost, the colors of the leaves, and of course - the food! Fall is the time for pumpkins, apple cider, donuts, apple pie, hot chocolate, and squash.

I was at the supermarket the other day and I couldn't resist the bin packed with beautiful sweet dumpling squash. There are so many squash varieties available in stores these days. I was at first torn between them and the delicata. Actually, for the recipe I ended up making, either would be good. I just happened to go for the sweet dumpling. This is the sweet dumpling:

Honestly, I don't taste a difference between it and the oblong delicata.

What to do with my sweet dumpling squash? Seriously, the squash is great just totally plain with a hint of butter, perhaps some pumpkin pie spice and a wee bit of maple syrup or honey. Just look at that golden goodness:

I want some just looking at that picture.

When you cut the squash open, just scoop out the seeds. I bet you could toast and salt the seeds and they would be good too!

So, what I ended up with was wonderful - I'm full of pride. I ate it as a meal, but it could easily be a side dish. To give it protein, I added ground beef. The squash was sweet, the currents were tart, the brown rice was nutty and satisfying. The pecans were wonderful and gave it a little crunch. And not only was it delicious, but it was pretty and you could impress your friends and family with this perfect fall dish.

Stuffed Sweet Dumpling Squash

3 sweet dumpling squash
salt and pepper

¼ cup toasted pecans

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup red pepper, diced
1/3 cup green pepper, diced
1 small stalk of celery, diced
1/3 cup sweet, white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
¼ cup currants
1 cup chopped baby spinach

½ cup brown rice
1 ¼ cup water

Add the rice and water to a small pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 40-45 minutes. When it’s done, all the water will be absorbed and the rice fluff with a fork.

While the rice cooks, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Because of the indent in the area of the squash where the vine connects, I decided to cut lengthwise.

Spoon out the seeds in each squash half. Season the cavity with salt and pepper. Place cut-side down on a baking sheet and cook for 30-40 minutes. When it is done, you will be able to press on the skin, and it will give because the inner flesh will be softened.

While it cooks, heat up the oil in a large pan and saute the vegetables along with the salt and pepper. About half way through the cooking time, add the currants, garlic, and spinach. When the vegetable mixture is cooked till it is soft and slightly browned, transfer the mixture to a medium mixing bowl. Add the rice and the toasted pecans.

Brown the meat in the pan you used to cook the vegetables. Add the browned meat to the vegetable mixture.

Place the mixture into the squash halves. Over-stuffing is just fine!

Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Stuffed Sweet Dumpling Squash

Fall is my absolute favorite season. I love the crisp ...

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pan de Muerto: Bread of the Dead

I have a confession to make: I’ve never made anything with yeast outside of a bread machine. Even worse, every year, I bribe my students with extra credit to do something I’ve never done: make Pan de Muerto and feed us all with it!

Pan de Muerto is an essential element of the celebration of Days of the Dead. The Days of the Dead are a fascinating holiday primarily celebrated in Mexico and where populations of Mexicans thrive. Pan de Muerto is a special bread for the holiday and bakeries make an abundance of it for their customers.

The Days of the Dead honor family members who’ve passed. There is a common belief that the spirits of the dead are allowed to return on these days, so families construct altars to honor and please them. So the altars are personalized for family members, but there are some common, essential elements of which Pan de Muerto is one.

I love the entire view that the Mexican culture has about death. They don’t fear it. In fact, many Mexicans believe that life is just the first stage of existence, and death leads to the next. So the people are happy during the Days of the Dead, and visitors would see a lot of funny (and sometimes edible) images of skeletons, skulls, and the fun existence of the dead – really!

If you are interested in learning about the Days of the Dead, I recommend
Wikipedia for a captivating read.

For my Pan de Muerto, I used my favorite recipe (from tasting the results of my students). It comes from Global Gourmet. I didn’t change it at all, mainly because I didn’t know what I was doing! (he he). The texture and base of the bread reminds me of Challah, which is a favorite.

Pan de Muerto's got butter and eggs in the dough. Oh, and it has sugar and anise seeds. If you're not a big fan of the flavor of anise, don't worry! It's not at all overwhelming. In fact, the flavor of the anise is subtle and pleasant. I can say that, because I'm not a huge anise fan - yet this is my favorite recipe for this bread. Then, to make it all even better, there's a somewhat sticky and delicious orange glaze on top. Yum!

I tried to make a very traditional shape that I see in pictures, but I will admit, that my loaves came out looking like pumpkins. But the flavors where right, and I just love eating this bread. The next day, I tried making skulls and crossbones, and skulls with bones coming up the sides. Oh, and I made a bone to give to my friend, AnnMarie. Here's the spread:

So, in all, I made four huge loaves to bring to my students, and one small one (the bone) for AnnMarie, but I wanted to make sure I had a little for myself. So I made a little mini loaf that I tied to decorate with some colored sugar:

It sure was a tasty treat to have it warm, right out of the oven, no butter needed!

Well, I've done enough "talking" now, so here's the wonderful recipe.

Pan de Muerto: Bread of the Dead
Recipe by Global Gourmet

Makes 1 large loaf

For the Bread:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
5-1/2 cups flour (it will be divided and used throughout the mixing)
2 packages dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon whole anise seed
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs

For the Glaze:
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons grated orange zest

In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the butter, milk and water until very warm but not boiling.

In a large bowl, place 1-1/2 cups flour, the yeast, salt, anise seed and sugar. Add in the warm liquid you just made and mix until well combined.

A note about the mixer:
I wish I had one of those cool, Kitchen Aid standing mixers, but I don't. In fact, I think that is one of the reasons that I've always avoided making bread. Instead, I have a hand mixer. But it did come with a bread-type attachment. I began using it when I noticed that the beaters just weren't working, and the dough was climbing up to the top of them, and above. So I tried the other mixer attachments for the first time. Here's what it looked like:

Add the eggs and beat in another 1 cup of flour.

Continue adding more flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is soft but not sticky. I'll admit, I had a hard time incorporating everything. This is what I had when I flipped the dough out of the bowl and onto the counter for kneading:

Knead on lightly floured board for ten minutes until smooth and elastic. I was pleased with how the dough was looking at this time:

Lightly grease a bowl and place dough in it, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours.


At the end of 1-1/2 hours:

Punch the dough down.

Here's what I found to be the most difficult part: Shape the dough. This was something completely new to me. I have unimagined respect for bread makers at this point.

The dough is very elastic. I'd shape it into bones, and it would shrink. I'd find that some parts of it didn't stick to the main loaf well, so I tried a little egg wash. But sometimes, as the loaf sat raising again (you need to let it rise an hour once it is shaped) in it's new shape, it would unattach. Sometimes I ended up poking in toothpicks. That worked!

I shaped some of the loaves into the traditional shape (shown at the top of this post), but I also tried some loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or round loaves with "bones" placed ornamentally around the top.

Once the dough is shaped, let these loaves rise for 1 hour before baking.


Bake in a preheated 350 F degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and paint on glaze.

For the Glaze:
Bring all the ingredients to a boil for 2 minutes, then apply to bread with a pastry brush. If desired, sprinkle on colored sugar while glaze is still damp.

Pan de Muerto: Bread of the Dead

I have a confession to make: I’ve never made ...

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