Getting Back To Basics


The other day I was chatting on facebook with my friends and fellow bloggers Anita and Christine (Go visit them btw; they are both far more awesome bloggers than I) with the conversation being about food of course. Part of the subject matter was the fear people have of working with yeast. It’s a fear, that while I can understand it (yeast can be dead and you end up with a hockey puck… water too hot, you end up with a hockey puck, water too cold… hockey puck yada yada yada) I don’t have that fear. I think I was lucky. I started working with yeast back when I was a very young cook, about 20ish or so. In my naivete I didn’t realize I had anything to be scared of. There was no internet back then thus no horror stories, plus I was a young wife living in Germany and had no one to compare notes with and cooked on my own. So I made things with yeast. Did I start with easy white bread? Oh heck no. Again, no fear and lots of beginners luck. The first things I made were home made croissants and sticky buns, both of which can be temperamental and really AREN’T for beginners but I didn’t know that.  They turned out fine so thus began my relationship with yeast. We’ve gotten along fine through the years. There have been some arguments… yeast always won. But I’ve learned that if I treat it gently and keep it comfy and cozy temp wise, all is good.

But I’ve come to realize that there are a LOT of people who are leery of working with yeast. So here is Grandma Jan 😛 to explain how downright easy it is! Seriously… it’s easy. If you can cook, you can make a yeast dough. If you have ANY experiencing baking, you can make a yeast dough. So, before I get to the recipe, I’ll just give a few small tips.

1) Watch your water temp. Overly hot water/liquid kills your yeast in a heartbeat and water/liquid that is too cold will still eventually give you a risen dough, but it will take a LOT longer and if you’re new, you may wonder why your dough isn’t rising and give up thinking you’ve screwed up.

2) Use the new Platinum yeast from Red Star. It has added dough conditioners and it makes a difference in the final product. If you can’t find it though, use regular yeast…. it’s still fine

3) Knead knead knead. Under kneading seems to be the biggest mistake people make. If doing it in a stand mixer, follow the directions in the recipe. If kneading by hand, do the same. Kneading develops the gluten in the dough which gives you the texture you want. If the recipe says to knead for ten minutes, set a timer and knead for ten minutes. Also, the first few times you make bread, please, knead by hand. You need to develop a feel for what well kneaded bread dough should feel like. You’re looking for firm springy smooth rather elastic dough most of the time (unless the recipe says otherwise) And it’s a great arm workout hehe.

4) have your ingredients ready. Nine times out of ten, you will mix your yeast with water and let it proof while you do other things. But it’s usually for just a few minutes and then you continue on. So if there is another liquid that must be heated and cooled, have that already done so that your yeast isn’t turning into a the blob that ate Manhattan while you wait for something to cool.  And have your ingredients at room temp. You should always do that ANYWAY when baking but it matters more with a bread dough. This particular recipe calls for two egg yolks and you really don’t want to take ice cold eggs and mix them with your yeast as that throw off the temp. Bottom line? It’s not hard… you just need to remember some little things.

Ok, on to the recipe. This one is from Ina Garten and it’s awesome. The dough is wonderful! If you’ve made bread before, you know what I mean. This is so smooth, so elastic and so easy to work with. Not sticky at all but not too floury. It’s a great one for the beginner and quick for the experienced. The bread is soft with a good chew and a wonderful smell!

Classic Honey White Bread

  • 1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F; no more than 117 or so)
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, heated and cooled to 110 to 115 degrees
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled (plus more for the top of the finished loaves if desired)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 extra large egg yolks (I only had large eggs and 2 of those yolks worked fine)
  • 5 to 6 cups all purpose flour (I used bread flour and ended up needing 5 and 1/3 cups. You may need a bit more or less depending on the temp in your house, humidity, moistness level of the flour, etc. You want to end up with a firm not sticky but not rock hard dough)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  1. Place the water in a measuring cup. Add the yeast and the sugar; stir and allow it to sit for about five minutes.
  2. Add the milk, honey, butter and yeast to the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on medium speed until blended.  Add the egg yolks, 3 cups of the flour and the salt.mix on low speed for five minutes.
  3. Keep the mixer on low and add 2 more cups of flour. Turn the mixer off and scrape the sides of the bowl. Raise the speed to medium and slowly add just enough more flour so that the dough comes away from the bowl and isn’t sticking to the sides. If you don’t have a stand mixer, the best way to do the mixing is with a heavy wooden spoon.
  4. Knead on medium speed for eight minutes. If hand kneading, dump the dough out onto a LIGHTLY floured board or counter and knead for eight minutes, until the dough is smooth, springy feeling and elastic.
  5. If doing in the mixer, when time is up, dump your dough out and knead for a minute or two. Grease a large bowl with butter. Put the dough in it, smushing it around to butter the bottom, then turn it over so that the bottom is now on top. Cover the bowl with a very slightly damp towel and put in a warm place to rise. While the bread is kneading, I turn the oven on to it’s lowest setting, let it get there then turn the oven off and crack the door a tiny bit. By the time the kneading is done, It should be about 85 degrees or so in the oven which is a perfect temp to rise bread dough at.
  6. Let the dough rise until it has pretty much doubled in bulk.
  7. Punch the dough down, turn it out and cut it in half. Shape each half into a loaf and put into two buttered loaf pans.
  8. Put back in the warm oven (or other warm place) and let rise again, also until doubled. It should be nicely risen to about an inch or so above the top of the loaf pan.
  9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the loaves for about 40 to 45 minutes or until it is a light golden brown and has a rather hollow sound when tapped on top.
  10.  Let sit in the pans on a wire rack for two to three minutes, then carefully turn out of the pan onto the rack to finish cooling.
  11. Take a loaf of bread, some butter and a jar of jam into the closet, hide from the kids and eat bread and read a trashy novel. I won’t tell.

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Now It’sThai(m) For Something Completely Different


I'm never going to be a world class photographer but what my photos don't show is that the food I make is darn good :-)

I’m never going to be a world class photographer but what my photos don’t show is that the food I make is darn good 🙂

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself there. I managed to find a way to mix one of my favorite shows (Monty Python) with a really really… no, I mean REALLY bad pun based on one of my favorites types of food.

It was “snack night” here in the Cupcakes household. We have that far more often than I’d like to admit to. But most of you can probably identify with it. You have every intention of cooking but this pesky thing called life gets in the way. Today life meant Wal Mart. Jordans homebound teacher was here and then we had to go to Wal-Mart to get his meds so by the time we got home, it was too late to make the wings I had planned on making. So frozen pizza came to the rescue. The problem with that is that while the guys like frozen pizza, I’m not a fan. Not of it or of fast food which is the other snack night staple. So I usually end up making myself a Lean Cuisine; preferably Salmon With Basil or eating junk food which I know is bad for me.

But tonight at Wally World, I saw a reduced chub of ground turkey that was calling to me, saying “Janet… Jannnnnetttttt, take me homeeeeee. Cook meeeeee… you know you want meeeee.” I wasn’t sure whether to be frightened or aroused so I grabbed it and hid it in the cart under the Oreos. Then came figuring out what to do with it. As hubby and I walked to the car (God; I once said I would never refer to my husband in print as “hubby” and look at me. How the mighty have fallen.) I was reeling off possible ingredients to use to make meatballs from it, at which point he told me he hated me because I was able to visualize a dish in my mind without a recipe whereas he can barely do that WITH a recipe. I don’t think he was appeased when I said that maybe I could do that, but I sure couldn’t chop wood the way HE could. Go figure.

So in the end, I decided to try to make a version of sauced Thai meatballs from it. If I do say so myself, it turned out pretty darn good. The eating parties were torn only about whether I should omit the lime zest from the sauce with me saying it needed to go and my husband saying it was yummy as it was. So I’m going to put the lime zest as optional. All in all though, I was pleased with these. The meatballs were tender and flavorful; the sauce was sweet, hot, sour and salty all in one, which is a combo that can’t be beat. How authentically Thai they are I couldn’t tell you. Call them Americanized Thai. Whatever you call them, try them. They’re yummy! Now to see if I can remember the ingredients correctly hehe.

Saucy Thai Turkey Meatballs

      • MEATBALLS-
      • 1 pound ground turkey
      • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
      • 1 egg yolk
      • 2 green onions, finely minced
      • 1 stalk celery, finely minced
      • 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
      • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
      • 2 cloves minced garlic
      • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
      • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
      • 2 tablespoons Spice Hunters Thai Seasoning Blend (I wish I could give some sub if you don’t have it but it has some ingredients not readily available at the grocery store. Just trust me and go buy some. This stuff has SO many uses it’s worth getting some just because)
      • 1 teaspoon fish sauce (Nam Pla… you can’t taste the fishiness. I promise)
      • 2 teaspoons orange zest
      • 1/4 cup Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
      • SAUCE-
      • 1/4 cup honey
      • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
      • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
      • 2 cloves minced garlic
      • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
      • 1 teaspoon grated lime zest (optional)
      • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
      • 1/4 cup sweet Thai chili sauce
  1. Meatballs- easy peasy, all those other weird ways of saying it doesn’t take much to do this. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and Just get a large mixing bowl and using your hands or a large wooden spoon if you’re squeamish, mix everything together.
  2. Shape into golf ball sized meatballs (you can do them smaller, but this is what I chose. I got 14 meatballs out of this) and put onto a foil lined, greased baking sheet.
  3. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer stuck into one reads at about 160 degrees. If you remember, turn them once during cooking so they brown evenly. If you don’t it isn’t that big of a deal.
  4. Sauce- while meatballs cook, prepare your sauce.
  5. In a medium saucepan, combine all sauce ingredients. While stirring, bring to a boil. Turn off and remove from heat..
  6. When  sauce is done, you have the option of straining it to get rid of the garlic pieces. Personal choice. I wanted it smoother looking so I did but if you really want the little bits of garlic and don’t mind the look of them, keep them in there. Otherwise, strain through a fine mesh strainer. Then set side until the meatballs are done.
  7. When meatballs are done, toss them GENTLY in the sauce.  Sprinkle with more minced green onions and sesame seeds.Serve over a bed of rice (preferably Basmati) or rice noodles.


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Cocoa Brownies With Browned Butter And A Raspberry Swirl

Cocoa Brownies With Browned Butter And A Raspberry Swirl

Now you all know me. I am not prone to rhapsodizing foods as the “best ever” (suddenly hopes that there are no posts I’m forgetting that say something is the best ever). That of course doesn’t count Cheetos and Twinkies *has a moment of silence for Twinkies…as I do each day*

But these brownies really are the best ever. At least the best I’VE had. And c’mon folks, I’m 48 years old… that’s a lot of brownie eating years to cover. I’ve had boxed prepackaged brownies, Little Debbie brownies (to which I admit having a soft spot for even though I am fairly sure that there is not even ONE real food in them), mix brownies, so called gourmet brownies, burned to a crisp brownies (don’t ask… it wasn’t pretty.) brownies made with chopped chocolate, brownies made with cocoa, blondies, brownies red headed step child and so on and so forth. I’ve eaten a lot of brownies.

I was always convinced that I preferred ones made with unsweetened chocolate blocks or something like that as opposed to ones made with cocoa. I’m not sure why really; just that the one seemed richer than the other I guess and in my mind, that equated to better brownies. So when I first saw this recipe, I wasn’t sure about them since they use cocoa powder. But the idea of using browned butter intrigued me and man oh man, am I ever glad I did. These are hands down my favorite brownie now. And my husband agrees with me. I don’t count the kids because they’re kids… they would eat chocolate flavored cat littler if I served it. But yes, they liked these too. The ones here count as the third time I’ve made them since before Christmas. Point there being that this time, I was ready to experiment a bit beyond the regular recipe. Not much however. Just added about 1/3 of a cup of raspberry preserves to them (swirled on) before baking and I didn’t use the walnuts this time. But I would seriously suggest making these plain and as per the recipe the first time. One, just to get the hang of it, two, to enjoy these in all their pure chocolatey goodness. After that though, this recipes would lend itself to many variations… and I plan on trying them many ways hehe

Another wonderful thing about this recipe? You don’t need a bowl. This all gets mixed right in the saucepan. Can’t beat that… amazing taste AND easy.

Cocoa Brownies With Browned Butter And A Raspberry Swirl

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened powder (NOT drink mix)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee (optional; my addition. You can’t taste it, it just rounds out the chocolate flavor)
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 2 large eggs, cold from the fridge
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup walnut pieces
  • 1/3 cup raspberry preserves or jam (optional)
  1. Position oven rack in the bottom third of oven and preheat to 325 degrees.
  2. Lightly butter an 8×8 square baking pan and then line with parchment paper. Lightly butter the paper or spray with cooking spray.
  3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the butter isn’t foaming anymore and there are browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir often and keep an eye on this. It can go from lovely browned butter to a smelly burned mess in no time flat. This will probably take about 5 minutes or so.
  4. Remove from the heat and immediately add in the cocoa, sugar, water, vanilla and salt. Stir well.
  5. Let cool five minutes. Add the cold eggs to the hot mixture, one at a time, beating well (by hand) after each addition. When the mixture is thick and glossy, add in the flour. Beat for 60 strokes.  I won’t tell anyone however if you do it 61 or even 59. It’s ok. We’re a flexible crowd.
  6. Stir in nuts if using. Spread batter into the prepared pan. This would be the time to swirl in jam if you wanted to do that.
  7. Bake at 325 for about 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out almost, but not quite, clean. Cool the pan on a rack then lift out by the edges of the paper. Cut into 16 squares. Or just leave it in the pan, ladle whipped cream on top, get a spoon and get gloriously ill. Your choice.