Sunday, July 31, 2011

Homemade Pita Bread

Making bread is so satisfying and making homemade pita bread was just plain fun.  Simple as can be with just a few ingredients and the most basic of bread making techniques, and the end results are magic pockets of bready goodness!!

Serve these pitas cut in wedges with refreshing cucumber tzatziki or hummus as dips or stuff with falafal or grilled steak or lamb and some fresh tomatoes and lettuce for a satisfying dinner. I know I'll be making my own pita bread from now on when I'm inspired to cook Mediterranean.

PITA BREAD (Arabic Pocket Bread)

Prep. time: about 2 hours (most of which is raising time)
Yield: 6 larger (or 12 smaller) pocket breads

1 cup wrist-temp. water
1 1/2 teaspoons (half of a 1/4-oz. packet) active dry yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar or honey
1 teaspoon salt
about 3 1/2 cups of flour (I substituted 1 cup of whole wheat flour)
a little oil for the dough
extra flour for rolling out

1) Place the water in a medium-sized bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes-it will become foamy.

2) Add sugar or honey and salt. Stir until everything dissolves.

3) Add three cups of flour, one cup at a time, mixing enthusiastically with a whisk. As the dough thickens, switch to a wooden spoon and, eventually, your hand. Knead the dough in the bowl for a few minutes, adding up to 1/2 cup more flour, as needed, to combat stickiness. When the dough is smooth, oil both the bowl and the top surface of the dough. Cover with a clean tea towel, and let rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in bulk.
4) Punch down the dough and transfer it to a clean, floured surface. Knead it for about five minutes, then divide it into 6 equal pieces  Knead each little unit for a few minutes, then use a rolling pin to flatten it into a very thin circle. (Make sure there is plenty of flour underneath!) The diameter of each circle is unimportant, as long as it is no thicker than 1/8 inch. Let the circles rest for 30 minutes.
5) Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Place a baking tray in the oven for a minute or two, to heat it. Then brush it with oil - or dust it with corn meal. Place as many circles on the tray as will fit without touching, and bake for just 6-8 minutes, or until puffed up and very lightly browned.
6) Remove from the oven, and wrap the breads in a clean, slightly damp tea rowel, then place in a brown paper bag, close up, for 15 minutes. This will keep the breads supple. (if you'd prefer the pita bread crisp and cracker like, bake 10-12 minutes and simply cool on a rack.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Vietnamese Chocolate Truffle Iced Coffee

During the summer it is a rare thing for me to make an iced coffee at home. Unsweetened ice tea is my usual go-to refreshing beverage.  Recently, because I'm a publisher on the Foodbuzz food blog community, I received two 12 oz. bags of coffee from Godiva as part of a Foodbuzz Tastemaker program.  I'm sure everyone is familiar with Godiva's ethereal chocolates, but who knew they produce flavored coffees also. 
My wonderful gift box contained a bag of French Vanilla and one of Chocolate Truffle.  They also have a Hazelnut Creme flavor.  I have to say The Husband and I are not really fans of flavored coffees for our morning blend, but as an iced drink they couldn't be more appropriate.

My iced coffee drink was concoction of my own making; Vietnamese Chocolate Truffle Iced Coffee.  Now that's quite a title.  I have read of methods to make a cold brew coffee concentrate which creates a strong, smooth blend of coffee. The finished results was an extremely strong concentrate that you can add hot water to for regular coffee or prepare as an iced beverage.  I'll give you a brief run through of the process.  My measurements for the condensed milk and regular milk is variable.  It's all a matter of taste.

Vietnamese Chocolate Truffle Iced Coffee

1 cup of coffee grounds
1 3/4 cups of cold water
Condensed milk
Milk, half and half, or heavy cream

1)  Put 1 cup of coffee grounds and 1 3/4 cup of cold water in a bowl. Stir to ensure all of the grounds are moistened.  Cover and let steep for at least 8 hours at room temperature.

2)  Line a fine meshed strainer with a coffee filter or double layer of cheesecloth.  Pour coffee mixture through strainer slowly and let drip until the majority of the liquid has seeped through into a receiving container.
3)  Fill a glass with ice.  Fill glass 3/4 full with coffee concentrate.  Add 3-4 tablespoons of condensed milk and 2 tablespoons of milk, half and half, or heavy cream and stir well. 
When I poured in the milk I immediately thought of Carly Simon's song Your So Vain and the line about "clouds in my coffee."  The end result is a wonderful caramel colored beverage. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Berries In The Valley

It's finally berry season here in the beautiful Willamette valley. Nothing beats our strawberries, Marionberries, and raspberries.  Though we had another wet Spring and early Summer, the strawberries have been delicious. 
In honor of them, I made a Victorian Sponge Cake layered with homemade strawberry jam using the recipe featured from my blog previously. The Victorian Sponge cake is a very traditional cake in England and is often the test of a true home cook at their country fairs.  For you local readers, think Gerry Frank's Oregon State Fair Chocolate Cake Contest, without the chocolate!  It is said to have been the favorite cake of Queen Victoria.

This is a plain cake but the flavor was great and the strawberry jam, or any other preserves you like, really makes the cake.  With a slice of this cake, a cup of tea, and a vivid imagination, I was in England again!

Victorian Sponge Cake

3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup softened butter
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/4 cup jam
Confectioner's sugar to dust the top of cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8 inch cake pans and line the bases of each with parchment paper, then spray with baking spray. 

Lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla extract.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk the butter with the sugar until the mixture is pale, light and fluffy.  Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition.  Sift the flour over the the top and fold in lightly until the mixture is smooth.
Divide the mixture between the prepared pans.  Cook for 20 minutes until golden and firm to the touch.  Leave the cakes to cool in the pans for a few minutes then carefully turn out onto a cooking rack.  Leave to cool completely.
When the cakes are cold, sandwich the two halves together with the jam.  Sift the confectioners sugar on top.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Homemade Fudgesicles

Taking a bite of these icy chocolate fudgesicles took me right back through the time machine to Lulu D. Haddon Elementary School cafeteria on ice cream day.  The flavor and texture of these are very reminiscent of those ice cream treats but the good thing about this recipe is that they are non-fat.  I used skim milk, though you could probably use a higher fat content milk if you so desired.  Mix the ingredients together, give them a quick simmer over the stove, pour into popsicle molds and then be patient.  It's as easy as that.  Enjoy!

Homemade Fudgesicles

2 cups low fat or skim milk
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp corn syrup or agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, cocoa powder, sugar, corn syrup (or agave syrup) and vanilla extract. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, and cook just until all of the sugar and cocoa powder is dissolved. Pour hot mixture into popsicle molds and freeze overnight, or until solid.
Makes 6-8 large popsicles (depending on the size of your molds)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Summer Fruit Dessert

It was time to clean out the refrigerator freezer last weekend. Along with the unidentified foil packets filled with mystery meats (all of which I tossed), I found two freezer bags filled with blueberries from our backyard bushes. I knew I must put them to good use pronto as these same bushes are currently full of flowers and soon will be bearing lots more berries. 

There are such wonderful fruit desserts that have the most quaint names such as cobblers, buckles, grunts, betty's, etc. and I opted for a buckle.  This website gives great definitions for the differences in all these types of desserts. It says the buckle is similar to a crisp in that it has a streusel-like topping and when baked, it comes out with a buckled appearance.  This is a delicious, moist cake thanks to the buttermilk with a slight lemon taste which really compliments the blueberries.  It made for a wonderful brunch contribution.

Blueberry Buckle

Crumb Topping

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
dash salt
1/4 cup room temp unsalted butter, cubed

In a small bowl, sift the flour, sugar, and salt. Using a fork or your fingers, mix in the butter until pea size crumbs form. Store crumb topping in freezer.


1 1/2 plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp room temp unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups blueberries (If still frozen, allow for extra cooking time)

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, forming the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, using a stand mixer or hand held mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest. Add one egg at a time to the mixing bowl, mixing after each addition.

Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and 1/2 of the buttermilk and vanilla. Mix.
Add another third of the dry ingredients and the final half of the butter milk. Mix.
Add the remaining third of the dry ingredients. Mix.
Fold in 1 cup of blueberries.
Spread cake batter evenly over a greased 9×9 baking container of your choice. Sprinkle the remaining cup of blueberries over top.

Remove crumb topping from freezer and spread over the berries. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes until it starts to brown.