Rosemary Bread

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This amazing bread tastes just like the bread at a popular Italian restaurant. It has a deliciously salty crust with a soft, rosemary flavored interior. It freezes well, so you can store extra slices in the freezer – if it lasts that long!

1 cup warm water (115 degrees)
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups bread flour, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

In a large bowl, mix together the warm water and yeast. Let stand several minutes, until a foam forms, indicating that the yeast is alive.

Add 1 cup of the bread flour to the yeast mixture, and mix for about 2 minutes with a hand mixer on medium-low speed. You can use a whisk instead, if you prefer. This will beat air into the dough. Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes to 2 hours. This allows the mixture to ferment a bit and improves both the taste and texture of the bread.

Add the olive oil, sugar, salt, pepper, rosemary, and remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour, and mix well with a large wooden spoon until the ingredients are well incorporated.

Place the dough on a clean countertop and knead for about 12-20 minutes, or until the dough is very smooth and elastic. This recipe uses “wet” dough, which means that it will be very sticky and difficult to knead in the traditional method. I found the French method of kneading, which you can see demonstrated on this video, works well. Expect the dough to stick to your hands at first, but if it is really unmanageable, add a little bit of flour to make the dough easier to work with. This kneading method takes time, but the results are worth it!

After kneading, place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough in oil. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. In the winter, I usually let my dough rise in a closed oven with the oven light turned on.

Punch down the dough and dump it out onto the counter. Shape it into a round (boule) by tucking the edges of the dough under in a cupping motion, to form a tight ball shape. Turn the ball upside down and pinch the bottom of the dough together to help maintain the round shape. Sprinkle a baking stone with cornmeal and place the dough on the baking stone to rise until doubled in size, about an hour. If you don’t have a baking stone, place the dough on a lightly greased baking pan instead.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Once the dough is fully risen, bake it for 20-30 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned. Remove the bread from the oven, lightly brush it with olive oil and then sprinkle it will coarse sea salt. Let the bread cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Serve the bread with olive oil for dipping, or as a tasty accompaniment to your dinner.

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Chocolate Banana Bread with Walnuts

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It has been cold and wet this week so I have been in a bit of a baking frenzy. I started the week with this amazing chocolate banana bread. The chocolate adds some decadence to this moist bread and changes simple breakfast bread into a sweet treat.

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup), softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 overripe bananas
3/4 cup unbleached flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (or use all unbleached flour)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork, then stir into the butter mixture.

In a medium bowl, add the unbleached flour, white whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder. Use a whisk to stir the dry ingredients together until well combined.

Gradually mix the flour mixture into the banana mixture. Mix in the milk, and then stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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Pumpkin Bread

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This quick bread is an excellent way to enjoy one of my favorite fall flavors: pumpkin. It’s also relatively healthy considering there isn’t any butter or oil – not to mention the boatload of vitamin A! This moist and spice-filled bread tastes like pumpkin pie (and is just as good as a certain coffee-house pumpkin bread, in my opinion). This recipe makes 3 loaves: one to eat now, one to share with friends, and one for the freezer to enjoy later.

Cinnamon and sugar for dusting the baking pans
3 cups canned pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
3 cups white sugar
6 eggs
4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
Chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a small bowl, combine cinnamon (about 1/2 teaspoon) and sugar (about 1/4 cup). Grease three loaf pans (I used two 9×5 pans and one 8×5 pan), and sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar mixture.

In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin, applesauce, sugar, and eggs. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; gradually stir into the pumpkin mixture until well blended.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. If desired, sprinkle chopped walnuts on top. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the top browns and springs back when lightly pressed. Let cool, and enjoy!

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Buttery Dinner Rolls

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Just in time for Thanksgiving, here is my favorite recipe for dinner rolls. These rolls are so buttery and flaky that they don’t even need any butter (and that is coming from a butter-lover!). They freeze wonderfully, so you can make them ahead of time and then store the rolls in the freezer until you need them.

1 cup warm milk (70 to 80 degrees F)
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups bread flour

In a large bowl, mix together the warm milk, sugar, and yeast, until the yeast is dissolved (or mostly dissolved). Let stand for about 10 minutes to proof the yeast (I found that the yeast won’t foam as much in milk, as it does when mixed with water). Mix in the remaining ingredients, until a rough dough is formed.

Pour the dough out onto a clean counter (no water or flour necessary) and knead for about 10 minutes. The dough will be sticky at first, but will become very smooth and tacky after several minutes of kneading. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and let rise for about an hour in a warm place (a closed oven with the oven light turned on works well).

Punch down the dough and divide it into 24 pieces; shape each piece into a ball. Place the dough balls into a greased 13×9 inch baking dish. Cover with a dishtowel and let rise until doubled (15-30 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. If desired, brush the tops of the rolls with melted butter. Bake for about 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool, then pull apart the rolls and enjoy!

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Banana Sour Cream Bread

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This is my favorite banana bread recipe. The addition of sour cream makes it super moist, and I love the cinnamon-sugar flavor on the crust. Click here to view the original recipe, which yields four loaves (I reduced the ingredients to make only two loaves).

2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 (16 ounce) container sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease two 7×3 loaf pans. (Note: if you have larger loaf pans, you may be able to fit all of the batter into one loaf pan; just be sure to increase the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and allow for extra baking time.) In a small bowl, mix together the 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Dust pans lightly with cinnamon-sugar mixture.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar (don’t worry if it doesn’t get “creamy”, just be sure to mix it well).  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well. Stir in the mashed bananas, sour cream, vanilla, and cinnamon. Add the salt, baking soda, and flour and mix well. Then stir in the walnuts. Pour the mixture into the prepared pans.

Bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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Spiced Lentils with Garlic Naan

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Back in my corporate working-girl days, I would usually make an annual trip overseas to collaborate with my project team members who worked outside of the United States. About five years ago, one such trip took me to Bangalore, India. Although I liked Indian food (at least the “Indian-American” food that I was used to), I was nervous about the food I would encounter in India and was cautious about what I ate while I was there. Every time my travel companions and I went out to eat during our two week stay in Bangalore, I always ordered dhal – just to be safe. If you’re not familiar with dhal, it is an Indian dish made with lentils (among other things). Lentils were familiar and safe, and also really delicious. I was occasionally adventurous enough to sample other Indian dishes that my friends and Indian co-workers ordered, but dhal remained my favorite dish.

This recipe doesn’t compare to the dhal I ate in India, but it is full of comforting flavor and aromatic spices, and my family devoured it. My two-year-old (who ate two bowls), said “Mmm, delicious!” after her first bite. That’s my girl!

I made some yummy naan bread from scratch (see recipe below) to accompany the lentils, but if you’re pressed for time, most grocery stores sell naan in the frozen aisle or bakery. Either way, be sure to include the naan . . . it wouldn’t be an Indian meal without it!

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons Olive Oil and Garlic spaghetti sauce
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons garam masala (find it in the spice aisle of your grocery store)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups lentils
1 large carrot, diced
1 tablespoon heavy cream (optional)
Sour cream (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until the onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, spaghetti sauce, cumin, garam masala, salt, black pepper, and chili powder. Cook and stir for about 2 minutes, or until the spices are fragrant.

Stir in the chicken broth, lentils, and carrot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the lentils are soft, about 40 minutes.

Using a ladle, pour about 2 cups of the lentils (be sure to include some of the liquid) into a blender, and puree until smooth. Pour the pureed lentils back into the pot and continue to puree the lentils (2 cups at a time) until about half of the lentils are pureed. If desired, stir in 1 tablespoon of heavy cream. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and warm naan bread.

Garlic Naan

This is a great recipe for naan bread. I used to be intimidated by the thought of working with yeast, but I really enjoy the process of making bread from scratch now. The payoff of fresh, warm bread is so worth the effort.  You’ll probably start seeing that I post more bread recipes now that the weather is cooling off and we’re approaching baking season! Hooray!! Cookies and roasts and bread, oh my!

Anyway, back to the naan. It’s really delicious and I encourage you to give this recipe a try. You can find the original recipe here. My version below includes a few changes with the dough rising times and some tips to help ensure that you get perfectly soft and tender results. Be sure to use bread flour which is higher in protein than standard flour, which helps give the bread more volume.

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup white sugar, divided
3 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 cups bread flour (approximately)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup butter, melted

In a large bowl, add the yeast, warm water (about 110 degrees), and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Stir until the yeast is dissolved and then let stand until frothy, about 15 minutes. Stir in the remaining sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough (I used about 3 1/2 cups of flour).

Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a floured surface, or until smooth. While you are kneading the dough, you will be gradually adding small amounts of flour to the dough to give it the proper consistency. The best way to do this, without adding too much flour, is to put a pile of flour next to your kneading surface and when the dough starts to feel too sticky, dip the heel of your hands into the flour and work it into the dough. Continue this until the dough is very smooth and feels tacky (but not sticky) when you pull it away from the counter (like pulling a Post-It note off of a piece of paper). If you need more help with kneading, there is lots of great information (including videos) on the Internet.

Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise. Let it rise 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in volume. If your house is cool, you may want to put the bowl in the oven and turn the oven light on, or in the microwave and leave the door slightly open so the light will stay on. The light will generate the heat the dough needs to rise.

Punch down the dough, and knead in the minced garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls, and place on a lightly-oiled baking sheet. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat your grill to medium heat. On a lightly floured surface, roll the balls of dough out into very thin circles. Be sure to roll them as thin as you can. Lightly oil the grill. Place the dough on the grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy. Brush the uncooked side with butter, and then turn over. Brush the cooked side with butter, and cook for another 2 to 4 minutes. The naan will get tough if you cook it too long, so watch carefully and turn down the heat, if needed. Remove from grill, and serve warm.

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Balsamic Chicken Pasta with Olive Oil Toast

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I created this recipe last week when I wanted a meal that was easy to prepare and had to work with the ingredients that I had in my kitchen.  This is a quick and simple recipe, but the chicken needs to marinate for several hours, so be sure to start that step in advance.

1/2 cup olive oil vinaigrette salad dressing
1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (depending on how much you like it)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
Spaghetti (enough for 4 servings)
Olive oil
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning, with juice
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes

Add the salad dressing, balsamic vinegar, and chicken to a large zipper bag and marinate in the refrigerator for 4-8 hours.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until just under-done. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Add the marinated chicken (discard any remaining marinade) and sauté until cooked thoroughly. Remove the chicken from the pan; add another tablespoon of olive oil and the diced onions.  Sauté the onions for 1-2 minutes, then add the can of diced tomatoes (including the juice). Reduce heat to low, and then run a spatula around the bottom of the pan to scrape up any brown bits. Return the chicken to the pan, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

When the spaghetti is done, drain it, reserving about ½ cup of the cooking water.  Add the spaghetti and cooking water to the pan with the chicken and simmer, uncovered, for 1-2 minutes, or until the spaghetti is al-dente. Just before serving sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the top. Serve with Olive Oil Toast (recipe below).

Olive Oil Toast

Crispy. Salty. Yummy. The perfect accompaniment to a hot bowl of pasta. I used a loaf of pugliese bread from my grocer’s bakery counter, but you can substitute any chewy Italian bread. Buy a big loaf . . . leftover Italian bread makes excellent French Toast!

Italian bread loaf (pugliese, ciabatta, etc), cut into ½ inch slices
Olive oil
Sea salt

Pour olive oil into a shallow bowl (about 1/4 inch deep). Heat a skillet over medium heat. Put a slice of bread into the bowl of olive oil and completely coat both sides of the bread. Then put the slice into the hot skillet and cook until the bottom is golden brown. Flip the bread and finish cooking the other side. Remove the cooked bread to a plate lined with a paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat for remaining bread slices. Serve warm.

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