Saturday, January 25, 2014

Tasty Croutons

It's my mother-in-law's 80th birthday and there's a surprise party for her back in the city. Everybody's bringing something tasty, and we've been asked to bring a caesar salad. If you can't swing everything from scratch, at least don't scrimp on the croutons. These are fantastic. I adapted the recipe from one I found on Epicurious

Garlic-Parmesan Herbed Croutons

2 large garlic cloves, chopped small
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ cup olive oil
4 tbsp butter
1 loaf of nice bread, cut into crouton-sized cubes
4 tbsp finely grated parmesan

Preheat your oven to 350. In a small saucepan combine the garlic, the oregano, the basil, the thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, the pepper, butter and the oil and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. In a large bowl toss the bread cubes with the oil mixture, spread them in a jelly-roll pan, and bake them in the middle of the oven for 8 minutes. Sprinkle the croutons with the Parmesan and bake them for 7 minutes more, or until they are golden. Let them cool before storing in an airtight container until you're ready to serve them. They're great on soup or salad.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Peeking Pear Breakfast Bread

D and I recently moved from Brooklyn, New York to a small city called Troy 15 miles north of Albany. We were supremely lucky to find an amazing Victorian house that's over 100 years old--perfect for hosting and entertaining guests. We had a wonderful housewarming party with our new neighbors and friends shortly after we moved in, but the first big event was a sleepover with 12 friends from the city, our annual post-holiday reGifting party.  

In addition to scaling up the amenities, I wanted to surprise my guests with a fun breakfast treat, and saw a recipe for a poached, whole-pear bread in Cooking Light magazine. I made the batter before my guests arrived the night before, and then, as everyone was heading off to bed, I poached the pears and baked the bread. Some curious friends stayed behind to see how it turned out.

Peeking Pear Maple Stout Breakfast Bread

1 3/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp softened butter 
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla 
1/2 cup stout beer
1/2 cup vanilla or plain yogurt
5 tbsp maple syrup
3 pears
1/2 cup sugar 
3 cups water

Heat three cups of water with 1/2 cup sugar, stirring to dissolve. Add in the pears, whole with the stems, to poach for about 8 minutes or until tender. Remove from the water. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat sugar and eggs in a mixer; add eggs one at a time. Add the rest of the wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, sift the dry ingredients and then add to the wet a little at a time. 

Lightly dust the pears with flour and cut the bottoms off of the pears so that they sit evenly in a greased loaf pan. Pour the batter around the pears so that the batter is evenly distributed. Rinse the remaining flour from the stems. Pop in the oven for about 45 minutes, but monitor to see when the bread has risen, the sides come away from the pan, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

Remove from the baking pan to a cutting board and slice decoratively to show the pear slices. Serve with good coffee. Bask in the compliments. 

  I just had to share this last picture. As the light was coming into the kitchen window, it shone through a pear slice like a stained glass window. Beautiful.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year Oats!

Bringing in the New Year with a steaming hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast at 1 pm was good and nice.

2013 was a big year for me: From January 2013, I was involved in a 6-month intensive campaign to pass important women's rights legislation that fell victim to ugly state capital politics; D and I moved from our small but wonderful Brooklyn apartment to a big beautiful house in Troy, New York; and just as we were getting settled, my father became very ill and passed away a few days after Christmas.

So for 2014, I am wishing for some simple things: Peace for my mother, time for calm and quiet and watching birds, the joy of friendship, and contemplative expression.

D and I drove five hours back home to Troy on New Years Eve to take care of some business before heading back to PA for my father's funeral, so we were on the road at midnight, and then got some much-needed sleep.

There wasn't much in the way of fresh food in the house, but all you need are some staples to have a healthy and tasty breakfast. The basic recipe is below; this morning, we used turbinado sugar, chopped pecans, and dried blueberries.

Stovetop Oatmeal

1 cup rolled oats
3 cups water
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sweet (any kind of granulated sugar; honey, or syrup)
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup dried or fresh fruit
1 tsp cinnamon

Bring water and salt to a boil on your stovetop. Add the oats and stir. Then add in the nuts and the cinnamon. Stir over the heat until the oatmeal is a desired consistency. Add water as needed. Enjoy!