Orange Essence Zucchini Bread

Zucchini is one of the most abundant fall vegetables here in the US.  And zucchini bread is one of the most popular ways to use it up, especially when your garden produces an abundance of overgrown, deep green squash.  While I don’t have a garden (just a few tomato plants on my patio), one of my associates at work has generously shared this years zucchini crop.

Quick breads often seem more like cake than bread, and I’m ok with that.  Classic zucchini bread is so comforting and delicious!  However, I wanted my zucchini bread to really stand apart, so I started baking.  And baking.  And baking.  I don’t know how many loaves and muffins I’ve given away in my quest for the perfect bread, but it’s been a lot!  However, it has been well worth it because I really do believe that this is the best zucchini bread I’ve ever had.  It’s subtly sweet with just a hint of orange while still maintaining that classic zucchini bread flavor.  If you like to drizzle yours with a sweet glaze, I’ve included directions for a quick orange glaze that perfectly compliments it.  I hope it’s your new favorite!

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest from 1 large orange
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts or unsalted pistachios (optional)

Orange Glaze (optional):
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed orange juice
¼ teaspooon orange zest

Makes about 2 full-sized loaves, 4 mini-loaves, or about 24 muffins.
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Directions:

Prepare your loaf pan or muffin tins.  I highly recommend using parchment if you’re making loaves because, for some reason, this bread seems to stick to my stoneware EVERY time if I don’t.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 C)

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest off the orange being careful to get as little white pith as possible.  Toss the orange peel and the granulated sugar into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulverize until the peel is very finely minced into the sugar.  Set aside.Orange Sugar 1.jpg

Sift flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon together in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs, oil, vanilla, brown sugar and orange sugar together.  Add sifted ingredients to the wet mixture and beat will.
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Stir in the zucchini and nuts until well combined.  Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake for 40-60 for a loaf pan.
Bake approx 30 minutes for muffins.

Test doneness by inserting a toothpick or small tester into the middle.  When it comes out clean, it’s done!

Allow bread to cool in pans for about 20 minutes (not necessary for muffins using liners), then turn them out and let it cool completely.

To prepare optional glaze: whisk sugar, orange juice and zest in a bowl until smooth.  Drizzle over bread.

Enjoy!
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Wheat n Honey Bread

There’s something satisfying about making food from scratch using delicious, wholesome ingredients.  I love knowing exactly what is in the foods that my family and I are eating, and I think we all appreciate it more when there’s a little elbow grease involved in making it.  My sister in Alaska frequently grinds her own wheat for bread (she also has six kids and a full time job).  I would LOVE to do this, but in reality I just don’t have the kitchen space for a wheat grinder right now.  Hopefully in a few months I will have that needed space, and someday I hope to grow my own wheat too.  For now, I buy my flour.

This recipe is the best I’ve found to make yummy wheat bread that is perfect for slicing for sandwiches or toast.  I used it for French toast this morning and it was delicious as well!  As you can see, this bread is pretty versatile and you won’t want store-bought bread after you make this.  This bread was adapted from a cookbook called Baking With Julia (Childs).  I’ve changed a few things and added a couple more to fit my tastes.  The wheat gluten I’ve added is essential for getting a good rise and a light, fluffy loaf.  You can find wheat gluten in your local super market.  Also, don’t skimp on the kneading, you don’t want to end up with a brick!
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Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups of warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
1 Tbs active dry yeast
1/3 cup honey
2 cups (plus 1/4 cup for kneading) all purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 Tbs salt
1/4 cup wheat gluten
1 Tbs vegetable or canola oil, plus more for oiling the bowl

Directions:
Pour 1/2 cup of the warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the yeast and honey and whisk slightly to blend.  Allow the mixture to rest for approximately 5 minutes until bubbly.IMG_4707

In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups of the all purpose flour and 3 cups of the whole wheat flour, gluten and salt.  Stir to combine and set aside.
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Using your mixer on low speed with a dough hook attached, add the rest of the warm water to the yeast mixture, also add the oil and about half of the flour mixture one cup at a time, scraping sides as needed.IMG_4708

On low speed, add the rest of the flour.  Increase the mixer speed to medium, stopping to scrape down the bowl and hook as needed, until the dough comes together.
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If dough is too dry add a teaspoon of water, if too sticky, add a tablespoon of a/p flour. Continue to knead at medium speed for about five minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  You can skip kneading by hand in the next step if you increase kneading time in the mixer by five minutes.  I don’t recommend this though.  Your mixer motor could get really hot and possibly burn out.  Kneading dough by hand is more romantic anyway and it’ll make you appreciate the bread more.  Also, you’ll get killer arms and shoulders if you do this on a regular basis!
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Flour a clean counter top and put dough out.  Knead the dough by hand for 8 to 10 minutes.   This dough will be slightly sticky(tacky) even after it’s kneaded sufficiently.  If the dough is really sticky (sticks to your palms while kneading) add flour a sprinkle at a time until it barely sticks to your palm when kneading.

Once you are done kneading, shape the dough into a ball and place it into a large oiled bowl (big enough to hold at least double the volume of your dough).  Turn dough once to coat both sides.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rest at room temperature until it doubles in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.
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Oil or butter the bottom and sides of two 9×5 (I recommend glass) loaf pans and set them aside.  Punch down the dough and turn it out on to a lightly floured surface.
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Divide the dough in half.  Using your hands or a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 9×12 rectangle.  The dimensions don’t have to be perfect, but it should be uniform.  with your dough laying vertically start rolling the dough (snuggly, but not tight) roll it all the way to the other end and pinch to seal the edges.  Gently tuck the ends under to make it look nice and set the bread in the loaf pan.
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Turn the dough so that seem side is down and tuck in the ends just enough so the dough will fit nicely in the pans.
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Drop the dough in the pans and cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap (the easiest way to oil plastic wrap is to spread it on a flat surface and spray with cooking spray, then pick it up two edges and drape over the dough).  Allow the dough to rise again until about double in the pans.  This will take about another hour.
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In the meantime, turn oven on 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

The breads is risen sufficiently when it is about double and if you poke a finger into it, the impression your finger makes stays in the bread.  Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes.  The internal temperature should be 200 degrees Fahrenheit when bread is done.
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Turn bread out onto cooling racks right away and let them cool to almost room temperature before slicing.  Keep bread sealed in a plastic bread bag, it should last for 2-3 days before getting dried out.  You can also freeze it.

America’s Test Kitchen Banana Bread

I have been baking banana bread as far back as I can remember.  It was one of the first things I learned how to make by myself when I was a kid.  I remember pulling the steaming loaves out of the oven and being so proud of my creation!  They never lasted long, and to this day, banana bread is one of my favorite comfort foods.

This recipe is not the same recipe I used growing up.  It is a creation of America’s Test Kitchen and was introduced to me through a foodie friend at work who generously shared the banana bread she had made with the rest of the office.  Although I wasn’t fast enough to snag a piece out of her bread from the break room, she did provide me with the recipe.  After hearing the comments around the office, I knew I had to make it for myself. Seriously, this is the most banana-y banana bread I’ve ever had and it is so incredibly moist!  Don’t scoff at the little bit of extra work with the bananas because THAT is what makes it so incredible.  Just do it, you will be rewarded!

When selecting bananas, be sure to use those that are heavily speckled, or even black.  If you are one of those people who freezes bananas, this is YOUR recipe!! The darker the banana, the sweeter and more developed the banana taste will be.  A lot of grocery stores will even sell these “overripe” bananas at a deeply discounted price.  Yes, those mushy, black banana’s seem really gross, but trust me, you’ll be hoarding them in your freezer like they are gold once you’ve seen (and tasted) what they can do.

Ingredients:

1 ¾ Cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp table salt
5 large very ripe bananas, peeled
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 Large eggs
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
2 tsp granulated sugar

**Note:  The photo below shows baking powder, which is NOT in the recipe…my mistake!

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray an 8 ½  by 4 ½ inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.

Place bananas in a microwave safe bowl.  I used a round casserole dish with a lid.  You can use plastic wrap with a few cut steam vents to cover if you don’t have a lid, but personally I avoid putting plastic in the microwave.  

Microwave on high power until bananas are soft and have released most of their liquid, about 5 minutes.Transfer bananas to a fine mesh strainer placed over a bowl and allow them to drain, turning the bananas occasionally for about 15 minutes.  You should end up with ½ – ¾ cup of liquid.  

Transfer liquid to a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to about ¼ cup.  Liquid should be light caramel color and thick, almost as thick as syrup.  I stirred mine pretty vigorously and ended up with some bubbles, but you get the idea.

Remove from the heat and stir this reduced liquid back into your mashed bananas and mash everything together with a potato masher.  The original recipe says “mash until fairly smooth” but mine never made it to that point…it stayed semi-lumpy.  I’m sure whatever stage of lumpiness your bananas end up is just fine.

Whisk in melted butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.


Pour banana mixture into your flour mixture and stir until just combined.  Do not over stir. Some flour streaks are okay.  Gently fold in walnuts if you’re using them.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over the surface.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, approx 55-75 minutes.  Cool bread in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on a wire rack.

**Note:  I used a mini loaf pan and a muffin pan instead of the larger, single loaf pan.  I started checking them at 30 minutes.  The muffins were slightly drier than the loaf and I would probably turn the oven down a few degrees the next time.

***Variation:  I added ½ cup of flaked coconut to the muffins and they were SO good!

Slice loaf and serve slightly warm or room temperature.  Enjoy!

Soft Pretzels & Beer Cheese

Soft Pretzels

Janna:  I love soft pretzels.   I’m a sucker for the ones at the mall that are served with piping hot spicy “cheese!”  So when Joanie and I were discussing great Super Bowl food, naturally I thought of soft pretzels.  They are fairly easy to make, and go great with cheese or assorted mustards for dipping.  Plus you can make them the day before you need them.  In this case I am pairing pretzels with beer cheese!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 ½ tsp)
  • 4 ⅓ to 4 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 2 ounces butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • Large pot of water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt or coarse kosher salt

Directions:

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for a few minutes or until the mixture begins to get bubbly.  Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth, approximately 4 minutes.

Oil a large bowl with vegetable oil, put dough into oiled bowl and turn once, coating with oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 45 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Line two cookie sheets or large shallow pans, spray lightly with cooking spray or lightly coat with vegetable oil.  Set aside.

Bring the water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8 quart sauce pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto an oiled work surface (I spray my clean counter top with cooking spray) and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other until each end is back where it started and press onto the bottom of the U to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the cookie sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for about 30 seconds each. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula.

Return to the sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt.

Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 11 to 13 minutes. Cool on a cooling rack for about 7 minutes before serving.  These are easily reheated in the oven or toaster oven for a few minutes.  I don’t recommend reheating them in the microwave because they will get soggy.  Below you will find the recipe for beer cheese.  Enjoy!!

Beer Cheese

So, I did a little research on beer cheese and discovered that it originated in Kentucky in the 1940’s.  It’s been a Kentucky staple ever since!  I’ve put my own spin on this beer cheese, adding cream cheese for a creamier texture.  Also, please note that this works best using a cheaper beer and it works best when beer is at room temperature and flat.  Mine was cold so I put it in a microwave safe cup and microwaved it till room temp and then stirred it a lot to flatten it.  I used Pabst in mine, you can use whatever you like!


(Note: picture shows a mini food processor, it ended up being too small so
I used a bowl with emursion blender instead).

Ingredients:

½ Lb sharp cheddar cheese (grated)
4 oz cream cheese (softened)
1-2 small garlic cloves (minced)
2 tsp Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (or any hot sauce)
¼ tsp worcestershire sauce
½ tsp cayenne pepper (add more to taste if you like it spicier)
½ tsp dry mustard
8 oz flat beer (room temperature)

Start by combining the cheddar and cream cheese in a large bowl.  use emulsifier, food processor or hand mixer to blend together until creamy 20-30 seconds.  Add all ingredients except beer and combine.  when well blended, slowly add beer and mix.  Add more hot sauce and cayenne pepper if you like it spicier.  Refrigerate for about an hour.  To heat, you can either microwave for about 20 seconds at a time until hot, or on low heat on stove top being careful not to scorch.