Sunday, May 10, 2009

Saturday, 8 a.m.

Yesterday morning I woke up and it was rainy. Since I figured taking a walk was out of the question, I decided before I even got out of bed to make English Muffins - something I never made before. And by accident last week, I watched a new 2009 episode of Barefoot Contessa on Food Network and immediately began plotting to make the Date Nut Spice Bread she made. Anytime Ina makes something sweet with only 4T. of butter, you know it's going to get tested at my house. SO...I thought: the Boy-O is still in bed, I am going to bake all morning.

About a month ago, I had 24 whole hours to myself. My Husband took the Boy-O to Chicago, and I had the day to do whatever I felt like. It's funny that the first thing that came to mind was baking something I never baked before, but that's the first thing that did. I did manage to fight the urge, but did do something somewhat related and went to the shops.

I do never really go browsing in shops anymore, so I took the opportunity to go to Williams-Sonoma to buy some egg rings. Technically, they are a little small for English Muffins, but I thought I'd try a recipe first and see what I thought before finding small rings that are slightly larger. (I did find some on the King Arthur Bread website, and they are super cheap too.)

Originally, I thought I would make the recipe in Martha Stewart's baking book, but after recent semi-disappointment with the super healthy wheat bread (that I made using the weights published in her book), I decided to go the fool-proof Alton Brown way. I have yet to make something he published (and either by weights or volumes) that failed to be anything less that fantastic... Crackers, Pancakes, you name it...he has a prominent place on my bookshelf. That, and his version took about a quarter of the time that Martha's takes.

So, long story short, Alton scores again. These were really great, only took 30 minutes to rise and were super simple to mix up. I did have a bit of trouble regulating the temp on my pan (it's a yeasted batter you cook on the stove top - or as Alton recommends, an electric skillet). The photograph above was my final attempt out of the 3 batches that I made in the egg rings. I didn't have exactly the equipment that Alton recommended, so I'm counting that all 12 weren't a complete success as my fault. I am certainly going to get the larger rings, and make this recipe again. They were really moist and eggy, although there were no eggs, and I can imagine they would make a good breakfast sandwich. And considering I never buy commercial bread products at all anymore, I think they will become a standard in my freezer.

After I get my larger rings, I will also break down and try Martha Stewart's more labor intensive version as well. I'm sure I will photograph the results.

Project #2: Date Nut Spice Bread

As enamored (translation: obsessed) as I am with Alton Brown, I also have a penchant for Ina Garten. I really have loved all of the recipes of hers that I have tried, and confess that I have read 5 of her cookbooks front to back as if they were novels. I don' t always grab her recipes though because they tend to be of the reckless abandon ilk when it comes to healthful eating. However, I will alter her recipes to fit the way I cook as opposed to Alton Brown' s recipes which I feel are as exacting as they are for a reason.

When I saw her making this bread on her show a week ago, I knew I was going to have to make this. I really had to stop watching and DVRing Barefoot Contessa because I was eating up all the space on our recorder and because some of the shows I had seen 2 or 3 times already. Still, I can watch episodes again and again and imagine how it would be nice to have the counter space and oven space and endless baking pan collection in her fairytale Hampton's world. (I HAVE to get a kugelhoph mold to make her Baba au Rhum from another episode I've seen at least twice...) Her world of aesthetics is right up my alley. I think I was folding laundry the day I'm glad I watched it again - and of course it renewed my obsession and I promptly reset the DVR to record all the new shows.

Let me tell you, this bread alone is was worth the cost of her new book, The Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics. You can also find the recipe on the Food Network website, if you can't wait to order - or if you happen to doubt my assessment...

This recipe has 10 oz. of chopped dates that are marinated in 1/3 cup of Cointreau. My husband bought me the Cointreau for an early Mother's Day gift, because while I am cheap, I would never dreamed of making this recipe with an inferior liqueur. Cointreau is the only thing in the world that tastes like Cointreau, and I admit to being an unabashed food snob when it comes to certain things.

This bread was smelled so good when it was in the oven that I knew there was no way I was going to be waiting until it cooled completely to cut into it. As we had thick slices after our lunch, Boy-O loved it as much as I did - confirmation in my mind that I know he's going to grow out of his picky-eatingness. I am already sure that I will be purchasing a swanky little petite-loaves pan so I can make these at Christmas time to give away.

The end of my new recipe morning concluded with an enormous mess in my little galley kitchen. Sometimes I do really think I would like a dishwasher, though I wouldn't know where to put it. I'm just really thankful that the former owners of this 1948 home decided to add a small dining room onto the kitchen or I would really have been in trouble.

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