SUBWAY ROLLS: Homemade Bread Is So Worth It!

subway rolls textI admit that I may be a little obsessive about making things from scratch. I make my own tortillas, pasta, yogurt, desserts, and most breads. The reason? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a firm believer in “you are what you eat”.

Take a look at the ingredients list of any prepared food and you’ll notice all kinds of unpronounceable words that would seem right at home in a chemistry lab. I don’t want that stuff in my or my family’s body. So I cook.

Learning to do anything new takes time. But the more you do it, the faster and easier it becomes, especially if you have the right tools. You also have to plan. Time needs to be allowed for hands-off cooking such as the 12 hours it takes for yogurt to develop, the simmering time for a stew, or the rise-time for yeast doughs.

Preparing a yeast dough only takes a few minutes – which includes the knead time…IF you have a food processor. If you don’t, it takes about 10 minutes (and more work). (New food processors can be expensive. Check out thrift stores – they’re a bargain there!) I know you can buy a package of 6 subway rolls in the supermarket for cheap, but there’s something very satisfying, as well as healthy, about baking your own bread. Give it a try!

SUBWAY ROLLS – makes 6

  • 1½ cups water
  • 2¼ tsp dry yeast (any kind)
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • about 2 T milk (any kind)
  • about 1/4 cup topping blend of your choice (dried minced onion, hard cheese such as Parmesan, garlic powder, poppy seed, sesame seeds)

Heat 1½ cups water between 100º F – 104º F. Stir in the yeast and let proof for 5 minutes.

Into the workbowl of your food processor, put 3 cups flour, the sugar, and the salt. Turn on machine, the slowly drizzle in the proofed water through the pour tube. Add extra flour 1 T at a time, as needed, to get the dough to pull away from the sides but not be a hard ball. When you’re happy with the look of the dough, run the processor another 30-45 seconds more to knead.moo shu10 Empty dough into a greased bowl, flipping dough to grease both sides. subway rolls4Cover and place in a warm area to rise – about 1 hour. subway rolls5Pour dough onto floured board and cut into 6 pieces. Shape into a 2″ x 5″ rectangle and place on a parchment lined (or greased) cookie sheet. Cover with tea towel and let rise while you preheat the oven to 425º Fahrenheit – this will take about 1/2 hour. (If you have a portable oven thermometer, use it! Internal oven thermometers are often wrong.) subway rolls6While dough is rising, mix together your topping blend. (I like to use 2 T Parmesan, 2 T dried minced onion flakes, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and 1/8 tsp salt.) subway rolls7When oven is hot, one by one, gently brush milk onto top of dough then sprinkle on topping. Lightly press down on topping to make it stick. subway rolls1Bake at 425º F about 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. You’ll notice significant rise to the rolls after a few minutes. When golden brown, remove from oven to a wire rack. subway rolls2Let cool before slicing.

 

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LEMON BUNDT CAKE – Bursting With Flavor!

lemon cake1 TEXTWhen it comes to lemon desserts, I want to know I’m eating lemon! No faint hint of flavor for me – bring it on!!!

This LEMON BUNDT CAKE gets raves from everyone who eats it. It’s has a tender crumb, which is unusual for lemon cakes. Where bakers go wrong is they tend to add more lemon juice to increase the bang for their buck. But all that does to cakes and quick breads is make them mushy. Yuck! Yes, one needs some lemon juice for the liquid and flavor, but the biggest lemony taste comes from the zest (the very outer skin).

NOTE:  As Queen of Freeze, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t point out that zest can be frozen. So if you’re only using the juice from a lemon (or any citrus), go ahead and zest it (do this before juicing), then freeze those little flavor jewels for future use.

ADDITIONAL QUEEN OF FREEZE NOTE:  Cake freezes extremely well, so don’t be daunted by the size of a bundt cake. If it’s too much to finish off in a few days, simply cut it into hunks and freeze.

LEMON BUNDT CAKE

  • 1 T butter
  • 1 T all-purpose flour
  • 3 T lemon zest
  • 3 T + 2 T lemon juice, divided
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 18 T butter, soft
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 yolk
  • 3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 T milk or buttermilk
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit. 

To prepare the bundt pan, melt 1 T butter and mix in 1 T flour to make a paste.lemon cake11 Using a pastry brush, paint the interior of the pan, getting deep into the crevasses. (I’m going to be buying a new bundt pan soon!)lemon cake12In a small bowl, combine the zest with 3 T lemon juice. Let set 15 minutes.lemon cake10 Combine the 3 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. bundt2In an electric mixer, cream together the 18 T butter and granulated sugar. Beat on medium/high for 3 minutes. (Don’t short-change this.)lemon cake14 In a small bowl, lightly beat together the eggs and yolk.lemon cake13 Pour approximately half of the eggs into the butter/sugar, and beat until just incorporated. Pour in the rest of the eggs and beat in. lemon cake6Combine the buttermilk, vanilla, and lemon zest/lemon juice. lemon cake5On low speed, beat approximately 1/3 of the flour mixture into the batter just until incorporated. Add in 1/2 of the liquid mixture and beat in. Beat in 1/2 of the flour mixture, then the remaining liquid. Finally, beat in the last of the flour mix. Don’t overmix – beat until flour has been incorporated and no loose flour shows. lemon cake7Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. (I cover the hole to prevent spillage – just be sure to remove it before baking – I speak from experience.) Smooth batter.lemon cake8Bake about 45 minutes at 350º F. Check for doneness with a toothpick. Remove from oven and let set in pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack. lemon cake9While cake is still in the pan, make the glaze. To make glaze, sift powdered sugar to remove lumps. Stir the sugar with 1 T milk or buttermilk, and 2 T lemon juice. You want the glaze to pour, but not so thin it runs off the cake. Adjust thickness of glaze by adding more sugar to thicken or more lemon juice to thin out.

Run a rounded knife around edge of cake and flip onto a rack. Flip again so it’s right side up. Pour half of the glaze on hot cake. Let set for 1 hour. Pour on remaining glaze. You can see in the photo that the first glaze is clearer than the second due to the heat of the cake. Let set at least another hour before serving.lemon cake 4

 

EASY ONE-POT MACARONI & CHEESE: Hack The Mac!!!

mac & cheese hack textSadly, when we think Mac & Cheese, we often think of Kraft Mac & Cheese. While children seem to love it, one wonders what exactly is that suspicious orange “cheese” and multitude of ingredients that hearken one back to high school chemistry.

Macaroni and cheese is a kid favorite, but I refused to buy the boxed-kind, laden with excess salt and orange stuff that’s supposed to be cheese. Instead, I only served them homemade MAC & CHEESE.  Of course, the best laid plans went by the wayside when they started eating at their friends’ houses and noticed the difference. They still ate mine, but wouldn’t hesitate to inhale the other, given a chance.

Well, we moms have to be sneaky sometimes (it’s for their own good…they’ll thank us later). I found a Macaroni & Cheese recipe from America’s Test Kitchen that is very similar to the boxed kind. If you leave off the bread crumb topping, you may be able to pass it off – just keep an empty box around as a decoy to sit on the counter when you’re serving it.

NOTE:  Don’t buy pre-sliced American cheese unless you absolutely have to. Many stores have a working deli section where they make sandwiches. They’ll probably have a large block of American cheese – both the orange and yellow kind taste fine. Don’t let them slice it, since you’ll want to shred it – tell them to cut about a 3/4 ” block (3¼ oz).

ONE-POT MAC & CHEESE

  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 lb small elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup (3¼ oz) deli cut American cheese (either yellow or orange), shredded
  • 1 cup (2½ oz) extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • optional topping: 1/3 cup panko crumbs
  •                                 1 T olive oil
  •                                 1/8 tsp salt
  •                                 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  •                                 2 T Parmesan cheese, grated

In a saucepot, bring water and milk to the boil. mac & cheese hack2Add in pasta and bring to a simmer. mac & cheese hack3Maintaining the simmer, cook uncovered until pasta is just past the al dente stage – about 6 minutes. mac & cheese hack4While pot is still on low heat, stir in American cheese, Dijon and cayenne. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar. Cover pot and let melt together. Taste for seasoning.mac & cheese hack5 If you want to make the bread crumb topping, toast the panko, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a small skillet until browned. (Keep an eye on it – it only takes a couple of minutes.) Remove from heat and mix in the Parmesan.

 

CHEESY GRITS: Creamy Goodness! Who Knew?!

Grits9Grits. Just the word has always made me want to rinse out my mouth. I could never understand why anyone would want to eat them…and like them! Until now.

Of course, the key is to cook the cornmeal so it’s not actually gritty.  Add in some cheese and seasoning and YUMMMM! I couldn’t stop eating it!

Note:  I made this recipe using both coarse-grind cornmeal and polenta (the degerminated enriched kind) to compare. It’s really a toss-up – they both worked well.

Additional note: A flat whisk works really well with this dish – it allows you to get into the corners easily. (Photo below)

CHEESY GRITS – makes 6 cups

  • 2 T butter
  • 4 T scallions, white part only (about 4 stalks), sliced thin
  • 3¼ cups + 1/4 cup water, divided
  • 1 cup milk (any kind – I used nonfat)
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce (I used Tabasco)
  • 1/2 tsp black ground pepper
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup degerminated polenta or yellow coarse-grind cornmeal (I’ve used both)
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen, fresh, or canned)
  • 4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 4 oz jack cheese, shredded

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add in scallions and sauté to soften – about 4 minutes. grits5Add in the 3¼ cups water, milk, hot sauce, pepper, and salt. Bring to boil.grits6 Whisking continuously, very slowly pour in the polenta (or cornmeal). grits7Decrease heat to maintain a simmer and cook, uncovered, until thickened – about 15 minutes. Stir often, taking care to get into the edges.grits2 In a blender, pureé the corn with the remaining 1/4 cup water for about 5 seconds. grits4Pour into the thickened grits, also adding the cheeses, stirring to blend. Cook another 5 minutes or so to thicken. grits8Top servings with scallion green slices, more shredded cheese, and paprika, if desired.

 

 

 

TOFU & DUMPLINGS: Comfort Food At Its Finest!

tofu & dumpling textChicken & Dumplings is one of those classic, stick-to-your-ribs meals that’s considered a comfort food by many.  Of course, being a vegetarian, chicken was not an option. That pretty much left a watery broth and a few carrots, onions, and celery.

So I set out to make a hearty vegetarian dumpling soup with flavor and heft. It took a number of tries with a variety of ingredients, but I finally created what I was looking for.

I, also, experimented with the dumpling size. While the larger ones were appealing to look at and faster to spoon out, I found it was messy business to cut into them while eating. I kept reducing the size until I got to less than 1″ in diameter raw – they plump up during the boiling process. Making them bite sized is perfect so you can eat them whole.

TOFU & DUMPLINGS – makes about 18 cups

  • 4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 3 cups (about 2) onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 10½ oz carrots, sliced
  • 1 lb white common mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 tsp dried dill
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3½ tsp salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup dry Sherry
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 block extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup parsley, chopped
  • 3 T arrowroot
  • 1 egg white
  • 4 T butter
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 8¾ oz (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp sugar

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium/high heat.  Add in onions, celery, and carrots. Sauté 7 minutes, stirring often.tofu & dumpling5 Add in mushrooms and continue to cook another 4 minutes, scraping fond on bottom of pan (the browned bits). tofu & dumpling6Add dill, tomato paste, garlic, and 2½ tsp of the salt – cook 3 more minutes. tofu & dumpling7Pour in the Sherry and continue to cook until evaporated, scraping any fond formed. tofu & dumpling8Add the water, tofu, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, and parsley.  Bring almost to a simmer. In a small bowl, make a slurry by combining the arrowroot with 1/4 cup of the soup. Stir slurry into soup until it thickens a bit – should take a few minutes. Taste for seasoning – adjust, if needed. Keep heating the soup to bring to full boil.tofu & dumpling13As soup is heating up, make the dumplings. Heat the butter and let cool a bit. Then combine melted butter with the buttermilk – it will get clumpy. Whisk the egg white a little, then whisk it into the buttermilk mixture. tofu & dumpling10In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and 1 tsp remaining salt. Pour in the buttermilk mixture and combine.tofu & dumpling11 Form small dough lumps – 1″ or less.  There will probably be about 62. (These will plump up with cooking.) Make sure you form all these balls before you begin dropping them in the soup so they cook at the same rate.tofu & dumpling12When soup has come to a full boil, one by one drop in the dough balls. Wrap a towel around the pot lid and cover. (MAKE SURE THE TOWEL DOESN’T DROP ANYWHERE NEAR THE BURNER!  YOU DON’T WANT A FIRE!!!) The towel will absorb steam moisture so the dumplings don’t get soggy. tofu & dumpling9Decrease flame to medium and cook 11 minutes. Remove lid and allow steam to escape a few minutes before serving.

SPINACH & FETA: A Yummy Way To Eat Your Spinach!

spinach feta textCooked spinach is not a looker.  It wilts down from a giant amount to a small, dark green mound.  On its own it tastes…okay. But doctor it up with some flavor, crunch, and color and now you’ve got something.

If you’ve never cooked fresh spinach, prepare for a surprise.  You’ll bring home a mass of leaves and think, “this is way too much”. It’s not, believe me.

Note: I like to buy bundled spinach and wash it myself. But that can be time-consuming and is often hard to find.  Stores seem to prefer to carry pre-washed spinach in plastic tubs. If you do buy the bundles, make sure you weigh them – some are larger than others.

SPINACH & FETA – makes about 1 cup

  • 8½ oz fresh spinach leaves (about 2 bunches)
  • 1 T + 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 T shallots, chopped (about 1 large)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 T water chestnuts, chopped (I get them canned, in the Asian section)
  • 1 oz Feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • 2 T pistachio nuts, salted, toasted
  • 1 Roma tomato, chopped

Steam spinach over boiling water for 1 minute – set a timer! spinach feta4Place spinach in a towel to absorb excess water. spinach feta5Roughly chop. spinach feta6Heat 1 T oil in a skillet over medium/high. Add in shallots and sauté a few minutes, until browned. spinach feta7Stir in the spinach and salt – sauté over medium/high about 2 minutes to evaporate excess moisture. spinach feta1Reduce heat to low and add in the water chestnuts, feta, 1 tsp olive oil, vinegar, and pistachios. spinach feta2Stir over low heat, just to warm everything. Add in tomatoes and serve.spinach feta8

MANICOTTI: An Easy Way To Make This Favorite!

manicotti textAnyone’s who made manicotti knows the challenge of trying to stuff cooked tubular pasta without tearing it. If you fill uncooked tubes, then you face the problem of cooking them enough so they’re edible.

Not to worry! Once again America’s Test Kitchen came up with a better idea: use quick-cook lasagna noodles and roll them up. Brilliant!

Note:  As Queen of Freeze, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t remind you to double or triple the marinara sauce and freeze it for future use. But try it first to be sure you like it.

MANICOTTI – makes 8

  • 1  28-oz can whole tomatoes
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 8 no-boil lasagna noodles (this is the brand I use)manicotti1
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ cups whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup (2 oz) Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 T basil, chopped, divided
  • 1 T Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 T ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

First make a quick marinara sauce:  Remove the stem end and any skin or imperfections from the tomatoes. Either chop them in a food processor or by hand. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add in the garlic and red pepper flakes – sauté for 30 seconds to bloom. manicotti9Add in the tomatoes and 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to boil, then decrease heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Off-heat, stir in 1 T basil. Set aside.pizza8 Place the uncooked noodles in a 8″ x 11″ (or there-abouts) casserole dish. Cover noodles with boiling water, separating them with a fork to make sure they don’t stick together. Let them soak for 5 minutes, moving them around now and then.manicotti11 Place noodles on a tea towel to dry. Discard water and dry pan.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg. Stir in the ricotta, mozzarella, 1/2 cup (1 oz) of the Parmesan, the remaining 1 T basil, parsley1/2 tsp salt, and pepper. manicotti10Divide the filling evenly amongst the noodles (about 1/4 cup each). Spread filling, leaving a 1/2″ border at one of the short ends. manicotti12Roll up, starting at end where the filling went all the way to the end. (The border is to allow room for the filling to spread as you roll them up.)manicotti5Spread 3/4 cup of the marinara into the pan. manicotti6Lay the manicotti, seam side down. manicotti7Pour on remaining marinara, covering all exposed pasta with the sauce. manicotti8Cover with lid or foil. Bake at 375º F for 40 minutes. Increase oven to 500º F. Sprinkle on remaining 1/2 cup (1 oz) Parmesan. manicotti2Bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Sprinkle on more basil, if desired.manicotti3