Savory Stew

I love summer. I could happily live in the Game of Thrones world as long as it was the beginning of a particularly long summer season (and nobody killed me).

But today I made stew and tomorrow I’m making hand pies with the leftover stew bits. The hand pies are an experiment, and the stew I’ve only made twice, recreating my Grandmother’s beloved (and unrecorded) recipe. So it’s nice the weather cooperated – 70 in the evening, which is nice for a hot stew dinner, and 64 later as we got ready for bed – and nicer still that by week’s end it will be 90 again at our 5000 feet and hopefully warmer in the valley.

So here’s my take on stew, which I can’t imagine any characters in a quest fantasy making as they camp beside a road. Stew has a lot steps and they would be impossible over a campfire. I think questing stable boys who are really kings should travel with PB&J.

Stew

1 pound chuck tender roast (or your favorite roast)

5 tablespoons Crisco

1/3 cup (more or less) all purpose flour

Oregano

Fresh ground black pepper

Sea salt

Baby carrots (or big carrots chopped to baby carrot size)

Fist-sized white or red potatoes, scrubbed and chopped to bite size

One small onion, roughly chopped (like into eighths)

2 to 4 cups beef bouillon

Scrub and chop the potatoes and carrots. Cover well with cold water in a medium sized pot and bring to a boil; continue to cook until they are just fork tender (i.e., the fork goes in but kind of has to be forced out).

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Melt the Crisco over medium high heat in your favorite Dutch oven. Mine is a big cast iron pot with a lid, which was a wedding present. While the Crisco is melting, combine flour, oregano, salt and pepper in a large zipper plastic bag (or jar or other sealed container) and shake until all meat is coated. Reserve the leftover  flour.

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Add the meat to the melted fat and toss occasionally as it browns. Some of it will stick to the bottom of the pan. That’s fine; I make that part of my stew.

When the meat is browned but still a little red inside, add judicious amounts of beef bouillon – I believe I used 2 ½ cups tonight, and 3 to 4 handfuls of the seasoned flour to thicken. This is personal preference here – I like a thick gravy for the stew, and enough of it to be sopped up with bread. While you’re doing this, the meat is still in the pan; stir it around a bit to get up some of the drippings and coatings stuck to the bottom of the pan.

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Once the gravy is to your liking, both with thickness and volume, add your drained, cooked potatoes and carrots and the chopped onion. A bay leaf probably wouldn’t go amiss, but I haven’t added one yet and didn’t feel the stew was lacking because of it. Another nice addition would be fresh or frozen petite green peas if you don’t have a significant other who acts like he or she is being poisoned by the mere sight of peas.

Turn the heat to low and put the lid on at an angle. I let it cook an hour tonight because we were watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and that was about perfect. This makes 4 servings with some nice bread to dip in it, or 2 servings and leftovers for the hand pies. I’ll post about those once I’ve made them.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

 

My sister used to make the world’s best coffee cakes.  They managed to be moist without being cloying, and to have just the right sweetness without being cake.  A breakfast treat for weekends, with the sour cream lending a tang.

I don’t know what her knack is but I don’t have it.  This is a family recipe and it’s easy but time-consuming – if you want this fresh and hot for breakfast, at least give yourself a jumpstart by laying out the ingredients the night before and starting what you can.  Maybe soften the butter, or even mix the butter and sugar, and crack the eggs into a separate bowl to avoid those pesky shell bits and not have to take the time in the morning.

Even so, it takes a while and inexplicably doesn’t seem to know how long it bakes.  Whoever it was who recorded it in the family indicated 350 for the oven and must have had high altitude amounts in place, because there was no problem with that – the cakes rose just fine and didn’t fall.  But the directions say to bake for 30 to 60 minutes – that’s a very broad difference in time.  Kind of like someone took a guess.

I think this recipe could benefit from some experimentation.  It’s lightly sweet, which I suppose coffee cake is meant to be, and it has a nice open crumb.  It just needs something to go with – hot chocolate, maybe.  Or strawberries gently steeped in powdered sugar and poured over.  Or blackberries.  Or maybe I just don’t quite get coffee cake.

It makes two loaves, and goes stale quickly, despite the moist interior (or maybe because of it).  I’m planning to wrap the second loaf in freezer or parchment paper and a thick zipper-close plastic freezer bag and freeze it until the day comes I need bread pudding.  That day will more likely be deep winter than deep summer.

Serve this with thick, dark coffee or clean, sweet breakfast tea, dress it up with fruit or drown it under cream – and let me know what works for you if you try it.

Makes 2 loaves

Need 2 loaf pans, greased and floured (I greased and floured my nonstick as well as my old metal pan)

The Batter

This is a super thick batter, because the liquid all comes from the eggs and the sour cream.

¾ cup of salted butter (1 ½ sticks), softened

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 cups flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt (preferably sea salt)

3 eggs

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 ½ cups sour cream

The Crumb Topping and Middle

1 cup brown sugar, packed

4 teaspoons cinnamon

½ cup flour

 

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until blended.

Mix together the dry ingredients and add alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry.  This is a thick, creamy batter that comes out of the mixer bowl in thick spoonsful.

 

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This is the halfway point. From here sprinkle the crumb topping and then top with batter and more topping.

Grease and flour 2 regular size loaf pans.  Spoon ¼ of the batter into each pan, then sprinkle ¼ of the crumb topping over the batter.  Top with the remainder of the batter.  You’ll have to gentle it over the crumb mixture, and if rubber spatulas work for you, that’s your best bet.  For me, a wooden spoon, as rubber spatulas seem more trouble than they’re worth.  Divide the remaining crumb topping between the two loaves and sprinkle evenly over.

 

Bake in 350 oven for 30 to 60 minutes, my instructions say.  At 30 minutes batter still clung uncooked on the toothpick.  At 45 minutes they were abruptly and perfectly done.

Best eaten once cooled.  Place the hot pans on a wire rack but it may not work to remove the coffee cakes – mine just bent and tried to dissolve into crumbs.  The first piece, warm, was good, but nothing to get ecstatic about.  The second piece, now, when it’s two hours out of the oven, is heavenly.  So maybe best served cooled.

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My office assistant doesn’t like coffee cake but can dress up any post. 

 

 

 

 

Floury Baps

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Floury baps evolved over time for me.  There are so many recipes to make and so many variations on the same item – like the baps – there has to be something special to make me go back and try something a second time.

The first time I made baps I used a recipe from one of my favorite bread books.  Despite that, it didn’t turn out to be my favorite recipe for them.  They were dry and too floury – kind of grainy, definitely blah.

But I really wanted them to turn out.  I wanted to split them in half and load in a fried egg and some bacon and despite the similarity to certain fast food breakfast treats, this actually turned out when I used the second recipe – from Ultimate Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno (1998, a DK Publishing Book).  My variations are minor, meant to reflect the dryness of the desert and the speeded-up rising and baking times of 5000 feet.

The second time I tried these was about a week into May. The Sierra still wore a considerable amount of snow.  Which wouldn’t be noteworthy, except this past Monday the foothills at the end of my street were covered once again in snow.  On June 12. Today the North Valleys will hit 88 degrees.

I love my desert.

As for the baps, apparently they’re meant to be slathered in jam, or opened and filled with cream.  I can see filling them with clotted or whipped cream and fresh, lightly sugared berries, too, though I haven’t tried that yet.

But the fried egg and bacon version was excellent.  So was baking them with grated cheddar inside.  So was loading one with a slice of cooked sausage (the kind that comes in a roll, ready to slice and cook) and a little cheese.

Baps aren’t all that sweet, so I’m not sure why they couldn’t be stuffed with a mix of lentils, corn and salsa, or be used as a sandwich wrap, or be filled with sliced black olives and tomatoes and sprinkled with oregano, other than the fact that might be messy as the filling spills back out.

¾ cup warm water

¾ cup room temperature milk + more for glaze

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 teaspoon sugar

3 ½ cups unbleached flour

1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt

Combine the milk and water in a measuring cup.  Pour one half of the liquid into a smaller bowl.  Sprinkle yeast and sugar over top and let stand for 5 minutes.

Mix 2 ½ cups of the flour and all the salt in a large bowl.  Form a well in the center and pour in the mixed liquid, sugar and yeast.  Draw in as much flour as necessary to form a sticky dough.  Stir in remaining liquid as needed.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board.  I use part of the reserved 1 cup flour for dusting the board and kneading into the bread.  When I’m kneading and the dough stops pulling the flour from the board and my hands, it’s time to slow down adding more.  I’ve found while baking yeast breads in the desert that my best loaves come about from doughs that still cling just a little damply to my hands.  Still the soft rounded look of the dough, and they’re not leaving sticky patches or pulling off, but just slightly tacky or damp.

Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, as long as it feels elastic and smooth.

Leave the dough in a clean bowl covered with a clean dish towel.  Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, roughly 45 minutes at 5000 feet.

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When the dough has risen, punch it down and allow it to rest on the board for 10 minutes, then separate into 8 pieces.  Gently form into soft ovals and flatten slightly with your hand as you put them on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Brush with milk and give each a heavy sifting of flour.  Allow to rise, uncovered, for 30 to 45 minutes or until doubled in size.  Mine took a really long time to rise, but that was subjective and because I forgot them – I was making devil’s food cupcakes and an olive thyme baguette at the same time.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Dust with flour again, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly golden.  When first out of the oven, cover the baps on the tray with a clean dish towel for 10 minutes.  Then remove towel and move baps to a wire rack.

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