A mom's journal of the sweet things in her life...

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pork Souvlaki with Homemade Pitas

Every once in a while, inspiration visits on the same day as opportunity. It's rare, but it happens. I think that's why Pinterest is so popular. We see pictures of food that inspires us, but what are the chances we have the time to make it the same day? Almost never. So it gets pinned on the on-line bulletin board so we can find it when we actually have the time required to tackle whatever project it is.
Last week I had a really slow day. No appointments to attend to, no play dates, no dance classes etc... so I tackled this meal that I'd originally seen on Pinterest. I altered it, subbing pork tenderloin for the chicken (have I mentioned my husband is anti-chicken breast?), and I opted to use a ready-made tzatiki sauce because I happened to have some in my fridge and wanted to use it up.
Homemade pita bread is super easy to make, and the end result is so much better than the bought variety. Being a novice bread maker, to put it mildly, I generally avoid yeast. But in this particular case, the bread came together very easily and it was so worth the effort. The other great thing about this pita bread recipe, is that you can make some minor adjustments and make pizza crusts out them. I knew my kids would be less than thrilled with the pork souvlaki, so I deflated two of the pitas while baking in the oven, (they balloon up when baked) and voila - they each had their own individual pizza crust to "decorate" as they put it. Two separate dinners using the same recipe, and everyone was happy. This, unfortunately, is also a rarity.

For the souvlaki marinade:
2 teaspoons minced garlic
Juice of 1 lemon (2-3 Tablespoons)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 heaping Tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1 pork tenderloin cut into cubes (or 1 lb of chicken breast)

Combine all the marinade ingredients. Add the meat and allow to sit in your fridge anywhere from 1 to 4 hours. Soak some skewers in water for at least 30 minutes before using, and thread your meat onto the skewers. Grill until cooked through. (In the alternative, you could broil them in your oven, but I've never tried it and have no suggestions in that regard. Sorry.)

For the pita bread:
(adapted from Annie's Eats)
Yield: 8 pitas
3 cups bread flour, plus 1/2-3/4 cup more as needed (you can also use AP flour)
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar 
2 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups water, roughly at room temperature
2 tbsp. olive oil
Mix the yeast in with the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the olive oil and 1 ¼ cup water and mix with a dough hook until all of the ingredients form a ball. If some of the flour will not stick to the ball, add more water.
Once all of the ingredients form a ball continue mixing it at low speed for 10 minutes. As the dough is mixing, continue to add flour, a tablespoon or two at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl and is tacky but not sticky. 
When you are done kneading the dough, place it in a bowl that has been lightly coated with oil. Form a ball out of the dough and place it into the bowl, rolling the dough around so that it has a light coat of oil on all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and set aside to rise until it has doubled in size, approximately 90 minutes.
When it has doubled in size, punch the dough down to release some of the trapped gases and divide it into 8 equal pieces. I used a scale to get even pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, cover the balls with a damp kitchen towel, and let them rest for 20 minutes. This step allows the dough to relax so that it will be easier to shape.
While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 450°. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven to preheat as well. If you do not have a baking stone, turn a cookie sheet upside down and place it on the middle rack of the oven while it is preheating. This will be the surface on which you bake your pitas.
After the dough has relaxed for 20 minutes, spread a light coating of flour on a work surface and place one of the balls of dough there. Sprinkle a little bit of flour on top of the dough and use a rolling pin or your hands to stretch and flatten the dough. You should be able to roll it out to between ¼ – 1/8” thick – 6 inches in diameter. If the dough does not stretch sufficiently, you can cover it with the damp towel and let it rest 5-10 minutes before trying again.
Place discs on a lightly greased baking sheet or parchment paper and let rise, uncovered, until barely doubled in thickness, about 30 minutes.
Open the oven and place as many pitas as you can fit on the hot baking surface. I baked two at a time. They should be baked through and puffy after 3 minutes. If you want your pitas to be crispy and brown you can bake them for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, but it isn’t necessary.  (After the 3 minutes, I flipped them over and baked for an additional minute). Remove from oven and allow to cool. they will deflate as they cool.
Like I said, these also doubled as some great pizza crusts. If you want to go that route, prick the rolled dough a few times before baking it in the oven. Top the baked pita/pizza crust after baking it, and then put back in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly. My kids were thrilled with their own personal pizzas, and had fun adding their own toppings. (They're not exactly adventurous eaters.)
In case you're wondering, my little guy's pizza above has a pepperoni spider on it. This was his idea, not mine. Some nights I'll do just about anything to make that kid eat.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Black Bottom Pie from Bon Appetit

Today was an extraordinarily lazy day. The laundry that is normally washed, folded and put away on Sunday remains in heaps on my laundry room floor. The Sunday night dinner that I had planned and even shopped for earlier in the week was never made. The family I had intended on asking over for said Sunday night dinner never got the call. Instead, I read and finished a book in my pajamas.
The one thing I did do, however, was make a pie. Which is kind of ironic, because we are not pie people. But I had seen the recipe in the latest Bon Appetit magazine, and it was the dessert I planned to make for our Sunday night family dinner that never was.
This pie, however, was a simple one. Had it required pastry, I'm certain it too would have fallen to the wayside. But because it required very little time at all - I decided to go ahead and make it. I had (almost) all the ingredients anyway, why let them sit in my fridge for another week? I realized quickly that I had forgotten to buy the gingersnap cookies for the crust but a quick search in my pantry and the discovery of the chocolate cookie crumbs saved this pie from slipping to my 'to try another time' list, which is dangerously close to "looks great but will probably never find the time" list.
Black Bottom Pie. A simple crumb crust topped first with a chocolate custard, then a vanilla custard, and smothered in whipped cream. Not hard at all. And, with a few tweaks, pedestrian enough to please my children's picky palates. If you're a fan of cream pies, you should definitely try this one. The custard is rich and silky and the chocolate and vanilla flavors are perfectly balanced. The chocolate custard has a distinguished coffee flavor from the addition of espresso, but that didn't seem to bother my kids one bit. If you're not a fan of coffee, however, I would omit it entirely. The recipe below is exactly as written in Bon Appetit with my changes noted in parenthesis.
Despite being non-pie-people, I must say that this dessert was the perfect ending to our very lazy Sunday. If only every Sunday was like that.

Black Bottom Pie
(Source: Bon Appetit)
Gingersnap Crust
6 ounces gingersnap cookies, about 24 (I used 1 1/4 cups of chocolate cookie crumbs+ 2 T. sugar)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (I used 1/4 cup melted butter)
1 tablespoon heavy cream (I omitted)

1 envelope unflavored gelatin powder
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum (I only used 1 T.)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup mascarpone
5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup hot espresso or strong coffee

1 cup chilled heavy cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon dark rum (I omitted - for the kids)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Natural unsweetened cocoa powder
Grated semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
Toasted sliced almonds (I omitted but wished I hadn't)

special equipment
A 9"-diameter glass or ceramic pie dish

Preheat oven to 350°. Pulse cookies in a food processor until finely ground. Drizzle in butter and cream; pulse until well blended. (If you're using crumbs instead of cookies, simply pour the melted butter over the crumbs and sugar and mix until it resembles wet sand.) Pour into prepared dish. Use the bottom and sides of a measuring cup to pack crumbs onto bottom and up sides of dish. Bake until crust is set, 12–15 minutes (I only baked for 10 minutes). Let cool completely on a wire rack; set aside.

Pour 2 Tbsp. water into a small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes. Heat milk and cream in a large saucepan over medium heat until mixture just comes to a simmer.

Whisk egg yolks and next 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk egg mixture into milk mixture; whisk in gelatin. Whisk constantly over medium-low heat until thick, about 5 minutes.

Remove vanilla custard from heat and stir in mascarpone. Place 1 cup custard in a medium bowl; add chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Stir in espresso. Pour chocolate custard into crust; smooth top. Chill pie until set, about 30 minutes. Let vanilla custard stand at room temperature.

Gently pour remaining vanilla custard over chilled chocolate layer (pour slowly so as not to disturb chocolate layer). Smooth top; chill until set, about 1 hour, or keep covered up to 1 day.


Using an electric mixer at medium-low speed, beat cream and sugar in a medium bowl until cream begins to thicken. Add rum and vanilla; increase speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream over custard. Dust with cocoa powder and garnish with grated chocolate and almonds. DO AHEAD: Can be made 4 hours ahead. Chill uncovered.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Snickerdoodle Bread

I converted the Snickerdoodle Muffins from Tasty Kitchen into Snickerdoodle Bread. The muffins were so amazing (why I never blogged them I cannot say) - and so I decided to try them in loaf form. Why didn't I just make the muffins again? I dunno. I guess partly because I just wanted to experiment and partly because I recently made a Cinnamon Swirl Loaf that I saw on Pinterest and was very disappointed with the results. My failure plagued me - until I read some of the reviews and learned that I was not the only one who thought the recipe basically sucked.
Feeling the need for redemption in the loaf department, I decided to give the muffin recipe a twist. I didn't make any revisions to the ingredients or the amounts of the Snickerdoodle Muffins recipe, but instead of plopping the batter into a muffin tray, I dropped them into a loaf pan. I baked it for 55 minutes, and crossed my fingers. Guess what? Success! The loaf is just as good as the muffins. Although, I will say it has a delicate crumb, so you must handle with care. But the loaf version was just as delicious, so moist and light. If you'd rather try this in muffin form, you can see the original recipe with instructions in the link below. 
Recipe for Snickerdoodle Bread
(Adapted from: Tasty Kitchen)
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2-¼ cups flour
¾ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoons cream of tartar
½ teaspoons salt
1 cup sour cream
¼ cups buttermilk
For the Topping:
⅔ cups sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spray a 9x5 inch loaf pan generously with non-stick spray.
In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy with a mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.
Add half of the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add the sour cream and buttermilk and mix to combine. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix until you have a smooth batter.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon for the topping.

Use scooper and plop a scoop of batter (approximately 1/4 cup) into the bowl with the sugar and cinnamon. Gently roll the batter in the sugar and cinnamon. 
Place the ball into the loaf pan. Continue until you have completed your first layer, completely covering the base of the loaf pan. Sprinkle about a Tablespoon of the sugar/cinnamon mixture over the first layer of batter. Continue scooping the remaining batter into the remaining cinnamon sugar mixture and layer the batter into the pan. When you have used up all the batter, place a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the loaf and press gently to squeeze out any air pockets between the dough scoops and to even out the loaf.
Sprinkle the loaf with remaining cinnamon sugar mixture. 

Bake the loaf for approximately 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (I baked mine for 55 minutes but everyone's ovens are different, so watch closely and don't be fooled by the browned upper crust.) Allow to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes. Loosen the sides of the loaf from the pan and remove from pan over a piece of parchment (there will be some loose sugar that will fall out). Allow to cool to room temperature on a wire rack before slicing. *Note the loaf is delicate, so be gentle and it's better to cut into thicker slices so it won't fall apart.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Super Easy and Delicious Chocolate Sheet Cake

I was craving chocolate cake. But not the fancy kind. I just wanted a good old fashioned cake that was chocolate-y, moist, delicious, but super easy to throw together. No layers, no decorating, no frills whatsoever. Having posted several chocolate cakes that I love, you'd think I'd just use one of those recipes, right? Wrong. As all food bloggers can attest to, as successful as a recipe may have been in the past, and despite loving it, it is very, very hard to repeat a recipe. We like to try new stuff. It's a curse.
Despite the plainness of the cake that I was searching for, you'd be surprised how difficult it was to find a recipe that suited my mood. I didn't want it to come from a box with add-ins, and I didn't want to melt chocolate or dirty any more bowls than absolutely necessary. I eventually stumbled on a recipe that looked promising, albeit with a few tweaks. For instance, I added more cocoa powder, because I didn't want a weak tasting chocolate cake. I used coffee instead of water and doubled the vanilla for the same reason. I subbed brown sugar for half the white sugar to ensure moisture. I used sour cream instead of buttermilk because I didn't have any of the latter. I increased the salt for flavor, and I baked it in a 13 x 9 inch pan instead of the sheet pan called for in the recipe. Finally, I decided to go for a plain old butter cream frosting, instead of chocolate. Other than those small adjustments the recipe was exactly what I was looking for. For those who don't know me, that last sentence was dripping with sarcasm.

So how did my cake turn out? In a word...awesome. It was better than I'd hoped for. The mixing instructions are not typical - so I wasn't sure if it would be heavy and dense since I didn't use a mixer. But it came out perfect. Super moist, very chocolate (but not offensively so), with a nice, soft crumb. Plus, you only dirty one bowl and a saucepan. This will now be my go-to recipe for plain chocolate cake. Despite what I said earlier about never wanting to repeat a recipe. 

Recipe for Super Easy and Delicious Chocolate Sheet Cake
(loosely based on recipe from: Willow Bird Baking)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 tablespoons cocoa, sifted
1 cup brewed coffee (or water)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk flour, baking soda, sugars, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium sauce pan, melt butter with vegetable oil, cocoa powder, and coffee and bring to boil. Pour over mixture of dry ingredients. Stir well, then add sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Mix to combine. Pour into a 13 x 9 inch metal baking pan sprayed generously with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups of icing sugar, divided
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract.

Cream butter with 2 cups of icing sugar until fully incorporated. Add 2 Tbsp. of milk and the vanilla. Mix well. Add remaining cup of icing sugar and mix well. Add remaining milk, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until you reach desired consistency.
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