Sunday, October 17, 2010

As it get colder... beer bread!

This quick beer bread might be the bread I bake most often. It is extremely satisfying and easy to make – I don't know if I've ever screwed it up. It has a warm, malty, yeasty flavor that I find very comforting, especially as the weather turns cold. And the best: it can be made in under an hour, start to finish. This means I can wake up in the morning, make the bread, eat some for breakfast, and still make it to the office on time.

If it has a drawback, it is that it's not terribly versatile. This is not a bread for mopping up sauces at dinner, and it's nearly useless for making a sandwich. But for some things it's really good: as toast with butter (obviously), and it is great with certain sharp cheeses, like cheddar or aged gouda. Also, it makes good friends with many kinds of hearty cold weather stews.

Oh and of course it's great with a beer! The best autumn lunch ever might be this beer bread with cheddar, mustard, apple, maybe a little salami, and a nice malty British style ale....

Though I just stick with the basic recipe most of the time, there are a number of possible felicitous variations here:

-Try different types of beers. This is the most obvious variable. Try lighter and darker beers for different results (but avoid heavily hopped beers, unless you want bitter bread). If you want to get a little crazy, try a pumpkin ale or other seasonal spiced beers. (As a side note, the Joy of Cooking says to use any beer except stout, but I have used porter before, and the line between porters and stouts is thin to non-existent. Does anybody know why the Joy would say that? Hit up the comments if you have thoughts)

-Add in a quarter cup of nutritional yeast for additional savoriness.

-Add in grated cheddar (or other cheese) for increased cheesiness.

-Play around with the ratio of whole wheat to all purpose flour. Or substitute some fine corn meal for some of the wheat flour for a different texture.

-A favorite at our house: bake in muffin tins instead of a loaf pan (reduce cooking time to about 20 mins.)

This recipe is straight out of the Joy of Cooking. As with all quick breads, the key is to not over-mix when you add the beer to your dry ingredients.

Quick Beer Bread

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
12 oz. beer (not flat)

Mix together all the dry ingredients.

Fold in the beer, but don't over-mix. It's fine if the dough is a little lumpy.

Pour into a lightly greased loaf pan, and bake at 400 for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Doing crab cakes a little differently

Pretty much all recipes for crab cakes require mayonnaise.

That's what I learned yesterday evening as I tried to make dinner. We had about a half-pound of crab meat left from our most recent CSF delivery, and Lindsey had requested crab cakes (a CSF is a Community Supported Fishery, like a CSA but for fish. Ours is called Core Sound Seafood – check them out they do excellent work).

Now I had made crab cakes numerous times before (pretty successfully, I believe, as the repeated request demonstrated). As per my usual cooking style, in making them previously I had based my approach on an existing recipe to get the basic idea, then taken it and done my own thing, adjusting and seasoning as I saw fit. The recipes always include some mayonnaise.

The problem was that last night I didn't have any mayonnaise. We usually make our own (much better tasting than the store-bought stuff), and I just didn't feel like taking the extra step. So I decided to wing it, without mayonnaise.

The result? Excellent! More straight crab flavor, and a little lighter. I would in fact probably do it this way again (though I have to say, a little dollop aïoli on top would be quite nice...).

Here's what I did (all measurements are very, very approximate):

I mixed the 1/2 pound of crab meat with a 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs. For flavoring, I used a generous dash of pimentón (smoked paprika – it belongs in pretty much everything), a pinch of cayenne for heat, a couple tablespoons of mustard, a few splashes of cider vinegar, and some salt. To bind it, I added tablespoon of olive oil and a small egg. I combined it all thoroughly, shaped it into 4 cakes, and dredged the cakes in a little flour. These were fried on medium-high heat in a mixture of butter and olive oil until nicely browned. Add a squeeze of lemon on top and it's ready.

And to drink with this? Txakoli of course!