Orange Poppy Seed Bread

There are always a few recipes that stay with us as fond memories from our childhood. This recipe is most certainly one I carried with me after I left home. It was a favorite of my mother’s, who would bake it for family gatherings, or simply because one of her children requested it. I loved to cut a slice from the middle, which was richly laden with the orange glaze drizzled atop the loaf. I so enjoyed the tiny bites of poppy seeds, exploding under my teeth while I savored every bite. I am a huge fan of marzipan, and really anything flavored with almond, so perhaps that’s why this bread has appealed so greatly to me throughout my life. You could substitute lemon in place of the orange juice and zest called for in the recipe, if you prefer. This bread is fantastic served at brunch, afternoon coffee, or as a light dessert post dinner. It also makes a lovely gift. Perhaps this recipe will become a favorite of your family, just as it did in mine.

3 eggs, room temperature, slightly beaten
1 1/2 c. oil (canola, safflower, or vegetable, preferably organic)
1 1/2 c. whole milk, room temperature
2 c. sugar
3 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. poppy seeds
zest of one orange
3-4 tsp. pure almond extract

For the Glaze:
1 orange, juiced
1/4 c. granulated or powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)

Grease and flour two 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5″ loaf pans. Set aside and preheat the oven to 325°F. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds in a large bowl; whisk to remove any clumps. Combine the eggs, and with the mixer running on medium-low, add the oil, sugar, almond extract, and orange zest in the bowl of a stand mixer. Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate between adding the dry ingredients and milk to the egg mixture. Pour the prepared batter into the loaf pans and bake in the oven on the middle rack of the oven for about 1- 1 1/4 hours, or until a toothpick, inserted into the middle of the loaf removes cleanly.

Allow the loaves to cool for about 10 minutes on a wire cooling rack before attempting to remove them from the pan. If they do not remove easily, run a sharp knife around the edges of the loaves. Meanwhile, prepare the orange glaze in a small butter warming pan. Add all the ingredients and allow the sugar to completely dissolve into the juice. Place the wire cooling rack over a baking tray, and pour the glaze over both loaves. You may want to poke a few holes into the tops of the loaves so more glaze penetrates into the center. Some glaze will accumulate in the baking tray. Simply remove the wire rack and pour the remaining glaze back into the butter warmer and re-pour the contents over both loaves again. Once the loaves have cooled slightly, you can eat a slice (or two!) immediately, or once the loaves are completely cool, you can wrap them in plastic or aluminum foil. This bread freezes nicely, but I have not yet ever had a loaf left over to store in the freezer!

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Cherry Almond Mini Muffins

I’ve noticed a recent rise in the availability of virgin coconut oil in my local supermarkets. Even Trader Joe’s offers a jar of this sweet tasting stuff for an equally sweet price of $5.99. I started experimenting with the addition of coconut oil in numerous sweets I enjoy baking. It adds a lovely, gentle coconut taste and moisture to whatever it’s incorporated into. It also has numerous health benefits, some of which you can read here. Plus it tastes amazing on homemade popcorn!

I came across a lovely recipe for muffins with dried cherries and almond paste. It was Saturday morning, and I really wanted to churn out something for breakfast. Since I didn’t have any almond paste on hand, I decided to substitute some of the required butter with coconut oil and a small portion of the required amount of flour with some almond flour. I added a splash of almond extract, and I was left with an irresistible almond paste substitute. (Well, at least I thought so!) I was in the mood for something mini, so I decided to opt for downsizing the muffin. My children love mini muffins for their cute size, and I love them because they are the perfect portion size, allowing you to indulge in some sweetness without going overboard.

Yield: 24 mini muffins (12 regular size)

juice from one orange (about 6 Tbl.)
3/4 c. dried cherries, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. almond extract
3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 c. plus 2 Tbl. almond flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. coconut oil
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two mini muffin tins with muffin liners. (If you prefer, you can exclude the muffin liners and just oil the tin, but I tend to have better luck removing the muffins once they are baked with liners.) In a small sauce pan, or butter warmer, add the orange juice, cherries, and almond extract. Slowly bring the liquid mixture to a simmer. Remove from the heat and allow the cherries to seep in the liquid until softened, about 10 minutes.

Whisk the flours, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer. With the stand mixer running on low, add the eggs one at a time. Add the coconut oil and orange zest. Add the cherry liquid mixture. Continue to keep mixing until all ingredients are incorporated. Spoon the batter evenly between all the muffin cups. The batter should be even with the top of the liners. Place the muffin tins onto the middle oven rack and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the muffin tops are nicely golden. Allow the muffins to cool on a wire rack. The muffins can be kept in a cake dome for 2-3 days, but it’s highly unlikely that will happen. Usually, in my home, all 24 are consumed by evening!

Weekend Breakfast: Dutch Pancake

One of my fondest  childhood memories is my father’s Saturday morning pancake ritual. Throughout a majority of my youth, my father worked third shift, which meant I didn’t get a chance to see him too frequently during the week. Weekends were cherished moments, accented by raucous backyard trampoline jumping, visits to the cinema, and baking chocolate chip cookies. How I loved to watch my father mix the pancake batter to the right consistency, then add a small dollop of butter to a cast iron skillet, before he spooned out the batter in some shape we children had requested. I always wanted the first pancake off the griddle, as that was the one which had the slighty fried and crispy bottom ring from the batter hitting the sizzling butter.

Now that I am a mother, I try to continue this Saturday morning tradition with my children. I usually give my father a phone call to invite him over, at which point he laughs and says he’ll be right there! [My father lives about 470 miles away from me, thus the chuckle.] Whether I make pancakes and eggs, or scones, or muffins, I try to recreate that magic feeling surrounding weekend breakfasts for my children, just as my father made for me.

 The other day I came across a recipe for a Dutch pancake. The accompanying magazine picture, showcasing this lovely ballooned pancake, made me immediately want to try it. And so, we did. I must say it was extremely uncomplicated to make and a ton of fun for my children (and myself!) to watch while baking in the oven. It is quite a crowd pleaser, and would be a welcome addition to any sort of brunch you may be planning for company. Feel free to add a nice dusting of powdered sugar to the top of the pancake, and, or homemade whipped cream. I omitted both of these ingredients, opting for a simple sprinkling of cinnamon instead, as my children certainly didn’t need the extra “energy” from yet even more sugar in the morning. If you do decide to omit the sugar or the whipped cream on top, I do recommend adding about a 1/4 c. of sugar into the batter prior to baking, or a drizzle of maple syrup upon serving.

Here’s to weekend breakfasts and making lasting memories with your loved ones!

Dutch Pancake Recipe:

3 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. whole milk, room temperature
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar (optional)
1/2 c. maple syrup
confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon for dusting

Put an 11″ ovenproof sauté pan in a cold oven and preheat oven to 475° F. While the oven and pan heats, place the eggs, flour, sugar (optional), milk, and vanilla in a blender. Blend on high until frothy, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and blend again if necessary. Once the oven reaches the required temperature, remove the sauté pan. (Be sure not to touch the handle of the pan by accident without an oven mitt. The pan will be VERY hot!) Add the butter and return the pan to the oven. After the butter melts, about 2 minutes, remove the pan once again and carefully pour the batter inside. Return the pan back into the oven and allow the batter to bake for about 17-19 minutes, or until the  pancake is lightly brown on top and the sides have risen.

When the pancake is fully cooked, remove from the oven and sprinkle with a dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon. Allow the pancake to cool for about 3 minutes before cutting it into wedges. If you choose, serve with whipped cream and sliced orange rounds or fresh berries.

*My children love to watch the pancake balloon while baking, so I recommend turning the oven light on and taking a peek now and then. Just be sure no one leans up against the oven glass in the thick of excitement, particularly if your oven is situated low to the floor!

Whipped Cream Recipe:

1 c. heavy cream, chilled
1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp. vanilla

In a large bowl, add the cream, sugar, and vanilla. Beat on high speed until the mixture has a thick consistency. Taste and add more sugar if you like. Keep chilled until ready to use.

Steel-Cut Oats

Steel-cut oats are one of those things that I avoided for the longest time for no other reason than I just wasn’t familiar with them.  I mean, old-fashioned rolled oats were so easy and familiar – why change, right?  But one day, while I was raiding the bulk section at my grocery store, I decided to get them, and I haven’t turned back since.  They are delicious!  They have a nice nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture that does not turn to complete mush.  And they’re as easy to make as the rolled oats — they just need about 30 minutes to cook rather than 5-10.  Nutritionally, the steel-cut and rolled varieties are just about equal.  The difference is as implied by the name – either the grain is rolled into flat pieces or cut with a steel blade.  Quick Oats, on the other hand, have gone through a higher level of processing and pre-cooking, which depletes some of the nutritional value, so they are NOT a good choice when with a few extra minutes you can have the real thing!

All you really need is the oats and water, but I like to make them with a few extra ingredients.  This nets about 4 servings.

1 cup steel-cut oats

1 Tbsp. butter

3 cups water

1 cup milk or buttermilk

Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan and toss in the oats to coat.  Stir and cook for a couple minutes, until the oats start to brown and smell a little nutty.  Stir in the water (preheated, if you want, so that the oats don’t stop cooking) and allow to come to a simmer.  Cover and keep at a low simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add the milk and cook for about another 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed.

If you tend to run out of time in the mornings (um, like most of us!), an alternative cooking method is to combine the grains and water in a pot before going to bed and allow to soak overnight.  In the morning, just turn on the stove and add the milk and simmer on low for about 10 minutes, or until they are done.

Now you can add whatever you want for flavor — fresh, frozen, or dried fruit, nuts, a little cinnamon, or lightly sweeten it with honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup.  What I often do for my 2-year-old is add some frozen blueberries and a couple spoonfuls of plain yogurt, which cools it down quickly and gives it a delicious, creamy texture.  To make the oatmeal more appealing to a wary child, I like to dust the top with my special brown “sprinkles” (flax seed).  Or I’ll bury some raisins at the bottom to dig out like a treasure hunt.  My personal favorite way to eat them is with some mashed banana, cinnamon, and ground walnut…just like banana bread!

Steel-cut oats also hold up well as leftovers.  Just add a little more liquid when re-heating.  I usually make a large enough batch on Mondays to last us through the busy work week.  They are also a good choice for those of us on a budget.  They may cost slightly more by pound than the rolled variety, but since they require more water, they make almost twice as much.  We’d love to hear how you like to eat your steel-cut oats.  Please share with us by adding a comment to this post or by sending us an email to twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com.

Eggs….for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner)

To continue with a few more ideas for breakfast and lunch, may we consider the egg. The egg is so versatile. It  can be eaten alone, incorporated into numerous dishes, or in some cases, even as a garnish. People eat eggs for breakfast, lunch, brunch, and dinner. Basically anytime of the day is a perfect time for consuming eggs.

But not every egg is created equally! I remember the first time I cracked open an egg someone gave me from one of the villages on the Greek island where we stay during the summer. I had never, in my entire life, seen a yolk so deeply orange. I then knew why many Europeans referred to the yolk of the egg, as the red of the egg! Made me stop and think why most of the eggs available to me at the grocery store back home looked sickly in comparison. Could it possibly be that a majority of eggs sold in the United States come from factory farms, where the chickens laying them are living in terrible conditions and not able to forage the earth for grass and bugs like nature intended?? Hmmmmm……

I have found some very good eggs at my local farmer’s market, as well as the co-op, where I order my goat milk. But honestly, not even every container of “organic eggs” will be that great. There are, sadly, many legal loop holes that farmers use to obtain the “organic” or “free-roaming” label, even though their chickens are still, for the most part, cooped up in gigantic warehouse-like barns. I recently came across, The Cornucopia Institute’s website, which rates eggs, allowing consumers to see which producers received the highest scores in their egg-laying operations. I found it, as well as the site’s video’s, very informative.

http://www.cornucopia.org/2010/09/organic-egg-report-and-scorecard/

So, once you’ve armed yourself with knowledge, and a few good eggs, it’s time to cook. For breakfast, I usually prefer scrambled eggs, but there’s also the hard egg, or soft-boiled egg, which is lovely with a few slices of dipping toast. My son is a huge fan of the hard-boiled egg, which is great, simply because you can cook a few in advance and store them in the fridge. Hard-boiled eggs are also a great option for packed lunches. If your child is too small to peel the shell, just peel it for him, and include a little container of salt. (Unless your child doesn’t like a small pinch of salt on his egg!)

For lunch, I love to make egg salad.  Simply boil about 6 eggs. Make sure not to put the heat too high, particularly if the eggs are cold. Bring them to a slow boil; cook for 4-5 minutes; then shut the heat off and allow the eggs to continue cooking in the hot water. This technique will prevent your eggs from cracking. Once the eggs have been cooked and peeled, smash them into small pieces with a fork. Add some mayonnaise, about 1-1 1/2 large spoonfuls; some finely chopped dill; 1 tsp. Dijon mustard; and sprinkle with salt and pepper to your liking. I have tried to make the egg salad into sandwiches with two slices of bread, but I find it’s best consumed open-faced, or even, just dipped into with some good crackers.

Scones

Recently a friend of mine said she had stalled on new ideas to serve for breakfast and lunch. Her son is about my daughter’s age, and despite a toddler’s ability to eat practically the same menu everyday, it’s nice to have a little change here and there, if for nothing more than your own sanity! So with that suggestion, we will attempt to post some of our ideas for breakfast and lunch. Of course, we would love to hear your ideas too, so if you have a great recipe to pass along into cyber world, please do. You can always leave a comment on the blog, and we will reply as soon as we can. Alternatively, you can send us an email at: twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com

There is a recipe for, “Chocolate Chip-Orange Scones,” in the Bon Appetite cookbook, which I love to make. I altered the recipe one day because I didn’t have any buttermilk on hand, so instead, I used goat milk.  I must admit that I really liked them in their altered state! Scones are a nice addition to your breakfast menu because they really aren’t hard to make, but they just appear to be, which will greatly impress your family or any other guests who may be coming over for coffee. Additionally, scones are great to experiment with, so whatever fresh or dried fruit you may have could work, as well as different spices and extracts. The possibilities are fairly limitless, so experiment away! If you know you will be short on time in the morning, you can prepare the dough the night before, separate it into whatever shape you want, place it on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator. In the morning, all you have to do is preheat the oven, remove the plastic wrap, and add a couple of minutes to the baking time. Enjoy!

2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 c. sugar (you can even use 1/4 c. if you prefer)

1 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 c. (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced

3 tsp. grated orange peel (1 orange)

1 c. miniature semisweet chocolate chips (or just chop the regular sized chips)

2/3 c. chilled goat milk (or buttermilk)

1 lg. egg yoke

1 tsp. vanilla extract (you could also add a tiny drop of orange extract if you prefer)

1/3 c. dried cranberries (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Butter and flour baking sheet, or line with parchment paper. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in large bowl. Add butter and orange peel; rub in with fingertips until a coarse meal forms. Mix in fruit and chocolate chips. Whisk milk, egg yolk, and vanilla in a small bowl to blend. Add wet ingredients slowly into dry ingredients; stir with fork until dough comes together in moist clumps. But do not mix dough for too long. **It’s ok if some of the butter chunks still are visible. If you over-mix, the scones will not rise as well as they could.** Gather into a ball. You can roll out the dough and cut it into various shapes with cooking forms, however, I simply pull off small chunks of dough and place it directly on the baking sheet. This allows the nice “cracking” or flaking to be noticed once the dough is baked. Space your dough at least 1″ apart on baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes (about 20 minutes if the dough has been chilled overnight). Serve warm with butter, or at room temperature.

Granola/Nut Bars

 These bars are a staple in my house, and they might just become in yours too! The best part about these bars is not that they’re extremely healthy and delicious, which is a rarity in and of itself, but they’re ridiculously easy to make. Plus they are perfect for on-your-way-out-the-door-didn’t-have-time-for-breakfast bars, or to slip into your child’s backpack for a snack. You can, as the title implies, make them into granola bars, but if you choose, they can be made solely of different types of nuts. In my haste, one day, I completely forgot to add the granola, and the nut-only bars were just as tasty. You can use whatever nuts and dried fruits you fancy, or have laying around the house. If you are unable to purchase raw nuts, substitute unsalted roasted nuts. And if you are not accustomed to eating raw nuts, maybe it’s time. Nuts retain more of their nutritional value and contain less saturated fat when in their raw state. As a former roasted nut eater, I totally get why people love roasted nuts: they taste good! But once myself and my children got accustomed to raw nuts, there was no turning back….. 

Preheat the oven to 250° F

1 14fl-oz can sweetened condensed milk (preferably organic)

2 ½ cups oats (not instant)

1 cup dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, mango, apricot, etc)

1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut (optional, but very yummy addition)

1 cup mixed seeds, preferably raw (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower)

1 cup preferably raw nuts (almond, cashew, hazelnut, peanut)

**If you choose to omit the granola, simply add 1 cup more of both seeds and nuts to your mix.

 Preheat the oven to 250° F

Oil or butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan

Warm the condensed milk slowly, over low heat. Meanwhile, mix all the other ingredients together in a large bowl

Add the warm condensed milk to your nut mix, using a rubber spatula to fold and distribute through

Spread the mixture into the oiled/buttered pan and press down with the spatula to make the surface even.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes-1 hour.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

Cut into squares and allow to cool for another 5 minutes

Gently remove the squares from the pan with a spatula and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.

(I have left the bars to cool completely inside the pan after cutting, but they become rather difficult to remove once that happens. I think it’s better to gently remove them when they’re still a bit warm.)