The Baker Upstairs: January 2012


flour tortillas, yo!


I'll confess that I was a little scared to make my own tortillas. Since Geoff and I met, I have tried twice, and both times were disastrous. I think some of it was just my immaturity as a cook (overmixing, not letting the dough rest, etc.), but all the recipes I found just seemed hard. When I found one on Annie's Eats, I knew I had to give it another try, and I'm so glad I did! Homemade tortillas were a staple in my house when I was a kid, and these totally lived up to the ones my mom used to make. I think that if I could have just one food for the rest of my life, fresh warm tortillas with butter would be my choice. So good! Recipe for the tortillas here.

We used the tortillas to make tacos with seasoned turkey burger, mozzarella, avocado, grape tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, and some mango chipotle sauce that Geoff gave me for Christmas. Best tacos ever! (Except maybe those buffalo chicken tacos... mmm...)

P.S. Don't you just love my iPhone pics? Seriously, I can't wait until it's light enough that I can take decent pictures of my food! Maybe I need to save up for a Speedlite... but really, who has an extra $300-500 dollars laying around? If you do, feel free to send it my way.

coconut curry soup


This soup is amazing! Geoff, the self-confessed soup hater, even told me after one bite that it was the best soup I had ever made. And then we stopped talking and just slurped down every bite of delicious soup. I followed the recipe pretty closely, except I used about half as much chicken (we're always trying to cut back on meat), a whole onion, and regular coconut milk instead of light. Somehow the light coconut milk just never seems to add that creamy coconut flavor that I love so well.  I also left out the fish sauce, because I think it's disgusting. I served it over basmati rice (Geoff's fave) and it was delicious and Indian-y. Yum!

Coconut Curry Soup
Mel's Kitchen Cafe

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, (about 3), cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper for seasoning
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 can (14-ounces) unsweetened light coconut milk
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (about 1 medium lime)
¼ cup fresh cilantro

3-4 cups hot, cooked rice for serving

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat until it is hot and shimmering. Pat the chicken pieces dry with a paper towel and season them lightly with salt and pepper. Add them to the hot oil. Let the chicken cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the onions and red pepper. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the onions and peppers are slightly softened. The chicken and vegetables don’t have to be fully cooked as they will simmer and cook further in the next step.

Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, fish sauce, cayenne pepper, brown sugar and curry powder. Stir to combine. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook, gently, for 10-15 minutes. Stir in the lime juice and cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve a ladle or two of the soup over a scoop of rice and garnish with more cilantro, if desired.


enchilada lasagna


I know I haven't been posting as often as I did over the summer, but it's pretty hard in the winter. It's dark by 5:00, so my pictures are orangy and unappetizing. And when I try to take pictures of leftovers the next day, they don't look as pretty. This enchilada lasagna was delicious and had lots of yummy vegetables in it. And it baked up beautifully, but unfortunately after a night in the fridge, it didn't look quite as put-together. Still, it was so good that I wanted to take a picture so I could remember the tastiness of it all and make it again. And I think my Anthro latte bowl makes it look a little festive, right?

Enchilada Lasagna
Lauren's Latest

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small zucchini, diced
4 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup diced green pepper
1/4 cup sliced green olives {mild ones, such as lindsey olives}
2 cups baby spinach, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
salt & pepper, to taste
2 cups cooked, chopped rotisserie chicken
7.5 oz. black beans {1/2 can}
7 oz. salsa {1 small can}
1/2 bunch roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 lb. grated cheddar cheese
9 corn tortillas, sliced
2 cups mild green enchilada sauce
desired toppings: sour cream, tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, cilantro, lime juice

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute zucchini, onion and green peppers until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in olives, spinach, cumin, salt and pepper until spinach starts to wilt. Once spinach is all wilted, remove from heat and stir in chicken, beans, salsa and cilantro. This is the filling for the lasagna. Set aside.

Spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. {A 9×9 glass baking dish will be fine.} Spread 1/4 cup enchilada sauce across the bottom and place 1 layer of corn tortilla strips over top. Sprinkle some cheese over top. Spread half the chicken and veggie filling over the tortillas and cheese. Top with more cheese, more tortilla strips and 3/4 cup enchilada sauce. Continue layering the lasagna with more cheese, the last 1/2 of the filling, more cheese, the remaining tortilla strips, 1 cup of enchilada sauce and the last bit of cheese. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Top with avocados, sour cream, avocados, tomatoes, etc.


what the homemade bagels?

One of my cooking resolutions this year (is it odd that I have specific cooking resolutions?) is to be more adventurous and take on projects that seem scary and intimidating. I consider myself a fairly decent cook and an excellent cookie baker, but there are some things that just seem so hard. Artisan breads. Macarons. Candy-making. Baking a cake that doesn't turn into a disaster. This year I really want to try new things and build my confidence in the kitchen, and I figured bagels were a great way to start. The recipe is fairly complicated and takes at least 24 hours to complete, but the bagels are seriously amazing. I think they might be the best bagels I have ever eaten. Hands down better than Einstein's and maybe tied with Rich's Bagels (my very favorite). I am itching to pick up some asiago cheese at the store and try to recreate my favorite Rich's bagel, and then I shall have no need for bagel shops. Unless, that is, I decide to open one myself.

I was a little worried when I put the bagels into the fridge overnight, because they looked small and a little lumpy. When I pulled them out this morning, though, they were plump and beautiful. (Incidentally, Geoff asked me about the status of the bagels last night, and I told them they were "just being retarded" in the fridge overnight, and then we laughed.)

We boiled the bagels as specified, and then I topped half with cinnamon sugar and half with cheese (cheddar on some and parmesan on others).

Ten minutes later, they were out of the oven and looking awesome!

I was a little scared to take the first bite, after all that time and hard work, but it was amazing! I texted Geoff, "We should forget about our plans for life and just open a bagel shop. I need cream cheese stat!" The texture is fantastic, with the outsides chewy and the insides soft. Plus the flavor is delicious.

Because I'm such a rebel (and also lazy) I didn't follow the recipe exactly. I used all-purpose instead of bread flour, and honey instead of malt powder (who has or needs malt powder?). I really liked the step-by-step instructions on Annie's Eats, and I tried not be jealous that her bagels were more perfect than mine.

Homemade Bagels
Annie's Eats

For the sponge:
1 tsp. (0.11 oz.) instant yeast
4 cups (18 oz.) unbleached bread flour
2 ½ cups (20 oz.) water, at room temperature

For the dough:
½ teaspoon (0.055 oz.) instant yeast
3 ¾ cups (17 oz.) unbleached bread flour
2 ¾ teaspoons (0.7 oz.) salt
2 teaspoons (0.33 oz.) malt powder OR 1 tablespoon (0.5 oz.) dark or light malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar

To finish:
1 tablespoon baking soda
Semolina flour or cornmeal, for dusting
Desired toppings (such as cinnamon-sugar, shredded cheese, seeds, etc.)

To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a medium mixing bowl.  Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (similar to pancake batter). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly.  It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.

To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir.  Then add 3 cups of the flour and all of the salt and malt. Stir (or mix on low speed with the dough hook) until the ingredients form a ball, slowly working in the remaining ¾ cup flour to stiffen the dough.

Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes (or for 6 minutes with the mixer). The dough should be firm, stiffer than French bread dough, but still pliable and smooth.  There should be no raw flour – all the ingredients should be hydrated.  The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 to 81˚ F.  If the dough seems dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading.  If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required.  The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.

Immediately divide the dough into 4 ½ ounce pieces for standard bagels, or smaller if desired. Form the pieces into rolls.  Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.

Line two sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil.  Proceed with shaping the bagels by pushing a hole through the center and stretching out the hole to 2 ½ inches in diameter.  Place each of the shaped pieces 2 inches apart on the pan.  Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and slip each pan into a food-grade plastic bag, or cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let the pans sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the “float test”.  Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water.  The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water.  Take one bagel and test it.  If it floats, immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight.  (At this point, the bagels can be refrigerated for up to 2 days).  If the bagel does not float, return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.

The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels), preheat the oven to 500° F with the two racks set in the middle of the oven.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better), and add the baking soda.  Have a slotted spoon or skimmer nearby.  Have your toppings ready.  

Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many comfortably fit (they should float within 10 seconds). After 1 minute flip them over and boil another minute.  If you like very chewy bagels, you can extend the boiling to 2 minutes per side.

While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-line sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour.  (If you decided to replace the paper, be sure to spray the new paper lightly with spray oil to prevent the bagels from sticking to the surface.)  If you want to top the bagels, do so as soon as they come out of the water.

When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on the 2 middle shelves in the oven.  Bake for approximately 5 minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180˚ rotation.  (If you are baking only 1 pan, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180˚.)  After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450° F and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown.  You may bake them darker if you prefer. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving.


lasagna soup


I've made this soup twice now and I am totally in love with it. I could eat it at least once a week. Geoff, on the other hand, is not so sure, but has at least tolerated it twice. It tastes just like lasagna, and is comforting and delicious! The first time I made it, I dolloped a little ricotta cheese on top, and it was super delicious!

Lasagna Soup
The Deen Brothers

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (32-ounce) container chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 ounces broken whole-wheat lasagna noodles (about 4 noodles)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup reduced-fat shredded mozzarella cheese
8 Whole-wheat breadsticks or grissini (optional)

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick saucepot or Dutch oven. Add the sausage, onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is crumbled and browned, 8 – 10 minutes.

Add the broth, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, salt, and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the flavors are blended, about 20 minutes. Add the noodles; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the soup thickens slightly and the noodles are tender, 10 – 12 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in mozzarella, basil, and the Parmesan. Serve with the breadsticks, if using. (whole-wheat lasagna noodles take a little longer to cook.)