By: Carl Haakenstad, Bulk Buyer
We Americans have loved quick breads for as long as there has been an America. Some of the most famous quick breads are closely associated with American cuisine, especially in the southern United States. It is hard to imagine a proper Southern meal without some cornbread or baking powder biscuits to pass around the table. It is almost as hard to imagine a Midwestern summer without zucchini bread made from that prolific, little green squash. And who could forget that quick, sweet staple of the American kitchen, banana bread? I don’t know about you, but I ate plenty of both of those sweet quick breads growing up and I loved it.
Part of the reason they are so popular is because they are so versatile and quick. Yeasted breads are wonderful, but not everyone has the time or skill to knead, tend, and bake them at home. Quick breads allow the home cook to have a fresh baked loaf of bread with very little prep time and using basic pantry ingredients.
The designation, “quick bread”, can cover a lot of culinary territory from cornbread to beer bread to banana bread. Quick breads can be sweet or savory, flavored or plain, but they all use chemical leavening agents. This simply means that quick breads are made to rise by the action of baking powder and baking soda. Baking powder contains an alkaline and acidic component and when mixed together along with a liquid, they react and give off gases which then cause the batter to rise in the oven. What this all means is that you don’t have to plan ahead when making quick breads. Yeasted breads need hours to rise properly, but quick breads start rising when you stir the liquid into the batter and finish rising in the oven. If you just found out you are having friends over for dinner you can make a quick loaf of beer bread with approximately 15 minutes of prep time and an hour for baking and cooling. I believe this is why quick breads have been popular with generations of Americans – they are quick, hearty, and delicious.
Below you will find a recipe for an easy-to-make beer bread. Plain beer bread can be as simple as four ingredients but it is also a great starting point to experiment with many different flavors or flours. This recipe includes dill and cheddar cheese but the same website, farmgirlfare.com, included many different variations like rye, onion and caraway, rosemary, feta, and whole wheat. The addition of whole wheat flour, or whole spelt or rye flour, will make the beer bread heartier and more nutritious, though farmgirl Susan does suggest adding an extra ¼ cup of water or beer to the batter when using whole wheat flour.
I also wanted to include a recipe for that American classic: cornbread. Almost any cookbook that covers the classics will include a standard recipe for cornbread. According to Mark Twain, that quick witted sometimes culinary writer, we Northerners may need a little help with our cornbread, “The North thinks it knows how to make corn bread, but this is gross superstition. Perhaps no bread in the world is quite as good as Southern corn bread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite so bad as the Northern imitation of it.” Now, the recipe below is not your standard cornbread and when properly prepared hopefully it could show Mr. Twain that we Northerners now do know a thing or two about cornbread.
Beyond Easy Dill And Cheddar Beer Bread
Makes one loaf
The optional egg glaze gives the top a beautiful, dark golden color. As always, I encourage you to use local and organic ingredients whenever possible. They really do make a difference.
Basic Beer Bread Mix:
3 c organic all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder (make sure it’s fresh!)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill (or 2 teaspoons dried)
1 c finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
12 ounces beer
Optional glaze: 1 egg & 2 teaspoons water, beaten. Heat oven to 375°. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, dill, and cheddar in a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in the beer and mix just until combined. The batter will be thick.
Spread the batter in a greased 8-inch loaf pan, brush with the egg glaze if desired, and bake until golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool 10 more minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Special thanks to farmgirlfare.com
1 pound fresh asparagus, ends trimmed, each stalk cut diagonally into thirds
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon oriental sesame oil
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
Cook asparagus in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain. Rinse asparagus under cold water. Drain well. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in paper towels and chill.)
Heat vegetable oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper and stir 1 minute. Add asparagus and sauté until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add soy sauce and sesame oil; toss until asparagus and bell pepper are coated, about 1 minute. Transfer to platter. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
4 slices bacon, finely chopped (optional)
1 c milk
1/3 c unsalted butter
1 c yellow cornmeal
3/4 c all-purpose flour
1/3 c grated Canadian cheddar
2 Tbsp packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp dried thyme leaves (or 2 tsp fresh)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c cooked sweet potato mash* (from two 6″ long sweet potatoes)
2 large eggs
1 tbsp white vinegar
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter an 8″ x 8″ glass or ceramic baking dish. Cook the chopped bacon in a frying pan over medium heat until just beginning to brown, but not crispy. Set aside. Put milk and butter in glass measuring cup, microwave on medium-high heat for approximately 30 seconds to melt butter and heat milk. Stir cornmeal into milk mixture. Set aside to soak – this helps soften the cornmeal for baking.
In large bowl, mix flour, cheese, brown sugar, baking powder, thyme, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, mix mashed sweet potato with eggs. Stir in cornmeal mixture. Pour into dry ingredients. Add vinegar and cooked bacon, if using, scraping pan drippings into batter. Mix until just combined. Spread in buttered baking dish. Bake 25-28 minutes or until center springs back when gently pressed. Do not over bake. Let stand a few minutes before slicing
Spinach Salad with
Gourmet | July 2007
Makes 6 servings
2 1/2 tablespoons strawberry vinegar (see recipe below)
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 ounces baby spinach (8 cups)
1/2 pound strawberries, cut lengthwise into thick slices (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup pecan halves (3 1/2 ounces), toasted and cooled
Whisk together vinegar, a rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking well. Put spinach, strawberries, and pecans in a large bowl and toss with just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat.
Commercial fruit vinegars usually employ cooked fruit, resulting in a heavy, jammy, and not-so-nuanced flavor. We made our vinegar with uncooked berries, so it retains that fresh-from-the-patch essence.
1 pound strawberries, trimmed (3 cups)
2 tablespoons sugar – if berries are not sweet
2 cups white balsamic vinegar
Pulse berries with sugar (if using) in a food processor until finely chopped and very juicy. Transfer to a bowl and add vinegar. Let stand 1 hour. Strain vinegar through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids.
Cooks’ note: Vinegar keeps, covered and chilled, 1 week.