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Aug 27, 2014

White Flour Warm Spot Levain

White Flour Warm Spot Levain Karen's Kitchen Stories

The reason why this bread is called Warm Spot Levain is because the sourdough starter is fed three times in a fairly short period of time and then allowed to sit in an 85 degree environment between each feeding. The final levain is stiffer than most (70 percent hydration), and has a uniquely sweet/sour flavor.

White Flour Warm Spot Levain Karen's Kitchen Stories

You will need three days to make this bread (three days????) but it is worth it.

For my "warm spot," I placed the levain in the garage (it is summer right now). You could also place it in the microwave along with two coffee cups of freshly boiled water, under a heat lamp, or in a gas oven with the light on.

The resulting bread has a super crispy crunchy crust and an amazingly soft, moist interior.

Because making this bread required feeding a levain three times in a short period of time, I had quite a bit of starter left over. Since I hate tossing out that much levain, I used some of the excess to make this Sourdough Polenta Bread.

This bread freezes well. Once it cools, wrap it in foil and then plastic wrap, and freeze it immediately. To thaw, remove the plastic wrap and let it sit in the foil until it has thawed.

White Flour Warm Spot Levain Karen's Kitchen Stories

White Flour Warm-Spot Levain Bread

First Levain Feeding

50 grams sourdough starter that has been fed about 24 hours ago
250 g white flour
175 g 85 degree water

Second Levain Feeding

50 g of the first levain
250 g white flour
175 g 80 degree water

Third Levain Feeding

100 g of the second levain
500 g white flour
350 g 85 degree water

Final Dough

750 g white flour
605 g 80 degree F water
20 g fine sea salt
1 g instant yeast
425 g of the levain


  1. Around 9 am on the first day, mix the first levain with your hand or a spoon and cover with plastic wrap. Place it in a very warm place (85 degree F) to rest. 
  2. Eight hours later, discard (or save for another use) all but 50 g of the levain, and feed it again. Mix with your hand or a spoon, and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a very warm place (85 degrees F) to rest overnight. 
  3. The next morning, discard (or save for another use) all but 100 g of the levain and feed it again with the ingredients listed above under "Third Levain Feeding." Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 6 hours in a very warm place (85 degrees F). You should have about 2 quarts of levain. 
  4. To make the final dough, mix the white flour and water in a 12 qt bucket or very large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 30 minutes. 
  5. Sprinkle the salt and yeast over the top of the dough and add 425 g of the levain to the bucket/bowl. A scale is essential. 
  6. Mix with your wet hand by alternatively folding and pinching the dough to fully mix in the salt and yeast, as well as incorporate the levain. 
  7. Cover the container, and do four stretch and folds, every 30 minutes. When the dough is 2 1/2 times its original size, about 6 hours later, it's ready to divide and shape. 
  8. Dust your work surface with flour.
  9. Gently remove the dough onto you work surface, and divide it in half with a bench knife. 
  10. Form the dough into two medium tight balls and place them, seam side down, into two floured proofing baskets. Cover with plastic wrap or place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate overnight, 12 to 14 hours. 
  11. About 45 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F with two empty covered Dutch ovens placed on the middle rack. 
  12. When you are ready to bake, cut parchment into two 9 inch by 15+ inch pieces. 
  13. Remove the Dutch ovens from the oven and remove the tops. One loaf at a time, place the parchment over the dough and place a plate over it. Flip the dough over, remove the basket, and lift and place the loaf in the Dutch oven by using the parchment as a sling (leave the paper under the dough). Cover the Dutch oven and place it in the hot oven. Repeat with the second loaf. 
  14. Bake covered for 30 minutes, and then remove the Dutch ovens from the hot oven, uncover, and place the loaves on a baking sheet. Be careful not to burn yourself! Place the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes more, until the interior of the bread reaches 205 to 210 degrees F and the bread is a deep brown. My loaves were ready sooner, so check early. 
  15. Cool completely on a wire rack. 

This bread has been Yeastspotted
Aug 22, 2014

Sourdough Polenta (Grits) Bread

Sourdough Polenta (Grits) Bread from

I'm pretty excited about this polenta sourdough bread. First, it definitely takes crunchy chewy crust to the next level. Second, the combination of the sweet polenta with a thrice fed 70 percent hydration levain creates an amazing flavor.

"Thrice fed 70 percent hydration levain." Did I just say that?

Sourdough Polenta (Grits) Bread from

Polenta is the Italian version of grits, which is corn meal boiled in water to create a hot cereal. Corn is actually a native American food, so you could also call this "grits bread."

I had some leftover levain (sourdough starter) that I really didn't want to throw away. It was from a Ken Forkish bread. If you are familiar with the amazing book, Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast, you probably know that tossing out extra levain is part of the program. While I do toss out my share of levain, I do my best to find ways to use as much as possible.

Sourdough Polenta (Grits) Bread from

When Elizabeth of Blog from OUR Kitchen posted this polenta bread for the Bread Baking Babes, I decided to use the leftover levain to make this bread. It worked out perfectly. The crust was super crunchy, and the bread was light, moist, and airy. I also baked the loaves in cast iron pans.

You can still make this bread if you don't happen to have extra levain sitting around. Elizabeth's post provides a way to quickly create a starter.

Sourdough Polenta (Grits) Bread from

I used a lot more sourdough starter than the original recipe called for to get as much "oven spring" as possible. In addition, I coated my bannetons with some corn meal prior to proofing the loaves to add extra crunch to the crust. Delicious.

This recipe called for slashing the dough in a spiral pattern. I need to work on my bread slashing skills. I'm pretty sure my spiral is "rustic."

I will be making this bread again. And again.

Sourdough Polenta Bread


35 g (3 T) coarse cornmeal
175 g water


390 g water
1/8 tsp instant yeast
600 g bread flour
360 g mature sourdough starter (mine was 70% hydration. If yours is higher, adjust the flour in your final dough to accommodate the extra water)
18 g salt
all of the polenta
cornmeal, flour, and rice flour for the bannetons


  1. To make the polenta, pour the water over the cornmeal and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook the ingredients, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Pour the polenta onto a plate to cool. 
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the water, yeast, and flour. Mix to blend and let the ingredients rest for about 30 minutes, covered.
  3. Add the sourdough/levain, salt, and the polenta. Mix with the dough hook for about 5 minutes. 
  4. Place the dough into an oiled bowl or dough rising bucket, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 30 minutes. 
  5. Stretch and fold the dough and re-cover with the plastic wrap. 
  6. Let the dough rise until doubled. 
  7. Divide the dough in half and form it into two preliminary boules. Cover with oiled plastic wrap. 
  8. Dust two small bannetons or towel lined bowls with a combination of wheat and rice flour. Then dust with cornmeal. 
  9. Form the dough into boules and place each into the bannetons, seam side up. Cover with oiled plastic wrap.
  10. Place two cast iron combo cookers on your oven rack and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. 
  11. When the loaves have doubled in size, cut parchment into two 9 inch by 15+ inch pieces. 
  12. Remove the Dutch ovens from the oven and remove the tops. One loaf at a time, place the parchment over the dough and place a plate over it. Flip the dough over, remove the basket, and lift and place the loaf in the Dutch oven by using the parchment as a sling (leave the paper under the dough). 
  13. Slice the dough in a spiral pattern. I hope you can do a better job than I did. 
  14. Cover the Dutch oven and place it in the hot oven. Repeat with the second loaf. 
  15. Reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees F. 
  16. Bake covered for 20 minutes, and then remove the Dutch ovens from the hot oven, uncover, and place the loaves on a baking sheet. Be careful not to burn yourself! Place the baking sheet into the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees F, and bake for 15 to 25 minutes more, until the interior of the bread reaches 205 to 210 degrees F and the bread is browned.
  17. Cool completely on a wire rack. 
This bread has been Yeastspotted

Aug 20, 2014

Spicy Dry-Fried Beef | Wok Wednesdays

Spicy Dry-Fried Beef

I had every intention of making this Spicy Dry-Fried Beef over the weekend. I also wanted to make four loaves of bread, some rugelach, some biscuits, and Maggi steak and daikon and carrot pickle for a banh mi sandwich. I was ambitious.

Spicy Dry-Fried Beef

Fortunately, this dish was incredibly easy to make when I got home from work on Monday.

Dry-frying is a technique that involves cooking ingredients in oil but without sauce or stock. In this case, the beef is cooked for several minutes in oil. The beef is stir-fried until the juices evaporate or are absorbed. Then the beef is stir-fried for a couple of minutes more in the remaining oil, which intensifies and caramelizes the flavor. Eventually, your wok should be nearly dry.

The ingredients include flank steak, carrots, celery, small chiles de arbol, soy sauce, ginger, garlic (which I almost forgot, thank goodness for the long dry-frying time while I frantically minced garlic cloves), sesame oil, scallions, and salt and pepper.

My only substitution was to use fresh small red peppers. While we have easy access to dried chiles here in southern California, we have been growing our own red chiles, so I wanted to use them.

In the original recipe, you cut the stems off of three dried red chiles and cook them with the vegetables. Instead, I cut three small red chile peppers from our garden into thirds and added them into the vegetables. I removed the chiles prior to serving the beef. The result? A fabulous spicy dish.

Spicy Dry-Fried Beef

This stir-fry was a big hit in our house.

The recipe for this stir-fry can be found > here. It's also on page 70 of Grace Young's amazing James Beard award winning book, Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge. I highly recommend this collection of amazing stir-fries along with lessons on Asian ingredients and the care and feeding of your wok.

Would you like to wok along with the Wok Wednesdays group? Check out our Facebook page with over 700 happy wokkers.

Aug 19, 2014

Baking Powder Biscuits | Tuesdays with Dorie

Baking Powder Biscuits from Karen's Kitchen Stories

Baking Powder Biscuits! This is a quick post for a quick recipe.

I got home from work and was determined to make this week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection from Baking with Julia, a wonderful baking book edited by Dorie Greenspan from Julia Child's PBS show of the same name. 

I cut the recipe in half, and used half butter and half shortening in place of all shortening. Within 30 minutes, I had seven wonderful little biscuits. I promptly ate three. One with butter, one with cheese, and one with butter and jam. I loved them.

Baking Powder Biscuits

Makes 7 biscuits.


1 C all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp shortening
1 1/2 tsp unsalted butter
1/2 C milk
Melted butter for brushing the biscuits before baking


  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F with a rack in the middle. 
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  3. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl.
  4. Drop in the butter and shortening and coat them with the flour. 
  5. Using your fingers, pick up the pieces of butter/shortening with your fingers, break the pieces apart, and drop them back in the flour. Continue to rub the flour and shortening/butter together until most of the shortening and flour are mixed, but there are still small visible pieces. 
  6. Stir in the milk with a fork. The dough will be "messy." 
  7. Sprinkle flour onto the counter and scrape the dough out of the bowl. Knead the dough ten times. 
  8. Flatten the dough to about 3/8 inches thick and cut with a 2 inch round biscuit cutter. Gather the scraps together and flatten again to cut more biscuits. You should end up with 7 biscuits.
  9. Brush the tops with melted butter and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden.

Blueberry Pecan Rugelach

Blueberry Pecan Rugelach: Karen's Kitchen Stories

These blueberry pecan rugelach are perfect for showing off your harvest of summer fruits or berries.

The dough is made with butter, cream cheese, a small amount of sugar, and flour. By making your own jam filling, you can also control the amount of sugar in this cookie. The result is a bite sized fruit and nut filled cookie with just a hint of sweetness (if fresh fruit is out of season, you can always use preserves or jam).

Blueberry Pecan Rugelach: Karen's Kitchen Stories

The dough is rolled out into 12 inch rounds between two pieces of parchment paper, and then chilled in the refrigerator for at least an hour. I loved this technique. Most recipes call for chilling the dough and then rolling it out. This was so much easier. The hardest part was clearing room in the refrigerator for the half sheet pan stacked with 12 inch disks of dough.

Blueberry Pecan Rugelach: Karen's Kitchen Stories

Blueberry Pecan Rugelach

Makes 48 cookies. Recipe inspired from Simply Sensational Cookies by Nancy Baggett.

Blueberry Jam

1 generous quart of fresh blueberries, washed and stems removed
4 tsp sugar
  1. Place the blueberries into a large saucepan and sprinkle with the sugar.
  2. Cook over medium heat, stirring and mashing the blueberries as they cook until the mixture is reduced to about 1 1/2 cups. 
  3. Cool completely.


3/4 C unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into slices
6 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened and cut into pieces
1/2 C powdered sugar
Heaping 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
2 C (9 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour
Heaping cup of coarsely chopped pecans
1/4 tsp cinnamon
All of the blueberry jam
1 large egg, beaten with a tablespoon of milk
Sparkling or granulated sugar


  1. Cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer on medium speed, until smooth. 
  2. Add one half of the flour and mix on low speed. Add the other half of the flour and mix on low speed until just combined. 
  3. Divide the dough into thirds. Form each piece into a round disk and place each onto a large sheet of parchment paper. Place another piece of parchment on top of the dough, and roll the dough out with a rolling pin into a 12 inch disk. 
  4. Stack the disks, still sandwiched between the sheets of parchment, and place them onto a sheet pan. Refrigerate for at least an hour and up to two days. 
  5. When you are ready to bake the cookies, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F.
  6. Add the nuts and cinnamon to the jam, stir, and divide the mixture into thirds. 
  7. Taking out one dough disk at a time, remove the top piece of parchment from the dough.
  8. Spread the jam mixture onto the dough disk to within 1/2 inch of the edges. 
  9. Using a pizza wheel, cut the dough in half, then in quarters, then in eighths, and finally into 16ths, as you would a pizza. 
  10. Roll each piece up beginning with the wider edge, and place on a parchment or silicone sheet lined baking sheet. You should be able to fit all 16 rugelach onto one baking sheet. 
  11. Lightly brush each cookie with the egg wash and sprinkle with the sparkling sugar. 
  12. Bake for 17 to 23 minutes, until golden brown. Mine took about 20 minutes. 
  13. Allow the rugelach to cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes, and then cool on a wire rack. 
  14. Repeat with the other two disks. 
  15. Once they are fully cooled, they can be stored in an air tight container for up to a week. 

The theme this month is Creative Uses for the Summer Bounty! Why should cookies be left out from the summer harvest? They shouldn’t! If you are a blogger and want to join in the fun, contact Laura at thespicedlife AT gmail DOT com and she will get you added to our Facebook group, where we discuss our cookies and share links.

You can also just use us as a great resource for cookie recipes--be sure to check out our Pinterest Board and our monthly posts (you can find all of them here at The Spiced Life). You will be able to find them the first Tuesday after the 15th of each month! Also, if you are looking for inspiration to get in the kitchen and start baking, check out what all of the hosting bloggers have made:
Aug 17, 2014

Maggi Steak Banh Mi with Daikon and Carrot Pickle

These Maggi Steak Banh Mi sandwiches have been on my mind ever since I made these Banh Mi rolls a little less than a month ago.

Maggi Steak Banh Mi with Daikon and Carrot Pickle from Karen's Kitchen Stories

About a month ago, I bought the book The Banh Mi Handbook: Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches. The first thing I made were the Banh Mi Rolls. Honestly, I had no idea that the book had a recipe for the rolls when I bought it, but if you follow this blog, you know how obsessed I am about bread baking.

When life got in the way, I wrapped two of the rolls in plastic wrap, wrapped them in foil, placed them in freezer bags, and then stuck them in the freezer (I think I got this backwards, I'm pretty sure you should wrap them in foil first, and then plastic wrap). I had 30 days to use them for banh mi sandwiches.

Maggi Steak Banh Mi with Daikon and Carrot Pickle from Karen's Kitchen Stories

What is banh mi, you ask? It is a sandwich originally made by Vietnamese street vendors starting at least 100 years ago. It is a descendant of the French liver pate sandwich and is layered with mayonnaise, Maggi, soy, and/or other sauce, filling (such as meats, fish, poultry, cold cuts), pickled vegetables, fresh cucumbers, chiles, and cilantro. Baguettes were introduced to Vietnam during the century long French occupation of the country.

It was difficult to choose which meat filling to make for these sandwiches. I finally settled on the Maggi steak. I had a bottle of Maggi in the corner of my pantry nestled among the Gravy Master and Liquid Smoke (throw back ingredients that have saved me quite a few times). It's a seasoning that adds an umami boost without MSG or soy. I haven't seen it in "regular" grocery stores for awhile, but I have seen it in Asian markets. If you can't find it, you can use soy sauce or tamari.

Maggi Steak Banh Mi with Daikon and Carrot Pickle from Karen's Kitchen Stories

I also made a spicy hoisin sauce, and a daikon and carrot pickle. Daikon is a long white radish that can be found in Asian groceries. If you can't find it, you can use other radishes, but may have to cut them into round slices rather than sticks.  According to the book, this is the most popular pickle for banh mi.

The steak itself is so tasty and easy. In fact, I'm looking forward to using this seasoning and method to make steaks for dinner soon.

Maggi Steak Banh Mi with Daikon and Carrot Pickle

Spicy Hoisin Sauce

6 T Thai sweet chile sauce
1/4 C hoisin sauce
2 T rice vinegar
2 T soy sauce

Mix all of the ingredients and refrigerate for up to a month. 

Daikon and Carrot Pickle

1 medium daikon (about 8 ounces)
1/2 large carrot (about 3 ounces)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp plus 1/2 C sugar
1 1/4 C white vinegar
1 C water

  1. Peel the daikon and cut into 3 inch by 1/4 inch sticks.
  2. Peel the carrot and cut it into to sticks the same length but slightly thinner than the daikon.
  3. Place the vegetables in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and the 1 tsp of the sugar.
  4. Massage the vegetables for 5 to 10 minutes, until the daikon can be bent so that the ends can touch each other without breaking. 
  5. Rinse the vegetables and place them into glass jar or bowl that has a cover.
  6. Mix the rest of the sugar, the vinegar, and water until the sugar dissolves. 
  7. Pour it over the vegetables and refrigerate for at least an hour. Can be used for up to a month.

Maggi Steaks

(enough for four sandwiches)

2 10 ounce one-inch thick steaks (top sirloin, or New York strip)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 T Maggi Seasoning sauce
1 1/2 T vegetable oil

  1. In a small bowl, mix all of the seasoning ingredients. 
  2. Place the steaks on a dinner plate, and pour half of the seasoning ingredients over the steaks and rub them in.
  3. Turn the steaks over and rub the rest of the mixture into the steaks.
  4. Let the steaks sit for 15 minutes, uncovered. Flip them over and let them sit for another 15 minutes.
  5. Heat a 12 inch cast iron frying pan over medium heat until a bead of water evaporates immediately. 
  6. Place the steaks on the pan and cook undisturbed for six minutes. Turn them over with tongs and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove the steaks from the pan and place them on a clean plate and let them rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes. 
  7. Slice the steaks thinly against the grain and return the pieces to the plate to soak up the juices. 

Assemble the Sandwiches

Banh Mi Rolls or 6 inch sections of baguettes
Spicy hoisin sauce
Maggi Steak
Daikon and Carrot Pickle
Sliced cucumber
Mini chiles, such as jalapeño, thinly sliced (we grew some mini red chiles, not sure what they are, but they are pretty spicy)
Cilantro, slightly chopped

  1. Slice the banh mi rolls in half, lengthwise, but not all of the way through. Slightly hollow out the rolls to make room for the fillings.
  2. Spread mayonnaise onto both sides of the split rolls. 
  3. Drizzle the spicy hoisin sauce onto the mayonnaise. You will have more sauce to use later.
  4. Add 3 ounces of steak to each sandwich. 
  5. Add the Daikon and carrot pickle. 
  6. Place three or four sliced cucumbers on top of the pickle.
  7. Add a few thin slices of the chiles.
  8. Sprinkle with cilantro. 

P.S. Here's how to revive this bread after freezing. Rub the bread with wet hands and place the rolls into a 375 degree oven and bake for 5 to seven minutes. 

Aug 14, 2014

Roasted Vegetable Focaccia

Roasted Vegetable Focaccia from Karen's Kitchen Stories

This roasted vegetable focaccia is the perfect vehicle for all of the zucchini from your or your friends' gardens. Roasting vegetables definitely brings out the sweetness in them and the results are seriously tasty.  I took this focaccia to work the day after making it. I set it in the break room with reheating instructions. It was a huge hit and gone by 10am.

Roasted Vegetable Focaccia from Karen's Kitchen Stories

The original recipe calls for roasted green onions. Unfortunately, I burned the green onions into pieces of charred straw.

Fortunately, I found a sweet onion in my pantry, which I sliced, tossed in olive oil and King Arthur Flour Pizza Seasoning, and roasted for about 15 minutes. It turned out to be the perfect addition to this bread.

Roasted Vegetable Focaccia from Karen's Kitchen Stories

The participants in the Avid Baker's Challenge are making this recipe from King Arthur Flour this month. To see the original recipe, click here.

Roasted Vegetable Focaccia



57 g cool water
Pinch of instant yeast
60 g unbleached all purpose flour (I used King Arthur Flour)


All of the starter
1 tsp instant yeast
57 g lukewarm water
120 g unbleached all purpose flour
Scant 3/4 tsp salt
6 g nonfat dry milk
13 g olive oil


3 medium zucchini, trimmed and sliced
olive oil
King Arthur Flour pizza seasoning, or other Italian seasoning
1 sweet onion, peeled, halved, and sliced
8 to 10 ounces of grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese


  1. To make the starter, mix the ingredients in a smallish bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit overnight, about 12 to 14 hours. 
  2. Combine all of the ingredients, including the starter, in the bowl of a stand mixer. Knead for about 7 minutes on the second speed. 
  3. Place the dough into an oiled bowl and let rise for an hour, covered. 
  4. Deflate the dough, re-cover, and let it rise for another hour. 
  5. In the meantime, toss the zucchini in olive oil and pizza or Italian seasoning and bake in a 400 degree F oven for about an hour, turning it over half way through. Remove them from the oven earlier if they are golden brown.
  6. Toss the onions with olive oil and pizza or Italian seasoning and place them on one side of a half sheet baking pan. Place the tomatoes on the other half of the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees F.
  7. Set all of the vegetables aside. 
  8. When the dough is ready, sprinkle olive oil into a quarter sheet (13 by 9 inch) pan. If you don't have one, use half of a half sheet pan. 
  9. Place the dough into the pan, and dimple it with your fingers to spread the dough out. When the dough begins to spring back, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 15 minutes. 
  10. Continue to dimple the dough and nudge it out to fill the pan. 
  11. Place the zucchini on top of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest until puffy, about 2 to 3 hours. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  12. Bake the dough with the zucchini on a lower rack of the oven for 15 minute. Remove the pan from the oven and top with the tomatoes and onions.
  13. Bake for another 10 minutes. 
  14. Remove from the oven, move the bread to a wire rack, and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. 
  15. This bread can be reheated in a toaster oven at 350 degrees F for about 5 to 10 minutes. 
This bread has been Yeastspotted 
Aug 12, 2014

Individual Potatoes au Gratin

Individual Potatoes au Gratin by Karen's Kitchen Stories

I am now on the Potatoes au Gratin diet for the next week. These potatoes are so good that I figured I might as well go with it, and the leftovers reheat beautifully in the toaster oven.

Individual Potatoes au Gratin by Karen's Kitchen Stories

One of my favorite cities to visit is Portland, Oregon. One of my favorite breakfast spots there is Mother's Bistro. We've been to Portland several times, and have always made sure to have breakfast at Mother's.

Individual Potatoes au Gratin by Karen's Kitchen Stories

During our last visit, we decided to drop by for lunch. The food was amazing.

Guess what? There is now a Mother's Best cookbook! This book is filled with comfort food, and you will have a difficult time choosing what to make first.

Individual Potatoes au Gratin by Karen's Kitchen Stories

I went with the Potatoes au Gratin. Potatoes au Gratin is the perfect comfort food, and this recipe is so easy. Plus, I have these adorable 8 ounce mini cast iron baking dishes that I have been meaning to use. How serendipitous is that?

Individual Potatoes au Gratin by Karen's Kitchen Stories

Individual Potatoes au Gratin


3 C half and half
3 pounds russet potatoes
1 T minced garlic
Spray oil
2 tsp Kosher salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
  2. Place the half and half into a 6 quart or larger sauce pan.
  3. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/4 inch slices. 
  4. Place the potato slices into the half and half in the sauce pan.
  5. Rub 12 individual 1 cup baking dishes or a 13 by 9 inch baking dish with the garlic and let the juices dry. Once the pans have dried, spray the pan/s with spray oil. 
  6. Add the salt and pepper to the potatoes and half and half and bring the pan of potatoes to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat, and simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  7. Evenly divide the potatoes among the baking dishes. Pour the half and half mixture evenly over the potatoes and sprinkle with the cheddar cheese. 
  8. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the tops are browned. 
  9. Let the dishes rest for 10 minutes before serving.
This dish can be prepared in advanced and reheated in a regular or toaster oven. 

Disclosure: Mother's has no idea that I am in love with the cookbook or the restaurant. 
Aug 9, 2014

No Knead Durum Stirato - Italian Baguettes

No Knead Durum Stirato - Karen's Kitchen Stories

This Durum Stirato was was inspired by my friend David, who, after seeing my post about Stirato, decided to bake the bread with 100% durum flour. His bread was beautiful.

Durum flour is, according to the interwebs, a very high protein wheat. It is mostly used for pasta. It's yellow in color, and has a wonderful nutty flavor. There is also semolina flour, which is from the same wheat, but more coarsely ground. I've seen conflicting information regarding the amount of gluten it contains, some saying is has more than the typical flour, and some information saying it has to be fortified by vital wheat gluten when making bread.

No Knead Durum Stirato - Karen's Kitchen Stories

For these loaves, I used half bread flour, and half durum flour. Instead of just stretching out the dough (stirato means stretched or pulled in Italian) prior to baking it, I also twisted the dough as I stretched it out.

I also was a little cautious about stretching the dough out too long, so I ended up with wider/less baguette-like loaves. I'll credit this dough's ability to expand in the oven while baking.

As I did with this bread, I baked the two loaves under the top and bottom of this baker on a pizza stone.

No Knead Durum Stirato - Karen's Kitchen Stories

While it worked well last time, this time the bread had so much expansion that the loaf under the bottom half hit the top of the baker. The other half expanded so much that it doesn't really resemble a baguette. Next time, I might try my pan de mie pan as a cover. As long as the cover fits over the loaf and the pizza stone, it really doesn't matter what the cover is composed of, as long as it traps steam.

This bread is amazing. You can slice it crosswize, lengthwise, or just cut off a tiny slice and butter it. Each loaf is about 10 or 11 ounces. You can use it for toast, sandwiches, or just bread with dinner.

No Knead Durum Stirato - Karen's Kitchen Stories

To make this bread, you mix up the ingredients in a bowl the night before, cover them, and wait for about 12 to 18 hours. The dough is divided, shaped, and baked within about 30 to 45 minutes after the first rise. Mr. Kitchen never even noticed that I was making it. Bread. Bam!

If you don't have lids to put over the loaves while they bake, place a pan under the pizza stone or baking sheet and fill it with about one cup of boiling water to create steam when you first place the loaves in the oven. If you only have one cover, you can bake one loaf at a time.

No Knead Durum Stirato - Karen's Kitchen Stories

No Knead Durum Stirato


200 g bread flour
200 g durum flour
8 g salt
1 g (1/4 tsp) instant yeast
300 g cool water


  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bow.
  2. Add the water and mix with a large spoon or dough whisk until just combined. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for about 12 to 18 hours, until doubled. 
  3. Scrape the dough out onto a heavily floured surface. 
  4. Gently nudge the dough into the shape of a rectangle and then fold it over itself from each long side as if you were creating an envelope. With your hands, gently roll the dough out into a tube and then cut the dough in half, width-wise. 
  5. Place the dough pieces, seam side down, on a floured sheet pan sized piece of parchment and cover with oiled plastic wrap. 
  6. Place a baking stone on the center rack of your oven and place whatever cover you will be using on top of it (or set up your oven for steam). Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.
  7. When the dough has about doubled (30-45 minutes), pick up each piece twist it and stretch it out to the length of your cover, about 11 to 13 inches. In this case, I also twisted the dough pieces. 
  8. Remove the hot cover from the stone, and, using a peel or the back of a baking sheet. drag the parchment with the dough onto the stone and place the hot cover/s over the loaves. 
  9. Bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 10 to 20 minutes, until a golden brown. 
  10. Cool on a wire rack.
This post has been Yeastspotted
Aug 5, 2014

Pesto Bread

The swirl in this pesto bread is filled with basil, parmesan, and garlic. The bread smells so good when it is baking.

About the basil....

We've got a bunch of big planters that we use in our never ending quest to have an herb garden. I'd always pictured myself going out into the back while preparing dinner and snipping a few herbs and casually throwing them into the pot. This usually works for chives or rosemary... but basil? Not so much. Just when I need a decent amount, the plant decides to go belly up.