The ingredients for this month's Royal Foodie Joust were both alluring and a little daunting for me. Kat of A Good Appetite won last month's Joust with her Brie Stuffed Maple Burger with Spicy Apple Bacon Compote (yeah, doesn't that sound amazing?). Her choices for the next round's ingredients were inspired by the Halloween season: orange (pumpkin or other orange-fleshed squash), black (beer or cola), and sugar. Intriguing to be sure, but I'm not well-versed in the use of alcohol in cooking. Still, I wanted to give it a try, especially since I'm a pumpkin fanatic.
After some thinking and Googling, I decided on a pair of recipes that incorporates the three ingredients. One is for my favorite spread, which I seem to be creating batches of weekly these days: hummus! The other is a new adventure in baking, beer bread, inspired by this recipe.
I'm not a big drinker. In fact, I'm barely an alcohol imbiber at all. I have a beer about once a year, and that's usually with a special dinner out on the town. I like what I call froofy drinks, or what others might term girlie drinks. Anything sweet (white wines, champagne) is up my alley if I'm going to get a little tipsy (and I really do mean a little -- I can't take much alcohol, and frankly, I don't want to). I also like a light beer to go with a well-grilled burger. But, like I said, that's a rare event. This is the first time that I've had beer in our fridge ever, and it's been solely for cooking purposes (drunken crock-pot chicken, anyone?).
And really, I'm not a fan of alcohol flavors in food. When I was growing up in New Jersey, my family liked to solicit the treats of a local Italian bakery. One of my favorite sweets that they offered was tiramisu. I adored the chocolate and light mocha flavors of the custard, but this yumminess was always ruined by the rum-soaked cake at the bottom of each serving cup. I tried to get as much of the custard up without taking any of the cake, but it never seemed to work out and I was always left with the unpleasant taste of alcohol-infused cake in my mouth.
So alcohol-flavored baked goods are not my cup of tea (or booze). Beer bread, though, is another story. I had my first taste of beer bread the summer following my freshman year of college. At that time I was a prospective archaeology major, so I took advantage of a six-week summer field school my alma mater offered. We trekked out to the middle of nowhere in Nevada, where this east coast girl had her first glorious taste of mountain country, pitched tents, and played in the dirt for a month and a half. In addition to finding over 800 bifaces (we stopped counting at that point), meeting a scorpion or two, and swimming in a natural hot pond, we all shared cooking and cleaning (and, of course, eating) duties. We used the kitchen of a ranch that was about four miles from our camp site, and one of the teaching assistants galvanized us into turning out delicious and hearty meals. One of my favorite dishes that we made was beer bread. I didn't think I would like it (see above tiramisu tale), but I was surprised to find it quite palatable. Dense yet moist, and very filling, this bread was good.
Today I made my first loaf of beer bread since that field school. It was even better than I remember. Plus, baking and then eating said baking products were the perfect activities for today's temperature. I rounded off the bread's amazingness with a hummus made with roasted chickpeas, butternut squash, apples, and garlic. Was it good? Words cannot describe.
Roasted Butternut Hummus
1 Gala (or red) apple, diced
2 cups butternut squash, cubed
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans
Heaping spoonful garlic, minced
1 T plain yogurt
1 tsp ground ginger
Prepare the first four ingredients, then stir together in a large bowl. Add cinnamon, brown sugar, and chili powder to taste. Mix well, then spread over a greased baking sheet. Roast for 35 minutes at 425*F, stirring at least once.
Remove the tray from the oven and allow to cool. Transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the yogurt, as well as cumin, hot sauce, and more chili powder to taste. Blend until smooth. Enjoy warm or chill.
Autumn Wheat Beer Bread
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
4.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 12 oz. bottle/can of beer (I used Belgian style)
Preheat the oven to 350*F, and grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.
While the oven is warming, combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the beer and stir until a nice thick batter is formed. You may have to use your hands to incorporate the last of the flour.
Scrape into the greased pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpicks comes out clean.
Cool slightly, then serve with roasted butter nut hummus, butter and honey, or straight up.
Makes 1 loaf.