Showing posts with label beef. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beef. Show all posts

Sunday, July 18, 2010


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“What’s that buzzing sound?”,  we asked each other within the first few minutes of the first football (soccer) match in World Cup action last month.  Not to be outdone by any other nation in WC history, the spirit of native South Africa rang through vuvuzelas – the long plastic instrument evocative of kudu horns used by tribal leaders to announce meetings.  The unmistakable droning sound led me to believe that a plague was imminent and the stadium was about to be attacked by a swarm of bees!   

South Africa FIFACongratulations to the country of my childhood for setting the standard for other African nations.   The South African team of Bafana Bafana (“the boys” in Zulu) captivated the world by showing that they can compete on the world stage.  Troubling issues in the shadows of the state-of-the-art stadiums temporarily took a back seat as the world watched the biggest event in sporting history unfold for an entire month.   Who can forget Landon Donovan’s winning goal against Algeria, the drama behind Ghana’s painful loss to Uruguay in penalty kicks, and Puyol’s header that took Spain to the finals?

Sadly off-the-scale ticket prices made it impossible for many locals to attend.  Horrendous refereeing – particularly during USA vs. Slovenia - and the unpredictable Jabulani ball revealed the pros and cons of technology.  An extraordinary octopus named Paul predicted the outcome of all of Germany’s games and in the end favored team Spain walked off with the gold-plated trophy.

It was an interesting month for me because I had a connection to several participating countries:  Serbia because it is my birthplace;  USA because I am now a proud citizen; and South Africa because it provided my immigrant parents the freedom to succeed and therefore offered us kids a wonderful childhood.  I spent 16 of my formative years in South Africa, oblivious of the racial tension that would erupt after our emigration.  

My beautiful mother, Emilija with me (in the back) and my brother and sister, Božidar and Vesna on Durban beach

Durban beach

Because we rarely ‘ate out’ back then, we experienced new foods during family trips.  During our holidays in Durban, we stayed at the Killarney Hotel where there was a curry dish on the menu every day.  We fell in love with Indian food and were mesmerized by the brilliant spices at the Victoria Street Market.  We also enjoyed Bobotie, a definitive South African dish which is believed to have originated with the Cape Malay slaves.  Settlers, beginning with the Portuguese and followed by the Dutch, French, English and Indians, brought spices from their homelands and incorporated them into the local fare.  The Dutch East India Company managed trade between Europe and the Far East and brought many slaves to the Cape Province from Malaysia and Indonesia.  The addition of sweet components to meat dishes is common with the Malay.  In Bobotie (hear bobotie pronounciation) the egg custard sets the spicy, sweet meat, crunchy almonds and plump golden raisins.  It is typically finished with fresh sliced banana, grated coconut and eaten with chutney and yellow rice (plain basmati below). 

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Bobotie adapted from African Cooking by Laurens van der Post

Serves 6

1 slice wheat bread, broken into small pieces

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter

2 pounds coarsely ground lamb, beef or a combination of both

1½ cups finely chopped onions

2 tablespoons curry powder

1/2 - 1 teaspoon spicy masala (I used a home made masala brought to me from India by a friend)

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 eggs

1 medium-sized tart apple, peeled, cored and finely grated

½ cup golden raisins

¼ cup almonds, coarsely chopped

4 small fresh lemon, orange, or bay leaves

To finish:  grated coconut, freshly sliced banana, chutney and basmati rice

Preheat the oven to 300º F.  Combine the bread and milk in a small bowl and let the bread soak for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a heavy 10- to 12-inch saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat. When hot, add the ground meat and cook it, stirring constantly while breaking the meat up until the meat is completely cooked.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat into a deep bowl.

Discard all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from the saucepan and add the onions.  Stirring frequently, cook for about 5 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent but not brown.   Add the curry powder, masala, sugar, salt and pepper, and stir for 1 or 2 minutes. Then stir in the lemon juice and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the entire mixture on the meat.

Using your hands, squeeze the bread until the milk runs dry.  Reserve the drained milk.  Add the bread, 1 of the eggs, the apple, raisins, and almonds to the meat mixture.  Mix with both hands until the ingredients are well combined.  Taste for seasoning and add more salt, curry or masala if desired.   Transfer the meat mixture loosely into a 3-quart oven-proof dish and smooth the top with a spatula. Tuck the lemon, orange or bay leaves beneath the surface of the meat.

With a wire whisk or rotary beater, beat the remaining 2 eggs with the reserved milk for about 1 minute or until they are frothy.  Slowly pour the mixture over the meat.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until the custard is set and the top is light golden brown.

Lemon leaves are tucked into the meat and the custard is poured over the mixture and baked  

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   Serve hot with yellow rice, fresh banana slices, grated coconut and chutney of your choice

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sarma (cabbage rolls)

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If you are of Eastern European heritage, one of your favorite winter meals is bound to be sarma.   Sarma varies from region to region and family to family, but the basic ingredients are meat wrapped in fermented cabbage leaves and flavored with smoked pork.  It is made with ingredients taken from the food that was prepared for the long cold winters – known as zimnica  in Serbia.  It has become the comfort food my family longs for at the beginning of winter.  It is the comfort food that my extended family and friends share at our Orthodox Christmas and other gatherings.

Kiseli kupus (sauerkraut) is the key to authentic sarma and can be easily made at home.   Even during our milder Texas winters, my father has had much success with the process.   People have been fermenting cabbage leaves since ancient times.  In remote villages it was a way to preserve food during the cold winter months when fresh vegetables were not readily available.   For my parents, homemade kiseli kupus is superior to the store-bought product and it’s the only sauerkraut they use for their sarma.  It’s a wonderful sight to see the pride in my father’s face when he offers his sauerkraut and smoked pork ribs and neck for sarma. 

My college-age kids requested sarma at the same time a local food critic asked me for the recipe.  My mother follows no written recipe, only the knowledge that it is best made with fermented cabbage leaves, lean meat with a little bit of rice, a generous amount of freshly ground pepper and sweet paprika, and smoked pork to add a depth of flavor to the clear broth.  Tomatoes are not part of mama’s sarma as she believes the acidity in the tomatoes would mask the distinctive flavors of the sauerkraut and smoked pork.  

We spent a wonderful morning together, mama and me.   We cooked and I measured each ingredient as we progressed, and when the sarma was ready, it was packaged and ready to be delivered to my kids who love their Serbian heritage and sarma!

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First, you get your human pepper grinder to work.  You need lots of freshly ground black pepper.  Here is our sauerkrautier and meat smoker par excellence - my dad!

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Smoked pork neck (left) goes in the filling, and the ribs flavor the sauce.  It’s important to have ample amounts of Turkish coffee on hand when making sarma:

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Smoked pork ribs flavor the sarma and broth.  When these cook for 3-4 hours, the meat is very tender and falls off the bone.  You can trim the thick skin if you wish, but remember that a lot of flavor is in the fat.

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Fermented cabbage leaves, rinsed and draining:

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To roll each sarma, cup the leaf in the palm of your hand.  Fill with about 3 tablespoons of the meat mixture:

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Fold one side over without straightening the ends:

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Then the opposite side, but don’t straighten it at the end: 

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 Fold the thick end over and roll:

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Keep on rolling!

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When you get to the end, tuck the ends into the sides created by rolling.  This way, the sarma won’t unravel as easily.

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 Stack them as you go, the largest ones in one pile, medium in another, and small in a third pile: 

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In your biggest soup pot, cover the bottom with a layer of the leaf rejects.  Arrange the largest sarme (plural) in a snug fashion:

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When you’ve reached the top, nestle in about 6 smoked ribs:

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Fill the pot with water but don’t cover the top layer.  Sprinkle with lots of paprika.

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Cover the top layer of sarme with more of the leaf rejects.  Cover with the lid and simmer for 3-4 hours. 

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Makes 78 sarme (plural)

3 large onions, finely diced

canola or olive oil

6 oz smoked pork, diced. Pork neck is the best – see picture of the smoked meat.

5 lbs ground beef (about 92% lean)

2 tablespoons salt

1½ cups long grain rice

½ cup ‘sweet’ ground paprika, plus more for sprinkling the top

3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

78 fermented cabbage leaves (recipe below, or you can purchase them at your local imported goods store)

About 6 smoked pork ribs

On medium heat, sauté diced onions in a little canola or olive oil until they are soft and starting to turn brown. Add diced pork and stir briefly. Increase heat to high setting and add ground beef. Brown quickly to retain the juices. Add salt, rice, paprika and pepper and combine well.

Rinse excess salt off cabbage leaves and allow to drain in a colander. Separate the smaller, broken leaves and set them aside. For the larger leaves: trim the thick middle vein with a sharp knife or kitchen scissors without cutting through the leaf. They will be easier to roll that way.

For each cabbage leaf: fill with about 3 tablespoons of meat mixture. Roll in the palm of your hand by following the photos above, or place each cabbage leaf on a cutting board, and then fill and roll with both hands. Stack sarme on the side until all are rolled.

Drizzle a little oil on the bottom of a large stock pot with a wide base. Using the small, broken cabbage leaves, line the bottom of the pot with a single layer. Arrange sarme seam end up and close together on top of the cabbage leaves. With the seam end up, the sarme will stay intact when you scoop it out underneath it with a spoon when you are ready to serve them. Continue layering sarme until they are all in the pot.

Nestle the ribs in the top layer and fill the pot with water almost to cover the top sarme. Sprinkle generously with more paprika and cover sarme with leftover cabbage leaves.

Bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 3-4 hours. 

To serve:  Carefully spoon 2 – 3 sarme per person, and rib meat into a bowl.  Ladle some of the broth into bowl.  Serve with warm crusty bread.

Kiseli kupus (sauerkraut)

To make sauerkraut, start with heads of cabbages that have the greenest outer leaves. Wash and remove the damaged leaves and discard. Core the cabbages (the core is delicious eaten raw). Stuff the hole with plenty of salt, pushing it in as tightly as you can. The salt will act as a preservative and prevent decay.

Place the cabbages in a barrel or plastic container large enough to fit them. My parents use a garbage can especially for this. Fill the barrel with water and a very generous amount of salt. You will be rinsing the cabbage leaves off later, so don’t be shy about adding plenty of salt.

Cover the cabbages with a large pan or plate and weight it down with a rock. Place lid on container. Place in the coolest part of the house or garage.

EVERY DAY for 3 weeks, the cabbages must be turned and shuffled in the container. This will prevent spoilage and keep the salt evenly dispersed. The sauerkraut will be ready in 3 weeks for sarma.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Beef stew with portabella mushrooms, pearl onions and red wine

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The word from the weatherman is that we’re expecting sleet and “if the timing is right” maybe even a dusting of snow in Houston tomorrow.   It means that I’ll be off the roads and away from the local yahoos who will become quite a bit more dangerous than they already are in normal conditions.  Some drivers just refuse to slow down for nuthin’!

Ah…snow!  Love it for short periods of time only…like four or five days in the spring when we’re skiing!  I love the powder crunching under my skis;  love its beauty when it cloaks the mountains and in contrast with the blue sky;  love its shimmer when the sun shines;  love the snowflakes... Yes, I’ll take advantage of it for a few days a year, BUT I much prefer our temperate Houston winters, thank you very much! 

I’ve had my fair share of a Winter Wonderland when I lived in Toronto for almost 4 years.  One of my most vivid memories was walking to the bus stop to catch my bus to the university.  I had to walk backwards to protect my face from the pelting wind.  Hunched over, step by treacherous step on the icy sidewalk, I kept on thinking:  this is it - I’m going to fall on my bum and break my bones and it’s going to be sooo embarrassing, and I’m going to hit my head and be brain-damaged!  In hindsight, it would have been a little easier had I not been wearing my trendy high-heeled boots!  But fashion always came before comfort when I was a young lady in my early twenties – wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of flat rubber-soled boots…not on your life!

I love our Houston winters.  The sun visits almost every day and we rarely need our heavy coats.  But every few years we can expect a sharp dip in the temperature and tiny snowflakes that have the staying power to blanket the ground.   It’s short-lived…the warmth of the sun takes care of that!

With the chill in the air, here’s a good recipe that will warm your insides –  beef stew with hearty mushrooms, delicate pearl onions and red wine.  Use wine that you would enjoy drinking with the stew.   I opened a 2007 Côtes-du-Rhône from Saint-Esprit, our newest best buy - inexpensive but quite good.   

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Beef stew with portabella mushrooms, pearl onions and red wine

Serves 6

2 thick (1/3-inch) slices of pancetta, cubed into ½-inch pieces

2 - 2½ lbs beef stewing meat (beef chuck is good)

cooking oil, for browning

1 bag frozen pearl onions, about 14oz (they’re peeled and ready to go!)

1½ cups red wine. 1½ - 2 cups low-sodium beef broth

2 bay leaves, preferably fresh, if available

1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

16 – 20 ounces baby portabella mushrooms, sliced thick

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ - 1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons flour

¼ cup freshly chopped parsley

Sear the pancetta in a heavy pot (I used my Le Creuset Dutch Oven) over high heat. With a slotted spoon, remove pancetta to a bowl and set aside. Brown the stewing meat in the remaining fat in about 3 batches, adding cooking oil if necessary. Sear meat until brown on most sides, turning the pieces quickly. Remove each batch of meat and add to pancetta in a bowl.

Add the pearl onions to the remaining oil (it’s ok if they’re still frozen) and brown them until caramel in color.  Be careful not to burn the juices and bits of meat on the bottom of the pan.

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Carefully add the red wine and cook for about a minute, scraping the bottom with a spatula.  You want the wine to loosen all the delicious flavors at the bottom of the pot.  Add beef broth, bay leaves, paprika and black pepper. If most of the meat is not covered with the liquids, add more wine or broth. Reduce the heat to ‘low’ and allow the mixture to simmer slowly until the meat starts to become tender, about 1 - 1½ hours, depending on the cut of meat you use.  

Add mushrooms and red pepper flakes to meat.  Season with salt to your liking and continue to simmer until the mushrooms and meat are very tender, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

When the meat is tender and the mushrooms are soft, whisk the flour with ¼ cup water in a small bowl until smooth. Add to stew and cook for an additional 10 minutes to thicken the broth.

To serve:  Add fresh parsley to the stew and serve with mashed potatoes or polenta.  It’s even better the next day!  Here I served it in individual soup dishes with mashed white and sweet potatoes.  Broil for a few minutes to brown the tops of the potatoes if you wish.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lasagne Verdi al Forno and home made spinach pasta!


When I first ate lasagna in Italy, I was surprised at how different the dish was to lasagna typically served in the US. Gracious Patrizia at Villa Ferraia served us her version during a fantastic week at Ferraia’s culinary school (can you find this blogger in the kitchen?). It was light, very flavorful, and composed of thin layers of pasta, béchamel and meat sauce .

According to Lynne Rossetto Kasper, author of The Splendid Table, lasagne should always be a “vivid expression of the ‘less is more’ philosophy of cooking. Mere films of béchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer. There is nothing more; no ricotta, no piling on of meats, vegetables or cheese; little tomato, and no hot spice. Baking performs the final marriage of flavors. The results are splendid.”

Does that description sound like your typical tall stacked and heavy American-style lasagna? Definitely not! But if you’ve never had authentic lasagna, you’re missing something special.

Our Daring Baker’s challenge for March was to make authentic lasagne (plural), and particularly the lasagne verde, or spinach egg pasta. I’m always ready for a challenge with this group, founded by Lis and Ivonne! You rock!

The Daring Baker’s March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge. Click on any of these sites to find the entire recipe.

Making the lasagne was a lot easier than I expected. Only three ingredients are needed – eggs, spinach and flour. I used frozen chopped spinach, squeezed it well to remove excess liquid and chopped it by hand (and not a food processor), so my spinach was more on the chunky side:


But look at what I created! A beautiful green sheet which reminded me of stained glass when held up to the sun! The goal was to get the lasagne as thin and transparent as possible. D’ya think I succeeded?


I chose to roll the dough using a traditional rolling pin and my brute strength (of which I have none!). Fortunately, I was aided by a live broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera of Wagner’s Nordic epic Das Rheingold. I had gods, thunder, and fire coursing through my veins as I pushed, turned and pulled the dough. Live from the Met – your timing was perfect!

Lasagne sheets were left to dry for a few hours:


The béchamel sauce was also simple to make using butter, flour, milk pepper and freshly grated nutmeg:


The ragu (meat sauce) was to die for! It took about 4 hours to make from beginning to end and included amongst other ingredients pancetta, beef, pork, prosciutto and sweet carrots. Surprisingly there was no garlic and no herbs, yet it had so many levels of flavor, with wine uniting them all. The wine was the key ingredient in the sauce, in my opinion, and here is a good example of why one should use quality wine when cooking. Husby was kind enough to open a Rabbit Ridge 2002 Paso Robles L.P.R. Grand Reserve. It was sooo yummy and jammy and fruity, I sipped, chopped and stirred…then I sipped again! I lived up to my license plate frame my daughter bought me that says:

I love to cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food!

The end product was a ragu I’ll be making many times, using quality wine, of course!

Assembly was easy. I chose to bake the lasagne uncovered because I love a crisp and toasted cheesy top! Served with red wine…



Monday, February 16, 2009

Feta and olive beef patties with caramelized red onion on home made burger buns

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I hate going to the grocery store for one item!  Last week, Husby suggested hamburgers for dinner.  I pulled out a package of organic ground beef from the freezer, and lettuce, onions, tomatoes and pickles from the fridge.  All I was missing were hamburger buns, but that’s ok.  It was a leisurely afternoon at home, so flour and yeast came together quickly and before I knew it the dough for home made hamburger buns was rising in a warm place in the kitchen!

Okay, so it would have taken me 15 minutes max to drive to the store, grab the buns and drive back home, but there’s the nagging fact that I have a serious dislike for the texture of gummy, doughy preservative-laden sit-on-the-shelf-for-weeks buns!  I like a crisp crust with a firm body that doesn’t feel pasty on the palate when chewed.  Husby claims the purpose of hamburger buns is to soak up and keep the ketchup, mustard and meat juices from running down one’s hands!  Perhaps…but my home made buns are equally as capable!

I have been waiting for the opportunity to try a bun recipe I came across on Mari’s fabulous blog Once Upon A Plate.  It was inspired by a recipe from the files of King Arthur Flour and a regular contributor to its recipes named Moomie!  Moomie’s legendary sandwich buns recipe can be found here.  With a few changes, I produced wonderful buns sprinkled with sesame seeds (and I finally figured out how to make those pesky seeds stick). 

Did you know that bread baking has become a lot easier since the introduction of instant (rapid rise) yeast?  No longer do we have to proof the yeast (test it to see if it is viable).  You can now mix it in with the flour, add the liquids and you’re on your way!  Please don’t be intimidated by yeast – it’s a leavening agent that works wonders at the right temperature, a little loving (aka kneading) and a little sugar!   All you need is to do is start a little earlier so as to include time for the dough to rise.  You will be rewarded with much healthier and tastier buns!

For the meaty part of the burger, I was in the mood for some zip!  Zesty feta cheese and kalamata olives are staples in my fridge, and they are perfect accompaniments to the ground beef. 

Feta and olive beef patties

1 pound lean ground beef

1/2 – 3/4 cup feta cheese, coarsely crumbled or cubed

1/3 cup kalamata olives, sliced.  People - don’t even think of using rubbery, tasteless olives in a can – they are inferior by far to olives from the olive bar or in a glass jar.  Yes, they are cheaper, but there is no comparison in taste, whatso e v e r!

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes for added spice (optional)

Combine all of the above ingredients by folding the meat over onto itself as you incorporate the feta and olives.  Try not to mash the meat between your fingers as this will ruin the texture of the patties.   Shape into 3 or 4 patties.

Sauté the patties in a hot skillet or cook them on the grill.  I like to cook them in a skillet because it’s easier to flip them over without them falling apart.

Serve on a toasted bun with sliced tomatoes, caramelized red onions, lettuce, mayo…

Serves 3 or 4.


Caramelized red onion

1 large red onion, peeled, cut in half crosswise and sliced thinly

Sauté the red onion slices in a little olive oil over medium heat.  Stir the onions occasionally until very soft and caramelized (they will start to turn black on the edges).  Set aside.


Sesame seed buns

Yield: 8 hamburger or sandwich buns

3 1/4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1 tablespoon instant yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

2 tablespoons butter

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 egg white (for egg wash)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds or other seed of your choice

Place flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a mixer bowl with dough hook attachment.  Heat water and butter to about 125F (I usually microwave in 30 second intervals and measure the temperature with a candy thermometer).  With mixer at low speed, slowly pour the water mixture into the flour mixture.  Add the egg.  Beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes or until all ingredients are combined and the dough is smooth. 

Place dough in a large bowl (enough to hold twice the amount of dough) greased with olive oil.  Flip the dough over so that the olive oil covers the entire surface.  Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and allow dough to rise until double in volume.  (I turn my oven on to barely heat the interior and place the bowl in the oven, close the door and leave it for about 30 minutes.  You should see the kitchen towel rising on top of the mound of dough above the edge of the bowl.  Sweet!)

When the dough has doubled in size, place it on a lightly floured surface*.  Knead for a minute by hand and let it rest for about 5 minutes.  With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle (about 12” X 8”) and cut the dough into 8 equal pieces.  For each bun – tuck the ends of each piece of dough under several times, moving the dough from hand to hand, until you get a nice round shape.  Place on a prepared baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Repeat with other pieces of dough.  Cover with a sheet of wax or parchment paper and allow buns to rise until they are the size of hamburger buns.  Remove wax paper from buns.

Beat the egg white and 1 tablespoon water in a bowl until loose and starting to foam.  Brush the top of each bun very carefully with egg wash and sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds.

Bake buns in a preheated 375F oven for 12 – 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool on wire racks.

If you have a bread machine:  Place all ingredients in bread machine. Select ‘dough’ cycle. Allow cycle to run.  Remove the dough and place it on lightly floured surface.  Continue from * in the third paragraph above.        fetaburgers3

Good looking buns!