Back to Basics – Bread

Since I’ve been gone for a while, you might have expected that I’d write about Christmas, traveling, or maybe pregnancy.  Nope!  One of my top priorities upon returning from our nice trip to St. Louis was to resume bread-making in full effect.  It happened today, y’all.  And I’ve decided to share the recipe I adapted from one of my most often used cookbooks, Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (and illustrated by the fantastic and awesome Nikki McClure).

To make the starter dough, you’ll need:

2 cups cooked grains (like brown rice, quinoa, millet, etc.)

2 cups water

1/4 cup olive oil or melted butter

1 tbsp sea salt

1 tbsp active dry yeast

1 cup whole wheat flour (approximately)

Blend your grains and water in a food processor until they are completely broken down; pour into a large mixing bowl.  Add the salt, yeast, and oil, mixing thoroughly.  Add enough of the whole wheat flour to make the mixture look like cooked oatmeal (not very runny nor do you want it to be totally dry – I know it’s vague, but there is some room for error/personal taste here).  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and leave it for 12-24 hours at room temperature.  Once it’s done, this poolish (starter dough) can be covered and refrigerated for up to a week.

1/4 cup honey or maple syrup

2 cups whole wheat flour

2-4 cups unbleached bread flour

After 12-24 hours, add your honey to your poolish and stir.  Stir in whole wheat flour.  Now starting adding the bread flour, a little at a time, and mixing it in as you go.  At some point you’ll have to start kneading the dough in the bowl, and when that becomes too difficult you can move the dough to your  floured workspace.  Add flour until the dough is staying together and feels tacky, but not sticky like cookie dough.  When it gets to this point stop adding flour and knead it for 10-15 minutes.  Wash and dry that large mixing bowl.  Using canola or olive oil, rub down the inside so that the entire bowl is covered in a thin layer of oil.  Put the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let it rise for 1.5-2 hours.

After this rising, oil two bread loaf pans using the same method (or use Baker’s Joy like I do – it’s awesome) and set aside.  Divide the dough in half.  Take out half the dough and flatten it on your workspace.  Although in the pictures mine is floured, I talked to Amos (he’s really the baker in the family) and he suggested NOT flouring the counter for this part of the process because it works unfermented flour into the dough, which doesn’t taste good.  My bread still turned out fine, but next time I won’t use flour here.

Now it’s time to shape your dough.  Flatten the dough into a roughly square shape, pressing all the air out (slap your dough!).  Fold over one corner so the shape is now a triangle and press out all the air.  Fold the other two points into the middle and press again.  Fold the last point in and press.  Pick up the dough with both hands and roll it into itself (like a log).  This helps you shape it and works to create an airtight membrane on the top of the dough, which is good for baking.  Pinch the seam together as best you can and continue shaping the dough until you have a small log shape (with the seam on the bottom).  Place this dough into a loaf pan and repeat with the other half of the dough.

1 tsp water

1 tsp honey or maple syrup

1 tsp butter

1/4 tsp sea salt

Melt all these together.  Brush all over each loaf, then cover them and let them rise for 45-60 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  When you go to check on your dough, you can test it for readiness two ways:  first, push in the side a bit.  If it springs back, but kind of holds the shape of your hand, then it’s good.  Second, it should be approximately double in size.  Bake the loaves for 45-60 minutes.  Note that this cooking time will vary depending on your oven, so keep an eye on your bread.  Also, you should completely rotate your loaves about  halfway through cooking, and I do mean completely – turn each pan 180 degrees and switch sides.  This helps them to cook evenly.  After they come out of the oven you should let them chill out on a cooling rack for 30 minutes or so.  One of these loaves can be covered completely in plastic wrap and frozen, if you like.

And there you have it!  I know it’s a lot of steps, but really this bread is surprisingly easy to make.  I’m so happy with how these loaves have been turning out that I think I’ll have to experiment with other, trickier, types of bread.  Enjoy!

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Food, again.

I have been talking about food or teeth on this blog for the last 70 thousand entries, and today the theme continues.  Many of you know that Amos and I are interested in food, real food; he likes to make his own sourdough starter, and I like to make super healthy baby food.  For the past few months, as Hazel has transitioned into eating everything we do, the things we do eat that are unhealthy seem just so, so much worse.  We definitely do not give those things to her, but seeing her get upset about not sharing all that we have has made me adamant that we need to further refine the way that we eat.  Thus, I cook now.  The interest that started when Hazel started eating solid foods has sparked into a full-on blazing inferno.

Today's foray into the kitchen began when I read this cool recipe for the "Too Many, but Just Enough Ingredients, Veggie Stew" on one of my favorite blogs, "Healthy.  Happy.  Life."  I tried to make this last week and it was delicious; today I wanted to make it again with a few changes:  I wanted to cook the roux longer and slower, leave out the pasta and rice, and change up the vegetable a bit based on what we have here.
So, the roux.  This is difficult for everyone except Emeril, right?  
Is that a roux?  I cooked it forEVER, even called Mama for advice, but it didn't get darker.  Luckily it still tasted good. And, uh, yeah, that's Fleet Foxes.  I kind of forgot about the sound.
Anyway!
I took a few pictures, since I had the camera out and ready.
Veggie StewVeggie StewVeggie Stew

Hazel wanted to help, but she was busy eating the inside of a samosa Amos made yesterday with a side of graham cracker.
Later, though, we had some fun putting her doll's hat on and watching it fall to the floor.

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Cooking with MAMA!

Sometimes I cook, did you know?  Sometimes it's good, most often it's weird, but I have definitely made something the whole family will enjoy here (well, my family, I think).  I love a good muffin – this you should know up front.  Not a cupcakey muffin, but a hearty, healthy muffin that does not taste like the bottom of my rollerskates.  This recipe came about a few weeks ago, when I decided to make cinnamon pumpkin muffins for Hazel and I, only to have almost none of the major ingredients.  Improvisation ensued, and a few weeks of (delicious) testing later, I give you Lemon Blueberry Muffins!

 
I love these things.  Their texture is more like a really good loaf of bread than a cake, and I have tried to make them as healthy as possible while still being sweet.  I have made them a couple of different ways, like putting in more berries, different berries or jam, and as long as you keep the basics (flour, eggs) the same, I think you can safely experiment with flavors.  Here's the recipe – I am too proud NOT to share, I'll admit it!  Cooking is the most prominent thing I enjoy that doesn't come naturally, so when I do make something that I really like I just have to share.  :)

Lemon Blueberry Muffins

 

Dry Ingredients

  • 1 c. AP flour
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 c. wheat or oat bran
  • 4 tbsp. toasted wheat germ
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • grated nutmeg to taste
  • pinch salt

 

Wet Ingredients

  • 1 c. milk (buttermilk is nice too)
  • 1 c. blueberries (if frozen, defrost for 45 seconds)
  • 1 c. applesauce
  • 4 tbsp. blueberry jam (no sugar added is best)
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • zest of one lemon, if desired

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and coat your muffin pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Mix together all the dry ingredients in a rather large bowl.
  3. Toss the blueberries in there and coat them with the dry ingredients.
  4. Put the jam in a separate bowl (big enough for all the wet ingredients) and mash it with a fork.
  5. Add the egg, breaking the yolk as if for scrambled eggs, and mix with the jam.
  6. Add the rest of the wet ingredients (except the blueberries, which are in the flour already) and stir to combine.
  7. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ones in the larger bowl.
  8. Stir, but be careful not to over-mix the batter, or the muffins will turn out tough and gross. Believe me on this.
  9. Spoon them out into the pan, with the batter just coming to the top of the muffin cups. 
  10. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out cleanly.

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Summer Fruits

The tomatoes in my region have been suffering a blight this season, decimating the harvest and rendering those ones that do make it through somewhat questionable.  I figured the best way to take advantage of the few delicious tomatoes we have gotten from the farm would be to eat them basically as they are, so this simple panzanella has been my lunch for the past couple of days.  It's just tomatoes, garlic cheese curd from Maple Hill Creamery, a day-old baguette, basil, and a very simple vinaigrette made with olive oil and rice wine vinegar, because that's what I had on hand.   

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See-Saws and Berry Muffins

This week and weekend were busy for us also.


Yesterday the three of us braved the disgusting humidity we thought we'd fled three years ago to attend the sweet reception for our friends Carrie and Andy.  These two sealed the deal after being high school sweetie pies with a small wedding last month, and held a relaxed reception last night for all their extended family and friends.  Picnic tables with flowers and candles in Mason jars were scattered across the back yard, and the potluck buffet and candy table were delicious.  Oh, and I got to have a piece of Carrie's chocolate cake, and if you've had it then you know what a big tasty deal that is.

I don't have any pictures, though.  I know, what's wrong with me?  I only snapped these couple:

…which are pretty sweet, so they make up for the lack of other photos.

I didn't do too much because I am completely sapped after trying (and kind of failing) to have a yard sale this weekend.  Actually I just horned in on my friend Leah's yard sale, dumping a ton of Hazel's old clothes and junk onto her lawn and sitting back in my her chair, sipping water and knitting a sweater.  I did sell a few things, then turned around and promptly bought the dining table she was selling, so my profit from two days totals $4.75.  One of those dollars came from her four-year-old.  

This past week I've been in the kitchen, breaking all kinds of moral codes and making muffins.  I am trying, after 26 years of ignoring it, to reform the way I eat.  I go in cycles with this (whatever, I'm a woman, I'm governed by cycles of all kinds), but after having Hazel I feel like it is vital for us to really shape up how we eat and how we treat food.  So, this past week, I've been making not only a weekly menu for dinner, but also one for breakfast and lunch for myself.  It's working!  I made these triple berry muffins last week and froze them, so I can take out one or two for breakfast each day.

Two muffins are actually about the size of one, since these didn't really rise.  The more time I spend in the kitchen, the more I realize I should just live in there so I can get everything correct.  But they taste good, and that's more important than looks.  At least, that's what they told me; these muffins have good self-esteem.  I also made gazpacho, which lasted as my lunch for about three days.  Now that came out deliciously.  On this week's menu for lunches are a tomato & cheese curd panzanella salad and a carrot & ginger soup.  I'll let you know how those turn out.

I'll leave you with this relaxing picture I snapped on a whim Friday.  This is the view from the back of our favorite diner here, Eddie & Zina's.  The building is old, a mishmash of rooms slapped haphazardly together, with cracked vinyl booths and scratched tabletops, but the food is perfect, the service friendly and prompt, and you can't beat this view.



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Kitchen Adventures, Picnic Party, and Grad School

This summer has been a whirlwind!  We were so lucky to be able to go on several trips all over the east; to St. Louis, down to Fayetteville for a (kind of) secret visit to my grandparents, to Athens, to Pennsylvania, New York's wine country, and Portland for me!  Jeez Louise.  Reading that makes me think I should go take a nap.  As a side effect, I haven't blogged much here.  I know, I'm sorry!  I did try to post some photos every now and then, mainly because if I didn't y'all wouldn't recognize that mini-adult we call Hazel.  She is so big!!

I took that photo this morning.  Can you believe those teeth?!  She just learns so quickly.  Last night we were eating dinner, after she had been fed, and she was calmly playing in her high chair.  I gave her a couple of my green beans, and she picked them right up and fed herself.  Then I tried some mashed potatoes and kohlrabi with dill, and she scooped that mess right up off her tray & into her mouth!  Babies sometimes have weird things about food textures, or can also get mad if their hands get all dirty, so I was super pleased to see her eagerness.  Plus, she loved the food.  We've been experimenting with seasonings & herbs in her food, and so far she hasn't turned anything away, including jalepenos (that was all Amos), dill, basil, cinnamon, and curry powder.  This child will eat anything, and that's just how I like 'em.

(I know this picture will be embarrassing to her later, but it's so forking funny.  Yes, I'm trying to say fork instead of fuck now.  I'm a mom, you guys!)

Speaking of all this grown-up-ness, Hazel has both a birthday picnic and a birthday coming up!  I separate the two because we're actually having her party this weekend on the 9th, as my dear, sweet mama will be here for the weekend (yay!).  I still have to buy the plates, forks, and bubbles for the small fete.  As you may recall, I bought her dress in Portland, which just happened to be orange and blue.  Since I love that dress and it's Auburn University's colors, her picnic is orange & blue themed.  Loosely themed.  Mainly I'm just going to get plates in that color, and try to find some sheets that kind of match for picnic blankets.  

One thing I did want to do, since this is a simple party, was to make some great favors.  I cogitated on that for a while, and finally came up with making peach jam (orange) tied with ribbon (blue).  Have I ever made peach jam?  Or canned?  No!  But I did it anyway.


Jam


I don't know what's gotten into me lately.  Maybe it's some belated nesting instinct, but I have been very interested in cooking all kinds of things.  Amos and I sort of share dinner duty, and these days I make most of Hazel's baby food, but my interests have been leaning towards preserving food and canning.  My grandmother has canned for longer than I've been alive, but I never paid much attention as a child.  Now I wish I had, but it's better to start now than to keep wishing she would mail box after box of canned vegetables up my way!  So I just jumped right in and made it myself, and it turned out pretty good!  Plus, it actually did seal, which is awesome.  I immediately tried to can some green beans after these came out of the pressure cooker, and not a jar of those sealed.  I'm going to keep working on it, of course.  I made these today, though they aren't canned, just in jars:



Speaking of working (do you guys like how I laid out this blog post, so as to get all three weird topics into some semblance of continuity?), I took the GRE yesterday and made the score I needed to get into grad school.  So I'm in!  I have enrolled in the online English master's program at Morehead State in Kentucky.  I'm only waiting on Auburn to send my transcripts and I can register for class.  I can't wait to start classes!  The GRE has an essay portion, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the challenge of academic writing again, albeit a small essay with no preparation.  I'm just built for school, I guess!

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