Friday, January 29, 2010

My Bread Baking Apprentice

Still no store-bought bread around here... So I must give an update on what we've tried from our favorite bread books.

This bread was the start of it all.
And this comes from a book devoted to soups, of all things: Love Soup: 160 All-New Vegetarian Recipes from the Author of The Vegetarian Epicure

In the intro to her chapter on breads, Anna Thomas mentions her delight with no-knead bread recipes, including those from Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. So after enjoying Thomas' delicious Three-Grain loaf above, I gave the Hertzberg/Francois website a peek, and making my own bread became an instant obsession.

I've made the master recipe from their original book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking with perfect success every time. And trust me when I say I have a lot of interruptions, especially from my little apprentice. This is perfect success, despite letting the dough rise too long, forgetting to steam the bread or slash the top, neglecting to preheat while my little loaf is rising... Ah. I love perfection on my own terms. This is truly delicious white bread, the kind you drool over when it arrives at your restaurant table. (I did used to drool over bread, in my former life, when I could go out to eat occasionally.) We generally keep a tub of this dough in the fridge and turn it into a boule (round loaf) or rolls or ciabatta sprinkled with salt and rosemary. Mmm, mmm.

But we always have a refrigerated tub of multigrain (Three-Grain above) or whole wheat bread dough also. The master recipe from their follow-up book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients, also rocks. Just yesterday I threw the ingredients together in this tub.

I let it rise while I cleaned up my apprentice's fine work.

Two hours later, I had a tub of dough with a serious rise and minimal work involved.

Then I shaped my loaf and let it rise for 40 minutes, and felt awfully full of myself after remembering to slash the top.

I even remembered to steam the oven during a 30-minute bake, which produced this gorgeous crust and just the right accompaniment for a hearty stew. Who needs to go out to dinner, right?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rainy Day Baking

I adore oats (akin to this lovely post from Catherine Newman), and I love the added bonuses of it being a nutritional powerhouse as well as an ingredient my kids will always eat. Really, you should try Catherine's recipe for instant oatmeal - so delicious and so not $4 for 8 packets of a zillion ingredients.

Granola. Yum. This tastes so so delicious with almond milk, my new breakfast drink of choice in my temporarily dairy-free life. Won't bore anyone with getting into it, but I am sorely missing my daily cheese. Maybe I'm trying out granola as a cheese replacement. Tough competition.

I like my granola a bit crunchy, but not quite a full snap at the teeth. I also like a mild sweetness, but I'm not the mom who makes separate "kid food" so I work with a sugar level everyone finds acceptable. And my kiddos do not approve of little raisins or date pieces or cranberries or any other dried fruits hiding in the mix so I deal (although I do buzz quite a few of those sneaky treats in their instant oatmeal - shhh!). For a long while, we were enjoying the Nutty Granola from Ellie Krieger's book, The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life.

Now that's a delicious recipe. But since each small batch calls for a full 1/2 cup of maple syrup, which was $14 for the big bottle the last time I was at Trader Joe's, an adaptation was in order. We are not calorie-counters so substituting some canola oil for that moist maple syrup was fine by me, but I couldn't eliminate the maple flavor all together. At least for our oatmeal-loving household, I think this granola hits the mark on all counts. Until I move on to the next great thing!

Here's my latest favorite granola, adapted from probably every granola recipe I've ever read:

Preheat oven to 300F.
Mix the following together in a large bowl:
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup canola or other neutral oil

Then stir in:
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup wheat germ
3/4-1 cup mixed nuts (we use sliced almonds, and chopped walnuts and pecans)
pinch of salt

Toss to combine and spread in a half-sheet pan. Bake at 300F for 45-50 min. The granola will continue to crisp up as it cools. Store in a sealed container in the fridge. It won't last long!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Happy New Decade!

What in the hey-ho have we been up to for the past six weeks, you might ask? I think I was caught in that December vortex, the one that hits exactly on December 1st, and you find yourself somewhere around January 5th or 6th, wondering where the past month has gone while standing amid dusty Christmas decorations waiting to be boxed and garaged and eyeing the pile of half-finished thank-you notes that by some law of childhood must involve hours of feuding and griping and avoiding. Yeah. So that's where we've been!

We had a relaxing, travel-free holiday season, safe at home where baby could attempt to choke on our own tree ornaments rather than an unlucky grandma's.

Need a new project for 2010?

Check these books out. I ordered them for myself the day after Christmas on Amazon. (No, that was not part of the save-every-spare-penny plan that is really starting to get on my nerves, but what's the big deal - only 12 more months to go!) So, here's the update with these books. I love to cook and spend a bit of every day doing so. Adding an extra few minutes ONE day a week to mix bread dough is nothing! And I actually haven't bought a loaf of bread yet in 2010. How about that? The authors claim that making your own bread will cost about $.40 a loaf. Photos will follow soon. If I can get any before these loaves are devoured... Seriously. I've made several loaves to give to friends, but then discover some little or big fingers have been involved in using the bread knife...

And make your life easier by picking up these below as well. (I've already priced checked them for you - this is the best deal.) Only if you think you might really do this bread-baking thing. They're way too nice for soaking poopy clothes or building sandcastles or collecting expired batteries...

Yes, conspicuously there are no holiday photos here. Hmm. Have to work on that. Sure hope we weren't so relaxed we forgot to take any... The memories were good though. Lots of fun with Legos and new books and Nerf guns and a sewing project and squishy blocks and that dresser-top organizer/valet that Steve will probably never use... It was a good one this year :)

Wishing everyone lots of health, happiness, and good fortune for 2010!