Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Year in Bread: The First Bread Machine Bread

On Monday, I decided to take my new bread machine for a spin and see what it can do when it bakes a loaf directly in the machine.  Since it was a test drive, I used the most basic white bread recipe in the book that came with the machine.  This wasn't a fancy bread--water, flour, sugar, dry milk, salt, butter, and yeast.  It's the type of bread you use for peanut butter and jelly.  Or grilled cheese.  Or anything kid-oriented. 

I was happy with how the bread came out.  I like that this machine bakes "sandwich loaves" that are horizontal, versus the tall vertical ones my last machine made.  One side was higher than the other.  I guess the two-paddle system doesn't always result in even loaves.  It also took a lot of shaking to get the bread to release--and one paddle came with it.  That's okay, though.  It wasn't a big deal.

Overall, the bread was everything you would expect a good white bread to be.  Fine-grained and chewy.  A good canvas for peanut butter and jelly.  It will probably be made again and again in our house, since peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple here. 

Not bad for a Monday morning--tossing ingredients into the machine as the kids eat breakfast.  As usual, the best thing about making bread in the machine is how well it fits into our family's busy schedule.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Year in Bread: Cinna-buns

Just baked

Slathered in icing

Last night was the first night of Hanukkah.  It was a big day in our house.  We held Jasper's third birthday party in the morning (a little early--his birthday is not until the 17th, but this season gets so busy).  Then it was time for a nap, and it was already getting dark around here when everyone was up. 

It was Kassidy's first night of Hanukkah ever.  She really enjoyed her activity cube.  And it was the first year that Jasper really understood the whole concept of Hanukkah.  He was very excited about the candle lighting, the gift giving (a little too excited--all week, he was trying to tell Kurt what he was going to give him for the holiday), and the gift opening.

I received a new bread machine from everyone.  Not just any bread machine.  The bread machine.  A Zojirushi Supreme.  I've had my eye on it for a while, but I had a bread machine that I had been using for years.  Lately, it has been pressed into frequent use these past few months, and the results have been getting more and more unpredictable.  I can't complain--it's about nine years old now, and never went through years of hiatus, the way many bread machines do.  It served us well.  But, now that we are going through two to three loaves of bread--easily--per week, it was time to upgrade and what better occasion to justify it than a holiday?

Unfortunately, I woke up this morning with a tightness in my throat and a fogginess in my head.  This is not a good time to get sick.  I have my co-op day at Jasper's preschool on Tuesday, my in-laws coming over to celebrate Jasper's birthday/the 6th night of Hanukkah on Thursday, and my parents flying in for a weekend visit on Friday.  Not a good week for this at all.  But, I still really wanted to test out my new toy.

So, I've had a pajama day today, and spent the morning making Cinna-Buns, using my new machine.  Once the ingredients were in the pan (and at room temperature, thanks to some gentle coaxing from the microwave--I really didn't plan ahead for this one), the machine made quick work of the dough.  A little less than 2 hours later, I was able to roll it out, fill it with generous amounts of butter, brown sugar,and cinnamon, roll them up and have them on the second rise by 9:15.  The house smelled amazing.  Everyone had fun playing with their new gifts while the cinnamon rolls were being made.  But, they totally stole the show as our mid-morning snack. 

The recipe works beautifully--which is generally my experience with anything King Arthur Flour publishes.  Sure, they were super (super super) rich.  But, they are a "sometimes treat."  The kind of thing you make when you have a whole Sunday in pajamas stretching out before you.  The kind of thing you make when it is cold outside, and you can feel the hot cinnamon and bread warming your belly.  Warming your belly so much, in fact, that everyone's nose starts to run a little, the way it does for hot soup.  These cinnamon rolls are a little like blankets on a plate.

Since I got a new bread machine for Hanukkah, and have been baking so much bread, I have decided to embark on a new project.  No, it's not the new year yet.  But it's never too early (or just way too late?) for a New Year's project, right?  I invite you to join me as I bake my way through the year.  It is my goal to bake the vast majority of my family's bread products this year.  Since I love to write, and have not done nearly enough of it since Jasper was born, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to combine these two things I love.  Happy holidays, and happy baking!

Being enjoyed

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Happy Days: Lemon Dressing

For the next six months or so, I Heart Cooking Clubs is focusing on the recipes of Jamie Oliver. I am very excited about this prospect, because Jamie's recipes tend to focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients. What better chef to highlight during the April to September growing season?

Here in New England, it's not quite the growing season yet. We're starting to tuck pea seeds into the ground. We're beginning to look forward to fresh asparagus coming in within the next month or so. But, it's far from a bountiful time right now. As a matter of fact, I often think of the very beginning of spring as the worst time for produce around here. The apples from last fall have gotten mealy with age. The potatoes and garlic are starting to sprout. Yet, the early crops that we so look forward to--asparagus, fiddleheads, strawberries, and peas--are still a ways away. All the produce in the supermarket is shipped in from far away, yet we are so ready for the fresh, light tastes that come with warmer weather.

Ah, the warmer weather. THAT we are beginning to have. Yesterday, it was sunny and the temperature rose to the mid-60s. In our house, we turned the thermostat down to 50, opened all the windows and let the fresh air in. We celebrated the beginning of true spring (because, really, in New England, March 21 is just a date among dates--we know we have a few weeks left of winter weather yet to come).

This week's I Heart Cooking Club theme is "Happy Days," and yesterday was just that. While Jasper took his afternoon nap, Kurt and I sliced up a fresh (though far from local) salad. I baked brownies (that didn't set up, but that's a different story altogether), and we made two homemade salad dressings. We packed all of this up, in addition to a growler of homebrew, some biodegradable bowls, jars of bubbles, a playground ball, an armload of hula hoops and a blanket, and headed out of our local orchard. There, we met three other families from our play group for a potluck picnic and general frolicking.

We spent three hours at the orchard, chatting, eating wonderful food (Thai curry noodles, muffins, and many beautiful veggie pizzas arrived from the other families), playing, and drinking in the sunshine. I couldn't possibly think of a better way to spend a Saturday in early spring.

So, thank you, Jamie Oliver, for an extremely simple, but refreshing dressing recipe. Thank you, I Heart Cooking Clubs, for the perfect theme for the week. Thank you, to the play group, for the awesome idea for the picnic and the wonderful company. And, thank you, spring, for finally arriving. There are happy days ahead.

Jamie Oliver's Jam Jar Lemon Dressing
increased from this link
9 Tbs olive oil
juice of 1 1/2 lemons
a few grinds of sea salt
a few grinds of black pepper

Combine everything in a mason jar. Screw the lid on tight. Shake vigorously, doing a "happy spring dance," if you wish.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Tragedy of Brown (and Electric Orange) Food

I haven't posted in a while. My little man, now 15 months old, has been taking all my energy. By the time he's in bed at night, all I can think of doing is collapsing on the couch to read or watch some DVDs. I miss writing, though, so I would like to get better about cooking and blogging. In the meantime, here's one of my semi-philosophical rants. I was reading Laura's post over on the the Spiced Life about her experience bringing her children to a "non-kid-friendly restaurant." You can read her excellent post about it here.

Laura hit a nerve for me with her post. It's something I've been thinking about a lot. My little family goes out to eat more than we should. Take last night, for example. It was finally Friday. It had been a rough week--Jasper had a cold and ran his very first fever. We had been couped up in the house all week. Jasper was finally better--the fever had been gone for two days, and his runny nose had finally stopped. When Kurt got home, we just wanted to get OUT. So, we went out to eat. We sat down, and found the same kids meal menu that seems to be at EVERY restaurant. Our choices were all brown or orange. Chicken fingers. Grilled cheese. Mac and cheese. A cheeseburger. Buttered pasta noodles (optional marinara sauce--yay for some red???). It's the same everywhere we go, regardless of the cuisine. A Mexican restaurant might add a quesedilla onto the list. A barbecue place might add ribs. Not that Jasper can eat ribs on his own yet. But, that's it.

I think a lot about nutrition for my child. He had a rocky start to his lifelong career of eating. Back when he was a newborn, he wasn't gaining weight fast enough. We went through hell with him--an appointment at a lactation consultant where she weighed him before and after nursing to figure out how much he was eating, a plethora of blood tests, and finally a specialist at the children's hospital. We finally ended up supplementing with preemie formula, and, after weighing him in every few days, then every week, then every month, and finally every few months. When Jasper started solid foods, we had to "boost" them, adding a scoop of formula to his fruit purees, and a drizzle of olive oil into his vegetable purees. He finally caught up. Jasper is still thin. He is still below the 50th percentile in weight, and well above the 80th for height. At this point, I do believe that he is just "long and lean," and perfectly fine. But, all of those doctors' visits, tests, and constant questioning about his weight and what he was eating stayed with me. They made me very aware of what I feed him.

Back to the discussion about restaurants, and our society's expectations of our children, in general. We know that we have a childhood obesity problem in this country. We also know that grilled cheese and fries have very little nutritional value, and lots of empty calories. Yet, we don't seem to be doing anything about it. Yes, toddlers are picky eaters. Even the "best" eaters are. Jasper is, too, in his own way. He loves broccoli. He barely touches chicken fingers. He loves zucchini, and lox, and sharp cheddar cheese and pretty much any fruit that you put in front of him. He has no interest in cheeseburgers or mashed potatoes. I guess my point is that "picky" doesn't have to mean "brown food only." We need to start expecting more from our children. Yes, I expect Jasper to be picky. Yes, I expect him to like somethings, and not like others. And, yes, I do expect him to push away plates of some foods. All kids do it. I think the problem is WHAT we expect them to eat and not to eat. If we set a plate of vegetables down in front of our children and watch them with a "what will they do?" face, they will sense the tension and not want to eat them. If we set a plate of chicken fingers and fries down in front of them with complete ease, they will sense that, too.

What I would really love to see is for kids' menus to start looking like the adult menu, with smaller portions. You can leave the chicken fingers on the menu--we all know enough adults who eat them, too. But, can we please include some real food on there, too? Can we please offer our children colorful options, brimming with veggies? Can we please offer a fruit cup for the included dessert, instead of only soft serve ice cream?

On a last note, last weekend, we went to Harlow's, in Peterborough, NH. We chose the restaurant because it is a mid-point to see a friend who lives a long drive away. The kids' menu looked similar to most, with one exception. They had a raw veggie platter option. It had carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes, all shaved very thin. It had about a half of an avocado, chopped up. It came with a little cup of organic ranch dressing for dipping. And it was the best meal Jasper has ever had at a restaurant. He had tons of fun dipping his veggies. He liked the different tastes and textures. And he loved looking at all the pretty colors on his plate. It was such a simple idea, yet made all of us so happy--the "picky" toddler, and the concerned parents. I wish more restaurants would add this easy meal to their brown menus. It certainly would be a step in the right direction.

Monday, November 15, 2010

CLU: Lentil Soup

The current theme over at Cookbook Lovers Unite is "Warm and Cozy." Daylight savings time has ended. It's dark outside, and, here in New England, it's getting cold. Even on days that reach the 60s during daylight hours, it is dropping into the 20s and 30s at night. I'm not quite sure where summer went. As a matter of fact, I feel like it was just yesterday that I was out picking strawberries. But, somehow, it became November.

This is particularly astonishing to me because I so clearly remember this time last year. I was a bundle (a very large bundle) of anticipation. With each passing week, I was getting more and more anxious to meet my baby. At every store, I'd feel a twinge of nervousness when I saw the holiday displays. That means this baby is really going to arrive!! And now, here I am, with an 11-month-old baby. Where did the time go?

Oh yeah. This post was supposed to be about lentil soup. So, based on the Cookbook Lovers Unite theme, I browsed through my Nigella Lawson cookbooks. Because, to me, when you mention needing a "warm and cozy" recipe, I think of Nigella. There's something so homey and comforting about her books, her personality, her recipes.

I am on a never-ending search for the perfect lentil soup recipe I ate it once, at a restaurant in Florida. I was visiting my Grandma, and it came with my meal. I can't remember the name of the restaurant. I only remember the perfect lentil soup, and the regret I now feel about not asking for the recipe. What was the worst thing? They said no? Now I'll never know.

So, I search and I search. I make lentil soup recipe after lentil soup recipe, and, sadly, it's never the one. This one looked very promising. Pancetta? Scallions? Carrot and celery and garlic, all pureed? Sounded perfect. It wasn't. It was a decent lentil soup. But it wasn't perfect. It wasn't that golden bowl I ate in Florida. And so the search continues.

Lentil Soup
adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson

4 carrots, roughly chopped
3 oz pancetta or bacon, chopped
6 scallions
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups lentils
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 3/4 cups canned chopped tomatoes
8 cups water

Put the carrots into a food processor with pancetta, scallions, parsley, thyme and garlic. Process to a mush, and then heat the oil in a Dutch oven and cook over medium heat, until they are soft.

Stir in the lentils, then add the mustard, tomatoes, and water. Bring to a boil and
simmer gently for 1 hour or thereabouts.

Yield: 10 servings

Sunday, November 14, 2010

IHCC: Italian Baked Chicken and Pastina Casserole

This week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs is "Kid at Heart." I immediately knew which Giada recipe I was going to make. Why? Because the word "pastina" was in the title.

Pastina, to me, is quintessential kid food. It's tiny and cute. And it was one of my favorites when I was a child. My favorite Campbell's soup was, by far, chicken and stars. I just loved the itty bitty stars floating in there, and how they practically melted on my tongue. My mom used to make me pastina boiled in her chicken soup when I was sick. The restorative powers of the soup and the fun bits of pasta always made me feel at least a little better.

There's something about the texture that tiny pasta creates that I just love. I remember, when I was an early teen, discovering couscous. I had it for the first time in the Moroccan restaurant at Epcot Center. It was a revelation to me--a dish made solely of tiny pasta? And used in place of the (in my eyes, disgusting) mashed potatoes you see so often in America? Sign me up! I've been a couscous aficionado ever since.

This recipe was so promising. I mean, how can you go wrong with tiny pasta, cubes of chicken, mozzarella cheese, and breadcrumbs? You can't, really. But this recipe tried hard. It really turned out to be no more than the sum of its parts. Pastina? Check. Tomatoes? Check. Mozzarella? Yup, that's what's sticking to the roof of my mouth. Chicken? Uh-huh. But, there was just so unifying element that brought it all together. Instead, you just felt like you were eating a bowl of little pasta, tomatoes, chicken, cheese, and breadcrumbs. Nothing special. Kind of bland. Oh well.

Here's the recipe. I will say this--the bland flavors probably make this great kid food. I can see a picky four-year-old loving it. It's the adults who will be kind of disappointed.

Italian Baked Chicken and Pastina Casserole
from Everyday Pasta by Giada DeLaurentiis

1 cup pastina pasta (or any small pasta)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup cubed chicken breast (1-inch cubes)
1/2 cup diced onion (about 1/2 a small onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Drain pasta into a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic, stirring to combine, and cook until the onions are soft and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Put the chicken mixture into the bowl with the cooked pasta. Add the canned tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.

Place the mixture in a buttered 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking dish. In a small bowl mix together the bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta mixture. Dot the top with small bits of butter. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Serves 4
Cost: $1.65 per serving

Sunday, November 7, 2010

IHCC: Halloween Spice Cake

This week's theme over at I Heart Cooking Clubs was "Out of Italy." This means that we were to find a Giada recipe that did not come from Italy. Not an easy feat, given that Ms. De Lauretiss has been dubbed "The Italian Princess" (Wolfgang Puck called her this on The Next Food Network Star this past season). Everything that was overtly from "somewhere else" just didn't appeal to me this week.

So, for my weekly recipe, we left Italy and, well, stayed here. "Here" meaning the US. I made the Halloween Spice Cake, on the assumption that Halloween as we know it is a very American holiday. Of course, upon making the bread, er, I mean, cake, I thought it wasn't nearly as appropriate for Halloween as for the winter holiday season. Oh well. The interpretation of the theme is loose, okay?

Now, on to the details about the cake. It is easy to prepare. Your typical mix the dry, mix the wet in another bowl, add the dry to the wet, and bake. The problems arose in getting the cake to set. I had read about other folks having the same problem in the reviews of the recipe and scoffed to myself, "Food Network website users--they're probably novice bakers, who don't use oven thermometers, and therefore have no idea that their ovens are running cold." Nope. Not the Food Network website users who have the problem. I think Giada needs to check the temp in HER oven. 40 to 45 minutes? No way. More like 50 to 60.

That said, I baked my cake for 55 minutes, and the middle was still a little squidgy when it was cooled and set up. Blame it on the fact that I was drinking a rather strong Dark & Stormy while it baked. Or just impatience. Or both. But, in the end, it worked out. The squidgy parts are the best now that it has cooled.

The taste of this cake is definitely very spicy. At first bite, I thought, "Wow. This is very strong, and I'm not sure it's all that good." But then I took another bite, and another. And realized that this cake is highly addictive. I think it's the influence of all that ginger. There's an afterburn on your tongue that lingers, and makes you want more. So, I went from the first bite, thinking that this recipe would get a 3 on my 1 to 5 scale (which, in my household means "it was fine, but with so many recipes in the house, why make it again?"), to last bite, thinking that this recipe would get a 4 ("very, very good, and will be made again."). But, a funny thing happens with this cake. I ate a piece for breakfast about two hours ago, and I'm craving another piece now. Really craving it. Talking myself out of it only by reminding myself that I lost two pounds over the last week, and I don't want one spice cake to undo that in one day. Which means that this recipe will probably join my pantheon of quick breads that I take everywhere (the other two, so far, are my Zucchini Bran Bread and a Pumpkin Bread from Wilson Farm--both of which I should probably post about some day). Talk about a sleeper recipe! I never would have expected that at first bite.

So, that's three recipes from Giada that I have made and really enjoyed. Who would have thought? I suppose I'll continue with this group. Maybe she's growing on me after all.

Halloween Spice Cake
Butter, for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce (I bought little individual cups so I wouldn't have to open a whole jar)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.

In a large bowl, beat the sugars, oil, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla extract to blend. Add the dry ingredients and stir until just blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool the cake for 10 minutes. Unmold the cake and place on a wire rack to cool completely.