Monday, March 12, 2012

Bread: The Final Frontier

OK not really. But I have to admit I was a little intimidated. I mean, yeast? Rising dough? Kneading? Way more complicated than my usual cookie experiment.

To get it right, I knew I had to call in the big guns, which means my mom. I have such fond memories of freshly baked bread cooling on the kitchen counter, followed by days of crispy wheat toast, warm butter and fresh strawberry jam.

So I asked if she would help me recreate this memory so I could learn the magic of her ways. And it was a good thing I did! She share so many secrets that weren't included in the recipe. Unfortunately, a lot of her expertise comes from experience, like knowing the temperature of the water, or when the dough is ready. Time and trial, my friends!

So first the recipe. We got it from the Set for Life cookbook, which was co-authored by my mom's Aunt Jane. Of course, we took our own little spin on it, partially based on my mom's experiences, and partially based on what we had in the house.

Here's the basic recipe we used:

Whole Wheat Bread

9 cups whole wheat flour (freshly ground if possible)
6 cups white flour
6 cups warm water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey or sugar
2 tablespoons salt

Yeast mixture:
2 rounded tablespoons dry yeast (my mom swears by SAF -- she says the other brands don't work as well)

1/2 cup to 1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar

This recipe yielded 3 large loaves and 6 miniature loaves. You could definitely minimize it for a smaller batch.
Now for the magic. We ground the wheat on the spot. The flour was actually warm from the machine. Apparently the fresher the better when it comes to wheat. We also opted for a wheat/white mix, as 100% whole wheat is pretty dense. This keeps it a little lighter.

We put the wheat flour into the Bosch with the water, oil, honey and salt. In a separate bowl, we combined the yeast, about a cup of warm water and sugar. The temperature of the water is important -- my mom runs it under her wrist until it's warm but not hot. How do you know? I guess you just know. Mix up the ingredients and let the yeast mixture sit until it begins to bubble and foam. That's how you know it's working!

Once the yeast was ready, we added to the mixer and turned it on. Gradually, we added the 6 cups white flour. Add it a slow cup at a time, watching the dough carefully. The dough is ready when it begins scraping itself off the side of the bowl, and balling up in the center. The amount of flour will vary each time, so keep an eye on it.

Turn the oven on to 150 degrees or "warm." Grease up your bread pans, and prepare a flat surface with oil. Oil up your hands and grab a portion of dough large enough to fill the pan about halfway. If you roll the dough up like a little pillow, it will look much prettier when it bakes. My sister even drizzled some honey in the middle of her loaves. Once your loaves are ready, turn off the oven! I know -- what? Yes! You're just putting the loaves in to rise. Pretty quick in a nice warm oven.

Place the loaves evenly spaced in the oven, being sure they aren't touching each other or the side of the oven. Let them rise for 20-30 minutes, or until they have doubled in bulk.

Now turn up the heat! 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. When they are done and nicely brown on top, immediately remove the pans and let the loaves cool on a rack. If you like a soft crust, mist the tops of the loaves with water while they are still hot.

Strawberry jam: We basically followed the recipe inside the Sure-Jell box. We also used Ball brand pectin, because it has info about how you can use Splenda and doesn't require heat.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Creamy Mexican Quinoa

I just made up a recipe. And guess what? It's awesome.

2 cups quinoa, freshly cooked
2 packets Laughing Cow lite swiss cheese
1/2 cup shredded reduced fat cheddar, sharp
1/4 cup corn

Chopped in whatever quantity you like:
red pepper
-- I did not have black beans but I wish I did! Same with tomatoes.

Stir in the cheeses and the chopped veggies until well blended. Flavor with garlic powder, lots of cumin, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

No I did not take a picture. You'll have to use the picture in your mind.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekly Food Round 2

Well last week's challenge turned out pretty good. The only food I didn't end up eating was the green curry soup. Something a little off about it...maybe the tofu chunks were too big. Oh well. On to the next week!

Since the food prep was relatively successful, I am empowered to try it again. Here's what's on tap:

Cilantro jalapeno hummus. Pretty tasty, though I couldn't find the tahini at the store so I skipped it in the recipe. Hoping this will make a good savory snack with chopped veggies.

Green curry quinoa with veggies. No surprise here -- I have the green curry hanging out in my fridge so might as well. I made the sauce and added broccoli, peppers, onion and sugar snap peas. Took a little taste and it's pretty yummers, so I'm excited.

Egg Friends. These were a huge hit for myself and T. I fill half a cupcake pan with liquid egg whites and fill with tasty stuff from there (cilantro, basil, ground chicken, jalapeno, cheese, etc). Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, add cheese on top to bake for another 5. T is to be credited for the new nickname, though I think I might prefer "Egg Pals."

Enchiladas. Haven't made them yet, but got some corn tortillas, reduced fat cheese and Macayo's enchilada sauce. I'm toying with the idea of adding some pumpkin puree to give it a little more nutritional value, and I will include onion, jalapeno and ground chicken.

Monday, February 06, 2012

This week I am queen of: Making food ahead of time

I had a rare Monday off, so I decided I would try something I never have time to do: prepare meals for the WEEK.

Totally novel concept -- making food on a day you do not plan to eat it. Sounds crazy, I know. And it might just be.

Here's my trouble with making a bunch of food ahead of time: we don't really like frozen food that has been reheated. Well, one of us doesn't. And so I never make food in bulk with plans to freeze it.

However, this week's plan does not involve freezing. I actually hope to eat most of this stuff by week's end. I'm also hoping it will save me time in the mornings. Well, if I actually spent time to make my breakfast or lunch and then bring to work, this would save me time. It WILL make me more motivated to bring my own food to work, since this is already prepared and packaged.

Le menu for this week includes:

  • 2 containers of green curry tofu soup. Smells really good. Hoping soup will travel well. Note: recipe calls for red curry but I chose green.
  • 4 stuffed peppers with ground turkey and quinoa. I picture this as a dinner meal. Two dinners even? Note: I added taco seasoning and waited to mix in the cilantro until after the meat was cooked. Cilantro, like many fresh herbs, taste better if they are not cooked too much.
  • 2 burritos made with left over turkey/quinoa mixture. (Aside: What is up with parchment paper and why can I never figure it out? I wrapped two burritos in parchment paper and tried to tape the ends. Turns out, tape does not stick to parchment paper. I ended up putting so much tape on these damn burritos it will take a sword to bust into them.)
  • 6 egg mcmuffins. I made mine out of liquid egg whites with various assortments of deli ham, mozzarella cheese, basil, cilantro and ground turkey. I plan to pack these for breakfast. Note: I did not add the English muffins. I plan to toast those as I go.
Crossing my fingers that most of this will not end up in the trash in a week and a half. Optimistic that this will help us eat more of our groceries and less of the menu at Big Boy's pizza and subs. (Actual place nearby.)

Looking for best practices that help other, more organized friends out there.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Let's get decor-ganized!

I stole that from 30 Rock.

Anyway, I am on a mission. A mission to sort through junk, and toss, donate or sort everything in sight. I am starting on the guest room.

Let me tell you something about our guest room. It has had approximately three guests in it. Four, if you count the exercise bike. It's where I keep linens, grad school stuff (read: stacks of papers and notebooks I have yet to burn in a post-school ritual), sewing/craft supplies, costumes and suitcases.

It's a total mishmash -- likely the reason no one ever takes us up on our offer to house them. That, and whoever stays here has to share a bathroom with us as our master bath shower has never functioned correctly.

So I ignore it most of the time. But in the spirit of the new year, and watching the agony my sister went through in a recent move, I decided I would be proactive and get organized.

But not just organized. I want it to be cute! I want it to match! I want it to be so beautiful that I relish every chance I have to go file away a spool of thread or glitter pen! I want it to be decor-ganized!

So I spend time on Pinterest looking for ideas to copy. I see girls who have entire rooms devoted to craft organization, and they have beautiful matching tote boxes with hand-made labels hanging from the lid by a DIY piece of twine. And I feel inspired. YES! I say. I can do this!

Source: Better Homes and Gardens

WELL....turns out I suck at stuff like that. I buy cute plastic storage boxes, but only if they are on sale and I never take the time to fit them into a color scheme. I tend to reuse containers, even if they are old shoe boxes or a free purse I got from Macy's. I can't seem to care about labeling:

So my conclusion is this: Organizing is great and I feel happy when I've done it. But I am too cheap and lazy to really go the distance. (Honestly, in order to make everything match, I would have to spend hundreds of dollars. And that is just stupid.)

I'm thinking in the future I should just stick to white boxes, and then if I get really ambitious, go for some kind of color-coded label system.

Haha yeah right. Here I go again. Do you see how this happens? My dream of matching totes = totes unrealistic for me.