Thursday, October 25, 2007

Perfect pairing

Now that we have the bread sorted out, let's make it a balanced meal. Because nothing warms me up on a blustery fall day than a dinner of soup and bread. And nothing cleans out the refrigerator better than my family's favorite soup.

This one is never exactly the same twice, because the whole point is to clean out the fridge. You know what I'm talking about. The celery that's not quite as crisp as it should be. The cabbage that you kind of forgot about but still has a little life left. The remnants of whatever else might be in there and not quite worthy of the bin.

This time, I started with this:

Things weren't as questionable as they often are. Because the fridge had been cleaned out pretty recently. But if it makes you happy to pretend that the celery is wilted and the cabbage is less than perfect, go ahead. Because it usually is. You see that jar? It contains about 1/2 cup of brown rice. I was sick of looking at that almost-empty container. And those cans of tomatoes are essential if I want my kids to eat this soup. For them, it's not good soup without a tomato base and a healthy dose of cabbage.

I sauteed the leeks and a couple of cloves of garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil for a few minutes. When they start getting soft and fragrant, I added the other ingredients: the chopped veggies and about a quart of vegetable stock, along with the cans of tomatoes. EXCEPT the cabbage. Save that for the last 15 minutes.

And honestly, that's about all. Let it simmer the whole time you're baking the bread. The longer, the better. Throw in the cabbage for the last fifteen minutes of cooking.

Oh, seasonings? I used my old standby fresh herbs from the garden: thyme, oregano, basil. There was some shady-looking parsley in the fridge, so in it went. And some celery salt and pepper. If you have other favorites, substitute away.

And when it looks like this, it's ready to eat. Unless you have my kids, in which case you're going to need a few ice cubes. Maybe they're Russian?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hey, look! I'm back!

The laptop has returned to the land of the living and I just uploaded a zillion pictures. So here we are, just in time for the return of autumn.

Let's bake some bread!

A few assumptions. I have a Kitchenaid mixer and I use it as much as I can. Even though Jamie Oliver says we should make our dough with our hands, I prefer to make less of a mess and get things done. I'm a busy woman. But last winter I baked this bread almost every day because it has a lot fewer ingredients than grocery store bread, and it slices very well. Recently, in an effort to add fiber to my diet, I've been experimenting with oat bran flour, and this bread seems to accept that substitution nicely.

English Muffin Bread

1 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup warm water (100-110)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 cups wheat or oat bran flour
3.5 cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
cornmeal (about 1/4 cup)

In a small saucepan, warm milk, butter, salt, and sugar until everything is all melty and dissolved. While the milk mixture is cooling (to a little warmer than room temperature), dissolve yeast in warm water in the mixer bowl. After the yeast is dissolved, mix in the milk.

Attach the dough hook to the mixer and begin adding flour.

I start with 2 cups of flour, then add 1/2 cup at a time until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and forms a nice soft ball.

Leave it in the mixer, kneading, for a couple of minutes. Dough should be soft and manageable. After it's kneaded a few minutes, remove it and put it in a greased bowl. Flip it around in the bowl so it's covered with oil on all sides.

Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and put it in a warm, draft-free location (I usually put it in the oven with the light on). Allow it to rise until doubled. This takes about 30-45 minutes most of the time. Sometimes it takes closer to an hour. Depends on how warm the oven is, how warm the water and milk were, and probably a lot of other factors, like the relative humidity and the barometric pressure. But it will eventually double (if it doesn't, go ahead and throw it away....your yeast was dead....probably because it was ancient or your water was too hot and killed it). Sprinkle cornmeal on your countertop (please, make sure the countertop is clean). Grease a loaf pan (or two).

Punch down the dough, then form it into a loaf (or two of them). Roll in the cornmeal.

Cover, again, place in that same draft-free location, and let rise again until doubled (might take a little longer this time...allow about an hour).

It's doubled again. Remove the cover, heat the oven to 400 (unless you're using glass pans, then heat to 375) and bake until golden, about 25 minutes.

This is really yummy with soup. Or butter. And I'm sure it would be fabulous with bacon.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Technical difficulties

I'd love to post.
But my laptop is in the laptop hospital.
And all my pictures are on my laptop.

But coming soon...baking healthy yeast bread and biscuits (using half oat bran flour), chicken soup, vegetable soup, slow-cooked pears, and more.

Any requests? The holidays are coming and I'd love to try some new ideas.