Sunday, March 20, 2011

Give Us This Day...Weed and Seed

My husband is preoccupied with his lawn.  It's genetic.  A time honored tradition passed from father to son?  No actually, in this's his mother.  She is obsessed.  The verdant carpet that stretches out across their backyard gets her attention every single day of the growing season.  And when it's buried in snow...she worries about it.  Urban legend has her outside every night at dusk, combing the lawn on her hands and knees, plucking out dry blades with a pair of tiny green tweezers and trimming the uneven spots with a pair of sewing scissors.

To be fair, her lawn is magnificent.  And 5 years ago when my husband became the proud owner of his first home lawn, he took on the challenge of living up to her example.  He investigated lawn mowers.  He launched major internet searches for fertilizers and seed companies.  He purchased specialized chemical delivery equipment.  He developed a irrigation schedule involving multiple portable sprinklers and beeping timers that maximized water use and minimized the number of times he got sprayed.

And for all of his efforts, I can honestly say...his lawn looked like a lawn.  Sigh...not particularly spectacular, but free of brown spots and dandelions and perfectly suitable for a roll down the hill or a mid July lunch picnic.  In the proverbial suburban male pissing contest that is "The Lawn", his was right in the middle.  Not quite as green as the neighbor with the in-ground sprinkler system and the lawn service (cheating!) or quite as brown as the unoccupied house next door.  Sorry love.  It was right in the middle.

This kind of consistent lawn achievement went on for 4 summers.  I was very content.  It was comfy to sit on and our children could run barefoot through the yard.  He, was getting restless.  Last year he heard about a new product called Weed and Seed.  Or Seed and Feed.  Or something like that...honestly, I can't remember and I really don't care...but there it is.  And he bought a new spreader.  Just went out one day and treated himself to a brand new $30 tool.  WooHoo!  If that's what you're into I guess...I'd rather have shoes...but I digress.

My point?  His lawn looked better than it ever had.  Really thick and green and healthy.  He beamed with pride and tried to hide tears of joy the day his mother came to visit and told him that his lawn had never looked better.  Really, it was quite pathetic touching.  He tried something new.  Made a few adjustments and got an improvement.

Our lawn just started peeking through the melting snow today.  And he has started talking about Weed and Seed.  Or Seed and Greed.  Or Need to Feed...or whatever the hell it is.  And I thought of a bread recipe that has weed and seed!  WooHoo!  See how she brings it all together...clever girl.

From year to year, the lawn is never exactly the same.  That is also true with bread.  So many tiny things affect how it will turn out.  If you use an extra large egg instead of a medium sized one, when you knead it you'll have to add a bit more flour.  When the recipe calls for water it feels different than when the recipe calls for yogurt.  Every bag of flour is a little different.  Even the level of humidity on the day you bake can affect the outcome.  Do these tiny nuances make the bread a failure?  Um, no.  Not if you let them.  Even my "failures" have been edible.  Baking bread is organic.  It's a living thing.  Is the idea to bake a loaf of yeast bread like a tiny patch of grass peeking through the snow?  Weed and Seed, my friend.  Weed and seed.     

Dill Braid

This recipe makes use of that bag of bread flour that you bought weeks ago for the pitas and have now safely stashed in your freezer!  The real stars of this recipe are the spices.  The dill and onion make this bread a fantastic compliment to basic soups or a worthy guest at your Easter dinner.  Replacing some of the water with Greek yogurt makes this bread dense and chewy.  Yum! 

2 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup plain Greek yogurt, like Fage, any % will work
1 beaten egg
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 teaspoons onion flakes, or dried shallots
1 tablespoon dried dill seed
1 tablespoon dried dill weed
1 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 bread flour, plus more for kneading

1.  In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and stir in the 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.  Let stand until foamy.  In a medium sized bowl, combine the yogurt, beaten egg, butter, onion flakes, 2 tablespoons of sugar, dill seed, dill weed and salt.  Add this yogurt mixture to the yeast mixture and stir with a whisk until well combined.  Add one cup of the flour and beat until blended.  Stir in as much of the remaining 1 and 3/4 cups of flour as possible and then turn it out onto a floured surface to finish.  This is a stiff dough, GO TRICEPS!, so don't be concerned if it is very difficult to get all the four mixed in with your spoon.  Below are some pictures of what mine looked like at this point in the recipe.  The second picture was after I worked in that last 1 3/4 cups of flour and before I started kneaded or had to add any additional flour.  It will all mix in...I promise, just be patient.
2.  Knead for 8 minutes incorporating as much additional flour as needed to make a stiff dough.  This one is not a fragile wiggly dough ball.  If your triceps are not burning by the end then you either have Madonna arms (ick) OR you need add a bit more flour and make this dough stiffer.  Coat a large bowl with cooking spray, turning dough to coat all sides, then cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours.  It should double in size.

3.  Punch dough down, but do not knead, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into three equal portions.  Stretch and roll each section into an 18 rope.  This dough is moist but not sticky and you will have an easier time getting it to stretch if you do not add too much flour to your surface at this point.  Lay the three ropes next to each other, pinch them together at one end and braid the sections by flopping them one over each other until you get a loose braid.  Tuck the ends under and place the braid on a baking sheet coated lightly with cooking spray.  Lightly spray the top with cooking spray and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  I use the plastic wrap left over from covering the bowl in step 2.  Let rise again in a warm place until doubled in size.  About 30 minutes.

4.  Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the loaf looks lightly browned on top.  Let this loaf cool for at least 10 minutes on a wire rack before attempting to slice it.  Removing it to a wire rack for cooling is critical for this one.  The yogurt makes this a very moist loaf and if you let it sit around on a solid surface while you wait for it to cool, it can get damp on the bottom.

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