Sunday, May 22, 2011

Give Us This Day...The Middle Bit

Because the middle bit is the meaty part. The middle bit is the surprise filling, the good part. The middle bit is the stuff on your inside that holds together your we're getting to it.

When it starts to feel like everyone around me is an idiot, it usually means it is time for me to a little bit of work on myself.  On my insides.  People are going to do what they do, say what they say, be how they are...and when I'm taking care of myself, when I'm making sure my needs are met, then I am much better at letting it roll.  When I get a handle on my insides it is easier for me to manage what I show on the outside.

Change the insides.  Change the middle bit.  I have that power.

Homemade Hot Pockets

A fabulous snack.  A totally portable party bite.  The easiest alternative to store bought pocket sandwiches that I have ever seen!  The dough baked around these Korean spiced sandwich pockets is a slightly sweet, fluffy bread that compliments the spicy filling suggested here OR you could put your own filling inside these rolls.  We made them with pizza sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni once.  I have plans to try spicy sausage and a combination of cheeses.  The 7 year old wants to put apples and cinnamon in them sometime.  Change the insides.  Change the middle bit.  You have that power.  This recipe is so simple.

1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cooking sherry
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 pound ground turkey
Cooking spray
2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage

4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups water
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon water
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1.  To prepare the filling. combine the first 11 ingredients, scallions through turkey, in a large bowl.  Heat a nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Coat pan with cooking spray; add mixture to pan; cook 10 minutes or until done, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the cabbage and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool the mixture so it is not too hot to handle when it's time to assemble the buns.  You could make the filling up to a day ahead and refrigerate until you are ready to bake the buns.  Or if you're going to use some other filling, obviously you would skip this part...duh.

2.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

3.  To prepare the dough, combine flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and stir with a whisk.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the 1 1/3 cups of water, honey and canola oil.  Add the water mixture to the flour mixture and stir until a soft dough forms.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes).  Kneading this dough is not nearly as aerobic as some yeast breads.  It is light and easy to work with.  You may need to add additional flour during the kneading to prevent it from sticking to you and your surface.  After kneading, leave the dough on the counter, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest for 5 minutes or so.

4.  Flour your surface again, and sprinkle more flour on top of your dough, then roll it out into a rectangle roughly 16 inches by 12 inches.  Cut the dough into 12 squares, or squarish pieces, and while you work with one piece at a time, throw that clean kitchen towel over the rest of the pieces to prevent them from drying out.  Spoon 1/4 cup of filling mixture into the center of the dough square.  Put some water in a small dish and use it to dip your fingers in and moisten the edges of the dough square.  Bring the corners up so the opposite corners meet in the center as you fold up the dough pillows.  Pinch the seams together all the way to the edges using extra water to make them sticky.  Place the filled dough balls, seam side down, on a parchment lined baking sheet.  

5.  Combine the last tablespoon of water and egg white in a small bowl and lightly beat with a whisk.  Brush the top of each dough ball with mixture and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Omit this step if you are using an alternate filling.  Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until the rolls are lightly browned.  If your filling is cold from the fridge, you may need to extend the cooking time slightly.  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before grabbing one and running away with it!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Give Us This Day...EFing Bread

Let me begin by saying I LOVE GARAGE SALES!  I love going to them.  I love hosting them.  I love helping other people with them.  I love the idea that you can spend a couple of days outside in the nice weather, sit on your butt, take people's money and end up with less stuff in your house.  I am not interested in your cost benefit analysis of how I spend hours and hours pricing, sorting, folding, hauling, unpacking, and sale-ing; how garage sales are a haven for creepy people and thieves; how the whole thing is a dirty disgusting mess and how it's not worth the effort.  For me, it's fun.  And I'm good at it.  That being said...

I had a garage sale on Friday afternoon of last week.  In comparison to every other garage sale I have had in the past, and there have been many, this most recent one, was a total failure.  Early in the week the weather reports were calling for rain, so I almost didn't even have the sale.  Friday morning, when I woke up and the sun was shining, I threw things together quickly, raced around putting stickers on stuff, hauled my tables out of storage and began at 2pm.  I committed a cardinal garage sale sin and relied on the neighbor's signs and newspaper ad.  She was having a sale up the street and all her traffic had to drive right by my loaded yard...many folks were curious and stopped.  Yay for me!

I only ran it for 3 hours because at 5pm it got cold, the traffic slowed down, the drizzle started and I was ready for a glass of wine.  Saturday morning was really cold and rainy so instead of opening the sale again, I hid in the garage and packed up the leftovers for donation.  Fail.  Or so I thought.

Trying to move forward from what seemed like a waste of time, the wet, cold Saturday inspired my bread choice for this week.  It is also possible that I needed something to cheer me up after my garage sale failure, and my mind went directly to chocolate.  Babka.  Mmmmmmmm.  Getting screams of joy from my people when I asked them if they'd like a little babka after their lunch, I began my preparations.  I didn't even have to go to the store for my well stocked pantry!  Mix.  Knead.  Rise.  Sprinkle.  Bake.  Mmmmm, smells like chocolate.  Ack!  What's that burning smell?  Aaaaahhhhh!  The babka is getting too brown!  Fail.  Or so I thought.

Now.  People.  I ask you.  Does this look like a bread failure to you?

Yeah.  Didn't think so.  It was totally yummy.  Completely edible.  And although compared to all the other times I have made babka, and there have been many, this one was not as successful, it was certainly not a total failure.  It was, what I like to call, an edible failure.  An EF.  Which made our rainy Saturday afternoon treat, an overly browned blob off "EFing" babka.

I am capable of producing spectacular bread.  This was just really good.  I am also capable of hosting spectacular garage sales.  This one was not so good.  But I did end up with more cash and less crap.

I think it's about setting your expectations.  And adjusting your reactions.

Just because it wasn't perfect.  Just because it wasn't as good as you're capable of.  Just because it wasn't as good as every other time you've ever done it or as good as the next time you try it...doesn't make it a failure.

Chocolate Babka

This is more treat than bread, I can't fathom what kind of meal it could accompany, and it never ever provides any leftovers.  It is quickly gobbled up by eaters who start to hover at about 20 minutes into the baking time because the whole house starts to smell like bready chocolate heaven.  You could buy 4 oz. of actual bakers chocolate and chop it for the filling, but I have discovered that semi sweet chocolate chips work just as well, and take way less effort.  Give yourself at least 3 hours for this recipe.

1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm milk, any % will work
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour, divided, plus more for kneading
1 1/4 cups bread flour
5 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces and softened
Cooking spray

1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter, softened

  • 1.  In a medium bowl, combine 1 teaspoon sugar with yeast.  Pour warm milk over mixture and let sit for 5 minutes until it gets foamy.  Stir in the additional 6 tablespoons of sugar, vanilla, salt and egg yolk.  Mix well until combined.  Add 1 1/3 cups of the all purpose flour and all of the bread flour to the bowl and beat until well blended.  Add the 5 tablespoons of butter.  At this point, sometimes the mixing gets tricky.  The warm butter causes the dough ball to slip around in the bowl and sometimes it is difficult to incorporate it into the dough.  You might have to use your hands...yes, buttery, messy, flour covered hands.  I have found that adding in the last 1/3 cup of all purpose flour at this point actually helps to incorporate the butter.  After you have most of the butter mixed in, turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and knead for 8 minutes adding more flour, a tablespoon at a time, to keep it from sticking to you and your surface.  This dough is very soft and sticky.
2.  Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray and turn it to coat all sides with cooking spray.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 90 minutes.  The dough will nearly double in size.

3.  Line the bottom of a 9x5 inch loaf pan with a piece of parchment cut to fit the size of the bottom of the pan.  Coat the sides of the pan with cooking spray.

4.  Prepare the filling by combining 1/2 cup sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt and chips in a small bowl.

5.  When dough has risen, turn it out onto a well floured surface.  Roll it into a square about 16 inches on a side.  A rolling pin works best here, but I stretched it and pulled it into a square by hand once when I couldn't find my rolling pin.  Sprinkle the filling over the flattened dough leaving a 1/2 inch of space around the edge.  Roll it up as tightly as you can, pinch the ends and fold them over to prevent the filling from spilling out.  Gripping the dough roll with both hands, twist it 4 times like you're wringing out a towel.  Fit it into the prepared pan.  It will be too long, so just bend it into an 's' shape and stuff it in there.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again, in a warm place for 45 minutes.  It will double in size again.


6.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

7.  Combine the powdered sugar, flour and butter to make the streusel.  Use a fork to press it together, mixing until it gets crumbly.  Sprinkle it all over the top of the dough.  It's fine if some slips down into the side of the pan.  Bake for 40 minutes.  Cool bread in the pan for 10 minutes.  Remove to a wire rack and cool further.  Do not attempt to slice the bread when it first comes out of the oven or the pan.  It is a hot melty mess and you won't get anything even resembling a slice.  Hold off on slicing it as long as possible.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I Suck at Blowing

Take it out.  Turn it on.   And get to it...wrong!

It all seemed so simple.  From the very beginning I knew that size did matter and that the really big ones required a special skill set, but after much polling of friends and a bit of internet research, I figured I could handle it...wrong.

I had no idea there was a trick to it.  I'd seen it done countless times.  On TV.  In high definition no less!  Heck!  I'd even seen it done live several times.  It looked so easy.  Take it out.  Turn it on.  And get to it...wrong again.

One of my first mistakes was not holding it correctly.  I was trying to grasp the bag with one hand and hold onto it with my other hand.  It was wildly jerking in every direction.  At one point, I almost dropped it.  What I quickly figured out was that the best way to position it just the way you want, was to firmly grip it with both hands and to never let go until you are absolutely positive that it is no longer turned on.  Absolutely positive.

I also had no idea that you had to pay attention to which direction you were facing.  I was unaware that if you didn't watch yourself you might get nailed in the face by flying debris.  There seemed to be a way to position myself behind the flow that gave me the best chance of avoiding being hit by the airborne bits.  In most situations I am NOT a fan of safety glasses...I think they decrease the coolness factor of just about any activity where they might increase safety. this case...I would highly recommend you go with the goggles.  I got pink ones...ya know...coolness factor and all.

I have no doubt that continued practice will improve my skills.  I may even ask around for tips on how I might learn to blow better...

Maybe next Fall I can learn how to suck.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Give Us This Day...The Mother Loaf

My mom.  March 1975.  Having her "WhathaveIgottenmyselfinto" moment.

There's quite a bit of faith involved in the decision to become a mother.  A bit of an "Oh shit! Buckle up!" leap into an unknown life.  You've read about it in a lot of mothering books. You've asked a lot of questions to those people who have done it before, but they never seem to have enough information about what the "jump" is going to feel like.  You've seen it done lots of times before, but you've never actually done it yourself.

And then you buckle up.  And you jump in.  And you sink a bit because you're exhausted, and unskilled, and covered with unimaginable kinds of muck.  But then you try a few things.  You use both hands to hold onto every little thing that seems to work.  You discover that the mess is part of the ride.  And you realize that you're not sinking anymore.

And it gets fun.  So you invite people over to see how much fun it is.  And do it with you.  Right alongside you.  And if you're smart about it, you tell them you're no expert but you're doing just fine.  And you're so glad they're in it with you.

But this is a Sunday post.  So I'm getting around to the bread part.  And I'm so lucky because my friend put her whole self into a couple of loaves of ciabatta bread about a month ago.  And she tried a few things.  And she made a huge mess.  And she produced something spectacularly edible.  And she realized how much fun it was.  And then she invited some people over to see how much fun it was.  And told us she was no expert, and that we would all be just fine...but we all stood around in awe of her flour tossing, dough slinging cheffy-ness.

She called my incessant questioning "enthusiasm".  In hindsight, I was being a bit of a pest...can I take pictures? how long does it sit there? does it have to be a cool place? can I try your scraper? does it have to be a metal bowl?  But I have so felt that way when an expectant mom asked me a million questions about this or that.  Questions that I remember myself answering with things like, "Well, you'll just know," or "This is what seemed to work for me, but you'll figure out your own way when you have to."  Sounds a lot like the stuff my friend was telling me last night when I was pestering her...

Much like I entered into motherhood, I bring you this recipe today having never actually done it myself.  I've read about it.  I've asked a lot of questions.  I've watched someone else do it...very successfully I might add...but I have never actually put my own hands on these ingredients.  The leap of faith into motherhood says you can do it even if you've never done it before...bread is kindof like that.  Like one of my dearest friends, who flung herself into motherhood with her whole self just weeks before I did, I say we try this one together this honor of "jumping in with a bit of faith and some simple ingredients."  I will post my results mid week.  I would love to find your comments about your results here too.  C'mon...ya know yawanna. 


(pronouce this cha-bah-ta unless you want the foodies in your life to laugh at you quietly behind your back, like when you first read the word "nuk" or "onesie" and you went around pronouncing them wrong until a seasoned parent pulled you aside and gave you a helping's your helping hand sister!)

This recipe yields two gorgeous, airy but dense, crusty but chewy, 'please slather me with tapenade' loaves of Italian artisan bread.   Be aware...If you want ciabatta on a Wednesday, you have to get started on Tuesday night.  Read the full prep directions before you get motherhood, this one take a lot of time.

3 cups bread flour, plus additional for working
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast ***
1 1/2 cups, plus 1 tablespoon cool water
1 cup boiling water

***This is NOT the stuff I have been calling for in all the other Give Us This Day bread recipes.  Instant yeast can be found in the same section of your grocery store as active dry yeast but IT IS NOT THE SAME THING!***

1.  In a medium bowl, stir together your flour, salt and yeast.  Add all of the cool water and mix thoroughly until you have wet, sticky, dough.  Really wet and sticky.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and put it in a corner of your kitchen to sit at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours.  I know right...that's a long time.  The surface will be dotted with bubbles and it will have more than doubled in size when it's ready.  You can move ahead in as little as 8 to 10 hours, but your finished loaf won't be quite as filled with air bubbles.

2.  When your dough has risen, liberally cover your work surface with bread flour and scrape your dough ball out, all at once, into a blob on your counter.  Resist the urge to mess with it too much here.  You have just been patient for as many as 18 hours so your loaf could develop air bubbles, if you poke it, knead or mess with it too much you will pop those bubbles and your efforts will have been in vain.  Dust the surface of your dough blob with flour, coat your hands with more flour and with light fingers, nudge your blob into a rough 12 inch square.  Brush off excess flour and fold the dough in half and then crosswise in half again so you've got a folded square of dough roughly 6 inches on each side.

3.  You can leave your folded dough square right on your counter if you've got the space, or move it to another floured surface like a bread board or baking sheet, dust the top with flour, cover with a clean kitchen cloth and let it rise again, for an hour.  The dough is ready when it has nearly doubled in size again.  When you poke it, the impression of your finger should remain.  If it poofs back out, let it sit for an additional 15 minutes.

4.  Move the top rack of your oven to the middle position.  Preheat your oven to 475 degrees.  If you'd like to use a pizza stone to bake these loaves, place it in your oven during the preheat.  If you're not using a stone, don't panic, we'll get to that later.  During the preheat, place an empty cake pan, or oven safe skillet on the bottom rack of your oven.  This will hold the water during the baking.  A note from another bread momma says not to use a glass vessel for this job... apparently they can break, which makes an awful mess and spoils the whole bread experience.

5.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, you could probably heavily coat your baking sheet with cooking spray in the absence of parchment, but I've never done I dunno.  Bring your cup of water to a boil in the microwave.  Using a serrated knife, cut your folded dough in half and with floured hands, gently pull it into a 12 inch log and place it on the baking sheet.  Again, gently here, you don't want to mess with it too much and pop all those yummy bubbles.  Repeat with the second half of your dough.  You can place them fairly close together.  They will expend during the baking, but not too much.

6.  Slide your parchment paper onto your pizza stone, or place your baking sheet onto the top rack of your oven and close the door quickly.  Get your boiling water into something you can pour from, quickly open the oven door, pour the water into the pan in the bottom of your oven (be prepared for a fairly dramatic sizzling poof of steam) and quickly close the oven door again.  Be speedy here, but don't panic!  Set the timer for 15 minutes.

7.  After 15 minutes, remove the pan of water and continue baking for an additional 5 minutes.  Your loaves are done when they are golden.  Cool on a wire rack, if possible.  We ate them right out of the oven so fast our bread momma was practically burning herself!  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An Eye for an Eye

***This post comes with a rant warning.  
If you're not interested...move on today gentle reader...
Move on.***

The school yard bully.  The one who makes threats.  Calls names.  Says mean things.  Blows every tiny misstep way out of proportion.  Seeks out your weak spot and exploits it for his own pleasure.  Or gain.

Sometimes, that bully falls on his face.

Sometimes, you actually get to see it happen. the interest of the wildly popular philosophy "an eye for an eye",  I'd like to get even with one of my least favorite bullies.

Kick a little sand in their eyes while they're face down in the dirt.

Fox News.  You're a bunch of dumb asses!  Your moronic talking heads have been confusing the Commander in Chief and America's most sought after terrorist for more than a decade.  Shame on your stupid, illiterate headline editors!  Mr. News truly are even dumber than you look.

Take that!

We're even now.

I should feel better now.



Sunday, May 1, 2011

Give Us This Day...A Nutball

"Whatcha makin' mom?" asks the middle bit peeking her head around the corner into the kitchen.

"Bread, Love," replies the mother, up to her elbows in flour.

"What kind?" she asks with a sighing tone that tells me she knew it was bread but she needed more information.

"Ummmm.  A nut ball, Love," was my snarky reply.

"Hey!  I'm a nut ball too!" was the smiling response.  And not to be out done by the middle sister, the other two nut balls rounded the corner with their contributions.

"Hey!  Take our picture mom!  We are all nut balls!"

These are my nut balls.  I made them.  With my own hands.  From scratch.  And they are sooooo good.

Walnut Boule
(pronounced boo-lay, which is french for "ball" and sounds so much cooler than calling this gorgeous loaf a Walnut Ball...seriously.)

A Cooking Light recipe from about 3 years ago, this one is largely unchanged by me.  The walnut oil gives this dense loaf a wonderful, sophisticated flavor, but once I had to use olive oil and the mild flavored result was just lovely.  Moral of the story...either one works fine so stop freaking out about wacky, hard to find ingredients!  Also, don't be tempted to skip the step of toasting your nuts.  It takes just a few minutes and really brings out the nuttiness of the walnuts.  If you've never toasted nuts before, today is your day!  You'll need 3 hours for this nut ball!

3 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon toasted walnut oil
2 1/4 cups bread flour, plus additional for kneading
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
cooking spray
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 tablespoon milk
1 egg white

1.  In a large bowl, pour the warm water over the sugar and yeast; let stand until foamy.  Stir in the walnut oil.  In another bowl, combine the flours and salt with a whisk and then add them to the yeast mixture.  Stir until combined, adding additional flour to get the soft dough to begin pulling away from the sides of the bowl.  Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 6 to 8 minutes until a smooth dough is achieved, adding small handfuls of flour as you knead to keep the dough from sticking to you.  This dough is sticky, but it shouldn't be sticking to everything.

2.  Coat a large bowl with cooking spray and place dough in, turning to coat all sides with spray.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set it in a warm spot for 1 hour to rise.  During this hour the dough will nearly double in size.  Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and flatten it out.  Sprinkle the walnuts over the flattened dough and begin to fold the dough over and over itself to incorporate the nuts.  I'm sure an artisan bread baker would have an opinion about exactly how to handle the dough here...but basically you just have to knead it enough for the walnuts to be evenly distributed throughout the dough ball.  Some of them will be poking out the surface, that's fine.  When you've got it well combined, shape the dough into a nice round ball, not a flattened dome, and place it on a cooking sheet WELL coated with cooking spray.  Lightly spray the top of the dough and cover it loosely with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot for 1 more hour.

3.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk together the milk and the egg white.  Brush the top of the loaf liberally with this "egg wash" or use a paper towel to soak up the egg and glop it all over the top if you do not have a pastry brush.  Using a sharp knife, make two 1/2 inch cuts across the top of the loaf.  Make two more cuts in the opposite direction to form a crisscross pattern.  Bake for 30 minutes until the loaf is nicely browned.  Cool on a wire rack.

Sometimes, if you're lucky, you have a bit of this loaf leftover the next morning for breakfast.  Do yourself a favor, and toast up a nice fat slice and slather it with apple butter.  The sweet of the apples and the bitter of the walnuts is a flavor combination that will improve your life...seriously.