Feb
08

Rethinking Your Bread

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I’m not sure how I feel about this video. It’s interesting to see how bread is mass produced in this bakery. I remember enjoying a trip to a local bakery when I was in elementary school. The smell of that freshly baked bread may have been the basis of my love for bread.

It certainly wasn’t the beginning of my love for baking bread. I’d like to say that began the first time I combined flour, water, yeast, and salt and let it rise. But that’s not true either. As a kid, homemade bread were those frozen loaves of bread dough we got at the store. Somehow, though, that evolved to making my own bread, sometimes with commercial yeast and sometimes with natural yeast.

Back to the video. To me, it’s kind of sad to think this is the only bread some people will ever know. Lack of human involvement is both disturbing and so unnecessary. I know bread-making seems like a great mystery to many. But it’s not. It’s a basic food and requires at a minimum only basic ingredients: flour, water, salt, yeast (commercial or natural). That’s it. And you can make it for a lot less money than you spend to buy it at the store. If you do a no-knead loaf, hands-on time is a mere matter of minutes. Then there’s the bread machine option. I’ve no problem with using a bread machine or any other machine as long as you make your bread.

This weekend–February 13 and 14–is International Bake Bread Weekend as designated by The Enabling Cook five years ago. If you’ve never made bread before, give it a try. It can be any type of bread product using any method. It could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

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Jan
26

Battle Biscuits

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So far, working toward my 2016 goals has been a breeze. I’m making a lot of Asian food (thanks in part to a wonderful wok I received as a gift from a friend). I’m eating more vegetables, but it’s a bit difficult trying to eat new ones each week. Well, truth be told, it’s difficult finding much variety at all this time of year. The easiest one, perhaps, has been trying to expand my bread-making ability. Oh, I still fall back on my g0-to recipe, but I’ve also been making more sourdough and even started a new starter–Alice Morgan.

I’ve also been branching out into other forms of bread. For example, biscuits. I’ve made them before, of course, but honestly, I’ve thought about making them more often than I’ve actually made them. I’ve never been able to get the truly flaky biscuit bakers strive for. But lack of success isn’t about to stop me from trying.

 

 

Bread5_CreamBiscuits

I set about looking for a recipe for a biscuit that I could use to make a breakfast sandwich and would also work for chicken and biscuits. As I searched, I found multiple references to a 2-ingredient biscuits. Now that’s my kind of recipe. I checked it out and learned they are also called cream biscuits. The 2-ingredient version calls for self-rising flour and heavy cream. The heavy cream I had; the self-rising (SR) flour I didn’t. I seldom make anything calling for SR flour, so it’s not something I keep on hand. I thought about buying a small bag, but the store didn’t have any SR flour–of any size. So I fell back on the old SR hack: for every cup of AP flour add 1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

The procedure is incredibly easy. Mix the dry ingredients and then slowly add the cream to make a sticky dough. Place it out on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Pat or roll until about 1/2 inch thickness. I usually prefer to pat out the dough, but this one was a bit too stiff. I had a hard time patting it out evenly and to the desired thickness. So I used a rolling pin. After you cut out your biscuits, gather the scraps and roll out again. For best results, only re-roll a couple of times. Your biscuits get increasingly tough each time you roll out the dough. Brush with melted butter and bake.

The result? Well they’re not light and flaky, but they taste good. I made a breakfast sandwich with one this morning, and it did taste good. I’ll definitely be making them again. But I’ll still be looking for light and flaky.

You can find the recipe for Cream Biscuits here. You know, I’m thinking these would be good warm with maple syrup.

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Jan
12

Buy One, Get One Free

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Those five words can make a huge difference in someone’s food budget. There are caveats, of course. Sometimes the word “free” is misleading. For example, let’s say there’s such an offer on a bag of 5 pounds of potatoes. This means you’re getting 10 pounds of potatoes for the price of 1 bag. That’s great–on the surface. If a store charges $5 for a 5-pound bag, you have to make sure another store doesn’t sell a comparable item for less than that. If you can get a bag for less at another store, the “free” isn’t so free after all.

Then there’s the question of how quickly you’ll use the items. If they’re perishable, will you be able to use them or preserve them before they go bad? If you’re cooking for a large family, that’s not likely to be much of a problem. It it’s a staple, say butter, for example (though I seldom see such offers on butter), there’s usually room in the freezer for a 1 pound package. But what about potatoes, onions, and similar products? And what if you’re cooking for one person? Do you have to bypass such money-saving opportunities? Of course not.

I seem to be overly attracted to the “Buy 1, Get 1 Free” signs when it comes to potatoes. I love potatoes. That is no exaggeration. Still, I managed to accumulate about 20 pounds of potatoes thanks to buy 1. It’s cold in here, so they do last longer. But I needed to do something with them.

Freezer space is at a premium. I thought about canning them. Because they are a low acid food, they have to be pressure canned, and I didn’t have time for that. So I opted for dehydrating them. I’ve dehydrated potatoes before but only for chips, not long-term storage. So that necessitated a Google search. As with most things, there are myriad ways to dehydrate potatoes. After reading pros and cons of various methods, I decided to use the techniques that seem to be used most often.

A word about dehydrators. I’ve mentioned several times that I have the Nesco/American Harvestor Jerky and Snackmaker. It’s relatively inexpensive (I think mine was about $70 when I got it, and it’s gone down in price.) and has worked well for many years. Many people use an Excalibur and swear by it. It’s considerably more expensive, and several who have one feel it is well worth the price. Before buying, be honest with yourself about how often you’ll use it. If results are similar, you may not want to spend a great deal of money on something you’ll seldom use. As for features, I spoke with Jerri of Homesteader’s Supply. She feels a temperature control is most important. I couldn’t agree more. I know some people are adamant that a dehydrator has a timer. However, because dehydrating involves so many variables, a timer’s use might not be worth the extra cost. But you do need temperature control. Not everything is dehydrated at the same temperature.

Peel the potatoes, making sure to cut away any dark spots or eyes. Most sources say potatoes need to be parboiled prior to dehydrating. Some, however, say to cook them fully; some bake them until a knife can be inserted. If you don’t cook them, they tend to get dark–even black–in the center when dehydrated. I decided to parboil, since it seemed to be the most prevalent advice. In some instructions, the potatoes are cut into the desired form prior to cooking. I did the first couple of times. The other times I cooked first and then put them through the chopper.

If you’re good with the knife skills, you can cut them by hand. I’m not that good, so I use my Genius chopper/slicer. I did slices first. I sliced them very thin. They only took about 6 hours to dehydrate. My original thought was to grind them and use them as instant mashed potatoes. I may leave them sliced and make some au gratin potatoes. They may be a bit too thin for that, though.

My next potatoes were cubed. Because they were considerably thicker, it took longer to dehydrate them. In total, I think it took closer to 12 hours. I generally don’t need to rotate trays during the dehydrating process, but I found it necessary with these. potatoes.

Potato Soup with dry cubes

I planned these potatoes for soups, stews, and perhaps potato salad. I’d been having a craving for potato soup, so I used some of them to make a nice bowl on a cold day. I rehydrated the cubes by soaking in hot water just to cover for about an hour. The residual water can be added into the pot with the potatoes.

When it comes to storage, I used my FoodSaver to vacuum seal them in jars. And that’s where I hit a snag. A lot of us have problems using the jar sealer. I couldn’t get the wide mouth one to work at all. Even after reading all the solutions people found for the problem. I took their suggestions for using the regular mouth jars, and they worked. At least I thought so. I tested them, and the lights were tight. A couple days later, I checked them again. All open; the seal had come undone. So I put them in FoodSaver bags and vacuum sealed them. So if you’re using the jar sealer, be sure to check your lids.

I’ve worked through about half of the potatoes I had stocked up. I’m so glad to be able to preserve some before they go bad.

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Jan
01

A 2016 to Look Forward To

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Image courtesy of krishna arts at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of krishna arts at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Welcome 2016. I don’t know about you, but it seems as though we were just welcoming 2015. I didn’t achieve all the goals I set for myself–I still don’t know how to pull noodles–but I learned a lot along the way. So at least foodwise, it wasn’t a total bust of a year.

Like last year, I’ve set some food-related.blog goals for 2016. In no particular order, they include the following.

  • Learn more about Asian cooking. It’s probably my favorite cuisine, and it’s a shame I am not more adept at it. I’ve actually started this one and will be posting about it soon.
  • Break out of my breadmaking box. I bake at least one loaf of bread most weeks. It’s usually the same basic recipe with some variations thrown in. I want to be a bit more adventuresome.
  • Add more variety of vegetables to my diet. I eat a lot of vegetables, but usually the same ones. That’s partially caused by the lack of variety available in this area. I can combat this somewhat by planting more variety.
  • Find new ways to fix vegetables. Just as I eat the same vegetables over and over, I usually cook them the same way. I need new recipes.
  • Help people on limited budgets find healthy recipes. I don’t know about you, but food prices are bordering on outrageous here. I mean really–$5 for a head of cauliflower? And families on public assistance often believe mass-produced unhealthy foods their only options.
  • Develop more soup recipes. Soup is good food, after all.
  • Submit food-related pieces for publication. While I’d like these to be for pay, the exposure is good, too.
  • Enter a recipe contest. It doesn’t have to be one with a large prize, but I’d like to be able to say I’ve entered one.

Those are my goals as of today. I’m sure they’ll change. Some will be altered, and some may be deleted while others added. I hope my list inspires you to come up with one of your own.

 

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Dec
29

Fruitcake Heaven

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I’m guessing you never thought you’d see “fruitcake” and “heaven” in the same sentence. Until this holiday season, that would certainly be true for me. And no one is more surprised than I am.

You may recall my first foray into making fruitcake. Not only was this the opportunity to break a lifelong almost hatred of this holiday cake, it was a chance to use a family recipe. Oh all right, not my family, but who’s nitpicking? Many people make their fruitcakes months in advance, so there’s plenty of time for the cake to age. As usual, I got off to a late start, making mine in November. As I wrote in the original post, the cake batter itself is very tasty and without the fruit and nuts, would make a great basic spice cake. But how would the cake be?

FreshfromtheOven.jpg

Excellent.

I know the idea is to let the cakes age for months, but patience is not one of my virtues. So on the first of December, I cut into the first cake (the recipe made 2). The smell was amazing. I’ve eaten fruitcake before, but none has such a wonderful smell. Better yet, the taste was even better.

Cake1Dec1.jpg

The cake was incredibly moist and the flavor intense. What a happy surprise.

Now my intent was to let the other cake age another month or so. Yeh, didn’t happen. I cut it on Christmas Eve. Again, it was moist, and though the smell wasn’t as intense, I found it more pleasing. The taste had mellowed, and again I found it more agreeable than the first cake–though that cake was better than any I’d had before. To my tastes, the second one was better.

I alter the recipe from that given to me. Partially it reflects what is available in my area. Mostly, it has to do with my preferences. I think when I make it again, I’ll use rum for both the batter and the soaking liquids. Incidentally, I only “basted” the cake a couple of times during its aging phase. And I think I’ll add pistachios. They seem to be a common fruitcake ingredient, and they are among my favorite nuts.

Don’t let a bad experience with fruitcake turn you off them forever. I almost did, and I would have missed out on a great cake. Remember, when you make your own, you can add what you like. No electric-colored fruit in my cake. And I used lots of nuts. Add cardamom–or don’t. Don’t like nutmeg? Leave it out. If you like neon fruit, use it. I guess . . .

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Dec
16

A Corned Beef and Cabbage Two-Way

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You know how it is. For some reason, a particular food (or combination of foods) gets in your head, and you can’t get it out. Kind of like a culinary brainworm or stomach worm. For about a week, I kept thinking about corned beef and cabbage. I love it, but I don’t have it very often. But for whatever reason, I was seriously craving it.

You might recall that I generally corn my own beef. But it’s been difficult finding brisket around here. At least one I can afford. I know you can use other cuts of beef, but I prefer the brisket. So I bought one of those packaged corned beefs when they were on sale. So the other night I made corned beef and cabbage. While I usually make it in the slow cooker, I opted to use my Power Pressure Pro XL pressure cooker. (Let me just say I love that thing!) Dinner was ready in just over an hour. I added more water than I probably had to because I knew I’d be adding lots of carrots and cabbage.

Of course I served it with the last of my homemade mustards.

Now came the problem I have every time I make corned beef and cabbage. What do I do with the leftovers? The veggies are no problem. After all, they’re my favorite things about the dish. In fact, it would be all right with me to just cook the veggies with corned beef stock.

Huh?

CornedBeefandCabbageSoup

Yep, corned beef stock. Hey, you can make stock out of almost anything, why not corned beef? This was a very small corned beef, even before cooking, so I wasn’t sure how good a stock would be. So I kind of did a trial run. After straining out the leftover meat and veggies, I poured the liquid into a measuring cup and let it sit overnight so the fat could rise to the top. I put it to work the next day in corned beef and cabbage soup.

This is probably one of the easiest soups I’ve ever made. Quick, too, since everything is cooked. Skim the fat off the broth, shred the beef, and add them, along with the veggies, into a pot to heat up. And don’t forget to add a plop or two of mustard just before serving. Oh it’s good.

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Dec
12

Cookies from Beyond–Part 2

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Yes, I’m returning to the cookies from my last post, but in a good way.

After that post, I received a comment from Jane Menster. She’s the daughter of Maxine Menster’s, whose cookie recipe I made. She pointed out these cookies really need frosting. I agree. Kind of. Truth be told, although the cookies were all right not long after the oven, I actually liked them better the next day. Go figure.

So why didn’t I frost them? Two reasons, really. First, it wasn’t on the headstone. Okay, I know you can’t put everything on there. But the main reason? I don’t really care for frosted cookies. I know, I know. But at least I’m consistent; I’d rather eat the cake and leave the frosting. But I digress.

CemeteryCookies2.jpg

I had dough left from my first batch, so I baked more cookies. And since I seem to be fixated on lemon lately, I made a very simple lemon frosting. I mixed together

  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • a bit of flaked coconut

Of course the lemon juice and coconut can be adjusted to taste. You might even toast the coconut.  The frosting did add that little extra flavor oomph.

Jane also commented that she has made some adjustments to the original cookie dough recipe. She uses butter-flavor Crisco, 1/2 cup more sugar, and double the vanilla. You know, that’s what’s great about a basic recipe. You can adjust it to suit your preferences. It’s still the cookie with a history, but reflects what you like. Of course now I’m wondering what it would taste like with some of my cherry extract . . .

Thanks, Jane, for your suggestions.

 

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Dec
04

Cookies from Beyond

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Happy National Cookie Day. This is definitely a holiday I can get behind. And I did. I wanted a special cookie, and I found it. Kind of.

Remember my regret at not having family recipes? Yes, I know I’ve whined about it a lot lately. And I still haven’t won a recipe collection on eBay. But I was lucky and found a family cookie recipe. Okay, it isn’t my family, but eh, who cares.

You may have seen this recipe, too.  Trust me, it would have stuck in your mind if you had.

After Maxine Menster of Cascade, Iowa, died in 1994, her daughter and widower wanted a special way to memorialize her. They gave it some thought and came up with the perfect way to do so. They inscribed her recipe for Christmas cookies on her tombstone! You can read about it and find the recipe here.

Ever since I saw the story on Facebook, I knew I was going to make her cookies. National Cookie Day seemed the perfect time.

GravestoneCookies.jpgThe recipe is easy, and I followed it exactly. Well, almost. You’ll see on the tombstone that it calls for oleo (margarine). Now while margarine was always used in my house when I was growing up in Iowa, it’s been only a memory for many years. I thought about buying some so I could be true to Mrs. Menster’s recipe, but I just couldn’t justify the expense. So my version has butter. I don’t know about her version, but the vanilla in mine is homemade.

So what are they like? Well, I’m kind of disappointed. The flavor is very subtle. It’s not nearly as sweet as most of the ones I’ve made. That being said, it’s a tasty start of a cookie. Should I make them again, I’ll likely switch out some or all of the vanilla with my cinnamon extract. I may even add nutmeg and cardamom to the dry ingredients. And I’d probably top with some turbinado sugar before putting them in the oven. Ground nuts would also be a nice addition.

Thank you, Mrs. Menster for your cookie recipe. And thanks to your husband and daughter for choosing this as a way to memorialize your life.

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Dec
02

Queen of Cream of Almost Anything

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Many recipes show up on my Facebook newsfeed. I’m sure that comes as no surprise to anyone. I see the picture and immediately want to try it. I look at the recipe and am stopped dead in my tracks. Why? Because of one ingredient. So what is that ingredient? What makes me bypass yet another recipe?

A can of cream of fill-in-the-blank soup.

When I was a child, canned soup was often on the menu, including cream soups. My favorite, by the way, was cream of chicken (though you might be hard-pressed to find any chicken). But I grew up, and I became more discriminating about what I ate. The logical thing to do was make my own. And you can, too. It’s easy, inexpensive, and convenient. You start with making a mix.

2015-11-25 17.45.14 Making your own dry mix is nothing new. Actually, I’m surprised more people don’t. I searched many sources, and most are about the same. Mine is a little different, because I want to leave my options open for how to use it.

Most recipes I found called for flour or cornstarch and non-instant dry milk. Herbs–like thyme, onion powder, and rosemary–are also added, along with salt and pepper. Those would be logical additions for things like soup and gravy, but I’m not sure I want them making an appearance in pudding. Yes, my mixture combo can be used to make pudding.

So what is in my magical, not-so-mysterious mixture?

2 cups dry, non-instant milk, preferably whole

3/4 cup cornstarch

No, you didn’t miss anything. That’s it. Non-instant dry milk can be difficult to find, especially whole, if your local markets. I know my stores don’t sell it. It can be ordered online. And in a pinch, instant fat-free milk, like Sasco, will work, though I find the flavor a bit weaker.

So you have the mix, now what? It’s easy to reconstitute. I had some leftover broccoli, so I made cream of broccoli soup. First, shake the container of mix to make certain everything is combined well. In a saucepan, add 1/3 cup of mix with 1 1/4 cup of water. Whisk until smooth, really smooth over medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Let cook an additional 2 minutes, stirring often, until it thickens. This is when I stirred in the broccoli and herbs. And there you have it–cream of whatever soup.

2015-11-25 17.58.35A few notes.

Instead of water, you can use cooking or steeping liquids. For example, if you want to make a cream of mushroom soup using dry mushrooms, use the liquid you reconstituted them in. Mushroom powder along with the reconstituted ones would make a mushroom-intense soup.

This dry mixture should be kept in an airtight jar in a cool, dry place. I’ve seen some mixture recipes that include butter. (I usually add mine after it thickens.) This is an option, but remember if you do, it must be kept refrigerated.

I’d like to have jars with and without herbs and spices. But my space is limited, so I opt for adding as needed. The choice is yours. Another reason t0 make your own and have it on hand. And it’s less expensive.

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Nov
09

Sauerbraten What?

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I’ve been trying to eat from my freezer lately. The other day I found a chuck roast hiding in it. That’s probably my favorite cut of beef. It’s flavorful and relatively inexpensive. I prefer bone-in, but most places here don’t sell those. Chuck roasts of any type can be hard to find where I live, so I try to get one or two when they’re on sale. I didn’t particularly want to cook a roast, but cut into stew-size pieces, it makes great soup or stew.

Just as I wasn’t in the mood for roast beef, beef stew didn’t call to me, either. Besides using that roast, the only thing I knew for sure was I wanted to cook it in my CrockPot. I’ve been using my pressure cooker and NuWave a lot lately, and I didn’t want my Crock Pot to feel neglected. So I went looking on the Internet for an idea. Almost immediately, I found sauerbraten soup. Huh? Yes, soup. And it wasn’t just one recipe; there were several. Now I like sauerbraten and make it occasionally. But I never thought of it as soup or stew. That was about to change.

I took the roast out to thaw, so I could make soup the next day. I looked at the recipes and took a bit from this one, more from that one, and oh, that part of that other one looked promising. The next day I grabbed all the ingredients and got to work.

Sauerbraten Soup1.jpg

I cut up the meat into stew-size pieces. If your meat has large pieces of fat, remove. Then put it in the Crock Pot (not turned on). Then I made the brine, which consists of red wine vinegar and sugar. Once the sugar dissolves, I added cold water to cool it down and added pickling and other spices. Then pour it onto the meat, making sure it covers the meat. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Yes, just 15 minutes.

In the interim, prepare your vegetables. I went with carrots, onions, and celery. When the 15 minutes are up, add stock and the veggies. Stir and cook on high for about 6 hours.

Serving suggestions included spaetzle and potato dumplings. I think a nice hunk of rye bread would be pretty tasty, too. I went with just straight sauerbraten soup.

A couple of notes.

You may be wondering if you could use packaged stew meat. Sure you can. But it’s usually more expensive than a chuck roast. I also find the roast more flavorful. And I’ve long had suspicions that the meat in those packages could come from multiple cows (like ground beef) and multiple cuts.

And about pickling spices. I happened to have part of a jar, so I used it. You can, of course, make your own. Here’s my version.

I hope you’ll expand your horizons and give Sauerbraten Soup a try.

 

 

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