Archive for the ‘Bread’ Category

Zesty Tomato Garlic Croutons

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

You’re going to need these croutons for the next recipe I post.  I suppose you could use store-bought, but these are better…. at least I think so!

Sometimes I’ll whip up a batch of my Honey Whole Wheat Bread just so I can let it go stale for making croutons.  My family loves croutons. We throw ’em in soups and salads.  Of course they go into French onion soup.  I’ve even caught my 17 year old munching on them like popcorn.

Croutons are a snap. Coat stale bread cubes in flavor bombed oil, toast in the oven, and viola! Croutons! I just throw it all together (not the bread cubes) in my food processor, and taste as I go.  I use tomatoes I’ve dried myself, which don’t have as much moisture as store-bought sun dried tomatoes.  I have to soak them in a little water before I get started, or they won’t pulverize properly in the food processor.  This recipe makes up a batch of flavored oil which is more than needed to make a batch of croutons.  It can be stored in a jar in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 weeks, and can be used in a variety of ways: croutons, tossed with pasta, or spread on sandwiches for an extra punch of flavor.

Zesty Tomato Garlic Croutons
Cubed stale bread
1 cup sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 or 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 teaspoons dried basil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2-3 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients (except cubed bread) into a food processor and let ‘er rip. Process until the mixture is relatively smooth.

Place bread cubes in a bowl and spoon some of the tomato-oil mixture onto the cubes.

Toss until the bread is completely coated with the tomato mixture, adding more if needed.

Spread the croutons on a baking sheet and toast in a 350° oven.  Check the croutons about every 5 minutes and give them a quick stir.  Because of the sugar content of the tomatoes, the croutons will tend to caramelize, and you want to be careful not to burn them.  My croutons took approximately 15 minutes.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread and a Few Bunny Trails

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Before I get on with this, I’m warning you my motivation is on its way back,  and I was a little camera happy this morning.

I realize bread making is a little time consuming, but I think it’s worth the effort. You’re probably wondering how I manage to bake bread several times a week when I work a full time job.  Here’s the beauty of working from a shop located on the same property where I live.  I can head to my kitchen on my lunch break, and mix up a batch of dough and knead it.  It’s not uncommon to find a batch of dough rising in my office.  At the end of the work day, I take it back to my kitchen, ready to pop in the oven.

I don’t know why I haven’t blogged my bread recipe before.  I make it so often I could do it in my sleep.  I’ve fiddled around with different ways of making bread over the years. The resulting conclusion of all this fiddling….. the books, famous chefs, food network, etc….. they’ve made it WAY too complicated.  No wonder so many people are intimidated by homemade bread.  Seriously folks, bread has been the staff of life, successfully feeding and nourishing mankind for thousands of years….. it can’t be that complicated!  Of course, in the last 100 years, we’ve managed to corrupt the stuff beyond what our ancestors would recognize as bread.  However, that’s a whole ‘nuther conversation.  Anyway, I’ll show you how I make bread, and I’m warning you…. I break a lot of rules.

I don’t have a convenient local source for bulk organic grains and flours, so I have them shipped from Heartland Mill out of Kansas.  You can shop online, but I tend to phone my orders so I can have them ship on my business’ UPS shipper account.  I’ve got a negotiated volume discount with UPS. Heartland’s prices are fantastic, and even with shipping I’m paying less than if I bought 5 pound bags of organic Bobs Red Mill from the local grocery.  I purchase in 25 or 50 pound quantities, depending on the type of flour.  I tend to use about twice as much all-purpose flour as I do whole wheat flour.  I’m still working on that. I keep my flours and grains in 6 gallon buckets stored under some of my canning shelves in the basement.

Yes, I’m a little OCD.  Yes, I know the shelves are bowing a little. Drives me nuts!  I’ve got a bunch more shelving on the opposite facing wall.  Everything in the buckets is organic: durum semolina for pasta, rye flakes, steel cut oats,  arborio rice, wild rice, green coffee beans, whole wheat flour, unbleached all-purpose flour. The wooden crates are where onions, squash, and sweet potatoes are stored. The large jars on the shelves are dried herbs, spices, dried fruit, and other things of that sort.  I have an arsenal of herbal witch doctory on that shelf. Top shelf is elderberry juice, jams, salsa, and assorted pickled veggies and relishes.  If you’ve ever received a food gift from me, it’s a good bet it came from the top shelf.

So, on to bread making. This is my base recipe for bread, and I vary it depending on what I’m making. If I’m making raisin bread I’ll add more honey, a little cinnamon and some raisins.  I’ll form it into focaccia and slather it with olive oil and olives, artichokes, or roasted red peppers. I’ll form it into bagels, boil, then bake them. This recipe produces one average  sized loaf.  I don’t like to make 2 loaves at a time, since I prefer fresh bread and there are only 3 of us in the house these days.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
Up to 1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1 to 1 1/2 cup warm water

I usually just throw my ingredients into the bowl without measuring: one part each of whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour, about 1/2 palm full kosher salt, a scant palm full active dry yeast, and a palm full vital wheat gluten.  I decided to be kind and give you some measurements.  I warned you I break rules.  No messing with extra containers, softening yeast in water ahead of time.   I just dump all the dry ingredients together and give them  a quick stir with my spoon.

A little bunny trail here with some information on ingredients.  Bread does not taste good without salt. (period).  Most recipes don’t call for enough.  I use more salt.  Salt does tend to slow down the activity of yeast, yeast feeds on sugar, and this recipe includes plenty of honey.  See where I’m going with this? I’ve never had a problem with the salt preventing the yeast from doing its job.

I include vital wheat gluten when using whole grain flours because I get a better rise from the dough as well as a lighter crumb in the finished bread.  You can choose to leave it out, but you’ll probably end up with a heavier more dense loaf of bread.

Next, combine the honey, egg, and warm water. A quick aside on water amounts.  The amount can vary depending on your flour.   My current batch of flour needs about a cup, but I’ve needed to use as much a 1 1/2 before.  If your dough is a little too wet, just work a little more all-purpose flour into it when you knead the dough.  I’ve developed a sense for how the dough should feel, and know when I need to use more or less water.

Don’t worry if the warm water causes the egg white to get a little hazy, because you’re just going to mix it up like this.

And then dump the wet into the dry.

Stir it until it forms a rough dough.

Dump it onto the lightly floured counter top and knead for about 5 minutes.  At this point I walk away from it, and let it rest for 5 minutes while I do something else.  I took the time to refill the nearly empty flour canisters I keep on my counter. Knead the dough for a few more minutes, until it feels smooth and elastic.  Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a bowl and turn the dough in the oil to coat it.

Cover the bowl with a cloth and set it in a warm draft free place to rise until doubled in size.  Rising time will vary depending on too many factors to list.  Expect anywhere from 1 to 2 hours for the first rising. This batch took 2 hours because the house was cool this morning.  This is one of my favorite vintage tea towels.  It’s too pretty to use for any messy kitchen work, so I use it as a proofing cloth.

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, knead it a few times, and place it back in the bowl with a drizzle of oil to rise a second time.  The dough will rise more quickly the second time.

After the dough has doubled a second time, punch it down, knead it a few times, form it into a loaf, and set it aside to rise for the last time.  I love crusty free form loaves, but my guys don’t care for crust, so I bake the bread in loaf pans.  I do whatever it takes to keep them from requesting that soft, tasteless, chemical laden, plastic wrapped stuff that passes for bread these days.  This last raising will take as little as 30 minutes. 

Once it has doubled, place the loaf in a 350 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes. Yet another bunny trail….. baking time and temperature.  350 for 30 minutes is what works for me.  My oven is not properly calibrated, so I bought an oven thermometer to make sure my oven is properly preheated.  As I mentioned before, my family likes a less crusty, soft crumbed bread.  If I had it my way, I’d make a crusty free from loaf baked at about 400 or 425 for about 20 minutes, on a stone, and with steam for the first few minutes of baking.  My point being, do what works for your quirky oven and personal taste.

I know you’re supposed to let the bread cool before cutting if you don’t want to mangle your loaf.  Mangling be damned! I wanted a piece so I cut it right away, slathered it with some homemade strawberry vanilla jam, and made myself very happy.



Panzanella Salad

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Panzanella is one of my favorite summer salads, and I’ve been craving it constantly of late. It’s beautiful and packed with flavor.  It’s another of those practical Italian peasant dishes which utilize leftover stale bread. A true Florentine would disapprove of my addition of cucumber and leftover roast beef, as those are not traditional additions to panzanella.

I fired up my oven the other day to make a chicken pot pie with some leftover grilled chicken.  It was 90+ degrees outside.  I wanted to make the most of the time the oven was on, so I timed things to throw a loaf of whole wheat bread into the oven with the pie.  It’s the first homemade bread I’ve made in a few weeks and was worth the effort.

Panzanella Salad
1 or 2 thick slices of crusty day old bread, cubed
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 small English cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 lb thinly sliced roast beef, cut into strips
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 cup chopped mint and/or basil (I use a combination of both)
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine bread cubes, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, roast beef,  capers, mint, and basil  in a bowl.  Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Drizzle vinaigrette over salad and toss well. Let the salad stand for 10 minutes to allow the bread to soak up the juices.

Spiced Maple Banana Bread

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Today has been one of those cold rainy winter days, perfect for spending time in the kitchen.  About an hour ago the rain switched over to snow, and it feels good to be snug and warm inside with the scent of cinnamon, vanilla, and mace lingering in the air.  I made a family favorite, my spiced banana bread.  As we were demolishing the warm treat, it was decided that it’s more like a coffee cake than bread, and that I should start baking it in a cake pan instead of a loaf pan.  We also speculated that it might be even better if I topped it with some of the oatmeal crumble that I normally use as a fruit crisp topping.

I thought today would be a good day to give another maple syrup recipe.  Bart informed me he’s getting close to finished with the sugaring season, and enough syrup has been bottled that we can start selling it.  Ordering has been enabled on his website, so come and get it!

As usual, I tried to use as many fresh, local, organic, or homemade ingredients as possible. I had a couple of overly ripe organic bananas, my fresh homemade sour cream, maple syrup Bart made, eggs from the neighbors, organic vanilla beans, organic flour, wheat germ and bran.  A little side note on the eggs:  I’ve decided to start keeping my own laying hens again this summer. I’ve decided to keep Delawares, a heritage breed on the critical endangered list. I’ve also located a source for organic non-GMO feed. More to come on that subject in a couple of months or so.

Spiced Maple Banana Bread
2 bananas
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup maple syrup
2 eggs
Vanilla specks scraped from 1/2 bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 cups flour
1/4 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mace

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour a 9×13 cake pan or a couple of 7×3 loaf pans.

Mash banana into total submission in the bottom of a mixing bowl.  Add sour cream, butter, maple syrup, eggs, and vanilla specks.  Beat until thoroughly blended.  In a separate bowl blend together remaining dry ingredients.  Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just moistened.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Maple Bread Pudding

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Last week I made a couple of loaves of organic whole grain raisin bread. For some reason only one loaf got eaten, and I found myself with a whole loaf of stale raisin bread.  Also, with maple syrup production in full swing, I had a little of last year’s syrup that I wanted to use up.  Maple Bread Pudding was the solution to my overabundance of stale bread and old maple syrup.

This recipe uses stale bread. I’m telling you, the texture of the finished pudding won’t be right if you use fresh bread. If you don’t make your own bread, then something like stale french bread from your local bakery can be used. However, don’t use that soft chemical laden stuff that masquerades as bread.

Maple Bread Pudding
6 to 7 cups roughly cubed stale bread
6 eggs
2 1/2 cups milk or half & half
1 1/2 cups amber or grade B maple syrup. Save your good light stuff for pancakes.
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Specks scraped from 1/2 a vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place bread cubes in a buttered 9 x 11 baking dish. Whisk together milk, eggs, maple syrup, salt and spices.  Pour egg mixture over bread cubes.  Place dish in refrigerator for about an hour.  It’s important to give the bread cubes plenty of time to absorb the liquid if you want your pudding to have a nice silky texture. I made mine up the afternoon before and refrigerated it overnight so that it was ready to bake on Sunday afternoon when I had the oven already heated for a roast chicken.

Place a roasting pan with about an inch of water in the oven, and preheat to 350. Place pan of bread pudding in the water and bake for about an hour.  I’ve discovered that it’s quite common for ovens to be out of calibration, and highly recommend the use of an oven thermometer when preheating.  I really need to get my oven calibrated. I have to turn my oven on to 420 to heat to an actual 350.

Remove bread pudding from oven and allow to cool for a little while.  Serve with a drizzle of  maple syrup and a couple of generous splashes of cream. This stuff is comfort food at it’s best!