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Today has been a slow cooking kind of day. I made chicken stock for the first time since fall, so that we can have Thai chicken soup tomorrow. Funny thing is, I’ve never been that motivated to make from-scratch American chicken soup, and when I’ve tried it hasn’t been the greatest. But a spicy Thai chicken soup is much more interesting to me.

I also made stromboli for tonight. In the pizza dough, I swapped out a quarter of the bread flour for white whole wheat, so we will see whether we can tell the difference. I’ve made this recipe several times before. It is slow and easy, and quite tasty. Today I applied a trick I learned from Peter Reinhart’s book, the stretch-and-fold technique, to make the pretty sticky dough much easier to handle. As I was sending the recipe to someone who requested it, I did a search for videos illustrating this technique, and guess who should appear? None but Peter Reinhart himself. One would think he would outsource his instructional videos, or just not make any in favor of letting people buy the book to find out more—but he makes them himself. This is compelling. I am further drawn, as Heidi so aptly put it, to be his bread disciple. And now I have found a video he made to demonstrate shaping a boule, which I am still having trouble with. Oh joy.

With resources like The Fresh Loaf (where actual expert bakers, as well as very experienced home bakers, hang around and delight in answering stupid beginner questions) and instructional videos by Peter Reinhart (himself!!), reasonably committed culinary autodidacts can learn a lot—and that while listening to beautiful Handel arias.


Last week I gathered various Amazon gift cards I had collected over past months and applied them to my order of a nice chef’s knife and a brand new hardcover book (I never do that, even with gift money). The knife is the sharpest I have ever used (fingers, beware) and it makes chopping veggies much less of a hassle and in fact, less of a risk—dull knives cause more accidents. The book is this one by baker Peter Reinhart. His previous bread cookbook was a huge hit, but I don’t have it, and I was encouraged to get this new one on account of reviewer comments such as “this is Reinhart lite” and that it was probably the most thoroughly tested cookbook ever. I like thoroughly tested recipes. That’s why I suffer from Cook’s Illustrated dependency. Anyway, I do have some bread baking experience but it’s not been altogether successful, and I’m no scientist in the kitchen. I don’t need pages of explanation about different bacterial strains in sourdough before making it confidently. I just want straightforward directions about how to make good, crusty bread. In the past I’ve come close, but not close enough to justify the extra planning involved in making “slow” bread rather than a quick sandwich loaf, and my results were kind of sporadic.

Once I can get some pineapple juice I will start a seed culture so that I can begin experimenting with the sourdough recipes in the book. For now I’ll concentrate on the simple instant yeast recipes, like the French bread. I have a stand mixer that handled the double batch for me, but the texture of the dough made it a dream to finish kneading (the machine or your hands knead it for 2 minutes, then you knead by hand for another minute). I didn’t have to add any extra flour and it was perfectly smooth and tacky, so I’m pretty sure this would be quite easy to knead entirely by hand. Since the recipe makes two large loaves, I went ahead and divided it into two bowls: one I will bake tomorrow after a long night in the fridge, and the other will sit for about 4 days until I want to bake again. Reinhart says the quality of the dough begins to deteriorate after that point, but it can be kept in the fridge up to a week. There were also directions for freezing the dough! I love the flexibility. I honestly had no idea yeasted dough could sit for so long without slowly overgrowing and taking over the fridge.

We’ll see how this effort at artisan breadmaking turns out. I hope that the mediocre rye bread I had to buy in a pinch last week is the last loaf of bread I purchase for a long time.

Edited next day:
more thanks go to Susan for pointing me to The Fresh Loaf forums. I made generous use of the collective expertise there today when my bread was rising slower than molasses in…February, let’s say. It was sort of a silly question but the tips that flowed in were well worth posing it. Now I know to let my baguettes rise longer when I make them later in the week, DV. :)

Here is the finished, slightly diminutive loaf. It does have good flavor, a fine crust and a delightfully chewy texture.

I know I’m a little slow at getting around to it, but I’m finally adding one of my favorite pumpkin recipes to the mix.  I found this recipe on another blog called MoneySavingMom and then adapted it to suit our allergies and preferences.  I will give you my version as I believe it to be slightly more healthy and therefore I feel better about making it more often.  Just one little way that I justify adding chocolate to our everyday diet!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

4 Tbs. milled flax seed + 1 C. water (or 4 large eggs)

1 C. Sucanant or  other form of sugar as you prefer

1- 15oz. can of pumpkin puree

3/4 C. of oil

Mix together and then add:

3 C. of whole wheat flour

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1- 12oz. package of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Mix thoroughly and drop into muffin pans fill about 2/3 full.  Bake @ 400* for 16-20 minutes.  Makes about 2 dozen.  These freeze really well for those of you who may not eat two dozen in a sitting!!  I sometimes freeze a batch and pull them out two at a time to put in Ben’s breakfast in the morning.  He eats on the go!  I’ll try to post a picture when the next batch comes out of the oven.

My latest project has been learning how to make baguettes. This project goes well with Heidi’s latest post. If you fail and end up with a brick you can always use your baguette for a weapon.

A chewy crust with soft bread inside and large holes are the goal. I used this
recipe with instructions.

It’s a long, drawn out process and was challenging but it was well worth all the trouble. My dough didn’t stretch as well as theirs in the picture. It tore some showing the gluten was not well formed but it improved with each stretch and fold. I formed my loaves on a cookie sheet and baked them on that since I don’t have a baking stone. It worked fine. I especially appreciated the pictures on the following King Arthur site about how to shape the loaves. I preheated the oven and put a bread pan in the bottom of the oven filled with hot water. I slashed then sprayed the baguettes before putting them in the oven and also sprayed them every five minutes while they were baking. It only took 15 minutes at 450. My husband has had baguettes in France and he was very pleased with how they turned out even though the holes in mine were not as large as those in the picture in the first site.

I found more helpful advice about making baguettes with many detailed pictures on a King Arthur blog but I haven’t tried out their recipe yet. If you want their recipe, it’s found under the instructions, just before the comments.
King Arthur Baguette instructions.

A review and a warning:
I was once doubtful that celebrity chefs could be of any use to me, but Alton Brown is one of the strongest proofs that that’s not necessarily true. He’s a science geek who has a couple shows on the Food Network and a few books out on food and kitchen gear (highly recommend that one: Alton Brown’s Gear For Your Kitchen). His forte is explaining the hows and whys of the techniques and ingredients used in making good food—not necessarily gourmet, either, which I appreciate, being on a budget and not very comfortable with epicureanism. But I’ve come to believe that if you’re going to expend the time, energy, and resources to cook and bake, you ought to try and do it well.

I checked out the book named in the title from the library. It’s meant as a follow-up to his book I’m Just Here for the Food, which is about cooking; this book is a primer on baking. I have really enjoyed reading (most of) the technical but also practical explanations of all the major ingredients and techniques used in baking. You can read a summary on Amazon or something; I just wanted to warn anyone interested that when I went on Amazon to check prices, I found out from reviewers that there is a big problem with typos in the book’s many recipes. There is a second edition, but there seem to be major problems in that one as well. That’s a real shame, as it violates the “as long as you’re going to bake, bake well” philosophy big time. Check out the book from your library and don’t waste money on the dubious recipes.

However, I just made his recipe for banana bread (and discovered the typo problem on Amazon while it was baking!), and it turned out just fine. Pleasantly spongy yet moist, and the right amount of sweetness. I can post the recipe if anyone’s interested. But I certainly do not want to take a gamble on any of the other possibly flawed recipes, so I’ll be returning this book to the library once I finish taking notes on the non-recipe portions.

Heidi mentioned in the comments that coffee and chocolate are reputed to go well together and asked if I had any experience mixing them. Yes, I have, perhaps most successfully in a rich chocolate cake calling for hot water, for which coffee is a “duh” substitute. Several years ago my sister and I made this cake for a Valentine’s dinner for my parents. I made it again more recently and must add a disclaimer. It is probably the moistest and best chocolate cake I’ve ever made, or even tasted (thus was my father’s claim, but who knows if he was indulging us); however, both times I have made it, it has crumbled terribly in the midst of stacking and then cutting the layers. It could be that I did something wrong in assembling it, or it could be that the cake is so moist that it is impossibly delicate. Once I looked up an index of baking problems to see what this crumbling tendency could mean. The helpful answer? “Too much fat.” HA. Sorry, not going to modify that. So, in sum, don’t count on this cake being presentable the first time around—just delectable.

(You could fit the batter into 2 10″ cake pans—or if your 9″ pans are 2″ deep, those would work—and see if thicker layers prevent crumbling. It will need to bake about 10 minutes longer if you use just 2 pans. In case of utter structural collapse, go ahead and make a dessert soup out of milky icing and chocolate “croutons”. Tell any snobbish guests that it’s become all the rage in Paris.)

Chocolate Velvet Cake (from a 2003 edition of Southern Living)
1 1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
16 oz. light brown sugar
1 stick butter, softened
2 c. all-purpose flour, sifted (measure the flour after you sift it onto wax paper)
1/2 tsp salt
1 c. hot water or coffee (preferred!)
3 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
8 oz. sour cream
2 tsp vanilla

Melt chocolate in microwave or over double boiler. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together at medium speed for about 5 minutes. Add eggs and beat just until blended after each addition. Mix in the chocolate.

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour, at low speed just until blended. Gradually add 1 c. hot water or coffee in a slow, steady stream, just until blended. Stir in vanilla.

Spoon batter into 3 greased and floured 9″ cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes; remove layers from pans and let cool completely on the rack.

Here’s a buttercream frosting suggestion, to yield 6 cups (you might have a bit extra).
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c. milk
32 oz. powdered sugar
1 Tbsp strong brewed coffee
Cream butter; gradually add sugar alternately with milk, beating at low speed after each addition until blended. Stir in coffee. Frost your cake.

My name is Laura, and I am addicted to gourmet coffee. I knew I should have declined the bag of Arabian Mocha Sanani that Kilby brought as part of her wedding gift. I was already hooked on Starbucks but was going to try and downgrade for the pocketbook’s sake—never mind that I had tried this once before and was absolutely disgusted with the other options. We stocked up on the Good Stuff when it was on sale last month, and I just opened up my last “stash bag.” Yes, I suspect I am, and rather hate, merely paying for the Starbucks name. I don’t think I need gourmet, per se, to make me happy; I just need drinkable, ideally slightly pleasurable coffee. Any recommendations would be appreciated.

I don’t mean to make my first post off-topic. I see this as a matter of frugal shopping, something I am pleased to use some of my time to accomplish while my husband is laboring away to keep us fed and sheltered. My strategies so far are: 1) make weekly grocery lists from the sales circular, not the gourmet cookbook; 2) shop around, but sensibly—gas prices now easily offset any minute savings from the store further down the road; and 3) try to make everything possible from scratch. It does help to “cost out” the actual bargain if I make something myself rather than buying it ready-made to any degree. For example, I can make pretty good scones, which are also pretty healthy for scones, for $.29 each, or $2.32 for a batch. A certain favorite cafe sells scones for upwards of $3 a piece, and if you ask me they’re better off sticking with coffee anyway. Maybe I am just compulsive, but doing this sort of math makes me feel powerful and useful—and is consequently a bit addicting.

I have been a full-time housewife for exactly two months, currently residing in my native South with a displaced (and endearingly disgruntled) Yankee. I will try very hard not to show you all up with my, as one has already put it, vast expertise. … Really I am hungry for all sorts of housekeeping wisdom, and as I come across particularly ingenious tips I will share them here.

July 2018
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