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Archive for May, 2010

Something's Rising Over Here

May 2nd, 2010 at 07:05 am

I am a self confessed murderer. Some people kill houseplants, I've killed bread machines. Three of them. Three delightful machines that only wanted to provide the delightful aromas of that staple we call bread. Three wonderful machines that would mix, knead, and bake, making home a happy place. Now that I have that off my chest, let me tell my side of the story.

This all started years ago when I was shopping with my mom and saw a bread machine on sale for under $40. I commented that for that price, I would really think about getting it. But, I didn't. However, for Christmas that year, my mom bought me that bread machine. And I was delighted. Oh, so delighted. The next day I went to the grocery and found the bread machine mixes and came home and fired that puppy up. Within a couple of hours the house had the pleasant aroma of homemade bread. My dear husband was ready to be the sacrificial guinea pig, armed with a knife and some butter. It was in a word, wonderful! I branched out and tried another mix and then another. But, the frugal instincts got to me and I thought, why am I paying so much for a bread machine mix? I looked closely at the instruction booklet and found a few recipes (remember this was years ago) and decided I would take the plunge into the unknown and make it from scratch. I had baked bread without a machine a few times, so it couldn't be THAT hard. It wasn't. We had homemade bread that was yummy for a fraction of the cost of the mixes. I branched out and tried whole wheat and other types. And it was good. Oh, so good. But then, the machine went kaput. It was a sad day. Hubby said, "Go get another, you'll use it." Of course, I will tell you that finding a bread machine after Christmas at department stores is a challenge. Before the holidays, they are plentiful. Afterwards, not so much.

But, I found a beauty. It was bigger, shinier, and fancier than the previous one. Of course it cost almost twice as much, but what a cream puff! And it was wonderful. Except after a couple of years of steady use, it expired. Mourning reigned in this household.

Again, hubby said, "Go get another. And do some research...find the best one." And I did. I just love the Internet because yet again the previous machine at the indignity of dying way before the holiday bread machine inventory was out. And this baby, ooo la la! It was longer, had two paddles, and was considered the very best. The loaves didn't come out tall, but like a "real" loaf of bread is supposed to. The recipe booklet was a dream come true. Ah, the breads that machine produced. Happiness again was abundant in our household. For awhile. Then things started happening. The "bread" didn't rise like it should so I bought different yeast. That didn't work. One paddle didn't mix as well, like it had been wounded in battle or something. It was getting to the point where I was taking the dough out, kneading it, and then putting it back into the machine. Finally, I decided this bread machine was ready for retirement...permanently.

So that's my story. But it doesn't end there. After enjoying the glory of homemade bread, I couldn't go back to...gasp!...store bought bread entirely. So, back to that lovely source of information, the Internet. I found some easy bread recipes. And then, lo and behold, I was reading the Chicago Tribune Magazine a few years back, and Leah Eskin had a recipe for No Knead Bread. It looks like a very rustic bread and was totally different than the bread pan shaped loaves I had been making.

Here's the recipe she had in her column:

No-knead bread

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 5/8 water
corn meal or wheat bran, optional

Mix in a large bowl: combine flour, yeast, and salt. Stir in water. Don't fret over the shaggy, sticky dough.

Rest: Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at room temperature at least 12 hours, preferable 18. Dough is ready when dotted with bubbles.

Deflate: Lightly flour a work surface and scoop dough onto it, sprinkle with a little more flour and fold it once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Shape: Dust dough lightly with flour, gently and quickly shape into a ball. Coat with a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal. Put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran, or cornmeal. Cover with another towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will have doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked.

Bake: At least half an hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 4-8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. Carefully slide pot out of the oven. Pull off the top towel. Slip a hand under the bottom towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up. Cover pot with lid and bake 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake another 10 to 15 until beautifully browned. Cool on rack.

Since I've confessed my murderous ways, I hope you will grant me leniency, especially since I've shared some evidence of my rehab: a wonderful bread recipe that will rise to the occasion and make your house smell wonderful!

Crazy for Casseroles...or how I learned to love the hot dish!

May 1st, 2010 at 07:22 am

For the past couple of years I have worked on fixing things ahead of time on the weekend so when I got home from work, I could just heat up the main dish and add some sides. I've tried different cook books and web sites and have found some fabulous casseroles.

I recently checked a book out of the library called "Casserole Crazy" by Emily Farris. Emily apparently lives in New York, but grew up in the Midwest. In her book she talks about how many of her NY friends wouldn't have given a casserole a second thought until she started making them and letting them come and enjoy them. She now has casserole parties where folks have to bring a casserole following a few guidelines. She said it has become very popular with her crowd and they email their recipes to each other after the event.

She also wrote about how casseroles often helped families in the 50s and 60 stretch their food dollar. That I would have to agree with as well. I can take a whole chicken (not a tiny one) and get 3-4 casseroles or dishes from it and sometimes even have chicken broth left over to freeze.

There are a few recipes I'm tempted to try in her book, but like most cook books I encounter, it isn't one I would use every recipe. But it was an interesting read nonetheless.

I guess it's time for me to push away from the computer and get my casserole dishes started!

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