July 7, 2014

Book Review: Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book

I have been making bread for years and some time ago I stopped using a recipe. While I can definitely make a good basic loaf by feel, at some point it started to drift away from good towards mediocre. I decided I should go back to using a recipe to shed any bad techniques I'd developed and make my loaf great again. 

Since I only cook with whole wheat flour (King Arthur white whole wheat in particular because that's what is available at my local grocery store) I opened up the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book (subtitled A Guide To Whole-Grain Breadmaking) by Laurel Robertson with Carol Fliners and Bronwen Godfrey. I've had this book for a decade but I think the only thing I baked from it was sourdough (all I remember about that is I don't like the smell of fermenting rye flour!).

I should have returned to this book long ago! The Basic Whole Wheat (page 80) is fantastic. I experimented with the suggested variations: butter, oil, and without fat- all are wonderful although butter is my favorite. Since I started making yogurt again I've been using whey instead of water and as the weather became warmer I cut the amount of yeast in half because it was rising too fast... It's a versatile bread.

The whole wheat challah is phenomenal although it always seems too wet so I reduce the eggs by one and the total liquid to 2 cups. I make the raisin version which is a delicious sandwich bread. FYI, toasting really brings out something special in challah.

January 2, 2014

The Late Winter Garden

Horseradish. The roots were tiny!

We just built a bunch of new beds and with the three we have left to build it will about triple the garden size - back to pre-baby square footage. YAY! I'm very excited about this year. Now that my son is older and we've made the section of the yard that contains the garden safe (as safe as anything can be for a toddler who has more ability to lift and climb than he has sense) I think I'll be able to garden regularly. 

Happy sigh.

Gardening makes me feel very much like me. It's who I am. I am a grower of plants. 

I transplanted a bunch of runners from last year's strawberries into a new bed. I think we'll have around 30 plants this year without having to buy more. We'll see how it goes. A few of them are already blooming (silly strawberries) and it's going to freeze tonight. Everything got heavily watered today to help prevent frost damage (except the strawberries. whoops.).

Tiny wheelbarrow
On an adorable note: To my son, all red berries are strawberries but blueberries are "blue strawberries". Also, he started digging holes and "planting" sticks and acorns and leaves. Upon observing this, my

October 18, 2013

Super Strong Vanilla Extract

As a fun extra in the shop for the holidays I'm making super strong vanilla extract. This is what we all wished normal extract from the store was but it never turned out to be. 

It's the real deal, folks and you only need a little (not tons extra like I always used) because it powerfully tastes of vanilla (as it should!). When you uncork a bottle of this you smell the vanilla, not the vodka. I'll be selling some in the shop for a limited time but if you want to make it yourself, here's how:

Chop 1/4# vanilla beans (grade B or extract grade or splits) into 1/2" pieces. Mix with 1 quart vodka (I used Texas vodka). Shake daily for 30 days. Strain or not.

Left: Extract freshly mixed day 1. Right: Fully extracted (30 + days)

I'll give you a heads up when the bottles are ready to ship. 

(P.S. It occurs to me that it might not be obvious from the picture but the lower half of the left jar is dark because you're looking at a pile of vanilla beans. The right jar has no beans in it... that's just the color when it's fully extracted. )

September 17, 2013

Tex-Mex Monte Cristo

I like the idea of jalapeno jelly (and so I always make it) but I never know what to do with it other than the classic "baked with cream cheese" dip. Here's what I came up with today and it was delicious. 

Grilled cheese and ham topped with jalapeno jelly. It's like a less complicated, Tex-Mex, Monte Cristo.

February 4, 2013

Spring Seed Starting

Once again I'm a little late starting seeds this year. By that I mean I could have started seeds during the past few months for earlier lettuce and greens and bigger tomatoes, peppers, etc. by planting time but it is by no means too late to start seeds!

Here's what I started this weekend:

Sweet Peppers
swiss chard and cilantro seedlings
  • Corbaci - 4
  • Coban - 2
  • Ashe County Pimento - 6
  • Tequila Sunrise - 3
  • Lipstick - 3
Hot Peppers
  • Fish - 3
  • Early Jalapeno - 1
  • Thai Red Pepper - 6
  • Serrano - 6
lettuce and beet seedlings
Tomatoes & Tomatillos
  • Rosso Sicilian - 3
  • Red Cherry - 4 
  • Cherokee Purple - 6
  • Green Velvet Tomato - 3
  • Arkansa Traveller - 3
  • Tess's Landrace - 6
  • Illini Star - 3
  • Plum Lemon - 6
  • Goldman's Italian American - 2
  • Verde Tomatillo - 5
  • Purple Tomatillo - 7
tomato plant
  • Thai Long Green - 6
  • Purple Pickling - 6
  • Ping Tung Long - 6
  • Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach - 26
  • Red Russian Kale - 12
  • Da Ping Pu - 8
  • Tatsoi - 8
  • Arugula - 8
  • Gailaan - 8

January 22, 2013

Very Easy Potato and Roasted Broccoli Soup

I really like soups but when they're as easy as this one, I adore them. Here is my potato-broccoli soup in 4 easy steps.

 1. Make mashed potatoes (with butter, without, with milk... however you like). 
 2. Roast the broccoli (or other vegetables... the version pictured also has roasted cauliflower and carrots). 
 2b. Saute onions, garlic, and celery in butter (or roast all that along with your broccoli). 
 3. Dilute mashed potatoes with broth or water until thick or as thin as you like. 
 4. Add your roasted and/or sauteed veg. - DONE!

Bonus: At this point you can add cream, or not. Cheese or bacon or yogurt or not. Puree the soup or leave it chunky: it is totally up to you.

And remember, since I can't write a good recipe I just gave you a general formula. If you like potato broccoli soup that is a whole lota potato and not so much broccoli then prep your quantities accordingly. If you're a broccoli fiend then roast a ton. If you don't think you have enough broccoli then just roast some more and add it later. The cool thing about soup is that even if you end up with too much it freezes well and you can always beef it up, change the spices, or throw in some of whatever you've got at a later time. Such a flexible meal!

Soup in jars cooling for the freezer