Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Simple Breads 2 - Crusty Bread




Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

Unless you don't read the news, or unless you have a personal shopper for groceries who doesn't want to bother you with the petty little details of how much things actually cost, you probably can't help but notice that the price of certain basic items are skyrocketing. Dairy products, grains, and oils, in particular, have been shooting up, and with grain prices rising, bread costs have also risen tremendously. Since I have a consuming everything in his path rampaging Godzilla teenage boy to feed, and this boy loves him some carbs, I decided a few weeks ago to start baking bread, an area of cooking in which I've always sucked been less than successful.

Judy Thomas came to the rescue with her "Mother's Miracle Bread," which you can read about here. I love that bread, and so does my family, but it's relatively high in fat and calories, and I wanted to find something lighter. The Week came to my rescue with not one, but two, simple recipes under the title "The World's Two Easiest Breads". Now, I don't know about those folks in The Week, because the first recipe includes 20 hours' rising time, and if you're like me, that much planning ahead is a deal breaker. The second recipe however... ahhhhhhh..... perfect, crusty bread every time. It's truly baguette-like in consistency - crusty chewy on the outside, and soft and light on the inside. And easy-peasy.

The recipe looks complicated, but once you've done it the first time, you'll see how easy it is. This recipe makes four, small loaves - each one perfect for 2 - 4 people at a dinner or over a day's usage (unless you have a teenage boy in the house). I think I'm going to try to mix whole grains in the next time, but for this first series of loaves, they've been perfect.

I also found a wonderful English Muffin bread recipe which is equally easy, and I shall post that one next week. But for now, Nick Fox's New York Times article, as reprinted in The Week, gives us Dr. Jeff Hertzberg's recipe for:

Simple Crusty Bread

Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francis



6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough
4 cups water (yes, bread-makers, you read that right)
1 1/2 TBS yeast
1 1/2 TBS kosher salt
cornmeal

1. In a large bowl, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose (this is an UNDERSTATEMENT - the dough will be very, very sticky and unlike usual bread dough. Just forge ahead anyway.) Cover, but not with an airtight lid.

2. Let dough rise at room temperature at least two hours (and up to 5). Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. Here's a picture of half the dough after being in the fridge for a couple of days:



3. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on the dough. Tear off about a grapefruit-sized piece (it will be VERY sticky) and form it into a sort-of ball. Drop it onto a parchment paper or wax paper or silpat-lined surface sprinkled with LOTS of cornmeal. It will not be pretty. It will look something like this:



(If you're skilled at the art of using a pizza peel, not to mention if you have a pizza peel, use that as the rising surface and then slide dough onto baking stone. I do not have a pizza peel, and can't imagine trying to slide this sticky dough in any case, so I used the technique that I mentioned above.)

4. Let it rest for about 45 minutes if it hasn't been refrigerated, and maybe an hour to an hour and a half if it has been refrigerated. While dough is resting, put a pizza or baking stone or other surface that can stand a LOT of heat on the middle rack of the oven. Place a broiler pan at the bottom of the oven (or if you have bottom coils, then place it on the lowest position rack). Turn the oven to 450 F. After oven has preheated, make sure the stone or pan has 20 minutes to heat up. The set up should look something like this:



5. Okay, here's the one tricky step of the whole thing: Once everything is rested and heated, prepare one cup of hot water. Dust the resting dough with flour and slash the top three times with a serrated knife. It won't really slash, but just do it anyway - it will work during baking. Grab dough off surface and sprinkle baking surface with lots more cornmeal. Plop dough on baking surface. Pour water in broiler pan and close oven door as quickly as you can. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes. Crust will be a deep brown, like this:



6. When timer goes off, turn off oven and open oven door. Leave bread like that for 10 more minutes and then remove it from baking surface, if you don't do this step, it might stick to the baking stone. And finally, let it cool thoroughly before cutting. If you want to tear it off, have it warm. Enjoy!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Music Monday - "Everybody's Talking" - Harry Nilsson




For other tales of musical adventure, please visit Soccer Mom in Denial.

I spoke yesterday of trying to simplify. I'm also finding, as I pare down, that all my senses are getting keener, and I don't need as much.

As much entertainment, as many things, as many sensations, as many tastes, as much music, as many conversations, as much stimulation.

And this is leading me to enjoy silence more than I ever have. Yes, I still have music at times throughout my day, and I'll never turn down a loving conversation with family or friends. I am finding, however, that random social interaction just doesn't have that same thrill that it used to, and I found myself on Sunday thinking of this gem from the late 60s.

I had no idea that it was Harry Nilsson who sang it, and I was delighted, because I am a HUGE Harry Nilsson fan. I played Nilsson Schmilsson so much as a child that the grooves wore out, and The Point was my very favorite movie for years. I was too young for Midnight Cowboy so my main memories of "Everybody" were Nilsson's "Wahs" at the end of each chorus.

Again, with no youtube presence, I have to leave you with this link. Check it out - it's hysterical, because much as this is a brilliant song, Harry Nilsson is not, I repeat not, the cool cat/disco dancer he believes he is in this clip from The Beat Club. Check out the moves, especially during the choruses. It will wake you up giggling. I promise.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ruminations

I love Earth Day. I really do. There were many wonderful posts about Earth Day, including a full series of important tips, strategies, and new ways to think about your life from Cable Girl of 42. You can go here - reduce waste, here - cleaning green, here - water conservation, and here - home energy conservation and green baby for her guides.

My problem with Earth Day, which is also my problem with things like Black History Month, is that by relegating these things to a specific date or month or whatever, we can kind of feel like, "Yeah, we acknowledged that, now it's time to move on to other things."

But we really can't just move on from the problems our Earth is encountering right now. (Nor can we just relegate Black History to one month, but that's a topic for another day). While it's good to have reminders, like Earth Day, it's enormously important to think about what we can do on a daily basis, and make a commitment by doing it.

If I think about two of our biggest issues on this planet, I would, as an American, go to fossil fuels and food. Yes, we also need wind and solar power, we need to find out why our honey bees are dying off, we absolutely need to think about how we're going to have sustainable water for the future and manufacturing companies need to be reined in.

In terms of fossil fuels, we need a much better public transportation infrastructure in this country. The fact that we have little or no bus or train systems in most of our communities have much to do with how the oil companies and auto industry have held sway for all these years. What those choices have meant, in today's world, can be fodder for many, many other entries.

In terms of food, there are myriad decisions we can make on a daily basis. Betsy of Blogness Monster provided a perfect post (April 16) about why we need to steer away (no pun intended) from our love affair with meat. There's no doubt that meat takes enormous amounts of grain to produce, grain that could be used to feed people. We can't supplant the meat with fish, as we're overfishing our oceans and ruining ocean ecosystems, especially as we over fish high on the food chain.

If we do go vegan, we'd better be doing something about our honey bees, as Bleeding Espresso warns us in her post on this urgent matter.

And, of course, if we don't buy local or grow our own, we're running, big time, into the fossil fuel issue again. In terms of buying local and buying organic and the cost issue, The Farmer's Marketer had some interesting points on that.

The reason I've been ruminating, is that at Chez Jen we've been in a long, and too slow, process of simplifying and trying to lead a greener life. As I've tried to meditate on Earth Day this week, I've thought about where we've already gone and where we still need to go. I'm not going to delineate all that for you here. Really, many blogs have done this already. If you WANT to make changes, there are plenty of resources out there.

I guess, what I am asking you to think about, is what are you doing for change? What can you do for change?

The wonderful thing that I've learned through this whole process is that in making these changes, our lives have become much richer. Truly. And that's not said from a "righteous" feeling. Honestly, there's so much I can still do, I don't feel in the least righteous about my choices - I feel like I'm barely, barely scratching the surface. But as I have made changes in our lives, and as I've watched D and C trying to make their own choices and changes, our world has become quieter.

We have less visual clutter. We have fewer things to manage and more time to manage, instead. Time to geocache, to read, to write, to cook things from scratch. We're out doors more and in front of electronics less. We're eating simpler foods which are tasting better. We're more aware of our local delights because we're trying not to use the car much. We're rediscovering our legs and soon, our bikes.

You can find tons of articles about the fact that a. global warming doesn't exist and none of this matters (I'm not EVEN going to go there), and b. due to China's and India's polluting, what anyone else chooses to do doesn't matter.

Hogwash.

It matters because it's a good way to live. It matters because we all need to slow down and have time to enjoy our lives, not the "things" in them. It matters because we need to love our Mother. We go to the polls and vote. This is a vote for our home.

If you do nothing else for your loved ones this week, and you have the time/inclination, do some ruminating on how you can make your life/lives better and better the lives of others. After all, it's rather interconnected, don't you think?

You could be happy you took the time.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

Music Monday - "Respect" - Aretha Franklin




For other tales of musical adventure, please visit Soccer Mom in Denial.

You know, if there's one song of all time that I can go back to and back to, it's probably this one. I'm a huge fan of Aretha's talent; living in Michigan, I haven't always been a fan of Aretha's diva shenanigans. Be that as it may, there may be no better battle cry for women, or simply for humans. If we can't treat each other with respect, we ain't got nothing.

Since somehow this blog and youtube seem to have broken up, I leave you with this link.

Party on!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Miracle Bread!




Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

On the Long and Short Reviews site, they have wonderful recipes every Friday under the "Fun Stuff" button. A few Fridays ago, Judy Thomas posted a recipe for "Mother's Miracle Bread". I will have a link to the original recipe as soon as I hear from Judy. You can find Judy herself at My World of Dreams.

I've been making it occasionally almost daily for my family and it's been a huge ginormous hit. My only problem with the recipe was that it called for LOTS of butter and all white flour (probably why it was such a great hit). I've been tweaking the recipe, because I wanted less butter, more whole grain and less sugar. I could tweak it a lot more for my tastes, but I'm mostly making it for my DS, who has a less healthy palate than I do. So here is the compromised version:

Judy Thomas's "Mother's Miracle Bread," Revised





Ingredients

1 cup water (110 degrees F)
2 packages of yeast
5 TBS butter, melted
3 TBS olive oil
1/3 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp salt
2 cups of whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour


1. Combine water and yeast in a large bowl and let sit for five minutes. With a wooden spoon, stir in butter, sugar, eggs and salt. Add flour, one cup at a time, and beat in all you can (you should be able to use all the flour). In the last stages, mix the dough with your hands to get those last bits of flour in.


2. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, or up to three days.

3. When you get ready to use the dough, grease your baking pan. (I used some cooking spray in a 9X13 pan). Divide the dough into 4 pieces, and then into 6 rolls (rolling them into smooth, round balls) from each of the 4 pieces. Space evenly in the pan, like this:





4. Cover and let rise for at least 2 hours, or until doubled in size and they've melded together like this:




5. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake rolls until golden brown, about 17 minutes.

Number of Servings: 24

Nutritional Info


Fat: 4.8g
Carbohydrates: 21.9g
Calories:143.3
Protein: 3.7g

As always, nutrition information supplied by the recipe calculator at sparkrecipes.com. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Yeah, what she said, and...

Just as I was leaving on hiatus, Soccer Mom in Denial wrote this important post.

I believe it was an important post because it was a call to action. We're big on action here in the blogging community, but unfortunately, all too often we're preaching to the choir, and while we may be satisfied by hits in the double digits, it really isn't a large audience in the big scheme of things. Also, unless we're the kind of power players that I'm guessing most of my audience is not (and I'm not, either), our blogs are not read by those who can truly make a difference on our political issues, ie. our legislators.

Now, whether or not they can make a difference in this rather convoluted period of history in the good old U.S. of A. is a debate for another time, but let's at least assume that elected officials are our best shot for getting our voices heard.

The gist of SMID's post was a "Come to Jesus" meeting for all Democrats, pleading with everyone to put aside their differences during this contentious campaign season and support whomever wins the nomination, so that McCain does not become our next president. Of course, she put it much more eloquently and passionately, and you really should go read it in her own words.

Be that as it may, I want to suggest that we take this a step further. I do believe that this Democratic nomination campaign has been one of the most divisive and disgusting that I remember. I also feel that Americans have been beaten down as voters and as citizen activists as our Constitutional rights have been removed one by one over the past seven years. I don't believe the president that we actually elected has been in the White House for either of the past two terms. And I'm devastated by all of that. And for those of you whom I'm offending right now, I beg your pardon, but please remember that I'm exercising what's left of my First Amendment Rights and trying to be a good American in the best way I know how.

Beaten down or not, though, we do have power and we need to use it.

It's from an older piece of technology and has nothing to do with blogging.

It's called a telephone.

There was recently an issue in my home state that I felt strongly about. I called every single sponsor of the bill that I questioned. I spoke to every single office of those sponsors. Apparently hundreds of others did, as well. Of the original fifteen sponsors, six dropped out, and that bill appears to be dead for the moment.

Feeling emboldened by this, I called Democratic National Headquarters when my next almost-daily e-mail arrived begging for money.

I picked up the telephone, and this is what I said: "I've been a yellow dog Democrat all my life, and I'm on the verge of becoming an Independent because I'm disgusted by the current campaign sniping, particularly by one candidate. I feel that this candidate should face reality and is hurting the Democratic party by this candidate's actions. I don't feel heard by the party leadership. I don't feel heard by my state leadership, because I'm from Michigan, and my party leaders decided to jump the gun on the primaries, which I did not support. What can I do? What can you tell me to do to get my voice heard?"

I was not brushed off. I had about a fifteen minute conversation with a very nice, earnest, and similarly frustrated young woman at the headquarters. And this is what she told me:

Use the telephone.

Use the telephone to call your Democratic Senators, Representatives, State Party, National Party and Nancy Pelosi. If you're not in a Democratic district, find a zip code from the nearest district and use that when you call, so you won't be brushed off. If you're upset, you need to let the Party leadership KNOW.

Yes, SMID has a great call to action for after the nomination process. But for those of us who are upset now and who want changes now, please... pick up that telephone.

To find the numbers of your local Representative, go here. For your Senators, go here. Nancy Pelosi's numbers are (415) 556-4862 and (202) 225-4965. The Democratic National Party number is 202-863-8000. And you can find your state party number here.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Music Monday - "Blue Moon of Kentucky" - Bill Monroe




For other tales of musical adventure, please visit Soccer Mom in Denial.

First of all... wow. What a welcome home! I saved reading all your messages until I was ready to step back into this blog. Thanks for the well wishes. I planned my courses and then we had a great vacation to... yes, you guessed it, Kentucky.



If I didn't say it clearly enough the first time, we had a GREAT time in Kentucky. ;-)

Our only other experience with Kentucky was driving through it on the way to Florida. And mostly, we just wanted to get through it, because the Smokies were coming up and we heard they were just gorgeous. And while we noticed that Kentucky was pretty nice, too, it was still at the beginning of our drive, so we mostly slept through it.

This time around, though, we'd planned on spending a few days around Lexington and a few days in Tennessee, near the northwestern edge of the Smokies.

But we spent the whole time in Lexington and had a blissful time. We found interesting things to do, (which I'll blog about in other posts), but what really blew us away were the amazingly friendly people, the beauty of the countryside, and way too much good food. We were all exhausted, and Kentucky rocked us gently like a babe in his mama's arms.

Kentucky, the H. family is ready to write love letters to you.

Now, it wasn't like everything went according to plan, because if it had, it wouldn't have been an H. family vacation. We just don't roll that way. And on one of the days when nothing went according to plan, we ended up at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame Museum in Renfro Valley, KY. And this was an interesting stop for us, because really, we are not country music fans (well, I am, a bit, and D and I both love any kind of grassroots music, and we all love the Dixie Chicks forever, but this was still a weird stop for us). And that tiny, little, three-room museum was darned interesting.

We also picked up a dandy CD there: Ricky Skaggs and Friends Sing the Songs of Bill Monroe. The "friends" included such greats as Mary Chapin Carpenter, our beloved Chicks, Charlie Daniels, John Fogerty, Bruce Hornsby, Joan Osborne, and the wonderful Dolly Parton, among others, so how could we resist?

But there's nothing like old Bill himself, perhaps the founding father of Bluegrass. And for that matter, there's nothing like Bluegrass. And, as you can probably guess, I also feel there's no place quite like the Blue Grass region of Kentucky. So in honor of all of that, I give you: Bill Monroe singing "Blue Moon of Kentucky".

Enjoy, y'all.