Bread Experiments

Today we found Candy Cane trying to fit in with the Christmas nesting dolls:

Last week I picked up a “new” (thrifted) bread machine for $7.99 at Value Village. It was exactly the same as my old Black & Decker All-In-One Horizontal Breadmaker, which I had loved so much that I wore it out. I’ve had a couple of second-hand replacements since then, some of which I’ve also worn out and some that I simply haven’t liked. However, none of them had the preheat function, which I didn’t realize I’d miss so much.

You see, the preheat function warms up your ingredients before it begins kneading the dough, which means the bread ends up being lighter and fluffier. The reason for this is that yeast is much more active at warmer temperatures (but not actual hot temperatures, which actually kills it off). Since “yeast farts” (the carbon dioxide emitted when the yeast eats sugar) are what causes bread to rise, warmer temperatures mean fluffier bread. I find that this is especially important when baking in the winter.

I tested out my new-to-me machine with a loaf of pumpernickel bread (page 21, Better Homes and Gardens: The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking, 1999). I’d forgotten that this particular recipe usually requires a little extra water (I really should read my own notes), so at first I thought that the motor was struggling. Nope, the dough was just too thick! About an extra 1/3 of a cup of water, added in a drizzle at a time, and it was right as rain.

Another recipe I’ve been trying to perfect is a hard apple cider bread. There are a lot of great ciders around here, and although I’m not a fan of them to drink, I thought they would make for an interesting flavour in a bread. (That’s more or less how I feel about beer, too.) My first attempt in my old bread machine didn’t rise much at all, but tasted quite nice. I put the lack of rising down to the ingredients being too cold, since the yeast is obviously still alive since it’s from the same package as the pumpernickel bread. The second time, I pre-warmed the liquids and used the “new” bread machine with the preheat option, which did help a lot. As you can see from the pulling apart of the crust in the above photo, it definitely did rise. But it’s still not as light and fluffy as I would like, especially in comparison to my beer bread recipe. Perhaps I just need more yeast? I generally only use 2tsp in a loaf this size, but it’s possible that the higher alcohol content of the cider is killing some of my yeast off.

It kneaded together well, though, which makes me think the wet-to-dry ingredient ratio is correct. Also, the crust is a little too brown in spots, which makes me think that there is too much sugar. Cider by its very nature has natural sugars in it, so I may not need any added sugar at all. So this recipe definitely isn’t ready to post yet, but I will do so as soon as I have a satisfactory, repeatable result. Stay tuned!

Grilled Cheese & Orange Slices

I’ve been so busy prepping for my biggest market event of the season that I haven’t been able to set aside the time to cook anything fancy. But we’ve all still gotta eat!

Dinner last night was grilled cheese on homemade bread (my usual go-to of bread machine herb bread without the herbs) and orange slices. Of course, the ones I made for me were with lactose-free cheese; instead of the usual cheddar I had a rather nice Gouda, which was a nice change.

I’m looking forward to the holiday market season being over so I can spend more time cooking — especially cooking for Christmas!

Kitchen Has Food

Every once in a while, generally when I’m running out of ideas or enthusiasm for what to cook, I like to take the kids out to the grocery store and let them pick what we’re going to eat. I do set a few rules, of course, or every time we do this we’d be stuffing our faces with chips or candy — or is Kraft Dinner yet again. Despite my attempts, it rarely ends up being a terribly healthy dinner, but it is always eclectic and different than any time before.

Let’s take this week’s kid-directed meal: mildly spicy grocery store chicken wings (bought frozen and thrown in the oven), garlic bread (made out of homemade bread we already had), and sliced red peppers. It’s honestly not something I would have ever thought to combine as a meal unless I was cleaning out my fridge, but it was actually pretty good!

I’m hoping that this will be a good introduction to grocery shopping, rather than just dragging them along with me when we go out to purchase a large load. While that’s also a necessary evil, I think that what each individual ingredient is for can get lost in the shuffle. I also hope that as the kids get older I’ll be able to assign at least one night every week where they’re in charge of planning and cooking the meal. Right now what they know how to cook is definitely limited, but it’s a progress. I don’t want them sent out into the world without a stable cooking foundation under their feet. As the joke goes, “Women belong in the kitchen. Men belong in the kitchen. Kitchen has food.”

Thanksgiving Dinner

We celebrated our family’s Thanksgiving last night, and this year I hosted. Usually my mother makes Thanksgiving dinner (and all of the big family get-together meals, really), but my parents were supposed to be out of town. Well, plans changed last-minute, so I ended up scaling up my little family’s dinner to accommodate my parents as well. To be honest, when you’re making a meal this big it’s just a matter of throwing a couple of extra potatoes in the pot and doubling the batch of Yorkshire pudding, but still. I’m pretty sure that this was my first time doing the full Thanksgiving dinner all by myself. Mom even remarked how weird it was to come over to my house and watch me cook for everyone!

To get everything ready in time, cooking had to begin on Sunday night. The first thing I had to do was make some room in my fridge, which meant making up a big batch of Green Tomato Salsa (page 106, Preserving by the Pint by Marisa McClellan (2014), as well as a smaller batch of Blender Salsa (page 92, also Preserving by the Pint). Six and a half liters of salsa out of the way and I finally had a bit of room in my fridge — although I still have two large containers of green tomatoes to cook up.

Preserves out of the way, I got to the baking. I made my usual combination of the Purity Pastry crust (page 73, The All New Purity Cook Book by Elizabeth Driver, 2001) and the Pumpkin or Squash Pie filling (page 686, Joy of Cooking 75th Anniversary Edition, Rombauer & Becker, 2006). This time I was very careful not to forget the sugar.

Last thing that night, I ripped up two loaves of cheap grocery store bread and left it on the counter to dry out. One of the things my mother has taught me is that if you want good stuffing, you can’t start with fresh bread or it’ll become soggy once it’s baked in the bird. It’s actually better to start with stale bread, which will soak up the cooking juices and become quite flavourful without getting squishy.

When I seasoned my bread for stuffing, I used my mother’s traditional parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme… And summer savoury. I had Scarborough Fair in my head for about two days.

The next day I stuffed the turkey as densely as possible, shoved pats of butter under the skin, and put it in the oven. I was so afraid that it wouldn’t turn out well; the only other time I cooked a whole turkey, it was extremely dry.

However, I think it turned out really well! I had to take a picture before I scooped out the stuffing for serving.

Another trick I learned from my mother is that because everyone like stuffing (or at least everyone to whom we’ve served dinner), it’s a good idea to make extra stuffing in a casserole dish, and then mix it all together. This also helps alleviate the potential moisture problem; the stuff cooked outside the bird will be dryer, but mixed together it helps absorb the excess moisture from the other kind.

On top of the bird, there were all kinds of side dishes! Circling clockwise, that’s stuffing, Yorkshire pudding, turkey, gravy, potatoes, carrots, asparagus (which ended up being quite bitter, sadly), fresh bread (Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread, but with no herbs), and of course more gravy.

In the end, except for the asparagus, I’m really happy with how dinner turned out! I hope that you and yours had a lovely Thanksgiving as well — or that you will have one in November, if that’s when you celebrate.

Soup & Bread

I’m still trying to keep the energy consumption around the house as low as possible post-tornado, in an attempt to do my part to keep demand on the grid low until the Merivale power station is repaired. So tonight’s dinner was as simple as possible:

That’s Slow Cooker Caribbean Lobster Bisque that I had made back in August in bulk, so all I had to do was thaw it in the microwave and serve with the last of my ciabatta buns! Super easy. Make-ahead meals are perfect for times like this when it’s just not possible or practical to make a complicated homemade meal. Sadly, this marks the last of the bisque I had in the freezer, so I’ll have to make some more the next time I find lobster on sale — after all of the repairs to the grid are made.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

Yesterday I made a visit to Costco, and was it ever slammed! I guess a lot of people lost a lot of their perishables to the power outage, and had to stock up. Not only that, but with the power out for so much of the weekend and a request for people to stay off of the roads Monday, most people weren’t able to do their weekend grocery shopping.

While I was at Costco, I picked up a rotisserie chicken, which at $7.99 for a fully cooked bird is the best price around, so far as I know. I honestly am not certain whether buying poultry cooked at a grocery store is more energy-efficient than cooking it at home, but I have an inkling that it is. If not, well, at least I wasn’t cooking it near dinner time, which tends to be a peak time for energy usage because so many of us have electric stoves and microwaves.

From what I understand, the rerouting of power around the downed Merivale power station means that the grid is just holding until the station is repaired. However, a large spike in energy usage, such as everyone running their A/C on a hot day, would likely black out the city again. So, to do my part I’m trying to be as conservative with my electricity as possible. (And did I mention that the tornado count for last Friday has gone up from two to six?)

At any rate, I decided to do another cold dinner, so I stripped the chicken carcass and chopped up all of the meat into bite-sized pieces. Then I mixed them with some chopped green onions and mayonnaise. I served the chicken salad with baby spinach on toasted ciabatta bread (also from Costco). As sides, I peeled oranges and sliced strawberries.

The weather yesterday was rainy and dull, so while cooking outdoors could have been done if necessary, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. Sadly, tomorrow’s weather isn’t predicted to be any nicer; actually, we’re supposed to get thunder and lightning again. Yay?

Reader Submission: Beer Bread

Sometimes when I write this blog, I get the impression that I’m the only one who ever reads it. I started writing in order to record recipes and record our family’s traditions of food, and later branched out a bit more into some of my other interests, so I honestly didn’t expect too many people to read. At the very least, my kids can look up how to cook their favourite childhood dishes when they’re grown. But still, somtimes it feels a bit like shouting into the void — until I get a bit of positive reinforcement.

So I have a regular reader, although it’d be too much of a stretch to call her “a fan”, since I’ve literally known her my entire life. I mean, my parents named my middle name after her. She is my brother’s godmother. Even so, I’m thrilled that she’s actually reading my blog — and not only that, she’s trying my recipes! She sent me this picture the other day with a note, “I love your beer bread recipe…” (That’s my Bread Machine Beer Bread Recipe, by the way.) As you can see, her machine makes different-shaped loaves than mine — her pan is kind of tall and skinny — but it turned out great! I couldn’t be more pleased.

So if anyone else cooks a recipe that I’ve shared, please feel free to send me pictures of the end results, ask questions, leave comments, what have you. Let me know what you liked or what you’d change. The more feedback I get, the better I can customize my content, and that helps everyone in the long run.

Happy cooking!