Monday, May 10, 2010

The Staff of Life

"Man cannot live by bread alone" -- I'm sure there are some out there who vehemently protest such a sentiment. My mother would probably be amongst those ranks; she declares it impossible to resist if freshly baked bread is put in front of her. While I don't consider myself a Bread Zealot (a Dairy Zealot, yes, but that's another post entirely), I do love me some good bread. The added bonus is that it's a vehicle for some amazing taste sensations such as chevre, REAL BUTTER, and delicious jams, curds, marmalades, and tapenades. Literally, anything tastes good with some kind of bread. Kind of amazing, huh? Such a simple food, and yet it has been so maligned in recent years, and definitely in the top five Worst Foods For Your Waistline.

Well, I don't buy it. As with everything, it depends what you put in it. It's not a mistake that every single culture's cuisine has some type of bread in it. We've all heard the evils of White Foods (white flour, white sugar, white salt even). Normally, as a nutrition-follower of the Weston A. Price Foundation (, I do try to avoid these things and stick with properly prepared whole grains (souring, fermenting, soaking, sprouting). But, living in a modern society where devitalized white foods are prevalent, that can be hard to do all the time. In the interest of furthering my bread-making skills, which just happens to be on my 2010 New Year's Resolution list, I have taken to making some breads made with white flour. I consider it all splendiferously delicious practice; buying sprouted whole grain flour is quite expensive, as I don't have a grain mill, and it's cheaper to mess up on white flour breads!

The homemade bread revolution that is sweeping the nation in the last 2 years or so has been due to a select few books that have different takes on the "no-knead" method. The NY Times has published recipes from the top few schools of thought, I believe. The one that caught my fancy seems, to me at least, to be the most popular: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I lay the blame for my enchantment and fascination thoroughly with another blog obsession of mine, I checked out Jeff and Zoe's cookbook site, got the recipe for their brioche and made it (my first foray into bread and I happen to pick one of the most finnicky types to make, and it works! YOWZA!). There's nothing like bread slathered thick with butter. But when an opportunity arises to consume bread that is literally loaded with butter, and slathered with more butter postbaking, just throw in the towel and go willingly. In that moment, you will taste heaven. You laugh like you think I'm joking.

So, to cut to the chase, I bought the book. I've been making a few dough recipes from it; so far, the brioche (with bread, cinnamon rolls, and chocolate-filled buns), and olive oil dough (foccacia and the most amazing homemade pizzas EVER). After relaying my early triumphs to my 94-year-old grandmother, she reminded me that she liked oatmeal/multigrain breads with some nuts in them, in a not-so-subtle hint to get in the kitchen and bake grammy some bread! I obliged...but after I decided to tinker. The oatmeal bread recipe in the book called for a few things I didn't have, nor felt like buying (wheat germ? oat bran? these filled me with nightmares of militant vegans), and it didn't contain nuts like grammy wanted. Thus, I present you with my adaptation. Enjoy discovering that you *can* make delicious bread in literally minutes. Slap some flour on you like you spent the day in a wrestling match with a 5 pound bag and present it to loved ones, family and friends, saying, "oh this bread? I just threw it together, ain't no thang!"; they won't believe you, they'll think you spent the whole day kneading away, and that you're the best thing since sliced bread!

Sorry...I just really couldn't resist that one. Anyway, this is dedicated to grammy Dottie. <3

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread (adapted from Oatmeal Bread in Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois's Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day)

Makes three 1.5 pound loaves, and you can double or halve the recipe.

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 tablespoon Kosher salt (I used Celtic sea salt)
1/4 cup neutral-tasting oil, plus more for greasing the loaf pan
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking type), plus more for the top
1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
4 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Mix the yeast, salt, water, milk, maple syrup, and oil in a 5-qt. bowl or a lidded container; you don't want it to be completely airtight.

2. Mix in the rest of the dry ingredients without kneading. You can use a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food process with dough attachment, or my work-horse of choice, a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook (I love my Kitchen-Aid). Use wet hands to incorporate all of the flour if you're not using a machine.

3. If you didn't mix the dough by hand in a storable container, put the dough in one now, cover (not airtight), and allow the dough to rest at room temp until it rises and collapses (or flattens on top), for approximately 2 hours.

4. You can begin using the dough immediately after this iniitial rise, but it is MUCH easier to handle when cold; it's going to be a wet, very sticky batter. Refrigerate the dough in the non-airtight, lidded container and use over the next 8 days. Over that time, the dough will take on a more sourdough taste, giving you a more artisan-like product. If it gets gray at all on top, don't worry and don't throw it out, just throw a little dusting of flour on it and mush it in. If it's moldy (fuzzy), then yes throw it out. If it gets a little brown liquid on top or smells very "alcohol-like" - don't worry. Pour the liquid off, use the dough; it's just the yeast.

5. READY TO GET YOUR BAKE ON: Grease a 9 x 4 x 3-inch nonstick loaf pan (yes...I know you're greasing a non-stick pan...just do it. You'll thank me later). Dust the surface of the dough with some flour and cut off a 1 1/2 pound portion, which is about the size of a canteloupe (or, to be accurate, if you have a food scale you can weigh it out). Dust the piece with more flour, and quickly shape it into a ball and stretching the surface under to the bottom while rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go.

6. Elongate the ball into an oval and put it into the prepared loaf pan. Allow it to rest and rise for 1 hour 20 minutes, or just 40 minutes if you're using fresh, unrefrigerated dough. ***I used a fresh ball, and I had to let it rise for longer than 40 minutes, every time I've used fresh dough from the book...but this could also be due to the fact that I have a silicon loaf pan that allows the dough to expand a bit sideways rather than up as much as a metal pan with rigid sides would ***

7. Twenty minutes before you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, with an empty broiler tray on any other shelf that won't interfere with the rising bread.

8. Sprinkle the loaf with some tap water after wetting your hand, and sprinkle some rolled oats on top. Place the loaf on a rack near the center of the oven. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray (I just use an aluminum 8 x 8 brownie pan), and quickly close the oven door. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until deeply browned and firm.

9. Allow to cool before slicing or eating. And might I make a few suggestions? It makes a mean turkey sandwich, or toast it and slather with butter, apple or apricot butter, fromage blanc or chevre and a bit of fig jam.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Of markets, cook-offs and super clubs

So, this past Saturday, May 1, was the "soft opening" for Lancaster's Eastern Market, which is scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend (Saturday, May 29). Of course, I had to work and was unable to attend. There are several new vendors I'm excited about, including a new raw milk vendor, a female duo bakery (I saw their luscious photos on their facebook page), and a local soap maker using grassfed tallow (I screech with glee every time I think about it!!!). There are a few new farmer-vendors as well, added to the standard mix of regulars. I am excited! Once Eastern Market opens, I pretty much forget that Central Market exists unless I have a specific reason for going.

//Insert rant//

Central Market, I believe, is run by 3 market managers who are all about making money. I've heard some rumors of dealings, not sure if they're true, but what I've heard suggests that they want to know how much you're making every year and if they aren't satisfied you can lose your stand; there's a waiting list. Also, Central Market can be very "hodge podge" in its offerings - very limited local organic offerings, some local produce, and a lot of shipped in produce (which I take serious, serious issue with), as well as a lot of prepared food, meat vendors (only 1 that's grassfed local), eatery stands...and the one type I hate most, neck in neck with the stands that sell shipped in produce, would be the kitsch and Amish kitsch stands. When I think Farmers Market, I think producer-only, meaning that EVERYTHING grown or made to sell there is from the producer/vendor...and I'm not really keen on having non-food related stands there.

Enter Eastern Market: run by a nonprofit (I think??), appealing to the real food/sustainable movement folk, producer-only, not over-run by kitsch or eateries - there's a nice balance of foods, eateries, and artisans. They also run an Artists Market where local artisans sell things like hand-spun and hand-dyed wool yarn (!!!), jewelry, greeting cards, unique artsied-up baby clothes, etc. Eastern Market has a greater community feel to it than Central Market, which feels more impersonal to me (though I have gotten to know some vendors, it's nothing like at Eastern), and very touristy. And did I mention the fabulous local musicians they schedule to play? And Ten Thousand Villages Days where the Ephrata store sets up a stand to sell select fairly traded items made from global artisan cooperatives? And Freecycle days? Gardening demos? People on hand to fix your bicycles? AND A WHOLE HOST OF OTHER AWESOMELY AWESOME AWESOMENESS!

//End rant//

Two nights ago when I was battling sleep at 3 am, freshly inspired by my reading Cathy Erway's "The Art of Eating in: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove," my mind was racing with cooking ideas. Wouldn't it be FANTASTIC if Eastern Market hosted a series of cook-off challenges, with donated prizes from local artisans, businesses, and eateries? Market goers could get samples, and an established panel of area chefs/restaurant critics/etc. could judge entries. Somehow, they could charge a fee for entry, and for attendees to sample everything, and use the money as a benefit for Eastern Market's upkeep and/or the local food bank/mission. Great idea, right?! Why hasn't anyone there thought of this yet?!

What about a series of "cooking classes" or demos at Eastern Market, like they do at the famed Reading Terminal Market in Philly? This would be especially helpful to those market goers that are unfamiliar with how to cook or use certain heirloom varieties of produce and what to make with them.

AND, if there is one or more someone needs to inform me, why are there no local underground supper clubs in Lancaster?! I want to start one! I want to cook and eat with likeminded sustainable foodies/cooks! Eastern Market would be the perfect place to "troll" for potential members! I wish they'd have a Community Board that you could put up advertisements for stuff like that so others can check it out and get in contact with each other....I really need to pitch these ideas to Eastern Market managers.

I recently read an article in the NY Times about the foodie scene in the Bay Area - fermenting preservation methods are alive and burgeoning on the West Coast, and I love it! I couldn't help being black with envy over the Underground Market they have in San Francisco that is relatively new; up and coming home cooks that want to sell some of their yummies on the side are able to do so, withOUT the use of a commercial kitchen or business license (like the health departments require for a legit business), on the Underground Market that moves around, once a month, to different "secret" locations. There's a bit of cloak-and-dagger to the sign-up of being a vendor OR a consumer attendee, and that only enchants me further! It allows foodie cooks to make a few bucks and enjoy what they're doing, as well as providing consumers in the know with a product they want and are willing to pay for without government intrusion/protection. This, in Lancaster, would completely satisfay a few of my "rebel against The Man" fantasies I have going. We need to make this happen here.

Over the next several weeks I'll be recipe testing for desserts. I'm thinking of starting a weekly feature on Mondays called "Manic Monday Morsels" - I'll make the recipe over the weekend, photograph, and post for Monday, which leaves you all week to try it out or get what you need to try it out the following weekend, should your little heart so desire. I'll also be posting on some upcoming foodie classes I'll be taking; I'm attending a cheesemaking workshop this coming Saturday, and (hopefully) the following Saturday I'll be attending a canning workshop in Philly so I can learn how to can! I'm inordinately ecstatic to be adding some kitchen skill notches to my proverbial belt.

A quick note on dinner tonight (since this is so long already...): There is nothing like homemade pizza. I would be content to never darken the doorway of a pizzeria again. If you're curious, I used the recipe for no-knead Olive Oil Dough from the cookbook Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, some of my leftover spaghetti sauce (recipe in an old post), and the ubiquitous shredded pizza cheese and seasonings. Here is the picture of my personal 9 inch pizza (those are Mario Batali non-stick pizza pans I used - I haven't readied my new Williams-Sonoma baking stone yet). Get a load of this lusciousness:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Fresh Start...I hope...

As you can see from the anemic # of previous posts, I haven't been good with keeping up with this thing. This is about to change.

I am in the midst of a quarter-ish-life crisis. In 2 days, I will be submitting my 2 week notice for my current work-at-home job that has left me burned out, and will be going back into a M-F office supervisory position. No weekends, holidays, or evenings...otherwise known as "heaven." There's just one caveat: I'm taking a sizable paycut. Paycut for a supervisory position, you ask? Yes, because my current job is production-pay-based, and I'll be getting those nice cushy hours.

What's a married girl to do who already loves to cook, but has found increasingly little time or energy while slaving over the computer to make big bucks, and needs to rebudget accordingly with a lower-paying job?

Why, you make the idiotic choice to swear off restaurants and throw yourself into the burgeoning "homesteading" movement! Crazy? Maybe. Can I foresee amazing disasters? Magic 8 ball says "more than likely." Will I share all of my trials and tribulations? Absolutely.

A huge part of the reason I'm changing jobs is to *have* time to become more self-sufficient, and to pursue some under-the-table catering jobs I've been asked about.
There is a lot of cooking/baking I'm good at, and still a lot that I've never muddied the waters of. Over the course of the next year (or so, maybe longer), I fully intend to scratch those items off my list...especially since I won't be running out to buy them already made for me. Plus, the way the economy is I think it's going to be a wise decision on my part to hone some skills and save some bucks.

I guess we should make some stipulations. Allowable "cheats" will be: family dinners, invites out for special occasions (birthdays, etc), work-related outings, or if away from home and *must* eat. Also, ice cream. I'm sorry, I have to make that allowable. We're coming into summer here shortly and I don't have the freezer space to be storing quarts of ice cream or sorbet. Beverages also don't count. I'm going to try my darndest to not fall off the wagon.

So, I have 2 weeks to give myself pep talks and prepare for this, because when the new job starts, so do my new food shenanigans. I'm going to enjoy my slackerish ways whilst I may...I have a feeling these 2 weeks are going to go by pretty fast.