Post #453 A Bready Julia Child-y Sorta Day

February 10, 2016 at 12:05 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #453 A Bready Julia Child-y Sorta Day

If any of you follow or liked or “friended” me on Facebook (and you’re welcome to do all that if you like, but if you decide to friend me, let me know where we know each other from) you’ll know that yesterday I spent the morning making bread.  I didn’t want the sandwich rolls I normally bake.  And the English Muffin Bread wasn’t exactly what I was after, either.  So I decided to make Julia Child’s Basic White Bread recipe.  It’s easy enough, although the stand mixer gets quite a workout.  And I posted on FB the finished result, two perfect loaves of white bread suitable for sandwiches, toast, or whatever else you wanted.

Bread

One loaf is already nearly gone.  It’s tasty.

I belong to several groups on FB.  Many of them are writers groups, but almost as many are food groups.  One was started recently by a FB friend and is called Food Interactive.  It’s a fun group of people who enjoy cooking, sharing, posting photos, laughing at themselves and each other, and sharing the ups and downs of life in their kitchens.  So I posted the picture there.

I got an immediate response.  Lots of likes and many comments.  One comment from the group’s leader was “I want to see the inside!”

It’s a long held truism among bread bakers that you must let the bread cool completely.  All the steam has to be released of the bread will be gummy when you slice it.  If you slice it.  There’s something about the aroma of freshly baked bread that starts a shark style feeding frenzy among humans.  So I held off for a little while, making sure the bread was cooled, then sliced it so everyone could see the “crumb”.  The crumb is the white inside part of the bread and you want it to be tight so there’s an “al dente” quality to it, but you also want it to be airy so there are small pockets to catch whatever you’re spreading on the bread.  Here’s how this batch turned out:

Bread 1

While waiting, I was working on final edits for the blog book, and fielding banter with other members of the group.  One lady asked for the recipe.

That was kind of daunting.  In Julia’s cookbook, it’s two pages long.  It’s not broken into steps, either.  It’s two pages of text broken up with very little white space.  It’s necessary to read the entire recipe to get a sense of what’s happening.  Then read each of the sections to know what you’re trying to accomplish next.  So I promised the lady I would scan the pages and post them to the group today since I was working yesterday.

One enterprising member of the group went to the internet and found something and posted it with the comment “Is this the recipe?”

http://www.food.com/recipe/julia-childs-white-bread-9032

Boom!  It was.  So now the group had the recipe and I didn’t have to scan or retype the detailed instructions.

Except I already had.

Bread Recipe 01

Bread Recipe 02

Trying to get a jump start on today.  So there we have it.  Julia’s White Bread recipe in two formats.  And it’s a tasty, easy loaf to make.  I’ve tried making just one loaf, but find it disappears too quickly.

Many people think there’s some mystique or magic to making bread but there really isn’t.  It’s mostly just a matter of having the right equipment, and having enough time because it does take time to make.  Most of the time is in the rising process.  Most good breads are risen twice.  This helps develop strong gluten strands to hold the shape of the bread, and it helps develop a richer flavor as the yeast develops and spread throughout the loaf.

I sometimes use a bread machine to get through the mixing stage and the first rising stage.  There are all kinds of short cuts and things, but I don’t use them too much (apart from the bread machine) because I think the quality and flavor suffer a little bit.  And I find that the bread machine tends to make a tougher loaf when I make the bread completely start to finish in it.

So, the two things to take away from this post are:  1) bread making is easy but a time hog (though you can do other things while it’s rising); and 2) check out Food Interactive on Facebook.  It’s a good group of people and lots of fun to hang out in.

Enjoy

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Post #452 A Different Kind of Pizza

February 5, 2016 at 11:19 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

When I was growing up, there were staples in the kitchen and pantry.  Staples are the foods that are there all the time; that the family can’t do without.  Some of the basics are flour and sugar and bread.  It’s different for each family, but for every storm warning just watch what flies off the shelves of the local grocery store and you’ll get a good idea of what the most common ones are.

In our house, peanut butter and jelly, bread, apples, milk were the most used.  As we grew up, moved around, our tastes changed and our staples changed.  Cheese was added.  Dill pickles, beef jerky, flour and corn tortillas found their way into our hearts.  Apples went away, to be replaced by oranges, tangerines, lemons, watermelon, etc.  Flour, sugar, milk, eggs, coffee were always there.

In our house now, our staples are flour, sugar, eggs, bacon, baking soda, and lettuce.  We also have breads of various types, cheese of various types, cans of diced tomatoes, pasta, and nearly always can lay our hands on tortillas.  Staples exist so a meal can be made on the fly.  We had tacos last night with some of our staples.  But this post isn’t about that, although the tacos were really good.

It’s about what I fixed for lunch yesterday using only the staples.

When I lived in Arizona, we learned a new style of cooking partly because everyone else was eating that way, and partly because it’s what was available in the grocery stores.  Mexican food is incredibly flavorful, very filling, and very easy to make.  I’ve written about tacos, enchilada, burritos, chimichangas, nachos, and salads in this blog among others.  One of my first posts was how to make flour tortillas by hand.  Not a terrifically easy process but totally worth it.  I’ve even written about making corn tortillas, but I still have to work on those.

Nachos3

When I was a kid, though, I “created” something I was quite proud of.  I took a corn tortilla, sprinkled it heavily with cheese and heated it in a skillet until the cheese melted.  Then I rolled it tightly and ate it hot and gooey and tasting great.  Then I found out everyone was eating these things and filled them with all kinds of things and called them rolled tacos, or taquitos.

Another great snack we had as kids was heating a flour tortilla over an open flame on the gas stove.  You let it sit for a few seconds on the flame on one side until it bubbled, then carefully flipped it until it bubbled then took it off the flame.  I usually ate it hot and toasty just like that.  Others put butter on it, or sprinkled it with cheese, or sugar and cinnamon, or other things.

Then I hit on the idea of sprinkling a flour tortilla with cheese and heating it in the oven until the cheese melted and the tortilla was crispy and brown on the edges.  I was quite happy with it and bragged to all my friends about it.  They called it a cheese crisp and had been eating them for years.

Flour Tortilla Cheese Crisp

Well, I was kinda let down, but continued eating them whenever I wanted to.  Until I learned about quesadillas, but that’s another story.

Once I moved back east, I didn’t keep the staples for Mexican cooking in the house so I stopped eating it as much.  I kept hearing about various restaurants that served authentic Mexican food, but they were usually Tex-Mex (good in its own right but not what I was used to) or highly institutionalized with much of it coming out of a can.  Very little was fresh.  And I kept hearing about something referred to as a Mexican Pizza.  Turned out, it was just my cheese crisp with stuff on it.

So yesterday, I saw the flour tortillas, the cheese, and a can of tomatoes and thought, huh, why not?

Flour Tortilla Pizza 01

I took the ingredients listed above and made lunch.

First, I heated the oven to 425.  Then I prepped my baking sheet.  Ever try to get cooked cheese off of anything?  Yeah, me too.  So I put a sheet of foil over the baking sheet.  I lined the tortillas up and sprinkled them with tomatoes and cheese.

Flour Tortilla Pizza 02

I baked them at 425 for 12 minutes.  I gotta tell you, the aroma was amazing.

I ended up with this:

Flour Tortilla Pizza 03

And it was so good.  I made three, and was able to finish them, but only just.  And I’m more than happy that I remembered them cuz in the future when I make these again, I’m going to make them so much more substantial.  I’m already thinking about adding salsa fresca and refried beans.  I want to add some season beef or chicken.  Maybe turn it into a giant single nacho?  Throw some sour cream and guacamole on top?

Nachos3

Mound the ingredients on it like a real pizza.  The Mexican Pizza I heard about years ago.  I’m really looking forward to experimenting with this and having a good time.

If you decided to play around with it, let me know what you come up with.

Enjoy

Post #451 Time to Play Catch Up

February 3, 2016 at 12:13 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Okay, I’ve been away longer than I intended due to a few major issues going on.  First, you all heard about the major blizzard that hit our area a week and a half ago.  It dumped two feet of snow in our area and it took an entire day to dig us out.  The repercussions from the storm though were further ranging.  I had to drive home at the beginning of the blizzard when there was already 8 inches on the roads, and wind gusts up to 40 mph.  I was giving a coworker and friend a ride home since he lived around the corner from me and his car wouldn’t handle the snow.  It took us over an hour to go 12 miles.  When I got home, I couldn’t even get up the twenty foot driveway and had to park in the yard to make sure I was out of the way of the snow plows.  That wasn’t a real worry though since they didn’t show up for two days.  But I will say I was shaking by the time I got home.  We had near white-out conditions during the drive.  However, the bridge had been treated and was actually the best part of the drive home.

The storm started on Friday evening and ended on Sunday morning.  We were boxed in so we stayed put.  Some people in the neighborhood tried to get out but ended up having to abandon their cars on sidewalks and other people’s yards.  I’ve lived through many snow storms here in the DC area since 1987, but this was the scariest one I can remember.  Oddly, we kept power through the whole thing so we just snuggled into the couch, ate popcorn, and watched movies.

The next thing that kept me away from the blog has been scheduling at work.  Partly due to the storm, partly due to illness, and partly due to poor scheduling overall, I got called in every day off I’ve had over the past two weeks.  (The snow storm were the only days off I got.)  They were awkward hours, too.  Usually in the middle of the day, or late at night, which are two of my prime writing times.  It was nice because I picked up the extra hours to make up for the snow days, but I wasn’t able to get anything done on the blog like I wanted to.

Because, when I had writing time, I was working on the blog book!  And I can now say that I am done with the writing portion.  Final edits are completed.  I’ve started work on the cover design and technical work on the account.

For those who don’t know, one of my goals in starting this blog was to collect enough stories and recipes to compile into a book.  The whole thing was the brainchild of Partner/Spouse who one evening observed that most of the funny stories I’d been telling him centered around food.  He suggested that I write the stories and put the recipes at the end of the story.  I started the blog in part to write the stories and the recipes and to experiment with writing styles.

About six months ago, I started compiling the stories and recipes into a master file in Word.  I made the choice to self-publish in Kindle Direct Publishing and there was a lot of work to get through.  I had the help of some devoted readers and friends who read through the stories and editing.

Guess what?  I’m finally one step away from uploading the master file to KDP.  I need to take one more look at the file to be certain that all the stories and recipes follow the same formatting, etc.  I’ve already started working on the cover design.  If all goes as planned (and I’m flying blind here since I’ve never done this before) I will be able to publish the book before the end of February.  Once the master file is uploaded, I still have some technical account issues to set up and iron out, but I’m closer now than I’ve ever been.

It’s scary and exciting at the same time.

Okay, so I’m going to close with a recipe for a throw-together meal we had the other day.  It was Sunday.  I was going to work late so I had all afternoon to plan and cook.  I had some chicken thighs but didn’t have a plan for anything else.  But I wanted healthy and good.  Here’s what I came up with.

I tossed the chicken thighs in one tablespoon of olive oil.  You don’t need a lot for this.  I set the oven for 350.  Then I spread the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet (you don’t want the oil leaking out into your oven, believe me.)  I sprinkled the chicken with some kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.  Into the oven they went, and I started water boiling for some pasta.  I used fettucine.  I set another pan on the stove to make bacon bits (mmm, bacon!).  While the bacon was crisping and the water was heating, I grated some cheese and set it aside, and cut some green onion stalks very thinly.  When the bacon was done, I took them out of the pan and drained off all the fat, leaving the little bits on the bottom and sides.  I left the burner on lowest setting so the pan would be ready for the pasta.

My original plan for the pasta was to heat up a can of tomatoes in the bacon pan with a dash of pear balsamic vinegar and toss the pasta in that and add the bacon bits when done.  But I decided I was in the mood for something a little lighter.  I looked around and came up with:

Pasta tossed in Caesar Balsamic Pear dressing with cut green grapes, bacon bits, and sunflower seeds sprinkled with cheese.

It was easy.  I had a bottle of Caesar dressing with one serving left in it so I added a tablespoon of the pear balsamic vinegar and shook it all up.  When the pasta was done, I used tongs to put it directly from the pot into the bacon pan.  The heat of the cooked pasta and the little bit of pasta water on the fettucine deglazed the pan so the wonderful bacon flavor got all over the pasta.  I poured the dressing over pasta and tossed it to mix thoroughly.  Then I added not quite a quarter cup of pasta water to it which turned the dressing into a nice sauce.  Then I added 2/3 of the cut grapes (I cut them in half lengthways) and the bacon and tossed to mix.  I turned off the heat counting on the residual heat from the pan and the burner to keep it warm.  I pulled the chicken out of the oven when it was ready and put it on plates.  I put the pasta on the plates and divided the rest of the grapes between the two plates and sprinkled cheese over the pasta.

Good manners is supposed to prevent the cook from saying “Yum!” but “Yum!”  It was so good.  Partner/Spouse suggested cutting the chicken into bite-sized pieces next time and tossing into the pasta.

Enjoy

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