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I enjoy cooking. Most of the time, I’m good at it too. I like the creative outlet, I enjoy the sensory aspects of cooking – cutting, chopping, slicing – the repetitive actions; all good ways to meditate and be mindful of what you are doing and bring yourself a sense of peace. It’s also just the opposite, a great way to forget what may be bothering you by putting all your energy into pounding chicken breasts for a recipe or hand kneading dough for a loaf of bread.
If I had the opportunity to start another career, I think that it would be food related in some aspect. I don’t know that I have the desire to train to become a professional chef and work in a restaurant with all that stress and pressure involved. I don’t have those ideas of grandeur; maybe I’d just be a traveling personal chef. Simply me and the food in a kitchen, enjoying the process, reveling in the experience of cooking for other people to enjoy. The satisfaction of knowing that somewhere in the process of doing what I am enjoying, I am making someone’s life a little easier and a little tastier.
The only problem with having a cooking or baking as a hobby is that there has to be someone there to eat what is prepared and created. These days, my biggest cooking fans are not living at home, therefore there is little reason to cook. It is sad. Akin to the skier with no snow or the swimmer with no water. The hobby cannot be practiced without the recipient.
Now I relish the small opportunities that present themselves- cooking dinner with friends, evenings the two of us want a home cooked meal, the nights I am home to cook such a meal.
Today I made some ciabatta bread and rolls. Although the bread I usually make is a sourdough ciabatta recipe, this is a traditional ciabatta using a biga. This is the first time that I used a biga, since my other recipe just uses sourdough starter and no biga. I made the biga last night and let it sit as directed overnight. Mixed the dough this morning and decided to try both a loaf and rolls from the recipe which calls for either two loaves or 16 rolls.
Here is the recipe adapted from The Kitchn.com.
- 4 ounce (1/2 cup) water
- 1/2 teaspoon active-dry yeast
- 5 ounce (1 cup) all-purpose flour
Dissolve yeast in water. Add the flour and stir to form a thick, gloppy paste. Stir approximately 50 times to activate gluten. Cover and let sit at room temperature eight hours or overnight.
- 2 cups + 2 tablespoons water
- 1 t. yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (I added 4 1/2 cups since my dough was not binding together as indicated below)
- 2 t. kosher salt
Dissolve the yeast in the water in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add biga and stir to break up the large glob it has become.
Add the flour and the salt. Stir and let this rest for 10-20 minutes.
Using a dough hook, knead at medium speed for 15-18 minutes. Keep a close eye on your mixer as it has a tendency to “walk” on the counter at this speed.
The dough will
The dough will start off sticking to the bottom and sides of the bowl. Around halfway through the mixing time, the dough should slightly pull away from the sides of the bowl, and regularly slap the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t, turn the mixer speed up a notch. (This is where I noticed that it was still real soupy and not binding together at all and I added another 1/2 cup of flour a little at a time. The dough is still very wet compared to bread dough you might be used to — this is okay and what it is supposed to be doing.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until tripled in bulk.
Dust your work surface heavily with flour. Prepare two baking sheets each with a sheet of parchment. Scrape the dough out on the floured surface and dust the top with more flour. Use a pastry cutter to divide the dough into two if you are making loaves or 16 pieces if you are making rolls. I did half and half — did one loaf and 8 rolls.
Brush your hands with flour. Working gently but swiftly, scoop the the loaves (or the rolls) one at a time from the work surface to the parchment. Press your fingertips about halfway into the dough to dimple the surface and slightly flatten. Let the loaves (or rolls) rise, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes. When ready to bake, they should look pillowy with many big bubbles just beneath the surface.
Preheat the oven to 475°F while the loaves are rising. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven now.
When ready to bake, slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto a pizza stone if you have one. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Rolls will most likely cook faster than the loaves if you made both like I did. Slip the parchment out from under the loaves or flip them over and cool completely before eating.
Ciabatta rolls just before they went in the oven.
Finished ciabatta rolls — fresh from the oven.
Here in Vermont we were very lucky this time around when Hurricane Sandy struck — we were spared the devastation that took all of us by surprise a year ago in August. It is sad to see the destruction that has befallen our home state of New Jersey, especially “down the shore”.
It was however interesting to see as I drove around over this past weekend and on Monday before the storm gained a foothold, the preparations being taken here, although the forecast was not as dire as it was in the New York area and other coastal sections of the eastern seaboard. The gas stations were doing a booming business since everyone was there, filling their vehicles, filling their supply of gas cans (a requirement here in Vermont), and even some folks had their generators on their vehicles, filling those as well. The stores didn’t have the run that the stores closer to the storm did, but clearly you could see that people had some extra water or milk in their shopping carts. As I dropped a child off down in town, I was amazed to see that every single house along the way had their outdoor belongings tucked away or tied down, bare lawns and secured belongings clearly added to the evidence that the folks in Vermont weren’t taking any chances this time around.
One of the good things about living up here is that you feel almost compelled to be “stocked up”. Everyone, or so it seems, puts food by for the winter…or the blizzard….or the hurricane… or even the zombie apocalypse (Happy Halloween, everyone!) if you believe my sons. If you don’t can, pickle, dry or jar you are pretty much a newbie and you feel like a loser. If you haven’t learned how to make at least some of the stuff that you eat yourself … well, you definitely aren’t from around these parts. Everyone that I know does some form of preservation of the fresh summer veggies and has other goodies tucked away to keep them going through the bad weather.
My recent posts on homemade yogurt and homemade granola go hand in hand with my post on homemade jam. The peppers from the garden have been sliced and frozen for winter soups or stir fries. The tomatoes have been slowly boiled down to sauce and tucked away in the freezer. Habanero peppers, cayenne peppers and Thai peppers have been dried, as has the basil that now resides in a mason jar on a shelf in the pantry. I have made pickles and put up Jersey peaches at the height of the season.
Potatoes from the garden will be stored in the basement, along with the canned goods and non-perishables that will help us weather what Mother Nature and zombies may throw our way in the coming months. My sourdough starter is in mason jars (note the plural) in the fridge and can easily be turned into a loaf of bread when the mood strikes.
We have huge stockpots that were hauled out a few days ago to hold water in the event that the power went out, so we wouldn’t need to start the generator right away. The firewood was brought in and stacked by the wood stove. Many a batch of dough has risen by the warmth of that fire as have many bagels, cinnamon buns and dinner rolls. When the power was out before the generator, we even cooked soup and boiled water for pasta on the wood stove.
We are fortunate that the farm down the hill is a dairy farm and we have gotten raw milk there on occasion – especially when the ladies and I made cheese.
I remember someone that I knew in New Jersey years ago commenting, “why store stuff in our house when we have the supermarket down the street, storing everything for us?” Why? Because you never know when zombies can come out of the wood work or the “storm of the century” decides that you are in its path. Here, we lose the power quite a bit (not as much as we used to, but it happens with some frequency, especially during windy or rainy weather). Sometimes, it happens when you least expect it. For instance, two weeks ago at about 10 p.m. the power went out for about 1/2 hour for no discernable reason. I was critical of Tom’s decision to buy a generator, figuring candles are romantic aren’t they? However, not being able to shower or flush the toilets or have drinking water, isn’t. When we lived in New Jersey a power outage if it occurred usually happened at the height of a heatwave and resulted in no power. We had a gas stove and our water came from the water system. Here, our water comes from a well that guess what? Doesn’t work without power so when our power goes out, so goes our water, and our showers and our toilets. Trust me, generators are a good thing and for the time or two that you might need them for days or a week or more, you will be thanking your stars that you invested in one.
If living in Vermont, and my wonderful neighbors and friends, have taught me anything, it is that we have to be prepared to be self-sufficient — whatever the reason. We could survive here for days (in fact, last year when Irene struck we did) without a store run and weeks if necessary. I have made bread on the gas grill, I have cooked dinner on the wood stove. We have melted snow in pots on the wood stove to flush toilets. It may sound apocalyptic but it’s not. It’s being prepared. We are fortunate to have honey from the bees and fresh eggs from the chickens. If the zombies ever did strike, I am sure that we could have chicken from the chickens as well, but I’m hoping that we don’t have to go that route. The goats, cuties that they are, are off limits.
Being prepared is something that I have learned not to take for granted. You never know when the weather or the zombies may take a turn for the worse and after these last few storms we have all learned that you can never, ever be too prepared. In addition, knowing that you can take care of yourself and be self reliant and self sufficient, even if it is only for a few days, is a really good feeling.
- I am not prepared for a zombie apocalypse. (pinkbekah.wordpress.com)
- Are You Prepared for a Zombie Apocalypse? Survival Pack Offered by GOFoods Global (prweb.com)
- Zombie Apocalypse Science (buzzfeed.com)
- What to do with a bumper crop of habanero peppers? (ask.metafilter.com)
Snow day. We spent the day home, not that the weather was all that bad, but hey isn’t hanging around what a snow day is all about? Dinner was going to be simple, burger, potatoes and salad. One problem, no buns. I pulled up this recipe from King Arthur Flour and made these hamburger buns. They were easy to make, came out looking delicious and tasted even better. Next time, I’m going to substitute honey for the sugar in the recipe. I didn’t want to try it first time out of the box, since I wouldn’t know whether I goofed the recipe or the substitution didn’t work correctly.
Here’s the link to the recipe at King Arthur’s site.
Today is Homemade Bread Day. I didn’t know that there was such a holiday, but hey – I love bread and I enjoy baking bread so I’m all for it. There is nothing as good as the smell of fresh bread baking … it even trumps the smell of cookies in my world. If you told me years ago, that I would be baking bread on a fairly regular basis, I probably would have laughed at you. At that time, bread baking (if I did it at all) consisted of throwing the ingredients into the bread machine that my husband had gotten for me as a gift and 4 or so hours later out came a loaf of bread, a round tall loaf of bread but bread all the same. Since then I have created my own sourdough starter which is just about as old as my youngest son and babied it along all these years – almost losing it completely when the cleaning people cleaning our house here in Vermont while we were not here and threw away what appeared to be something that had horribly bad. Lucky for me, I still had a jar of starter in New Jersey, which I fed and doubled and we’ve been good ever since.
I have used the starter on a fairly regular basis and given lots of it away to various friends over the years. Now, bread baking is a more hands-on experience and has expanded into different types of bread and different techniques for making it. While I do not at all profess to be even remotely a professional, I’m a good amateur and I enjoy it immensely. The joke around our house has become that I must have performance anxiety when it comes to bread baking since under normal conditions I can make a pretty decent looking and tasting loaf of bread (see above) but when I want to really have the loaf turn out super good (like when my mom comes to visit) it is usually less than perfect.
Despite how it looks, it always tastes pretty darn good. Personally I like bread with pretty much everything but the kitchen sink thrown in there, but my family – well not so much. So my bread baking is generally confined to loaves that the family will eat such as sourdough, sandwich loaves, baguettes and dinner rolls. My latest endeavor has been to find the perfect sandwich loaf of bread, one that will pass the boys’ inspection for lunch. While, they’ll eat just about anything with dinner, taking the bread and making it into a sandwich is a more grueling inspection and I’m still working on that one.
I was recently asked if I would consider doing a baking class (or a cooking class) and I was both flattered and taken aback. Really? Me? The more I think about it, I think it would be fun – but there’s always the issue of the bread just not coming out the way I’d like. What do you think?
To celebrate Homemade Bread Day, go out and make yourself a loaf – here is my recipe for sourdough baguettes which were my first undertaking and is a tried-and-true favorite here at the T’s House.
- 1 cup sourdough starter – recipe follows
- 1 1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
- 3/4 cup 1% milk
- 1 T. oil
- 1 T. active dry yeast
- 1 T. sugar
- 1 T. kosher salt
- 6 cups all purpose flour
- Place 1 cup of starter, milk and warm water into the bowl of stand mixer fitted with hook attachment. Add yeast and sugar.
- Allow to sit for about 10 minutes.
- Add oil, salt and flour.
- Mix on low speed until blended and then mix at medium speed to knead for about 5 minutes. This dough will NOT form into a ball, if it does, you need to add more liquid. It should be wet and slack.
- Place dough into a well oiled bowl or container – cover and allow to rise in a warm place (I put mine next to the woodstove in the winter or into a preheated 160 degree oven (turn it off when it reaches temperature) to proof.
- Let rise until doubled in size. This can take an hour or two, depending upon the temperature. It is more important to move on only when it has doubled, no matter how long or short that is, rather than go by the time alone.
- Remove the dough onto a well floured surface. This dough will be sticky and if the surfaces does not have a lot of flour, you, the counter, the utensils will all be wearing the dough – trust me on this one.
- Divide the dough into three sections.
- Form each section into a ball and then roll out into a log about 9-12 inches long. Repeat for remaining dough.
- Place baguettes onto a baguette pan or separately on a flat baking sheet, sprayed with non-stick spray.
- Take a razor blade or sharp knife and make several slits in the surface of each baguette.
- Cover and let rise again for about 30 minutes.
- During this time, pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.
- Just before placing baguettes into the oven, brush each one with water.
- Set the timer for 10 minutes. During this ten minutes, you should brush them again with water at least 2 more times.
- Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. (About 25-30 minutes)
- Remove from oven and enjoy!
I got a covered baker from King Arthur’s Flour from Tom for Christmas. Of course, with a house full of perfectly willing bread-eaters, I had to put it to the test. The test, it turned out, that I miserably failed. Don’t get me wrong, the bread was delicious tasting, disfigured and ugly as it was after we chiseled it out of the pan. Not once, but twice, I might add.
The first time was just plain stupidity. I am used to baking in my cast iron and simply threw the dough in without thinking of the whole “seasoning” thing. The second time, I took the time to follow the directions. Soak the baker in water for 15 minutes to immerse it and so that the pores gather the water to use as steam when it bakes. All seemed perfect, until of course, we attempted to remove it from the pan. The bread, looked darn beautiful in the pan. We could stare at it and drool just fine. If we wanted to eat it though —well, dig out the chisel again. We decided that perhaps I had formulated a new type of bread, single crusted. In fact, we joked that maybe I should tell our New Year’s Eve company that it was planned that way and wait to see if anyway actually asked for the recipe.
Tonight, I again confronted the new pan. This time, I oiled every nook and cranny of the bottom part with vegetable oil. The top was inverted in the sink and soaked for the required 15 minutes. The bread baked, we held our breath (figuratively mind you or I would be dead obviously). The cover came off and the bread baked for its last 15 minutes uncovered. It was removed from the oven and looked like this:
Beautiful, isn’t it? Yes, that’s exactly the way the other, single crust, chiseled out of the pan loaves looked too.
The real test came in the removal process. Tom stood at the ready, chisel in hand. But alas, it was not necessary, the bread flipped from the pan like a fish out of water. Here’s the finished product.
Since last Wednesday (mind you this is less than one week), I have baked 12 loaves of bread, and 48 cinnamon rolls plus unmentioned amounts of cookies. Last night I baked one loaf of bread for dinner and it was gone in a flash. Tonight, I baked two loaves and there is barely any left. I figure that should be up to at least four or five loaves of bread a day by New Year’s the way this crowd is eating and the adults haven’t even shown up yet. Plus I haven’t even had a chance to christen my new pizza stone or loaf baker. Maybe a bakery is in my future?