Tuesday, February 26, 2013

No Knead Bread

I swore I wouldn't be one of those women who, once they give birth, post about their children or the demands of motherhood on what was once a food blog. But that was before. That was before I became a mother. That was before I knew what a miracle it could be to care for an infant and get something into the oven and then back out of the oven at the appropriate time. That was before I found myself hunt-and-peck typing with one hand while the other kept a sleeping six-week old from sliding off my lap. Yeah, that was before. So, file this one under "things you can bake when your newborn won't let you put him down for more than ten minutes at a stretch". 

I started baking no knead bread when A. was four weeks old. I started baking it because one, I was no longer able to pick up staffed loaves of Red Hen bread from work and two, I had to do something in the kitchen. No knead bread is the perfect postpartum bake for several reasons. First of all, it makes you feel like you've accomplished something in the otherwise endless cycle of breast feeding and diaper changing. You might not have showered or had a chance to make the bed, but you baked bread! Two, it is incredibly forgiving. The initial fermentation time can vary from 12 to 18 hours and I've stretched it to over 20 with no harm done. And if your loaf has gone over its two hour rising time before you could preheat the pot in the oven, punch it down, reform it and let it rise again. Your bread might be a little denser than usual, but it will not be ruined. Thirdly, the active cooking time, which is spread over two days, is minimal. Mixing the dough: three minutes; turning the dough out to rest: one minute; forming the loaf and setting it to rise: two minutes tops. Then there's just the thirty seconds to plop the loaf in the pot and get it in the oven and thirty minutes later another half minute to remove the lid. Finally, twenty minutes later you'll have to spend maybe, on the outside, an entire sixty seconds removing the pot from the oven and the beautiful finished loaf from the pot. That makes fewer than ten minutes of active cooking time and even the neediest babe has enough patience for that. 

The original recipe calls simply for unbleached white bread flour. I've been using two thirds white bread flour and one third whole wheat bread flour and I think I like it better. I see no reason not to experiment with some rye flour, or possibly adding walnuts. Today I used high gluten flour and made my prettiest loaf to date. I am happy to report that it tastes as good as it looks. It has the tangy sourdough quality this bread always does, a nice crust and a springy, moist interior. I'm guessing here--I'm no food scientist--but I think the high gluten flour helped the loaf maintain its structure through the rise and pot plop better than regular bread flour. In any event, this is a tasty, hassle free bread recipe for those with or without the time for a good, long knead.

No Knead Bread

Adapted from Jim Lahey's recipe

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat bread flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
  • 1 5/8 cups water
  • Mix together the flours, salt, and yeast. Add water and stir until well combined. The mixture will be much looser than most bread doughs. Cover mixture with plastic wrap and leave in a warm (70°F or so) place for 12-18 hours, preferably closer to 18.
  • After 12-18 hours, the surface of the dough should be covered in bubbles. Flour a work surface and turn the dough out. Coat your hands with flour and fold the dough over itself a few times. Cover with the plastic wrap and leave for 15 minutes.
  • Coat a cotton towel generously with flour. Using enough flour so the dough doesn't stick to anything, form it into a ball and place seam side down on the towel. Dust the top with more flour and cover with another towel. Leave to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until when the loaf is poked it doesn't bounce back too quickly.
  • Place a large cast iron pot (6-8 quart) with its lid in the oven. Preaheat oven and pot to 450°F about half an hour before the rise time is up. Uncover the loaf and using the bottom towel to support it, plop it into the pot. Now it will be seam side up. If necessary give the pot a shake to better position the dough, but don't get carried away. Place the lid over the pot and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes remove the lid and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, until nicely browned. Remove from pot and allow to cool on a rack. Once cool, remove excess flour with a brush.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


A few days ago, my friend E.R.V.B posted the recipe for her favorite granola on Facebook. She got the recipe from a friend who found it in some cookbook or other. I figured only good recipes make the rounds like that and if E.'s sense of taste is even half as good as her sense of style, this granola had to be worth making. Also, my favorite local organic granola is over nine dollars a pound and, if I calculated correctly, the ingredients for my organic granola came in at just a little over three bucks a pound.

I made my first batch of E.'s granola today, with only a few minor modifications. I followed her lead and used maple syrup instead of honey, but chose to use coconut oil instead of canola and to omit the brown sugar altogether. I also added half a cup of unsweetened shredded coconut. The recipe leaves the choice of nuts, seeds, and fruit up to the cook. I used almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds, raisins, and unsulphured dried apricots cut into pieces. I like this combo, but for variety's sake I'll probably change it up in the next batch--add some cashews maybe, or perhaps some dried blueberries.


From a friend of a friend

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups nuts and/or seeds of choice
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup dried fruit of choice
  • Preheat oven to 325°F. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients, except the fruit, and set aside. In another bowl combine oil, syrup, and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until the oats etc. are evenly and well coated. Turn mixture out onto baking sheet(s), making a not-too-thick even layer.
  • Bake 30 minutes, stirring two to three times during the cooking time, and adding the dried fruit half way through. Remove from oven when browned to your taste. Allow to cool thoroughly (you can stir it from time to time to encourage cooling) before storing in an airtight container.
E. is right: this granola is delicious. Delicious, easy, and cost effective...it doesn't get better than that.

Monday, January 30, 2012


The chicken? The egg? The cardboard box. That's what came first in my chicken adventure. Our fifty meat birds and twenty-five layers were sent through the United States Postal Service in two ventilated cardboard boxes strapped one on top of the other. The package was chirping as T. brought it out from the back and it chirped all the way home, stopping at sudden movements or loud noises only to resume seconds later.
It has been seven months since we gave those chirping little balls of fuzz their first drink of water and first taste of mash. Now they're giving us eggs. We gave away half our birds and from the ten we kept we get up to ten eggs a day--some light brown, some pink, some speckled, dark brown ones from black bird, and blue ones from yellow bird.
I have heard it said that all eggs taste the same. Organic eggs, 'conventional' eggs, free range, cooped up, store bought, back yard--they all taste the same. But I don't buy it. Perhaps I'm biased, influenced emotionally by my involvement in the production of these eggs, but I really do think these are better than what you can buy at the grocery store. The yolks are more golden and stand up taller in the pan. The whites have a more delicate texture, refusing, happily, to become rubbery. I., my best customer and one not prone to exaggeration or overt praise, called our eggs the best she has ever had and said they poach better than any egg she has ever cooked. So there.
Another benefit of keeping your own layers is that the anomalies don't get weeded out. Several times a month one of the girls lays a veritable torpedo of an egg. It's a double-plus-super-double-yolker. Two eggs in one, more like.
I had started to wonder if fresh eggs were worth the feeding and watering and cleaning of poopy boxes and worry over hen pecking and everything else that comes with keeping chooks. Having tasted tages ei, I now know they are.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Rooibos-Anise Hyssop Sun Tea

It's always nice when delicious things practically make themselves. Sun tea is one of those things. You can put it out to steep in the morning and forget about it most of the day and then when you're in need of a refreshing beverage (because if it's hot enough to make sun tea, it's hot enough to drink a cool glass of something) your tea is ready to be strained and poured over ice.
Rooibos is a wonderful base for sun tea. It gives it a beautiful color and a rich, round flavor from which to build. It readily welcomes other flavors, such as the anise hyssop I used, which gave it a refreshing hint of licorice. I used anise hyssop, because that's what I have, but any of the mints--peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, lemon balm--would work just as well. As always, use what you have, trust your own judgement, and don't panic--it's only tea.

Rooibos-Anise Hyssop Sun Tea

for one half gallon

  • 4-5 Tbs. rooibos tea
  • several sprigs anise hyssop
  • a half-gallon jar with lid
  • cold water
  • Spoon tea into half-gallon jar. Pick anise hyssop, bruise the leaves by rolling them between your palms, and place in jar. Fill the jar with water and screw on the lid. Place jar outside in a sunny spot that will remain so for several hours. Allow to steep 3-5 hours. Strain into a pitcher and serve over ice. Garnish with a sprig of anise hyssop. Store any leftover tea in the refrigerator.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Strawberry Jam

I couldn’t let June go by, let all the strawberries ripen, without making at least one batch of strawberry jam. So yesterday I did. It’s not the strawberry-jalapeno jam a customer told me about Tuesday night; it’s not the balsamic strawberry jam I saw in a cookbook at the library on Monday; it’s just plain old strawberry jam made from the recipe in the Sure-Jell box. It’s the kind of strawberry jam you’re happy to take out of the pantry and spread on toast when the snow has long since covered the garden.
Strawberries are on the very, very low end of the pectin spectrum, so as much as I like the idea of just using fruit and sugar and maybe some lemon juice, my fear of the jam not setting is greater. To allay my fears I decided to turn to boxed pectin. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any in the cabin, but with some searching and climbing of ladders Y. was able to find several packages of Sure-Jell For Lower Sugar in the barn.
Inside the Sure-Jell For Lower Sugar box was a sheet of recipes for fruit jams and jellies, both cooked and frozen, and a set of instructions. I understand that in jam making, as in baking, precise measurement is important, but the instructions in the Sure-Jell package make you think that your kitchen might blow up if you add even one granule too much sugar. They use bold type; bold, red type; bold, red, ALL CAPS type; bold, red, ALL CAPS type that they then highlight. It’s enough to put one off jam making altogether, especially when all of one’s (my) measuring cups and spoons are locked safe in a seafaring container at the bottom of the hill. I decided that I wasn’t sending anyone to outer space in my jam, so measuring my sugar in a mason jar and weighing my strawberries by means of a rudimentary scale composed of a bicycle tube box, a piece of wood and a can of scungilli would probably be good enough. Judging by the results—delicious, perfectly set jam—one doesn't have to be quite as EXACT (red, bold, highlighted) as they lead one to believe.

Strawberry Jam

Adapted from the Sure-Jell For Lower Sugar instructions

  • 6 cups quartered and crushed strawberries,
  • about 3 pounds unprepared fruit
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 box Sure-Jell For Lower Sugar
  • Wash and sterilize enough jars to hold 8 cups jam. Pour boiling water over dome lids and allow to soak, off heat, until ready to use.
  • Core and quarter strawberries, then mash them with either a fork or potato masher. If some pieces don't get crushed, that's okay--it's nice to have some recognizable pieces of strawberry in the finished jam. Measure out six cups of fruit and place in large, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive pot.
  • Measure out sugar. Mix 1/4 cup of it with one package pectin and combine this mixture with fruit. Bring this mixture to a full rolling boil (one that won't stop bubbling when stirred) over high heat, stirring constantly. Add remaining sugar and bring back to a full rolling boil, still stirring constantly. Allow to boil 1 minute. Remove from heat and skim off any foam.
  • Give it another stir, then ladle into prepared jars, leaving 1/8-1/4 inch of headroom. Wipe off rims and threads and place lids and rings on jars, tightening only finger tight. Place jars on a rack in a canner, if you have one, or a very large pot, if you don't, and cover by 1-2 inches with water. Bring water to a gentle boil. After 10 minutes remove jars and place on a towel to cool. The lids should make a satisfying pop within minutes, indicating that they've sealed. Store in a cool, dark place; refrigerate after opening.
Now that I have preserved a taste of June to open in December or February, when I'll really need it, I might risk trying a batch of Sure-Jell free strawberry jam. Besides, if it doesn't set, it will still taste just as good stirred into yoghurt or spooned over ice cream.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Strawberry Spinach Salad

The strawberries are ripening now and we have eaten at least a quart of them straight from the garden unadorned, unadulterated, unembellished. They're perfect that way in all their red glory, but if you can muster the patience and will power to cut them up and add them to a dish, your efforts will not go unrewarded.
I was all set to have a go at Ovenette biscuits and to macerate some berries in sugar and Cointreau, but when I was weeding the garlic I noticed the spinach was just begging to be picked. Hmm, I thought, how 'bout a spinach and strawberry salad? A crumble of feta, a grind of pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and a splash of vinegar later my salad was ready.
It is a very simple salad, but too much refinement, I think, would rob it of its charm. Like this, each ingredient shines on its own, while also complimenting the other elements. The crispy green-ness of the spinach remains intact and contrasts well with the juicy sweetness of the strawberries and the salty creaminess of the cheese.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

A delicate late spring salad

  • 1 handful spinach per salad
  • 3-4 strawberries per salad
  • a small piece feta or chèvre per salad
  • freshly ground pepper
  • coarse salt
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • vinegar of your choice
  • Double, triple, quadruple wash spinach to remove any trace of dirt/sand/grit. If the leaves are small enough, leave them whole, if not you probably shouldn't use them for salad anyway. Cut strawberries in quarters and set aside. Arrange spinach leaves and strawberries on plate in some attractive manner. Crumble cheese, grind pepper, and sprinkle salt over the top. Drizzle oil and splash vinegar over salad, being careful not to drown it, and serve.
I ate my salad for lunch with a couple Wasa sesame flatbreads, though I think a nice piece of monkfish would have done it better justice.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June is for Strawberries

This is what hope looks like. This is why I get up in the morning. This is why I dream at night. This is why I leave the shopping on the porch and go for a walk in the garden before I unlock the front door. This is next Wednesday's breakfast. This is frozen strawberry soufflé in waiting. This is the reason I needed to attempt making biscuits in the Ovenette. This is why you stay tuned.