Recommended Baking Adventures June 2015!

June was a month of applications, travel, and more baking! Here are some of the top experiments: Moving along in my James Beard bread book, I decided to attempt Myrtle Allen’s Brown Bread. The resulting bread was dense, a little sweet, and completely delicious! I used regular whole wheat flour. IMG_4921

Ease was a theme this month. I wanted to make bread, but didn’t want to go shopping for interesting ingredients and didn’t want anything too complex. After searching various “easy bread” related terms in Google, I ended up with a very basic one. (I can’t find the exact recipe, but suggest kneading the bread for a solid 8-12 minutes always, and letting it rise for more like an hour each go.) One thing I’ve worked on with bread is shaping and being aggressive with showing the seams who’s boss!

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The prospect of making bagels at home is a little stressful. People, especially New Yorkers, are very particular about the quality of their bagels, and they seem fairly complicated with a two-step cooking process. My native New Yorker swears by this recipe. If you follow the straightforward directions, you’ll be fine! And everyone will be very impressed at the taste and texture. It works well to invite friends over before baking the bagels so they can help shape and top them before digging in!

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My dad loves rhubarb, so a rhubarb dessert for his birthday seemed perfect! I went with this rhubarb cobbler recipe, following the steps from the video over the recipe, except for adding the oats to the crumble topping. Yum! (Go lighter on the orange juice and zest than recommended.)

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Two Bittman recipes to finish it off! I hosted a tea party on short notice and these basic buttermilk biscuits were simple and came off beautifully! I’ve recently discovered powdered buttermilk, which can be stored pretty indefinitely in your fridge and used for baking. It’s brilliant! It’s good to make sure it’s actually blended in to your dry ingredients before adding the wet ingredients as it clumps a little.

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The basic brownie recipe from How To Cook Everything has a typo in my edition (discovered too late), asking for 2oz of chocolate rather than 3oz. I’ve noted it in my cookbook for the future. As a result, my brownies were kind of meh. My reason for including it is to encourage you to go to great lengths to rescue underdone baked goods. I baked the brownies for more than double the recommended time and they still seemed underdone, but I figured it was just how they were supposed to be. Wrong! As noted in the image below, the top completely came off when I tried to extract the brownies from their pan. I scraped the top back into the pan and continued cooking until done. Yes, they looked a little crinkley, but no one knew anything had been amiss when I served them later.

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Happy adventuring!

Recommended Baking Adventures April-May 2015

This year has been very intense so far– and one of the more intense events was being let go from my amazing job. This has given me the time to challenge myself in many ways, and to bake more! Some favorites are listed below.

We hosted our first Passover Seder this year, which gave me the opportunity to try some delicious recipes. During the week of Passover, observers refrain from consuming leavened bread, and many other items. For dessert, I made a dairy-free, flourless chocolate torte. It was delicious and beautiful.

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We went traditional for the main course, selecting a brisket recipe from the New York Times. It was a ton of fun to use our gorgeous brazier, and the meat turned out splendidly! The photo is from about half way through the five hour bake time. By the end, the plums were completely disintegrated. We went ahead and made it the day before, warming it during the service. The timing worked out very well!

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For Christmas this year, I received a bundt pan. I rarely make cake, but have been looking for an opportunity to use the bundt pan all year. Birthday season did the trick! My first bundt was a Lemon Ginger version from Martha Stewart– yum! I increased the amount of ginger again by half, added a few drops of lemon oil, and was pleased with the flavor. I also made a small, round version of it with part of the batter, as I’d read that the batter makes a little too much and overflows pans. It was a good idea. I have a 12 cup bundt pan and it would have overflowed.

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Last, but not least, I received two banneton baskets for shaping bread for my birthday. I had a ton of fun trying it out! I used the basic loaf recipe from James Beard, using half bread flour and half whole wheat flour for the dough. After the first rising, I kneaded and then placed the dough in the banneton:

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After the second rising (brushed with cold water, sprinkled with salt, and cut):

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I hope to start my next professional adventure soon, but have enjoyed the opportunity to play in the kitchen!

 

Catching Up on Baking (October – Present)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted Recommended Baking Adventures, so it’s time to catch up!

Most recently, I’ve fallen in love with a braised cabbage recipe from an article on braising. The cabbage gets silky and smooth, and we’ve been eating it with a little feta crumbled on top– best warm or at room temperature!

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I’ve also been baking bread and experimenting with sourdough. My family took a bread baking class together, where we each got a bit of starter at the end to take home and play with. I’ve made sourdough several times since then and have enjoyed the results!

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Part 1: Mix 2T ripe, stiff, culture, 1 3/8 cups water, and 3 cups whole wheat flour. Let ripen for 14-18 hours.

Part 2: Combine mixture from Part 1, 3 5/8 cups bread flour, 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, 1-2t instant dry yeast until shaggy and let stand one hour. Add 1T salt and knead for 8-10 (or longer) minutes until moderately elastic. Let stand in a covered bowl for ~1 hour to double. Divide and shape into two loaves, and let rise again for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Bake at 460 for 15 minutes, then at 440 for additional 20-25 minutes.

Cool and enjoy!

Another fun bread adventure has been bagels! Who knew you could make delicious bagels at home? We use this recipe and have always had success. Even if it looks a little scary, it’s totally easy and they are actually delicious.

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Last and not least, who doesn’t love a good excuse to get the tube pan out? This Sally Lunn bread from our dear James Beard is easy, delicious, and versatile. It’s slightly sweet and rich, but can be served alongside any meal or for breakfast as toast. And it’s really pretty.

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Honorable mentions:

Knitting and Preparation

I started a leave from work to care for a family member a couple of weeks ago. Although it is an absolute privilege, caregiving is emotionally difficult and there’s a surprising amount to manage, even with an amazing patient and co-caregivers. We moved into a care facility this week where a team of nurses and professionals have taken over the actual care giving and now we, the former caregivers, find ourselves with more quiet time. So I have started knitting again.

Knitting is peaceful. If you have an easy pattern, following it can be therapeutic. The repetitive motion of knits and pearls soothe the soul and it’s fun to see progress as you move along. It requires just enough brain power to be distracted, but not so much that you need a lot of concentration. Knitting can build community if you’re with others, and feels comfortable to do alone as well.

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In the TED talk by Alanna Shaikh, she talks about preparing for Alzheimer’s. She identified ways in which aging and dementia affect the body, and what soothes the patient. In preparing, she is working to increase her balance through yoga and tai-chi. She also talks about finding repetitive tasks that you enjoy that and can do with very little conscious effort. Knitting is this task for me. Although her talk targets Alzheimer’s and dementia, people with all sorts of ailments at any age experience imbalance and loss of concentration. This idea of intentional preparation seeps into all types of worst-case scenarios, including writing thoughtful and clear advance care directives and discussing them with your family, and making sure you are at peace with the people you love.

The loved one I am caring for now has done all of this preparation, and it is still difficult. But we have so much peace mixed with the sadness and we do not struggle to make care decisions because we know exactly what is desired. And we’ll knit together while we can.

Here my current pattern (free!): Ridge Washcloth

And some other information on the health benefits of knitting:

 

Update: We’re getting somewhere!

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Staying Relevant

Being on top of cultural trends has never been more important. We have nearly unlimited access to national and international events, thought leaders, and products. Conferences like TED and media sharing sites like Twitter provide more ideas than it is possible to absorb. And this matters in the workplace. Because your consumers, whoever they are, are part of these trends and have access to that same information. Businesses need to anticipate their needs and understand the ever-evolving ecosystem your business operates in to be successful. Beyond workplace usefulness, it’s fun to be able to connect others with ideas that are relevant or interesting to them, and to try new things as they evolve.

That said, it’s not easy to stay relevant. Some people are more adept than others at being in the know about new products, business models, style trends, and popular media. In any case, it takes time and awareness to clue in to new things.

Keep your eyes, ears, and brain open. By being observant in daily life, you can absorb a lot. I find it’s a lot more interesting and relevant to talk to someone about their experiences with The Internet of Things than to read about it.

  • What are people wearing today? (Have you ever noticed that people walking together are likely to wear the same type of shoe? It’s weird.)
  • See a new business? Why not stick your head in, say hello, and find out why they’re there?
  • Did you have a great experience at a restaurant or retail space? Why was it awesome?
  • Do you or others have relationships with brands? What is it like?
  • Are people talking about experiences that were good or bad? Anything particularly interesting?
  • Are there recurring pain points in your life or the lives of others that can be solved and is anyone working on it? New products, services, and habits also come with their own set of problems to be solved, which results in new products, services and pain points.
  • Try new things and develop your own point of view.
After I'd read about the rising popularity of "bulletproof" coffee, I had to try it myself.

After I’d read about the rising popularity of “bulletproof” coffee, I had to try it myself.

Follow social media. I don’t post much, but it’s fascinating to see what friends post, especially if they are very different from me. It’s also helpful to follow thought leaders and news sites to see what’s current. My weapons of choice are Twitter for broad world happenings and trends and Facebook for social and opinion trends. LinkedIn and Medium also have timely articles and social components.

Seek out industry and interest relevant sources. As awesome and intelligent as you probably are, it’s pretty impossible to be an expert on everything. Figure out what areas you want to focus on, and deep dive. That might mean listening to podcasts, following hashtags, subscribing to newsletters or checking relevant sites daily, a magazine subscription, attending conferences, signing up for newsletters from your favorite businesses/bands/artists, or reading relevant books as they come out. I’ve recently been into:

One of my favorite ways to stay current is to try new, trendy restaurants. Yum!

One of my favorite ways to do research is to frequent popular/interesting restaurants. Yum!

I’d love to know how you follow trends and culture!

Recommended Baking Adventures: September 2014

This past month I’ve found myself in full pantry stocking mode, moving toward canning and big batches of soups. It must be fall! It continues to be difficult to find the time to make bread, but I have high hopes for this weekend!

We were lucky enough to have a ton of fresh fall vegetables from our CSA box from Driftless Organics! We ordered an extra box of tomatoes and roasted them!

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We cut them in half, and placed them cut side up in the oven for about 8 hours at 325 degrees. Before putting them in the oven, we sprinkled them with roughly chopped garlic, salt, and olive oil. Most went into the freezer for treats this winter! SO. GOOD.

Onto the bread! We had farm fresh potatoes, so I went for this potato bread.

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While I really wanted to break out my good friend James Beard, I couldn’t find a version of his potato bread that didn’t involve refrigeration, so went with this recipe, which was quick and easy. The dough was easy to work with and the bread was delicious! It didn’t rise a ton in the first or second rising, but made up for it once it got into the oven! Either my house was too cold or the dough was heavier with the potato. Or both.

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Because I can’t bear to be separated from James Beard for long, I tried his Parker House Rolls next.Rolls

The shape is a little awkward (baker error), but the fold made them easy to tear open and fill with jam and butter. I found them best when fresh out of the oven. The Parker House also apparently invented the Boston Cream Pie!

An early morning walk in support of the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (MOCA) was a great excuse for scones!

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This Mark Bittman recipe was my inspiration, but I used all whole wheat flour, substituted sour cream for the heavy cream, and added raisins. These were also mini scones, so needed a little less time to bake through. I also skipped the topping step. I’d definitely recommend baking with sugar on top though, it would have made them feel more special. The substitutions worked well!

p.s. September was ovarian cancer awareness month. It’s a pretty scary cancer, and there aren’t any great diagnostic tests. The disease is often diagnosed late and is difficult to treat at that stage. Unexplained bloating, weight loss, feeling full quickly, frequent urination, and/or constipation? Check into it. More information.

A couple of quickies:

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Baked brie! One with jam, one with honey and sliced almonds, and one with caramelized onions and garlic. Impressive and easy. Great for entertaining. Don’t forget to take the phyllo dough out of the freezer in advance!

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Mark Bittman’s oatmeal cookies from How To Cook Everything. I upped the cinnamon and added chocolate and butterscotch chips. A solid winter treat!

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Rosh hashanah was a great excuse to try out the tube pan! A silpat underneath guarded against leaks, and the honey cake recipe was very good. Not too sweet, but that may have been a product of too much coffee and not quite enough honey.

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A fun weekend breakfast treat: Baked eggs! Surprisingly easy and healthy for how decadent they feel. They’re a perfect platform for fresh herbs, which we’re trying to use up before they freeze out in the garden!

BONUS: Refrigerator Pickles!

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We started with this recipe and used mustard seed, fennel seed, juniper berries, and peppercorns for the brine. We stuck with thinly sliced cucumber for the veg. They have been great on sandwiches, in salads, and on relish trays!

Recommended Baking Adventures: August 2014

It’s been a pleasure to continue baking even as I start working. Unfortunately, this means that more pictures are taken at night, resulting in less attractive images overall. Quick and easy recipes are the new name of the game, and there are several to try!

First: Tomato Cobbler. I made this recipe for a potluck, because it’s perfect: savory, simple, good at room temperature, and vegetarian. It is also a great way to use up a ton of tomatoes. Note: It’s important to add additional flavor to both the tomatoes and the cornbread topping.

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Before baking on top, after on bottom!

There’s also less time to bake bread, so I’ve been searching for easy and fast bread recipes, and found this one: Savory Oatmeal Pan Bread. The oats and the eggs make it super dense, not a substitute for regular bread, but it was delicious. Highly recommended. No rising time, no kneading, easy to put together and only 30 minutes in the oven.

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We’ve also wanted to try our hand at making granola bars, thinking they would be good for care packages and for keeping us full and healthy throughout the week. The Five Ingredient Granola Bars from the Minimalist Baker came together in a snap. We substituted prunes for the dates, peanuts and sliced almonds for the almonds, used chunky peanut butter, and added chocolate chips to the mix. After chilling, they were easy to chop and not a big mess.

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And, because some people go to work the Friday before a three day weekend, I figured we deserved a treat, and brought these flourless chocolate cookies into work. Gluten free and basically dairy free, they are pretty consumable by everyone. The texture is less like a cookie and more like a french macron, with a crunchy shell on the outside and chewy on the inside. They don’t rise a ton, but the crackle of the shell and sprinkle of salt makes them very pretty.

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This month’s bonus feature: Gazpacho! The NYT ran one of those lovely Mark Bittman features on gazpacho that has a ton of options. Go make one now. So easy, so delicious, so summery. Great to pack for work, to eat on the deck, or to have a mug of for an afternoon snack. We’ve made the classic version a few times and will branch out to avocado and pea this week.

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