Saturday, April 19, 2008

5 Minute a Day Bread, Take 1

Have I mentioned that I'm trying to do everything in my power to both save money on food and eat organically and locally when possible? Yes, you and every other whitey out there you are probably thinking. (O.K. Not every whitey out there, if you caught the Oprah episode this week about the families who waste tremendous amounts of everything possible. Family #1 who sounded suspiciously from Long Island threw out $700 of food a month because they don't save anything once the bag/box is open).

With the rise in prices of food and the current concern about wasting fuel by buying stuff flown in from all over the world, I'm doing what I can. If I can buy as much as possible organically and in bulk, and then make things myself like bread, desserts, and almost all of our meals, then I'm accomplishing two out of three. I also joined a local CSA, which is a chemical-free farm that customers pay a bulk sum to at the beginning of each season. Customers then go to the farm each week and pick up two giant bags of produce. At my CSA the cost breaks down to $25 a week, which for that amount of organic food is pretty darn good. Another great perk to the whole thing is getting lots of varitiy of produce that are not found in any supermarkets. If you want more tips on how to eat healthy for cheap, check out this long but very informative thread on a cloth diapering board I frequent (the third post down turned me on to the CSA and making everything from scratch using bulk organics).

At the same time I decided to make everything from scratch, I kept reading all the hoopla in blogland and message board land. I jumped on the bandwagon and bought the book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the authors of the book developed recipes and a method for baking different types of bread made from a dough that only takes fifteen minutes to make, requires no kneading, and remains in the fridge all week. Each time you want bread you cut a 1 pound hunk off the dough and quickly shape it, let it sit out for an hour and a half, and then bake it for thirty minutes.

Required equipment includes an oven thermometer, a baking stone, a pizza peel, and something large to store the dough in. I asked a group of women on a local mothering message board (several of them are on the bread bandwagon already) what pieces of equipment I can do without, since I did not want to have to invest quite so much money in something that may not even work out. I got some great tips from them that I will now share with you lucky readers:

1. Don't blow $30 on a baking stone. Instead, go to Home Depot and pick up a giant terracotta (untreated) tile for $1.30. Here's mine with some awesome lemon-poppy scones on them (the breakfast of the week that was actually the breakfast of three days):

2. Oven thermometers are really inexpensive at Target, as compared to Williams-Sonoma.

3. The book requires you to fill a broiler pan with water and keep it in the oven during baking, to release steam. Instead of ruining a pan and fussing with all the water, buy a brick and soak it in water for a while before putting it in the preheating oven. The brick will release an even amount of steam and you don't have to worry about any accidents with the water.

I actually did not buy a brick yet because we had to hussle out of Home Depot when I was buying the terracotta tile (two year old wanting to run through aisles instead of staying in cart), but I did buy a great pizza peel and dough scraper at good old Williams-Sonoma. I hit up Target and got my oven thermometer (by the way have you seen the amazing Dwell Baby for Target line? I just bought this and this and this for a few baby showers coming up to go with the requisite Rose & Duke apparel) and went to work. The first thing I noticed about my super-lame electric oven is that it is off by ten degrees. For the temp. to be 450 I ended up setting it to 460. I went to work and heated my water for the dough to 100 degrees (measured on the candy thermometer). I added the yeast and salt and flour, stirred, and let it rise. Here is how it looked:
This doesn't look like it rose very much at all does it? It didn't. I refrigerated the bread, took it out the next day, let it rise again, and formed my loaves:
These loaves are over one pound, because I wanted larger loaves. Unfortunately I forgot to add baking time and took them out when the tops were only slightly browned. The insides were raw.
I baked a little longer and voila:
Two large loaves of bread that were extremely dense and required a lot of jaw-work to get down the throat. Not really what I was hoping for. I dumped the remaining dough and started over, this time heating the water to a little over 100 degrees, and decreasing the amount of flour by 1/4 cup (as recommended by the book if the dough was too dry the first time ,which this one certainly was). I got a nice, sticky dough:
When it rose it really took off too:
I have no idea why the photo won't remain vertical by the way- it's something with blogger, sorry folks.

This time I weighed exactly one pound of dough before baking.

The loaf seemed pretty flat when rising on the pizza peel before baking, and it did come out more like a ciabatta than I had hoped for. Unfortunately, I was baking the bread at the same time I was cooking dinner, and I had to set the oven to 550 degrees to get the thermometer inside to read 450. WTF? My guess is that when the stove top ranges are on, the oven just can't get quite as hot. The other consequence of the oven being wacky is that my tile broke in two. I bought another one, but if this one breaks too then I may have to give in and buy an official baking stone.

As you can see it's not the tallest loaf of bread in the world, but the texture inside was just perfect, with a moist and dense crumb, and a crunchy crust.
As you can also see we ate our first good loaf of homemade bread with Nutella. Dinner had already ended at this point, so what choice did we have? Next I'm going to try the light wheat recipe and use a loaf pan. Hopefully the loaf pan shape will make the bread more user-friendly for us, since we a sandwich eating family.

Here are a few shots from the CSA we go to. The lovely farm-maiden is holding a bouquet of garlic blossoms. The stalks are really sweet and delicious in a stir-fry. I used some last week in a greens and feta pie as well.
The farm property is fairly large for an urban farm, and the owner's eight year old son has been kind enough to take Harlan and me on a couple of tours. We got to play with chickens, see the tiny airplane in its hangar behind the crops, giant water drums, a koi fish pond, and several houses on the property that are made completely from native and found objects. The houses are also totally sustainable and I'm looking forward to a tour of them given by an adult at a cocktail party/ property tour they provide once a month. Photos will come. The eight year old also told us where to steer clear from hornets nest, snake-filled areas, fire ant communities, and other country things that reinforced that I would not ever do well living "off the grid" unless it was in a space community on bug and snake-free planet.

This is Harlan playing in a wagon at the farm. It's a funny photo of him, but I'm using it to show off his Obama Baby t-shirt, made by my friend Kim and available at her wonderful store Sidepony.

The rest of this post is totally unrelated items, starting with some lovely Jello desserts brought to a party recently.
Anyone know any good Jello recipes? I'm thinking this may be the only way I'll be able to eat dessert and lose weight. I'm looking for recipes using gelatin and fruit, not actual Jello by the way. This one had seltzer in it which gave the Jello a really nice texture. Also there was hibiscus involved somehow.

Here are Harlan and me on a little hike we like to take. Wild Basin's a nice place to go hiking except for the fact that Harlan ends up wanting to be carried quite a lot.

Harlan and his friend Sol, walking up the steps together, holding hands all the way:

I feel like this photo should be made into an inspirational poster. Perhaps it could say, "You can always make it to the top when you help someone." Or, "A friend with a hand, is high in demand." O.k. What about, "Four legs good, two legs bad." The possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Abby Don't Look

I know this is lame, but I'm posting a photo of a birthday/housewarming gift before I mail it. So, Abby stop looking (or else look if you want to know what is coming your way soon). Here is what I made last week. With help from the Goddess of Vintage Embroidery Patterns, I was lucky enough to score a set of the busy bees transfers. There is a tee towel with an additional busy bee coming next, but I couldn't wait to show this one off. I used some Japanese bee fabric to contrast with the plain muslin.

Bathroom #1 is complete and I need to figure out a way to photograph a very tiny room in order to show it off. Bathroom #2 is on hold as my contractor called this morning (the day bathroom #2 was supposed to be demolished) to tell me he has a hernia on his leg (?) and he would like to start the bathroom next week. I don't know what to expect, but I sure am happy to have at least one excellent place to bathe.

Rose & Duke got a good review this week on the celebrity baby clothes blog.

Breakfast of the week:
This oat bran banana bread is some seriously good shit. Let me tell you, if you like banana bread, this is the way to go. Take your old bananas and follow this recipe. However, and this is important, substitute raisins for dried cherries, and be sure to dump in a good amount of the secret ingredient garam marsala.
My friend Jen. W. back in Brooklyn taught me this tip, and I must say that garam marsala in oat bran banana bread is to regular banana bread as watching regular t.v. is to watching t.v. with Tivo: Once you've had the new version, you're never going back.

P.S. Austinites: Did you know that a loaf of banana bread costs $12 at Texas French Bread? Are they F'ing kidding me? I don't even think that the obnoxiously overpriced Dean & Deluca in SoHo charges that much. If this kind of price inflation is a result of New Yorkers moving to town, I humbly apologize, and offer you my secret banana bread recipe as a peace offering.