Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bread, in general

Wow, so I love bread. I'm talking about homemade bread, made with whatever you want and then eaten with jam or cream cheese with cucumbers or peanut butter. Strangely, I don't even like regular bread. I never buy it from the store, and until it occurred to me that I could make my own I never ate it. Loaves of bread accidentally purchased by visitors would grow moldy in my cupboard, despite my best efforts to eat them.

But this is different.

pumpernlicious with cucumbers

Everyone already knows of my love for quick breads (see banana bread, soda bread). This week I have moved on to yeast breads. First endeavor: black bread, which is basically a stronger version of pumpernickel. This bread is rather dense but still gives a nice crumb. I followed this recipe almost exactly, and was shocked by my success.

Update: I've made this bread about five times since, and I've adapted the original recipe enough to justify typing it up here. I use it so often that I keep the (modified) measurements posted on my fridge:
Recipe: black bread
(makes one loaf)
1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
0.25 cup warm water
1 cup water
1/8 cup molasses
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp (28g) butter
0.5 oz (14g) unsweetened chocolate
0.5 tbsp instant coffee powder
0.5 cup all-purpose flour
1.25 cup whole wheat flour
1.5 cup rye flour
0.5 cup bran
1 tbsp caraway seeds
0.25 tsp fennel seeds
0.5 tbsp salt
0.5 to 1 tbsp minced shallot
  • Stir the yeast, sugar and warm water together in a small bowl, and do not disturb until the mixture has about doubled in size and looks frothy.
  • Sift together the all-purpose, rye and whole wheat flours.
  • Melt the butter and chocolate, then mix with water, vinegar, molasses and coffee powder. Allow the liquid to cool off before proceeding to the next step.
  • Add one cup of the flour mixture, along with the bran, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, salt, and shallots, to a large bowl. Add the liquid from the previous step, and the yeast. Mix.
  • Continue by adding flour to the large bowl, one half cup at a time. Keep going until a cohesive mass is achieved, i.e. the dough begins to clear the sides of the bowl as you stir it. The dough should be pretty sticky, but firm.
  • Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is springy/dense/until your hands are tired.
  • Place the dough (should be in the shape of a ball) in a greased bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for about an hour until it has doubled in size.
  • Gently deflate the dough, then form it into a loaf. Position your loaf in a greased loaf pan, then cover and allow it to rise (again) to twice its size. At this point you can preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • Bake the loaf in the center of the oven for about 45 minutes. It should have a deep brown crust. Be sure to check on it half-way and three-quarters through the baking time, just in case it's an early riser (HA).
I really encourage you all to try making your own bread--read these bread-making tips for solid advice. The one I found most helpful was placing a shallow dish of water on the bottom rack of the oven for the first 15 minutes of baking. Often I have problems with the crust hardening too soon (before the loaf fully expands), but the water adds extra moisture in the oven to prevent this.

I will continue to document my bread exploits here--in particular I'm hoping to develop some original recipes.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bean cookies

I'll admit that when I first came across this recipe I was skeptical. Beans? In cookies? But here is the idea, and it's brilliant: instead of using one cup of butter per 24 cookies, we will use one can of beans as the source of fat. You have to admit it's intriguing.

bean cookies

Conveniently, my discovery of this recipe came just as I was re-evaluating how much oil and butter go into my food, and whether they are completely necessary. I have modified this recipe from the original, which came from CBC via this blog. In the past few weeks I've tried several different versions: one with orange zest and raisins, one with walnuts and chocolate chips, and Heidi's version with anise seeds. In the end I settled on an adaptation of my favorite-ever cookies, which were taken from a 1949 Brownsburg, Qu├ębec church cookbook I found in a used furniture store. They are called "dad's cookies." I'm not sure whose dad this refers to, but he had excellent taste. Additionally I've added in dates and walnuts. Feel free to modify the recipe even further.

Recipe: Dad's bean cookies with dates and walnuts

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup shredded coconut
1 tsp baking powder + 1 tsp baking soda (or 1 1/3 soda + 2/3 tartar)
1/4 tsp salt
one 540-mL (19 oz) can of white kidney beans or navy beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup applesauce
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg*
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
3 tbsp whole flax seeds (optional)
  • Preheat oven to 350°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Combine the beans and applesauce in a food processor and mix until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla and brown sugar, and mix again.
  • In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, coconut, baking powder, baking soda, salt and flax seeds.
  • Slowly pour the bean mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir until almost combined. Add the dates and walnuts and mix again until everything is evenly distributed.
  • Form the cookies by scooping out large spoon-fulls of dough and placing them on the cookie sheet. The cookies don't spread much while baking, so you might want to flatten them a bit before putting them in the oven.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown.
These were completely delicious, and I promise they taste nothing of beans.

* to make this vegan, replace the egg with one tablespoon ground flax seeds and three tablespoons water, as explained in this post. It works just absolutely fine.


So for about the 18th time since I've been in this God-forsaken, pestilential country, I'm sick. Stuffy nose, hacking cough, sinus headaches, sore throat, the whole works. I think I slept like three hours last night. Now as everyone knows, when you're sick, all you really want is for your mummy to come and take care of you, but my mummy is 6000 km away and I don't have the money to fly home for the weekend. Not to mention sinus headaches combined with cabin pressure changes = head explosions (aka the worst pain I've ever experienced). My parents aren't particularly sympathetic, either. It's all "You aren't washing your hands enough!" and "You're going to get swine flu and die!".  So I'm more or less on my own on this one.

So, two things make me feel better when I'm sick. The first one, for sore throats and stuffy noses is as simple as honey, lemon juice, ginger (dried or fresh, but I only have dried), and hot water. And stirring. So I did that a couple dozen times yesterday.

And the second one, I guess, is mainly due to my dad. Now, my dad isn't a superstitious person. In fact, he's probably one of the most rational people I know, but he insists, with evangelical fervor, that the only thing for a cold is chicken soup. I've never been particularly impressed by the fluids argument of colds (you know the one, flush it out by drinking 13 litres of fluids a day), and I'm a little skeptical of most cold remedies. I'm usually of the opinion that there's pretty much nothing you can do to help you cope with a cold other than just wait it out. In fact, my mum has always said that it takes three days to catch a cold, three days to have it and three days to get rid of it, and I've found this to be true no matter how many glasses of OJ or bottles of Robitussen I down. But, I think that good nutrition is important to keep your immune system in the fight and so that you don't get struck down with bronchitis (the horrors!) for the rest of the school year.

However, having said that, I must admit that I have approximately zero money right now and as such my cupboards are filled with rice, pasta, lentils a single onion and very little else. My fridge contains 2 very sad looking carrots and most of a packet of butter. So not a whole lot there on the vitamin C front.

However! I might have just lied a little because I do (actually did, because all this went down yesterday) have two chicken stock cubes and all my spices and an enigmatic package that I picked up in Sainsbury's labelled "Soup mix" which is actually a mixture of lentils, split peas, barley, oats and macaronis. So I had the makings for soup and, even though I usually roll my eyes whenever my dad mentions the words "cold" and "soup" within a minute and a half of each other, I decided to go for it.

My dad makes soup with a stock that he makes by boiling the carcass of a chicken we've previously roasted and eaten. He's old school like that. Elizabeth and I have done it with two frozen chicken thighs. But, as I mentioned, I don't have money and was in no mood to venture in to the wide world in search of meat, so I stuck with the stock cubes. Hey, lentils are protein too, right?

Soup is one of these amazing dishes that literally cannot and should not be made the same way twice. So I'm going to tell you how I did it, how I might do it again, how you could do it, etc. but you should really just follow your instinct (and your cupboards) when you do it yourself. So here goes:

Soup (this time)
One or two onions, chopped
A couple cloves of garlic, chopped
Some vegetable oil, or butter
Stock cubes of your choice (2-3)
A couple of carrots, chopped
Soup mix (see above), or else any combination of the following: lentils, split peas, pearl barley, regular barley (? not sure what the difference is), rolled oats, (pasta). (I usually really hate putting pasta in soup because it inevitably gets really soggy and disgusting, but if you really REALLY have to then I guess it's ok. I'll just pick it out.)
About a cup full of rice (oh yeah, I don't have any measuring utensils here, so a "cup full" literally means find a cup or mug and fill it with rice. Ditto "big spoon" and "little spoon" for future reference).
Some frozen corn
Some frozen peas
Any other frozen vegetables you would like/have in your freezer
Various herbs spices, optional (I used garam masala, cumin powder, whole cumin seeds, mustard seeds, kalonji (black onion seeds), dried ginger, paprika, turmeric, oregano, "mixed mediterranean herbs" and fresh thyme)

Now I'm not really going to do a blow-by-blow style recipe, but more of a story, because it's so changeable that things don't always have to happen in the same order. So be warned.

Usually I would fry the onion(s) and garlic in a little oil before adding the stock to that, but I forgot this time, mostly because I was foggy-cold-brained. So I filled my pot up with water and added the "soup mix" (you would add the lentils and split peas now if that's what you're using). I won't tell you the whole long story, but suffice it to say that in general I don't really like mushy foods, so I would save the rice for a bit later, and if you're using pasta, put it in right at the very end.

Notice how you (slash I) added the lentils to water, not to stock. This is because I think that when you add the stock too soon, the water boils off and leaves it too stock-y and then it's really hard to get the balance right again. So I boil the lentils and things in water and add the stock and spices closer to the end. Some people would argue that if you do this then the lentils don't soak up the flavour of the stock, but I've never noticed a difference doing it this way and I DO notice a difference when the end result is either too stock-y (because too much water boiled off and wasn't replenished) or too watery (because too much water was put back in).

So back to the story. Boil that soup mix until the lentils are starting to get soft, or you get impatient, which ever comes first (it was definitely the latter for me, resulting in a somewhat crunchy, but still edible soup). Add your stock now, or later, whatever. I think I did it at this point, but can't really remember. Anyways, I also added the onion and garlic which I had forgotten to fry, along with the carrots. And then I added the rice. Although, with hindsight, I probably should have put the rice in first and let it cook a bit before adding the vegetables (I ended up with slightly crunchy rice and slightly soggy carrots, but, again, it was still delicious). Also from now until the end, keep adjusting the spice/stock/water levels, until you are happy with the result. I just put about a shake or two of each kind of spice/herb and added more of whatever I felt was missing. I put some pepper in too, which I forgot to mention in the ingredients. And if you do add more water to top up the stock, you'll probably want to add a bit of salt too (I don't care about the evils of sodium, soup needs to be salty).

So! Now you've got a pot full of stock, pulses, rice, vegetables and spices. Keep it boiling until everything is the desired tenderness. When everything is juuuuuuuuust right, add your frozen vegetables. Bring the soup back to the boil and when that's done, the soup is ready.

My dad will leave his pot of soup on the back burner of the stove (or occasionally in the fridge if there's room) for days and bring it up to a boil everyday for about 10 minutes, thereby killing off any germs. I prefer just to portion mine out and freeze it, but different strokes for different folks. Here are my (ginormous) portions (I only had two clean tupperwares, ok?) ready to go in the freezer (with lids). Oh, I should mention that if you're freezing or even refrigerating this (or anything, really), you should let it cool down to room temperature first, because if you put hot things in the fridge or freezer, 1) it will heat up everything in there already, encouraging things to go off sooner and 2) it will heat up the air in the fridge/freezer, making the cooling device turn on and your electricity bill skyrocket. So I hope you don't get sick any time soon, but if you do, at least you'll be prepared now!