Saturday, November 28, 2009

Light wheat bread

I've been making black bread for the past four weeks. It's excellent, let me tell you, but it turns out that not everyone can fully appreciate its wonderful, strong flavor and dense texture. So this week, I sought a more widely accepted bread, and found it: light wheat bread. It is pretty close to the standard brown bread you'd find in a grocery store, except, you know, better.

the loaf viande fumée

The recipe I found comes from the Bread Baker's Apprentice. I made a few modifications, mostly stemming from my lack of bread flour and instant yeast. It turned out splendidly--the crust is dry and flaky, almost the texture of a baguette. The bread itself slices perfectly and makes an excellent base for a smoked meat sandwich (!).
Recipe: light wheat bread
1 package active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour (or bread flour if you have it)
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons powdered milk
1.5 tsp salt
2 tbsp (28g) butter at room temperature
1.5 tsp honey (or sugar)
1 cup water
  • As usual, mix the yeast, warm water and 1 tsp sugar in a bowl and let stand until light and frothy.
  • Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  • Add the butter, honey, yeast mixture and water, then mix everything together to form a cohesive mass. If flour remains at the bottom of the bowl, sprinkle additional water and mix until everything comes together. The dough should be reasonably soft and pliable, but not too sticky.
  • Knead the dough for about 10-20 minutes, then place in a greased bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and allow the dough to double in size (this should take about an hour).
  • Deflate the dough, form into a loaf, and then place in a greased loaf pan. Cover and allow the dough to rise a second time to twice its size.
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and bake the loaf until its crust is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
  • Remove loaf from pan and allow to cool for at least one hour.
Note: During the first 15 minutes of baking, I kept a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven and occasionally flicked water droplets onto the coils to create steam. This prevents the crust from forming too early, as it often does in my oven.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Re: bean stir-fry

Dear Zo,

I am writing to update you on a successful adaptation of your recipe, the bean-noodle stir-fry. A few weeks ago, or whichever week you posted that, I actually attempted three different variations.

attempt 2: snow peas attempt 3: illumination

Attempt 1: No noodles.
Sauce: kidney beans, soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey and that spicy Asian hot sauce. I added onions, snow peas, bean sprouts and tofu, and served it over rice.

Attempt 2: Additions of rice noodles and chicken broth.
I realized noodles were necessary. This attempt was good. Really good. But there wasn't enough sauce! I needed more.

Attempt 3: More sauce.
By this time I was out of snow peas, but I still had the other ingredients and an appetite (NOTE: not the same day). The method I ended up with was this:
  • Boil rice noodles in chicken broth. Drain the noodles and reserve the broth!
  • Fry onions in a saucepan until translucent. Add the garlic and fry briefly.
  • Normally I would add the other veggies and stir-fry them at this step, but since bean sprouts take no time at all, and since my other ingredients (tofu and noodles) were already cooked, I went directly into making the sauce:
  • To the onions and garlic, add the beans, then some of the chicken broth (I added about 1/3 cup for one serving). Add soy sauce, honey, and rice vinegar in appropriate portions. Allow the mixture to simmer down so that the flavors are adequately combined (hint: taste). If it's too sticky, add more broth. If the sauce is too liquid-y, add a little bit of corn starch/flour to thicken it. You should have plenty of sauce here.
  • At this point I added the bean sprouts, tofu and noodles, then cooked them in the sauce just long enough for them to absorb some flavor. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Oh, in the second and third attempts I used black-eyed peas instead of normal beans (which I was out of). In the second attempt I didn't notice it very much, but in the third it definitely was weird. I don't recommend black-eyed peas, in case you are thinking to try it. I'm going to try with black beans as soon as I get a hold of some... I'll keep you updated.

Your friend,


I eat a lot of granola. I can eat it for breakfast, as a snack, as dessert, whatever. And it only occurred to me this year that I could make my own.


Honestly though, I CANNOT believe it has taken me so long to share this with you. This post has been sitting around in my drafts for two months. I've actually just been waiting for an opportunity to take a more appetizing photo than the one above, but it didn't happen. You'll just have to trust me on how delicious this is, since the photo is misleading.

The recipe I use has been adapted from several sources, and it's pretty flexible so you are free to add or subtract whatever you'd like from it. The key ingredient is the honey because it makes the granola stick together and creates clumps. Apparently you could also use brown rice syrup.

Recipe: Granola
3 cups oats
1 cup slivered almonds
.5 cup chopped walnuts
.5 cup shredded coconut
2 tbsp flax seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1/3 cup maple syrup or brown sugar
1/3 cup honey or brown rice syrup
1/3 cup applesauce
2 cups dried fruit (I used raisins, dates and figs)
  • Mix all the dry ingredients together except the fruit. Add the wet ingredients and stir until everything is nicely coated. Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes. Check on it every 10-15 minutes and give it a good mix so you don't burn any bits.
  • When the granola looks nice and golden brown on top, remove it from the oven and let it cool. Then mix in the fruit.
  • Serve with yogurt, chopped bananas, blueberries, etc.

Other possible additions include: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, pecans, banana chips, etc. Do not add chocolate chips. That's gross.

Mon petit chou

So when my dad was a kid he had this neighbour and at some point during his adolescence or early adulthood, she gave him her (very old) copy of Mrs. Beeton's. When he came to Canada he brought it with him, and it's followed him through the years. As a kid, I was always fascinated by this book. It was so old, the binding crumbling, the pages yellow. I didn't really know what it was or what mysteries it contained, but I held it in great esteem, as it was always brought out to settle disputes over the correct recipe for Yorkshire puddings, or exactly how to roast a pheasant. (These were common disputes in our house throughout my childhood.) It was the bible of traditional English cooking and Mrs. Beeton's was always the final word. I believe it was even kept on the shelf next to that second most prized book, the Scrabble dictionary. I don't think I've ever actually turned the pages of my dad's copy, although I did use to surreptitiously stroke its spine when no-one was looking. This summer I came into possession of my own, used, copy and while it's not hard-bound and doesn't have quite the same history as my dad's (which I have dibs on, if you're reading this Edward), it does contain the same timeless wisdom about exactly which silks match which complexions, and how to go about getting character references on your servants. And the recipes of course.

Predictably, as it weighs about 6 kilos and I was already over my baggage allowance, I had to leave it in Guelph when I came here (I'm definitely leaving enough room to pick it up at Christmastime though!). But fear not! For it is available in its entirety (maybe minus the plates and engravings) online.

Now what does all this family folklore have to do with today's post? Well I'll tell you. Quite a few weeks ago now, I bought a huge bag of potatoes for only 86p (CAD1.70 ish). I was down to the last three potatoes and they were getting kind of spongey and I was getting low on money (story of my life). So I thought to myself, what do people with no money do with three potatoes to make them stretch? And I answered myself, make potato soup! And I thought, but in order to make potato soup edible, you need to have fancy things like leeks and cream, which I don't have and can't afford. :( . So then I thought, what else do people with no money eat a lot? (I should probably tell you that my idea of what people with no money eat is largely informed by Oliver! and the little I've gleaned about rural 18th century peasants. And the Depression. Which should explain my lack of imagination, because they all seem to be eating gruel and potato water most of the time.) And I answered myself again, cabbage! So there it was: three manky potatoes and a cabbage. Luckily, I had some stock cubes and some garlic, and I went out and bought an onion specially. So, together with my trusty box of spices (which is falling apart and is now more tape than cereal box), I set to making cabbage soup.

Looking back, I guess that last paragraph didn't really make the link between Mrs. Beeton and cabbage soup explicit. Well, my first step was to look at some of Mrs. Beeton's recipes to see what people with no money ate 150 years ago, because Mrs. B is all about frugality. So I looked at the table of contents on that online version and clicked on the first "Recipes" link I saw, which happened to be soup recipes. I read all of them and mixed some of them together in my head and was repulsed by a couple of them and ended up with this Mrs. Beeton-inspired recipe, which I will relate to you below.

Cabbage Soup
Some butter or oil
1-4 potatoes (I used one medium sized and 2 small. Also mine were the kind with white skin and I have never seen the kind with dirty brown skin here... which kind of weirds me out because I thought British people were all about potatoes), peeled (optionally) and cubed
1/2-1 onion, chopped
3-4 (+) cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp (+) fennel or caraway seeds (caraway would probably be better, but I only had fennel)
1 litre (4 cups? a quart? both?) of stock (chicken, vegetable, whatever. I did 2 cubes' worth of chicken, plus some extra water)
1/2 a small cabbage (I used the curly green kind, which I think would be best, but you could also use the smooth green kind. I don't know how well the purple kind would work as they tend to be tougher), prepared as below
A splash of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

For the cabbage. Take the whole thing and peel off the outer most layer (or 2 layers, or enough layers so that what you've got wasn't in contact with the outside world) of leaves, and lay these aside. Using your biggest, scariest knife (and maybe with a friend to spot you the first couple of times), chop the cabbage in half, then put the flat side of one half down on the cutting board and cut that in half, so you've got one half a cabbage and two quarters. Put the half cabbage away to use for something else. Now take a smaller knife and cut out the tough core. What you've got should look something like this:

(Doesn't it look so pretty and curly?)
 Using the bigger knife again, chop vertical slices (so your knife is about parallel to where the core used to be) so that where you're cutting on the outermost leaves is about 2 cm across. Now chop again, perpendicular to your last cuts, so that you've got rectangles of cabbage. The exact size and shape isn't really important, but they need to be able to fit in your mouth and cook relatively quickly. When you've done that for both quarters, take the leaves you laid aside at the beginning. Wash them and stack them so that all the stems line up. Cut the stems out and cut the leaves into pieces about the same size as the others. (This is really difficult to describe, but pretty easy to do.)
  • Toast the fennel/caraway seeds in a dry pan until they start to smell really nice. The instant they start going brown, or even a little before (at the height of their smell), pour them into a little bowl or something and save them for later.
  • Heat the butter or oil (or both) in the bottom of an appropriately-sized (easier said than done!) pot, enough to cover the bottom.
  • Fry the onions on med-low heat, until they are all soft and delicious and maybe starting to get a little bit brown around the edges.
  • Add the garlic and the seeds and stir them up a bit. You might need to add a little more oil or butter if things are starting to stick. 
  • When the garlic is soft, add the stock cubes if using (but not the water). If you're using real stock (fancy!) then just you wait. Mash up the stock cubes into a paste and mix it all together with the onions, garlic and seed.
  • Add the water, or the real stock, and the potatoes.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for a while until the potatoes are cooked (the time for this will depend on how big your potato cubes are).
  • Add all the cabbage at once, stir it up and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Put a lid on the pot and remove from heat, so that the cabbage can steam without going all slimy like it does when you boil it.
  • After a couple of minutes, check back and give it another stir. I like the cabbage al dente, but if you want it softer, you can heat it up again until it's your desired tenderness.
  • Season with salt and pepper, and a splash of lemon juice. Serve with croutons, cheesy croutons, or the gratings from that cheese that's been in your fridge for a while that needs to be eaten up but is only really edible at this point if melted.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bean there, stir-fried that.

On my way home from class today it started pouring, so I darted in to a Tescos to wait out the worst of it. This was a very bad idea because I was absolutely starving (the sandwich I had packed was moldy, which I failed to notice due to the lack of light bulb in our kitchen :(    ) and my bank balance is rapidly dwindling to nothingness. Of course, once I got in there, I bought a whole bunch of food I didn't really need, but I came home slightly drier than I otherwise would have and with an idea for a recipe in my head.

Now I can't really cook Chinese food. Like at all. I have no idea what kind of flavourings (if that's even a word?) go into my beloved Beijing fried rice, or those lovely beef and broccoli stir-frys, and mostly my stir-fry sauce is just soy sauce. BUT. I have been unable to find satisfactory soy sauce in grocery stores here (and haven't yet been to Chinatown) so I knew I couldn't go that way this time. However, I had a plan. You know those delicious, delicious green beans that Elizabeth told you all about back in May. Well I had honey and sub-par soy sauce in the cupboard, so I decided to attempt a sauce with those ingredients. Well the results weren't as amazing as I had hoped, but it was pretty darn good, and it could be a lot better, with a few changes. So here's what I did, and what I would do differently.
Bean-Noodle Stir-Fry


Vegetable oil (to cover bottom of pan)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or finely chopped
1 can beans (I used kidney, but would have preferred black. Alas, my local Tescos doesn't stock black beans). Usually I drain and rinse beans from the liquid they come in but today I didn't. I found the sauce a bit too thick and starchy, so it probably would have been better if the beans had been drained and rinsed and drained again. Next time!
1-2 nests of Chinese noodles, cooked and drained
A few (2-3?) tablespoons of soy sauce (I used shitty Tescos stuff, and I really think that better soy sauce would have made this dish A LOT better)
Maybe half a tablespoon of honey
2-3 tablespoons of boiling water
Crushed chili peppers (or Asian chili sauce)
Dried ginger (fresh would be better, about a centimeter cubed)
Lemon juice

Now I didn't use any other vegetables, but that was pretty much because I couldn't afford them. Mushrooms would work really well in this, as would broccoli. You could try cauliflower (one of my faves!), carrots, green beans, or whatever else you feel like. "Whatever you feel like" seems to be becoming quite the theme in my recipes, but I think that just makes them more exciting.

I felt like something was missing in the sauce but couldn't quite put my finger on it. It was probably fish sauce, which I don't usually keep around the house, but do on occasion miss. Or maybe some of that delicious rice wine vinegar!!!! I love that stuff and could drink it straight. In fact, that's how I know I've got a good soy sauce, because I will drink it straight. Mmmmm. If you can think of something else that would improve the sauce, please tell me in the comments below!

  • Fry the garlic in the oil in a large frying pan or wok until it looks soft but is not yet brown.  
  • Add the beans (and other vegetables, according to their cooking times) and stir while frying (careful, it will probably spit and some of the beans might pop). If you're using the bean liquid, boil off most of it until what you've got left is almost sauce consistency. If not, then once they look like they might start to pop, proceed to step 4.
  •  While this is happening (or maybe while the noodles are cooking), make the sauce thusly: put the honey, soy sauce and hot/boiling water in a mug or small bowl and stir to dissolve the honey. Add some lemon juice if you like, or wait till later and add it directly to the stir-fry.
  •  Add the noodles and the sauce to the beans. Add lemon juice (if you haven't already done so), hot pepper flakes (or chili sauce), ginger and anything else you feel like adding.  
  •  Stir and mix it all up, boiling off the sauce/glaze until it is sauce/glaze consistency. And delicious. Don't forget the delicious. Taste and adjust everything as you see fit. Or don't and leave it up to chance!

So there you go. Mine made two meals and was better the second time, when I was able to adjust things more. I don't usually go in for the noodles, especially when rice is on offer (I love rice with an intense passion), but I was pretty glad I did this time. Please experiment with this and let me know what you would do differently!