Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Simply Divine Sandwich Bread

Well, after a fantastic Valentine's weekend full of terrific gifts (He loved the picture, btw! :D And I got the most beautiful lilies and new measuring cups<- so excited!), and most importantly quality time, I'm ready to share with you that awesome bread recipe I mentioned last week.

It is adapted from one of the old handwritten recipes that my grandma left me years ago. It is perfect for toast or sandwiches. It is perfect for eating warm with butter. It is, in short, just all around awesome.

You're going to need:
Ten minutes to make the sponge, at least an hour of unattended rising
Ten minutes of kneading, at least an hour of unattended rising
Five minutes of punching and separating, at least an hour of unattended rising
30-45 minutes to bake
An oven
Greased loaf pans (two metal throwaway, or more if you use smaller glass pans, or a cookie sheet if you want to roll this into balls and make hamburger buns)
A large bowl
Plastic wrap
4 TBS Olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 1/2 TBS Yeast
8+/- Cups Flour
3 Cups Warm water
3 TSP Salt
2/3 Cup Honey (I even had super old honey that had dried out and crystallized - it worked great!)
or 1/2 Cup white sugar

I personally use honey rather than sugar. Yes, it takes more flour. Yes, it is still delicious. If you want to play it safe and use sugar be my guest, but for what it is worth Captain America says the honey tastes better and I tend to agree with him. It also seems to help keep the bread moist - which with the lack of preservatives is a good thing to me.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water for about five minutes. Add four cups of the flour, 4TBS olive oil, 3TSP salt, and whatever sweetener you're using. I generally add the honey first so that I can swivel the spoon around in the warm water to get it all off, but that is personal preference. Mix all of those ingredients up and cover with the plastic wrap. Let it rise until it is doubled.

Mm, spongey?

This mixture is what is referred to as a sponge. It generally only takes an hour to rise, but the longer you let the yeast sit and do its thing the better your bread is going to taste. Plus, the longer you let things sit the easier it is to work bread baking into your routine. I frequently begin the process on my lunch break and then bake in the evening or even in the morning before work.

They grow up so quickly!

I'm getting ahead of myself. After your sponge has doubled in size you need to add more flour. I generally add three cups and begin incorporating it with one hand (the texture is silky and a pleasure to touch). I then add the next cup (and maybe a little more) a little bit at a time until the dough all sticks together and you can touch it with your clean hand without giant clumps of dough sticking to you.

Punch that dough down. Have stress? Knead that bread. Here is the secret to our grandmother's not killing their husbands (not documented - but pretty sure).

As you can see above, I have taken to kneading the bread in my giant bowl and just drizzling the whole thing in olive oil and tossing it a few times to make sure it is covered, but you can easily knead it on any flat surface and place it in a separate oil coated bowl to rise again.

But why make more dishes? Hmm?

Cover that baby in plastic wrap, you can use the same stuff as before, and let it rise until doubled. It generally takes about an hour, but the temperature of your room has a lot to do with it. Generally 70-80 degrees makes all the little yeasties happy. But if it is colder than that and it takes a while to rise, or if you just ignore it for an extra two hours worry not! You aren't a bad baker. You're imparting more flavor into your bread. Now it isn't just bread, it is ARTISANAL sandwich bread. You're welcome.

KiYai! Bread punch!

Punch the dough down and let it rest for a minute or five before you divvy it up into your greased loaf pans. This recipe makes two loaves if your using the standard metal throwaway pans from a local super center, or three smaller loaves. Or a bunch of  hamburger buns. It's pretty flexible. Just remember that whatever you put it in it will double in size. You're warned. If you throw the whole thing in one loaf pan be prepared for Breadzilla overtaking your oven. Cover those pans with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled. An hour on the counter, overnight in the fridge, again you're not ignoring it, you're imparting flavor.

When you're ready to bake, PREHEAT your oven to 350 degrees. I mean it. This is not a take and bake pizza that can be thrown in cold and bake as you go. Bread needs the oven to be piping hot to bake correctly. After your oven is properly preheated throw those loaves in and don't open it for at least 30 minutes. It will take 30-45 minutes of active baking time depending on your oven and your pans.

You can tell they are done when the top is golden brown and they ring hollow when tapped. Make sure to let them cool on the top of the stove or counter before you cut into them. The insides are still baking and you don't want to let that heat and moisture out too soon.

These loaves freeze VERY well in gallon freezer bags. Thaw them overnight in the fridge and toss them in the oven to warm up and you have a dinner addition that is sure to wow guests. Or just yourself. Just be warned it is really easy to eat a whole loaf!

This bread stores very well in gallon freezer or storage bags, I would strongly recommend using them. As it is a preservative free product it will dry out and become unappetizing rather quickly if you just leave it on the counter. It is great for bread pudding then, but it gets a little crumbly for anything else.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Redneck Love Poem: New Holland's missed marketing opportunity

My Valentine's day poem options to accompany this lovely water color I did for Captain America (also known as this is what happens when you say I can't buy you anything for V-day, ha):

Our baler is red.
Our tractor is blue.
I'm so lucky,
That I found you.

The baler is red.
The round bale is tan.
I am so glad,
That you are my man.

Balers are red.
Tractors are blue.
There's nowhere I'd rather be,
than haying with you.

Balers are red.
Tractors are blue.
Oh hell, the cows got out.
No one I'd rather curse with than you.

The balers are red.
The tractors are blue.
I think New Holland missed a marketing opportunity.
Don't you?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Catching up, traumatizing tile death, and delicious repercussions of the grocery challenge

Hello, my name is Lauren and I am a grocery addict. I have been clean for almost a month.

Well, it is 2/13/15. I have officially not been inside a grocery store for over a month (1/9/15 and going strong-ish). Okay fine, except for one night when I broke down and bought two bags of lettuce and some grapes because I was craving salad so badly. I was weak. It was so wrong, but oh so right. I've never been that thrilled to have a little mixed greens in my life. Note to self, add a nice lettuce mix to the seed order to prevent this in the future.

I have not been completely successful in not spending much this month. The house remodel always sneaks up and is like, "Oh by the way Lauren, you need to order $200 worth of waterproofing supplies or else your bathroom walls are going to rot off and you will be tragically crushed to death under a mountain of shattered subway tile and broken dreams."

FYI, this is what $200 of waterproofing looks like.
At least it is the first two coats of it.

Then I got a gym membership, because well, if the firefighters are going to have to shovel me out from under all that tile I want to look good under there. You've got to plan ahead for these things, people.

And I had to pay a vet bill. And the cats ran out of litter. And I felt badly for the birds and bought more seed. And I spent a small fortune on moth balls trying to get my new pet skunk to move. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

I guess the moral of my story here is that life happens, and then my best laid hopes get a little waylaid. But not a lot waylaid, because I have still managed to not spend nearly as much as I have in the past, and my cabinets are looking much less like a hoarder's. I am actually going to challenge myself to extending the grocery free challenge a little further.

Okay, after I buy milk and some meat other than bacon, and some greens. But other than that one trip, no more groceries for March. I'm giving myself a $50 limit. We will see how that goes. Every time I eat out of those cabinets I just keep reminding myself that it will be one less thing to have to pack. One. Less. Thing.

This challenge has been a lot of fun in many ways. I have been forced to be a little more creative with my cooking - which is always interesting. I'm not so sure Captain America will agree, but I haven't really minded it. In fact it has given me a kick start to begin baking bread again. Because when your grandma gives you 40 lbs of flour for Christmas and you are really craving toast there is only one natural solution if you are abstaining from grocery stores.

Get in my mouth. Right now.

In other news I have two great bread recipes that I have perfected over the last month... And a fantastic cinnamon roll recipe that I found in a catalog and have been wanting to try when I have milk again. I hadn't planned on milking Sweetie Pie this year, but if I keep this up I may have to change that plan. Or figure out how to make almond milk from the three bags of almonds that I have. Hmm...

Sweetie should calve in the next month, by the way! I can't wait to meet my new little Sugar Cake, or Candy Heart (unless you've got more suggestions for a  Valentine's baby). Then we will have all the excitement of trying to find a second calf for her. She makes too much milk for one calf to keep her from being incredibly uncomfortable and having health problems. Sources say she can feed three calves at once. Yikes. I may have to pull a Cleopatra and take milk baths.

Hope you all have a happy and productive weekend! 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My new neighbor

I've got a new neighbor that has been keeping me pretty busy lately. With his all night long parties that continuously awaken me between 11 and 1 am you'd think I could call the cops and get his stuff shut down.

But, no.

Wanna know why?

Because my new neighbor is a skunk. Yes, a skunk. I adore skunks. I think they're adorable, and have even been known to cry over them when they get into tussles with Susan the Skunk dog. Really! I love watching their little koosh ball tails shuffle around in the horse barn. They're totally precious. I'm generally a live and let live person. But no more.

You see, this new neighbor of mine "goes off" every single night. He has been for about a week and a half now! I had to have my coworker smell my hair because my nose has been so accosted by this little sucker that I literally smell skunk everywhere I go. I will be sound asleep and then a stench so bad I can taste it (yes, yes, that's actually a thing) will awaken me and cause my eyes to water and me to desperately try to asphyxiate myself with a pillow. 

I have rigged skunk traps, but they have been unsuccessful thus far. Also, Thank you Google, but moth balls and vinegar soaked rags apparently do not drive skunks away like crosses and holy water do demons in bad horror flicks. The power of Febreze compels you! Ugh.

I was hoping to catch him in a live trap and re-home him somewhere where his perfume wouldn't be so noxious, but I've gotta say... I'm getting desperate. Maybe it is the lack of sleep. Maybe it's the taste of skunk flavoring my mouth at one am. Maybe it is the fact that every time I turn on my dryer I have to rewash everything because the poor darling gets startled.

One way or another, this skunk has got to go.

Not this actual skunk. This was actually a good skunk.
This was the late, great Hambone, may he forever eat dog food in the sky.
I almost had him tame.
I bet he would have prevented this interloper, jerk, from hanging around...
Great, now I'm rambling. I need sleep.