Thursday, June 21, 2012

Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread

The idea of no-knead bread was introduced by Jim Lahey, in this New York Times article a few years ago. All credit for the idea goes to him, of course. I've made variations on this recipe over the course of those years, but I've found I like the simplest version the best. This loaf uses 2/3 whole grain flours and produces a wonderfully crusty, bubbly loaf with extremely minimal effort.

 The idea of no-knead bread is that an extended rising time lets the gluten develop without kneading. You only use a small amount of yeast (otherwise you would have a dough explosion!).  I love this recipe for its hands-off nature. I've discussed bread-making before, and how it really only takes a few minutes of effort, spaced out over time, but this recipe takes that a step further. You mix the ingredients, cover and let rest for 18-24 hours (longer is better).  Punch it down, let it rise another hour or two, then bake. You're hands-on for all of 10 minutes to produce a bakery-quality loaf.

This requires some pre-planning of course - because the rise time is so long, you need to be prepared to wait for your bread. Probably no big deal - but if you want something to make for dinner tonight, this recipe isn't it.  But if you can plan ahead, this recipe is so easy that it's well-worth the extra wait time.
 The other special requirement here is a cast-iron dutch oven. I use this one from Lodge (who makes great cast-iron cookware), but you could use another brand, including an enameled version. If your dutch oven has a plastic handle, remove it before placing it in the oven (it can melt!) - there are metal replacement knobs available for Le Creuset dutch ovens.  If your dutch oven is small, you can bake two smaller loaves; I bake one large loaf in the Lodge oven. If you don't have, and don't want to purchase, a cast iron dutch oven, you can try baking this loaf on a regular old baking sheet - it's likely that it will turn out fine, but the crust will not be the same.

I've written the directions below the way I make this bread, which differ a bit from the original method, but feel free to follow the NYT instructions if you prefer.

Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread
You can use different flours or proportions of flours here if you like - but stick with gluten-containing flours (like wheat) to ensure good texture. And yes, the tiny amount of yeast is really all you need.
Yield: 1 loaf

1 cup whole wheat bread flour
1 cup bread flour
1 cup whole grain spelt flour
1/4 tsp yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
Additional flour or cornmeal, for dusting

1. Stir together flours, yeast, and salt. Make a well in the center with your fist, then pour in the water. Stir to combine, until a dough forms. If it is too dry, add additional water 1 tbsp at a time. If it is too wet, add additional flour 1 tbsp at a time. This should be a sticky dough.
2. Place in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise 18-24 hours. (I place it on top of the fridge.)
3. After the rise, punch down the dough and shape into a round loaf. Place on a baking sheet dusted with flour or cornmeal, cover with a clean dish towel, and let rise 1-2 more hours, until at least doubled in size.
4. Place a covered cast iron dutch oven in your oven (adjust the racks as necessary first).  Heat the oven to 450 degrees, allowing at least 30 minutes to pre-heat. 
5. Carefully uncover the dutch oven, place the dough in the bottom, and re-cover. Bake 30 minutes, until golden brown. (The original recipe says to bake an additional 15-30 minutes uncovered, but I found the loaf was done at 30 minutes. If you like a darker crust, let it go uncovered a bit longer.)  

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Simple Popsicles

I've been toying around with new popsicle flavors since I posted these Strawberry Balsalmic ones a while ago. There have been some hits, and some definite misses. I have  a few more ideas I'd like to try out, and if those work well I will certainly report back! Pictured above, we have honeydew green tea (blergh), pineapple (my favorite!), and watermelon (tasty, but it has texture issues). 

The best thing about the Strawberry Balsamic Popsicles is that they're almost entirely fruit. A touch of honey for sweetness, sure, and some extra flavors, but I had a feeling that fruit purees are where it's at when it comes to homemade popsicles. In some cases, I was right; in others, not entirely. But as a base for further experimentation, the purees gave me the texture that I was looking for - more creamy, less icy. 
The pineapple popsicles were my absolute favorite. They were flavorful, sweet, and had a great texture. And they couldn't be simpler.

Simple Pineapple Popsicles
This hardly qualifies as a recipe - it's so simple! Other types of fruit can be substituted - see below for what I've tried.
Yield: four 3 oz popsicles

about 3 cups chopped fresh pineapple

1. Blend pineapple in food processor or blender until smooth.
2. Pour into molds, add sticks, and freeze. Enjoy!

We also liked a honeydew version - sweetened with a bit of honey, to taste.  I tried making a honeydew-green tea popsicle, but it did NOT turn out well. I could try a few different tactics for adding the tea flavor, but the first batch were so bad that I was quite discouraged.

I enjoyed a watermelon puree version too - but as you can see, there was some separation in the freezing process.  It was quite delicious, but I'm thinking adding some strawberries to the mix would improve the texture.

These are pretty simple starting points, but they seem to prove my basic theory correct: I should use fruit purees, not juices, as the base for my popsicle recipes. And if it tastes good in the blender, it should taste good frozen!

Has it heated up where you live yet? We've been alternating thunderstorms and sweltering heat - summer weather is arriving! 

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Meatless Mondays: Light Soba Noodles

Soba noodles have been a real favorite around here recently.  When I’m not in the mood for a dish as substantial as soba noodles with peanut sauce and shrimp, I like something lighter.  This fresh-flavored dish uses veggies to bulk up the whole-grain soba noodles, so you get a satisfying serving size while keeping your caloric intake reasonable.

This dish takes less than 20 minutes to put together (maybe 15, depending on how fast your water boils!).  It's vegan.  If you would like, you can pan-fry or broil some tofu for extra protein. Or, if it's not a meatless Monday in your house, shrimp might be really nice too.

Light Soba Noodles with Veggies
You can customize the veggies in this dish however you like – snow peas would be delicious here.  
Yield: 2 servings

3 oz soba noodles
1 bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, thinly sliced
1 cup shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 green onion, sliced
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp light soy sauce
Sesame seeds

1. Cook soba noodles according to package directions. (If your directions are in Japanese, and you don't read Japanese, it probably says to boil them for 6 minutes.)
2. While noodles cook, heat a skillet over medium heat. Spray with cooking spray, and add peppers and mushrooms.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are cooked and peppers are tender-crisp.
3. Combine lemon zest, juice, sesame oil, and soy sauce in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
4. When the soba noodles are finished cooking, drain and place in a medium mixing bowl. Add the cooked vegetables, green onion and cilantro, and dressing. Toss to combine. Portion into two bowls, and serve sprinkled with sesame seeds. 

I didn't have any leftovers to test my theory on, but I think this would be delicious as cold leftovers too.  If you try it, let me know!  

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Oven Roasted Potatoes

Since initially posting this recipe for roasted tri color potatoes, I've found myself making them on an almost weekly basis. They're simple, inexpensive, and satisfying. To make things more interesting, I've tried a few variations - some were successful, others not. I'll start with the misses, then give you the hits.

MISS: soaking the potatoes in beer.

 This ended up being a waste of good beer, as neither Nick nor I thought it added any extra flavor. I also didn't notice any difference in texture.

MISS: infusing the oil with garlic

I tried this after seeing the idea in a cook book.  While the potatoes soaked in cold water, I put the oil in a skillet over low-medium heat and added two cloves of garlic, thinly sliced.  I let it heat until the garlic sizzled and turned golden, then strained out the garlic and just added the oil to the potatoes before cooking.  I didn't think it made much difference in the final taste - the garlic was weak at best.  I was hoping for something much stronger.

A note about this technique: it's necessary to infuse the oil with garlic, rather than adding garlic to the potatoes and then roasting, because garlic burns so easily.  If I minced garlic cloves and cooked them with the potatoes, the potatoes would just taste like burnt garlic, in all probability (full disclosure: I haven't tried this, mostly because I'm so sure the result would be inedible).

HIT: Spice rub
I used this moroccan mint spice rub on the potatoes, and it was delicious. I just stirred the spice rub in with the oil before tossing the potatoes with the oil.  I think a lot of other spice rubs would work too - just keep an eye out for things that burn easily, like garlic.

HIT: different shapes
You can cut the potatoes into more traditional "french fry" shapes if you like - it works just as well.  Just keep an eye out for the thickness; you need uniform thickness for even cooking.  We ate these with elk burgers topped with Roquefort cheese - amazing.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Garden Snapshots: Hello, June!

A lot has changed in our garden since I last showed you some pictures. Squash and beans are taking off, the tomato and pepper plants seem healthy (if small), and something ate the kale, spinach, and mint. No, it wasn't me! I wish. In any case, we've had a few ups and downs, but overall I think we're progressing nicely.

I think I need to thin this basil! But it is coming along nicely.

The Tom Thumb lettuce is growing beautifully - we'll be eating a lot of this soon, and then I'll let the rest fully grow. 

Tomorrow, I'm talking potatoes! And I'm planning to try some new popsicle flavors this weekend, so stay tuned for those too. 

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Six Sisters Honey Sesame Chicken

 Although I love coming up with my own recipes, I also cook thing from other blogs and cookbooks on a regular basis.  Now, I'm very guilty of rarely following those recipes to a tee - I make changes and substitutions based on preference and experience. Usually that works in my favor (although it backfires occasionally too!).

This recipe from Six Sisters Stuff looked too good to pass up on - and so simple to make! After perusing the comments and considering our own tastes, I made a few changes that are noted below. Overall, this recipe gets two forks up, and I know we'll be making it again.

I made the following changes to the ingredients:
- The recipe called for 4 chicken breasts (no weight given) - I used 1.5 lbs chicken tenders. Tenders worked really well, but in the future I would use 2 lbs or slightly more chicken.
- used light soy sauce instead of regular
- substituted tomato paste for ketchup
- reduced oil from 2 tbsp to 1 tbsp, and used toasted sesame oil instead of vegetable oil
- added 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger root
- omitted red pepper flakes
- topped with green onions and sesame seeds, served over brown rice

The directions worked well, with one exception.  I cooked the chicken on low for about 3 hours, which was perfect. After adding the corn starch, my crockpot would not get hot enough to thicken the mixture. This might be the fault of my machine - perhaps more powerful models could do this - but I had to transfer everything to a pot on the stove, over medium heat, until it thickened.  Not a big deal, but an issue to be aware of, so you don't stand around all day waiting for it to thicken. It needs to simmer to thicken, which was more than my machine could manage without a lot of time to catch up.
 This recipe makes plenty of sauce with the chicken, which we like a lot. There was enough sauce to stir in some steamed broccoli along with the rice, which is just how I like my sesame chicken!

I'm sorry I haven't been around in a while - I got a new job and have been quite busy with that. My goal now is to post a few new things a week - I've got some great things that I want to share with you! 

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