Catching some Levain (aka Sourdough Starter)

San Francisco is famous for their sourdough bread which runs wild around there. Fortunately we can all catch our own wild sourdough starter, which is also called levain. Levain is the French term for sourdough starter and has been used for centuries to make bread. Bread made with Levain may even be healthier for you than breads made with commercial yeast. Sourdough actually has a lower glycemic index than regular bread. The levain also breaks down phytic acid in grains. Phytic acid blocks the absorption of minerals and vitamins. Levain also shows promise for people that are intolerant of gluten because it helps degrade and deactivate the proteins that adversely affect people.

Nowadays you can purchase commercial sourdough starter, but what fun is that? Plus you can’t boast that you actually caught the wild levain that made your bread. The bonus is that it’s super easy to do and doesn’t take much, but you don’t have to tell others that. Go ahead and let them think it took you days of complicated procedures to obtain.

So are you ready to get blown away? To catch a levain all you need is some flour and an equal amount of water in a wide mouth container or bowl. Yep, that’s pretty much all you need. And all you do is mix the flour and water together and set it outside for a couple of days. Bring it in, keep it in a relatively warm spot and once it starts to form bubbles on the surface you can go ahead and store it in the fridge. The only thing you do need to do is occasionally feed it equal parts of flour and water once a day. It should have a slightly sour smell to it, which is a good thing. You can keep your levain going for as long as you’re willing to take care of it, or if something goes wrong like it gets moldy.

So how do you use your levain? I like to make a nice no-knead artisan bread with it. The following recipe makes two loaves or one really big one if you’re up for it. However, for a larger loaf the baking times will be longer.

In a large bowl mix together 3 cups warm water (about 110 deg F), 1-1/2 Tbs kosher salt and 1/2 cup of your levain. Add 7-1/2 cups flour and mix. It should be a wet dough, but not sloppy. When you measure the flour you want it to be level cups, which you can get by using the flat back edge of a knife to scrape excess flour off evenly.

Cover and allow this to sit for at least two hours in a warm, dark spot. This dough will not rise like breads made with commercial yeast so don’t worry too much. After two hours you can put it in the fridge to store or make a loaf right away. The dough, because it’s wet, is much easier to handle when it’s cold though, so I usually put it in the fridge for about 2 hours before I plan to bake it.

When I’m ready I pull out half of the dough and while working quickly I shape it into a ball by pulling the top down over the sides stretching it. I then place this ball in a bowl that is lined with a heavily floured non-terry cloth towel. Sprinkle a bit of flour on top and then cover with the edges of the towel. Allow it to rest and do a bit more rising for an hour.

40 minutes into the rise place a dutch oven (cast iron of course works the best, but you can use any type as long as it has a lid) in your oven and preheat to 450 deg F. The purpose of the dutch oven is to steam the bread for the first part of the baking. This helps develop a moist crumb while allowing for that real crunchy crust. Of course the heavier the lid the more steaming action you’re going to get, which will further help develop larger holes in the crumb.

When you’re ready to bake pull out the dutch oven and remove the lid. Pick up the towel and bread and quickly (and this can take some practice) and gently roll the dough out of the towel into the hot dutch oven. Quickly put the lid on and put it back in the oven.

Bake with the lid on for 30 minutes then remove the lid and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the crust is completely browned. Don’t overcook though as the bottom can and will burn if left too long.

Remove the bread from the dutch oven  and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool until you can handle it and then serve. You have now mastered the no-knead artisan bread.

A note about ovens and not getting the perfect loaf. Every time I did this recipe it came out well, but not as good as I knew it could be. I always thought I was doing something wrong. When we got our Wedgewood I quickly realized that not all ovens are created equal. Our previous, cheapo oven just couldn’t do the job and it had made me feel inadequate. So if you have a hard time making that perfect loaf of bread it may not be your fault at all, but rather the oven that you are using.


Lemon Souffle Revisited – with Limes

Awhile ago I posted a Lemon Souffle recipe that I thought at the time was pretty good. But everything around here is constantly evolving, even my go-to recipes.

When I was a kid my mom used to make lemon souffle as a very special treat. We didn’t get it very often, but I always remember it being one of my favorite dishes. It was sweet and extra tangy. She used to make it in one big casserole dish rather than in ramekins, but that was OK with me! This recipe can work for either but you’ll have to adjust the time for large dishes.

I’m famous in my family for my lemon meringue pie. I’m pretty secretive about my recipe (even my recipe card just has the ingredients on it and none of the instructions) but I’ll tell you that some of my secrets to it are super fresh, backyard eggs and Lisbon or Eureka lemons. Meyer lemons just don’t work because they are too sweet. I started with my lemon meringue pie recipe and adapted it to become a lemon souffle since I never did get my mom’s recipe for her souffle.

For this recipe you can use either lemons or limes. Since I don’t have any lemons on hand yet this year, I made it with limes instead. Of course, you can also do oranges or other citrus, you’ll just need to adjust the water and sugar to your taste.

Lemon/Lime Souffle
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar plus extra
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon and/or lime juice
2 Tbs corn starch
1 Tbs whole milk (we use goat’s milk)
1/8 tsp cream of tartar

1. Preheat oven to 400 deg F.
2. Using the butter, grease 4 ramekins and then coat with sugar.
3. Begin beating egg whites and add cream of tartar. Beat until stiff.
4. Mix remaining ingredients together, beating until smooth.
5. Fold in egg whites and pour into ramekins.
6. Bake for 15 min. or until the tops are puffy and golden brown.
7. Serve immediately.

Pumpkin Maple Scones

Combining the ingredients

Most mornings involve a cup of home-roasted coffeewith a bit of sugar and some goat milk and a steaming hot bowl of oatmeal that’s been cooked in goat milk. It’s creamy and doesn’t need much brown sugar. A touch of cinnamon makes it even better. On the weekends we always do at least one morning differently. While I love the oatmeal, it does get repetitive after awhile and I do like a change.

Rolled out and cut into wedges

Those mornings we sometimes make pancakes or waffles. When I’m feeling extra industrious I’ll make bagels or English muffins for eggs benedict. If we have bacon or sausage in the fridge we make biscuits and gravy. Sometimes I don’t have as much time or energy though so I go with something a bit easier. Scones fit this bill. Unlike bagels and English muffins, they don’t have to rise.

Brush tops with maple syrup

Scones traditionally have a lot of butter, which is a treasured commodity for us so I didn’t really want to give up a stick for one breakfast. Cooked pumpkin, or winter squash is a good substitute for oils like butter. It’s also a good way to make a substitute if you want to eat a bit healthier. We have plenty of winter squash that we really need to use up so I went out to our storage area and grabbed a small one to bake. I simply cut the squash in half and scooped out the seeds. I put the squash cut face down in a baking dish and put a thin layer of water on the bottom. I put it in a 400 deg F oven until the squash was fork tender. The time will vary depending on the size and type of the squash.

Baked up and ready go nom

Preheat oven to 425 deg. F

Sift together:

2 1/2 cups flour

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground allspice

pinch of ground cloves

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add:

1 Tbs maple syrup plus more

1/2 cup cooked pumpkin

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

In a circular motion blend the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a fork. If it gets too tough to mix you can use your hands to combine. The dough should be pliable. I use medium eggs so if you’re using large eggs you’ll end up with a wetter dough. Add a bit more flour if the dough is sticky.

I decided to make small scones so I divided the dough in half. Pat the dough into a ball and then on a well floured surface roll it out to 3/4″ thick. You’ll want it to be circular to make it easier to cut evenly shaped scones. One disc should make 8 scones. Place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet and brush them with maple syrup. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

These won’t have the crumbly texture or be as dense as you’re used to scones having probably because of the lack of butter. They are chewy and filling though and taste great plain or with just a bit of butter.


Shirred Eggs

This is my new favorite way of eating eggs. It’s rich and salty and flavorful. Can you ask for anything more?

1/4 tsp butter
2 Tbs Cream (I skim the fresh cream off of our goats’ milk)
2 eggs
Salt and Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 deg F
2. With the butter, grease a ramekin
3. Put the cream in the ramekin and then break the eggs into the cream. Gently move the yolks toward the center.
4. Top with salt, pepper and chives. You can also add cheese if you’d like as well.
5. Bake for 12 minutes. You want the center still a bit jiggly while the edges can be pulled away from the side of the ramekin.

Viola! You’ve got shirred eggs.

Baby’s First Brownies (no, really)

Until about a week and a half ago, I had never made brownies from scratch. Sure, I’d made layered ricotta cakes and light-as-air macarons and fresh sourdough bread and all SORTS of complicated sauces and things, but somehow I must have missed the day where I was supposed to learn the recipe for good old-fashioned brownies.

But then, on a magical day when it wasn’t omgIamgoingtodieofbusy at work, I was scrolling through one of my favorite recipe/food blogs looking for a good recipe for goat cheese ice cream (which, of course, she had), and I found a picture of little individual brownies, served with a scoop of ice cream, and a salted caramel sauce. The brownies looked so amazing.

And all of a sudden the ice cream wasn’t top priority anymore. I needed brownies. NEEDED them.

But sadly, I also needed to do another 6 hours of work, and then I had promised that I was going to be home to take care of some home-things…so there were going to be complications. Namely, I wasn’t going to make it to the store, and I didn’t have any cocoa powder. Or a bunch of other stuff, including coffee, that the brownie recipe I’d found called for.

So I hit the interwebs, looking for a recipe that WOULD work with what I had. Who else would I trust to make brownies well? David Lebovitz, obviously!

Would he pull through? Could I make brownies with just what I had at the house (and a few creative tweaks)? Yes, yes I could. Adapting from this amazing recipe, which he had taken from a cookbook appropriately titled Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, I could melt down the dark chocolate chips I had, add a RIDICULOUS amount of butter and sugar, and make myself some pretty stellar (according to Mr. Liebovitz, who knows from stellar, lemme tell you) brownies.

And oh, they did not disappoint. They were fudgy and messy and chewy and outrageously rich. They stuck horrendously to the foil with which D.L. insisted the pan be lined (smart man), and only gave up the fight after a stern talking to (and the threat of a hot, damp knife).

They were everything I had hoped for. They were so tasty. They were…gone so fast! I had to make another batch within the week.

Oh well, I’ll actually try ‘em with cocoa powder this time.

Chewy Dark Chocolate Brownies

12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (I used 60% cacao in chip-form),
2 sticks salted butter
1 1/4 cup unbleached white pastry flour
1/4 tsp salt
*2 Tbsp dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (I didn’t have any the first time I made them, and I didn’t miss it too much, but it was awesome *with* it, too)
1 1/2 cups raw sugar (evaporated cane juice)
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 c coarsely chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the inside of a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with foil, and rub the foil with butter to “grease” the inside. Make sure you leave enough foil on the edges to use as a handle to pull the brownies out after cooling. Melt the chocolate and butter together (Liebovitz says to use a double-boiler, and he’s probably right. My lazy self used the microwave). Once the chocolate/butter are melted and smooth, whisk in both sugars and the eggs. It’s easier if they’re beaten a bit before mixing, or if you add them one at a time. Add the vanilla extract and stir to incorporate fully.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder (if you’re using it). Get all the lumps out of the flour if you can (I actually put mine through a sieve because it was a little old and VERY lumpy). Gently fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients being careful not to over-mix. At this time, also add the walnuts if you want them (I’d recommend it – they break up some of the doughy texture in a lovely way).

Pour/scrape the batter into the pan (DO NOT SKIP THE FOIL), and bake for 30-40 min, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Like most brownie recipes, it’s best to underbake than to overbake.
**not pictured because camera ran out of juice: adding nuts, putting batter into pan, licking batter off all utensils, having to clean most of kitchen from resulting chocolatesplosion**
D.L. says to wrap these brownies well when storing. Me, I think they get BETTER after being cut and left out to dry a bit on the edges. It’s a texture thing, but I swear by it. Believe me – they are moist enough that they will not dry out if you leave them for a while.

Another neat thing I learned is that they freeze well…which, if you can stop yourself from eating all of them (or feeding them all to your boss because he’s just so darned HAPPY when you bring brownies to the office, and who doesn’t like a happy boss?), is a cool thing to have frozen. Brownies. Whenever. Think about it.
Next time I’m making two pans.

The Perfect Saltine Cracker

One of the things I’ve been missing while going a year without groceries is crunchy, salty snacks. I’ve made crackers before but have never really been happy with the recipes. So I decided to find something closer to a true saltine cracker. Unfortunately when searching for a “saltine cracker recipe” all the recipes that come up use saltine crackers. I couldn’t find any recipes that showed how to make those saltine crackers. No such luck. So I finally came up with one that can’t come much closer to the store bought ones (except they have more “meat” to them and are more satisfying).

4 c unbleached white flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 c coconut oil
1/3 c skim milk
1 c water
Oil or water and salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 deg. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Sift flour, salt and baking powder together. Mix in oil, milk and water until blended well. Knead dough on a surface until smooth.

Now I prefer to use a pasta machine to roll out my dough – usually ending on setting #3. The trick is to make sure the dough is rolled very thin. Otherwise you won’t get crispy crackers.

Cut crackers into squares (I like to use a pizza cutter) and put on parchment lined cookie sheet. Spray crackers with oil or water and sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.

This recipe will make a TON of crackers. If you want, divide the dough in half and freeze it for later use.

Boston Style Baked Beans

This week I am continuing my quest to eradicate all processed food from the house with a simple-yet-hearty recipe for Boston-style baked beans.

I have been searching for recipes that are easy and healthy. I need to be able to make them in bulk and store them. I don’t want to sacrifice the meals and flavors that I love just because my standards for food have changed.

This recipe is very simple and can be made without a lot of supervision, meaning I can get it started and then go work in the garden, or do a load of laundry, or clean out the chicken coop. Multitasking is the only way things get done around here, and anything that I can accomplish while also doing something else immediately gets bonus points in my book.

This recipe also gets bonus points for being BETTER than its rival, the can of baked beans.

I will admit there are certain processed foods that for some reason or another (owing largely, I think, to having grown up eating them) just taste comforting. They taste “right”. All attempts to recreate those tastes, while potentially delicious, just never seem to live up to that standard. If anyone can give me a ranch dressing recipe that is better than bottled Hidden Valley, I will love you forever. No kidding.

I had thought that home-made baked beans were going to be like this for me too. Tasty, sure, but not quite what I’m craving to serve on toast with fried eggs and bacon. Because of this, I’ve been holding out. Until now.

My recent success with making my own refried beans gave me the confidence I needed to try this other bean-based pantry staple, and I have to say I will never again look at a tin of beans as though it has something I haven’t got.

Because I’ve got it.

And now you do too!

Boston-Style Baked Beans
(adapted from this recipe)

about 3 cups dry beans (I used pinto, because they’re what I had on hand)

  • 1/2 lb smoky bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 3/4 cup ketchup (homemade!)
  • 3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (not homemade, sadly – anyone have a recipe?)

Soak the beans in water overnight to begin softening them. If you are like me and don’t have that kind of glorious forethought (read: OMGIWANTBAKEDBEANSNOW), you can cook them on the stove straight from dry and add a bit of baking soda to the water part of the way through the cooking process to aid in the softening of the beans – works like a charm (and is fun fizzy cooking)! If you’ve soaked them (you planner, you!), finish the cooking in a large pan on the stovetop.

Basically, however you want to make ‘em soft, do that. They should be tender, but not to the point of falling apart. If they are a tiny bit al dente, that’s OK – they will cook more in the next step. Remove the beans from the cooking water, but don’t toss out the bean juice – you might still need it (I did, when I made it).

While the beans are cooking, heat the rest of the ingredients (ketchup, molasses, sugar, mustard powder, salt, pepper, Worcestershire) together in a pan on the stove until they are simmering, then remove the sauce from the stove.

In a large casserole dish (I used my cast iron dutch oven, which was PERFECT), layer about 1-2 inches of cooked beans, and sprinkle them with half of the onion and half of the chopped bacon. Cover this with the remaining beans, and repeat the onion and bacon. Drizzle the sauce over the beans/onions/bacon. Use the bean-cooking juice to bring the liquid level to just about even with the beans.

Bake this with the lid on for about 2 hours, or until the bacon is cooked through and the onions are tender and translucent. If the beans are swimming in too much liquid, remove the lid and cook UNcovered for another 20 minutes or so, until the sauce is the consistency you like (remember it will thicken slightly as it cools).

Serve these baked beans on toast as part of a perfect greasy hangover breakfast – I served them with a roasted tomato, fried eggs, and homemade 12 grain rolls. Delicious!!

They’re also a perfect snack on the go, or a great side dish for any kind of meat. Basically, eat them however you want. I’m not here to tell you HOW to eat them. I am, however, here to tell you to MAKE them. Right now. Go.

Trust me – try this recipe. It’s a keeper.

These baked beans can be frozen for up to 6 months in a freezer-safe zip-top bag or other appropriate airtight container. Just be sure to thaw them to room temperature before heating so they don’t turn to mush!

Sourdough Pancakes

Working at Ass O’Clock in the Morning (TM) has its good points and its bad points. I work a job that has rather…unconventional business hours, and our shifts are either 5:45am-1:45pm or 1pm-9pm. As a staunch diurnal, I have opted for the former of the two; trading those luscious hours of sleeping-in for the glory of being OFF WORK when most people are barely getting back from their lunch break. Still, sometimes getting up VERY VERY EARLY is tough.

My alarm rings (shrieks, screams, grates, wails, and other such sounds of annoyance) at 4:45am. For those of you unfamiliar with such times, 4:45am is a thoroughly ungodly hour, in which the only appropriate actions are dreaming, drooling, or getting home from pulling an all-nighter somewhere glamorous. Nevertheless, I drag myself out of bed. I don something that I pray will look semi-professional by the light of day, do my makeup by braille, and am out the door by 5:20am. If Rick is not home, I stumble out into the back yard to open the door and let out the chickens and ducks, who cluck/quack in protest at the cold wind and interruption of their sleep.

** Note: it is still very, VERY dark at 5:20am. It kills me to know I am actually up before the chickens (though there is possibly nothing so endearing as a sleepy hen. Really). **

Truth be told, I love my job. I love the freedom afforded to me by working the hours I do. Getting home at 2pm gives me ample time to take care of housework and prepare food and even have some down-time before the boyfriend and roommate get home. I get to work in the garden during daylight hours. I miss commuter traffic completely.

Sadly, though, it really puts a dent in my breakfast-foods consumption. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never been much of a breakfast eater, but I do have a major soft-spot in my heart for breakfasty-type foods. So I try to make the breakfasts I *do* have be a little bit special.

I got a sourdough chef from my friend Alanna a few years back, and have somehow managed not to kill it completely. The learning curve (starting as a novice) of keeping a chef alive was steep, and for a time it was very hard to remember to feed it. But it was also kind of fun: sourdough (and other yeast/bacterial cultures) are kind of an underground trade, with people handing off jars and giving “babies” to each other in little bottles and baggies. It’s like being in an elite club, and when you’re in, it’s mighty addictive.

Because my go-to bread recipe does not call for sourdough (though I certainly use it from time to time for added flavor and lift), I’ve had to find creative uses for sourdough start to keep from having to pour it down the drain. Alanna gave me an awesome sourdough cracker recipe that I LOVE. My sourdough cinnamon rolls are to die for. I can now make a pretty decent sourdough-based pate brisee for galettes. But by far the thing that I use my sourdough chef for the most is good old fashioned pancakes: fluffy and light, but with that telltale tang that lets you know this ain’t no boxed batter-mix, these delicious pancakes are perfect with butter and syrup, a pile of fresh fruit and plain yogurt, or (as Rick likes them), a big scoop of organic peanut butter.

However you like to dress them up, these pancakes are a perfect tool in the homesteader arsenal: keeping cultures (sourdough, yogurt, vinegars, kombucha) is a great way to be self-sufficient and produce on-the-cheap many things that can be quite expensive in stores (have you SEEN the prices on kombucha recently? Because *I* have). Taking the time to feed these little buggers will guarantee you a lifetime of delicious, fresh food at the drop of a hat.

These pancakes make a healthy, stick-to-your-ribs meal with very little in the way of mess or tricky ingredients, and are guaranteed to satisfy just about anyone, come breakfast-time. And if you need some starter, well, I know a gal.

Sourdough Pancakes
Note: the night before you are going to make these pancakes, mix about 3/4 c of flour with enough water to make something resembling thick cake batter. Add a large spoon full of sourdough start, and cover it. I use a recycled plastic yogurt container because the lid keeps out the dust without pressurizing the start as it rises. Over night, this should double – or triple – in volume. If your starter has been in the fridge (dormant) for a long time, give it a good 24 hours and another feeding to “wake it up” before you use it.
1 1/2 c sourdough start, stirred down (about 2 1/2 or 3 c if still risen)
2 Tbsp sugar or evaporated cane juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
4 Tbsp melted butter (I usually use half butter and half oil)
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp water (warm but not hot)
optional: up to 3/4 c fresh fruit, nuts, or chocolate chips

In a large bowl, mix the sourdough start with the salt and sugar. Then whisk in the egg and butter/oil until they are thoroughly combined. I like to keep my sourdough start about the consistency of a thick cake batter, which is perfect for this recipe. If the mixture (with egg and oil added) is still very thick, I sometimes add as much as 1/4 c of milk to thin it out. Otherwise the pancakes can get a little…overwhelmingly doughy.

At this point, I add any berries, chopped fruit, or nuts to the batter. My personal favorite is tossing in a handful of wild huckleberries (which I keep frozen and don’t even bother to thaw before tossing them in. They cook just fine while the batter rises in the skillet).

In a separate small cup, stir the baking soda in the warm water until it dissolves. Add this to the bowl of batter and stir lightly, just until it is homogeneous.

Let the batter rise slightly (no more than about 5 minutes), and then it’s ready to use. Scoop the batter out onto medium-hot greased skillets or a griddle, and cook the first side until the bubbles in the batter pop and don’t immediately close up again. That means it’s time to flip!

The second side shouldn’t take more than about 20 seconds, unless your batter is very thick.

Sourdough pancakes can get pretty rubbery if they sit and get cold, so I’d recommend keeping a towel over the plate of finished pancakes, or sticking them in the oven where the ambient heat will be held in. Of course, usually we have people grabbing them out of the skillet before I can even GET them to a plate, so maybe it’s not such a problem after all.

Serve these pancakes alongside some fresh homemade yogurt, some lemon curd, or just a sprinkling of powdered sugar: heaven.

Perfect Baguettes, Every Time

I never thought I’d say I was an accomplished bread maker. Baking good bread requires patience, skill, and an adherence to recipes that I have (sadly) never possessed. So I am as surprised as anyone to announce that I think I have finally mastered bread making.

Well, that might still be a bit of an overstatement.
I should say, bread and I have come to some agreements. Namely, I will not try to do anything too fancy or ambitious. In return, the basic loaves/rolls/baguettes that I make will not liken themselves to bricks, lumps of coal, pieces of foam rubber, or chalk. In this armistice, I think bread and I have finally made our peace.
I’ve been promising this recipe for weeks now, and have been hung up on how remarkably difficult it is to photograph dough and bread (or anything else white, beige, taupe, or cream) dynamically. All of the photos I’ve taken seem washed out, or are just a tad blurry around the edges. I apologize for the delay, and I hope that the final images (and the recipe) are now worth all the waiting.
One thing I should say at the beginning here is that I now cannot live without my baguette pan. It is technically my roommate’s pan, but I know deep down in my heart that their relationship won’t last. What we have (the baguette pan and I, I mean) is true love and unwavering devotion. No roommate could stand between us.
And if not…well, it’s not like they’re expensive. I can get my own. Ahem.
But I’m serious here. Get a baguette pan. It will change your bread-baking life. Just remember to also get some parchment paper. Lining the trays with parchment means there’s nearly no cleanup – simply slide the bread off the tray, let it cool down, and put it away. And the parchment can be re-used several times. I just fold it up and keep it in the drawer with the rest of the roll.
While we’re on the subject of tools, I will again make my argument for the strongly-debated bread machine: I love it. It’s a time-saver, and it takes a lot of the guesswork out of the rising/kneading processes of your bread dough. It is the difference, for me, between making my own bread and having to BUY it because I don’t have enough time to make it.
Yes, a bread machine can be a crutch…and yes, the bread that gets baked in it comes out looking like a little carb-cube with a depressing/laughable prolapse in its base.
But for making and rising dough, nothing can compare. The set mixing/kneading times, the stable and reliable temperatures, the no-babysitting rise, and the easy cleanup make this one of the most valuable tools in my kitchen arsenal.

Of course you can make this bread in a stand mixer, or by hand in a big bowl. I’m not saying it can’t be done. Personally, though, I don’t have the time or the energy to pull out all the stops and make bread that way (and clean up from it) twice a week. So I stick with the bread machine, but I shape and bake the dough by hand. I think it’s a good compromise.
**EDIT: Alanna made this AMAZING caramelized apple bread pudding out of the leftover baguettes I gave to her – YUM!**
Whole Grain and Honey Baguettes
makes 2 baguettes, or 6 full-size sandwich rolls

1 1/2 c tepid (not too warm, but not cold) water
2 1/4 tsp rapid yeast
2 1/2 c unbleached white bread flour
1/2 c whole wheat bread blour
3/4 c whole or steel-cut grains*
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp olive or sunflower oil
1 tsp salt (or more, to taste)

*A note on grains/texture: I like my bread to have some personality and not just be…fluffy. I have experimented with many additional ingredients including coarse corn meal, wheat germ, rolled oats, and crushed nuts. The best fit, though, came in the form of breakfast cereal: steel cut oats or other coarse-ground grain mixes are the perfect size and consistency to plump up during the dough’s rising process but still maintain a bit of a crunch in the final baguettes. I’ve recently been buying a 12 grain mixture in bulk from Rainbow Grocery, a local coop, and have added some sunflower seeds to the mix as well. I’ve left the recipe open to interpretation here: you can add 3/4 c of any number of raw or cooked grains. Bear in mind that larger grains (like whole wheat berries) will need to be soaked somewhat before adding to the dough, and anything very dry/large/hard will require a bit more water to hold the dough together.

If you’re using a bread machine, just dump the ingredients into the pan and run the “dough” setting. Mine takes about an hour and a half, and finishes at the end of the first rise. You’ll want to check the consistency of the dough about 10 minutes in and make sure it is not too wet or dry. These levels can be simply adjusted with water/flour. Bear in mind, though, that the dough will seem a little on the wet side until the grains have a chance to soak up the available moisture.

If you’re making the bread by hand, you’ll want to knead all the ingredients together, let it sit for about 20 minutes, and then knead again for at least 10 minutes. Allow the dough to rise, covered, in a warm area (I use my oven with the pilot light on when I hand-make dough).

Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a flat surface (I generally don’t use flour, as my table top doesn’t stick to bread dough for some reason), and split the dough in half.
Make each half into a snake roughly the length of the baguette tray, and then flatten it out to make a long rectangle (mine come out about 5-6″ by 20″). Fold the dough lengthwise into thirds making a long roll. Place the roll open-side-down into the baguette tray lined with a strip of parchment paper. Repeat for the other half of the dough.

Cut some slits into the top of the baguettes, and place them in a warm area to rise (again, I use the oven). After they have increased in size by at least 50% (takes about 45 minutes – you can let them rise more if you like your bread very light and airy), turn the oven on to 350 degrees. Bake the baguettes for about 15-20 minutes, or until they are golden brown and the crust is somewhat hard to the touch.

If you like crusty, hard baguettes, allow these to cool in the open air. If you like them softer, place a dish towel over the baguettes while they are still in the tray, and let them self-steam a bit while they are cooling. Stored in an air-tight container or bag, these will keep for about a week, provided they are cool and dry.

Extrabonuscool: Check it out! You can make sandwich rolls using a similar method! Separate the risen dough into 6 parts, and roll each of them into a 6-8 inch snake. Flatten these out into rectangles, and roll them up in thirds, with the open part towards the bottom. Place these in the baguette pan, with three on each side, leaving as much space as you can between them. Cut a slit down the top of each roll. Rise and bake these the same way as the full-size baguettes. Once they are cooled, tear them off (they will have attached at the ends a bit) and store in a zip-top bag for several days, or freeze for later use.

Curry Rice and Beef Stuffed Bell Peppers

Controversy! Intrigue! Catfights! Who knew that a simple question like “what recipe should I post on my blog this week?” would elicit such strong responses?

OK, I’m totally exaggerating. There were no catfights, nor was there really much intrigue. There was, however, controversy. Which is totally cool. It’s nice to know that people out there care about the recipes I post, and that the silly little foodstuffs I make in my totally-not-professional kitchen are actually inspiring people to get out there and cook! I promise that if you voted for baguettes, your time is coming very soon.
I’ll tell you, even I am conflicted about my post this week. I’ve been sitting on a whole oat and honey baguette recipe for about a month now that I KNOW is wonderful. I’ve made it successfully at least 10 times in a row (barring one incident involving benadryl and an uncanny ability to zone out the sound of the kitchen timer), and it is possibly the most reliable and tasty bread recipe I have tried thus far.
However, the pictures I took of the dough making/baguette shaping process need a little more editing before they are ready for public viewing. The stupid rain came and made my available “natural light” look all blue and icky. So…submitted for your viewing pleasure, I present the OTHER delicious thing we’ve had on the menu this week: curry stuffed bell peppers.
As a friend so astutely pointed out on facebook (thanks for your unwavering support, there, Hank), bell peppers and tomatoes are far from in-season, which I suppose makes this recipe post controversial for more than one reason. Still, I will back up my use of these tasty peppers by saying that they are not only semi-local (grown in the Sacramento area in a greenhouse set up), but are also organic. I got them, as well as the tomatoes and onions, at the farmer’s market by my house, and I feel totally OK with that. Once our greenhouse is up and running in the back yard, we’ll be trying to grow them in March, too!

A little back story on this recipe: I used to work at a travelers’ hostel in the Tenderloin area of San Francisco. One of the great perks was that the hostel was walking distance from the Civic Center farmer’s market. Another great perk was that we had a GIANT kitchen and cool dining area where our guests could cook their own dinners, or even work together for a big family-style potluck, with each guest preparing a dish. One such evening, a guest of ours came back from said farmer’s market with a big bag of beautiful red bell peppers, golden globe-like onions, and juicy tomatoes…and announced that he was going to make us (the staff) dinner.

Not one to say no to free food (particularly given that the produce was coming from the farmer’s market, which said something about the quality of ingredients, as well as the possible expertise of the chef), I gladly accepted his offer.
About an hour later we were sitting down to a beautiful pan of bell peppers stuffed with rice, beef, onions, and spices, all covered with a fresh tomato/cilantro sauce – heaven.
Years later, I found this recipe scribbled onto the back of a tour booking receipt, stuffed into a drawer (you know, for “safe keeping”). I had completely forgotten that delicious dish! The chef had been glad to give me his recipe, but neglected to give me his name, so I am sad to say I can’t give credit where credit is due. I shall have to show my appreciation by passing this simple, hearty, elegant recipe on to you.

**Note: I haven’t tried it yet, but I bet this would be AMAZING with ground lamb and couscous. Just sayin’.**
Curry Rice and Beef Stuffed Bell Peppers
serves 6-8
4-6 large red bell peppers
for the stuffing:
1 1/2 c long grain rice
1 lb organic, free-range ground beef
2 Tbsp olive (or sunflower) oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp coriander
salt and pepper, to taste
for the sauce:
4 large, ripe tomatoes, diced (alternately, 1 can of diced tomatoes)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
cilantro, to taste (I used about 1 tbsp, roughly chopped)
Prepare the rice according to the cooking instructions (different kinds of rice will use different amounts of water, and will take different amounts of time to cook). You want the rice to be soft and not too wet, and ideally there should be about 3-4 cups of it when it’s cooked and fluffed.

Prepare the peppers: If the bell peppers are short and squat, you can roast them whole. Just cut off the caps (any viable pepper bits that you remove can be chopped and added to the tomato sauce), and scrape out all the seeds and white pithy stuff from the inside. If the peppers won’t stand on their own, cut a little bit off the bottom to even them out. If your peppers are long and thin, you can cut them into two shallow boats, or cut them down the middle (cross-section) making two little cups. You’ll have to remove the stem from one of the cups, which will make a hole in the bottom. this is OK, just be careful when serving that the filling doesn’t all come out the bottom!

Prepare the sauce: In a saucepan, sautee the onion and garlic until translucent, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and simmer until a thick sauce forms. If you need to, add some water to prevent burning. Once it has softened to your liking (it will be chunky), mix in the cilantro and turn off the heat. This should look like a thick marinara sauce or chunky salsa.

Prepare the stuffing: Brown 1 lb of ground beef in a large skillet (use oil if needed to prevent sticking). Add onions and garlic, as well as all the spices, and stir until the meat is cooked through, the onions are translucent, and everything is evenly coated (it’ll be yellow from the turmeric in the curry powder). Add in about 3-4 c rice, and again stir to combine. Taste for salt (I put in about 1/4 tsp, as well as some black pepper).

Place the peppers into a greased baking pan (we broke my favorite 9 x 9 pyrex last week, so I had to use two smaller pans), and stuff them with the rice/beef mixture. You can pack the rice in pretty heavy, but don’t compress it too much or it can get chewy and gelatinous when it cooks (you want enough room that the tomato sauce can drip down into it while it’s cooking).
Bake these pepper cups at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the peppers are just beginning to soften. Ladle the tomato sauce over the tops of the peppers and bake for about another 10 minutes, or until everything is hot.

The man who passed down this recipe said that you can optionally add cheese (I think a cumin smoked gouda or an asiago would be tasty), but it really doesn’t need any cheese, or anything else. I did, however, quite enjoy the leftover stuffing last night at band rehearsal (I had extra – oh, bummer) tossed with a bit of parsley…along with some delicious potato pancakes made by Alanna of Bojon Gourmet.