Turkish Loaves with Pumpkin Seeds

I know I must be mostly settled in to the new place because I’ve started getting cravings to bake bread again.  Dr. Unicorn has been routinely lending an assist with dinner preparation, and I’ve been having fun with learning what the hell to do with tofu and lentils, but some things just never change, and apparently my addiction to bread baking is one of them.  So one fine evening, ahead of a particularly experimental dinner (that didn’t work at all) I broke out a cookbook and decided to try a new bread recipe.IMG_7210I pulled the recipe for Turkish Loaves from “Baking: A Common Sense Guide.”  I’m pretty sure I’ve never used a recipe from it before, but I started our first encounter together off to a fine start, knowing that I didn’t have enough bread flour on hand and not bothering to check whether I had the required sesame seeds.

IMG_7218 This started off with having the yeast developed in a sponge.  At the time I was thinking this was a new technique because it described the process as adding the yeast to the sweetener and wet ingredients, then adding flour to make a paste, but on reflection, this is just making a sponge without calling it that.  I’ve found recipes that use sponges to be pretty simple and easy in the past, and this one followed that pattern.

IMG_7220I’ll tell you a secret about me and break making: it’s a procrastination tool.  I work from home and spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen.  If it’s been a while since I’ve had to leave for work (and January, after starting over in a new city, I’m not exactly bleeding clients from my ears) it gets really hard to sit still and keep working.  But there’s a lot of activity in making bread.  Mix flour and salt into a bowl and then shove your hands in to make a well?  My computer-addled self can do this!

IMG_7222There’s also a lot of waiting in bread making, which is why I can do it during a work day without all mayhem breaking loose.  Throw things in a bowl, wait for chemistry!  Just, you know, make sure the bowl is actually big enough for the results of your chemistry…

IMG_7224Here’s where the fun part of recipes that use a sponge really kicks in.  You’ve basically already got a starter dough, you just need to make it dough-y-er.  You’re just mushing your starting product into more of the stuff that makes it until DOUGH! IMG_7225 This was the stage where my mixy-switchy on the flour was going to show up as a real problem.  The recipe calls for hand kneading, and the all purpose flour I used when I ran out of bread flour doesn’t have as much protein in it.  That means I’ve got to work harder to get the dough to develop the structure it needs to be good bread, if it will at all.  It did!  And in about the same time frame the recipe called for on kneading (just five minutes) so I was pretty confident that even if the rest of dinner was a bust (did I mention that it was? It was.) the bread would be nice.IMG_7228This was the part where I went back to pretending to be a responsible adult and stared at the computer screen some more.  Go chemistry, go! IMG_7230 Dough after the first rise is really fun.  It’s puffy, and the instruction in the recipe is virtually always to “punch” it down.  Punching.  I can do this.IMG_7231Bread recipes seem to have a pathological aversion to producing a single loaf, and this one was no different.  Three loaves!  Absent a kitchen scale, I was at the mercy of my own judgment for getting the dough divided evenly.  Hint: Merciful is not the operative word for my judgment in these situations.  Incompetent is a better choice.  I did okay, though, yeah? IMG_7233The one that actually came out as a rectangle wound up that way because I messed it up so much I re-rolled it.  The others, with the help of the tape measure I keep in the kitchen, were close enough to the dimensions the recipe called or that I left them sorta ellipsoid.   IMG_7236You know those loaves you see in the grocery store that are nicely dimpled and have tasty things stuck in them?  These are one of those loaves.  You get the dimples by “pressing” your fingertips into the dough.  I’m pretty sure that “pressing” is baker-speak for stabbing the dough with your fingers while shouting, “Submit or Regret Your Insolence!”

I should probably never work as a professional baker.

It turned out that if we do have sesame seeds, I have no idea where they are.  Woops.  We do have a ton of pumpkin seeds though.  I’ve been having a lot of fun putting them in everything and seeing what happens.  (Hint: Tastiness.)  So I slapped on the egg wash and sprinkled the wrong kind of seed and figured that would be good enough.IMG_7237Oh, it was.

I decided to salt the top of the loaf.  The recipe didn’t call for it, but I figured, hey, I’m making a fancy bread with toppings baked on, and I’ve almost actually followed this recipe, so why not?  It was a good call.

I only baked one of the loaves that night and froze the other two.  The second loaf baked perfectly just with pulling it out to thaw while the oven pre-heated.  That one I covered more liberally in extra egg wash, and sprinkled powdered garlic on the top as well as the salt.  That was a good move, too.  Also, leftovers from that loaf made a very nice grilled cheese with the application of some cheddar.

The third loaf lingers in the fridge, but I think I hear it calling to me for rosemary and oregano.

This recipe is definitely going into my regular circulation.  Super easy, super tasty.

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Couscous Mojadara-Style

When I was in college, several of the cafes stocked a dish called mojadara.  It was a curried rice and lentil dish that was super filling and you could get for $1.50.  I’d scarf it up whenever I’d had a particularly profitable week at work or otherwise felt like I’d earned an exciting treat.  This was the dish that taught me the beauty of caramelized onions and golden raisins.  It’s simply, hearty, and fantastic.

I’ve never quite gotten it right, making it at home.  But I was thinking about it the other night when, in the middle of an excruciatingly stressful week, I decided to declare bankruptcy on my to do list and cook dinner.  I didn’t have lentils.  Or the time to do the pre-cooking rice soaking that I’ve gotten fond of when doing stir fry style dishes.  So I decided to fake it with couscous and chicken.IMG_6919The first step, of course, is caramelizing the onions.  Getting this right is mostly a matter of not overheating the onions and being patient.  I tossed them into the skillet, then set to work making a marinade for the chicken.

IMG_6926I used some yellow curry curry powder, olive oil, powdered sumac and a dash of salt in the marinade.  Then I dropped the chicken in to soak it up while the onions cooked.  Ideally I’d have done this the day before, but twenty minutes is enough to do something if that’s all you’ve got, and I was hungry.IMG_6922Onions are very forgiving of fidgeting with them while your caramelize them which is good because I’m a fidgeter.  I had the heat a smidge high for these, so some of them got a bit crisp before they were ready, but it didn’t turn into a disaster and most of them had really good color when I was done. IMG_6923I tossed the couscous into the pan with the onions, then threw in a dab of butter, a pinch of salt, golden raisins, curry powder, and some water.  Frequently I’ll use chicken broth when I’m making couscous, but this was just for me and I was already seasoning it pretty heavily so I didn’t think I’d need the help.  I was right, though extra flavor is rarely a crime.

IMG_6927I let the chicken marinade while the couscous cooked, then tossed the chicken into a skillet once it was time to take the couscous off the heat and let it rest.  This wasn’t the strictly most efficient order of operations for preparing dinner, but it gave me enough down time to do the dishes, too, and I can pretty much only bring myself to do the dishes while cooking, so it’s better overall.

IMG_6930And then there was feasting.

Nobody would have identified this as a mojadara knock-off if I hadn’t told them, what with it having virtually nothing in common with the original dish, but it was tasty, and exactly what I needed for a chilly, rainy week full of frustrating nonsense.

Herbal Monkey Bread

Hi, my name is Anaea, and I’m a workaholic.  I’m supposed to be a well-rounded person with hobbies, an exhibitionist about them even, but I haven’t posted food porn to my blog in weeks. And not because I’ve been too busy to blog, either, but because I’ve been too busy to cook.

Last week I snapped a bit and took counter measures.  I’ve mentioned before that making bread is nice as a productivity enforcement tool.  I’d unburied myself enough that I decided I was going to leave the house that evening for recreational purposes, and I was going to bring baked goods.  And since the fridge was full of herbs from Foy (the Aerogarden, in case you’ve lost track of the very small cast of characters on this blog), I figured this was a good chance to use those.

And so it was that I stumbled across recipes for savory monkey bread.  Usually you season the butter with cinnamon and sugar, but people were doing all kinds of things.  Perfect!  And then I stopped looking at recipes, because I’ve got a bread recipe I like a lot and I can make it from memory at this point.IMG_6893 I followed that recipe all the way through the first rise, so I had a beautiful ball of dough that looked like this.  When it was nearing the end of its rising time, I pulled out the pile of herbs I was going to use.IMG_6900 And turned it into a pile of chopped herbs for me to use.IMG_6902I chopped these up pretty thoroughly since I wanted to be able to spread them throughout the bread and get an even distribution.  When I’m just rolling the herbs into a regular loaf, I don’t bother.

IMG_6897I started breaking away from the standard recipe after the first rise was complete.  Instead of rolling out the dough, then shaping it into a loaf, I tore it into little balls.  The traditional monkey break recipe starts with canned biscuit dough and this step, so if you’re not a bread-from-scratch creature, that’s ok.  This is monkey bread – nobody is going to judge you for style.

IMG_6904The trickiest part, honestly, is just arranging the dough into the bunt pan.  I strongly recommend putting a baking sheet under the pan before you do this, then drizzling the butter and sprinkling the herbs as you layer.  I did none of these things, so believe me when I assure you that you don’t want to follow in my footsteps on this particular front. IMG_6906For this I melted a whole stick of unsalted butter in a bowl, then whisked in the herbs and a generous portion of salt.  I wish I’d had big, flaky kosher salt, or coarser grained sea salt, but I did not, so fine grains it was.  You can probably imagine, based on this photo, why I suggest drizzling as you pile the dough – the butter ran through, but it didn’t take the herbs with it, so they all hung out on top rather than getting incorporated throughout the loaf. IMG_6910I put it in the oven at the same temperature and for the same amount of time called for in the original recipe.  It turned out lovely.  And tasty.  I’d meant to share it with the roommies when I returned home from the social event but, well, none of it survived that long.  I’ll probably make it again for them the next time the herb accumulation gets intense.

Glazed Carrots: Awesome

I’ve been on a side dish kick.  Part of that is the lingering plethora of side dish friendly veggies hanging out in my fridge.  Another part is that I’ve been battling the world’s most tenacious cold for months now, and it’s hit the point where eating a side is about as far as my interest in meals is going.  Especially sweets, which is weird.  But it made the New Best Recipe‘s idea of glazed carrots really appealing.IMG_6878

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t bother to measure anything for this recipe.  It’s hard to go wrong with pecans, bacon, brown sugar, and veggies, so I just use proportions that looked fitting and tasty.  IMG_6879

The recipe definitely called for chopping the bacon, then cooking it.  I did it in the other order since that saved me from having to clean raw pork goo off a cutting board.  I’m lazy like that.IMG_6882

If you’ve never toasted nuts, I recommend it for the olfactory experience.  You just need a bit of oil, and then you leave them in the skillet until they smell good.  I really like recipes where, “until it smells good,” is a significant element of the timing.IMG_6886

This was the part where my eyeballing of portions came the closest to getting me into trouble – the carrots didn’t quite fit into the cast iron skillet.  I’m irrationally fond of cooking in that skillet, so even though we have another one where the size would work just fine, I sucked it up and made it work.  IMG_6889

And I got away with it, too.  The glazing process involved throwing in some chicken stock for a quasi-braise in the cooking process, and the carrots cooked down just enough that I could stir them well enough to get the second batch of sugar and the butter mixed in well.IMG_6892I did not eat that entire plate of carrots in a sitting.  I did eat them over the course of about three meals.  They were tasty!  So tasty that I feel a little bit guilty about nothing having shared any with the roommies.  Just a little, though.  I’m greedier than I am kind.

 

Can’t Beet This

 

The day I took off and made the flatbread, that wasn’t all I made.  I also decided to chip away at the beet problem we have in the fridge.  IMG_6857

I quite like beets but we have had an awful lot of them, and there are only so many ways to make them. Soup is out – we have a metric ton of borscht in the freezer still.  This time I decided to do a quasi-salad with roasted beets.IMG_6862

Wrapping things in tin foil makes them roast better.  This is a thing I have known is true for potatos since forever.  Internet research suggests it is also true for beets, and my practical experience developed over the last several months supports this.IMG_6870

Beets take a really long time to roast, but that’s okay because they’re really good when they’re done and it’s not like you have to do anything to them while they’re roasting.  I did a lot fo futzing with failing flatbread.  One of the great things about beets is that you can eat them raw, so if you don’t get them roasted all the way, nobody dies.  That said, they are better properly cooked.

A broad swath of recipes all agree that you should roast the beets, then take off the skin.  Some suggest that this is because the skin comes off more easily post-roasting.  This has not been my experience.  I may try peeling them before wrapping them in the foil and see if that changes the result.
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Foy, for those of you not following my random squeeing on google+ and twitter, has gotten quite productive.  The fennel, in particular, is being aggressive about growing all the time.  So I had a lot of fennel on hand, and threw that into a vinagarete that involved other tasty things like shallots, lemon juice, and red wine vinegar.  IMG_6876Then I threw it all together in a bowl with some chopped pecans.  It madea  really nice side dish which I picked at for a few days at lunch, too.

I finally finished it all off yesterday when I needed a lunch I could pack for the road which wouldn’t need to be heated.  For that I added some blue cheese, just to get the fat and protein ratios up.  That was a really good idea.

The whole time I’ve been eating this dish I’ve wished I had arugula on hand, because mixing it with some hearty greens would have been phenomenally nice, but it was a pretty nice dish on its own, too.  If we’re still eating these beets when arugula season comes back, though, watch out!

 

Flat Bread of Fail

 

I took last Friday off.  It was my first day off since…uhm…Actually, on reflection I failed to take New Year’s day off, so it was my first day off this year.  It was kind of glorious.  I only sent four emails for work!

(Shut up.)

I confess, there were so many things I’d planned to do just as soon as I had a day off that I was a little overwhelmed with everything I had to do.  So I did what I always do when I’m working from home and staring down a time management disaster: I made bread.
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The great thing about making bread is that there are lots of steps with lots of time in between the steps.  Baking bread naturally compartmentalizes your day into discrete chunks full of deadlines, so it’s just a matter of dropping the right tasks into the right slots and you get things done.  So while I wait for the yeast to proof, I switch around the dishes in the dishwasher and wipe down the counters.  Kitchen cleaned!IMG_6849

Mmm, proofed yeast.  I’m glad I took photos of this, because I know the problems that crept up later were not a yeast fail – that is happy, growing yeast you see right there.  What you see there is a portion of the water, mixed with all of the yeast and sugar.  The sugar isn’t there to make the bread sweet but to feed the yeast.  Bacteria, they are hungry little beasties.IMG_6851

Then the rest of the wet ingredients go in.  More water, oil, and some salt.  You definitely don’t want to put in the salt before your yeast gets going – yeast is all about the sweet tooth and isn’t so much into savory.

The next step is where I’m pretty sure things went wrong.  I was using the recipe from Beard on Bread for pita bread, and it called for 5-6 cups of flour, with you adding five at this stage and then as much of the sixth cup as required to get a dough you can handle.  After four cups, the dough seemed pretty ready to me, but I went ahead and tossed in a fifth cup anyway.IMG_6853

And this was where I had my first clue that things were not as they should be.  I adore my stand mixer because when it’s time to knead things I can set the timer then walk away and clear out my inboxes while it does all my work for me.  This recipe said ten minutes, but I bounced up to check it a few times.  Then I left it keep going past the ten minute mark.

Good bread dough gets stretchy and elastic.  This dough didn’t.  If I’d been thinking I’d have added some water or milk to see if I could get it to behave correctly.  I wasn’t.  Instead, I bulled right on to let it rise for a couple hours.  (Split between reading and watching American Horror Story.  Creepy nuns FTW!)IMG_6855

More proof that the problem wasn’t the yeast – this dough was not shy about rising.  Here’s where it occurred to me that the problem was that the dough was much too dry and I should add some more liquid, but after the first rise is rather a bit too late for that, so it was either toss the whole project and pretend nothing happened, or push on to see what happened.  The week before, when by Friday I’d logged something like a million work hours and dealt with my refrigerator trying to flood my kitchen, that dough would have hit the trash can so hard I’d have gotten a basketball scholarship.  I was feeling pretty tolerant and adventurous so I decided to go with it.IMG_6859

Do you know what part of the problem with dough that has too much flour in it is?  It’s tough and unforgiving.  This was the dough after I punched it down and left it do its resting.  (This recipe has a lot of 30 minute rest periods.  The last time I made it I skipped most of them and the recipe turned out great.  I’m not ready to take that as a lesson learned yet)  IMG_6866

I’m not well known for being good at portioning things evenly, or artfully doing much of anything, but these balls of dough are particularly ineffective, even for me.  It was the best I could do, though, given what I was working with.IMG_6867

And, uhm, aren’t those pretty rolled out rounds for pita loaves?

The astute observer might here note that these loaves are neither round, nor as thin as pita loaves ought to be before going into the oven.  They also represent about an hour of going at each of the balls with a rolling pin.  The dough was not interested in doing anything I wanted it to do, especially not rolling out.  This was the best I could do.  I  considered trimming them to make them rounder.  Then I decided, what the hell, this is a lost cause already, let’s just see what happens.IMG_6873That’s what happens.  Pita loaves ought to puff up and turn into poofy balls in the oven.  These…well, you could tell that they knew what they were supposed to do, they just didn’t know how to do it.

Two of them got served with dinner and the rest went into the freezer for later consumption.  The flavor was good, though the loaves were too stiff and lacked the pockets they need to function as pita bread.  The texture was also a bit tougher and drier than I’d like, which is not at all surprising.  I’m thinking the freezer loaves might get repurposed as lazy Mediterranean pizza crust or something similar.  Drizzling them in olive oil and tasty things and serving wedges of them would probably work pretty well.

 

Onions and Also Raddish

Roommates out of the country, fridge full of veggies, and I don’t actually feel much like cooking.  I have a few friends who I ridicule extensively for having empty, depressing kitchens and never cooking.  But if I’m being honest, cooking for one is in fact not much fun, and a good third of what makes their kitchen depressing is the implication that they’re not having enough opportunities to cook for other people.

Which is to say, I got experimental.  I read this recipe, then wandered off to the kitchen to cause dinner.IMG_6827

Isn’t that a pretty radish?  I’m not super familiar with radishes as an ingredient I use – I eat them when restaurants put them in things and like them – but before the CSA wouldn’t have ever thought to pick up radishes for me to use.  They’ve got a nice crunch, though, do a remarkably nice job of tasting like spring, and the color is really nice to see on your plate.  I’m a fan.IMG_6830

Also, since you can eat them raw, the part where I have no idea how to tell whether a radish is “done” doesn’t matter at all.  Yay!IMG_6831

We had green onions in the fridge that were starting to look distinctly unhappy.  So I chopped up all of them and tossed them into the skillet with the radishes.  There’s also a healthy, generous portion of butter in there.  IMG_6835

Then I scooped all that out, and threw a chopped leak into the skillet with one of our frozen chicken stock cubes and a cup of water.  No idea how long that ought to go either, but I let it cook down until most of the liquid was gone, then added some butter.IMG_6837

Foy, by the way, has gotten quite productive.  Both kinds of basil and the dill have taken to pressing themselves against her grow lights with a vengeance, so I’ve been having to harvest from them every day, sometimes twice.  Suddenly, I have an awful lot of fresh basil and dill.  So I figured, what the hell, let’s chop up some basil and toss that in, too.IMG_6838

In goes the basil and, my brain prompted me from that half read recipe, I should probably toss in a bit of lemon juice.  So I threw that in at this stage, where things are more saucy than soupy, too.  Then the radish got tossed back into the skillet to mix it all together.IMG_6843

 

Viola!  Home cooked veggies, with a side of burrito-from-freezer.  This was incredibly tasty, and the lemon juice is what made it – I’m really glad I remembered that part.  This is probably more of a side dish and could easily serve three or four people for that function.  I, uhm, ate all of it.  Could not resist the lemon-butter-onion awesome.  This is a thing you should do.