Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

Bread-baking tip: winter edition

If your kitchen is way too cold for bread to rise, stick the dough in the oven with the light on — the light provides just enough heat to warm up the dough. Just be sure to take it out before turning the oven on!

bread rising in oven

(Honey-Wheat Bread recipe by Slate)

(Large Loaf Pan in Lapis by Le Creuset)

Currently reading: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Ever since I first started learning to cook, I’ve been hearing about this book:

bread baker's apprentice cover

Everywhere, anywhere, people are talking about baking bread at home, they’re raving about it. So I finally caved in over the holidays, picked it up, and I’m glad I did.

This would be pretty intimidating for beginning bakers, so I don’t recommend it as a “first book” of bread baking (I’m still gonna have to go with this one for beginners!). At the same time, though, it’s not so esoteric that anybody who doesn’t have tons of money, time, equipment and space for baking can’t get something out of it.

It’s relatively light on actual recipes, but is filled with great material: a long, but very readable discourse on artisanal bread baking in the first part, and several varied recipes (with full explanations, photos, formulas and ratios) in the second part. I can see why Peter Reinhart’s books are so popular: he combines good writing with good explanations, two things which rarely come into contact. (Kenji excepted, obviously.)

Warning: while reading this, you will develop intense cravings for freshly-baked artisan bread, so I recommend you have some source of good bread into which you can dive, face-first, while you’re waiting for your own attempt to finish — which will be a while, because the key technique that Reinhart uses is a super-long rest period, often overnight. (In that sense, it’s not different from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.)

I ended up going to Panera Bread, since I can’t find any local sources of artisan bread near me, and got a ciabatta for about $3, but I was very disappointed: it’s scarcely different from the “Italian loaf” I can get at the grocery store bakery for a dollar. I have had good luck with Panera’s loaves in the past (I remember the honey wheat and the sourdough being good), but I won’t buy the ciabatta again. Of course, if I’m lucky, I can use this book to start making my own!

 

 

Recipe: oat-pecan-maple whole wheat scones

scones

Sometimes, you just gotta make scones. Specifically, when you want something warm and carb-laden, but not really overly sweet, because you’re maxed out on sugar. But then you realize that you don’t have cream, and all your buttermilk is frozen, so none of your scone recipes work. Then the internet comes riding to the rescue, just when you had determined that it was a festering blight upon the face of humanity and you were going to burn your modem and everything related to it.

Anyway, here’s what I ended up making, based on this recipe from King Arthur Flour (who are pretty darn good at what they do).

What you need:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup whole grain oat flour
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • something slightly more than 1/8 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
  • about 1 cup of pecans
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon maple flavoring
  • 2/3 cup milk

What you do:

  1. Very carefully measure the all-purpose flour into your tiny food processor, then even more carefully slice the butter into little pats and squeeze them in there, too. Process on about a 5 (out of 20) for a few seconds until the butter is fairly well cut up, because you don’t feel like going at cold butter with a pastry cutter at this time of night.
  2. In a big bowl, combine the flour/butter mixture with the rest of the flours, the sugar, the salt, and the baking powder.
  3. Run the pecans through the food processor, since it’s already dirty. Later think that toasting them beforehand would make them a lot better. Make a note of it for next time. Add the pecans to the dry mixture.
  4. Combine the eggs, flavorings, and milk, then add them to the dry ingredients and mix fairly well. (You can adjust the amount of milk if necessary; I used the entire amount because I used mostly whole grain flour.)
  5. Divide the dough roughly in two, and dump out each half onto a lined, floured baking sheet. Pat and shape the dough into discs, then cut into wedges, 6 or 8 apiece works.
  6. Rearrange your freezer, then stick the baking sheet with the cut dough in to chill for 30 minutes. While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 425 degrees as measured by an oven thermometer, not what your oven says it’s at.
  7. After 30 minutes, remove the baking sheet from the oven and rearrange the dough wedges so they’re not close together. Either pull them apart slightly from their wheel shape, or completely spread them all over the baking sheet.
  8. Bake the scones for 20-25 minutes.

You can eat them warm, or room temperature; they’re good both ways. You can add more sugar if you want them to be sweeter, but I like scones because they AREN’T necessarily super-sweet. You can play with the flavor by adding different extracts and mix-ins; there’s no need to just dump in more refined sugar for the heck of it. I think next time, though, I might try brown sugar; I think it would go well with the pecans and oat flour.

These have kept pretty well at room temperature in a zip-top baggie, although I am trying to use them up before they get stale or otherwise bad. It’s a good thing they last, because this recipe makes A LOT. Next time I’ll probably halve it, if it’s just for us. The other thing to consider is that you can just keep freezing the unbaked wedges after their initial chill; just put them in something airtight and then bake as many as you want later on. (Probably add a couple minutes to the baking time.)

You can use all all-purpose flour, too, if you really want more refined grain in your diet. I’m just on a whole-grain kick right now. Wait until I save up for a mill to grind my own grains! That’ll be epic.

Recipe: split pea and ham soup

yellow split pea soupSee what I made?

No, it’s not queso dip; it’s split pea and ham soup — with yellow split peas! Isn’t that cool? I didn’t even know they existed until I saw them in the Mexican aisle at Wal-Mart.

I used them to make my regular split pea and ham soup, and it turned out great. Apparently the yellow peas can be a little milder than the green, although I don’t know that I really noticed a difference.

I base my recipe off of the Cook’s Illustrated version (paywall), although it is either simpler, or more complicated, depending on which way you look at it. Here’s just the text; maybe someday I’ll do one with pictures.

What you need:

  • about 2 Tablespoons bacon drippings
  • onion, chopped — about 1 onion should do you, although you can adjust for personal preference.
  • a couple three garlic cloves, minced (if desired)
  • 7 cups of ham stock (can substitute poultry stock) — homemade is best; I make a lot at a time, and keep it in the freezer
  • 1 bag of split peas, green or yellow, picked over — I rarely rinse or do anything else to them.
  • ham, chopped or diced or shredded — I just eyeball it; this is really personal preference. I used a whole ham steak this time, and it seemed like a lot to me, although if you like your split pea and ham to be more ham and less split pea, then knock yourself out.

What you do:

  1. Heat the bacon drippings in a large soup pot/Dutch oven over medium-low to medium heat; whatever temperature it takes on your stove to cook down some onions.
  2. Add onions and cook down, stirring occasionally, until desired flavor/consistency. I like my onions cooked way, WAY down, so mine are practically caramelized.
  3. When the onions are almost done, throw the garlic in and stir it around until it’s fragrant, but not browned.
  4. Here, it’s a little different depending on whether you’re using ham or poultry stock. If you’re using ham stock, then add the stock and peas, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until peas are at desired consistency (we like ours completely dissolved). Stir occasionally to keep the peas from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  5. If you’re using poultry stock, and the stock, peas, and ham, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 45 minutes. Then remove the ham and keep covered while the soup continues to cook, covered, until the peas are at desired consistency.
  6. Once the peas are done, either put the ham back in, or add it for the first time.

I like the Cook’s Illustrated version, but it was a little too complicated for me, so I usually simplify it — but by simplify, I mean I do some steps, way, way in advance.

In their recipe, they use 7 cups of water, then add in carrots, and celery, and bay leaves, and everything to actually make ham stock while the soup is cooking. I rarely have those things sitting around when I wanted split pea and ham soup, so I just make ham stock whenever I’ve cooked a bone-in ham (which I HIGHLY recommend — you’ll have frozen ham leftover for months, and it tastes SO much better than other ham).

So if you’re using poultry stock, you put the ham in originally to get some ham flavor in there, but if you’re using ham stock, you can wait until the end, since it’s already flavored.

The Cook’s Illustrated recipe also calls for two slices of bacon to be simmered in the soup, then removed later, and for the onion to be cooked down in butter in the initial step. I hate wasting bacon, so I get the bacon flavor in there by just using bacon drippings to brown the onion in the first place, and I don’t have to thaw out two strips of bacon just to toss them out later.

Also, because I’m using bacon drippings and pre-made stock, I don’t really season or salt this; there’s plenty of salt and flavor in it already.

Obviously, if you don’t have stock, and you don’t have a jar of bacon drippings in your fridge, then you can just follow their recipe, and it’ll be fine!

Split pea and ham is one of my favorite soups, especially for breakfasts on winter mornings. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it! And the yellow peas make it much, much less gross-looking than green peas.

Pretty things: tumbled opal

In keeping with the long and glorious academic tradition of putting off writing a paper, I present for your edification:

“Tumbled Opal: What to Do With It”

For my birthday last month, I decided to splurge on something I’d been drooling over for a long time: an opal specimen.

opal specimen in chest

This isn’t jewelry; it’s basically a display piece because it has some crazing… Which I am totally okay with because it puts a phenomenal stone within my reach.

In addition to the fabulous stone, I scored a little parcel of tumbled opal pieces:

tumbled opal mirror outside1

Aren’t they amazing?

tumbled opal mirror outside2

Seriously, these are almost better than the bigger stones. (Click on the pictures to see the awesomeness even bigger! And then imagine I have a real camera…)

These are available as 100-gram parcels at 4th Dimension Gems on Etsy, and I created a variety of action shots to give a glimpse into the possibilities of owning your own little pile of gorgeousness. (For reference, the amount shown in my pictures is about 70 grams.*)

In addition to being scattered across a mirror, as shown above, I like pouring them into a tiny glass jar:

tumbled opal heart jar

Or piling them onto a clear glass candle holder:

tumbled opal glass dish2tumbled opal glass dish1

You can combine the two and put the candle holder on the mirror – best of both worlds!

tumbled opal glass dish on mirror

About the only thing you have to consider is that opals need plenty of direct light for the fire (or as my daughter calls it, the “rainbows”) to show up. I tried them in a clear glass votive holder, and I think it was a little too wide, and too much of the light was blocked:

tumbled opal votive jar

You can see the ones on top, but the ones underneath look dull. Plus, the texture on this particular candle holder distorts the visibility; I recommend something with plain, clear glass.

For example, a champagne flute:

tumbled opal champagne flute2

Or a martini glass:

tumbled opal martini glass1tumbled opal martini glass2

I love this display, but if you have cats or kids it’s probably not the most practical: champagne flute spilled onto a mirror:

tumbled opal flute spilled on mirror

Or, you can have the shop owner make you a chest for your treasure:

tumbled opal in chesttumbled opal chest opentumbled opal chest closed

My only caveat is this: if you have small children, they will have their fingers in these ALL THE TIME. So either put them behind glass, or up on a shelf, or get over it and start teaching your kids early to appreciate beautiful things. (I’m personally wavering between options 2 and 3.)

Other than that, I really don’t see how you can go wrong!

~~~~~~~~~

Tumbled opal parcels, an assortment of both cut and rough gemstones, as well as custom settings, are all available at 4th Dimension Gems on Etsy. This is the perfect time of year to consider investing in a beautiful stone for yourself or someone you love!

~~~~~~~~~

* This is what 70 grams of tumbled opal looks like; I have medium-ish hands, I guess?

tumbled opal in hand

Fall roundup 2015: Maxwell House pumpkin spice latte instant coffee mix

maxwell house instant latte mix pumpkin spice

This stuff is tasty. When I was a teenager I used to love the decaf, no-sugar version of this stuff (why I was drinking decaf, I have no idea), and this is a nice throwback. I also love being able to boil some water in our electric kettle and just dump in about a tablespoon of this stuff for an instant caffeine shot. This one is pretty high in caffeine, but it goes down easy, so I have to be careful.

If you hate instant coffee, definitely don’t get this. But if you’re in a hurry for caffeine, there are much worse things. (Like Starbucks.)

Fall roundup 2015: Pumpkin Pie Spice scone mix

archer farms pumpkin pie spice scone mix

These came out really well. Nice and light, with a very mild flavor; most of the sweetness and spices were in the glaze mix. I didn’t wait for them to cool completely before adding the glaze, so it all melted:

IMG_2040

But they were good nonetheless. I don’t usually make scones from mixes (I rarely make scones period), but these were fun as a treat, especially with pumpkin spice chai tea latte mix.

Fall roundup 2015: Pumpkin Spice baking morsels

toll house pumpkin spice morsels

I got these last year, and just finally got around to trying them. They’re okay; they’re kinda like the original pumpkin spice M&M’s in that they’re basically a bunch of oil with flavoring. I made the Pumpkin Spice Molasses Cookies recipe on the back of the bag, and it was pretty good, although I think you could substitute white baking morsels, or even nuts or something, and they would be even better.

Fall roundup 2015: Pillsbury Ready-to-Bake Pumpkin Cookies

IMG_1859

I have to start this by saying that I am not generally a fan of pre-made chilled cookie dough, or cookies, or whatever “cookie” products they have in the refrigerator section. To be honest, I usually don’t make cookies from boxed mixes, either. Cakes and brownies yes, cookies no. Why do that when cookies are so much better made from scratch?

But these were not too bad. I was definitely skeptical initially:

IMG_1860

“Food product” was not what leapt immediately to mind when I opened them.

And the preparation process, um, wasn’t a process.

IMG_1862

They turned out okay, though.

IMG_1864

I baked them for the longest recommended amount, because I’m not used to making this kind of cookie, so they came out pretty crunchy. I don’t know if that’s just the way they are, or if I just baked them too long.

But the flavor was actually pretty good. Well-balanced pumpkin spice flavor, not too chemically. Spicy in a good way.

So if you want to bake cookies, but you don’t want to bake cookies, you could buy these and put them in your oven and then there would be cookies…

Fall roundup 2015: Pumpkin Spice Waffles

pumpkin spice waffles

I got these last year, and they were really good! Of course, it had been years since I’d had frozen waffles of any kind, but I was still very happy with these. Nice light pumpkin spice flavor in a tasty waffle! (At least, as tasty as frozen waffles get.) Like the Pop-Tarts, I don’t normally buy these products, but I will make an exception for the pumpkin spice version.

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