Category Archives: Breads

How To Make Homemade Croutons

Simple Herbed Croutons

You know the saying “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime?”  Well, this week I’m going to show you how to make your own croutons.  You’ll never want to buy a box of croutons again once you know how easy this is and how much better homemade croutons taste!

This is one of those very non-fussy cooking projects, where just about anything goes.  All you will need is some bread, olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs.

Ingredients for croutons

A note about the bread:  you can use just about any bread that you like to make these.  I prefer a whole wheat bread but the preferences end there.  You can start with a rustic loaf with, a light loaf, a dense loaf.  Even stale bread works beautifully here.  You should never have to throw stale bread out again–this is a perfect use for it.  Although I prefer whole wheat for everyday croutons, you can also use a rustic white bread, roughly torn into pieces.  It will make for a slightly less-healthy but really tasty version, great for panzanella (a bread salads).  For this batch, I used Stone House Bread’s Honey Wheat Sandwich Bread.  You can pick it up at Meijer for $3.39, a steal!  And this bread is what bread should be, made simply and locally with a few, high quality organic ingredients.

Bread for croutons

Just cut the bread into strips, turn the other way, and cube it!  You can also roughly tear it into pieces.  Either way the results will be great.

Strips of bread

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For the herbs, I prefer fresh parsley or basil but in a pinch, you can use dried if need be.  You will mix the herbs with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Mix:

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Put the bread cubes into a large bowl and pour the olive oil, herb, salt, and pepper mixture over the croutons.  Spread onto a large baking sheet, making sure to avoid overcrowding:

Bake in a 300° oven for about 15 minutes.  Check to see if they are browned and crispy.  If not, bake for another 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let sit until cool.  This will also harden the croutons further so they are nice and crispy.  Once they are completely cool, place in an airtight container.  They will keep for a couple of weeks at room temperature.

Simple Herbed Croutons

Simple Homemade Croutons

  • 6 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley, basil, or other fresh herb
  • generous pinch of salt
  • generous pinch of pepper
  • Optional:  1 minced clove of garlic or 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • Optional:  2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 300°
  2. Cube bread or tear into pieces.  Place into a large bowl.
  3. Mix together the olive oil, herbs, salt, and pepper, and garlic or cheese if you are using them.
  4. Pour the olive oil mixture over the bread and stir to coat well.
  5. Scatter the coated bread pieces onto a large baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes and check for browning and crispness.  If needed, put back into the oven until done.  Mine usually take about 20 minutes.
  7. Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
  8. Enjoy on salads, soups, or right out of the jar!

One Change: Walnut Cinnamon Biscotti

Walnut Cinnamon Biscotti

I just listened to a wonderful TEDx talk by Sarah Britton, the author of one of my very favorite food blogs, My New Roots.  The TEDx talk was called “One Change” and in it, Sarah talks us through the idea that one small change in the kitchen can have life changing consequences.  Food, she argues, is life sustaining and life changing.  What you reach for in the grocery store is an important choice with long term consequences.  ‘More than fuel, food can be a powerful medicine.’  Sarah reminds us that whole foods make us feel better and they simply taste better.  At the end of the talk, Sarah shows the audience how, in a matter of minutes and with the most basic of kitchen tools, you can make your own nut milk at home.  Not only is it cost-effective, it tastes better and it empowers you, both in the kitchen and in your life.

I must have nodded my head 98 times while I was listening to that talk.  I couldn’t agree more.  It is so fulfilling and empowering to me to make my own foods from scratch.  I get so much joy from experimenting in the kitchen and my successes are shared with friends and family as I make the rounds calling and urging them to please try this at home.

Coincidentally, I was listening to Sarah’s talk while making this week’s Food Matter’s Project recipe (chosen by the ever-adventurous and darling Margarita at Let’s Cook and Be Friends).  Coincidentally, it was my very first time making biscotti.  And perhaps not coincidentally, I plan to continue making my own biscotti for years to come.  One change.

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Biscotti rarely calls to me at a bakery.  Next to all of the more gooey, more creamy, more sweet sweets, biscotti fails to convince.  Maybe it was smelling the biscotti baking in my own kitchen, maybe it was discovering just how easy it is to make, or maybe it was simply the fact that I made it myself (!) that I find myself hooked.  Biscotti instantly found its way onto my list of food gifts to make for friends and family at the holidays.  Biscotti instantly found its way into my heart and into my Sunday morning coffee routine.

This recipe is great because there isn’t too much sugar (next time I will experiment with using agave or sucanat and see how that goes) but it still ends up being satisfying.  For my holiday gifting, I plan to dip some biscotti in dark chocolate to make it more enticing but for me, this simple version is the perfect starting point and perfect in itself.  Sitting in my window seat with my cup of pour-over coffee, I’m in a happy place.

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Please share with me any of your own cooking revelations.  Is there anything you always used to buy but now only make at home?  In the meantime, please try this at home!

To read about what other great biscotti ideas the Food Matter’s Project bloggers came up with, head here.  To get a quick visual scan of everyone’s creations, head on over to our Pinterest site.

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Walnut Biscotti; from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook

Makes 2 to 3 dozen; Time:  1 and 1/4 hours, mostly unattended

Even without eggs and butter, these biscotti aren’t too dry, and they maintain their pleasant texture for days.  Serve with coffee or tea.

  • 1 and 1/3 cups walnut halves
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 and 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • Vegetable oil for greasing pan
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F.  Put half the walnuts in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.  Transfer to a large bowl and add the remaining walnuts along with the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; mix well.  Add the honey and 3/4 cup water and mix until just incorporated, adding a little extra water if needed to bring the dough together.
  2. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets with a little oil and dust them with flour; invert the sheets and tap them to remove the excess flour.  Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a 2-inch wide log.  Put each log on a baking sheet.  Bake until the loaves are golden and beginning to crack on top, 30 to 40 minutes; cool the logs on the sheets for a few minutes.  Lower the oven temperature to 250°F.
  3. When the loaves are cool enough to handle, use a serrated knife to cut each on a diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slices.  Put the slices on the sheets, return them to the oven, and leave them there, turning once, until they dry out, 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool completely on wire racks.  Store in an airtight container for up to several days.

Tomato Tuesday: Grilled Caprese Flatbread Pizza

This week, I’m joining a call to action:  Food Bloggers for Slave Free Tomatoes.  First, I’ll fill you in on what this is all about.  Once you’ve read all about this great initiative (and perhaps even taken a moment to sign the letter requesting that your supermarkets carry slave-free tomatoes), your reward will be a simple and delicious recipe for Grilled Caprese Flatbread, using slave-free farmer’s market tomatoes from a Michigan farm.

A big thanks to Nicole from The Giving Table for pulling all of us food bloggers together to effect social change!  Head on over to her FABULOUS blog to check out her own slave-free tomato recipe and all of the many other wonderful recipes and thoughts on food philanthropy she so beautifully offers to her readers.

Food philanthropy never tasted so good

On Tuesday, July 24th, “Tomato Tuesday”, bloggers from around the country are donating their posts to the fight for slave-free tomatoes.

About Recipe for Change

This summer, International Justice Mission has partnered with The Coalition of Immokalee Workers and The Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC) to create Recipe for Change, a campaign to raise awareness about injustices in U.S. tomato fields and ask the CEOs of major supermarket chains Publix, Ahold (owners of Stop & Shop, Giant and Martin’s) and Kroger to endorse the Fair Food Program, ensuring the tomatoes you buy are slave-free.

Where to Purchase Slave-Free Tomatoes

Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, your local Farmer’s Market, or your CSA box.

The Problem

Slavery is not just happening overseas. Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Molloy once called Florida’s tomato fields “ground zero” for modern-day slavery in the United States. In the past 15 years, over 1,000 people have been freed from slavery in U.S. tomato fields.

The Solution

Recipe for Change–a campaign led by International Justice Mission in partnership with the Fair Food Standards Council and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers–is targeting three major supermarket chains this summer (Ahold, Publix and Kroger’s), and asking its CEOs to support the Fair Food Program. Corporations that join agree to pay a small price increase for fairly harvested tomatoes (1.5 cents more per pound), and promise to shift purchases to the Florida tomato growers who abide by these higher standards–and away from those who won’t.

Major fast food companies, like McDonalds and Subway, have already endorsed the Fair Food Program, but the largest U.S. supermarket chains have yet to support this collaborative effort to eradicate modern-day slavery.

Call to Action

Supermarkets can help eliminate slavery and other serious abuses from the tomato supply chain when they join the Fair Food Program. But in order to change its policies, CEOs need pressure from consumers.  Take 30 seconds, raise your voice, and sign your name to help ensure that supermarket tomatoes are slave-free!

And NOW…your reward!

Grilled Caprese Flatbread Pizza

  • One 3/4-1 lb ball of prepared dough, either from local bakery or homemade (for homemade no-knead dough recipe click here)
  • Big handful of arugula
  • 2 slave-free tomatoes (heirloom if you can find them!), sliced
  • 3 oz of goat cheese
  • 3-4 tablespoons of homemade pesto
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • cracked pepper

Prepare your grill to a piping hot temp (charcoal is best–no gas taste–blech!).  Arrange coals so they are evenly distributed around the grill.  Lightly flour your dough and roll it out.  Don’t worry about the shape–slightly misshapen actually looks best for flatbread pizzas.  Once your grill is hot, clean off the grate with a wire brush.  Oil a piece of paper towel and using tongs, rub the oiled towel on the grill grate.  Toss the dough directly onto the grill.  After about 1 minute, take your tongs and gently lift the dough to check the bottom.  Depending on the heat of your grill, the flatbread should cook about 1-3 minutes on each side.  Some light charring is nice but don’t burn it!  Once the flatbread is browned and lightly charred in spots on both sides, remove from the grill and top.  Spread pesto on flatbread.  Arrange arugula, goat cheese, and tomatoes on the top.  Generously drizzle good quality olive oil on top.  Sprinkle some sea salt flakes and freshly cracked pepper on top.  Enjoy your amazingly simple grilled caprese flatbread.  Mmmmmmmm.

Updated Tea Sandwiches With Chilled Avocado-Radish-Basil Soup

This week was my week to host the Food Matters Project and I picked what I figured I would want to make the first few days of July.  Knowing me, I would be eating lots of cucumbers on toast and crackers around this time of the summer.  Knowing me, I wouldn’t want to fire up the stove.  What I didn’t know was that I would be escaping the dry, 95 degree weather in Grand Rapids for a beautiful, breezy weekend in northern lower Michigan…foodie heaven.  For more on all of the wonderful foods and sights I took in this weekend, see my next post!

In my rush to leave my house to enjoy this incredible weekend, I left with very few ingredients for the tea sandwiches.  I packed fresh shelled peas, white and red radishes, English cucumbers, arugula, sunflower sprouts, butter, and bread.  The result was a far cry from the creative updated sandwiches in Bittman’s book but still made for a simple and delicious lunch alongside a nice chilled avocado-radish and basil soup.  Thanks to Meryl and her family for joining me on my culinary adventure and being such gracious taste-testers!  See below for several tea sandwich recipes from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook, for what I did to create my sandwiches, for my update on the updated tea sandwiches (made the radish-walnut sandwiches for lunch after posting this!) and for the avocado-radish-basil soup that my sandwiches were served with.

Aura’s Open Faced Tea Sandwiches

For my tea sandwiches, I spread salted butter on several slices of light wheat toast made by a local bakery (turned out it was a little dry but what do you do!).  I lightly steamed about 1 cup of peas and mashed them with 1 Tbsp butter and 1/2 minced clove of garlic.  I thinly, thinly sliced 2 English cucumbers and 4 radishes.  Next, I assembled! Some slices of bread got spread with garlicky peas and then topped with radishes or cucumber.  Some were dressed plainly with butter then radishes or cucumber.  However you want to make these guys is great–just make any combination of cucumbers, radishes, basil, arugula, sunflower sprouts, peas….you are the artist!

Avocado, Radish, and Basil Soup; From Martha Stewart Living, July 2012

Scoop flesh from 2 chilled avocados (7 to 8 oz each) and puree with 3 cups cold water, 1 and ½ tsp. coarse salt, and 1 and ½ cups basil leaves in a blender until smooth.  Add 3 trimmed large radishes, and pulse until chunky, about 4 times.  Season with freshly ground black pepper.  Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.  Stir well, and garnish with julienned radish and basil leaves before serving.  Serves 5.

Above:  open faced radish walnut tea sandwiches–recipe below

Updated Tea Sandwiches; from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook

Tea sandwiches may be old-fashioned, but they’re easy to modernize and not at all gimmicky.  (The classic is plain cucumber and butter—you don’t get much less gimmicky than that.)  Consider these as a springboard to your own combinations. 

In general, the bread is fine-crumbed and sliced thin, the fillings are fresh, and there is little or no lag between making and serving.  All of this makes homemade whole wheat sandwich bread perfect, but really any loaf with a dense texture, relatively soft crust, and fine crumb is good.

Seasonal vegetables are almost universally well suited for small sandwiches—even leftover roasted or grilled vegetables or salads.  Just make sure the ingredients are drained of any dressing or marinade and chopped up a bit, which makes the sandwiches easier to cut and eat.

You can, of course, add a little cheese or meat to many tea sandwiches.  Try blending crumbled feta or blue cheese or grated Parmesan in with the pesto-like spreads.  Or before closing the sandwiches, sprinkle the fillings with crumbled bacon or add a thin shard of prosciutto, roast beef or pork, or shredded grilled chicken.

Cucumber-Wasabi Tea Sandwiches

Makes:  4 to 8 servings; Time:  10 minutes

  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • ½ teaspoon wasabi powder, or more to taste
  • 8 thin slices sandwich bread, preferably whole wheat
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chopped watercress
  • Salt and black pepper

Combine the mayonnaise and wasabi in a small bowl.  Spread a thin layer of this mixture on each of the bread slices.  Top half the bread slices with the cucumber and watercress.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, close the sandwiches, cut each into quarters on the diagonal, and serve.

Gingered Pea Tea Sandwiches

Makes:  4 to 8 servings; Time:  10 minutes

  • 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter or olive oil, or more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • ½ cup chopped fresh mint
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 8 thin slices sandwich bread, preferably whole wheat

Mash the peas with the butter or oil and ginger until the mixture is pasty but not smooth; add a little more butter or oil if necessary to make the peas spreadable.  (You can make the filling ahead to this point, cover, and refrigerate for up to a day; return to room temperature before proceeding.)  Add the mint and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

  1. Smear about ¼ cup of the filling on 4 of the bread slices and top to make sandwiches.  Cut each into quarters on the diagonal and serve.

Pumpkin-Apple Tea Sandwiches

Makes:  4 to 8 servings; Time:  10 minutes with cooked or canned pumpkin

  • ½ cup mashed or pureed cooked pumpkin or winter squash (good quality canned is okay)
  • 2 green apples, cored and thinly sliced
  • 8 thin slices sandwich bread, preferably multigrain
  • ½ teaspoon coriander or cinnamon
  • Salt and black pepper

Spread a thin layer of the pumpkin or squash on each of the bread slices.  Top half the bread slices with the apple.  Season with the spice and a little salt and pepper, close the sandwiches, cut each into quarters on the diagonal, and serve.

Egg and Olive Tea Sandwiches

Makes:  4 to 8 servings; Time:  10 minutes with already cooked eggs

  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup good quality green olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 cup chopped spinach
  • 8 thin slices sandwich bread, preferably whole wheat
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced
  • Salt and black pepper
  1. Combine the mayonnaise, olives, and spinach in a small bowl.  Spread a thin layer of the mixture on half of the bread slices; smear the rest of the slices with the mustard.
  2. Put the hard-boiled egg on top of the mustard, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and close the sandwiches, pressing down slightly to seal.  Cut each sandwich into quarters on the diagonal and serve.

Radish-Walnut Tea Sandwiches

Makes:  4 to 8 servings; Time:  20 minutes

  • ½ pound radishes
  • 1 cup arugula
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, or more as needed
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 8 thin slices bread, preferably whole wheat baguette
  1. Pulse the radishes in a food processor until they’re chopped up a bit but not pureed; remove, scraping what you can out of the bowl.
  2. Combine the arugula, walnuts, and orange zest in the processor and, with the machine on, drizzle in the oil, adding enough to make a paste.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Spread a thin layer of the walnut mixture on each of the bread slices.  Top half the slices with the radishes, close the sandwiches, cut each into small sandwiches on the diagonal (or into quarters if you are using sandwich bread), and serve.

Bruschetta Rethought–The Food Matters Project

Another week, another simple and healthy recipe from the Food Matters Cookbook.  While I kept mine prettty simple with two variations, I’m sure the other FMP bloggers got pretty creative with theirs!  Check out this week’s host, Laura J.‘s blog for her take on this classic dish–bruschetta with blue cheese and honey!  And if you are feeling inspired, head over to the Food Matters Project site to see everyone elses creations.  For a quick visual form of inspiration, head over the the FMP Pinterest board.  Kate from Cookie + Kate is always so kind to post all of our dishes every week.  Within the next couple of days, you will be able to see everyone’s choice of toppings for bruschetta.

When most people think of bruschetta, they think of the tomato mixture that many people use as a topping.  Bruschetta is actually the toasted bread itself.  Classic bruschetta is toasted bread rubbed with garlic then drizzled with olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper.  Once you have made your bruschetta you can top it with whatever you like!

A simple meal can consist simply of bruschetta with several toppings scattered on the table, allowing your guests or family make their own perfect combination.  It can’t get any easier than this–and who doesn’t love bread topped with yummy stuff?

Simple Bruschetta {from The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman}

  • 8 thick slices rustic bread, preferably whole grain
  • 1 or more garlic cloves, halved or crushed, optional
  • ¼ cup olive oil, or more as needed
  • Salt and black pepper
  1. Prepare a grill or turn on the broiler; the heat should be medium-high and the rack about 4 inches from the fire.  Grill or broil the bread until lightly browned on both sides, ideally with some grill marks or light charring.  I used a double-burner cast iron griddle that has a side with grill slats on it–works great!
  2. While the bread is still hot, rub the slices with garlic, if using, on one or both sides.  Put the bread on a plate, then drizzle or brush it with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Serve warm with your favorite toppings.

I topped my first variation with thinly sliced tomato, arugula, basil, and parmesan cheese.  My second variation was a little more outside-of-the-box.  I chose Mark Bittman’s North African Style Cauliflower Salad to top my bruschetta.

Chopped Cauliflower Salad, North African Style

Makes: 4 servings; Time: 25 minutes

Quickly cooking the cumin, coriander, and cinnamon in the warm dressing concentrates their flavors and helps them soak into the cauliflower (the fragrance is amazing). This is one of those uncommon salads that benefits from refrigerating for a day, but it’s best served at room temperature.

  • Salt
  • 1 large cauliflower, cored
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Black pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
  • Note:  I added a can of Great Northern beans to mine to add a creamy texture–be sure to drain and rinse before adding.
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it; set up a bowl of ice water. Add the cauliflower to the boiling water and cook until you can just barely pierce the center with a skewer or thin-bladed knife (you want it still quite crisp), 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the cauliflower, plunge it in the ice water, and let cool for a few minutes. Drain the cauliflower well and roughly chop.
  2. Dump the cooking water, put the oil in the same pot, and turn the heat to medium. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring once or twice, until they are no longer raw. Stir in the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Stir in the lemon juice and turn off the heat.
  3. Toss the cauliflower with the warm dressing in the pot. Taste, adjust the seasoning if necessary, and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve immediately. (Or wait to add the parsley, refrigerate for up to a day or 2, bring the salad back to room temperature, and toss with the parsley right before serving.)

French Yogurt Cake

When life gives you lemons, make french yogurt cake!

Some 30,000 feet up in the air earlier this week I came across this gorgeous recipe in this month’s issue of Bon Appetit.  It was described as a “healthier pound cake with a bit more going on (thanks to yogurt and lemon zest).”  I was so worried I was going to forget to make this that I wrote it down in my recipe notepad, dog-eared the magazine page, and put it on my Outlook calendar as a final reminder.  I knew it would be a keeper.  This is one of those recipes I’m sure to make many more times–hope you give it a try.  The prep time is 10 minutes–you can’t go wrong!  The cake turned out moist, beautifully yellow on the inside and browned on the outside, bright-tasting with a hint of salt to enhance the sweet, and so fragrant.  Like a big burst of sunshine on an otherwise dreary day.  Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Coat 8 1/2 x 4 1/4-inch loaf pan with vegetable oil spray. Dust with flour; tap out excess.
  2. Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and kosher salt in a medium bowl.
  3. Using your fingers, rub sugar with lemon zest in a large bowl until sugar is moist. Add yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract; whisk to blend. Fold in dry ingredients just to blend.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 50–55 minutes.
  5. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert onto rack; let cool completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Easy-Peasy Homemade Bread

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.” –Robert Browning

This week’s Food Matter’s Project has all of us project participants baking bread.  I very nearly skipped it this week due to an unreasonable fear of failure surrounding bread baking. Glad I didn’t!  The host this week is Melissa and she has a beautiful blog, The Fauxmartha. Melissa’s bread looks amazing–I wish I could have called her for tech support during my bread baking today!  And click here to see how the other project participants fared.

I have had few successes with bread baking without quite understanding why.  Although this endeavor wasn’t a complete success, the minimal effort proved well worth it and although my baguettes looked more like little beached whales spread out on baking pans, they tasted wonderfully.  This process took so little time–and was well worth the effort!  When the bread came out of the oven I could scarcely wait ten seconds before tearing into a loaf and slathering it with butter.  Baking bread today was the best thing about my already quite good day.  Eating fresh-from-the-oven bread in your own home is truly one of life’s most beautiful moments.  As I enjoyed nearly an entire mini-baguette bit by bit, I was thinking of one of my favorite poems:

Vision–May Theilgaard Watts

To-day there have been lovely things I never saw before; Sunlight through a jar of marmalade; A blue gate; A rainbow In soapsuds on dishwater; Candlelight on butter; The crinkled smile of a little girl Who had new shoes with tassels; A chickadee on a thornapple; Empurpled mud under a willow, Where white geese slept; White ruffled curtains sifting moonlight On the scrubbed kitchen floor; The under side of a white-oak leaf; Ruts in the road at sunset; An egg yolk in a blue bowl.

My love kissed my eyes last night.

I thought the author could have included the aroma and taste of freshly baked bread in this poem because it is a lovely thing.

I made my bread with King Arthur unbleached white flour because I was planning on giving some away and wasn’t sure that the whole wheat would be as well-received.  Everything seemed to be going exceptionally well (considering past failures) until it came time to slash the bread before popping into the oven.  My beautiful logs of dough flattened in a millisecond, reminding me of some doughy rubenesque sunbathers.  I was pretty heartbroken but much relieved when they came out and still tasted delicious!  At least I have somewhere to start from and something to improve on. Any suggestions on how to prevent this from happening again?

Homemade Baguettes recipe adapted from Mark Bittman’s Mostly Whole Wheat Baguettes, The Food Matters Cookbook, yields 2 large or 4 small baguettes

  • 3 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
  • oil for greasing pan, optional
  • 1/4 c. sesame or poppy seeds, optional
  1. In a food processor, combine the flours, salt, sugar, and yeast. (You can mix the dough by hand, but it will take longer; use a big bowl and a wooden spoon or sturdy rubber spatula.) With the machine running, pour about 1 1/2 cups water through the feed tube. Process until the dough forms a ball, adding one tablespoon more water at a time until it becomes smooth. You want a pretty wet but well-defined ball. The whole process should take 30 to 60 seconds. If the dough becomes too wet, add 1 tablespoon flour at a time and process briefly. Put the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, at least one hour.
  2. Lightly flour your work surface and hands and knead the dough a few times. For small baguettes, divide the dough into 4 pieces, for larger ones, make 2. Roll each piece of dough into a log of any length that will fit into your oven. If you plan to bake the loaves on a sheet pan, lightly grease it with oil and transfer the loaves to the pan. Cover with a towel and let rise until the loaves are puffed to almost twice their original size, 30 minutes or so. Heat the oven (with a pizza stone if you have one) to 400° while you let the baguettes rise.
  3. When you’re ready to bake, slash the top of each loaf a few times with a razor blade or sharp knife. If you are topping the baguettes with seeds, brush each loaf with a little water and sprinkle them on. If you are using a pizza stone, gently transfer the loaves to the stone with a floured rimless baking sheet, lightly floured plank of wood, or flexible cutting board. Turn the heat down to 375° and bake until the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature is  at least 210° (it can be a little lower if you plan to reheat the bread again later) or the loaves sound hollow when tapped, about 30 minutes. Remove, spray with a bit of water if you would like a shinier crust, and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Healthy Blueberry Muffins

Having someone ask you to make a recipe for them is one of the greatest compliments a cook can get.  So when Carrie asked me to make a batch of these blueberry muffins for her, I was flattered!  It took me a few months but I finally made some last night.  I pulled the recipe from Real Simple magazine in the summer of 2011 and it is a well-used recipe already.  Reasons why I am a huge fan of these muffins?  First, they are very easy to make.  It only takes about 15 minutes to pull them together and pop them in the oven.  Second, I always have blueberries in the freezer for smoothies and snacks so one of the main ingredients is always on hand.  Third, they are very yummy.  And finallly, they are actually very healthy!  The ingredient list has flax seed, oatmeal, nuts, whole grain flour, orange juice and yogurt.  They come in under 200 calories per muffin and are great for breakfast or a snack.  I make some modifications to the recipe depending what I have on hand–see recipe for my notes!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour, spooned and leveled* (I use King Arthurs White Whole Wheat)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup flaxseed meal (available at natural-food stores)
  • 1/4 cup pecans (I use whatever nuts I have on hand and have even omitted them before)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (If you are looking to lower your sugar intake, reduce the amount of sugar by half.  I accidentally did this with this batch and they still turned out great).
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest, plus 1/4 cup orange juice (I use an organic orange so I am not getting the pesticides they spray oranges with into the muffins via orange zest).
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries or one 8-ounce bag frozen blueberries

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 375° F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. In a food processor, process the flour, oats, flaxseed meal, pecans, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until finely ground.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, butter, orange zest and juice, egg, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture                                 and mix just until incorporated (do not overmix). Fold in the blueberries.
  3. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 22 to 25 minutes.