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The experimentation with my new grain mill goes on! Today I spent about a half hour grinding wheat, flax, and oats for a few loaves of “Whole wheat seed bread.” I found the recipe online – not even sure where now. The version I’m going to post is a bit altered, though, because fresh ground grains seem to behave very differently from store-bought ground grains. I’m still not sure why this is. It takes a lot more of my flour than store bought to bring a dough to that nice, shiny, elastic stage of gluteny delight. Maybe mine just has more air in between the individual particles because it hasn’t had time to settle? Who knows.

Whole Wheat Seed Bread

Ingredients:
1/2 cup warm water
1/3 cup applesauce (original recipe said unsweetened, but my homemade worked just fine)
3 Tbsp active dry yeast

3 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 eggs, beaten

11 1/2 – 12 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (original said 9… that was waaay too wet)
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1 cup ground oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds (I milled half right with the oats/flax)
1 Tbsp sea salt

Directions:

1. Stir together the 1/2 cup water, applesauce, and yeast. Let stand 5 minutes while mixing other wet ingredients. Combine 3 1/2 cups water, honey, molasses, vegetable oil, lemon juice, and eggs in a large bowl. Whisk together well. Add yeast mixture, mix until combined.

2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, flax, oats, seeds, and salt. Whisk to mix. Stir into the yeast mixture until flour is incorporated. It’s okay if it’s still a bit sticky at this point. Better to add too little flour than too much. Spread flour over your work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Now, this is optional, but I find the flour hydrates better and is easier to work with if you let the dough rest for at least 10 minutes before working it. Knead flour in until dough is elastic and smooth. Form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl under a damp tea towel in a warm place for 1-3 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size. At this point, you can also refrigerate the dough for rising and shaping at a more convenient time if needed.

3. Lightly grease three 9×5″ loaf pans. You can do four, too, if you ended up using a lot of flour and have way to much for three. Gently push the surface of the dough down. I know, most recipes say “punch” the dough at this point. It’s called punching the dough down, but all you need to do is push your palms down until the hissing stops and then knead it a bit to knock out the rest of the gas pockets. Shape your dough into three or four loaves, then plop them into the waiting pans. Cut slits to make the tops pretty and prevent unsightly cracking. Set the pans in a warm area to rise. I usually set them right in the oven with the light on and a tray of warm water below.

4. Bake the loaves at 375°F for 40-50 minutes, or until they are browned and make a hollow sound when you rap them with your fingernail. Brush with butter, then eject from the hot pan onto a cooling surface. I like using wooden cutting boards or the pizza peel for this. Someday maybe I’ll have a nice wooden counter top for cooling baked goods on.

5. This is the most crucial step, and the hardest one to follow. WAIT! Don’t cut into that gorgeous loaf until it has had a chance to cool for at least a half hour. I know. It’s difficult. But even after a half hour the inside will still be warm enough to melt butter and make honey run.

I think this recipe is here to stay. So far it’s the best. If you think you have one that is worthy of my oven, please let me know in the comments. I love to experiment!

 

The food funk has struck our home! We have been eating the same meals all winter long and our appetites just can’t seem to rev up anymore for the same old things.  My family is big on Chinese cuisine, but I’ve never really been brave enough to try making much besides stir fry. Well today I put on my supermom cape and attempted something that looked very difficult: spring rolls.

Turns out – they’re actually really easy and a lot of fun to make. I’ll show you step by step how I made mine. My ingredients were mango, avocado, cilantro, lime juice, Napa cabbage, and cooked white crab meat. I kind of tossed those together on a whim after browsing through a few different recipes online. Feel free to experiment with your own fillings.

First up, I laid down a very thin pasta sheet made especially for rolls. I found it in the produce section at the grocer’s. You can also use rice paper if you want a more traditional spring roll and have it available locally. A layer of shredded crab meat went down in the center of the pasta sheet on a diagonal.

Next I layered on avocado slices, mango slices, cilantro sprigs, and shredded cabbage.

Next came the rolling. This pasta sheet made rolling much easier than rice paper, I would imagine, as rice paper is so thin and delicate. So long as I kept even pressure as I was rolling, I didn’t have much problem with the sheet ripping or coming loose. My lovely husband actually took a video of this short process.

Once I had a little over a dozen rolled up, I lined them up in rows on a cookie sheet sprayed with olive oil. The top of each roll got a brushing of olive oil with a pastry brush. Then they all went into a preheated 400°F oven for about 12 minutes. We ate them with white rice and homemade stir fry. They were super good dipped into the orange/pepper sauce I used in the stir fry.

So what new recipes are you trying this spring?

We bought a whole roast chicken last night because for some reason it’s cheaper to buy it already cooked than raw in a bag. (Figure that one out!) That was meal number one. When we had picked all the best meat off, I tossed the carcass and remaining skin/bones from our meal into a stockpot and covered it with water. It came to a boil then was left on the stove top on low heat overnight and all through the next day, which just happened to be today.

I can’t say I left it alone ALL day. This morning I disturbed it’s peaceful simmer to strain all the yucky bits out. I just used a large strainer lined with cheesecloth, gave the stockpot a good rinse with some clean water, then tossed the new strained stock back in with enough water to bring it back up near the top of the pot. While that was coming to a boil again I rooted through the mess of yucky bits in the cheesecloth to find all the big bones. The wishbone I kept out for the boys to have fun with later, but the rest were rinsed clean and put right back into the stock to boil then simmer the rest of the day.

Meal number two was the chicken noodle soup we enjoyed tonight. Carrots, peas, garlic, onions, noodles, leftover chicken chunks, and broth. Yum! But there was a whole lot more broth still left. Sooo…

Say hello to four more meal helpers in the form of four quarts of golden, delicious broth! One chicken… so many uses. Imagine what I could do if I had the whole chicken to slaughter! Then I’d have feet to play with to make gelatin, and lots of lovely inner bits for a fry-up or gravy. I can’t wait until we have our own chickens again!

Yesterday our oldest boy celebrated his fifth birthday. I made a big batch of cupcakes for his class, but I wanted to make a special cake for when his friends came over tonight. So I searched all over the internet and ended up settling for a recipe called simply “Best Chocolate Cake.” Here is the recipe, along with some pictures I took of the process.

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
2 cups sugar
¾ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
½ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup water, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 1 10-inch round cake pan. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pan.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, vanilla, and water. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. (The cloth thing around my pan is a thing I picked up that soaks in water beforehand to keep the edges of the pan cool during the baking process. It results in a flatter cake instead of one with a mountain in the middle.) Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place one layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

The recipe I used for the filling was just a simple ganache. It sounds intimidating, but it’s not. Simply bring to a boil 1 cup of heavy whipping cream, then remove from the heat and pour it over 9 ounces of shaved/chopped bittersweet chocolate. Stir it up until there are no chunks left. I let it cool before I put it on top of the first layer.

The recipe I used for the frosting was chocolate buttercream:

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or 1/2 pound), softened (but not melted!)
3 1/2 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon almond extract
4 tablespoons milk or heavy cream

Cream the butter for a few minutes in a mixer with the whisk attachment on medium speed. Turn off the mixer. Sift 3 cups powdered sugar and cocoa into the mixing bowl. Turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the dry ingredients do not blow everywhere) until the sugar and cocoa are absorbed by the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add a little more sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add additional milk 1 tablespoon at a time.
The top had some leftover ganache on it, and was ringed with mini Hershey kisses. Chocolate overload… just a bit. Let me tell you… that was one DELICIOUS cake!
Happy birthday, my big boy!

Last night we received nearly a bushel of free apples from a neighbor, so today was all about using up the apples before they start to go bad in this terribly hot apartment. The first thing I knew I wanted was dried apple rings. They’re such a healthy and fun snack, and so easy to make… usually. First we washed the apples. Then we put them on a peeler/corer/slicer apparatus one by one and the boys took turns cranking the little handle. A few dozen apples later, we had a large mound of cores and skins and a huge bowl filled with apple rings and bits in cold water with a half lemon squeezed in to keep them from browning too fast. The best looking rings went straight onto some parchment paper in the oven. I had the oven set at its lowest setting, which was 170°F. The best temperature to dry apples at is 120-130, so our apples turned out a bit cooked tasting, but they’re still delicious! Those sat in there for a few hours and were flipped a few times to keep the drying even and check for doneness.

Next on the list was apple jelly. This was a perfect way to get some use out of all those skins and cores sitting on the counter. First order of business was to put them in a stock pot and pour enough water in with them to just barely cover the mass. I ended up chopping up an additional two apples because it just didn’t look like enough. If you are doing apple jelly, there’s no need to core or peel your apples. You can just cut them up as if you were getting ready to feed them to some deer in the yard – big chunks. They don’t have to be pretty because they’ll get all cooked and mushed up. The apple peel/core/chunk concoction boiled away with a lid on for about a half hour. Then I strained it through a quadruple layer of cheesecloth. This part gets HOT! If you don’t feel like dealing with the hot liquid on your hands, just bring the four corners of the cheesecloth up and tie them off on a heavy string to a cupboard handle above a bowl on the counter. It’ll finish dripping while you do chores. BUT if you are a glutton for punishment like I am, then you can just go for it and gently squeeze all the juice you can out of the hot mass of wrapped up apple pulp. Yes, you will get cloudy jelly. Who the hell cares? It still tastes wonderful.

Once you have your apple juice all strained, put it back on the stove top in a stockpot. Add the pectin and a dab of butter to keep the foam down, bring it to a boil, then add your sugar and wait for that fun rolling boil. Ok, when I say fun, I mean you better be paying attention because the jelly goes from placid pink pond to frothing volcano of foam faster than you can blink. It will go all over the stove top if you aren’t actively stirring and watching it. Keep it at a rolling, foamy, mess of a boil for one straight minute, then remove it from the heat and skim off whatever scum rises to the top. Immediately pour it into your prepared jars, wipe the rim, slap some lids on, tighten the rings, and process for however long the directions on the pectin say for your altitude. Mine was 5 minutes. After the timer goes off, I always put them on a towel on the counter and use the rest of the towel to cover the jars to let them cool slowly. With all the baking and canning going on, our apartment was like a sauna. I opened windows and doors (alarming our upstairs neighbor – apparently so much steam came out that he thought our place was on fire and rushed down to see if we needed help. Oops!) so the towel covering was important. If your hot jars encounter a chill breeze, they could crack or shatter.

Aren’t they gorgeous! The apple skins added such a pretty pink tint to the jelly. Usually when I make jelly it’s with yellow or transparent apples and turns out a clear yellowish/tan color, but I think I might stick to these blushing apples just because THAT looks divine. From 7 cups of juice and 9 cups of sugar, as per the pectin recipe, I got 4 pints and 6 half pints. One is missing because I took it and a pie up to the neighbor who gave us the apples.

Finally, after my canning mess was all cleaned up, I started on the pies. I made my crust from scratch, and can’t really tell you how I did it. You see, I’m one of those confounding bakers who never really measures. I eyeball everything. The jelly? I eyeballed it perfect – had 7 1/2 cups of juice thanks to those two final apples I added. It’s something you pick up after doing this kind of thing a lot. I’m sure there are lots of pie crust recipes out there for you to choose from, but if you are looking for tried and true, google Jackie Clay’s pie crust recipe. She’s my idol. She has all sorts of recipes and knowledge tucked away in the Backwoods Home magazines and on her personal blog. You can even buy her recipe book now. Anyway, find an easy recipe and go for it. Don’t mess with the store-bought junk that costs 5x what it costs to make it from scratch. One tip, though: use half butter, half lard. Butter is nice, but the lard makes it so flaky and perfect. I suppose Crisco could be used too, but I’ve been trying to convert to lard since we plan on raising our own hogs on the homestead.

I can’t really tell you how I made my filling either. I took enough apples to mound up inside the pie plate because apples cook down a lot in the oven. I added some flour, some white sugar, some cinnamon, and some brown sugar. Stirred it all up and plopped it all down on the pie crust. Then I did a quick lattice top, brushed it with butter, sprinkled it with white sugar and tossed it in the oven until it was bubbling and the crust was starting to brown.

As soon as it cooled, I cleaned up the edges a bit. It gooshed all over in the oven. Thankfully I put a layer of aluminum foil underneath the pies before I baked them, otherwise the oven would be a sticky burnt mess right now. I also used the extra pie crust dough to make cinnamon/sugar sticks once the pies were done, but I didn’t take pictures of those. I don’t like wasting things, so in the absence of chickens to gobble up leftovers, I find new uses for things like apple peels and bits of extra dough. It all turns out good. At least I haven’t heard any complaints so far.

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! I’ll see you in 2012!

June 2021
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