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Lazy Bread

It used to be when someone told me they bake their own bread I’d picture them covered in flour, kneading dough and slaving over a hot oven. All that work makes a great end product and fills the house with that heady perfume of freshly baked bread but there is a way to have  that without all the toil.

On Craig’s list any given day one might find at least 12 bread machines looking for a new home.  I found one for a song a few years ago and though it takes up some space, it is the key to baking artisan quality bread without all the work.  I don’t care for the 6″x 6″x 6″ cube of bread the bread machine produces.  It’s hard to make a sandwich with such a huge slice and the bottom always has this gash where the paddle cuts into the bottom…Awkward!  Instead I let the machine do all the kneading and the first rise then I put the dough in a loaf pan or I’ll make make buns by rolling up little pieces of dough and putting them on a cookie sheet for a couple of hours until the second rise is complete then bake either a loaf or buns, the way bread should be made, in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

100_0381For a general bread machine dough use the following:

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon steak sauce (optional but decrease salt by 1/2 tsp.)
  • 100_03841 tablespoon chopped basil (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dried tomatoes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Pour in the water flour, yeast and honey first.  Turn on the machine and let it mix.  When the flour is nearly incorporated add the steak sauce and/or other optional additions.  You can make many variations…cinnamon and raisins for instance.  Steak sauce is an odd ingredient but it makes a bread with a savory depth of flavor.  The steak sauce contains salt so I use less table salt than usual.  Since salt inhibits the action of the yeast, let the first rise happen in the confines of the machine but  just before the second rise and go ahead and add the salt so the yeast has the best chance of doing its thing.  You’ll know when the second rise is happening because there will be a long pause and suddenly you will hear the machine engage again.  This is when you add the salt  The machine will mix it in for you.  It will pause again which means the second rise has begun.  About 15 minutes into the second rise this is the time to transfer the dough to a loaf pan or cut it up in pieces and place on a cookie sheet if you are making buns.100_0387

 

100_0604100_0388Using flour dusted fingertips pull the dough out of the pan of the machine.  It will be sticky but the flour on your hands will help.  Try not to deflate the dough too much but dust a board lightly to prevent sticking while shaping the dough into a loaf gently pulling the ends and rolling it with light pressure in the middle with your palms.  Place it in the loaf pan, brush it with olive on top and cover it with plastic film.  You could also cut the dough into small pieces the size of a plum and put them on a baking sheet for the remainder of the second rise.  What ever form of bread you choose to make, just set it in a place that’s warm but not drafty.  Buns also will need to be brushed with oil and covered in film.  When the dough rises up and over the edges of the pan, or has doubled in size, and this could take up to two hours, it is then ready to pop into a 400° oven for 20 minutes or until the internal 100_039047912temperature is 200°.  Just before you put it in the oven it helps to score the top of the loaf or each bun with a very sharp knife.  This gives the bread room to expand in the oven.

 

Remove the loaf from the pan and allow it to cool completely before you slice it.  Same with the buns.  They need to be completely cool or all the steam will escape and make the bread dry and tough.  The aroma is so tempting but the results will be worth the wait.   Patience will insure a crunchy crust and a tender crumb in the end.  Using a bread machine to do the kneading and rising helps you reserve some of that patience. So dust off the machine you’ve never used since your wedding, or check out Craig’s List for a cheap one barely used and start making your own delicious bread without all the mess and hassle.  You’ll save money too!  100_0555100_0394100_0401

Life Would Not Be As Good Without Home-Grown Tomatoes

“There’s two things money can’t buy and that’s true love and home-grown tomatoes!”  That’s a line from a song that says it all if you’ve ever tasted that summer sweetness of a  tomato right off the vine.  My grandmother, who used to live in a small town down in southern Illinois, always had a patch of tomatoes and other vegetables growing in her backyard.  My sisters and I would spend weeks at a time with her over the summer and every evening those super red juicy tomatoes would be served in slices with supper.  Her little patch would produce enough to share with all her neighbors and we would even be allowed to just go pick one and eat it right out there in the sunshine when ever we wanted.  No tomato ever went to waste with her unless a squirrel made off with one and couldn’t eat it all.  She would can everything she could get her hands on.  Many sweet childhood memories involve that lovely lady and home-grown tomatoes.

100_0663I just acquired two huge bags full of very ripe beefsteak tomatoes from my dear friend Gayle.  She and her husband have 12o plants producing away in their backyard. Every flat surface in their house is covered with tomatoes.  They sell them to passers by, but what really has to go she either cans or gives a bunch to me.  How blessed am I!  In my own garden I have two varieties of basil to add to some of the jars for added flavor.

Canning has become a favorite pastime for me and my husband.  It’s great having a partner through all the peeling.  In the end we get a product superior to anything we would purchase at the supermarket.  Since we’re the ones doing the selecting, and processing, we know exactly what is going into the jar which by the way is far better for us than tomatoes in metal cans containing BPA a chemical which scientists have noted some concern relating our health.

It’s really easy to process dozens of tomatoes.  It just takes a bit of time but if you have a friend helping, it’s quality time.

First you boil two big pots of water.  One will be for blanching the tomatoes and the other will be the water bath.  We used a pressure canning pot.  Blanching the tomatoes for just one minute helps the skins slide off very easily but first you will need to remove the core with a paring knife.  Once all the tomatoes are peeled sterilize the jars in the other pot of water and set them aside to dry.  You could also just run them through a sanitizing cycle in your dishwasher. Sterilize lids and rings in hot water as well.  A few minutes should do but keep the temperature of the water just below boiling.  180° is Pasteurization temperature and it won’t allow the waxy seal in the lid to become damaged.

100_0667Now the fun part…filling the jars with tomatoes.  Just smash as many as will fit, releasing trapped pockets of air and leaving a half inch of head space at the top.  Wipe the rims clean with paper toweling and place the clean lids on top.  Screw the rings on top just to hand tight and lower the jars into the boiling water bath.  We made several variations; some had bits of 100_0669the purple speckled basil and lettuce leaf basil added and some we left salt free.  If salt was added it was only 3/4 teaspoon per pint.  A quart would get a whole teaspoon.  The jars need to boil for 40 minutes completely submerged to ensure a good seal and kill all bacteria.

Canning tomatoes in the peak of ripeness makes opening one up in the winter a lovely reminder of those beautiful sunshiny summer days.  So make sure you store up plenty of homegrown tomatoes while you can because like the song says, “All winter without’em is a culinary bummer.” 100_0674

Grilled Rib-Eye Dinner, No Sweat

Summer and cooking indoors are two things that are a bit tricky to mix.  The grill has become my new BFF for the past several weeks, along with small appliances in the household.  The last thing I want to do is crank up the oven when the temps are in the 90’s!  This post is all about keeping the diva cool!

The perfect summer meal never requires flame unless it’s lit outside and I found a way to make perfect corn on the cob in the microwave.  A freshly sliced vine ripened tomato is always a great side in the summer as well.

100_0612I found Rib-Eye steaks on sale at the supermarket and they were nicely marbled to ensure great flavor.  A light rub of olive oil and  a quick sprinkle of salt pepper and a pinch of Cajun seasoning was all the steaks needed before placing them on a clean and very hot grill.  I gave the steaks a quarter turn after about two minutes and let them sear away another two minutes 100_0615before flipping them over to reveal those classic cross-hatched grill marks.  The other side received the same treatment and the flame was turned shut off.  They stayed on the cooling grill to rest while I went inside to address the corn.

There wasn’t much involved here.  I simply put all four ears, husk and all in microwave and cooked them on high for seven minutes…just enough time to let the steaks rest and choose a great tomato to slice and serve on the side.

I went out to get the steaks which looked and smelled divine.  A plate of glistening ruby red tomato slices were ready and the corn had a few minutes to continue steaming in their husks.  To get the corn ready for the plates, I got a sharp knife, cut the bottom inch off and squeezed the perfectly done cob out of the open end…not one strand of corn silk to be seen.  I’ve never made an easier or more sumptuous supper.  Even though the temperature was in the mid nineties, I never even broke a sweat.  It just didn’t seem right for it to taste so good…but boy it did. 100_0619100_0622

Yellow-fin Tuna with Teriyaki Veggies

A girl in the tween scene likes nothing better than to look cool in front of her friends.  Our daughter was having a friend over for dinner and after working all day I was hard pressed to put together something these youths would enjoy…something sophisticated but familiar, so I pulled three steaks of yellow-fin tuna from the fridge that were fresh from the fish market.   Sushi grade tuna to me is pretty impressive.  I asked Julia’s friend if she ever had sushi and she said no.  Julia told her she had it and it was, “Like, really gross”.  I promised the girls I would cook this really “like” high grade tuna (a good deal for $3.25 a steak) to perfection while they played Minecraft.

This tuna appeared as glistening rubies it was so fresh.  I knew that nothing could make this go wrong except to let it become over cooked.  Leaving a little pink in the middle would be safe and hopefully not be too shocking for the young ladies.  I was willing to take the risk…I was 12 once and remember bragging rights being everything.  This 100_0534would be a very grown-up meal to tell their friends they were brave enough to try and this is what I used to prepare a colorful delicious meal:

  • Three 3/4 or 1 inch thick steaks of sushi/sashimi grade Yellow-fin tuna (Ahi)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (reserve one teaspoon) plus another 2 tablespoons
  • two slices of good quality bread cut in chunks
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder/
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • one bag frozen Asian vegetables with noodles
  • 1/3 cup teriyaki marinade  plus 1/3 cup water and a teaspoon cornstarch blended (sometimes it comes with the vegetables in a pouch)

In a large skillet heat up the two tablespoons olive oil and put the vegetables on on medium high heat with a lid, stirring occasionally to ensure even thawing.  Once thawed reduce heat to medium low, add the teryaki sauce mixture, mix thoroughly coating the vegetables and replace the lid.

100_0532100_0533In a food processor (I used my mini chopper) add the seasonings and bread.  Pulse until the bread becomes fine crumbs. With the reserved teaspoon olive oil, rub it all over the surfaces of the tuna steaks.  Roll the tuna around in the seasoned crumbs on a large plate until well coated then place them in a medium skillet with the remaining olive oil well heated (350°).  Let the coated tuna steaks cook for three minutes on each side or until the coating becomes a golden brown.

Remove  the steaks from the skillet and allow them to drain a few minutes on paper toweling.  Stir up the veggie and noodle mix and place a good bed on each plate.  Place a tuna steak in the middle of each one and serve.  I plucked a few sprigs of lemon balm from the back yard to make it look and 100_0537smell extra special.

100_0538At first Julia’s friend was shocked to see “like” pink in the middle of her tuna steak but I assured her that it was safe to eat and heated through thoroughly.   We talked about the difference in sushi and sashimi and that this tuna was done quite a bit past those stages which are essentially raw fish.   In sushi there is sometimes cooked fish or meat.  Sushi is served with rice containing vinegar.   This was accepted and she did like it. So did Julia. We had a wonderfully fun dinner together which can be rare in such mixed company (moms can be like, totally uncool).  The most fun we had was trying to be conscious of  how many times we used the word “like”.  It squeaked out like about every four words and made the girls giggle like so much it was like, hilarious!  It was also pretty cool that there wasn’t so much as a speck of food left on the girl’s plates…mine either.100_0541

 

Ratatouille fresh from the garden

100_0433The quintessential vegetable casserole is what the French call ratatouille.  It’s sort of the comfort food of summer gardeners.  There are many variations but I kept mine very simple with only zucchini, tomato, onion, cabbage, garlic and 100_0442herbs in a creamy Gouda cheese sauce.  Nothing says summer like vine ripened tomatoes and I’ve recently found myself up to my ears in them 100_0444thanks to my friend Gayle.  She and her husband put in at least six ten foot rows each year.  The yield this year is off the charts.  We’ve had lots of good rain this spring and it seems to have been spring for half the summer here in St. Louis.  Only recently have we had the traditional high humidity and heat.  That’s what those tomatoes love.  So just now those juicy fruits are going strong on hearty vines.  Even the ones in pots on my porch are 100_0447producing well.  Every windowsill has at least six tomatoes glowing red in the sun.

100_0449I chose five medium and very ripe ones along with half of an overgrown zucchini to make this dish.  First, I preheated the oven to 375° then I 100_0451sliced everything uniformly and arranged the vegetables in neat rows of alternating vegetables.  In a skillet I made a roux with olive oil, garlic, a hunk of chopped cabbage, a diced onion and a couple of tablespoons of flour, salt, pepper and freshly chopped thyme and parsley.  I cooked it all down until it bubbled into a golden brown.  A cup or so of milk went in a little at a time and was whisked together until it thickened.  Gouda cheese which is sharp like cheddar and melts very well was shredded along with  a bit of leftover cheddar, added to the skillet and was whisked in as well.  The sauce became nice and creamy and I poured it over the tomato and zucchini.

100_0454For a topping I pulsed a few slices of bread in the food processor with a pinch more of the herbs from the garden , pulsed in a dash of olive oil and sprinkled the top with the crumbs.  Into the oven it went for about 45 minutes until the top was crisp 100_0457and golden and the sauce bubbled up the sides.  Before we could dig into this casserole, it needed to cool down quite a bit before it could be served.  100_0464We survived the wait and boy, was it worth it!

You could use a wider variety of vegetables in this dish.  Often mushrooms Green peppers and eggplant are sliced and arranged in layers too.  Fresh herbs from the garden like basil, thyme oregano, tarragon and parsley can be added…what ever suits your taste.  I went the simple route and worked with what was abundant at the time.  I will have the opportunity to try more of a variety the next time.  My peppers are getting bigger and I just bought some porcine mushrooms.    Stay tuned!100_0467100_0505

Aioli!

100_0419The tomatoes are ripening on the vines like crazy this year and I’m up to my ears in those yummy ripe summer fruits.  One of the things I wait all year for is a fresh tomato and mayonnaise sandwich.  I wanted to make one today that would be more than special and made my own mayonnaise or “aioli”.  To begin I gathered some extremely fresh ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • one farm fresh organic egg
  • 1 section of garlic
  • the juice of one lime
  • salt and black pepper to taste100_0421
  • 1 good size leaf of basil
  • a pinch of sugar
  •  a splash of vinegar

In a tiny food processor I cracked a tiny egg that was no more than a day old and refrigerated immediately after being laid by a healthy free-range hen (temper your eggs in a double boiler if you are worried).  Next I added a two teaspoons olive oil and blended it with the egg in a few pulses.  I did this several times adding a bit more with each blending.  It was a creamy mixture so I began to add vegetable oil pulsing between 100_0423additions until just under 1/2 cup was used.  I now had a thickened and paler colored emulsification that needed some flavor.  I pulsed in the rest of the ingredients in one at a time to make a rich blend of flavors.  The basil I used was a variety called “Lettuce Leaf “

100_0426So now, what to put it on?  Well there’s only two window sills full of the ripest juiciest tomatoes you could wish for, so I grabbed the prettiest one, sliced it, toasted a bagel and spread it with this beautiful rich aioli.  It was like eating a slice of paradise! 100_0430100_0431

 

Best Mac and Cheese Ever

Marconi and cheese is the favorite food of my daughter.  I used to make it from the little blue box mix until I read the list of no less than twenty ingredients, not including the milk and butter you add which are probably the most natural things in it.  Today I made mine with only fourteen.  To be fair the macaroni contained seven of those 100_0402ingredients.

So to make a rich, tasty, creamy and REAL sauce only seven things are required

  • 100_04032 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
  • salt to taste (I used about a teaspoon total)

100_0407I start by boiling 1/2 pound of macaroni noodles in  plain water for 12 minutes and set it aside to 100_0410drain.    Then I melt the butter add the flour and cook it together in a nice heavy sauce pan.  Once this forms a pasty bubbly mixture I slowly add cream and stir constantly with a whisk.  Adding the cup of water, I lower the heat to medium and stir until it comes back to a boil and thickens into a creamy 100_0411bechemel sauce.  Salt is added to taste, then the cheeses (I grate my own cheese to leave out the anti-caking ingredients) and the sauce is whisked again until the cheeses are completely melted.

Now,  the drained noodles go into to the creamy sauce and are stirred together until every noodle is coated.  I check the 100_0412seasoning, add another pinch of salt and it is ready to eat.

Admittedly this is a pretty decadent comfort food.  I don’t make it often but my daughter was craving it.  Since she’s such a peanut I gave her a nice big bowl of it for lunch.   I feel so much better about it when the ingredients are real and wholesome.  Not only that but lunch included a side salad of home grown lettuce and tomatoes with a sprinkle of the grated cheese and dressed with lemon juice and pepper.  I don’t think I’m putting anyone in danger of malnourishment…not on this diva’s watch!  100_0415100_0417

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