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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Food Comas are a Real Thing

I know that it's all about timing, and that it's all about keeping your metabolism up until you fall asleep...but come on. Carbs are delicious, and they just make you want to curl up and die in your own flub of happiness. I have a total food baby now and thanks to my slowing metabolism, I actually have to pay attention to my habits now. Do you know what this means for me? No sleep until 11:30. No sleep until 11:30 pm, unless I want all of that stuff to just congeal and make me fat.

I know they all say that when you reach a certain age, your metabolism just goes "See you later, homie" but "LATER" NEVER COMES....? It's true. It is 100% true. A couple of years ago, I could eat anything I wanted and not gain a single ounce; now, I have a scoop of chocolate ice cream and my ass jiggles for a week.

Don't get me wrong...actually having an ass is pretty nice, especially when you go 20-something years without one. This has pretty much been the only time I have cursed my Asian genetics, which have otherwise blessed me with gorgeous skin, beautiful almond-shaped eyes, and thick and generous black hair. What good is all of that Pinoy heritage, though, if you don't have a juicy Spanish booty go with it?

Is there a way I can just take all of the excess flub from around my belly button and just skidge it over to my butt? No? Not without surgery? I was more thinking of some kind of yoga move, or reflexology thing I could do at home... I guess not. I guess I'll just have to stick with it, and maintain the fairly descent metabolism I have now by not falling asleep until the 2 hour mark has been reached.

This seems easy enough if you haven't had a giant plate of pasta with sauteed garlic for dinner, all buttery with dried basil(I dried that basil bunch I got from the Overland Park Farmers' Market  by microwaving it on 60% power for 45 seconds) and roasted tomatoes and cracked black pepper. It was so good. I slurped it up with my poached egg, which just added another thickness and ooey-gooeyness to my butter sauce. How can you not want to just curl up in a pile of pasta and fall into your cocoon of indulgence and feigned self-respect?

It's hard. That's why I'm blogging. Only half an hour more to go. Feck.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Homemade Dog Biscuits

Anybody who knows anything about me knows that I am a dog person, and that no matter how far I go with any man, my one true love is and always will be my dog.

This, of course, is referring to Howl. You've seen this handsome fellow in many blog posts, tweets, etc. throughout your journey with me. It never occurred to me to bake dog treats for Howl from scratch, mostly because this creature will eat literally anything. Just because he can eat everything, however, doesn't mean he should.

Here's a list of things that are bad for dogs:

  • Gum of any kind, especially sugar-free (sugar-free gum and certain types of PEANUT BUTTER contain an artifical sweetener called Xylitol, which is extremely toxic to dogs in small doses! So PLEASE READ YOUR PEANUT BUTTER LABELS)
  • Grapes
  • Garlic and onions
  • Avocado
  • Alcohol of any kind(beer, wine, etc)
  • Things with caffiene, such as tea, coffee, soda, etc.
  • Milk and dairy in excess(this gives some dogs diarrhea)
  • Macadamia nuts(these are FATAL TO DOGS)
  • Chocolate (obviously)
  • Yeast dough
Seriously, all of this is bad for dogs, some more severely than others...but, wow, that's quite a list. My dog is a special breed that basically can't have any of these things, but also cannot have Soy. Do you know how much soy is in dog food? A lot. Sure, there are soy-free kibbles, but they're really expensive. As he's gotten older, he can have soy in his kibble, but when he was a puppy, it was not good. He would be up all night with awful stomach cramps, and farting like no tomorrow. Now that he's older, soy is fine, but still makes him gassy if he has it in excess. I try to avoid soy when I can, which is even harder when it comes to dog treats.

"Don't touch me right now; I'm feeling really fart-y..."

 Fortunately, I've discovered just how quick and easy it is to make dog treats. These are absolute basic dog treats that you can modify by substituting eggs for banana, adding in grated carrots, and using any fat you want... This is a very easy recipe that's versatile, and quick! Not only this, but it's cheap; dog treats can be expensive!

Here's how to make Howl's Favorite Dog Biscuits

Howl's Favorite Dog Biscuits

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
    • If you don't have cornmeal, you can use coconut flour, or even rolled oats!
  • 1/3 cup fat(vegetable oil, bacon fat, or coconut oil will do!)
    • actually, if you use coconut oil, their coat will vastly improve AND it can double as a flea repellent add-in to their skin! Plus, when they shed, their fur will come off in clumps versus whisps of individual hairs all over the house!
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
    • Can be substituted with pumpkin puree, ripe bananas, plain applesauce, etc...see below!
  • 1/2 cup hot chicken stock(or 1/2 cup hot water with 1 bouillon cube, dissolved)
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar or honey
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • **1 large carrot, grated fine(completely optional, but tasty!)
Preheat your oven to 375 F, high fan. If you don't have a convection oven, bump it up to 400 F.

Combine your flour, salt, sugar, and cornmeal in the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with a dough hook attachment. Turn on your mixer to stir for 45 seconds and add in the fat on low. Allow to stir in for 2 minutes, so that the fat is sort of "cut" into the flour. Add in the eggs, one at a time. If you like, you can substitute the eggs for 1 ripe banana each, 1 heaping spoonful of pumpkin puree each, or 1/4 cup of plain applesauce each!  Let the mixture continue to stir for another two minutes. Your mixture will now be crumbly-looking. This is good!

If using carrot, go ahead and add it in now, and let stir for another 30 seconds.

Now is the time to heat up your stock. I used chicken stock, but you can use beef stock if you have that. You can also just use beef bouillon cubes dissolved in hot water. The point is, however, you'll want this liquid to be hot when you introduce it to your dough. Once added, let knead until it comes together into one solid ball. You'll add more cornmeal if it's too wet, but you don't want the dough to be too dry, either.

Roll out your dough to about 1/2" thick. Instead of flouring the board, I like to sandwich my dough between two sheets of parchment paper, sprayed vigorously with pan-spray. This prevents flour from going everywhere and makes for the easiest cleanup ever. Simply spray the bejeezus out of the paper, the dough, and the sandwiching paper on top...then roll out. You'll never use flour on your board again.

I docked my dough using a dough docker, but you can use two forks for the same effect. I had a dog bone shaped cookie cutter that I used, but you can take this opportunity to do some fun shapes. Maybe hearts and stars? Maybe in the shape of a seashell? They won't care, of course, what shape they're in...they're dogs. You can, of course, simply cut the dough into bars or squares by using a knife and making a simple grid. There's really no rule on the shape of these; I just happened to have a dog bone shaped cookie cutter.

Place your cookies/dog biscuits on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 20  minutes. You might bake less or more, depending on your oven, the moisture of the day, the phase of the moon...whatever. Check these after 15 minutes, and then make an assessment. They should be golden-brown and delicious when you're finished!

This is an important tip: let these cool completely before allowing your dog to consume the treats. Seriously, dogs can't handle hot food very well... I had a lab called Boo that, when fed hot food, he would projectile vomit all over the living room. Just teach your dogs a lesson in patience and let them wait it out. If you want to make these treats very special, you can cut them into very small pieces(1" circles, maybe) and then sandwich them with peanut butter. If you do use peanut butter, however, please check for Xylitol in the ingredients list, which is an artificial sweetener that's fine for humans, but deadly to dogs. Please don't let your furry friend die!!! They love and trust you so much, and you will never be able to live with yourself if you do this. Ever.

Just look at that mug. You wouldn't want to hurt it, would you???
Once cool, Xylitol-free, and placed in a treat jar on a very high shelf that your dog can't get to, feel free to have at it. These can be made in double-, triple-, or even quadruple-batches and saved. Seriously, they're not going to be bothered by the treats going stale--they're dogs! They're just so happy to be with you and to be with your beautiful self that they won't mind the treats going stale! They love you, no matter what.

Nobody will love you as much as the dog loves you. Nobody. Not your parents, not your child, not your husband/wife, not your best friend, not even you. Nobody. Will. Ever. Love. You. As. Much. As. Your. Dog. Loves. You.

Whenever desperate 30-somethings write in about finding love, and then list a completely long, crazy, unrealistic amount of expectations of unconditional love and loyalty, I always just tell them to get a dog. Seriously. Just go to a shelter, and find your new best friend. Now if you'll excuse me, Howl and I have some selfies to take. 

"Look at my dog!"

There's really no reason for this post, other than to sustain my apparent need to document my dog's every waking moment.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Spiced Beet Gelato

I had a fun little contest on my Facbeook page to see who could guess the right flavor!

Good morning!

Summer is upon us, and the 1st harvest was marked by Litha. This means there was a bunch of stuff in my garden that was ready to be harvested to make room for the new stuff. In that harvest was a variety of heirloom beets, which grew like weeds all throughout the spring. In reality, I probably should have harvested sooner, but hey. I'm happy with my haul. I'm also happy with my garlic haul, this year! But this is not about the garlic; no, this is about the beet.

Beetroot is one of the absolute healthiest veggies you can eat. High in antioxidants, the root itself is delicious...but let's not neglect the greens, which are delicious, cooked in sweet cream butter and salt, maybe a drop of red wine vinegar.

You can slice beets thin to make a salad, eaten raw, or roast them as a delicious side dish. You can chop them and put them in rice to create a gorgeous pink color and surprise your kids...or just have them sauteed and buttered, which is my favorite way.  But did you know that a medium-sized beet averages at a whopping 9 grams of sugar per root? This is not a bad thing; in fact, this is a very good thing. Natural sugars from vegetables are very good for you, and much better than processed sugars. This makes this following recipe ideal for people who are looking to cut sugar without cutting taste; seriously, if you're a Diabetic, this won't be bad for you! Here's the recipe for making Spiced Beet Gelato!

Spiced Beet Gelato

  • 3 medium beets(or a dozen or so small beets)
  • 1/2 cup of the reserved roasting liquid(see below)
  • 4 oz egg yolks(about six or seven)
  • 1/4 cup sugar plus 1 Tbsp (seriously, only THAT MUCH!)
  • 1 scraped vanilla bean, or a scant tablespoon of vanilla paste
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Trim your beets of their greens and any little root-hairs you might have. Generally, though, leave them in tact. Put them in a roasting pan of some sort with high sides, such as a casserole dish. Fill with a solution of equal parts water and red wine, just to cover, and add a pinch of salt and pepper, along with 3 allspice berries. Cover in aluminum foil, and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, or until the beets are very tender.

Drain the liquid and save about 1/2 cup of it. To peel the beets, you can simply use paper towels to wipe away the skin. It'll take a few minutes to do,but you'll save so much of the beet in the process. Trust me, you want all of this deliciousness. 

Once that's done, chop your beets into manageable cubes for your blender, and blend together with the poaching liquid until a smooth, almost custard-like consistency forms. It'll be thick, but you want it to be extremely smooth. 
If you have a Vitamix blender,  you're one step
ahead of the game! Otherwise, a regular blender
will do just fine. 

Add in the cinnamon, lemon juice, eggs and 1/4 of the the sugar, and blend again. Bring to a boil the heavy cream in a separate saucepot with the vanilla and the remaining tablespoon of sugar. 

Once boiling, immediately turn off the heat, and ladle in a splash or two of the hot cream to the beet mixture. Stir, but do not blend; just take a spoon and stir it in the pitcher of the blender, before dumping it all back into the hot cream. 

I am in LOVE with this color!
Scrape down the sides of your blender, ensuring that you've gotten everything, and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Once boiling, immediately remove from the heat and run through a strainer into another container, which will chill in the fridge until cold, at least 4 hours. If you're impatient, like me, however, you can use an ice bath to chill it quickly. One thing you must be sure of when making ice cream, gelato, or any sorbet, is that your mixture must be cold before churning. This will ensure that your machine won't work harder and longer than it has to, and that your finished product won't curdle.
Once churned according to the manufacturer's instructions via your machine, label it and set it in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. You can eat it now, but I prefer my ice cream to hold its shape. This freezes beautifully, and it'll last at least a month in the freezer. If you're me, though, it's not going to last that long. It'll last until the week is up, if it's lucky. Because this is seriously delicious. 

This is an excellent way to get some great fiber in, as well as make a low-sugar/no-sugar dessert. Seriously, the amount of added sugar is so low in this recipe, it's practically no-sugar! This is honestly the healthiest, most-beautiful gelato I could think of to make...and I got the beets from my own garden! If you don't have beets growing, of course, store bough is just fine...although I would recommend going to your local farmers' market and buying a bunch. A small bunch of beets is about what this recipe calls for, anyway. If you liked this post, and want to see more like it, just click on the tag "Culinary school" for more!

Oh, and don't be alarmed if your pee turns red after eating half a quart of this stuff. It's completely normal. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How to Cook a Steak

Good morning! 

I've been getting requests on how to do the basics...no complicated stuff, just good, easy, step-by-step basics with lots of pictures! So here we go, a step-by-step tutorial on how to sear a good steak.

First off, if your steaks have nice big fat strips like this, score them. You'll often find a bit of silverskin underneath, and score that, too. Scoring this fat will mean that the silverskin and fat won't shrink and curl up at the heat of the pan, so your steaks won't curl, either.

Another tip is to let your steaks come up to room temperature, if you can. At very least, don't have it straight from the fridge. Cold meat seizes when it comes into contact with your screaming hot pan/grill, so just have it out for 10 minutes, at least.

When cooking steaks, chickens...mostly any meat, really, you'll want to set them on paper towels, or a nice clean tea towel, so you can dry them off. If you don't dry meat, it won't brown. This is because of steam.

If you have a moist piece of steak hitting your hot pan, what'll happen will be that the layer of water on the meat will boil and evaporate on a micro scale, thus giving you a tragically grey color on an otherwise gorgeous steak.

Seasoning? Of course! You can use a dry steak rub, if you like, but I prefer freshly cracked black pepper. If you have a pepper grinder, grind on the largest setting you have. And make sure to press in any seasonings you have. Dab, again, with the paper towels, if you like.

As far as salt goes, I like kosher salt. You can use sea salt, but don't use the fancy salts. Himalayan pink salt, grey salt, fleur de sel...just don't. Those are garnish salts, and very expensive. There's no actual health benefits to eating salts from far away places; the effect is purely psychological. Sure, table salt/iodized salt and kosher salt are different, but salt is salt is salt. All salt comes from the ocean. Even those pretty pink rocks? Yeah, they were once in the ocean. Remember when a good portion of the planet Earth was covered in the ocean? Nah, that's too far of a #ThrowbackThursday for many of us to remember.

There's a bit of debate on this part, but I don't like to season my meat with salt until the very last minute. Salt, like sugar, is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture very easily, from things around it, especially the air. Remember our frienemy, steam? We don't want him rearing his ugly head when the salt draws moisture out of the meat.

Man, check out the color on those!

I'm going to sear these steaks in the pan with butter. I'm not only using butter, but a tiny drizzle of some canola oil. I honestly prefer grapeseed oil, for both its neutral flavor and extremely high smoking point, but I was(tragically) out of the stuff at the moment. It's a little pricey at the grocery store, but you can find it at most bulk stores like COSTCO for a pretty reasonable price. Make sure your pan is really hot by heating the tiny dab of oil in it first, on high, and watching how it slicks across the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-high, and add the butter. See how mine is bubbling up? I had to take that photo fast, as it was melting really quickly.

I got that Calphalon pan for my 22nd birthday. She's a well-worn beast, but I love her!
 Those bubbles there are a sign that the water in the butter is boiling away quickly, leaving the delicious fat. Get your steaks and give them one final pat-dry before putting them in the pan. Be quick about it, though, as you don't want your butter to brown!

 Now, then, don't just slap your steaks into the pan. That's dangerous. Lay them gently in the hot pan, and lay them away from you, not toward. This prevents you from being burnt by grease, which does not feel good. I don't want you setting any fires, especially when there's steak to be had.

See the space between the steaks? You need that.
Remember our buddy, steam? We're combating him, still, by leaving a little space between the steaks. Don't crowd your pan when searing. Steam is still happening, and it needs somewhere to escape from. You know how your stew meat sometimes turns out gray-brown in the pan? That's probably because you just dumped all of your meat in all at once. It's much better to cook in batches, so that way you'll have a nice, crispy, wonderful crust on the outside of your steaks. 

I like my steaks medium rare, so I cooked these for three minutes on the one side before flipping over to cook for just 2 minutes more on the other side.

And another thing:

Don't f#ck with your steaks while they're cooking.

Leave them alone.

Seriously, leave them alone. Put a timer on, and leave them alone. Go work on the salad, or clean up a little, or take time to set the table. You want that crust to form, right? You've taken so many steps thus far to ensure that you get that sexy crust. Let Maillard do his work. Just leave it be, let it sear, let it cook.

Let it cooooook...let it coooook.... Don't move the steaks arooou-uuuunnd! Let it coooook. Let it Cooo-OO-OOOOK! You will need it golden-brow-ow-owwwwnnnn! HEEEERE they SEAR! And HERE THEY'LL STAYYYYYYY. Let the steaks cook on....the wait never bothered me anyway.

*ahem* Sorry.

Now, then, I like my steaks medium-rare. Instead of checking for temperature, which you can do, I don't like to use probes. They just...poke holes in meat that allow the juice and flavor to escape. Instead, look at your hand. Yeah, that's right, look. Oh, here, look at mine.

Are you guys totally jealous of my MS paint skills?
Now, your hands are the best tools you were given. You can use these lovely tools to check the doneness of the steak. Or chicken. Or, really, any meat! See that flesh between my thumb and index finger? The one that's circled? Let your hand go limp, then feel that on your own hand. That's the feeling of raw meat.

See that? It's A-Okay to order a steak,
Now, flex your hand, like how I'm doing in the photo above; that same flesh now feels like rare steak. By touching your index finger to your thumb, and feeling that same bit of flesh, you can feel what a medium-rare steak feels like. Now touch your middle finger to your thumb; that's medium. Medium-well is ring finger to thumb, and well-done is your pinkie finger to your thumb. But, honestly, if you're going to have a steak well done, you shouldn't be eating steak; order chicken.

When your steaks are done, shut off your heat, remove the steaks from the pan, and let rest for at least 5 minutes. This will give you the time to finish up your side dishes. Don't worry about it going cold; carry-over cooking is a real thing. This will also give you some time to create a nice pan sauce from all the goodies in the bottom of the pan, which is called the fond. Just deglaze it with some red wine, beef stock, beer...whatever. Let it reduce and finish with a tiny dab of butter. Serve with your steak and sides, and thank me later. And don't take a picture of your steak. Eat it. This down here was the last picture I took before I devoured these little mo'fo's.

Well, not both of them. The other one was for my boyfriend. Happy cooking!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Litha/Father's Day

Here, we have a Green Man Mask, and Litha-in-a-Jar, cool swag from my dear friend, WitchyWords!

Happy Litha, everybody!

Today is the Longest Day of the year, and a sunny and/or sweltering 78 degrees F with a humidity of 85%. Basically, it's hot, muggy, and gods-awful. But when you look out at all of this gorgeous greenery, you can hardly notice! 

With Litha being the longest day of the year, we celebrate the here, the now, the fertility of the land. This is a celebration where a lot of Pagans/Wiccans choose for their wedding days, and often choose today as a day of dedication, be it to themselves, their Crafts, or their loved ones. This is also a day to remember that now the days will grow shorter, now the days of summer will begin to wane...so it's very important to celebrate the here and now. 

This is my dad and me vacationing in Chicago. I think I was 21 in this picture. So that's
about 6 years ago!
Another reason to celebrate today is because today is Father's Day! How fitting! The celebration of God, the Green Man, the giver of Sun and provider, protector, Father to All...having the same day as this years' Father's Day!

My dad was a single dad for most of my life. He and my mother had me when they were 22, and he fought tooth and nail for custody of me when my parents divorced. It's kind of rare that men get the custody, but he did it.

My dad never married until I was older and out of the house, and never stopped. I remember being alone while he worked, and learning to take care of myself. I remember cooking dinner for us so I didn't have to do the dishes(our house rule: whoever cooks doesn't have to clean). In reality, it was my dad that taught me how to cook, so it's really him that I owe my career to.

 I remember him showing me how to cook. I remember him fighting for me, calling out teachers for calling me "Bossy" while the boys were praised for "leadership skills." I remember him telling me that if he had to come into the principal's office because I got into a fight for defending myself, or someone that couldn't, I would never be in trouble. I remember, mostly, him just being there. He was pretty gender forward-thinking when I was a kid; I remember him kind of getting this look of shock on his face when I would say certain things, or when other people would say certain things. I don't think he thought about gender roles a lot, since he's(y'know) a straight white man, so I think having a little brown daughter really woke him up. He told me to fight back, and never treated me "like a girl" because...well, I don't actually know. But he never treated me "like a girl." He treated me like the little person that would eventually grow up into a big person. He was crazy-forward-thinking until he realized the little monster he created(i.e. high school), which was a loud-mouthed teenager that yelled at a lot of boys in her class. Things like "I'M NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR DUMB-ASS THOUGHTS" or "YOU JUST ACT LIKE THIS BECAUSE YOUR DAD DOESN'T LOVE YOU" or whatever. So, uh, sorry, Dad.

Anyway, what I want to say most is that a lot of single dads don't get the mad props they deserve. Well, screw that! 

Here's to you, Single Dads! You're the real MVP! (I'm also really sorry for being so fucking hellish as a teenager. I wish I could give you a medal of honor or a Purple Heart or something to commemorate your achievement.) 

An old addage says to plant on the shortest day of the year(Yule/Winter solstice) and harvest on the longest(today). In the spirit of that, and celebrating all of what the God, the Green Man, has given, allow me to say thanks and honor Him by showing the bounty of my garden. Let the garden pics commence!

Here's my first harvest of beets! I know they're odd-looking. That's okay! They were delicious!

Here's an auto-awesome of my Indigo Rose tomatoes. They're so cute, and I can't believe that I started these beefy mothertruckers from seed! The plants' stalks are almost as thick as my pinkie. I think they'll be ready to harvest in another two weeks.

Here's my pumpkin patch, which actually vines out past where I was taking the picture. I don't mind the tall grass so much as it's perfect for the vines to grasp onto. These pumpkins are a mixture of varying types, so it'll be a really fun surprise to see what I get! There are more blooms every day, and bees and dragonflies are buzzing all around the blooms in the early morning! It really fills my heart with joy to see bees...

This was too cute! One of my blooms popped off and into the leaf of another plant! It was like a little baby, tucked in it's little faery crib....

I later went back and harvested more garlic. This was all of it from my garden. This is Spanish Red garlic, and the flavor is bomb! It's like...it's not mild, but the flavor is a combination of taking a nice bite of roasted garlic while inhaling some freshly-tilled garden soil. It's earthy and acrid, all at once. Crazy! 

And here's a picture of my dog giving me a little hug, for no reason, other than I just feel the need to document every moment of his existence. 

Happy Litha, everybody! Now go hug your dad!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Braided Basil Bread

Baking bread at home is one of the most rewarding feelings a food-lover can have. Have you looked at what's in bread in the grocery store, lately? Here's what's in Nature's Own Honey 7 Grain Bread:

Ingredients: Whole wheat flour, water, enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), wheat gluten, brown sugar, honey, sunflower seed kernels, yeast, rolled oats, contains 2% or less of each of the following: salt,soybean oil, cultured wheat flour, vinegar, dough conditioners (may contain one or more of the following: sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium stearoyl-2-lactylatemono- and diglyceridescalcium peroxide, calcium iodate, DATEMethoxylated mono- and diglyceridesazodicarbonamide), wheat bran, rye flakes, barley flakes, soy flour, buckwheat flour, bulgur wheat, cracked wheat, triticale,yellow corn grits, millet, soy grits, ground flaxseed, brown rice flour, calcium sulfate, soy lecithin, wheat starch, enzymes.
What's a dough conditioner?

It's basically this thing that many professional bakeries use in their breads to keep it from going stale, or molding...a kind of preservative. It's why most commercially made breads are so soft and squishy! I couldn't tell you what some of the other stuff is, but I do know that soy lecithin is a kind of emulsifier. You can use lecithin to make foams, like this one!

That's fun! But not really necessary in bread, if you ask me.

The bottom line is that you can very easily make your own bread at home with a small amount of effort and a little patience. It's the original "set it and forget it" food. Here's how I made mine.

Braided Basil Bread
  • 500 grams flour(I used all-purpose, but bread flour is great, too!)
  • 6 grams of yeast
  • 300-ish grams of water at body temperature(about a cup...it's humid here, so I had to vary certain things)
  • 1 egg OR a big glug of canola/grapeseed oil(you'll want a little fat in this one)
  • 10 leaves of basil, chiffonade
  • 25 grams brown sugar
  • 1 fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 50 grams of flax seed**
Combine the flour and yeast in the bowl of your standing mixer, and mix for about 45 seconds with the dough hook. Add the sugar, mix for another 15 seconds, and add in your egg/oil. You use the oil in place of the egg to make this bread vegan, which I did for a friend. Yeast is vegan, so you're okay there! 

While all of this is mixing in, you gather your basil and begin to chiffonade. I had both Italian and Thai basil from the Overland Park Farmers' Market, which I had visited the day before. It was gathered in this gorgeous bouquet, and I took a few leaves from each. 

To chiffonade, simply gather the leaves and lay one on top of the other, and then sort of roll it all together to form a "cigar" of basil. Then slice thinly crosswise to create long ribbons. You can follow the video tutorial above if this description is too vague. Add your basil chiffonade to the flour-oil mixture as it's mixing.  You'll want any herbs you add to be chopped fine, but still big enough to be visible for the final product. You can use any herb you like in this recipe. In addition to basil, I used some chopped carrot greens, which were from my trip to the farmers' market. This is optional, of course, and you can use whatever you like in this recipe. You can also add in about four cloves of garlic, that have been crushed, and then roughly chopped to this recipe, if you like.  The idea is to create a flavor profile that the yeast will feed off of, and thus flavor your bread.

Yeast are single-celled organisms that lay dormant in their little prison of the fridge, or the packet. Here in the United States, we mostly use dry-instant yeast, that's activated by putting in warm water. Yeast dies at 114 degrees F, though, so you don't want it too hot! Actually, if you use cool water, the bread will proof at a slower rate, and thus create more flavor. I personally prefer water that's at body temperature, which just means that the water shouldn't feel warm, but shouldn't feel cool.

Add in your water, now, and continue to mix. If you're using flax seed, go ahead and add it now. You don't have to add flax seed, but I like the extra little bit of fiber that it gives me. You can also use sunflower seeds, or any combination of chopped nuts, so long as it's a small amount. You may have to add more water, or more flour, depending on how humid your environment is, but it should form a round ball that climbs your dough hook with ease. Take your time to scrape down the dough hook every few minutes or so.
Thank you, TheFreshLoaf.com!

When the bread feels ready, take a tiny ball of it and roll it in your hands, then stretch it with your fingers and hold it up to the light. This is called the windowpane test, and it tells you when glutens have formed. You're looking for spider-y veins and glumps in your dough, and it shouldn't tear when stretched. If there are tears, keep kneading.

Gluten is your friend in this endeavor. Gluten is this wonderful protein web that traps in all of that gas that the yeast is forming by eating your flour, your sugar, your herbs and garlic and whatnot. The reason you want to flavor your bread now, while the yeast is still dormant, is that you want them to wake up and snack on that lovely basil. When it eats your flavoring agents(be they veggies or flour alone), it'll burp and fart and all of that gas it creates will be flavored with whatever you put it in, and thus perfume your entire loaf with yummy goodness!

Once your dough is ready, oil up a clean bowl(or just re-use your standing mixer bowl, just lube it up) with your fat of choice, set your nice ball of dough inside, all slathered with fat, and set in a warm place. I heat my oven to 250-300 degrees and just set it on the stove top, and cover it with a clean tea towel. You can use plastic wrap if you don't have a tea towel, of course.

This next bit is called proofing, and it'll take about an hour, depending on how warm or cool your environment is. If you house is warm, you can set it by a window and go grocery shopping. I've even been known to set a ball of dough out on the balcony when I was living in my apartment for heat. Either way, when the dough has doubled in size, now is the time for punching and shaping.

Remove your dough and set on a clean work surface. I used my linoleum counter tops, which didn't require flouring because of how much fat was on my dough. I braided mine into a four-strand loaf braid, but you can do a three strand, or just simply roll into a single loaf. The one thing you must do, no matter what, is punch down the dough so that the air bubbles pop. This is to create an even rise, and to create even more flavor. The little yeast-ies will keep on eating, keep on belching...after all, you've given them quite a bit to chew on! Whatever shape you decide on for your bread, make sure that it's set on your baking sheet tray with plenty of oil/panspray/whatever smack dab in the middle, so it has room to rise and double. Yes, you're doubling it again.

Here's an image tutorial that I snagged from PopSugar.com on how to braid a 4-strand challah loaf.

And here's a gorgeous pic from JournalsofaFrenchFoodie.com on how to do a 6-strand braid!

You can spend all day on google finding bread shapes, or just punch it down, roll it into a ball, and let it go to town. I preferred the 4-strand braid, as it's the shape I learned when I was in Culinary School. If you do choose a braid, make sure you pinch the ends together nice and hard, and then tuck under, nice and tight, so it won't come undone once proofed.

Cover your loaf with plastic(or your tea towel again) and let it set for another hour in that same warm place..or just until it's doubled. It'll be quite clear when it's ready to go into the oven, because it'll look like it's about to pop.

Is that a 4-strand braided loaf or are you just happy to see me...?
It's at this point you can choose to brush your loaf with oil, with egg wash, etc., for an extra something. You can brush with olive oil and set cracked black pepper and kosher salt on top, or more chopped herbs. I left mine plain so you could see what it looks like, just plain baked. Put in your oven at 400 degrees F, and let bake until the crust is golden-brown and it sounds hollow when knocked on. Mine took about 30 minutes, but yours might take more or less. Just check it in 20 minutes and see where you are.
Nobody likes a soggy bottom...

Protip: If you don't have a cooling rack(like I don't), flip your loaf over so that the bottom can cool without steam forming. This way, you prevent a soggy-bottomed bread!

If you do have a cooling rack, just use that. The idea is to get air flowing all round your bread, so that your crust cools nicely!

Let cool completely before cutting. I know that the temptation is horrifically great, but you must resist! Resist until it's, at least, room temperature. The bubbles that your yeast worked so hard to form are setting now, and if you cut while too hot, the bubbles will collapse and you'll have squishy, tragically soggy, no-good-for-spreading-butter-on bread. I ended up setting mine on my kitchen table, upside down, for about 20 minutes before I cracked.

Check out that gorgeous-ness! That's a beautiful, fine-bubble! You'll want those fine bubbles in that bread, as a sign that you've done your right job in your first initial punching. The bubbles that rise first are big and uneven, and when  you've punched them down for the second proofing, they'll become more small and uniform. You see these small, uniform bubbles in cakes, too!

This bread is delicious on its own, just with  butter, or as toast spread with some delicious rose petal jam. You can use this bread for anything, really, that you would use normal store-bought bread. Sandwiches? Sure. Toast? Of course. A light snack? Absolutely!

I cannot stress enough that eating healthy is not about starving yourself, but about having full control as to whatever it is that goes into your body. What went into your body when you ate this bread? Well, let's see...basil, flour, salt, a little yeast, and that's essentially it. You didn't add lecithins or poly-sorbinates or whatever-the-fuck goes into commercially-made bread. You made this. You did. You're amazing. Go, you! Now share this with your kids! Or with  your friends! Or use it to make a grilled cheese sandwich! Or hollow it out and fill it with chili! I won't judge.

Nothing like a grilled cheese sandwich and some Sun Tea to make a great lunch...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Trip to Overland Park Farmer's Market, and How to Shop Locally

Howdy, class!

Today, we're going to learn about shopping at your local farmer's markets. Although the closest one to me is City Market in Downtown Kansas City, I have Wednesdays off so that means I can have a trip to the Overland Park Farmers' Market, which is only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. (Special tips will be highlighted in bold.)

It's hot and humid...but, hey, it's summer! Now where's
that stall with the fruit smoothies...?
The trick to the Farmers' Market is that you should seldom go with an idea of what to buy in mind. Treat it like the grocery store; just wander aimlessly and figure out what you need on the way. 

(For those of you who actually go to the grocery store with lists in mind can throw them away. This ruins the idea of the Farmers' Market in my mind.)

When  I'm shopping for food, I try very hard to not go shopping hungry, because I end up buying a lot of what I don't actually need. When shopping, I highly recommend eating a protein bar beforehand, or stopping at a drive-thru to get an iced coffee. A health teacher told me once that if you're feeling peckish, have a glass of water before you reach for a snack; often, you were more thirsty than you were hungry, and you'll have stopped yourself from overeating by getting hydrated. There are many ways to curb overeating, and staying hydrated is one of them!

Also, bring your own bag. Although the farmers' market vendors will often have bags of their own, you should still bring your own. I have this neat treated canvas bag that I take with me when shopping; it also adds to the ambiance of the place. Plus, it's an excuse to color-coordinate an extra something with your totally cute farmers market outfit. You know what I'm talking about. *wink*

Always make a first pass, up and down, before deciding what you need. Take in absolutely everything. Farmers' markets should be savored; a lot of hard work went into making this delicious food for you, and you'll see those smiling faces of the happy vendors with their glorious produce shine. You should want to take in everything, listen to the buzz of the crowd, and really feel that humming energy. Things are alive around you; and the produce here is fresher than you'll ever get in the grocery store.

I remember that I had some sweet corn, freshly picked and grilled, at a Farmer's market in California once. It was so sweet, and so unbelievably delicious; when I asked what seasonings the man put on the corn, he said he didn't put anything on it. It was just the corn and some sweet cream butter from the dairy farm that was next to his(this was years ago, way before the California drought). Corn, he said, loses sugar in increments from the moment that it's picked. The sweeter it is, the more-recently it was picked. I've never forgotten that.

Oh, and let's remember, class: corn isn't a vegetable, it's a grain. You can use this as your starch for your meal, but pick something else for your vegetable.

Eating healthy is about getting variety in  your diet. Don't just eat the same thing over and over again, but eat a wide range of different fruits, vegetables, meats...etc. If you have children that are picky eaters, and they see you enjoying something new and different, they'll be more opt to try it. If you have kids, be that presence in their lives that shows them that food is nothing to be afraid of. I cannot stress this enough. Even if you don't know how to cook it, ask the vendors what they would do. Seriously, these people know their produce inside and out, so of course they'd have an idea or two of what to do with all of this gorgeous produce.

Another cool thing about my farmers' market(and many farmers' markets now) is that they sell meats from local vendors. You'll sometimes have to get there early in the day, but it'll be worth it. Many places will allow you to call ahead, too, and set aside certain items for you so long as you ask. I can't tell you the difference between fresh farmers' meats and the ones at the local grocers. It's seriously otherworldly, and I can only tell you to try it for yourself. Many farmers out here also run dairies, so they'll sell goats' cheese and whatnot.

See that? That's your non-side-effect-having-allergy relief right there...
The apiaries out here can't be beat, and they'll always have delicious honey for you to sample and buy. Buying and consuming local honey is an excellent and natural way to combat allergies during the summer. The bees in the local area gather pollen from local plants, flowers, trees, etc, and make it into honey. By administering yourself with local honey, it will help to combat your aversion to local plant life; but you don't have to take my word for it.

See what I'm pointing to? That's produce. Behind me are squash, heirloom tomatoes the size of your head, gorgeous cucumbers and wax beans, basically all of the summer bounty that you could be putting into your body but aren't. See how hot and sweaty I am? Of course you do. But is it worth it? Of course it is. If you don't want to get hot and sweaty shopping, consider that these hard-working women and men do every day to give you this bountiful harvest. Consider the beauty in their hard work, their toil, all so you can have some fresh and beautiful meat, vegetables, cheese, all on your plate tonight. Sure, the supermarket is air-conditioned, but you'll be supporting factories, poorly-paid laborers, a crap-ton of antibiotics. Consider organic; if nothing else, it tastes better.

There's a slight chance I went overboard...
And another thing; don't throw away your beet and carrot greens. Those greens are delicious, good for you, and create another dimension to your meal. I love beet greens sauteed with butter and salt, or braised in a stew. Carrot greens can be steamed, roasted, all while left on the carrot. You can butter the peeled carrots and just bake them with some potatoes. By leaving the carrots whole, you minimize prep time for yourself, and who doesn't like that?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date with these beets. And basil. And garlic. And carrots. Okay, so it's less like a date and more like an orgy. Sue me.