Sunday, May 31, 2009

Martha vs. Nigella Bake Off

There's few things in life better than a good loaf of bread. I've tried most of the bakeries in the area, and all the vendors at the farmers market, but still haven't found one that both Matt and I love. I decided to try out two different versions and see if I can come up with one that we both love. I pitted Martha Stewart's Breakfast Bread against Nigella Lawson's The Essential White Loaf.

First up, Martha. I've made this bread before and I like it. It's much more substantial than most white bread, but it's reliable option.

Breakfast Bread
adapted from The Martha Stewart Cookbook
Makes 1 loaf
1 c. milk ( I used 1% because it's what I had in the house, but I've even used non-fat with good results)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 package active dry yeast
1/3 c warm water (you want it to feel warm on your wrist but not hot. Like the bathwater for a baby)
3-4 c all purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten

In a small pot scald the milk then add the butter, sugar, and salt and remove from the heat. Let cool to lukewarm.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and then add the milk mixture. Mix 1 1/2 c of flour into the milk mixture until well combined. Add the egg and continue to mix. With the mixer on low slowly add more flour until the mixture comes together and doesn't stick to the side of the bowl. (Yesterday that took an additional 2 c of flour, but I've had it work for less than 1 1/2 c before.) Knead until smooth, approximately 7 minutes. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead by hand for an additional 2 minutes. (I do this because I like to feel that it really is smooth and I can tell if it's too wet or dry. You can knead it all by hand, but I really don't have the upper body strength for that.) Let the dough rise in an oiled bowl covered with a clean dishtowel until doubled in size.

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and form into a loaf. It should look like a sandwich roll with the seam on the bottom. Place in a 9x5x3 pan, cover, and let rise again till it almost reaches the top of the pan.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 to 50 until brown and makes a hollow sound when you tap it. (It's usually best to test that on the bottom but be careful and try not to burn yourself while doing so.) Remove from pan and allow to cool on a rack. Slice and enjoy.

Here we have the whole loaf and then it sliced and ready for eating.
Verdict - good with a slight yeasty flavor. Including both rises, took almost three hours.

Next up, Nigella.

The Essential White Bread
adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to Be A Domestic Goddess
Makes 1 loaf

3 1/2 c all purpose flour (Her recipe calls for bread flour, but I only had all purpose)
1 package active dry yeast
1 Tbsp salt
1 1/3 c warm tap water (Nigella also recommends using water from boiling potatoes but I didn't have any handy. Seriously, who has that frozen in their freezer?)
1 Tbsp softened butter

Place flour, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add 1/3 c of water and stir, add more water until the mix comes together but is still slightly sticky and messy looking, then add the butter. Knead for at least 7 minutes until the dough is smooth. Again, remove and knead by hand for an additional 2 minutes. Allow to rise in an oiled bowl covered with a dishtowel until doubled in size. Punch the dough down, and form into a loaf and allow to rise a second time for about 45 minutes. (This can be baked either free form or in a pan. I used a pan to compare it to the Martha loaf.) Bake in a 425 oven for about 35 till it sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool and dig in.
The Nigella loaf just out of the oven and cut into. Notice Matt in the background helping himself to another piece of the Martha loaf.
Verdict - very good, but a little salty. I've never made bread without putting the yeast in water first. It took much longer for this to rise, almost 4 1/2 hours, but still came out with a good loaf with a very nice crust.

Final decision - The Nigella loaf won!! Even with a slight excess of salt it was still both mine and Matt's favorite.

Tonight we made sandwiches with the toasted bread, steak, arugula from the garden, caramelized onions and garlic, and garlic chive cheddar. Add a salad with lettuce from the garden and sauteed corn and you have a nice early summer dinner.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Photos from Yesterday

It's really only photos of the ravioli, because apparently I forgot that I had the camera the second part of the afternoon.

Here's the filling after sauteing. You can actually see the steam coming off it. It smelled awesome. I'm not usually the biggest mushroom fan, but I wanted to keep eating this.
Here's the assembly line of raviolis. It's about 1 TB of filling on each wrapper.
Frozen and ready for dinner one night. I put instructions on the bag in case I ask Matt to handle dinner if I'm running late.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cooking All Afternoon

Today I pushed myself to get a couple of dishes done and into the freezer for the next couple of weeks. After weeks of takeout I don't want delivery until September, but I still need something for the nights when cooking is just not going to happen.

First up, Spinach Mushroom Ravioli. I stuck to the recipe almost exactly, only adding a clove of garlic to the filling. The recipe says you get 12 ravioli, but I got more like 18. Maybe Giada is padding her bra with the extra filling or something, but there's no way to only get 12. The raviolis were then frozen and bagged for easy use later.

Second up, Spanakopita, not exactly this recipe but close. The ones I made are big enough to be an entree, not the appetizer size you usually see. If you've never used phyllo dough, make sure to cover the sheets you're not using with a damp cloth, otherwise it will dry out. And that makes it a complete bitch to work with. After fighting with the phyllo, solving the drying with MORE BUTTER!, and rolling them up the turnovers were ready to be wrapped and frozen as well.

Last success of the day was Pizza Pouches. I made my own pizza dough, mainly because I like to have some whole wheat flour in the crust, and then added pepperoni instead of meatballs. I need to work on the execution of these a little, as the pouches have quite a bit of extra dough. Being a carb addict, this isn't a problem for me, but I think the spinning teacher would want me to back off a little.

I did have one total failure. I tried to make my own chicken stock and it did not go well. It just tasted salty and bland and smelled like dirty socks. Even Teddy didn't want any piece of it, and she'll beg for anything.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Starting To Get Back To Normal

As we've started to get used to the new kitchen things have started to get back to normal. I've even gotten some flowers from the rose bushes in the back yard.
Right now is the height of strawberry season and Jen and I stood in line at the Arlington Farmers Market to get strawberries from Westmoreland Berry Farms. They are the most delicious strawberries I have even had. Now I understand why there was such a long line. (Originally I thought the line was for a bathroom because what else would you stand in line for behind a truck?)

I also bought feta and mozzarella from Blue Ridge Dairy, asparagus from Westmoreland, and these beautiful chives with purple flowers.
I've already told Matt that tomorrow will be a day of cooking, so I'll post pictures and recipes tomorrow night. I've finally found the cord for the nice camera, so hopefully the pictures will get better.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First Meals in the New Kitchen

Drum roll please...
French Toast. Not exactly new, but I did have to improvise because I hadn't unpacked the spices yet and the big pan I usually use for it was still buried somewhere in the basement. Always a crowd pleaser, this worked out well even without the added cinnamon and Matt running to the store because we had no maple syrup.

I went a little more all out for dinner on Sunday night, just to test the new kitchen. We had been to the Farmers Market, then the butcher and the cheese shop, on Saturday to pick up some items to restock the house and I might have gone a little over board. I blame the new kitchen on why I bought five kinds of cheese in less than an hour. The new kitchen NEEDED that cheese.

And yes, I am aware that walking to the local Farmers Market, two specialty foods shops, and then carrying my purchases home in my monogrammed LL Bean tote makes me the biggest yuppie of all time.

For dinner, I made an appetizer with a baguette, green garlic pesto that I picked up, burrata cheese, and halved cherry tomatoes. It was a nice combo and an unexpected twist on the familiar tomato, basil, and mozzarella combo that I usually live off of.

I've been craving meat on the grill, so we had a flank steak marinated in 4 cloves of garlic, sherry vinegar, a little dijon mustard, some dried oregano and basil, salt, pepper, and olive oil. I placed the whole thing in a plastic bag in the fridge for about 4 hours to let it get nice and juicy. Matt is in charge of things on the grill, so he grilled it for 4 minutes on one side and 3 on the other over medium high heat. It was exactly what I was looking for. With a side of sauteed snap peas and red peppers, and a garden salad it was a perfect first meal. I should also say that the extra flank steak made an awesome sandwich with some garlic chive cheddar that I also picked up on Saturday morning.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Where Does Your Food Come From?

I've been doing a lot of reading recently about what goes into our food and how it's made, so this tool is really interesting to me. I could play with it for hours, but it's really just going to get me to go to the farmer's market more. At least then I know where the food is coming from.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Hello Gorgeous!

We are almost done!! The only things left at this point are hooking up the water and putting in a few switch covers.
Teddy's still checking everything out and figuring out where the best place to lay and get in the way is.
We moved everything to the new fridge last night and the guys moved the old fridge to the basement. Our fridge contents currently are 3 Diet Cokes, 4 beers, 3 salad dressings, milk, and condiments.
The cabinets look a slightly different in the pictures than in real life. I'm using the older camera because while I know where the nice camera is, I don't know where the cord to hook it to the computer is.
Do you know where it is???
This looks worse than it is. Or maybe I'm just telling myself that because I would like to believe we'll be able to deal with it all this weekend.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On A Break

The kitchen is currently on a mini break while we wait for the counter top to arrive. Since that means I can't spend money on new accessories for the kitchen yet, I had to find a way to do my part of keeping the economy going. So I went searching for some shoes online.

First, I do understand that my tastes tend toward the conservative. The last time I was in San Francisco my dad (who owns more Br00ks Brothers than Matt) offered to take me shopping to help give my wardrobe a little California flair. Second, DC is a conservative city for office attire and I've heard stories of no slingbacks, always wear pantyhose, and even always white pantyhose. But I think even the most laid back offices would not find these shoes appropriate.

This one is actually the first show listed under "Career." Not the most hideous thing ever, but certainly not office appropriate.

Maybe for a date, but please not in the office.
Nothing about this shoe, expect that it has soles, seems office appropriate to me.

Am I really that conservative? Tragically unhip? Or maybe I just have a thing against snakeskin.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Public Service Announcement

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. While it's not quite as easy to celebrate as say, Arbor Day, I will point you in the direction of things NOT to do. As a personal addition, I would ask the following things:
  • Don't ask someone if they've thought about adoption. They are aware of adoption as an option. Adoption is a great and wonderful thing (yeah baby Ryan!!) but it is not for everyone and should not be taken into lightly. If you wouldn't tell a pregnant woman that she shouldn't have had her baby and should have adopted instead, don't say it to someone who is trying to conceive through technology.
  • Don't ever tell someone that infertility is God or Nature's way of telling them they shouldn't have a baby. If I have pollen allergies, does that mean I shouldn't breathe? No, it means I talk to a doctor and try to solve the problem.
  • Remember that if a woman is currently undergoing treatment she's definitely being pumped full of drugs and likely will be moody as hell. Please don't take it personally. She also might be packing needles, so be careful.
  • Remember that it's not just the woman who's dealing with it. While most stories cover the female perspective, it's just as hard for men.
Thank you for listening. Now imagine "The More You Know" music slowly fading out...