Saturday, October 25, 2014

Menu Planning Helps

Things just go so much better when I take the time to plan a weekly menu. For one thing, I'm not scrambling around trying to come up with meals at the last minute. But it's also good from an economical standpoint, because we shop only for what we will use.

This week I kept an eye on the menu so I knew if/what I needed to do ahead of time, whether it was thawing meat or doing some prep work. I was also able to plan for those days I knew I'd be busy working in the garage, and therefore not able to keep an eye on things in the kitchen. Double score for trying a couple new recipes that were big hits with both of us.

I don't really plan for breakfast. We have a few favorites we rotate, depending on how much time we have and how hungry we are: yogurt pancakes, oatmeal, eggs of some sort, yogurt and fruit, or simply muffins or toast.

Here's a peek at this week's menu:

grilled cheese with pickles (homemade whole grain bread and three kinds of cheese)
leftover roast chicken and vegetables; salad with tomatoes and onions
Thai noodles with sauteed vegetables and topped with chopped peanuts; salad with orange, pecans and blue cheese
homemade pizza with homemade Italian sausage, red pepper and onions; applesauce
chicken milanesas; mashed potatoes; salad with tomatoes
tomato and blue cheese pasta; salad with tomatoes and onions
sandwiches (homemade whole grain bread, farmer's cheese, tomato, avocado, lettuce)

roasted chicken and vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions)
homemade vegetarian pizza (onions, garlic, red pepper, olives); applesauce
rosti potatoes; eggs; sliced tomatoes
leftover Thai noodles with sauteed vegetables
wedge salad with bacon, sauteed maple onions, blue cheese, avocado, cherry tomatoes and Ranch dressing

Ivan is busy at least a couple evenings each week with ministry responsibilities, and when he's gone, it's pretty much clean-out-the-fridge-time for me.

Love sesame yet we haven't loved any of the recipes I've tried -- up until this week when we both really enjoyed the Spicy Thai Noodles I found over at A Small Snippet blog. Yay! 

Basically I halved the ingredients, since there are just two of us, but we still ended up with enough for two meals. Probably because I added some sauteed vegetables. It's one of those dishes you can customize to your family's taste and/or what's in your fridge at any given moment. We always have onion and garlic on hand, plus there were some carrots and a red pepper in the crisper, and we picked some swiss chard from our container garden for a little bit of green. It was a very colorful dish.

I subscribe to The Splendid Table's weekly emails and knew when this recipe for wedge salad popped up that I had to try it, pronto! Again with adapations, because we simply don't have access to all the ingredients. We shared a small head of iceberg lettuce; no romaine or fancy radicchio for us. I made do with the white onion I had on hand, because who cares what color it is, right? And pancetta instead of bacon, although there I think it was an improvement because we have some nice artisanal pancetta. (It comes in about a foot long rolled up cylinder that Ivan slices rather thinly and we package in small amounts and freeze.) I left out the baguette but threw in an avocado and some cherry tomatoes. As for the dressing, we do not have access to either buttermilk (ever) or chives (this time of year), so I mixed up some of the dry mix Ranch dressing we brought back from the states. I figured it was a close approximation.

Did you notice a lot of the meals are vegetarian? We've cut way back on meat, partly for health reasons and partly for economic ones. My goal is to buy one piece of meat each week (which I can stretch to 2-4 meals) and so far it's working out really well. Our one concession is the bacon, but as I mentioned, we buy a big chunk, repackage and freeze, and it lasts us for a long time since we don't eat it very often. In fact, the bacon we used on the wedge salad this week was the first bacon we've had all month.

We're always on the lookout for good vegetarian recipes, so if you have one (or more) you really like, do share! It may only be Spring here, but we've had temps in the 90s all week, with no end in sight. We're getting ready to haul the toaster oven out to the garage to use when necessary and our regular oven probably won't see action until next April. That means we are on the look-out for recipes that require no, or very little, cooking. So summer-time recipes get extra credit :)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Seeded Whole Grain Bread

This week we finally tried a recipe I pinned a while back, for seeded whole grain bread. We've been trying to find a good recipe like this for a few years; for bread that's chewy and full of whole grain goodness, but not heavy like a brick. Since cutting waaaaaaay back on white bread (Ivan's yummy, homemade-bread-from-an-Italian recipe), we've pretty much just done without since whole grain breads are rather hard to find here. Usually if it's marketed as whole grain, that means they've substituted a minor amount of the white flour with whole wheat flour, and there might be a few seeds sprinkled on top, so it doesn't really taste any different than the white equivalent. Once in a while we really do come across a whole grain bread, but the price prevents us from buying it. I know there are some who think nothing of spending $5-6 on a loaf of bread, but that's a budget buster in our book.

With all our comings and goings, I didn't make it to the health food store to buy the whole wheat flour and seeds until early this week. Our first attempt convinced us that this recipe is a keeper! It met all our criteria and then some.

We did tweak the recipe, so what you see here is a little different than the original one I found over at Half Baked Harvest. Here are the changes we made:

1) I'm not sure if we got a bad packet of yeast but the first attempt at mixing the yeast, water and honey was a complete failure; even though we let it sit for half an hour, the yeast never did proof. On the second try we mixed the water and yeast, then just drizzled the honey in without stirring it, and that one proofed just fine.

2) The recipe calls for bread flour; we use plain white flour.

3) We cooked half a cup of wheat berries in 4 cups of water for an hour, drained them and added those to the mixture for an even grainier bread.

4) We don't use a whole cup of seeds on the outside as called for in the original recipe. We did on one loaf and it was just too much, and kept shedding massive amounts of seeds every time we cut into it. We think 1/2 cup is just the right amount. This is definitely one of those personal preference things, though.

A few more things that are important to know:

1) This recipe has to be started the night before, so don't think you can start it in the morning and have bread for lunch. Please tell me I'm not the only one who's guilty of not reading through a recipe ahead of time, and finding out too late that I should have started hours before?

2) You will not need a whole packet of dry yeast. I think packets typically contain a tablespoon and you'll only need 2-1/4 teaspoons. This is not a typo, so don't go dumping in the whole packet!

3) We have not tried to make this on a cookie sheet, but followed the directions in the original recipe that say to use a Dutch oven. Tieghan said you can use a cookie sheet instead, but the bread will be a little denser and won't have the lovely crust you get in a Dutch oven. So yes, you can make this without a Dutch oven, but be forewarned it won't be quite the same.

4) Dutch ovens come in various shapes and sizes. Mine is a Calphalon 5 quart enameled cast iron beast. It weighs a ton and takes up a lot of space, but is still one of my "must haves" in the kitchen. This recipe makes a huge loaf. Not.Even.Kidding. It fills the oval 9.5" x 13.5" shape and rises to about 4" high. It's worth at least two regular size loaves. If I had two smaller Dutch ovens, I could divide the dough and make two loaves, but I'm working with what I have so that means one ginormous loaf.

5) One of the things I love is that you can use whatever seeds you want. On the off chance that you're as clueless as I was about some seeds: Make sure you check to see if any seeds need to be precooked or soaked ahead of time. Otherwise you might find yourself spitting out hard, unchewable bits. Just sayin'.

Okay, enough already, right?! On with the recipe...

Seeded Whole Grain Bread

Night Before:

1 cup bread (white) flour
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 teaspoon active dry or instant yeast

Wheat Berries:
1/2 cup whole wheat berries
4 cups water


Next Morning:

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 Tablespoons honey, plus more for drizzling
1-1/2 cups warm water, divided
1 cup old fashioned oats
3 Tablespoons ground flax
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cups bread (white) flour
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 Tablespoons mixed seeds (pumpkin, sesame, flax, etc.)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup mixed seeds (pumpkin, sesame, flax, etc.)

1. The night before baking the bread, make the preferment. In the bowl of your stand mixer, mix together the flour, water and yeast until a smooth paste forms. Cover the bowl and allow the preferment to ripen at room temperature overnight. The preferment will double in size and become bubbly on top as it sits.
2. In a 2 quart (or larger) lidded saucepan bring wheat berries and water to a boil, lower heat and simmer for one hour with lid on. Drain berries and store in fridge overnight.
3. The next day, measure out 1/4 cup warm water in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Add yeast, stir slightly. Drizzle in 3 Tablespoons of honey and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture is foamy on top and smells like bread. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining 1-1/4 cups warm water with the oats and ground flax and allow to sit 5-10 minutes while yeast proofs.
4. Add both the yeast mixture and oats mixture to the bowl with the preferment from the night before. Add whole wheat flour, white flour, salt and wheat berries. Using the dough hook, mix the dough on medium speed for 4-6 minutes. If the dough is extremely sitcky, add flour 1 Tablespoon at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Now add in 3-4 Tablespoons of the mixed seeds, mix until combined.
5. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two.
6. Place the dough in a large greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to sit in a warm area for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.
7. Once the dough has doubled, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place a 5 quart or larger cast iron Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid onto the center of the rack.
8. Punch the dough down with your fist, turn out onto the floured surface again and knead a few times with your hands. Form into a rough oval or circle shape (dough can be divided in half to make two loaves, if you prefer) and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise 20-30 minutes, until it has again doubled in size.
9. When the dough has doubled, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with 1/2 cup mixed seeds. Drizzle 1-2 teaspoons honey over the seeds. Using a sharp knife, gently make a small slit down the center of the loaf.
10. Carefully remove the hot Dutch oven from the oven, closing the door quickly to retain the heat. Remove the lid and, picking the dough up by the parchment paper, carefully place it into the Dutch oven. Put the lid back on and return to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and allow to bake an additional 15-20 minutes until the bread is a deep, golden brown.
11. Remove from the oven and, using a couple of thin spatulas, carefully lift the bread out of the Dutch oven onto a cooling rack. Use the spatulas to slide the bread off the parchment paper (which can be discarded). Cool completely, and don't slice into the bread right away, because the bread continues to cook as it cools.