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Kitchen, bread and cake baking

Seriously, I have no motivation at all. I'm trying to do an edit on the Scrooge book which has been re-titled, but my decision not to enter it into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest (It wasn't really feeling finished, and there was a good chance that it didn't fit the requirements anyway.) has slowed me down a lot.  Still, I like where it's going now, so that's the most important thing.

I made chocolate bread over the weekend from a recipe by David Lebovitz.  Now I think he's absolutely tops when it comes to baking, but I wasn't impressed with the result of this endeavor.  The bread took forever to rise, and even then it didn't get very high.  The result was a surprisingly light loaf which had a texture that was something between bread and an over-cooked cake or brownie.  And it was much too sweet with hunks of chocolate floating in it.  The latter isn't entirely Lebovitz's fault; he did say not to use chocolate chips, but they're what I had, so they got used.

My baking guru, Jeannelle, told me not to put the chocolate in until after the second rise because the sugar robs yeast of its will to live. If I absolutely had to add it to the dough while kneading, she suggested starting with a poolish, which is something I'd wanted to try anyway, and since my original inspiration was Zingerman's chocolate-cherry bread, which appears to be sourdough-based, it makes sense to consider something like a poolish in this context.

The housemate and I made a chocolate cake from one of the mixes I had in the pantry.  We added chocolate nibs, chocolate extract and candied orange peel, and the result was a wonderful cake with a lot of flavor.  Mixes have their uses.  I may actually pull out the wheat bread mix I have in the pantry and whip it up this afternoon.  Or not.  I'm really quite happy just sitting here at the desk and my heart tells me I'd be even happier stretched out on the couch watching a movie.

The clock at Marshall Field's State Street store.

We went shopping on Saturday in spite of the snow since we'd planned to take her sister up to The Spice House in Evanston and then go to lunch at Smak-Tak, a little Polish place near our house.  It was too crappy out to even consider anywhere with street parking, so her sister bowed out, and we took the rental car on down to Mariano's on Western and Roscoe, a lovely supermarket which is the brain-child of Bob Mariano, ICEO of Wisconsin-based Roundy's and former CEO of Dominick's a Chicago-based, (formerly) family-owned supermarket chain that was bought out by Safeway and utterly ruined.  (Chicagoans are pretty unforgiving about stuff like that.  Count me as one who will never set foot in Macy's after  they changed the name of Marshall Field's on State Street.)  For those of you old enough to recall Dominick's before the Safeway debacle, it was Bob Mariano who was responsible for the Fresh Store concept which Safeway shut it down.

It was rough holding to my pledge not to buy anything but fresh things that I'd use up quickly, and in fact I ended up buying a couple of non-fresh items: V8, lemon juice (I use a lot of it.) and tuna.  But nothing frozen, nothing prepared -- not even from their excellent deli -- except a rotisserie chicken which I needed to make stock, and which we're both eating. I was proud of myself.  I still spent $85, but that included a bottle of wine because, dude, wine...  However what I got will help me get through another couple of weeks without ordering anything but maybe some milk and butter.

I got some bread flour while we were out, and the loaf of millet bread I made with it was spectacularly good.  I used the King Arthur Flour basic white sandwich loaf recipe and just added about half a cup of millet during the knead.  The loaf had loft, beautiful crumb and crust, and a fantastic flavor.  The millet gave it just a bit of crunch and a little bit of a toasty flavor.  It was easily the best loaf yet.

So here's what's on the agenda for this week, if not today:

  • I have decided to clean out my cabinets and move everything to the open shelves near the door.  It will give me a clear view of what I have, and force me to make informed decisions about what I need rather than wild guesses.  It'll also be a better use of the space I have.
  • I'm going to try making homemade Greek yogurt.
  • I'm going to make cheddar-mac salad
  • More cucumbers in sour cream because they are good noms.
  • More bread.
  • Clean out the fridge.
  • Change over the shelves, wash all the dishes on them, and put them away in the cabinets which have been similarly cleared and wiped down.
It's already past three; I'm not going to get this done today. *g*
 
Last night Glinda and I ordered supper from Saigon Grill because it was Chinese New Year (Year of the (water) dragon, YAY!  I'm a water dragon, and the last time there was a water  dragon year was the year I was born.)  Sonny brought the food over himself, and it was fabulous as always. Kung Hii Fatt Choi to you all!
 
Water dragon
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Day 18 of the Pantry Project got me to try a new bread recipe.  Why?  Because I have admitted defeat in the dry milk arena.  Stuff's undrinkable, in my opinion.  I literally gagged trying to drink it and ended up turning it into eggnog to mask the flavor. Still, I can't throw it all away, so I put a call out there and the lovely and talented Jeannelle pointed me towards King Arthur Flour and the classic white sandwich loaf which uses up to half a cup of the stuff  (more if you substitute milk for the water, less if you use half potato flakes instead.)  I was completely out of bread, unless you count flatbread, which today I wasn't.  I wanted something to spread some peanut butter on.  So first thing this morning I took the butter and yeast out of the fridge and got the process going. The dough came together pretty easily, and kneaded up very well with the dough hook.  I got my gluten windowpane without having to hand knead anything.  The dough uses not only dry milk but honey, so it had a heavenly aroma.  A few minutes of prep, ten to fifteen minutes of kneading, two rises for a total of three hours, and 35 minutes to bake.  What I got was a loaf with a firm, moist crumb, a soft crust and a wonderful flavor.  Half the loaf went to the housemate and what's left of the other half will probably be gone tomorrow.  This has become my go-to sandwich loaf because it cuts like a dream and holds together perfectly.  I just had a slice with some homemade ham salad, and it was delicious. While it was rising, I cut up an English cuke and salted it.  Then I made cucumbers in sour cream with very thinly sliced red onion and some dill.  None of it came out of my pantry except the dill and the cider vinegar, but it was exactly what I wanted, and it was all fresh. I finally pulled the boneless ham out of the fridge and cut it up.  It wasn't as good a ham as I'd hoped, but it wasn't inedible, and I reasoned that with the scallions, relish and Miracle Whip, it would be fine.  I broke out the grinder and went to work.  Now I'm not a big ham salad fan.  I'm not even a big fan of ham period, but I've had a taste for it recently, and the salad part is really nostalgic for me. When I was a little girl we lived in a 30s era apartment on Chicago's NW side.  It was one of those ginormous buildings which now are often taken over by gang bangers and meth heads.  But back in the 50s there were mostly families and elderly widows.  Everyone knew everyone else, they watched out for each other.  This really doesn't have anything to do with ham salad per se, but I'm writing it to explain some of the nostalgia. In the kitchen there was a door in the wall and when you opened it, there was the ironing board!  When Mom wanted to make ham salad or roast beef hash, she'd lower the board and put a big, iron, hand-cranked grinder at the end of it.  Then she'd feed chunks of meat through it into a bowl.  She always let me help.  I loved turning the crank, or trying to anyway.  Sometimes it was harder than I could manage.  At the end of each batch, she'd put a few saltines through the grinder to help clean it out.  I loved that part the best.  I loved the taste of the saltines that came through at the end. She always used Miracle Whip, and pickle relish.  I don't recall her using onions in her ham salad.  Maybe a touch of mustard since we were a mustard-lovin' family.  But that was it.  We'd eat it on white bakery bread, and it used up every last bit of the Easter ham.  It was a good lesson in economy. While I was grinding today -- a far easier process with the Kitchen Aid to do the hard work for me -- I thought about that time.  I didn't have any saltines, unfortunately, but it didn't matter.  I made something from memory, something that my mother had made for me when I was little.  The process, the flavor of the ham salad on my fresh bread made me very happy.  I don't know if I'll ever do it again, but I'm glad I did it tonight.  I feel like I reconnected with something.
 This is what I ended up eating for lunch: warm bread with good butter and a fresh pear.  Aren't you jealous??  Also, I have five small cups of ham salad in the freezer.  That ham was bigger than I thought.
 
In memory of Mom and her cooking lessons, I'm going to share her cucumber salad recipe with you.  Use it wisely, my children, for it is  Good Noms.
 
Mom's Cukes in Sour Cream

2 large cucumbers
1t salt
1C sour cream
2T vinegar
1T chopped chives
1 t dill seed
1/4 t sugar
Dash pepper

Peel cucumbers; slice thin.  Sprinkle with salt and let stand 30 minutes.  Drain. Combine sour cream, vinegar, chives, dill seed, sugar and pepper.  Pour over cucumbers and toss.  Add salt to taste. Chill in fridge for 30 minutes.

I use very thinly sliced sweet onions (I use a mandoline for the cukes and onions both.)  instead of chives, and dill weed instead of seed.  Other than that, it's the same salad.

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Tracy Rowan

August 2013

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