November 24, 2010

Braided egg bread.

Braided Egg Bread

It cold out there.

I'm not generally one to nay-say the presence of snow, but the meaning has changed for me over time. I guess that's part of growing up. Instead of snowball fights and hot chocolate, I think of electric bills and automobile troubles. I think about how the melt will turn to ice, and I wonder how long it will take for me to get to work using public transportation. I think about how our apartment leaks cold air in from every nook and cranny, and how nice it would be to have a wood stove...

We were lucky last year. Our colder months were generally mild. The temperature did fall into the single-digits for about a week, but the skies remained blue. But this year? I've been saying to Matt since summer's end that I think we're in for a hard winter.

Braided Egg Bread

But it's not all bad. I also associate winter weather with books (I haven't read a legit fiction novel in months!), and lots and lots of baking. This year, I'm feeling particularly experimental. It started with the pretzels, and is slowly seeping into the realm of other intriguiging yeast breads. I may even mess around with our normal sourdough recipe to see what I come up with.

I'm thinking cinnamon rolls. Definitely.

Braided Egg Bread

This bread isn't Challah (which uses oil instead of butter), but it is similar. The recipe I followed didn't actually say anything about braiding the loaves, but I felt compelled. I'm sure you could use loaf pans and do just fine, but braided bread seems more festive to me. 'Tis the season, after all!

As for the taste? It's lightly sweetened and has a nice, airy texture to it even though the crumb is dense. I tend to tear chunks off the loaf and eat straight-up, but it would make for good toast or sandwhich bread.

Dang. Now I'm in the mood for an egg salad sandwhich.

You could also use this for french toast or bread pudding once the loaves go a little stale. We made a super simple bread pudding (just eggs, milk, and turbinado sugar) with it last night, and it was one of the best.

I hope you try it, and I hope you all have a happy turkey day tomorrow!

Braided Egg Bread
Makes 2 loaves.

4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/3 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten

Combine the milk, sugar, butter, and salt in a small saucepan and heat on simmer/low until the butter has almost completely melted. Remove and pour into the bowl of a bread machine or stand mixer. Add two cups flour, the yeast, and the eggs, and start the bread machine using the dough/pasta setting.

Allow the machine to knead the dough for 10 minutes. It should be smooth, elastic, and a little sticky. Remove the dough and transfer to a greased bowl. Let sit in a warm place until doubled in size. Punch it down and divide into two balls. Cover and let rise for 10-15 minutes.

Turn the oven to 375°F. Divide each ball into three sections. Roll the sections out into snakes about 15 inches long. Braid three sections together and tuck the ends under. Repeat the same process for the other ball, and place both braided loaves on a cookie sheet covered with a silpat mat or parchment paper. Cover the loaves with a damp tea towel and let rise for another 30 minutes.

Beat one egg with a splash of cool water. Brush the egg mixture over the loaves. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the pan around in the oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the tops are a dark golden brown.

Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Adapted from the New Cookbook from Better Homes and Gardens.

November 21, 2010

Homemade pretzels.

Homemade pretzels.

My quest for the perfect pretzel recipe began a few weeks back. Honestly, it started because I wanted to learn how to make bagels, but I couldn't find the malt syrup/powder that most recipes call for at any of our local grocery stores. I returned home, defeated, with a lingering need for boiled dough, so I decided to try homemade soft pretzels instead.

The first recipe I encountered was pretty awful. Don't get me wrong - we still ate them all. Every last bite. But they left us bloated from salt overload. It was almost tragic. Yes, pretzels are supposed to be salty, but I firmly believe that most of the seasoning should come from toppings rather than the dough itself.

Take-two: much better in both flavor and texture. The only problem? Me.

I can't shape these things to save my life! As much as I love yeast breads, I rarely have the patience to roll and coil things properly. My pretzels, therefore, generally begin their lives deformed, and only increase in absurdity as they are transferred into boiling water.

I may try to improve my shaping skills some day, but for now I'll stick to solid twists or sticks to ease pretzel-induced stress levels. In any case, these are lovely to eat, and they're definitely going into normal rotation around here. We usually dip them in honey-mustard sauce (recipe below), but sometimes a little pumpkin butter is good too.

Homemade pretzels

Homemade Pretzels
Makes 8

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 stick of butter, melted
Water
Baking Soda
Egg
Pretzel salt or Coarse Sea Salt

Combine the water, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a bread machine (or stand mixer). Let sit for 5-10 minutes, until the yeast begins to bubble. Add the flour and the melted butter, and turn the machine on using the dough/pasta setting. Knead the dough for 5 minutes.

Remove the dough from the machine and place in a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel, and set in a warm place until doubled in size - about an hour.

Preheat oven to 450°F, and cover one or two cookie sheets with silpat mats or parchment paper. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a snake about two-feet long. Pull the ends together and twist, bringing the ends down again toward the center of the snake to form the traditional pretzel shape. Place shaped pretzels on the cookie sheets.

Fill a large pot with water and heat over high. Once the water begins to boil, add about 1/4 cup baking soda. Drop the pretzels in one at a time. Flip the pretzel after 30 seconds, and then let boil 30 seconds more. Place back on the cookie sheet.

Beat one egg with a splash of cool water. Brush the egg over the pretzels and sprinkle with pretzel salt, coarse sea salt, or any topping you'd like. Bake for 15 minutes and check. The pretzels should be a dark golden brown. Remove and cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before eating.

Adapted from Alton Brown's Homemade Soft Pretzel recipe.

Honey Mustard Sauce
Add one part honey to one part mustard. Beat with a fork or whisk until well mixed. Add a splash of apple cider if a smoother consistency is desired. 

November 20, 2010

Hibernating.

Finished!

The forecast shows a mix of snow and rain tonight and tomorrow, but my brain cannot believe that we're already in winter weatherland. I say this regarding every season lately, but fall is passing by so quickly!

My body, on the other hand, is geared for hibernation. Thank goodness for layers upon layers of clothing, books, hot cups of tea and fresh-baked bread from the oven.

I'm so excited to have finally finished my granny square blanket! Just in time, too. It is fulfilling its purpose: keeping its inhabitants warm and cozy while they lounge around, working on their handmade Christmas decorations and such.

A 'tis the season crocheted banner.

A 'tis the season crocheted banner.

We're excited about Christmas this year. We're excited about Christmas every year!

I hope you're staying warm tonight. :)

November 19, 2010

Another obsession.

I never thought I'd be a stamp person. And then I saw these.

Stamps!

And now I'm a stamp person.

It was an impulse purchase made while shopping around for tapes and tags and doily paper. I find myself obsessed with such things more and more each day.

I kept thinking to myself No. Don't buy anything that you didn't originally come here for! You're paying off student loans! And you've been dreaming of that new camera. And your cat just spent three nights at the vet hospital. Blah!

And so on, and so forth.

But then I remembered about how I spontaneously decided to work a little retail on the side for the holidays this year, so I figured Meh.

Those stamps are going to be worth every penny... once I get a stamp pad.

P.S. Yes, I"m tinkering around with how things look around here. It'll probably take awhile before I settle on something I like, so pardon the confusion.

November 15, 2010

Pumpkin bread, miniature style.

Pumpkin bread Pumpkin bread

Might I direct your attention over to my post on My Own Labels for pumpkin bread? I'm munching on a slice right now, and let me tell ya. It's good stuff.

Happy Monday everyone!

November 12, 2010

Cauliflower soup with pesto.

Cauliflower soup with pesto.

Matt and I made a goal for November: no eating out. To help ourselves meet this goal, we stocked our kitchen to the brim with dried goods, produce, cheeses, proteins, hot beverages... you name it. Our pantry is generally pretty full because we cook at home so often, but never quite this full.

While thinking about what sorts of meals to prepare for dinner on that first day in November, I chose to ignore my taste buds and cook logically. After all, we were in this for the long haul, so I didn't want anything to go to waste. After pondering for awhile, I decided to use as inspiration the produce item in our refrigerator most likely to suffer neglect before withering away into the realm of inedibility.

Cauliflower.

It's not that we don't like cauliflower. It's just that... what the heck do you do with it? That's the attitude I took on while fishing through the pages of my cookbooks. I didn't want anything fancy, I just wanted to get it over with.

Unfortunately, the recipe I stumbled upon was so good that we now crave it all the time.

Seriously.

Cauliflower Soup with Pesto
3 T. olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 large onion
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 large potato (yukon or russet)
1 head of cauliflower
5 cups water
salt
pesto

To prepare, chop the onion, garlic, cauliflower and potato, and set aside.

Pour the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high. Add the chopped onion, garlic, the red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Saute for two or three minutes until the onion turns translucent. Add the potato and cauliflower, and saute for another five minutes. Add the water.

Let the water come to a boil, and then adjust the heat so that it remains at a simmer. Continue simmering until the vegetables are tender. Blend very well with an immersion blender. If you desire a smoother texture, run the puree through a strainer. At this point, taste the soup and adjust salt levels accordingly.

Dish the soup into bowls. Add a splash of cream to each bowl, and garnish with a small spoonful of pesto. Swirl together and enjoy!

Cauliflower soup

Adapted from Supernatural Cooking.

November 9, 2010

In denial...

that my throat is a little sore and that my body feels a little achy today. I don't know how I could possibly be sick. And so, since there is no logic to the intrusion, I simply refuse to acknowledge its presence.

'Big kid' granny square blanket.

My granny square blanket is this close to being done. You'll have to use your imagination to decide how close you think this close really is in index-finger-to-thumb lingo, but I can tell you that the squares are joined, and a single-crocheted edging is fully intact. All that's left now is to decide how I want to finish the edges (and then to teach myself how to do it), and, of course, the dreaded tucking and weaving of the strings.

To procrastinate on the dreaded tucking and weaving of the strings, I've started a little project on the side.

A holiday crocheted banner

A holiday crocheted banner

I have decided to be festive this year for the holidays with a 'tis the season' banner of crocheted flags. They are a project in the making, and I am thinking they'll suit my tastes quite well, as far as holiday decorating goes. Hopefully this new gung-ho attitude of mine will more than make up for my Halloween lameness this year, wherein I was wholly and fully the least festive of anyone and everyone I've ever known to be for a Halloween holiday.

I'd better start figuring out next year's costume right away...

November 2, 2010

Joining the squares.

Joining the squares

I finally finished crocheting my last granny square for my blanket over one week ago, but I didn't have the motivation to begin the process of joining them together until late last night. Not only did my poor hand need a break from all of the cramping (though the pain is far more bearable now than before), but I couldn't figure out which joining method I wanted to try - Flat braid? Slip stitch crochet? There are so many to choose from!

And honestly? I was afraid I'd hate the final product.

But I don't. I actually really like it. The colors are definitely more subdued in reality than they appear in today's photos, which is good because I'm usually way more into neutrals than in yo' face color. In any case, It's never a bad idea to step a little outside your comfort zone.

This many squares

Only 44 squares to go!