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52 Things I Learned In One Year – Part 2 of 3

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Ah, what was I thinking when I came up with the notion of writing about 52 lessons learned? One lesson per week of my challenge – that should be a piece of cake. Okay then maybe I just have a bad old case of writers block. I’ve challenged myself to write up my second list of 15-20 lessons over the past three weeks and I’ve come up dry. Getting out of the routine of cooking and blogging was not at all difficult to do. Even though I’m not filling my time with meal preparation like I was this time last year, my time is plenty full with large work projects, summer gardening, and all the great weather activities I feel I may have missed last year.

But when push came to shove, there really were more lessons there than I originally may have imagined. So on with the countdown…

37 – Planning meals around seasonal ingredients is a great way to be a bit more creative with what goes on the dinner table. While we had many a meal composed of the typical “protein, starch, and vegetable” – there were some terrific moments of creativity using seasonal vegetables. Check out the spring asparagus salad (if it’s not too late in your region) or plan for this corn salsa.

36 – Processing your own tomatoes into something like sauce can be economical. I learned that while it takes a heck of a lot of tomatoes to get to the end product, the end product was generally a better value than the price I would pay off the shelf. By the way, I used 52 pounds last year to yield 144 ounces of diced tomatoes, 96 ounces of tomato sauce, 80 ounces of pizza sauce, 54 ounces of pasta sauce, and 28 ounces of roasted tomatoes. Check out the post, 52 weeks by the numbers.

35 – Roma tomatoes make the best sauce and give the best yield. I was a bit fooled by the notion that any tomato is a good tomato to process. I was wrong. The Roma’s make all the difference in the world.

34 – I won’t again be fooled into thinking I can “thicken” a pasta sauce by blending up the tomatoes with an immersion blender. Good sauce takes time on the stove. Plan for long cooking time, 4-6 hours not only helps thicken the sauce but it really brings out the flavor.

33 – I swore that after this year, I would never again purchase granola. It’s been eleven weeks since I ended my year, and I have made about six pounds of granola during that time. Keeping true to this lesson, it’s so easy to do yourself and the benefits are that I control the flavor, the sweetness, and the amount of pecans I want in every bite! I will start a batch at 6:30 in the morning, and it’s ready to eat by 7:15.

32 – Homemade bagels are not all that easy to make, they take a bit of time to make, and the flavor is, well OUTSTANDING! Don’t be scared by the bagel is the lesson learned. Also eat them quickly, they really are the best the day you make ‘em.

31 – I figured out my slow cooker isn’t just for dinner. We made “Crock Pot oatmeal” which fills the house with a wonderful aroma, not to mention is ready when you get out of bed. And then there is Crock Pot yogurt, which is not only so simple it’s also a great value. Strain some yogurt in cheesecloth to make Greek yogurt, and you’ve saved even more money.

30 – Bison is better than beef. Don’t get me wrong, I l-o-v-e beef of many cuts and eat it often. However when I want to cut down on the fat and calories without losing any flavor, then bison is a surprisingly great choice.

29 – One can make cinnamon rolls without yeast. While they taste a bit more “biscuity” than yeasty, once you pour on the glaze it hardly makes a difference.

28 – I won’t go back to eating frozen pizza. Okay, I did break that promise this week as we were leaving our friend’s house after helping her move and it was already 7:30 pm and we hadn’t had dinner. A frozen pizza was easy, and quite honestly pretty tasteless by comparison. I won’t go back to eating frozen pizza!

27 – I now understand what little Miss Muffet was thinking, don’t discard the whey! I still regret making the first batch of cheese and tossing all of that whey goodness down the drain. Now I use it in place of milk when baking and it really does add some great flavor.

There you have it, and I have only 27 more lessons learned to write!

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52+ Weeks of Recipes

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Breads, Pastry, Pasta

Bagels

Cinnamon Raisin English Muffin Bread

Cornmeal Crackers

Corn Tortillas

Croutons

Egg Noodles

Eggless Pasta

Flax Crackers

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Pie Crust (Curried Chicken Pot Pie)

Pizza Crust

Multi-Grain Sandwich Bread

Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

Sweets & Breakfast Treats

Christmas Stollen

Chocolate Graham Crackers

Cinnamon Rolls Quick & Easy

Granola Number Five

Granola Bars

Whole Grain Pancakes

Beef

Bison Chili

Bison Stroganoff

chipotle meatloaf

Corned Beef & Cabbage

Lasagna

Pork

Frijoles Borrachos

Pork Carnitas

Posole

Tomatillo Pork Stew

Chicken or Turkey

Curried Chicken Pot Pie

Curried Turkey (or lamb) With Autumn Vegetables

Mediterranean Chicken with Potatoes

Tomatillo Chicken Dia de los Muertos

Vegetarian & Vegetables

Anasazi Bean Burgers

Corn Salsa

Rainbow Chard With White Beans

Refrigerator Kimchi

Roasted Tomatoes (oven dried)

Spring Asparagus Salad

Sushi

Super Lentil Dal

Sauces, Dressings & Condiments

Bechamel Sauce

Balsamic Salad Dressing

Buttermilk Ranch Salad Dressing

Coffee Bourbon BBQ Sauce

Marinara Sauce

Mustard

Pizza Sauce

Tomato Sauce

Tomatillo Salsa

Vita’s Pasta Sauce

Make It With Milk

Crock Pot Yogurt

Meyer Lemon Cheese

52 Weeks By The Numbers

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Let the countdown begin. When I began my year of inconvenience I thought it might be interesting if I kept track of the quantity of staples I was buying and making. Not everything mind you, but mainly the items I would have typically purchased conveniently at the supermarket (or in this case at my co-op). I’m pretty sure I missed tracking a number of items, or at least it feels that way now recalling how many weeks these items were part of my at times, frustrating routine.

Here’s a glimpse into my 52 weeks of inconvenience, primarily cooking or baking for just the two of us (although some food items became gifts, while others were served to our dinner guests. I started to provide links to the recipes below, but decided instead to develop a recipe listing in one of my future posts just to stretch this out a bit further.

Ingredients Made From Scratch
40pounds of flour(14 lbs. whole wheat flour and 26 lbs. white flour) 40 loaves of sandwich bread, 7 loaves of cinnamon raisin bread, 3 loaves banana bread, 6 Christmas Stollens, 24 hamburger buns, 24 flour tortillas, 24 popovers, 18 bagels, 12 pita breads, 12 pizza crusts, 4 batches flax seed crackers, 2 batches chocolate graham crackers, 8 crusts for chicken pot pies, and 4 pounds of pasta. Oh, and a crazy cake, cinnamon rolls, cookies, and I’m sure I missed a few other things as well. Whew!
52 pounds of tomatoes 144 ounces diced tomatoes, 96 ounces tomato sauce, 80 ounces pizza sauce, 54 ounces pasta sauce, 28 ounces roasted tomatoes. And I was worried I wouldn’t have enough to last.
8 pounds of rolled oats, 5 pounds of pecans 21 pounds of granola8 batches of granola bars (200 of 2×2 squares)The rest of the pecans were used in the Christmas Stollen
5 pounds Masa 7 batches (80) corn tortillas. I love making these and likely will not go back to buying them pre-made.
13 pounds of whole chickens and 13 pounds of turkey breast About 4 chicken and turkey dinners as well as leftovers for sandwiches, soup, and stock.
448 ounces (or 56 cups) of stock Chicken soup, veggie soup, turkey soup, lamb stew, tomatillo pork stew, chicken pot pies, dozens of rice dishes and other crock pot dishes
48 Tablespoons or 24 ounces Instant yeast Sandwich bread, cinnamon raisin bread, stolen, hamburger buns, bagels, pita bread, pizza crusts.
52 ounces honey Breads, 8 batches of granola bars (200 squares)
48 ounces maple syrup Granola (sweetener) and pancakes. Life is so sweet.
10 pounds fair trade sugar Okay that number should scare me into a five-mile hike. Yikes, that’s a lot of baking.
3 pounds (48 ounces) brown sugar Granola, some breads, granola bars, cookies
8 pounds (256 tablespoons) unsalted butter Wow, really? What did I make with all that butter? I only use unsalted for baking and some cooking. And I wonder why I gained 6 pounds this past year…
97 ounces or 12 cups of olive oil Salad dressing, marinades, pasta sauce, and all of those made from scratch dinners.
20 dozen eggs (that’s 240) Okay, if Lisa and I averaged 4 eggs/week total for breakfast that would be understandable. Many, many eggs were used in baking and pasta – and the rest made for some great breakfasts.

My year ended on April 17, and I still have some of the tomatoes and chicken stock in my basement freezer. I remember when I was so worried about putting up enough tomatoes last summer, to last me through the winter, and much to my surprise I didn’t use them all. We’ve eaten a few meals over the past two weeks (since the year officially ended) that were part of my stocking up on frozen dinners. Things like curried chicken pot pie, turkey meatloaf, turkey noodle soup, and pork carnitas have added a bit of value to what might have otherwise been a convenience food splurge for me.

In fact, over the past two weeks not a whole lot has changed for me… uhm yet. I baked two breads, made a batch of granola, one pizza, a number of from-scratch dinners, and averaged at least 3 out of 7 lunches from scratch each week. What did change is that I purchased pasta, chips, salsa, breakfast cereal, canned beans, a few salads and one sandwich from my co-op. I have a half-gallon of milk in the refrigerator right now for making yogurt (tonight) and I also think twice before buying anything convenient, partly out of habit and partially out of guilt. Could I actually be a changed woman? Only the next 50 weeks will tell for certain.

Week 46 – An Einstein I’m Not!

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What does a middle-aged German girl like me know about bagels? Well I know they were a childhood favorite of mine growing up in the 1960’s in a community with one of the first bagel shops in the area. Bagels and lox were a treat in our house and I learned to appreciate both the appropriate texture and flavor at a very young age. We didn’t have the Brugger’s or Einstein’s shops known today – no these shops were small local bakeries that perhaps learned the craft of bagel baking in New York or Chicago – and opened up in my neighborhood I’m guessing on the demand from the Jewish community.

What do I know about bagels today? Well first of all I haven’t eaten a bagel in more than 46 weeks. Prior to my voyage into the from scratch food routine, I had avoided bagels for a couple of years because of the calorie content – a whopping 72 calories per ounce – or about 364 calories for an average size bagel. Spread on the cream cheese and we’re talking 1/3 of the calories I might consume in an entire day. But I got a craving for bagels this week and naturally if I wanted them, I would have to make them myself.

Research led me to the particular recipe I’ve included in this post – not too technical for my abilities – but descriptive of what I remembered about the texture and flavor of a really authentic bagel. A bagel by definition is known as dense, chewy and rather doughy with a nicely browned and crispy crust. That’s the bagel I was in search of!

Naturally I wanted some kind of cheese spread to go along with my bagel. Since I didn’t have the necessary mesophilic starter for cream cheese, and since I was hoping to do something low-fat, I decided to use this recipe that I’ve had my eye on since getting my cheese making book for Christmas. It’s super simple to make, and since you add your own salt and/or herbs, it can take on whatever flavor profile you love. I was happy to see Meyer lemons were in season, as they tend to be a bit sweeter than regular lemons (they are a cross between a lemon and either a mandarin or common orange).

While these two recipes took up a big part of my Sunday time (ie: I prepared no other food for the week), they were really worth the effort. I brought the majority of them into work today at the delight of my co-workers, or at least that’s what they tell me. Enjoy!

 

Meyer Lemon Cheese

½ gallon milk (I used 2%, you need a little milk fat)

¼ cup lemon juice (I used Meyer Lemons)

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or other herbs

 

Heat the milk on the stove in a large pot, stirring frequently until it reaches 185-195°. Remove from the head, add the lemon juice to the milk, and stir. Cover the pot immediately and let rest for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes check you curds and whey. The whey should be clear and not milky. If it’s milky, add a little bit more lemon juice to the pot and wait a few minutes more.

Pour the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth. I save the whey from both the curds dripping through the cheesecloth as well as from the rest of the cheese-making process. (see week 41)

Tie the corners of the cheesecloth and hang the curds over a bowl to drain for about an hour. Remove the curds from the bag and add the salt and herbs. My cheese was a bit dry, so I just added back some of the whey I had saved to make it creamier.

Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks, if it lasts that long.

 

Bagels (from the book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, by Hertzberg and Francois)

For The Dough

3 cups lukewarm water (100°F)

1 ½ tablespoons active dry yeast (2 packages)

1 ½ tablespoons Kosher salt

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

6 ¼ cups bread flour

Extra flour for dusting

Sesame seeds and/or poppy seeds

For The Boiling Pot

8 quarts water

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

This dough mixes best using a 14-cup capacity food processor with dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook. Mix the yeast, salt, and sugar with the water in the bowl of your mixer or food processor. Add the flour to form what will become a very sticky dough. If you don’t have a machine to use, keep your hands wet to incorporate all of the flour.

Cover the dough and allow it to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours. You can use the dough immediately, but it may work better refrigerated for a few hours. I also read in Mark Bittman’s book, that refrigerating or resting the dough for several hours will also contribute to a more developed flavor.

Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat your oven to 450°F, with a baking stone (preferably) in the middle rack and an empty broiler tray or cast iron pan below. You will use the second pan to create steam. If you don’t have a baking stone, a lightly oiled baking sheet should work.

Generously dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 3-ounce piece of dough about the size of a small peach. Dust the piece with more flour (on your counter top as well) and shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go. (Tuck and spin, tuck and spin. You’re creating elasticity in the dough.) Set the dough ball on a floured surface and keep working the rest of the dough. Cover the balls loosely with a towel that has been lightly floured (you’ll use this towel again in a bit). Let the balls rest for 20 minutes.

Start you water boiling (don’t forget to add the sugar and baking soda once it begins to boil).

Next, punch your thumb through the dough ball to form the hole. Hold the dough in your hands and ease the hole open with your fingers as you rotate the dough in a circle. Your dough should look like a fat bicycle tire. The hole will get smaller as the dough rests, so don’t worry that it’s too big.

Drop the bagels into the simmering water one at a time, making sure they are not crowding one another (3-4 at a time). Let them simmer for 2 minutes, then turn them over to cook for one more minute. (I was so busy dropping bagels into the water and shaping the others that I forgot to take pictures. Whoops!)

Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and place them on a clean kitchen towel (the one you used to cover them) that is lightly floured. This will help absorb some of the excess water and keep them from sticking.

Place the bagels on a well-floured peel if you’re using a baking stone, or on a lightly greased baking sheet if you’re not using the stone. Sprinkle with poppy seeds and/or sesame seeds. Yes they looked funny, I was worried.

Slide the bagels directly onto the hot stone or baking sheet onto the middle oven rack. Throw 2 ice cubes into the broiler pan or cast iron pan and quickly close the door to keep the steam inside. Bake for about 20 minutes until brown and firm. Repeat process with the rest of the batches.

Oh and if you find my description or process to not be helpful, take a look at a post by the authors of the recipe.