Aug 20, 2012

Sunday Baking // Oatmeal Crisps


My ultimate dream is to have a bakery. Growing up, I'm sure I drove my mom crazy baking brownies at midnight, chocolate chip cookies for boyfriends, cupcakes for bake sales, sugar cookies at Christmas, and loafs in our old bread machine. Now that I have an incredible kitchen with two ovens and plenty of willing folks to feed, I'm living that dream, in a way.


I'm trying to pass this love of cooking onto Ellis - and he is eating it up. Yesterday, after we fed the chickens and rabbits and swung on the rope-swing, we decided to spend the morning baking. I asked him what he wanted, and he said "that oatmeal cookie that Christian and I made and he let me eat lots of dough."


The recipe comes from Farm Anatomy by Julia Rothman. When Erin (of Reading My Tea Leaves) first reviewed it, I ran to our local bookshop to purchase the book as a Christmas gift... though almost a year later, it still lives on my bookshelf. :) (It's a good book with great illustrations - but if you want a true farm life book, I'd recommend Country Wisdom & Know-How. It's so legit you can purchase it at Tractor Supply.)

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Oatmeal Crisps

2 sticks butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cookie sheet by coating with wax paper.
2. Mix together butter, sugar and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating just until combined.
3. Sift together baking soda, salt, and flour. Slowly add dry mixture to wet. Once combined, mix in oats, nuts and chocolate chips. Refrigerate overnight if you have the patience (we didn't).
4. Spoon dough onto cookie sheet, and bake for 7-10 minutes, until edges begin to lightly brown. The dough keeps for weeks rolled up in the refrigerator.

P.S. I'm still a believer in the sifter. Are you?

Aug 16, 2012

Baking ... American Loaf Bread

(In which we put ourselves out there, in more ways than one.)


It's been a surprisingly busy week with Jim being out of town. While he shoots two major jobs on the West Coast, I'm catching up on books and guilty pleasure tv, taking Virginia to Greenville to meet Lee for the start of their road trip, touring the Peace Center, having dinner with friends, doing yoga, cutting grass, gardening, scheduling, family reunion-ing, and BAKING BREAD.

Have you ever tried to make bread at home? I have before, and it's never turned out quite right -  too dense, too grainy, too crusty, too gooey - until now!

Let me set the scene for you:

  • A Cooks Illustrated recipe I've had bookmarked for weeks
  • Time enough to knead and rise and bake
  • A conversation I recently had on how even store-bought loaf bread isn't vegan due to the use of milk-based preservatives. It's not dairy I'm opposed to - it's how said bread doesn't get stale or moldy for weeks. 
  • Solo meals, where I've challenged myself to eat fresher, better, smarter (from the Farmer's Market and garden, primarily)

Here you have it, my go-to recipe for bread. Bake it and I promise you'll feel as crazy proud of yourself as I do :) It's easier than it seems.

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American Loaf Bread, adapted from Cooks Illustrated

1 cup whole or 2% milk, heated to 110 degrees
1/3 cup water, heated to 110 degrees
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose, if bread flour isn't available)
2 1/4 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 tsp salt

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Once oven temp. reaches 200, maintain heat for 10 minutes, then turn off oven.
2. Whisk heated milk and water with honey and butter. Using stand mixer fitted with dough hook*, combine flour, yeast, and salt on low speed. Slowly add milk mixture and let dough come together, about 2 minutes. Then increase speed to medium and knead until dough is smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes. Scape as needed. Transfer dough to lighly floured counter and knead by hand to form smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds. Place dough in large, lightly greased bowl; cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in warm oven until doubled in size, 40 to 50 minutes.
3. Grease 9x5 inch loaf pan. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and press into a 1-inch thick rectangle, no longer than 9 inches. With long side facing you, roll dough toward you into firm cylinder, pressing dough into itself as you roll to keep taut. Turn loaf seam side up and pinch it closed (a few air bubbles should escape here). Place loaf seam side down in prepared pan, pressing gently into corners. Cover loaf loosely with greased plastic and let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 20 to 30 minutes. Dough should barely spring back when poked with knuckle.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place baking stone (if you have one) on lower rack. Place empty pie pan or other oven-safe pan on top of baking stone. If you don't have a stone, just place empty pan on lower rack. Bring 2 cups water to boil on stovetop. Working quickly, pour boiling water into empty pan in the oven, and set loaf either beside or on the rack above water. Bake until crust is golden brown and loaf registers 195 degrees, 35 - 50 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove loaf from pan, return to rack, and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours, before slicing and serving.
5. To store, wrap in double layer of plastic wrap and store at room temp. To freeze, wrap with an additional layer of aluminum foil.

*If you don't have a stand mixer, you can mix the dough by hand following the same instructions.

Shazam! Now, enjoy warm with butter, cheese, tomatoes, or anything else your little heart desires.

Aug 7, 2012

TOMATOES, FRIENDS and BEARDS

(In which we utilize the whole tomato, host a porch portrait session of bearded dudes, and see good friends drop by.)


Way back when, we all worked within the pink walls of that ubiquitous shapewear company. (You know the one. It ends in -x.) I traveled, loved legwear, learned the PR industry, and made lifelong friends. That last one? The best part.

Christine, Suong, and Allie. We had each other and we had fun - but we had dreams and wanted OUT.

Christine wanted to become a chef. Allie had dreams of becoming a stationer. Suong sought a way to combine her passion for food and writing. I wanted out of Atlanta, away from florescently-lit offices, to travel and garden. And I am. We are. Christine went on to attend culinary school and open Squash Blossom Kitchens. Allie now owns and designs for Honey Bee Invites. Suong is a rockstar publicist at ML&A, the main PR firm for Atlanta-area restaurants.

This is about Christine, little Italian beauty and kitchen goddess. Check out her catering biz and blog if you have a sec (and hire her if you're in Atl!). Taking inspiration from her tomato recipes last week, I turned our ripe reds in the garden into delicious jam, tomato butter, roasted tomatoes -- and then put them all together on crostini. Below is my take on Christine's original recipe.

On Sunday, we served the crostini at our last-minute dinner. Jim wanted to photograph men with beards as a test for an upcoming project, so we decided to turn the porch portrait session into country-fried-steak night. Ellis ran around with his new electric guitar that Thayer found at J&J, Lee cooked the steaks and gravy, LeeAnn and I made cookies and the crostini, Hardy manned the beans, and the dogs did their dog-thang. It was a good one, and the only thing missing (besides my parents) were the instruments and music that normally accompany these guys.

In other newz, we've had some great friends drop by lately, and it was so good to see them. Among the folks: the Bilheimers (in from Austin), Ben & Wendy (in from Atlanta), and bearded dudes from The Corduroy Road and Dead Confederate. They've gotten to see what you may have missed, and were sent home with garden goodies. We have LOTS of tomatoes, eggplants, chives, and peppers in the garden now... lemme know if you want any (seriously!!).

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Roasted Tomatoes, Butter, Jam & Crostini

6-10 tomatoes
olive oil
salt & pepper
1/4 - 1/2 cup diced onion
1 tbsp kosher salt
pinch red pepper flakes
herbs of your choice (I used dried thyme and oregano)
juice from 1 lemon
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter

4 oz. goat cheese
baguette

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
2. Roasted Tomatoes - Core and quarter tomatoes, then scrape insides out into a medium saucepan. Set saucepan aside. Place the tomato skins on cookie sheet covered with parchment paper skin-side down. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with s&p. Slow roast in oven for 2-3 hours, until they're dry.
3. Tomato Jam* - Add the following to your tomato centers in the saucepan: onion, salt, red pepper flakes, herbs, lemon juice and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir periodically and let simmer until mixture thickens, about 1 hour.
4. Crostini - Slice baguette, top with goat cheese, jam, roasted tomatoes and basil. Sprinkle with s&p.
5. Tomato Butter - Soften butter. In a food processor, pulse butter and half of roasted tomatoes until combined. Salt to taste.

*I'm not a cinnamon lover - nor did I have Indian 5 Spice in the house - so I based my jam on this sweeter version.

Aug 1, 2012

LBJ'S PICKLED OKRA


Pickling has gained momentum lately. It's not a bad thing - reviving the practices that defined our grandparent's generation rarely is - but in the way my older sister once rebuffed music when it became popular, the trendiness can be little off-putting. (See?)

But - popular or not - pickling produce straight from your own garden is totally satisfying. The pride of watching people eat what you planted, grew, and preserved ties me to my grandma and generations before hers. And though I didn't get a chance to learn from her, I like to think she'd be proud anyway. 

So: pickled okra. My google search unearthed Lady Bird Johnson's Ranch Pickled Okra recipe, which I used last year and will forevermore. It preaches that Simplicity wins, as always.

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LBJ Ranch Pickled Okra

3 lbs whole okra
6 hot peppers (I used mini thai peppers from the garden)
6 cloves peeled garlic
1 quart white vinegar
1 1/3 cups water
1/2 cup salt
1 tbsp mustard seed

1. Wash okra and pack in clean jars.
2. Add to each jar 1 hot pepper* and 1 clove garlic.
3. Bring remaining ingredients to a boil. Cover okra with hot liquid, filling to within 1/2 inch of jar top. Adjust lids.
4. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes.

*I used more because the thai peppers are so small.