November 23, 2011

I Did It!!!!

Turns out I won't need to change the name of my blog after all.  It must be some sort of Thanksgiving miracle!  For the first time ever I have a loaf of bread and I have no idea what I could do to make it better.  It's big and fluffy and soft.  It's perfection!   Hello day after Thanksgiving sammies.  Now that I finally have this bread baking thing figured out, I would like to impart some of the knowledge that I have learned over the months to help clear some myths.  Maybe it's just me but I feel like there are certain things about this process that a person is just supposed to know and I was too blonde to figure them out.  So here goes:

  • When "proofing" the yeast, it is important to do this with water that has a temperature of about 105 degrees.  Adding some sugar to this process is important too.  I find that using superfine sugar works best.  
  • After the yeast has finished proofing for 5 minutes, if it doesn't look like the photo below than odds are you won't be baking bread.  You'll be making croutons .

  • Since the proofing process only requires about a 1/2 cup of water, when you add the remaining amount required for your recipe make sure it is the same temp of around 105 degrees.
  • Unless specified by the recipe you are using, the butter should be room temperature.
  • Unless specified by the recipe, sift your flour
  • Don't skimp on the salt to be health conscious.  You'll only be hurting your bread!
  • Make sure you have a large enough bowl to accommodate the rising process. It should be at least 3 times the size of your dough.
Hopefully by following these simple rules you'll be baking your own perfect loaf of bread on your first try.  If you are able to pull off this miraculous feat, know that I will be incredibly jealous.

Not only was yesterday a great day in the kitchen, it was also a great day for knitting.  Look what the yarn faeries from Webs sent to me.

Perfect timing too, considering we leave in one week for our trip to Tennessee and I really need to get started on Julies sweater.  But for now it's off to the gym so I am able to eat large quantities of food tomorrow and not feel bad about it.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

November 21, 2011

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Not being able to bake a decent loaf of bread is really starting to bug me.  So much so that I should probably switch the name of this blog to The Trials and Tribulations of a Chick That Can't Bake Bread to Save Her Life. Catchy, no?  I'm sorry if I've been absent from the blogging world for a few weeks as I haven't had much blog-worthy material to write about. I've tried baking a few more loaves of bread which have been pretty big disappointments so I finally watched (at my husbands asking) an old Good Eats episode about bread baking. As it turns out that in an effort to be a low sodium household, I am only hindering my bread. Apparently salt is one of the necessities of bread baking and I have been leaving it out. It's not just for flavor, but it helps in the baking process. I'm still a little confused as to why since it's a bunch of scientific mumbo jumbo, but it's muy importante none the less. So I went back to square one and followed the recipe to a T and what do ya know? The bread was perfect. Sort of. Size has been an issue with my previous loaves, so over the weekend Josh and I made a stop to our local Bed Bath & Beyond to buy some new bread pans that were larger. I'm unsure what my thought process was as to why buying bigger pans when making the same size loaves would yield bigger bread. In the end I wound up with some darn tasty Italian bread in the shape of a small bread loaf. Hopefully all I need to change for next time is instead of making 2 loaves, I will just make one large one. I'm going to test this theory on Tuesday night.  I really hope this goes well.  There is nothing like failure after failure in the kitchen to really take the wind out of my sails.

On a happier note, to accompany my bread I made a delicious Bean with Bacon soup.

I altered the recipe a bit by using navy beans instead of lima beans.  I also added my homemade chicken stock, a re-hydrated cayenne pepper, some frozen corn and 1 lb of cooked bacon.  The great thing about this recipe is that I made it for under $10 and I still have at least 6 more meals worth with all the leftovers.  As a dessert, I whipped up some Irish Cream to sip on while we watched Sunday Night Football.

This recipe is so easy and delicious that it will be a must for any holiday party you attend this season.  Here's what you need:


1 Can Sweetened Condensed Milk (Eagle brand preferred)
1 Pint Non Dairy Creamer (Coffee-mate works great)
1 Cup Brandy
1/4 tsp Coconut Extract
2 T Chocolate Syrup

Mix all ingredients together and chill for 1 hour.  Good for up to one month.

On the knitting front, I've been making some progress with all the Christmas projects that I have lined up.  I say some because the book for this months book club is The Hunger Games and I have been having a difficult time putting it down.  I need to get my butt in gear though since I have a large order from Webs that should be here tomorrow.  The contents will be everything I need to finish up.  Here's where I'm at with everything:

Mom - Sweater - DONE!
Tom - 2 Pairs of Socks - 1 down 1 to go!
Kenny - 5 Pairs of Socks - 3 Down 2 to go!

Caroline - Cowl - Half way done

Judy - Fingerless Mittens - Need to buy yarn
Julie - Sweater - Yarn will be in tomorrow.

In case I don't blog in the next few days, I would like to wish you and your family a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

November 07, 2011

You Win Some, You Lose Some

I'm a planner.  As much as I wish I could fly by the seat of my pants in life, I just can't do it.  I need to know what's going to happen and when.  It drives my husband crazy and more often than not, it drives me crazy too.  With that said, I had this past weekend planned fairly early in the week.  On Saturday, I was going to clean the house and then catch up on my shows whilst waiting for Josh to return home from his fishing trip.  Sunday was reserved for baking bread, making french onion soup, fleece lining the mittens I'd just knit for myself and starting the cowl I need to make my dads fiance for Christmas. 

Saturday came and I got the house cleaned like I planned, but instead of waiting for the hubby to come home, he beat me to it and showed up at 4:00.  Watching my shows didn't happen and we ended up watching some college football game.  How did that happen?  Grrr.

Sunday.  Oh, Sunday.  We used to be so good together.  I woke up unusually early (probably because of the time change), and ran to the grocery store.  Once back home, I started baking the bread.  I should have known it would be doomed from the start.  My yeast didn't foam up like it was supposed to, the recipe said I should be using the kneading attachment on my mixer instead of my hands which I did, but for some reason, the mixer got jammed because there was so much dough.  So I get to kneading on my countertop and the bread was incredibly stiff and unworkable.  But I power through and set it aside to rise for 3 hours.  During which I thought would be a good time to work on my fleece lining project.  I've been doing some reading on how to properly do this and I found a great tutorial courtesy of the TechKnitter.  First, I started by outlining the mitten and added about 1/2" to the edge to allow my hand to fit comfortably.  I found out the hard way that it's helpful to cut out the first mitten and sew it together to make sure it's the proper size to fit your hand and the mitten it will be living in. 

Then, once it's the right size, trace the second one and do the exact same thing.  Now would probably be a good time to point out that I never said I could sew.  I own a sewing machine and I know how to make the little needle go up and down but from there it gets a little dicey.   Case in point with the photo below. 

From there I positioned the fleece insert into the mitten, folded down the cuff and added some pins so I could hand sew the lining to the mitten cuff. 

Doing all this took much longer than I expected but it was the only successful part of my day.  I absolutely love the mittens and my hands will be thanking me when I'm shoveling endless amounts of snow this winter.

From there it was one failure after another.  The dough didn't rise as much as it should have which in turn made for some pretty weak bread.  Needless to say, I will be making croutons out of it when I get home tonight.  Then there's the soup.  The "plan" was to have french onion soup and sammies made with my wonderful wheat bread.  I've made french onion soup about a half dozen times before so what's the problem?  I wish I could tell you because whatever I made was inedible.  The whole batch got thrown out.  What a waste.  Thank the lord for Josh's salad making skills to save dinner.  It wasn't as hearty as I would have liked, but at that point I was defeated and I didn't care anymore. To top it all off, I was so annoyed/pooped from the day that I didn't even get to start on the cowl.  Some days I wish I could have a re-do.

November 03, 2011

The Garden That Keeps On Giving

It's been getting colder up here in Minnesota and it has been for a while.  My garden has been dead for about a month now and it looks like it.  So you can imagine my astonishment when I was picking up the doggie doo today and took a gander at my long deceased tomatoes and found these little gems. 

They are still very green, but so was this guy up until 2 days ago. 

Is it possible that these might still ripen and we'll be eating garden fresh tomatoes in November?  Only time will tell I suppose and I have no problem waiting it out.