Monday, September 29, 2008

It's the Yeast You Can Do

The Amish are responsible for a lot of great things. Furniture. Quilts. Dutch Blitz. And my favorite bread recipe.

As much as I love making bread, I don't do it as often as I used to. But the other day, while working from home, I decided to start a batch of Amish White Bread. (Picture it -- kneading with one hand and typing important public relations messages with the other.) It's a little sweet and very chewy -- good for sandwiches or just for eating plain.

Amish White Bread
(makes one loaf)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cups flour
In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in water, then stir in yeast. Allow to proof (about 10 minutes).

Mix salt and oil into the yeast, then mix in flour one cup at a time. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. (Sometimes I cheat and use the dough hook on my Kitchen Aid mixer.) Place in an oiled bowl and turn dough to coat. Cover with a damp cloth. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes and shape into a loaf. Place into an oiled 9x5-inch loaf pan and allow to rise for 30 minutes. (I usually let it go at least 45 minutes and sometimes longer, depending on the temperature and humidity.)

Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.

This baker could hardly wait the 30 minutes required to bake. As soon as it was out of the oven, I cut a nice, thick slice. Okay, two slices. And then I had another slice with supper. Okay, three.

The food: Amish white bread
The verdict: Excellent served plain, with butter, or in a horse-drawn buggy

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How My (Small) Garden Grows

When I was a kid, I wasn't really into gardening. My mom, who had a pretty big vegetable plot, would occasionally enlist my help in weeding. "This," I thought, "is not fun." Not only was I out in the heat, pulling weeds, but I was pulling them from around bean plants -- the very plants that grew the green beans I'd be forced to eat later in the season. These were a special variety of green beans. I think their scientific name was "youcan'tleavethetableuntilyoueatthem greenis beanis." Or something like that.

Anyway, skip ahead a few years. Allie and I are living in Farmington and I decide it's time to give gardening another try. Not outside, since we didn't have any land. I was going to garden inside in pots.

Since my pots weren't big enough for, say, potatoes or onions, I settled on herbs, which I started from seeds. Allie wasn't too fond of the new hobby, since she doesn't really like dirt in the living space, whether it's contained in a pot or not, but she tried to be supportive. She also started calling me the urban gardener, which I thought was pretty good, since it was also a play on words. ("Herb-in" gardener.)

Things were going just fine until Allie, who has a super sensitivity (and huge aversion) to any food smell, opened the window one January to help clear the kitchen of the lingering scent of bacon. (In her defense, the old bacon smell is pretty gross.) Unfortunately, my little herb friends were on the windowsill and did not take to the Maine winter. They were gone before they knew what hit them.

Skip ahead a few more years. Here I am in North Carolina, taking advantage of the Tar Heel State's long growing season. I started out with rosemary, for a soup recipe my pal Rachel sent, but that never really took off, so now I'm working on some leafy basil and chives. I've got all kinds of things to do with chives, but I've got basil coming outta my ears and I'm stumped. I put it in salads, I've tried my own pesto -- I need some new ideas. Or some friends to share with. If you need some basil, let me know.

I'm already thinking about next year's "garden" and I'm not sure if it will include basil or not. Sure it's versatile. Sure it's easy to grow. Sure it looks cool on the porch. But Ben's taken to calling it "baahzil," inspired by some guy on local public television, and I'm not sure I can stand another year of that.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Potluck Jackpot

This week, our small group Bible study met up for a potluck dinner. I said I'd bring a main course dish but had a hard time deciding what to make. Since I wouldn't have much prep time between getting home from work and heading to dinner, it had to be something I could assemble ahead of time. Like a casserole. I'm not a big casserole maker, though, so there aren't many in my repertoire, and I've learned the hard way that you do not test out a new recipe if you have to serve it to people other than your husband.

I eventually decided on this little "Mexican" number. At first, I thought it was too simple to be good, but then I thought to myself, "People love seasoned beef. People love sour cream. People love melted cheese. Give the people what they want."

I also thought this might also appeal to Mike, our pastor and fearless group leader, who recently noted that there "wasn't enough meat" among the refreshments at the church Christmas party. Ah, yes, the traditional Christmas-cookies-and-meat combination.

People seemed to dig the casserole and no one reported food poisoning, so I'm calling this one a success. The moral of the story: Sometimes it's okay to make something easy just because it tastes good.

Mexican Casserole
  • 3 cups crushed tortilla chips
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2-3 cups salsa (I used two and it was a little dry)
  • 1 (16 ounce) can chili beans, drained
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1 (2 ounce) can sliced black olives, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomato
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook ground beef until no longer pink. Stir in salsa, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Stir in beans, and heat through.

Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Spread half of the crushed tortilla chips in dish, then spoon beef mixture over chips. (You may want to leave out the chips if you think you'll have leftovers -- they're kind of yucky the next day.) Spread sour cream over beef, and sprinkle olives, onion, and tomato over the sour cream. Top with the reserved chips and cheddar cheese.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.

The food: Mexican casserole
The verdict: Probably not all that Mexican, but pretty yummy

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Apples Don't Fall Far From the Tree

My friend Courtney has been sharing the bounty of her backyard apple tree with me and, as a result, I've turned into an apple-recipe-making fool. I started with apple pie, then moved on to a new apple cream cheese tart -- good idea in theory, but I didn't use the right size springform pan and the whole thing fell apart. Next I made apple bread, apple muffins and I plan on some apple pancakes in the near future. Oh, and some apple-and-feta-stuffed chicken.

If you've got any apple-themed recipes, you know where to send them.

And if you're interested in trying the new apple pie recipe I used, you can find it here. I was impressed with how easy the crust was to work with, but I thought the 3/4 cup water was a lot, and it did end up making my crust a little tough. Or that could be due to the fact that I'm a compulsive overmixer. What can I say? I like to be thorough.

Friday, September 5, 2008

What I Love About Pimento Spread

American cheese. Mayonnaise. Pimentos. Awesome.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

You Are What You Eat

If, like me, you are a little nosy and love food, you might enjoy Fridge Watcher, a little site my pal Nicole told me about. It encourages readers to take and send in photos of their fridges, then posts them for public perusal. The site is international, so you can see fridges from around the world. How do you say "Time to toss those leftovers" in Italian? Anyone?