On Bread Making

Before we get into the best bread ever, I’m going to first admit something – posts will not be as frequent this summer. There. Rather than feel bad about it, I’m just going to embrace it. Fall, on the other hand, will be a different story.

With that out of the way, I wanted to share an amazing bread recipe from Smitten Kitchen which yes, takes a bit of time to make (not a lot of “hands on” time, but a lot of waiting for the dough to do things like rise), but it is absolutely worth it. I made this yesterday for our sandwiches this week and it’s received great reviews so far.

New York Deli Rye Bread (c/o Smitten Kitchen):

I am going to take verbatim Deb’s instructions because a) I didn’t change much and b) they are detailed enough that even a novice bread maker (like myself) can get a successful loaf out of it, if you follow these to a T. The whole process took me about 6 hours (not including the shopping beforehand…a tip: rye flour isn’t sold everywhere. I suggest a bulk food store, like Bulk Barn), but I only had to actively do something for about 30 minutes. The rest was just making sure the dough was rising properly and letting it rest while I ran other errands. All the words are hers, but the photos are mine – just to prove that it can be done!

rye bread!

Sponge
3/4 cup (4 ounces, 117 grams) bread flour
3/4 cup (3.3 ounces, 95 grams) rye flour
1/2 teaspoon (1.6 grams) instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons (0.6 ounces, 18.7 grams) sugar
1/2 tablespoon (4.6 grams) malt powder (or barley malt syrup or honey (10.5 grams), or sugar (6.2 grams)) *I used the sugar version*
1 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces, 354 grams) water, at room temperature

Flour Mixture
2 1/4 cups (12.5 ounces, 351 grams) bread flour
1/2 plus 1/8 teaspoon (2 grams) instant yeast
2 tablespoons (0.5 ounces, 14 grams) caraway seeds (you can grind these if you want to avoid the crunch)
1/2 tablespoon (0.3 ounces, 10.5 grams) coarse salt

Dough and Baking
1/2 tablespoon (0.25 ounces, 6.7 grams) vegetable oil
about 2 teaspoons (about 0.5 ounces, 16 grams) cornmeal for sprinkling

and so it begins...

Make the sponge: Combine sponge ingredients in a large or mixer bowl and whisk until very smooth, to intentionally incorporate air — this will yield a thick batter. Set it aside.

Make the flour mixture and cover the sponge: In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour mixture and gently scoop it over the sponge to cover it completely. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to ferment for 1 to 4 hours at room temperature. (The sponge will bubble through the flour mixture in places.)

Mix the dough [Either with a mixer – I used the mixer version] Add the oil and mix with the dough hook on low-speed for about 1 minute, until the flour is moistened enough to form a rough dough. then raise the speed to medium and mix it for 10 minutes. The dough should be very smooth and elastic, and it should jump back when pressed with a fingertip; if it is sticky, turn it out on a counter and knead in a little extra flour.

dough mixing

[Or by hand] Add the oil and, with a wooden spoon or your hand, stir until the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then scrape it onto a very lightly floured counter. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, after which it might be a little sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. (Resting the dough makes it less sticky and magically easier to work with. Trust me.) Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes or until it is very smooth and elastic and your upper arms are strapless gown-ready.

dough rising

Let the dough rise: Place the dough in a large container or bowl, lightly oiled. Oil the top of the dough as well. Allow the dough to rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Flip the bowl over and let the dough fall out on to a lightly floured counter, press it down gently, fold or form it back into a square-ish ball and allow it to rise a second time, back in the (re-oiled) bowl covered with plastic wrap for about 45 minutes.

Shape it and wait out the final rise: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gently press it down again. Round it into a ball and set it on a cornmeal sprinkled baking sheet. (*I wanted to get a loaf out of this, so I lightly oiled a bread pan, sprinkled the base with cornmeal and shaped the dough for the last time in here). Cover it with oiled plastic wrap and let it rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. [Skim ahead to preheating your oven, which you should do soon.] When it is gently press with a fingertip, the depression will very slowly fill in.

Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 450°F as early as you can tolerate. (*I did it about 30 minutes before – the hotter the oven, the more crunchy the crust!) On a shelf at the lowest level, place a baking sheet or bread stone. [If you want to get fancy and bread-oven like: Place a cast-iron skillet or sheet pan on the floor of the oven to preheat.]

pre and post baking

Slash and bake the bread: With a sharp knife or singled-edged razor blade, make 1/4- to 1/2-inch-deep slashes in the top of the dough. Mist the dough with water and quickly but gently set the baking sheet on the hot stone or hot baking sheet (*Or, just put the bread pan in the oven). [If you’ve decided to get fancy and bread oven-like: Toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes into the pan beneath and immediately shut the door.] Bake for 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 400°F and continue baking for 30 to 40 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean (or a thermometer inserted into the center reads 190°F; I prefer this method because you’ve done much too much work to possibly end up with an under- or over-baked loaf of bread).

Cool the bread on a wire rack. And enjoy the deliciousness!

mmm fresh bread

 

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Pimm Pimm Hooray!

I’ve been on a mini (unintended) hiatus. Between day-to-day work, cottages, planning trips and birthdays, and nice, warm evenings where we’re just aching to get on a patio, Toronto summers are pretty amazing (flooding aside), but can get shockingly busy. To make up for my absence, I’m going to share one of the best drink recipes for summer. It’s the best because it tastes great and, more importantly, it’s super quick to make (so…minimal time to wait before you get to enjoy).

pimms cup

 

Pimm’s Cup Recipe:

What You’ll Need…

Pimm’s No. 1

– Lemonade

– Ginger ale or ginger beer (optional)

– Cucumber

– Mint

– Strawberries

– Orange slices

– ice

What You Need To Do…

In a jug, mix one part Pimm’s with one part lemonade and one part ginger ale/beer. Add sliced cucumber, strawberries and orange slices. Add mint. And add as much ice as you’d like. Stir and serve.

See? Simple.

It’s a great British drink with refreshing summer flavours. Bonus? The fruit soaks up the Pimm’s and tastes delicious!

(p.s. Happy Belated Canada Day to my fellow Canadians!)

 

This Bread is Bananas

Banana bread – one of the easiest things to bake and so delicious. Last night, having an abundance of ripe bananas in our house, I decided to make a loaf for dessert and work snacks. Nothing beats a fresh-out-of-the-oven, still warm, buttered piece of banana bread.

banana bread

 

Blue Ribbon* Banana Bread:

Ingredients:

4 ripe bananas

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or whole wheat, if you’re looking to get healthy)

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup melted butter

1 tsp baking soda

mixing it up

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Mash bananas with a wooden spoon in a large bowl. Mix in melted butter.

3. Add vanilla. sugar, egg and baking powder and stir well.

4. Add flour and mix until fully coated and thick.

5. Pour mixture into a buttered loaf pan and place in oven. Let bake for one hour.

There you have it! Super simple and delicious. Plus a good way to use up those bananas that are maybe just a little too brown for anything else.

 

 

*ok so it hasn’t actually won any awards…but the alliteration was too good to pass up.

Sweet Summer Salad (With a Kick!)

I will readily admit that I’m not the cook in my relationship. I can cook and do on occasion, but by and large my boyfriend handles that part. When I do cook, maybe because of the fact that it’s not an everyday occurrence, I like to get as creative as possible. Last night, I made a salad (that I personally think is a keeper). It has some fantastic flavours within it – sweet, caramelized pears juxtaposed with blue cheese, and Dijon chicken breast. It’s the perfect meal for a warm summer night, best enjoyed on a balcony or in a backyard.

sweet summer salad

What You’ll Need (Ingredients):

Serves 2

2 chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)

2 large, ripe Bartlett pears (halved, cored and thinly sliced)

Blue cheese (crumbled)

3 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 medium shallot, minced

1 cup olive oil

Honey (to taste)

Baby arugula (or mixed greens or lettuce)

Walnuts, roasted (optional)

What to Do:

For Chicken Breast

1. In a bowl, mix together 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tbsp Dijon mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil and half the minced shallot.

minced shallots

2. In a Ziploc bag, place your chicken breasts and the mixture above, close, and shake well to coat.

3. Leave overnight in your fridge, or at least for a few hours to allow for the chicken to marinade.

4. Set oven temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. While oven heats up, pan sear the chicken breast for about a minute on each side, in an oven-friendly pan. Place the pan with the chicken into the oven and allow to cook for 20 minutes (or until juices run clear).

5. Remove from oven, slice, and allow to cool.

For the Salad:

1. In a bowl, mix together 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil and half the minced shallot. Set aside.

2. Heat a tsp of olive oil in a pan over medium-low heat. While pan heats, carefully coat each pear slice with enough honey to thinly cover both sides.

4. Place the coated pear slices into the heated pan and allow to fry until they are slightly caramelized on both sides.

pears

5. Coat arugula in the olive oil/Dijon/shallot mixture until it is well covered.

6. Plate a handful of arugula with the chicken overtop and the pears on the side. Sprinkle with blue cheese and walnuts to taste.

Poppa-corn

Summer time is movie time. This seems a bit counterintuitive, because it’s the nice time of year where there isn’t snow or blistering cold winds or layers upon layers of clothing that still isn’t warm enough. We should all be outside, enjoying every last morsel of sun, but summertime also happens to be the time for blockbuster movies. While I’m a huge movie fan, I think for me, going to the cinema is mostly about the experience rather than the picture itself. And a large part of that experience is the popcorn.

popcorn

But here’s the deal with cinema popcorn – as amazing as it tastes (especially if you do like I do and double – sometimes triple – layer butter on it), it’s pretty much as far away from a healthy snack as you can get. So knowing that I’m trying to be (a little) healthier and that my metabolism is just nearing that age where it’s about to give up on me completely, I scoured around for some make-it-at-home popcorn recipes that hit the spot without all the badness. These recipes you can take with you, or enjoy when you’re catching up on something from the comfort of your own couch on a rainy Sunday. Also, in the move we gave up having a microwave so I have to find a replacement for the 1 minute, 15 seconds land of popcorn readiness.

– First, the popcorn: if you really want to be a purist and are absolutely dying to make popcorn that isn’t Jiffy Pop, this recipe from Simply Recipes seems to do the trick. Old school, stove-top, deliciously crunchy popcorn.

– Then, the flavour: if you’re going to do it, do it right and don’t just add butter. I love this recipe for spicy caramel popcorn from Smitten Kitchen because you get the flavour as you cook the popcorn. For something a little more savoury, this garlic, thyme and parmesan recipe sounds like it hits the spot – cheesy popcorn is the best. And, of course, there’s the salty popcorn, which takes a twist with this recipe that adds honey to it for a perfect mix of sweet and salty. 

– Finally, have some fun: popcorn’s great and all but it’s even better in ball form. Kind of like rice crispy squares, popcorn balls just make something great that much greater. Here’s a traditional popcorn ball recipe c/o Martha Stewart – but you can add your own twist to it by seasoning the popcorn, adding caramel, chocolate, or anything else your heart desires.

popcorn balls

 

Perfect Summer Snack? Chips and Guac.

Maybe it’s because of the fact that Cinco de Mayo was yesterday, or maybe it’s just because of the fact that the warm weather means spring is officially here, but I’ve had a serious craving for chips and guacamole all weekend! I didn’t get to indulge, but I am planning on making some this week. Guacamole is so easy to make and almost requires no recipe – just some basic ingredients and your own flair.

My Take on Guacamole:

Ingredients

Avocados (3-4, ripe)

Lime juice (fresh squeezed, or you can use this Lime Juice that they sell in grocery stores)

Corn (canned)

1 ripe tomato, diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Cut the avocados in half and scoop out the insides into a bowl.

2. Mash the avocados using a fork until you reach your desired level of chunkiness (I prefer it a bit chunky, but it’s a complete “to taste” thing)

3. Add about 2 teaspoons of the lime juice, and a handful of the corn and diced tomato

4. Mix together, adding salt and pepper to taste

5. Enjoy!

Normally I would just crack out some store-bought chips to go with that delicious guac, but I recently found a recipe that I can’t wait to try out for homemade, bistro-style chips! The thing I like about this recipe is that it uses simple ingredients, and you can fry it or bake it (if you’re going for an extra-healthy option). These chips remind me of the kind you’d get in Mexico proper – crispy, tortilla-y and so perfect for scooping!

These go great with a refreshing cerveza, like maybe a Corona.

Snickerdoodle: Not a Breed of Dog, but a Delicious Cookie

These are the glorious Snickerdoodle Cookies

These are the glorious Snickerdoodle Cookies

Last night, Allison and I had our weekly catch up. This time around, rather than hit up a venue like the Drake, we decided to get our hands dirty and bake something. We both like doing it (and we certainly like eating the end result), so we decided to try a recipe we have both been eyeing for a while: Snickerdoodle Cookies. I found an awesome version at The Kitchn for an easy, quick way to make these cinnamon-y treats. Here are our foolproof steps to cookie greatness:

Step 1: Wear pants in the same colour family and a matching apron (accidentally, of course). This step is optional.

Purple pants + Anthropologie apron and we're ready to roll

Purple pants + Anthropologie apron and we’re ready to roll

Step 2: Gather your ingredients. For this recipe you will need…

baking ingredients

Plus an extra 1/4 cup white sugar, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg for the cinnamon sugar.

Step 3: Get to baking! The instructions provided are very easy to follow:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. While it is heating, melt the butter in a saucepan over the stove or in the microwave.
  2. As the butter cools, mix all the dry ingredients together in one bowl. Once the butter is cool, slowly whisk in the 3 eggs into the butter in a new bowl.
  3. Stir together the wet and dry ingredients until they are well mixed.
  4. In a shallow bowl, mix the ingredients for the cinnamon sugar.
  5. Taking approximately 1″ balls of dough, roll into the cinnamon sugar mix and place on a non-stick, non-greased baking sheet, flattening them lightly.
  6. Place them in the over for approximately 7 minutes, then let cool for 5. And you’re done!

baking awayStep 4: Have a glass of wine and enjoy! These cookies are so delicious and so easy to make – perfect for a gift around the holidays or “just because”.

plate 'o cookies

Happy May, everyone!

Crepes, bien sur

When I was 17, my mom and I went to Paris on a weeklong vacation to visit a friend of hers. While the two of them were off going to art museums and catching up, I got some time to explore the city on my own. Something I discovered? I love crepes! Left to my own devices, I practically lived on them – I would buy myself a savoury one for breakfast and lunch, then grab a sweet one for a quick dessert before heading back to wherever I was meeting them for the evening.

photo (75)

In Romanian food culture, we have our own crepes (called clatite) that are essentially the same thing – very very thin pancakes. And they’re something my mom (thankfully) makes quite often. They are delicious and super easy to make:

What You Need:

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs

1.5 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

Lemon and orange zest (optional)

Vanilla extract (optional)

Step 1: Sift the dry ingredients together and set aside.

Step 2: Beat eggs and milk together in a separate bowl, using an electric mixer.

Step 3: Slowly add the dry ingredients into the egg mixture in sections, stirring well. Add butter at the end (plus, add zest and vanilla to taste).

Step 4: Heat a lightly oiled griddle/shallow frying pan on medium. Scoop batter onto griddle (about 2 tbsp per crepe) and tip the pan around, rotating until the batter is thinly coated and covers the whole surface of the pan. Brown on both sides and, voila!

They do take a bit of practice (especially in terms of flipping them over), but by and large it’s a pretty simple recipe to remember and master.

photo (76)

My preferred way of eating crepes is smeared with either jam (blueberry!) or Nutella (aka the source of all goodness) and rolled. But you can easily make the crepes savoury (add some cheese and bacon to the crepe as it is cooking and fold in half – like an omlette – for melty goodness).

Next on my list of things to try with crepes? Crepe cakes – like this amazing sounding Grand Marnier version from Epicurious or any one of these ideas from the Huffington Post (especially this lemon strawberry crepe cake, which is basically a strawberry shortcake but with flat pancakes). Vive la very thin pancake!

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? It’s certainly my favourite meal – nothing better than eating an awesome dish first thing in the morning. My go-to during the week is a simple coffee and croissant (sometimes, I like to pretend I’m French). But on weekends – especially lazy Sundays – I love a real breakfast/brunch. Pancakes are  great and simple, homemade eggs benedict are a little more involved but top the list of breakfast indulgences, and french toast with a side of bacon makes any morning better.

eggs in a hole

One of my favourite dishes, though, is a surprisingly easy to make but so delicious Eggs in a (Pepper) Hole. What I love about this dish is that it mixes a breakfast staple (eggs) with tasty seared bell peppers. And to boot, the instructions are a piece of cake:

1. Heat a non-stick skillet and spray with cooking spray

2. Cut bell peppers (I find green and yellow work best) into as many 1/2″ thick round slices as eggs you want to make

3. Place the peppers onto the skillet, at medium heat

4. Crack an egg into each pepper (carefully – you can hold down the edges of the pepper with a spatula to hold the egg inside)

5. Cover the eggs until they get to your preferred firmness (you can also flip the pepper+egg over for an over-easy take)

Mmmm…nothing beats breakfast!

Emu Sliders are the new Big Macs

My boyfriend cooks. Like, really well. Which is a pretty awesome thing to have around. One Sunday last summer, we took a trip down to St. Lawrence Market, looking for some local groceries to stock up on. Aside from the fruit and vegetable stands and bakeries, there are a lot of meat (and cheese – which I love) vendors in the market. Since I’m quite the carnivore, I like to try different types of meat whenever possible. I love steak as much as the next person, but I’ve also tasted (and loved) bison, elk, zebra (during my graduation trip to South Africa), springbok, ostrich, alligator, buffalo, deer…gamey, steak-like meats are right up there on my list of favourite meals. So when we found some local emu slider patties at the market, we just had to snatch them up.

That night, he made an awesome meal: 3 different emu sliders on mini ciabatta buns, with a side of homemade potato salad and some grilled asparagus.

 

emu sliders

 

The best thing about that meal was that it was creative but didn’t take a lot of time to make. The most taxing part was the potato salad (and only because you have to boil the potatoes and wait for them to cool a bit, unless you want it to be warm). The rest was grilling onions, red peppers and asparagus and cooking the sliders and plating (so key). I thought about this meal the other day when I was having a not terribly exciting (taste-wise) dinner at one of those big box restaurants – it reminded me about my goal to become a bit more creative and daring in the kitchen. My home cooking has been slipping lately with all the move business, but I will start back up again. When you can make gourmet-like meals in your own kitchen without having to tip someone at the end of the night, why wouldn’t you?

Also, if you ever have a chance, I recommend emu meat – it’s deliciously gamey!

What’s the better-than-a-restaurant meal you make at home?