Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fast-forward bread


Some of you may have gotten excited about some articles that were floating around a few years back for no-knead bread. I read this one on the lovely Amateur Gourmet Blog and was pretty nuts about the idea. Not nuts enough to actually do it at the time mind you, so I filed it in my mental archive for one fine day when I'd feel like making bread. Well, today is the day!

But guess what? That recipe says the bread needs to rise overnight, plus another 2 hours! It was 3:00 pm when I read the recipe closely, so time was not on my side!

Then I had a flashback of some sturdy lady yelling at us in some high school home ec class or another:

"There are two things that make yeast excited, ladies: sugar and warmth!"

That's when I noticed the New York Times recipe did not have sugar, did not call for warm water, and did not tell you to keep your dough warm while rising. And since I'm a betting woman, I bet those are the reasons you'd have to let that dough rise for 12+2 hours.

So now guess what? With a few adjustments, you don't need to let the dough rise for 12 + 2 hours at all. I just added sugar, and only let mine rise for an hour, plus a bit while my oven heated up, and the bread was excellent. I probably lost something in flavour or texture, and I will try the overnight method when I have more time, but this bread was fantastic.

We had it with this wonderful Yellow Split Pea Soup from Heidi Swanson's beloved 101
Cookbooks blog.

And away we go!

1. Turn on your oven and let it get warm while you complete step 2.

2. Mix the following things together in a bowl and stir well with a fork:

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (I used brown)

3. Turn the oven off! Add 1 5/8 cups water to the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.

4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, put it in the warm oven and go do something else for an hour, or as much time as you have.

5. After at least an hour, take the bowl out of the oven and shape the dough into a ball. Put it back in the bowl and cover it.

6. Turn the oven back on to preheat it to 450 degrees, and put the pan you plan to use in the oven to heat it.

6. When the oven is heated, carefully take the pan out of the oven, put the dough in it, put a lid on it, and bake it for half an hour. Then take the lid off and bake for another 20 minutes or so.

And presto! You have yourself a really lovely loaf of bread that tastes like it came from some fancy bakery in some quaint European neigbourhood.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

4 step healthy Asian inspired soups for one - to go

I have been constructing lovely soups for one, just made one for tomorrow, and I thought I'd share. This is a great idea for when there are no leftovers to take for a lunch, but it works perfectly well to make on the spot and eat on a chilly night when you're home alone.

I was inspired by this recipe, and came up with this version that is simple to make and take to work with me. Basically, it is miso paste, assorted vegetables, a source of protein and noodles.

I love red miso paste, and I buy organic paste, but any kind will do. Any kind of vegetables cut small, raw, frozen or cooked work just fine. For speed and nutrition, you really can't beat frozen vegetables. For protein, I have made this with shrimp as I did here, cooked leftover chicken or other meat, little cubes of tofu, and frozen meatballs. I love dried buckwheat soba noodles for taste and nutrition, but any kind of noodles will work. If you are using long, dried noodles, break them in half to fit your bowl and also so that they will cook more quickly when you prepare your
soup.

As for storing this soup before I eat, these are my rules:

all frozen items = no fridge needed

some frozen items + non-frozen items = no fridge needed

all vegetables with or without tofu = no fridge needed

cooked items that are not frozen = fridge needed

You will need a large-ish bowl with a fitted lid. The bowl I use is 4 cups. Note that you will be adding boiling water to this bowl, so you should not be using plastic unless you are certain it is BPA free. There is some debate about whether heating plastic releases chemicals into food that may have various, serious health consequences.

Here we go:

1. Place your vegetables and proteins in your bowl until it is half full. Top with a bit of chili flakes and about 1.5 tablespoons of miso paste, which you are welcome to adjust to your taste. I have used frozen shrimp, frozen broccoli, frozen spinach and fresh green onions here:


2. Place the noodles on top as shown below. I have a theory that doing this makes sure the boiling water hits them first and makes them cook faster.


3. Cover your bowl and go on about your merry way. Store as required by the contents of your soup.

4. When you are ready eat, boil a kettle of water, pour it in your soup just below the rim of the bowl, cover your bowl, wait 5 minutes and enjoy. Theoretically you could also fill your bowl with cold water and microwave it until hot and let stand.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

How to make a giant storage bag from grocery store recyclable bags

If you're like us, you buy more of those recyclable bags from grocery stores than you actually need, and have amassed an impressive collection of them. This idea came to me when I was figuring out how to store a Christmas tree we were given. Last year, it lived in a giant TV box that took up most of the floor space in our storage room. I wanted something that would take up less space and be easier to carry. Thus, the giant storage bag was born! I plan on making a couple more of these to hold other bulky items that need to be stored, like off-season clothes and bedding.

Time required: 2 hours
Level of difficulty: easy

You will need:

6 large recyclable shopping bags that are close to the same size
Scissors
Sewing machine
Thread - this is a good time to use a spool that you don't need/like/want

To do:

1. Cut down one side seam and cut the bottoms off of all the bags. Leave the handles on two bags, and cut the handles off all the other bags*. You will end up with big rectangles that look like this:


2. Thread your machine and set the stitch width to a wide stitch. Take the two bags with the handles still attached and sew them together along one side.

3. Take two of the other bags and sew them together along one side. Repeat for the last set of two bags. You will now have three big rectangles, made of two bags each. The one with the handles is the top of the bag.

4. Sew the big rectangles together along one long edge of each bag. You will then have one big rectangle that looks like this:


5. Fold your big rectangle in half and sew the front and back together along the two remaining edges. You will have a big bag that looks like this:


And here it is, neatly holding our Christmas tree:



Yes, that's a cat butt in the bottom right hand corner.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How to get 3 days of meals from one chicken

Buying and roasting a chicken is one of the simplest, most frugal things that I do. I buy a 4 pound, organic, free-range roasting chicken for $12 using my grocery service. This chicken forms the basis of 3 dinners for my husband and I, 2 lunches for me, and a greatly appreciated dog treat for our 2 girls.

The chicken

1. Thaw the chicken either in the fridge or in a bowl of ice water.
2. Soak the chicken for 2 hours in salted water with lemon juice and vinegar.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
4. Place the chicken breast-side up in a roasting pan. Salt and season as desired. Sometimes I put lemon halves and/or whole peeled onions inside the cavity.
5. Roast the chicken with the lid on for 1.5 hours. Take the lid off and roast for another half an hour.

That's it! You can use the drippings to make gravy if you wish.

Day 1

I serve the chicken with a starch and 2 or 3 vegetables. My husband prefers rice and I prefer to experiment with grains such as Quinoa. Sometimes I will do a simple pesto pasta and we'll share that.

I package 2 small containers for lunches for myself, and I put together plates or bowls for the next night's meals. I also package a small amount of chicken to be used in dinner on day 3.

As I am carving the chicken, I will put aside the odd bits of meat and skin for our dogs.

Day 2

I have leftovers for lunch and we both have leftovers for dinner. I might cook different vegetables or have salad instead.

Day 3

I have leftovers again for lunch. Sometimes I will decide to only have some chicken with salad. For dinner, I will use the small package of leftover chicken as the basis for a simple meal. Some things I have tried are: tacos, pizza, quick soup and stir fry.

This makes for a very easy week of cooking for me. I did this today actually, because I know I'm going to be pooped this week, while I get back into the groove after being off work for 2 weeks.

My Dinner Plan


Background

I know people who become frantic about what they are going to eat for dinner every day. I have been that way myself, and it has nearly driven me mad. This is why I have developed a Dinner Plan.

Since my husband and I moved in together, I have handled the shopping and cooking. I think I do both well and I enjoy both tasks. I only really handle dinners, because my husband prefers to buy breakfast and lunch at work. I eat simple breakfasts at home, and usually take dinner leftovers or salads for lunch.

Before this, I had a room-mate who loved to cook, and taking over this responsibility for two people, plus working full-time, has been a challenge in planning and time management for me. Over the last few years, I have developed a plan that seems to work really well. I don't have to worry so much after work, I have a couple of easy nights during the week, and I have time to do other things.

Advantages

This is not an approach for those who are interested in frugality. My husband purchases two meals a day, I do not cook every day, we order in once a week and we eat out twice a week. This is the lifestyle we want to have, we can afford it, and this is partly why we live downtown. We have plenty of high-quality takeout options, and many wonderful restaurants close to home. Also, I pass two good, small grocery stores on my way home. I can be in and out in 10 minutes at both of them, and both are well-priced.

All that said, now that I'm planning, we actually spend way less on food than we did previously. There was a time when we'd order in or go out up to 4 nights a week, because we didn't have a properly stocked kitchen and/or I was just too tired.

Anyway, here is my Dinner Plan. Maybe this will help you organize a plan of your own, and cut down on your stress.

The Plan

Sunday - We handle our own breakfasts and lunch, and I cook something big for dinner that will serve us for two nights. I put my lunch and the next night's meals together. I do this because I have time, and because I am usually very tired on Mondays.

Monday - I tend to shop for fruits and veggies on my way home. We have leftovers, plus salad or soup to stretch out the meal if needed. I usually make a salad for my lunch.

Tuesday - I either cook something for two days, or part of the meal for the next day. For instance, if I'm cooking beans or meat, I will double up on the batch and create something else with it for Wednesday. On Tuesdays, I feel like I am back on track more, and I have the energy to shop and cook as needed. I package leftovers for my lunch for the following day.

Wednesday - I make something simple using ingredients from the previous night's dinner. I tend to do dinner salads, cold plates or pastas. I might even do a quick soup and serve it with salad. Again, I package leftovers or make a salad for my lunch for the following day.

Thursday - We order in. I requested one week night where I do not have to think about dinner, and my husband decided that this means he orders in. Every other week this is also the day my cleaner comes, and we have a grocery order delivered that evening. On the last Thursday of the month, I get a manicure and pedicure, so once a month I have a major treat on a Thursday. I don't even need to pack a lunch for Friday, because my Friday treat is going out for lunch.

Friday - Fun Dinner Day. This day has recently migrated over from Wednesday. Growing up, my dad worked late every Wednesday night, and this gave my mom a chance to cook something not classified as a "proper dinner" by my father. This was the day we got things like tacos and grilled cheese sandwiches. My husband I had Fun Dinner Day on Wednesday for many years. We did not eat together on Fridays because one or both of us often went out on our own with friends, or else, one of us was exhausted and didn't feel like eating much at all. These days, both of us tend to be home on Friday. Since I'm usually feeling tired, I have switched Fun Dinner Day to this day, because fun dinners can be pulled together in a flash.

Saturday - We go out for brunch and possibly dinner, or else we order dinner in. This is generally organized, with my input, by my husband. About once a month or so, I actually feel like cooking on a Saturday.

So there you have it! This is the plan that gets me through the week without much stress around what we're going to eat.