Feb 24

How to Reduce Preservatives in Your Diet While Enjoying Homemade Bread

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread with Oatmeal Topping

Remember those 2015 New Year’s Resolutions we all made on 1 January 2015? If you are like me you don’t want to talk about it! That’s because most of them are already in the trash bin and only memories. Well I’m happy to say one of my resolutions is still alive and well! I decided that we (my family) ate to many food preservatives. You know what I’m talking about…all those ingredients you cannot pronounce on the side of the bags and packages of food we buy. Eliminating all preservatives in my diet seemed impossible or too big a chore. So, I chose one food item to get started. I vowed to stop buying store-bought packaged bread and now I bake all my family’s bread.

My daughter Nicole was my inspiration. While away at college she bought a loaf of bread at the store for sandwiches but promptly forgot about it. She found the loaf 4 months later hidden on a top bookshelf in her dorm room. She braced herself for a gross experience as she opened the bag expected a green moldy blob. But to her surprise, the bread had no visible mold after 4 months! She said, “Mom I’m uncomfortable eating anything that can last that long. What are they adding to the bread to get that kind of shelf life?” God only knows! I can’t say that preservatives are always bad for us but our diets are so full of them it couldn’t hurt to reduce our exposure. 

So, since New Years I have baked bread every week and my family loves it!  I thought this transition would be much harder.  I have always enjoyed baking bread but only occasionally.  I never considered totally switching to all homemade bread. With only a little planning we are making it work.  With as little as one baking session a week you can too.  One of my staple recipes is my Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread that I bake up every week.  This bread is always a hit!

 

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread Recipe (Makes 2 loaves)

 

Ingredients

Biga: (Mixed up 12-24 hours before mixing final dough)

2 cups (8 ½ ounces) AP or Bread flour

1 cup (8 ounces) warm water (100-110 degrees)

½ teaspoon Instant Yeast

Whole Wheat Soaker: (Mixed up 12-24 hours before mixing final dough)

3 cups (12 ounces) Whole Wheat Flour

½ cup wheat germ

2 cups (16 ounces) milk (I used 2% milk)

Final Dough

Biga

Whole Wheat Soaker

3 cups (12 ¾ ounces) All Purpose or Bread flour

¼ cup (4 Tablespoons) Honey

6 Tablespoons softened unsalted Butter (If you only have salted butter reduce salt added below by 1/4 teaspoon)

2 Tablespoons Instant Yeast

4 teaspoons table salt

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

AP or Bread flour for work surface

Optional: Add ½ cup of your favorite seed mix to your final dough. You can also add a topping such as Oats, Flax Seed, etc. to the top of the loaves just before baking. 

Mixing and Baking Directions

Biga:   Combine the AP or Bread flour, water, and yeast in a medium bowl and stir with a spoon or spatula until a uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains, (about 1 minute). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand at room temperature (70-80 degrees) overnight (12 to 24 hours).

Whole Wheat Soaker: Combine the whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and milk in a large bowl and stir with a spoon or spatula until mixed, (about 1 minute). Cover the Wheat Soaker bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (12 to 24 hours).

Final Dough: Combine the Whole Wheat Soaker with the Biga in your Stand Mixer and mix on slow speed for 2 minutes. Add the other remaining Dough ingredients in your stand mixer and mix for 2-4 minutes on slow speed until a cohesive mass starts to form. Increase the mixer speed to medium and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead by hand for 1 minute. Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 45-60 minutes.

Gently press down on the center of the dough ball to slightly deflate the dough. Holding the dough edge with your fingertips, fold the dough over itself by gently lifting and folding the edge toward the middle of the ball. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and fold again. Turn bowl and fold the dough 6 more times (a total of 8 folds). Cover the dough and allow it to rise again at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 45-60 minutes.

Adjust your oven racks to the middle and lowest positions, place a baking stone on the middle rack, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees, Lightly butter or spray two 9×5 inch loaf pan and set aside. After the dough has raised pour all of the dough out onto a lightly floured clean surface and divide in half. Stretch and pat each piece into a rectangle no wider than your bread loaf pans.

With the short side facing you, roll dough towards you into a firm cylinder, keeping the roll taught by tucking it under itself as you roll. Continue to roll up the dough into a cylinder then with the seam side up pinch the edges together to form a strong closure or seal. Place each loaf seam side down into loaf pans and pat down gently to get into the corners. Repeat with second dough piece. Cover each loaf pan loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes.   Dough should rise about 1 inch above the top of the pan. While loaves are raising place an empty pan on the bottom rake of your preheated oven and bring 2 cups of water to boil on stove top or in the microwave.

Just before placing in oven use a sharp serrated knife or single-edge razor blade to make one ¼ inch deep slash lengthwise down the center of each loaf. Pour boiling water into empty pan on bottom rack and set loaves on the baking stone. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake loaves until crust is dark brown and the internal temperature loaf is 200 degrees on an instant read thermometer, (approximately 40-50 minutes. Rotate the loaves 180 degrees and side to side halfway through the baking time.

Remove loaves for oven and transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Then remove loaves from the pans, and return to the wire rack, and cool to room temperature, about 1-2 hours.

Note

To ensure you always have fresh bread on hand you can mix up a few extra loaves and freeze them. Surprisingly, if the loaves are double wrapped correctly these homemade whole wheat loaves can last up to 6 months in the freezer. I wrap each loaf in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil and place it into a zip lock plastic bag. To thaw the loaves I remove them from the freezer and set them out on the counter still wrapped for at least 1 hour. For even more convenience you can slice the loaves before freezing them so you can get out only what you need.  My daughters are doing this at college too! They are happy with the convenience and that they always have a taste of home in the freezer.

Happy Baking!

 

 

 

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Feb 19

My go to Easy Bread, Buttermilk Maple White Sandwich Bread

Buttermilk Honey White Sandwich Bread

Baby it’s cold outside!  I don’t know about you but I am tired of winter.  This year has been especially cold and harsh for those who live in the Eastern United States, even the Southern states.  I grew up in Ohio and lived through many a cold winter.  I escaped northern winters 6 years ago when a job transfer sent my whole family to middle Georgia.  But, this year it’s even cold here. My husband isn’t happy!   When it’s cold outside I like to bake. So, I’m spending a lot of time in the kitchen these days near the warm ovens.  If it’s cold outside my family has come to expect me to have baked goods or at least homemade bread always available. They know my habits!

 

Even if you have a very busy schedule you can effortlessly make a good loaf of bread.  My Buttermilk Maple White Sandwich Bread is my favorite quick and easy bread recipe.  This recipe makes 1 standard loaf or 1 dozen rolls. This bread can be used as everyday bread or for special occasions. It is easy to make and quickly disappears! The whole house smells heavenly too!  My family loves it as a snack with butter or for sandwiches or toast. It also makes delicious dinner rolls. The rolls are now a Thanksgiving Day tradition at my house.  This recipe calls for mixing and kneading the bread up in a Bread Machine.  But this dough is quite forgiving and can be also mixed in a Stand Mixer, or by hand.

 

Buttermilk Maple White Sandwich Bread

 

Ingredients

2 ½ teaspoons of active dry yeast, preferable SAF Instant (not rapid rise)

1 cup room temperature Buttermilk

2 Tablespoons room temperature butter

3 Tablespoons pure Maple Syrup

3 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

Mixing with Bread Machine   Place buttermilk, yeast, maple syrup, and butter into bread machine. Then add the flour and salt (or follow bread machine manufacturer’s directions). Set the bread machine for White Bread Dough Cycle and press Start. After about 5 minutes of mixing look in your machine and check the consistency of the dough. If, after a few minutes of kneading the dough isn’t forming into a ball add a few tablespoons of water. If instead the dough is still sticky or watery add a little more flour. At this point you can choose to bake the loaf in the machine according to manufacturer’s directions for White Bread or continue the dough cycle and shape the loaf yourself and bake the loaf in a conventional oven.

Shaping and Second Rise Butter or spray a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan. When the dough cycle is complete turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your hands pat the dough into a large rectangle approximately roughly a 9 by 11 shape. Starting at the top of the short side fold the dough 2/3 way down the rectangle then fold it again so the top edge meets the bottom edge. Seal the seam by pinching it together along the bottom edge. Turn the loaf so that the seam is in the center of the roll, facing up, and turn the ends of the roll in just enough so that they will fit into the 9 by 5 loaf pan. Pinch all seams to seal. Now place the loaf in the buttered pan with seam side down. Now cover the loaf with a damp towel and allow it to rise in a warm place (75 to 80° F) until doubled in size (approximately 45 to 60 minutes). The loaf should rise above the top of the pan. While the bread is rising, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425° F.

If you prefer rolls turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and use your hands to gently deflate the dough and stretch it into a 9 by 12 rectangle. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and form each into a tight ball. Place each ball onto a parchment lined cookie sheet spaced 1 to 2 inches apart or into a greased muffin pan. Cover pan with a damp towel and allow them to rise in a warm location until doubled in size (approximately 20-30 minutes). Note: If you prefer a softer crust place the rolls in a smaller pan with rolls closer together or touching.

Baking the Bread Place the loaf pan into the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 375° F, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until it is golden brown and an instant read thermometer placed in the center of the loaf reads 200° F.   Remove bread from the oven and gently dump out of pan onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before serving.

If you want a darker crust you can remove the loaf from the pan for the last 10 minutes of baking.

Enjoy the bread and try to stay warm.  They say Spring will be here soon.  Sure!  I’ll believe it when I feel it!


 

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Feb 10

My Sour Dough Artisan White Bread

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Can you say hallelujah!  I have spent too many years to count trying to conquer Artisan bread baking at home.  It all started when my husband, Ed, said he really missed the bread he bought every day in Athens Greece while he was stationed there for the Air Force.  This was before the revolution in Artisan Bread Baking reached the United States.  I was curious so I started researching European Artisan Breads and the rest is history.  I have been on a crusade ever since for the perfect loaf of bread!

My family knows how long I’ve been at it because they have happily eaten every loaf,  most of which I called a failure.  My bread was definitely edible and disappeared fast since they always preferred my loaves to store-bought bread.  But, I continued to hold out for one of the loaves pictured in the colorful bread baking books; a loaf with a crisp outer crust, an interior crumb with large irregular holes, and a subtle but distinctive taste. If you ask my husband, Ed, I’ve finally got it…a perfect loaf of bread!

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I am hesitant to post the recipe here because I don’t want you to be disappointed when you don’t get the same results.  Let me explain.  For years, I followed every promising recipe I could find with exacting precision.  But I was disappointed every time because I only got OK bread.  Trust me it was better than store-bought but not quite up to what I imagined.  I used to think that making great bread was only about exactly following the recipe.  Boy was I wrong!  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered artisan bread baking is not about finding the perfect recipe. I swore there was black magic involved!

Artisan bakers take only a few basic ingredients; flour, water, salt, yeast and turn them into this amazingly good tasting food.   They do use recipes or formulas, and follow  procedures and timelines but they also have learned to adjust their process for changes in environment, yeast, and dough conditions.  So even at home you must stay aware of your kitchen temperature, observe the yeast’s behavior and be able to judge the feel of the dough to get great results.  It sounds complicated but it’s really not.  I plan to share this recipe and post my lessons learned under Bread Baking Tips and Tricks in a few days so you can benefit from some of my experiences.

But I have to warn you, Artisan Bread Baking can be addictive!  Once you get hooked you cannot stop striving for the ultimate…The Holy Grail of Bread.  Once your family tastes your bread, even the just OK loaves you better be ready to do it again because they come to expect it.  Since I found this process and produced these amazing loaves, my husband has eaten almost a whole loaf in one day, and he is lingering around the kitchen like a cat waiting for his next meal!

 

 

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Feb 05

My First Food Post….One Skillet Chicken with Pasta

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I am finally posting my first food blog post!  I have been talking about this for so long most of you won’t believe I am finally doing it!  Yes, I’m a procrastinator and tend to want everything just right before I share. So, to get this Blog going I’m going to try to break that habit.  So, I cannot wait to start talking about food–my favorite subject!

For my first recipe I chose a new family favorite…One Skillet Chicken with Pasta.  It tastes great and isn’t hard to prepare. I don’t like anything too complicated on a weeknight! I don’t know how it is in your house but when supper time rolls around here all eyes are on me. Oh, my college age daughters and husband are fully capable of feeding themselves but they usually wait for me to get home to see what I’m going to do before they start working on dinner themselves. hey always claim this is because I always come up with something better than they do. My One Skillet Chicken with Pasta dish was just such a dish.  It was born from opening the refrigerator and seeing what we had and what might go together.  The result was a keeper!

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. each olive oil and butter, divided
  • 1 lb. chicken breast Tenderloins cubed or cooked chicken sliced into thin slices (You can also use a Grocery store prepared Roasted Chicken to speed things up)
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. each of dry oregano, parsley, basil, thyme
  • 1 Med yellow or sweet onion, diced
  • 1 sliced and seeded green pepper
  • 1 sliced and seeded red sweet pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 (15 oz) can drained diced tomatoes or 1 large fresh tomato, diced and seeded
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • ¼ cup heavy cream or half and half
  • 1 Tbsp. corn starch
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 to 6 servings of your favorite Pasta (cooked)
  • Fresh Parsley and shredded Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

Instructions

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a large fry pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat add the chicken and brown for 3 minutes on each side if uncooked. If using precooked chicken brown and heat until warm.  Remove chicken and set aside on a plate.

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Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and butter to the skillet or fry pan. Add the onion and saute for 3 minutes. Add the garlic, green pepper, red peppers, and tomatoes. Saute for 2 more minutes. Stir in the spices, corn starch, and sugar.

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Add the chicken stock and cream or half & half to the fry pan and stir.  Transfer the chicken back to the pan and spoon some of the sauce and vegetables over top of the chicken. Cook, covered, on the stove top on medium heat until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is bubbling, about ten minutes. Finally add the mushrooms to the pan and heat for 2 more minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. 20140730_172402 - Copy - CopyAnd lastly, as a cheese lover I am often guilty of adding just a little more cheese on top.  Guilty as charged!  But nobody is complaining at my house!  Everyone here loves Parmesan cheese.

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Serve hot, over your favorite pasta.  I used angel hair pasta.  Garnished with more Parmesan cheese and/or fresh parsley.

 

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Enjoy!

 

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