Thursday, January 28, 2010

Creative Cooking: Bread in Five Minutes a Day

No-knead bread started showing up on several of my favorite food blogs quite a while ago. I've also been meaning to read this book (unfortunately, I'm a complete cheapskate, so the book has not been purchased).

I really loved the five-minutes-a-day idea because sometimes I can be kind of lazy when it comes to cooking (this is a problem because my husband thinks that tater-tot casserole, chili mac, and meatloaf count as "meals" (Hey Mom Alston! Sorry you haven't won me over to the meatloaf loving way of life! I still hate it but appreciate your conversion efforts!). The basic premise of this philosophy is that you make a big batch of dough and use it daily/almost daily over the course of two weeks. I settled on trying this recipe, which was recommended as a good starting place. (You can also just have at it with a simple ratio, but I was lazy wasn't confident enough.)


You begin by throwing all of the ingredients together. (I use my KitchenAid because I heart it.) I doubled the recipe because I wanted enough for eight loaves instead of four.


The dough will seem pretty runny, but that's okay.

When you realize that you got confused and tripled the amount of salt, baking soda, and yeast, you need to go back and add more water and flour, thus making enough dough for twelve loaves.


The dough needs to sit on the counter for a couple of hours. If you want to be able to use your Kitchen Aid during the resting time, you should probably transfer the dough to another container. If you had a momentary brain lapse and tripled the recipe because you were too lazy to use ratios, you will probably need to let the dough rest in two bowls...


But, you should make sure that they are both big bowls. Otherwise you will have an overflowing mess after two hours.


Feel free to use quick thinking and put some of the overflowed dough in a series of ziploc bags to freeze for use later.


The rest of the dough can go in the fridge until your ready to use it. Make sure the container isn't airtight.

Note to readers: Accidentally tripling a recipe and trying to force dough into containers that are too small can result in continued expansion in the fridge. Be ready for it.

When you're ready to bake your bread, just pull off a chunk of the dough.

The recipe calls for a baking stone. I do own a baking stone, but it's in storage in Seattle, along with all of my other real dishes, kitchen equipment, etc. My wise colleague Denise (who functions as my pseudo-maternal advisor in Shishmaref- "Um, Denise, if I bring this oil over, will you smell it and tell me if it's gone rancid? And then not judge me if it is?") suggested that I use a nice baking dish that would hold the heat evenly.


I do own a nice baking dish. I bought it in Paraguay. Steve made fun of me for carrying it all the way back into the U.S. and up to Alaska.

Note to readers: A small baking dish is nothing (in size or inconvenience) compared to the berimbau he brought back.


For those of you kitchen snobs, it is a Le Creuset baking dish. It is the only Le Creuset piece I own at this time. Steve has been warned that someday I intend to own a lot more.


I greased the dish with shortening.

Note to readers: this shot is completely staged. It turns out that I'm too uncoordinated to operate my camera or grease a pan with my left hand. I had to settle for holding-the-paper-towel-with-shortening-on-it with my left hand and operating my camera with the right.


Shape the dough into a ball and tuck all the edges underneath so that the top is smoothish. (This ball of dough will magically grow in the next few shots. Do not be alarmed. It is just a different batch of bread. VFN's Creative Cooking shows are not always shot in real time...)

Apparently, you can also shape the dough into sandwich loaves, but that technique hasn't been botched tried in VFN's test kitchens.


Let the dough sit for forty minutes. Preheat the oven at 450 sometime during this resting period.


Sprinkle the loaf, or boule, with flour...


and slice any design that makes your heart happy.

If you're really brave, you can bake the bread over a dish of water. Maybe you can avoid using a glass dish.


The final product has been greatly enjoyed in the Alaska Alston household.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Creative Cooking: Side Effects of Artisan Bread

One of the latest experiments is with artisanal (also spelled artesianal, ahrteezhunuhl) (just kidding, it's not spelled that way) bread. It involves making two weeks worth of dough at a time, cutting off the amount you need as you need it, and baking it over (here's the important part) a pan of water to allow for a steaming effect.

I'd like to be able to show you the beautiful results of a successful foray into the world of artisanal bread making. (Un)fortunately, what actually happened is much more interesting.

Note to concerned readers: the following post, combined with my most recent post of the hazards of moving organized bookshelves , may lead readers to assume that I have completely lost control of my life in a way in a way that brings to mind a vortex of despair and idiocy. This is only partially true. I am actually quite happy. Thank you.

On Sunday I made the bread with decent results, and brilliantly refrained from removing the pan of scalding water. "I'll take it out when it cools down," I wisely told myself.

On Monday I made the bread again. When I preheated the oven, I realized that the pyrex pan of water was still in the oven. "No problem," I said in my wise voice, welcoming the experimental phase of this new addition to my culinary repertoire, "maybe it will just make the oven extra steamy and even enhance the bread."

When the oven was nice and hot (this part is key), I decided I should add more water to the pan with a glass measuring cup. And I learned the stunning effect that room temperature water has on a hot glass dish:

Photo 10

I miraculously managed to avoid having my eyes and/or face impaled with glass shards, which was nice. (It also prompted me to immediately offer a prayer of gratitude- not kidding/joking/being sarcastic.)

Here is me trying to have a good attitude about the whole thing:

Photo 15

I was even in a good enough humor to pose a la Ego-Centric-Teenager-Obsessed-With-Self-Portraits-For-Use-As-Social-Networking-Profile-Pictures (remember, I teach Junior High and High School):

Photo 16

Check out that pout! (It almost disguises the fact that I have smeared mascara and no left thumb.)

FYI, an oven covered in glass shards will still bake a round of artisanal bread. In fact, these pictures were all taken after baking said bread (explaining the ease with which I posed on the oven door).

FYI.2 a round of artisanal bread baked in an oven covered with glass shards is actually quite excellent.

I plan on accepting my awards for culinary excellence and kitchen safety later this month.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Social Studies Does Not Always Rock

I'm getting a class set of laptops. That probably sounds like a weird thing to be complaining about, but consider the following things:

-A class set of laptops requires a laptop cart.

-The laptop cart was place in the middle of my classroom at the end of last week.

-There was no room for aforementioned laptop cart.

-Finding a place for the laptop cart required rearranging my entire classroom (probably long overdue, since the room's been basically the same since I came five years ago)

-I have several heavy shelves and bureaus in my classroom.

-I have no measurable upper body strength with which to move said heavy objects.

-The strapping boys in my student government class were thrilled (yeah right) to help me.

-The boys, whom I love dearly, have a tendency to be L-A-Z-Y.

-There is only one set of shelves in my classroom that is painstakingly organized.

-The boys dismissed the suggestions of their teacher (who is obviously dumb as dirt) to remove the books prior to relocating the shelves.


This was also the day before Parent-Teacher Conferences. Good thing I managed to find it in me to laugh and take a picture. :)