Friday, January 30, 2009

More bread, cheese... no whine!

Since Wednesday was an awful, icy, messy day, I decided to take the day off of work and be a domestic goddess. And goddess I was - but I'm getting ahead of myself.

First up was a new batch of bread to bolster my confidence. Even as a newbie, I've had amazing luck with the bread, and today was no exeption. I tried an oatmeal bread from the Quaker Oats web site: First, you make a wet mixture.

Then, you mix in enough flour to make a stiff dough.

Rise, punch down, rest, form into loaves, rise, and finally, bake those bad boys. They came out looking pretty fine.

And they taste pretty good, too. Phew! Then I was on to the cheese. If you read through my previous post, you can see I had three theories on why the cheese experiment failed the first time. Now I have a fourth. At the end, after you've heated and curdled and mixed, you separate the curds from the whey and put it in the microwave. The directions say to nuke it for about a minute, but if you read further, it says "the cheese must be 135 degrees to stretch". Aha! Turns out, we are so slow taking the curds out of the whey, the cheese cools down significantly. Heating for 1 minute doesn't get the cheese to the proper temperature. Using a thermometer this time, I nuked it until it was hot. And lo and behold, I had cheese! I didn't take any pictures, because I was kind of anxious and excited, but take my word for it. I made two 8 oz balls of creamy white mozzarella cheese, which taste quite heavenly. I think that some homemade pesto (from the freezer), homemade French bread (again, freezer), and a nice lookin' tomato (I know, it's not local) will make a beautiful little meal. I can't wait! (maybe this time I'll remember to take a picture).

To make up for it, here's a picture of my buddy "Patches" enjoying a snack I put out for him.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Bread, Cheese... and whine?

Exciting news here in the house of the newlyweds! We took our Bed, Bath & Beyond gift certificates (wedding gifts), and our 20% off coupon, and we bought the Kitchen Aid Professional 6oo Stand Mixer! Whoohoo! 575 watts of mixing power! The six quart mixing bowl holds enough for 13 dozen cookies, 8 pounds of mashed potatoes, or 8 loaves of bread! Because, after all, it's all about the bread. After one success making honey-wheat bread (by hand), I decided that a mixer would really facilitate the mixing and kneading process. As a bonus, the mixer came with a recipe book with various types of bread (amongst other things).

So, while hubby was brewing up a batch of beef stew in the crock pot (also a wedding gift), I mixed up the ingredients for French Bread. It was pretty exciting, if I do say so myself. As instructed, I added all the ingredients in the pre-warmed mixing bowl, except the last 2 cups of flour. I then added the flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough came together. What a thing of beauty is a big hunk of bread dough spinning merrily on a dough hook! (it sounds like I've been drinking). Placed into a greased bowl and allowed to languish in a warm oven for an hour, it rose up beautifully, was punched down, split in two, and rolled into lovely loaves. These loaves were then placed on a greased pan, covered with a damp towel, and allowed to rise again for another hour. There was a slight glitch during this process, where I checked on the loaves, and noticed that the towel was sticking. I gently removed the towel, and replaced it with wax paper. BAD IDEA!!! As I found out a little while later, rising dough sticks to wax paper like nobody's business. By the time I got that paper off, my loaves were looking mighty defeated. But, undaunted, I baked them anyway - good thing. They came out looking beautiful (maybe a little misshapen), chewy, and delicious. Just imagine if I hadn't used the wax paper... next time.

Then on to our next (mis)adventure. Cheese making! This has been in the works for a while, particularly since Christmas, when the hubby bought me the beginner cheese making kit from I had purchased a gallon of organic milk from the food co-op where we get our veggies, and the kit included the citric acid, rennet, and the instructions that we would need to make a pound of mozzarella. Only, it didn't quite happen. I'm not going to do the blow-by-blow here, but suffice to say that while we did achieve separation of curds and whey, it was fleeting at best. What we ended up with was a mooshy mess that was not too appetizing, definitely not mozzarella, and in the garbage. It was sad. And gross.
I'm not totally deterred yet, and I will try to figure out what went wrong. It was one of 3 things: 1) the milk was actually ultra-pasteurized, which does not make good cheese. This is probably unlikely, as it was not labeled as ultra-pasteurized, 2) We didn't add enough rennet to set the curd up properly - we'll add more next time, or 3) we stirred too vigorously, inadvertently breaking up the curd. This is definitely more art than science, folks. The only really sucky thing is that a gallon of milk is not cheap. I feel like asking for my money back! I guess that where the "whine" comes in. We were bummed, but at least we had a nice dinner of homemade beef stew, and fresh crusty bread. Plus those brownies we have stashed in the freezer...

Friday, January 16, 2009


That's me, I'm a slacker. I can't believe it's been a month since my last post. A very busy month, mind you, but that's no excuse.

Anyway, our latest obsession around here is pizza. Homemade pizza, that is. Last spring, while on vacation with my 19 of my husband's extended family members, his sister made pizza. Obviously, it was delicious (or else why would I be writing about it?), but the fun part was the "customization". Each and every person got to decide what they wanted on their quandrant (just a side note, this is easier if you're using a rectangular or square pan). Sauce, cheese, toppings, it was all chosen, applied, and popped into the oven. Fifteen minutes later, voila! Your very own pizza. Luckily, after only 3 months of requests (hey, we're all busy people), we recieved the recipe by e-mail. It's shockingly quick and simple. Ready?

Pizza Dough: (this makes 2 pizzas - we usually cut this in half)

Mix in large bowl:
3 cups flour (we usually mix wheat and all-purpose flour)
1 Tbs salt
1 pkg dry yeast (approx 4 tsp)
2 1/2 cups warm water (note: I mix the yeast into the warm water to dissolve it)
Add 4 cups flour
(again, any combination of flour)
Mix and knead until smooth
(If you have time, you can let this sit for 15-30 min. If you don't have time, go to next step)
Divide in two (if you didn't halve the recipe)
Roll out into shape of pan
Cover with toppings (for planning purposes, we use 8 oz. shredded cheese for each pizza, and about 8 oz of sauce, just eyeball it)
Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 min

I probably don't need to give you suggestions for toppings, but I will anyway. We've made all-veggie; sausage and onion; sausage, mushroom, onion; pepperoni; and at our peak of creativity, we made a buffalo chicken pizza. That one had buffalo sauce instead of marinara sauce, about 2 oz of blue cheese (in addition to mozzarella), buffalo chicken strips (found in your grocer's freezer), and onions (okay, we ALWAYS put onions on our pizza - sometimes raw and sometimes cooked).

The pizzas seem to get better and better, as we get a feel for how the dough should look, how much of each topping to use, what spices to add, etc. My mom got us a pizza stone for Christmas, but unfortunately, that didn't seem to work too well. We had made the pizza on a peel (that's what those big flat shovel-looking things are called that they use in pizza places), and pre-heated the stone in the oven. But when it came time to put the pizza on the stone, it stuck to the peel. Fifteen minutes later, we finally got it off, making a huge mess in the process, and wrecking the beauty of the veggie pizza. Then, after it was done baking, it stuck to the pizza stone. I'm sure all of this comes down to operator error, but when we have a non-stick pizza pan that makes a beautiful crispy crust... let's just say we'll "stick" to that!

Hopefully, you'll enjoy the pizza as much as we do. It's easy to keep the ingredients on hand, and is actually fun to make (kneading dough is good for stress release!). I think I may try a white pie one of these days...