Light Whole Wheat Bread

When my mom married my dad, they were both 19 years old. In 2014, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary and they love to laugh and say: “…and they said it would never last!” Forty years of determination earns joking rights. At 19, my mom did not know the first thing about cooking. My Grandma Salazar is and was an amazing cook, but the kitchen was HER territory, and with seven kids running amuck, I can’t say I blame her. That was probably her happy place. But the disadvantage was that my mom was about to head out into the world without any basic cooking skills. So, my grandma did a quick crash course on bread making. A skill my mom has totally perfected.

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Now, decades later, my mom is one of the best cooks I know (universally agreed by everyone who has the privilege of eating at her table). I grew up with the aroma of fresh baked bread wafting through the house on a very regular basis. Lately, the bread baking seems to be the trick up her sleeve… We’ll walk in the house, and find her down in her basement studio, painting these gorgeous oil paintings, while we sniff the air and exclaim: “are you making bread?” Commence happy dance and rushing for the butter.

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So last week, Sofia says with eight year old tact, “Mer (the name the grandkids call my mom) sure makes a lot more bread than you do… She’s always making bread. I love homemade bread.” Sheesh. It has been all kinds of crazy snowy here, so the following morning after another snow-delayed school start, I dropped her off promising fresh bread when she returned from school. I pulled out a bread cookbook that was a gift from my sweet friend Nicky several years ago. It arrived a couple weeks before I gave birth to my second child. Lovely book, but during those early childhood years, I just wasn’t baking much homemade bread…it was definitely an occasional thing. So, it’s been on a to-do list to bake through this book and now was finally the time to get started. I figured I’d begin with a general crowd-pleaser recipe- a light whole wheat. Good for you, falls in the peasant loaf category, but still appears “white” enough to excite the kids. What’s so fantastic about this recipe though (which is why I am sharing it) is that it develops this amazing crackling crust that is SO satisfying to bite into, but the inner crumb of the bread was spot on “custard crumb.”  It’s been slathered in butter, made into PBJs, cut into thick slices for a simple “Brotzeit” dinner of bread, meats, cheeses, and provided general homemade bread euphoria. I think Sofia ate nearly half of the first loaf just seconds after I finished shooting it!

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Light Whole Wheat Bread

recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoë François

Note: This recipe is all about the super moist bread dough! This dough will not, in any way, resemble those heavy bread doughs that require kneading and are easily handled. This bread dough will be sticky, conform to your bowl, and when you start to panic because it’s hard to handle, remain calm. This just means you have the perfect dough, then reach for your flour to give it another sprinkle to avoid ending up in bread dough vs. baker wrestling tournament. The wet dough allows very little resistance to the expansion of air bubbles created by the yeast, resulting in this amazingly perfect crumb. Also, because the dough is so moist, it will caramelize beautifully while baking which gives you that nice old world crust of rustic peasant loaves. Recipe makes about 3.5 pounds or so of bread… I split mine into 2 one pound round loaves on a baking sheet, and one 1.5 pound loaf in the loaf pan. Feel free to half the recipe or double it! If you do want to use a loaf pan, be SURE that it has a non-stick coating and also oil the pan first or this dough will definitely stick to the pan (a promise from the authors).

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 and 1/2 TBSP granulated yeast
  • 1 and 1/2 TBSP salt
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 5 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Whole wheat flour or cornmeal to scatter on the baking sheet

Preparation:

  1. Mix the yeast and salt with the water in a 5-quart bowl (I used my Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook to do everything).
  2. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients, on low-ish speed. You can do this all by hand with a wooden spoon, but will likely require a full body massage to work out the kinks the next day unless you are already a beast with hand-mixing bread dough.
  3. Cover with a flour cloth or dish cloth and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top). Approximately 2 hours. When it’s 6ºF outside, somehow my bread is super slow to rise even in the warm house, so I always preheat my oven to 200ºF, then turn off the heat and let the dough sit in the open (crack the door a few inches) oven to rise.
  4. The dough can be used immediately (with the following steps) after the initial rise OR refrigerate in a lidded (but not airtight) container and use over the next two weeks.
  5. When you are ready to bake, dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut off a 1 pound (or so) piece…about the size of a large grapefruit. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Allow to rest on a pizza stone or baking sheet that is scattered with whole wheat flour or cornmeal for about 40 minutes. The loaves will rise again just a bit.
  6. Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat oven to 450ºF. Sprinkle the loaf/loaves liberally with flour and slash a cross, scallop, or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top of the loaf/loaves.
  7. Place a 8×8 pan of about 1 cup of hot water on the lowest rack in the oven.
  8. Place bread in oven and bake for about 35 minutes, until deeply browned and firm. An odd trick: you will know it’s done when you knock on the crust and it sounds rather hollow inside. If you make larger or smaller loaves, you will need to adjust the time accordingly.
  9. Now here’s the kicker: “allow to cool before slicing and eating.” WHAT? But yes…you’ll destroy your gorgeous loaves if you just whip them out of the oven and start slicing. Give them a good 10 minutes to rest, and even then they will still be quite warm, but you’ll manage to avoid squashing them to death and ruining the crumb if you wait a bit. Or if you are a total oak, just wait a half hour before slicing. More power to you if you are that patient!

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Zesty Spaghetti with Romanesco

We were at the store and it all went down like this… “Ohhh, look Mommy! What’s this? It’s pretty! Can we buy it?” And who am I to deny my child a vegetable when she asks for it? Even though I knew that it was a vegetable related to cauliflower, the most loathsome of vegetables in my mind, I stuck the thing in the bag and went on with my shopping list. That was last week. I stuffed it in a drawer in the refrigerator and nearly forgot about it.

Fast forward to the end of a long, snowy weekend. The whole city was canceling events left and right due to freezing temperatures and icy roads. And as I LOVE to hole up during times like this and wear my pajamas all day, I decided we had enough left overs, milk, eggs and Nutella to survive a long weekend without a grocery run. So there we were last night. Dinner time and no dinner because we were now sick of eggs and left over soup. I needed to fix something quickly to keep the little people on their bedtime schedule, when I discovered the head of Romanesco as I was rummaging through every drawer in the fridge in desperation. I’m trying to be better about cooking the produce I tend to buy on a whim, so I determined that dinner would revolve around this thing. I found two half-used boxes of spaghetti and the idea was born… The Italians can do it. So can I. It was, as Dave later coined it, “The Romanesco Challenge.” How to make a tasty pasta dish with Romanesco as the main ingredient, using WHATEVER I could find that would make sense. In case you think I’m always planning my meals ahead and dreaming up beautiful photo shoots of the results, you are mistaken. HA! I was busy dredging out the basement which had become our catch-all and honestly just refused to think of dinner until I had the piles under control.

But, hey, I think if you have fresh garlic, something acidic, something briny, and good cheese, it’s hard not to have a delicious result. Thank goodness. My kids inhaled this, along with Dave. And now I’m a fan of Romanesco… If you aren’t, I have to say, you just might be pleasantly surprised. It totally hit the spot.

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 Zesty Spaghetti with Romanesco

recipe by Stephanie Kunstle

Notes: As I cooked, I kept thinking of my dear friend Nicky (who I had the absolute treat of visiting with by phone this week) who now and then has her recipes measured “by guess and gosh.” With that in mind, don’t get hung up on making this EXACTLY… You want to substitute one kind of sausage for another? Go for it. Hate feta? Then grab some goat cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano. You get the point. It’s about flavor.

Ingredients:

  • plenty of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 whole slices of lemon, cut in half
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup green Greek olives (mine were stuffed with pimentos, but whatever olive you like will work)
  • 2 links of good cooked sausage, chopped (I used chicken apple sausage, but go for a nice Italian pork sausage if you’d like)
  • 1 head of Romanesco, stems mostly removed, florets chopped roughly
  • dried hot chile flakes
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2 big handfuls of chopped feta
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lb. dried spaghetti

Preparation:

  1. Heat a good swirl of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium low heat.
  2. Add the lemon slices and give them a couple of minutes to cook and infuse the oil, stirring now and then.
  3. Add the garlic, olives, chopped sausage, Romanesco, and a good shaking all around (to your taste) of hot chile flakes. Be sure there is enough olive oil to coat the veggies without them sticking in the pan, and keep shaking, tossing, and stirring the veggies. The goal is to get the sausage heated, the olives nice and hot, and the Romanesco just fork tender (it’s should still be bright green, not soft and mushy AT ALL).
  4. Add a generous sprinkling of sea salt and taste the Romanesco for doneness.
  5. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a small dry pan over medium heat, stirring and tossing frequently, for about 3-4 minutes until just golden. Remove from the heat source and put them in a bowl to cool (if you leave them in the pan, they will continue to cook).
  6. Cook the spaghetti in a huge pot of salted water until al dente and drain. Pour into a big serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil.
  7. Pour the Romanesco mixture over the pasta, top with feta and finally the pine nuts. Give the entire dish another good drizzling of olive oil, freshly cracked pepper and serve!

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Slow Cooker Chicken Cassoulet

This one’s for Emily and Megan… My superstar sisters who are both in the same “phase” of life. Toddlers, babies, diapers. They both enjoy cooking, but they enjoy it even more when it requires only a few quick minutes of prep time for the big return of happy tummies. If I were smart, I’d do this more often. In this case I did it out of necessity. We were headed up to the mountains for a day of skiing. The plan was to head out at 7 am and return home around 6:30 that night. And I knew we’d be starving after all that skiing. Now, supposedly, cassoulet is one of Julia Child’s most elaborate recipes. I bet it’s amazing, but in the busy world we live in, “elaborate” is reserved for special occasions, so I need something simple for times when I am far from the kitchen. Enter the Crock Pot. The flavor produced from slow cooking ingredients together in one pot all day covers over the absence of the forty steps I may not have had time for. I prepped the ingredients for this recipe the night before, and then threw them together in the morning and let the crock pot do the rest of the work. The result was such a flavorful dish, and everything you need, literally, in one pot.

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Slow Cooker Chicken Cassoulet

recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes

Note: Serves 8. This recipe is perfect for cold days, or even entertaining on a cozy evening with ease… just make sure the seasoning is right. I find it needs a touch more salt at the end, so you can even set out sea salt for people to season their own bowls.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups dried navy beans
  • 4 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1, 6-oz. can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 heaping tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped a bit
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 8 oz. (or a bit more if you’d like) cooked Polish sausage (I used a smoked turkey Polish sausage), cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • fresh Italian parsley for sprinkling
  • sea salt for sprinkling

Preparation:

  1. The NIGHT before… sort through the beans (making sure any odd rock or grain are removed), rinse them well in warm water in a colander, and put them in the slow cooker. Cover them with at least 2 inches of water and just let them soak over night (at least 8 hours).
  2. The MORNING of… pour beans back into colander, rinse, and then return to the slow cooker and pour in enough water to cover beans by two inches.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together carrots, onion, tomato paste, red wine, garlic cloves, thyme leaves, salt and bay leaves
  4. Pour this veggie mixture over the beans and mix together well in the slow cooker.
  5. Place the chicken thighs on top of the bean and veggie mixture.
  6. Place the slices of Polish sausage on top of the chicken (these will cook down over the chicken which cooks over the beans and veggies…SO delicious).
  7. Cover and cook on LOW setting for 11-12 hours.
  8. Serve each dish with the beans, veggies, a chicken thigh, slices of sausage, and a sprinkling of fresh Italian parsley and sea salt.

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