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+++Enter At Your Own Risk+++ At the gentle nudging (I said gentle y'all) of a few friends, I have started these blogs in order to share my culinary goings-on and daily misadventures through my own brand of humor (ok, sarcasm). I just write about stuff! At 50, I have learned that living has gotten in the way of life - and I am going to blaze my own personal trail to fun (hopefully)! If it is feminine, great. If it is not, so much the better! Hopefully fun that does not land me in jail............

Monday, June 27, 2011

To Microwave or Not To Microwave; That is the Question. -OR- They Sure Don't Make Them Like That Anymore!

So as I got about my life cleaning out the clutter that is my past 24 adult years, I got rid of my microwave.  The microwave is a Panasonic Dimension 4, similar to the one pictured below, from 1986.
Not a photo of mine - I googled this image!

My army boss in Germany (so to speak) was MSG McCall, a black man from Virginia a little younger than my Dad and as trusted, told me all the good things about a microwave: Speed of heating, savings on electricity, ease of use.  So, my then husband and I took off down to the Military PX (AAFES) and purchased the MAC DADDY MUTHA of microwaves...  The Panasonic Dimension 4 convection oven/microwave. Stainless lit interior, dual voltage (110-220), powered carousel and a black enameled oven rack!  I had never used a microwave. Did not grow up with one!

Let me just say - you really can burn things with a microwave when you are new to the concept of nuking your food!  Think charcoal chicken breasts.  I never did learn to properly COOK food in a microwave because I never found I liked the texture or taste of food COOKED in a microwave. I did use it to heat up leftovers, melt chocolate and butter, boil water and etc. I never really cared for the convection oven experience. Mainly because I used it so infrequently that the heating elements would stink up the kitchen when burning off dust.

Flash forward to 2011 and the nuker still works. This microwave has never had a service call. Never let me down. Moved from Germany (and 220 electric) back to America (110) and from PA to MD to PA to TN to PA to TN and TN and TN. The only thing I ever did to it was a one-time lamp replacement.  It kept the time in the kitchen, worked as my timer, heated my food and took up approximately 3 cubic feet of space.  Yes, I suck at estimating space, but this is a big microwave.

Now I have a new life in an old house. I hate cleaning but have turned anal about it anyway. I have been purging items out the door as I run across that which is cluttering my life.  A cluttered life is a stressful life (good topic for another time).

My lovely daughter, who was born 6 or so months after we purchased that dinosaur 25 years ago, wants the microwave. It is now stored away until she and her Fiance can make a trip down to TN or I make a trip up to see them.

I am convenience free.

So, during the first 3+- weeks of being microwave free, here is the list of things I missed about that hunk of metal hogging up counter-space:
  • The timer.  I used it because it was so quick and easy to set. 
  •     Solution: Use the one on the oven. Duh...
  • The clock.  It always kept perfect time (unlike my car clock that runs fast at a perpetual rate).
  •     Solution: Who cares about time (or just use cell phone clock).
  • Melting butter.  I make a lot of foods that require melted butter.
  •     Solution: Put the butter in a pyrex measuring cup and either sit it next to the hot eye on the stove or in the grill - depending on which one I am cooking with when I need melted butter.
  • Heating water. I used it to boil water quickly for soups, teas and etc.
  •     Solution:  Uh, use the tea pot on top of the stove and get over it.
  • Heating up leftovers. Self explainatory.
  •     Solution: Either heat them in a pot or in the oven. Pot on top of the stove is fastest way.

I am not missing this hunk of counter-hogging metal.  My daughter will be excited to have it.  I hope none of us glow from leaking radiation.

Life is good and getting simpler.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In Defense of Food

I actually recommend this book by Michael Pollan. It is not often I recommend books, so listen up.

Quotes from Mr. Pollan's book that you should consider:

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." He doesn't say go vegan. He is reasonable.

"Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." Meaning, back in the day, there were not a lot of fancy "non-food" food ingredients.

"Don't eat anything incapable of rotting." Hummmm, just agree'n.

"The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture." This is a time to celebrate the food and time together. To rejoice in the bounty and the camaraderie.

"So that's us: processed corn, walking." I love corn, but, not in EVERYTHING!

No-Knead Bread

OK, let me just note that to say I am deficient in the area of baking would be a huge understatement. 

First of all, I am lazy.  Too lazy to beat, pound, and fold dough.  Too lazy to measure so precisely as to think one is administering life saving medication. Too lazy to worry with setting up, cleaning, using and cleaning again my Kitchenaid. Not happening anytime soon really. 

Second of all, I feed on a "craving" schedule.  This means if I want bread now - it is not likely I can wait for several hours to eat fresh homemade bread (or cookies, or cake, or meats, or, or, or). I have lost all ability to be patient in life. Gone. I only make "plan ahead" items to share.

Now, with all that being said - I STILL LOVE BREAD.  The only reason I do not eat more of it is most store-bought bread is stale before you get it.  We here in this area missed out on the great bakery-store concept that the Europeans (and even Mexicans) figured out years ago. No corner deli, cafe or bakeries around here that I see.  There are a few restaurants that bring GOOD fresh bread to the table and I do like it - A LOT. Problem is, I will stuff my chubby cheeks with the bread and butter to the point of not eating anything else that I ordered.  Actually, I almost always end up with a doggie-bag that I forget in the car and end up literally giving to the dogs (or running from the car, holding the bag out from me as to try to leave the vapor-stank-trail behing me and behind my nose, to the trash. Then airing out said car).

So, back on point - I found a recipe.  Actually, my daughter found the recipe.  No-Knead Bread.  Woot! Yes!  Say it isn't so?  Lazy girl yeast bread making?  Yes, YEs, YES!  Daughter made this bread last year while visiting me. It was pretty darn good - not to mention oh-so-easy.  However, my laziness level was so high, I could not even be bothered to make the bread until this week.  Sad...

This rustic loaf is crusty on the outside and savory goodness on the inside.  The style of baking I am about to outline allows for rather large holes in the bread. A course bread. It is absolutely perfect for slathering on room temp European or Amish butters and dipping into heavier soups and stews OR simply dipping in whatever decorated Olive Oil you feel the need to sop up!

The initial recipe was developed by Sullivan Street Bakery and has been passed around and around and around the blog-o-sphere for a couple of years now. My daughter posted it in her notes and I am now writing about it and my experience with it.

Note, THIS recipe is good for WHITE all-purpose flour or bread flour in general.  As I found out this week - WHOLE-WHEAT flour is another story. A different set of steps to produce a tasty end-product. Rye, same thing.  There ARE flavor variations on this "No-Knead" theme, so be patient (LOLOLOL, good luck) and I will get some more posted as I make them.

In the Dutch Oven!
No-Knead Bread
 3 c. bread or all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 tsp. table salt
1 1/2 c. warm water
Large mixing bowl
Have a fully oven-proof pot with a lid (dutch oven is what I think is best - enameled or a well seasoned cast-iron one). No plastic parts as you will be baking at 450f degrees. Pyrex and metal pots are acceptable as well. But, as you can see, I do have a preference.

Shower caps for your food
If you can still find them.
In a large mixing bowl mix the dry ingredients together. Some people sift the flour, some do not. I tend to sift so that I can sift them into the flour to make sure it is all evenly distributed before adding liquid.  Add the water and mix just until all dry ingredients are incorporated.  Take special care of the bottom of the bowl as the dry ingredients tend to stay there.   Cover the bowl tightly with Saran wrap or a lid. I use plastic bonnets that you can purchase in the same store sections as plastic wrap.  Let the dough sit, undisturbed, in a warm place for 12-20 hours*.  (NOTE:  I did not touch mine for 24 hours due to my work schedule.) The warmth helps the yeast do its thing and bring on the rising!  How do you like that for a scientific explanation! So, when we say leave it undisturbed, it means do not bother the dough for 12 - 20 hours.  There are reports of people moving on to the next step at 8 hours, but I suggest you go by the recipe your first time out (to get your baseline to start from and judge by) and then start playing with it to suit your environment, flour characteristics and etc.

When you are ready for the next step, grab you a spatula and wax paper.  Trust me on this!  Unless you like getting dough in your nails, DO WHAT I AM PREACHING NOW! Place a nice size sheet of wax-paper down on your counter, cutting board, dough board or what-have-you. Dust a generous helping of flour onto it.  Uncover your dough, wet the spatula (re-wet often), tip up the bowl over the floured wax-paper and use the spatula to pry the dough away from the bowl and down onto the wax-paper. Lift up one corner of the paper at a time and pry dough away from it, using the damp spatula, folding dough over on itself. I actually dusted the top of the dough with flour, but that is up to you. You do this like 4 times. You might need to dust a little more flour over the wax-paper.  I did it about 8 times because I am a rebel without a cause!

Then I totally break with the instructions temporarily.  I pick up the wax-paper with the dough in it and place it back down inside that same dirty mixing bowl. I know - don't say it, "pig, nasty, nut-bag".  I told you all I am lazy...  I recovered the dough with the plastic cover per the recipe and let it rise 2 more hours.  At 1.5 hours in (30 minutes before second rise is done), start preheating your oven and Dutch-Oven to 450f degrees.  You want to heat for 30 solid minutes.

At 30 minutes of heating (assuming your oven works better than mine and is now actually AT 450f degrees, dump the dough into the Dutch-Oven, shake the Dutch-Oven around a little to spread/smooth out the dough, cover with its lid and place back in the oven. Let bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake an additional 15-20 minutes.  Keep an eye on the dough to make sure you do not burn the surface. Remove the Pot from the oven, dump the bread out on a cooling rack.  You might have to use a utensil to loosen the bread from the pot bottom.

Grab your best bud, a bread knife and room temp butter and have a friggen party y'all!

  • I poured a little olive oil (very little) in the bottom of the hot pot before dumping dough in.  My thinking here is it will help keep it from sticking.
  • I brushed olive oil onto the bread surface after taking the lid off the Dutch-Oven to brown the bread. This gives it a nice color.
  • I only baked uncovered for 10 minutes because the bread was golden brown and I was happy with it.
  • There is a school of thought in placing the dough, after it has done both risings, into the refrigerator for up to 8 days to further develop the flavor. You can also double the batch and keep one half of the dough in the refrigerator so that you can eat on the first loaf then bake the second loaf.
  • The Dutch-Oven method allows for a small level of self steaming of the bread.
  • Whole-wheat takes more liquids and oils than does regular flour. I will post the Whole-wheat recipe later.
  • Place the pot closer to the top coils of the oven than the bottom. This should keep the bottom of the bread from crisping then burning/sticking to pot.
  • To reheat bread, wrap in aluminum foil in heat in the oven at 350f degrees.  Daughter states it is a moist bread and the crust will soften. If you do not like this, crisp it in the oven at 350f degrees.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What The ??????: Bear Essentials?

Shall we?

So does this mean we will endure drinking an unpleasant drink?  Just ask'n...
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