The Best Brown Bread

Golden brown bread.

Golden brown bread, cooling down on the counter.

Baking bread has become a bi-weekly adventure in our home, and I have not eaten store bought bread in months. It is very neat to have a loaf on the kitchen counter and a few others waiting in the freezer for perfect slices of toast or peanut butter sandwiches whenever you like.

If you have a stand mixer and an afternoon, you have the tools and the time to produce a perfect batch of bread that will keep you and yours happy for weeks. I suppose an oven and bread pans are also essential, but the ingredients that go into bread are so simple, it’s easy to have everything on hand.

I’ve gone through a few recipes in the last few months. It is hard to find a brown bread recipe that isn’t dense, or dry, or crumbly (or all 3). I landed on this recipe in January and have now made it 3 times with recurring success. It will either make 2 giant loaves (9×5 pans) or 3 moderate loaves (4.5×8.5 pans). The loaf stays soft, which is great for sandwiches, and has a lovely nutty-honey quality from the whole wheat flour and honey. I find a 2:5 ratio of white flour to whole wheat gives enough structure as well as nutrition. Pure whole wheat bread is hard to keep edible as a home cook, so a few cups of white flour will stick everything together and avoid a cardboard bread situation.

This recipe is pretty great. I reverse the flour, though- 5 cups of whole wheat to start, then add in 2-3 cups of white flour to round things out. Knead it in the mixer 3-5 min, then a little while on a floured counter. You want the dough to be elastic but sticky at the end, that will give you nice texture and moisture in your finished loaf. My oven is about 30 minutes on the dot for 3 golden brown loaves. If you go the 2 giant loaves route, it is more like 35 minutes. I don’t do the final brush of butter- I don’t find the bread gets hard after it cools but if you live somewhere very dry that might be helpful.

Happy baking and sandwich making!

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The Year of Bread

Honey oat bread fresh from the oven.

Honey oat bread fresh from the oven.

This new year is shaping up to be the year of bread. Homemade, that is. For the past few months I have been experimenting with baking fresh bread. It is really hard to find a decent loaf at the grocery store that has some whole grains but is also actually edible, not dried out, or mouldy in 4 days.

So I’ve been trying out loaves of whole wheat, also made some baguettes and then landed on this honey oat bread recipe. As a home baker, I have been finding 100% whole wheat recipes hard to produce (and hard on my KitchenAid mixer- had a little incident with some smoke one day!), so I’ve been trying out recipes that mix some whole grains with white flour to keep from being too dense and hard to knead.

This Rustic Honey Oatmeal Bread recipe from Robin Hood flour fit the bill. I really like the taste of honey in bread, and this one also had a decent amount of oats (2 cups oats to 4 cups flour). I modified the recipe to only use honey as the sweetener and just used 4 cups flour as my dough came together at that amount. You end up with 2 decent sized round loaves, which are better for toast than sandwiches. It could probably be baked in small bread pans if you want it sandwich sized. Nice crust, dense interior- not a lofty loaf but a nice crunchy piece of toast.

I have some new bread pans on order as well as a baguette pan, so will report back on further bread baking adventures.

Sunday Night Soup

I looked in the fridge tonight, which is a bit bare at the moment, and saw some lovely local corn that needed a home. A glance in the veggie drawer revealed the makings of soup, which may be a bit much on a hot day, but a nice clear broth with fresh summer veggies seemed right.

I sauteed the onions, celery and carrots in a bit of olive oil, added in 2 handfuls of red lentils for a bit of protein, and got them glossy in the oil. In went 6 cups of water and a healthy sprinkle (1-2 tsp.) of Vegeta (the MSG free kind); chicken or vegetable stock would work too. After about 10 minutes, the veggies and lentils had soften up and I added the corn (cut off the cobs), some canned diced tomatoes and a sprinkle of parsley. That simmered for about 10 minutes, and combined into a wonderfully simple pot of summer flavours. Two bowlfuls for dinner were just the ticket.

Marvelous Mediterranean Dips

From left: Baba Ganoush, Tzatziki and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus.

Last week, we hosted a fantastic wine party, some final festivities of the holiday season. We host 2 or 3 of these a year, and each time I knock myself out planning a feast of a spread, and overheat the guests and the kitchen by making fresh baked munchies. So this time around, with about 15 people RSVP’d, I thought I’d better come up with a no-bake solution. Less stress for me, better temperature for all!

I try to keep things home made, fresh, and somewhat healthy, so some dips that could go with veggies and pita sprang to mind. We had been eating store bought Baba Ganoush over the holidays, which is full of mayo and sour cream, and is nothing like the real thing. So I thought I would try making it myself- how hard could something with about 6 ingredients be, anyways? And, once you’ve got the Baba ingredients going, you might as well swap the eggplant for chickpeas and make Hummus, or swap those two out for some greek yogurt and cucumber and make Tzatziki!

These dips are a dream- easy, healthy, pretty cheap, and people will be wowed that you made them yourself. You just need a blender and a little patience. The guests devoured them, especially the Baba, that was the first to go. The pita disappeared pretty quickly, so make sure you’ve gots lots on hand. Next time I think I might toast some and make pita chips too. I think these will be a staple in my entertaining repertoire, because I actually got to relax and enjoy the party this time around. Nothing to keep an eye on, just put out your spread, uncork some wine, and let the party happen!

Baba Ganoush

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2-4 cloves garlic (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Directions

  1. Roast the eggplant at 400F for 30 minutes. You can fire roast it first if you have a gas stove, just place it on the burner and turn occasionally for 5 minutes. Make sure to poke some holes in your eggplant before you roast it. You can also roast your garlic at the same time, if you would like it be more mellow and sweet.
  2. Place the cooked eggplant in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will soften the skin, and it will peel off very easily. Remove the stem, give the eggplant innards a rough chop and place in a blender.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.
  4. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil overtop and a pinch of paprika for garnish.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas, water half drained
  • 1 red pepper, roasted
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Directions

  1. Fire roast the red pepper if you have a gas stove, just place it on the burner and turn occasionally for 5 minutes. Place the blackened pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will soften the skin, and it will peel off very easily, remove the stem and seeds and give it a rough chop. You can also use store bought roasted red peppers.
  2. Start by blending the chickpeas a little at a time, the liquid from the can and the lemon juice will help. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth, scraping the sides down and stirring as needed to get everything blended.
  3. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil overtop and a pinch of red pepper flakes for garnish.

Tzatziki

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. fresh chopped mint
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of black pepper or mint.

The 3 dips joined a mountain of crackers, cheese, chocolate, fruit and other treats. Thanks to everyone who brought something to add to the deliciousness. We’ll have to outdo ourselves next time, which could be hard. But I’m willing to try if you are!

The full spread- wish I could eat like this all the time!

Coconut Curry Lentil Soup

This is time of year when most of us feel guilty, overindulged and a bit slothful. We make a return to work, and the gym, and the grocery store, hoping for a better year. If you are someone who manages to remain virtuous all year, this post is not for you. But if you are someone who lets it all hang out at the holidays, and is now looking for redemption, read on.

It’s really cold out right now, the kind of weather that makes frost on your eyelashes and tests your car battery, and always makes me want soup. I borrowed a friend’s Chez Piggy cookbook a while back, and have been eyeing its soup section ever since. I can’t wait to try more of the recipes, because tonight’s experiment was fantastic.

For those looking to up the taste, but not the calories, this is a great soup; definitely hearty enough to be a meal on its own. Lots of protein and fiber from the lentils, some good fats from the olive oil and coconut milk, and vitamins from the veggies. A perfect winter warm up that leaves you feeling satisfied and maybe even a little self-righteous.

Coconut Curry Lentil Soup

Based on Curry Red Lentil Soup from the Chez Piggy Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 3 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 cups red lentils, rinsed
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 can light coconut milk

Directions

  1. Saute the onions, carrots, garlic, and ginger in the olive oil until the onions are translucent.
  2. Add the spices and cook one more minute. Add the lentils and coat them in the oil.
  3. Add in the vegetable stock and coconut milk, bring to a simmer.
  4. Simmer 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft.

Vanilla Frozen Delight

My first foray into the world of allergy-free desserts comes courtesy of the realm of vegan treats. I found this recipe recently, which has only 6 ingredients, and was described as the vegan version of Cool Whip. I have a secret, shameful love for Cool Whip, so I decided this would be an easy start.

I have to say that both Kevin and I disagreed with the whipped topping comparison, as this dessert is not really fluffy or light. I don’t really know how one would achieve the consistency of Cool Whip without chemicals and an industrial kitchen. However, when you consider this dessert on its own and forget the ill-fitting comparison, it’s decent. I would compare it more to a custard ice cream, and I think the variations could be endless…chocolate…berry…citrus…you get the point.

All you have to do is pop all the ingredients in a blender, freeze the mixture a few hours in an air tight container, and then scoop out your finished dessert. Garnish artfully, and ta-da! Experiment number 1 was too easy.

The dessert is creamy, and it’s hard to believe it does not contain dairy. I asked Kevin to guess what was in it, and the only thing he could identify was vanilla. The tofu was so easy to disguise- both in taste and texture.

If you are still set on a cool whip equivalent, the recipe for Rad Whip on Post Punk Kitchen would be worth trying.

Vanilla Frozen Delight

Ingredients

  • 1/2 package Mori-Nu silken tofu (6 oz.)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 1.5 cups icing sugar (or to taste)
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1.5 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsbp. lemon juice

Directions

  1. Blend all 6 ingredients together until very smooth, using a food processor or blender. A hand mixer could be used to increase the fluffiness of the mixture.
  2. Freeze in an air tight container for at least 3-4 hours.
  3. Scoop out as an ice cream, or stir and spoon over another dessert as a topping. The mixture will melt easily, so serve quickly.

Rainy Days and Food Allergies

The weather this weekend really matches my mood; rainfall warnings and grey skies go well with newly diagnosed food allergies. It seems ironic that I would turn out to be allergic to eggs and cow’s milk, which ingredients show up more in gourmand cooking?

Weekend breakfasts are feeling pretty sad. I can stick with oatmeal all week, but who can do that 7 days in a row? And now I can’t even have a splash of cream on top to jazz it up. It’s startling (and a bit defeating) how much dairy and eggs show up in products and everyday foods! I realized I couldn’t even put mayo on my bacon and tomato sandwich. What a cruel start to the weekend.

So, my mission today is to find some alternatives. I’m on a hunt for vegenaise, milk substitutes and some goat cheese. A strange turn of events for La Gourmandesse! I’m really not sure what I will bake now, other than wacky cake. I can’t think of any baked goods that don’t call for eggs! Perhaps I will become an involuntary health nut in this process. Just what I’ve always wanted to be.

Blueberry Raspberry Crumble

Berry Crumble

This has to be the easiest dessert I make. We always seem to have frozen fruit hanging around for smoothies, and everything else is waiting in my baking drawer. I don’t really have a recipe, I just like to eyeball things, and it always tastes great. The key is to put the crumble on the top and bottom, so the fruit is sandwiched between layers of sweet buttery oats.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Soften 1 stick of butter in a bowl. Add 2 large spoonfuls of flour, 1/3 cup of brown sugar, 1 or 2 cups rolled oats and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Crumble all ingredients together, if it’s too buttery, add more oats.
  3. Press half the mixture into the bottom of an oven safe dish.
  4. Spread a few cups of frozen berries over this layer.
  5. Sprinkle the last of the oat mixture over the top.
  6. Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes.

Simple, comforting, hearty, great for breakfast the next day. This is one dessert I am happy to make again and again.

Beery Crumble

Morning Glory Muffins

I’ve been in a baking mood this month, so far churning out several batches of muffins and last week’s chocolate cake, but am starting to feel a bit guilty at the thought of making one more sweet treat. So today’s mission was to make something that had some amount of nutrition hidden amongst its tastiness.

There is a chain of cafes that started in Calgary called the Good Earth, which I miss regularly. I see that they have expanded into BC and Saskatchewan, and can only hope that one day they will make their way to Ontario. Kingston’s closest equivalent would be the Sleepless Goat, but I almost don’t want to insult the Good Earth with the comparison. The Good Earth is always clean and comfy, while still maintaining a bit of a hippy vibe and serving healthy, earth friendly food. While the Goat is undoubtedly earth friendly, their lack of cleanliness seriously limits my visits there.  One of my favourite things from the Good Earth is a Morning Glory muffin, with one of their fabulous lattes made with fair trade espresso. The best breakfast!

With these muffins in mind, I trolled the internet for recipes, and came up with my own version of the muffin. I’m happy to report that they do the Good Earth proud, and came out beautifully domed and dense with healthy goodness. A perfect breakfast treat.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or whole wheat)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 apple – peeled and shredded
  • 1/2 cup sultana raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tbsp. ground flax seed mixed with 1 tbsp. water
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 12 muffin cups.
  2. Mix ground flax seed with water, let sit for a minute. Then add eggs and beat mixture. Stir in oil and vanilla, then add grated carrot and apple.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Gently stir in the wet ingredients.
  4. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

Broccoli Bisque

It’s officially that time of year: soup time.  You can make a pot of soup any day of the week and be guaranteed that your partner will walk in the door of their warm and cozy house and exclaim “that smells good!”  Kevin really likes this soup specifically, and the night I made it he exclaimed with glee: “I smell leeks!”

Although broccoli is the most obvious ingredient in this soup, I think leeks are actually the show stealer. They lend a mild oniony zip, without being overpowering. They’re a great base for the soup. Leeks are always a bit finicky to get washed and chopped, so I use a technique I learned from watching Jacques Pepin on PBS one lazy Sunday long ago. You cut the leaks into 4 lengthwise, but keep the root intact, that way you can easily wash them, and you don’t end up with strings of leek all over the place.

This soup recipe is my take on one that appeared a few years ago in the LCBO’s Food & Drink magazine. I really love reading Food & Drink, their photography is so lovely and the food so tempting. And I always find a wine or two that I want to try. My one beef with the magazine is that I find their food a bit inaccessible to the average person. Everything has too many ingredients, or obscure ingredients that you’ll buy for their recipe and never use again. I hate that, and generally cook nothing that I see in the magazine. One issue this year had tips for unusual drinks, and correct me if I am wrong, but I believe there was a bacon-infused vodka recipe. For a magazine that is free to the Ontario public, they might want to try to be a little bit more relatable.

However, one autumn issue had several easy-to-make soups, and this broccoli bisque was one of them. It has 8 ingredients, most of which you will probably already have in your fridge or cupboard.

Ingredients

  • 3 leeks, white and light green part only, chopped
  • 1 head broccoli, stems included, roughly chopped
  • 2 small Yukon Gold potatoes (or 1 large), peeled and cubed
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup light cream or milk
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Saute leeks in oil until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add in broccoli and potato, saute another few minutes. Cover vegetables with chicken stock, bring pot to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
  3. Using an immersion blender (or ordinary blender), puree the ingredients until velvety smooth.
  4. Add in cream, bring soup back to boil and simmer 5 minutes.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This soup is simple, but perfect. Which I think is the mark of culinary genius. I’m always happiest with meals I slaved the least over. This soup is great as a main, add some bread and cheese on the side and you’re set. It’s also a good first course, and because it is so unfussy, I think it would be a lovely start to a dinner party.

It keeps well, never forming that annoying skin that a lot of cream soups are prone to, and is thick enough to travel in your lunch bag without leaking. Make a pot for dinner one night, and you’ll have some lunches set to go as well.