Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bread and Cheese

Hey look!  I grew food!  Not quite a pound, but it's a start.  If the hookworms hadn't eaten my only (so far) ripe tomato, that'd be more like three pounds.  It was a big tomato... sigh.

Not only is bread and cheese an excellent, inexpensive, delicious, and quick meal... it's a good morning of activity.  I had a gallon of milk that had been purchased two weeks ago but had only been opened a few days ago and was barely dented.  I knew it was going to turn, and soon.  So, craving lasagne (as one does) I decided to make it into some nice ricotta.  It's pretty simple.

Add half a gallon of milk and the juice of two lemons (I used limes, actually) to a cold, cold saucepan.  Stir briefly.  Put on very low heat and add a thermometer with a temperature alarm (easiest) or regular thermometer.  Heat sloooooowly to 175°F.  This should take nearly an hour.  DO NOT STIR during this time.  when it reaches temperature, turn up the heat to medium and reset the temp alarm to 200°.  DO NOT STIR.  It should reach temperature in about five minutes.  When it does, remove from heat.  Let stand for ten minutes, then pour into a colander lined with cheesecloth (why do you think they call it that?  Hah).  Let drain for ten minutes, then refrigerate.  Sprinkle a little salt if you like, you're done.

I like to drain it over a bowl to save the whey.  It's really good for making bread... which leads me up to my bread-making portion of the morning.

Basic Bread

This is a recipe based on King Arthur Flour's Supermarket Italian Bread, and I was going to call my variation that, when I realized that what makes it Italian no longer applied.  I don't put on the sesame seeds.  I'm using whey instead of water.  Heck, it's technically not even bread, it's sandwich rolls because I portioned them out in 4.6 ounce blobs and made them into a hoagie-shaped roll.

The whey from the cheesemaking gives it a bit of sourdough twang, but not the depth of true sourdough.  It's packed with protein though which is why you can add extra moisture (I upped the whey by half a cup over the recipe's standard water) and still have a strong dough that will hold up under its own weight.


  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup dried potato flakes
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons
    instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm leftover whey, or 1 1/4 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (optional)

Place all the ingredients, in order, in the bowl of a stand mixer, or large mixing bowl. Stir the dough for two minutes on lowest speed or by hand.   Knead the dough with a bread hook or by hand for 5 to 8 minutes, until it's smooth and supple, adding more water or flour as needed. 

Cover the dough and allow it to rise for 1 hour, or until it's doubled in bulk.

For Italian Loaves, transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface and divide it into two pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth 16" log. Place the logs into the two wells of a lightly greased Italian bread pan, cover, and let the loaves rise until very puffy, about 1 hour.

For Sandwich Rolls, divide into eight pieces and roll into rough logs.  Sprinkle a half-sheet pan with cornmeal and lay out the rolls four across in two rows, flattening slightly into oval shapes.  Cover and let rise until rolls are puffy.

Slash the loaves or rolls diagonally, making 3 slashes in each, and immediately put them in the oven. Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for about 25 minutes, until they are golden brown. For the crispiest crust, turn off the oven, prop the door open, and allow the bread to cool in the oven.

So that's how I spent my day.  What have you been doing?  :D

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

School and Other Distractons

I am hoping this will be what's coming later this month... jars of pickles as far as the eye can see.

My daughter has been back to school for two weeks now, and the routine is starting to come together.  She's taking some kick-ass classes I wish I could have taken when I was her age (digital art and animation?  Yeah, our computers were all tied into a single console unit that was the size of a classroom; that didn't happen.)  I'm rather jealous.

The garden has produced its first pickle-sized cuke (I planted them really, really late) with many more on the way, and the ginormous tomatoes are finally starting to get some color.  I am a bit bummed that more of the blossoms didn't set with fruit... all those damn bees getting into my house, and a couple of them can't wander over to the garden and help with pollination?  Arg.

I spent last Thursday and Friday making jam... one batch strawberry-rhubarb, and one batch peach-apple.  Had a bit of trouble with the peach setting up... the apples did NOT help with fruit pectin in the least.  Had to process the batch twice.  Fortunately I am using my new Tattler reusable canning lids, so it wasn't a costly problem.  I only had to replace the non-reusable lids on the two jars I'm planning on giving as gifts.

I also managed to completely goober up my tea towels with sticky jam stuff.  Here's hoping they wash out.

One new piece went up on RedBubble, and fifteen fabric designs went "live" on Spoonflower.  Check em out if you like.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gardening Roadblocks

Inspired by the resounding near-success of my late-planted tomato and pepper plants, I have decided to put in a second-summer crop (most likely a marketing term, but what the heck, it fits) of cabbages and other brassicas.

I could NOT get my basil seeds to sprout this summer.  In fact, there are four spots in my new raised garden bed that I direct-sowed SIX TIMES and nothing happened.  Either my seed storage is terrible (a distinct possibility) and I killed my stash of seeds, or a certain company that will not be named has a terrible germination rate if the seed is older than one year.  I'm leaning towards the first one, since I also had seeds from a second company that failed to produce anything.

So what I did to remedy the situation was to take my culinary sprouting skills and apply them to garden seed sprouting, then plant the few seeds that sprouted in the jar.  And it worked!  They're coming up.

It's pretty sad, though, when I got better results from a bag of beans from the grocery store (a few white navy and kidney beans reserved before making a batch of Boston Baked Beans this week) than anything in my seed stash.  Maybe the porch where I keep my box of seeds is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, or maybe it's the weird humidity levels that yo-yo up and down, or maybe the stock I bought from both the unnamed internet company and my local Home Depot was old before I ever got it.  In any case, those empty spots are now almost filled, and hopefully the first frost will hold off till very late in November (our Texas norm is mid-November, so that's not unreasonable).

I had really, really wanted to grow my own pumpkins this year.  I love our local pick-your-own, but it is such a pain in the butt to get to in the summer for strawberries (cars are lined up for two miles just to get onto the parking lot, and that's AFTER they changed/updated their whole driveway and parking system) and the pumpkin patch situation before Halloween and Thanksgiving is only marginally better.

Yes, I have made my pumpkin pies from whole, roasted pumpkins.  And I'll do it again, because it's delicious.  And it's such a Real Food thing to do, doesn't take a lot of time (attended time, that is... the oven does most of the work), and you can feel good about the ingredients.  And it's a 1-to-1 swap of canned solid pack pumpkin to roasted pumpkin flesh.  Just lose the outer rind and mash it up or run it through a food mill.  Plus the whole pumpkins last in the "root cellar" really well, or the roasted mash can be frozen or canned in a pressure canner.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to September when the unnamed company will be shipping my seedling brassicas.  I didn't have much luck with their seeds this year, but the 50% off plants I planted in June are going nuts.  Here's hoping the trend continues.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Preparedness? Sure... in a healthy way

In sharing about my life, I'm pretty sure I've shared the fact that my daughter is on the autism spectrum, and that I strongly suspect I am also based on the reading I did after my daughter's diagnosis.  I have this weird mixture of craving attention and recognition while being completely anti-social.  And aren't blogs perfect for that?

I've been reading a lot of books lately, mostly because of Amazon's new lending program, Kindle Unlimited.  With a Prime membership you can check out ten titles at a time, turn them in when you're done, and check out more.  One at a time, or all ten at once, it makes no difference.

I cannot tell you how much money this has saved me, especially in the cooking, gardening, and prepper genres.  I no longer have to spend $10 on a title, only to find out the person has poor taste, poor writing skills, created a deceptive title for quick cash, or is Paranoid Beyond Belief.  Seriously, some preppers think the National Guard is going to be marching down our streets *tomorrow* grabbing the Big Macs and rifles out of our hands and making us stand in line to beg for a cup of rice.  Some of those people are freaking scary.

BUT... being the person on the spectrum that I am, I am a big enough worrier that I DO believe in being prepared.  I have no expectations about WHEN I'm going to need these things, but the scary preppers do, and that's the difference.  They're motivated by the panic that they may already be too late.  Me, I'm motivated by the adage "better safe than sorry".  To be honest, after living through Hurricane Katrina, then Hurricane Ike just a short time later, and a couple of instances where utilities just went out for days with no apparent reason (other than the local electric or water company was abysmally incompetent), I prepare because I do not like the feeling of scrambling to make sure my family stays healthy and fed.

I mean, what would you do if you opened the kitchen tap tomorrow, and nothing came out?  You'd run to the store and buy a jug of water, right?  But what if you're in the midst of an emergency, like a hurricane or storm watch, got to the store and it was all purchased already?  Or worse, the stores were closed?  You'd be standing in the yard with a bucket, praying for rain.  Not a happy feeling.

So I prep where I can.  I believe in having a pantry of food that you can draw from if your spouse loses their job.  I believe in gardening for your own food.  Not only is it therapeutic, but with grocery prices increasing on an average of almost 50% over the last five years, it's an economic necessity.  I still haven't managed to make rain barrels to capture and store water yet, but I plan to.  You'll get the necessity the first time you cut up a chicken, go to the kitchen sink to wash the salmonella off your hands, and nothing comes out of the tap.  Yeah, that was a fun day.

At the very least, I believe every grownup in America, whether you have a family or not, should have enough food in the house to live for at least a month.  Even if you are responsible enough to have money saved up in your account, if you lost your job tomorrow would you want to see that money dwindle away on food?  You may need that to go job hunting... new suits, running to Kinko's for a nice resume printing, or gas money.  Plus, canned or stored food can be more convenient than fast food when you're tired from hitting the job market.  I mean, it's already in your house, how much more convenient can you get?  And then if you haven't got a job by the end of the month, you will have saved money otherwise spent.  Am I right?

So I say be prepared.  Don't make me trot out the story about the ant and the grasshopper.