Easy wheat baguettes

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When I started this post our stuff still hadn’t arrived yet, and I was really feeling the absence of my cookbooks and full range of cooking supplies.  I had all this spare time now, and I wanted to spend some of it baking, but we just had one small rimmed baking sheet and one 9 x 13 baking dish.  Oh, and a borrowed mixing bowl and a partial set of measuring utensils.  It was somewhat limiting, especially for baking.  Not long before we left though, Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” app was available for free download, so I at least have that.  It’s a pretty neat app.  I was browsing the other day and came across a recipe for Fast French Bread.  It’s super easy, and luckily, only required things I had (most notably a food processor).  I had to make some, obviously.

This recipe turns out a really nice loaf.  I adapted it just a little by using about half whole wheat flour and half white.  I felt virtuous making wheat bread, and imagine that the whole wheat aspect helps balance out all the butter I smear on.  The logical part of me knows better, but I ignore it, because we already have one philosopher in the house, and it’s not me.

Fast, Wheat, French Bread

3 1/2 cups flour – I use 2 cups white and 1 1/2 whole wheat
1 packet fast action yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 – 1 1/4 cups water

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  With the motor running, add 1 cup of water and process until the water is absorbed.  Bittman’s directions say to start with a cup of water and then add more gradually until the dough comes together in a ball.  I find that about 1 1/4 cups of water is usually where this happens.

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Transfer the dough to a bowl, or just remove the blade from the food processor.  Cover with plastic wrap or a dish towel.  Allow the bread to rise for at least an hour.  I’ve been giving mine about an hour and a half to two hours.  Then remove the dough and shape it into whatever bread shape tickles you.  I like to make two small baguette shapes.   I shape these by rolling them just like you would if you were making play-doh snakes, and place them side by side on a lightly floured rimmed baking sheet.  Allow the shaped breads to rise again.  I usually give them another hour, or until they seem nice and puffed up.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (gas mark 6).  Use a sharp knife to make slits in the top of the bread.  Place the bread in to the oven and immediately turn town to 375 (gas mark 5).  Bake until the loaves are browned on the outside and sound hollow when you tap them.  I find the 20-25 minutes is just about right for my two smaller loaves.  I also tried one large round loaf.  That takes significantly longer to bake, probably 40-50 minutes.

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Things I’m learning

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This week, I’m (starting) to work on learning my conversions.  Because I should have some idea what people are talking about when they speak of meters or liters, centimeters and grams.

I am also working on learning that just because it looks chilly or windy outside doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go outside.  We’ve had some truly lovely weather since we got to Scotland, but Fall is starting to peek out around the corners.  Here and there you can see the leaves starting to go yellow, and the wind is starting to pick up.  We’ve been told that the winters here are windy and damp, not generally bitterly cold or overly snowy.  But I’ve been spoiled by California and feel a deep reluctance to leave the house if it is anything less than glorious outside.  So this week I am working on breaking that bad habit.  Because it is still lovely in the evenings when the sun finally breaks free from the clouds and lights up the sea, even if I do have to wear a jacket.

In part because of the cooler weather, I finally got around to making a recipe that my friend had sent to me a few years ago.  It’s a kind of fry bread called Bannock that her family makes in Canada.  I never got around to making it in California, but it seems like a pretty perfect Scottish recipe.  It’s super simple, and very adaptable.  Great if you need something warm and comforting on the fly since the ingredients are very run of the mill.  I cut the recipe below in half and had plenty for two people.

Bannock

3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups milk (or water)
Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a large skillet on medium.  Form the dough into small pancake shapes.  My dough was very sticky, so I sprinkled a little more flour on top before shaping.  Fry in the hot oil for about 1 minute per side, or until the bread is a nice golden brown.
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For a savory bread you could add a clove of garlic, some small pieces of softened onion, or cheese.  For a sweet treat I like to sprinkle the hot bannock with cinnamon sugar.
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Adventures in UK baking

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Well, I officially live in Scotland.  That’s not something I ever thought I would say.  Every day it feels a little less like we are on vacation and a little more like we actually live here.  Although our house is still pretty empty.  We have one chair and an odd collection of mostly borrowed kitchen items.  Our stuff landed in the UK this past Friday though!  Now it just has to go through customs and make the relatively short drive up here.  Hopefully it will be less than two weeks now.

I’m getting used to my new kitchen and have been doing a lot of good cooking with my hodgepodge collection of kitchen things.  Things are smaller though.  The oven is more narrow that ones back in the states, and we only have space for an under the counter fridge.  These things I am getting used to.  I think we can make a smaller fridge work, and probably the oven too.  But my oven isn’t marked with the temperatures, not even in Celsius (not that I have any idea yet how those numbers relate to a temperature)!  Instead, it is marked 1-9.  1-9?!  What does this mean?  I mean, I’ve figured it out well enough to roast some vegetables.  But you can kinda estimate on that.  Do I want hot hot, medium hot, or a cooler oven for a longer roast.  Baking though, this is another issue.

After 2 weeks of good cooking I felt confident enough to try baking.  I thought I would stay with chocolate chip cookies, a recipe that I have had memorized since I was about 10.  Except they don’t sell chocolate chips in 12 oz bags.  No, they sell them in tiny 100 gram bags.  That equals about half a cup.  And the butter is not sold by the pound, but in 250 gram blocks.  So out came the kitchen scale (one of my first purchases) and I pulled up a conversion chart on google.  I thought I had it figured out.  I measured and I mixed and I got my cookies all spooned out (albeit on my smaller than usual baking sheet, holding a maximum of 12 small cookies).  Then came the guess about the number to set my oven at.  I had glanced at a site that said gas mark 4 was 350 degrees, so I nudged it just above 4 and hoped that would equal 375.  I checked out the cookies roughly 9 minutes later (they are supposed to cook for 12) and realized something was wrong, despite my efforts.  What I had made, rather than chocolate chip cookies, were chocolate chip crisps.  Thin, brown, and very crisp.  Now, don’t get me wrong, they are delicious.  Much more caramely than my usual cookies.  I think they would be divine for filled cookies, or ice cream sandwiches.  They are also good with tea or coffee.  They just aren’t my tried and true chocolate chip cookies.  So I will have to keep trying with this Scottish baking.

Does this sound like something that you need to eat?  Below is what I made.  Perhaps you’ve got some vanilla ice cream sitting in your glorious full sized freezer that needs to be used up.  I think this (accidentally) Scottish take on the chocolate chip cookie is just the thing you need.  ***Disclaimer – I’m not really sure why my cookies were so flat.  I’m guessing it’s either because the sugar is a bit coarser over here, or the butter has a higher fat content.  To attempt the same result, you might try either sugar in the raw or demera sugar, use a higher grade/higher fat butter, or just add a little more butter***

Chocolate Chip Cookie Crisps

4 oz butter, softened
75 g white sugar
165 g light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
145 g flour
2 g (1/2 tsp) baking soda
3 g (1/2 tsp) salt (Only if you used unsalted butter.  Omit salt if using salted butter)
200 g dark chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and sugars.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt if using.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and combine well.  Mix in the chocolate chips.  Scoop 1tsp balls (sounds small, but believe me) on to a baking sheet.  Cook in a 350 degree/gas mark 4 oven for 10-12 minutes.

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Grilled Zucchini with Brown Butter and Sage

ImageMy sage bush has been flourishing lately, so I decided I had better use some.  This is my first attempt.  It was delicious!

2-3 medium zucchini
6-8 leaves of sage, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt 

Slice the zucchini lengthwise into thick slices.  I got about 5 or 6 per zucchini.  Sprinkle with salt.  

Meanwhile heat up a grill pan over medium heat on the stove.  Once it’s hot, add the olive oil and one tablespoon of butter.  Once the butter has melted add the sage and swirl the pan to evenly distribute the butter and sage.  Add the zucchini, and cook for a few minutes on each side, until there are nice grill marks but the zucchini isn’t too soft.  Remove the zucchini to a plate and add the last tablespoon of butter to the pan just long enough to melt it.  Drizzle the butter and any remaining sage over the grilled zucchini.

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal

Well, it’s official.  We are moving to Scotland in August.  The philosopher got a job at University of St Andrews in St Andrews, Scotland.  And while I hate to leave California, I’m excited for the great adventures we will get to have in Scotland.  Not to mention how close we will be to other awesome places in Europe.

Then when I thought about how far away we will be from family and friends, I though that might be a good real to start back up the blog.  I don’t know how much time I’ll have to post until August, since I’ll still have the 3-4 hour daily commute, but I’m anticipating a much shorter commute once we get to Scotland.  Maybe less than 1 hour total!  That means I’ll have 2-3 more hours each day to fill!  Oh the possibilities.

This recipe isn’t very fancy, but it’s a yummy, filling, and healthy way to start the day, and should be good for those chilly Scottish mornings.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal

2 cups water
1 cup old fashioned oatmeal
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Bring water to a boil in a small sauce pan.  Add oatmeal and cook over medium heat until most of the water has been absorbed.  Stir in peanut butter and cook until the rest of the water is gone.  Remove from heat, stir in cocoa powder, and divide between two bowls.  Top with fruit of your choice, and a little honey or sugar if you prefer your oatmeal a little on the sweeter side.

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The Great Wedding Cake Adventure

Back in the dark days of unemployment I can across Smitten Kitchen’s series of blogs about her first adventure in wedding cake baking.  I was intrigued and excited, so when my best friend got engaged I asked if I could make the cake.  I didn’t really believe that she would let me, but she agreed.

Flash forward about a year later, and I was fully employed.  I still wanted to make the cake though, and tried out a few different cake and flavor combinations.  I thought we had decided on this one but then my friend called a week before we were going to fly back for the wedding and told me that her wedding had a much more Fall theme, and asked if I would mind making just plain yellow cake with vanilla frosting.  I did mind.   Not about the late change so much, but yellow cake with vanilla frosting just sounded so boring to me.  So I told her I would test it out and see what I came up with.

So I did some googling, and some consulting with some food blogs.  My friend was also having caramel apples and cinnamon roll cupcakes at the wedding.  I combined those flavors in my searching and came up with the idea to add a filling of apple cinnamon compote between the layers of the cake.  I was very pleased with myself for coming up with the idea to tie the cake to everything else, and still keep it simple but interesting.

I didn’t really alter any recipes, just pulled from different food blogs.  I borrowed Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for the yellow cake (here) and the recipe for swiss buttercream frosting she used for her wedding cake (found here).  The apple filling I found on this blog, and altered just slightly.  For the full wedding cake I multiplied it by 5.

Below is the recipe for the apple filling, as well as some pictures of the swiss buttercream preparation and cake assembly.  These are from the test cake, which was a two layer 8 inch round cake.  For the wedding cake I did two 12 inch layers on the bottom and two 8 inch layers on the top.  I ended up making 2 1/2 recipes of the cake batter, and using 12 egg whites in the frosting.  I had great intentions of taking lots of pictures of the actual process of making the wedding cake, but it turns out that it demands my full focus to make a wedding cake.  Who would have thought?!  I did have fun though, even though I was exhausted by the end.  I do think I could be persuaded to make a wedding cake again in the future.

Apple Cinnamon Filling

2 large granny smith apples
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
Peel the apples and grate with a box grater. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and cook until the apples are tender and there is little liquid left. Cool completely.

Whole Wheat Banana Nut Muffins

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup mashed banana (about 2 bananas)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 400.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Mix well and create a well in the center.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with a fork, and combine with the milk, oil, and egg.  Mix well. Pour the wet ingredients and the nuts into the well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Mix until just moistened all the way through.

 

Measure out into a muffin tin, prepared with either paper muffin cups or non-stick cooking spray.  Bake for 15 minutes if you are using a mini muffin tin, and 18-20 if you are making regular sized muffins.