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Sunday, March 11, 2012

New (?) Direction.

   Hello, all! The next 15 weeks I will be embarking on a new direction--not only in life, but also in my blog.  As part of a class I am taking at ESC, I have to make periodic entries into this blog. Talk about being right up my alley! Imagine, having to jabber away about something I am passionate about; or rather being encouraged to post my stories of how the foods I prepare are woven into my family's life. I have entered the first stage of heaven.
Writing about cooking: that's me wrapped up in a nice little gift package.
   In celebration of my good fortune, I am embarking on a quest to make good meals for the family, as you all know, we eat dinner together most nights, but with classes starting, I need to find easy preparations that don't skimp on taste. The husband will be the first to notice if I get too careless and start serving packaged foods. And my ankles will show it, as well, as they start to swell from all the preservatives and sodium that makes pre-packaged foods so unhealthy. Both alternatives are to be avoided.
   So where do I start? 
   I think a crock-pot full of meatballs with homemade Italian bread are in order. Meatball heroes will serve both as a dinner and a lunch, or two, for the guys at the shop during the week. Yes, they are the extended family of guinea pigs for my escapades in the kitchen. (Insert evil laugh).
   Just so we are clear: I will not just serve meatball heroes for dinner, but will also serve at least a tossed salad, and possibly some fried artichoke hearts or cauliflower with a dipping sauce, followed an hour, or so, later, by some dessert fare. That, to me is a dinner; where just a hero is fine for lunch, or a Sunday evening supper after a dinner was served at two or three o'clock, although, we seem to have gotten away from the early Sunday dinners and evening suppers, as of late.
    The Italian bread recipe I use is so easy, especially for those who don't like to knead, or in my case, have trouble kneading--my hands cramp up after a few minutes, so I often did not get the dough fully kneaded, which resulted in less than fully risen bread-stuff. However, my darling spouse bought me a Kitchen Aid® stand mixer a few years back and now I do not have to worry about under-kneading. I use this recipe anyway, and it always comes out perfect. I have to give a shout-out to my friend, Donna, for this recipe, and technique, as since I got this recipe a year ago, I generally use only this recipe for all my loaf and round breads, as well as cinnamon buns and monkey bread. I use it so often, I don't even have to refer to the written instructions anymore.

                   Easy Bread Dough 
1/2 cup warm water--up to 117°F. Too hot and you will kill the yeast
1 package instant dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons)
Add the yeast to the water. Stir and set aside.

In a 2 cup measuring cup add:
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (aids in rising)
2 tablespoons butter (unsalted) melted
Mix together until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add yeast mixture (which should be a little foamy on the top). Stir.

Pour the mixture into the bowl of your Kitchen Aid® and add 3 cups of unbleached white flour. You can use 1 cup of whole wheat in place of 1 cup of the all purpose flour, if you wish. I have done so several times, but you might have to "tweak" the amount of water or flour as you proceed. Turn the mixer on to stir in the flour. You will notice it looks like doing this by hand, as you make a well in the center of the mound of flour, add the liquid and slowly work the flour into the liquid until you have a soft dough. If you are doing this by hand, turn out onto floured surface and gradually add more flour, kneading in after each addition, until you have a nice firm, but not stiff dough, that is not sticky. If your dough is sticky, knead in more flour; if it is too stiff, you will have to add some more warm water, but if you knead in the flour slowly this rarely happens. The recipe says you will use between 4 and 5 cups of flour--we all know this depends on the humidity of the day, and the room. Flour can be very thirsty one day, and the next, not so much.I have never used more than 4 1/2 cups of flour, and most of the time I only use 4 cups. .
   Once you have the right consistency, knead dough (if by hand) for one minute, let rest 10 minutes, covered. Knead another one minute, rest another 10 minutes, again covered. Divide into two parts, and shape into your desired shape. Place on greased sheet pan, cover with greased plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, let rise in warm place until double. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack. After completely cooled you can wrap tightly in plastic, but do plan to use it within the next day or two. There are no preservatives in homemade bread, so it will mold sooner rather than later. Hey, there is the lesson within a lesson for the day--if it takes a long time for your store-bought bread to mold--there are plenty of preservatives in it and therefore should be avoided in the future.
    Now, I do a slightly different procedure with the kneading as I use the stand mixer. I knead in the flour gradually, and once I get the consistency I am looking for I let the mixer knead the dough for about five minutes, then put it in a greased bowl and let it rise for about an hour and half, until double, then I shape it and let it rise again until double. I use either an egg wash (one egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water) or swab the loaves with olive oil, sprinkle with sesame seed, and sometimes granulated garlic and bake as directed.
  The shaping is where you can get inventive. I found the best thing to do is to roll out the dough into a rectangle and roll up from the short edge very tightly, sealing the edge and ends. It comes out exactly like Italian bread from the Italian bakeries I remember as a kid when I visited relatives in downtown Brooklyn. Who knew? I certainly didn't but now that I do, I almost always use that method and between the recipe and shaping method I have never been disappointed.
    Rolling the dough out is how you make the cinnamon rolls, also, slathering butter, and sprinkling cinnamon and sugar over the dough before rolling and slicing into individual rolls. Place in a greased round cake pans. Use butter, cinnamon & sugar across the top and bake away. The aroma, whether it be Italian bread or the cinnamon rolls is absolutely divine. You can top the cinnamon rolls, fresh out of the oven, with icing made of 1 cup powdered sugar, about 1 tablespoon of milk, and a drop of vanilla. Add the milk by 1/2 teaspoons til you get a consistency of while glue--you know the stuff that you used in school in the squeeze bottle. The icing will melt and cover the top. Let it cool a bit before you attempt to bite in--hot sugar is about the same temperature as the surface of the Sun. Trust me on that one.
   Of course, I digress, yet again. 
  Here are a couple of photos; one of the risen dough; and one of the formed loaves waiting to rise. Of course, I got caught up again in life and failed to get photos of the risen dough, and the cooked bread. Naturally, because I served it for dinner before continuing this entry there is less than half a loaf left, so I will not tease you with that but will post my next results, if I can keep life from distracting me.

    Love when dough does what it is supposed to do!
  I forgot to mention that you also slash the top of the dough every two inches or so across the top.

   You should give this recipe a try if you want to try some homemade bread, it is by far the easiest recipe ever! Feel free to post your results too, as I would love to hear how yours come out.
   Until next time--enjoy!