There are few virtues a man can possess more erotic than culinary skill.
Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses
by Isabel Allende

Starting in November of 2009 Michelle at the Big Black Dog formed a group to bake its way through Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg. I loved Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, so I signed up with the group. Michelle first had us do a couple of warm-up assignments, which were my first attempt at blogging. The first "Official" post was on January 15, 2010, and it was followed by 41 more, on the 1st and 15th of each month. When I signed on I said I would bake the whole book, and like Horton (the elephant) I meant what I said and I said what I meant. I finished baking the book on October 1, 2011. Having completed that challenge, now I am just going to do some stuff, and post about it. As part of that stuff Michelle is posing a new, and different, challenge for us each month.

I am still baking bread, mostly the Five Minutes a Day kind, and if you would like to try the Five Minutes a Day bread method there are some links, with recipes, in the right hand column to get you started. Please give it a try.

But first, a word from my sponsor . . .
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One person, Greg Craven, has suggested changing the question from "which side is right" to "what is the wisest thing to do given the uncertainties and the risks involved?" To me, this seems like a very productive way to refocus the conversation. So, if you are confused about, concerned by, or interested in the issue of global warming please take a few minutes to watch his VIDEO. If you find it interesting or helpful, please pass it on to others.

This day be bread and peace my lot.
Alexander Pope

How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?

Julia Child

Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.
Yiddish proverb
(And some are only half baked.)

There is no love sincerer than the love of food.
George Bernard Shaw, via Sharon

Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.
George Herbert

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dried Plum Bread Redux (39.1 of 42)

I still had some dried plums and the better part of a bottle of dried plum juice left from making the Brown Rice Prune Dried Plum Bread for the last assignment.   I hate to waste anything, so I suggested to my Trophy Wife that, at her age, she might benefit from eating the prunes and drinking the prune juice.  But that suggestion was not at all well received.   I was just trying to look out for her welfare.... 
Anyway,  my second thought was to make more of the Brown Rice Prune Dried Plum Bread.  The only problem was that I was not planning to make brown rice for anything. 
So my third thought was to make a batch of the Master WW recipe, but use 3 cups of dried plum juice and 1 cup of water for the liquid, just as in the Brown Rice Prune Dried Plum Bread.  I also decided to add the chopped dried plums. 
When I made the Brown Rice Prune Dried Plum Bread I had felt that I had not gotten the dried plums chopped finely enough.   The dried plums are sticky, and not easy to chop finely.  So I measured my flour, then put some of it in my food processor.  I added the dried plums and tossed them to coat with the flour.  Then I pulsed the dried plum/flour mixture until I got nice small pieces.  It worked great--the flour kept the dried plums from sticking and clumping.  Then I dumped it all back into the bowl and proceeded with the recipe.  
First, I made a batch in a loaf pan.  It worked out really well.  I sliced the whole thing and froze some to use for toast.
 Then I made English muffins.  I formed them then put them on parchment paper to rise.  Then I used the parchment paper to get them onto the griddle. 
 They turned out well, too.  And again, we ate some and froze some.

So if you have some leftover dried plum juice, you might want to give this a try. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Brown Rice Prune Bread and Toasted Millet and Fruit Bread (39 0f 42)

Still Life with Dragon Tongue Beans

Like the last assignment, both breads this time have fruit in them, and this time both have whole grains as well.   I baked  the Brown Rice Prune Bread first.  If you suffer from Beriberi or constipation, or both, this is the bread for you!  But from a marketing standpoint Jeff and Zoë should perhaps have eschewd the "prune" moniker.  Wikipedia notes that
Dried prune marketers in the United States have, in recent years, begun marketing their product as "dried plums". This is due to "prune" having negative connotations connected with elderly people suffering from constipation.
So, since I am neither elderly nor costive (too much information??), I baked Brown Rice Prune Dried Plum Bread.  

In addition to the diced dried plums the majority  of the liquid  in the dough (three-fourths of it) was dried plum juice (which sounds like an oxymoron).  Thus, while whole wheat flour often mutes the flavorings in some of our bread, I thought that the dried plum flavor was fairly pronounced in this bread.  It is a matter of person taste whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.  
My first loaf was a batard, and it baked up nicely. 


If you look closely, you can see the grains of brown rice (which was cooked before being incorporated into the dough) in the slices.

I baked the rest of the (half) batch  as a loaf, using a new smaller loaf pan I got.  It is 7 1/2" by 3 3/4".  I got it to better fit a half of a half batch (or a quarter of a full batch).  It is not non-stick, but I sprayed it liberally and had no problem.

The first bread had whole brown rice in it, the second one has whole toasted millet.  Millet is usually used in this country as bird food or animal forage, but in other parts of the world it is a staple food grain.  According to Wikipedia, millet has been cultivated for over 10,000 years and, like several other grains we have used, is an important food crop in many areas of the world due to the fact that is can be grown in difficult conditions, especially drought. According to the article, "palaeoethnobotanists hypothesize that the cultivation of millets was of greater prevalence in prehistory than rice, especially in northern China and Korea."  The article observes that
some of the earliest evidence of millet cultivation in China was found at Cishan (north) and Hemudu (south). Cishan dates for common millet husk phytoliths and biomolecular components have been identified around 8300–6700 BC in storage pits along with remains of pit-houses, pottery, and stone tools related to millet cultivation. Evidence at Cishan for foxtail millet dates back to around 6500 BC. A 4,000-year-old well-preserved bowl containing well-preserved noodles made from foxtail millet and broomcorn millet was found at the Lajia archaeological site in China.
Millet has the same amount of protein as wheat, but no gluten.  It can be ground into flour but the Wikipedia article notes it is also often eaten as a porridge, especially in Russian, German and Chinese cuisines.  Millet can also be made into beer!   Speaking of beer, I heartily recommend A History of the World in 6 Glasses which traces the historical impact of beer, wine, tea, coffee, distilled spirits and Coke.  The book is fascinating, and includes this tidbit from the 1996 annual report of The Coca Cola Company:
A billion hours ago, human life appeared on earth.
A billion minutes ago, Christianity emerged.
A billion seconds ago, the Beatles changed music forever.
A billion Coca-Colas ago, was yesterday morning.
This is no longer true of course.  According to a company fact sheet, Coke now sells 1.7 billion servings a day.  

Back to millet, to make millet porridge you toast it and then cook it in liquid until it is soft.  Mother Earth News had an article about Millet, Tap the Culinary Wisdom of our Ancestors: Discover Millet, with several recipes, including one for Sunshine Millet Porridge with Apricots and Carrots.  Millet is also great as a side dish.

I have many loves in my life.  I love my Saintly Wife.  I love my beautiful and brilliant daughters.  And I love my Rice Cooker.   In The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook: 250 No-Fail Recipes for Pilafs, Risottos, Polenta, Chilis, Soups, Porridges, Puddings, and More, from Start to Finish in Your Rice Cooker the authors  suggest first toasting a cup of millet in a dry skillet until it starts to darken a bit and the grains begin to pop, 4-5 minutes, just as we did for this bread recipe.  Then dump the millet into cold water, swirl it about and drain it.  From there it is into your rice cooker set on the regular cycle with 1 3/4 cups of water and a pat of butter.   I have made this, and it is really very good.   If you do not have a rice cooker--get one!  And the above cookbook to go with it.  But you should be able to do the same thing stovetop, and since you already have the millet for making this bread, give it a try.

In addition to the toasted millet this bread calls for mixed dried fruit, and the recipe suggests small whole fruit--raisins, craisins, and dried cherries.  So that is what I used.  When I mixed the dough it seemed pretty wet, but the dried fruit absorbed some of the liquid and it was a good consistency on Baking Day.  I baked both loaves of this bread at the same time, one free-form and one in my new loaf pan. 

Both came out nicely.  The millet was a bit crunchy and the fruit mix was nice.  And as you can see, there was a lot of fruit.  We deemed this bread a success. 
So that is it for this time.  39 down, only 3 to go.  I know you are having a hard time waiting for the big finish, but you will just have to do as Miss Carrot--sit quietly with your legs crossed.  And no fidgeting.  

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bran Muffin Bread and Oatmeal Date Bread (38 of 42)

 (This is a photo of one of my glads--after a bout with Photoshop)
A friend of mine, John, who was in China at the time, tipped me off to a really neat talk on TED by Nathan Myhrvold.  It is about his new cookbook, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking.  Myhrvold is a former Microsoft chief technology officer.  His twist is that he likes to cut stuff in half, to show how things work.  Unlike my glads, above, he actually cuts everything in half, no Photoshop!

Before you run out to pick up a copy of Modernist Cuisine, you might want to take along a wheelbarrow.  The book is in hardcover, six volumes, 2,438 pages, weighs 40 pounds and has a list price of $625.  So you would need the wheelbarrow both to carry your cash to the store and to carry the book home.  (You can get it from Amazon for about $475, which not only saves you $150, but it qualifies for Free Super Saver Shipping!) 

But talk, as they say, is cheap, and in this case the TED talk is free, and is worth watching for the cool pictures, especially the popcorn and the ballistic gel.

Included in the book is a recipe for a 30-hour hamburger.  
 The Wall Street Journal has a cool Interactive Guide to the burger. 

I would observe, however, that 30 hours to make a burger makes 5 Minutes a Day for Healthy Artisan bread a real time-saver, and a pretty great deal since the HB in 5 book lists for about $600 less than Modernist Cuisine.

Now on to the baking.  Both breads this time are more like quick breads or nut breads, but healthier.  And we thought both breads were excellent!

The first bread I baked was the  Oatmeal Date Bread.  In addition to the dates I also added the optional nuts, so this really was a nut bread, and it was very, very good.  The first choice in the recipe for the Oatmeal was Steel-Cut Oats, which we just love.  According to Wikipedia, "Steel-cut oats are whole grain groats (the inner portion of the oat kernel) which have been cut into only two or three pieces by steel rather than being rolled. They are golden in color and resemble small rice pieces."  I use Steel-Cut Oats to make oatmeal in my rice cooker--1 1/4 cups oats, 3 cups of water in the cooker the night before, then cook on the porridge cycle.  My rice cooker has a timer, so it is ready when we are. (As a side note, I have noticed that adding some dried fruit, dates are good, or a bit of oil seems to help control the foaming and potential overflow in the rice cooker.)  Steel-Cut Oatmeal is easy to make stove-top too, however, they just take some time to cook.  Putting them to soak the night before can help. See, for example Steel-Cut Oatmeal.   The Wikipedia article notes that "[t]he flavor of the cooked oats is described as being nuttier than other types of oats, and they are also chewier."    We concur.  

This bread is baked in a loaf pan, and in the spirit of  Modernist Cuisine, here is my cut-in-half loaf pan.
  And here is the finished product. 

The second loaf was the Bran Muffin Bread.  As is our wont, although I cut the recipe in half, I kept the spices, in this case cinnamon and nutmeg,  at full throttle, maybe even a bit more, since the whole grain can mute the flavors. In addition to the spices the recipe called for raisins, but I think other dried fruit would work well too.  This recipe used a higher proportion of AP flour to WW flour, and was enriched with eggs and oil and sweetened with maple syrup and molasses.   The resulting loaf, which was baked freeform but at 350 rather than 450, was very tender. 

Since I had so far only used half of each batch of bread, I used the balance to make mini loaves.

I had formed the dough for the first loaf of the Oatmeal Date Bread right after it was finished rising, and put it in the fridge overnight so I could make it first thing in the morning.  When I went to use the second half it had gotten much more dry and stiff.  I think that the whole wheat and the oats must have absorbed more moisture as it sat.  I worked in some more water to loosen it up a bit and help it rise, but you can see that the two Oatmeal Date loaves of the right still did not rise quite as much as the Bran Muffin dough. 
They all tasted good, however.

In addition to the baking for this assignment, I also baked a loaf in my mini-wood-fired-earth-oven (Beta), which you can see at Baking 5 Minute a Day Bread in a Wood-fired Earth Oven.  In addition, I baked a baguette on my gas grill!  Jeff has a video on the AB in 5 site,
New Video: Barbecued Baguette on the Gas Grill for the DogDays of Summer, and I followed his directions.  I really recommend that you give this a try.  The bread turned out great, and was quick since there was no rising time and it baked grilled in less than 20 minutes (I grilled mine for 16 minutes: 6 on the first side, then I turned it over and grilled it for 10 more).

  So that is what I have been doing on my summer vacation.  And now we have just 4 assignments to go, so those of you who have some catching up to do, you know who you are, you better get busy.