Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Beer Breads

I know a number of folks who have never made a loaf of bread - preferring to pay 3 to 4 times the cost to buy a loaf in the store.  Now, frankly, we don't always have time, especially if you have jobs and children. Certainly, in my house, the occasional Aldi loaf shows up at my house to make sandwiches.

Baking yeast bread takes time and a little practice.  THIS bread does not.

You only need six ingredients. There's no kneading, and it's pretty hard to screw it up.  Plus - it involves buying beer and you have to figure out WHAT to do with the 5 cans you DON'T use.

Beer Bread - crusty and buttery on the outside and tender and slightly sweet on the inside, it's perfect with soups, stews, or just a light supper of grilled chicken salad.

Mix in a very large bowl

3 cups flour (sift it or gently spoon into the cup or you will have a doorstop)
1 Tablespoon Baking POWDER
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 can beer (I used MGD - as that is what Partner likes for a post-lawn mowing beverage but any light beer or ale will work).  One can of American beer is 12 ounces.  If using something else measure out 1 and 1/2 cups of beer.

Spoon into a bread pan sprayed with non-stick spray.

In microwave - melt 3 Tablespoons of butter and pour over bread and place in preheated 375 F. degree oven.

Bake for about 50 minutes.  The crust should be brown and knife inserted into the center should come out clean.

Want to take your beer bread up a savory notch as it reduces the sugar and adds freshly grated sharp cheddar (no this is NOT low fat but it's high on taste and just a small slice will satisfy).  Sharp Cheddar Beer Bread.

Cheddar Beer Bread
3 cups all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon  (rough estimate) cracked pepper 
1 cup grated sharp  cheddar cheese (serously, use fresh, big difference than the packaged stuff)
1 bottle room temperature Sam Adams beer or other light ale

1/3 cup butter (NOT margarine) melted

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a  large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Add the beer all at once, (use a big bowl as it WILL foam up for a moment) mixing just until blended (the batter will be slightly lumpy). 

How do you get that wonderful buttery, crunchy edge to it?  (Please send your arteries to the next room).
After pouring  the batter into a 9″x5″ loaf pan that has been sprayed with nonstick spray, (you know, to save calories :-) microwave 1/3 cup butter and pour that melted gold over the top of the loaf, swirling it around in the pan so the whole top is covered. 

Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until top is dark golden and a thin knife or skewer poked into the middle comes out clean (mine took 45 minutes).  Cool a bit on a wire rack.

One final version that is GREAT with beef stew in the winter or bangers and mash with Guinness Veal reduction and some stout mustard. (For the mustard mix:  2 Tablespoons Guinness, 1/4 cup each whole-grain and dijon mustard, 1/2 minced small shallot and 2 teaspoons brown sugar).

NOTE: f you are vegetarian, Field Roast Branch makes a delicious soy free apple sage sausage that will work with a veggie gravy (it does have gluten though).

(Use a Wilson 1M or 1B cake decorating tip for the fancy schmancy potatoes)

Guinness beer bread. Using my first basic beer bread at the start of this post replace the beer with e1 and 1/2 cups and add 1/4 tsp rosemary to batter.  Bake as directed above.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Quotes for the Day

“No great thing is created suddenly.”Epictetus

Caution: Cape does not enable user to fly.-- Batman Costume warning - Unknown

Thursday, January 11, 2018

On Sustenance - Home Ec Memories

How many of you that visit here remember seeing or taking  home economic classes in school in 70's and early 80's? After that it became gender neutral "bachelor living" where one learned how to make dip out of Velveeta and use Velcro. (I had to figure out Southern biscuits with peppered bacon gravy on my own).

The whole "home economics" idea, which in my day was only for female students, was not intended to make women a slave to the kitchen but rather came about from a change in how women shopped for their family.  Before the 19th century, except for the most privileged of the wealthy, women were producers of household items, including food and clothing, rather than consumers. So the early home economics classes focused on education for purchasing decisions, as well as health and hygiene in the home. What actual knowledge was imparted was often  limited  though, by school budgets and the quality of the teachers.  I have friends of my same age group that learned nothing more than how to make things out of hamburger and cans  Not in my home ec class. We learned to make things the way generations ago did.
I had the grand dame of home economic teachers, Miss Heidenreich. She was in her sixties, never married. She was sparsely thin and about 7 feet tall but perhaps that was just my recollection in 7th grade.  At first, we were all sort of afraid of her, she was so tall, straight and stern, she just loomed at the front of the classroom, there in a grey dress.  But then we watched, at least I did, as she moved as she talked, gathering raw materials of food or cloth, coordinating the efforts.  Then, when she demonstrated the finished product of what she wanted us to do, the look in her sparkling blue eyes was one of not just joy, but quiet triumph.

I recognized a bit of that.  Most of us were lucky in that we were raised by Mom's themselves raised in the 40's and 50's when money was tight and things were made to last. My Mom came through lean times in the Depression, her Dad killed in a logging accident, with no insurance, leaving a widow and three kids to feed. My grandma somehow got my Mom through college, unheard of in that day, wherein Mom got a job that paid enough to put her two younger brothers through, while Grandma worked full time as well.  She and my grandma both then, learned to work with that same efficiency of movement,  that might be considered detached would you not recognize it as simply being the beautiful efficiency of machinery.
My grandmother would not even recognize a grocery store of today and my Mom would be appalled at the quick and cheap clothing made that falls apart within a few months of wear.  She made all of her and my clothes herself, except for jeans and T-shirts, my sweaters hand knitted as well as an assortment of scarves and winter hats.  There was also an assortment of 70's crocheted vests that looked to be more for hanging a houseplant, than for wear, but that was the fashion.  Those clothes did not wear out but were cleaned, pressed and handed down to a younger cousin (except for that one dress that ended up with a bicycle tire track up the back, and no, don't ask).

If an item of wear, needed repair, Mom knew how to do it.  I however wasn't too keen on learning.

You see, I liked to cook, because, I like to eat.  I'd spend hours with my Mom, helping prepare the meal, if only to set the table while I watched her work. To me, cooking was like playing with the chemistry set, how fun to see how things are formed, how ingredients interact and take on whole other forms, and even better if you can eat the results.   But I had no interest in sewing, crocheting or knitting, making decorative pillows or embroidering a tea towel. I'd rather be out in the shop with my Dad or playing with model trains or control line aircraft. To say that I discovered that if you don't FEED your Betsy Wetsy Doll, she doesn't wet, gives you some idea of my mindset with "girl stuff".
I did make a valiant effort to knit a winter neck scarf for my Dad. But that was just because I loved him.  After several months, ripping inferior work out and starting over again, and again, I had a piece only 3 x 5 inches square.  I gave up, knitted the edges together and it became a tube dress for someone's Barbie.

Let's just say I was not too excited about Home Ec. that first year, though I respected my teacher as I was taught to.  I just kept quiet, and sewed my silly pink apron with my name embroidered on the pocket.  I did buttons and hems, though I got a D in "snaps" just because I was obstinate.  I learned how to darn a sock.  I sort of giggled at that, as in my home you said "darn" instead of "damn".  Actually "damn" would have been the more appropriate word to what I did to those socks.

But Miss Heidenreich taught us all of the basics. Unlike other classes, we weren't learning how to make casseroles with soup or 101 ways to use canned Crescent Rolls. The cooking was not anything out of a can, and there were some things we learned to make that were not very popular with us.  What 8th grader wants to make and eat stewed prunes or unseasoned boiled chicken for meat and broth.  What about brownies and pizza? But later, many years later, caring for the elderly, such things came in useful.  I could cook for restricted diets, I could make bread, I could make a white sauce instead of an expensive can of cream soup. I could make a variety of economical dishes with just a bit of meat or eggs or beans for protein.  I could make a cake missing key ingredients, butter, milk or eggs. (but not all three, that is known as a hockey puck).
Miss Heidenreicht would watch constantly, bright but insulate, letting us make our way, only stepping in when flames were involved, or there was a need to staunch blood.  But she was not popular with all the students as she was a stern task-masker, expecting you to work hard, to listen and to apply what she had taught you. She taught like my parents taught, but not all kids had the benefit of that experience.

She frowned on idleness and those girls that wore jeans to school, instead of neat slacks or dresses.  She dressed plainly, her dresses unadorned but for a bit of lace or a small necklace of pearls, the fabric starched into submission.  But she was not unkind, not even batting an eye when one jean-clad girl came in with green hair from a "let's add some ash blond highlights at home" disaster, only offering her extra praise for her strudel to keep her from crying.  Based on Miss Heidenreich's age, I only understood as an adult, what hardships she may have seen as a  young woman, Depression-era families sometimes starving, only the strong, resourceful and skilled surviving and thriving. It made me think differently of her home economics class, and what I came away from it with.

She was my teacher just that first year, retired and replaced by Mrs. Potter, of whom I have no real memory but for a friendly smile and the "Dante's Nine Circles of Hems".  By Ninth Grade, I'd learned enough, I thought and put in a bid to take Auto Shop instead of Home Ec.  That was met with a resounding slam of a car door.

I made my case, I knew how to make dinner, I needed to know how to change my oil and pack a wheel bearing. I was told I needed to take the "girl" classes. Shop class was only for boys.  I was told I was stubborn, I believe the term "as a mule" was heard (to which I pointed out to the administrators that unlike a horse, a mule is too intelligent to break its leg for glory running in a brief, pointless circle).  I was shot down, though there was one female friend and classmate, now an engineer, like her father, who won out and got to attend the agriculture class where she castrated a calf in a moment which gave me hope for the next generation.
So I dutifully sewed my outfits, made taffy and tarts and finally in the last sprint for independence, opted out of most of my courses, taking them at the local college, going full time in the summer.I wasn't old enough to drive but I made it there by bike and by bus or Dad's trusty steed.  I was indeed the only college freshman in a "training bra" (don't get me started on how that term started, it's not like you train them for tricks or anything "Sit",  Stay!", though getting older, they do know "roll over").

My days of home ec were over.  At the time I was happy for that, yet now, I wish I'd paid more attention, as more skills of prepping and preparing as well as knowledge and the economies of the kitchen would have served me well as I entered my 20's and 30's.

This Sunday morning, I'll be lighting the fire of a 70-year-old stove that's DIY maintenance and upkeep. The house will be cold, extra blankets used at night instead of bumping up the heat.  As the stove puts heat into the back of the house, activity picks up as if propelled by the increasing warmth. After reflection, prayer and thanks, there will be a plumbing project to finish, bread to be baked, and somewhere, a sock or two that needs damning.  Outside, branches scrape and rasp against the house, the frost on the window a portent to how cold it can be for the unprepared, as winter light lay upon the ground like a pale scrap of starched grey cloth.
But like many things in homes I've lived in before, I could afford to pay to have someone do all of this, buy all this. But I choose not to. I and my family would rather do more for ourselves, with minimal help from others, putting our money into tangibles which will keep us housed and safe, where days of struggle to survive, of sparse broken meals, do not threaten.  I  find such great satisfaction in saying "I made this"  or "I saved this much",  making something out of nothing, building not a house, but a home with pieces of the past, carefully mended, and always treasured
I look at all the blogs out there, many on my sidebar, of men and women, resourceful people, who have learned how to grow, store, can and prepare healthy meals for themselves or their family; manage land, tend a farm, some with help of other family members, some completely on their own, even as they teach these skills to others. Their skills aren't limited to the kitchen but include the field and the workbench. I have learned a lot from them, to add to what skills I grew up with.
Taking care of your family, your needs and safety, with no handouts and your own resources and skills is something to be admired.  All are things I wish were still stressed in school now.  Those that learn themselves, the men and women that do so and then pass on that knowledge to others, give me hope for the future.  I do think Miss Heidenreich would be proud.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Science and Bacon

Bacon!! Buttermilk Bacon Waffles

The basic waffle batter recipe comes from the talent of Andrea Greary at Cooks Illustrated. But, like always, I had to experiment with it, adding a couple of things. You know, like bits of brown sugar caramelized bacon

I've had readers comment, what is it with you and waffles (or pancakes?). It's comfort food for me, Mom making them for dinner, with farm fresh bacon on the side when the budget was really tight. As kids we loved it. Still do. But I can't abide the metallic taste of the frozen ones or the limp ones that result from many recipes.

These buttermilk waffles not only have BACON, but they are crisp, fluffy and light, but not insubstantial.

The secrets?

It's the most basic of science. The melted butter in the recipe is replaced with oil. Butter is 16% water which contributes moisture to the inside of the waffle, which on removal from the iron will start softening your crispy texture immediately. Additionally, with less moisture IN the waffle the outer surface will reach a higher temperature faster, giving the waffle crust more time to form. The result? Crispy golden brown outside, soft fluffy interior. You won't miss the butter taste but this simple trick will keep your waffles from turning soggy.

We've got the crisp outside handled, what about the inside? Most gourmet waffles use whipped egg whites to get that fluffy center, as the whipping adds millions of little air bubbles to the batter.

But whipping egg whites is a repetitious, monotonous task involving time and repeated motion. You've got better things to do, you know, like process that pile of .40 brass in the Dillon press.

As C.I. instructed, replace the whipping the eggs step with seltzer water (not sparkling water, it's not bubbly enough). Using the seltzer with powdered buttermilk powder inflates the batter the same as a chemical based leavener, without the metallic taste. The little bit of baking soda keeps the buttermilk/seltzer mixture from being too acidic to brown the waffles.

The recipe makes 8. Enough for you and yours and an extra, slightly cooled, one to fling off the porch like a Frisbee for Abby Normal the rescue Lab.  She doesn't understand science, but she does like a good waffle.