0712 First Zucchini Bread of the Summer

I was home sick today – something didn’t agree with me – the sort of sick where it took approximately 30 minutes to get started on anything, whether that was a nap or lunch or knitting or an episode of Gossip Girl.  Somewhere in there I decided to use up one of the bonus zucchinis from Juli in a loaf of zucchini bread.  There are approximately 400 dozen recipes out there, but for the first zuke bread of the year, I tried one from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook, one of the oldest cookbooks in my collection, and a frequent reference point when I’m trying to figure out what to do with unfamiliar or excess veg.

Unlike my Moosewood cookbook, though, these recipes only occasionally taste virtuous.  You know what I mean, right?  Swap out the fat for applesauce, the sugar for rice syrup, and you’ve got yourself a pale imitation of a cookie.  I should know.  I baked a couple dozen of these earlier in the year.

This bread, however, verged on the virtuous and remained extremely moist after the bake and cool time – to the point that I considered giving it what Mollie Katzen calls the biscotti treatment.  While I happily snacked on the bread and greatly enjoyed how wonderfully it made the house smell, I’ll be trying a different zucchini bread next time.

Zucchini Bread
Adapted from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook

1 1/3 cups flour (preferably whole wheat)
2/3 cup bran
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon round cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup nonfat buttermilk
3 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 medium zucchini, peeled and shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)

Preheat your oven to 425.  Lightly grease a 9×5 loaf pan with butter or non-stick spray.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, blend together the buttermilk, egg whites, vanilla, and shredded zucchini.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just to combine.  Pour into prepared loaf pan and bake 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

(Squash math: down to 1!)


0515 David Byrne Day (Observed)

In lieu of a local wedding reception, and also in celebration of the birthday of our favorite Talking Head, we threw a party tonight and called it David Byrne Day (Observed).  We’d been anxiously watching the weather given the omg constant rain, so were delighted to have a beautiful day and clear night for grilling and campfire sitting.

But before I get to that, let me tell you about what we did earlier in the day!

First, we got up and drove to WCCC so that I could run the Washtenaw County Start! Heart 5K .  Last night’s sausages and polenta proved to be excellent fuel, and I logged my best 5K yet, although I don’t think the distance was actually 5K.  To celebrate, we grabbed breakfast at Beezy’s, where Shane overheard a fortuitous conversation: a sever had spotted a moped at a yard sale!  So off to the yard sale we went, returning home with a non-running $100 Suzuki FA50.  Shane spent a good part of the afternoon poking around at the ‘ped, while I camped out in the kitchen and prepped for the party.

I never know how much food to make for parties, especially potluck-y cookout-y type parties.  You always end up with too much of this and not enough of that, with way too many buns and not enough condiments, etc.  The thing you decide not to make is always what someone else also forgets.  We decided to just do a variety of things, knowing that a cake and other delicious treats would be coming with our guests.  Worst case scenario? We order a pizza.

No pizza was necessary tonight, though!  We had tiny pork burgers – made from our pork, ground by me – on homemade dinner rolls topped with delicious pickled red onions.  The roll recipe was supposed to make 24 and instead made 40, so we have a bunch of delicious yeast rolls for the freezer.

Rolls + rolls

I also made cole slaw with the remaining cabbage from last weekend, and a lovely and simple asparagus crostini that disappeared within the first half hour of the party.

Asparagus crostini

In addition, friends brought salads, lots of grillables, homemade bread and prosciutto, dulce de leche ice cream, and a totally beautiful wedding cake (pictures forthcoming).  We ate well, and then we sat around the fire and talked until late.  It was a fantastic evening.

(One of these days I really will talk about our wedding.  I promise.  We’re still working on the photos, and I want to be able to show you guys instead of just telling.)

Pork Sliders With Pickled Red Onions from Moogie & Pap
Pillow-Soft Dinner Rolls from Taste of Home

0501 Avalon Bakery

We had very good intentions of going hiking today, but the early morning thunderstorm followed by the late morning rain made venturing out for five miles an extremely muddy and unpleasant prospect.  At Shane’s suggestion, we instead hopped in the car and took a spontaneous trip to Detroit.

We both recently read this article from Vice (of all places) that decries the obsession with Detroit “ruins porn” – the exploitation of a city that has seen better days, but still contains vibrant industry and culture.  I have to admit – on our first trip to Detroit a few months ago, we were pretty amazed at what we saw.  It was a grey and blustery day, and it’s hard not to be struck by the Michigan Central Station or the site of buildings falling into disrepair, especially in such weather.  Look at a little closer, though, and you’ll find scenes like this:

This is the Detroit that people should be seeing

This is the Detroit that people should be seeing

Things are growing in Detroit.  Things like gardens with chickens in them in Cass Corridor.  Things like vibrant little bakeries where you can grab a snack and watch the (bread) magic happen:

Making the Magic Happen

We’re big fans of Avalon International Bakery, as I might have mentioned. Their breads are sold at Plum Market and at the co-op – somewhat more affordable than Zingerman’s with little difference in quality. By that I mean: a great crust, a great interior, perfect for sandwiches and toast.

Even though we’d just had ridiculously good brisket at Slows, we split a peanut butter brownie and an iced coffee and watched two bakers divide, weigh, and shape an immense pile of dough into beautiful little loaves. It was a lovely interlude in a very nice afternoon – I only wish that Avalon were in our neighborhood so that this could be a regular thing.

The Best Poet...

0410 Make Along Bake Along

For some reason, I decided it would be a good idea to participate in a 24 Hour Make-Along just one week before our wedding.  Don’t ask me why.  Shane had a bunch of projects on his slate as well, so today turned into a full day of puttering, baking, bottling, moped-ing, and knitting.  I didn’t finish everything I intended to do – but I did make a few damned good treats!

First, I took on yogurt.  Why would I make yogurt when it’s comparably in/expensive to buy in the store?  Because Olivia makes it look so damned easy!  And also because I like the idea of making my own dairy products – I’ve made cheese in a couple of forms, so yogurt seemed like a good next step.  The process started with some science up in the kitchen:

Making yogurt

The milk took FOREVER to get to the appropriate temperature, but eventually it hit the mark and was ladled into Ball jars and tucked first into an ice water bath, then into the Crock pot-cum-incubation chamber, where it hung out for the rest of the day.  It’s not the best yogurt I’ve ever had, but it definitely is yogurt, and I’m looking forward to eating it with preserves or peaches that I canned last summer.

THEN – actually simultaneously – I made crackers.  My friends and I had these really delicious house-made curry crackers with a warm goat cheese dip at Schlafly Bottleworks last weekend, and I’m determined to crack the recipe.  I figured it best to start with a regular cracker, however, so I tried this recipe from a basic baking cookbook given to me a couple of years ago by my aunt.  This was seriously so easy, even though it did require buying a giant tub of vegetable shortening.  (Apparently the stuff only comes in giant tubs?  Or so it appeared.)  The cracker dough is pulsed together in the food processor, then rests in a big lump for an hour before getting rolled out thin and baked for about 12 minutes.  My crackers went into the oven looking like this:

Crackers before

And came out looking like crackers:

Crackers after

Real crackers!  Like from a box!  Now all I have to do is figure out the right seasoning for the curry crackers – oh, and avoid eating every cracker in the house.

Finally, I took on pita bread again, this time using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  Right now it’s hanging out in the fridge, waiting to be baked tomorrow morning for A Very Smitten Kitchen Breakfast.  Fingers crossed for a good result!

Seeded Crackers from Williams Sonoma Essentials of Baking
Yogurt from The Kitchen of Olivia
Pita Bread from Smitten Kitchen

Bread Love

Our friend Chris asked for my bread recipe, and since I’ve been raving about baking bread, I thought I’d also post it here.  I won’t promise that it’s foolproof – but it’s solid and not precise, which is probably what makes it solid for me.  This recipe is from Jamie’s Dinners, and has been slightly adapted to reflect my experience of making it at least 15-20 times in the last 3-5 years.

For a single loaf:
~3 C flour
1/2 oz yeast
~1 1/2 C warm water
1 T sea salt
1 T sugar

Put the flour in a mixing bowl and create a well in the center.  Add half of the water, then pour the yeast, sugar, and salt into the water in the center of the well.  Combine slowly, adding enough water to make shaggy dough.  I do this in my mixer with the dough hook – you can also do this by hand, but it’s a little messier.

Turn out onto a floured board and knead until lovely and elastic – about 5 minutes if you’re doing it all by hand, about 2 if you’re just finishing off the kneading started in with the dough hook.  Place in oiled bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise until doubled.  In the winter, I turn the oven on to the lowest temperature and place the bowl with the dough on the counter right next to it to make sure there’s enough warmth to help the dough rise.  This usually takes around 40 minutes.

Turn out dough again and work into the shape you want it in for baking.  The instructions say to knead again, but I find that just moving the dough around into loaf shape (or whatever) is enough to get the right texture.  Place in loaf pan (or however you’re going to bake it) and let rise another 30-40 minutes.  I like to line my baking pan with parchment or wax paper as it makes removing the loaf INCREDIBLY easy.  Seriously, this is the biggest improvement in my baking in the last month.  It’s like a dream world improvement over what I was doing before, which was just greasing the pan.  Preheat the oven to 375.

Bake ~40 minutes at 375, or until thumping the bottom of the pan produces a hollow sound.  Remove the bread from the pan and let cool on a baking rack.  If you used the parchment paper, this is dead easy – it should just lift right out.  Slice and enjoy!

I have had baking mishaps with this recipe, but I think the flexibility has made it way better for the way that I bake.  If the dough is wet, you can add a bit more flour.  If it’s dry, add more water.  Etc.  The more you bake, the more you’ll get to know the way it should look and feel, and then it’s really easy to make small adjustments.  There’s also the no-knead method – but this has been so reliable and so rewarding for me that I don’t see any reason to go another way.

baking day

Today I’m baking bread and cookies. I got up early and made the bread dough before work and did the kneading on my lunch break – good timing cos I had a bastard customer right before I went to lunch. He made me so angry that my hands were literally shaking. I just wanted to scream! Instead I took deep breaths and helped the customer – and then came home and abused my bread. The bread looks OK – I haven’t tried it yet – but it is making my kitchen smell remarkable.

State of the Union address tonight. President Bush is saying good things – but will there be follow-through?

I spent today reading Another Girl at Play. It is such an amazing site – but also somewhat depressing for someone like me, wanting to follow her dreams but not knowing what they are – dying to live a creative life but stuck in the routines of a job that I don’t dislike but that systematically and thoroughly stifles the creative urge. Go there. Read the stories. They’re amazing. You will feel better about your dreams – and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get that glimmer of hope that’s needed to break out.