Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thank you, Mr. Lahey

So, here is what this bread tastes like: You know when you and your sister are sitting on a park bench in Paris and eating your lunch of some fantastic cheese you can't pronounce, those huge French grapes with the seeds in them and a loaf of crusty, chewy bread? And you just keep eating the bread, knowing that you'll walk it off this afternoon when you hike up to Montmartre and climb the steps at the Sacre Coeur? And it's so good and you're a little sad because you know they don't really have bread like this so much back home and that you'll never be able to bake it in your own kitchen?

You know?

THAT'S what this bread tastes like to me.

First, HUGE shoutout to Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC. This is his method and recipe and I think he's a genius. The New York Times had an article about this no-knead bread revelation back in 2006, and I've been hearing about it off and on since then but had never made it until my friend Kathy showed up at my house with the recipe photocopied from Lahey's bread book (her husband John has been baking the bread recently). Thanks, Kathy and John!

This is SO SIMPLE that even if you have never made anything more complicated than a fried egg in your life, you can do this. For real. All you need is a bowl, a spoon, flour, salt, yeast, water and a dutch oven or a big round covered casserole dish.

Oh, and about 24 hours.

That's secret #1 to this bread. You have to let it sit and rise for somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-18 hours. The second rise is 1-2 hours, but there is no kneading involved.

Secret #2 to this bread is baking it, covered (half the baking time), in a really hot dutch oven or the equivelant. I've read online about people baking it in a good, big, covered casserole dish. The covered part is essential because the lid traps in the steam from this really wet dough and forms the crispy, crackly crust that is so awesome.

So, here's the recipe:

No-knead Bread

First, figure out when you want to eat the bread and start the bread about 24 hours before that. 24 hours will give it enough time to rise, bake and cool before serving. It doesn't take quite 24 hours, but if you want to be on the safe side...

3 cups bread flour (I was using some high-gluten flour because I had it on hand, but the NY Times article says that regular all-purpose flour works fine, too)
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
1/4 teaspoon yeast (yes, that little)
1 1/3 cups water
additional flour, wheat bran or corn meal for dusting

Here are the directions, copied exactly from Mr. Lahey's book, "My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method." (I think I might have to buy this book...who knows what else this guy has to share?!)

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix it until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Make sure it's really sticky to the touch; if it's not, mix in another tablespoon or two of water. (Abbey's Note: I found I had to add more water both times I made it, more like 3-4 tablespoons.)
Cover the bowl with a plate, tea towel or plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature (about 72 degrees F), out of direct sunlight, until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size. This will take a minimum of 12 hours and (my preference) up to 18 hours. This slow rise - fermentation - is the key to flavor. (A.N.: Mr. Lahey mentions elsewhere in the book that in the dead of winter it might take 24 hours for this first rise.)

2. When the first fermentation is complete, generously dust a work surface (a wooden or plastic cutting board is fine) with flour. (A.N.: I just used the counter.) Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough onto the board in one piece. When you begin to pull the dough away from the bowl, it will cling in long, thin strands (this is the developed gluten), and it will be quite loose and sticky - do not add more flour. Use lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula to lift the edges of the dough toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough under to make it round.

3. Place a cotton or linen tea towel (not terry cloth, which tends to stick and may leave lint in the dough) or a large cloth napkin on your work surface and generously dust the cloth with wheat bran, corn meal or flour.
Use your hands or a bowl scraper or wooden spatula to gently lift the dough onto the towel, so it is seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, corn meal, or flour. Fold the ends of the towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1-2 hours.
The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, making an indentation about 1/4 inch deep, it should hold the impression. If it doesn't, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F, with a rack in the lower third position, and place a covered 4 1/2-5 1/2 quart heavy pot in the center of the rack.

5. Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel, lightly dust the dough with flour or bran, lift up the dough, either on the towel or in your hand, and quickly but gently invert it into the pot, seam side up. (Use caution - the pot will be very hot.) Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.

6. Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15-30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or potholders to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly. Don't slice or tear into it until it has cooled, which usually takes at least an hour. (A.N.: I only waited about half an hour the first time I made it, until I couldn't resist any longer...)

Doesn't that look easy? It is. And it tastes right, with that sort of burnt flour taste on the bottom crust. It's so chewy, too - my jaw got a little tired working through the crust, but I LOVE it! It was even good the next day, after having been stored in a plastic bag. I ate most of the leftover loaf with next Weight Watchers meeting is not going to be a good one. Oh well.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Not from a bakery...seriously!

I made this bread! All by myself! With no fancy equipment! And it was the easiest bread I ever made!

And it was so good!!!!!!

I am very enthusiastic about this...can you tell? I forgot to take pictures of the whole process so I'm making it again tomorrow and will do a post about the whole thing.

I'm in love...(with this new recipe).

Monday, March 29, 2010

In training

I love this photo of Owen reading Shel Silverstein to the kids this past weekend. They were transfixed.

He's going to be a great dad.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Taste of childhood

So, growing up, our mom tricked us into thinking certain foods were treats that do not really qualify as such to most of the world. I remember thinking that a dish of home-grown alfalfa sprouts with some tomato juice poured on top was the bees knees. Hold on to your hats if we had some ranch dressing in the house - woah! That was amazing on sprouts! A bowl of frozen blueberries with a little sugar and cream (skimmed off the top of the gallon of milk that came straight from the farm) poured on top could be mashed up with a spoon to resemble ice cream(ish). And a personal favorite of mine was a glass of V-8 juice with a spoonful of brewer's yeast stirred in. What is brewer's yeast, anyway, Mom? I just know it came from the co-op store and was supposed to be good for you. I have no idea.
Anyway, I decided to make another childhood favorite for dinner tonight - buckwheat groats. It's a rather unfortunate name. I'm sort of thinking of re-branding them as just "cooked buckwheat." The "groats" moniker isn't doing them any favors in the PR department in my house.

I just love groats - excuse me, cooked buckwheat. They are a great comfort food, in my book, and they're good for you as they are a whole grain, and they are so good with butter and salt. However, my dear husband is heavily (heavily!) opposed to this seemingly innocuous little grain, mostly because of their smell when they are cooking. I love the smell - I think it's a wonderful, nutty aroma, but Curtis feels strongly that it is more akin to wet dog. So, it's a bit of a difference of opinion.

The kids were sort of divided on the issue. Dexter had two bowls (well...maybe one - a lot ended up on the floor) and Betty had a LOT. Kathryn and Viv ate most of what was in their bowls with only a minimal amount of threatening from me. At one point, I explained to Kathryn that they were "super good for you" to which she replied that she was "super not a fan of groats."

She also made a big show of calling them groats in a way that it was clear she was communicating "gross" instead of "groats" without actually switching the words. Grrrr.

So, blah. Maybe I'll just cook groats when no one else is around. Or maybe I'll have to figure out how my mom tricked us into liking weird healthy foods and give it another shot with my family.

If anyone cares, here's how we cook buckwheat (groats).

1 cup toasted buckwheat (available at health food stores)
1 egg
2 cups water
Mix the egg into the buckwheat in a bowl. In a pot or saucepan, heat a little oil (1 or 2 teaspoons?) on medium-high heat. Dump the buckwheat-egg mixture into the pot and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly. The idea is to get the egg cooked and have all the individual grains separated and sort of dry, like this.

Add 2 cups water, reduce heat to low and simmer with a tight-fitting lid, like rice, for about 20 minutes or so, until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork, add butter and salt, and send your husband out of the house if he can't stand the smell. Mmmmmm....

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Good times

So we had a great time at Dex's second birthday party. He loved all of it (even if he didn;t understand some of what was going on). He loved playing with his cousins, opening presents, eating lots of potato chips (it was his birthday...), playing Pin the Caboose on the Train, hugging his new stuffed dog (thanks Charlotte!), blowing out his candles and eating cake.
Having such a great time at the party made me glad for all the effort I had put in to preparing for it, and glad for the stresses I avoided. Really, though, a huge THANKS goes to my awesome brother Owen and his awesome girlfriend Marci. They helped so so so much with the prep and keeping the kids occupied while I made this enormous train cake (helped muchly by Owen - he carved out the engine and did a bunch of other stuff).

How do you like this - it's a veggie train instead of a veggie tray - hah! Nicely done by Marci and Owen.

I know a lot of people say they have the best family and friends in the world, but in my case,'s true.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Party prep

I've been working on Dexter's birthday party for the last few days. I found these train die-cuts at the Dollar Tree (it's a train-themed party). Cute, huh?

Although I've been mostly enjoying the party prep, I've been much is too much? I mean, I don't spend tons of money (really...not much at all) but I think that sometimes I decide to take on more than I can easily do (without getting sleep deprived and grumpy).

A few nights ago, as I was sewing the party bags together out of train fabric, Curtis and I had a little discussion about the whole party bag "thing." Neither one of us had party bags when we were kids...nobody did. Now, I feel like I'm not doing the party right if I don't have one. And I know I do this to myself; I know they're REALLY not neccessary in order to have a fun party. My kids have gone to parties where they have gotten cool party bags, and that think that's great, but they've also been to parties where there were no party bags and they never once mentioned missing the party bag. On the one hand, I think the party bags are fun; I like to make them, I think they're cute and I like to give the kids a little treat. On the other hand, I wonder if I'm over-complicating things and contributing to the glut of "stuff" that kids have these days. I have really tried to pare down the party bags over time, but I still wonder...

I don't know. I think my new philosophy (out of sheer necessity...I have four parties a year to plan, and will probably have five in the future!) is to only do what I need to do so that the kids feel special on their birthday and so that their guests have a good time. Anything I feel like doing on top of that will be a bonus. You know, if I'm not too tired and have the time and really want to do it.

In that spirit, I'll be serving pizza THAT I ORDERED FROM THE PIZZA SHOP at this party, and will never again attempt one of the extremely time-consuming and stress-inducing party menus that I have in the past. (Like when I made four different kinds of fondue at Viv's second birthday party - ????? NOT necessary.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The little things

So, Betty was crying and crying (at times even moving into the screeching category) this morning, and it wasn't entirely clear why. Teething? She missed her siblings who were playing outside? Even holding her wasn't helping, though when I finally put her down (because she is getting pretty heavy these days and if she's going cry regardless of whether I'm holding her or not, then...) she seemed to ratchet UP the hysteria.
Anyway, at my wit's end (I so understand that phrase now), I gave her a box of tissues to play with.



Lots of ripped up tissue bits on the floor, but I can handle that.

It's the little things, I guess.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Easter decor

I finally took down the Valentine's decorations a few days ago. I know...Valentine's Day was over a month ago. I thought they were so cute, plus, I was lazy... Anyway, we now have Easter decorations up. I'm not as in love with my Easter decorations as I am with some of my other holiday decorations. I made these eggs a few years ago and I think they're just ok.

Vivian was explaining a new game to me this morning (some kind of a game to celebrate Owen and Marci's new baby) and she was telling me in what order people would play this game and why. Each reason was something good about that person, and although I can't remember everything she said, here's what I do remember:

Iris, "because she's my best friend"
Isaac, "because he's friendly so much"
something about Jenni's smile
Nain, "because she gives me food at her house"
Taid, "because he gives me hugs"
Sherry, because she lets us play at her house"
Kathryn, "because she's my sister"

She had a few more that I didn't catch, and then she ran out of steam when Kathryn kept reminding her of all the various aunts, uncles and cousins she had missed. She said that was it! and that no one else could come and play. I think she got overwhelmed by our sheer numbers. Can't imagine why.

In other news (news? it's not that interesting), I've been working on some sewing projects lately.
The banners for Evan and Jenni's wedding.

A baby girl quilt for a friend

Thursday, March 18, 2010

She's famous!

So, Mary was on "The Good Wife" a few weeks ago but you couldn't really see her too well- she was in the back and kinda fuzzy.

But THIS week - she's a superstar! She was on "Ugly Betty" and, as you can see, she was right behind the star of the show, America Ferrera (Mary is the redhead, in case you didn't know). I think she looks gorgeous (of course).

She's got some more stuff coming up - another episode of "The Good Wife" and an HBO show in the fall called "Boardwalk Empire." She plays a 1930's-era prostitute in that one - ! No lines on any of these shows yet, but it'll come. She's workin' it!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Pat's

I actually forgot today was St. Patrick's Day until breakfast. I had sort of planned on a green-themed breakfast, but it was a little late by the time I remembered...the kids were already through their toast and well into their yogurt. Nothing green there.
I asked Kathryn what green food we should have to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and she thought for a moment..."Well, spinach is green, but it's not that celebratey." True.

I decided to try my hand at Irish soda bread. I've neither eaten nor baked it before, but I figured I could handle it. It really wasn't hard and I had everything I needed except for the buttermilk, which I picked up at the store on the way home from the dentist (AGAIN...yuck) along with some cute little potted shamrocks.

The bread turned out great. The recipe is here I, however, used butter instead of margarine and used about 1/2 the amount of melted butter and buttermilk for brushing on the top.

It really was good, especially warm from the oven with butter. But really, what isn't?

I also made some broccoli cheese soup. It was...sort of green. I got the recipe at also. It's a great site. Don't judge me for the Velveeta it calls for. I use Velveeta about twice a year in soups like this and I always feel like I'm buying condoms or something when I pick it up at the store...I try to hide it underneath my produce and whole wheat bread and hope no one sees me. So ridiculous.

Anyway, it was good, too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Laundry swimming

I went to get the kids dressed this morning and realized I had tons of clean laundry and couldn't find a THING for them to wear. Nothing was folded and it was just in piles, all confusing-like. So, I hauled several baskets out of the laundry room and onto the kitchen/living room floor. I left the room for a minute and came back to nearly naked kids "swimming" in the laundry. At least, that's what they told me they were doing.

Here Kathryn was being the lifeguard and saving Viv.

They had even set up a chair to be the lifeguard's chair and our little coffee table was the diving board.

Immediately after this shot I instituted a "no jumping over Betty" rule.

Dex did an impressive cannonball.

Betty just loved the whole show.

They jumped and swam for a good half an hour until I actually found complete outfits for all of them, wrestled them into them and shooed them outside to play. It was a gorgeous day!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Library and paper bag puppets

I rarely, rarely, ever venture out of the house alone with all four kids. It's just too much. I honestly think I've done it fewer than five times, and at least two of those were for doctor's appointments that I absolutely had to take them all to because Curtis was in court and not able to watch them.

Anywho, on Wednesday I decided to take them to the library for story hour. I've done it a few times in the past but not since Betty was born. Kathryn has been asking to go again for a while so...I gave in.

Trying to get them all dressed in time for 10 a.m. story hour...oh boy. You've heard of the phrase "herding cats?" Well, try getting those cats in clean underwear and shoes. Holy smokes.
So, we walk into the children's area and...oh dear, I forgot about the craft! They always do a craft after the stories and there it is, all laid out on the table, the paper cutouts, the crayons, the glue sticks. How am I supposed to help three kids with a craft while holding Betty, who never lets me put her down?!

Well, thank heaven for other mothers with fewer children than me who kindly helped the girls stick on their elephants' tusks and fished the glue stick cap out of Dexter's mouth.
The girls had so much fun making their paper bag elephant puppets that today they asked, ever so cutely, if we could make puppets here at home. So, we did.
Dexter enjoyed the buttons. Big jars of buttons are fun.
(Check out that goose egg on his forehead. He was jumping on the bed after bathtime a few nights ago and crashed.)Really, buttons are fun. The girls just kept glueing and glueing them on. Less is not more for these kids.
Fun, huh?
And, just because she's cute. So tired after our trip to the library on Wednesday! I'd just fall asleep like that if I could, too.