Thursday, January 26, 2012

Baking: Whole Wheat Birdseed Bread!

One of my resolutions for the new year was to not buy loaves of packaged bread for the house. Atkins? you ask. No, I simply want a little more control over what is in my bread, to limit packaging some and I like the challenge. 

One great book I have been using is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Their method of bread baking is to mix up a batch of dough that hangs out in your fridge and is ready when you are. You do have to allow time for the bread to rise; once when the dough is initially mixed up and once before baking. The "hands on" time is quite limited. I have been using their recipes to make loaves of delicious bread, sticky buns, pizza, calzones and more. They're really wonderful! The instructions make even the beginner baker feel confident. You can do it; give it a try!

I LOVE their whole wheat bread recipe! I have found too many whole wheat bread recipes that taste like a brick...not great for converting folks to the high-fiber virtues of whole grains! This one is hearty but still soft. The original recipe is great as is, it is also delicious with added nuts and seeds; I've added pecans, flax, almonds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and sunflower seeds....hence birdseed bread!

100% whole wheat sandwich bread 
(that doesn't taste like a brick)

Makes 3 1.5lb loaves (my bread pans must be big because it makes two for me)

1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast (two packets)
4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup honey
5 tablespoons vegetable oil (neutral flavor)
6 2/3 cups whole wheat flour

1. Mixing and storing the dough. Mix the yeast, salt, honey, and oil with the milk and water in a  5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
2. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with a dough attachment), or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with a dough hook).
3. Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top); approximately 2 to 3 hours.
4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 5 days.


5. On baking day. Lightly grease a 9 x 4 x 3-inch non-stick loaf pan. Using wet hands, scoop out a 1 1/2 pound (cantaloupe-size) handful of dough. This dough is pretty sticky and often it's easiest to handle it with wet hands. Keeping your hands wet, quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
6. Drop the loaf into the prepared pan. You want to fill the pan slightly more than half-full.
7. Allow the dough to rest for 1 hour and 40 minutes. Flour the top of the loaf and slash, using the tip of a serrated knife.

Rising...hanging out with my super cool Kitchen Aid mixer :)

8. Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with an empty broiler tray on another shelf that won't interfere with the rising bread. If you're not using a stone, the preheat can be as short as 5 minutes.
9. Place the loaf on a rack near the center of the oven. Pour one cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until deeply browned and firm.
10. Allow to cool completely before slicing in order to cut reasonable sandwich slices.

All done and ready to be sampled! Yummy!

Super Soup-er Leftovers: making an old meal new!

After having a few bowls of my delicious pumpkin black bean soup, I was getting a little tired of the repetition. How to spice things up? I added some chicken. I simply popped some chicken tenders into my super grill pan and cooked them until they were no longer pink in the center. I placed a pot lid over the chicken to speed things up. Once the chicken was cooked, I cut up a few ounces to top my last bowl of soup with. This was a great way to make the old meal seem new!

Vegetarian? No problem! Try some veggie chick'n strips, sauteed tofu or a few chunks of sharp cheddar cheese for variety.

What will I do with the rest of the chicken? I don't know yet. I do know that they'll be ready when I'm hungry, making eating well simple! They can be tossed with some fresh veggies and salad greens for a light but filling salad, wrapped in a whole grain tortilla with tomatoes and avocado or even chopped in a salad with whole grain couscous and Mediterranean toppings such as tomatoes, black olives, artichoke hearts and cucumber. The possibilities are endless. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

Recently I whipped up a batch of Rachel Ray's Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup. It is really simple to pull together and is super delicious.

I didn't deviate much from the original recipe, but I did make a swap to lower the fat content and used lower-sodium (ie salt) options where I could. 

Here is what I used;

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cups canned or packaged low-sodium vegetable stock, found on soup aisle
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) low-sodium diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed (lowers sodium)
  • 2 cans (15 ounces) pumpkin puree (found often on the baking aisle)
  • 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated low-fat milk
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder, 1 palm full
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1/2 palm full
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, eyeball it in the palm of your hand
  • Coarse salt
  • 20 blades fresh chives, chopped or snipped, for garnish


  • Heat a soup pot over medium heat. Add oil. When oil is hot, add onion. Saute onions 5 minutes.
  • Add broth, tomatoes, black beans and pumpkin puree. Stir to combine ingredients and bring soup to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to medium low and stir in cream, curry, cumin, cayenne and salt, to taste.
  • Simmer 5 minutes, adjust seasonings and serve garnished with chopped chives.

The original recipe called for 1 cup of heavy cream, and while that version would be delicious, it would also be bad for the waist line! Instead of the cream, I used canned condensed milk; this lends a nice creamy texture, without all of the saturated fat. Another option I've used that works well is the fat-free half and half, found near the milk in the grocery store.

Nutrition note: while it is a good idea to lower saturated fat and trans-fats in recipes for our health, it isn't wise to avoid all fat. Fats play many important roles in our body and they also help with the absoprtion of other nutrients.

In this recipe, the pumpkin is loaded with beta-carotene, a fat soluble provitamin to Vitamin A. This means that our body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A. However, our body doesn't have access to the beta-carotene unless it has been absorbed. For this reason, I left the olive oil in the soup instead of substituting vegetable spray.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Welcome Worms!

My worms were fashionably late to join the composting party I had thrown for them, but what can you do? They arrived today in a box with a "perishable" sticker on them. Yup, don't want to kill the worms!

I open the box to find the worms contained in a draw string bag. It doesn't look like there are a lot of worms in the bag, the the box also contained a letter that explained worms lose a lot of weight while being shipped and will be back to their "old selves" within a few days.

I took off the lid to the composting tower I had set up last week and gently placed the worms inside. Then, of course, I had to play with them a bit. When I held the ball of worms, it felt like when you go to the beach and hold a live sand dollar; you can feel the tiny movements of the worms like the feet on the sand dollar, but you can't actually see much.

The instructions said not to try to scatter the worms; they'll find their way on their own. I tucked them under the newspaper bedding and welcomed them home. Man I am a nerd...but a happy nerd :)

To another corner of the tower, I added the food scraps I've been saving for the past couple of days. My booklet said that the biggest mistake is to feed the worms too much, and that is a tendency I have anyway with people guests, I wonder if I did that with my new worm friends. We'll see.This system is not supposed to stink; if you have bad smells it means something is wrong...stay tuned!

The last thing I did was add another empty tray on top of the "working" tray and fill that with dry shredded paper. This was one tip I read to discourage fruit flies from leaving the compost and then dying. Fingers crossed!
All set! I'm officially composting in the city!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Composting in the City: Vermiculture

As someone with a green thumb and a strong love of fresh and local vegetables, I have enjoyed my time spent on various gardening projects. How to take it up a notch? Compost!

I have been eyeing this worm tower for years, but as a student and then a world traveler for a year, it wasn't the right time to commit to raising a worm family. Now, the time has come!

The tower is a pretty cool system to compost your food scraps and other biodegradable stuff (hair, junk mail, tea bags, etc) without having to do much work. You start with one tray, fill it with the bedding that the instructions recommend and then once your worms arrive, start feeding the house scraps to them. When the tray is full, you add another tray on top of the old one and the worms crawl up towards the new food. You continue adding new trays occasionally until you've run out (I got five) and by that time, the bottom tray should be filled only with compost. You simply empty that tray onto your garden or your potted plants, refill with new bedding and add to the top of the stack. Voila!

My worm tower arrived and I quickly assembled the few loose pieces; the bottom tray to the base and the nozzle and then sat down to read the instructions for setting up the worm bedding. Since I just got the email that my worms have shipped (E.T.A. Friday), it is time to roll out the welcome mat!

First step was to line the bottom tray with newspaper so the silly worms don't fall out the bottom.

On top of the newspaper, I sprinkled coir that I had rehydrated in water and then squeezed out to leave it damp. 

Worms love egg shells and leaves, so I added those too and then mixed the bedding all together. I may have been trying to remember the lines in Macbeth; Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

On top of this layer of bedding, I added shredded newspaper, covered this with a few more pages of damp newspaper and put the lid on top.

I am excited to start composting and to live in better alignment with my earth friendly values!

I went to three stores after work today in search of an "official" composting bucket...but alas, January in DC is not the best time to find this treasure. Too bad. For now, I'll use a pot!

So far I've collected coffee grounds, onion skins, pepper seeds and a tea bag. Hope my worms are ready for a feast!

As a side note, my roommate Jesse Reilly spent two years on rural South Africa volunteering for the peace corps. One of his projects was making a worm farm! Check out his blog :)
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