Saturday, January 26, 2008

Road Trip to Belfast

Yesterday dawned bright and beautiful, albeit quite cold. Having developed a wee bit of cabin fever with all the inclement weather in the past month, but it still being too cold and breezy to venture out for a walk, we decided on a road trip to one of our favorite towns - Belfast. On our way there, we had to cross the new Penobscot Narrows bridge. It has a viewing tower which we might just have to visit next spring or summer.

Of course, a trip to Belfast had to include a visit to their wonderful grocery store, Hannaford. We have a Hannaford in Ellsworth, but nothing like the scale of the Belfast store. We wandered through the Belfast Hannaford like two country bumpkins, looking much like Ma and Pa Kettle in the big city. The store is so bright and clean and all the displays made our mouths water; the cheese case was full of exotic French bries, sharp Irish cheddars, nutty Swisses and Gruyeres, Italian Fontinas, Parmesans and Romanos. We were in cheese Heaven!

We bypassed the bakery as we have learned the secret of fine, crusty artisan breads, thanks to the "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" method, but oh, the wine selection stopped us in our tracks to peruse the bottles of ruby red Cabernets, the dark Merlots and Shirazes. The Aussie Chardonnays caught my eye, but in the end, I selected an unassuming Glen Ellen, which, truth be told, is more in my budget and my untrained palate appreciates it just as much.

On we moved next door to the Ocean States Job Lots store. This is a place much like Big Lots in the Midwest, showcasing a variety of unrelated items. One of those places that you might find nothing on one day and hit a bonanza on another day. Yesterday was a good find day. I had been looking for a new bird feeder as the one we've had for the past five years had been severely mangled by a bear a few years ago. I had cobbled it back together with duct tape and wires cut from a wire clothes hanger, but it was truly just hanging on. I found the exact same one at half the price I had paid for the original. YESSSSSS! I do love a bargain. Anyway, we found quite a few neat little purchases and wended our way back home, smug in our parsimonious trip.

On our way back home, we came across some cute signs along the road. Some expressed my sentiments exactly, so I had to take a few pictures.
I wonder if Anthony Perkins and his mother had ever owned this one! "-)

I've been working on a wool knitted tote bag and finally finished it. Here it is before felting. H was kind enough to model it for me for scale.

Here it is after felting. Quite a difference!
And, of course, I can't end a post without a picture of the two spoiled members of the family. Just as I was about to hunker down under my "blankie" and have a snooze, who should decide to join me, but His Majesty Spike and His Highness Sluggo. I think they look much more comfortable than me!
Life is Good!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Stir Fry Sunday

Today we were in the mood for stir fry. Not the take out kind, but the kind you can do oh, so much better at home.

The only hard part about stir fry is chopping all the ingredients, but if you combine it with a great show on TV, the time just flies by. Our televisual feast this morning was a viewing of "Dirty Harry" with Clint Eastwood. What a great film. Campy, to say the least and I can remember all those really, big, gas hog cars! I think we had a Chevy Caprice years ago, the same model as the Crown Victoria, which all the cops used. A real tough ride. Oh, the testosterone flows today. In the words of Inspector Callahan "Go ahead, make my day"!

Anyway, on to the stir fry. First I took two chicken breasts and sliced them very thin. Put them in a bowl and added soy sauce, white wine, minced garlic and ginger, sesame oil, fish sauce, red pepper flakes and ground black pepper. Stir and set aside in the fridge to marinate. Next chop all your favorite veggies. We like carrots, celery, onions, green and red pepper, broccoli and cabbage, all diced to about the same size. Put these all on a pizza pan and then chop green onions and fresh cilantro and put them on a separate plate, as these will be added just before serving.

Add canola oil to a large skillet and stir fry the veggies until they are just crisp tender. Remove to the pizza pan. Add another bit of canola oil and stir fry chicken til cooked through. Add the veggies and stir fry til hot. Add a bit of Stir Fry Sauce (Szechuan, if you like it more firey) and heat through. Add green onions and cilantro and serve. Ymmmm.

Our daily loaf today was Deli Rye. I made two loaves. One for us and one for a friend who also appreciates a good, seeded rye. I seem to remember we picked up pastrami and sauerkraut yesterday at the store. I feel Rueben sandwiches coming on for dinner tomorrow

Life is good. And, the house smells great!

Friday, January 18, 2008

January Musings

Today dawned wet and gloomy with a forecast of rain, sleet, snow, etc. You name it, we’re in for it.

No problem. Today is one of those days I love to dig into various “projects”. I began the day with doing two loads of laundry, checked in on the Winter Garden and gave everything a drink of water. All the plants looked O.K. with the exception of my banana tree which I think is now toast after spending time in less than it’s normal balmy temperatures.
On the bright side, the Rosemary is loving it down there. I have found through past experience that, if you keep the plant in a cool room with a minimum of water, it will survive the winter quite nicely. The one thing it really hates is a warm, dry room and will display it’s displeasure by dropping all it’s needles and croaking before you can get it back outside. I've had this baby for four years now and I love being able to go downstairs and pick fresh rosemary leaves for my Italian dishes, especially the freshly baked focaccias. Next year, I think I’ll try my luck at bringing in some oregano to over winter.
I have my Bay tree here with me in my office and she seems to be doing quite nicely. Come spring, I’ll give her a trim, repot with fresh soil and give her a nice feeding. She will reward me with some significant growth and lots of nice bay leaves for my soups and stews. What a gal!
Dear Kerri of colors of the garden blog spot, was so brave to model her new “Mad Bomber Hat” for all the world to see, and in the spirit of sharing her ignominy, I finished my knitted Mad Bomber Hat and post this picture. Oh, the humanity!

Today’s loaf is the last of the European Peasant dough and I started the dough for the Deli Rye with caraway. Yum! It will have to sit and develop a bit of flavor for a few days since I still have a batch of sourdough to bake. No problem. That will give us time to get to the store for some pastrami, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. Can we say deli Heaven here?
H and I have a squirrel's hoarding mentality. We like to make sure we never run out of provisions if we are ever snowed in for any length of time. Our downstairs pantry reminds me of stories of survivalists during the cold war. We fondly refer to this room as "The Store".

This time of year, it also serves as an additional refrigerator as the temperature down there runs between 33 and 38 degrees.
I don't think we'll be going hungry any time soon!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Enough Already!

Ok, this is going to be the last post dedicated solely to baking bread via the "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" method.

So many people have requested that I share the recipe and method with them that I think the easiest way to do that is to put everything here in a post. So here goes.


Master Recipe Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: the Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking (Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin?s Press, Nov 2007)

The full recipe as it appears in the book provides more detail, but most home bakers will be able to get a start on five-minute a day homemade bread with this short version of the recipe.

Preparation time: 15 minutes to prepare enough dough for four loaves, to be baked over four days. Each daily loaf will average 5 minutes of active preparation time.Makes four 1-pound loaves

3 cups lukewarm water (about 100Âș F)
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour (no need to sift)
Cornmeal for the pizza peel.

In a 5-quart bowl, mix the yeast, water and salt. Add all the flour, then use a wooden spoon to mix until all ingredients are uniformly moist. It is not necessary to knead or continue mixing once the ingredients are uniformly moist. This will produce a loose and very wet dough.
2.Cover with a lid (not airtight). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, about 2 hours, but no more than 5 hours.
3. After rising, the dough can be baked immediately, or covered (non completely airtight) and refrigerated up to 14 days. The dough will be easier to work with after at least 3 hours refrigeration.
4. On baking day, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the bread from sticking when you transfer it to the oven. Uncover the dough and sprinkle the surface with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough (serrated knives are best). Store the remaining dough in the bowl and refrigerate for baking at another time.
5. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won't stick. Create a smooth ball of dough by gently pulling the sides down around to the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. While shaping, most of the dusting flour will fall off. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out during resting and baking. Shaping the loaf this way should take no more than 1 minute.
6.Place the dough on the pizza peel. Allow the loaf to rest for about 40 minutes. It does not need to be covered. The bread may not rise much during this time.
7. Twenty minutes before baking, place a pizza stone on the center rack of the oven. If you don't have a baking stone, use another baking sheet. Remove any upper racks. Place a broiler pan on a rack below the pizza stone or on the floor of the oven. Preheat oven to 450 F.
8. When the dough has rested for 40 minutes, dust the top liberally with flour, then use a serrated knife to slash a 1/4-inch-deep cross or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top.
9.Slide the loaf off the peel and onto the baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door.
10.Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow the bread to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack.

The following video is most helpful in visualizing the method.



This bread is so much fun to bake and eat that you will be as hooked as we are!

The book has so many wonderful recipes and we want to try them all. We found ours at Borders Bookstore, but it can also be found online at Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I don't know either of the authors, I have no vested interest in their venture other than wishing them well and good fortune and I hope they sell tons of these wonderful books.

Now, y'all get to baking!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Help! Help! I can't stop!

Baking bread, that is. I'm already on my second batch of basic dough and tried the European Peasant dough day before yesterday. I baked one loaf right away with fantastic results and yesterday, I baked another baguette and another Peasant loaf to take to my neighbors.


I think this bread thing could turn into a joke like the zucchini one - you know, "The only time Mainers ever lock their car doors is in July, cause if you don't, someone will put a big bag of zucchini in your back seat"!

I'm honestly hooked on this baking method. H and I are in gustatory Heaven and we've even got our youngest son gushing about the bread. He's a professionally trained chef and can't believe that he can ignore everything he learned in Culinary School. He's also a professional musician, living in Nashville. His band's web site is www.cowboyfabulous.com, if anyone is interested.

Now, since this blog is supposedly about gardening, I feel I must add a little something that has to do with that activity even though it is once again beginning to snow outside and the forecast is for 8-14 inches of the white stuff. Good thing we had a 4 or 5 day January thaw to take care of most of the huge piles in the door yard. H may just be able to maneuver the truck and plow enough to get it clear again. But I digress.

Yesterday, I pored through several huge piles of gardening magazines and selected a few choice ones to peruse in anticipation of next year's garden.

It may be several more months before I can actually get out to dig in the dirt, but hey, a girl can dream, can't she?

Therefore, the next best thing to gardening is cooking and baking. I put together a bean soup this morning and it is bubbling away on the stove as I blog. I soaked the beans overnight and this morning, added a nice, smoked neck bone and a couple of bay leaves (from my bay tree, of course). Hey, that's about gardening!

Then, this morning, I fried about 3 slices of diced bacon and set it aside til later. After that, I threw a bunch of diced celery, 2 diced carrots, two cloves of garlic and two diced onions into the pan and sauteed them til they were soft, but not brown. All this went into a large pot with 3 cans of chicken broth, a can of tomato sauce and will simmer til the beans are soft. Mmmm, can't wait til supper.
Later on this morning, I'll bake the last of the baguette dough for our lunch and make a batch of sourdough. I made a sourdough starter last week and am anxious to try it.

Spike and Sluggo have been very busy boys, chasing down the errant ladybugs in the house. They find them for me, but unfortunately, leave the dastardly deed of dispatching them to me. However, they did ask me to remind everyone to click on the feed the hungry animals site to help out their less fortunate buddies.

Ah, yes. Life is very, very good!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bread Again

If you've had enough of my rambling on about this bread book, just move on to another blog now because this post is all about bread.

I've been reading the newly acquired "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes", from cover to cover since I purchased it and each recipe looks better than the next. My goal is to try every one of them eventually.Yesterday, I made two small baguettes, one for us and one to give to our good friends, who spent much time in Europe and also appreciate good artisan bread.
I'm still working on my shaping technique, but the crust and crumb came out beautifully. This was the first attempt at baking on the stone and the difference in crustiness is definitely worth buying one.

With the last bit of the first batch of dough, we made pizza since we had all the ingredients in the fridge and some beautiful, fresh basil given to us by our friends from their winter garden. Notice how this dough bubbles? It's the sign of a really good dough, in my opinion.H got a little carried away with the toppings. Mushrooms, pepperoni, basil, provolone, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. And unfortunately, we got carried away with eating the final product and forgot to take an after photo. I can, however, tell you that it was delicious.

My dilemma now is how to fit in more exercise so I can work off these extra pounds that will inevitably show up if I continue to eat all this great bread! To that end, H and I are heading out for a long hike in Acadia. It's foggy today, but there is beauty in the fog, as well.

Please take a moment to click below to feed a hungry animal. It's free and only takes a second.
Spike and Sluggo will really appreciate it.

www.animalrescuesite.com

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I'm Hooked!

Yesterday, I used the last of the dough to make an olive, rosemary and Asiago Cheese focaccia to enjoy with our salad for supper.

I placed the dough on a heavy half sheet since I did not yet have a baking stone. Drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil, chopped Kalamata olives, freshly chopped rosemary (yes, from my winter garden), and grated Asiago cheese over the top and immediately baked it at 450 degrees.
A simple supper, but oh my, it was sublime!

As a result of our incredible success with this recipe, H and I immediately set about on a road trip to Bangor. Our first stop was to Borders to see if they had a copy of the book, "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes" www.artisanbreadinfive.com is the website.

We desperately searched the baking section, but with so many books from which to choose, we lamented that perhaps they did not yet carry the selection as it had only been published in November of 2007. While H went to check with a clerk, I continued to peruse the shelves and the fates were with us! I spied the one and only copy still in the store! We gleefully brought our prize to the checkout and "gasp", for the first time in my life, I actually paid full price for a book. Not to worry, the first page I opened caught my attention and imagination.

Now mind you, H cannot navigate his way out of a paper bag and since it's so seldom that we actually get into the big city, I need to pay close attention to where he's driving. Silly me. I thought I would be able to read this incredible book while he guided the Jeep over to Bed Bath and Beyond in search of a baking stone. Luckily, we needed to make a stop by PetCo for cat food anyway, but I was asked in no uncertain terms to "put the book down and tell me where to go"! Ahem, being a lady, I bit my tongue and directed him to the proper street.

We ran furiously through BB&B looking for the stone, the only thing which would truly give us that last bit of oomph, giving the bread the needed bit of stored heat for the crisp, crackly crust we longed for.

I was overwhelmed by all the kitchen gadgets which were hung ceiling to floor, but finally, H spied the last remaining baking stone on the lowest shelf. The package was open! Oh no, surely we had not come all this way only to find a cracked stone? Our sighs of relief were audible as we gingerly removed the stone from the violated packaging and found it in perfect condition. Mission accomplished! We had ventured out of the woods and into civilization to find the perfect accoutremonts for the perfect loaf.

On the way home, I merrily read recipes aloud to H and by the time we crossed the county line, we had decided upon supper. It was to be a Pizza Margarhita, since we had fresh basil from our friend's indoor garden, mozzarella and H's sauce. Done deal. Stayed tuned for photos tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Oh Joy!

H and I have been bread aficionados for decades. Being children of foreign born mothers, neither of us grew up with the white, pasty, stick to the roof of your mouth stuff that was presented en mass in plastic bags from the supermarket.

My youth was full of aromas wafting from German bakeries filled with crusty "broetchen", little rolls we ate for breakfast, topped with creamy butter and homemade preserves. Lunch would be a lavish spread of dark, chewy "misch brot" slices topped with a variety of fresh delicacies from the local butcher shop and sharp mustard. Ah yes, there was never a lack of flavor in our house.

Likewise, H's Italian grandmother delighted him with cafe latte, herb scented focaccia, and Italian loaves with a crust to die for - crunchy right out of the oven with enough chewiness to stand up to the savory salamis, prosciuttos, and mortadella, the wonderful luncheon meats of Italy.

Pardon, while I wipe the drool from my mouth.

Until this week, we had paid dear prices for the artisan breads we so dearly love. We would lament that despite the fact that we both love to bake yeast breads and have several good books which go into great detail on how to develop a good artisanal bread, we have never quite gotten the product we hoped for. Until now!

While reading Kris' blog the other day, I sat up and took notice of the "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" recipe. It intrigued me and I set about to make yet another attempt at a good, home baked bread with little hope of actually getting the results I wanted. Boy, was I ever wrong! This bread is fantastic! I also checked out the cookbook's coauthor, Zoe Francois' blog for more information.

Below is my first, but by no means last attempt at this recipe:

After mixing the ingredients, I waited three hours instead of two since our home is kept quite cool and then shaped one small loaf to give it a try.

I took a piece of parchment paper, sprayed it with olive oil spray and sprinkled corn meal on it before placing the shaped boule on it to rest.
Since we don't have a pizza stone, I looked around to find something to bake it on and figured my trusty old cast iron skillet would do just fine.
The wait was unbearable. Within 15 minutes, the wonderful, yeasty aroma was permeating every nook and cranny of the house and the temptation to open the oven for a peek was great, but calm prevailed and the end result was nothing less than fantastic!
Needless to say, H and I did not wait for this baby to cool before we launched in to our "debriefing" of the project. The process was simple - no kneading, little time spent cleaning up and the bread itself was indescribably delicious. The crust crackled and was crunchy and chewy at the same time - a perfect loaf of bread. We were in heaven.

This morning, I could hardly wait to get out of my nice warm bed to try baking another boule to make sure it had not been just a fluke. I debated about letting the dough come to room temperature before shaping and resting, but the instructions didn't address the issue, so I made one right away and let another come to room temp first.

The boule on the left was the one not left to come to room temperature. It did not rise as nicely as the one on the right and the crust was not as crunchy, so I have come to the conclusion that it's best to let the dough come to room temperature prior to shaping. Nevertheless, they both tasted wonderful.

While waiting for the dough to rise this morning, I put on a pot of chicken soup, so I'd say that suppah is done!

And, as a last paragraph to this posting, I have finished a couple of UFO's (unfinished objects) of knitting. I have several dishcloths, a hat and am almost done with a pair of socks. YAY!!

The only kitty in this post today is the one in the orange dishcloth!

Please don't forget to click on the "Feed the Animals" link to help feed a hungry animal. It's free and only takes a second of your time. Thanks!

www.animalrescuesite.com

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Thaw Begins

We should be having 40+ degree weather for the next few days. While it sounds good, it will take more than that to melt the tons of snow we've had in the past few weeks.

Yesterday, we looked out over the bay to see sea smoke, a good indication of how very cold it was.This morning, the day dawned bright and beautiful and I caught this shot just as the sun peeked over the trees behind the house.
This is a picture of one of my whiskey barrel planters at the top of the drive late last summer

This is what it looked like this morning, buried under about 6 feet of snow.
The boys were keeping nice and toasty next to the wood stove until H decided to vacuum the living room. They came flying into the office and jumped onto their window seat for protection.


Later on, Spike went back out to his comfy chair and gave H a wilting look! Don't mess with his Majesty's comfort.
Now, if you really have nothing else to do today and would like to view a Photo Show of my garden, copy this and paste it into your browser: It's best to copy it into the browser because it sometimes has difficulty loading if you just click on it.

http://www.photoshow.net/viewshow/qU4uG4st





Thursday, January 03, 2008

We've Only Just Begun

To plow, that is. We had another snow storm blow through Tuesday night with a forecast 6 to 10 inches of snow. Imagine our surprise to wake up to 14 inches of deep, drifting snow.


I peered out of the window into the darkness to the realization that this was NOT 6 inches of snow. We already had ended 2007 with 49 inches of snow on the ground. This was not going to be pleasant.

The first order of business was to get the truck cleaned off so H could plow.

Unfortunately, we had to dig a path through the 3 foot drift in the door yard to get to it.
He could only manage to plow the door yard, as the "Luge" as we fondly refer to our steep driveway, was impossible to plow. We ended up having to call a local plowman to get us out with the help of lots of sanding.
My job is to clear the deck and it took a bit of doing, but I love the exercise and the fresh air. No way am I going to pay to go to the gym when I have plenty to keep me fit right here!Just digging a path to get out of the house took a good half hour!On the positive side, the snow made for a great way to cool down the hot soup before I put it in the fridge!
And we are grateful for our cuddly kitties keeping us warm on these cold winter nights. Sluggo just loves to cuddle on H's lap.Now that we will obviously be stuck inside for a few days, I'll be able to get a few of my "UFO's (unfinished objects) knitted. Our knitting group "The Downeast Knitiodts", met at a local coffee house for our holiday gathering and we all lamented on how many projects we had begun, but not yet finished.Despite having knitted furiously in the weeks before Christmas, I still have several projects in the works; two pair of socks, a hat, another shawl, and a dishcloth or two. I'd best get busy and quit sitting here at the pc, blogging.

I hope everyone had a warm, merry Christmas and I look forward to reading lots of great gardening blogs in 2008. And, speaking of gardens, I have to post a picture of mine, even though it's all white this time of year:

Since all good gardeners have to have something green all year long, here's a shot of my indoor herb garden. The basil looks pretty darned pathetic!