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Nothing smells like home-baked bread on a cold winter afternoon–or any time, now that I think about it!  Thank goodness making bread at home is easy and even quick, if you just leave the dough on its own as it rises (and why wouldn’t you?).  Today we’re going to make a remarkably soft but also hearty, healthy whole-wheat and oatmeal bread that makes great breakfast toast, super sandwiches, and even tasty croutons.  You can add walnuts or seeds for a bread fit for the Woodstock generation, or try using herbs or garlic to turn it into rustic supper rolls, as I did with a little of the dough the last time I made this bread.  You can even make fresh, hot homemade glazed doughnuts for breakfast and still have enough dough left for a good-sized loaf of the bread in the afternoon.

Bread is really easy , as long as you remember three keys for making good yeast bread.  The first key to baking any yeast bread is to remember that yeast is a living organism.  It’s going to be happiest (and help your bread rise best) if you start with fresh (live) yeast and wake it up in a nice warm (not hot) bath.  The second thing you need to know is that yeast likes to eat, but it doesn’t like to binge; keep your yeast feed slow.  The third key is remembering that wheat gluten is your friend when it comes to yeast bread.  Wheat gluten is the substance that helps build structure to work with all the gas produced by your happy yeast.  Put together happy yeast and wheat gluten, and you’ll have great homemade yeast bread.

Ingredients

Remember to use organic when you can!

  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water (comfortable for your skin)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned (not quick cooking) rolled oats (a.k.a. oatmeal before steel-cut Irish oats and Scottish oats invaded the US)
  • 1 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds (optional:  if you don’t have flax seeds, try using another tablespoon of butter)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
  • 4 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/4 cup whole-grain oat flour (or just add another 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour if you don’t have oat; I keep both in my pantry, and the oat flour helps provide softness)
  • 1/4-1/3 cup wheat gluten (Gluten has gotten a really bad rap in recent years, but it’s a must if you want to make whole-grain bread and still get the flexibility that contributes to sustaining the rise.  Gluten, by the way, also raises the protein content of the bread, so if you’re not sensitive to it, use it!)
  • 1/2 cup more warm water (same as before–like a nice hot bath but not so warm that it hurts you or the yeast)

Begin by dissolving the yeast and sugar in the 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl (preferably 4-quart, although a 2.5 quart will work in a pinch).  You’re proofing the yeast.  If it’s good, in a few minutes you should have woken up your yeast, and they should have started making a foamy mess in your bowl.  That’s what we want to see!

Meanwhile, pour the 1 1/4 cup boiling water over the oatmeal.  I use a 2-cup heat-safe pyrex measuring cup for the oatmeal, and then I can just add everything else except the flour.

Next scald the milk by bringing it to the edge of a boil, until tiny bubbles appear around the edges of the pot.  Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the butter, salt, and honey until they dissolve.  Add them to the oatmeal.

As soon as the oatmeal mixture reaches that good bath-water temperature, add the oatmeal to the yeast mixture in your really big bowl, add the flax seed, and start working in your flour, baking powder, and wheat gluten, alternating so that they all three get thoroughly mixed.  Knead the flour in until you think you can’t add more, then do the easy thing and add the last 1/2 cup warm water–yep, bathwater temperature again.  Knead a few minutes more, until all of the flour is incorporated.  Then cover the bowl and set it in a warm place to start rising.  Thanks to the extra water, it will keep developing the gluten on its own, without too much kneading from you.

For the next twenty-four hours or so, let the dough rise.  When you notice that it’s doubles, form your hand into a fist and slam it into the middle of the dough.  Punch it down.  Give it a few good kneads.  Re-cover it and walk away again.

When you’re ready to bake, you’ll need at least two hours with the dough.  Start by punching down and kneading the dough one last time.  Then put it in a warm (not hot), buttered bread loaf pan, 9×5.  (You can use an 8×4 if you’ve taken a bit out for other purposes–see below.)  Let it rise for an hour in a warm (not hot) place for an hour.  Start pre-heating your oven to 375 degrees F.  The dough is ready for the oven when an indentation you make with your finger still bounces back but just barely.  Put the dough in the oven and bake for 40 minutes.  The bread is done when you knock on the bottom and it sounds hollow.  Cool in the pan a few minutes and then cool on a rack.

The Bonus:  Rolls or Doughnuts!

Now, I happen to know that this dough makes an ample loaf, so ample in fact that you can pull out a bit of dough for something else and have enough left.  Let’s say that you start this bread Sunday afternoon.  How about if you take out dough about the size of two or three chicken eggs that very night?  Turn that into three dinner rolls, let rise for about an hour in a warm spot, and then bake them for dinner, about 20-30 minutes at 375 degrees F.

Or you can do what we did this morning, having started the dough yesterday.  Make doughnuts! Take out a scant 1/2 cup dough.  Add 1/2 a chicken egg (or one bantam egg), beaten with a sprinkle of sugar (no more than 1/2 teaspoon) and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.  Knead it together until the egg is well incorporated.  You’ll have a very soft dough.  Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour on a bread board and then pull out three or four balls of dough.  First form rounds, and either cut out the middle or use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke through a hole and enlarge it.  Use flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking.  Let the doughnuts rise for a half hour.  Heat oil of two or three inches to 350 to 375 degrees F in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot.  Drop doughnuts in one at a time and fry until almost done on one side, and then flip to the other side.  Remove, drain, and drizzle with glaze.  Glaze:  three tablespoons of powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and enough milk, by the drop, to make your glaze.  Take it slow with the milk and stir with every addition; you can easily go from not enough to too much.

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I’ve recently been on a mission to re-organize and clean out our freezers.  I know we have things that have been in the arctic depths too long.  The other day on a clean out I found some sweet bread (coffee cake remnants?) that I had frozen in chunks.  I tasted it.  Hmmm.  It was okay.  But it had been frozen a while.  What to do?  Bread pudding, of course!

I used

  • about 2 cups of bread, torn in chunks
  • an apple that I cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
  • two eggs whisked with half a cup of milk
  • about 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • cinnamon and nutmeg
  • a crumb topping that I had also frozen when I had a bit too much for a previous recipe
  • black walnuts leftover from breakfast (topping for oatmeal)

Layer the bread in a buttered dish (or cast iron pan like I used).  Sprinkle on a tiny bit of nutmeg and a bigger bit of cinnamon.  Add the apples and cranberries.  Drizzle on the syrup with more cinnamon.  Pour on the egg and milk mixture. Let the pudding sit for about an hour to start absorbing the liquid.  Add the crumb topping if you’re feeling really decadent.

Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.  Serve warm.It’s just some old bread, some fruit, eggs, milk, and spices, but it is ooohhhhh so good!  Mr. Homesteader kept asking for more and practically whimpered when I told him that there was no more.

What’s your favorite freezer clean-out ever?  Or are you organized enough that you never need to clean out your freezer?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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August and September end the lazy days of slow breakfasts, but they don’t have to end good breakfasts.  For a quick, healthy breakfast or afternoon snack, bake a loaf of whole-grain, low-fat, higher protein but still moist and delicious zucchini bread, chocked full of good stuff like pepitas, which contain healthy fatty acids.  Take a look at the ingredients:  your only fat is from the egg(s) and the pepitas.  All of the moist goodness comes from buttermilk and yogurt, plus those dairy products and pepitas bring extra protein, calcium, and some good fats.  One loaf will yield close to 2 dozen slices for several breakfasts, lunchbox treats, afternoon snacks, or even as Mr. Homesteader likes it best, dessert at night (warmed with a dollop of ice cream).

Ingredients for 1 loaf baked in a 9×5 inch pan

  • 1/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
  • 1/3 cup sugar (or less)
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk or kefir
  • 1-2 eggs
  • 1 cup grated fresh or frozen (drained) zucchini
  • 1 cup plus one tablespoon whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 -3 tablespoons cinnamon (or less, if you aren’t a cinnamon nut like I am!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or 1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • handful or two of golden raisins, regular raisins, or currants (optional if you hate raisins, of course)

Preheat oven (or toaster oven!) to 350 degrees F.  Grease the bottom only of a 9X5 bread-baking pan (glass or cast iron preferred over a flimsy metal pan, as you’re going to bake this for a while).  Combine the first five ingredients in a small bowl or large mixing cup–about 1 quart size should give you plenty of room.  Combine the remaining ingredients except the pepitas and raisins in a 2-cup measure and stir well.  Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and stir just to combine.  Stir in the raisins and pepitas, reserving a few pepitas for the top of the loaf.  Pour everything into your prepared pan and sprinkle on the last of the pepitas.  Bake at 350 degrees F for about 70 minutes, covering the top loosely with foil to avoid over-browning about half way through the process.  Let the bread cool 5 minutes in the pan, and then slide a knife around the edges to make sure the bread is separated neatly.  Remove the bread from the pan and let it finish cooling on a rack.  Slice after it cools, as you need it, from the center outward.

If you’ve got space in your freezer, you can double or even triple this recipe and freeze loafs for easy breakfasts in the winter.  If you decide to freeze the zucchini instead, be sure to grate it first and then drain it very well after it thaws before you use it for bread.

Does your family have a favorite quick back-to-school breakfast?  Do you have a special way to bake zucchini bread?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.

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I guess if I had to explain this recipe inspiration, I’d say it’s the dried figs and bleu cheese sitting in my fridge and the chicken in my freezer.  I’ve been getting a tangy, creamy bleu cheese (blue cheese) from a Minnesota creamery that rivals European bleus.  The figs are organic but, sadly, all the way from California.  The pasture-raised chicken came from Falling Sky Farm in Marshall, Arkansas.  All of the ingredients are available either certified organic or, like the chicken, organically raised without certification.  Together the ingredients meld into an elegant dish that might work for date night.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
  • 1-2 teaspoons good red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey (or less–the figs already make this dish sweet)
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • seasoning:  salt, pepper, dried oregano
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, crushed (We thought 4, sliced, was too much.)
  • 6 dried figs, cut into bite-sized pieces and soaked in 1/4 cup brandy or marsala (non-alcohol alternative:  use 2 tablespoons of apple juice and 2 tablespoons of wine vinegar)
  • 2 ounces of crumbled bleu cheese (alternative:  try goat cheese!)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Method

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Pound the chicken breast between plastic wrap until it is thinned to be about double its non-pounded size.  Lightly sprinkle on salt, pepper, and dried oregano on the inside.  Spread the fig pieces (save the brandy or marsala!), crumbled bleu cheese, crushed garlic and walnuts over about half of the chicken breast.  Roll up the chicken sushi-style, stuffed side first, and position it in the baking pan with the seam on the underside.  I used a 2-quart Dutch oven and was able to push the ends of the roll into the pan sides, helping to hold in the bleu cheese. Lightly sprinkle the outside with salt, pepper, and dried oregano.  If any figs fell out during the rolling process, put them in the pan too.

Mix together the mustard, honey, red wine vinegar, and brandy or marsala left over from soaking the figs.  Spread half of the mixture over the top of the rolled-up chicken.  Reserve the rest for basting.

Bake chicken in a 325 degree F oven for about 40 minutes, basting every 5 or 10 minutes while the chicken bakes.  Cut the chicken on an angle into 2 or 3 servings.

I served this chicken with a hearty whole-wheat roll a big salad of mesclun and grated radish and carrots.

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Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2009, just like the rest of the blog.  
Feel free to post short excerpts with full links to this blog.

I like to mix up muffins regularly because they give us healthy, wholesome breakfasts and healthy snacks for little money.  Making muffins from scratch only takes a few more minutes than making them from a mix, and you know your scratch muffins are full of good things instead of chemicals.  This morning we had double delicious apple muffins.  I’ll talk after the recipe about how healthy they are.  Feel free to skip that if you’d rather think they’re decadent!

This recipe makes 6 muffins, perfect for a medium-sized family (or a small family who wants muffin snacks later!).  If you can get organic ingredients and farm-fresh eggs, by all means use them.  We do!

Dry ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain oat flour (or just use old-fashioned rolled oats, all wheat flour, or flax meal if you don’t have oat flour–remember:  use what you have!)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) ground cinnamon
  • pinch/sprinkle of allspice
  • 1/4-1/3 cup chopped walnuts  (I just crush them in my hand as I’m adding them to the mix)
  • optional:  small handful of raisins or currants

Wet ingredients:

  • 1 apple (like Gala, McIntosh, or Arkansas black)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce or apple butter  (oh, yes, this is the double-delish part:  apples and apple sauce!)
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk or kefir (or milk mixed with yogurt if you don’t have either one in the house, or just milk if that’s all you have.  Like I always say, use what you have!)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (brown or maple okay–or more, up to a quarter cup if you’re family is addicted to sugar–use less if you used apple butter instead of apple sauce)

Optional:  cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle on top before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 6-cup muffin tin.  Get a 1-quart (small) mixing pitcher or bowl.  (Using a pitcher will make everything easier to pour into the muffin cups.)

Begin by chopping the apple.  I like to cut my apples into halves, quarters, and eighths first, so they I can remove the minimum amount of core.  Since I use homegrown or organic apples, I wash them well but do not peel them.  The peel is both healthy and pretty.  Your apple pieces should be no more than 1/2 inch cubed each.

Make-and-eat directions:  If you are going to make the muffins right away, you can mix everything together immediately.  Just start with the dry ingredients and then add your wet ingredients.  Stir well to combine but do not over-stir. Pour into prepared muffin tins.  Sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar (optional).  Bake the muffins for 20 minutes.  Let them cool briefly in the pans and then turn out to cool (or just turn them on their sides to cool.)  Enjoy!

Night-before preparation, for even quicker morning baking: If you want to eat these on a school day (or get them ready for the kids to bake in the morning while you sleep in!), you can mix together all the dry ingredients separately from all of the wet ingredients.  In the morning, preheat the oven (350′ F) and grease your muffin tin.  Then combine the wet and dry ingredients.  Bake for 20 minutes and eat or take them with you!

Dutch oven directions for camping:

Follow the directions for night-before preparation to mix your dry and wet ingredients separately.  Put both in separate camp-worthy containers.  Freeze the wet ingredients if you won’t use them for a few days.  The morning you want to eat your muffins, use 6 metal cupcake “papers” in the bottom of a small Dutch oven.  Put on the lid and add coals top and bottom and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Alternatively, you can just grease the Dutch oven itself and make this recipe coffee-cake style.  Cut the finished cake into wedges.

What’s good about these muffins?

These muffins are great whether you are watching your cholesterol, concerned about high blood sugar, or trying to keep your intestines in good shape.  With both soluble and insoluble whole grains as well as a lot of apple, little sugar, and almost no fat except for the good fat in the walnuts, these muffins are wholesome health food.  Don’t worry, though; your family will never notice!

Healthy snacking: These muffins make great afternoon snacks or even a light dessert.  For a snack, try spreading two halves with some natural warm peanut butter.  (Making the peanut butter warm will help natural peanut butter spread without tearing the muffin.)

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