Learning to Bake: Daily Bread

Daily Bread

There’s something special about a loaf of whole grain bread fresh from the oven. It’s inviting and warm and perfect for sharing. In my very first blog post, I wrote about bread and shared a recipe for a gouda cheese variety made with the help of a bread machine. Leaving my trusty bread machine behind when we moved overseas, and without even a mixer to do the kneading, I was determined to carry on baking bread without the convenience of a machine. On my first shopping trip to gather kitchen supplies for our new Abu Dhabi apartment, I picked up two loaf pans, brought them home, and stored them away along with all my good intentions. A year later and the pans sat barely touched. The multi-hour process required by traditional bread making was far too labor intensive to become part of my regular cooking routine, so I searched for an alternative method that would mesh with my approach to food: healthy, easy, and flavorful. Continue reading

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My New Love: Afternoon Tea

I don’t have any grandiose stories to share, just a few pictures for posterity’s sake. On Friday we slept in laaate and had lunch at Nolu’s followed by a bit of exploring at Dalma Mall which just *happened* to lead to the purchase of 2 new dresses. Thank you H&M. Here and here….just kidding, couldn’t find the second one online. But the first one is cute, no?

Saturday included morning by the pool and a proper Afternoon Tea. I capitalize this because Afternoon Tea is not simply tea in the afternoon. Au contraire, Afternoon Tea, according to this website, is “a meal composed of sandwiches (usually cut delicately into ‘fingers’), scones with clotted cream and jam, sweet pastries and cakes. Interestingly, scones were not a common feature of early Afternoon Tea and were only introduced in the twentieth century.”

Afternoon Tea is not to be confused with High Tea, but actually, researching the subject just now does lead me into a bit of confusion. Apparently High Tea means different things to different people and it depends on what part of the world you are in. Afternoon Tea and High Tea have different history’s, originated in different classes of society, and served different purposes. I won’t ramble on about it, but all I know is that what I ate and drank was delicious. (Fun fact – I lost the school spelling bee in the 4th grade to the word “delicious”. Darn that second “i”!)

Afternoon Tea, you haven’t seen the last of me!

Weekend in Oman

On Thursday night Josh and I packed our bags and headed out for a relaxing mini vacation in Ras Al Khaima. Josh is on spring break from school, and because we hadn’t yet seen much of UAE outside of our Abu Dhabi hometown, I planned a trip to visit the country’s northernmost emirate. We arrived in Ras Al Khaima on Thursday night, did a little exploring around our hotel, ate dinner, and turned in with a 6:30 a.m. alarm set for the next day.

Here comes a side story because I reminded myself of something else in that last sentence. It happens. Do you think that “turning in” is a Southern phrase? Josh and I watched the movie Mud last week which was really good. You should add it to your Netflix watch list now. I’ll wait. The family lives in Mississippi, and in one scene the mother asks her son (imagine this said with a Southern twang), “Are you hungry? Want me to fix you somethin’? Alright then, I’m gonna turn in.” (That isn’t an exact quote; I’m going from memory here.) Josh deemed the phrases “fix you somethin'” and “turn in” as two distinctively Southern phrases. What do you think? I’m not a good judge of these things.

Back to my weekend story… Friday morning came and we set off for Khasab, Oman, the starting point of our dhow cruise. What is a dhow cruise, you ask? Is that anything like a show cruise where the author (me) accidentally types a letter “d” instead of “s”? Yes, I can see how you might think that, but then you would be wrong. This is how Wikipedia explains it: “Dhow (Arabic داو dāw) is the generic name of a number of traditional sailing vessels with one or more masts with lateen sails used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean region.” I’m sure that cleared things up for you.

Driving through Ras Al Khaima on the way to Oman introduced me to a setting like I had never encountered before. Goats and cows roamed freely. The cows particularly took a liking to the medians of the four-lane roads. At times I could have reached my hand out of the driver’s side window to pet a bull. Half-constructed buildings littered the sides of the roads. Scrap metal and mud and tarnished signs in arabic finished off the landscape. Unique indeed.

Arriving at the UAE/Oman border, we spent a few minutes waiting for stamps and watched goats inch closer to the guards standing post outside, probably in hopes of receiving a morsel of food. The goats that is, not the guards. I wish I had pictures of these scenes; however, pictures taken from the inside of a car never turn out like you hope, and since photography isn’t allowed at the border checkpoints I have nothing to show from that experience either.

The drive along the coast in Oman was stunningly beautiful. Craggy mountains rose to our right with a sheer drop to the turquoise sea on our left. The hairpin turns in combination with the scenery made it the perfect location for a car commercial (listen up you ad men). After an hour in the car we found the building with a sign for our dhow cruise company, Musandam Sea Adventure Travel and Tourism, in a strip mall. An Omani man appeared to be directing the parking of cars. I rolled down my window and he asked,

“Are you going out on a cruise?”
“Yes, with the sea adventure company. [pointing to the sign]”
“Oh no no no. They no good. You should come with me.”
“Well, we’re already booked with them. Sorry.”
“Already booked? Well I give you my card and next time you come with me.”
“Okay. [being friendly and accepting his business card]”
Card reads, “Abdulfattah Bin Ahmed Al Shehi, Chairman, Musandam Sea Adventure Travel and Tourism [the company we booked with]”
Me: “Oh you’re messing with me!”
“Hahaha. Follow me and I will take you to the harbor.”

I start up our car and follow him. Along the way, Josh and I comment to one another about the unorthodoxy (yes, that’s a word according to MW) of the situation. We were blindly following some guy we just met through some curvy roads and more herds of goats to a boat. After 6 months in UAE we’ve come to expect the unexpected! We park between two little fishing boats in the mud because it recently rained and appeared as though it would again in the near future. It turns out that the Omani man was the owner of the dhow cruise company. We waited for the other customers (we learned that many German people vacation in this part of the world) while we drank Arabic coffee and delicious tea – black tea flavored with cardamom, saffron, and rose water.

Enjoying tea while waiting to begin our dhow cruise

Enjoying tea while waiting to begin our dhow cruise

Our boat cruised along the Strait of Hormuz while we strained to see the Iranian land mass across the water (we never saw it) and then explored the Oman fjords.

Our boat left from Khasab and snaked its way among the fjords

Our boat left from Khasab and snaked its way among the fjords

These are some of the views from our ship. We also saw a number of dolphins as they came up for air and splashed about.

Lunch!

Lunch!

We dropped anchor to feast on a lunch of rice, curry vegetables, salad, chicken, naan, and hummus. And of course more tea! After lunch many of us napped as the sound of the water lulled us to sleep. By the time the cruise ended, I felt completely relaxed and tranquil – the desired aftereffects of the perfect mini vacation!

Pot Roast and Packing Status

Only four weekends left before our lease is up and we begin our journey headed overseas. As a result of our sorting, wrapping, discarding, and storing efforts, we’re starting to see some real progress in the form of more floor space and less furniture. We’ve had a lot of success selling things on craigslist, and after taking a hard look at our storage space last week, it’s easier to get rid of the less essential stuff. I haven’t yet tackled the kitchen, partly because I want to maintain some sense of normalcy in our lives and partly because I know it will be a huge chore. I’m planning to take the plunge and pack it up this weekend, but until that time comes, I’ll continue making use of the dwindling food supply in our fridge and pantry.

Tonight’s dinner was pot roast. People often associate pot roast with words like “cozy” or “comfort food” but in recent years I’ve come to think of it in the terms like “boring” and “old fashioned”. That is, until I discovered this recipe. The mix of spices and unexpected addition of bacon take a traditional dish to a new level of deliciousness. I’m not posting a picture because even the most flavorful pot roast has a way of looking utterly unappetizing in photos.

I did the slicing and dicing last night to make things easier on myself this morning, and I made a few substitutions based on the ingredients I found in my kitchen. I substituted the fresh parsley with dry, and I didn’t have any red wine vinegar on hand, so I substituted it for real red wine. Although I put my roast in the fridge overnight, I found it mostly frozen this morning, so I had to skip the step that involved making holes and stuffing them with the garlic and bacon. Instead, those ingredients were just scattered on top.

I love walking in the door from work to yummy smells, knowing the hard part of meal preparation is done! This meal definitely earned my crock pot a place in our storage unit rather than the giveaway pile.

Seriously Simple Meal

It seems to never fail – I’m either too busy, forgetful, or lazy in the afternoons to find myself a snack. I come home from work ravenous and in danger of popping junk food in my mouth to quiet the tummy rumblings. On those days, I want something healthy, easy, and quick. Here’s an example of one of my go-to meals. Eggs fried in olive oil, bread with pesto, peas, and cherry tomatoes. I wasn’t trying to be fancy with presentation by separating the piles of peas – I just thought I was done serving myself before deciding I definitely wanted more! The bread and pesto was already made, the peas were frozen, and the tomatoes were washed and ready to eat. Seriously simple thrown-together meal.Photo 2013-06-03 01.15.25 PM

Tips for getting meals on the table in a hurry

Prepare some basics on the weekend. If you take time on a Sunday afternoon to make snacks or key pieces of your week’s meals, you’ll save yourself a weeknight headache when you’re more likely to forego the healthy option in exchange for convenience. Examples of items to prepare ahead of time: pasta sauce, cooked chicken, bread, pot of soup, and steel cut oatmeal.

Wash and store your produce immediately after purchasing. This has been a game-changer in my kitchen. Before putting away my berries, salad, baby carrots, and cherry tomatoes, I wash and dry them. I’ve found that if I don’t, I’m much less likely to choose them as snacks or ingredients throughout the week.

Menu Planning and Saving Recipes

I have always enjoyed reading cookbooks and flipping through recipe boxes. I remember as a child, sitting at our dining room table and carefully transcribing recipes from my mom’s magazine clippings to index cards that would be carefully stored away, nice and neat. Don’t get me wrong, my mom didn’t make me do it – I wanted to! That was then, but now, who has time for transcribing recipes from one place to another? I find that I have recipes saved everywhere – a pile of magazine clippings, Pinterest, email, of course tons of cookbooks, and so many recipe websites that have their own “saving” tool in an effort to keep everything together in one place. Then it comes time to make a meal plan for the week, and even though I’ve seen many mouthwatering recipes, I need those ideas to come together quickly so that I can put together a grocery list and get out the door. Inevitably, I begin a hunt on the internet for the perfect recipe, during which I allow myself to become distracted by other pretty things. No wonder meal planning takes forever! At least, it used to. Two things have tremendously helped me corral all my recipes and meal ideas.

1. Recipe binder. Photo 2013-05-30 07.29.14 PM(7)I use a 2″ three-ring binder with sheet protectors, and I divided the pages into sections – appetizers, entrees, sides, breakfast, sweets, and other. Traditional dividers don’t work for this project because the dividers aren’t wide enough, and you end up not being able to find the tabs. Instead, I use Post-It file tabs and my label maker to make divisions between each section. I use the binder for printed recipes, index cards, or scrap paper with scribbles on it. It can be pretty and scrapbook-like, or keep the effort to a minimum by just slipping recipes into the right categories.

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2. Two lists titled “Tried and True” and “Recipes to Try”. I list the titles of the recipes I love and want to keep in “Tried and True” and all the titles of recipes I’m dying to try in the other one. I divided the lists up into sections that correspond to the tabs in my recipe binder. I also added a column titled “Location”. Since I’m only writing the name of a recipe on the list, I need to know where to find the complete recipe and instructions. If the recipe is tucked away in my binder, I write “This Book” in the Location column. If it’s found elsewhere, like my Joy of Cooking book or Pinterest, I just write that in the column. On the “Recipes to Try” list, there is one more column titled “Add to Tried and True?” so that once you try the recipe, you can make a note on whether it’s worth cooking again. In our home, these are called “do-overs”. The next time I update the lists, I simply move the do-overs over to the Tried and True list. I print out copies of the two lists and insert them as the first pages of my recipe binder. You can download my Tried and True and Recipes to Try templates. Setting up the system takes a few hours of effort, but after that, maintenance is a breeze.

To plan meals for the week, I sit down with my binder and look through the two lists. If I want a meal that is quick and I know everyone loves, I might consult my Tried and True list. If I’m feeling more adventurous, I’ll see what’s on my new list of recipes to try. As I scan down the page, I see Chicken Cacciatore. Oh yeah, that looked delicious, where did I see that? And I’m reminded that it’s in my Everyday Italian cookbook.

As I skim through magazines or cookbooks, I keep my Recipes to Try list nearby (either a hard copy, on my laptop, or iphone) so that I can quickly update it with a recipe title and its location.

What do you think? How do you keep all your recipes and meal ideas organized for the long-term?

Weeknight Dinner: Pizza

Photo 2013-05-22 09.44.01 PMI love pizza, both eating it and making it. Once you have stand-out dough and sauce recipes (those will come in a later post), you can go nuts with toppings and variations to make your own unique creation. Don’t really put nuts on a pizza. Unless they were maybe pine nuts, and it was like a basil, mozzarella type creation…that’s actually sounding pretty good. See, you can do anything with pizza.

On a weeknight, I don’t have enough time to let dough rest and rise and rest (such a diva), so I take a few shortcuts. Enter the flat bread. Pile it with veggies and cheese, and dinner is on the table before you can say, “hey that’s not a real pizza crust – it’s a flat bread.” And then by that time, no one cares, everyone eats, and merriment abounds.

This is a great way to use up left-over ingredients. I didn’t make my grocery and meal plans like usual this week, so I had to stop at a store for the flat bread (naan, to be specific) but everything else was already in the fridge. My version consisted of olives, cooked chicken breast, peppers, tomatoes, and a base of pesto, standing in for the more traditional tomato sauce.

Toss your toppings minus the sauce and cheese into a skillet with a little olive oil to heat everything up. Unlike your traditional pizza, this only needs to be in the oven long enough to toast the bread and melt the cheese so it helps to heat the toppings first. Pile the sauce and toppings, including cheese, on the bread and pop into a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly.

A New Twist on Cherry Limeade

Northern Virginia has a lot of things going for it – shopping, well-groomed parks, and a rich history, but it’s lacking an important franchise restaurant – Sonic! If you aren’t fortunate to have one in your town either, you should know that you’re missing out on milkshakes, malts, slushes, and fountain drinks that can be customized to your liking with flavor options galore. One of my favorites is the classic cherry limeade. Today I recreated the classic but substituted sugary soda with Pellegrino, lime, and tart cherry juice. Most juices are laden with excess sugar, but tart cherry juice seems to be a stand-out in its class. The Wall Street Journal recently came out with an article linking tart cherries to bone health, and it has long been known for it’s anti-inflammatory benefits. I’m fond of R.W. Knudsen Organic Just Tart Cherry because it’s 100% juice, organic, and has no added sugar. This beverage does double duty – quenches your thirst and delivers a powerful dose of antioxidants.

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Cherry Lime Spritzer

1 wedge of lime plus a slice for garnish
4 fresh mint leaves
4 ounces tart cherry juice
Sparkling water
Ice

Squeeze juice from the lime wedge into the bottom of a glass. Muddle the lime together with mint leaves. Add ice, cherry juice, and fill the rest of the glass with sparkling water. Give it a quick stir. Enjoy!

It’s a Gouda Day

Today is a rainy, chilly day, but it turned out to be perfect for comforting food made with ooey-gooey cheese. My bread machine is known for making appearances on Saturdays, and it is generally greeted with whoops and cheers from dear husband. The entertainer it is, the machine has recently taken to tricks like walking across the counter, and perhaps in an act of desperation from overuse, even attempts to dash itself to the floor below. Lucky for me, I’ve caught it in the act and saved it from precariously teetering on the counter’s edge. Despite these antics, I put my machine to use once again to try out a new recipe for gouda bread. I gathered my ingredients, shredded the cheese, and three hours later, voila! The loaf. Scroll to the bottom for the recipe.

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To use up the rest of the gouda (because clearly, gouda can’t just sit around uneaten) I made scrambled eggs with cheese. I tried Gordon Ramsay’s scrambled eggs by following his instructions in the youtube video below and simply added the cheese as a final step. I love the fact that even he messes up and burns the toast. He should remember that the next time he’s yelling at one of his chefs! Nevertheless, the eggs turned out decadent and creamy.

Tip: I used dried chives instead of fresh, and it was delicious. Just use a lighter hand when using dried herbs.



Gouda Cheese Bread

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/8 Cup Milk
  • 2 Tbs Butter
  • 3 Cups Bread Flour
  • 2 Tbs Sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 2 tsp Yeast
  • 2 Tbs dried onion flakes
  • 1 Cup Cheese (gouda or any substitute cheese like cheddar, gruyere, colby, etc. I used regular gouda, but the smoked variety would be excellent)

Directions:

  1. Place the first seven ingredients in the bread mixer in the order specified by your machine’s user manual (usually liquids first).
  2. Select the basic bread setting.
  3. Select your preferred crust setting (I use light).
  4. When the machine beeps during the mixing cycle (indicating to put in any additional ingredients), add the cheese and dried onion flakes.
  5. That’s it. Wait, and then enjoy! We dipped it in a little extra virgin olive oil and made an afternoon snack out of it.

Tips:

  1. Never put cold ingredients in your bread machine. Yeast likes a warm environment. I store my flour in the refrigerator, so I take it out and let it come to room temperature before use. For this recipe, I warmed the milk and butter over medium-low heat before adding it to the bread machine pan.
  2. Many bread machine recipes call for powdered milk and water. If you don’t have powdered milk, replace the water in the recipe with an equal amount of milk. I used 1% in this recipe, but whatever you have on hand will work just fine. Similarly, you can substitute powdered milk for the liquid milk in this recipe and add water.