Sunday, March 10, 2019

Spicy Korean Pork and Rice Cakes



Like most recipes that start off as Blue Apron meals, when this one showed promise as a keeper I made some modifications to it to suit my family's tastes and the ingredients that I can find in my local grocery stores (with perhaps one exception, but I'll get to that).

This recipe was the first time I had cooked baby bok choy at home, and it's quickly become one of my favorite vegetables for pan satueeing. It's not bitter, has a wonderful texture (not stringy!), and looks pretty.

Korean rice cakes may be something you haven't seen before in your grocery store. The closest store that carries them in my area is an hour away, but fortunately a local friend had picked some up last time she was there and graciously gave me a bag. I've also seen them on Amazon. If you don't have them, the best substitute I can think of is to serve the dish over a bed of rice.

The addition of creme fraiche (or the substitute) may seem a little weird in this dish, but it does a great job of bringing the sauce together. It's a technique that I see Blue Apron use a lot, and it works. It really elevates the dish to another level. The sauce clings to the meat and vegetables and gives it a smoothness on your tongue it won't otherwise have.

What you'll need

1 lb ground pork
1 package rice cakes (~13-14 ounces)
2 bok choy heads, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp Creme Fraiche (can substitute 1:1 sour cream:cream cheese, or leave out)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch fresh ginger minced, or substitute ground ginger or 5 spice seasoning to taste
1 Tbsp soy glaze or 2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp gochujang (or 2-3 Tbsp "asian garlic chili sauce" or sirracha) to taste
*1/4 cup savory black bean-chile sauce
Sesame seeds and/or chives for garnish

*If you don't have this sauce, I've used hoisin sauce instead and it works very well! The dish ends up sweeter and it's not hte same flavor profile, but it still works! The hoisin/chili/soy sauce is a combination my family loves and I'm quick to substitute it as needed in recipes.

Git 'er Done

Boil salted water (like you would do for pasta) for the rice cakes. When it's at a roiling boil, add the cakes and cook until tender, drain well.

Combine glaze with 1/2 c. water (or soy sauce and 1/4 c. water), black bean sauce (or hoisin), and chili sauce in a small bowl.

Cook the pork in a skillet until browned and cooked through.

Add the white parts (stems) of the bok choy stems, garlic, and ginger. Cook until bok choy is slightly soft.

Check your water. Is it boiling yet? Add your rice cakes to boiling water, cook 2-3 minutes until tender.

Add sauce and green parts of bok choy to the skillet. Turn the heat down and stir to combine and heat through. Taste and adjust the sauce to taste.

Add the cooked rice cakes to the pan and stir to combine. Remove from heat. Add the creme fraiche (or substitute) and stir until blended.

Garnish with sesame seeds and/or chives.

Notes
You do NOT want to overcook the rice cakes or let them sit there congealing as the rest of your dish is cooking. For me, starting the water boiling as I'm washing and chopping bok choy, and have the pork browning in the skillet is about right.


Sunday, March 3, 2019

Easy egg breakfast

I guess if I was being fancy I could call them "crustless quiches", but then you might think they were more effort to make than they actually are, and skip over this so-easy recipe, and miss out.


Pictured: Purple onion, spinach, and cheddar cheese egg cups hot from the oven

Everyone who sees my little egg muffins has the same question - are eggs edible after you freeze them, and then microwave them? ABSOLUTELY. There are whole freezer aisles that are devoted to this exact truth. Are they as good as fresh out of the oven? No. If you use a toaster oven instead of a microwave to reheat are they better? Yes. Does the microwave do a perfectly adequate job? YES. From fridge or freezer, I can pop these babies in the microwave and have a hot yummy breakfast in minutes, as I juggle getting myself and a toddler ready for the day and out the door.

The thanks for this recipe/concept goes to my sister in law Ardella who gave me a whole platter of these things after I gave birth to my daughter. They were the perfect snack in the first couple weeks, as I got hungry at all times of the day and night but wanted REAL food, not some sort of processed junk.


Pictured: cold egg cups (see how the middles sink in after they cool?) ready to heat and heat. The one on the right has been cut so you can see the chunk of ricotta cheese! This on is a spinach, bacon, and ricotta cheese variation.


What you need

  • About a dozen eggs
  • Splash of milk into the scrambled egg mixture, just for luck
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fillings/add-ins. Reserve them in a separate bowl, do NOT add to scrambled egg mixture. 
How to get 'er done
  • Preheat oven to 350*F
  • Pour equal amounts of egg into a GREASED (I use spray) nonstick muffin tin (or use foil liners)
  • Add fillings to each tin.
  • Cook until centers are set. This is usually about 18-20 minutes.

Fillings

I find that the magic combination is 1 vegetable, 1 cheese, and 1 meat. There's a reason that most frozen egg products have a very tasty flavorful meat added in like bacon or sausage - it helps compensate for the slight hit of flavor and texture that the egg takes when subjected to the freezer and microwave. If you will be serving these fresh, you will have more lee-way. However, I still think that choosing an average of 3 filling add-ins is about perfect. Here's some of my favorite combinations: 

  • 1/2 slice of bacon, a couple fresh spinach leaves, chunk or shredded cheddar cheese
  • spoon of ricotta cheese, fresh sage leaves cut up, bacon
  • smoked salmon, capers, spoon of ricotta cheese
  • sauteed zuchinni, mozzerrella, olives
  • Canned green chilis, chipotle hot sauce, cheddar cheese, minced purple onion
  • sausage, shredded carrot, swiss cheese cube
Pictured: a pan of onion, spinach, and cheddar cheese egg cups ready to go into the oven. These cooked down in the cups pictured at the beginning of this post. Without the meat add-in, I used a little Penzey's sandwich sprinkle on top to make sure these had a good seasoned flavor. 

Making Ahead

The egg muffins reheat well from fridge or freezer with a couple minutes in the microwave. For a really stellar result, allow to thaw in fridge overnight and reheat in a toaster oven.

Hints

  • Eggs like to stick, so make sure the non-stick coating on your muffin pan is in very good shape in addition to oiling the cups, or use foil muffin cup liners. I think the key to good muffins is to NOT add the fillings to the egg mixture. Instead, add it individually to the muffins tins AFTER you pour the egg mixture.
  • I find that about 1 egg per muffin tin is perfect. I use 12 eggs for my 12 muffin tin pan. Scramble in a bowl. If you are going to add a LOT of "other" fillings to your muffins, reduce to 10 eggs for a 12 tin pan.
  • If you are not using a seasoned meat for one of you fillings, consider seasoning your egg muffins more heavily. 

Pasta Fagioli

Pasta "fazool" is my husband's favorite Olive Garden soup. Always looking to expand my very meager homemade soup options, I offered to try and replicate it at home. The result was a soup that even I, a non-soup sort of person, could get excited about. Easy enough to make after work for dinner, good enough to eat for left overs, and I've heard it freezes well (but I've never personally gotten to freeze it, since in this household between lunches and dinners it's gobbled up within just a few days).



For those of you that haven't had it before and need an idea of what this is going to look and taste like (since apparently unless you are a pro food photographer, soup is never ever going to look good in a photo), it's a tomato and broth based soup that is built on mire pox, with the ground meat, beans, pasta, and vegetables all in such a perfect balance so that it is impossible to decide which is the dominant element.


What you need

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound italian sausage (I find that substituting sausage for all or part of ground meat in many of my recipes gives a more flavorful result and it's not as hard to get a good finished well-seasoned flavor in the end.)
  • 2 carrots, small diced 
  • 3 celery sticks, small diced
  • 1 medium onioin, small diced
  • 2 gloves of garlic, minced
  • 2-14 oz cans tomato sauce
  • 1-14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2-14 oz cans chicken broth
  • Either an addition 14 oz can of tomato sauce OR chicken broth, depending on taste. I prefer to use an extra can of broth to lighten the soup a tad. 
  • 1-14 oz can kidney beans
  • 1-14 oz can small white beans
  • 1 cup of small noodles - I like to use the ditalini pasta type. 
  • Fresh Parsley - chopped, small handful or about 3 tablespoons
  • Dried italian herbs to taste - like oregano, majoram, or penzey's sandwich sprinkle. If you use the italian sausage for all or part of your meat the exact seasoning you do will be less critical. 
  • Optional - 1/2 c. of water to thin the soup
How to get 'er done

  • Choose a bigger pot than you think you will need
  • Cook the meat, and then remove meat.
  • Cook the carrot/celery/onion until soft. About 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. 
  • Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth, and herbs. Simmer for a minimum of 15 minutes. In the meantime cook the pasta in a separate pot, and then drain. 
  • Add the meat, pasta, beans and heat through. 
  • Add the parsley just before serving. 
Hints and Notes
My version is a touch heavier on the meat than it needs to be because my husband likes it that way. I think you could eliminate about 1/2 the meat and still have it be very tasty.

Especially if you want to get this soup cooked and served quickly, cutting your vegetables small is the key. They will actually cook and be soft after sauteeing and minimum simmering. If you are vegetable adverse like my husband, consider shredding the carrots so that they are invisible as possible - but they still add to the mire pox base flavor. Don't leave them out! So far just cutting them up into very small cubes and making sure they are absolutely not crunchy works. The soup's flavor improves when kept in the fridge overnight, and he no longer noticed the carrots after it sat. This soup would probably gain that extra flavor without having to sit in the fridge if I planned ahead simmered it for much longer, or used a pressure cooker, or used a crock pot......but honestly I think the flavor is perfectly adequate the first day without a long simmer, and I'm a keep it simple person.

Joelle's Wilted Kale and Roasted-Potato Winter Salad

This hearty dish is more of a filling side dish, or could even serve as a main dish, rather than what I think of as a "salad". When one of my best friends in vet school gave me this recipe I did not consider kale edible, and I wasn't sure what tahini was. Now, I keep a container of tahini in the fridge just so I can make this recipe on a whim, and it remains the best lemon-tahini dressing I've ever had.

I have done some variations - substitute roasted broccoli for kale, or make it without cheese or substitute cheddar, or substitute roasted cauliflower for potatoes. They are all good, but in my mind the original remains the best.

Pictured: The time I made it with broccoli instead of kale, and with cheddar cheese :). There may even be some way-ward purple onions in with the potatoes!!!! 


Joelle's Wilted Kale and Roasted-Potato Winter Salad

Makes 4-6 servings depending on how whether you actually know the weight of your produce that is being used (I don't usually), and whether you are serving as a main or side course. 

What you need: 
  • 2 pounds yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces 
  • 1/3 cup olive oil OR a drizzle (see notes and hints below) 
  • 4 garlic cloves - 3 thinly sliced and 1 minced 
  • 1/3 c. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 c. well-stirred tahini 
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice  
  • 3/4 pounds kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves very thinly sliced crosswise 

How to get 'er done:

  • Preheat the oven to 450*F
  • Toss potatoes with oil - I use a drizzle of oil instead of measuring 1/3 cup. Season to taste with salt and pepper and spread evenly on a cookie sheet or other large pan. I recommend using parchment paper to keep them from sticking. Roast about 10 minutes, then stir in 3 sliced garlic cloves, and roast for about 10 minutes. The potatoes should almost be done at this point. Sprinkle with cheese and roast until cheese is melted and golden in spots, about 5 more minutes. 
  • While the potatoes are roasting, make the dressing. Because of the small amount of dressing, and because it tends to thicken, I find it hard to get it out of a blender. I prefer to use a small whisk in a large bowl and give my arm a bit of a work out. However you choose to do it -  puree tahini, water, lemon juice, minced garlic, and 1/2 tsp of salt until smooth. Add more water if it's too thick. This dressing tends to thicken up as it sits, you will probably need to add a little more water than you think. 
  • Dump the potatoes in a large serving dish including any garlic and oil in the pan, once they are done. Add the kale and the tahini sauce and toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
Making Ahead

I've frozen individual portions of this "salad" and let thaw in the fridge with good results, as long as I use a "sturdy" vegetable like broccoli, or don't mind the kale getting a little soft. If you substitute vegetables such as spinach for the kale, I don't think it would freeze well. I prefer this salad hot so I warm leftovers in the microwave.

Hints and Notes

  • Yes, yukon gold potato texture is best for this dish. I think 2 pounds is about 4-5 medium sized yukon golds. I usually cut up potatoes until I have an even single layer on a cookie sheet for roasting,
  • Especially if you are using cheese, this makes everything REALLY greasy IMO. So, my advice would be to "use a drizzle" as described in method section.
  • I almost always use pre-prepared garlic and use whatever I have in the fridge - usually minced - and don't worry about slices or preparing cloves in different manners. 
  • I prefer the shredded Parmigiano cheese. I've also made this dish without cheese and it still tastes great if you want to do this dairy free.
  • Tahini separates and thick in the fridge, where it should be stored after opening. Leaving it out on the counter for an hour or two before you use it will help make it easier to stir and use.
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice is about 1 lemon's worth. If you want to serve with lemon wedges (I usually don't), then have another lemon available.
  • I consider 3/4 pound of kale = the bunch of kale that is sold twisty-tied together at the grocery store. There is a trick to getting the stems/center rib separated from the leaves. Hold the stem with one hand, and then place the thumb and forefinger of your other hand on either side of stem, where the leaves attach and then draw the stem away in a smooth motion, while strippping the leaves from the stem with your thumb/forefinger. If the stem breaks, repeat the motion until the entire leaf has been stripped). 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Grandma's Persimmon Cookies

These are a different kind of cookie than what I've posted before. Somewhere between a cookie and a spice bread with a fluffy crumb interior but enough sugar to get a caramelized crispy edges.



 I grew up with frozen persimmons in the freezer ready to be thawed just for these cookies. I didn't know until I was an adult that there are two types of persimmons - firm flat ones that you can eat like an apple fresh, and the ones with the "pointy" bottoms that are used for cooking and cookies when they are incredible soft and squishy. 


How soft should your persimmons be? Soft enough that the pulp slips from the skin with very little encouragement and plops into the bowl below.


The recipe notes that the "Grandma" was my Great-Grandma Giva.

What you need

1 cup persimmon pulp
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup nutmeats (typically I use walnuts)
1 cup raisins (I think dried cranberries would be good too)
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves (optional, says the original recipe - but I why I can't fathom!)

Git 'er Done

Preheat the oven 375 degrees

Into that lovely bowl of persimmon pulp, mix in the baking soda.

Like a typical cookie recipe, cream butter and sugar, then add the egg and mix.

UNLIKE a typical cookie recipe, add the nutmeats and raisins at this point and mix.

Mix together the remaining dry ingredients and then add to the creamed mixture, stirring in.

Add the persimmon-soda mix. Surprise! It's like jelly now! Mix until blended.


Drop batter onto ungreased cookie sheet in large spoonfuls and then (VERY IMPORTANT), spread cookies out to flat cookie shaped objects with a fork. If you don't do this, you will end up with tall, dense cookies you have no one but yourself to blame for.


"Bake until cookies are golden brown, with fairly dark edges".

The original recipe doesn't give a baking time. Unlike the other cookie recipes I've posted here there's lots of lee-way on the cookie time. They don't overbrown and burn if cooked 1 minute too long. In fact, I cooked one batch of cookies for ummmm...30 or 40 minutes. Completely forgot about them. Took them out and they were BROWN. As the cookies sit they soften up and they were perfectly edible and delicious - better than the batch that was barely brown at ~15 minutes. I think a good range is 20-25 minutes, check them at 15 minutes.

  • Do NOT take them out too early
  • Error on the side of more brown
  • Let them sit and cool and soften before making judgements
  • Don't throw out "burnt" cookies without letting them have a chance. 
On the left is a 15 min baked cookie. On the right is a...ummm..30 or 40 or 45 min baked cookie. Something in between is your goal! You want the edges brown like the right hand cookies, but the middle will be closer to the left hand cookie.
What about freezing? Because they have to be mashed flat, they don't lend themselves to being rolled into balls and freezing, then they have to be pretty thawed to flatten out. My solution has been to freeze them in flat "sheets" in quart size ziplocks at approximately the thickness of the cookies. To bake, I cut the ziplock off my cookie dough slab and then break into pieces and put on a cookie sheet.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Kitchen Sink Fried Rice

I have a couple of "kitchen sink" recipes - the versatile recipes that I can throw left over vegetables +/- meat into at the end of the week so that nothing goes to waste. The fried rice is perfect for this.

Before making my own at home, I wasn't a fried rice fan. I never ate it in restaurant and it never dawned on me that it would be something I would be interested in actually making or eating. The color was off putting (why was it brown?), the name horrifying (frying something that was already a simple carb?), and the vegetables and meat unimpressive (what was that speck of orange and green?).

Simply recipe's dish looked so simple and straight forward I gave it a try.  (also and I saw that the color was from soy sauce, and it wasn't fried as much as sauteed). The first time I made it I used left over chicken, and stuck closely to recipe. After that the field was wide open and I've made several variations - all of them good. I can stuff almost any left over vegetable into this recipe which is probably why I've made this weekly since I discovered the recipe.

What you need

  • Some meat. Or none. A vegetarian option works here too. SR suggests 8 ounces of shrimp. I suggest you use whatever is in your fridge. Last night I used boneless skinless frozen thighs cut into generous chunks. 
  • Cornstarch
  • Black pepper and salt
  • Oil with high smoke point (not olive oil)
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • Other vegetables cut into bite sized chunks - such as broccoli, bok choy, celery, etc. 
  • An onion of some sort - green onion or regular yellow onion. I usually have both left over from the week and I prefer to use the green onion.
  • About 4 cups of left over rice. It fries better if it's a day old and slightly dried out. 
  • About 1 cup frozen or canned peas and carrot mix. I abhore carrots and peas, but use them here because it makes the dish look like fried rice, gives it color, and I can't taste them in it. 
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame oil (optional)


How to Git 'er done

Lightly coat the meat with cornstarch (a teaspoon or two) and season with pepper and salt to taste. 

Heat some oil in a skillet until HOT. This is the theme of this recipe. You want to cook stuff HOT. 

Put the meat into the hot skillet in a single layer. Don't stir too much if you want a nice brown crust. Flip and stir as necessary until cooked. Remove from skillet. 

Add eggs and cook. Remove from skillet. If I don't have meat+cornstartch in the recipe I'll add a little cornstarch to the eggs after they are cooked. 

Cook other optional veggies (besides onion). Most of them just need a good sautee in the pan. Some like broccoli need to be sauteed, and then have some water added to the pan and cooked for a bit longer until they are tender enough. Remove from skillet. 

Add green or yellow onion. Sautee. Add rice and mix. Press the rice into a sheet across the bottom of the skillet and WAIT. The rice should be SIZZZLING. Yes, that is sizzzling with 3 "z's". If it wasn't, your skillet wasn't hot enough. 

Boo hoo. However, it will still work. It just might not be brown and chewy - instead it will be closer to what you are served in restaurants that they call fried rice.  

Flip the rice and let it brown on the other side. 

When your rice has been fried (or your patience run out) sprinkle soy sauce over the rice to taste and mix. add back in all the other ingredients and heat through until HOT. Finally, add seasame oil - just a bit - according to taste.

~Adapted from Simply Recipes (simplyrecipes.com)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Artisan Bread

About a year ago wheat and I made up.

It's a relationship with rules and boundaries, but the bottom line is that if I make it in my own oven and some moderation exists, we do OK.

Enter the easiest, best, homemade artisan bread recipe EVER if you are like me and...

  1. Do not have any time ever. 
  2. Have a career, have a kid, have hobbies (oh, never mind - this is just an extension of #1)
  3. Are cheap.
  4. Refuse to add any additional appliances to the kitchen
  5. Are bored/easily distractible/ADHD and have a hard time focusing even with timers. "Critical steps" and meeting exact time deadlines are not my friend. A forgiving recipe is...I've already lost my train of thought. 
I've made 8-10 loaves and 3 or 4 master "batches" so far in the last couple weeks. I don't think I've baked a loaf twice the same way and none have gone to waste. I've baked them for friends and mommy meet-ups and brought them to work. I've made cinnamon varieties for breakfast and savory herb mini-loaves for an old-fashion lunches. Wanna give it a try? 

Plain Boule with dried herbs on top.

Here's the basic recipe - further down I'll go through some of my favorite variations. 

The recipe
- adapted from the 5 min artisan bread method (click here)
- There is a ton of variations on this method and the one I linked above is darn close to what I do - what's funny is that it's not the recipe I initially followed, but once I made a bunch of modifications to suit me, it was very close to this source one. 

What you need
  • 3 cups water lukewarm 
  • 1 tablespoon yeast 
  • 1 tablespoon salt 
  • 6 1/2 cups (2 pounds) flour
What you do...
Mix everything together. Put in a container (covered, but not with a tight fitting lid) and let rise on your counter....or not. As you will see in the commentary further down, everything about this recipe, including ingredients and method can be a compromise :). 

At some point put in your fridge.

New batch of dough right after initial rise on counter, ready to be stored in fridge. 

At any time between now and 14 days from now, cut off a chunk of dough and shape. 

Let rise on the counter for 40min-2 hours or in the fridge overnight. Don't worry if it doesn't puff up like you are used to with other yeast bread methods. It will in the oven (I swear). You came this far, so you have a little trust right????
2 formed hamburger buns resting on the counter. Rest of dough ready to go back to the fridge.

Slice the top of the bread with a sharp knife in slashes prior to baking. It releases the bread to rise better in the oven (I swear). Slash it like you mean it, don't be a weanie. (This is actually a really critical step. If you don't slash it, the loaf will end up a hard little crusty bowling ball.)

Bake in a 450-500 degree oven either uncovered with a cup or 2 or boiling water in a shallow dish at the bottom of the oven to increase oven humidity 20-30 min, OR cook covered in a cast iron pot/container for the first 15-20 min, then uncovered for 10-15 min. 

It's hard to screw this up. Trust me. 
  • 3 cups lukewarm water? The original recipe I used didn't state this, and I used cold water from the tap. Turned out just fine. If you use warm water, it should be lukewarm "body temp". Not scalding bath water. If it feels hot, not warm - it's probably too hot. Using lukewarm water will make the initial rising process faster - or so the internet says. 
  • 1 tablespoon yeast....or whatever you have in your fridge. Original quantity was 1 1/2 tablespoons. I mis-read that on my first attempt and put in 1 1/2 teaspoons. Was totally fine. Did some reading and it takes longer for the dough to rise and to be able to use the first batch with less yeast, but it still does exactly what it needs to do, even at scant yeast amounts of 1/2 teaspoon. Some people like the flavor of dough that initially had less yeast in it (fast versus slow rise). I'm not sure I care, but since I don't want to waste my ingredients and I always refrigerate overnight, I've settled on 1 tablespoon. 
  • 1 tablespoon salt - I've seen recipes go up to 1 1/2 tablespoon, and the first time I made it, I used 1 1/2 teaspoons. I felt like it needed more salt so bumped it up to 1 tablespoon. This is based on individual taste, so feel free to increase or decrease as needed. 
  • Flour. I use regular all-purpose flour. Except for when I run out. Then I'll replace what I need with bread flour. Or wheat flour. Yes, you can use sourghdough starter, wheat flour, or whatever other variation you desire. I know that bread flour and wheat flour require a little more water (or less flour) to the above ratios. If you are going to do anything other than make up the difference with a little when you are short, you should probably do some research (start by exploring the website I linked above). For this recipe plain 'ole all-purpose is recommended over bread flour because it makes a better texture in the finished product. (May 29 2017 update - made a batch with almost 100% bread flour because I was short on time and needed to make some bread for a potluck. Result? I didn't notice much difference between the loaves with bread flour and those with all-purpose. Moral of the story - use what you have)
  • No time for the initial rise? First time I made it, it was 11pm at night and I read it on the internet and just HAD to try it. I mixed and put it in the fridge without any counter rising time. It was fine. 
  • Prebaking rise? It's better if I either put in fridge overnight, and then let sit on the counter for an hour to un-chill after forming, before baking. Or, let sit 1-2 hours on the counter before baking. HOWEVER, I've also gotten impatient and cooked directly out of the fridge, or let only sit on the counter for 20 min while the oven preheated and it was FINE. The air holes are less open, but perfectly edible. Trust me. Whatever time you have, make it work for you. This is not a fussy recipe. 
  • Cooking methods....Sheet versus pot versus foil loaf pan? All produce acceptable (delicious!) bread. After baking a lot of loaves, I think I slightly prefer the cast iron pot method, and I prefer keeping the lid on for 2/3 of the cooking time, instead of the first 1/2. I have more cast iron pots than sheets and so it's more convenient, and I like not having to deal with the water. (although for my oven, when I've tried the other methods and used hot water in the bottom of the oven I'm not sure it made a difference?). I'm still experimenting with time covered versus uncovered in the "pot method". Leaving the cover on longer and then uncovering just long enough to brown produces a thin crackly crust. Uncovered longer produces a thicker, more chewy crust. 
On to the fun stuff! Flavors!

Dried herbs

Simply topping a plain loaf with dried herbs such as rosemary, or a spice blend.


Nut and dried fruit
Made a Walnut and raisin boule as my first loaf and managed to eat the entire thing as dessert while watching TV on the couch. I'm out of nutmeats (serious sad face) but this simple combination is cliche for a reason - it's SO GOOD.


Cinnamon etc.
I love cinnamon! I've made a swirl loaf (spread out the dough like a thick pizza, prep with filling, roll into loaf shape) and cinnamon rolls (similar to above but cut into rolls) and gotten rave reviews from both. I initially did the predictable cinnamon+brown sugar+butter with a bit of cloves and salt thrown in.

It was good....but not divine.

I only thought it was divine because I hadn't tried....

- Cinnamon, lemon zest, chopped dates.

*drool*.

Now THAT is something binge worthy. The chopped dates cook down so tender that it's like magical craters of moist sweet deliciousness mixing with the bread and spices. Chopped dates might be my favorite dried fruit to put in bread.

I personally don't like my breads very sweet, so for a more traditional cinnamon roll that is sticky sweet, add frosting or glaze.


- Cinnamon, honey, chopped almonds

Just a hint of sweetness, nutty crunch from the almonds.



Chocolate chips
Fold them in, form a boule or flat sheet loaf. Always a huge hit. I'm not a huge chocolate lover so I'm sort of meh (give me cinnamon+dates anytime!) but for some people this is what they love.




Whole Garlic cloves
This is the one that surprised me the most. I threw in all my left over whole garlic cloves into a simple boule and after baking it was something really wonderful. The garlic flavor infused the entire loaf without being heavy, and the garlic cloves were soft and mild. Dried herbs (such as rosemary) on top compliment the flavor well.





------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I'd love to hear your favorite flavor variations if you try this recipe!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

October 2017 update

When it's warm in the summer and I don't want the heat of the oven in the house, I like making bread on the BBQ.

It's definitely a different product than the oven bread, but I find it ideal for sandwich bread, english muffins, and rolls. If you want to try this method, here's my tips.

- Small rounds of dough patted flat.
- While they are resting fire up the BBQ with the lid down on high. It should be HOT.
- Once the BBQ is HOT, throw the dough on, turn it down to medium and close the lid. This part takes some experimentation because you want the heat low enough that it doesn't burn the bottom of the rolls before the rolls are cooked through.
- To finish the rolls, I flip them over and turn the BBQ off - but keep the lid closed. The heat inside the BBQ is enough to finish off the rolls.
- I've been experimenting with no flipping the rolls so they look more like dinner rolls instead of english muffins. I think the trick is to turn the heat down initially even lower, so that the rolls can stay on the grill even longer without burning while the overall heat inside the BBQ cooks the rolls like an oven.

The finished bread has a grilled taste that is just absolutely wonderful. It's a softer bread without the crusty chewy crust, but is still sturdy enough for sandwiches or burgers.