Monday, October 31, 2011

EASY Artisan Bread

In case you didn't know, homemade bread is one of the greatest things in the world. The smell alone is enough to make your heart warm up, but cutting into it and slathering on some butter that just melts and oozes right into the bread is AMAZING. I honestly feel sad for people who don't enjoy warm, fresh baked bread at least once every few weeks, if not every single week.

I know that homemade bread can be daunting. The yeast! Is the water too hot? Should I knead by hand? Is my mixer kneading it enough? How do I know when it's done? And then it gets eaten up so fast that it almost seems like all that hard work wasn't even worth it. Well, let me tell you, there is an easier way. I'm done my fair share of proofing yeast, hand-kneading for 10-15 minutes, witnessing dough that doesn’t rise, etc. . . It’s not exactly fun.  Then, I saw the light. The no-knead, bread-so-easy-you’ll-freak  light. I bought this book. And now, I am going to share with you the main recipe. I honestly make this bread about 1-2 times a week, every week. Sometimes more. Sure, it doesn’t exactly help that baby weight melt away, but it sure warms my soul!

I’m doing things a little crazy today. The thing about this bread recipe is that you use the same bowl over and over when you are mixing up the dough. You don’t even need to clean it. Because I already had some dough in the fridge, enough for one loaf, I made the bread, and then used the bowl to make up a new batch to share with you all. When you make your bread, the bowl will obviously be clean and you won’t need to do things like scrape down the sides and incorporate the extra into the new dough. I know, this all sounds crazy when you haven’t read the recipe yet. :)

EASY Artisan Bread
You only need 4 ingredients for this bread. Yes, FOUR!
3 Cups warm Water. No need to take the temperature here. You can actually even use cool water. Seriously. 
1 1/2 Tablespoons Active Dry Yeast
1 1/2 Tablespoons Salt, I use Sea Salt
6 1/2 Cups unbleached, all-purpose Flour

The flour isn't in the picture because I didn't feel like scooping 6 1/2 Cups out of my 25 lb bag for the picture. :)
 Grab some kind of huge container that has a lid. It should be at least 5 qts. I have this big yellow bowl that has a tupperware type lid. You can find big buckets online though, or i've heard that those clear shoe box-like boxes work pretty great as well. My bowl is "dirty" from my last batch of dough. When you make a new batch of this bread dough, you just use the same bowl again.
 If this is your second time around, go ahead and grab a wooden spoon and scrape all the extra stuff off of the bowl and down into the middle. Go ahead and leave it there while we add the ingredients for the new batch.
 Grab your container and throw in the ingredients! Order doesn't matter. Here is the water!
 There goes the yeast!
 Last but not least, the flour. No need to weigh the flour or anything. Just scoop it in your bag and then use a knife to scrape the excess off the top.
 Mix it all up!
 You don't need to mix this too much. Just make sure everything is moist. You can even use your hands if you like. This should only take about 2 or 3 minutes. Now, cover your container, but NOT air tight. I just set the lid on top of the bowl without pressing it down. Let it sit on the counter for 2 hours.
 Silly me forgot to take a picture after the 2 hours was up. Oops! At this point, put the whole bowl into the fridge and you can leave it there for up to 14 days. Yes, you read that right! Two weeks! You can also use it right away, but it's a little easier to handle when it's cold. Now, the baking part is where I differ from the book. The authors use a baking stone and a pizza peel. I have neither of these. If you do, feel free to ask me in the comments about how to use them to bake this bread. I use an upside-down baking sheet, parchment paper, and corn meal.
Please excuse the skillet full of bacon fat in the background :)
 Grab your bowl of dough. Your container will have MUCH more than this. The recipe makes enough for about 4 loaves of bread. This is my last little chunk to make one loaf. When you are making one loaf, grab a grapefruit sized amount of dough from your batch.
 Sprinkle some flour all over the top to make it easier to handle. This dough is sticky!
 Now, you're going to form a ball by pulling one side of the dough and folding it under. Rotate 90 degrees and repeat all the way around the ball. I know that sounds super confusing. Think of it like you are making a bed and you are pulling the sheet's corner, tucking it under the mattress, and then moving on to the next corner. This is all called the "gluten cloak." Set the dough onto your corn meal sprinkled, parchment lined cookie sheet and let it sit for 40 minutes. No need to cover it up.
 At the 20 minute mark, you can start to pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees and then let your bread rise the following 20 minutes. Sprinkle some more flour onto the top and, using a serrated knife, cut a few slashes in the top.
 Pop it in the oven for 30 minutes.
 Once it's done, remove to a wire rack immediately to cool. You will probably want to wait 10-15 minutes before even attempting to cut this, because it is HOT! Serve with butter, pasta, soup, nothing, and enjoy!

Extra notes: You are probably wondering about why you don't clean the bowl in between uses. Have you heard of, or made, a sourdough starter? It's basically a mixture of flour and water that you let ferment for a while and use to make sourdough bread. Those extra scraps in the bowl actually act, somewhat, like a sourdough starter. They add a very mild sourdough taste to the bread that is SO delicious! Also, if you wait the entire 2 weeks before using up your dough, know that it probably won't rise as much and will be a denser bread. The sourdough taste might be a little stronger. Not that there is anything wrong with that. :D
You can also have a shallow pan on the bottom rack of your oven and when you put the bread into the oven, dump 1 cup of water into that pan and shut the oven door immediately. This creates a crispier crust. This bread is pretty crusty anyway, and my hubs thinks the softer the better, so I skip that step.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mini Pumpkin Pie

You've heard of Bakerella, right? No?! Well, let me introduce you! I first discovered Bakerella about 2 1/2 years ago and was overwhelmed with the cuteness abounding in this blog! Around last Halloween, I was throwing a party for some friends when I saw these Mini Pumpkin Pies and I KNEW I had to make them! I love anything mini, and the little jack-o-lantern faces just about tossed me over the edge of "eeee!!!! Sooooooooo cute!!!!" When I first made these last year, I used homemade pie crust, but went with a refrigerated pie crust this time to make things easy for ya.

Mini Pumpkin Pies
Recipe from Bakerella
2 Pie Crusts
8 oz, or one box, of room temperature Cream Cheese
3 Eggs
1/2 Cup Sugar (Next time I am going to try these with honey instead, be on the lookout!)
1 Cup canned Pumpkin
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice (You can also use 1/2 tsp Cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground Ginger, 1/8 tsp ground Allspice and 1/8 tsp ground Nutmeg)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Roll out your pie crusts to maximize mini pumpkin pie cutouts. Like my rolling pin? Yeah, I should probably get a real one someday. I'm waiting for the hubs to find me a great pink one for some kind of mother's day/birthday/valentine's day/Christmas gift kind of thing.
Using a round cookie cutter, or a pumpkin cookie cutter, or the top of a glass because you don't actually own any cookie cutters besides Christmas ones. . . . . cut out a bunch of circles. I would say these were 3 1/2-4 inches wide maybe?
I got about 14 circles out of one crust. Pick up the scraps, re-roll, and you can get about another 3 or 4 circles.
Start filling up your mini muffin tin. You can try harder to make them prettier around the edges. I was in a rush.
Grab some of the extra scraps and make little "stems." Make sure to really press them on there, because they have a tendency to fall off once cooked.
Now it's time to make the filling! Grab a mixing bowl and dump in your cream cheese.
(Where did all of my other pictures go?!?!) Add sugar, 2 of the 3 eggs, vanilla, pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice.
Mix it all up! Cream cheese can be hard to really mix with other things, so I grabbed my immersion blender and pureed that stuff right up!
Now, for that last egg, we're just going to use the white. Brush the egg whites around the edges of the pie crusts. I totally forgot to do this with my second batch! It just doesn't come out as golden and beautiful without the egg whites.
Fill those suckers up! About 1 Tablespoon of filling for each little pie. Don't forget to wipe up any little spills.
Yay! Ready to go! They go into the oven for about 15 minutes, according to Bakerella, but mine took about 20 minutes. Just check for golden brown-ness.
Yes, I know, Bakerella's are much prettier than mine.
Take them out and let them cool completely if you are going to be decorating them. Speaking of which. . .
Grab some chocolate chips and melt em! You can do it double-boiler style or pop in the microwave and stir after every 30 seconds.
If you want, you can add a dash of vegetable oil to thin it out a bit.
Pour your chocolate into a plastic baggie, chop a teeny tiny little bit off of the corner, and then pipe on some cute faces! The stem fell off of a few of mine, so I just drizzled the chocolate over the top. Still yum!
Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Shredded Chicken and Homemade Stock

The following images are kind of gross and yucky. Viewer discretion is advised.

I HATE touching raw chicken. Doesn't everybody? However, i've come to somewhat face my fear with this recipe. Shredded Chicken in the crockpot is one of the things I regularly make so that I always have some shredded chicken on hand for soups, casseroles, sandwiches, etc. . . Plus, making your own chicken stock is just so satisfying!

Shredded Chicken and Homemade Stock
Printable Recipe
1 Whole Chicken (I'm not sure why this one looks so extra icky in the picture)
1-2 Cups of Water
Veggies- carrots, onions, celery, garlic, whatever you have lying around
Salt and Pepper

Before you start this, make sure you are doing it in the morning. This whole process, with the homemade stock, is pretty much a two-day process. But a very limited and easy two-day process if that makes you feel better. I like to take the lazy route. :)
 Here is where things start to get nasty. Reach inside that chicken and pull out the innards! Sometimes, the nice butcher will have already taken all of these things and put them in a little bag for you. It makes it so easy! Unfortunately, I had to hand scrape all this stuff out of there. Yikes!
 Place your chicken in your crock pot and cover with salt and pepper, rubbing it in. Now cut up your vegetables! They are only there for flavor, so use as little or as much as you like.
 Add your veggies to the crockpot and then add some water.
 Cook on low for 8-10 hours. It's still not very pretty when it's all done. But that's ok!
 Go ahead and remove the chicken to a cutting board or large bowl.
 Let it cool off for a bit, and then pull all the yummy chicken off of the bones.
 Here is the leftover nastiness. Bones and fat and skin and things that just felt too slimy for me to ever want to eat.
 Take all those leftover bits and just dump them right back into the crockpot!
Add 4-6 cups of water.
And a couple splashes of vinegar. Whatever vinegar you like. I didn't have any plain vinegar, so I just used Apple Cider Vinegar. The vinegar is going to help pull calcium out of the chicken bones and make this stock THAT much more healthy for you! I also tossed a dried bay leaf in there. Set your crockpot to low and let it sit for 8-24 hours! My crockpot only has 8 and 10 hour increments on it, so I set it to 10 hours, went to bed, and then set it for another 8 hours once I woke up just because I didn't want to deal with chicken at 8 in the morning.
In the meantime, you can figure out what to do with all that shredded chicken! It makes about 6 cups. I like to separate it into little freezer baggies. I did two with plain chicken (that I can use for casseroles, tacos, soups, pot pies. . . ) and then I added a cup of BBQ sauce to the other two bags and squished it around. These will be defrosted, heated, and used for BBQ chicken sandwiches! I put one bag in the fridge and the other three in the freezer. Just try and put them in there flat, so that they will freeze flat and take up less room.
Now, back to the stock. After you've left it going for however long, it might look something like this!
Turn off the crockpot and go ahead and scoop out as much of the big chunks as you can. Toss it all in the trash or feed it to your scavenger kitty cats.
Go ahead and grab whatever container(s) you want to keep your stock in and strain the stock right into it. I used a funnel and some cheesecloth and a big mason jar.
Now stick your container(s) in the fridge for a few hours. You want all the fat to rise up to the top and be totally gross looking. Grab a slotted spoon and scoop out the fat. Unless you like that kind of stuff, of course.
And there you have it! Enough shredded chicken for 4 different meals and homemade chicken stock! With no preservatives, low sodium, no weird additives, etc. . . And don't worry if it seems pretty gelatinous. That's a GOOD thing! That means it's packed with yummy nutrients! It will become liquidy again when you heat it up.

Extra notes: I lazed around for most of the two days making this. I love that I don't have to worry about leaving anything in the crockpot for too long. An extra hour or two won't hurt it! However, if you're a "get er done" kind of person, this can be sped up. You can cook the chicken on the stove for a few hours and then cook the stock on the stove as well for another few hours. But, generally when it comes to meat, the longer it's cooked, the yummier it will be. And the better your house will smell. I seriously woke up the morning after I started the stock and thought I was in comfort food heaven. Use your stock within 48 hours or freeze it for a few months! You can easily freeze it in smaller, more portion sized containers, or even freeze in ice cubes trays (and then transfer to a ziplock) so you have easier control over how much stock you need.

Use Shredded Chicken for:
Cheesy Chicken and Bacon Pillows
Chicken Tacos
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