Meditation, a make-shift solution, and monkey bread

There are very few people over the age of five and under retirement age who don’t own a smartphone. I am one of them, and my husband is too. Nowadays there are increasingly instances when I must out myself that I only own a flip phone, for example when I am told at a store that instead of getting a hole punched in the frequent buyer paper card, I can just log my purchases with the app on my phone. I get funny looks, and often feel compelled to explain why I don’t have a smartphone. Continue reading

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A spoonful of sugar no longer

Pesto Flower bakedIt looks like my childhood heroine Mary Poppins needs to reconsider. No more than six teaspoons added sugar per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men – that’s what the American Heart Association recommends. Until I read this I thought our added sugar intake was on the moderate side. We do not drink any sodas or soft drinks, nor do we add sugar to tea or coffee. I pay attention to the sugar content when I buy cereal and other processed foods. We do not eat candy and a piece of chocolate only once in a blue moon. Most of the baked goods and sweets we eat are homemade, and I reduce the sugar amount in any given recipe by at least one-third. Still, I concluded that we still eat much more sugar than we should. Continue reading

Pesto outlet

Pesto knotsOnce in a while even resolved home cooks like me agree to take-out pizza. With it we usually order a serving of garlic knots sitting in a puddle of very garlicky garlic oil. Seeing the ample, almost untouched amount of pesto in the freezer a few weeks ago made me feel almost guilty about eating garlic knots from somewhere else so I thought of ways to combine the two: pesto knots.

When it comes to pesto, I am a minimalist. I only use homegrown basil and garlic, salt, a good extra-virgin olive oil, and roasted walnuts. No pine nuts because the real, good kind from Lebanon is very expensive, and I find the Chinese pine nuts inedible. And no Pecorino or other cheese because I prefer to add it to the dish right at the table.

Immediately after processing the pesto, I fill it in small disposable paper cups and place them in the freezer until they are solidly frozen. I then remove the cups and tightly pack those pesto lollipops (lollipops without sticks, that is) in a large zippered freezer bag.

The yeasted knots are fun to make, and both times I made them we did not have trouble finishing them within a day or two (they can also be reheated in the oven).

Now that I have averted the danger of having to spread pesto on our breakfast toast in June to use up last year’s supply, I am starting to wonder whether this year my basil plants might get hit by basil downy mildew, a new highly destructive and quickly spreading disease. In gardening, everything is possible. Meanwhile, I will eat another pesto knot and enjoy it.

Pesto Knots

1¼ cups warm water

2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

3½ cups flour (whole wheat or half whole wheat and half bread flour)

½ cup pesto

Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

1. Mix the water with the yeast and let stand for a few minutes until it starts to foam.

2. In a large bowl mix the olive oil, salt, flour, and the yeast mixture. Knead to a smooth dough using your hands or the dough hook of an electric mixer. The dough should be slightly tacky; add more water a teaspoon at a time as needed.

3. Cover and let rise for 2 hours.

4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. If you have a baking stone, place it on the medium rack of the oven.

5. Briefly knead dough for remove any air bubbles. Divide it into 24 equally sized pieces using a sharp knife or a dough cutter. Roll each piece into a 6-inch rope of even thickness and twist it into a knot. If the dough starts to feel a bit dry, moisten your hands before shaping each knot.

6. Place the knots directly on the hot baking stone, or on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. After placing them in the oven spray them immediately with cold water. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the knots are golden brown.

7. In the meantime mix the pesto with a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Immediately when they come out of the oven, toss the knots with the pesto to coat them evenly.

8. Place the coated knots on a large plate or baking sheet in one single layer. If you pile them up hot as they are they will sweat and get soggy. Eat warm, or reheat in a preheated oven for 350 degrees for a few minutes.

Makes 24 pieces

A big bread for a big storm

 

Baking bread is always a comforting thing do to, especially in the wake of an upcoming monster storm like the one that will hit the East Coast of the United States tonight.

I just pulled a large loaf of bread from the oven. This is a new variation with pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil, my latest culinary discovery and a specialty from Austria. I was lucky enough to find the real thing at our local supermarket for a decent price.

A small bottle of the intensely flavored dark, nutty oil goes a long way. Pumpkin seed oil is only drizzled onto salads, soups and desserts. I have also added it to a homemade pumpkin frozen yogurt and will post that recipe soon though that will have to wait. Now I better bring in the potted plants and help with the other storm preparations…

Whole-Wheat Pumpkin Seed Bread with Pumpkin Seed Oil

I let the dough rise in a bread rising basket sprinkled with cornmeal. You can also shape it into a large round loaf, or divide the dough in two and bake it in two greased loaf pans.

Sponge:

2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast

1 cup lukewarm beer (leftover beer is fine) or water

1 cup cracked wheat

2 tablespoons honey

1 cup whole-wheat flour

Dough:

2 cups whole-wheat flour

2 cups bread flour

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons gluten

1¼ cups water

2 tablespoons pumpkin seed oil

¾ cup hulled pumpkin seeds

Cornmeal (optional)

1. Mix the yeast and the beer in a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients and mix well with a spoon. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

2. Mix the flours, salt and gluten and add to the sponge. Gradually add the water and the pumpkin seed oil. With the kneading attachment of the electric hand mixer, or with the stand mixer with kneading hook set on low, knead until an elastic dough forms. At the end, incorporate the pumpkin seeds until well distributed. If the dough is too dry, add a little warm water; if it’s a little tacky, don’t worry and please don’t add more flour, otherwise the bread will be too dry.

3. Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it. Turn the dough over once so it is evenly coated and cover with a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place for 1.5 hours.

4. Sprinkle a rising basket or a baking sheet with cornmeal. Knead the dough briefly but vigorously to remove any air pockets. Shape into a long log and place it in the rising basket.

5. Let rise for 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

6. Flip the bread from the rising basket onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a baking mat. Place it in the preheated oven and spray the bread with water. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. If the bread makes a hollow sound when you knock on the bottom, it’s ready. Remove from the pan and let cool on a cake rack.