An Anniversary, A Birthday And A New Bread Baking Bowl

Let’s start with the anniversary… March 1st marked the first anniversary of The Food In-Laws! I can’t believe it has already been a year since we first officially opened our doors. We started out knowing little about how to set up and run a blog, but we have sure come a long way since then!

There is still much to learn, but I am proud of what we have achieved so far and I look forward to another year of adventures. We have met a lot of friendly and supportive people along the way, and that certainly helps to keep us motivated. Thank you to our followers and to those who just stop by from time to time to read, like or comment on one of our posts. We appreciate every one of you!

On to the birthday… My birthday was several weeks ago – I had a great day and was given extra special treatment by my family. They always treat me that way, but they somehow manage to go the extra mile for my birthday! One of my gifts was a new kitchen toy – a KitchenAid bread bowl with baking lid.

What a fun toy it is! For those of you with a KitchenAid mixer, it is basically a ceramic, oven safe version of the mixing bowl with a lid. While you can use it as a spare mixing bowl, the main intended use for the bowl is to make amazing artisan style breads. The beauty of the bowl is that the whole process can basically be done right in it from start to finish, mixing to oven.

The bowl attaches to the mixer, which allows you to easily mix the dough right in it using the dough hook. The recipe that comes with the bowl calls for a 1 hour rise, after which you take the dough out of the bowl for a brief knead before returning it to the bowl for a second, and final, 30 minute rise. After the second rise, you gently turn the risen loaf out onto the lid of the bowl for baking. For the first 30 minutes, the bowl itself is used as a lid which is then removed for the last 8 to 10 minutes to allow the loaf to become nice and brown.

I knew after making my first loaf that I wanted to share this fun item with you all, but I wanted to give it a few more test runs first. It is so easy to use and right from loaf one, I turned out one of the best loaves of bread I have ever made!

I was amazed at how much it looked and smelled like something that had just come from the bakery. It also tasted like a bakery fresh loaf! It was nice and crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside and the flavor was great.

It wasn’t long before I tested the pot out again… three more times! The gallery below shows more of my results which included a second white loaf, one wheat loaf and one rye loaf. Each time I followed the same basic recipe that was included with the bowl and each variety came out just a nice as the first loaf.

If you are someone who enjoys baking bread and would like to take your artisan bread creations to a new level, I would definitely recommend giving this bowl a look. From ease of use to the delicious end results, I couldn’t be happier with it. I’m sure my family loves it too – I was given an awesome gift for my birthday, and they are enjoying eating my creations!

One important note if you do decide to give the bread bowl a try, as of this writing, the bowl is only designed to work with specific sizes and models of the KitchenAid mixer, so please read the specs carefully before buying.

In closing, to my family I say thank you – for your love, for the gift, for always supporting what we are doing with the blog and for being my honest taste testers! I couldn’t do it without you!

Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!

Book Recommendation – Carpathia: Food From the Heart of Romania

This month of February, I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Most of that time has been spent exploring a new cookbook – Carpathia: Food From the Heart of Romania by Irina Georgescu. This book was selected as the February challenge for the Rainydaybites Cookbook Club hosted by Deborah Balint. To be entirely honest, I resisted at first. Did I have space for another cookbook? Not really. Have I actually spent the amount of time I wanted with my newest cookbooks? Not even close. Did I have time? Well, yes. Was the book club fun? Of course. But still, I was thinking of taking a short break from the club. Then something happened… Deborah published the first challenge. It was anything from the “Breads and street-food bakes” chapter. She posted pictures of some of the choices, and that was it. I was putty in her hands. I was seduced, and it was so easy for her. Bread week was my weakness, and she had exploited that weakness. So, I quickly got on Amazon and ordered the book. Nearly a month later, I’m so glad I did.

The very next day I received the book which is absolutely beautiful. It is full of beautiful pictures of not only the food, but of Romania itself. The author grew up in communist Romania and shares her story and her love of her culture with the rest of us. Not only do we get wonderful recipes, but we also get a glimpse into the heritage of Romanian cuisine.

A few days later, Deborah hosted a live stream with author Irina. She demonstrated how to shape a Colac, which is a braided celebratory bread worthy of winning any episode of The Great British Baking Show. Irene talked about her life growing up in Romania, and Romanian traditions. She was warm and enthusiastic, which only served to enhance my enthusiasm for the challenge.

The first thing I made from the book was a cheesy polenta with sour cream and runny fried egg – a full Romanian breakfast. It was absolutely delicious. It reminded me of a breakfast bowl I’ve eaten many times at a trendy local restaurant serving southern cuisine which features goat cheese grits, but in this case I was at home, still in my pajamas, which made it all the more wonderful.

A Full Romanian Breakfast

When bread week came, I couldn’t choose only one thing for the challenge. I settled for three. I made Covrigi, which is a little bread that lies somewhere between a pretzel and a bagel. These little beauties were fun to shape, and Tom suggested that we use everything bagel seasoning on some of them instead of the traditional poppy seed, which was a good call. I also made “Salties” which are cheesy breadsticks topped with salt and caraway seeds and are the perfect marriage to a nice cold beer. Lastly, I made Scovergi, which is a yogurt and cheese flatbread that Irena calls “Romanian popcorn”. This is by far the best damned “popcorn” I’ve ever eaten! I caution you though, these are downright addictive.

Romanian Popcorn

So far, I’ve made two of the main courses in the book. Ostropel de Oltenia is chicken in garlic tomato sauce with polenta dumplings. What struck me about this dish was just how much flavor it packed considering its limited amount of ingredients. A couple of nights ago I made an oven-baked pearl barley pilaf with chicken and mushrooms, which was so good it prompted me to go ahead and write this post now even though I have many, many things I still want to make from this book.

One piece of advice I would give when cooking from the book is to pay attention to what type of polenta you are using. There are several recipes featuring polenta as it is used a great deal in Romanian cooking. I used a coarse longer cooking polenta, but with at least one of the recipes, I think I would have been more successful using a quick cooking polenta.

Oven Bake Pearl Barleu Pilaf with Chicken and Mushrooms

All in all I would highly recommend this book to anyone. It is the ultimate in comfort cooking. Don’t resist like I did. Just get it.

Ciabatta On A Snowy Day

In this week’s Q&A Karen asked me if I had any goal cooking projects this year, and the immediate thought that came to mind was making ciabatta. I have made several kinds of bread, but ciabatta is a favorite of mine and I have always wanted to try making it. I didn’t necessarily expect to achieve that goal so early in the year!

As they say, sometimes the perfect storm comes together and in this case it was literal! We were under a snow warning for last weekend and ahead of the storm they upgraded it to a blizzard warning. Ciabatta takes quite a bit of time to make as it calls for a starter and since it appeared as if we’d be locked inside for a day or two, I thought it would be the perfect time to give it a try!

There are many recipes for ciabatta out there, but I had been eyeing this one for Rustic Italian Ciabatta from King Arthur Baking company for quite awhile as the process seemed a bit more simplified and easier to follow than other recipes I had seen in the past.

The type of starter used in ciabatta is called biga which is a fairly wet, but simple mix of flour, water and a little yeast. The biga requires a long and slow rise over a 12 to 16 hour period in order to fully develop. I mentioned in my Q&A answer that I did try once many years ago to make ciabatta. That one and only attempt ended in failure as I awoke to find that my yeast was clearly too old, which resulted in my biga being an unrisen soupy mess! That’s all it takes to bring an attempt at making this bread to an abrupt end!

I started my biga at 7 pm (right when the blizzard warning kicked in) so it would be ready early the next day for me to start the second part of the dough – or at least I was hoping that would be the case! Surely the same thing wouldn’t happen again after all of these years of walking away from my first attempt, right? I’m happy to report the answer is no! I woke to wild snow whipping around with about 8 inches already on the ground and also to a biga that had risen and was light and bubbly, as it should be!

With the fear of another possible failed attempt behind me, I was ready to move on to the next part of the process. The main dough is very similar to the biga, with the addition of salt and a larger amount of yeast, and of course, the biga! The dough came together very nicely with the use of the dough hook on our mixer.

After two rises, the dough was ready to be formed into loaves. I was most concerned about that part of the process because ciabatta dough is very hydrated and I had not worked with such a wet and sticky dough before. I followed the simple instructions carefully and was surprised at how quickly and easily they came together. The gallery below shows the journey from fully risen dough to fully risen, oven ready loaves.

It was time to bake the loaves. The recipe calls for them to be baked in a steamy environment which helps promote the best rise and crust. You can achieve this to some degree by simply spritzing the dough with water, but for the best results they recommend a full steam environment. This requires placing some type of pan in the oven while it preheats and then when placing the bread in the oven, pouring boiling water into the hot pan and quickly closing the door to trap the steam.

This was another first for me, but I know that Karen spent quite a bit of time last year elevating her bread making skills into something of an art form, so I reached out to her for a bit of advice. King Arthur recommended using a cast iron frying pan for the steam bath, but I only have enameled cast iron Dutch ovens and they wouldn’t work for what I needed to do.

Karen told me that the bottom of a broiler pan would do the trick and she also warned me to use something with a long spout when adding the water because the initial burst of steam is pretty dramatic. She wasn’t kidding – thanks to her warning, I successfully added the water without getting burned from the steam!

The bread was delicious – crusty on the outside and chewy inside. It reminded me very much of a ciabatta that my mother and I used to pick up from a local bakery back when I was in college. They only made it on the weekends because of the amount of time it took to make. We would sit in the kitchen, talk, have coffee and eat way too much of it!

I no longer live close to that bakery, and unfortunately my mom has been gone for almost 16 years now. I still miss those simple moments of visiting with her over a cup of coffee and a slice (or two, or three, or four….) of that delicious ciabatta. I am always so thankful for the many happy memories that came from those days – they bring a smile to my face and a bit of extra warmth to my home when I share them with my wife and son.

The bread is long gone and the snow is melting, but the sense of accomplishment lives on and now I know that making ciabatta is not an unrealistic or impossible task. It’s only the start of February – I’d better start contemplating a new cooking goal for the year! Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!

The Cookbook Club – Final Week!

Well this is it, we’ve come to the final recipe in this round of the cookbook club featuring recipes from Sarah Kieffer’s book Baking for the Holidays. It feels like we just got started with round 1, but suddenly it is 5 weeks later and we’re at the end.

The recipe chosen was Nutella Star Bread or one of the variations of the recipe included in the book. A couple of weeks before the club started we were given the list of recipes we’d be doing each week. From the moment I had the list I knew this one was coming, and I was preparing for what I thought was going to be the most difficult recipe to produce because of the way the bread is shaped.

The process involves dividing the dough into 4 pieces, rolling each piece into a circle approximately 10 inches in size and then stacking the circles in layers with a layer of filling in between each layer of dough. After that, the dough is cut into 16 segments that are twisted together to give it its star shape. When I was done, I was amazed at how easily it came together for me. After 5 weeks of anticipating a possible kitchen disaster, it didn’t happen!

I didn’t have any Nutella on hand and we don’t tend to eat it that often. I enjoy it, but because I don’t reach for it that frequently, when we have it on hand it tends to expire before it is fully used. So rather than waste a jar of it, I decided to make the cinnamon variation instead.

As with the cookies I made in the last round of the club, I still didn’t have clear sanding sugar on hand. As I looked at the star rising for the final time, it started to remind me of a poinsettia flower. So once again, in the spirit of holiday baking, I decided to grab the colored decorating sugar crystals I had on hand. With some red and some yellow, the poinsettia idea came to life.

The bread was delicious – as I always say, you usually can’t go wrong with cinnamon and brown sugar! As with the pull-apart bread in round 1, the author said that the bread is best when eaten the day it is made. Once again, this certainly is true when you plan to serve it to company or bring it to someone as a gift, but if it is just you and your family at home, a few seconds in the microwave on day 2 brings it right back to life.

With my first ever cookbook club behind me, I have to say I really did enjoy being a part of it. I met some really nice people, had fun making some recipes that challenged me to try new things and learned several interesting techniques along the way that I already want to apply to some new recipe ideas. Oh, and how could I forget to mention… my family and I got to enjoy eating all of these treats!

Before I turn this over to Karen, I’d just like to take a moment to wish you a very happy holiday season – I hope it is a time of peace and joy for all of you. Since we don’t have a collaborative post planned for next week and it is Karen’s week to write, I’ll also take this opportunity to wish you a very happy new year! Thank you to everyone who started following us or stopped by to read some of our posts in this, our inaugural year of our blog – we truly appreciate it. I look forward to year 2!

On that note, I’ll throw it over to Karen to share how her final week in the club went.


As usual, Ray and I did not have the same experiences! I also was quite focused on the Star Bread from the very beginning. Ray said he was anticipating difficulty, but I felt excitement! Making a star bread was definitely on my list of things I’ve wanted to bake for a long time, so I would get to tick that box off. I was so up for it, I made sure I had my Nutella a month ago and waited in anticipation for the big day.

I prepared my dough the day before. Actually, the time preparing the dough overlapped for Ray and myself, and we exchanged texts about it while making it. Ray must have jumped right to it early the next day, because he sent me a picture of his finished product before I’d even contemplated getting started. I was still drinking my tea.

A couple hours later I sent this text to Ray.

He sent me a supportive text commiserating with me about how he’d had trouble too, which was very sweet. He also sent me the shot of his beautifully made stack of circles pictured above. Clearly, he didn’t understand the situation I was in.

Right about that time Tom entered the room and his wife (me) had a little bit of a meltdown. “I just can’t roll a circle”, which was very evident by the horribly misshaped dough in front of me. He had me go sit down for a bit while he tried to mitigate the disaster on the counter. After I’d cooled down, I came back and took over. As I sullenly finished assembling my star bread, I started thinking that this situation reminded of something…. Oh yes! An episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. Squidward is teaching an art class. All his circles look like amoebas, but SpongeBob produces perfect circle after perfect circle with ease. I supposed that made me the Squidward of baking, and by default, that would make Ray the SpongeBob, right?

Once I got to the part where I cut and began twisting the dough, things seemed much brighter. I was encouraged. Maybe this wouldn’t be a disaster at all. In fact, the results weren’t half bad. As usual, the rainydaybites cookbook club were gracious and supportive, and I found out I was not the only Squidward of the day.

Nutella Star Bread

As with many tales of woe, there are stories of redemption as well. This is mine. The original sweet dough recipe was enough to make 2 star breads. As the ambitious soul that I am, and as excited as I was to make the star bread from the start, I made the full recipe. The dough was good in the refrigerator for up to 72 hours, so a couple of days after my angst, I made another.

This experience was very different from the first. I walked into the kitchen almost a new person. I felt a sort of zen calmness and gently divided and rolled my dough circles while listening to Chopin. If the circle needed a rest, it got one. There was absolutely no stress the second time around. I don’t know what got into me, but I need to tap into that headspace more often. This time I chose to use mango and peach preserves instead of Nutella. My son preferred the Nutella, but for Tom and myself, the second star bread was the clear winner in every way.

I would also like to wish everyone a happy holiday season full of peace and happiness. See you next week!

Second Chance Star

Spiral Basil Bread

If you’ve been following along with our weekly posts, you know that recently Karen and I joined in for a round of the Rainydaybites cookbook club on Instagram. Our first challenge was to bake one of the pull apart breadsfrom the cookbook Baking for the Holidays by Sarah Kieffer. The method for making the bread involved an interesting technique of slicing the dough into squares and assembling them in the bread pan before the final rise.

Since then, that method and the idea for having layers of flavor in some of the breads I bake have been stuck in my head. I’ve made other breads with herbs in them before and they taste good, but as I thought more about the pull apart bread, I started to think a more concentrated layer of flavor would be even better. The pull apart bread was a sweet bread, but why not apply that method, or a similar idea, to a savory bread?

I decided to go ahead and give it a try. For this round to make the process a bit faster and easier, I chose to roll the prepared dough into a spiral rather than starting out with the sliced dough method.

Spiral Basil Bread

Dough:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 cup warm water***

Filling:

  • 1 tablespoon melted butter, slightly cooled
  • 15 to 20 large fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground sea salt

***Let’s stop for a minute and talk about that warm water. What exactly is the correct temperature? You don’t want it to be too hot or you’ll risk doing harm to the yeast. I usually use water that is anywhere from 90 to 100 degrees and have success. There is a definite science to making bread and if you want to really get technical about all of the details, check out this really informative article that I found by Barb Alpern onThe King Arthur Baking Company’s blog. It goes into great detail about how to calculate the correct water temperature to use in order to get the desired dough temperature.

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, salt and yeast. Pour in the warm water and knead all of the ingredients together until the dough forms. If the dough is too sticky you can add some flour or if it is too dry, add a bit more water. The consistency of dough can change quickly, so I tend to be conservative and only add water or flour a teaspoon at a time.

Form the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl and allow it to rise until it doubles in size. Once doubled, knead the dough for a minute or two and again form it into a ball and allow it to rise until doubled in size.

After the second rise, roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 6×12 inches in size. Brush the dough with the melted butter and then evenly sprinkle the sea salt onto the butter followed by the chopped basil. Gently press the basil into the butter to help it stick in place and then starting on the short end, roll the dough into a spiral. Pinch the seam together and then place the dough, seam side down, into a greased 9 inch bread pan. Let the dough rise in the pan one last time until doubled in size.

Plan for each of the three rises to take approximately 45 minute to an hour. The temperature in your work environment will play a role in how long it takes for each rise to complete. A warmer room will result in a faster rise than a cooler room.

Bake the bread in a 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The bread should be golden brown and sound hollow when you tap it on the bottom of the loaf.

After allowing the bread to cool for about 15 minutes, we were ready to eat it. We served it for dinner along with a turkey soup that I had also made that day. The bread was very light and the spiral method made the flavor of the basil much more pronounced than in other regular loaves I have made with basil in the past.

I think the other thing that really brought out the basil flavor was the use of the sea salt on top of the melted butter. I hadn’t originally planned to add the sea salt, but as the dough was rising, the inspiration to do so hit me. I know that salt can enhance the flavor of other ingredients and I knew once the idea was in my head, I had to try it.

Overall I would say this was a pretty successful experiment. I would definitely make breads with extra add in ingredients this way again and I can picture all different sorts of flavors and combinations. I would say one lesson I learned was to be sure and do a better job of pinching the seam together. The bread held together fairly well, but it would have been a bit easier to slice had the seam been better connected. Either way though, with this method there will still be a bit of separation in the spirals, but that added a touch of fun to eating it also. You could easily hold it together as a slice, or having fun eating it as you unravel it as my son did!

Until next time, have a great weekend!

We Joined an Instagram Cookbook Club!

Confession. Until this past spring, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I was checking out my Instagram feed and saw a post by @zoebakes aka Zoe Francois about her new cookbook, Zoe Bakes Cakes being chosen by @rainydaybites for the May and June cookbook challenge. Zoe gave a great description of the cookbook club and how it worked. I clicked the links and was impressed to see all the beautiful bakes that had been produced and thought the concept sounded fun, but I was late to the party as the challenge was halfway over. The way the club works is that a particular cookbook is chosen, a specific recipe or recipes are chosen from the book, and participants post photos of what they made on a specific date. It was something I wanted to do, but to be honest, I was late to the party several times. Finally, I decided to take the plunge and make sure I didn’t miss out again, and asked Ray if he wanted to join in. He also thought it sounded like fun and agreed to participate.

The book selection for November and December was Baking for the Holidays: 50+ Treats for a Festive Season by Sarah Kieffer. That sounded liked a perfect selection as we both expected to bake a lot during these months. Once we made the commitment to one another, I ordered the book right away and was delighted to receive my beautiful copy. A quick look through is all I needed to know that I would be making many of the recipes from this book outside of what was chosen for the club.

The first recipe for the club was Lemon Pull-Apart Bread. Well, that sounded delicious! So, I gathered my ingredients and went to work. First the dough had to be made. It needed to be made ahead of time and placed in the refrigerator overnight or up to 72 hours. That flexibility ended up being a godsend as family obligations interfered with my plans the next day, but my dough was still waiting for me when I was ready. On baking day, things appeared to be going well at first. I followed the instructions and admired the slices of dough as they sat in the pan for the final rise. All was great!

Lemon Pull-Apart Bread Dough

Then came time to bake. I’d already seen what Ray had produced, so I excitedly placed my loaf in the oven. After several minutes, I turned the oven light on to take a peek. Well, it didn’t quite look like what I was expecting. It was the opposite of Ohio – high on both ends and round in the middle. At the midway point I decided to tent the bread with foil to control the browning. The bread still had the odd shape, but the smell of butter that wafted up was heavenly! Once the bread was finished baking, it had a greater resemblance to a bouquet of flowers than the neatly stacked image that was in my head.

Lemon Pull-Apart Bread

What went wrong? I don’t know if I should say anything went wrong. What I got in the end was actually delicious. Tom likened it to a lemon Danish, which he said was one of the few breakfast pastries he likes. I wondered if I let the rise go longer than I should have? There was a range of 45 to 60 minutes, and I let mine go the full 60. More is better, right? I also think in retrospect, that I could have been much neater when placing my strips of dough into the pan. Nonetheless, I completed the icing and took additional pictures and posted one of them to Instagram. The response was so positive! I had many likes and warm comments. Both Sarah Kieffer and Deborah of @rainydaybites gave very nice compliments. I’d been reluctant to share, but Ray had nudged me to post, and I’m glad I did. This was so much fun, and the cookbook club is a really kind and supportive community. I’m definitely in for round two!

Let’s see how the experience went for Ray…

Let me start by picking up where Karen left off. I really wouldn’t say she had gone wrong in any way either. We discussed what we had done differently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean her following my exact path would have produced the same end result. I only did 45 minutes for the final rise, but would that have changed things for her? Probably not. There are many factors that could come into play. Perhaps the strength of the yeast she used was better than mine. Maybe her kitchen was warmer than mine which resulted in a more powerful final rise. Who knows?

I will also echo her thoughts regarding the nice group of people that were baking along with us! I had finished and posted mine much earlier in the day than Karen and had spent the rest of the day checking in from time to time and watching the results unfold. So many people (including Sarah Kieffer and Deborah of @rainydaybites) gave my end results likes and took the time to comment and I enjoyed replying to their comments and commenting on their work as well.

These friendly exchanges and the camaraderie within the group were the reason I encouraged Karen to go ahead and post her results. Of all the results posted, no two looked alike – some of the participants even talked about crazy results and slices of dough popping out of place as well! They posted their work proudly and with good humor and it really made for a fun and great experience for all.

As for my results… In our family since the very early days of Karen becoming my sister-in-law, we have teamed up to make a dessert or two each Thanksgiving. Baking is a very precise thing and I believe in following recipes, but after making a particular recipe several times, I am known to consider changes to the process. There is one pecan pie recipe that comes to mind. We choose new recipes each year, but this particular pie became a favorite of our nephew, so we still make it most years along with our other selection for that year.

Like most pecan pies, you fill the pie shell with toasted pecans before pouring the filling over them. In this particular recipe it calls for an extra step – after putting the pecan halves in the pie shell, you are supposed to add some chopped pecans to the filling before you pour it over the other pecans. After a few years of doing this I began to wonder what is the point of it? It has become sort of humorous traditional exchange between us when preparing the pie.

Karen: “Now we need to add the chopped pecans.”

Ray: “Is this step really necessary? Do we really need to do it?”

Karen: “Yes, that’s what the recipe says to do!”

Ray: “Fine, we’ll do it!”

Family anecdote aside, I did follow the recipe to the letter and I ended up with amazing results! One of the fun things about the club is that if there are variations in the book for a chosen recipe, you can make one of them instead. I like lemon desserts, probably better than my family, but I knew I would get a better response to one of the other options. In order to save myself from having to eat the bulk of the lemon bread alone, I decided to make the cinnamon version.

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread – Final Rise

After the final rise was complete, it was all set to go in the oven. While it was baking the house filled with an amazing cinnamon smell and my son couldn’t stop asking me how much longer it would be before we could eat it. I understood how he felt – I couldn’t wait to try it either! When it was done baking and topped with icing, I was amazed at what I saw – it was probably one of the nicest looking things I had ever made.

After snapping a few pictures, we tore into it. It was truly delicious and in short order the loaf in the picture above was half its former size! My son asked for more and my wife said it reminded her a bit of Cinnabon – I agreed. It took a great deal of restraint, but we wrapped it up and set it aside for the next day when we enjoyed another slice. The author states that the bread is best eaten the day it’s made. While that is no doubt true, especially if you plan to serve it to company, it was just as good the second day after a few seconds in the microwave.

Round one really was a lot of fun and I am looking forward to the second challenge next week.

A Milestone and a Cornbread Recipe

Karen and I officially opened our blog in March of this year, but we started working out the details on how we wanted to proceed and what we wanted to say, as well as choosing a style for the blog and starting to build the site several months earlier in October.

We had both just decided to make the leap into early retirement from our 25+ year careers. This was accomplished in no small part thanks to the support our spouses gave us in making the decision. They could see that we had both grown weary of the jobs we had once enjoyed, and we would not have been able to make the leap without them standing behind us 110%!

As the words “early retirement” might suggest, we were by no means ready to go and sit in a rocking chair! My 6 year old certainly would never have allowed that to happen, and I didn’t want it to happen either. The career I had grown tired of was officially behind me and I was ready to get on with new things – many of which I had dreamed about doing for years. One of those things was this blog.

Karen and I had actually talked about the idea for almost a decade, but with full time careers we really didn’t have the extra time. She made the early retirement choice first and when I followed a little over two months later, I immediately asked her if she was ready to finally start that food blog. We had the time at last to start making some of those postponed dreams a reality, and she jumped right in with me.

So, what is the milestone that I referred to in the title? Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the very first blog entry that I had ever written. Even though we weren’t officially open yet, I wanted to start building my confidence as a new blogger by getting some entries under my belt. As I mentioned above, we wouldn’t be here today without the support of our spouses, and I felt it was appropriate for me to write my first entry with my wife Lori in mind.

I had decided to take a shot at creating a copycat recipe of her favorite soup from Panera – Autumn Squash Soup. At that time we were still in the earlier days of the pandemic when dining out options were either limited, unavailable or still didn’t feel like a comfortable option to us. As such, I wanted to do something that would give life during that fall season a bit of a more normal feel by making a restaurant like option at home.

When Lori tasted it she gave me quite a compliment by saying that I had come pretty close to the original. She enjoyed the soup, I enjoyed the experiment, and I felt a sense of accomplishment from having written my first blog entry ever. The soup is more on the sweet side and I had always thought that it should be paired with some sort of savory side – that is where the second half of the title for this entry comes into play.

After keeping the idea on the back burner for the past year, it was time bring it out and work on it. After some thought, I decided that some type of cornbread would pair well with it and even better, a cornbread with a bit of a smoky flavor. So, I worked with a basic cornbread recipe and turned it into the recipe below.

Bacon Cheddar Cornbread

  • 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 eggs slightly beaten
  • 3 slices crisp thick cut bacon crumbled (use 4 slices if you don’t have thick cut)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix by hand until they are well combined and the dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened. The batter will be on the thin side, but will thicken a bit after a few minutes.

Let the batter stand for about 5 minutes while you grease a 9 inch round pan. Stir the batter once more, pour into your prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the pan and cool on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.

Bacon Cheddar Cornbread served fresh from the oven.

We really enjoyed the smokiness that the bacon gave to the cornbread along with the flavor that the cheddar brought to it. Also noticeable, but not overwhelming, was the hint of parsley flavor. As I had hoped, the savory flavor of the cornbread paired well with the sweeter flavor of the soup.

We had a fair amount left over, so I refrigerated the rest and contemplated what to do with it. The next morning I came up with a quick and easy idea – why not try to make French toast with it? It had everything you might serve for breakfast all rolled into one – bread, cheese and bacon! So I dipped some slices in beaten egg and grilled it in a pan and it turned out to be delicious – I think we liked it even better that way!

Bacon cheddar cornbread French toast

There you have it, the food pairing that was a year in the making – I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the anniversary of my first blog entry. I look forward to writing many more and celebrating the official one year anniversary of our blog in March!

Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!

Bread With Dill and Ranch Dressing

We recently spent a few days at the shore where we enjoyed the sun, swimming and a trip to one of our favorite restaurants where you can dine at one of their outdoor seating areas right on the water. The food is always delicious, but somehow the view below while eating always makes it even better.

We enjoyed a wonderful late lunch before heading back to our place for some late afternoon swimming. My son loves pickles and had never had fried pickles before, so I suggested we have them as one of our appetizers. I felt pretty sure that he would enjoy them, and he did! They were served with a ranch style dipping sauce. As we ate them, the inspiration for the recipe in my post today came to me.

I knew there was plenty of fresh dill waiting for me in my current aerogarden setup at home and I remembered the recipe I created back in February for a bread with fresh herbs. I decided that with a few tweaks, that recipe could be changed to have a bit of the flavor profile of our fried pickle appetizer. So using the same base recipe, I changed the mix of fresh herbs to just dill and swapped out the butter for ranch dressing.

Bread With Dill and Ranch Dressing

  • 3 cups flour (I like to use a combination of 2 cups white and 1 cup wheat)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 tablespoons ranch dressing
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast or instant yeast
  • 2/3 cup chopped fresh dill.
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill (this is optional, but I like the extra kick of dill flavor it gives)

Add the ingredients in the order recommended for your bread machine and set it to the basic cycle. My machine signals me during the cycle to let me know it’s time to add in additional ingredients – I added the dill at that point. If your machine doesn’t have this option, you can add the dill at the start.

Keep an eye on the dough while it goes through the first mixing cycle. Using ranch dressing in this version of the recipe made the dough a bit more wet. If the dough appears too wet, sprinkle on some flour, one teaspoon at a time, as the machine is kneading the dough. I found that two extra teaspoons was enough to do the trick for me.

If you wish to make the recipe without the bread machine, combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then make a well and add in the wet ingredients. Mix well until the dough forms. Allow the dough to rise two times in the bowl, punching it down in between risings and then form a loaf and put it into a greased bread pan and let is rise a third time before baking in a 350 degree oven. Allow it to bake for about 30 minutes before checking to see if it is done. Bread that is done should be golden brown and have a hollow sound when you tap on the bottom of the loaf.

Fully risen dough, ready for baking.

We really enjoyed how this one turned out. The flavor of the dill came through clearly without being overpowering and the use of the ranch dressing in the recipe helped to give the bread a very nice soft texture.

Fresh and hot from the oven, served with butter.

After we enjoyed some of the bread warm right from the oven, I decided I would use some of it to make crostini for a dinner appetizer later that night. Crostini is simple to make, tastes great and has a nice crunch. It works well with just about any kind of fresh bread or as a way to breathe new life into day old bread. They are great served with cheese or dipped in dressing, hummus or olive oil just to name a few.

To make crostini, cut the bread into pieces and place them on a baking sheet. Brush each piece of bread with olive oil and then sprinkle with coarsely ground sea salt and black pepper if desired – since my bread had dill in it, I opted just to use salt to to focus on the dill flavor rather than pepper. Place the baking sheet in an oven preheated to 425 degrees and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, adding an additional minute or two if needed. The crostini should be golden brown and have a nice crunch when finished.

Dill and ranch bread crostini served with pickles and ranch dressing infused with fresh dill.

If you decide to try this recipe, I’d love to hear you thoughts. Have a great weekend!

Book – The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Let me begin by saying this is not a review, but a recommendation. I am sure that I won’t be including all the things that are expected of a book review – I don’t want to. I just want to share my experience with a book that has been a source of joy and satisfaction to me for the past few months.

Like many people, when the pandemic hit I was consumed by what needed to be done to provide for my family during lockdown. Whereas many people immediately launched themselves elbow deep into yeasts and sourdough, I found an amazing producer of bread machine mixes and resuscitated my 22 year old bread machine. Really. It is 22 years old! Eventually, though, I decided to try my hand at baking a loaf from scratch. My initial efforts were decent enough to please my family members, but not of a standard that I was satisfied with so I looked further. I found a Craftsy class featuring Zoe Francois called Artisan Bread in Minutes. It seemed almost like cheating, but I decided to take the class anyway and have never really looked back.

After enjoying her classes and having some successes in the kitchen, I decided to find out more about Zoe and that is when I discovered that she had several books co-written with Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. I decided to purchase The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I already knew the basics from having taken Zoe’s class, but was blown away by the extent of this book once I got it home and started reading it.

The general premise of the book is that you can make beautiful and delicious loaves with only minutes spent on the process each day. Who wouldn’t be on board with that? It is actually an extensive exploration of the no-knead bread concept. In this case, you mix a large batch of dough, let it rise for a couple of hours and then store it in the refrigerator for one to two weeks depending on what type of dough you are making. As the dough sits, it develops more flavor and is at the ready whenever you are. The master dough upon which the whole concept is based on can be turned into all sorts of different breads depending on the method used to bake it and any additions used such as olives or cheese, but this book goes way beyond that concept and includes peasant loaves, flatbreads, pizzas, gluten-free breads and enriched breads and pastries. So far, I have made white bread, an olive couronne, pain d’epi, cheese bread, peasant bread, rye bread, breadsticks, fougasse, naan, and oatmeal pumpkin bread. I have not even scratched the surface of what is in this book. I think it will keep me occupied for years.

Olive Couronne

Just this week I decided to explore the recipe for bagel dough. The recipe makes about 4 pounds of dough and can be made into bagels, bialys or soft pretzels. So far I have made my first batch of bagels and pretzels. The pretzels were quite tricky to work with as expected because no-knead dough is quite wet, but although they didn’t look as I had imagined, they tasted good. Next up will be bialys. I have never had a bialy before, but from what Ray and Tom have told me, I will love it!

Everything Bagel

To sum it up, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in baking bread whether experienced or not. It makes bread baking accessible and is a great way to try explore new types of bread baking.

My New Bread/Potato Pot or shall we call it The Learning Curve?

One day last week Tom surprised me with an Emile Henry bread/potato pot. I had mentioned it to him a few days before (Costco had a great price) extolling the virtues of a pot that both baked bread AND roasted potatoes, but had no idea that in a very short period of time I would walk into my kitchen and behold the bright, shiny red pot right in front of me. So, I decided that I would take this opportunity to share my experiences with my new toy.

The pot did not come with paperwork so I went to the Emile Henry website and after a little digging, found the key information to get this pot up and running properly. Emile Henry is a French company that has been producing cookware and bakeware since 1850. The pot is from the Flame Ceramic product line and comes with a 10 year warranty on workmanship. It is safe for use up to 930 degrees F. It can go into the oven, into the microwave, on the stove top and into the freezer. It is also dishwasher safe. Specific to the Flame products are instructions for seasoning. After looking over reviews on several websites, I concluded that a lot of people have difficulty with this step and really burn and make a mess of the pot, so I made sure to approach this step with care. The instructions are to place about 1 inch of milk into the bottom of the dish and let it simmer for 5 minutes. I think the key is to start with the burner on low and slowly turn the heat up. I was able to do this step without ever getting to the medium setting on the stove top and cleaning was a breeze. So far, so good.

As to the next part of my journey, it was not quite as straightforward. I decided to try the no-knead bread recipe on the Emile Henry website and watched the accompanying video. That turned out to be a mistake. I am not sure if it was me or the recipe, but something wasn’t right! The dough was wet, and I don’t mean a bit wet as most no-knead dough is. I think it is possible that the 2 glasses of wine I’d consumed that evening might have clouded my judgement, but I just shrugged off the wetness of the dough and soldiered on. There was just no coming back from that mistake! The following day, when I realized just how wet this dough was, I attempted to add flour, let it rest, and plow on, but there was no saving this bread. The baked result was a stodgy loaf ribboned with unincorporated flour. What now? I decided to pick myself up, dust myself off (literally) and go back to my tried and true no-knead bread recipe and it worked! The new loaf was very nicely baked with a crust that I am proud of. I still have a few things left to master such as how to most efficiently transfer the dough into the hot pot and how to best approach scoring the loaf or not worrying with scoring at all, but for now, I feel confident in my ability to produce a lovely crusty loaf with my new pot! On to potatoes!