I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Saturday Afternoon in Winter

My Saturday morning was spent running around a wet, cold footy oval trying to out-chase a wild bunch of 6 year olds in a chaotic game of Scarecrow Tiggy (in other words, helping out at DS's footy training). This was then followed up by my shoes and DS's footy boots dropping clumps of wet grass all over the floor of DD2's dance studio, where a muddy DS and I watched 45 minutes of la-da-dee-dah flouncing, followed by a dash to the supermarket to grab some bread flour (couldn't find it, had to call DH and get him to look at the markets on his side of town), by a dash home to do some cooking and some baking and some house cleaning and some "ooohhhhh- I love winter" thoughts. Earlier Saturday morning was spent with DH saying, "You know, we should make some bread. I'd really *like* some crusty bread, like a ciabatta or something." A few years ago I went through a bread making phase - as in, new loaves of varying kinds every weekend. They never came out all that fabulous (this is in my pre-pastry goddess stage) but we loved the warmth, the smell, the total triumph that comes from 10 hours of effort (including rising time.)

At the time I invested in a number of bread baking books, and was all into using grains like quinoa, millet and the like. Since that foray, I've not really been into the bread thing, except as a very occasional thing. However a winter's day like today required the books to be cracked open once again. Difference this time is I've done quite a few bread and yeast subjects at culinary school, plus worked in a bakery environment, plus I'm cuter than I used to be. (Okay, not that that makes a difference.) In any case I can now tell when a bread has proved enough, when it's been kneaded enough, how to knead properly, and so on. I let DH pick the bread he wanted - after all, this was his idea! After perusing several books, we settled on a recipe from "Bread Baker's Bible: Traditional Bread Recipes from Around the World". From the "British Breads" chapter, we picked the simple sounding by divine looking "Cheese and Onion Loaf" - I think it was the inclusion of 200g of sharp cheddar which sold it to us!

Nothing ventured, nothing gained we headed into a world of kneading, and kneading, and kneading...

It was at this point that I thought, hmmm...best get some soup on to go with this fabulous bread I'm making. Since DH had (on my request) come home with a whole chicken (along with the flour!), there was really no other choice than to make my sister's Chicken Soup:

After it's initial rising, the dough is knocked back and divided into 20 pieces, which are put into the tin and then lavishly buttered:

...and here is where it gets interesting. I'd been using the heating vent on the floor, as it's so damn cold here at the moment my house isn't really very warm. Well, warm enough for humans but not for bread to rise quickly. So I decided to create a makeshift prover by turning my oven on to the lowest temp (80C) and shoving the loaf tin in, covered with a damp cloth. I figured the bread would rise as the temp rose, and I'd shut off the oven when it reached temperature. Thus, not getting too hot, but warm enough for my bread to double. Geez I'm clever! It worked:

Right about here is where I ran into technical difficulties, again! DH and I were positively starving, but that bread wasn't anywhere near ready yet. The soup had bubbled away, wafting it's Jewish Penicillin goodness all over the kitchen. We'd thrown out 4 loads of trash (from the house cleaning effort), several loads of recycling, two loads of laundry and tons of odd cleaning jobs later we felt entitled to a life-affirming treat, to whit:

The bread you see decoratively angled on the side is NOT our onion and cheese loaf, but some slices of fresh, soft raisin Challah from Glick's. For those wondering, I made this same soup about two weeks ago, but with a non-free-range chicken. YES, you can taste a significant difference!

Finally, *the* bread got baked...the smell of onions and cheese melting were literally making DH salivate. Ohhh, it smelled just, well, heavenly.

This is how he (and I) ate it - with a jolly great smodge of South Cape Persian Feta. (Clearly, more cheese was required.)

...and this is how much is left, after we all dived into it. It's not the best bread I've ever made, but it's soft and warm and hearty and onion-y and cheddar-y and just right for a winter Saturday afternoon. The best bread I've ever made is actually a pine nut cob I made several years ago. However I'm hoping that the "best bread ever" award is going to come from this:

Yup, that's a starter for a San Francisco Sourdough. Yes, it's sitting on my heating vent. Yes, this bread takes 6 DAYS to make from start to finish. Yes, I'm crazy. Stay tuned.

Cheese & Onion Loaf
1 onion, finely chopped
45g / 1 3/4 oz butter
450g / 1 lb unbleached white bread flour
6 g / 1/4 oz sachet dried yeast
5ml /1 tsp mustard powder
175g / 6oz grated mature cheddar (go for a really sharp one!)
150ml / 1/4 pint lukewarm milk
150ml / 1/4 pint lukewarm water
salt & ground black pepper

  1. Grease a large loaf tin. Melt 25g (1 oz) of butter in a frying pan and sautee onions until golden. Set aside.
  2. Sift the flour into a large bowl and stir in the yeast, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir in 3/4 of the grated cheese and all of the onion. Make a well in the centre. Add the milk and water; blend to a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
  3. Return to the bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Place in a warm spot and leave to rise until doubled (about an hour, depending on your heating vent.)
  4. Turn out onto a lightly dusted surface and knock back, then knead lightly. Divide into 20 equal portions and roll into rough balls.
  5. Place into loaf tin 10 rounds (5 in each row). Brush with melted butter. Place the remaining 10 balls on top and brush with melted butter again.
  6. Cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm place until dough reaches the top of the tin (try the oven trick, it works.) Meanwhile preheat oven to 190C / 375 F / Gas Mark 5.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and bake for 40-45 minutes or until risen and golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
My Sister's Chicken Soup
My sister learned how to cook this from my parent's Guatemalan maid. It's good, but I've improved it somewhat, so this recipe has my changes.

1 large chicken (go free range, organic, whatever. An expensive, good quality one)
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks (3 inch)
3 stalks celery, cut into pieces (3 inch)
1 large tomato, whole and unpeeled
1 large onion, whole, peeled
2 bayleaves
5-6 black peppercorns
sprig of thyme
small bunch of celery leaves
Chicken stock cubes - either 3 T or a few cubes (sacrilege, but it works)
Salt & Pepper

  1. Wash the chicken thoroughly, including the cavity. Remove any giblets or other random bits (but you can include the neck.) Place into a pot of cold water, making sure the chicken is submerged by several inches.
  2. Bring to the boil and skim any scum off the top. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer for about 30 minutes, or until all the scum has come to the top and you've gotten rid of it.
  3. Throw in everything else, except the final salt & pepper. The stock cubes aren't all that necessary if you're using a really good quality chicken, but if you are using a cheap chickie then it's just a way of intensifying the flavour and adding salt. I like the OSEM brand, but use any decent one.
  4. Simmer for about an hour. At around the 45 minute mark, use a spoon to squish the tomato against the side of the pot to release the juices.
  5. Remove the chicken from the pot and (carefully, it's hot) remove the meat from the frame. Either serve in chunks (yummy dipped in BBQ sauce) or shred and put at the bottom of the bowls of soup.
  6. Strain the soup, but keep the celery and carrots. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve piping hot over the chicken and vegetables, with fresh bread, plain white rice (cooked), couscous or mandalach or whatever takes your fancy. Tastes even better the next day, or freeze and use as you would stock (for risotto, etc.) (Yeah, like it will last that long.)

No comments: