Bribery in Cookie Form

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For the past two weekends, my parents’ house has turned into an art gallery, because my mother is a member of the West End Studio Tour (this is also why the posts this week aren’t particularly complicated — hard to bake up a storm when your house is an art gallery).

Giant Cookie 1

Because Gren is the expert watchdog that he is (he barks at everything), it behove us to remove him from the house for the duration of the show.  That’s four days of being gone from 10AM to 5PM.  You can definitely overstay your welcome if you camp out at someone’s house for that long … with your dog.  Accordingly, when we ended up at the Pie’s parents’ house for the second time, we brought baked goods.

Giant Cookie 2

The Pie had found a recipe for a giant chocolate chip cookie baked in a cast iron skillet in the most recent issue of Martha Stewart’s Every Day Food and he thought we should give it a try.  This time around I followed the recipe but I definitely plan to play around with this easy dish in the future. We brought our skillet and ingredients with us, to further ingratiate ourselves with our hosts.

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Start by preheating your oven to 350°F and buttering the interior of a 10″ cast iron skillet.  The one I used was probably 8 or 9 inches so my cookie ended up a bit thicker and had to cook for a bit longer.  Just keep that in mind.  In a large bowl, with a wooden spoon, mix together 6 tablespoons room temperature butter with 1/3 cup packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar, until the butter is thoroughly mixed through the sugar.

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Crack in 1 egg and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and give that a good stir.

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Stir in as well 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

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When that’s fully combined you can stir in 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips.  These ones were actually a little bit blue in hue — that’s not just the lighting.  I may have added a cup and a half.  I like my chocolate chips.

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Smooth your dough into the bottom of the skillet and bake for 18-20 minutes, until the cookie is just set in the centre and golden-brown on the edges.

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Let it sit for 5 minutes before serving.

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Alternately, cut it into wedges before it cools and reheat it later.

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We served ours with ice cream and it was delightfully chewy.  Bribe successful!

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Guinness Lamb Stew with Wild Rice

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I know you all think I’m weird because I don’t like soup.  But spooning hot liquid into my mouth (and spilling it down my face, because that’s how I roll) is not my idea of a good time.  I do, however, have a fondness for stew.  Especially stew with beer in it, because beer is a great tenderizer of things.  And because I like beer.

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I’ve had this stewing lamb in my freezer for a while and I decided it was probably time I do something about it.

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So I took it out, put it on a plate, and patted it dry with a paper towel.

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Then, in a bowl, I took a small scoop of flour, added salt and pepper, and gave it a stir.

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Into that I hucked the lamb cubes, and gave them a stir as well.

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I heated up my trusty cast iron skillet with a few tablespoons olive oil inside.  Then, shaking the excess flour off the lamb, I plopped it in the skillet to brown.

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While that was going on I cut up some vegetables: carrots, an onion, and a package of mushrooms.

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I didn’t have any potatoes, that classic stew thickener, so I decided to use rice.  This wild rice blend from Trader Joe’s is excellent.

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I took the browned lamb cubes out and put them on a plate to rest a few minutes.

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Then I added a bit more oil to the pan and chucked in the vegetables, giving the onions a wee bit of a head start in the cooking.

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Once they’ve softened you can add the rest.

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Now you can chuck the meat back in.  Then I plopped in some parsley, Newfoundland savoury, rosemary, and thyme.  If I’d had sage I would have used that, just to make up the lyrics to that “Scarborough Fair” song.

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I also added a few more tablespoons flour.

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At this point I ran out of space in my pan so I transferred the contents of the skillet to a larger saucepan.  I used a bit of beef broth to deglaze the pan a bit and poured that into the pot, along with the rest of the beef broth (about 3 cups).

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Then came two cans of Guinness stout (minus a sip or two, for quality control of course).

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Then the rice.

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Then I brought it to a simmer, lowered the heat, and let that gently bubble away, stirring every so often, for about an hour.

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Excellent. Even more so the next day.

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English Muffins: easier to make than you think

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I have a recipe for real, old-fashioned English muffins in my Peter Reinhart.  And some day, I totally plan to make them the way he says to (because he’s a genius).  Until then, I’m too darned lazy.  But I found this version by the Foodess (also a genius) that seems to be more up my alley in terms of ability and time.  It’s nice to finally have a decent English muffin in the morning, full of all those wee holes designed simply to hold melted butter and honey.  The Newfoundland version of the English muffin is just … WRONG.  It’s more like a hamburger bun or something.  It’s not right.

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Anyway.  Start with 1 1/2 cups milk, and plop that in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, and microwave for 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 minutes, until the milk begins to simmer around the edges.

English Muffins 1

While that’s on the go, cube up 1/4 cup cold butter.  The coldness of the butter will help to cool your milk down.

English Muffins 2

Stir the butter into the milk and swirl it around until it’s all melted.  Leave the milk aside for a bit to cool down.

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Beat up 1 large egg and add to it 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I used Balkan style).

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When the milk mixture has cooled to just warm, you can mix the egg/yogurt in.

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In the bowl of a stand mixer, add 4 cups flour to 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt, and 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast.

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Put that sucker on low (use a shield around the top if you’ve got one), and slowly pour in your dairy mixture.  Keep going until it’s all in there, and then beat (again, on low) for another full minute.

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You can see that although the dough is still really sticky it’s starting to become stringy as well.  Gluten in action, folks.  SCIENCE.

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Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, cover the top with plastic wrap, and put it in a warm place for an hour to rise.

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When it’s ready to go, lightly flour a clean work surface.  Find yourself a 3″ biscuit cutter or use the opening to a large drinking glass (mine was about 2 1/2″).

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Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the floured surface and sprinkle the top of it with flour as well.  Use your floured hands to pat the dough down until it’s about 1/2″ thick.

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Using your cutter or glass, get busy cutting out little disks of dough.  Fold all your scraps together and repeat the process until you’ve used all your dough.  I ended up with 19 muffins in my batch.

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Use a floured spatula to transfer them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and set those somewhere warm to rise for another 20 minutes.

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Now, preheat your oven to 400°F and plop a large cast iron skillet (or two) on your elements.  Heat those up to medium heat and dust them lightly with corn flour.  Do not use a non-stick pan for this; it will not work.  If you don’t have an iron skillet, use a steel, non-non-stick pan instead.

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Plop some of your dough disks into the dusted, heated pan and let them cook on one side for about 3-4 minutes, or until the bottoms start to brown.

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Flip them over and do it again to the other side.  Keep dusting the pan with more flour as needed, and keep in mind that the flour may start to smoke after a while.  As your pan heats up you will find it takes a shorter amount of time for your muffins to brown so keep an eye on them.

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You can see how they are starting to rise up with the cooking and look more like real English muffins.  The reason you cook the tops and the bottoms is so that when the muffins are baking in the oven they don’t get all round and puffy like a dinner roll.

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Transfer the browned muffins back to the parchment-lined baking sheets.

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When you’re all ready to go and they’re all browned, pop them in the oven for 7-10 minutes, until the muffins sound hollow when you tap on them.

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When you are ready to eat them, pierce the middle with a fork several times to break the muffin open.  If you cut them with a knife you won’t get the benefit of all the perfect little bubbles.

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Look at those perfect little bubbles.

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Then you can do whatever you’re going to do with them.  Toast them, use them as sandwich material (the Pie loves making his own version of the Egg McMuffin), eat them as a base for Eggs Benedict … whatever floats your boat.  They freeze well, too — just make sure to wrap them up really tightly.

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Pork Medallions in Tomatoes

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This recipe mostly started because I received this can opener from Ando and Teedz for Christmas.

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They told me that they wanted photographic proof when I figured out how to use it.

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So here you go. The instructions are a little vague, saying simply that you put it on a can and rotate it slowly.

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And if you think that there was something lost in translation, the French version says pretty much the same thing, but with more poetry. Literally, it tells you to sprinkle some poetry on it.  The accompanying diagram implies that you do something like this:

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Which of course doesn’t work. There’s just not enough leverage.

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However, if you use it like an old army (or camping) can opener, it works quite well.

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And now that I’ve gotten that 14oz can of tomatoes open, I should figure out what to do with it, eh?

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I’m so excited with the possibilities that my hands are shaking.

I also have a lovely pork tenderloin here, from which I have removed the silvery skin and excess fat.

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So I sliced it into medallions, which I seasoned with salt and pepper.

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And chopped up an onion and some (rather overgrown) garlic.

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Then I heated a bit of olive oil in a cast iron skillet and browned the medallions, setting them aside when they were fully cooked.

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Then I chucked in the onion and garlic and gave that a stir.

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Lovely and soft now. I also squeezed in some lemongrass, oregano, and basil. Sounds like an odd combination but I like the lemongrass with the tomatoes.

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Then I added the tomatoes and brought it to a simmer. Smells so good!

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For a bit of starch, I added a generous sprinkle or two of this teeny star pasta, stellette. It takes pretty much no time to cook, about 7 minutes. If you want to skip this part, you can serve the dish on a bed of rice instead.

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When the pasta was ready I chucked in the medallions to reheat.

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And that is that. A hearty, hot, and quick meal for a cold, dark, winter’s night!  How’s that for poetry?

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Candy Bar Pancakes

Candybar Pancakes

Gren: “Are you guys making pancakes?”

Candybar Pancakes

Me: “No.”

Gren: “Really?  I don’t believe you. I’m pretty sure you’re making pancakes …”

Candybar Pancakes

The Pie and I rarely use our dining room (for eating at least) when it’s just the two of us.  But pretty much every Saturday morning since we moved into Elizabeth has been spent making “special breakfast”, where we do something a little more elaborate than the regular cereal or toast, and we eat it together in our dining room, which offers a charming view of our next-door neighbour’s shed.

In addition, we like to try to recreate things that we’ve eaten in restaurants, just to see if we can’t make them a little better.  Monday’s green curry was one example of that.  This is another, and it comes from one of our favourite restaurants.  They call them “candy bar” pancakes, which is a little odd, because most Canadians call things like Mars Bars and Snickerschocolate bars” (because they’re made from chocolate, not candy).  Maybe the creators just thought “candy bar pancakes” sounded better than “chocolate bar pancakes”, or maybe it’s because the high number of American soldiers stationed in Newfoundland at various points in history have left a lasting remnant of their dialect.  Who knows …

Candybar Pancakes

You can use any pancake recipe you’d like for this, though I would recommend a fluffy pancake rather than a flat one.  If you don’t have a favourite recipe, I’ll give you mine, which comes from the Joy of Cooking, and we usually cut it in half because it’s just the two of us.

Take a chocolate bar or two.  The “dry” kind work best, like Kit Kat or Coffee Crisp — anything without caramel or gooey things inside. We prefer the Coffee Crisp because of the different flavours inside. If you live in the US, see if you can get someone to bring one across the border for you — they are excellent.

Candybar Pancakes

Break it up into pieces and put it in the food processor.

Candybar Pancakes

Pulse until you have small crumbs.  Set that aside.

Candybar Pancakes

In one medium-sized bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 3/4 tablespoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. If you are making this recipe with milk instead of buttermilk, then leave out the baking soda.

In another bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

Candybar Pancakes

Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and you’re ready to go.

Use a cast iron skillet to get the best crust on your pancakes.  Preheat the skillet at medium for a few minutes while you’re mixing up your ingredients.  And before you pour in the batter, melt a bit of butter in the pan first.  Then scoop in some batter and let it sit for a while.

Candybar Pancakes

Don’t touch it.  Wait until it starts to bubble and get pitted.  The trick with these pancakes is  in cooking them for as long as possible on the first side, so that when you add the chocolate bar pieces to the other side you don’t have to cook it as long and they won’t burn.

Candybar Pancakes

While you wait for it to get pitted, you can play fetch with your dog.

Candybar Pancakes

This squeaky carrot is from IKEA.  I’m never sure if their stuffed toys are for dogs or for children, but they work great either way.

Candybar Pancakes

Take a spoon and sprinkle some of your chocolate crumbs onto the pitted top of the pancake.  Let them sink into the batter a little bit.

Candybar Pancakes

THEN you can flip it, quickly.  Don’t cook it too long on the second side or the chocolate will burn.

Serve hot with butter and maple syrup.

Candybar Pancakes

Or blueberry syrup.  Or whatever floats your boat on a Saturday morning.

Candybar Pancakes

Super Moist Corn Bread

I always think of corn bread as being something out of the South (and by that I mean the southern United States), baked on a hoe over a fire after a long day of harvesting sun-drenched fields. Or from Latin America, where indigenous people have been using corn in recipes for ages and ages.

When I was looking for a modern twist on corn bread, however, every single online recipe I found was credited to someone in CANADA.  How strange is that?  Sure, we grow a lot of corn here, but the association just isn’t the same.  In any case, I adapted this particular Canadian recipe from WillowsMom99 at AllRecipes.

Preheat your oven to 400°F and generously butter a large cast-iron skillet.  We’re going to do this the old-fashioned way.  Sort of.  If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, you should be ashamed of yourself and feel guilty enough to go out and purchase one immediately.  Until you do so, however, you can also use a 9″ x 13″ pan.

In a small bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups cornmeal (not to be confused with grits, corn flour, or masa harina) with 2 1/2 cups milk and let it stand for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 2/3 cup granulated sugar.  I might lower the sugar amount to 1/2 or 1/3 cup, but if you like your corn bread sweet, then go for it.  Mix in the cornmeal mixture and stir well.

Add in 2 eggs and 1/2 cup butter, melted, and stir until smooth.

Here’s where you have a chance to get creative.  I stirred in as well about 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese and 2 cups frozen corn.

Pour the batter into the prepared skillet.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the centre of the cornbread comes out clean. 

Allow to cool slightly in the skillet on a rack, then tip out and slice into wedges for serving.

Great with chili or just on its own.  Just remember to wrap it up tightly to store it, as it goes stale very quickly.

Handy Items Week: Cast Iron Skillet

Cait and her fiancé iPM will be on a whirlwind tour of St. John’s this week (they arrived late last night), so the Pie and I will be playing host and tour guide while they’re here.

To keep you entertained until they get out of our hair and I can give you your own personal tour of my city, I’m giving you eight days of gadgets that I cannot live without.

Today we have the cast iron skillet. Actually, we have two, having purchased one recently.

Non-stick frying pans are great and all, but they don’t brown things well and sometimes you just need that extra-crispiness.

Cast iron is also handy when moving from the stove-top to the oven, as we saw with the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.

The trick to frying in cast-iron is similar to that of a barbecue.  Dab a little oil on the frying surface and let it heat up for a little while.  Don’t put your food in the pan until the metal is nice and evenly hot.  The instant contact of the food on the super-hot surface will help to seal in all the good stuff in your foot and will make a nice firm layer of cooked food that will help prevent your stuff from sticking to the pan.

Cast iron will, of course, rust if you don’t take good care of it.  A well-seasoned cast iron skillet, however, will last you for decades.

You can initially season a new skillet by rubbing the entire cooking surface with olive oil, and then putting it on your stove top at medium-high heat until the oil starts to smoke, or by baking it in your oven for a little while at about 400°F.  Leave the skillet to cool and wipe out excess oil before storing.

Never wash your skillet with soap.  If the pan is not that dirty simply wipe it out with a soft cloth to maintain the oil coating.  If there is a lot of stuff stuck to the pan, fill the skillet with boiling water and leave the excess oils and food to rise to the surface.  You can give it a scrub with a plastic scrubby as well.  Rinse well and place on your stovetop element to dry it quickly without rusting.

If you need to use soap to get out some really cruddy crud, make sure to re-season the pan before you put it away.

We store them with dish towels in between to prevent scratches.

Paderno Factory Sale!

Yesterday may have been a Tuesday for you.

For us, it was Manna day.

I dragged the Pie out of bed at the crack of nine-thirty and towed him the block and a half from our apartment to the ReMax Centre, home to the St. John’s Curling Club.

We had come to take advantage of the Paderno factory sale, a rare opportunity to purchase some quality Canadian cookware.  Yes, there is a Paderno Kitchen store in the city, but without a car, it’s practically in the middle of nowhere, so we don’t go often.  Plus, we hit this shindig last year and found some RIDICU-sales, even though we came at the end of the event.  This time we got there nice and early.

For those of you in St. John’s, the event runs from May 11th to May 16th, and is open from 9 to 9 during the week, 9 to 6 on Saturday, and 9 to 5 on Sunday.

Here are some of the things we saw that we’re thinking about going back for:

I am firmly of the opinion that you can never have too many mixing bowls.  Especially nice ones.  These two sets were especially alluring due to their cheapness. 

We might come back later and get this nice medium-sized cast-iron skillet.  We are trying to use cast-iron more often these days, and now we have a wee one and a huge one and it would be nice to have a medium one.

These are fish tongs.  I’m not going to buy them.  But I thought they looked ridiculous.

My parents have one of these oil sprayers, and it works really well.  It means you never have to buy aerosol cooking spray again.  I have to say that I am rather tempted.

These tiny wooden spoons were so cute!  There’s no way the Pie will let me have even one of them.

We probably won’t come back for this, but it was interesting.  An egg-toss pan, with a little bulge on one end to help you flip your egg.  The Pie might want it.

A selection of cheap serving spoons.  We really don’t have any serving spoons at all, so this is a definite maybe.

I thought these mugs are cute.  I am, however, banned from buying mugs.  Stupid husband and his RULES.

The Pie really, really wants this pizza cutter.  Like REALLY.

Here’s what we ended up with:

This little cast-iron pan is our triumph.  We picked it up from the salesmen’s sample table (basically, the scratch & dent) for ten dollars.  It’s a little dirty but we don’t think those scratches are permanent.  The ones that aren’t scratched are selling for twenty dollars, which is 50% off their original price.  So it’s a real steal.

Also from the scratch & dent table came these two wee darling cafe latte-style bowls.  The littlest was a dollar and the larger one was two.  You can pretty much justify anything for two dollars.

Our most expensive purchase was this pan liner for $10.99.  It makes a good alternative to parchment paper and as I’m planning to make a lot more bread these days I think it will come in handy.

I had to have this silicone spoon, merely because it was turquoise.  And it was only $2.99.  The Pie mocked my choice: “do we really need another spoon?”

Of course, that is coming from the man who insisted we get these miniature tongs (red to match our larger tongs) for $1.99.  So I can’t really trust his judgments.

The Pie is also exceedingly fond of egg mcmuffin-type breakfast foods, so we picked these up for $3.99.

A small icing spatula came away for $2.75.

I also picked up two 9″ pie plates, both deep dish.  This lovely ceramic one was only $7.50, and normally this vintage-style goes for $40 or more.

This nice clear one was only $5.49.

All this loot for a grand total (including HST) of $55.03.  Can’t beat it.

Mack Truck Bread

My magic recipe book.

This recipe comes from a book called No Need to Knead by Susanne Dunway.  You can get it on Amazon for about 35 bucks.   I don’t remember the actual name of the recipe itself, but in my family we’ve always called it Mack Truck Bread.  At the beginning of the recipe, there’s a little story about the baker making a pile of these breads and taking them across the street.  One of them fell to the asphalt and was run over by a Mack truck.  The incredulous onlookers watched as the flattened bread miraculously returned to its original shape.  It’s a very durable baked good.

This recipe makes one 9-12″ round focaccia loaf or two 13″ baguettes.  Best served hot, though it’s good for toasting the next day if wrapped carefully.  After that it gets a little too stale.

In a medium-sized bowl, pour two cups of lukewarm water (in my house, which is very cold, I usually have the water temperature at warm, and it cools from there).

Sprinkle the yeast over the lukewarm water.

Stir the yeast until it dissolves.

Sprinkle two teaspoons active dry yeast into the water and stir until dissolved.

In a measuring cup, mix four cups of all-purpose flour with two teaspoons of salt.  Add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the bowl of yeast water.  Mix with a spoon until combined.  The dough will be extremely sticky, and you may find, depending on the weather, that you won’t use all the flour you have at hand.

Pour in the flour and salt a little at a time, stirring all the while.

The dough will be very sticky.

A quick knead will get all the bits sticking together.

The recipe says that you don’t need to knead this bread, but I find mixing it a bit with my hands inside the bowl gets all the sticky clumps together and gives my dough a little bit of cohesiveness.  A minute of work should suffice.

Place the dough in another, oiled or greased bowl, cover with a towel, and leave in a warm place to rise for an hour or so, until the dough is about twice its original size.  Putting it next to a heater works, but make sure the heat isn’t too strong in any one area, because that will actually begin to cook the dough.

Make sure to grease or spray the bowl before you put in the dough.

Once the dough has risen, you will want to put it in the baking pan and leave it for another thirty minutes or so to rise again.

Cover the dough with a clean towel and leave it to rise in a warm place.

Brush the top of the dough with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and some herbs and spices.  Play around with the toppings you put on the bread before baking.  We prefer the pre-mixed spices you can get in the grocery store, but anything that suits your fancy will work.  I have also tried incorporating extra ingredients into the bread, such as raisins or chopped olives.  Both work extremely well, and I bet you can make a half-decent garlic bread this way.

Allow the dough to rise to about twice its original size.

I cook this bread in one of two ways.  The first way is to plop the bowl of dough upside down in the centre of a large greased cast iron skillet.  The dough will expand to fill the shape of the skillet.  Bake this at 450°F for about 20-25 minutes.  Alternatively, cut the risen dough in half (not an easy or particularly scientific task) and stretch it along the lengths of two greased baguette pans.  Bake at 425°F for 20-25 minutes.  When the bread is done, it will be golden brown on top and the bottom will make a nice solid sound when you knock on it.  If you find the bottom is too soft after baking (for instance, the baguette pan I have doesn’t have little holes in the bottom of it), then put the loaf straight on the rack of the oven for another five or ten minutes to ‘crispen up’ as the Pie says.

Stretch the dough with your hands if you are making baguettes.

Sprinkle the bread with spices and let it rise some more.

The loaves should be crusty and golden when finished.