Friday, February 29, 2008

French Bread - When Daring Bakers and Julia Child Collide

Here it is, folks... my 100th blog post!

This month the Daring Bakers made Julia Child's French Bread. This challenge was co-hosted by Breadchick Mary of The Sour Dough and Sara of I Like To Cook. Thanks to both of you for such a great challenge! Because really, who doesn't like fresh baked bread?

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I often dabble with bread baking. If I'm not whipping up a sourdough starter and baking sourdough bread... then I'm taking the easy way out and serving up no knead bread.

But this recipe was a little different from what I have been doing lately. Since my birthday, earlier in February, I have been happily baking away out of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Imagine, if you will, my shock in finding that this month's challenge recipe was supposed to take me 7 to 9 hours to complete. Um... I pretty sure there is a baguette in here somewhere... (pages of my new favorite bread book flipping). Just kidding!

Staying true to a common recipe is what gives Daring Bakers common ground, and the chance to share our experiences with one another. So, I decided this would be a great time to test the flavor and crumb of this bread against the quick method I have been using.

Need a quick taste of what's in store? Here is a sneak-peak of where we're headed with this:

So let's get started, shall we? For the record - this recipe is not hard. It just takes some time. Bread baking is sort of like laundry that way. Not a very glamorous comparison perhaps, but you would never choose not to wash your clothes simply because the whole process is going to take n hours. Because the machine does most of the work, you just have to be around once in a while to keep things on track. And, clean clothes are worth it. Same with bread.

First we mix up the dough. The ingredients (represented above) are very simple. Dissolve 1 3/4 teaspoons of instant yeast into 1/3 cup warm water. (The warm water tells your yeast, "Wake-y, wake-y... time to bake-y!" if you use hot water it will say, "Die, rebel scum!" or something like that.) Let it stand while you measure out 6 1/2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour into a mixing bowl. Add the yeasty water, 2 1/4 teaspoons of salt, and 1 1/4 cups of room-temp water to the flour and stir it together with your trusty wooden spoon (or plastic spatula... whatever floats your boat).

Now the recipe reads, "Wash and fill the mixing bowl with 10 1/2 cups of tepid water (70 – 80 degrees) and make a mark to indicate that level on the outside of the bowl. Note, that the bowl should have fairly upright sides; if they are too outward slanting, the dough will have difficulty in rising. Pour out the water, dry the bowl, and place the dough in it." So I chose a plastic, food grade bucket to let my dough rise in. I filled it with water and marked it like suggested.

Only to realize that my favorite method of providing a warm place for my dough to rise was no longer going to work. I couldn't very well shove my plastic bucket into a warm oven, now, could I? So I used a suggestion from our hosts and placed the bucket on a towel-covered hot pad. Doesn't my dough look cuddly?

You may have noticed that the lid looks like it is on pretty well in that picture above. It is. More about that later...

It took FOREVER for my poor dough to rise. When it finally reached it's mark...

I took the now-bulging lid off and *Poof!*

...huge bubbles deflated, and a bunch of those gases rushed out.

Since it had been rising for so long, when I put the dough on the table to knead it - it had baked a little on the bottom. Oops!

Well, there was kneading, a second rise (without the lid - thank you very much) and the forming of loaves. This is what they looked like just starting the final rise:

And aren't they beautiful?

How 'bout from another angle? Boy, I couldn't wait to get those into my oven.

But this may bring a tear to your eye. Look how sadly they deflated when I transfered and then slashed them. Poor things.

Oh well. I got them onto my pizza stone, threw some ice cubes into the broiler tray below, checked my new oven thermometer and got them baked. And they were very tasty.

One thing I was very pleased with, were the little blisters in the crust:

Here are two of the loaves, one split open to see the crumb.

Feeling like you would like to be munching on some of this delightful bread yourself? Take a look at the recipe (or download the recipe in pdf form for easy printing) so you can have fresh bread coming out of your own oven. Or, if you just want to ogle everyone else's, visit all the lovely Daring Bakers who participated in this month's challenge - and check out these DBers too.

So... what was our verdict on this versus the quick method I've been using? They do not produce identical loaves... but the convenience more than makes up for it. I prefer the quick method. But I am glad to have done it Julia Child's way, and thoroughly enjoyed this challenge.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Salad Posing as Bento

Wow... last week was busy! One of the highlights was having a few friends over to play Rock Band. Matt brought the game, Aaron brought an extra guitar controller, and Andrea brought the beautiful salad that made it into my bento the next day. Take a look at bento 76:

Besides the salad, there are almonds, Italian dressing, and one of my mom-in-law's delicious sugar cookies. (By the way, this wasn't all I had for lunch. I had some stir-fry too, later.)

Happy Bento!

[Don't look now... but my next post will be post #100! I better make it something good, eh?]

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Stir-fry Bento

Bento #74 is full of delicious left-overs from the dinner that Leslie fixed for us yesterday.

Take a look:

  • white rice
  • vegetable stir fry
The end.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Where's the Bento?

"Where have all the bentos gone?" I hear my bento-blogging buddies lament.

I admit, I have been remiss. I will endeavor to do better. Here, as a peace-offering, is a simple bento I made last week:

Humble contents:

  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • banana chocolate chip cookie that Bethy made me
  • cracked pepper & olive oil Triscuits
  • dried cherries, left-over from Leslie's salad
  • almonds, hiding in the shadows
  • trail mix in a new little silicone cupcake holder I got for my birthday (thanks, mom and dad!)
By the way, I'm fairly certain this is my 73rd bento.

As Yvo over at All My Bento Are Belong To Me says: Happy Bento!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Pineapple Pork Chops

One of the first dinner recipes I learned to cook was pineapple pork chops and rice. I found the original recipe at If you'll excuse the florescent lighting in my kitchen, I will show you how easy these are to make.

The original recipe calls for butter, but at some point I substituted olive oil, and have been sticking with that ever since. I just pour a little bit in the bottom of the pan, like you would to saute up veggies or something.

Next, have your husband trim any excess fat from the pork chops. Put them in the skillet with the olive oil and season both sides with salt and pepper.

Brown them well on both sides.

The original recipe calls only for a 8 ounce can of crushed pineapple. But my husband decided he preferred chunks, and I like a lot of that sweet pineapple flavor - so I just dump the whole can in!

Reduce the heat at this point, and cover and simmer until the pork chops are tender. It will take about 20 minutes, and I usually flip them over about half-way through just to make sure they aren't getting to brown on the bottom.

You are supposed to add water at this point - but I had so much pineapple juice in there I didn't.

Bring the liquid to a boil and grab your box of Minute Rice. Pour it in until it looks like the rice will soak up all the liquid. (Originally it was 1 cup water, 1 1/2 cups Minute Rice and also 3/4 tsp salt, which I seem to have forgotten.)

Skootch it all around so the rice can touch the liquid, then cover it and remove it from the heat and let it stand for five minutes.

Dish it out for a tasty, hot, one-skillet meal.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A New Kind of "Quick Bread"

I just thought I would quickly share with you all the birthday present I got from my husband and mom-in-law...

I've been drooling over this book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, ever since I read this article about No-Knead Sticky Pecan Caramel Cinnamon Rolls over at Steamy Kitchen. (Evidently I'd been drooling so loudly Bryan noticed.)

Let's take another close-up look from a different angle, shall we? And make sure and notice the time-stamp on this post. I'm not fudging any. I was able to come home from work, bake a loaf of bread, and then blog about it all before 6pm. (Am I the only one that is really excited about this?)

Fresh breads with dinner here we come! Stay tuned for further recipes... I am determined to try the cinnamon rolls soon.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

When I got home from work this afternoon it was cold and rainy. Perfect cookie weather! I decided to make a double batch and then skip dinner.

I got down my cookbook and selected the Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie recipe. Oh yeah! (This is another AllRecipes find.)

I took four sticks of margarine and softened them, still in their paper wrappers, for 20 seconds in the microwave. I don't know if this is a good, safe idea or not (in other words, don't blame me if your apartment burns down) but it worked for me today.

Then I added the sugar and brown sugar.

Things were going well and I was sure the house was going to smell wonderful when my husband got home. I grabbed four eggs out of the fridge and got crackin'.

But then Bryan got home before I was expecting him. And I got surprised and dropped the egg I had been cracking into the batter. Oops!

Please note, this step is optional.

Before I knew it I was scooping dough onto my baking trays.

Thinking maybe I should have dinner after all, I filled two cookie dough containers with extra dough. I put one in the freezer, and one in the fridge. So we will have fresh, hot cookies whenever we want for some time. Watch out hips... here it comes!

Here are my cookies just after taking them out of the oven. Now, I know what you're thinking, "They're not done! Put those poor anemic cookies back into your oven."

But let me explain: The recipe says to leave them there for five minutes before removing them to the cooling racks. And I'm not certain, but I think this is what makes them so chewy and texturally pleasing. They do not turn out a lovely brown color, but the bottoms don't burn either, and that's a plus, right?

Can't wait to bake up a double batch of these yourself? Here is the recipe exactly as I followed it this afternoon (with the optional dropping the egg into the batter step excluded):


  • 2 cups butter (or margarine), softened
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until just blended. Stir in the quick oats, and chocolate chips. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.
  3. Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

70th Bento!

This morning I decided to make little chicken/pineapple skewers for my lunch. I used toothpicks for the miniature skewers. The chicken was left-over baked chicken with a BBQ glaze. I made fresh rice in the steamer this morning. Into the top tier I put peaches for dessert. (More on that, later.)

I was pleased to find that it all stacked nicely, and I wasn't having the problem I'd had last time. I secured it with a rubber band and placed it into my little lunch pack.

However, when I opened the lunch pack (like a tiny soft cooler) I was dismayed to find that peach juice had leaked out everywhere! If you look at the picture, you may notice that I didn't pack any juice - just the peaches themselves. So much for that strategy. I guess there was enough juice in them to cause all that mess. Bummer.

It also tells me that my lid that closes the top tier (separate from the top lid that has the face on it) is in no way water tight. Good to know.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Orange Chicken Bento

Hello, bento fans!

This lunch is simple, but delicious. I have white steamed rice below orange chicken. Yum!

Have a great Monday!

My Husband's Cake

So yesterday, Bryan decided to bake a cake in honor of our golden retriever's 2nd birthday. He got to work, chose to make it two-tier, made homemade frosting, and generally did a great job.

This isn't very surprising, as he often bakes us brownies or cake. What was surprising to me was after he was done he said, "You gonna take a picture of it? You know, to put up on your blog?" "Uh, yeah. Sure."

So here it is in all it's glory:


Sliced open:

Dioji wants to know, "Do I get some?"

No, you don't. But how about some wet dog food?

Hope everyone enjoys game day!