Cooking with Virginia -Homemade Bread

Cooking with Virginia -Homemade Bread

My dear friend Virginia and I have started cooking together recently. Whether the meal is simple or complex, I treasure the experience, the knowledge, and the stories that are shared. Cooking is never as simple as it seems. Taking raw ingredients and transforming them into a meal is a powerful thing. Preparing food for someone is one of the first and most primal acts of caring for others. It is a deeply meaningful and nurturing act that is as powerful today as it was eons ago. Cooking with someone creates a meaningful experience that is more than just the food involved. It is a transfer of knowledge and skills passed down through the ages and refined through a lifetime.

At its heart, cooking is about taking a few simple ingredients and creating a meal. This is true magic, taking seemingly nothing and transforming it into that which sustains life. This week my friend Virginia and I made bread. While I have tried a few bread variations before, the technique and feel of this experience was more valuable than a thousand cookbooks. Virginia talked about the look and feel of the ingredients. While I will try and give measurements here, this is an experience that must be done with your hands, as what you are creating is so much more than just numbers and ingredients.

More than just Bread

Talking with Virginia, it’s easy to see how a recipe is more than just the food it creates. This technique for bread making came from her mother-in-law and was passed on to her as she joined this new family. In turn, it is something that she always made for her own family as she raised her children and grandchildren. Homemade bread was a staple at holiday dinners and the recipe made so much that everyone got to take home a loaf. Something as simple as a loaf of bread can hold such deep meaning and emotion when it is tied to family and time spent together. When you bake this bread, it is more than just bread you create. It is lasting memories and connections, carried down from generations ago to the generations yet to come.

Cooking with Virginia -Homemade Bread
Food is more than just ingredients.

Simple Yet Powerful

Start with about half of a stick of butter (¼ cup). Let the butter sit for awhile until it is room temperature. You want it to smoothly and evenly mix in with the other ingredients. Before you begin mixing ingredients you’ll want to activate or ‘proof’ the yeast.

Virginia tells me, “The most important thing to remember when baking bread is that yeast is alive. You have to nurture it in order for it to grow. Too hot or too cold can kill the yeast.”

To activate the yeast, Virginia pours one packet (or 2 ¼ teaspoons) of dry active yeast into a coffee mug. Sprinkle just a pinch of sugar over the yeast to feed it. Then, fill the coffee mug halfway with very warm water from the faucet and give it a quick stir. The water must be warm enough to activate the yeast, but not too hot, or the yeast may die. The feel of the water will tell you.

Virginia: “You must be able to touch the water, it can’t be scalding.”

Try and keep the mug warm as well. If the mug is too cold simply hold it in your hands a minute, creating a warm and nurturing environment for your yeast to grow. The yeast is ready when it ‘bubbles’ to the top of the mug.

Don’t Rush

Virginia reminds me, “Don’t rush it. Give it time to grow.”

When making this bread, don’t be overly concerned with timing or measurements. Feel it out and enjoy the process. While your yeast is activating, heat a medium pot of water on the stove. Don’t let it boil. Like before, this water shouldn’t be too hot to touch. Just pleasantly warm for the yeast to thrive. Once your yeast is activated and the water warmed, it’s time to start mixing your ingredients. Your butter should be room temperature by now. In a large stock pot, pour over the butter, most of a 5 lb. bag of Ceresota Flour. This flour is natural and unbleached, so it makes a delicious and nutrient filled homemade bread. I would estimate about 4 ½ lbs. at first, saving the remaining ½ lb. for dusting the table to knead.

Cooking with Virginia -Homemade Bread
You have never kneaded dough until you’ve tackled this monster!

Kneading the Dough

This is such a big recipe that it must be mixed in a stockpot, as I have yet to find a mixing bowl large enough! Sprinkle some sugar over the top to feed the yeast. About a tablespoon should do it. Also, add just a pinch of salt. When Virginia and I made this, I measured by cupping my hand and filling just the very center of my palm. This ends up being about a teaspoon. Then, pour in your yeast and add just enough of the warm water to form a dough. When the dough is combined, dump it out onto a floured table or counter top to knead. Let me tell you, you have never kneaded bread until you’ve tackled this 5 lb. monster.

Virginia was much better at kneading than me. Even after flouring my hands, I still ended up with dough sticking to me all over. The trick to kneading it is to lift a corner of dough up and over, onto itself, then press down and out, mixing the dough firmly into the center. Turn the dough one quarter turn each time so that your are always working with a new corner. As the dough is kneaded it will become stronger and more firm. This helps the dough to hold it’s shape as it rises. When the dough feels firm enough (after about 5 minutes of kneading) add a little oil to your stock pot and rub it along the bottom and sides to grease. Place your dough back into the stockpot and set it in a warm place to rise. Cover the dough with a clean towel and wrap it with another. This provides a warm, nurturing environment for your dough. Once the dough is all tucked in to rise, your can prepare your baking pans. This recipe makes about 5 loaves of bread, but you can use a pie pan for circular loves as well.

Cooking with Virginia -Homemade Bread
All tucked in!

Shaping the Loaves

Virginia: “I usually make bread for the holidays, then everyone can take home one of the extra loaves.”

Oil your pans well to prevent sticking, making sure to rub oil into the corners. Your dough is done rising once it has doubled in size (about an hour).

When ready, dump your risen dough onto a lightly floured table or counter top. Knead just a few times to push all of the air bubbles out. Then cut the dough into 5 even sections. For loaf pans, pull the two short ends over the top, just a little. Then pull up the long end closest to you. Use that end to roll the loaf up into a log. Place the shaped dough into a loaf pan and cut slits across the top. This allows the dough to stretch as it rises and vent as it bakes, as well as looking nice. Let the dough rise another half hour to forty five minutes. Don’t rush this part, or your bread will be rather dense, instead of light and fluffy. Once the dough has doubled in size, it is ready to bake. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Your bread should be golden brown on top and make a hollow sound when tapped.

Cooking with Virginia -Homemade Bread
Nothing is better than fresh homemade bread!

Look, Feel, and Sound

Virginia explains, “If the bread doesn’t sound hollow, there is too much moisture in there and it needs to bake longer”

Once your loaves are golden brown and sound hollow, turn them out onto a wire rack for cooking. Be sure to cover the loaves with a clean towel while they cool, to keep moisture in. Homemade bread is best eaten fresh, but to save a loaf for later, wait until it has cooled completely, then wrap it tightly in plastic and cover with aluminum foil to freeze. Loaves that have become a bit dry after a few days, taste excellent when sliced and lightly toasted!

Virginia:  “You know that you’ve done a good job if the bubbles within a slice of bread are evenly spaced. That means it was kneaded well!”

Making bread with Virginia has been a great experience and I can’t wait to practice this simple yet delicious bread recipe at home.

Marinated Veggie by TheLookingGlassCraft.com

Marinated Veggies

I’m absolutely in love with this new recipe that was shared with me for marinated veggies! These veggies are perfect for any occasion. Feel free to alter the veggies used, adding in your favorites. The flavors will blend well together for a variety of veggie combinations. Marinated veggies can be served warm or cold, as a side dish or overtop lettuce to turn your salad into a meal. This recipe is perfect for summer parties!

Your Favorite Veggies

What a great way to get in your daily dose of veggies! Mix up a big batch of marinated veggies and you’ll have no problem eating your greens this week. I love to throw in a variety of bell peppers for an extra splash of color, making this dish fun and bright. Slice and chop all of your veggies into bite sized pieces. For more color add in extra bell peppers, or substitute a yellow squash for a zucchini. Pour all of the chopped veggies into a large ziplock bag.

Delicious Dressing

In a small blender or food processor, pour in ½ cup Vegetable Oil and ½ cup Olive Oil. Add in ½ cup White Wine Vinegar and ½ cup Sugar. This is the base for your marinade and will make a sweet vinaigrette type dressing. Then mince 3 cloves of fresh Garlic to season your marinade. I love garlic and tend to add in a little extra if I’m making this for the family. Finally, finish the seasonings with 1 tablespoon Salt, 1 tablespoon Mustard, and 2 tablespoons Tarragon. I like to use stone ground mustard whenever possible, it adds the perfect balance of flavor, but you can use any kind you prefer. Blend these ingredients until well combined.

Perfect for Summer Parties

Pour the marinade over the veggies. Seal the bag tightly and refrigerate overnight. Since this marinade is essentially a salad dressing, you can eat the veggies right away. The flavors, however, will combine and develop after marinating overnight. I’ll occasionally make an extra batch of the dressing to use on salads throughout the week, since it’s delicious on it’s own as well. These veggies are wonderful for summer parties. You can make them up the night before and let them marinate until you’re ready to leave. Perfect for cookouts and potlucks! Have fun mixing up your favorite veggies this summer and enjoy!

Marinated Veggies

2 Bell Peppers

1 lb. Carrots

1 lb. Mushrooms

1 bunch Broccoli

1 bunch Cauliflower

2 Zucchini

5 Stalks Celery

½ cup Vegetable Oil

½ cup Olive Oil

½ cup White Wine Vinegar

½ cup Sugar

3 cloves garlic

1 T. Salt

1 T. Mustard

2 T. Tarragon

 

Slice and chop all veggies to bite sized pieces and combine in a large ziplock bag. In a small blender or food processor combine both Oils, Vinegar, and Sugar. Add in Garlic, Salt, Mustard, and Tarragon for seasoning. Blend until fully combined. Pour the marinade over the veggies and let sit overnight, sealed, in the refrigerator. Enjoy your veggies!

Marinated Veggies by TheLookingGlassCraft.com
This delicious dressing will have you coming back for more!
Smoothie Pops by TheLookingGlassCraft.com

Smoothie Pops

Warm sunshine on the beach, a cool breeze on the green grass, and sweet frozen smoothie pops are the best things about summer. These sweet and colorful smoothie pops are so simple to make. I love making a big batch to freeze after going berry picking at our local farms! Nothing compares to the taste of fresh berries.

Fresh, Ripe Berries

These smoothie pops are an all natural, healthy treat for your daily dose of sweet! They can be made with all varieties of fruit for your favorite flavor combination. Frozen berries can be substituted, but for the best results use fresh, unblemished berries.

Pick out ½ cup of your favorite Berries or cut fruit. This can be a single flavor, or a combination. Experiment and have fun! Pour berries into a blender and add 1 cup Yogurt.  I use plain, unsweetened yogurt for my smoothies, but you can substitute with whatever kind you like. However, if using a sweetened yogurt, omit Brown Sugar and only use ½ of the Honey called for.

Organic, Local Honey

Add in 2 tablespoons Honey to your smoothie mix to sweeten and flavor it. I like to use organic, locally grown honey whenever possible. Using locally grown honey has the added benefit of boosting your immune system and resistance to potential allergens in your area. Bee’s use the local plant life to gather nectar and make their honey, in the process their immune system neutralizes potential allergens from these plants. Just 2 teaspoons of local honey a day helps your own immune system to neutralize local allergens as well, reducing allergy symptoms.

Sweeten to Taste

Finally, for unsweetened Yogurt, add in 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to sweeten. You can substitute this with a more natural sweetener, like agave nectar, if you prefer. However, if you use an alternative sweetener, adjust to taste as these can tend to be stronger than normal sugar. A drop of vanilla extract or another suitable extract can be added for flavor if you like, but start small with these as a little bit goes a long way. Pour smoothie mix into a popsicle mold and freeze.

Create and Have Fun!

One of the neatest things about these smoothie pops, is the way that berries and fruit will naturally color your smoothie, making these a fun and healthy treat for the kids as well. I recently made these smoothie pops for a 4th of July cookout and the effect was spectacular! Instead of choosing just one, I made three different flavors of smoothies. One smoothie was made from raspberries, another from blueberries, and the last one was made with a banana, cut into slices. Using a popsicle stick and plastic wrap to cover, I layered the colors one at a time into my popsicle mold. By letting each layer freeze slightly before adding the next, beautiful red, white, and blue striped popsicles were created. What a fun addition to our holiday cookout! Have fun creating your own unique combination of smoothie pops and share with us in the comments below.

Smoothie Pops

1/2 cup Berries (or cut fruit)

1 cup unsweetened Yogurt

2 T. Honey

2 T. Brown Sugar

Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze. Experiment with new flavors and enjoy!

Smoothie Pops by TheLookingGlassCraft.com
Perfect for summer parties or a sweet treat for the family.