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Saturday, 31 October 2015

A Monstrous Cookie Halloween

In my continuing quest to slow down, I have temporarily put aside learning how to bake a decent loaf of bread due to Monsieur's increasingly frequent comments regarding a passing gluten intolerance. Strangely, this intolerance tends to disappear when cookies and cakes are on the menu.  Hmmm, I think I will have to try my hand at baking cookies.  I am very fond of ginger and molasses cookies and, as I had unearthed a long forgotten carton of molasses in the kitchen cupboard, I set about attempting to bake them.  I used a recipe from epicurious.com which I won't copy here for various reasons to be explained later.  I have never used molasses in cooking before and so had no idea how hard it was to get out of the carton.  I wonder what Monsieur thought when he came home and saw this.


Note that I do not have a mixer.  In this house, mixing is done a la Little House On The Prairie style, with elbow grease and a wooden spoon.  The molasses is so viscous that I am unable to mix it consistently throughout the cookie dough.  I am sure that extreme minimalists everywhere would applaud my exhaustive and exhausting efforts with a wooden spoon.  However, all I can think of is the time Monsieur came home with a steam vacuum cleaner instead of a mixer.  Honestly, a steam vac!  In despair, I give up and throw the batch of "cookies" into the oven and hope for the best.
Suffice to say, the cookies are a failure.  They don't rise or spread out and develop strange crevasses all over. In fact, with the strange spotted colouring, they almost look like chocolate chip cookies.  In fact, they look like Frankenstein monster cookies!


Gloomily, I eat a breakfast cereal bar wrapped in a non-recyclable wrapper.  Yes, I know.  Fortified with mass-produced food, I am determined to try again.  Forget faffing with molasses, also known as edible road tar (although if you have experience cooking or baking with molasses please send along any tips or suggestions!).  This time I will try that old standby, chocolate chip cookies.  I have a bag of peanut butter chips so I decide to switch out the chocolate chips.  Obviously, my rebellious spirit is still alive and kicking.  I use a recipe from Martha Stewart's website.  Thank heavens, the Queen of All Things Good doesn't disappoint.


Strangely, though, the cookies nearest the heating element stayed smallish (the row at the top) while the cookies on the tray further away from the heating element in the oven spread out more (the row on the bottom).  Baking is an exact science and to me a mysterious one.  Still, whatever their size, they taste scrumptious.



  Perfect for a Hootin' Halloween.



Or, for would-be Dragons and Dragonettes, a Roarin' Halloween.
Wherever you are, I hope you have a Spooktacular Halloween!

I'm linking up with Natasha In Oz.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Trying To Grow An Indoor Herb Garden

I guess the title says it all as in I'm trying, desperately trying, to grow an indoor herb garden.  I've read many suggestions about the benefits of growing your own herbs as you can harvest them when needed and use them right away.  I have found that there is quite a bit of waste involved with buying herbs as we only ever use a bit of it and then the rest goes mouldy before it gets used up.  The problem is that I don't have a backyard or a balcony.  But herbs are just weeds and we all know weeds have evolved to grow anywhere. So I thought, why not trying growing them indoors?  When I saw this glass miniature greenhouse at Ikea, I was entranced.
via Ikea.com

I had these romantic visions of casually sauntering over to my lovely miniature greenhouse that was perched in my kitchen bay window and snipping off a few leaves of herbaly goodness which then gets tossed nonchalantly into my Michelin star recipe.  Like so...
via Ikea.com


Maybe I would have so many herbs that I could make my own cosmetics!  Yessss!!!  BUT my kitchen has no deep bay window, no natural light and very little counter space.  In fact, I was stumped as to where to put this green house, miniature though it was.  Insert sad face.  Still I was game to try and so, rustling up a couple of tiny coconut husk cups for starting seedlings, I decided to try growing dill and cilantro.  After many days spent on bended knee waiting and then pleading (and ignoring Monsieur's postulations about a watched pot or in this case watched dirt...), this is what I had.


That's right...nothing.  Insert another sad face.  Why???  Why??  Were the seeds old?  But seeds, by definition, are young.  How can they be old before they have even started growing??  You will see that, in an ecstasy of optimism, I even labelled my little seedling pots.  Hmmm...I am beginning to think that this business of simple living is not so simple after all.
At this point, I remembered reading somewhere that a good way of jumpstarting a garden is to just buy seedlings or save the roots of store bought herbs (if they come with roots attached).  I saved the roots of a green onion and lo and behold it grew one stalk and then another!  Obviously, it is the one in the blue pot.


I was so excited and admittedly took an inordinate amount of childish pleasure out of watching it rocket upwards especially after the dill and cilantro failure.  And then, one morning, I checked on it and the first stalk, now a long tall stalk, had inexplicably flopped over. Was I supposed to stake it?  I have heard of staking tomato plants but spring onions?  I guess I should harvest it as it looks a wee bit pathetic flopped over like that.  You will see that I have a basil plant to the left.  It was bought as a seedling and is still in a plastic pot because I am too afraid of transferring it to a proper plant pot for fear of killing it.  I think that next year, when there are more seedlings available in the nursery, I will buy a few and do my best to keep up an indoor herb garden.  I haven't given up the dream completely.  Do you do indoor container gardening?  Any suggestions on growing herbs indoors, please send them my way!

I am linking up with Natasha in Oz.
 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Adventures In Baking Bread

Simple living in a large metropolitan city has seemed, at times, a near impossibility.  For example, trying to eat organic, local food has been a source of great frustration.  I don't have a backyard so I can't grow my own vegetables.  True farmers markets are few and far between and tend to be at odd hours like between 3 and 7 pm on a Tuesday which makes them inaccessible to anyone holding a full time job.  Even trying to be more frugal with the grocery budget has been a difficult task as I find that groceries are at least 30% higher than out in the suburbs.  However, I persevered and thought to myself, "Why not start this seemingly impossible journey with teaching myself that most basic of life skills, baking bread? After all, every journey starts with one step."  Now, I will never be one of those people who springs out of bed at 4 am every day and bakes a loaf of bread.  But I was willing to get up at 7 am and bake bread once a week.  I used the No Knead recipe which I found on the Down To Earth blog.


The great thing about this recipe is that you prepare the dough the evening before and let it rise over night.   I think the name of the recipe is a bit misleading because there is some kneading involved. Now, you are advised to flour your hands and the board lightly but I can attest that you actually need a lot of flour and to dust the board regularly otherwise you will have a sticky, gluey mess all over your hands.


I did slash the top but I don't think it was deep enough because, somehow, magically, while in the oven, the dough decided to thumb its glutinous nose at me and mend itself back together again.  Monsieur assures me that, for my very first loaf, it was a passable attempt but he is being very, very kind.  There is no doubt that, if used to conk someone on the head, it could be classed as a dangerous weapon.  I am not sure if it was because of the lack of a slash on the top preventing it from rising or the finicky nature of my oven that never gets very hot.  Well, Rome wasn't built in a day so....I tried again, only this time with rye flour.  I mixed the dough and the next morning peeked in the bowl expecting to see a giant mushroom cloud of risen dough.  And...nothing.  It was a soggy lumpy mess.


Ugh!!  Why?? Why?? Is rye, by its very nature, too fibrous to do anything except sink wilfully towards the earth?  In an effort not to waste the dough, I mixed in a cup of white flour and hoped for the best.  Luckily, in 2 hours, it had risen considerably.  I toasted some almonds and added it to the top of the dough ball.  This time, I made sure to make deep slashes to the top.


 Well, this is looking more like a homemade loaf!


I used a toasted slice for my version of a beef brisket sandwich.


The Down To Earth recipe is a variation of a recipe from the New York Times which calls for the dough to rise twice and be kneaded twice.  The rye loaf was still on the heavy side so, next time I will try the New York Times recipe and knead it twice to see if that produces a lighter loaf. I guess this blog post is more of an anti-post that shows all the stumbles and not just picture perfect, Pinterest-worthy triumphs.  My main takeaway from this is to persevere and not give up.  If any of you have any tips or suggestions, this budding baker would love to hear from you!

I am linking up with Natasha in Oz.
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