Milling Flour

Admit it, one of the best things about baking from scratch is the self righteous satisfaction. Oh, I don't ever use mixes. My brownies are from scratch...

This weekend I hit the DIY pinnacle of bread baking. Oh, I don't ever use store-bought flour, I mill my own.

Alright, let me be real for a second. I'm a frozen pie crust using, occasional jar-sauce pasta maker. I'm not going to diminish anyone's attempts at home cooking, but there is something so awesome about snatching back a daily staple like bread from the hands of big food corporations.

Thanks to my Thanksgiving hostess Marcia, I had the opportunity to really stick it to Agri Biz and the gang. About ten years ago Marcia bought 600 pounds of wheat berries. Stored airtight in her basement, she has been grinding flour and turning out fresh loaves ever since. When I asked her why she went to the trouble she said, "It's about going back to basics."

Basically fresh milled flour looks and feels like fine, sun-warmed, sand and smells like a walk in a damp forest. Who knew?

Having a mechanized bread kneader helps, but the old fashioned way is not impossible.
A house that smells of yeast and oven-hot loaves feels calm and safe.

With all the equipment needed, I probably won't get to mill flour again for a very long time, but the Pillsbury Doughboy needs to start looking over his shoulder. People are beginning to question where their food comes from. We can't all commit to 600 pounds of wheat berries, but we can look for ways for our food to pass through fewer hands before it hits or tables.

Lingo Translation
DIY- Do It Yourself
Agro Biz- Large scale food production business like Tyson.

Marcia's Whole Wheat Bread Recipe

3 cups warm water
2 tbs yeast
11/2 tbs salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup honey (raw is best)
2 eggs
9-10 cups whole wheat flour

Whisk water, yeast, and salt in a large bowl.
Add oil and honey.
Add 3 cups of flour whisking well.
Allow mixture to rest for five minutes. (Small bubbles will confirm active yeast.)
Whisk in eggs.
Blend in 6 cups of the remaining flour using hands or a large spoon.
Turn dough out onto a well floured surface.
Knead dough for 8-10 minutes gradually adding remaining flour.
Dough should be resistant to kneading but slightly tacky to touch. (There may be some remaining flour.)
Place dough ball in a lightly buttered bowl, covering with plastic wrap.
Allow to rise 1-11/2 hours. Dough should triple in size.
Punch down dough and remove from bowl.
Knead for 30-45 seconds creating a uniform consistency.
Cut into 3 equal sized pieces.
Roll out each piece creating an oval shape that is 1/2 inch thick.
Roll up flattened dough creating a loaf shape.
Pinch all seams and tuck edges under for a smooth shape.
Place in buttered bread pans allowing to rise another 40 minutes. Loaves should fill the pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Loaves should be golden brown.
Turn out of pans immediately and allow to cool on a rack.

Fear of Frying

They backed me into a corner. I mean what kind of food blogger can’t fry chicken? That’s not what they said exactly, but that what’s I heard. Miles outside of New York City, in small-town Pennsylvania, I was forced to face my fear of frying.

Any recipe that calls for more than a ½ cup of oil gets me jittery. All I can think about is splattered walls, soggy crust, and a P-in-the-A clean up. Until now, I’ve dealt with this problem by practicing avoidance. But fried chicken was my friend Alex’s birthday request, I’m supposed to be a cook, and I just don’t have the balls to disappoint a house full of people.

Truth: I’ve been fantasizing about frying chicken long enough to have Martha Stewart’s recipe memorized. The moment was destined to come to fruition.

The oil popped and I gulped white wine. Poised in front of a cookie sheet of flour and a bowl of dairy slicked chicken parts, I thought of Michelle Kwan and Michael Phelps. If they could ice skate and swim to Olympic stardom, I could fry some bird.

With each coated piece laid safely in the oil, my confidence grew- yeah Michel Phelps, you and me- champions baby.

Twelve minutes of cooking on each side produced crusty, golden, chunks. Hunched over plates, people oohed and aahed like I had just done a triple lutz. Can I get some applause? Each piece was checked with the instant read thermometer to ensure 165 degree bacteria free moistness. It was like everything I had ever learned about cooking lead up to that moment.

By the last batch, I felt secure enough to hand over my tongs and abandon post to raid the cheese plate. Tired and moving slow, I walked away from the stove with the vegetable oil sheen of a champion. Fear got its butt kicked.

Martha’s recipe is fantastic. Click here to see for yourself.

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Go Buy Some Apples

Apples are the most boring fruit out there. Compare one to a kiwi or a pineapple and it’s like ho-hum. Ubiquitous and present in every boring buffet, free lunch and hospital bed dinner, the apple is that fruit you leave on your desk for a week only to take a bite after it’s become grainy. Yuck.
Slap some into a pie dough with streusel topping and you’ll have my attention otherwise pass me a peach.

But then there is apple season. I bought one at Whole Foods, a.k.a., Whole Paycheck, the other day for an astonishing 12 cents. Let me tell you this piece of fruit was so crisp and juicy that I began to croon like it was a GD filet mignon smothered in mushrooms.

Since that day I have had an apple with every lunch and I suggest you do the same. Indulge yourself in a different way by actually taking the time to cut it into portions and remove the seeds. You’ll swear it’s better than Snikers.

Whatever Soup

Below is a long recipe for a soup you will never make. It’s delicious, satisfying, low fat and perfect for lunch, but you will never taste it. The truth is that once this pot bottoms out, I won’t taste it again either.

Flung together from on-sale produce, thoughts of Mexico, and carb guilt, this soup was a custom designed never to be duplicated.

I torture you with this information because I want you to make a whatever soup of your own. Grab a big pot, pull out all your spices and go all mad scientist with wild hair, steam in your face and lids clanking to the floor.

Throw efficiency to the wind. I carefully dressed and roasted four on-the-bone chicken breasts just to shred them to bits with my bare hands.

Before you jump onto Mr. Toad’s wild ride, let me give you a couple of guidelines.

Begin with a broth or stock you really like. If that means using bouillon cubes, go right ahead.

Sweat your veggies before adding the hot broth. Letting them sizzle gently in olive oil will bring out the flavor.

Have a tasting cup or saucer ready. Don’t screw up a whole pot of soup with one bad spice selection. Instead put a couple of tablespoons in a small cup, season and sip. If your micro version works, you can safely upgrade.

Please come back and tell me how fantastic your soup was.

Whatever Pepper Chicken Soup with Beans

2 cups chicken (shredded)
8 cups broth or stock (heated)
1 medium onion (1 cup chopped)
2 celery stalks (chopped)
½ cup green pepper (chopped)
1 cup long Italian pepper (chopped)
¾ cup red pepper (chopped)
¾ cup carrot (chopped)
1 15oz can of corn (with juice)
1 can cannelloni beans (drained and rinsed)
2 bay leaves
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp all spice
½ tsp cayenne
½ cup milk

Add onions and celery to a pot with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Cook on low heat until translucent. (about 8 minutes).
Add peppers and carrots sprinkling with salt. Continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Add corn and beans.
Pour hot broth over vegetables.
Add bay leaves, cinnamon, all spice, cayenne and salt to taste.
Simmer covered until vegetables are tender (about 20 minutes)
Add chicken and milk

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