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How to make really good bread

How to make really good bread

bread

Master a good loaf of bread, and you will never have to bring anything complicated to a pot luck again. I have people over for stew lovingly simmered for hours, a gorgeous roast chicken, homemade ice cream – it’s the bread they reach for, groaning with pleasure, again and again. Arrive at someone’s house, unwrapping a fresh loaf from a tea towel and they will be a puddle at your feet.

It’s seems crazy, once you get the hang of it, because it’s so easy. How can something so simple give people such base pleasure? I swear, learn to make a good loaf and make some homemade butter and your friends will do anything for you. As an added benefit, I find homemade bread much easier to digest compared to a grocery store loaf. I won’t suggest you read the ingredients on one of those loaves, it will make you sad.

I would love to tell you exactly how to make a good loaf, but I can’t. It takes practice. Tasty practice, thankfully. I’ve been working on my technique for years. These days, I bake two loaves every 10 days or so, freezing one loaf straight away. I bake our everyday loaves in loaf tins, but for dinner parties and potlucks I make round loaves on baking sheets. Looks much more picturesque, but requires absolutely no extra work on my part.

Finally, I know the imprecise nature of bread making instructions make beginners crazy, but there are so many variables that giving specific rising times just isn’t practical. However, I will say this: slightly underproofing is better than overproofing. Speaking from experience. Keep your yeast in the fridge, even if it’s dried, and buy local flour if you can.

If you live in Vancouver, I highly recommend taking Florin Moldovan’s breadmaking class (you can read about my experience here). If you’re in the UK, I hear great things about the Bertinet Cookery School’s breadmaking courses.

Here is my two loaf recipe, let me know how you get on.

Basic 60% white 40% wheat bread with chia seeds
makes two loaves

725ml lukewarm water

11g dry active yeast

2 tbsp honey

3 tbsp chia seeds

22g fine sea salt

900g white all-purpose flour (if in UK, use bread flour)

200g whole wheat flour

1. In a stand mixer bowl or large mixing bowl, combine water, yeast and honey, and leave to sit for 10 minutes.

2. Add flours on top of water, followed by the salt.
– If using a stand mixer: mix with dough hook until mixture comes together as dough ball, this will take about 2-3 minutes.

– If mixing by hand: using the in-bowl kneading technique until dough comes together, and stops sticking to your hands, this will take about 4-6 minutes. Don’t give up!

3. Cover bowl with cling film and leave until dough doubles in bulk. For me, that’s about 1 hour in the summer, up to 2 hours in the winter when it’s cold.

4. Sprinkle flour on a clean counter, and turn out the dough, scraping out the bits with your fingers. Start oven preheating to 400º.

5. Spread out the dough gently with your hands to distribute the air bubbles. Shape it into a rough rectangle, with the long side facing you. You’re going to fold it in three as if you were folding a letter to fit in an envelope. Fold in one short side and press down the edges to meld it into the dough, you may have to pinch it a bit to make sure it attaches to the dough you’re folding it over. Repeat. Spread out the dough again gently, and repeat. Leave to rest covered by a towel for about half an hour.

6. Split the dough in half, and then shape into loaves. Tuck into oiled loaf pans.

This Kitchn video demonstrates both the letter fold and the loaf shaping. Personally I pinch the edges after my letter folds as well as the shaping, but up to you.

7. Cover loaf pans with tea towel and leave for about half an hour.

8. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until tops are brown and sound hollow when tapped. Let cool 5 minutes in their tins, then turn out onto cooling rack.

Note: to shape dough into more artisan round domes, follow the recipe until step 6. Instead of shaping into loaves after the letter fold, you’re going to make a round and place it on an oiled cookie sheet. This Kitchn video demonstrates the shaping step. Continue as above.

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Macaroni cheese with sneaky butternut squash

Macaroni cheese with sneaky butternut squash

squash mac & cheese

Ever aiming to squeeze more vegetables into my family, I have been experimenting with augmenting macaroni and cheese.

A basic cheese sauce is actually not that much harder to make than reconstituting one from a pouch. I was quite annoyed when I figured that one out! Yes, you make a roux, but it’s just some whisking really. Nothing to panic about.

Butternut squash seemed like a perfect candidate for the added veg as the colour was right, but so often recipes I tried with squash would turn out too fibrous or too watery. Roasting rather than boiling the squash, and pureeing the life out of it, seems to have solved those problems. Finally, I don’t like crumb on top of my macaroni cheese, but by all means, add some breadcrumbs on top and broil for a few minutes until brown.

Macaroni cheese with sneaky butternut squash

  • 1 butternut squash
  • Olive oil
  • 500g shaped pasta, like macaroni, penne, bowties
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 heaping tsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 60g shredded cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, brush with olive oil. Lay cut side down on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour or until very soft. Let cool for 10 minutes, or until you can handle it with a hot mitt.
3. Scoop out squash flesh with a spoon and transfer to food processor or powerful blender. Process for 2-3 minutes until squash is baby food consistency. Press through a fine sieve with the back of a spoon if you can still see fibres. Put 1 cup of pureed squash in a small bowl, store the rest for another use.
4. Put a pot of water on to boil, prepare pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain pasta and return to pot.
5. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add flour one spoon at a time, whisking constantly. Add milk a splash at a time, whisking to incorporate.
6. Add squash puree to white sauce, and whisk until smooth. Add more milk if sauce is too thick.
7. Tip in the cheeses, whisking to melt the cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Take pan off the heat.
8. Pour sauce over pasta and mix gently with a wooden spoon. Serve with more parmesan cheese on top.

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On Treehouse: Kale-studded meatballs

On Treehouse: Kale-studded meatballs

kale meatballs

I know, I know, I can hear you from here. Really Erin, kale in MEATBALLS? What’s wrong with you?

Like most people, we don’t eat enough vegetables, which means I put extra veg in everything. It’s my goal this year to eat more vegetables, so whenever I’m making something there’s always a moment when I say: ‘Can I put kale in this?’

Use your food processor to chop the kale very, very fine. By the time it’s mixed in with everything else, you can’t even taste it. I would say use pretty much any combination of beef, pork, buffalo, venison, moose – but I don’t think this would hold together with turkey or chicken. I find it quite hard to get poultry meatballs to stick together without adding loads more fat, which defeats the purpose really.

These are great in lunchboxes with a little container of ketchup for dipping, in a tomato sauce with pasta, in the fridge as a quick protein snack. For some reason, my son loves meatballs, so it’s my go-to when he’s been refusing other protein. I don’t know what it is with kids and round foods, but it seems to go over well.

 

Read the recipe for my kale meatballs over on Treehouse Parents.

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Best roast pumpkin seeds, sugar v carving pumpkins and more

Best roast pumpkin seeds, sugar v carving pumpkins and more

egg carton pumpkin

Pumpkin time is reaching a fever pitch. I thought I’d save you googling all the same things I did in the last three days.

This is the best recipe for roasting pumpkin seeds (it involves boiling and then roasting, I can attest it makes a huge difference).

Cooking with pumpkin? Find a sugar or pie pumpkin, don’t use a mammoth $4 jack o’ lantern one. Good discussion here about the differences.

I was feeling uninspired on my pumpkin carving this year, and found this site had the best pumpkin stencils. You have to pay, but they are by far the most user-friendly, and you can spend forever choosing which ones before you commit.

Someone made the best pumpkin-related finger food at our co-op’s Halloween party this year: peel a bunch of mandarins, tuck a small piece of celery in the top for a stem. Ta da! ‘Pumpkins’. Love it. Here’s a photo, including some brilliant ghost bananas too. Genius.

Not feeling like wrestling a pumpkin? Make one out of an egg carton.

Finally – looking for good pumpkin recipes? We love Cooking Light’s pumpkin muffins (I add chocolate chips, ahem), the Pioneer Woman’s pumpkin cinnamon rolls, and swapping the butternut squash for pumpkin in my pasta and cheese (recipe pending…sorry, I know, it will be up here as soon as it’s been published!). I use canned pumpkin puree all the time, because I have seen sugar pumpkins for sale about three times in my entire life.

 

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Ginger mint green smoothie

Ginger mint green smoothie | Erin at Large

Ginger mint green smoothie | Erin at Large

We’re big fans of the green smoothie in this house… the boys are not terrific leafy green eaters when it’s on the plate, however blended in a glass with some mango, it’s fine. I’m not arguing, as long as it goes down I’m fine with it.

Our roof garden provides the greens these days, and I pick a couple leaves of curly and dinosaur kale each morning when I’m up there filling the bees’ water dishes. Today I also grabbed a sprig of mint – what a fresh lift!

Ginger mint green smoothie
makes 2 & half pints (2 adult servings plus a small person serving)

4 large kale leaves, ribs removed
1 cup frozen mango chunks
1 piece of fresh coconut meat (we buy ours frozen from Organic Lives)
1 banana
a few grates of ginger root
1 tbsp or so of real maple syrup
3 or 4 fresh mint leaves

+chia seeds

+hemp hearts

+water

  1. Blend the kale and a good portion of water first to liquefy.
  2. Add rest of your ingredients, plus fancy add ins like chia seeds and hemp hearts. Blend! Add water if necessary to get to the consistency you like.

 

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