Are you a Cook or a Chef?

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It seems like a very simple distinction but it is  a vital one in my opinion.  Chefs, admittedly my definition, are those individuals that go to culinary school and rigorously follow a recipe for the most basic things.  Cooks are those that learned from a loved one or are self-taught and that know that the best tasting food isn’t necessarily going to grace the cover of Bon Appetit anytime soon.

I’m a cook and I’m bloody proud of that fact.  I’m not afraid to open the pantry and the freezer and experiment with foods and spices.  Sometimes those experiments are horrible and the dogs thank me, but most of the time the experiments are successful and tasty.  I admit when I glance at recipes it is more for inspiration  than directions.  I don’t follow recipes.  The picture is one such lovely experiment that resulted in the best pot roast we’ve ever had.  I will share the recipe this week, I’ve been meaning to but I’ve been caught up in finishing writing my novel.

Chefs follow recipes and try to make food as intimidating and scary a possible.  All of those cooking shows are trying to sell cookware or cookbooks more than they are about getting people to try and cook for themselves.  They make it sound like making a loaf of bread or a batch of cookie dough is clinical science.  Sure, there’s science behind cooking but there were excellent cooks and amazing food long before it was reduced to cold, clinical measure that and measure this science.

Be bold, be adventurous.  Stop using so much salt that the “professionals” use in their recipes and experiment with other spices and ingredients instead.  Get the basics down and know what flavors and spices taste good to you and yours.  Once you know the basic recipe, then you will be free to experiment in changing up the basics.  Experimentation leads to the tasty goodness that is hiding in your cabinet waiting to bust out.

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Pumpkin Bread

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I wanted to bake this morning but nothing in my usual rotation was striking the right inspirational chord with me.  So I went looking on allrecipes.com for inspiration and the results are fantastic.  The inspiration recipe can be found here but I made serious changes to the recipe. 

Recipe

1 can pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix)

4 eggs

3 cups sugar

1 cup applesauce

1/4 cup to a cup of Apple juice

4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

2 tablespoons Cinnamon

1 teaspoon Ginger

1 teaspoon Cloves

 

1.  Preheat over to 350 degrees and prepare two loaf pans.

2.  Combine eggs, applesauce, sugar, and pumpkin until smooth.

3.  Next add the dry ingredients slowly to the wet.  Combine until batter is well combined and the reasonably tight.  Depending on your humidity and how loose you like your quick bread batter, add apple juice as required.

4.  Evenly divide the batter into the two pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

 

Tips

 

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As usual, spices measurements are approximates.  Spice the bread based on what flavors your family prefers.  We prefer more ginger and cinnamon, but I know others prefer more cloves paired with pumpkins.  Allspice and nutmeg would also be wonderful additions, I just didn’t have any in the spice pantry.

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This is the consistency of my batter.  It fell from the paddle slowly and in large sections, rather than dripping quickly in small portions repeatedly.  I let the batter rest for a couple of minutes before dividing the batter.

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I poured half the batter into a measuring cup lined with cling film and placed it in the refrigerator to set-up before transferring it to a container to place in the freezer.  With just the two of us, we won’t eat two loaves prior to one of them going to waste.

The remaining batter I added a couple of handfuls of dried cranraisins and mixed them in well.  I didn’t pre-flour the additions but you can to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the mixture.  The mixture is incredibly receptive to additions.  Future additions will be butterscotch chips, apples, and nuts.  I am thinking grated carrots or grated zucchini will also make this bread even healthier, although adding either of those definitely means being sure to reduce the liquid in the batter because of the moistness of carrots and zucchini. 

The bread was a hit with my husband and our parrot, Pickles, couldn’t get enough of it.  I think the bread is dense enough to make wonderful French toast over the holidays, and versatile enough to make a savory stuffing.  I know it will be amazing toasted with a smear of cream cheese.  The recipe is actually pretty healthy, the applesauce is a perfect replacement for the vegetable oil called for in the inspiration recipe.  Personally, I always replace oil with applesauce whenever possible.

Real Bread Campaign

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As you know, I routinely bake bread.  We as a family prefer the texture, taste, and quality of homemade bread to that over processed crap that you grab from the supermarket shelf.  Bread making isn’t difficult, in fact, it is nowhere near as difficult as professional chefs try and make it out to be.  Honestly, I throw the ingredients in the mixer, knead the dough, let it rise and bake it.  Not complicated, not time consuming and the end result is the wonderful smell of homemade bread baking and the incredible taste and texture of the bread as the ultimate reward.

Over in Britain there is an amazing campaign called Real Bread.  Focus of the campaign is to provide better quality bread products to residents and to teach residents how simple and easy it is to make bread themselves.  The campaign is striving for lofty goals of preservative free bread and bread that has ingredients that are pronounceable and everyone knows what they are.  Lucky UK residents can join the campaign for a mere £10 a year and get a large number of membership benefits.  The movement is open to non-UK residents but the quality of membership is much diminished because lack of proximity to events, classes, and sources.

We here in America need to start a grass roots movement like this and take back what good bread means.  Nothing quite beats a loaf of bread fresh from the oven.

Here is my husband’s favorite bread recipe*:
Ingredients:

4 cups of bread flour

2 eggs

Pinch of Salt

1 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast

1 teaspoon of sugar

One stick of unsalted butter, small cubes

Water or milk

Preparation:

Toss the ingredients in the mixer and kneed with the dough hook attachment.  Add enough liquid until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Separate into two loaf pans, cover and let rise.  Punch the dough down a couple of times just to let the air bubbles pop, and then cover and rise again.  Bake in a 350 degree oven until golden brown.  

Tips for Success

Milk will make a more tender loaf, but only if you use milk with a 2% or higher fat content.  The amount of liquid you need will vary depending on where you live, more humid climates will require less liquid than dry climates.  Bread prefers to rise in a warm environment, any house temperature above 75 should be sufficient.  Best tip, don’t worry about having a perfect looking loaf or trying to become a world class bread baker overnight.  Experiment, try what works for your tastes and your family’s preferences.  Add ingredients that sound like they’d taste good.

Experimentation leads to failure sometime and it also leads to amazing successes!  So join the growing movement of bread bakers and bake a loaf today.

*Not pictured above, the above loaf was Steakhouse Bread.

Revitalized for Cooking & Writing

Last several months life has been busy and writing a cookbook was the last thing I had any interest in doing.  I’ve come to learn that writing a book is a much different animal than writing a blog posting on a snippet regarding gaming news.  However, I am once again in the mood to work on the book and am really quite pleased with what has been written so far.

I of course, pick the beginning of the holiday season to start writing a book again.  Apparently my timing this year is just always slightly off, but that’s ok just means I’m one of those interesting characters you meet in life.  What energized me to start writing about food again, my amazing Oatmeal Cookies from last weekend and the terrific sourdough starter I made last week.   The first loaf from that starter is phenomenal, tangy and sour.  The toast I had this evening was grand and I am looking forward to breakfast in the morning.  Unfortunately, it didn’t dawn on me to take photos but I am moving the camera to the kitchen immediately.

Bagels

Bagels have been my bread making downfall for several years now.  I think I have the beginnings of a great recipe below however.  I made these yesterday morning and was more than  pleasantly surprised at the result.  DH tried one as soon as they came out of the oven, and it was good although it tasted slightly more like a pretzel than a bagel.  However as the day progressed, they became more bagel like and nothing like a pretzel.  I think the key is letting them cool completely, which is extremely hard.

Dough

3 cups bread flour

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp honey

2 1/4 tsp yeast

1 cup water
1 tsp salt

Tip all ingredients into the bread machine or your mixer.  Set the bread machine to the “Dough” cycle and remove when finished; if made in the mixer, combine until all ingredients are incorporated, then remove and all to rest for one hour to rise. 

Divide the dough into eight strips and roll into a log shape of equal thickness.  Curl logs into a circle and set aside.  Allow all bagels to rest for at least 15 minutes prior to boiling.

3 quarts boiling water

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 and add the sugar and baking soda to the boiling water.  Gently add the bagels, one at a time, to the boiling water for 15 seconds per side.  Remove and place on a cookie sheet, lined with a silpat or parchment paper.  Once all bagels have been boiled, bake at 350 for 20 minutes, remove when golden brown on top.

*There is no picture this time but I promise there will be one this week when I make this recipe again.  You can “blame” the Dr. Who marathon on BBC America yesterday.