White Whole Wheat Rosemary Bread

I was trying to hold off on posting another bread recipe considering this post is on the heals of this post, but I couldn’t resist. This bread is so good! Seriously! I’m so proud of myself for succeeding in baking not one, but two different kinds of bread!

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Ok, enough exclamation points. In the process of baking this bread, I have learned all kinds of things about flour. I’m no expert yet, but I do know that the amount of protein in your flour will determine how ‘doughy’ and delicious your bread is. Basically, you need that little protein known as gluten to form the structure of the bread. Also, to activate the gluten, you need to knead. After a good five minutes or so of kneading, your dough will become less sticky and sort of elastic – that’s because the gluten is activated!

Ok, so which flours contain gluten? The wheat ones, to start, though the protein content varies. Whole wheat flour has a ton of gluten, all purpose flour has less. Some manufacturers make ‘bread flour’, which has even more gluten than whole wheat flour. One thing to note here – regular white flour is apparently lighter than wheat, which is why white breads are often fluffier – the light weight makes it easier to rise. BUT, there is a solution – white whole wheat. This flour is milled from the soft winter wheat berry instead of the more traditional red wheat berry. It is just as nutritious, but it is lighter and has a milder flavor – ie, it’s delicious!

So, after learning all these things, I started experimenting. The first loaf I baked is the one I’m posting here – it turned out the best, though I can’t quite figure out why yet. More experiments and perhaps a control group are needed. My friend Caroline sent me this recipe, and I modified it just a bit to accommodate all the flours in my pantry. My version is below.

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White Whole Wheat Rosemary Bread
adapted from Caroline’s recipe

1 1/2 cups room temperature water
3/4 tbs salt
3/4 tbs yeast
3 tsp rosemary, plus a few extra to sprinkle on the top
1 cup white whole wheat flour (I have King Arthur’s brand for all my flours)
1 1/4 cup bread flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp vital wheat gluten (this could probably be omitted, but I used it, so it’s posted)

Preheat an oven to 350.

Dissolve the yeast and salt in the water and let sit for a few minutes or until the yeast gets kind of foamy. Then mix in the rest of the ingredients and mix to form a ball of dough. Spread some flour out on a clean surface and knead for five to ten minutes. The dough should get less stick and sort of springy. Put the ball of dough in an oiled bowl and let rise for 4 hours. I usually just let it rise overnight.

When the dough doubles in size, form it into whatever shape you want, or use a bread pan. Just for vanity, make some slits in the top of the bread using a knife and sprinkle some extra rosemary on the top. Bake for about 35 minutes, then rip a chunk off and enjoy!

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Irish Soda Bread

Two weekends ago, I was hosting a St. Patrick’s Day brunch – nothing special, just a little something to load our stomachs before a day of drinking green beer. Originally we were just going to scramble some eggs, buy some bagels, and call it a morning. Of course, nothing is that simple with me. I woke up that morning with a brilliant idea – I could make Irish Soda Bread! Now, to be clear, I have never, ever baked anything in my life. Somehow, I knew that Irish Soda Bread did not require the lengthy amount of time most breads need.  I didn’t know why and I didn’t care why, but I knew I could pull it together before my friends arrived.

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A quick internet search brought me 101 Cookbooks (does this surprise you?). The recipe looked amazing, and I happened to have bought spelt flour a few weeks ago. I know, I know, for a girl who doesn’t bake, that is a rather esoteric flour to have on hand. BUT, here’s my little confession: I have been wanting to bake bread for a few weeks now. I was in the flour aisle at this nice little gourmet grocer at one time and was mesmerized by all the whole grain flours. I bought some – intent on making bread – and so it came to be that I happened to have spelt flour (as well as bread flour, white whole wheat flour, vital wheat gluten, buckwheat flour, whole wheat flour, and all purpose flour) on hand.

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I learned that the key to this bread is timing. See, the rising agent in this bread is not yeast; it is the product of a chemical reaction that occurs between the buttermilk and baking soda (hence the name – soda bread). That product is carbon dioxide, and when the buttermilk and baking soda react together (almost instantly), the carbon dioxide bubbles start to rise – you want to get this bread in the oven ASAP at that point, so it can work its wonders while it is baking. You also don’t need to knead this bread, though a little bit up front will help spread the ingredients evenly in the dough (I did not do this for one of the loaves I baked, and I could taste some pieces were a bit more baking soda-y than others).

Anyway, it’s a really good bread that comes together quickly, is super easy for all you non-bakers like myself, and tastes great. We ate it slathered with butter and strawberry preserves. A couple days later, I dipped it in soup. And then, when it was pretty stale, I dried it out and made it in to breadcrumbs. It’ll stay fresh for a couple days if it’s wrapped properly, and we found it tastes best after a quick zap in the microwave to warm it up.

Spelt and Seed Irish Soda Bread

adapted from Heidi Swanson

*Note: I also made a version with whole wheat flour (just swap out the spelt flour for whole wheat). This is referred to as Brown Irish Soda Bread.

big handful each of different seeds – I used what I had on hand, which was sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and flax seeds
2 cups spelt flour
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 400° – the oven needs to be fully preheated before the bread goes in. Prep the pan you will be baking the bread on – I baked mine on parchment paper on the pizza stone that is always in my oven; so I readied some parchment paper to be placed on the stone.

In a mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Adjust the amount of seeds if you like – they do not affect the chemistry of the bread. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk. Mix together quickly. If you think the dough is too dry, add a splash more of buttermilk, but this amount worked perfectly for me. Knead it for just a minute or so, just to ensure all the ingredients are mixed thoroughly.

Form the dough into a large ball, then cut a large, deep ‘+’ into the top of the ball. This, I believe, is what makes the bread Irish :). Sprinkle the top with more seeds, then bake in the oven for 35 – 40 minutes.

Avocado Toast

This isn’t so much a recipe as an idea I picked up in Australia when I worked for a small coffee and sandwich shop. I have no idea why they hired me. I had no experience as a barista. I couldn’t answer the phone because I couldn’t understand Australians and they couldn’t understand me  (though in person, communication was fine). One time, someone ordered a “kiddie cappuccino” for their 5-year-old. Choosing not to be judgmental, I made what she asked, a pint-sized cappuccino – espresso topped with a touch of steamed milk and lots of foam. When the kid, however, spit it out and started crying, she informed me that a kids cappuccino was merely cold milk topped with foam. I think I cried harder than the kid. Needless to say, many lessons were learned at that coffee shop, but they paid me cash and let me eat free sandwiches, so it worked for me.

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Anyway, Saturday and Sunday mornings, we’d serve breakfast, and when my coworker and I came in early to start prepping for the day, we’d make ourselves some avocado toast. Each morning, we would have to run to the nearby bakery to pick up the day’s bread, which was always fresh, soft, and cut into inch-thick slices. We always had access to amazing ingredients, too – freshly sliced, quality meats, cheeses, and all kinds of delicious homemade spreads. Sadly, I learned the shop went out of business a few months after I was back in the States, but I still enjoy an avocado toast every now and then.

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Avocado Toast

1 ripe avocado
1/2 cup greek yogurt (I used 2% Fage)
handful of arugula
nice, crusty whole grain bread
salt and pepper

Scoop out the insides of the avocado and mix it in a mixing bowl with the greek yogurt. Use a fork to mash up the avocado pieces.

Toast your bread in a toaster or in the oven. Top it with the avocado spread, arugula, and a sprinkling of sea salt and black pepper.

Creamy White Beans with Kale and Bacon

I don’t have many words tonight – there are many exciting things happening right now, but I’m not at liberty yet to share them on the internet. Soon, hopefully. I also have a ton of really tasty recipes to share – like my first ever loaf of bread! And a new soba noodle recipe. And more Vietnamese tastiness. In the meantime, enjoy this great recipe from the ever-reliable Heidi Swanson.

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I’ve seen many recipes for something similar, but not one has been as good as this. The secret is the creamy and crusty white beans. That, and in my particular case, really good bacon. I bought this great bacon from Whole Paycheck straight from their meat department – no plastic packaging, no nitrates or nitrites, and no preservatives. Just good ‘ol smoked pork belly with some bacon-y spices. I’m convinced that part of the reason these beans turned out so well was that the bacon was of such high quality.

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Creamy White Beans with Kale and Bacon
Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking

1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 pound bacon, cut into 1-inch strips
1 large shallot, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 bunch lacinato kale, stems cut out and leaves cut into strips
salt and pepper

Saute the bacon over medium-high heat in a skillet, working in batches. When the bacon is nice and crispy, remove it from the pan and set it aside on a plate lined with paper towel, leaving the bacon fat in the pan.

Make sure the beans are very dry, then place them in the bacon fat in a single layer, again working in batches. Let them sit for a minute or two, until the bottom of each bean is golden and crispy, then stir them and flip and let sit for another minute. When both batches are finished, toss in the rest of the beans and bacon.

Add the rest of the ingredients – garlic, shallot, and kale. Season with salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes longer to wilt the kale and cook the shallot and garlic. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Pho Bo – aka, Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

Eric and I tend to travel like we eat out – rarely, if ever, duplicating the places we go. When we first moved to Chicago, we instituted The Restaurant Rule: one new restaurant every weekend. While we don’t follow this rule so religiously anymore (I could eat Urban Belly every weekend if Eric would let me), it gives you an idea of our philosophy on travel. That is, there are so many places to visit, we’d like to see them all before doubling back.

But, just as we have started doubling back on some of our favorite restaurants, I imagine it is almost time to start doubling back on our favorite destinations. Almost. And the first place I want to go back to? Vietnam. Between the amazing food and a culture so far from our own, I’ve never been so mesmerized.

These girls started taking pictures of us walking down the street, so we took a few photos in return.

cheap fabric abounds

I tried to take a cooking class while we were there. I thought I registered for a class, but as can be commonplace in Vietnam – or anywhere you don’t speak the language – we had a bit of a miscommunication. I woke up early and took a taxi to class, only to find that the kitchen was closed. Nonetheless, I found a fantastic Vietnamese cookbook when I got home. Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen makes Vietnamese food accessible without dumbing it down or “Westernizing” so it is unrecognizable. I’ve already made a number of dishes from this book, and they’ve all been delicious.

the iconic tiny plastic kid stools at every restaurant

gotta add in the super hot peppers

market

Perhaps one of the most recognized Vietnamese dishes is the classic soup, Pho. It generally comes in two varieties – Pho Bo, with Bo being the word for beef, and Pho Ga – ga = chicken. Pronounced fuh, Pho is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can eat it in between meals, on the street corner, sitting on child-size plastic stools. Anytime, anywhere, this soup is the shit. I was also happy to find out that some of the Pho I’ve had in Chicago tastes very similar to the versions we had on the street in Hanoi – authentic, indeed.

I made my beef stock before I decided I was going to make Pho, so I had to improvise a bit. There really is not much to Pho, so the broth is very important. To make mine a little more authentic, I simmered my stock with star anise and cinnamon and tossed in some fish sauce at the end. If you can, though, definitely make a fresh stock with Pho in mind.

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Pho Bo (aka, Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen, recipe written as I made it

8 cups beef broth or stock
1  1/2-2 pounds dried banh pho noodles (at an Asian market, they’ll be labeled this way; at other markets, they’ll probably be called rice noodles)
1/2 pound flank steak, sliced into thin strips against the grain
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
salt and black pepper

Garlic chives or scallions
Bean sprouts
Thai chiles
Lime wedges

Warm the broth in a large pot. If you are not making the stock yourself, simmer chopped ginger, cinnamon, and star anise in it. Slice your onion and let is soak in cold water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. In a large pot, boil some water. When it is boiling, turn off the burner and submerge the rice noodles. Let them sit for approximately 15 minutes, or until they are soft. Drain immediately and rinse the noodles in cold water.

Meanwhile, heat some neutral oil in a pan and sear the steak. You want to keep it pretty rare because it will continue to cook in the broth when the soup is served. Prepare all the garnishes – chop the chives, wash the sprouts, thinly slice the Thai chiles – and BE CAREFUL – these guys are hot!

When you’re ready to serve, layer the ingredients in a bowl – rice noodles on the bottom, then the steak, then the onions. Then ladle the broth over the top, and garnish with herbs, bean sprouts, limes, and chiles.