Food Matters
All about fresh, flavorful food


Bread Baking Express!

Need to bake multiple loaves of bread within a few hours? Here are some tips for using a bread machine to streamline the process. 

MULTIPLE LOAVES
Photo by Loretta Sorensen

  1. You could mix all the dry ingredients (except yeast and sugar) for each recipe the night before, even a couple of days before you’re ready to bake. Be sure to label each batch (either glass jars or plastic bags make great containers) to ensure you know which recipe it’s for.
  2. If you don’t mix dry ingredients ahead of time, start assembling all your recipe ingredients to ensure you have the supplies you need and to shave some time off the actual baking task.
  3. Set up a separate area in your kitchen – on the counter or an extra table, etc. – for working with wet ingredients and dry ingredients. This just makes it easy to keep all dry ingredients together and all wet (remaining) ingredients together as you prepare the contents of each loaf. It’s less likely you’ll forget to add something.
  4. Assemble all your equipment and set it up in the appropriate spot to make your “assembly line” as efficient as possible and avoid searching for a necessary item just as you’re ready to start baking.
  5. If you don’t have enough bread pans to use a different one for each loaf, you can easily rotate between two or three pans. Plan to soak the pan in water for 3 or 4 minutes after your baked loaf is removed. It’s easy to clean bread pans when the loaf doesn’t stick!
  6. For easy access, recipes can be attached to your fridge with a magnet or otherwise set up so you can easily read them without having to stop and pick them up. My recipes are enclosed in plastic sleeves to help keep them clean.
  7. A day or two ahead of time, make sure your oven is clean and empty (I often store pots and pans in mine) and racks are properly positioned for baking bread.
  8. If you haven’t prepared dry ingredients ahead of time, it’s wise to prepare all dry ingredients for your recipe before moving on to the wet ingredients (or another task). This helps eliminate time consuming issues such as, “Did I already add that?” or “How many cups of flour did I just measure?” It can be helpful to use a consistent method such as always measuring flour first or measuring salt/gluten, etc. first, then measuring flour.
  9. Be prepared for spills or mishaps by having extra towels, paper towels, dish cloths, etc. ready. The best laid plans can be foiled!
  10. You might consider mapping out and writing down the timeline for each loaf, as in what time ingredients go into the bread machine, what time the first dough should be ready for final rise, etc. This can help avoid under- or over-kneading, under- or over-baking loaves.
  11. Check your bread machine for instructions about run time and any need for cooling down between operations. My machine recommends a cooling period between 10 and 15 minutes to avoid overheating the machine.
  12. Set up an area that’s out of the way for cooling loaves. If your cooling rack won’t accommodate 3 or more loaves at one time, you can use items such as packaged food or pans to suspend the bread (one package on each end of the object while it cools.
  13. Storing your finished loaves will require some space. If you intend to use them within 48 hours, you can store them at room temperature. Otherwise, plan to refrigerate or freeze as many as necessary.
  14. With my yeast activation and “keep it warm from mixing to baking” method, you can have a batch of dough ready to bake every 90 minutes, producing up to 5 loaves of bread in a 6-hour period. Advanced preparation is the key to making it all run smoothly and successfully.

Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth LivingGRIT MagazineOur Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest, and Facebook.

Foraging Redbud Blooms In Spring

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The Eastern Redbud tree is a beautiful flowering tree that is native to Eastern North America.  In the Spring, the flowers turn a bright redish-purple that you can easily spot in neighborhoods, along roadways and among other trees.  You may choose to plant a native Eastern Redbud as a part of your landscape for a beautiful addition to your yard and fun plant to forage it’s blooms in the Spring.  From Redbud Jelly to Redbud Syrup and cakes, you can begin your forage by picking the buds and placing them into a glass jar.  Once you’ve gathered your buds, be sure to rinse them with cold water and place on a towel to dry. You can then store them in your refrigerator for up to 3 days, covered. 

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You may then sprinkle your red buds on salads, garnish a pasta dish, add to tacos as a topping, decorate a cake or incorporate them into your favorite recipe.  The buds are a bit sweet and slightly crunchy with similar flavor to a pea.  Share your recipes and pictures in the comments or by email, we would love to see how you use the beautiful redbuds as part of your dishes. 

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Happy Foraging! 

Bread Machine Double Duty

You may be able to cut bread making time in half by mixing and rising two loaves of bread at once.

Depending on the size of the loaves you’re making, your bread machine may be able to handle two batches of bread dough at one time.

This is a fairly easy way to keep up with baking demands. However, the first step in making a double batch of dough work is verifying your bread machine’s flour capacity.

The reasons you want to make sure your machine can handle two batches of dough:

  1. You don’t want to sacrifice bread quality for speed. That would be self-defeating.
  2. You don’t want to burn out your bread machine motor.

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Photo by Loretta Sorensen

To calculate your bread machine’s flour capacity, check the recipes that came with it. If none of them exceed 3, 4 or 5 cups of flour, you know that your adapted recipes should not exceed that many cups either.

I say “should not” because I have gotten away with boosting my total flour capacity by 1 extra cup in a few recipes. I almost never bake in my machine so overflowing the canister with too much dough isn’t an issue for me. However, I don’t want to work my machine’s motor too hard either.

You may consider mixing and kneading the largest part of your flour in the machine, allowing it to go through at least half of the final mix/knead cycle and then finish blending in one cup of flour by hand. Of course, this will mean baking your loaf/loaves in the oven, but a double batch of dough isn’t likely to fit in your bread machine canister anyway.

Making a double batch of dough could also work if you’re making buns rather than loaves. Again, you might allow the machine to work through the first mix/knead cycle and most of the second one before removing the dough to finish adding your flour.

Making a double batch of dough rather than two separate batches will, of course, cut your time in half, which is sometimes key to getting the bread made!

If you plan to add the last of the flour by hand, make sure your work area and utensils are warm enough that they don’t rob heat from the dough. Cold bread dough won’t raise as well as dough that’s been kept as warm as possible throughout the mix/knead and rise cycles.

One way to set up a warm work environment for adding the last of the flour to the dough is to warm a large bowl (crockery really holds heat, but glass or stainless steel could also work). Use either hot water or warm the bowl in your oven before using it.

To finish your loaves/buns, be sure to complete the final rise in a warmed oven or warm area to get the best yeast action.


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth LivingGRIT MagazineOur Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest, and Facebook.

Getting Creative in the Kitchen with Wild Edible Violets This Spring

Wild Violets (Viola Odorata) are a common “weed” found in most lawns, gardens and plant beds across North America.  They are seen by most as a tough, hard to kill invasive weed.  And although they have this bit of a bad reputation, you may learn to love violets after reading and learning how to use them in your kitchen for edible and medicinal purposes. 

Violets are truly such beautiful flourishing plants that are native to North America and can provide for a lovely dish garnish and added nutritious snack.  The flowers and leaves of the plant are edible and can be used in salads, cooked, made into jellies, candied, and can even make a delicious violet simple syrup for baking or making sparkling drinks or cocktails. 

violet flowers
Photo by Kristy Severin

This year, I took my kids outside for a "wild violet hunt" and we found hundreds of beautiful violets and made a delicious violet and blueberry cake.  We decorated the cake with our violets and it was a fun and delicious way to celebrate the beginning of Spring and the lovely flowers that are coming into bloom.  

So, the next time you see a patch of wild violets, grab a few for a quick snack or take some time to celebrate and make a beautiful and fun violet and blueberry cake!

violet and blueberry cake
Photo by Kristy Severin

Wild Violet and Blueberry Cake (Vegan)

Recipe by: Kristy Severin

Ingredients:

• 2 cups all purpose flour
• 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
• 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
• 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/2 cup wild violets (save extras for decoration)
• 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
• 1/2 cup hot water mixed with 1/4 cup sugar (dissolved)
• 2 Tablespoons Nut Milk or Soy milk
• 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
• 3 Tablespoons Aquafaba (bean juice)

Icing ingredients:  

• 3/4 cup room temperature vegan butter
• 2 cups powdered sugar
• 1 teaspoon nut milk or soy milk
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees and coat cake pan with coconut oil or non stick spray
  2. Mix dry ingredients, flour, baking powder and soda, salt, sugar, wild violets
  3. In a blender, blend blueberries and hot sugar water.  Add remaining wet ingredients.
  4. Slowly pour wet mixture into dry mixture and stir until all blended together.
  5. Pour mixture into cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until cooked all of the way through.  
  6. While cake is baking, prepare icing.
  7. Whisk all icing ingredients together with electric mixer until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).
  8. Once cake is fully cooled, ice and decorate with wild violets!  Enjoy!

Recycle Stale Bread!

Has your beautiful bread gone stale? Or become dry? Recycle it!

There are many ways to use the healthy, wholesome pieces of bread that sit too long in the fridge or are left outside the bag too long. Here are a few ideas.

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Photo by Loretta Sorensen

Bread Crumbs, Croutons, and More

I always need bread crumbs for something: filler for meatloaf, foundation for stuffing, croutons, etc.

Bread doesn’t have to be dried in order to work as a filler or stuffing, but it can be very convenient to have some fine bread crumbs stashed so they’re ready in a hurry when you need them. 

You may not have a lot of bread left over very often, in which case you can bake some bread just for use as crumbs or stuffing. You can also recycle a loaf that didn’t rise very well or was otherwise unsatisfactory.

If you want to make croutons, cut your bread into crouton-size pieces before drying it.

You can also tear the bread into small pieces prior to drying it. This makes processing the dried product a little easier.

To thoroughly dry the bread before grinding it into crumbs (I use a food processor for this), use these simple steps:

  • Slice the bread, the thinner the better. It will dry more quickly.
  • Lay it out in a pan or across a plate. You can cover it with a towel to keep flies, etc. off. It will just take a bit longer to dry.
  • Turn the slices at least once per day. It can take a couple of days to completely dry it.
  • You can speed up the drying process by warming your oven a bit and setting your pan/plate in the oven. Don’t forget to turn the bread over.

Once the bread is dry, you’ll want to process it to create bread crumbs. I use a food processor. However, you could also use a simple grater or process it in a blender. For any of these methods, break the dried bread into pieces

Once the bread has been processed, store it in an airtight container as you don’t want it to attract any moisture. If it does get wet at all, it will quickly mold. 

If you don’t want to store the dried bread crumbs at room temperature, freeze it. If you place it in the refrigerator, there’s a good chance it will collect moisture and spoil before you can use it.

I recommend labeling and dating your dried crumbs once they’re in a container. This ensures that you know exactly what you’re using once the time comes. 

If you’re creating stuffing or croutons, you can add your seasonings right away. I highly recommend storing croutons or stuffing mix in your freezer to avoid any spoilage issues.

By seasoning croutons or stuffing right away, you give the flavor time to permeate the dried bread and enhance the quality of your end product. 

There are many other ways to make use of or recycle stale bread, including bread pudding, as toppings for casseroles and for feeding birds and chickens.


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth LivingGRIT MagazineOur Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest, and Facebook.

The Secret to Golden Campfire Marshmallows

Everyone has a preference on how they like their marshmallows roasted. Some folks are charcoal, burnt confection lovers, while others strive for golden perfection.

Marshmallows aren't just delicious goo, they have historic beginnings as the luscious sap of the Mallow Plant that grows four to six feet tall in saltwater marshes near large bodies of water. As early as 2000 B.C., the ancient Egyptians reserved the candies for their pharaohs and gods. Even back then, they knew a stand-by confection like the Marshmallow would be timeless.

Whether you prefer vegan marshmallows, fancy ones infused with herbs, or the old-school ones that you find in the general store outside of a national park, we all agree that roasting is the classic way to eat them. Roasting has its challenges but with the right tools and tips, a truly tanned outside and creamy inside is one puffy confection away.

roasting marshmallow over fire
Photo by Sidney Pearce on Unsplash

First, find that perfect stick. A roasting stick should be long enough to reach the fire without your hand getting hot, about a yard or so long. Make sure it is at least semi-straight. If it is too curved, when roasting the opposite side, it’s likely to slide off into the flames. A roasting stick can have one, two or as many prongs at the end as you prefer, or can find! Just make sure the prongs are the no wider than a pencil, as too big of a prong will damage your marshmallow.

Prep your stick next. Make sure all of its prongs are free of dirt and debris. If you have a knife, go ahead and whittle it to a point so the marshmallows can be pushed through with ease. Finally, stick it in the fire to “season” it, or at least burn off any bits of splintering wood or bark.

Next, prep your marshmallow! This is the step that most golden roasters miss. Whenever I teach it to a child, they are delighted to do it. Adults often grimace.

You need a wet marshmallow to ensure it doesn't burn. The handiest method to wet your marshmallow is by giving it a thorough lick. Whatever you do, don’t lick it ON the stick, as it might be hot from already being exposed to flames. Instead, give it a good once around lick (or a suck, if you are so inclined.)

Put one, two or as many marshmallows as you’d like on your prong. As you roast it over, and in the flames (it won’t burn because it’s wet,) keep rotating it so all sides get toasty. Once you’ve sufficiently made it crispy and achieved the illusive not-too-dark taupe, you are ready for the next step.

Gentle as a breeze, pull off the outer layer from the top of the marshmallow. Your crispy exterior should pull away, leaving a layer of creamy goodness on your stick.

Once cooled, pop that candy in your mouth and make a hard decision. Do you eat the interior goo, or go for a second roasting?

If you crave another crispy roasting, follow the initial steps again, except this time you won't have to lick the marshmallow as its already moist and melted prohibiting scorch. With over-sized marshmallows, the process can be done three or four times!

Kids who have limited sweets especially love this trick. After all, it gives them three roasted marshmallows for the sugar in just one. Not to mention, the joy that comes with acceptable licking and playing with food!

All roasting methods are as different as the sticks foraged for roasting tools. Whether you like them charred or slightly tanned, this method with certainly delight long-time and new roasters alike.

Check Your Bread Recipe

Once you perfect a bread-baking method for traditional yeast bread (the bread machine technique I use), it’s likely you’ll want to expand your bread recipe options. 

Online recipe resources can be a great place to find new bread recipes. However, use some caution in recipe selection. Not every online recipe is valid.

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Photo by Loretta Sorensen

Some tips for finding valuable, genuine bread recipes online include:

  • Rely on well-known brand name sites, i.e. Mother Earth Living, Grit Magazine, Mother Earth News, etc.
  • To determine whether or not a bread recipe is truly tried and tested, look for these basic elements: flour, liquid (water, milk, etc.), yeast, sweetener to feed the yeast, salt, oil/butter.
  • Additional bread ingredients may include molasses, buttermilk, potatoes, nuts, seeds, etc.
  • For bread machines, check your machine manual to verify the largest loaf your machine is able to produce. If your recipe calls for more than 6 cups of flour, you may want to use a stand mixer or food processor as this much flour will produce a sizable volume of dough.
  • To validate yeast amounts, rely on using as little as 1 teaspoon or up to 2-1/4 teaspoons per 4 cups of flour (King Arthur Flour). 

If your recipe calls for any of these methods, you may want to reconsider using it:

  • Adding salt to the yeast mixture. This will immediately kill your yeast. Salt should always be blended with the flour called for in the recipe before it’s mixed with the rest of the recipe ingredients.
  • Omitting sweetener. Your yeast must feed on something like sugar – syrup, honey, brown sugar, etc. – in order to grow and produce a rise.
  • Most bread recipes call for three parts flour to one-part liquid (i.e. three cups of flour for 1 cup of water/liquid). Overdoing flour in relation to the recipe’s liquid amount will result in a dry, dense and disappointing loaf.
  • Cold temperatures for recipe liquids. Yeast will not begin to grow unless temperature ranges are at least 100 degrees (Fahrenheit). Ideal temperature range is 105 to 110 degrees (Fahrenheit).
  • Hot temperatures for recipe liquids. Liquid temperatures over 115 degrees (Fahrenheit) will kill the yeast.
  • Minimal kneading. In traditional yeast breads, kneading activates gluten in the flour, which greatly contributes to the rise and soft texture of a satisfactory loaf.
  • Use of an unusually large or small loaf pan. A too-large pan can cause your bread dough to spread out rather than rising up. If your loaf pan is too small, you may be peeling bread dough off the bottom of your oven after it flows over the side of the pan. 

If you’ve identified a recipe that seems to be legitimate, don’t hesitate to do a test run before you rely on producing a beautiful loaf of bread.

Ideally, check all your bread-making supplies the day before you plan to bake to ensure you’re not lacking a key ingredient.

Read ALL the instructions, from the beginning of the recipe to the end. This will make you aware of any out-of-the-ordinary rising/baking times or steps you may not otherwise anticipate. Speaking from experience here!

If you modify any portion of the recipe, make a note of it right in your recipe book or on the recipe copy, ensuring you recall the steps that gave you the bread of your dreams!

It can be helpful to maintain all your favorite bread recipes in one book, folder or file. This saves time and allows you to quickly compare a new recipe to tried and tested ones.


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT MagazineOur Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest, and Facebook.







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