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There are two sides to this pancake.

I highly value having an organized spice cabinet.

Your eyes tell you it’s true: she has acquired matching, stackable plastic containers to organize her spices. These are restaurant take out dishes, so either the family has had a lot of coleslaw lately, or she’s got a friend at Terry Lynn’s Delicatessen down the road.  She hasn’t alphabetized them (please, no) but you know she’s about to tell you where to get the best prices on the spices.

I think you must be getting to know me.

Buy spices in bulk if you possibly can. If you live in the city, you can find great prices at Whole Foods. If you live in rural Kansas, drive by Glenn’s Bulk Foods smack dab in the middle of nowhere Reno county.  There you will find bulk spices, health foods and large bags of Lucky Charms marshmallows–all sitting cozily and neighborly next to one another in the two-aisle Mennonite shop.  You can also find good deals on spices in the ethnic food aisle at some big Walmarts.

Despite my love for keeping ducks in a row, I find the random part of the concrete-randomness of me taking over.

 Here is my spice cabinet, today.

And here am I.

And THAT is the part of me that should be doing Latin and working out the equation for photosynthesis, reading “The Red Badge of Courage” and planning how to occupy the four year old during homeschool so that she isn’t trying to jimmy the locks on the stationwagon with bobbypins…again; but instead is writing to fellow consumers of affordable food.

Well, it can’t be all beans and games around here, so I am headed back to studies.

See you soon,

Andrea

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Salt of the Earth and Salt of the Sea

When you begin cooking your own foods from scratch, you’ll be adding your own salt.  It’s much easier to see how much you are adding if you spoon salt from a little dish.

If you go to the Culinary Institute of America, you can pay $$$ for Chef Louis to teach you this trick.  Or you can go to the home of a CIA grad and observe your chef-friend’s dish of salt sitting happily next to the stove.  Or you can check out this fabulous cooking-school-cook-book and read it for yourself:  The Kitchen Counter Cooking School:  How A Few Simple Lessons Turned Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks.

I like the taste of kosher salt.  I also really enjoy Kroger’s Mediterranean Sea Salt.  I think iodized salt is good for play-doh.

Too Simple Fancy Pants Artisan Bread. No Knead. No $Dough. Just great bread.

There is nothing like homemade bread.  This past year, I’ve learned how to make really fabulous bread for my family.  We mix up a batch of dough and keep it in the refrigerator.  And when we need a loaf or a ball of dough for pizza crust, it’s waiting for us.  It’s so good, we’re not buying processed bread at the store anymore.  Say hello to easy crusty, golden artisan bread and say goodbye to 42 ingredients you can’t pronounce.

Stirred-not-kneaded, refrigerated dough didn’t originate with me.  Grab this book—Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day —- and Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois will show you how to make bread that will wow your taste buds with a minimum of prep.  You can also check out their recipe here on Mother Earth News. If you would like to watch a video of them mixing up a batch of whole wheat dough, they’ve posted a link on the Amazon page for their second book, “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.”

As if making bread with 4 ingredients and doing it in 5 minutes isn’t quite zippy enough, I’ve tailored their recipe to make it slightly more budget friendly on start up costs.  Hertzberg and Francois recommend using a pizza peel, preheated-baking stone and cornmeal, but stones and pizza peels are an investment, cornmeal smokes and worst of all, it’s no fun to shatter a $45 baking stone making a .50 loaf of bread.  I also modified the salt content and I like the results.

Of course, most normal people will start with the regular recipe, but we’re feeding a crowd, so I make the big one.  I also have given up trying to count cups of flour (I lose count somewhere between 3 and 13) and just invested in a scale.  Scales are so handy.  And fun.

The recipe

13 cups of UNBLEACHED flour:   You won’t need bread flour, but do pick out an unbleached variety.     Hertzberg and Francois will tell you their method for scooping the flour; too little flour and your dough will be too moist.  I however, just measure out 4lbs. 4oz.  So yep, that is almost an entire sack of flour.  My favorite unbleached flour is found at Kroger.  It varies through the year from 1.99 for 5 lbs. to about $2.39.

3 tablespoons of yeast:  If you enjoy this bread, you will want to buy yeast in bulk.  You can purchase 4 lbs. of yeast for about $13 on Amazon–and less if you use Subscribe and Save.  My friends who shop at Sam’s can also find a great deal on yeast there.

2 tablespoons of sea salt:  I really like Kroger’s Coarse Mediterranean Sea Salt and the price is better than the Morton brand I find at Walmart.  Word to the wise:  sea salt is not as salty as plain ‘ole salt.  I think that coarse kosher salt is also a good choice.  If you have a choice about what to use, though, consider avoiding iodized salt.  My grandpa Connie thought it tasted bitter and I agree with him.

6 cups of hot water:  I use it very hot from the tap.  (Edited on 9/21/14 to say this:  I’VE STARTED USING 5 3/4 CUPS WATER the last 6 times I’ve made the bread AND I LIKE THE RESULTS.   I think this recipe has a lot of wiggle room.   Please don’t be afraid to try.  It’s a minimal investment of dough, I  mean $, so just keep at it.)

Here are the easy directions:  Mix the dry ingredients into a really, really big bowl.  If you don’t have a big bowl, use a very large stock pot.  Pour in the water and stir very well.  Make sure all the flour is incorporated because it will not magically mix itself.  Cover with a lid, plastic wrap or a damp towel.

Let rise for 2 hours in a nice, warm spot.  The dough rise up to eat you like the Stay Puft Giant.

Punch the dough down so the lid will fit again and put the dough into the refrigerator and let it chill out for a couple of hours (at the very least).  The secret to getting this loose dough to form a proper shape is to have it well-chilled.  I have, in a pinch, chilled the dough in the freezer.  The dough will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.

Heat your oven to spit-fire hot.  The goal is to get your oven to 450 degrees, but of the 4 ovens I’ve spent lots of time with, only one of them would be at 450 when I set the dial just so.  Even with my brand new oven, I find I need to set it on 470 for regular baking and 440 on convection.  Set a broiler pan on the lowest rack to heat up along with the oven.

Now prepare your baking surface.  Pick one:  cast iron pan, cast iron dutch oven, pizza pan or baking sheet.  I like to use parchment paper, but I’ve also just simply greased my pizza pan with olive oil.  You can also try the cornmeal/wooden pizza peel/hot baking stone trick, but make sure you have an exhaust fan.

Take your well-chilled dough  and shape into a boule or flattened ball.  Tuck the edges underneath and it will be smooth.  You can use a little flour if your dough is sticking.  Place it on the baking surface and let rise, covered with a damp towel, until your oven is truly hot.  When the bread and oven are ready,  cut a few slashes on top of your loaf with a serrated knife.  Pop into the oven, dump a cup of water into the broiler pan to give the bread some steam, and bake for 35-40 minutes.

The loaf is done when it is very golden brown and there aren’t any soft grayish spots near the bottom.  Err on the side of very done, as a dough ball is just plain yucky.  After you’ve made 50 loaves, you’ll be able to look at the bread and tell if it’s done.  This bread doesn’t look quite done to me.  And no wonder–I forgot to set the timer, so I am guesstimating.  My best bread is usually tends toward dark brown on top.  Don’t be afraid to let this bread cook over 45 minutes.  Really.

Let cool on a rack and then slice.  The steam makes for a really crusty loaf of bread.  If you want a softer loaf, avoid the steam.  If you want a really soft loaf, let the bread completely cool and place it in a plastic sack for a while.  It will be very easy to slice then.  One note: I overexposed this picture, and really, the actual bread came out much darker.  Darker is OK.

Bread.  Homemade bread.

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