Monday, October 10, 2011

Bumbling baker sure fit me tonight!

I was making two batches of mini pies this evening for lunches this week (which I will detail tomorrow). First batch of savory pies went without a hitch - no problem. Second batch well... they will probably taste good, but will be disappointing in their appearance I'm afraid.

It seems I turned off the oven inbetween the two batches (I really don't remember doing that) and so I put the tarts into a fairly warm oven which then made the tart crust get soft and mushy from all the juices of the fruit. So, I doubt I will be able to lift them out in one piece. It might be a type of crumble instead!

But, it's late and I'm tired, but I made 12 savory mini pies and 12 tarts/pies tonight. Pictures and details tomorrow. But yes, a pro I am not - bumbling baker is an appropriate name.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

This is why baking is worth it

Today was a busy day. I didn't have time to make pancakes or bread or anything. But, there was homemade goods for the family to eat. And I like it so much better when they grab something where I know what they are getting versus all the artificial crap they get in store bought stuff.

My teenager especially is notorious for grabbing quick snacks that take no effort or thought. Washing up a pear is too much work. Opening up the refrigerator is too much work. If it's not on the counter or in the snack drawer, he won't eat it. So, tonight, about 2 hours after dinner (and we had a nice, nice dinner of grilled salmon, grilled green beans and red potatoes - all tossed with parsley, olive oil and garlic) when he came running down the stairs to grab a snack. He didn't go to the snack drawer to get a cookie or a chip. He went to the counter and grabbed a slice of banana coconut lime bread.

Sure, it's still junk food. But there is junk and then there is junk. This has nutritional value too. A nutter butter cookie does not.

half eaten banana chocolate quick bread

I had two loaves of quick bread out today. They will be gone tomorrow. Good thing my new freezer is stocked with more.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Simple quick breads and tricks

Last night and today I made two quick breads using the same base. I had been to the grocery store the day before and saw they had a bunch or ripe bananas marked cheap. I was able to get three bags of bananas for $2.64 total. I didn't count how many bananas it was, but about three good size bunches? I had 1 banana left over after needing 9 cups of mashed/liquified bananas, so a lot of bananas for the price.

When I make breads, I don't make one loaf at a time. It's a waste of my time, energy resources and effort. I make everything in big batches and store some for later. In this case, I made 6 loaves of quick bread. 3 of one kind, 3 of another.

The base is a standard banana bread. I just adjusted the sugar level for the ingredients. To make things quicker and simpler, I put all the liquids in my blender and all the dry goods in the mixer. Then when both are mixed separately, I add the liquid to the dry stuff in the mixer. I mix it up and then pour it into the oiled and floured pans (or in this case, using an all in one spray in the pans). I have a large capacity blender and a large capacity mixer, so it works out great to make the triple batch all at once. If I were making these back to back, I wouldn't even need to clean the blender and would just need to do a quick rinse of the mixer. That's what I did a couple weeks back, but this time I made them one day apart.

I didn't take a photo of the banana chocolate bread and well, in photos it looks like a big brown lump, but ooooooo is it yummy! Here is a photo of the banana coconut bread with lime glaze and yes, it is super yummy too:

Here's the recipe which is adapted from a cookbook recipe. A single loaf ingredient list is below:

In the blender (or food processor): blend 4.5 cups of bananas (will measure 4.5 cups after liquified). I usually add a bunch (4-6 bananas) and then add more as I need it. Add a splash of lemon juice (2 teaspoons?) to keep the bananas from discoloring. Once you have 4.5 cups of bananas, add 6 eggs, 3/4 cup yogurt, 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons of melted  or very soft unsalted butter, 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract and blend it all up. Blender would work best here, especially if your food processor is like mine and can't handle liquids. And of course, once your have liquified your bananas, you can just add everything to the already mixed up flour mixture. You don't have to do everything in the blender. I do because I can and it's easier for me.

In the mixer, combine 6 cups of all-purpose flour, 2 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Now, the recipe calls for 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, but this is where I altered it depending on what was going inside.

The first recipe, the banana chocolate bread, I did all the above, but added 2 cups of sugar and 3/4 cup of cocoa (unsweetened  - I used Hershey's dark cocoa).

The second recipe, the banana coconut bread with lime glaze, I used 1 1/2 cups of sugar and almost an entire package of sweetened shredded coconut (not sure of the size, but the standard coconut bag). I left out about a 1/2 cup of coconut (not packed) for the glaze.

Once it's all thoroughly mixed up (just until combined and no lumps), pour it into the three prepared 9x5 loaf pans. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes (done when toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean). I do all three loaves at once all. All on the same shelf in the middle of the oven.

Once you take them out of the oven, let them sit for 5 minutes and then flip them out of the loaf pan and let them cool on a rack.

The chocolate banana loaf is done, but you still need a glaze for your coconut loaf. You can toast the remainder of your coconut in an oven - same temp, just spread out on a cookie sheet until it toasts up. If you are brave, you can do the same while using the broiler, just never take yours eyes off the pan. But toasting the coconut is not necessary, but a nice touch if you have patience and time.

Then take that coconut, place it in a 4 cup measuring cup and add 1/4 of a bag of powdered sugar and then add lime juice to it until you have a fairly thick, but pourable glaze (think cinnamon roll glaze consistency). Put your cooled loaves back into the loaf pans while you apply the glaze - keeps it less messy. Take a tablespoon and drizzle the glaze over the coconut banana bread. Make more or use less depending on your taste. Of course, you don't need to glaze, but I will say though, that tart glaze adds a really nice touch to the quick bread. Let it set until it hardens/crusts and then flip it carefully back out of the loaf pan. Serve it up or freeze. Of these breads, 4 are in the freezer in my house and will make a quick nice treat for some other day.

Here is the  recipe for banana bread for a single loaf. Multiply it as you can:

Banana Bread

1.5 cups mashed/blended bananas plus a splash of lemon/lime juice
6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup yogurt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar* **
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

*For Chocolate banana bread decrease sugar to 2/3s of a cup and add 1/3 of a cup of unsweetened, dark cocoa

** for Coconut banana bread decrease sugar to 1/3 of a cup and add 1/4 of a package of shredded sweetened coconut. For glaze add a tablespoon of coconut and 1 cup (or so) of powdered sugar, adding enough lime to form a drizzable glaze.

Friday, October 7, 2011

I'm a kitchen gadgets queen

It's a good thing I have a fairly roomy kitchen (big in square footage, not so big in number of cabinets) and a butler's pantry and cabinets in the mudroom as I use a lot of things while cooking.

Just like with handyman tools, having the right tool can make the job much more efficient and I'm all about efficiency in the kitchen. And I like high quality things, because again, they make my job easier.

Here and there between different baking bouts, I will highlight some of my favorite kitchen tools and maybe some of my organization tips. Because if you have a lot of stuff, you have to keep track of it all and keep it handy for use.

Some tools you might not have ever heard of or seen in use. Others are common place but maybe overlooked for other purposes and so on. Or maybe I just like it and want to say how much I like it.

Plan for today, if I get to it, is to make some banana chocolate bread. It's a recipe I made up from tweaking another recipe and the kids love it. It is so simple and super yummy.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pullman bread pans

Recently, I purchased from an online baker acquaintance a couple things. One thing I got from her were these pans:

 I had learned about them on the bread forum I occasionally frequent. They are called a pullman bread pan for the pullman trains. Here's from Wikipedia: "The name, "Pullman," was derived from its use in the compact kitchens of the Pullman railway cars. The Pullman Company is credited with inventing the lidded baking pans used to create the square loaves. Three Pullman loaves occupied the same space as two standard round-topped loaves, thus maximizing the use of space in the Pullman kitchen."

Now I don't need to save space in the oven as I have two full size ovens, but I do need space in the lunch box for my younger son. Plus, I learned that a lot of commercial sandwich breads are actually baked in lidded bread pans, and I suspect the loaf my son loves is. And that's the bread I want to replace in the lunch box! It just irks me that I have to spend $3.29 a loaf for white bread. Do you know how cheap white bread is to make? Super cheap even when you count in the electricity use.

I looked all over for recipes for pan de mie (French for pullman loaf bread). I was missing a few ingredients I usually have on hand and didn't really have the chance to go to the store with a sick kid at home. I found this recipe on the Fresh Loaf and it turned out great using whole milk instead of using milk powder. I was out of a lot of things (milk powder being one), but I had rye flour!

Having never made this bread before, I didn't know what to expect, but he gave pretty good directions and it turned out well. Next time I'll work a bit more on working the dough into the corners, but other than that, pretty loaf:

Best of all - my son thought it was his normal bread and he ate it normally. AND it fits in his lunch box just right!

Now to learn some more recipes for these new pans. I love the look of the round boules, but for making sandwiches, especially lunches that need to fit in ziplocs or lunch boxes, it can be a challenge. Even bread with a rounded top can be too big. This kind of loaf is like a slam dunk for making it work every time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lunch box Dilemmas Part 2

So, yesterday I talked about my solutions for my older son and husband when it comes to lunches, but that didn't solve my younger son's problem.

My younger son was in full day kindergarten last year and so, had lunch at school. There really is no way for him to eat school lunch as he is an extremely picky eater and I wanted to be sure of what he ate which I could only keep track of with a packed lunch.

So, I bought him this box with a matching back pack last year:

It only sort of worked. I had to keep his water bottle inside and while that bottle is spill proof, it's only spill proof if he closed it properly. Well, he was 5. How often would that happen? Many times after school I would find a wet bag and loose foods in the container that he didn't put in the ziplocs carefully.

If I tried to put things in other containers, they wouldn't fit well in the box and because of his autism, he has reallllllly weak hands. On tests, he shows hand/finger strength in the bottom 1%. Opening things with his fingers is really difficult for him. So, a typical lunch for him would look like this:

It just wasn't working. So, I went searching. I thought of this system called laptop lunches, but I didn't like all the plastic containers that I would have to wash by hand. And, I worried about it's ability to fit a sandwich and the ease of opening and closing the lids:
It's a good system, but not one that would be best for us. So I found this: planetbox
And it's been great!

First thing I like is that the water bottle (not included) fits on the outside - no more spills on the inside of the lunch bag:

The pouch on the outside can be for notes, napkins or a small stainless container that opens with a twist:

This is the same lunch that is packed above. See how it's so much more accessible to a little kid? He can see all his food at once and eat a bit of this and a bit of that:

I like that it can hold a complete peanut butter sandwich which is a staple for our son. But, it has roomy compartments for other snacks too. I put in one of my son's new foods every day and he sees it and eats it, reinforcing the introduction of the new foods. In the above it was the cherries (I did take the stems and seeds out for the actual lunch). Below it's the blueberries:

You can buy magnets to decorate the outside for an extra $3, so we bought them. Makes him happy to see his trains. What's even better is that I can change them if I want to another design:

The kit comes with two small stainless containers that are liquid proof. One is for dipping (not shown). They other would be for things like fruit salad and the like:

The stainless steel lunch box comes out of the bag and is dishwasher safe - love that. Just remove the magnets (the lid has a bit of other material to make it magnetic).

And it's so easy to open and close. There is just a simple hinge thingee that fits over the lid, so it's easy access for the little guy.

Now one thing I didn't like was that my son was eating commercial snacks and bread. We've been slowly introducing homemade stuff in it's place. That will be for tomorrow's blog! Back to baking!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The lunch box dilemmas

I have been struggling on a proper lunch box for my kids the last couple years. My older son used to prefer school lunches, but not since we've moved here where there is less choices and longer lines to get to the food. So first I got both my son's typical lunch boxes. Got the older one something like this:

And the younger one's, exactly this:

The problem with both of them is/was their size. yes, You can pack an ice pack in them, but it gets everything wet and it takes up space and then the awkward containers or ziplocs. Our older son hated having sandwiches all the time and it was difficult in even the bigger lunch box to pack pasta or such things. Turned out, half the time he just took a nutrition bar.

So, I set out to find something different. I decided to buy this for the older boy and my husband (I'll detail my younger son's lunch box some other day).

First, my teenager thought it was cool. And if it was cool, it would get used. Second, it's a great little system. It's a thermos that holds containers, so it could keep food hot or cold. For now, we've been cooling them with ice cubes and water for a few minutes in the morning and then putting in the cold food. He then heats up the food in the microwave at school. In winter, I can pack soup and other hot foods and he won't even need to reheat it! That is sweet! And does it keep it cold without an ice pack? Yep! It's a thermos!

So, I started to think of creative ways to pack lunches as now I had new constraints - round containers. And then I had an epiphany! Actually, I should doubly thank Williams Sonoma. First, they kept tempting me with their pie maker: But why spend that money? Couldn't I just do similar things in the oven? I have various pans (which I use), but I then found this at Williams Sonoma and it is great! And a way cheaper alternative than the electric pie maker: Brookster pan. I spent $20 instead of $90. Well, $40, because I bought two pans so I can do a double batch at once, but that's not necessary.

So, this is a mini pepperoni pizza I made on Sunday for lunches:

And this is the brownie (kind of a brookster, but not quite) I made for desserts on Saturday using the same pan:

And this is how it packs in the lunch box:

I have trail mix in the left container (this is a spill proof/vented container good for soups too). I have the brownie in the middle container, and I have two mini pizzas stacked on top of each other in the right most container. A full meal and it fits so perfectly!

This is the container all put together:

And all closed up put together without the top lid on:

And now in the insulated bag there are slots for utensils, rolled up napkin and even space on top for an additional treat or sandwich if you wan to add it. It doesn't hold a water bottle, but neither my husband or older son need that. My husband has a glass he keeps at work and my son has a water bottle he keeps in his back pack. However, Zojirushi do make other containers/systems where you can add a water bottle.

Packing lunch this morning took all of 2 minutes I think as I didn't even need to cool or heat the thermos. All was premade during the weekend and is just waiting to be filled during the week. And the best of all, my son is eating a full lunch.

Monday, October 3, 2011

I know...more than a year break, but I'm back!

I have another blog that I have been faithfully writing in every single day for 10 months. Check it out: If you follow that blog, you can get an idea of why maybe this baking blog wasn't a high priority. But, with my weight loss and health in a good spot, I'm finding I'm finding my passion for baking and cooking again.

A big motivation for that has been my kids. I have one son who is a super skinny teenager who loves food but is a food snob. He likes good food, but, if food to his liking is not around, he'll eat junk. On top of that, he takes a drug for ADHD and that suppresses his appetite, so really, food has to be appealing for him to want to eat, but he needs to eat because he's slightly underweight. Pressure on mom to make sure he eats and eats well.

Then I have my 1st grader son who has Asperger's/high functioning autism and along with it, strong food issues. We're working on incorporating new foods to his diet, but it's slow and he still needs to eat a balanced diet.

Their needs are very different and their demands on me to "make it work" are kind of huge. Add in my husband and mother in law who lives with us who are wanting to eat a whole grain/whole foods diet, but more pickiness. I can't complain about my husband. He'll eat about anything I make. He's just not a burger and fries and mac and cheese kind of guy. My mother in law likes continental food - European continental and some fresh fish - Dalmatian style. Basically, food she ate growing up and not much else. She's not a big fan of pizza or pasta. My older son isn't fond of potatoes and my youngest son will only eat plain white rice of the starch family or white bread.

So... it's complicated. And now I throw in the complication of eating lower carb which means I've eliminated breads and starches and I only eat  cake stuff on rare occasions - yet I'm a cake decorator and baker.

But, I'm finding ways to make it work. First, with eating a lower carb diet, I'm not craving carbs. I love working with bread dough and I love creating. While I'm not an artist, I feel like I get to create in an artsy way with food. Not in how it looks, but in how it tastes. While, yes, I want food to look appealing, I don't need to make it look like a piece of art to make it look delectable. And breads are just a huge part of our diet - for good or bad. When I started to eat lower carb I really began to realize how many carbs there are all around us - from the buns at fast food restaurants to the breakfast cereals, sandwich breads and cakes and so on that are around us every day. With my family's demands, breads and foods with breads were going to remain a mainstay.

So, I make two types of bread at least once a week. One large whole grain one and two small white ones. That way everyone is happy. Then, I have started to make mini pies and desserts because they fit in lunch boxes so well. Tomorrow I will go into my lunch box solutions for kids and school. I have to say though, money well spent in that regard. The kids are eating all their lunches and they are eating better lunches and cheaper lunches.

Of course, the bottom line is part of me baking too. We love good food. Artisan breads. Gourmet cakes/desserts. And those are pricey. A good loaf of bread is $5 to $8. I can make it at home for 50 cents to a dollar - including electricity costs.

And our homemade stuff has expanded too. We now make our own yogurt (we? How about I!). Costs 50% less to make it ourselves. And if I wanted to make Greek yogurt - again, 50% less to make it ourselves. And soon I'll be making our own peanut butter to cut costs.

But having the right tools helps a lot. They aren't a necessity, but they save me time and trouble by having the right stuff. I'll go into that in future posts too.

All in all I'm saying - I'm back and never really left. I've been baking all along, just had other priorities, but now I'm ready to share with you all again.