Monday, December 28, 2009

How to Cook a Chicken

It's actually roast a chicken, but I couldn't resist the MFK Fisher reference. Anyway - I know you've missed me. We had a bunch of family things, plus a pile of birthday/Thanksgiving/Christmas stress and I took a little break from blogging here - now, I'm back - and I roasted an awesome chicken the other day that I want to tell you about.


But first, a little story:


So, several years ago I had this friend (who has since moved far far away), with whom I had an ongoing conversation about chicken. We wanted the ultimate crispy skin, tender meat, not dry, not under cooked. She was all about pan searing the bird before sticking it in the oven - which for me (as anyone who has read this blog on a regular basis knows) is just WAY TOO MUCH WORK. Plus, an extra pan to wash. I don't think so.


At the time I was in love with Barbara Kafka's book Roasting - which is all about cooking things at 500 degrees. Which we tried. Great crispy skin, although the meat was a little drier than I would have liked. However, I also had (and still have) a crappy kitchen fan which was louder than the tarmac at La Guardia the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. So, even though the 500 degree method was easier than pre-pan-searing, it was either a whole house stinking of roast chicken for three days, or requiring everyone in it to pop in a pair of Hearos. It also required me to clean the oven after roasting. Yeah, like that is going to happen.


Others told us stories (perhaps apocryphal) of people roasting their birds upright on beer cans, or on specially made devices that look like beer cans, but we never got around to trying that before she moved away, far far away, and I went back to baking chickens in a 350 oven because tender meat was more important to my family than crispy skin.


It’s a terrible story: one that has been haunting me chicken after chicken... so many chickens...


At one point, I did improve upon my baked chicken when I stole got the bright idea of cutting the back out of the chicken before cooking it, which greatly reduces the amount of time it takes a bird to roast. Which I have been doing for years and which everyone likes.


Until, suddenly, last Sunday, I thought, OMG why not roast, at a very high heat, for a very short time, then bake the damn thing until it is perfect! It was like a light shone down from heaven and illuminated the pale little plucked chicken before me. Angels sang (although I did have my friend John Treacy Egan’s Christmas cd playing on the ipod so perhaps I was confused...)


I roasted that chicken at 500 for 15 minutes, then dropped the whole thing down to 350 for about 40 -- And it was: Perfect. Crispy, juicy, and it’s only taken me five years to come to this. Five years, when you all probably figured out what I was heading towards in my first few paragraphs. When many of you have, most likely, been roasting your chickens in this very manner for ever. It’s just so obvious, yet for me, so very elusive. I have no excuse.


I’d post pictures, except I don’t have any because we all ate the chicken so fast I’ve got nothing but carcass. Plus, if I waited to roast another chicken (which I might do tomorrow, but still...) I’d probably never post this chickeny story, and those of you whom I see on a regular basis would still be asking me when I’m ever going to post again.


Here's my method:


1 lovely chicken (get mine from Whole Foods - its usually about 3lbs)

2 stalks of celery

2 fat carrots

1 onion, cut in half and peeled

olive oil

sea salt or kosher salt

1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth (optional)


Preheat the oven to 500.

Wash your bird, dry it thoroughly, then flip it over and cut out the back using sharp sheers or a boning knife. Flip it back over and press down on it to flatten it some. Rub oil, salt and pepper over the whole thing, front and back. Then, in a low sided roasting pan, create a little rack with the celery and the carrots - lining them up next to each other and putting the chicken, breast side up, on top. Tuck the onion halves under the bird.


Stick it in the oven, put the timer on for 15 minutes (20 if it was a pretty big bird) - turn the fan on and endure the noise - or your children will complain the house stinks every time you walk into it for the next week.


When the timer goes off, turn the oven down to 350. Pull the bird out and - if you have it - pour the chicken broth over it. Stick the bird back in the oven and roast for 20 min. Pull it out and bast with pan juices (you don't have to do any of this, I just like to do it and think it improves the flavor of the skin - but everything will be fine if you don't). Put the bird back in for another 20 minutes. Take it out and check it - you can either slice it at the thigh and look to see if the juices are running clear, or you can stick a meat thermometer in the fat part of the thigh and be sure it hits between 160 and 165 degrees.


When it's done, take the bird out and resist the urge to dig right in -- tent it with foil (so you don't steam out any of the crispiness of the skin) and let it sit as long as you can -- between 7 and 10 minutes is about all I can stand. I usually spend this time making a salad or some sort of vegetable.


This bird is a beautiful thing - I suggest you volunteer to put away any leftovers so you can stand at the counter and surreptitiously stuff into your mouth what ever is left of the skin.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Because I'm a Moron

I haven't been writing much in the "blogosphere" (I really hate that word) lately because I signed up to write a 50,o00 word "novel" (and I use the word loosely, very very loosely) in one month with NaNoWriMo. So far, it's week 2 and I have 7,000 words. Not enough, obviously. I should have at least 12,000 if I ever hope to finish. The good news is that I work well under pressure. The good news for my family is that because I have been fairly preoccupied I've been hammering out tried and true recipes - things I don't even have to think about to make for dinner. The good news for YOU, dear readers, is that one of those recipes is turkey chili which I made a couple weeks ago to feed some Halloween revelers, and which I made recently for my sister and her kids, all of whom are suffering from the dreaded H1N1. (is it just me, or does H1N1 remind anyone else of the word heinie?- is that how you even spell heinie? Smith thinks its hynie -- my spell check has no idea - ok, clearly I am sleep deprived. This is what attempting to write a novel in 30 days does to you. Ok. Moving on.)

So, turkey chili. Very easy, very delicious, and my favorite kind of recipe because you just dump into it all sorts of things you have hanging about your refrigerator. I made it two slightly different ways: in one I used a link of turkey kielbasa and in the other, because Whole Foods was out of turkey kielbasa, I used this Tuscan sausage they made. I liked the kielbasa better.

Serves 4-6 - (easily doubled)

3 TLBSP of olive oil
1 onion diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 carrot diced
1 or 2 cloves of garlic either pressed or sliced (you decide!)
1 -2 TLBSP of taco seasoning (either buy a packet or make your own - click here for my recipe)
1/4 lb of ground dark meat or thigh meat turkey (* see note below)
1/4 lb of ground white meat or breast turkey
1 or 2 links of turkey kielbasa or any other type of turkey sausage you think would work (some sliced chrorizo would be awesome - though too spicy for my kids)
1 can of beans drained and rinsed - I like black beans, pinto, or white beans
1 14ounce can of whole tomatoes
1TLBSP of tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste throughout
Cilantro or parsley, coarsely chopped (optional)
jalapenos (optional)
sour cream (optional)

Heat a dutch oven over medium high flame and swirl in 2 TLBS of olive oil then add onions. Cook onions until almost translucent, add celery and carrots and let cook for a bit - until they soften some (10 min or so) stirring so they don't burn or stick. Sprinkle some of the taco seasoning over everything and cook another minute or so.

Take everything out of dutch oven and reserve, swirl in your last TLBSP of oil then when oil is hot, add all the ground turkey and cook over medium heat. While this is cooking you can either saute the whole sausage in another pan with a little water and oil then slice it when it's browned and add to chili after you add the beans, OR, remove sausage casing and add it to the ground meat RIGHT NOW. Either ways is yummy.

When the turkey is almost cooked (don't cook it completely through or it will be tough later) add the beans, tomatoes with the juices, the tomato paste and the rest of the taco seasoning. Put the vegetables back in the pot. Give it a taste and see if it needs salt and pepper - add to taste. If you sauteed the sausage, add it now.

Let all this simmer down until you like the way it looks. If you want a thicker chili add another can of beans and adjust the seasoning.

* You can also use leftover turkey (THANKSGIVING ALERT!) - just chunk it up and toss it in after the vegetables have cooked a bit - you don't have to remove the vegetables. Add the tomatoes right away. I've also thrown in some baby spinach, or a frozen pack of peas, or some chopped kale or swiss chard which you can saute with the vegetables.

To serve, put it in a bowl with a little sour cream, jalapenos and chopped cilantro sprinkled on top. Or, if you prefer to tell your kids it's a taco, warm some taco shells and plonk the chili in - the kids will eat it up.

This is easy and filling and something even a moron like me who agrees to write a novel in one month (ONE MONTH!) can pull off . I've been a little shouty in the this post, I can't help it, I'm SLEEP DEPRIVED.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Melissa - This One's For You!

We had an excellent Halloween this year. Which is especially wonderful because Halloween for us almost always goes sour: trick or treating plans don't work out, or the "you need a coat/I don't need a coat" fight goes nuclear, or the costume (despite a certain amount of parental nagging) isn't what it was imagined it would be. There are ALWAYS tears. But not this year - this year I took it all in hand and invited the parents and kids my kids had plans with. We had wings (which I made, but which didn't have nearly enough kick, so I'll save that recipe for later) and cheesy bread Mark and Barry brought, and a very yummy guacamole/salsa thing from Laura. She even went the extra step of creating a spider's web out of her dip. It was very cute, and I wish I'd taken a picture. So we ate, and drank red wine or Guinness (the kids had apple cider mixed with ginger ale) and we hung out so long it began to rain before we got out the door, so I had to race back for umbrellas and coats, and then everyone was back inside of an hour, but no one cared, and in fact parents were happy because that meant less candy, and the kids sat on the floor and traded for their favorites, and the grown ups had more red wine or Guinness and talked about Scientology and how creepy Tom Cruise is and Melissa said, I loved your Cauliflower soup recipe, but I kept looking for the actual recipe and it wasn't there. And indeed it wasn't, because I got a little lazy that day, and never actually wrote out the recipe, so here it is, because Melissa got one of those nifty hand blenders and she's itching to use it and this is the perfect recipe with which to try out a new hand blender.

Potato, Leek and Roasted Cauliflower Soup

1 head of cauliflower, roughly chopped into pieces that are about the same size
Olive oil
Sea salt
1 leek, or one small onion, or some scallions or a couple of shallots, chopped
3 potatoes, diced into 1 inch pieces
2 fresh sage leaves
Leaves from 3 thyme stalks
3 to 4 cups of chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste (I use sea salt, always)
1 lemon, cut in half

Set your oven to 450 degrees. Toss your cauliflower with a spin of olive oil and sever good sized pinches of sea salt, then layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet and roast until golden bu still crispy, about 10 - 15 min. (You'll have to eyeball this because I don't remember how long I cooked this - 15 min sounds right)

Meanwhile, heat up a large dutch oven or stock pot on your range and then swirl in some more olive oil, (about 1 tblsp of olive oil and half a tblsp of unsalted butter) Toss in the leeks and the sage and cook until soft. Season with a small pinch of salt and a good amount of pepper (if your family likes pepper). Add the potatoes and thyme and cook for a minute or two. Add your chicken stock and simmer until the potatoes are almost tender - about 10 minutes. By this time your cauliflower should be done, so toss that into the stock pot, and squeeze 1/2 of a lemon into the soup. If you plan to puree this soup, take it off the heat and let it rest a bit. Obviously letting it cool makes it safer to puree, but I always let soup rest because Lydia Bastianich (See Lydia's Italian-American Table) says to let soup rest and I always do as Lydia asks.

Once you're pureed your soup, taste it and adjust seasonings. You may need more salt, or more pepper or another squeeze of lemon juice.

This is very yummy soup - feel free to leave it unblended, or to roast broccoli instead of the cauliflower, or to toss in some already roasted chicken, or a nice sliced pre-cooked turkey kielbasa.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What My Sister Might Have for Dinner Tonight

If she reads my blog, that is. Starting Monday my sister, Ginny, is having her kitchen renovated and she is trying to eat down her pantry. Last night she was telling me she's down to a can of tuna, some pasta, a can of tomatoes, a can of chicken soup and a can of chili. Why she buys canned chili is beyond me, but I try not to judge. Which is hard, because, eww.

Anyway, as she was telling me this I suddenly remembered a pasta dish I used to make years ago, but stopped making because it involved tuna and both my girls took a dislike to tuna when they were about 4 and 7. (Although, happily, Em will now eat tuna salad if I make it with celery and give it a spin in my food processor.)

So this is what Ginny should do tonight:

Boil the pasta (it doesn't matter what kind).

Heat a saute pan on her nearly defunct cooktop. Swirl a little olive oil (or whatever kind of oil she has) in the bottom of the pan. Meanwhile chop an onion (Gin said she had a red one, but any onion will do) and toss it into the pan with the oil and cook until soft. Open the can of tomatoes and pour them in with their juice, cook down a bit. Open the can of tuna, drain it and toss it in. Taste (once the tuna is warmed through), season as needed with salt and pepper. Now, at this point she could throw in a tablespoon of capers, but Ginny isn't likely to have that. Or she could sprinkle some Parmesan on top of the whole thing, which is surprisingly good with the tuna. Peas are good too - and then she won't have to dirty up another pot making a vegetable.

Toss the tuna/tomato mixture in with the pasta. Eat it up, yum.

I also suggested she pour the soup over some rice and chicken breasts like our moms used to do with canned mushroom soup and chicken, then bake it for an hour, but she said her oven is kaput and her toaster oven couldn't really handle something like that.

As for the chili? I recommend saving it for an apocalypse -- when there's nothing else left.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cozy Soup (in Real Time)

I have this sweater that wears me. It's this silvery grey soft wool, it has shiny silver thread running all though it (I'm like a magpie with shiny), it has an empire waist, 3/4 sleeves and it has little flowers around the neckline. Yeah. It sounds kind of grandmothery but it's a DKNY Jeans sweater that I bought at a Macy's one day sale for $25-- so its actually kind of cool -- but because it's DKNY it's meant to be worn by someone at least 5'9" and the size of a post, whereas I'm 5'2" (after an hour of yoga) and shaped more like a pumpkin. But I don't care because I really like it and it's warm and surprisingly cozy for a shiny/silver/flowery thing. Whenever I put it on, which is fairly often because it's cozy, my friends all say, "ooh, cool sweater," which is significantly different from, "that sweater looks great on you!" I also know the sweater wears me because my Mom says nothing when I wear it -- which means the whole thing probably washes me out and makes me look exactly like a pumpkin, a grey pumpkin, despite it's DKNY status.

Oh Well. I say, it's good to have something cozy that wears you because it takes the pressure off. Which brings me to soup. Soup, while it doesn't wear me (though I've been known to wear IT), is the definition of a cozy and pressure free dinner. Tonight, because it's a perfect fall evening -- chilly and crisp -- I'm going to make soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

This afternoon I am baking bread for sandwiches (click "bread" for the recipe) and right now I am roasting cauliflower for a potato-leek-cauliflower soup I intend to make when I get back from Em's voice lesson. I've got stock (made and froze last week) defrosting in the fridge, and I have about six little russet potatoes and one leek. When I get home I plan to chop the potatoes up into pretty small pieces, saute the leeks with some fresh sage and a bit of thyme.

Oh - timer just went off for the bread and I just took it out and it's all sunken in -darn! And it looked so pretty after it's second rise. I must admit, the dough was a little wetter than I usually let it be, so that's probably it. Cauliflower looks good though -- just took it out of the oven and it's nice and goldeny, but not too mushy - it still has a decent amount of crunch.

Heading out to the voice lesson now. Wearing the dowdy-only-on-me-sweater.

I'm back. Diced 3 potatoes and and one small leek and threw it all in a pot with my stock two minced sage leaves and a stalk of thyme and pinch of sea salt. It's simmering now. It'll take about 10 minutes for the potatoes to get tender.

Time for a glass of wine.

Ok - potatoes are tender. I fished out the thyme stem, then stripped a bunch of fresh thyme leaves into the soup. Tossed the roasted cauliflower into the soup. More salt, a bit of pepper, a squeeze of half a lemon. A lot of people would then blend this soup up either with a hand blender or in a blender -- but I'm not going to because my kids hate creamy soup. Weird. Anway...

While the soup rests, I'm going to grill the sandwiches (half cheddar, half mozzarella).

Sandwiches are done, ladling soup into the bowls. I'm more squeezing lemon into Smith's and mine because the girls can only tolerate so much lemon.

The sandwiches are really good dipped into the soup.


So there's my evening. Mad is finishing homework, Smith and Em are doing dishes, I'm finishing my cozy soup blog, curled up in my sweater and and an old pair of jeans, large wool socks, dog on my lap. Yes.



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nachos Libre

You know what I hate? I hate having had a difficult day with teens & preteens and the plumber for the shower and the cat on antibiotics and the newsletter due to the printer among other things and all I want to do is go down to the local bar with my sister and order a beer and a plate of nachos to pick at and the nachos come and the cheese is nicely melted and browned on top and there seems to be plenty of jalapenos and you grab the first chip, only to discover the cheese and the jalapenos are nothing more than a facade -- a false front for a big pile of warmed-over slightly stale tortilla chips. That's what I hate.

Nachos are supposed to be layered people. You put a layer of chips down, then you layer some beans and maybe some salsa and jalapenos and then some cheese and then more chips and then beans etc., and top it all off with lots of cheese. Then you stick the whole thing in the oven, then you broil it for a few minutes until the cheese on top bubbles and browns. Those are nachos.
Not some pile of chips with a few measly gratings of cheese on top of the whole thing.

So for lunch today, because, as my friend Sylvana used to say, the craving had been established, I made nachos they way they should be made when you order them with the beer. Except I had a coke because I still have to pick the children up from school and take them to the orthodontist.

You probably have your own way of making nachos, but here are my instructions just in case a certain bar cook in my neighborhood happens to be reading. You know who you are.

Preheat your oven to 350:
top your chips with a layer of cheese. Bake for a few minutes until the cheese starts melting, then layer on more chips, bean dip, black beans or whatever:


stick this in the oven, again until cheese starts to melt.


take them out - add more cheese, beans, whatever (I added jalapenos and chopped tomatoes) and turn your oven to broil. Broil until golden.

Now THESE are nachos:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gourmet

I honestly can't believe Gourmet is closing. It's one of those magazines, one of those things in life you just think is always going to be around, even if you don't happen to be subscribing to it at the moment. And I loved the new covers: September it was a pear, October an apple dripping with caramel.

Years ago, I had this great recipe from Gourmet for almond toffee which I'd make for my dad every Christmas. I'd copied the recipe from my mother who had copied it from a magazine which had belonged to a friend. My copy lived on an old bank envelope push pinned to a bulletin board in my NYC kitchen. When I moved, I carefully put this beloved recipe into my Joy of Cooking, where I could find it. And did find it, returning it to the JOC, for years. Until we redid the kitchen. Then, I lost it. And have spent more time than I want to think trying to recreate it.

I never ever have.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More Pie

Still thinking of pie. I love pie. Not just desserty pies either, all pies: chicken-pot, shepherds, fish pie. And tarts too - tarts are just topless pies, in my book. Like pizza. Mmmm, pizza. It's perilously close to dinner time right now...

So, I have this book, published in 2003, by Tamasin Day-Lewis (yes, that Day-Lewis: sister to Daniel-I'll-never-forget-him-shirtless-withhisblackhairstreaming-LastoftheMohicans-Day-Lewis (sigh)) called, racily: Tarts With Tops On. It's about pie. Last week I was scrounging around the fridge, as I so often do, looking for something to make for dinner, feeling uninspired, when I remembered this book. Flipped through it and realized I had the ingredients I needed to make Cheddar Cheese and Onion Pie (found on page 44). Except, as you know, I can never leave any recipe alone. Plus I had to use up the last of the kale, celery and apples I'd purchased at the farmer's market before they became appropriate only for the compost pile. So, if you're interested in the original recipe, buy the book.

But if you're interested in what I made for dinner, well, here it is:

Pie crust: (I didn't love this crust, still a bit too dry, still on the search for the best crust...)

3 cups of all purpose flour (I've been using King Arthur, but I'm beginning to think that I need a more southernly produced flour - Wondra maybe? -- which has less proteins because it's from a warmer climate - see Shirly O. Courriher who writes about the science of cooking)
pinch or 2 of sea salt
3/4 cup of unsalted very cold butter cut up into small cubes
several tlbs of condensed milk (because I never have cream, but I always have cans of this stuff)
beaten egg yolk for glazing the crust

Insides: VERY YUMMY - this turned out great. I think it was the celery.
1 Tblsp of unsalted butter
1Tblsp of olive oil
1/2 large white onion (or 2 leeks, or whatever oniony thing you have)
2 stalks of celery cut into a large dice
3 apples cut into a large dice
3 large leaves of Kale, center stem stripped, and julienned
1/2 cups of shredded cheddar
2 eggs lightly beaten
4 Tblsp of condensed milk
a sprig of thyme
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425. Sift the flour and sea salt together into the bowl of the food processor. (Or into a big bowl). While the bowl is running, drop in the butter. When all this is combined and the flour and butter looks like crumbs. (In a bowl, just rub it between your palms to incorporate.) Add the milk, tablespoon by tablespoon until the dough comes together. Roll the dough out onto the counter, shape it into 2 balls and stick them in the refrigerator for 45 min or longer.

Melt butter and olive oil in a large skillet, then gently cook onion, celery, kale until soft. Let cool. Toss into a bowl with the apples, cheese, eggs, thyme, salt and pepper.

Roll 1 ball of dough out and gently place in 9" pie plate. Tip the onion, cheese mixture into crust. Roll out second ball of dough and gently place it on top, pinching the crust in a decorative way (if you can). Brush the crust with egg. Slice little steam slits.

Bake for 30 or so minutes - until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling.

Let it sit for 10 minutes before serving.

This was remarkably yummy - I think the addition of celery and the apples just made it sing.
Here's pictures of the process:














In Fall a Middle-Aged Woman's Fancy Turns to Apple Pie



When I was in high school, I used to show up at my friend Phebe's house in late September early October to find everyone in the midst of making pie. They had this wonderful large kitchen with a round table right in the center of everything on which Phebe, her mom, one or two of her siblings, their live-in babysitter, were rolling out crust, chopping apples, tossing it all with cinnamon, sugar and lemon juice. I loved showing up on those days, the air outside was snappy, the kitchen inside was warm and busy, and if there weren't enough apples, we'd run out to the small grove in her back yard and climb the ladders and pick more. Yeah, she had apple trees and a swimming pool in her back yard. I spent a lot of time at Phebe's house.

So Saturday morning, when I got up and let the dogs out, the air was cool and gentle and the tree in my neighbor's yard had it's first patch of red and gold leaves up at the very tippy top, and every molecule in my body cried out for apple pie. I wanted pie so badly, I sliced an apple, put those slices on top of my toast, sprinkled cinnamon sugar over the whole thing and stuck it in the toaster oven for a few minutes, just to get the apple pie essence. Which was kind of good, but no apple pie, my friend. And my house is not Phebe's (Phebe's house isn't even Phebe's anymore: now she lives in Santa Fe where the trees aren't much taller than me -- can one grow apples in the desert?) And there wasn't a passel of people in my kitchen talking laughing and throwing peeled apple slices or raw pie dough down each other's shirts, because that's what we did back then for hilarity. But it was a crisp day, and I was thinking that pie dough is something easily made, but which most people are really afraid of making and maybe it'd be a good thing to post about.

I sound blase in that previous paragraph, but the truth of the matter is that I really don't know what I'm doing when it comes to pie crust. In fact, it's been quite a while since I made pie crust, finding adequate, as I do, the red box of Pilsbury in my grocery refrigerator section.

Anyway, I pulled up cooksillustrated.com because they make pie crust with vodka, and who doesn't love a little vodka in the middle of a saturday (even if you're not actually going to drink it for another 5 hours. I was indoctrinated, at an early age, that you must wait until 5pm for any alcoholic beverage).

Here's how the whole thing turned out:

Yeah, we ate half of it before I remembered to take a picture. Sue me.

Still, the crust is not exactly the uniform golden brown it is supposed to be. And in fact, even though everyone else liked it, I found it to be a bit dry.

Which means I'll have to make it again, because now I'm obsessed with pie crust, and I must make pie until I get it right.

Darn.

I don't know about copy rights, so I don't actually know if I can reprint the vodka pie crust recipe from Cooks Illustrated, so I'm not going to do it. Here's the link, although it might not work because you have to have a membership & a login.

In any case, this is how I made the insides:

apples (I used about a six large jonathan apples) peeled, cored and sliced
1 TBLSP brown sugar (more or less - to taste)
1tsp cinnamon
quick scrape of nutmeg
juice of 1/2 a lemon
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup calvados (love this stuff, I keep it in the fridge and splash it in all sorts of stuff)
pinch of kosher salt
1 egg beaten with a bit of water
sanding sugar (optional)

preheat oven to 425
I put all the ingredients in a large dutch oven and cooked them a little bit, stirring frequently, until the apples can be pierced easily with a fork, but not so cooked they fall apart. (Full disclosure: I got this idea from Cooks Illustrated as well because I like a piled high pie, but sometimes the apples in the center don't completely cook) Let apples cool in the pan. When they are coolish to the touch pour them, juices and all, into the pie crust and quickly cover with the top crust and pinch the 2 crusts together in a nice way. (I almost always fail to do this -- the darn thing never looks good). Brush the top of the pie with the egg and don't forget to make a few slivers in the top of your crust so steam can escape. I often forget this because I'm a spaz. Sprinkle the top of your pie with sanding sugar if you have it.

Bake at 425 for 15 min then lower to 350 and bake until your pie is that lovely golden color I dream about. Take it out and let it sit (if you can bear to do that) for 30 min to an hour. Or, just get a fork and dig in, burned tongue be damned.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sandwiches: Not Just For Lunch Anymore

This is what we are having for dinner:

That's right:Leftovers!
The last of the rotisserie chicken I bought Monday, the last bits of the bread I made/bought (loaf, homemade, baguette bought, ), cheddar and mozzerella that's been sitting around the fridge.

And: Farmer's Market Stuff!
In this photo are the tomatoes and the incredible goat's milk cheese (check out this website, the cheese is made by hand and awesome) I bought this afternoon.

What am I going to make with all this? Sandwiches! (I'm feeling very exclamatory tonight).

Yes, sandwiches. Originally, I was going to make a butternut squash soup to go with said sandwiches, but considering that it's hotter and more humid today than it's been all summer, I'm bagging the soup and focusing on sandwiches. Although, I am going to grill them, because somehow dinner, even if it is absurdly warm today, needs to be hot. That's just the way I roll.

OH -- Hey! Just found a jar of:

I'm going to mayonnaise the outside of the bread I made (yes, most of you know that I do hate mayonnaise -- however it's really good on the outside of a sandwich instead of butter -- I'll simply breathe through my mouth while I slather the bread) and grill up tomato, goat cheese and chutney sandwiches for Smith and me. For the girls I'm going to make chicken cheddar/mozzerella sandwiches (with the option of chutney) melted on the panini press.

I do have green beans from the Farmer's Market too -- I might not cook those -- they're so fresh they'll be good raw.


The End Result!:





Yes, that is a glass of Riesling:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Back to School

Well, we are all just exhausted here. Remember how I was complaining in May about how the end of school s$!#s and how it's s$!#iness always so unexpected. Well, I was being a big baby then, because September is rough and that's all there is too it. The most difficult part being rousing one pre- and one full-on teen each morning from the comfort of too many bedclothes. And then getting said people into bed at a reasonable time (before 11pm) so their dad and I can once again watch things rated M for Mature without looking like zombies the next day. (Oh well...)

So, in all of this drama, dinner has gone a bit by the wayside, and this blog has gone a LOT by the wayside, although I am still cooking.

For instance, on Sunday I made spaghetti with meat sauce. Went to Whole Foods where they were having a special on grass fed beef, bought less than a pound (because I didn't have an entire gold ingot at the time) and then was at a loss for how to plump it all up so the kids and the husband would feel like they'd got their dinner's worth. Also, I was feeling a bit spacey when I got to Whole Foods and bought just the meat and some fruit, forgetting that I needed canned tomatoes too.

When I got home, and started browning the meat (in about 1/8 cup of olive oil, and dashed with some kosher salt), I realized that last week I'd bought some beets intending to roast them, but of course had ordered bacon and pineapple pizza that night instead, so I julienned the beets and tossed them in another pan with some sliced onion, a couple garlic cloves, some left over julienned kale (it's september so I'm using SAT words) some minced celery and a sliced carrot. Because I forgot the canned toms, I threw in what was left of a pint of cherry tomatoes, a dash of red wine, and 1/4 of a bottle of Rao's Marinara that had been sitting on the door of the fridge and which wasn't moldy yet. I combined the browned meat with the vegetable sauce and seasoned everything with salt and pepper.

Smith boiled up all the 1/4 boxes of pasta I had lying about the pantry and we tossed it with the sauce.

It was really good. Everyone liked it, and no one noticed the beets, until the leftover sauce turned the leftover pasta a really scary color. But that wasn't until lunch the next day, and by then everyone was long gone in school or at work.

I'm sorry I don't have a picture -- I keep forgetting to charge up the camera battery from when we went on vacation.

I'll get there. And things will calm down. I'm sure of it. And if they don't, well then my next post may be on the medicinal and recreational importance of the perfect Manhattan.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Taco Night: A Meal in Pictures

My husband bought this:
I know.

Anyway, it's been sitting around here 
for ages.  I think he bought it during one of his infrequent trips to Whole Foods in the vain and desperate hope I'd buy a pork loin someday and maybe grill or roast it up.  I don't know what it is about pork, but I always seem to forget about it when I'm at the store, even though everyone in my family seems to like it when I do cook it.  In any case, this pork seasoning had been sitting in my cabinet for so long, it had become invisible to me.  Even if I'd had some pork to grill or roast up, I'd never have remembered I'd had this.

So, last night Em requested Tacos --  a good idea because I, miraculously, had Taco shells in the cabinet, and I had tomatoes and lettuce and green beans (yep - greens beens) along with a good sized block of cheese and all that sour cream from that pineapple thing  from last week and some hamburger meat in the freezer.  Plus  it was hot and I'd been to the pool and had recently injured my back cleaning my other daughter's room out of books she no longer wants to read  and I didn't really feel much like cooking.  Tacos are one of those kitchen sink meals: you just toss a bunch of things in bowls and let everyone make their own.  And you can put anything in them -- anything at all that sounds good to you, or that you have to eat before it goes off in the fridge.  I got stuff together:  


Except: No Taco Seasoning.  Now, I could have made my own, but there's that back injury thing, and I still smelled like chlorine, and I still had to brown the meat, and to be honest here, I just couldn't face one more step.  Back to the cabinet, thinking I might at least have some chili powder when I saw 
A quick check of ingredients:    brown sugar, kosher salt, coriander, cumin, pepper, paprika, ancho, cayenne : Perfect!

My trusty souschef

     and I browned the meat, 

  

got the table ready: 
  

And called everyone to dinner.  It was all a huge success.




If I WERE Going to Make Taco Seasoning, This is How:

1 TBLS chili powder
1 TBLS brown sugar
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (use more, or less, depends on you)
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Whisk it all together.  You can leave out the red pepper and the cayenne if you want to -- chili powder has them both -- but I like the added kick.  Adjust the seasonings to your own taste. 

Next time I make this I'm going to put some coriander in it too.





Saturday, August 15, 2009

We interrupt this regularly scheduled food blog for a word about Michael Vic

I don't know what to do with this Michael Vic thing.   Have you seen the National Geographic documentary about the dogs they rescued from there?  It horrific.  The fact that he's going to play for the Eagles has got me, and in particular my youngest daughter really worked up.  My Mad is the biggest, most intense, dog advocate I know and I was so worried about how she would  react to the news that Vic will be here, in Philadelphia,  I didn't tell her for most of the day.  

I didn't tell her until right before dinner, and then the four of us had a big long discussion about the whole thing while we ate, and it was really interesting because we talked about whether Vic should be able to play,  about how he did something terrible, something wrong, he was caught, he was punished and he apologized.  Even if we can't forgive him because what he did to those dogs was disgusting, shouldn't we let him get on with his life?  

Because its not like we haven't done bad things (ok, not that bad, obviously), but when we do something bad, and we do the time and we apologize and try to make amends shouldn't others respect that and let us get on?  So if the Eagles are doing that, maybe it's good. At some point, there has to be an end to the punishment -- because most punishment is a finite thing.  I say that to the girls all the time:  you're sister has apologized for [wearing your favorite shirt/breaking your whatever/reading your emails] and she will [get the stain out/ spend her own money on a new one/ give her computer time up to you] and she will have some sort of consequence,  so now it's time to stop haranguing her for it. 

Except, does Michael Vic need to be paid 1.5 million dollars?  Couldn't the Eagles just have signed him for some more reasonable fee instead? And are they teaching the hundreds of kids who are super fans of the Eagles something about forgiveness, or are they saying that if you do something really bad, I mean really really bad, you still get to be famous and make tons of money and have people laud you if you happen to pay football well enough to win? Are we saying that winning is the most important thing here?  

And maybe the real reason we are all up in arms about it because it's hard to believe that someone who is capable of that level of cruelty can really completely change no matter what he's been through in those 18 months of prison.  However, I want to give Michael Vic the benefit of the doubt -- I want to see what he does now -- not on the field but in the world.  And this is what I ask of my children each time they do something wrong, or I do something wrong in their view: that we start anew, with a clean slate.  

It was a really good dinner time discussion, the kind where everyone has a good point to make and we all left the table still thinking about it.

Anyway,  it all boils down to this: Mads won't watch the Eagles this year, I don't know if I will be able to stomach watching them either, even though, intellectually, I know the man's paid for his crime.  It's an emotional thing, its a visceral reaction,  and it's such a bummer, because there is nothing better on a cold November Sunday than cracking a beer, making a plate of nacho's and watching the home team play.  


Friday, August 14, 2009

Just Dessert: Weird but Good


I loved my grandmother a lot.  She was very funny, she thought I was great even when I was a snarky teen and she gave me my "first" gin & tonic before I was even 18.   The one thing she couldn't really do was cook.  I mean she was ok -- nothing she ever plated up was burned, spoiled or inedible, but she didn't really care for cooking, it wasn't fun for her and so her food was just that, food, for dinner.  

Except this one time, we were at my grandparents for dinner and we'd just had Salisbury Steak, or some such thing, with an iceberg lettuce salad (which my grandfather loved), and it was time for dessert.  My sisters and I, expecting the usual orange sherbert, were stunned when she brought out something different.  Something, well, weird, in our book.  We weren't sure.  My mom had to execute a few well placed underthetable kicks before we'd try it, but to be polite, (and the four of us were nothing if not polite away from home) we did.  And it was great.  And it is one of my favorite simple desserts and today, even my picky kids love it.  
It is:

Pineapple chunks with brown sugar and sour cream.

Yep.  That's it.  That's all there is to it.  And it's weird.  I know it is -- but it is incredibly yummy and you should try it for dessert tonight.  Seriously.  Get yourself some pineapple, chunk it into a bowl, sprinkle a couple pinches of brown sugar over it, drop a spoonful of sour cream on top.  If you're feeling bold you can sprinkle a little more brown sugar over the whole thing.  Eat it up, yum.

The other day I was reading a recipe for grilled watermelon salad by another Philly cooking blog --  Figtree Appetizers -- and suddenly I thought: Grill the Pineapple!  So I did, and this is what it looked like all warm from the grill with the sour cream and brown sugar all melting together:



It was really really good.  Better, actually, because the pineapple got all carmelized on the grill and the brown sugar got all melty and I just loved it.  Soak some wooden skewers in water for 20 minutes, thread your pineapple onto them and grill over a medium heat for about 5 minutes per side.  Then slide them off, and add the brown sugar and the sour cream.

I put the pineapple into my other grandmother's tea cups and I think it all just looks so pretty -- and it makes me miss them both.  In fact, since it is "five o'clock somewhere" (as they both used to say when a cocktail was needed somewhat early) and My Husband just got home, I think I'll have a small gin&tonic right now, in their honor.  
Cheers.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nifty New Kitchen Gadget: $21 Tongs

Monday was my birthday (we won't discuss the number), and to celebrate I went to Williams Sonoma with my Mom and bought a pair of $21 tongs.   Yes I did spend that on a pair of tongs, but as I said: it was my birthday.  These fabulous tongs are made by Rosle  Sure, you can buy a set of tongs at the hardware store for $7.50 -- but they won't have this awesome action: when you hold them downward and slightly squeeze, they open up gently.  Then when you hold them upright, squeeze, they close.  Very easily (no need to bang it's butt on the counter.)

Here are some pictures of me doing this very thing:


Though I won't be winning any awards for photography, I think you get the idea.  These tongs are also very grippy and did a great job of lifting my fried wontons from the pan without shredding them.  (See previous post about wontons)  However, I have to say that while these tongs are nifty, if it hadn't been my birthday and if I hadn't been feeling generous toward myself (not to mention slightly depressed about that number I won't mention), I'm not sure I'd have bought them.  I mean, really, $21 is quite a lot to spend on tongs no matter how cool.  If you've got the money, I say go for it, otherwise head to the kitchenwares section of your local hardware store and save yourself $13.50.

Our Beloved Monster and Me

Our oldest daughter has been on the verge of 13 for about 3 years -- though now that the actual birthday is only two months away  she seems to have ramped up the process.  


For instance, yesterday: I thought we’d make a quick jaunt to the bookstore before picking Mad up from camp.  About halfway there we got into a discussion about why I wouldn’t leave her alone at Borders for the forty minutes it would take to pick up her sister.  I might (though probably not) have done it if she’d had both her cell phone and a friend with her -- but without those two things, no go. And so I found myself stuck in the car with Em in full politician mode: alternately arguing her case and accusing me of not trusting her.  There was some name calling on her part.  Without her realizing it I turned down a side street and drove back toward our house, parked the car in the driveway where I turned off the ignition and waited for her to finish before asking her if she’d like to stay home while I picked up her sister, or go get something to do in car while we picked up her sister because we sure as hell weren’t going to the bookstore now.


And this morning: I go to wake her at about 8:30, as I always do, and she asks me to snuggle, a rare request, so of course I want to snuggle, which I do for a few minutes, but I have several things to do (make lunches, put over laundry, walk the dogs, take a shower) before we leave for camp so I give her a kiss and remind her to get going and I’m half way down the steps to the kitchen when I hear: MOM! MOM! -- and I rush back up thinking something’s wrong (bloody nose?).  I get as far as her doorway when she says, “can you pull my blankets up for me?  I’m cold.”


This child, who can’t pull her own blankets up, is indignant that I won’t allow her to go to the bookstore and hang out by herself.


Sigh.


There’s more, but I won’t bore you.  It’s enough to know she hates me/she loves me/ she needs me/ I’m an idiot.  I’ve been on both sides of this equation now, and frankly, if I had to choose, I choose my present (parental) side because nothing could make me go through those teen years again.  I’m getting whiplash alternating between sympathy for my girl and complete engulfing frustration. Living with her  right now is like trying to balance on a surfboard: We’re at the top of a ten story wave an

d my only hope is to plant my feet and keep my head so I don’t flip both of us beneath the foam.


But last night: we had fun.  She took a cooking class recently, so last night she gave us a quick tutorial in the art of fried wontons which we filled with chicken and broccoli and sauteed up in a pan of grapeseed oil, then ate, piping hot, with our fingers.  Em says this is a great way to use up the leftovers in the fridge, and I totally agree.  A pack of wontons is not more than a few dollars at the store and you can fill them with whatever you like.  We just threw ours into a fry pan last night, but when we make them again, I think we’ll steam them a minute first then plonk them in the hot oil because then you only need to cook one side.  They were crispy, golden, delicious.  Her dad and I dipped our wontons in soy sauce, but Em liked hers plain.   These would make great appetizers.


Here are Em’s instructions on how to do it:


  1. Cook some chicken (I seasoned 2 boneless chicken breasts with sea salt and pepper then poached them in 2 cups of water with several dashes of low sodium soy sauce, a bay leaf and some gratings of ginger.)  Or use some leftover chicken.
  2. Thaw about 1/2 cup of broccoli and roughly chop
  3. Using only small pieces of broccoli and chicken fold them into individual wontons.
  4. Seal the wontons by dipping a finger in a glass of water and running your finger over the 4 sides of the wonton and then folding the wonton into a triangle, or make a little pocket book by gathering the four corners together or roll it up and seal the ends by folding them over.
  5. Plonk them into hot grape seed oil.  Fry until they are golden on all sides. (see notes)



Notes:

  • I use grape seed oil because it can safely get very hot -- without catching fire (unlike olive oil).
  • Em’s cooking class threw them into a deep fryer -- which I don’t have -- but which would effectively cook all sides of the wonton all at once --
  • Which is why I’d steam them first.  I don’t have a steamer so I stick a colander in a large stock pot of boiling water and put a lid over the whole thing.  Steam them just for a minute - maybe even less- so the wonton dough cooks a bit before tossing them in the oil.  Then just cook one side up crispy and golden.  We cooked our wontons in batches because we don’t have a fry pan big enough to accommodate

Make as many fried wontons as you have the patience for.  We used about 3/4 of a pack before Em got bored and hungry and we all just started shoving the cooked chicken and broccoli into our mouths until it was gone.  


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Goat Cheese


Last night I went out to dinner with my friends Laura and Michelle and we had goat cheese for appetizers and goat cheese in the main course.  We were sharing everything, and I expressed my insecurity about ordering too much goat cheese, when Michelle, who is a very wise friend, said, "there can never be too much goat cheese."

I think this is one of the great truths of the universe.  Goat cheese rules.  So, this afternoon I ran myself over to the farmer's market and bought a bunch of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes (because my sad few on my sad vine aren't red yet) and a fat hunk of goat cheese.  I chopped those tomatoes and threw them in a bowl with a bit of sea salt and let their juices leach out and settle. Then I cooked up a bag of ravioli I had knocking around my freezer, along with the last bit of a box of pasta,  sprinkled it with olive oil.  Ran outside to cut some basil, which is doing very well, thank you very much, and threw it all together with goat cheese while the ravioli was still warm.  Oh yeah, I also tossed in a few sprigs of parsley and a several grindings of pepper.

Perfection.  Because we all know, there can never be too much goat cheese.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Just Dessert

For some reason, when we have people over for dinner, I always forget to plan a dessert. Always.  I never learn from my mistakes.  There I am, plating up the cheese and crackers, sauteing mushrooms and garlic or preheating the oven, when one of the guests (usually a child) chirps, "What's for dessert?"  Do I panic?  Do I send the husband out for ice cream?  No.  No, because I can always make brownies.

The reason I like brownies, is that they can be made at the last minute, they are very much a dump and pour baking recipe and therefore are tough to screw up  (unless the husband is serving his famous margharitas, in which case I will screw it up, trust me -- but no one will care) (well, the children might care, but they can eat popsicles).    I start with either the Ghiradelli brownie recipe, or Ina Garten's  both of which are yummy just on their own, except I can't ever leave anything alone, so, to this batter I almost always add either dark, milk or white chocolate chips.  Or peanut butter chips, or, even better, a tablespoon of smooth peanut butter swirled into it.  Or a leftover smashed up candy cane.  Or some caramel.  A cup of shredded coconut soaked in 1/2 a cup of coconut milk then squeezed out, is good too.  I never add nuts because Em's allergic to tree nuts, plus I HATE nuts in sweet things.  Always have. Nuts just wreck the mood.  (Oh, that just doesn't sound right, does it.) But this shouldn't preclude your adding nuts if they work for you.  Or,  Whatever.

If I don't have bittersweet chocolate bars to melt, I use powdered coco mix (usually Ghiradelli, but sometimes Dutch Process, or whatever I have as long as it's not instatant) and I do this: 
1 1/4  cups coco
2/3 cup of flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt 
sift these together
Melt a stick of butter (1/2 cup), let it cool in a bowl, add
1/4 cup of sugar (I've used brown sugar in a pinch)
1 tsp vanilla (you can leave this out if you don't have any, I've done it, and although vanilla helps everything, leaving it out doesn't kill the brownie experience in anyway I can tell)
2 eggs , lightly beaten
Add the flour mixture to the butter/egg/sugar mixture and stir. 
Add 1 cup of any chips (see list above) if you want
Line your 8in square pan, or a 8in round pan, or whatever (I've scooped this batter into oven safe tea cups) with parchment and pour your batter on in. (LINING YOUR BAKING PAN IS VITALLY IMPORTANT: YOU CAN JUST LIFT THE BROWNIE SQUARE OUT OF THE PAN EASILY AND WITHOUT RIPPING IT TO SHREDS.) 
Bake @ 350 about 20 minutes.  

I know they're done when the center of the pan doesn't seriously jiggle, even though they look not quite cooked.  You can do the toothpick in the center test, but you don't want the toothpick to come out clean because the brownies will be dry in the center and asphalt at the edges. Still, you don't want it to be completely wet in the center either.  Somewhere in between, erring on the side of not done enough.  Let those brownies sit and cool as long as you can stand it.  They will finish cooking through then.  We like them when they are no longer hot, but warmer than warm.  

Lift the Brownie out with the parchment and then cup them up and top them with ice cream -- Em likes Mint Chocolate chip, Mad and I like Caramel Swirl, Smith sometimes goes for the classic vanialla, but just as often reaches for chocolate peanut butter. (We are Edy's or Turkey Hill fans -- both have been safe for my food allergy kid).  Or if you have it, make a little whipped cream.  (1 cup heavy cream, tsp sugar, tsp vanilla, whisk up in your mixer).  

Even when you don't consider yourself a baker, brownies are easy peasy.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Best Bread Ever (according to my children)

When I tell people I often bake my own bread they look at me as if I've just said: I often operate on peoples brains.  It's that scary.  I think it's the yeast -- everyone thinks they are going to kill the yeast, and the bread won't rise.   Or they think, all that kneading, ACK!  And they give up before they've even begun.  I, too, was once afraid of baking bread, afraid of the yeast, afraid of the rise, etc., but now, I am here to tell you that, unless you are trying to make bread from a 10 year old packet of yeast you've had lying about your spice drawer, you can't screw it up.  The bread will rise, and it will taste better than any grocery store bread around.

Bread bakers have all sorts of recipes,  techniques and bits of information about how to create the perfect loaf --  and I am hoping to get some of these to you in another post.  However, today's blog is about the bread I made last night, which my disaffected 12 year old proclaimed as The Best Mom's Ever Made.  Considering that she'd likely pick water boarding over speaking to me as her choice of torture, I'm darn thrilled with this declaration.  

This recipe is for a sandwich loaf.  It is not a crusty European style bread, rather it is intended for thick peanut butter sandwiches, or to be turned into toast slathered with Irish butter, or to be layered into a BLT.  My recipe is adapted from several sources: Cooks Illustrated Cooks Bible, Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything, Marion Cunningham's Breakfast Book, Peter Reinhart's Brother Juniper's Bread Book.

Breakfast Bread
1/2 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp of instant yeast (or 1 package)
1 TBSLP of Brown Sugar
1/2 cup of boiling water
1/2 cup of Rye flakes (or rolled oats-not instant, though)
2 TBLSP unsalted butter
1/2 cup of nonfat (or low fat) dry milk (*see note)
1 cup of warm water
1 scant TBLSP of kosher salt (just don't completely fill the spoon)
3-5 cups of bread flour (all-purpose flour is fine too)

  1. Put the 1/2 cup of warm water in a mixing bowl (by warm I mean not so hot you can't touch it.)  
  2. Add the yeast and brown sugar.  The sugar helps the yeast go nuts.  You know your yeast is bad, or the water was too hot if it doesn't start bubbling after a minute or so.
  3. In another bowl, mix the Rye (or oatmeal) with the boiling water and add the butter so it will have a chance to melt.  Stir it all together and let is sit so the Rye will have a chance to absorb some of the water.
  4. Add the 1 cup of warm water, the dry milk, salt and 2 cups of flour to the yeast mixture.  Stir it all up with a rubber spatula
  5. add the Rye (oatmeal) mixture.  Stir this up too.
  6. Add more flour until you have a manageable dough -- something that holds together, but which is still somewhat sticky. I usually end up adding at least one more cup of flour, but it really depends on the brand of flour you are using.(** see other note below)
  7. Now you can do one of two things: if you have a large stand mixer with a dough hook you don't have to do any hand kneading. Hopefully you've mixed all this up in your mixer's bowl, so now all you have to do is attach the dough hook, turn it on and let'er rip.  Let the mixer have it's way with your dough for about 5 minutes.  Turn it off, let it rest for 10, turn it back on for another minute or so.  If you don't have a stand mixer, turn your dough out onto a lightly floured counter and start kneading.  (Pull the dough toward you and fold, push it away and then pull it toward you and fold again)  Knead for about 2 minutes, let the dough rest for 10 minutes or so, then knead until it feels more elastic -- about 2 more minutes.  Now, was that so hard?
  8. Use cooking spray to lightly oil a large bowl and put the dough in this.  Spray the top of the dough lightly, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  If it's winter and your 50 year old house is as drafty as mine, preheat your oven to 200 for 10 minutes, turn it off, and stick the bowl in the oven.  Otherwise it can sit out on your counter if you're sure the cat won't get into it.
  9. Let your dough sit for an hour -- it will double in size.  I promise.
  10. After an hour, turn the dough out of the bowl, spray 2 loaf pans with oil (I use glass pyrex loaf pans, but you can use whatever you have).  Cut your dough in half and roll the halves up into logs. Put each log into a loaf pan.  Spray the tops with oil again, stretch a bit of plastic wrap over the top and let the loaves sit for 30 minutes.  OR -- do as I do -- stick them in the fridge overnight and get up early in the morning to bake them so your children will have hot fresh bread the moment they wake up thereby assuring a gratitude and a decent mood from them for at least 20 minutes.
  11. Preheat your oven to 350.  Remove the plastic wrap.  Bake you loaves for about 30 min (35 - 40 if they are cold from the fridge).  After 30 or so minutes, take your loaves out of the oven, slip them from the loaf pans and stick a thermometor in its butt. (The bottom of the loaf)  You want the bread to register 195 - 200 degrees.   Usually it will read about 180 or so which is good, because now you can stick the loaf back in the oven without the loaf pan.  Yep, that's right, just stick your loaf right on the rack.  What's good about this is that it gets all four sides of your loaf nice and brown and crunchy.  This little thing is what makes it the best. Give your bread another 7 minutes in the oven.  Take it out, test it again, if it's close to 195, it's done.  
  12. Let your loaf rest a bit before cutting into it.  I know this is difficult, but it is important because it has to finish baking a bit (like meat needs to rest) and also because the whole thing will just collapse if you try to cut it too soon.
* 1st Note: if you don't have dry milk, substitute 1 cup of milk (whatever you have) for the 1 cup of water.  Warm the milk, or let it stand a bit, to take the chill off before you add it to your dough.

** 2nd Note: believe it or not brand makes a difference because there are different amounts of protein in different brands of flour.  See Shirly O. Corriher's book Cookwise for more information on this) I use King Arthur Organic Bread Flour.