Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturday Ramblings from an Armchair

Crisp and Crunchy.
Whole Wheat and Healthy.
It's a HIT!

I found this simple recipe in a collection of essays entitled Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. A simple recipe of flour, water, salt, yeast, kneading, and time with VERY loose time schedules yielded just what I was looking for in a crispy baguette. Though Laurie's recipe combines unbleached and whole wheat flours, I simply fulfilled the recipe with freshly ground Prairie Gold whole wheat flour. (I found it! My little organic market ordered 100 pounds for me at bulk cost minus 15%.) Combine approximately 3-3/4 cups flour, one heaping teaspoon salt, and one tablespoon wheat germ in a bowl. Dissolve 1/2 scant teaspoon yeast in 1-1/2 Cups warm water and add to dry ingredients.

Now mix, knead, let rise (for as long as you like, according to her, I chose 1 hour), punch down, knead a bit more, let rise again (you choose time -- I chose another 40 minutes), punch down, shape in loaf, slash top (to let the steam escape and save your bread's pretty shape), and finally bake in a hot oven with a pan of water for steam on the lower rack (450 degrees for about 30 minutes and then down to 425 for another 20 minutes -- my convection oven took FAR LESS TIME). The result: a proudly displayed baguette of crusty beauty to accompany our lentil-rice soup (cooked in the pressure cooker for 15 minutes). Voila!

On another note of unfinished business . . . how 'bout the results from the "instant" refried beans?

Well . . . it was F-A-S-T. Grind pinto beans into course flour in the grain mill (make sure your mill can handle beans) and then combine:

3/4 C. pinto bean flour
2-1/4 C. Water
3/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp salt
(1/2 tsp dried minced onions and smidgen garlic powder optional, according to the recipe in Country Beans by Rita Bingham

Cook for 1 minute over medium heat and then reduce to low and cook for 4 more minutes. The liquidy mixture began to firm up quickly, so I just shut off the heat and covered it so that it could absorb all the liquid. When I removed the lid I saw the smoothest refried beans BUT THEY WERE LAVENDER!

Now, in our household many have a sensitivity to color -- especially Matthew. The night I placed a magenta bowl of borscht down in front of him he honed in with his good right eye, sniffed, looked up at dad with horror in his eyes, and asked to be excused. (now mind you, this boy LOVES borscht and eats multiple bowls when I use the golden beets.) Magenta and lavender may seem worlds apart to most, but I calculated that Matthew would balk. So I set out to give these pasty-looking beans a makeover.

I tasted the beans . . . hmmmmmmmm, a bit flat. SO, I added a bit more salt (naturally), some pepper, a few tablespoons of tomato paste, and a variety of mexican-inspired spices to augment those already in the pot. I sampled again . . . DELICIOUS!!! Some may prefer adding salsa or picante sauce for color and texture. I must note that these beans have no "beany" chunks for texture; nor do they have the depth of flavor I get when I pressure cook beans and onions, garlic, spices, etc. for one hour. BUT, the rapid return from my efforts and the "cover" of tostada fixin's makes this a good option for those mealtimes that sneak up on me after a long day at play in the gardens.

I also found that leftover beans cooked the loooong style could be stretched pretty far with the addition of some of these "instant" beans. Experiment, have fun, enJOY! I am still playing with the recipe. (My family vetoed the red-pepper-flaked version . . . ooops! Guess I forgot to put the fire extinguisher on the table.) : D

Lastly, I promised to share my recipe for Whole Wheat Buttermilk Scones.

I adapted this recipe from a little palm-sized paperback cookbook entitled Simply Scones a sister-in-law had tucked into a basket of goodies years ago. It has lots of recipes (70, in fact), but this one particular one has become my staple. It's quite simple:

2 C. flour (I use whole wheat pastry flour)
1/3 C. sugar
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbl unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 C. buttermilk
1 large egg
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or ????? Have some fun here.)
1/2 C. currents or raisins optional (No thanks!)

Cut butter into dry ingredients, mix wet ingredients and pour into dry. Gently combine, adding fruit at this stage. Form into a plump disc and score or cut through into eight pieces. (Scoring produces softer scones; cutting finishes the edges for a crisper scone -- just like biscuits). Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes. Cut and serve with or without additional toppings (like jam, clotted cream, lemon curd, etc.). Wipe up crumbs later (you will have no leftovers, I'm certain).

You can do a myriad of things with this basic recipe. It is VERY FORGIVING. I have substituted flavored kefir (a liquidy yogurt) for the buttermilk to give it a berry or peachy tang. You can use ANY number of essential flavoring with some fruit tossed in. A particular delight graced the table when I added slivered up strawberries (you know the ones that have gone a bit too far to be simply set in a crystal dish upon the tea table for nibbling) and a dash of almond extract . . . or I should say I meant to add just a dash -- the bottle toppled in and splashed a gusher of almond extract into the nearly finished dough. I kneaded it in gently (always be gentle with your scones or biscuits) formed it, scored it, and popped it into the oven. When it arrived on the table all salivary glands cried out for a "quick" blessing and the first bites elicited oooooohs and aaaaaahs and WOWs! Serendipity Strawberry Scones stole the award for "best ever" served at teatime (or any time).

How does one share a recipe for a delicious boo-boo, I wonder? Well, you don't. I simply offer this basic little recipe and entreat you to fire up your imagination and fumble away. I have RARELY had to discard a "creation" from my kitchen, though it has happened. My most notable blunders include:

First Runner Up -- Butter Bean Stew. Hard-as-a-rock lima beans cooked for hours in a salted broth. Yep, I learned that one should NEVER salt the bean water before the beans have cooked tender.

GRAND PRIZE BLUNDER -- Once upon a time I entertained a romantic notion of taking our family to a monastery for a quiet retreat. Now, you correctly wonder if I had lost my mind in thinking five kids (two with special needs . . . often "noisy" needs) could enter a "silent" retreat and not shatter the necessarily contemplative mood or the sanity of the brothers contemplating. Well, you're right. We couldn't actually GO to the monastery, BUT . . . with my Bible, a selection of chant CDs, a plethora of candlelight, and this nifty Monastery cookbook I found at the library, well it would be a cinch!

I combed the cookbook after assessing my larder. Hey, this one is perfect: Potato-Brussels Sprouts Potage. The simple "water-based" broth with veggies looked to be perfect with a fresh loaf of bread and a jug of water (our standard beverage at mealtimes). I simmered and tasted and simmered some more. I tasted and tasted but NEVER found the flavorful broth promised in the beautifully-illustrated recipe. IT WAS FLAT! (and ugly -- all grey and murky.)

I began raiding the cupboards for spices, more salt, ANYTHING to liven up this pot o' dishwater that I intended to serve to a very hungry family. When Gary came in asking about the coming meal I melted into tears and offered a taste. He winced. He took a deep breath. He offered to go pick up pizza . . . after he tossed this in the compost pile. I collapsed in relief. (I also returned that book to the library without another thought of adding it to my ever-growing library of cookbooks.)

And so I ramble on this warm and beautiful Saturday morn. "Why," you may ask, "Are you not outside in your glorious gardens dancing with the butterflies and singing with the birds?" I heave a big sigh and reply by pointing to the ottoman that supports my swollen ankle. Yesterday, following a call to the local chinese take-out for a treat Friday night meal, I decided to grab a bottle of soapy water and run out to the gardens for just a minute before setting the table and readying the tea.

I gamboled up and over the stone bench and adjacent retaining wall in search of my nemesis: ROSE WEEVILS! I espied an immoral display by several and determined to interrupt the multiplication by knocking the whole group-thing into my organic bottle of death. Success! I danced around. "Now I really must get back inside and get the table set," I admonished myself. Then I saw it . . . a lone escapee on a distant bud.

I quickly calculated my chances for success at o'er-leaping a particularly prickly ballerina rose, reaching out to seize that offending bug on a far-distant grootenhorst rose, while clad in a mini-skirt and flip-flops. I decided in a split-second to Go For IT! And I did. UP! OVER! (so far so good) D-O-O-O-O-W-N-N-n-n-n into a hole hidden by ground cover wherein a rose once resided and has since been removed. PAIN!!!!! STUCK in ROSES!!!! Feeling DUUUUMMMMB! ALL ALONE as the crowds of people that live here are off on weekend retreat, gone to southern parts to attend graduation of friends, off to pick up chinese, playing in nether reaches of the property.

SO . . . I crawled and clawed up and over the retaining wall, hobbled into the house, plopped into the chair, and waited for the return of my knight in shining armor who would set the table, supply water for tea, and ascertain that nothing has broken.

Thus, today I sit and ramble upon my laptop with a stack of books at my side and a pot of tea at my elbow. We have received the first "heat wave" of the season and I'm missing it! The worst part . . . that creepy rose weevil is out their munching and destroying my rosebuds, telling all her friends about the crazy lady in the jeweled flip-flops. (*grit*)

Have a GREAT weekend!

: D


Karen Deborah said...

Is it something in the water? I had another disaster today myself. Love the recipes, and the stories. A delightful post. I thought your last one was one of your best and now this one today is another sterling bit of your stellar writing and friendly talk! Zowie woman you are on a roll! Come cook for me I'm tired. Did RK get her little surprise yet?

Morning Glories in Round Rock said...

Bless your heart! I did the same thing at Christmas--only I was rushing out to take my compost out to the pile, and fell in a hidden hole. My ankle was stiff and sore for a couple of days--nothing compared to my injured pride! LOL! Hope you are feeling better soon--and what a great husband!

Prairie Chick said...

oooooh..... ouch. I hope you heal up quick, sprains can be so nasty! Die weevil, die!

Joyce said...

Well, Debbie, I hope your ankle feels better soon. :P

One of my worst sprains came when I was briskly walking down our long driveway to get the mail. It had been raining, and somehow my feet went out from under me, etc.

Poor you! But we reap the benefit of your down time in your sharing of these delicious-sounding recipes. Thank you!

noble pig said...

It all sounds delicious. I have that same bread pan...need to make baguette now!

Tracy said...

Your bread looks so good. I baked bread yesterday and it burned:( I forgot that I have to lower the oven temp for that particular recipe. It wasn't too bad, so we'll eat it, but still.

Regarding grinding the pinto beans, do you just dry them dry...out of the bag? I've purchased "instant" re-fried beans at the store before, but I think I'll try making my own.

Kathy said...

I plan to copy and try the bread and scone recipes.

The monastery story had me giggling, what would we do without our compost piles?

Your rose weevil - ankle mishap has me sending a prayer for rapid recovery.

Karey said...

I had to return. I read this post a bit ago but now need to say the image of a short skirt and bejeweled flip-flops has had me occasionally giggle! While you're dealing with bugs, I'm still in the intense planting mode - with the end of May as our time to plant the warmer things. So lots of things are hardening off. I finished most of my main weeding need and I'm taking advantage of a foggy drizzly day to let my body mend some from it's eternal soreness I'm feeling these days. Hope you are mended.

Theresa said...

Thank you for sharing the scone recipe. I can't wait to try it out! :-) I'm late in reading that you posted it! I enjoyed seeing the other recipes too. I have that Bean cookbook but haven't made anything yet. I'm just getting unpacked and started to settle... a slow process!