cooking

Adventures in Bread Winning

I. Love. Bread. I know this is a quinessential, middle-class white girl thing to say, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I buy myself half baguettes and just enjoy them as lunch. I love dipping sourdough in olive oil and italian seasoning, having Baby Bells and ciabatta, eating peanut butter and banana on whole wheat toast. I’d sell my left foot for a fresh Wegman’s bagel right now. Bread is right up there with potatoes—the ultimate comfort food. CARBS ON CARBS ON CARBS.

Anyway. Since I love bread so much, I’ve often dreamed of making my own someday. I’m sort of put together in the kitchen, but my mother had never made anything past banana bread, and yeast freaked me out. What if I mess it up? It takes hours to make a stinking loaf of bread, and how dumb would I feel if it all went to hell?

Good question. Which is why, here at Staving Off Disaster we cut corners to feel maturer faster. Enter—focaccia.

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By now, you all know about my obsession with the boys over at Sorted Foods. They’re dedicated to making getting into the kitchen as a 20-something a little less painful. And they’ve got a fantastic focaccia recipe if you’re like me and terrified of something with the words “high active” in the name.

Luckily for all of us, the recipe is pretty straightforward.

Here’s what you need:

-4 cups of flour (the recipe calls for bread flour, but I used all-purpose, and everything turned out great)*

-A packet of active dry yeast (7g)

-About 1 1/2 cups of warm water (you won’t use all of this)

-2 tsp sugar

-2 tsp salt

-2 tbsp olive oil (and more for drizzling)

-assorted bread toppings you deem fit (I used chia seeds, black pepper, and sea salt—they used fresh rosemary, garlic, sea salt and pepper)

First, I’d recommend watching this video. It seems that bread is closer to cooking than it is to baking (in that measurements and timing don’t need to be exact-exact), so it’s a good idea to watch someone make the recipe before you start on the adventure.

After that, add the packet of yeast and about a 1/4 cup (or less) of warm water into a small bowl, to get the yeast starting its yeasty dance. Stir it a bit, and leave it to the side.

Next, add the flour, olive oil, sugar, salt and yeast-water mix to a bowl.

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I’m lucky enough to have a roommate with a KitchenAid mixer, so I got off the hook in the kneading process. If you’re doing it by hand, it’s time to get elbow deep in this recipe. Mix the flour-y madness with your hands, adding the water in small doses to get to a stretchy yet not sticky consistency (in the end, I think I used a little less than 1 cup). Knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes. Or cheat knead in the mixer for 10 minutes, like me.

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Once your bread is at the right consistency (mine leaned toward the drier side, but it didn’t negatively affect the final product), form it into a nice, chubby ball. At this point, pat yourself on the back. This thing is darn cute, and you made it. Nice job!

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Next, you’ve got two options. You can leave it, covered with cling wrap, at room temperature for 2-3 hours, or you can leave it in the fridge overnight. Whatever you choose to do, by the time you move onto the next step, make sure your cute chubby ball of dough has doubled in size.

Get yourself a nice baking tray (we have a pizza one, but I think you can use any sort of pan), and roll out that bad boy so it looks a little more like focaccia.

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Beautiful! Next, use those digits your mama gave you to press a bunch of holes in the top of the bread, giving you pockets for your toppings, and the look of focaccia. Drizzle generously with olive oil and start throwing on your mouth presents. Chia seeds? Oregano? Sea salt? Cinnamon? You do you, kid.

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Preheat your oven to 400 degree F, and let this precious lump of pride rest for another 30 minutes, since you did just man-handle it a bit. After it’s had a nice nap, it’s time to bake! Cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown on top. Pull that darling out, let it cool for around another half hour and then TUCK THE HELL IN. Because this monster is delicious.

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A little bit of butter, maybe an egg sandwich, whatever you want to put with it, you do it! This is your bread, your wonderful creation, and I won’t judge you if you eat it all in one sitting. I thought about it.

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Happy cooking!

*Make sure you consult a whole wheat recipe if you decide to go the whole wheat flour route. Whole wheat flour creates a denser final product, and you might need to cut down on the measurements. Otherwise, you can always mix bread flour and whole wheat flour. Again, consult a substitution chart.

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Showing Off Your Fake Culinary Skills: Pasta Sauce

Break open that bottle of red wine, because the weather has turned and we’re going to eat our weight in pasta. Sure, buying a jar of alfredo sauce is super simple, but who wants to fill up on crazy extra ingredients, like disodium phosphate and autolyzed yeast extract? Making your own pasta sauce is easy, healthier and fulfilling. You may not get your own show on The Food Network, but you made your own red sauce, and dammit it, that’s an accomplishment after sleeping in until noon. Now roll up your sleeves, start boiling water for your elk-shaped pasta, and let’s begin.

Red Sauce:

There are a number of different ways to make a successful red sauce while avoiding the jars. The easiest is just a can tomato paste, a can of tomato puree, olive oil, garlic, assorted spices and water. The wonderful people over at How To Adult walk you through the process here. While not significantly healthier than a jar of sauce, there is still something fulfilling in realizing you just made your own pasta sauce (plus, hella cheap). For real. High five.

If you’d like to take a slightly more involved route (you have to do more than just open some cans), you can start with fresh tomatoes. There are a ton of great recipes online for simple red sauces, and if you’re a stickler for measurements, I suggest following one of them. Keep in mind, many are written with bulk batches in mind, so you’ll have to do some math to parse down your measurements.

This is a great recipe if you have two or three leftover tomatoes that you need to use (let’s be serious, I always have leftover tomatoes–I WILL NEVER ACTUALLY EAT THE TOMATOES, WHY DO I BUY THEM, TRADER JOE’S??). I’ve both blanched them (slice a small X in the bottom, boil for about a minute, submerge in cold water, then peel the skins off) and cooked them with the skins on. Since I’m not the biggest tomato fan, I lean more toward the skinless recipe, but both work great. To a decent amount of olive oil on medium heat (about two tablespoons), add the fresh diced tomatoes, any vegetables (onions, peppers) and any other spices you’d like to flavor it (italian seasoning is a good standby, oregano and basil also work great if you’re getting fancy). Hell, why not pour some of the red wine in there? You’re the one who has to eat it after all, why not make it exciting? Let cook on medium heat, anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes until you like the consistency. Keep an eye on your sauce, and stir occasionally to check in–the longer you leave it, the more the tomatoes will break down, thus eliminating chunkiness. Serve with your fancy pasta. Voila! Look at you, you made red sauce! I’m so proud of you.

White Sauce:

One of my favorite things in the cooling weather is pasta with white sauce and sautéed mushrooms. I’ll warn you, I use the term white sauce fairly loosely, so if you’re looking for a true, simple alfredo sauce recipe, start here. Here’s the key though—try not to lock yourself into the recipe. Don’t like (or have) garlic powder? Leave it out! This is your dinner, I promise I won’t call Alton Brown to tattle on you.

For my white sauces, I start with a simple roux. A roux is just equal parts melted butter and flour (based on weight, not volume). Usually I start with one or two tablespoons of butter is a large saucepan over medium heat. Let the butter melt, careful not to let it brown. Add flour is small batches (I’m talking an 1/8 cup here), and keep stirring constantly, until you get a thick, paste consistency. Look at you go, you made a roux! See, you aren’t a complete failure just because you watched an entire season of GoT in one sitting!

To the roux, so we’re closer to the consistency of sauce, I begin adding milk. Again, the key here is to keep stirring, and to just watch your consistencies. I usually start with a 1/4 cup, and go from there. Stir, stir, stir, girlfriend. When it looks like a little waterier than something over pasta, you’re almost there!

Now comes the cheese! WOOOOO!! CHEESE!!

In the past I’ve used almost every kind of cheese in my sauces. For real, it’s pretty difficult to pick the wrong cheese for a white sauce. Soft cheeses work best, like gruyere, goat cheese, and mozzarella. You can even do cheddar or parmesan, but just make sure you grate these first. Add your cheese to your roux (add to taste–maybe a half cup?), continuing to stir. At this point, you might want to reduce the heat, since you’re really only melting the cheese into it. If you think you’re sauce is a bit too soupy, add more flour or cheese. Too thick? Add more milk. See how that works? You can’t screw it up! You just accidentally make more!

Taste it, make sure you’re into it. Maybe add some garlic powder. Keep stirring and tasting. Cooking is weird and awkward, but also fun and rewarding. Pay attention to the fun part, and go nuts. Look through your pantry, add whatever you want. This is your kitchen after all.

Pour this wonderful madness over your pasta, and HELL YES, OMG—instagram that ish. You just cooked yourself a white sauce. The crowd is cheering. You are the gender neutral ruler of the kitchen! Congratulations!

Now reward yourself by starting season three of Game of Thrones.

(For my darling sister, Haley, who is just beginning the journey of cooking for herself. And for my best friend Andrea who taught me just how much fun that journey could be.)

Showing Off Your Fake Culinary Skills – Burgers

Apparently I love cooking. I’m not that good at it–I still don’t fully understand the temperature of the pan, what flavors blend well together, or even how to consistently avoid eggshells when I crack an egg. I’ve made my fair share of straight to the trash (after attempting to swallow a few bites) dinners. But when I do succeed, there is something extremely satisfying in it. Sure, mac n’ cheese is easy and fast to make, but I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything when I’m done (except, perhaps, affirming the truth that one box is, in fact, one serving). Putting together a meal for yourself, or friends, from scratch, is often the best way to feel like an adult on a terrible day. You may have binge watched seven episodes of Teen Wolf, but at least you made yourself dinner, champ.

While not particularly impressive, burgers are a great summer self-serve. As a vegetarian, I tend to stick with portobello mushrooms as the meat, but there are a ton of great vegetarian burger recipes out there–most which freeze well. And many of the recipe requirements can be substituted to your taste/kitchen. Every time I make the quinoa burgers, I tend to forget about buying carrots/zucchini at the store, so I just made it without them.

After you’ve wowed yourself with your homemade burger patties (here are some suggestions for my carnivore friends), the real fun comes in the toppings. Expand your horizons–move past American cheese, ketchup and mustard. You’re a grown up–act like it!

The stranger the combinations, the the higher the stakes. After grilling a portobello mushroom, I decided a savory-sweet concept would suffice. I didn’t have any pineapple (which I thought would go well with barbecue sauce), so I sauteed some nectarines I had in the fridge. Weird, right? Except it worked. After cooking off some of the tartness, the nectarines worked great with some sharp cheddar cheese and barbecue sauce. Served with some grilled asparagus, I instagrammed that dinner like crazy. #ProudParent. And everybody needed to know.

A little extra work for dinner, usually no longer than a half hour in most cases, is a great way to feel in control of your life. It’s cheaper, and usually much healthier. Try it tonight. And show off to all of your friends. You’re a #proudparent of your new meal anyway. Why not add a Lo-Fi filter?