Friday, May 02, 2008

Sourdough Pizza

I have tried sourdough starters in the past. Kinds made with and without yeast but always with flour. It never worked well for me. Either they went bad, or they never had enough raising capability, or they were too "needy" LOL. I saw a few recipes for starters that called for instant mashed potatoes, water, sugar, and a bit of yeast to start. To feed you add more warm water, sugar, and potatoes. I am still kind of confused as to when you feed it and how long it stays in the fridge and everything. But this is what I am trying: Birth of starter: 1 packet yeast (I used instant, it was what I had) 1 cup warm water 3 tbsp sugar 3 tbsp instant mashed potatoes (I used granules but will buy flakes ongoing). Mix those ingredients in a jar (I used a Claussen pickle jar) until smooth. Cover with a cloth and hold in place with an elastic band. Leave overnight at room temperature. Days 1, 2, and 3: Stir well. Leave out at room temperature. Day 4: Feed your starter by adding: 1 cup warm water 3 tbsp sugar 3 tbsp instant mashed potatoes. Stir well, and leave out at room temperature. Day 5: Take out 1 cup of starter to use in a recipe. Place the rest of the jar inside the fridge. This is where it starts to get confusing, so I have decided to try my own idea and see how it works. This starter can be fed every 3 days. So technically you can leave it in the fridge for 3 days, feed it on the fourth day(leave out at room temperature after feeding), on the fifth day remove a cup to use in your recipe and replace the jar to the fridge. Wait three days, feed, and use, and so on. That gives you various "finishing days" which I find a little unsettling LOL. There is no way I will be able to keep track of when I can use my starter again and when it should be fed. So instead, I will feed and use the starter once per week. If I feel that I want to bake more often than that, I will start a second batch of starter on a different schedule. I made my first recipe using the starter today - pizza. Now, this starter is new so there is no "sourdough" flavour to it. But it does have a pleasant yeasty (beery?) aroma. I have no unbleached flour and don't shop until Sunday (trying to stick to a budget). But I do have whole wheat flour. It is a store brand, and let me say I have NEVER seen such huge flakes and percentage of bran to 'dust' in whole wheat flour! I find it hard to use in recipes because the bran makes it everything so dry. Pity, because the flavour is really nice aside from that. Out of desperation, I tried something. I sifted out the big bran flakes! What I was left with was a nice soft flour with smaller bits of bran. Then I measured it to make the recipe: 2 cups sifted, seived whole wheat flour 1 cup starter 1/2 tsp salt 1 tbsp olive oil Mix together the flour, starter, and salt. It should make a fairly stiff but still pliable dough. Knead until it comes together and all ingredients are moistened. Knead in the olive oil. Continue to knead until the dough is supple and taught (about 5 minutes). Next time I might use the kitchenaid, although it wasn't a chore to do it by hand. If the dough gets too sticky you can flour your hands a bit. I divided the dough into three balls, and placed them into greased bowls (turn to coat), then covered with plastic wrap and placed in a warm place until about doubled (it took about two hours for me). Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Roll out one dough ball to desired thickness and transfer to baking sheet (I threw on a pinch of corn meal). Let sit for about 20 minutes - kind of like a mini rise. Add your toppings. Place in oven and bake 10 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and the bottom of the crust is golden brown. Repeat for the other two dough balls. This made three 10 inch very thin crust pizzas for me. I LOVE thin crust pizza with just a scattering of interesting toppings. I think next time I will try dividing the dough in half for a larger, slightly thicker crust so DH and DD can load on the toppings and have a pizza more like they are used to. I do NOT have a pizza stone. If you do, preheat oven and stone to 450/500 and bake the pizzas about 7 minutes if you divide the dough in half (I have been told). So I guess mine would have cooked in less than 5 minutes, eh? Maybe I will even try stretching the entire recipe onto on square pizza for a breadier, almost deep dish type. This is what happens when you kind of make things up as you go along ROFL. I found the flavour of the dough to be very good. Yeasty, it had a nice chew (but not 'chewy') and some crispness on the bottom. It wasn't dense, with small bubbles in it. I know it would be absolutely perfect on a pizza stone. We will see how the flavour develops as the starter ages. I would also love to try pizza on the grill some time. I forgot to take a picture before DD and I ate ours, but I will try to get a pic of the one I make for DH. He isn't feeling well so he didn't eat yet.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Family Activity Day

Yesterday was "Family Activity Day" at DD's school. They had several classes available to try - from Taibo to jump rope, Zumba dance, Yoga, aerobics, and more. We were allowed to sign up for two things, so DD chose Yoga and Zumba. We kind of forced DH to not only come along, but actually participate in the activities. The point was not to do anything perfect, just to see what they were all about, get active, and have fun. To add to the joy, we rode our bikes to the school. Reducing the carbon footprint and all. Yoga was very interesting and very enjoyable. We did some relaxing breathing, and learned the basics of the "sun salutation" series of movements. I think we went through the process three or four times, and I was pretty warmed up! Breaking a sweat, as in. I liked how you could modify the moves to your own abilities, and it wasn't about putting your leg around your neck or being the most limber. DD had trouble following along - it is hard to see what the instructor is doing when your butt is up in the air and your head is down in "downward dog" pose. When you do try to look up, you find you have a better view of another person's patoot than of the instructor! DH had trouble sitting cross legged. The other stuff he was fine. They both liked it, but weren't sure they wanted to do it again as they found it hard. I LOVED it. In fact, I printed off an instruction sheet and did two rotations this morning. I would have done more but I ran out of time. I chose to do each position and hold it for a few breaths rather than try for a fluid motion between the poses, more to help aquaint me with them and give me a chance to learn what works well for me. I have also printed off something called a "moon salutation" that does other poses and is supposed to be good for the evening. Already I can feel a difference in my neck and shoulder, which are always stiff and at least once a month get "wrenched" and I end up with a stiff neck and can't turn my head. I was in "wrenched" mode before I started and while there is still some stiffness, definitely an improvement. Zumba is basically dancing. Think salsa moves, the meringe, cha cha, and a lot of hip swinging and butt wiggling LOL. Don't let anybody tell you it isn't real exercise. We did TWO songs (no warm up since we already did yoga) and I was sweating through my clothes. Breathing hard but not out of breath, and you could feel the burn for sure. Nothing overly strenuous but you could tell your legs and arms and torso were working. Quite fun, but the instruction was quick and the instructors were wearing black against a black background so it was hard to see what they were doing all the time. I am sure the classes would be better as they would have more time to go over the basic steps. The music is certainly peppy. DD and DH liked it but were frustrated because they often had no idea what to do. DH found it hard to keep up even when he knew a step, and DD got confused and upset every time we changed from one step sequence to another. I did okay. I did like it, but I find it frustrating that my body does not move when I want it to. A simple step, step, leg kick nearly killed me when it was side to side. Front to back? Fine. Side to side? No go, baby. Plus I think the hip swinging and butt wiggling may bother my back. I would like to try it again some time. At one point, the girl stood still, raised her arms above her head, and shook her butt so fast I thought the men might get whiplash ;). I said "I CANNOT do that!". DH said "Sure you can. You do that all the time". I told him that the girl is doing it on PURPOSE. When my derriere does that, it's after-jiggle! DD's teacher was in the class nearby and laughed so hard she lost her footing and almost tripped. Tee hee! After we were done, there were several booths set up with information and free stuff. We each got an orange and DD got a toothbrush. I got some information on diabetic classes and the yoga, and picked up a card for the Zumba. They had city walking and bike trail maps, reflexology demonstrations and a physiotherapy booth complete with massage table (who wants a massage when you are all sweaty LOL?). I thought I would be too tired for the bike ride home, but it was actually nice to feel the breeze on my face. I swear I didn't stop sweating for an hour though LOL. DD has been taking good, healthy lunches all week. We have been observing snack limits and learning about "serving sizes". A lot of bike riding, and DD has been bringing her basketball to school almost every day. It has taken some cajoling but we are walking or riding when we can, and when we can't we try to park farther, use stairs instead of elevators - things like that. We have been eating less junk, and when we do we try to make better choices. I hope this all continues!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Recipes added!

I have finally added the recipes for No Knead Bread and Swiss Carrot Cake to the "Dances In Garden's Family Recipes" link (somewhere along the left). If you see any glaring errors, let me know!

Today I have been puttering in the kitchen. Actually, it started last night! I mixed up a batch of "sourdough starter" - a kind that uses no flour. Just sugar, water, yeast, and potato flakes. It looked interesting, and I thought I might try to adapt the no knead bread to use it, so that I can bake one or two loaves per week. We shall see how it turns out. I also mixed up some more of that pastry I posted about, just a single crust worth, and made "strudels". Okay, not really strudels, but I rolled the pastry into rectangles, added a line of sliced apples down the middle, sprinkled on some sugar and cinnamon and dotted with trans-fat-free margarine. Then folded the sides to the middle and sealed, sprayed with cooking spray and sprinkled with a bit of sugar. Made a few cuts so steam could escape, and baked at 425 degrees for about 35 minutes.

Not bad eh? And they smell SO good. I love the smell of cinnamon and apples. Yes, I know that one is bigger than the other. No, I do not care. It is this rusticness that makes home baked goodies what they are. Oh heck, it was laziness ROFL. These will be sliced and tucked as a surprise into lunchboxes. The rest will be devoured for sure once DH and DD realize they are in the house, however LOL. No trans fats, and only 5 teaspoons of sugar total between the two. I figure it has to be better than store bought stuff, right?

I also have a loaf of no knead bread on the rise as we speak. It should be ready to go into the oven by 2:00pm. As for dinner tonight, I can't decide if I want to do chicken wraps with rice (veggie chicken nuggets on whole wheat tortillas with cheese, ranch dressing, and lettuce....well there will be lettuce on MINE anyway), or have DH barbeque some skinless boneless chicken. I am sure it would be good, but then I don't know what to serve WITH it. Maybe sliced potatoes? Precooked in the micro then transferred to foil and thrown on the grill with the chicken? We will see.

This morning DD wanted to ride her bike to school, so I rode with her. When we got there we realized she did NOT have her lock with her. GAH! So I had to ride back home to get it and race back before the bell rang. Only I couldn't find it, because it is on her OLD bike which is at MIL's house. My lock? Well, there is a funny story about that. I gave my dad our spare key while we were away. When we got back I told him to keep it in case of emergencies, because we have another spare. Heh heh heh. Heh. Guess where the key to my lock is? And guess where my father is? FLORIDA. So much for that. I managed to find a length of chain and a combination padlock, so that is what I brought back to her. She already knows the combination. Let's just hope that she remembers she took her bike today and doesn't walk home without it ;). Got some good exercise out of it anyway. We all got new bikes this year, but no picture yet. I'll work on it and give you a grand unveiling ROFL.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Good, simple dinner

Sometimes the simplest dinners just hit the spot. For me, an example would be spaghetti and meat sauce. It takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish even when the meat is frozen (love that turbo defrost feature on my microwave LOL). By the time the pot of water has boiled and the noodles are cooked, I can make a quick sauce (browned ground meat, tomato sauce, seasonings) and a salad. Today I also made a few pieces of garlic bread because DH and DD love it and we had leftover hamburger buns from a week-end dinner. I happened to have some leftover garlic butter I made for another recipe so that made it quick and easy for me, but still. A nice plate of spaghetti, and a salad with vinagrette dressing. So simple, so filling and warming (our weather has turned cold again), so quick. And so good! I have a pretty good stock of dinners that take under 1 hour to make, usually including defrosting time. Like chicken and rice? Slice your chicken breasts into smaller pieces and use basmati rice. The chicken cooks in minutes and the rice takes about 15 minutes total including letting it sit for 5 minutes. I wash the rice then let it soak while I am cutting up and seasoning the chicken. Then I drain the rice, and saute in a bit of olive oil and a touch of butter - I use a covered skillet. Add 1 1/2 cups chicken stock (or water), make sure it is boiling, then turn the burner to the lowest setting and slap that cover on. In 10 minutes? Perfectly cooked basmati rice. You can eat it right then but I like to fluff it then let it sit covered for five minutes off heat to steam. Saute the chicken pieces with cooking spray while the rice cooks. DH and DD aren't into pan sauces or fancy fixings so they eat their chicken with either sweet and sour sauce, or honey garlic sauce (from a jar, the horrors!). I usually toss a cup or so of frozen veggies into the microwave to steam for myself, and make a quick salad or cut up some veggies to eat raw with dinner. Plan jane? Yes. Because that is what DH and DD like. And there is nothing worse than spending an entire day cooking a special meal for them to either look at it like it is garbage, or swallow it without tasting while watching tv. Don't get me wrong, I like to cook and still make things like my own pizza dough, noodles, and so on. But when I do, it is for my own benefit because those two could care less LOL. In fact, I think they prefer processed food. Sigh. So wrong! This week if I get my butt in gear, I would like to try and make my own pita bread. Wish me well!