Ahhhh, sweet baking. How much I love it. ...and how much I've been doing it lately.
In light of my health issues and my inability to eat fats, I have been making my own bread in our house since many store-bought loaves have a surprisingly high fat content. Also, when you can't eat fats it's hard to feel full, so I have been baking low-fat, high-carb snacks for our house. (I'll worry about my carb intake when I can eat meat and dairy products again.) Last week I started out with baking a loaf of my Wheat and Flax bread. A few days later I made some soft pretzels. The recipe I used was the Classic Pretzel recipe on KingArthurFlour.com. That evening I also made up some muffins. This recipe was the low-fat Carrot muffin recipe from the website ILoveMuffins.ca. It's a great little website that I plan to visit regularly. We were going to a family dinner the next day so I made up some baguettes for that. The baguette recipe was from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and I was surprised how well they turned out. Typically, Better Homes and Gardens recipes are a little too "store-bought" for my liking, however, these were the best baguettes I've ever had. The dough is remarkably soft but it makes for super light and crusty bread. My family was surprised they weren't from the store. However, like all good bread, it was best in the first few hours. In France a baguette is considered to have a two hour life span and that's really how you should treat all artisan loaves.
Anyway, last week I definitely made a dent on my flour stock and will soon need to buy another bag of bread flour (which I used for my pretzels too, btw). I remember growing up in my parents' house and we usually only had one type of flour in the house - white. Whole wheat on rare occassions. And while I don't claim to have branched out to full flour potential, I value the traits of bread flour and rye flour and look forward to experimenting with potato, rice and corn flours.
My meal plans have been branching out a bit, too. A week ago I was watching TV at my parents' house (I was running an errand over there and a thunderstorm hit and Gabe fell asleep so I took advantage of their cable to watch the Food Network) and I caught an episode of The Spice Goddess. This episode featured her No-Butter Chicken, which substitutes plain yogurt for the traditional butter or cream. I had happened to pick up some indian spices a couple of weeks prior so it turned out the only ingredient my kitchen wasn't stocked with to make that dish was the plain yogurt. Last night I finally made it and was surprised by a couple of things: first I was surprised how easy it was. I'd never really made Indian food before and now I honestly can't tell you why. There was nothing to it. Second, I was surprised at how fast it was. I'm hesitant to cook with chopped chicken breasts because I always imagine so many complications of working with raw poultry (oddly enough, I have no qualms about working with a whole raw bird...). But really, from the time I pulled the chicken breasts out of the freezer to having the meal completely ready, it was about 35 minutes. Not to mention that was my first time making it so I'll probably take less time with my next attempt. Lastly, I was surprised at how much it smelled and tasted like Indian food. Have you ever made sweet and sour pork at home? There are a million recipes on the internet and few of them taste anything like how you think they should. This recipe tasted just like what one would get at a restaurant. A good restaurant, at that. I was impressed - and so was my husband.
Tonight I made my Goat Cheese Chicken Pizza finally. I decided to brave the obvious fat content and to try and limit the fat on my side of the pizza as much as I could. I have to confess, I used a store-bought pizza crust, which I later regretted. Not only did it have a high fat content, it was too salty, too white and too blah. Anyway, I didn't use a sauce but instead I sprayed the crust with a little olive oil, then I sprinkled on some thyme and some fresh basil and added on some crushed garlic. Next I put on the goat cheese which I crumbled and ended up using maybe 50 g. for the whole pizza. Then I layered on slices of red peppers and peaches and lastly I added the chicken cubes which I had sauteed with some red onion. My goodness it was incredible! I'd have ordered it at a restaurant and been thrilled with the result, even on the lackluster crust. Next time, however, I'm going gourmet all the way and making my own crust. (My excuse for not doing so today is that I put all of my baking efforts into making more loaves of Wheat and Flax bread today).
Over the next little while I'm going to be investing more and more into high quality ingredients. Without fat to cover up tastes, it really is more glaringly important to have wonderful flavors in each component of a recipe. Plus, if I am having a little bit of fat in my meal, I want it to taste as good as possible. Take for example, cheeses. If I am using a typical, mild, North American cheddar, I would typically use quite alot of it. It's an easy thing to eat, comparable to coolers where you can hardly taste the alcohol and can drink like Koolaide. However, too much fat and too much alcohol alike are bad things. Now, if you replace your cooler with brandy, or scotch, or rather your mild cheddar with aged cheddar, or gouda, or asiago, you don't chug, you sip. So if I'm planning on putting some grated cheese on my pasta, switching out asiago for cheddar will mean I can use less and not feel like I'm missing out on anything. And if I'm making a pizza, I can use a 1/4 c. of goat cheese, comparable to 1 1/2 - 3 c. of cheddar or mozzarella cheese that is typically used on a pizza. And maybe even for Nachos or something I could use a good, smoked cheddar and get away with eating those. If you think about it, it's actually quite ridiculous that they sell 900 g. blocks of cheese in stores and that people buy those about once a month for their households. A typical lasagne alone will take up a third to a half of that block. Ucky.
One thing I'm guilty of is buying the cheapest olive oil on the shelf. Well, I do spring for Extra-Virgin, but that's as high-minded as I get typically. My reasoning for doing this was that I don't really like olive oil anyway and only using it as an occassional substitute for canola oil anyway, so why bother spending more on it? Well, a couple days ago my dad showed me why. When I brought out the hour old baguettes for some pre-dinner munching this weekend, he brought out a bottle of olive oil that he wanted to try. A local businessman bought an olive grove in New Zealand and makes this oil and brings it over here to sell. My dad wanted to dip his bread in it and while I was lamenting the fact that we had no fresh herbs to throw in it, he dipped it in the naked oil and said it was great. I didn't really believe him, but I tried it, and he was right - it was great. The oil is called First Drop and the variety we tried had slightly grassy notes to it. And it didn't taste like stale oak, which my el cheapo brand does. So, in the future I shall invest in flavor and save money through the old quality vs quantity adage.
Mrs. Vander Leek ;)