Monday, March 19, 2007

More bread

you're getting more bread today. why? because i like bread too, and your house will smell really good when you bake it. you'll have to reaad the rest of this post to get to the surpris ending, which is the best cinnamon raisin bread you've ever had.

Ok, so i finally finished Lawhead's The Endless Knot. He's got this amazing knack for starting an epic tale, fleshing out the characters, imersing you, scaring you, seducing you. . . and then he paints himself into a corner, gets stuck, and keeps you in that corner with him while he tries to fumble his way out. i was less than impressed. I'd read the first book in The Song of Albion, The Paradise War again anytime, but the rest? not so much.

in better news, i'm in love with Ellis Avery's The Teahouse Fire. the quick version: it's the late 1800's, a young girl is taken to Japan with her missionary Uncle who is killed in a fire shortly after they arrive. The youngster is taken in by a Japanese household as a servant. Life ensues. the Meiji restoration occurs, Western trade begins, Samurai become a thing of the past, and Geishas are suddenly worldly women. I do adore novels like these: Young woman thrown into unexpected circumstances where she must adapt. and props to Avery, i've teared up about 10 times so far. i'll have to find some other books she's written.

On the immediate horizon are Anthony William's Scales, and Jennifer Caress's Perverted Realities. I have GOT to get past that title! but how would i ever read it in the lunchroom at work? i know it isn't dirty, but it shure sounds like it is!

no pictures today. sorry.

alright, you read through my boriness, now you get a reward. this truly is the most incredible cinamon raisin bread i've ever had. i learned the hard way, if the recipe says use bread flour, then, please! for the love of god and good bread, use bread flour! it's about $3 per 5 pounds. a small investment to not have to mess with a recipe.

you'll need:
1 packet dry yeast
1/4 cup + 1 3/4 cups warm water
5 1/2 to 6 cups bread flour
2 tbsp dry milk
4 tsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 cups dark raisins
a little olive oil

for the filling:
3/4 cup sugar + some for dusting
3 tbsp cinnamon
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted & cooled
2 eggs

turn your oven on to the lowest possible setting.

lots of easy steps:
blend dry yeast with 1/4 warm water. let sit about 10 minutes. meanwhile, in a big bowl, blend flour, powdered milk, sugar, salt 3 tbsp butter and 1 3/4 cups water. add the yeast/water mixture, and mix it all together until a dough forms. knead the dough for 15-20 minutes, adding more flour if it's too sticky. don't add too much flour! it will get too dry! pour a little olive oil into the bowl and turn the ball of dough to coat.

turn the oven off, put the bowl of dough in the oven for about 2 hours to rise.

when the dough is nearly done rising, grease 2 loaf pans, and make the ooey gooey insides: combine sugar and cinammon in a small bowl. in another small bowl, beat one of the eggs. cut your dough into 2 equally sized ball of dough. leave the dough you aren't using under plastic so it can't dry out. roll one peice of dough into a roughly 10x14 rectangle. it doesn't have to be perfect. brush it with some egg, sprinkle with half the cinnamon sugar, and drizzle with half the melted butter. rub the mixture together with the back of a spoon or spatula. roll the rectangle up tightly, and pinch the ends. put it into one of the loaf pans. do the same with the 2nd peice of dough. let the loaves rise in a warm place for about an hour. before baking, brush the tops of the loaves with beaten egg and sprinkle on some sugar (the egg helps the sugar stick, and makes the tops of your loaves brown and shiny). Bake loaves at 425 for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400 and back another 15 minutes or until cooked through. let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. don't worry, the insides will still be warm and gooey after 30 minutes!

Monday, March 12, 2007

this is so terrible.

it's been a week, and i'm basically reading the same stuff as i was last time i posted. but it's not my fault! i was too busy reading comic books, i was out of town two days last week, i spent sunday making Challah, and hubby and I attempted making a chicken pot pie thingy. it was weird, but it tasted good. so more on my sad book reading, and cool comic books a little later.

what's Challah? it's an egg bread Jews make for the Sabbath, which for us runs friday night through saturday night. and since i never have time on Friday for bread to rise, i make Challah whenever i feel like it, usually sunday. i know, i know, it's really Purim, but i haven't yet perfected my Hamentashen recipe, so you can enjoy this easier to make Challah recipe instead. it's really very easy. and it tastes SO good.

this recipe makes 2 loaves of bread, which typically end up being slightly smaller than a regular loaf of bread. you can make free-form loaves, or you can put them in a loaf pan.

you'll need:
1/2 a packet dry active yeast (i usually pour the packet onto a plate, and separate it that way)
1 and 1/8 cup warm water
2 eggs plus 1 egg later
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tbsp salt
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup unsalted butter or margarine, or shortening
4-5 cups flour. flour is funny, it depends on the batch, how dry your house is. . .make sure you've got some extra.
a little bit of olive oil

first of all, turn your oven on to it's lowest setting. as low as possible.

dissolve the yeast in the warm water. mix well, and let it sit for 10 minutes.

meanwhile, beat the egs in a very large bowl. add the honey, and beat it again. add the sugar, salt, and butter (or whatever) and beat well. add the yeast mixture, and beat again.

now add the flour, one cup at a time, till a dough forms. blend the last cup in with your hands. knead the dough for 15 minutes, adding more flour if it's too sticky. pour a little olive oil in the bowl, and roll the dough around in it, so it's lightly covered in oil.

turn the oven off.

cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rise in the over for about 3 hours. it should double in size. after 3 hours, take it out, punch it down, knead it some more, and form it into loaves.

the traditional Sabbath Challah is in a braided shape. if you don't know how to braid, ask your sister or your mom. whatever shape you decide to do, put it in a greased loaf pan, or on a greased cookie sheet, and put it back in the over for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, with the oven turned off.

see why this takes so long?

remember that egg we haven't used yet? beat it in a bowl. take the loaves out of the oven, and brush them with the raw egg. preheat the oven to 350, and put the loaves back in. they are done in about 35 minutes. using those glass loaf pans is great, because you can see how brown the bottom is.

this bread is SO good, and the yeast does all the work for you.

ok, on to books. i'm about half way through The Endless Knot, and i'm having trouble with it. i don't know if Lawhead was getting bored, or what. the foreshadowing is heavy, the plot feels contrived, it better have one of those hits-you-like-a-brick-wall endings, or i'm going to be really disappointed. i'm still annoyed from book II, where people from our world fell into Albion, and then it was really never touched on again. Mr Lawhead! this needs to be touched on more. like now! like, how about whoever kidnapped so and so (i don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it) is someone from our world, or something.

i'm a chapter or so from the end of China Meiville's King Rat. if you know a teenager who hates Harry Potter because it's all namby pamby, have them read this. blood, gore, violence, swear words, it's pretty cool. some of the characterization is better than others. you can tell which characters Mieville liked, and which ones he really didn't care for. I've heard his new book, Un LunDun is supposed to be closer to King Rat than anything else he's written, but i kinda hope not.

ah yes, comic books. or, as us smarty pants call them, graphic novels. oh come on, it's manga, or american manga wannabes. i wasted a good hour reading Rikdo Koshi's Excel Saga, and you know what? it was so rediculously silly and stupid, i think i'll read the 2nd one. it's a genre of manga that spoofs a lot of the super serious melodramatic plot lines. also in the comic pile was my buddy Paul Sizer's Little White Mouse. i say "my buddy". yeah right. I took his graphic design class at WMU in 1998. but i still see him around town! and he lets me buy him drinks! Little White Mouse is quite cool, as is his Moped Army comic. much better than it looks. He needs to put out the 2nd volume, like right now.

you! go make bread, and while it's rising, read cool stuff!!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

attempting to focus. . . .

so, instead of giving one sentence on a zillion books i'm nose deep in, i'm going to try to focus on only one or two (ok, maybe three) that i'm intimately involved in. I'm going to attempt to focus.

food for thought? no pun intended.

i recently blew through Stephen Lawhead's Silver Hand, the 2nd book in his Song of Albion trilogy. Can i still love Lawhead, and not love ever page of this book? The beginning and the end were brutal, exquisitve, unremorseful and painfully human. the middle. . . not so much. Tegid's conveinent "inner sight" started to get gimmicky for me. Tegid's a great character, and i'm happy we fleshed him out more, but a)he started to get on my nerves after a while, and b) i haven't got past the Llew/ Simon thing, and want to get back to that, like right now. there is a great interview with Lawhead at the end, where he's asked how he feels about writing about good vs evil, and he says it's fine, but he's not writing about good vs evil, he's writing about the nature of sovereignty. nice. i just got the 3rd book, The Endless Knot from the library, and hopefully that gets back to Llew & Simon. i'll let you know.

also on the book pile is China Mieville's King Rat. I think this was his first break out novel? or maybe his first young adult novel? it is definately YA, and offers a dirtier, grittier look at the classic "young man finds out he is of royal blood, and has to win his kingdom back from the usurpers" plot line. for a YA book, this sure has lots of swear words! i must be really old fashioned. if i get a book from the young adult or kids section at the library, i'm shocked (just shocked i tell you!!) everytime i run into shit or fuck. and i trust the library, so i must just be old fashioned. King Rat is a lot of fun, especially since i've read newer Mieville stuff, i'm seeing where it all got started. You read any Mieville? what do you think of him?

over at Havenland, we're getting started on our March/April book club book: The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. so head over there and join the fray, cuz i don't want to type all that stuff twice.

did i do an OK job focusing on just a coupla books? cuz i got way more from the library. more than any normal person should ever read in 3 weeks, not to mention a handful of manga.

mmmm..... pie. somewhere on this page, i gave a recipe for apple pie filling, but i didn't tell you how to make the pie crust. if you don't want to know how much fatty butter goes into a divine pie crust, quit reading right now. if you're just looking for an excuse to screw your diet, read on dear reader, read on.

this makes two pie crusts, or a top and bottom for a covered pie. you'll need:

a really big bowl
plastic wrap
a spatula
a pastry knife. a pastry knife is one of the best $8 investments you can make. seriously. it's 8 bucks. go buy one.

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 sticks very cold butter. keep it in the fridge until you're ready to use it. it really does make a difference, as i learned the hard way, last night.
1 tsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
some ice water. yes, put water in a bowl, and put some ice cubes in there to keep the water super cold.

the trick to an awesome pie crust is to have your butter super cold, and your water super cold, but neither one should be frozen, or have any ice crystals. i don't know the science behind why this works, but trust me, it works. i'm sure Alton Brown has done a show on it.

mix the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. cut the butter into pieces, and blend it into the flour with the pastry knife. keep cutting the fat with the pastry knife till all the big peices are gone, takes 5-10 minutes. some of your dough should be the size of a small pebble, but most of it should be the consistency of corn meal. dribble about 1/3cup ice water on top of the dough, and cut the water in using the sharp side of the spatula, till the dough forms small balls. if this doesn't happen, add maybe a tbsp more ice water. keep blending it, and the small balls should be able to stick when you press them together. the dough should still look pretty rough, and it shouldn't be overly greasy.

divide it into two parts, press them into a disc, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

now you got to roll it out. have a cup or so of flour ready at the table. keep your surface floured well, or the dough will stick, and that's just a disaster. as you roll it out, set your pie plate on top, so you know when it's big enough. you don't want to roll it to thin. once you get it rolled out, form it into the pie tin, and put that in the fridge for a few hours. roll out the second disk, this is the top of your pie. once you get that rolled out, it can sit on a cookie sheet in the fridge.

after the crusts have "rested" for a few hours, fill the bottom with whatever you're filling it with, lay the top on (cut vents!!!! cut vents!!!), seal it with cold water, pinch, and trim, and you're ready for the oven! oven temp and time depends on what's in the pie, and if it's pre cooked or not. good luck!