Saturday, February 12, 2011

Snow-day special

Finally a post for this week! I caught the flu last weekend, and have been fighting against it ever since with lots of sleep and tea and taking it easy. The sooner I can kick this bug to the curb, the sooner I can be back to cooking and feeling fantastic. But yes, folks - even with the flu, the challenge continues...

I whipped up this recipe during Snowmaggedon Snowpocalypse Thundersnow the third largest blizzard in Chicago history. We had all been encouraged to work from home that day rather than try to brave the weather and make it into the office - and I have to say that working from the couch, in my pajamas, in the comfort and warmth of my apartment sounded A-OK to me.

I did venture out to see the car graveyard on Lakeshore Drive at lunch...yikes!

I decided to make bread because in true Pantry/Freezer Challenge form, I had used up all other 'vessels' for my homemade nut butter - crackers, pretzels, etc - and was starting to judge myself for eating it with a spoon directly out of the jar. The easy, hands-off nature of this bread recipe is incredibly appealing to someone with a mild fear of yeast and kneading, like myself - and is much cheaper than getting a bread machine! Its crumb is moist, not too dense, and has great flavor, making it a perfect vehicle for just about anything.

I've made this successfully several times, with a number of options for substitutions based on what you have on hand.

This loaf didn't rise as much as usual (it was extra dry in my apartment) - but still turned out great!

No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread
adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 c lukewarm water (about 110 degrees)
1/4 c orange juice (or lemon juice, or water/lemon juice combo)
1/4 c olive oil (or melted butter, or veg oil)
3 T molasses (or honey, or maple syrup)
2 t yeast
1/4 c dry milk 
1 1/4 t salt
3 c whole wheat flour (or a mix of whole wheat and AP)
optional: 2 T ground flaxseed

Note: This recipe is not recommended if you do not have a stand mixer. The dough is quite sticky and thick, and is no match for a hand mixer's beaters.
Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment (not the bread hook), beat for 3 minutes on high. Scoop/scrape the sticky dough into a parchment-lined and greased loaf pan (8 1/2" x 4 1/2"), and cover with greased plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm place for 60-90 minutes, until the dough has at least risen to the top edge of the loaf pan. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and when it's ready remove the plastic wrap and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Pull the bread out of the oven and tent the top with foil so it doesn't get too dark, and return to the oven (rotated) for another 15-20 minutes. It's done when you can 'knock' the top and it makes a sound - but you can also stick in a knife to be sure :)

To make this blustery snow day extra special, I decided to turn some beautiful Stanley's apricots into a sweet accompaniment for my freshly baked bread.

Bonus Recipe: 
Makeshift Apricot Jam
(makes 1/2 c)

3 large ripe apricots, chopped
1 heaping T raw sugar
1 piece star anise
1 piece whole nutmeg
roughly 1/2 c water
1 T white wine
1 T lemon juice

In a 2-qt saucepan, add the chopped apricots, sugar, whole spice pieces and just as much water as necessary - the fruit shouldn't be covered, but almost (I used about a half cup) - and bring up to a simmer. Allow the mixture to simmer on low-medium low, stirring occasionally, until the apricots have softened and the water is evaporated - about 20-30 minutes (use the back of a spoon to test the doneness of the fruit - if it resists, it's not done). Remove the spices from the jam, stir in the white wine, and return to a simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and transfer to a heat-safe glass jar or container. Serve warm on freshly baked bread, or refrigerate for future use.

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