Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Yeast Is Not Dead

Today, my horoscope told me it would be a perfect day to curl up with a book and relax.  That would have been an ideal task, especially with all the books my husband downloaded to my Ipad for my enjoyment.  Unfortunately, it wasn't mean to be.  After avoiding the commissary all week, I had to finally break down and go food shopping.  So armed with my grocery list in hand, I took Lil with me for a day of shopping.  First we hit Target to pick up the baking supplies I needed to tackle homemade bread and my rainbow cookies.  Then we headed to the commissary only to find that they didn't have a some of the most important ingredients that I needed for this week's worth of recipe.  So we found ourselves at Publix where it is truly a joy to shop.  I can't get into my love for Publix here, that is a whole blog post within itself.  The funny thing is we ran into a retiree we saw in the commissary who also made his way to Publix where we got to commiserate in the spice aisle over the fact the commissary doesn't carry half the stuff that we needed and we both just wanted to get home after a long day of food shopping.

So we got home, my husband helped me unload all the foodstuffs and after I took a quick breather, I asked Mike if he was ready to tackle bread.  Before I even started this food blog he had been hounding me to bake bread from scratch. I kept on putting him off due to my fears of murdering yeast. Figuring this would become good blog fodder, I decided to tackle bread making this week and I am glad I did.  We cleaned off the counter in our kitchen (I can't work in a messy kitchen) and Mike started preparing the wet ingredients for our bread while I mixed the flour and the yeast.  I took the temperature of the wet ingredients and it was a perfect 130 degrees.  I said a quick prayer for any yeast that might be harmed in our first bread baking adventure and I mixed the ingredients in my Kitchen Aid.

Once everything was all incorporated, I started to knead the dough.  I used to work at a Living History museum in Staten Island (Historic Richmondtown) and we used to bake bread there in the wood burning oven in one of our houses.  I was well schooled in kneading bread from helping out on festival days and I showed Mike how to knead bread because I knew he was going to have to take over for me. 

Sure enough, half way through my hands were tired and Mike finished off the bread kneading.  He totally got into the bead braking and before we knew it the dough was smooth and elastic like the recipe called for.

I let the dough rest and then I followed the steps on the back of the yeast pack.  I had bought quick-rise yeast by accident so I had to alter the recipe from the cookbook to allow for the quick-rise adjustments.  I don't like tampering with baking recipes when I am in uncharted territory so I was starting to worry about my dough rising.  I formed the loaves and covered them with a tea towel on top of my stove and I got started on my butternut squash and leek risotto. After the tenth time asking Mike if he thought the dough had risen enough before I placed it in the oven and he told me to calm down.  I am not a fan of failure and the idea of "dead" bread was upsetting me.  When he assured me that the dough did double and I needed to relax I reluctantly preheated my oven for my bread.  I also took out a stick of butter to be softened for my herbed butter.

While the bread rose and baked I made Butternut Squash and Leek Risotto, a recipe I had found in my Epicurious app got started on the prep work.  I love risotto but I have never made it by scratch.  I have either eaten it at restaurants or made box risotto when the craving strikes.  This recipe was simple but it is also time-consuming -  you can't leave it for more than a few minutes without stirring the risotto insuring that it isn't stuck to the bottom of the pot.  I dutifully stirred the risotto all while thinking of the Hell's Kitchen episode when one hopeful chef just couldn't get the risotto right and Gordon Ramsey spewed an onslaught of curses at this one inept chef.  It was in between stirs of risotto that I took a peak at my oven and noticed that my bread had risen beautifully and was baking to tasty glory that I got the confidence I needed to finish out my dinner.  Gordon Ramsey's voice in my head stopped at this point, without even needing the Thorazine I was seemingly destined for.

Once all the liquid was incorporated in the risotto, I had to let it simmer for ten minutes.  I threw in a few tbsp of butter to gloss off the risotto and I started on my herbed butter - the one dish I was confident about from the start.  I had let my butter soften in a bowl on top of the stove so it was the perfect mixing consistency.  I chopped up a few tbsp of Italian parsley and basil and then I made a garlic paste.  Making the garlic paste was easier than I thought.  All you need is a clove of garlic and some sea salt and a knife. I love sea salt and it is the only salt I use to season my cooking.  I think it genetic destiny my love of sea salt, for my Sicilian ancestors were from outside Trapani and it is said that they worked in the salt mines located there. Whatever the case, sea salt just tastes better than iodized salt. My husband cracked the pepper for me, making sure to ask if I wanted "fresh pepper" as if I was in an Adam Sandler sketch.  This moment of levity culminated the end of nearly 2.5 hours in the kitchen, my risotto was creamy goodness, my perfectly browned bread cooled on baker's racks and my herbed butter was to die for.  I had successfully tackled homemade bread and risotto on the same night!  All of this success while my 20 month old son dumped out the dog's water bowl and decided to add more water from freezer dispenser to the floor instead of the misplaced water bowl.  

After dinner was over, Mike couldn't get over the fact that "I had made bread".  We ate almost 1 whole loaf with dinner for there is nothing better than warm bread and butter.  There was no APB out for my yeast murder, no Gordon Ramsey yelling in my head.  It was a true kitchen triumph!

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