Category Archives: Home Cooking

My $75 Loaf of Bread

I am trying to adjust to my new normal. As a public employee in Wisconsin, transitioning from a teacher contract to an employee handbook, life has become very uncertain. People expect change to happen at work each year. But this school year, the wide variety of changes feel like a roller coaster ride with mainly a series of plunges and I am not a thrill seeker.

So, to give myself a feeling of control, and financial as well as mental stability in this time of cuts and uncertainty, I put myself on a strict monthly budget and took a second job at night.

Looking for a positive spin to this new need for frugality, I decided to resurrect the motto of my grandparents “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Dad grew up on a Depression era farm in North Dakota. He didn’t know he was poor until he was an adult and was informed so by people who had money. While his family was not rich in dollars, they were rich in food, family support and laughter. One of my fondest memories of my ‘granny’ is spending time in her kitchen as she created the most incredible baked goods.

I have longed to recreate the homemade bread that I can still taste if I close my eyes. I remember watching Granny hold a huge loaf of bread against her chest as she walked around the dinner table slicing portions for all of us to savor fresh from the oven. And I have thought, I can make my own bread. It will be delightful and… save money.

Finding a bread recipe that is equal to my memories has been a challenge. And, the flops I have created in my kitchen over the last few months have been disappointing.

Recently, I found a recipe for no-knead bread that was intriguing. Unfortunately, the recipe (adapted from Jim Lahey) called for a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic). I went to my cupboards and like Old Mother Hubbard my cupboards were bare and did not hold a covered pot that could withstand 450 degrees in the oven. So, I went shopping. With my coupons, I purchased a cast iron pot for $71.43. Seriously. That was more than I planned (certainly not in my budget) but I really wanted to make this bread!

Following a recipe I found on The New York Times website for No-Knead Bread, I set to work. I mixed up my ingredients and then waited for 18 hours. As my dough did its thing, I was reminded of all of the dough Granny had in various stages of proofing in covered bowls in her pantry all those years ago.  I always thought it was weird (and slightly unsanitary) that she let dough sit out for what seemed like days.

As one day turned into the next, my dough was finally ready. I flipped it into my heated pot and baked my bread with fingers crossed. The smell of baking bread infiltrated every corner of our home. I could hardly wait to taste my first slice and when I did, I closed my eyes and savored.

I finally realize the secret of bread, which I wish I had learned from my experiences long ago…Great bread takes time.  And, as it turns out, a little bit of money.

I plan to stir up my fifth batch of bread dough this morning. Each time I bake a loaf, I divide my number of baked loaves by my original $75 investment (the cast iron pan + ingredients). Today’s loaf will bring my cost down to $15 a loaf. Makes me smile.

No-Knead Bread - Finished Loaf (294068096)
No-Knead Bread – Finished Loaf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Smokin’ Wild Rice Salad

Being from the midwest (of the USA) I love wild rice. Our oldest daughter shared a wild rice recipe I made this past weekend for company. Today, our youngest daughter called for the recipe and I was happy to give it to her. She called me as she was shopping for ingredients. She called me as she was starting to prepare the meal. She called me shortly thereafter when her kitchen was on fire. Yes! I was my daughters 911 call from her kitchen.

My daughter: “Mom, Help!”
Me: “What?”
My daughter: “My kitchen is on fire?”
Me: “What?!?”
My daughter: “MY STOVE IS ON FIRE!”
Me: “Your stove or your oven?”
My daughter: “I don’t have baking soda! What should I do?”
Me: “Where is the fire?”
My daughter: “Mom!”
Me: “Is the fire on the stove or in the oven?”
My daughter: “There are flames on one of the burners! They’re getting bigger.”
Me: “Put the pan lid over the burner.”
My daughter: “I don’t have baking soda should I use water?”
Me: “Did you put the lid on?”
My daughter: “Yes but it is still burning, should I use water?”
Me: “No water! Use flour!”
My daughter: “Flour will burn. Should I use water?”
Me: “Just use flour. What is happening?”
My daughter: “It is out. But my dinner is ruined!”

My daughter and I talked for a few more minutes as I asked if she was okay, talked about the miraculous fire proof-ness of stoves, how to clean up charred pans and laughed with relief.

I never got the memo at the hospital that when you gave birth to children you were on the roller coaster ride of your life. I am learning to enjoy the roller coaster. The twists, the turns, the highs, the lows, the plunging, the climbing and the sheer joy of the ride. What a ride.

My daughter took her unfinished meal to her sister’s kitchen to complete. I am hoping there will be no more exciting phone calls this night. But if there are, I now have the internet at the ready to search for solutions. And by the way, you are never supposed to put flour on a grease fire… my daughter knew that but miraculously flour worked today. I have already called her to tell her to buy a very large box of baking soda.

And the wild rice salad? It is delicious.

Smokin’ Wild Rice Salad
3 cups cooked wild rice, cooled
1/3 cup chopped green onions
8 ounces sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 cup red grapes, sliced
1 cup celery, sliced
3 cups cooked chicken, cubed

1/2 cup Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise
4 Tablespoons milk
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine wild rice, onions, water chestnuts, grapes, celery and chicken in a medium bowl. In a small bowl or measuring cup mix dressing ingredients. Fold dressing into the salad, stirring until thoroughly combined. Serve immediately or refrigerate a few hours before serving.

Friends that Cook Together are Surprisingly Well Fed

I wanted to spend more time with friends but let’s face it, the work day is long and by the time I get home all I want to do is relax and recoup. I finally decided to stop being lazy and combine my favorite things (friends, good food, laughter, and creativity). We started with a simple plan, meet one Monday each month to make a gourmet meal together. Now the challenge, finding simple and delicious recipes that did not take hours to prepare. After all, we are of an age where 9:00 seems a reasonable time to get ready for bed. Our solution was a wonderful cookbook called Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens.

Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens provides recipes that use a minimal amount of appliances, cookware and ingredients. While I don’t consider my kitchen to be little, I did want to learn how to create wonderfully simple gourmet meals that do not take a lot of time or fuss. This book delivers for me.

Each month someone hosts the dinner. The host picks the meal, purchases the ingredients and does the prep work the night before. The friends bring the beverages and dessert and arrive no later than 6:00. Cooking commences immediately on arrival and the hilarity abounds. We have prepared Barbequeless Barbequed Salmon, Hunka Hunka Monkfish (with lobster), Whats-a-Matta-You Brushetta Salad, Get Freaky Tzatsiki, Better-Than-Nookie Sweet Potato Gnocci and much, much more. We cook, we laugh and then we sit at the table and close our eyes as we savor the flavors.

We have learned how to use a freezer bag as a pastry bag, that Champagne vinegar actually exists, how to make a lemon vinaigrette, and that vinegar can actually cook the outside of fish if marinated too long. Cooking with friends is a great way to start the week. As we enjoy our meal, we always raise a glass to toast another Monday. This new tradition has transformed Mondays into a day of the week I anticipate.

If you are interested in seeing Chef Jennifer in action please visit her website.

Sugar Cookie Comfort

“When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory” -Marcel Proust

Grandma was predictable. When we traveled to her home, she would look out her dining room window watching for our arrival. Once we were spotted, she would rush outside and embrace us in hugs. My siblings and I vied for her attention as we were ushered into the house for dinner. Dinner was delicious comfort food. Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, corn, and strawberry banana jello. Dessert always followed. Sugar cookies and Cass-Clay vanilla ice cream.

These foods, especially when combined within one single meal, awaken vivid memories of grandma. Preparing them with my children is a way to introduce and connect her to them. Her sugar cookies are easy to make and difficult to resist. The buttery dough is silky and makes perfectly round cookies every time.

Sugar Cookie Comfort
2 cups butter (room temperature)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter. Add eggs and sugar. Beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Form into small balls (heaping teaspoonful size). Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Dip glass in sugar between each cookie press. Bake for 10 minutes. Makes 5 dozen.

Below is a copy of grandma’s recipe in her own writing. She used 1 cup butter and 1 cup shortening. I prefer butter so in my version of her recipe I skip the shortening and double the butter.

Using the freezer to stash grocery deals

My family loves bread. When I was young you made your own bread, purchased bread from the bakery or chose from a few varieties of bread at the grocery store (remember Wonder bread?). Now, almost one entire grocery aisle is devoted to bread. You can buy flatbread, whole grain bread, cinnamon bread, egg bread, rye bread and much, much more. Bread slices have become larger, more flavorful, and sadly, more loaded with sugar.

Since I have started to reduce the amount of hidden sugar in my diet (yes, even milk has sugar) I am looking more critically at the nutrition labels of everything I purchase. I love Brownberry Oatnut bread. When I looked at the sugar content of one slice of Oatnut bread, I realized I was going to have to bid my Oatnut a fond adieu. Thankfully, Brownberry has come up with a healthful line of bread that only has 2 grams of sugar a slice. The healthful line has two varieties, Nutty grain or 10 grain. Now that I found a new bread to love, I had to find a way to purchase my new favorite at a price I can afford. Here is where couponing, perusing the grocery ads and the freezer come in handy.

This past week I hit the jackpot. Brownberry bread was on special at the local grocery store for $1.89 with an in-store coupon. I was limited to one loaf per purchase but since the grocery store is on the way home from my office this was not a problem. Each day I stopped by the grocery store and bought a loaf of bread. Bread is one of the products you can place in the freezer to be used later. My freezer is now loaded with bread. It is the bread I love, at a price I can afford and has very little sugar. The bread fits easily in our freezer because the ice cream has mysteriously disappeared.