Thursday, May 24, 2012

Balancing (and baking), yet again

Starting back in November or December, we made a family decision to start eating less processed food.  We started by making more dinners from scratch.  And as I usually do, I started reading more and more articles on healthy, wholesome eating.  Which led to me driving Justin mildly crazy with all the changes I wanted to make, but trying to do it slowly.  Now it's May and by this point I've read a lot of articles and a few books and I would love to change us over a purely local, pesticide/hormone/chemical free diet....but it will never happen.

For starters, it's way too expensive.  I can't justify spending $20 on a locally raised chicken, when I can get one on sale at Food Lion for $4.  I'd love to support the small, local farmers and eat healthier, but if we to switch to local meat, we would basically have to switch to a vegetarian diet.  It just won't happen.

Secondly, I have to remind myself that balance and moderation are sometimes the healthiest (mentally speaking) option.  Our life is busy and crazy.  I don't always have the time to make EVERYTHING from scratch.  There are plenty of days that if I tried to do everything the "best" way by myself, I would lose my mind...and I don't know if that's the best trade off overall.

Yet, we still have managed to make a lot of changes to our diet and I think we're really enjoying the benefits.  We now eat a ton of fruits and veggies.  I cut out almost all of our most processed foods from our diet, which also saves us money.  I make all our breads/rolls from scratch.  I stopped feeding the kids crackers for every snack and have switched them over to toast with homemade jam, cheese, plain yogurt, and fruits/veggies.  We get local milk (well, sort of, it's from the Roanoke area) in glass bottles and eggs that are free of all the yucky stuff. 

In the process of all of this, I've discovered some foods that I really love making from scratch...and others that I don't.  For example, I tried making my own flavored coffee creamers...that lasted about two weeks before I went back to my beloved Coffeemate.  I LOVE baking breads - white bread, wheat bread, cinnamon rolls, focaccia, dinner rolls, all of it!  I LOVED making jam!  I LOVE cooking with fresh herbs!  I enjoy using dried beans in recipes more than I ever imagined! 

So, I thought I would also share with you two of my favorite recipes.  I have combined and edited several that I tried, and these are the "tried and true" favorites for our family now.  The directions are for making using a stand mixer.

Whole Wheat Bread
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp (or 1 pkg) active dry yeast
1 3/4 cp water
1/4 cp honey
3 tbsp butter
1 1/4 tsp sea salt
3 - 3 1/2 cps white whole wheat flour (it's whole wheat flour made from white wheat rather than red wheat)
1/3 cp flax seeds

In the stand mixing bowl combine 2 cps of the all-purpose flour and yeast; set aside.  In a saucepan, combine the water, honey, butter, and sea salt.  Heat until butter is melted (120-130 degrees).  Add mixture to flour/yeast mixture and mix on low for 30 seconds.  Scrape bowl and beat on high for 3 minutes. 

Stir in 1/2 cp remaining all-purpose flour, flax seeds, and as much of the whole wheat flour as you can.  When dough is too stiff to stir, use the bread kneading attachment on low speed to knead bread, while adding the remaining flour.  You want a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic.  This usually takes about 6-8 minutes.  Remove dough from bowl, spray bowl, return dough to bowl, cover with a light dish towel and let rise on counter for about an hour.

Punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide in two, cover with towel, and let rest for ten minutes.  Meanwhile, grease and flour two bread pans (I've found crisco and flour work best, but Pam spray works just fine too if you are without crisco). 

Shape dough into two loaves.  My favorite way to do this is to roll it out into a rough rectangle shape, about 8"x12", then roll up, tuck ends under, and place in pans.  But if also works if you simply shape it into a loaf shape.  Cover pans with dish towel again and let sit for 30-40 minutes.  About half way through this rise time, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake at 375 for 36-40 minutes.  I've found 36 minutes does the trick, but some ovens may take longer - for me, 40 minutes dries it out too much.  Immediately remove from pans and tap bottom of loaf.  If it sounds hollow, bread is done.  Let cool on a wire rack until completely cool.  I store ours in gallon ziplock bags.  I usually freeze one loaf and use the other.  It freezes well - sometimes I've made 2 or 3 batches in one day to stock up.

If you like white bread, I HIGHLY recommend the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook recipe.  It is divine.  And you haven't lived until you've made french toast using it.  I thought thick white bread from the store make good french toast, but it's rubbish compared to using the homemade stuff!  Make it just like the recipe says, but still use your stand mixer for kneading. 

I fixed our oven today and made white bread for french toast Saturday morning.  Here are the two loaves cooling...smells heavenly.

This is a long enough post, I'll post my other favorite recipe in a separate one later.  Happy baking!