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Archive for the ‘breads’ Category

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In 2010, I wrote about Pretzel Rolls and it’s become far and away my most popular post over these past five years.  With good reason. They’re delicious, both on their own with a little butter and maybe a drizzle of honey or as the base of a fantastic sandwich.  Back when I wrote the post, I wasn’t happy with what I could find at the stores; they were always slightly stale and I found this incredibly annoying.  Why do we continue to buy subpar bread?  So I decided to call it quits developed my own recipe.  They’re not overly difficult than any yeast dough but with the added step of a baking soda poach to get that characteristic chewy brown crust.  Shortly thereafter, I used the dough to wrap all beef hot dogs for a much better version that what you can buy.  Then I just sat back and absentmindedly watched the hits, pleased that others found them as enjoyable as I did.

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Like many travelers, I became obsessed with pizza while traveling through Italy.  It’s unavoidable.  It was the late ’90’s, my boyfriend and I had quit our jobs and were taking three months to travel right after I finished my final graduate school course in Rome.  To make our limited funds last the entire trip, we’d alternate between really nice and really cheap meals.  It’s no surprise that we ate a lot of pizza while in Italy – cheap, plentiful and filling, it made for a good snack or meal. And it was delicious!  Truth be told, we ate a lot of everything in Italy.  It was glorious.  There were authentic Napoletana style pies down south and thick slices sold by the weight farther north.  We tried them all. It was where I enjoyed my first real pizza margherita overlooking an old city wall in Naples, discovered incredibly fresh buffalo mozzarella that couldn’t have been more than a day old, and to my delight, a pizza with an egg in the center, the yolk running deliciously every which way.  All were wonderful, other worldly.  Between the pizza and the gelato, I was happy.  I discovered a lot of glorious things in Italy but this is definitely when my obsession with pizza di patate began.

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Every Thanksgiving growing up started the same way:  warm Pillsbury whack-a-tube caramel rolls and Swiss Miss hot chocolate with extra marshmallows in front of the TV watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in our PJs.  We’d sing along with whatever popstar was floating down 5th Avenue, ooh and aah at the balloons, wait eagerly for the Broadway numbers, wonder why the Rockettes weren’t freezing and freely judge the Santa was based on very important factors like beard length (Was it real? Incredibly important) and costume authenticity.  Then we usually snacked on the turkey livers, squirted some Reddi-Whip in our mouths when our mom wasn’t looking and waited out the long, endless afternoon until Thanksgiving dinner and a few football games.

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Eighth grade trips to someplace historical are a rite of passage in our country.  Growing up in the Southwest, I didn’t realize that for most kids on the other side of the country, this meant a long bus ride to Washington DC for an up close and personal history lesson.  This wasn’t really an option for us desert kids.  Oh, we got something it was just very different yet just as culturally significant.  For us, a young and enthusiastic math teacher piled a bunch of squirmy 13-year olds on a bus and took us to visit her Grandmother.  Let me explain.

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Sometimes you lose track of things.  It happens.  Car keys, a favorite scarf, your Iphone, maybe a loaf of banana bread.  I lose track of many things but they always turn up eventually.  Like the aforementioned loaf of banana bread I found, several days after baking, tightly wrapped in a far corner of my kitchen counter.  Whoops.  Forgot about that one.  It had gone a bit stale but with more than half a loaf remaining I was hesitant to toss it.  So I thought about other options.

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Breakfast is a challenge for me.  “The most important meal of the day” mantra has been drilled into my head but it doesn’t matter.  I need an hour or two to fully wake up and get moving before I can eat.  At that point, it could be anything. Classic eggs-bacon-toast combos if I have time, a quick bowl of oatmeal, day-old cake or a donut maybe, leftover Chinese food, sometimes just a giant ice tea.  I have no regular morning routine besides this:  no chocolate.  In general, chocolate based breakfasts – besides that leftover cake of course – are not my thing. It just seems weird.

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I’ve always wanted to visit Scandinavia. I knew I’d get there at some point, the opportunity just hadn’t presented itself.  Yet.  Then during a trip to Napa Valley last June, there is was, right in front of me.  After many, many glasses of wine my friend Rachel leaned across the bar and said “Kathy, you have to come to the wedding.”  “Of course!” I replied, “I’m game for a road trip to Iowa!”  She looked at me, dead serious, and said “No, it’s in Sweden.  On Thanksgiving.”  “Wait …what?”  “Yep, Sweden. In the town my mother grew up in. Höör.”  And that my friends, is how I came to find myself in Sweden, in late November, in a curiously named town, in a tiny country church built in 1727 witnessing two friends tie the knot and enjoying a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner at the reception.  You can’t make this stuff up.

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I spent my first weekend in France baking bread, which was fitting.  I was surrounded by freshly harvested fields of wheat, as well endless vistas of fruit trees, corn, sunflowers and vegetable farms as far as the eye can see.  It’s a stunning part of the country and  it makes me want to bake.  My friend Kate had scheduled a bread workshop for a few students with the esteemed Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, instructor at The School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire, England.  Emmanuel (or Em, as we would call him), his young son Noah and a colleague, David showed a group of us the finer points of making, kneading and baking the staff of life.  I was especially looking forward to working with levains or natural starters.

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In the last post, I told you all about my obsession with butter which resulted in actually making my own butter.  It really is very easy and you may have already done it by accident without realizing it.  Whip cream until it separates and there you go.  The byproduct of the process is of course the liquid that separates out from the solids:  buttermilk.  While my freshly made golden butter was chilling, I decided to take that beautiful buttermilk and make some biscuits.  Oh hell yes.  When I’m in, I’m ALL in.

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I’ve made butter exactly twice in my life and only once intentionally.  The first time, my 3rd grade teacher poured some cream into baby food jars and told us to shake them.  After what seems like hours and much whining about tired arms, we took off the lids and found solid yellow clumps floating in a milky liquid.  How’d that happen?  We combined all our clumps and spread them onto saltines.  We quietly crunched away, our eyes wide in disbelief.  We made butter.  It was mind-blowing and I was absolutely delighted.  The second time I made butter, I was in culinary school doing what I continue to do even to this day – too much at once.  In the time it took me to walk to the cooler and back, the cream meant for a cake was beyond overwhipped.  I was not delighted in the least.

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