Weekly Photo Challenge: Possibility answer


What is this? I didn’t get too many guesses, possibly because it was too easy, or too hard. Possibly because not that many people cared. Possibly because the bad economy precludes our enjoying fluffy photo guessing games. So many possibilities…

Blogging buddy Martin from Thoughts from Finchley, came up with the correct answer.

Yes, it’s yeast, full of possibilities.  A little yeast turns flour and other ingredients into bread, rolls, pizza dough – the list of possibilities is endless. Those ingredients, without the yeast, have fewer possibilities of turning into something delicious and nutritious.

Later today, I’ll try out a little yeast on my new bread machine, pictured in the background. The possibilities again are endless. I could end up with a delicious loaf of bread, or a shapeless lump of dough, and a chance to write about the hilarity that ensues from same, or something in between.

© Huffygirl 2011

The Mother of All Bread Machines


I’ve just packed up the mother of all bread machines and am sending her back – back from whence she came. Turns out the mother of all bread machines is more like the mother-in-law of all bread machines.

I’ve been on the quest for a perfect bread machine for some time and I thought this was going to be the one. Expensive. Highly touted. Carried exclusively by my favorite well-known upscale kitchen outfitter. Stainless steel exterior. Digital display. Lots of bells and whistles. And here’s the kicker: the mixing paddle is supposed to retract, leaving you with a small discrete slit in the bottom of the loaf, instead of hole like most bread machines too.

But, the mother of all did not deliver. Sure she was quiet – not cranking away like an outboard motor like my old machine did. Sure there was a cute digital display with all sorts of elaborate choices. But alas, the mixing paddle did not retract, leaving a gaping hole in the bottom of the loaf the size of Cleveland. And did I get any of those nice neat loaves of bread like they show in the pictures? NOOOO.

So excited to give the mother of all bread machines a whirl, I put her right to use, barely out of the box. First I tried a two-pound loaf, using my favorite, tried and true bread recipe. Instead of a nice loaf of bread, it came out a like a misshapen blob, looking more like the bread meteor of death. Well, that was a big recipe, and one not originally made for bread machines,  so I thought I’d give her another chance. 

Next I tried a one pound loaf, straight from the recipe book that came with the machine. This time the bread barely rose, causing my son to ask if it was  Passover already. And with the loaf of bread so short, the ginormous hole left by the paddle came right up through the top of the loaf.

 Always the optimist, I tried again. I used my favorite bread recipe which had worked fine in my previous bread machine. I poured in all the ingredients. I set the machine for “dough only.” The dough mixed. It rose nicely, but was thrown sloppily all over the pan, instead of formed into a loaf shape. No worry – I took it out, removed the errant paddle, shaped it into a loaf and put it back in the pan. Then, I used the rise and bake setting to finish the loaf. Finally – a perfectly shaped loaf of bread! But, I’m sending the machine back any way, because I already have a machine that does this:

© Huffygirl 2011

An Easter tradition: Potica


One of my earliest childhood memories involving food was the potica (poppy-seed bread) that Grandma always mailed to us at Easter. This is a traditional bread for Slovenians and other Europeans. Every Easter, along with the other traditional foods of ham, polish sausage, potato salad and colorful hard-boiled eggs, my family always had this sweet delightful bread. Yes, I know this meal sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen, but somehow we all escaped heart disease. 

Potica, aka poppy-seed* bread, is a light, slightly sweet bread that we always ate with the meal, but could also be served as a dessert. Grandma made this bread every year, along with a nut-filled variety that never really caught on with us. Each year right before Easter we’d anxiously await the big cardboard box in the mail, filled with potica and assorted Easter candy. Sometimes the box would arrive partly open or semi-crushed but everything inside would still be a delight.

Finally, when Grandma was gone, we learned to make potica ourselves. Maybe there was a written recipe at one time, but none of us ever saw it. It wouldn’t have done us any good anyway, as it surely would have been written in Slovenian. This recipe is one my sister found long ago in Good Housekeeping  magazine that we all agreed was as close to Grandma’s as we could ever get. I use Solo canned poppy-seed filling, but I’m sure Grandma made her own. Since this is a yeast bread, figure on staying nearby for three-four hours. Alternatively, one can make the dough one day, put it in the refrigerator to rise overnight, and finish it the next day. Or the best way? If you have a bread machine, use the dough cycle for the first part. It eliminates all the beating, stirring and kneading, and turns out just as good. If you don’t have a bread machine, you can probably pick one up at a local thrift store for under $20.

Potica (makes 2 loaves)

In a saucepan or microwave bowl, heat together

1 cup milk or soy milk

1/2 cup butter or margarine, until very warm, about 115 degrees Farenheit. (Butter does not need to completely melt.)

In a large bowl mix:

1/2 cup white sugar

1-2 teaspoons dried or fresh grated lemon peel (optional)

1 package dry yeast

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup flour,  then add the milk mixture.

With mixer on low speed, beat liquid into dry ingredients, just until mixed. Increase speed to medium, beating in

1 egg

1 cup of flour or enough flour to make the dough thick. Beat 2 minutes more, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.

With spoon, stir in enough additional flour, about 1 to 1 1/2 cups, to make a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured cloth and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball and place in a greased mixing bowl, cover and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour, or overnight in refrigerator.

(Alternatively, place all ingredients in a bread machine, wet ingredients first and yeast on top,  and run the dough cycle. This replaces the mixing, kneading and first rising and is a lot less work!)

After rising,  punch down dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured cloth. Cut dough in half, cover and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

While the dough is resting, grease two cookie sheets or cover with parchment paper and make the poppy-seed filling:

In a medium bowl, beat 1 egg white (save the egg yolk for later) until soft peaks form. Add

1 12-ounce can of Solo Poppy Seed Filling

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel (optional)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

On a floured cloth with a rolling pin, roll out half of the dough into a rectangle, about 12 inches by 18 inches. Dough may be difficult to roll out – be patient. Spread half the filling onto the dough. Starting with the long side, roll up the dough jelly roll fashion, and place on a cookie sheet. Pinch the ends shut. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Beat 1 or 2 egg yolks and spread over the loaves with a pastry brush. Bake loaves 25-30 minutes, until browned and sound hollow when tapped in the middle. Cool on wire racks.

 

Related link: Nut-filled Potica recipe

*This bread should not be eaten by anyone who might be needing to take a drug test within a few days, as poppy seeds can cause false-positive results.

 © Huffygirl

Stuffing versus dressing


A stuffed turkey

Image via Wikipedia

In the states it’s almost time for Thanksgiving, an annual holiday where everyone eats too much turkey and pie, and watches the Lions lose again. For the Thanksgiving cook, the meal preparation always brings up the age-old debate – stuffing vs dressing. They both start out the same – dried bread cubes, seasonings, sometimes broth, margarine or butter, and water, made into a conglomeration that is either stuffed inside the turkey (stuffing) or baked separately in a dish (dressing). Everyone has their own opinion on which is best, and families line up fiercely divided each year on which way this delectable Thanksgiving carbohydrate should be served. Accompanying this debate of which way is tastier is the issue (some myth, some fact) over which way is healthier or safer. Who knew that dried bread cubes could raise such ire among otherwise friendly people?

In my family growing up, we always had dressing. I’m not sure why, but I think it was in part due to the fact that: it was easier. The dressing could be made while the turkey was cooking instead of earlier in the day when the turkey was ready to go into the oven. It was quicker. Stuffed turkey is supposed to take longer to cook than unstuffed (although in my own cooking experience I have never found this to be true.) It was safer. Many people believed that the stuffing could become contaminated with bacteria from absorbing the meat juices and turn an otherwise delightful day into a merry trip to the emergency room.

Then I met my future husband whose family was all stuffing, all the way, and why would anyone consider doing it differently? What could be better than bread cubes infused with savory turkey juices and the two pounds of butter that Buttterball and others inject into their turkeys before sending them off to the store?

So what’s a girl to do? I have to admit I found both ways tasty, although sometimes the stuffing did not look quite as appetizing as the dressing, depending upon what colors it turned from the meat juices it absorbed during cooking. Eventually when I took over hosting the Thanksgiving meal, my compromise was to make stuffing and dressing. The amount of stuffing that would fit inside the turkey was not enough to serve everyone at the table anyway, so I would serve a dish of each, or sometimes mix them together, which I guess gives you something which is neither stuffing nor dressing, but there is not really any good combination word you can make from combining stuffing and dressing. 

This compromise did not come without a cost, however. Members of the dressing contingent would make sly comments like “Make sure you’ve cooked that stuffing to 160 degrees so we don’t all get food poisoning, ha ha,” while members of the stuffing contingent would say “I prefer stuffing because that dressing always turns out so dry.”

And when it comes right down to it, where did the whole stuffing/dressing custom come from anyway? Imagine the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving. They’ve had a horrible year. First, all that travel and they couldn’t even earn any points from it. Then, having to build a settlement, squabble with the Native Americans, endure hardship, disease, cold and hunger. Finally, the ones who survived prepared what was probably a somewhat meager feast in celebration. There was no Kroger stores in Plymouth, so they had to hunt down their turkey, then pluck it, cut off the inedible parts, and remove the disgusting innards. After going through all that, and wrestling the turkey into some heavy cast iron roaster you’d think that the Pilgrim cooks would have had enough of turkey prep for one day. But some creative person, staring into the empty cavity of the just gutted turkey said “hey, wouldn’t it be a great idea to cut up bread into cubes, add water, lard and spices and stuff this sucker?” And the rest as we say, is history.

Whether you eat stuffing or dressing, may you all have a happy and grateful Thanksgiving!

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