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Book review: Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Healthy Bread in Five
Minutes a Day

100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-free Ingredients
by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois

I was very excited when I first heard about last year’s Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, but I was really disappointed when I brought the book home from the library to find only one whole-grain recipe in the whole book.  I must not have been the only one, because the authors quickly followed it up with this gem of a sequel.  For the first time in a long time, I can say, I am buying this book.

The book is pretty much exactly what you expect: almost 100% whole grain breads, 100% whole grain breads, flatbreads, pizza crusts, rolls, pretzels, etc.  There are options for unusual grains like quinoa and spelt, and many options that include fruits and vegetables (including one for Peppery Pumpkin and Olive Oil Loaf, which looks amazing).

In the short time I had this book out from the library (it’s on a waiting list so renewals were not allowed), we only had time to try one recipe — the Master Recipe.  Like Artisan Bread, this book has one basic recipe that they’d like you to master before moving on to the others.  A nice bonus: there are at least 7  simple variations using the exact same dough, but just baking it in different ways.

If this whole concept is completely new to you, here’s the basic premise: you mix up a large batch of very wet bread dough, very quickly, without kneading.  Let it rise once, then transfer it to the fridge (without punching it down).  Take chunks from this over the next 1-2 weeks and bake it.  Towards the end of the lifecycle of the dough it begins to ferment just a bit, giving your bread a sourdough flavor.

I have to say, I really love this concept.  Especially when you can do so many different things from one bowl of this dough.  You could bake bread, pizza, hamburger buns, you name it.  The dough is right there waiting for you in the refrigerator.

Here’s how it went for us, making the Master Recipe:

It calls for 7 cups of flour (5 wheat, 2 white), so I quickly realized the amount was too great for our mixer to handle.  As it turned out, mixing by hand took about 3 minutes and was no trouble at all.

Here’s what the dough looked like.  Next: cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a nice warm place.  I turned on the oven for a while, so that the surface of the stove would get nice and warm, and set the bowl there.  It rose in roughly one hour (rising times can vary).

Here’s the dough, fully risen (approx. double in size), right as I set it in the refrigerator.

The book says when you’re not used to making bread this way, let it chill a good 24 hours before baking with it.  It’s easier to handle when it’s cold.  When baking time comes, scoop out about a grapefruit-size portion of the dough and quickly shape it into an oblong loaf.

Place on a flour- and/or cornmeal-dusted pizza peel or wooden cutting board, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 90 minutes.  This part is the most disheartening, because it means you have to be home 2 hours before mealtime in order to have fresh, hot bread.  It works fine for us, since Adam’s a teacher and gets home at 3:30 p.m., but not everyone has that luxury.  I suppose you could always make it the night before, though.  Or on a weekend.

Thirty minutes before baking time, place a pizza stone in the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees (the book recommends a special baking stone but our old pizza stone worked fine).  Put an empty broiler tray on the rack below it.  Paint the top of the loaf with water and sprinkle with a mixture of seeds (we used sunflower, caraway & poppy).  Make some slash marks across the top.

Slide it from the pizza peel onto the hot stone in the oven, pour 1 c. of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and close the oven.  Bake for about 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.  Believe me, it tastes as good as it looks:

I thought the whole pizza peel, stone, and hot water thing sounded like a huge hassle.  I wasn’t home when Adam baked the bread, but he said it wasn’t nearly as complicated as you might think, and that by the second time he did it he actually found it pretty easy.

This is, hands down, the very best-tasting bread we have ever made at home.  No bread machine or even stand mixer is required!  The effort really is minimal, considering the final product.  The only tricky part is needing to plan so that your timing works out.  The book says you’re supposed to let the bread cool completely before slicing into it.  Yeah, right!  Here’s another loaf Adam baked today:

It turned out unintentionally heart-shaped.  Good stuff.

Now, for the Nourishing Traditions aspect of this recipe.  NT says that most grains are not good for you until they’ve been soaked or sprouted for a certain amount of time, to break down phytic acid and make them easier to digest.  I think this recipe could easily be adapted to do just that, and as soon as I buy the book I will begin experimenting.

Any NT fans out there: do you think simply soaking in water (& yeast & salt) in the refrigerator for a good 2-3 days is enough to break it down, or does it need to have an activator in there, such as buttermilk or lemon juice?  Also, does this need to take place at room temp. in order to work?

I’m going to do a little investigating.

Update, 1/4/2010: We tried to make a bigger loaf yesterday and it was harder to work with than the small ones they recommend doing in the book — it ended up a bit flat.  Still tasted great, though!  So, a word of advice: keep the loaves small at first.  Also, the dough might look a little gray when it starts fermenting — this is normal (if you’ve ever attempted to make sourdough bread it will look familiar).

Update, 2/1/2010: I’ve posted a recipe for an adapted version of one of the recipes in this book.  I adapted it so that it would have a much longer initial rise, to make it more “Nourishing Traditions” -friendly.  Check it out here.  I think the basic principle could be applied to just about any of the recipes in that book, and I plan to try exactly that in the coming weeks.

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Recipe: proscuitto-topped pheasant stuffed with millet and parmesan

This is definitely the most highfalutin recipe Adam has ever come up with.  Here’s what you’ll need, for 4 people:

Proscuitto-topped pheasant stuffed with millet and parmesan
4 pheasant breasts (we did 2 breasts + 2 thighs and gave the thighs to the kids)
1/2 – 3/4 c. cooked millet
2 T. olive oil
4 T. butter
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/2 bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped
4 slices proscuitto
salt & pepper

1. Cook millet in water, remove from heat, and reserve.

2. Pound pheasant breasts flat between two pieces of plastic wrap, using a wooden meat mallet or rolling pin.

3. For each breast, peel back top layer of plastic wrap, and sprinkle on salt and pepper.  Top with about 2 T. millet, then 2 tiny pats of butter, then about 1 T. parsley.  Cover with grated parmesan and top with a slice of proscuitto.  Leave covered in plastic wrap while you finish the others.

4. In a heavy skillet over medium-low heat, melt 1 T. butter combine with 1 T. olive oil.  When the skillet is hot, carefully peel the plastic wrap from the bottom and, holding it by the top layer of plastic wrap, carefully drop it into the pan, pheasant side down.  Then quickly peel the top layer of plastic wrap from the proscuitto.  (This helps to hold it together.)  Fry for about 2-3 minutes.

5.  Carefully flip it over.  Some of the inside stuff may fall out, but just push it back in.  Cook on the proscuitto side for 1-2 minutes, then remove from pan.  Serve it proscuitto-side up, garnished with a little bit of parsley.  These are a little bit tricky, so it’s better to do them one at a time and keep first ones warm in the oven while you cook the rest.

The picture really doesn’t do this justice.  It was so good I almost cried.  Adam got his inspiration from a video of Jamie Oliver & Mark Bittman doing something similar to this with chicken breasts.  So really, you could substitute chicken or duck or some other game bird for the pheasant in this.  Adam also wants me to note that you could do all kinds of different substitutions, such as: whatever herb you like in place of parsley, or different kinds of grains (like wild rice, or quinoa).

We served it with roasted potatoes, but it is quite rich, so next time I think we’ll just do a green salad on the side.


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Review 2009 :: Preview 2010

This has certainly been a busy year, hasn’t it?  I started this blog in February, along with several different kinds of seeds for my garden.  Both have grown considerably and one has now died.  We’re still eating tomatoes and applesauce that we’ve canned, though we will run out very soon.  We ran out of frozen raspberries a long time ago.  Here’s what we’ve accomplished, ecologically and economically speaking, in 2009:

  1. Potty-trained two 2-year-olds. I never blogged about this, but getting our kids out of diapers is my number one achievement for this year. We are thrilled to be spared from the environmental and financial hassle.  Yes, I considered cloth diapers instead of disposable, but I just never got to it (now exercising my mother-of-multiples excuse).  I feel guilty about it, but life goes on.
  2. Started seeds indoors for the first time. This spring was my first attempt, and I learned a few things.  For 2010: peat pots all the way, and I am also going to make my own “kits” instead of buying one.
  3. Attempted milk-jug greenhouses to get plants outside earlier. Result: success!
  4. Started making our own yogurtWe use a yogurt maker, but from what I’ve read it’s really not necessary —  as long as you adjust your expectations of the resulting yogurt’s texture.
  5. Started milling our own flour. I kinda still can’t believe we do this on a regular basis now.  We’re still learning, though.  We have not had much success making bread or pastries with freshly-milled flour.  We have a rather inexpensive flour mill that grinds the wheat a little more coarsely than is ideal. For pancakes, though, it works great!
  6. Switched to dried beans instead of canned.
  7. Read Nourishing Traditions. This was, by far, the most important book I read this year.  (Completely unrelated side note: my favorite fiction was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  It came out in 2008 but I didn’t get to it right away.)
  8. Became a complete and total fermentation maniac. From kimchi to sauer kraut to sauerrüben to taking a class on fermentation and staying late to get Sandor Katz’s autograph… I maybe went a little off the deep end on this.
  9. Canned applesauce and tomatoes for the first time. I would definitely do this again, and this winter is giving us a good idea about how much we would actually need to can in order to not have to buy any tomatoes all winter.  Hint: significantly more than we did.
  10. Purchased a CSA share.  We split a full-share with our neighbors.  I would definitely do this again.  I’ve never eaten so much fresh produce in my life.
  11. Built a new single-speed bike from a dumpster-salvaged frame. The credit for this goes to Adam, and I think we’re going to see more bikes like this from him in 2010.

And now 2010 is going to be even busier.  Here are just a couple things I’ve got planned:

  1. Hennepin County Master Gardener program. My core course starts January 12, and I’ll be volunteering with various projects all year long.  I won’t be able to officially call myself “Master Gardener” until 2011 (I think), but for this year I get to be a “Master Gardener Intern” which is still very cool.
  2. Continue my project of re-thinking how I get groceries. This might seem strange, but I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how we buy and store food, and ways to make it more sustainable, healthy, and save some money in the process.  There will be a big post coming up on this, very soon.  Hint: it involves the bulk section.
  3. Put in a root cellar. I want to convert at least part of a closet in our basement to a root cellar.  First I need to clean it out.
  4. Add more vertical elements to my garden. Planning to build some trellises so I can grow more beans for drying.  They are easy, they fix nitrogen in the soil, and they are delicious.
  5. Add a whole new garden in the back yard. We removed some trees from the back yard in September, so now begins our back yard make-over project.  Part I: add a new garden consisting entirely of edible perennials.  Top of the list: a small cherry tree, gooseberries, and currants.  And some sort of greens — maybe lovage and/or sorrel.
  6. Continue to explore alternative transportation. I’ve already got a head start on this: running home from work when it’s too snowy to bike.  It’s definitely a good workout, but is it fun?  I haven’t decided yet.  I’m going to try it a couple more times before I write a post about it.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I’m sure other things will come up.  The Master Gardener thing is really going to dominate this year for me, so I don’t want to be too ambitious in making any plans beyond that.  I guess you could call the second list my New Year’s Resolutions, but they are more like goals.

Later this week I’m going to review Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day — this book may lead to getting rid of the bread machine once and for all.


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Recipe: beer-braised venison medallions

Here is a recipe that Adam invented.  It would likely work well with any type of red meat — even tougher cuts, since you braise the meat for a while.  He used a loin venison steak.

Beer-braised venison medallions with beet greens & brown rice
Feeds 3-4
Venison – about 1 lb.
Juice of 1 orange (could sub. lemon)
1 med. onion, sliced thinly
1-2 T. butter
1-2 T. olive oil
1 c. beer
1/2 c. beef stock
1 tsp. dried thyme
Salt & pepper to taste
2 bunches beet greens
1 c. brown rice

1. Cut meat into 1 in. cubes.  Marinate in orange juice for a good 1/2 hour at least (up to 2 hours).

2. Put the brown rice and 2 c. water in a small pot and cook over med. heat until it reaches a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until all the water is absorbed.  Should be done at relatively the same time, if you start it at the same time that you start cooking the meat.

3. Heat butter and olive oil in a large frying pan or wok over med heat until butter is melted.  Add meat with its marinade juices and the onion, and cook until the meat is browned on the outside, about 5 min.

4. Add beer, beef stock, thyme, salt & pepper and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer, covered, until most of the liquid is gone, about 30 minutes.  Do not stir.

5. Meanwhile, wash the beet greens (sub. any dark leafy green like kale or chard if you like).  Put an inch or two of water and 1 tsp. salt in the bottom of a pot, add the greens, and cook over med.-high heat, covered, until greens are completely wilted.  About 15-20 minutes total.

To serve, place a small amount of rice on the plate.  Top with a spoonful of greens, then meat and some of its juices.  Our onions got all caramelized and this was really delicious.


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Christmas treat #4: Karova cookies

And now, my final Christmas baking project for 2009: these little double chocolate shortbread cookies, which won the annual Star Tribune Cookie Contest a couple years ago.  I like to call them “chocolate cookies for grown-ups” — the sea salt just makes the flavor so much more wonderfully complex than standard chocolate chip cookies.  Here’s the recipe.  One note: the recipe calls for “sel de guerende” sea salt, but I always use standard sea salt and it works just fine.


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Christmas treat #3: vanilla sea salt caramels

This recipe was in the Star Tribune last year, but I couldn’t find it in the online recipe archive this year. Fortunately I had a copy saved.  Like the almond bark, this is not particularly healthy, sustainable, or local.  That’s what New Year’s is for, right?  At least these are relatively cheap to make, and are great for gifts.

Vanilla Sea Salt Caramels
– 3/4 c. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
– 3 1/2 c. sugar
– 1 1/2 c. light corn syrup or brown rice syrup
– 1 1/2 c. heavy cream
– 3/4 c. water
– 3 1/3 tsp. sea salt
– 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out, or 1 1/2 T. vanilla extract

1. Generously butter the sides and bottom of an approx. 9 in. x 11 in. disposable foil cake pan.

2. In a large pot over medium-low heat, stir together butter, sugar, corn or rice syrup, cream, water, salt and the vanilla bean and seeds until sugar is dissolved and butter is melted (if using vanilla extract, don’t add yet).

3. Increase heat and bring the mixture to a low boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches about 250 degrees on a candy or kitchen thermometer.  This takes around 20 minutes — it will get up to 220 really fast and then take seemingly forever to get from 220 to 250.  I have no idea why.

4. Remove from heat.  At this point, add the vanilla extract, if you are using that.  Remove the vanilla bean shell, if you went that route.

5. Pour caramel into prepared pan. Let stand at room temperature for a good 20 min., then refrigerate until firm, about 2 1/2 hours or overnight.

6. Get it out of the refrigerator and let it warm up to just under room temperature (about an hour), then turn it upside down and bend the sides of the pan to get it out.  Cut it up with a really sharp knife into whatever size caramels you like.  I think we got around 100, but I didn’t count them.

7. Wrap each piece in a 3 or 4-inch square of parchment paper, or plastic wrap, or old saved butter wrappers (these work especially well, and I really like how they look).  They keep best in the refrigerator.  The recipe says they only keep for up to two weeks, but when we made them last year we had a couple that we didn’t get to until mid-January and they were just fine.

Last year when we made these, we used the corn syrup and the vanilla extract.  This year, we used brown rice syrup and a real vanilla bean.  They turned out great both times, but I think this year was slightly better.  I also like that you can see the tiny specs of vanilla in the caramels.