Category: Recipes

How to bake really good bread


A friend just emailed for my bread recipe. Her daughter comes over after school, sometimes, to play with AppleApple, and they always make themselves peanut butter and jam sandwiches with big slices of my homemade bread. And the child always asks, “Is this your homemade bread, Carrie?” I gather she’s a fan.
Anyway, I wrote out the recipe for her mom. And then I thought, hey, why not post it here. I do have a “Bread Baking Tutorial” over in the recipe section, but below you’ll find the messy real-life version I make almost every weekend. It’s extremely flexible, with room for all kinds of extra ingredients, and the only time it ever flopped was when I used 100% whole wheat bread flour (we were all out of white; the resulting loaves resembled building material). So don’t do that.
Carrie’s Every Day Bread
I don’t follow a recipe, so there are no precise measurements. I make this bread so often that it’s second nature. But I’ll try to write it out for you. This makes four loaves.
4-5 tsp yeast (use the higher amount if you’re using a lot of whole wheat flour)
temper with 1/2 cup warmish water (ie. let sit for about 5 minutes)
Add 2 tbsp salt, 4 tbsp honey or maple syrup, 4 tbsp oil, 4 cups warmish water
Also add (and here is where it gets imprecise!) any or all of the following: ground or whole flax seeds, sesame seeds, ground pumpkin seeds, ground sunflower seeds (I usually add all four, in about a 1/4 cup amount each); 1/2 cup wheat germ; 1 cup of oats (optional); 1/2 cup ground lentils or ground quinoa or ground millet (optional, though I always add at least one of those ingredients for extra protein); (you can also add leftover cooked breakfast cereal)
Stir (as often as you’d like, at any point in the above process).
Add 6 cups of flour, stir. I use a mixture of whole wheat and white bread flour, probably about 1/4 ww to 3/4 white. Then start adding by 1 cup measurements. Eventually you’re going to add about 12 cups of flour total, more or less, but honestly, this is entirely by feel. When it gets too thick to stir, start kneading the flour in. Knead until you’ve got the right consistency and it feels ready (you’ll know what I mean!).
Oil and let rise for an hour or two. Punch down and cut into four sections, shape into loaves, and let rise again in greased loaf pans. Heat oven to 450, bake for ten minutes, then turn down to 350 without opening oven and bake for another thirty. Cool on rack. Done!
Also note: I have a coffee grinder that I only use to grind seeds/grains. It’s very handy, very inexpensive. I think it grinds about a 1/4 cup at a time, but it might be slightly more — that’s how I measure the seeds/grains that I add in — whatever fits in the grinder.

The week in suppers: fresh from the freezer

veggies off the bbq

Monday’s menu:: Puttanesca sauce. Canned tuna. Pasta.
New food!:: At last, a new recipe! I’ve been making the same tomato sauce for pasta for, well, a decade. I was looking to add protein to the meal (not tofu, and not hamburger), and went looking through my favourite Joy of Cooking for ideas. This sauce is traditionally made with anchovies. I substituted tuna, and served it on the side (one kid LOATHES seafood). We happened to have capers and black olives on hand. This was a very popular meal.
The recipe:: Puttanesca sauce (adapted from Joy of Cooking)
In olive oil, saute chopped garlic and onion (or garlic scapes and green onions, as the season dictates) with one dried hot pepper. (Note: remove pepper before husband inadvertantly eats it; sorry, hon.) Stir in 1 cup of chopped and pitted oil-cured black olives and 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and cook briefly. Stir in one jar of canned tomatoes, and one can of tomato paste, and let simmer for about 5 minutes. (If sauce is too thick, add some liquid.) Stir in chopped parsley (fresh or frozen), 2 tablespoons drained capers, and 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday’s menu:: Chili with hamburger. Steamed rice.
Whither the veggies?:: Yes, this meal could have stood a salad on the side; in my defence, the chili was studded with lots of corn and tomatoes.
Fast food:: It was a crazy day, and I had approximately twenty minutes to whip together a supper that we could eat before departing, en masse, to our Tuesday series of soccer games. I thawed a container of chili (thank heavens for leftovers), added browned hamburger, and steamed the rice. We ate like we were in a race, abandoned the meal on the table, and enjoyed a happy evening on sunny soccer fields.

Wednesday’s menu:: Grilled breakfast sausages. Grilled veggies. Leftover pasta and sauce.
Kevin in charge:: I had a reading so Kevin took over the menu planning and prep. We were glad that the BBQ now sits on the back porch, under shelter, because a wild hailstorm blew through over the dinner hour.
Breakfast sausages, you ask?:: To which I reply, Yup. They were what we had in the freezer. And the theme of the week was: What’s in the freezer?

Thursday’s menu:: Udon noodles. Stir-fried veggies with tofu.
Unhappy children:: Nope, this was not a hit. I stir-fried the udon noodles separately to avoid a mushroom-mutiny, but still no one liked it. The noodles were bland. The tofu and mushrooms were treated with disdain. And it took me longer to cook than I’d estimated. So we were all unhappy, frankly, as this was another rushed evening of soccering.

Friday’s menu:: Black beans. Steamed rice. Avocado, cucumber, tomato salad. Tortillas, and tortilla chips. Yogurt and feta cheese. Asparagus salsa.
Seriously yummy:: The black beans and tortillas came from the freezer. Everything else was easily whipped up post-swim lessons. We were hosting family for the weekend, and this was the perfect welcoming feast. I tell you, people, you can’t go wrong with this meal.


Weekend kitchen accomplishments:: Eight loaves of bread. I baked four on Saturday and four again on Sunday. Our supply in the freezer was getting low. And we ate a lot of bread over the weekend — a loaf for each breakfast, and another loaf for Sunday supper, which was BLTs. Now that’s a good supper. Though as you can see, we are not exactly vegetarian at present.

Breakfast specials:: Wanted to note, also, that Kevin has been making breakfast smoothies for the past couple of weeks. Hugely popular with the kids, if kind of messy (says the woman who generally oversees kitchen cleanup). The shakes include bananas, frozen fruit (yes, more food from the freezer), yogurt, a touch of milk, peanut butter, and ice.

Let Them Eat Cake!

10 / 365
cake, please

Please note: I have not personally attempted these recipes yet; these are recommendations from friends who have baked them. None involve a boxed mix. Come the next kid’s birthday party, I’ll be clicking this link in my virtual recipe box, and trying one of these out. If you try one too, let me know.

**Nath’s recipes**

Yellow Butter Cake
{This is your basic not-chocolate cake for layering. I like it – it’s dense and yummy}

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature {No! DO NOT grease your pans with butter! I will explain at the end}
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising) {you can use regular flour. The cake police won’t come to get you. It just won’t have as dense and crumbly a crumb}
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt {optional}
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease two 9×2 inch round cake pans.* Into a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate bowl beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined after each addition. {me, I cheat. Half the dry, all the milk, other half of the dry}

Divide the batter between the prepared pans, and smooth. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer pans to wire rack to cool 20 minutes. Invert cakes onto the rack. Reinvert the cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.

*Nath’s note on greasing pans:

Ugly truth: I use shortening. That hydrogenated oil stuff we’re not supposed to eat because it’ll give us heart disease. It’s my only use for shortening – I don’t use it anywhere else but to grease pans. We’re talking about a teaspoon between two cake pans when I make a cake, so I figure I’m not poisoning my family. But it works like a dream for keeping cakes from sticking. When I use this, and then flour the pans, the cake comes right out. Every time. I have tried with butter and no parchment, and it was not pretty. Butter plus parchment works ok, but it’s more work, and I’m basically wasting paper.


White cupcakes

Makes 2-dozen

{This is white because there are no egg yolks. Good day to make custard. Or tiramisu. Or lemon curd to go between the cake layers. Turn this into a layer cake by using two 9-inch cake pans, just follow baking directions above for times. You do need to separate eggs. But it only takes a minute, and then a few minutes to beat the egg whites, I promise!}

3 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
8 large egg whites

Preheat the oven to 350. Line two standard 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners. Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until just combined.

In the clean bowl, beat egg whites on low speed until foamy. With mixer running, gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar; beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 4 minutes. Do not overbeat {I love this instruction. How are you supposed to know until it’s too late?! But do beat it a lot – makes for a fluffier cake.} Gently fold a third of the egg-white mixture into the butter-flour mixture until combined. Gently fold in the remaining whites.

Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each with a heaping 1/4 cup batter. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer pans to wire rack. Invert cupcakes onto the rack; then reinvert and let them cool completely, top sides up.


Martha’s Birthday Cake

{This one is a bonus. It doesn’t fit the easy party cake criterion, but it’s so delicious! Maybe when you have a little more time someday? (it’s not really *that* much longer than just a regular cake…) It’s meant to be baked in a bowl (so it’s a dome), but I think I just made it as a layer-cake in 9-inch pans. Anyway, take it or leave it, but it is my favourite white cake so far.}

4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for bowl {that’s a lot of butter!}
3 cups cake flour, plus more for bowl
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt, plus a pinch
2 cups plus 1 Tbsp sugar
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and seeds scraped {did I mention this is delicious??}
8 large egg whites

Preheat the oven to 350. Generously butter the inside of a 10-inch stainless steel bowl (4 1/2 to 6 inches deep). Dust with flour, and tap out the excess; set aside.* Into a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and 1/4 tsp salt.

In a separate bowl, beat butter, 2 cups sugar, and vanilla seeds on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture in 4 parts, alternating with the milk, and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until just combined.

In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites and the pinch of salt on high speed until soft peaks form. Add the remaining tablespoon of sugar, and continue to beat until medium-stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. Whisk a third of the egg-white mixture into the butter-flour mixture to lighten, then use a rubber spatula to gently fold in remaining whites until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared bowl, and smooth the top. Bake, rotating bowl halfway through, until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean, about 1 hour 40 minutes. If the cake begins to get too dark, cover loosely with aluminium foil) {if you’re baking in cake pans, just bake it about 30-40 minutes}. Transfer bowl to wire rack to cool for 30 minutes {20 for cake pans}. Invert cake onto the rack and let cool completely.


**Marita’s recipes**

Lemon Chiffon Cake

2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup oil
8 eggs separated
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp lemon juice*
1/4 cup water
2 1/2 tbsp grated lemon peel*
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1. preheat oven to 325F
2. in a large bowl sift together first four ingredients (me, I just mix them together with a fork)
3. add everything except egg whites and cream of tartar, mix on low
4. in separate bowl, beat on high egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks
5. mix in about a third of the egg whites to rest
6. fold in remaining egg whites–don’t over mix
7. add to tube cake pan, bake for 75 minutes
8. when done, take out of oven and cool upside down over wine bottle

Marita’s Notes:
1. Because I am lazy and cheap, I use only two lemons. If I’m lucky, the rind is about right, if not, I don’t sweat it. I also measure the water and lemon juice together, adding the lemon juice of two lemons first to the measuring cup, with water to make up the rest. Sometimes, the lemon juice makes up most of the 1/2 cup. It doesn’t seem to affect anything but taste, being more lemony.
2. Don’t use butter. I had to last time and it tasted fine, but it didn’t rise enough and end up being only about half as tall as normal.
3. You could ice this, but I always just put whipped cream and strawberries on top.
4. Don’t grease pan otherwise it won’t rise properly and it will fall out when inverted to cool.

{I also make Apple Cake with Maple Walnut Cream Cheese Frosting every autumn, either for my birthday or for equinox. I put in dried cranberries instead of raisins and use whatever tart-ish apples I have on hand. The icing is amazing!}

{And Simple Vanilla Cake.}

The week in suppers: mid-March, sigh

making maki
making maki

**Monday’s menu** French onion soup over stale baguette slices, with melted cheese.
**Inspiration** This meal was inspired by a stale baguette. However, we had a soup shortage; underestimated appetites. Apparently it was delicious. (I ate leftovers and didn’t get a taste.)

**Tuesday’s menu** Sweet potato coconut soup. Bread. Cheese.
**A request** Realized, while the kids were preparing to leave for school, that the day was going to be insanely busy and something needed to be tossed into the crockpot. I thought lentils. The kids requested my sweet potato soup instead. I was surprised because I thought they’d be getting sick of it; but I love requests. Apparently it’s not to be called “yam” soup, even casually. Yams don’t sound as tasty as sweet potatoes.

**Wednesday’s menu** Pulled pork on buns.
**Thanks** to Grandma who babysat (and brought a crockpot of food!) while Kevin and I were in Toronto eating Chinese food before the Harbourfront reading.

**Thursday’s menu** Mashed potatoes. Mushroom gravy. Kale chips. Fried tofu.
**Plenty of time** Thursdays are the best because I have time to cook (at least with our the most recent schedule; who knows what the spring schedule will bring). That mushroom gravy is fantastic. The kids would agree with me, except for the mushrooms.

**Friday’s menu** Ethiopian lentil bowl. Baked rice.
**Leftover surprise?** Nope; there were not quite enough leftovers to anchor Friday’s meal and I didn’t want to suffer a repeat of Monday’s shortages. So I cooked up lentils with tons of garlic instead. The recipe is from Simply in Season and it’s delicious and super-easy.


**Weekend kitchen accomplishments** Four loaves of bread. Used the new bread flour, which made light and fluffy loaves; a big improvement on the rustic lumps of the last batch.

making maki
**Cooking with kids** CJ’s menu, Fooey’s assistance. Sushi, maki, and miso soup. Green tea.
**Overheard from Dad-in-charge** “You’re putting your sleeve into the roll again.” “I think you should take off that sweater.” “You’re covered in rice.” “There is rice all over the floor.” [muttered]: “This would be so much easier without help.”
**Guests** In keeping with our attempt to invite guests to dinner at least once a week, we invited three to share in our sushi meal. Together, we devoured 3.5 pounds of sushi-grade salmon, plus rolls made with mango, avocado, and cucumber.

The week in suppers: the challenge edition

stir-fried fish
stir-fried fish

**Monday’s menu** Fried tofu. Mashed potatoes. Cheese. Brussel sprouts.
**The challenge** Ham leftover from Christmas (frozen and thawed) was on the menu, but it smelled “off.” Quickly disposed of, and I marinated some tofu and fried it up instead. Some considered the alternative delicious; but not all are tofu fans, even at its crispiest.

**Tuesday’s menu** Red sauce with local organic beef. Pasta. Bought garlic bread.
**The challenge** Prepared an enormous batch of sauce in the afternoon. But how to cook the pasta up fresh between swimming and soccer (half hour turnaround time for the whole family this week)?
**Solution** Kevin came home early to turn the water on and put the garlic bread in the oven. The bought garlic bread (impulsive purchase for which I am to blame). The kids loved it. Sigh.
**MIA** Something green.

**Wednesday’s menu** Black bean chili. Tortilla chips. Fried kale.
**The challenge** Cooked on the gas stove during an electricity black-out. A quick switcheroo from crockpot to stovetop at just the right moment saved the day.

cilantro pesto
cilantro pesto

**Thursday’s menu** Rice with peas. Marinated stir-fried fish. Cilantro pesto.
**The challenge** No real challenge, I’m just sticking with the theme. I enjoyed having a little more time to cook this meal. Fooey was keen to try these recipes from her “China” cookbook (library), and both turned out very well indeed. I used a bunch of leftover cilantro to make a pesto, which added flavour to the fish.

**Friday’s menu** Egg-fried rice (with grated carrot). Leftover fish.
**The challenge** Maintaining interest in cooking. Admittedly this can be a challenge most every day, but somehow seems worst by Friday evening. What? You kids want to eat AGAIN? Oh, alright, fine.



**Weekend kitchen accomplishment** Pizza for a crowd!
**The challenge** We doubled our population in children overnight on Saturday as our part in a babysitting exchange (our turn next weekend!). So we made homemade pizzas. Three with pepperoni and cheese and one with tapenade and mushrooms and onions. Guess who ate which?

**Cooking with kids** CJ’s menu.
**The challenge** CJ’s menu. It’s been CJ’s “turn” for two weeks now (and we were too tired to attempt it last week). CJ is showing little inclination to plan menus or participate in the cooking. Well, he is still only three. He was not at his best on Sunday and fixated on wanting to make sushi, which would have been lovely but takes advance planning. Cue enormous tantrum. So instead Kevin and I worked together to pull off a delicious Asian-themed feast of no-ketchup pad thai and hot-and-sour-soup. (Amusingly, we each used our cellphones as recipe books, looking up Obscure CanLit Mama recipes; ah, technology). Less amusingly, we cooked in tandem whilst our youngest lay upon the floor kicking the cupboards and howling random incoherent demands. Just to give you a little window of realism into what “cooking with kids” can sometimes be like. At least supper was delicious. And bedtime mercifully early.

The week in suppers: Robbie Burns

I did not make this haggis, but it was good

**Monday’s menu** Veggie Vindaloo (crockpot). Baked basmati rice. Leftover cabbage salad.
**Recipe-worthy** Veggie Vindaloo: Saute two chopped onions and four cloves of chopped garlic in 1-2 tbsp of oil. Add and saute 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or less, to taste), 1/2 tsp turmeric, and 1-2 tsp salt (start with 1 tsp and add more later). Scrape into the slow cooker. Meantime, peel and dice six potatoes (more or less) and two large carrots. Add to slow cooker, along with 1 tbsp fresh minced ginger root, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp dry mustard, and some chopped red pepper (frozen is fine). Add 3/4 cup red lentils. Add 8-10 cups of water (this is approximate; I check the slow cooker during the day and top up the liquid as needed), and stir the pot. I also added some leftover tabbouleh, and if you wanted you could add chopped tomato and parsley and a handful of bulgar to the mix. Totally optional. Cook on low all day, checking in to stir occcasionally. About an hour before serving, toss in 1-2 cups frozen peas. Just before serving, stir in the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon (note: several tablespoons of cider vinegar is a good local substitute). Taste for seasonings (salt, pepper). Serve over rice.
**Why we liked this** The lentils blended in and acted as thickener. It tasted delicious. Any veggie could sub into this mix.

**Tuesday’s menu** Mexican red beans. Leftover rice. Leftover cabbage salad.
**Sorry, everybody** This was a request. But it was very ho-hum with the leftover rice. Somehow I’d managed to undercook the beans ever so slightly too. It was a rushed meal anyway, as we landed home from swimming and darted out again for soccer, with less than 30 minutes for turnaround time.

**Wednesday’s menu** Coconut sweet potato soup made with squash, too (crockpot). Wilted tatsoi salad. Bread and cheese and hummus.
**Good food** I didn’t follow the recipe for the tatsoi salad precisely, but it was a good use of the tatsoi, which apparently can be harvested from under the snow; that explains why I can still source it locally.
**Colourful** There was something so satisfying about eating this rich orange soup and the deep green tatsoi. Winter needs more colour. Two out of four children adored the soup. Zero out of four children tried the tatsoi. Such is life in the bread and cheese lane. Dinner conversation was brilliant and we had no conflict.

**Thursday’s menu** Red sauce with hamburger (!). Noodles. Broiled tofu.
**Aren’t we vegetarian?** Yes and clearly no. I bought one package of organic local hamburger. Everyone seemed tired and draggy this week. Extra iron?
**Secret veggies** I slipped a package of frozen grated zucchini into the red sauce (which made with my canned tomatoes). Zero complaints.

**Friday’s menu** Turkey in the crockpot. Roasted beets, potatoes, carrots, and garlic.
**Total vegetarian fail** I ordered the turkey on a whim from Bailey’s. What can I say? I can say nothing.
**Recipes by Facebook** I have very little experience cooking meat in a crockpot, let alone an entire (small) turkey, so I asked Facebook for advice. And Facebook replied. I stuffed the turkey with carrots, onion, garlic, and poured a bottle of Guinness over top along with some cranberry juice. I added some Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, dried thyme and rosemary. Then I couldn’t get the lid to fit. I had approximately two minutes to prep the turkey before I needed to get out the door with the kids. So I covered the crockpot with aluminum foil to keep the steam in, balanced the lid on top, and left. And then I was gone for about five hours — about three hours longer than I’d planned on being out of the house. I was kind of freaking out about the precarious state in which I’d left the turkey. But all’s well that ends well. The alumimum foil worked.


**Weekend cooking accomplishments** Eight loaves of bread (OMG we are eating so much bread! I can hardly keep up. I am baking two batches back to back some weekends). One batch of Really Good Granola. Double chocoloate cookie squares. And one giant pot of cockaleekie soup, made in honour of Robbie Burns day. Our family had our own tiny Burns dinner before Saturday night’s scotch party. (Secret ingredient in cockaleekie soup — do you know? Prunes.)

**Cooking with kids** Starring CJ. Who couldn’t think of anything he wanted to make except for pizza. So Kevin made pizza (I made the dough).

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