Friday, September 14, 2007

Bread Baking as a Form of Exercise

Mike and I have been talking about losing weight. Somehow. Some way. Weight Watchers has been discussed, though neither of us has gone to the web site and signed up. I'm less enthusiastic about the thought of paying for someone to tell me how much to eat than he. Instead, I would rather force myself to put so much effort into making something eat that I will one, burn calories in the process, and two, limit my consumption because I will want to savor my efforts (that's usually how I think).

So, for the first time in about a billion years, I made a menu plan last weekend and except for last night, when we made a rare family appearance at the Oregon Hunters Association meeting (I decided to attend, which of course meant the children would attend, because a couple falconers were presenting and that sounded interesting enough to me to get out of the house) that Mike had to go to right around dinner time, we stuck to the plan all week. This is what we've been eating (never fear, I'll get to the bread baking bits soon enough):

Saturday dinner: grilled ratatouille (or at least that's what I call red bell peppers, patty pan squash, sweet onions, cherry tomatoes, and eggplant marinated in balsamic, EVOO, and herbes de provence, then grilled and returned to said marinade), corn on the cob, and ??? It seems like there was something else, maybe a salad?

Sunday breakfast (for me, anyway): the last store bought bagel I will allow myself. In theory.

Sunday dinner: citrus-marinated chicken (from the freezer, cooked days ago) in my "Chinese" Chicken Salad. What is Chinese about this, I don't know, but that's what they called the inspiration dish at The Cheesecake Factory, where I used to eat lunch almost everyday as a manager at Borders Books well over a decade ago.

Monday lunch: leftover Chinese chicken salad, this time with the wild & brown rice mix that should have been in it the night before. Ooops.

Monday dinner: ratatouille quiche...this was marvelous...must repeat. Used ol' Julia's pie dough and quiche recipes, natch.

Tuesday lunch: leftover quiche and cheese soup from leftover mashed potatoes, cheddar, and dried onion.
Tuesday dinner: grilled tri-tip (I kept my mouth shut while Mike stuffed no less than 10 cloves of garlic into that poor slab of beef, but he later admitted himself that it had too much garlic), grilled patty pan, carrot & dried cherry salad tossed with balsamic, and the last of the grilled ratatouille, tossed with wheat berries. Problem was, while I had soaked the wheat berries for some time, I forgot to cooked them. This turned out to be a blessing...

Wednesday lunch: per Mike's suggestion, I tossed the wheat berry salad into a pot, added water to cover, and made soup. He threw in the garlic and the tri-tip. Sublime. So, out of one batch of grilled vegetables and a bit of leftover grilled meat, we got three meals--all quite tasty.
Wednesday dinner: grilled tuna, cucumber soup, and sugar snap pea-radish-and-carrot salad, tossed with rice vinegar, sesame oil, and toasted sesame seeds.

Thursday lunch: took the kids to Subway after a trip to the library.
Thursday dinner: worst pizza ever at the Pizza Baron.

Friday: leftover tuna and cucumber soup.
Friday dinner: al pastor, black beans, and corn on the cob.

Saturday breakfast: applesauce-buckwheat pancakes with sliced apples
Saturday lunch: leftovers
Saturday dinner: spaghetti with Bolognese sauce from the freezer

Sunday brunch: garden vegetable (uh, that would be tomatoes and some chard) and mozzarella omelette.
Sunday dinner: roasted chicken, boiled potatoes from the garden, steamed broccoli, roasted carrots, celery, and onions. I'll make chicken salad and chicken soup with leftover vegetables, corn, and black beans.

I started making bread twice a week about three weeks ago. Haven't bought a loaf at the store since (though I did continue to buy bagels). For the first couple weeks, I only had bleached all purpose flour in the house, purchased accidentally while I was bargain hunting and not reading labels carefully at Winco. Started with a French baguette, from Julia's Way to Cook. Next, I made sandwich loaves (from Baking with Julia) that were predictably Wonderbreadish with the bleached flour. I had promised myself to use up all that flour before making a run to Bob's for something better, but after about four loaves of the stuff, I couldn't stand it anymore. I took the kids there for lunch and shopping last Friday and we now have unbleached organic white flour, organic white whole wheat flour, cracked wheat, amaranth flour, and some other Bob's goodness. I've made one loaf of sandwich bread with the unbleached white, but left the dough to proof too long (as I learned later from Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking) and the loaf came out half as tall as it ought to have been.

My greatest flour, water, and yeast triumph, however, has been with bagel making. The first batch, not so pretty. Returning to Baking with Julia, I seasoned the dough with black pepper and I just love the results. Shaping the bagels takes some practice, as it's important to develop a gluten coat by rolling the dough into a ball with a gathering up motion. I hurried while shaping the first batch and also left the boiled bagels sit on a towel to drain too long--they stuck when I tried to move them to a baking sheet. Anyway, that batch wasn't so great. Batch two received a "Looks like the ones you get at the store," from Mike, which I suppose was meant as a compliment. The taste is so superior to store-bought!

I also started a batch of sourdough starter and will bake a cracked wheat loaf from that this weekend. I also need to start another batch of bagels.

This bread baking is exercise, though. I mix the dough in my stand mixer, but knead it by hand for 8-10 minutes. I enjoy look forward to kneading. It's my favorite part of all this homemade bread business (besides slathering my own strawberry jam on a still warm slice).

Time to make the bagels.

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