(Tangential? Perhaps. Important? Yes. So here is a heartfelt goodbye to MCA – and some Beastie tracks that Brian assures us are not on YouTube … )
Our first CSA box is coming tomorrow. My guys have both had fevers of 104 + this week. I’m pretty sure I saw an albino deer fawn. Fully half of the parents in my three year old’s class referenced Eddie Vedder in their comments about him for his year-end portfolio. Point being – there is lots I could have chosen to write about tonight. But over and above all, there is this. I am on my way to Oregon this weekend – because my brother Gabe is graduating!
It is hard to know what food story about Gabe to share. I am eleven years older than him, so I can remember a lot he’d probably rather I kept to myself. There was his favorite food group (“salt and grease”), the milk-and-vinegar incident (don’t want to know), the birthday sombrero (and accompanying enchiladas) that he still hasn’t forgiven us for … Through it all, Gabe has always appreciated good food. And bad food. And anything in between. He is my very favorite person to try new recipes on, mostly because if I make chicken that is terrible and am totally crying inside, a few days later I usually get an email from my sister-in-law Kate that says “Gabe says you have an amazing new chicken recipe! You have to share it!”
He is an enthusiastic person, and an enthusiastic eater, and he is the type of guy who can discover (while out with my brother Dan of course) that a Gordo Super Burrito can be grilled after it is made … and how the heck did everyone I know go thirty years without realizing that?!
But if there is one “Gabe recipe” that I think of when I think of my funny, loving, easy going, charming, handsome, and horrible-at-keeping-in-touch brother (yes, you are right, that could be any of the three – they have a lot in common) – if there is one Gabe recipe, then it must be – bread with honey.
Don’t give me that “bread with honey is not a recipe” line. I’m not buying it. Because the right bread, with the right honey, is indeed a recipe. And my brother Gabe will indeed eat the entire freaking loaf of bread in one night, in the middle of the night, when he is visiting you … thereby leaving you toastless in the morning. And then he will be so sweet and earnest in his explanation – “it just tasted so good!” – and he will grin so beseechingly, that you will forgive him on the spot, and make more bread immediately … even though you know that it will not last through the night.
These are two breads I love – one is yeasted, soft crumbed and slightly decadent with a hint of butter, perfect with a drizzle of honey or your favorite jam. Kids love it. The other is a soda bread, that takes all of three minutes to put together and thirty to bake – crusty, dense, hearty and soup-ready. But also perfect toasted, with a drizzle of honey.
Just make sure to make extra if Gabe is visiting you. Seriously. He will leave not a crumb.
A note on honey – I am possibly addicted to a very local creamed “summer honey” that has hints of fennel and is ridiculously good – I recommend seeking out something similar in your own neighborhood. This random beekeeper guy lives down the street from us, and I
stalk email him regularly to see if he has anything ready. Small-batch honey has flavor nuances that even the best store brands can’t imitate. If you’re Bay Area, you can start here – those local bee keeping clubs have member lists, and most of those members happily sell their backyard gold. I like the naturally-creamed varieties best of all: my neighbor told me that he discovered this process accidentally by leaving some jars of new honey in his garage for a while, ages ago when he lived in Pacifica. He said, “Turns out that a Pacifica garage is the exact right temperature to make honey cream.” No additives here :)
Gabe, I think Uncle Lance said it best*: Look out! The family is coming! We love you, and are so proud of you, and cannot wait to celebrate!
(* Uncle Lance also said “I want to look my best as Gabe receives his diploma and I’m hanging from the nearest flag pole screaming “I love you MAAAAN!!!” at the the top of my lungs, loaded beer cozy in hand” – and if that doesn’t get you excited about his grilled oyster recipe soon to come, well, then you don’t know for food!)
Our Daily Bread Recipes
Whole Wheat Butter Bread
This loaf was inspired by Michael Ruhlman‘s book Ratio. One of the best things about that book is that you get the ratio and then – you’re off. He gives you a list of ideas, most of them sounding really good (cherries and chocolate in sourdough? Heck yeah!) but really you’re on your own to figure out where you want to take it. I, predictably, took it in the direction of butter. So, you could omit that, but you would lose what makes this special – the almost cakey crumb, the softness that is vaguely brioche-like, but with more whole grain heft. A lot more nutrition than your average brioche … and a tad less butter. :)
1 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups water, body temperature
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cups whole wheat flour (not whole wheat pastry flour, but real stone ground wheat)
2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 tablespoons butter, each cut into four cubes (twelve cubes total)
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Mix in the molasses and sugar. Let sit for a minute or two so that they dissolve. Meanwhile, in the bowl of your stand mixer*, mix the whole wheat flour with almost all of the bread flour (reserve about 1/4 cup) and the salt.
Add the water-yeast-etc mixture to the flour in the mixer bowl, and stir together until somewhat incorporated. Then put the bread hook on your mixer and mix everything for 1-2 minutes, until it is well combined. Then, with the mixer still running, start adding the butter. Don’t worry that you can still see it, it will eventually knead in. Just keep adding it, one piece at a time, putting in a piece every ten seconds or so. Let the dough keep kneading for about five more minutes. If it is not cleaning the sides of the bowl and still looks sticky, add the additional bread flour as needed.
Once the dough is smooth and elastic, remove from the mixer (you can leave it in that bowl, one of the many benefits of using butter – bowl is already greased!). Cover with a damp dish towel (old school) or lightly oiled plastic wrap (waste school) … let rise for 2 hours or until doubled. Oil a bread pan while it is rising.
[Because of the way my days go, I often refrigerate the dough at this point for about two hours and then take it out – if you do that, let it sit for fifteen-twenty minutes before shaping the loaf.]
When the first rise is done, punch the dough down and knead it again to get any bubbles out. Shape the loaf, and put it in the pan. Cover again with towel/wrap. Turn oven on to 350 F – my oven runs true, but it takes a long time to heat up. It is relatively new and relatively nice and still – according to my TWO oven thermometers – takes close to thirty minutes to get all the way to 350. (An oven thermometer, by the way, is not totally critical to baking but is really super helpful … and once you have one, it seems critical).
Once dough has 3/4ed in size again, it is ready to bake. Cut a slash across the top with a sharp knife (just a shallow one, to keep it from ballooning in the oven).
One of the secrets of this bread is that I very slightly under-bake it. 45 minutes is usually good to get just barely a crust all the way around and a nice soft bite. My kids devour this – and their Uncle Gabe well, he’s unstoppable :)
* I have not made this without the mixer, but I guarantee you can. You just will need to work and knead the dough instead of being lazy and letting the mixer do it.
Whole Wheat Soda Bread
This is based on the Rye Soda Bread in Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson. I use whole wheat instead of rye flour, and cut the recipe basically in half – this smaller sized loaf cooks more quickly (usually less than thirty minutes if I remember to pre-heat the oven!) and is the perfect size for a weeknight dinner for our little family. This is also great leftover for lunch, with a bowl of soup … or of course, for breakfast (or a midnight snack), toasted and drizzled with honey.
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine-grain salt
1 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 400 F with a rack in the middle of the oven.
Mix together flours, soda and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk. Mix together until it turns into a dough (less than a minute). Knead in the bowl just long enough for it to be cohesive (again, less than a minute).
Put parchment on a baking sheet, then lightly flour the parchment. Put the dough on the floured parchment, and dust liberally with flour (a tablespoon or so). Slice four deep gashes across (but not through) the dough – like cutting pizza (see photos). (Those slashes mean that you get lots of nice crispy crust).
Bake for about thirty minutes, or until the crust is hard and the bread baked through.
This bread really does best with an accompaniment – butter is my favorite, followed closely by soup or stew for sopping it in. It is so quick and easy that it is almost shameful not to make it though – next time you are making soup for lunch, give it a try. :)
Congratulations Baby Gabe-o! Can’t wait to see you and celebrate.