Faithful readers know that 2014 has been a year of my learning how to bake bread.
The thought of baking bread always scared me. What if it fell flat as a pancake? What if it was too tough to eat? That would mean hours wasted in the kitchen. Most breads take time to make.
Yes, there are some that need only one rise; others can be done almost like a quick bread.
Have I perfected my bread-baking skills? No, but I can make good challah with or without sesame seeds, and my knock-off Roadhouse rolls have been well received. My husband likes the whole wheat sourdough bread, but after tasting Serious Bread's Al "The Breadman" Jensen's sourdough breads, I have to keep practicing.
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Artisan breads, most of which are made using a sponge or fermented sourdough, are well worth the time they take.
Jensen's wife, Vivian, told me that Andrew Whitley's "Bread Matters" is one of the best books on artisan bread making, and she was right. This is my third suggestion for a great Christmas gift for the cook on your list. "Bread Matters," published in 2006, is published by Andrews McMeel and retails at $34.99.
Whitley compares modern yeast-based breads with sponge-based ones, even saying that modern-day bread with its enzymes, preservatives and, yes, faster rising yeast is the reason for so many wheat- or gluten-intolerant diagnoses and self diagnoses. This book describes the modern-day bread-making process and how it may be affecting people's health.
"If you are dismayed at the covert corruption of our daily food, you may agree with me that bread matters too much to be left to the industrial bakers," Whitley said on the first page of Chapter 1.
What a way to start! He points out how consumers can take control of their diets by making bread themselves.
Bread-making is not an expensive process. Cooks really don't have to have a bread machine or any fancy equipment, just the basics, such a thermometer, stainless steel bowls, good work surface, liquid measuring cups, scraper and good baking pans. Of course, there are more tools, but none is too expensive.
The author walks the reader or breadmaker wannabe through the entire process from ovens to
temperatures and finally recipes. Readers get to Chapter 6 before Whitley ever gives a recipe. The author is that thorough with his practical guide.
If home cooks are like me, I read some of the essential guide and then skipped to a recipe. Bread-making takes patience; guess what I am short on?
"One of the beauties of bread is that it can be made with so few ingredients," Whitley says in "Bread Matters." "Flour and water alone, treated the right way, are sufficient."
Whitley starts with a basic bread to which home cooks can add other ingredients to produce different flavors and textures. He walks readers through the different types of starters and the whole starter process.
This book is like taking a structured course in bread-making. Follow his teachings and chefs and home cooks will have bread that not only tastes good, but is good for their health, too.
Reader Judith Meador asked for fruitcake and friendship starter cake recipes.
"Here is a no-bake fruit cake recipe from my Wisconsin granny," fellow reader Barbara Marcel said.
NO-BAKE FRUIT CAKE
32 marshmallows (or equal minis)
1/4 cup whiskey
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped dates
3 candied pineapple rings (decoration)
1/4 cup chopped figs
1/4 cup chopped citron
1/2 pint whipping cream
1- 1/2 pounds graham crackers
1 cup pecans
1/2 chopped candied pineapple
1 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped cherries
2 tablespoons candied orange peel
Roll graham crackers to fine dust. Cut marshmallows into fine pieces. Whip cream, add marshmallows and whiskey, blend and set aside.
Wash raisins, put in pan and pour boiling water, enough to cover raisin to soak and soften. Put crushed graham crackers into large bowl, add cinnamon and nuts, stirring and blending well, add chopped fruits, using hand blending. Drain and dry raisins with towel, add to mixture. Pour in whipped cream and marshmallow mixture, blend well.
Pour mixture into dish lined with wax paper, pack well with palm of hand. Decorate top with whole nuts, cherries and candied pineapple rings. Allow to stand 24 hours in refrigerator before serving.
-- Submitted by Barbara Marcel
Carrol Fletcher asked for stuffed mushroom recipes that contained either a spicy sausage mixture or seafood. She didn't want just seasonings and bread crumbs.
I found three recipes in my files and favorite cookbooks that I thought she might like. In 2012, Lewis Kelly and Glenda Simons shared Hugo's stuffed mushrooms.
HUGO'S CRAB MEAT STUFFED MUSHROOMS
1 pound claw crab meat, picked through for shell particles
2 sticks butter
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1/2 medium yellow bell pepper, chopped fine
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 whole eggs, beaten
Bread crumbs (Kelly uses Progresso Italian bread crumbs), divided
Salt and pepper to taste
Mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
Melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic. Saute until soft. Cool slightly. Add beaten egg and some of the bread crumbs. Stir together.
Add picked crab meat, salt, pepper and parsley; toss lightly. If too loose, add more bread crumbs until mixture holds together somewhat. Stuff mushrooms with mixture.
Any leftovers can be formed into patties and cooked until light brown on both slides in a black cast-iron skillet sprayed with non-stick spray.
Dip stuffed mushrooms in buttermilk, then into flour, then back into buttermilk and then roll in remaining bread crumbs. Drop into deep fryer and fry until golden brown.
-- Submitted by Lewis Kelly and Glenda Simons
STUFFED MUSHROOMS WITH CRAB MEAT
1 pound very large mushrooms
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon soy sauce
8 ounces crab meat
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup bread crumbs
Remove mushroom stems and chop. Saute caps in butter and soy sauce just until tender. Remove from pan and cool. In same pan, add crab meat, chopped chives, salt and pepper. Saute for 3 minutes. Add bread crumbs and mushroom stems; mix together and stuff into mushroom caps.
Place mushrooms in a flat baking pan; spread mayonnaise on top of each one. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and broil until lightly browned.
Serve immediately. Serves 6.
-- From "Lone Star Legacy"
Andrea's note: Instead of mayonnaise on top of each mushroom, I use a bit of creamy remoulade sauce.
Andrea Yeager, can be reached at email@example.com and takes requests at Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.