Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Daring Bakers: Thanksgiving Edition

It's time for another Daring Baker's Challenge! This month, the recipe was for Tender Potato Bread. I decided that since fresh baked bread is necessary for Thanksgiving, I would make our Daring Bakers Challenge our Thanksgiving bread.

However, because I made this on Thanksgiving along with the rest of our meal (planning ahead didn't quite happen like it should have this year), I neglected to photographically document my experience in making the potato bread. I really wish I'd had my camera handy, because the dough for this recipe is a very soft dough, unlike any I'd ever worked with before...this also made it rather difficult for me to work with as well...working with soft dough is definitely something that needs lots of practice.

Despite the difficulties, however, this bread came out very well. For this challenge, we were allowed to shape the bread however we wanted to, with options given for loaves, dinner rolls, and focaccia bread. As someone who likes variety, I decided I'd try a couple of different options. This recipe makes a LOT of dough, so I made one batch of dinner rolls, and decided that I would make a focaccia that mirrored the spices and flavors of our Moroccan inspired dinner. It was a big hit!

Tender Potato Bread

from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf and something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender foccacia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf


4 medium to large baking potatoes (such as Idaho, Russet, or Yukon Gold), peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups water (This should be your reserved water from boiling the potatoes)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup whole wheat flour

1. Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender. Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well.

2. Measure out 3 cups of the reserved potato water (add extra water if needed to make 3 cups). Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread in – directions will be for by hand. Let cool to lukewarm – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

3. Mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes.Then mix in 2 cups of all-purpose flour and mix. Allow to rest several minutes.

4. Sprinkle on the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly. Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.

5. Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft. (Sara's Note: I don't have a dough scraper but found that a metal spatula works very well for this purpose as well!)

Note: As a beginner, you may be tempted to add more flour than needed. Most/many bread recipes give a range of flour needed. This is going to be a soft dough. At this point, add flour to the counter slowly, say a ¼ cup at a time. Do not feel you must use all of the suggested flour. When the dough is soft and smooth and not too sticky, it’s probably ready.

6. Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

7. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky. Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.

To shape a large loaf:

Butter a 9X5 inch loaf/bread pan. Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.

To make a small loaf with the remainder:

Butter an 8 x 4 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.

To make rolls:

Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.

To make focaccia:

Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the focaccia to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil, sprinkle on a little coarse sea salt, as well as some rosemary leaves, if you wish and then finally dimple all over with your fingertips. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.

Place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, if not use a baking/sheet (no edge – you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the stone or baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C. Bake the flat-bread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf. If making foccacia, just before baking, dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes.

Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes.

Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Let breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.

Moroccan Onion Focaccia

3 Tbs. butter
2 small onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp. Moroccan Spice Mixture from here.
Olive Oil for brushing
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Lightly toast spices in dry skillet than grind in coffee grinder or spice grinder. Sett aside.

2. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add onions, and sautee until soft, fragrant, and caramelized. Add about spice mixture and toss until coated.

3. Brush dough with olive oil. Spread onion mixture evenly over the top, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake as directed above for focaccia.

This made for a nice twist on your basic dinner roll or focaccia bread. It's definitely possible I will make it again (which is saying something since I rarely make the same recipe twice!!).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Grilled Salmon with Roasted Corn Relish

It's been a while, but I've started to find ways to manage my Paxil withdrawal symptoms, and things are slowly becoming "normal" again. Which means it's time for cooking and blogging about cooking.

Several days ago, I made Grilled Salmon with Roasted Corn Relish.

Psycling and I both really enjoyed this meal, and I made only a few modifications to the recipe. To spice things up a bit, I added a little bit of chili powder and cayenne pepper to the spice rub for the salmon. It wasn't enough to make it spicy, but it added a little extra depth to the flavor of the fish.

As for the relish, it was almost more of a salad, with a suggested serving size of 3/4 c. per person to go with the fish. It's definitely enough to serve as a side vegetable for the meal. It was good, though I thought the Anaheim peppers were a little too spicy for me (Psycling though it was just right). I think if I make this again, I will use a slightly milder pepper, maybe a poblano. However, if you you don't like spicy foods, or want to tone it down for kids, green bell peppers would also work just as well. And you can't go wrong with extra cilantro!

Finally, though the recipe could be made completely on a grill pan (as called for in the recipe), but I'm a big fan of using a real grill whenever possible. So we lit up our grill outside, and I love the added smokiness it added to both the fish and the corn. I'm thinking that next time, I'll char the peppers on the grill as well instead of using the broiler. I think the extra smokiness would be a good addition to the relish.

All-in-all, this was a very good, and fairly quick and easy weeknight meal. One I would make again (if I ever made the same meal more than once).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Getting Personal

I've been debating whether or not I would even write this post, but decided to go ahead with it. Who knows, it might actually be of help to some of you out in blog land.

For the past 7 1/2 years, I have been taking the anti-depressant Paxil (generic: Paroxoine). Paxil is one of the SSRI (Selective Seretonin Reuptake Inhibitors) class anti-depressants, similar to Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, and others. Seretonin is a nerotransmitter that aids in regulating mood, as well as other things. The SSRIs essentially work by preventing a neuron from reabsorbing seretonin it releassd into a synapse before the receiving cell has a chance to catch it.

I initially began taking Paxil when I was diagnosed with severe depression in college. While I could go into the details of the events in my life that triggered it, what seems most important now is that I am in a happy, content, stable time in my life, and I don't want to have to rely on a drug to keep me that way. So I decided it is time to try to go off the meds.

Unfortunately, Paxil is the SSRIs known to have the worst withdrawal symptoms of this class of drug, due to its extremely short half-life. Since going off the drug 10 days ago, I have developed what is often referred to as the Paxil Withdrawal Flu. I am dizzy and nauseous and experiencing with many Paxil users have dubbed the "whoosh" effect. Essentially, if I move or turn my head (or even just move my eyes), it's like the world kind of moves in slow motion and it takes a moment for it to catch up and allow me to focus again. I have waves of tingly-ness that wash over my body, but are concentrated in my face and fingers that feels rather like a mild electric current. I'm hyper-sensitive to any sort of motion, and bright light worsens my constant headache. I've even had a couple of mild anxiety attacks, something that is attributed 100% to going off the meds. I also have a hard time concentrating, focusing, even carrying on a coherent conversation (or writing a coherent blog post). And did I mention how exhausted I am? Needless to say, it's not pleasant.

There are some upsides here (and being a glass-half-full kind of person, I feel the need to point them out). First, despite what I wrote in my last paragraph, my symptoms are fairly mild compared to what many people experience. After reading about what others have experienced at QuitPaxil and PaxilProgress I have realized that it could be much worse. So far, I am at least able to function in my normal daily routine (even if I feel like crap while doing it). I can still walk the dog, go to work, make dinner, run errands, and all the other stuff that is necessary in life. Second, I've found things that help alleviate symptoms a bit. Deep breathing, taking a few minutes to just close my eyes, and...knitting! And cooking! It's wonderful! The two things I love doing most help! They provide just enough mental and physical distraction to keep the symptoms at bay. Even if once dinner is made, I feel too nauseous to eat it (tonight Psycling had the West Indian Vegetable Curry I made while I had Raisin Bran), just making it helped me feel better for the time I was doing it. So I'm finding it's also the perfect time to teach myself a new knitting technique, and I've cast on for an entrelac blanket. And third, I'm staying focused on the fact that while it sucks big time now, putting up with this for a few weeks is all I need to do to not have to take the Paxil ever again. This is the big motivator for me. It is the light at the end of the tunnel.

You may ask why I bothered to write this all out. First, it helps me just to get it out, to let people know what's going on in my life (after all, that's what a blog is for, right?). But also, when I was on the meds, I was never shy about it. There is such a stigma in our society (still) about people on psychoactive medication, and so much of it is due to ignorance. So by living my life as a productive member of society who just happened to be on anti-depressants, I hope that I broke down a few of those stereotypes about mental illness. I have offered myself as a resource to people who have been going through depression, answering questions as honestly as I could.

But the flip side about being open to being on the meds is being open about what it's like to go off them. When I first started taking this drug, NO ONE told me that it could be addictive, that going off the drug would be so difficult, what all the side effects were and how it could affect so many aspects of my life. If they had, I probably would have asked to know about alternatives, drugs that might be more "user friendly" so to speak. I find myself angry at the doctor who prescribed this for me for not telling me, and for leaving me to go through this. So, for those of you who have read this, I charge you to take control of your health care. If a doctor wants to prescribe a drug like this, ASK QUESTIONS! Do the research (If you google Paxil, on the first page you find a link to lawsuits related to the drug. If you refine the search by clicking on the "warnings" button that google gives you, you get many hits on Paxil lawsuits and warnings about addiction). I don't want to be one of the angry anti-paxil ranters that can be found be found all over the internet. But I do want to put my story out there. Maybe it will be able to prevent someone from going through what I am. Maybe it will just help others who are going through it know that they aren't alone. Maybe it will encourage someone to ask the questions that I didn't. Or maybe, the sole purpose is the catharsis that this type of venting provided for me.

So, if you've noticed a slow down in my blogging recently, now you know why.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thankful Thursdays: Fall Edition

Today I am thankful for:

Fall: As you already know, I love fall. It puts me in such a good mood to see all the colors on the trees. I took these pictures on my way into work this morning. Since my commute is all surface streets and not on the highway, I wind through some gorgeous neighborhoods. Having such amazing scenery on my drive in to work is quite relaxing. I'm trying to enjoy it while I can, because soon enough, all the pretty colors will drain from the leaves, the trees will be bare, and fall will have turned into winter.

Friends and Family: My mom works not too far away from where I work, so I try to have lunch with her about once a week. We are always joined by her friend B, and occasionally other women from her office as well. Today we went to one of our favorite lunch spots, and followed it up with a post-lunch pick-me-up from Starbuck's. It's always great fun to chat with these other women and enjoy the camaraderie of a shared meal. Besides, she'll be retiring at the end of the year, so I imagine our lunching together will be less frequent after the new year.

This Little Guy: As I was leaving work today, I saw this little guy sitting under a tree, feasting on the pile of nuts in front of him. He was kind enough to stay there for about 60-90 seconds and let me photograph him (though unfortunately, crappy camera means crappy pictures). It was very cute to see him pick up one of the nuts in his cute little paws and start nibbling on it. I work on the quad at a local university, and lately, I've been seeing little guys like this scampering around, stashing their nuts for the upcoming winter. After watching this little guy for a while, he finally decided it was time to move on; he picked up two nuts and stuffed them in his mouth, the scampered off to find his other squirrel friends. I'm an animal lover, and being able to share a moment in this little squirrel's life was very heartening.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Yay for fall!

Fall is my favorite season. I love the brisk weather, breaking out the sweaters, the gorgeous colors of the leaves, getting to wear my hats.
In addition to all that great stuff, I love the flavors of fall as well. This weekend, I made one of my favorite fall meals, Curried Winter Squash Soup with Sweet Spices.

I discovered this recipe in an unlikely place. Shortly after I graduated from college, I bought a new computer from Gateway. As often happens when you buy a computer, there was lots of random software that they bundled with the computer. Most of it was of no interest to me, but when I looked through the CDs that they gave me, there was one that caught my eye. It was called MasterCook Deluxe from Sierra Home. It was a recipe software that came loaded with TONS or recipes. This soup was one of them. I've tried several of the recipes from this software and they have all be really good, but this one is a favorite in our household. It's one Psycling and I both look forward once we notice a chill in the air and we see winter squash come into season.

For this dinner, I served the soup with a salad of mixed greens with apple slices, pecans, and dried cranberries, dressed with a basic vinaigrette from one of my favorite cookbooks. It made for a great fall dinner!

Curried Winter Squash Soup with Sweet Spices

1 medium Butternut squash
olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Tbs. butter
1 tsp. curry powder
2 medium apples, cored, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 quart chicken stock
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
White pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, brush the outside with olive oil, and place cut-side-down, on a cookie sheet. Bake until tender, 30-45 minutes
3. While squash is baking, chop the onions and applies. When the squash is done, remove it to cool.
4. Melt the butter in a heavy soup pot. Add the onion and cook until softened but not brown. Add curry powder and cook, stirring one minute more. Add the apple. Scoop out pieces of squash and stir them into the pot. Add thyme, salt, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
5. Remove the solids to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth, adding liquid to promote circulation. Return to the pot, add cream, and bring back to a boil and remove from heat. Add salt and white pepper to taste, and serve.

Cook's Notes: I added a bit of sage to this recipe, and I've found that it deepens the flavor nicely. Also, this soup can be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, and it still takes wonderful (I've tried it). Finally, this soup is really good served with whole wheat pita wedges for dipping.

So, as we head into November, enjoy the beautiful leaves, brisk weather, and sweaters. And at the end of the day, warm up with this wonderful soup that has become one of my favorite comfort foods!