Monday, January 20, 2014

Perfect sandwich bread that behaves like store bought bread

Homemade bread is almost always better than store bought bread; it doesn't have preservatives or chemicals and it always tastes better unless you really muck up the recipe. But the one thing I always have struggled with is getting homemade bread to work well for sandwiches. My loaves would crumble easily, even falling apart when anything harder than softened butter was spread on them.

I thought having a bread machine would make my bread behave more like store bought bread but I continued to have problems with getting a good sandwich bread. I tried many recipes that promised a great sandwich loaf but was always disappointed. The thing all of the recipes were missing was a dough conditioner.

A dough conditioner is basically anything you add to your bread dough to increase moisture, feed the yeast, and provide elasticity to the loaf. Dough conditioners can range all the way from natural items like milk and ginger powder or they can be chemicals like DATEM and ammonium chloride.

I found some complicated recipes for dough conditioners, some having 10 ingredients with measurements like 1/32 of a teaspoon. I've played around a little bit with my recipe and have found a bread dough that comes out perfect for me again and again. Plus it uses ingredients that are easily obtained and don't need to be precisely measured, a generous pinch of each ingredient is enough to create a lovely sandwich loaf.

With the addition of milk, ginger powder, pectin, citric acid, and vital wheat gluten* my bread has gone from crumbly to perfect. As an aside I have made this without pectin and it turns out good as well. Besides the bread conditioner I also purchased an electric knife and it has made the difference in getting nice, thin, sandwich ready slices.

Basic White Sandwich Bread recipe (adapted from Joy of Cooking)

1 1/4 cup water (warm 105-115 degrees)
1 Tbsn milk
2 Tbsn white sugar (you can substitute brown sugar or honey)
pinch of ginger
pinch of citric acid
pinch of pectin
2 Tbsn oil (I use olive oil)
1 tsp salt
3 cups all purpose flour
3 Tbsn vital wheat gluten
2 tsp instant yeast

Bread machine instructions:
Mix first 8 ingredients in bread pan. Place flour and vital wheat gluten on top. Make a well but make sure the liquid ingredients are still covered by the dry ingredients. Add the yeast into the well. Select the appropriate bread setting for your machine.

By hand:
Mix warm water, milk, sugar and yeast and let sit until the yeast starts to froth. Add in the ginger, ascorbic acid, pectin, oil and salt and mix together. Add in half of the flour and vital wheat gluten and vigorously mix. Then add the other half and mix until you have a ball. Then knead the dough for approximately 10 minutes, adding more flour or water if needed. Place in greased bowl and allow to double in size. Punch the dough down and knead for several minutes more and then form into a loaf. Place into a greased loaf pan and allow to rise until it has doubled approximately 40 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Notice how finely textured the bread is, it's soft and flexible. Perfect for sandwiches!
*You can find citric acid cheaply at any health food store and you can find vital wheat gluten at most health food stores or grocery stores. I purchase my vital wheat gluten from, a 3lb can is around $13.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Best Chocolate Cake

I made this cake for my little one's first birthday on January 2nd (one of the big changes I hinted at in my previous blog post!). It was an amazingly dense, rich and intensely chocolate flavored cake. Everyone who had it agreed that it was one of the best chocolate cakes they had tasted. I am keeping it in my permanent recipes collection to pull out next time I need to make a chocolate cake. You can find the recipe here at add a pinch.

Monday, January 13, 2014


     It's been a while and many changes in my life. I used to think my days of food blogging were over but even without blogging I still found myself wanting to share my recipes, cooking secrets and tricks that I had learned.

     I stopped posting mostly due to my own hang ups and my own self doubt and criticism. My photographs weren't "good enough", my recipes weren't creative enough, I am not a chef etc. etc. Basically all of the negative thoughts in my head kept me from hitting publish after writing an entry.

     I am still the same cook as I was; I haven't gone to culinary school or bought a better camera and I think that I can improve in many places. Their are many people that are much better at baking and cooking than me. But I've gotten to a place where I am okay sharing my growing pains and I am okay putting myself and my creations out on the internet. So without further ado let's get cooking again.

     Also I would like to give many thanks to the people that still visited this blog during my hiatus!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Breakfast bran muffins with veggies

Their are two kinds of muffins; the sweet calorie-bomb kind that's basically a dessert and the healthy kind. These are the latter variety: chock full of healthy ingredients that fill you up. The carrots and zucchini make this a very moist muffin and all of the whole grains make it pretty dense. When I filled the muffin tins I mounded the batter, unlike a traditional muffin these will barely rise so fill the tins accordingly.

I am lucky enough to be able to find these ingredients with a minimum of fuss and expense but for readers who can't find these ingredients I would just omit the flaxseed meal and increase the oat or wheat bran. If you can only find one kind of bran then just use that. Either way I think these muffins will be delicious. If you omit the flaxseed meal increase the oil/butter to 1/3 cup.

Breakfast bran muffins
adapted from here
makes approximately 15

2 cups wheat bran
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup yogurt
1/4 cup melted butter
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup packed finely shredded zucchini
1 cup packed finely shredded carrots
3/4 cup raisins

Place your oven rack to the middle and preheat to 375 degrees.

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Combine all of the wet ingredients in a bowl.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in the zucchini, carrots, and raisins.

Fill a greased muffin pan and bake for 20-30 minutes (mine took 25-30).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Backyard edibles: The wonder weed Purslane

Most people are familiar with purslane as an annoyingly invasive weed; I know that's what I always thought. Then I read Claudia Roden's book of Middle eastern cooking, in her fattoush recipe she mentioned purslane as one of the ingredients. I didn't have a clue what purslane was and I was curious about this mysterious and exotic ingredient. So with a bit of googling I had my answer and was absolutely gobsmacked when I realized it was a weed. And not just any weed, one that I had spent a good amount of time attempting to eradicate from my yard. And I was even more surprised when I read that it has the largest amount of Omega 3's of all leafy plants (purslane has up to 400 mg per cup, salmon has 1400 mg per 4 oz.). Ever since I learned about this wonder weed I vowed that the next time purslane popped up in my yard I'd water and care for it properly. Luckily I had some grow next to my vegetable patch about a month ago. I watered the purslane daily during this hot summer to encourage it to be leafy and succulent, it grew amazingly fast and now I have a generous patch of purslane.

I prepared my purslane simply by rinsing well then stripping the leaves off of the fat stems, some of the little stems seemed tender so I threw some of those in. Then I gave them another good rinse, the plant has lots of tiny black seeds about half the size of poppy seeds so I tried to rinse them all away.

Then I added in other salad fixings and we had a delicious fattoush. Purslane has a very interesting texture, it's crunchy and a bit mucilaginous with a slightly sour bite. I really enjoyed it and have decided that the only time I pull Purslane will be to add it to my salad.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Soda Stream Jet Review

When I was given the opportunity to review a machine called the Sodastream I was very excited. One of my vices (among several) is that I drink a lot of Diet Soda and the premise of this machine is that with only a CO2 cartridge and their machine you can make up to 60 L of carbonated water. They also claim that you will save the environment and money too.

The Sodastream Fountain Jet machine ($79.95) came in an attractive box which included a 60 L carbonator, one 1 liter bottle, an instruction booklet and the machine. The machine has an unobtrusive, streamlined appearance that would fit in well with most people’s kitchen decor. It is made of plastic and does feel kind of flimsy.

The machine was pretty easy to use and set up although the instruction booklet was minimally helpful, it had pictures that were hard for me to interpret. To insert the carbonator you first must remove the cap and wrapping from the carbonator bottle, then remove the back of the machine and put the bottle into the hole and screw it in to the underneath of the top of the machine and reattach the back.

In order to use the machine you must have very cold water to get the best carbonation. I started keeping a bottle of cold water in the fridge just for that purpose. The trickiest part is screwing the bottle in, with one hand you have to push the front part in which makes the part where you screw the bottle in push out. Then using your other hand screw the bottle in. The first few times were a bit tricky but it became easier with practice. After screwing the bottle in push the top button until you hear a loud buzz then push the button two more times to get an average fizz. A problem that I encountered was that it took me around 14 button pushes to get the machine to make a buzz and it would make this sad squeal with every push, then I’d have to push three more times. Even after all of the pushing and hearing three buzzes the carbonation was poor. I couldn't quite figure out what was wrong and then I realized that I wasn't pushing the button hard enough. You have to nearly mash the button to get it to carbonate. The machine isn't made of what appears to be durable materials so I am curious how long it will hold up to the button mashing but as for now it's doing fine.

After carbonating the water then you can mix flavors in if you like. Mixing the Sodastream flavors at first stumped me a little, I tried to pour them into the bottle but I couldn’t get them to mix in well because I didn't want to aggressively shake my fizzy water. I finally settled on using a cup, pouring some of the syrup into the cup and then pouring the carbonated water directly onto the syrup forcefully, at first this made me cringe. I like fizzy soda and always carefully pour soda down the side of the glass to keep from losing carbonation. Because the water is so heavily carbonated, the carbonation lost is minimal and it gets the syrup to dissolve easily. For anyone who thinks they can carbonate their favorite juice unfortunately that will cause a big mess and void the warranty. Only water is able to be carbonated and you can mix whatever flavorings in after.

There are a lot of stores that are selling several Sodastream models; the Sodastream Genesis which is one step up from the Jet in terms of price ($99.95) and the Penguin which has glass bottles. Kohls and Bed Bath and Beyond are two of the mainstream, nationwide retailers that sell them. You can also do carbonator exchanges at Bed Bath and Beyond which is a better alternative for some people than the mail order exchange the company offers.

One of the claims by the Sodastream company is that using their products will save you money and cost only 25 cents per can or liter of fizzy water that you make. This is only partially true according to my calculations below. As a disclaimer I am far from being a math whiz so if someone has any issues with my calculations please leave me a comment.

A soda stream cartridge refill is $15, if you have a Bed Bath and Beyond coupon it could even be cheaper. $15 will give you approximately 60 liters according to the company, a soda stream flavoring is approximately $5.99 and will give you 12 liters per bottle of flavoring or 33 cans.

Flavored Soda Cost:

Cartridge= $15
$5.99 (syrup)x5= $29.95
60L or 160 cans of soda =$44.95

Price per can= $0.28
Price per 1L= $0.75

Carbonated Water Cost:

Cartridge- $15

Price per 1L= $0.25
Price per can= $0.06

A typical 2L at Walmart is $1.50 when not on sale so the Sodastream would actually be an equal price for flavored soda. If I do the math using ounces and cans the Sodastream will seem more economical but because the sodastream doesn’t create 12 ounce cans it makes more sense to compare the price of a 2L to the 1L Sodastream bottles in my opinion.

As for myself the Sodastream is saving me some money. I typically buy 1-3 20 oz bottles of soda at work at $1.50/bottle (I know it’s highway robbery), I’ve been bringing my homemade sodas instead of buying from the overpriced vending machines at work. I could save money by bringing 2L bottles but they are too large and the 1L Sodastream bottles are perfect.

As shown above the cost savings will be greater if you make your own soda flavorings or just drink the sparkling water plain. One of my favorite ways to drink my soda stream water is with a generous squeeze of lime. It’s refreshing and calorie free.

There is no question that the Sodastream is much more “green” than using and recycling plastic bottles or metal cans. It’s nice to know that I am reducing substantially the amount of plastic and metal I am using. Also the sodastream doesn’t use any electricity or batteries which is awesome for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of outlets in their kitchen or who already has enough gadgets plugged in.

The plastic Sodastream bottles are BPA free and all components can be recycled. They cannot be placed in hot water or the dishwasher and they cannot be used indefinitely; my bottles expire in 3 years. The FAQ’s on their website say that the reason the bottles cannot be used indefinitely is that they experience a lot of force with the carbonation and shouldn’t be used for longer than the date on them. I will admit that I don’t care for the giant expiration dates emblazoned across the bottles since I have been carrying them to work and displaying them on my desk. They do look a little odd and I’ve been questioned about them several times by curious coworkers.

If you have concerns about using plastic bottles Sodastream has a model, The Penguin that uses glass bottles which costs $199.95


I’ve had the opportunity to try a good quantity of the Sodastream flavors and overall they are pretty good. Their were only a couple that I absolutely hated, some that I didn’t like and several that have become my favorites. There are some definite positives to the Sodastream flavorings; they have no or low caffeine and contain Splenda instead of Aspartame. Also the regular soda flavorings are quite a bit lower in calories than their commercial counterparts 35 calories per serving vs. 110. One downside to the calorie savings is that ALL of the sodastream flavors contain Splenda, even the regular ones. So if you don’t like Splenda then you are out of luck unless you want to try the Sodastream Naturals line.

The soda stream naturals really impressed me, they are delicious and made with cane sugar and other natural ingredients. The cost for all of the flavor is that their calories are equivalent to commercial brands (around 110 calories per 8 oz.) but in my opinion the two I’ve tried had superior flavor to a lot of the commercial brands. There are 9 different varieties of Sodastream Naturals. The price for regular Sodastream flavorings range from $4.99-6.99 and the naturals are around $9.99 each. I wish the Sodastream website listed all of the caffeine content of their drink mixes because I do like to track that.

The Good:

Cola Zero- This would be the surprising underdog of the flavors. A lot of their diet flavors haven’t impressed me or been on par with diet coke or pepsi to really give me my “fix” This is good, it tastes like a cross between diet coke and diet pepsi.

Cranberry Raspberry- Pretty tasty. Has a definite cranberry flavor, it’s one of my favorites that I reach for often.

Lemon Lime- Similar to Sprite, a clean citrus flavor.

Diet Lemon Lime- Nearly identical to sprite zero, a good flavor

Sparkling Naturals Cola- very good. On par with Coke and Pepsi, also has some caffeine which is good for those of us that crave a little caffeine. My friend who is a Coke addict said that this was “really good.” I wish that the company would list the caffeine content per 8 oz., the calories are equal to Coke or Pepsi

Sparkling Naturals Black Currant Pear- very good. I liked this one a lot. My husband and friend were not as crazy about it although they didn’t dislike it. My friend remarked that it tasted like sparkling fruit juice.

Grape- Good flavor reminiscent of childrens Dimetapp which oddly enough I always enjoyed when I was little. If you’re not a children’s cough syrup junky then this might be a questionable flavor.

Green tea pomegranate peach- surprisingly good. I was certain that I wasn’t going to like it and ended up enjoying it. It definitely tastes artificial, it reminds me of the bottled Lipton green tea flavors.

Rootbeer- My husband really liked this one. Has a pretty decent rootbeer flavor, not as good as some of the commercial brands but we both liked this.

The Okay:

Ruby Red grapefruit- Has a definite artificial flavor but overall not bad, reminded me of crystal light.

Diet ruby red grapefruit- Very strong grapefruit flavor. If you like Fresca you’d like this.

Diet Orange- Good, not fabulous but on par with a “knock off” orange soda. Has a little bit of bitterness that was reminiscent of San Pelligrino Aranciata.

Dr. Pete- Pretty tasty, not as good as Dr. Pepper but a decent approximation.

Diet Rootbeer- Not bad but not good. Weak rootbeer flavor. Wouldn’t purchase again.

Ginger ale- Has a strong artificial flavor that I didn’t like and no discernible ginger flavor. That being said I like my ginger ale to be extremely gingery like Reeds Ginger Brew.

Diet Cola- Didn’t like this, the flavor wasn’t terrible but it didn’t taste good.

Diet Fountain Mist- Okay, seemed like a poor imitation of Diet Mountain dew.

My Water orange- The only My water flavor that I thought was okay. It smells good and adds a faint orange flavor to the water that tasted real.

The Ugly:

Diet Dr. Pete- Really awful bitter taste. It actually made me wipe my tongue because it was so unpleasant. This is the flavor that made me change my soda tasting technique to small initial sips rather than large gulps in case there is another flavor as unpleasant.

Energy- Pretty unpleasant with a bitter, artificial flavor. That being said, I don't like Red Bull so it didn't surprise me that I didn't enjoy this either.

My Water Raspberry- Bitter, artificial flavor that didn't really resemble raspberry.

My Water Lemon Lime- It has a very nice citrusy smell but the taste was very acrid and unpleasant.


I’d recommend this product with reservations; their is very little if any cost savings so if you are looking for something to save you money I wouldn't recommend the Sodastream. Otherwise it's one of those rare machines that does what it says it will. I’d recommend purchasing one of these for anyone who is environmentally conscious and drinks a lot of fizzy beverages and isn’t particularly picky about flavor, although Sodastream has several good flavors they still are not replicas of some of the commercial brands like Coke or Pepsi. The Sodastream isn’t necessarily a better deal but there is something pretty awesome about being able to make many flavors of soda at home without a shopping trip and dragging bottles and cans home.

Disclosure: The Sodastream company provided me with a Sodastream fountain Jet machine and 10 bottles of flavoring, my review was not influenced by this. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dulce de' Leche Cheesecake with a Chili Chocolate Ganache

As a rule I don't like cheesecake... most of the time I will even turn down a piece if it's offered. I've always figured that if I was going to eat 800 calories than I darn well better really enjoy them. Cheesecake usually has an unpleasant sweet/sour tang to me and it's always kind of moist yet dry all at the same time. Occasionally I've seen one dressed up beautifully with all sorts of scintillating toppings and I've given it a hopeful taste only to realize that it was just like every other cheesecake that has let me down.

But this cheesecake that I am going to share with you has erased all of my fears and disappointments and has helped me to realize that it's not that I don't like cheesecake, I don't like bad cheesecake. Needless to say my hips will never be the same.

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake with Chili Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from Taste of Home

1-3/4 cups crushed gingersnap cookies (about 35 cookies)
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, melted

3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup 2% milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (13.4 ounces) dulce de leche*

Chili Chocolate Ganache:
1 bag (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsn unsalted butter

*I found the Dulce de Leche in the Hispanic section at my local Walmart

Using a food processor grind up the gingersnaps, walnuts, sugar and cinnamon until fine. Add the melted butter until ingredients are moistened. Pre-grease a 9" springform pan, wrap the outside bottom and sides in a double layer of aluminum foil. Apply the crust mixture evenly on the bottom and half way up the sides of the pan.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the milk, flour and vanilla. Add eggs; beat on low speed just until combined. Pour into crust.

Pour dulce de leche into a microwave-safe bowl; microwave at 50% power until softened. Drop dulce de leche by tablespoonfuls over batter; cut through batter with a knife to swirl.

Place springform pan in a large baking pan; add 1 in. of hot water to larger pan. Bake at 350° for 60-70 minutes* or until center is just set and top appears dull. Remove springform pan from water bath. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer.

Pour the chocolate chips, chili powder and heavy cream into a microwave safe bowl. Mix together, microwave in 30 second intervals until all of the chocolate is melted. Add the butter and stir. Allow the ganache to cool until it is lukewarm, spoon over the top of the cheesecake and smooth. Cover and refrigerate the cheesecake overnight, when ready to serve unmold it from the springform pan.

*It took me 75-80 minutes in my gas oven for the cheesecake to cook.

Serve this with a glass of cold milk to help cut the richness.