So you want to bake some bread.

I’ve been asked for my bread recipe.  Awesome.

Full disclosure:  I initially got the recipe from The Simple Dollar.  Hers has pictures, and for a baking noob like me, it was invaluable.  Now that I know what each step is supposed to look like, I don’t need the pictures, so I typed it up.  I also made some variations with the ingredients, but not many.  It’s a great recipe, and please go over to Simple Dollar and tell her so!  I did :).

Super Easy Homemade Bread

Get a big glass bowl.  Fill with hot water, and then dump it out.  Warm bowls make for good bread.

In warm bowl:

Dissolve 1 packet of yeast in 1 cup warm water

Soften 5 tsp of butter in the microwave, add to yeast/water

Add 1-1/2 tbsp sugar and

1/4 cup milk and

1 tsp salt

Stir that until it’s a nice shade of beige.

Add a cup of flour, and stir.  The dough will be sticky.  Keep stirring.  Add another cup of flour.  Keep stirring, and pay attention to the consistency of the bread–it will become stretchy.  Keep stirring, have one more cup of flour on deck, and add it slowly.  You may or may not add that last whole cup.  Bread is fickle.

Generously sprinkle some flour on the counter.

When the dough is in a nice ball, and doesn’t stick to your hands or the spoon too much (you’ll know), take it out of the bowl.  Put the bowl in the sink, fill with soap & water.  You’ll need that bowl to be clean in a few minutes.

Check the clock, note the time.  Beat the crap out of the bread (classy people call this “kneading”) for 10 minutes.  If it sticks to itself, the counter, or you, add more flour.  When 10 minutes are up, it should be a nice, pliable ball.

Wash and dry the bowl.  Spray the inside (duh…) with some cooking spray.  Plop the dough in it and cover with a nice clean cloth.  Let it rise for an hour.

After an hour has passed, the dough has possibly doubled or more, or not.  Don’t sweat it.  It’s fine.  Take it out of the bowl, and put it on your (still floured) counter.  Work it into a rectangle that’s as wide as your bread pan and about twice as long.  Roll it up, put it into your bread pan (did you spray that with Pam?  You should do that…), tucking the ends under.

Cover it with your cloth again for another hour.  Go clean up your kitchen and put stuff away.

After the 2nd rise, put it in a 400* oven for 30 minutes.  When it’s done, take it out of the pan immediately, or it will keep cooking (trust me).

YUM.

I use Sugar In The Raw, about a 2:1 ratio of Gold Medal Better for Bread Flour and whole wheat flour, and real sweet cream butter.  You can also add fresh herbs (dill! chives! rosemary!) to the flour as you stir it in.  If you’re feeling fancy, sprinkle grated cheese over the rectangle of bread before you roll it up and put it in the pan.

By request: Food: How to make it really good, really fast

A couple of weeks ago, I put a link to a survey up top, and after a couple of modifications (read: if you took it before last Wednesday, please feel free to take it again because it’s different) I’ve started getting some feedback.  Yay!  One of the new questions is about what topics you’d like to see me address in terms of Getting A Grip.

Our first requested topic?  Food.  Amy in Texas would like some ideas for quick easy dinners.  I’m on it.

Let’s back up a little and take a look at what the staples are in your pantry.  Cooking dinner for a family on a weeknight requires preparation–you can’t just walk in the door after work and bibbidy-bobbidy-boo up a healthy tasty meal without a little forethought.  If the only thing you could make from scratch is D Batteries basted in Pickle Juice, you need to go to the store.

What do you always have on hand?  If you go to The Google and type “pantry staples”, you come up with 2 million results for things you should keep in your cupboards at all times.  I like the list that How Stuff Works has–these are basics, and if you have them, you can come up with all kinds of good stuff.  Add in some family favorites (at our house, Rotel tomatoes are a party in a can, and we like the big bag of frozen vegetables from Costco…) and you’ll have a good foundation for a week’s worth of food, including leftovers.

On the bottom shelf of the rice/pasta aisle is where the bags of bulk beans live.  Buy one of those bags.  Yes, it’s a lot of beans.  Pinto beans are the khaki pants of the kitchen–they’re not fancy, but they go with everything else you own.  Trust me.  Fill your stockpot about 1/3 of the way with beans and the rest of the way with water, and soak for 24 hours.  Then, put them in quart freezer bags, and they’re an easy addition to just about any dish.

In our freezer, we always have boneless skinless chicken breasts, pork chops, ground beef, tilapia, shrimp, and Italian sausage.  Ideally, I will put one of the above in the fridge the night before so it’s ready to cook when I get home.  If I forget to do that, putting it in a sink full of lukewarm water gets the job done in about half an hour.

Pork chops and chicken breasts are super easy to cook, and it’s not hard to make them interesting in the process.  Before you handle the meat (that’s what she said), grab your seasonings and such.  Kosher salt, ground pepper, thyme, sage, cumin, garlic or onion powder are all in my regular rotation.

With chops (I like big thick boneless ones), set them on a piece of plastic wrap (because you don’t want the trichinosis…).   Heat a skillet that’s big enough to hold all of the chops without crowding them, drizzle olive oil and a pat of butter (YES I SAID BUTTER) and let that start to bubble over medium-high heat.  Season each side of the chops with whatever combination of flavors you like, then flip them over and repeat.  Put the meat in the pan and brown so it’s got a nice crisp crust on top and bottom.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until it’s done in the middle with a little bit of pink, about 20 minutes.  Maybe flip them once more while they’re covered.

Chicken breasts can be cooked just like chops are, but I like to dredge in an egg wash with some Frank’s Red Hot and some flour before I season them.  It makes me feel like I’m eating fried chicken, which is a guilty pleasure.

When you remove the meat (heh) there are these great drippings and stuff in the pan.  You want to dazzle your family?  Deglaze the pan and make a sauce.  Leave the pan on the flame, toss in some diced onions and saute for a minute or two.  Add some crushed tomatoes (too fancy?  ketchup or barbecue sauce work) and some chicken broth or wine, and voila!  Fancy main dish.  Serve with some steamed vegetables sprinkled with parmesan cheese, and your family won’t know what hit them.

Cook more than you need, and you’ll be able to take the leftovers for lunch a couple of times, and you can even incorporate the meat into a salad later in the week.  WINNING.

So there we go.  I like to cook for my family, for no other reason than it’s something I’m good at and a kickass meal is one way I show my love.

Let me know if you try this, and how it turns out!