X Bread

Bet you thought I forgot about my bread challenge, didn’t you? Well, considering that the last time I baked bread was in February, I don’t blame you for thinking that. But have a little faith in me! The 2012 goals were all chosen for a reason – mainly, to have me practice and learn to do a few different things well. So I’m hoping to accomplish them all, and then some!

I adored making this loaf of bread, and wish I knew how to make more bread-like products. I’m not positive, but for next year I’m considering a bread challenge to up the ante and let me practice bread-making skills. 40 loaves might be a bit high for me, so that number will take some playing, most likely. Stay tuned.

I’ve heard so much about this “X bread”, recipe by Pioneer Woman. She just calls it “The Bread, In His Words”, but its telltale feature is the large X you cut into the top, so the “X bread” name is more fitting. When I first saw the recipe, a while back, I was like: “Oh, it has yeast, too bad.” I used to always say that! I was fairly terrified of yeast. Like not in a “it’s going to grow and open the refrigerator door – it’s alive!!” kind of terrified. Just, I didn’t have the cojones to conquer it. NO LONGER. When I looked back at this recipe last week, I was amazed to find that it actually looked incredibly easy.

Gather: 1/2 cup melted butter, 4 cups bread flour, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp yeast, and 1 cup of water. Add chopped herbs (I used chives) to the butter. If you’re using active dry yeast (as I was), sprinkle it on the surface of the water so it can start working for a few minutes.

Add all of the ingredients together. Like so:

Looks cool right? Like there are flour mountains and islands amid seas of butter. My kind of world.

And begin mixing together by hand! At first, your fingers will be covered with sticky goo, but soon the dough will come together and your hands will be magically clean. Alternatively, you can use a fancy stand mixer with a fancy dough hook, but I, sadly, do not have one of those. I ended up kneading it for about 15 minutes (while listening to the sultry tones of John Mayer) by hand, which is a decent workout. Seriously. I kneaded it until I could do this:

It’s called making a “window pane”, and it means that you grab a small chunk of the dough and stretch it slowly and gently. If it can become somewhat transparent before ripping, it’s done.

Form it into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 1-4 hours until it’s “doubled in size”. I can never tell whether it’s doubled or just larger. Either way, I only had an hour  to let it rise, and it turned out just fine! Preheat the oven to 450.

Place in a casserole dish/soup pot/oven-proof bowl. Coat the dough with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and cut a large, deep X in the surface so the bread can “bloom”! So much fun! At this point in the baking process, I was fairly giddy. Cover (with the lid of the dish, or some aluminum foil) and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for 15-30 minutes. Mine needed only 15 after removing the lid before it was nicely golden brown and beautiful.

MMMMM. And smelled divine, too.

It tasted even better! I’ve been warming it up in the oven every time I want a slice, because it’s so delicious warm from the oven. This is a delicious, savoury bread that I would (and will) make again.

In fact, I’m off to eat some right now! Happy bread-making.

Martha’s Macaroni-and-Cheese

It’s summer! Despite the rain, and dreary skies, and the chill in the air, it’s still technically summer and I couldn’t be happier. This will be my second summer in Montreal, and I can’t wait for it to really start. Everyone was moving in and out of apartments yesterday, but I’m staying in my little apartment another year. I’m hoping to do a few touch-ups here and there, but overall I love my place like crazy.

Since I had 2 exams Monday, I didn’t get my act together on the blog. Don’t worry – I’ll make up for it from here on out. I have a couple of great things to share, as well as a brand new project that I’m working on, which is going to be totally awesome. Stay tuned for that!

Today, it’s a mac-and-cheese kind of day where I am. It’s rainy. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s blah. I made this mac-and-cheese a couple weeks ago, but boy am I wishing I had a bowl right now. I made it right this time: making sure I had all the right ingredients (not just winging it with what I had in my fridge), used real butter, baked it in my Grandma’s casserole dish, tore up baguette for the top, and felt like a regular Martha! For me, the key was the chewy bread “crumbs” – they added a really nice texture that contrasts with the softness of the pasta. I really can’t see myself making any other mac-and-cheese recipe ever again. Except if I’m lazy and just make it from the box!

I used Deb’s recipe, which is adapted from Martha Stewart’s famous recipe. There are many adaptations, but it’s all the same really: lots of butter, lots of cheese, lots of pasta. Carbs. A lot of carbs. I ended up using the Pecorino Romano cheese instead of Gruyere, mostly because I’m a cheapskate and Gruyere is more expensive. My mac-and-cheese was delicious with Romano, as I’m sure it would have been with Gruyere. But just in case you’re a cheapskate like me, go with the Romano and it’ll still taste super-duper.

My favourite part was piling all the sort-of-al-dente pasta into the pan with the cheese sauce. I just think it looks awesome. How do they do that? How do they make tiny little macaroni noodles so perfect? I left it like this for a few seconds before stirring it all in together. By the way, the cheese sauce is out of bounds. If you wanted to stop and dip some leftover baguette into it and eat a bunch of it, I would not judge you. I would understand you.

But it’s worth it to wait until there is pasta and bread involved, until it’s been baked, until there’s a glass of fruit punch (sadly, that’s not red wine, though I wish it had been!) in your hand and you’re ready for a beautiful lunch. Comfort food, for real.

Do you love macaroni-and-cheese? What recipe do you normally follow? Or what brand do you like out of the box? Happy eats, folks!

Six Layer Chocolate Malted and Toasted Marshmallow Cake

Brace yourselves.

Wait, maybe I should have somehow written that in the title. The title alone sometimes stops my heart. It’s okay though guys: I only had one piece, and went for a run this morning. (Let’s just ignore the fact that the run probably burned 1/3 of the calories I consumed from that piece of cake alone.)

It’s probably a good thing that the birthdays of my closest friends all lie between March 12 and April 23. Because by the time April 23 rolls around I am not going to want to so much as see a cake until, like, at least 2013. I mean, pie maybe, but not cake.

Joking aside though, there are 5 birthdays (including my own) that fall between those dates, and that means that we, as a group, gain approximately a cake each, right before summer, aka bikini season. Way to plan that one out, parents, way to plan. Because it’s not as though cake is optional, on a birthday. For me it sometimes is, because icing can occasionally make me nauseous, but if there ain’t cake there sure as hell better be a tray of brownies or something.

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Most of you know I live in Montreal, most of the time. The rest of the time (time which is dwindling, as the years go by!) I spend at home in Oakville with my family. We play with cats, eat amazing food, run errands, argue with each other, laugh, and increasingly watch InkMaster on TV. One great thing about my hometown is that, despite being kind of suburban, it has a lot of great restaurants – which I tend to frequent, when I’m home.

Yesterday, my friend Kyle and I caught up over food at the oh-so-charming family favourite, Stoney’s Bread Company. It’s an adorable downtown restaurant, filled with light, noise, and good smells. It was recently profiled on the Food Network show You Gotta Eat Here, but my sister has been going and ordering the Nove sandwich ever since I was in high school.

We ordered the coastal mushroom pizza and the balsamic chicken sandwich. See the full menu here.