I lied. I promised an amazing morning recipe early this week and somehow I’m sitting here Thursday morning finally making it happen. My internet’s been down, so I’m sitting at the coffee shop right down the street where I used to camp out before I had internet in the first place. It’s kind of a nice change of scenery and pace from my living room (obviously). They make better coffee, there’s buzz, there’s bits of the paper strewn about, and pieces of conversation to eavesdrop in on. And this morning, there seems to be a steady stream of Phil Collins. Not sure what to say about that.
But I am sure what to say about breakfast these days. Since I’ve been commuting to Marin, I don’t have much time to have my typical breakfast of yogurt, granola, and honey. I can barely seem to get coffee and milk in my travel mug and get out the door on time. So I’ve started planning ahead a little with things I can grab and take with me. Homemade granola bars? Check. Bananas and those nice little pouches of peanut butter? Check. A damn fine English muffin. Check.
My mom actually says these are the best thing I’ve ever made. She doesn’t make those proclamations lightly. She made breakfast for her best friend Carol yesterday and toasted them with butter and fruity jam. And she’s already put in a request that I make a batch around the holidays so we have some around the house. I brought a bag to my “man friend”, Creg, and a few to some coworkers. The reaction’s always kind of funny: What?! You made your own English muffins? I didn’t know people did that. Well I’m here to report back that they do, and they’re shockingly simple, so you should too.
This was actually the first time that I’ve worked with yeast (I tend to be a quick-bread kind of gal), and I was (and still am) taken aback with how a simple ball of dough transforms itself into light and slightly chewy little disks with the requisite nooks and crannies. So cool.
The following recipe is slightly adapted from Peter Reinhart’s book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I actually found it online at this lovely blog. The key, as with most bread recipes that call for yeast, is a little patience and a side project. Break out that magazine you’ve been wanting to catch up on. Or the ironing or wii fit or…you know. You get the idea. And for me, my dough took longer to rise than the recipe dictated, so it took a little extra patience and some nail biting. But it all worked out in the end. It’s as simple as rising, quickly cooking on a griddle or skillet, and baking for a few minutes:
I wrote about the recipe and a great cafe in San Francisco that makes their own English muffins on Bay Area Bites this week, so if you’re interested in reading even more on the topic, feel free to head over there. Otherwise, here’s your ticket to brighter mornings.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Mix in the butter (or shortening) and 3/4 cup of milk (or buttermilk). If the dry ingredients are not yet fully incorporated, add enough of the remaining milk so a dough forms. Stop mixing right when this occurs: don’t over mix! Sprinkle flour on a dry surface and turn the dough out of the mixer, and knead by hand for about 9-10 minutes. The dough should be tacky (but not sticky), and register 77 to 81 F. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and roll the ball of dough around the bowl to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for at least an hour, or until the dough doubles in size. It helps to keep the dough (in terms of rising) in a relatively warm place–away from cold, drafty windows or open doors.
Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces and shape into small balls. Lay parchment paper on a baking sheet and spray lightly with oil. Sprinkle with cornmeal.
Move the dough balls to the baking sheet, spacing them evenly with enough room to rise and double in size. Mist them lightly with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal then cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise another hour, or until the rolls are nearly double in size. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Heat a flat griddle to medium (350 F) (you can also use a skillet on the stove top if you don’t have a griddle). Brush the griddle lightly with oil and gently transfer the dough balls to the griddle. Allow them to cook for 5-8 minutes or until the bottoms are a rich golden brown color. Be careful not to burn. Carefully flip and cook the other side for the same amount of time. They should flatten as they cook.
Remove the muffins from the skillet and transfer them to a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 6-8 minutes.Transfer the baked muffins to a cooling rack and let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing or serving.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.