Category Archives: Baking

Suicide Bread

Today there was an unusually large amount of scrap dough after all our bread was made for the day, so our lead baker got creative:

He homogenized all the flavors of bread we have into one giant monster loaf….Suicide Loaf, like when you mix all the flavors of pop at the roller rink??? Anyone? Is it a Michigan thing? No?? Ok. 

I also tried branding it with a wire that I attempted to heat to red hot. You can kind of see it on the top left. The brand was pretty terrible, a lame spiral. I really want to get an actual cattle brand and try it out. 

My favorite part about this is the fact that the forced perspective makes me look like a toddler. I assure you, that although it was intentional, the bread was still pretty damn huge. Also, pretty tasty.

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Marble Rye Scrap Bread

Sometimes you have left over dough, and rather than bin it, you swirl it all together and braid it, because it’s not like you are incredibly understaffed and exhausted. 


Then you patiently wait a night and bake it a nice golden brown, and then get your ass back to work. 


Pan de Muerto

Today until tomorrow, November 1 and November 2nd, are considered los Dias de los Muertos in Mexico, a few other parts of the world and in my apartment in Chicago. There are links to the holiday in both Pre-Hispanic and Post-Conquest Mexico. The Aztecs had a day to celebrate it, and the Spaniards celebrated All Saints Day on the 1st of the month. Naturally, the cultures blended, by choice or not, and today the “holiday” is celebrated over two days, “Dia de los Inocentes” (Innocents, as in children, who were free of sin when they passed), and “Dia de los Muertos” (Adults who were lost). Mexicans, typically further south and in more indigenous areas typically celebrate the days by making altars for specific lost loved ones. They offer them food, drinks and things that they loved in life. They open their homes to invite the spirits in to visit them and the food and drink are there to nourish them.  Many, then, go to the cemetery to clean and decorate the graves of those loved ones. In this way, they are coming to terms with their own mortality, while ensuring the tradition to be passed to the further generations. Death is not something to be feared, it is something that can bring families together, it can be a way to remember someone forever.

Traditionally for these days, semi-sweet breads are made in Mexico, as offerings for the dead. They are called Pan de Muerto. I found the recipe for the rich dough in From my Mexican Kitchen by Diana Kennedy, and I only slightly modified it to my liking. It ended up a lot like a brioche dough.

Into my mixing bowl with the dough hook attachment, I put:

2 Cups AP Flour

1 Scant teaspoon of Sea Salt

In a smaller bowl:

1 oz Sugar (2 T)

1 1/2 teaspoon Dry Yeast

1/4 Cup (plus a touch more) Body Temperature Water

1 1/2  Eggs Room Temperature

I whisked those all together and let the sugar feed the yeast for a little bit (10 Minutes).

Then I mixed that all together on low for about 5 minutes to make sure everything was incorporated, elastic and shiny. Next, I buttered a bowl (and should have buttered some plastic wrap, but I forgot, so my starter stuck to it as you will see later), and placed the starter, which I formed into a ball in the bowl.

I then covered it with plastic and a pilfered table napkin from a fancy restaurant and let the starter rest in a warm spot for 90 minutes or so.

Once the starter has doubled in size, I begin the actual dough.

See? It isn’t a big deal, it’s just a starter. So, next, you will want to tear this ball up and add it back to the mixing bowl. Also:

1/2 Cup Sugar

4 1/2 oz Room Temperature Butter

Mix that all together until it makes a sloppy dough, then alternate:

2 Cups Flour

4 Yolks with a Splash of Water

Also:

1/2 Orange Zested (save the other half for the glaze)

Mix all of this until a nice elastic dough is formed. It should stand up on it’s own though.

Put it back in the bowl to rest covered and greased again for another 90 minutes.

It will have doubled again.

Next, take 3/4 of the dough and form it into a ball, saving the 1/4 for the Calavera or the skull and bones.

I think, traditionally, the skull and bones are not so literal, but I just got a little carried away. I took the small portion of dough for the skull and divided it in three, making a skull with one, and the bones with the other two. I shaped the body of the bread as Diana suggested, although, in the end the rim along the sides, didn’t really show up due to rising.

On greased baking sheet they go under the covers one more time for an hour, just to make sure they are nice and puffy.  Turning my oven on a few minutes before the parts were ready at 375 degrees Ferenheight.

Next, I made a egg wash of yolks (2) and brushed it on the main body before criss-crossing the bones over it. Then I  brushed the bones one more time, trying to not over wash them and leave pools on the bottom of the bread.

Then I layed my skull over the bones. I did one final shaping of the face, then I brushed that too. It was a little creepy, sort of had a terrifying Michael Jackson plastic surgery nose.

While in the oven and starting to smell amazing, I mixed together:

1/4 Cup  Raw Honey

2 T Melted Butter

1/2 Orange Zested (the other half)

(For the glaze)

I let it bake about 20 minutes, then I brushed my first layer of glaze over the whole loaf.

Then I put it back in the oven and let it bake 5 more minutes.

After which, I glazed it pretty heavily then sprinkled it with a touch of sugar, and let it sit in the oven (which I turned off), door open, to cool for about 10 minutes.

I am pretty proud of the end result. It was beautiful, if not a little ridiculous with the corny skull on top. It is a bit too pirate, and seems a little silly to offer to deceased loved ones, but as my first attempt, I hope it will suffice.

I decided to make the altar or ofrenda in honor of my Great Grand Mother, or as we called her Grandma Hoekie. She was the matriarch of my Dad’s family, serving 3 generations of us until well into her 90’s.

She passed away in 2008, living to be 100. She was an amazing lady who did everything she could for her family, even if she wasn’t appreciated by everyone as much as she should be. She is pictured (R) above in 1927 next to the car with her best friend Florence Ball (L), posing like a sassy flapper. The Bakelite bangles above the photo were hers, and when she passed, I asked to take them to remember her by.

In the small dish are some candies, left there as a reminder of many trips on the pontoon boat we took as children. She was always sure to take along blankets for the cold night air and small candies (Hers were usually Hershey’s Minis, but what can I do in a pinch?) for all of us kids and adults. The coffee cup is there, filled half way, the way she liked it, and black.  She was not a lady who enjoyed cold coffee, so it was always half full. The picture in front showing her as I remembered her.

The smell of marigolds as well as copal (an insence) are believed to draw the dead into the home as well. I repurposed my Halloween pumpkin for this. I hope that she is with me today. I often think about her as I am cooking, not that she made a whole lot of traditional Mexican food or anthing. I think about her taking the time to do things the right way. She probably thought that she was just doing things the way you did them, and nothing else. I know now, though, that that way was the right way. So, whenever I can, I am going to do things in this way, not the “easy way”, but the way that makes the ingredients happiest. In turn, I think it will make me happy, and hopefully I can pass that on to the next generation.

P.S. I never ended up using this, but this was my Frida Kahlo/Dia de los Muertos inspired Halloween Costume that I threw together in a few minutes. I think it is appropriate…hahaha.


The Great Pumpkin

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Yet another exception has been made while making this cooking blog. Just to prove that I am alive and well, I decided to post this Jack-o-Lantern that I carved for Emmanuel in celebration of our Second Anniversary. He generally scoffs at “silly American holidays”, so I thought a neat, Nightmare Before Christmas- Jack Skellington one might warm him up to the idea. In regards to justifying it for my cooking blog, I say, “First of all, I do whatever I want!, and secondly, I baked the squash seeds(noting that this isn’t actually a true pumpkin) for a tasty snack”. I didn’t do anything too special, I just washed them well, then rubbed them with butter, olive oil and salt, then toasted them at 400 degrees until crispy. That is how my Mommy did them for me as a kid, and I will honor her simple and tasty recipe. I have to say, I do miss spreading out newspapers on our old linoleum floor and carving giant pumpkins that we all picked together, only to have them smashed by too-old-to-be-trick-or-treating-neighborhood-kids a week or so later. Those were good times, but a good pumpkin carving session can bring some of it’s coziness back.

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Naan of your business.

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I am sitting here listening to ‘Leader of the Pack’ radio on Pandora and baking some elaborate naan to go with my Daal Curry tonight. It is a good time. The smell of the dough baking and the cilantro and garlic together are amazing. A rather slow and lazy Saturday is a good day to make naan. I used to try to make Indian food and get really worried about doing things the right way, but today is all about experimentation. My naan isn’t traditional, but it is pretty damn good with Indian food. I looked up a general recipe for naan on the interweb, then I proceeded to not pay attention much and make some modifications due to my lack of attention span:

  • 1 Packet Dry Yeast
  • 1 C Warm Water
  • 2 t Sugar
  • 3 1/2 C AP Flour
  • 2 t Salt
  • Dash Turmeric
  • Dash Cumin
  • 3 T Shortening
  • 3 T Butter
  • 3 T Greek Yogurt
I activated the yeast with the water and sugar in the mixing bowl of my KitchenAid for 10 minutes or so, covered. Then I added everything else and mixed for like 10 minutes with the dough hook. The dough seemed really wet to me and I noticed that I more than doubled the fat in the last recipe without realizing it. Haha. I compensated by adding the extra 1/2 cup or maybe even more flour to the recipe. It seemed to work alright, although this made the dough almost brioche-like on the fatty scale. I decided that this didn’t matter one bit. Then I covered the bowl and let it rest a whole 90 minutes in the window sill to rise. Once the dough was nice and puffy I beat it down and kneaded it again with the dough hook for another 10 minutes.
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***This can all be done by hand, trust me, I have done plenty of things without the aid of a KitchenAid in my past life, but I did get one good thing out of my last relationship, and her name is Esther. ***
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Then I cut the dough into 8 pieces, which could easily be further divided for more portions. These naan were hUgE. I preheated the oven to 400 Degrees, then I balled them all up and rolled them out one by one into oblong disks.
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I made a sauce to brush on them before baking with finely chopped cilantro, garlic, salt, butter and olive oil.
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Then I baked them on an oiled sheet pan in the oven after I brushed them with the garlic cilantro oil. I baked them half way, brushed them with the oil mixture again, then baked them until golden brown. When I pulled out the little butterballs, I brushed them one more gratuitous time with the garlic-y magic paint.
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These naan are like nothing I have ever had before. That isn’t to say that they are superior or inferior either. They are not the stretchy moist things that Indian cooks pull out of a tandoor at all. First of all, I don’t own a tandoor, nor do I have the room in our kitchen. Mostly they were almost cracker-like in thin brown spots and crispy bready in the thick spots. They were pretty frickin’ tasty, and they aren’t that bad to look at either. The turmeric gives them a nice vibrant yellow tinge and a nice curry kick.
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Then I realized that, it was pretty important to start cooking the actual meal and stop focusing on the side dish. I have made curries before and tried to be true to the recipes, but I just have stopped caring about doing things the “right way”.  For my curry, I started with 1 1/2 White Onions and then I finely julienned it.

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I also small diced 4 small carrots.

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Then I caramelized the onion mostly.

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Before the onions were fully caramelized, I added the diced carrots and made sure that they were fully cooked.

Then I busted open a Can of Coconut Milk. I couldn’t find my can opener, so it is a good thing that a keep a P-38 military issue can opener on my keychain. It is the best can opener on the planet in my opinion.

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I took out 3/4 of the Carrot and Onion and put it in the blender cup with the Coconut Milk and blended it smooth to add back to the pan for further cooking.

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Then I added some ground Coriander, Cumin, Yellow Curry Powder, Turmeric, Chiles de Arbol, and Allspice to the pan with the remaining whole vegetables.

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I also added the Coconut Milk, Water, Lentils, and a Can of Garbanzo Beans and let the lentils cook fully. While this was reducing, I made some Jasmine Rice with the remaing Garlic-Cilantro Paint from the naan.

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It was really F-ing good.

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Twins in the City

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My twin sister visited, flew even, over the last week and we hung out in the middle of a heat wave. My goal was to convince her to move to Chicago, as she has been tossing the idea around for a little while, but given the heat wave, the city wasn’t looking it’s most glamorous. However, we did manage to have fun and to cook some. I miss her dearly already. Continue reading


Let them have Grilled Meats…and Cookies

Today is a glorious day in American History. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who once said, “Let them eat delicious grilled meats and ignite small rockets for the enjoyment of small children!”, or something to that effect. Don’t quote me on it. Either way, I have always had fond memories of the Fourth. Growing up, it meant spending the day at my Great Grandma Hoekie’s cottage on Barlow Lake. My dad would start the day by lighting his cannon, which was miniature, but still loud enough to wake all of the citizens of Barlow Lake.

This is my Great Grandma on the left, then called Jenny DeWitt, with her friend Florence Ball in 1927 looking foxy.

We would eat her Ice Box Cookies in the morning with Country Time Lemonade made with the cottage’s horrible well water (water that we would in later years, all out reject, as something that was only suitable to wash dishes and flush toilets). Either way, we enjoyed it. Her cookies would melt in our mouths.  They were the perfect thinness. I will provide the simple to make, but hard to perfect recipe here:

1 1/2 C. Soft Butter ( I use salted, because that is what I spread on toast (if you want to use unsalted just add a touch more salt later))

1 1/2 C. Sugar

1 t. Vanilla

3 C. Flour

1 t. Baking Soda

Salt To Taste (maybe 1/2 t. depending)

And that is it. Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla. Mix the  flour, baking soda, and salt a bit before you throw it into the sugar-butter and mix until just composed. Then form it into a log on parchment and roll it up so it is a nice smooth log the length of the parchment. Refrigerate it wrapped in plastic too (so it doesn’t taste like fridge) for an hour or so or until it is firm all the way through. Then slice disks from the log about the thickness of courogated cardboard. Use a thin sharp knife, because it tends to stick if you use a really thick knife. Now bake them at 350 degrees until you start to see a tiny bit of golden brown in a few spots. Let them cool and prepare to F-ing enjoy. At Thanksgiving I put a little Pumpkin Pie Spice in them for festiveness. I have also replaced the Vanilla extract with Maple extract before and that was awesome. One other time, I used fancy Turbinado for half of the cup of sugar for a speckly effect. This recipe is her basic one ( I think I added salt to it), but I don’t think she will mind up there, she is just happy that the family got together again for the Fourth. She lived to the ripe old age of 100 by the way.

The cottage when I last visited.

After we ate cookies and lemonade, we would all decorate the pontoon boat and participate in the Boat Parade. As kids it was awesome, we got to dress up like Lady Liberty or during Operation Desert Storm, we got to dress up like soldiers, but as we got older it was more of an obligation. We did it to make Grandma Hoekie happy. Later that day, everyone would grill hotdogs and we would eat copious ammounts of mayonase based salads and drink Coca-Cola. Then there would be swimming and drying off, then more swimming. When it started to get dark, my Dad would bring out bags of Indiana fireworks…the good ones, and we would run around with sparklers while he lit them off. Then we would load up on the pontoon on the verge of max capacity, then we would slowly putt over to the YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin, where they would have a fireworks display. Grandma Hoekie would always have extra blankets for us, and ALWAYS Hershey’s miniature candy bars to pass out to everyone. I coveted the Mr. Goodbars. These are some of the fondest memories of my life, and I am there in spirit today, as I am sure she is as well.

As for today, I will be barbequeing like the good old days, hot dogs and hamburgers, but instead, with a Mexican twist and here in Chicago. We are planning on making Chorizo burgers (just a touch mixed in with the ground beef) with guacamole, and hotdogs with pico de gallo.  We also might make some aguachiles, which is basically like a shrimp ceviche with cucumbers and chile manzana that you eat on tostadas. If we make it I will be sure to privide instructions, as it is always amazing. Happy Fourth folks.

Barlow Lake 2010