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Keeping Warm as Winter Approaches

November 20, 2008

It’s started snowing and generally becoming quite cold where I am, and for me that means one thing: My slow cooker and bread machine are going to be getting a lot more use. Growing up, winter always meant my mother keeping her slow cooker full of home-made soup, and now that I have my own apartment and my own slow cooker, I’m continuing the tradition. Additionally, I acquired a bread machine not all that long ago ($5 at a garage sale!) in an attempt to eat both more healthfully and more frugally. There’s nothing quite like the smell of baking bread emanating from your own kitchen. There’s nothing quite like cutting into a fresh loaf while it’s still warm. And there’s nothing quite like sitting down to a hearty meal without having to worry about what’s in it because you made it yourself.

I hope you’re hungry, because this week, I’m sharing some of my recipes and ideas with you. One key observation I’ve made (and this is important to note if you’re new to bread machines) is that bread machines are not 100% “set it up and forget it.” You can measure oh so very carefully and precisely, but that doesn’t always guarantee the right balance. At the end of the proofing cycle, just as it starts to mix and knead, it’s vital to check that it’s really coming together as proper bread dough. If it looks too much like batter, slowly add in some extra flour until it looks like dough. If it looks too much like gritty clumps, slowly add in some extra liquid until it looks like dough. After that, though, it can be left alone until you’re ready for some fresh-baked bread!

One other important thing to note is that not all bread machines work the same way. For example, mine is a Panasonic Automatic Bread Maker model SD-YD200. It has a yeast dispenser in the lid and thus requires all dry ingredients to go into the bread pan first, with wet ingredients poured over them. This is to make sure the yeast gets mixed in properly while preventing it from reacting prematurely. Therefore, always check your particular machine’s instructions to make sure you add ingredients in the right order.

The following is soft and spongy and sweet. You can almost taste the raisins that aren’t there.

2 cups wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbl. vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups cinnamon applesauce
2 1/2 tsp. yeast

Yields one 2-pound loaf.
(Adapted from The Bread Machine Cookbook, by Melissa Clark (Berkley Books, New York, 1993).)

This next one is a very hearty loaf that I developed myself. It’s a bit more complex, as it includes wheat berries and barley, which each need to be pre-cooked in a manner somewhat similar to rice. The ratio I use is three cups of water to one cup of grain. Gently simmer, covered, until all the water is absorbed. If it seems to be done too quickly, you may need to add more water. Since these are going to be added to bread dough and the baking process will dry them out, it can’t hurt to make them a bit more waterlogged than you’d normally want them to be.

4 cups whole wheat flour
2 Tbl. flax seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. rosemary (if using whole leaves, break or crush first)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup wheat berries
1/4 cup barley
2 Tbl. oil
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 cup warm water
2 tsp. yeast

Yields one 2-pound loaf.

The great thing about slow cookers is that you can set them up before you go to bed and have a nice hot breakfast waiting for you in the morning. I’ve used it to make oatmeal and rice a number of times, and it’s an incredible time saver for those cold mornings when I need to get up and just go! As for soup, I love the freedom and versatility of being able to just look in the refrigerator or the pantry to see what needs using up and just throwing it in the pot. The following are some soup recipes I created myself. If you don’t have or don’t prefer a particular ingredient, substitute to your heart’s content. When I was growing up, my parents always referred to the endless variations of a basic recipe as “beanie-weinie.” Here’s to starting your own!

1/2 cup black-eyed peas
1 1/3 cup water
1 15-oz. can green beans (including the water)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 28-oz. can Dei Fratelli® chopped tomatoes with onions and garlic
1 1-lb. bag frozen broccoli
1 1-lb. bag frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. Trader Joe’s® 21 Seasoning Salute

For this first soup, I let the black-eyed peas soak overnight first, and the water from the green beans was the first thing I added in the morning as soon as I turned on the heat.

2 cups vegetable broth
1 11.5-oz. can Campbell’s tomato juice
1 28-oz. can Dei Fratelli® seasoned diced tomatoes
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
1 turnit, chopped
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 1-lb. bag frozen broccoli
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1 15-oz. can green beans
1/2 tsp. onion powder
6-12 tsp. sugar

This soup goes fabulously with pasta.

I look forward to hearing back from those of you who decide to try these recipes. Bon appétit!

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