Posts tagged: DIY

How to Make a Beautiful Loaf of 6-Braid Challah Bread

By , December 15, 2011

Mmmm, challah bread! The perfect holiday treat for your own family, or a friend! Challah is a traditional Jewish bread eaten on the Sabbath and on holidays, and is usually parve (made without milk or meat); this recipe isn’t parve (okay with me since I’m not Jewish), but if you’d like it to be, just substitute oil for the butter.

Here’s the challah recipe that I’ve used for many years (plus my tips for success), as well as video instructions on how to do a pretty 6-braid loaf.

Before we start, know that this bread requires two risings. Keep your eye on the dough — once it has doubled each time, move onto the next step promptly. I wouldn’t recommend leaving to go shopping and letting it over-rise and sit around too long, because the yeast will consume more sugar than you want, and the resulting bread will be more yeasty and not as subtly sweet; if this happens, the bread will still be good, but not as good.

Ok, let’s get started!

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Challah Bread

7/8 cup water, at 100° – 110°

2 tsp active dry yeast

1/4 cup honey

2 eggs at room temperature

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 tsp salt

4 cups flour (I like using half white, half whole wheat…all white is yummy but not as healthy…or you could also use all whole wheat)

For the egg wash: 1 whole egg + 1 Tbsp water

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Proof the yeast by stirring it into the water and letting it sit until it’s bubbly and foamy on top, about 5 or 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and warm the honey if needed so that it’s free flowing.

Stir the salt into the flour in a large bowl, and add all the other ingredients (yeast water, honey, the 2 eggs, and butter).

If you have an electric stand mixer, now would be the time to use it, allowing the dough hook to knead the dough for several minutes.

If, like me, you don’t own a stand mixer, no problem! — with a wooden spoon, stir until a dough forms. With the same wooden spoon, pretend that you are the stand mixer. Knead the dough as best you can for several minutes, until smooth, using the spoon — digging into the center of the dough, twisting, lifting, dropping. I’ve made this bread many times and discovered that you want to add a bare minimum of extra flour, or else the resulting bread will be too dry. When kneading with a wooden spoon in the bowl, you won’t be tempted to add flour since the dough won’t be sticking to your counter, to your hands, etc., while you knead. (You can also knead with your hand inside the bowl! Either way works just fine.)

Now, with the dough in the bowl, cover the bowl completely with a lid, plate, or plastic wrap.

Set aside to rise until doubled in size. To speed the process, I like to turn the oven on for a minute or two, then turn it off (test with your hand to be sure it’s only just warm) to create a slightly warmer environment than the ambient temperature in my kitchen… then put the bowl into the warm oven.

Once it’s doubled in size, punch it down and gather the dough into a loaf shape, cutting it into six pieces of equal size. Feel each piece with your hand, re-distributing dough from piece to piece until they all feel about the same.

On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a rope as long as you like; mine usually end up about 18″ long.

Lay your ropes onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper (you can, instead, grease a cookie sheet generously, but I find that parchment is really a good tool in this situation, otherwise the egg wash tends to glue the edges of the bread to the sheet, making it a little hard to get off. You can certainly do it that way… but if you have parchment, use it here.) 😉

At one end, pinch the ropes together, and now you’re ready to braid! Watch the video below for instructions on how to do a 6-braid loaf (it’s not hard, and the end result looks very impressive!).

Once you’ve braided your loaf, it needs to rise until doubled in size. I’ve tried covering the loaf with wax paper, plastic wrap, a damp tea towel, and they always stick to the loaf no matter what. My favorite method, therefore, is this: turn on your oven for a minute or two until it’s slightly warm, and then turn it off. You don’t want it too warm! Meanwhile, boil some water. When the water boils, pour it into a couple of mugs, and place those in your warm oven. Put the uncovered braid into the warm oven, and close the door. (I like to turn on the oven light to add a little more warmth too.) This way, your braid can rise without anything covering it, and because of the high humidity, it won’t dry out while rising. Because of the warmth and humidity, this step may go fairly quickly, so keep tabs on the braid.

Once your braid is doubled in size, take it out of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°. While the oven’s heating, make an egg wash by combining 1 whole egg and 1 Tbsp of water in a small jar and shaking vigorously. Using a pastry brush, paint the egg wash onto the braid.

When the oven is hot, put your braid onto the middle rack and bake for about 15-20 minutes, until the top is golden and the underside is lightly golden, but not overdone. Try not to over bake, as that will also dry out the bread. You want the top to be golden, but not too dark.

A nicely done underside will look like this. See how it’s golden also, but not too dark?

Let the bread cool, and enjoy! It’s delicious fresh, but also keeps nicely on the counter; seal it inside a bag to keep it from drying out.

It’s a wonderful gift to give, too!

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Challah bread on a bike…

By , December 13, 2011

So how do you transport — on a bike — an 18-inch loaf of fragile and delicious 6-braid challah bread? Funny you should ask, since I just did that last week…

You take the bottom of the box that your new canning jars came in. You fold it in thirds and tape one end shut. You wrap your challah like a mummy, lay it in its box, and keep everything together with a couple rubber bands.

Stick it in your backpack, taking care to tie your zippers together with a couple of twisties twisted together to make an extra-long twistie…lest the zippers unzip and the challah fall out.

And voila! It will arrive perfectly intact after its ride across town:

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And join me a little later this week when we’ll bake challah together and I’ll show you (in a video) how to do a 6-braid loaf.

Update: click here for challah recipe & instructions.

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Decorating!

By , December 8, 2011

A couple weekends ago, my mom and I were admiring some beautiful wreaths and swags at the local garden center; they smelled so good, and were so Christmasy! There really is nothing like the real thing when it comes to greenery at Christmas… and really, there’s nothing like the real thing with just about anything in life, I’ve decided.

But instead of buying them, we wanted to make our own — and so yesterday we did. Across the street and through the snow we went, clippers and bags in hand, to the park across the way. We gave some of the trees a ‘light pruning’ while filling bags with fragrant boughs, then cleared off their dining room table, turned on some Christmas music, brewed tea, and got to work.

We learned quickly that gloves are a must for a project like this!

Our creations began to take shape, and we admired each other’s work, exclaiming how that wreath and those swags were even better than the ones we could’ve bought. And how they were totally local, totally fresh, and totally free. What satisfaction to make something so beautiful! They smell incredible, too — something I didn’t really expect from city pine trees. Like a mix of fresh Christmas trees and wood smoke.

Here’s the wreath my mom made for the front of their house. Isn’t it beautiful!! I love how she added pine cones and some bare lilac branches.

Here’s the swag I made for inside our apartment:

A miniature one for the bathroom:

And a table centerpiece:

I love fresh winter greenery in the house!

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How to Juice a Pomegranate (without a juicer)

By , December 2, 2011

Have you ever tried fresh, raw pomegranate juice? It’s incredible! Pomegranates are in season now, so give it a try sometime!

You can easily juice a pomegranate without a juicer; in fact, even though we have a juicer, I prefer to do it this way. And it’s only a little more effort above and beyond the task of separating the seeds from the pith. One large pomegranate will yield roughly 1 cup of juice.

Now when you’re doing this, I suggest wearing black — or at least a big apron. The distance a juice splatter will travel seems to be directly proportionate to how much you love the shirt you’re wearing; this phenomenon also appears to be heavily influenced by the color of the shirt — with white inducing bigger and more far-reaching splatters than any other color.

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1. To peel your pomegranate, make perpendicular cuts (both going all the way around the fruit) — deep enough to cut through the skin, but not through the seeds underneath:

2. Grab a section and break it away:

3. Over a large bowl, gently separate the seeds from the white pith. This is the most time-consuming step.

4. Discard the pith & peel:

5. Empty the seeds into a blender or food processor:

6. Pulse them quickly about 8-10 times; we just want to burst the juicy outer red part without grinding up the crunchy white inner seeds:

7. Empty the contents of the blender into a mesh strainer over a bowl:

8. With clean hands, squeeze the seeds to get the rest of the juice out:

9. Pour the juice from the bowl into a glass. Enjoy it!

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How to Ripen Green Tomatoes

By , November 4, 2011

I got a question the other day about what to do with green tomatoes… well, let me tell you!

Green tomatoes are always part of the Autumn routine for us. Once picked, most of them ripen over the coming weeks, and some years we’re still eating homegrown tomatoes past Christmas!

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Here’s how I handle all the tomatoes that we pick before the first frost hits:

1. Usually I leave the tomatoes hanging out in an uncovered cardboard box for several days or a week. This is usually because I don’t get around to addressing them, but it also allows the close-to-being-ripe ones to ripen more fully.

2. When I’m ready to deal with them, I gather a few cardboard boxes and some newspaper. I go through the tomatoes, separating ones that are showing signs of ripeness (light blushes of color or softening flesh) from the rest that are still very hard and green.

3. Put the ripening ones in their own box or paper bag, and check them every day or two. Or, leave them out on the counter.

4. I put the rest into boxes — only one layer thick — and then lay some sheets of newspaper on top. Over the years I’ve evolved through several methods of green tomato storage, and this is the one I’ve settled on. It’s my favorite because it’s the easiest, with the fewest tomatoes lost to mold.

Methods I’ve used in the past include:

– I used to cut squares of newspaper and wrap each tomato individually — unwrapping, checking, and re-wrapping them each week, and marking with highlighter the ones nearing ripeness. This is not only an insane amount of work, but it’s also totally unnecessary. There are easier ways to get the same result.

– After I evolved away from that, I would use only one box and put multiple layers of tomatoes in the box, separated by sheets of newspaper. This was a little better, but still involved removing layers of tomatoes and newspaper, checking, and re-layering.

Store the tomatoes, only one layer thick, in boxes.

Cover them with newspaper.

5. Ok, so anyway, you’ll have multiple boxes with tomatoes only one layer thick. For this reason I like to use wide, shallow boxes. The boxes can be stacked as long as they’re supported by the sides of the box below and not resting on top of the actual tomatoes.

6. Keep your boxes in the coolest place in your house. Perhaps that’s a coat closet in your foyer, or in your basement. For us, it’s in the stairwell that leads from our apartment to our outdoor side entrance.

Store the boxes in the coolest part of your house. Check your tomatoes at least weekly.

7. Check your tomatoes at least weekly. It’s as easy as peeking under the newspaper. I like to move the nearly-ripe tomatoes to the top of the newspaper so that I can watch them and grab them when they’re ready.

8. Not all the tomatoes will ripen. Some are just too small and green to hold much promise of ripening, so this year I’m going to pickle them exactly the way I pickle cucumbers, using my trusty pickle recipe.

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Do you have a good way of ripening your green tomatoes, or perhaps a good recipe that calls for green tomatoes?

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Tomato-Quinoa Soup

By , November 1, 2011

When I was a kid, I used to love Campbell’s Tomato-Rice soup from a can. While I don’t buy canned soups anymore, I found myself wanting something similar this past week. Within minutes, I had a delicious and much more healthful rendition.

I used Bionaturae Organic Strained Tomatoes because it’s the perfect tomato soup consistency; just pour from the jar into a pan and add a little water. You could also whizz a can of tomatoes in the blender till smooth.

Add as much cooked quinoa to the pan as you like, and heat until hot enough for you.

Add salt & pepper if needed. (If I buy canned tomatoes, I like to get salt-free so that I can add my own unrefined sea salt.)

Yum!

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Homemade Concord Grape Fruit Leather

By , October 17, 2011

I wish I could give you all a piece of this fruit leather to eat right this minute! It has the best, truest grape flavor I think I’ve ever tasted. This leather is sugar free and made with nothing but ripe concord (or “wild”) grapes. And although the process is really easy — and you need nothing except the grapes themselves — it takes time. This is special stuff; the taste is so worth it, and when you take a bite and think about the process from start to finish, you’ll appreciate this fruit leather even more.

I find that it feels really good to deeply savor each morsel of food like this; so different from mindlessly feeding our faces, isn’t it. I bet if we were the ones responsible for the extensive work required to prepare everything we ate, we’d slow right down and savor every single bite!

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Concord Grape Fruit Leather

Concord grapes (that’s the only ingredient!)

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1. Begin by making my Grape Freezer Jam with your concord grapes. But go ahead and leave it unfrozen…or, thaw it out if it’s already frozen.

2. Preheat oven to 200°F. (You could also use a dehydrator.)

3. Tear off a piece of parchment paper the size of your cookie sheet. You could also generously oil your cookie sheet, but parchment is a lot easier to peel the leather off of.

4. Using a spatula, spread your Freezer Jam onto the cookie sheet, taking the extra time to spread as thinly and evenly as possible; it takes a few minutes to get it just right. Spreading it as evenly as possible is important because otherwise some parts will be overdone and other parts will be underdone.

5. Put into the oven and let it dehydrate until the fruit leather is pliable…not wet, but not hard & brittle either. Mine usually takes about 2 1/2 hours.

6. Remove from the oven, cool for a while, peel your fruit leather off the parchment, roll it up, and cut into strips! Store either at room temperature or in the fridge. I like to keep mine in a mason jar in the pantry.

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When I’m on the go and need a good snack, I’ll often pack a roll or two of this fruit leather, along with a bag of homemade kale chips. It’s perfect!

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Incredible Homemade Wild Grape Freezer Jam — Sugar-free & Pectin-free!

By , September 29, 2011

Finally, here’s my recipe for the best wild (or “Concord”) grape jam ever! The flavor really is incredible.

I’m not a big jam-maker normally. And maybe that’s because nobody ever told me that jam doesn’t have to be complicated, the way most publications make it seem. This is the easiest jam you’ll probably ever make…because I discovered by accident that you don’t need either sugar or pectin to make it!

And because it’s “freezer jam” (meaning you store it in the freezer), you won’t be sterilizing jars or canning anything. You’ll just be cooking the grapes way down, allowing the natural sugar and pectin that’s already in the fruit to do the job for you. (To give you an idea of how much jam you’ll get, 9 lbs of grapes yields about 1 quart of jam.) Then, you eat it! And if you’re going to keep it around for a while, just pop it into the freezer to extend its life.

This jam is also what I use to make my delicious Concord Grape Fruit Leather. Try it sometime!

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Wild Grape Freezer Jam

Wild, or “Concord,” grapes — nice and ripe. (That’s the only ingredient!)

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1. De-stem & wash your grapes.

2. Put them into a large pot, and turn to medium-low heat. No need to add any water to the pot — they’ll provide plenty as they heat up and burst. Stir frequently to prevent burning at the bottom, and to get all the grapes heated up.

3. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until most grapes have burst. The unripe ones won’t burst.

Cook the grapes until they burst…

4. Turn heat down to low, and simmer, uncovered, until the grapes have cooked down a bit. Turn off the heat and let the grape slurry cool off a bit until it’s handle-able.

5. Strain your slurry through a mesh sieve with holes just small enough to prevent the seeds from going through. A food mill can also be used here; I bought a $30 Italian-made one from Crate & Barrel several years ago to use for this purpose. When it broke, I was actually sort of glad. I went right back to using the circular sieve pictured below, and this continues to be my tool of choice — it seems quicker and more direct, and the irritation of seeds jamming up the mill is not there. I prefer it.

This is the most labor-intensive part of the whole process because you’ll really want to stir a lot and press the pulp firmly against the sides of the sieve to separate all the liquid from the seeds and skins that will be left behind. Really scrape the pulp against the sieve so that you get some of the pulp pushed through the holes into the juice. This seems to help the jam thicken up. This is also a time when you could use a blender. Before pouring the grape slurry into your sieve, pulse it several times in your blender, then pour it into the sieve. You don’t want to blend up the seeds, but the blender does help break up the grapes and pulp, making it easier to strain.

After most of the juice is strained out of each batch of pulp in the sieve, I like to put the spoon down and get my hand in there to squeeze the rest of the juice out of the pulp-and-seeds.

Once this process is complete, you’ll have plenty of soupy liquid and the pile of seeds & skins will be surprisingly small.

Strain your grape slurry through a metal sieve. The large one is nice for big batches, but the small one is my favorite, and what I use even for large batches.

Strained liquid on the right, ready to cook down into jam. The skins & seeds are on the left, ready to be tossed.

6. Now that you’ve got just the liquid, you’re ready to cook it down into jam. Pour it back into the pot and turn the burner back onto low heat. Simmer on low, uncovered, until it’s thick like…jam! This will probably take several hours especially for a big batch. Stir it fairly frequently, especially toward the end when it sticks to the bottom of the pot more readily. And turn the heat down lower when it starts to thicken; you really don’t want to burn this stuff, because of how much effort you’ve put into it. Keep it at low heat. You’ll know it’s done when you can drag your spoon through the middle of it and the track doesn’t fill back in. (EDIT 9/26/16: I have been taking it off heat even before I can see the bottom of the pan while dragging my spoon through it. It has set up well once cooled & refrigerated. So when it’s been cooking down for hours, and looking bubbly and sorta thick, and the volume has been reduced to maybe about 1/3 of the original volume of strained, soupy liquid, try cooling it and it may set up fine for you. I’m going to do more experimentation with this.)

You know it’s done when your spoon track doesn’t fill back in.

7. That’s it! Cool & store in the fridge (it’ll last a couple weeks before starting to go moldy), or in the freezer for long-term storage. You can also can this using the water bath canning method. I have been canning this grape jam for the past several years and it is my preferred storage method. It does, however, tend to crystallize for me (must be the sugars) when it’s canned. I don’t mind, but if you don’t want that, you may just want to keep it in the freezer.

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(Get your family to help you de-stem those grapes!)

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Homemade Hummus

By , September 7, 2011

If you find the taste of grocery store hummus to be a disappointment as we do, then why not make your own! It’s very easy, and the flavor is so much better. Dip veggies into it… or bread, pitas, sprouted grain tortillas (shown above), etc.

This is a recipe my family has been making for years; it’s very basic, so feel free to add in whatever flavors you’d like…roasted red peppers, spice blends, etc. Though I just like it plain!

Note: I find that raw garlic doesn’t really agree with me; if you’re the same way, feel free to cook this hummus in a saucepan or skillet on medium-low heat after you blend it all up. I think it’s delicious when cooked, and it takes care of that raw garlic taste.

Homemade Hummus

1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed & drained OR 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans

3 oz. water (or cooking liquid from the beans)

1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste), raw or roasted — doesn’t matter (…or 1/4 cup of sesame seeds that you’ve ground in a coffee grinder till they resemble a powdery paste)

1-2 medium-small garlic cloves, peeled. (I start with 1, since it’s easier to add more garlic than to take it away!)

3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 – 1 tsp ground cumin (or more if you like — add to taste!)

1/4 tsp salt

few dashes pepper

paprika for garnish (optional… but Penzeys Smoked Paprika is a great touch…I am obsessed with this smoked paprika! It’s one of those ‘secret weapon’ ingredients.)

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Toss everything into the blender and blend until completely smooth. Eat!

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