BONUS YEAST: Amish Potato Rolls for Thanksgiving

119Having now made something with yeast 11 times this year, I was feeling a bit bold.  I decided to volunteer to make the rolls for the Thanksgiving feast.  I really was getting away with the easiest job since my poor mother agreed to make everything else!  It seemed like a good idea at the time but as the day got closer, I got nervous.  I pored over lots of roll recipes looking for hints about the ability to bake ahead and simply reheat on the day of the feast.  I knew my mom’s oven was not going to have enough room to take and bake the rolls at the actual dinner.

007I knew I had my winner when I found a recipe for Amish potato rolls.  They start with 1 cup of mashed potatoes and the recipe specifically stated that they could keep for several days.  Or freeze for longer.  It also helped my confidence to use a recipe that came off the King Arthur flour website so I knew it had likely been tested and would be reliable.

Once again, I got in my own way a bit.  I had a large white potato and a handful of 011yellow potatoes from the farm.  I set about boiling and mashing the potatoes the night before I was scheduled to make the rolls, but I was tired.  So I didn’t peel the potatoes.  I just made them like I always do, skins and all.  And when they were tender I poured off the water like always (the recipe suggests adding 3/4 c. water in which the potatoes had boiled, but I didn’t read that part until the next day…!) and mashed them, and then thought to myself, “uh oh.  I bet 014the peels will be a problem.”

Doh, as Homer Simpson would say.

When I started to make the bread, I spent the first little bit picking out potato skins from my mashed potatoes.  I ended up with a cup of potato that was MOSTLY clean, but you’ll notice in the pictures that there are still a few that got through.

Note to self:  start reading more closely before starting.019

I also didn’t have the reserved potato water but that was not such a tragedy.  Having it, however, probably would have added both starch and flavor.  Next time.  Maybe.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty simple recipe.  In a bowl, you mix all of the ingredients:

  • 1 c. mashed potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 2 t. salt
  • 6 T softened butter (mine was almost melted)
  • 1 package yeast
  • 3/4 c. lukewarm water (since my butter was melted, I erred on the side of coolness in the water)

024Once this was combined, I mixed in 4 c. flour.  The recipe calls for 4 1/4 c. flour.  If I had been using my stand mixer, I would have just added in the full amount and let it go until a ball was formed in the mixing bowl after some “kneading” by the machine.  Since I was working by hand, I mixed in just under 4 cups of flour and then put the remaining flour on a surface and kneaded my shaggy blob into a relatively smooth ball and then put that in a bowl to rise for 2 hours.

I had worked later than I had hoped so by the time this went into a bowl for the FIRST 026rise, it was already after 7 p.m.  To try to speed things up just a little bit, I did a very quick preheat in the oven — just a few minutes — and then turned it off to keep some residual heat in the oven.  I covered the dough as directed with cling wrap and then let it do its thing.


Those little brown bits you see are potato peels I didn’t manage to fish out of the mashed potatoes…

In a little less than 2 hours, I was ready to go.  The dough has risen to the top of the bowl and I could at least know my yeast was doing its thing and hadn’t died.

I turned the ball out on to a piece of parchment paper and set to dividing up the ball into smaller roll sized pieces.   The recipe suggests cutting into 16 or 24 balls.  I did 16.  I assumed all 16 would fit into my 9 x 13 inch baking pan, but things looked pretty tight with just 12 so I put the remaining 4 in to a pie plate to bake separately.



I tried to pick off any visible potato peel I saw on the surface of any roll before forming in the pan.

Again, now you’re supposed to let things rise for about 2 hours.  By now, it was getting late and I was afraid I’d be up until midnight at the rate I was going.  And it was Wednesday — the night before Thanksgiving.  I did another preheat for minutes in the oven, turned it off, and set my rising rolls into the oven.  In about 90 minutes, I was ready to bake.  I removed the rolls from the oven where they were resting/rising at 60 minutes and preheated the oven to 350 degrees during the last 30 minutes of rise time.

The recipe says to bake 20-25 minutes.  My bakes was closer to 22 minutes.  When they came out of the oven, I brushed the tops with melted butter.  They looked and smelled fantastic. Since I had the extra rolls in the pie plate, I immediately stuffed my face with a roll with melted butter and honey. HEAVEN!

098 120

I was supposed to let them cool completely and then wrap them for storage.  But it was already after 11 p.m.

I did a quick 30 minute cool of the oven — open the door fully to let all of the heat out as soon as possible and leave it open for a while — and then put the rolls on racks into the oven to finish cooling AND to keep them from tempting the cat.  I got in bed, set an alarm for 3 hours, and then when it went off, I 123got up, went to the kitchen, and put the rolls in parchment and aluminum foil to keep them from drying out and to make sure they were “oven ready” for reheating at my mom’s place.  Surprisingly, this task didn’t really wake me up and I fell back asleep at 3-something in the morning.

Other than being a bit sleepier than usual from the middle-of-the-night wrapping of the rolls, I felt pretty good about the finished product.  I had another roll for breakfast with some cherry jam.  The jam wasn’t great, but the roll was awesome.

128They reheated well at the actual dinner and I thought they were super tasty with just butter or with jam. I looked at the rolls selected by my parents to be on the lookout for random potato peels.  If anybody saw one, they didn’t say anything.

I would definitely make them again…but I’d remember to peel the potatoes.



Yeast #11: Fig-Walnut No Knead Bread

027For challenge #11, I basically went back to the beginning.  It hadn’t really been my plan for this month.  I expected this month to be cinnamon rolls or some kind of formed yeast product.  But I started to get a craving for these delicious fig rolls that are sold at the Pearl Bakery in Portland, Oregon.  They have sweet fig and a crusty crust and I love them.  I didn’t realize until today that anise is the flavor in them that I adore.  I’ve always just remembered the fig, but now that I know it’s anise, it’s no surprise I love them.  I have a fondness for anise/fennel flavors.  I’ve been craving one of those rolls for a while so I decided I was going to have to make them myself.

Our local supermarket had a dried fig show up that I purchased for a party.  They 029turned out to be really delicious but they aren’t always easy to find.  I ended up having to order them via sources like Amazon.  It’s worth searching them out!

It’s not really sad, but I started this loaf yesterday with an internet recipe that called for cinnamon, not anise.  Had I thought to look up the bakery yesterday, I could have made that swap out.  Still, I knew cinnamon was not exactly what I wanted in the bread.  I wanted the sweetness of the figs, the nuttiness of toasted walnuts, and some kind of warm spice, but not a heavy cinnamon like a cinnamon roll.  So while I used the recipe I found to guide the amounts of fig and walnut to use, I used only a quarter of the cinnamon called for in the recipe.

Here are my amounts:

  • 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour — because of the amount of water called for and the humidity in our air from so much rain, I ended up using nearly 4 cups of flour in the first step
  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried figs or raisins — I love figs so I used figs
  • 1/4-1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted if you like — I toasted
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon  — versus 1 teaspoon in the original recipe

It turned out my impulse was good, at least for me.  The cinnamon gave a warmth to the bread but it didn’t overpower the fruit or the nuts.  It smelled awesome once it was finally time to bake.

021But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One of the best parts of these kinds of recipes is that you can’t kill the yeast unless you 023have expired, old yeast.  You start with cold water straight from the tap, so there’s not a lot you can do wrong.  When I started this resolution almost a year ago, I needed a quick win and this gave me that win.

024In most of the recipes, they have you start by mixing in the dry ingredients, mix in the water, and then mix in your mix-in ingredients like olives, nuts, fruit, etc.  To me, there’s no possible logic for why that would necessarily be the case, and once the dough is wet and sticky, trying to incorporate the mix-in additions seems harder.  As a result, I do something contrary and always mix in my extras with the yeast/flour/salt mixture and then add the liquid to that mix.  I find my ingredients get distributed nicely that way with minimal work.

I think this recipe might have a mistake in the amount of liquid or it was just too humid on the day I made my dough.  I used the amount of water stated in the recipe and my dough was very, very wet.  Too wet.  It was resisting becoming a shaggy ball like it had with recipes from trusted sources like Jim Lahey.  I knew what I was going for based on my previous loaves, so I felt confident to add in more flour bit by bit until my shaggy dough pulled away from the sides and I no longer had a slick of liquid around the bowl.  Even so, things were still much stickier than previous times with this kind of recipe.  Once to my liking, it went to bed under some cling wrap for the next 18 or so hours.

On day 2 I was able to do the “kneading” process which with recipes like this simply involve putting down some flour, plopping the sticky mess on it, and folding the dough a few times to incorporate flour.  No kneading.  Just a little folding.  This dough was sticky, still, and it was some work to get it out of the bowl.  As a result, before putting in a new bowl for the final rise (2-3 hours after the folding and forming into a ball), I made sure to spray the bowl with oil to keep the final loaf from sticking.005 006 007 008

When I got home from work, all I had to do then was heat up the oven and my dutch oven at the same time to 450 degrees.  Once hot, in goes the dough, covered, in the hot dutch oven for 30 minutes.  My loaf was already pretty brown, so once I uncovered it, I only baked my loaf another 8 minutes.  The recipe suggests 10 – 20, but you have to keep an eye on it for your conditions.

img_20161116_202354140I let it cool for a while but to be honest it was very hard to resist eating it right away.  I did cut off a hunk while it was still warm.  DELICIOUS.  Of all of my yeast projects, this is my favorite.  It’s not totally the same as the rolls I was craving from the Portland Bakery, but it has the same figgy/nutty flavor in the soft bread center and the crusty/crunchy crusty on the outside.



This morning I cut off two slices.  Once got made into toast.  The other got made into a grilled cheese sandwich under the broiler with a smoked cheese called “Campfire.”  Both were delicious.  The toast had a lovely combination of flavors — sweet fig, crunchy crust and nuts, delicious butter.  It was really lovely.  The sandwich, however, was a dream.  The crust got extra crunchy and and browning of the sandwich deepened the flavors in the bread.  The sweet figs with the smoked cheese and nuts were a really great combination.

Even though it wasn’t what I had intended to make this month, it’s a total winner.  I am sure I’ll be making this again soon.

Yay yeast, but especially yay to figs and walnuts!


Super Easy Crock-Pot Chicken Stock

049I’m actually surprised this hasn’t already been part of this blog.  Or maybe it has and I’ve just forgotten and can’t find it.

I sometimes watch The Chew — sick days, sometimes on vacation, and I’ll tape it a bit in the summer when there’s not much else on tv to watch.  On one of the episodes I caught in the past year, Clinton Kelly was talking about making stock in the crock-pot.  In his description, it was super easy since you didn’t have to tend it.  Among the other hosts, they also reasoned that it might not be as cloudy as the stock made on the stove since it would stay mostly below a boil since you’re cooking it on low heat.

235I always feel like I’m under utilizing my crock-pot so I was eager to use it for this purpose.  I tried this for the first time last year after Thanksgiving.  My mom sent me home with the turkey carcass for stock making which is something I like to do and she doesn’t (or usually doesn’t do).  Once I got home, I broke it down to make it fit in the crock-pot better and then added in the basics: onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf and pepper corns.  Probably also garlic.  I had fennel so I added in one bulb of that also cut in half.  You barely have to chop since large pieces are the goal.  It takes minutes to get going and once the crock-pot is full, you cover it to the top with water, put on the lid, and you’re in business.

236You then put it on low for 8 hours, go to bed, and when you wake up in the morning, you have delicious turkey stock ready to be strained and stored (freezer, for me).  It helps if you have a digital crock-pot that automatically goes from cooking to just keeping things warm automatically or you’d have to time your wake up call to the finishing time of the stock.  The only bad thing is that it was a little intense to be pulling out solids and straining liquid as my first-thing-in-the-morning activity, but the house smelled AMAZING and I had really clear, beautiful and flavorful stock.

And given that most people simply throw the turkey bones and the little bits of meat away, it’s like having a nearly free resource.

I’m always in a war with myself about wasting food. It drives me nuts and the worst offender has been my freezer (followed closely by my pantry).  As a recovering freezer abuser (which means out of sight, out of mind and forgotten), I now very compulsively work to keep my freezer under control.  I no longer put super perishable things like frozen berries down in the basement freezer to die of freezer burn and neglect.  That freezer is now only for meat, jars of stock or sauce, and things that last a long time like big bags of nuts, dried fruit, or chocolate chips.  If it’s not one of those, it stays upstairs, but even that freezer was getting out of hand recently. Even though I’m in it every single day to at least get ice, I had lots of “I have no idea what is in here” moments.  I knew sometimes things were in there but it was too hard to find them amidst the stacking and pushing of items.  Invariably, I’d be looking for A and find precious item B and think, how long has that been in there?  Is that from this summer or last summer’s bounty?

The one good thing going for me is I’m not anti leftovers.  I will happily eat the same thing over and over again to make sure it doesn’t go to waste and finding a portion of something later in the freezer does make me happy.  Beyond that, it was chaos.

I was in Portland for an event so I made a quick stop at an organization store and found some clear plastic containers to create “drawers” in your refrigerator freezer.  One has only one “drawer” and and the other has two drawers with a divider in the middle.  They barely fit in my tiny freezer but they made a huge difference.  I’ve got them side by side and there’s just the smallest bit of space between them which has been a good location for stashing extra boxes of butter, chocolate chips, or similarly thin items.  It was revolutionary.

First, I had to take everything out to start.  There were some humiliating moments as I had to throw out some lovely items that were long, long, long past being any good.  I feel it’s a terrible waste of my money and someone’s time when I have to get rid of meat, fish, or anything else I know I valued at the time…

Second, this gave me the chance to put things that aren’t perishable — like those cold blocks and ice packs that go into coolers and were floating all over my freezer — in one place at the back of the freezer.  Why were they given prime real estate over something like Italian sausage that was now very freezer burned and crusty looking?  Or parts of a turkey I spatchcocked years ago and had hoped to turn into stock but now were so old and freezer burned that they had to be throw out?  Or what was probably a really lovely little piece of smoked fish that was probably several years old and almost petrified?  Finally all of those little suckers are in the back.  Some are in strange spaces that now exist in the back of the freezer where the drawer doesn’t touch the back wall.  Perfect.

In the divided container I organized all of the miscellaneous bags of frozen vegetables, things I had frozen in ziploc bags, and little containers of things like frozen pot stickers.  Partially used bags of nuts went in.  Everything was super orderly and now I can see what’s in the back by simply pulling out the drawer.  I don’t have to dig around like before.  Genius — not mine!

In the single drawer I put in jars of things that didn’t fit in the door — broth, bit of soups I’ve made, juiced cucumbers from the summer bounty for making mixed drinks, corn flour, etc.  All the little quart and pint jars look neat and tidy and I can see everything by simply pulling out the drawer.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m still piling miscellaneous things on top of the drawers of stuff, but now there’s no risk it’ll push something else valuable to a place I can’t see it.  Thin things like bags of frozen basil and other delicate herbs can now rest on top of my jar drawer so they get used quickly.  Little partial bags of frozen pasta can go in that odd space in between so I see them every time I open the door.  Everything is viewable at any time simply by taking off the few things on top and then pulling out the whole plastic drawer to see what’s there.  I’m less apt to buy yet another bag of frozen corn when I can see that I already have two partially used bags happily waiting for me.

094When I was taking everything out I found some odd chicken back pieces and the necks from two chickens I bought this summer for the purposes of a fried chicken and onion ring party.  I remembered thinking I’d save them for stock making.  Finding them again during the clean out process got me motivated to make another batch of crock-pot stock.  It doesn’t take a lot of meat to make a chicken stock.

I went ahead and put the frozen chicken bits into the refrigerator to thaw out and then the next day I put together my stock components.

The genius of this recipe is you can use whatever you have.  If you had bones from a rotisserie chicken or two, you could use that.  If you had leftover pork bones or bits you could use that.  Random parts work.  Or you could go out and buy a turkey leg or wing or some chicken wings just for the purposes of making stock.

Because it’s what I had on hand, here was my ‘no recipe’ recipe:040

  • Two chicken backs and two necks (from whole chickens the butcher had chopped into parts for my frying.  The backs were too bony to think about frying since they’d have been a nightmare to eat and nobody I knew said anything about wanting necks).
  • One large onion (mine happened to be sweet and organic), chopped into 4-8 parts depending on size.
  • Three carrots, chopped into 2-3 pieces each (mine happened to be organic so I didn’t peel but I did cut off the stem end).  You only have one carrot? Fine.  Nobody says you have to have 3, but it’s what I had and I used them.
  • 4 stalks of celery, including leaves (not organic since the organic stuff didn’t have the leaves and I like the extra flavor leaves add to stock and soups in general).  Again, how much is up to you.  Don’t like celery? Leave it out.
  • 3 cloves of garlic — just because three came off when I tried to remove one clove
  • A smattering (maybe a teaspoon or so) of whole black peppercorns
  • Bay leaves — 3 small because they all came out when I meant to pull out one, but since they were small, I went with it.042
  • Enough cold water to cover everything

I do remember waking up in the middle of the night to the smell of the broth.  I went back to sleep quickly, but there’s nothing bad about that smell filling your house.  By morning, the mixture was a brown, roast-y color.  Everything is cooked, mellow, and spent with all of its flavor going into the stock.

048It takes a little bit of work to pull out and drain all of the solids.  I usually use a combination of a 4-cup measuring cup and my small pasta colander.  I fill it will ladle after ladle of stock and solids and when the measuring cup is nearly full, I let the solids sit in the colander for a few seconds to keep draining.  I then fill quart and pint jars as I go.  The solids get discarded.  After cooking all night, there’s very little flavor or texture left in the meat or vegetables so 051there’s not a lot of reason to try to salvage them for eating.

At that point you have to decide what to do with it all.  If I were hosting for Thanksgiving, I’d probably have kept them upstairs for almost immediate use.  Most of what I produced (nearly 4 quarts) I put into the freezer — some upstairs and some downstairs for use over the next months.


Click on photo to enlarge.

After cleaning out the freezer, I did want to make a pasta dish my Japanese neighbor Atsuko used to make.  She had a magazine with Italian recipes and two of them were especially popular with us and I often still make them.  In some ways, they make me feel better when I’m missing her or missing Japan.

The concept is simple.  You brown bacon in a hot pan and then add in vegetables.  Because I had it, I used various small sweet peppers, zucchini, onion, and shallot (not much of each item, but a lot of variety).  Once a little soft, you deglaze the pan with white wine to get the brown bits off the bottom and then add about equal parts of chicken stock/broth and canned tomatoes.  I had my own tomato/pepper sauce in the freezer so I defrosted it and then used some of my new chicken stock as well.  Once the 044vegetables are nearly tender, you throw in pasta (I used elbow macaroni) and a little bit of kale (I only had 3 “leaves” or stalks). Plus salt and pepper and because I like it, dried thyme and oregano.  Once the macaroni has cooked, you serve with Parmesan cheese.

The flavors are a bit similar to minestrone.  It’s not quite soup, but it does result in a soup-y pasta.  It’s very satisfying, especially since it cleaned out my veggie bins, used up a jar of frozen tomato sauce, and used some of my new stock.  Another bonus: only dirties one pot! Small victories!!