Saving money with bread: my favourite easy, healthy, no-knead bread recipe

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I’m back to making our family’s bread on a regular basis. It saves us at least $7 per week or more, and is much tastier than anything we can buy. On second thought, I think making good bread saves much more than the cost of bread, since my family is more likely to choose a fresh slice of yummy fresh bread than a more expensive snack like boxed cereal. Plus, my kids really love “Mommy Bread”, and it makes my heart swell to hear them say so!

With cooler Fall weather coming our way, making bread is also a lovely way to heat up the house and create that homey feeling that seems to define the season.

My current fave recipe is kinda healthy, and very easy. It’s the Good Whisk Bread recipe from Wildly Affordable Organic by Linda Watson (with only a couple of modifications that I’ll tell you about below!). Linda has made two videos (first part heresecond part here) demonstrating the process for making and then shaping this bread, which really takes the guess-work out–especially for the shaping bit!

What I love about this recipe is that it gets great flavour with a super simple recipe that requires very little hands-on time. It makes two small loaves, which I have been slicing right after baking, and putting in the freezer to last the week. It makes very flavourful toast and cheese sandwiches. My daughter loves when I make her a toasted cheese sandwich in the morning for her lunch (she calls it a “Cheese-a-roo”), and I love having a tomato sandwich for lunch, with mayo, cheese, and a pickle!

The original recipe recommends white whole wheat flour, and 1/2 cup of untoasted wheat germ along with the first mix. I don’t have either of these things, so I have just been using the freshly ground Redeemer whole wheat flour that I have, and not bothering with the wheat germ, though I suppose I could add in 1/2 cup of home-ground oat flour or some other add-in. I have also reduced the salt from 1 tbsp to 2 1/2 tsp, as I found it a bit too salty at the higher amount.


Good Whisk Bread

(by Linda Watson, from Wildly Affordable Organic)

2 1/2 cups (300 g) whole wheat flour, sifted

2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (or one package)

2 1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp (21 g) honey or other sweetener (maple syrup or agavé for a vegan choice)

3 cups warm water

4 cups (480 g) all-purpose unbleached flour

Combine whole wheat flour, yeast, salt and sweetener. Add 2 cups of the water and whisk swiftly for one minute. This starts to develop the gluten to give a better rise in the final bread.

Add the last cup of water and the 4 cups of unbleached flour, and mix vigorously and thoroughly to combine. The dough will be sticky and quite wet.

Cover with a lid and let rise on a counter for 1 to 5 hours, then refrigerate overnight or longer (up to 2 weeks). I find a good flavour develops at 2 days).

On baking day, remove the dough from the fridge and divide and shape into two loaves. This video shows how to divide and shape the loaves. They will be quite wet, but still should form a nice shape in a loaf pan.

Whereas Linda uses a greased nonstick pan, I prefer to line my loaf pans with parchment paper which easily peels away from the finished loaves. I find mine need to rise for at least 3 hours. I prepare my oven with the loaves on the middle rack, and a pan of boiling water underneath for warmth and humidity.

I also find mine need a longer bake at a higher temperature (though maybe a longer rise would correct this somewhat). The last loaves I made baked for at least an hour at 400ºF. The internal temperature should reach 205ºF.

Allow to cool completely, and then either keep at room temperature or slice and place in the freezer to maintain freshness.

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Rice and Black Bean casserole

Here is my recipe for a recipe so delicious you will swear it is full of fat and very bad for you. In fact it’s got lots of protein and fiber, and is pretty healthy. Not only that, but it’s very cheap and super easy! Get out your slow cooker for this one.

Rice and Black Bean Casserole

1 1/2 cups of rice

1 can, or 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans

1 cup salsa

1 cup sauteed mushrooms (optional)

3 cups broth or water

cheddar cheese, shredded

fresh cilantro

sour cream

Slow cooker directions: Combine rice, beans, salsa, mushrooms and broth in slow cooker and cook on high for about 3 hours, or until the water has been absorbed, stirring occasionally so everything mixes together evenly. Remove crock pot insert from casing. Top the casserole with shredded cheese and place in oven under a hot broiler until cheese is bubbly.

Conventional directions: Cook rice in broth or water. Combine cooked rice, beans, salsa and mushrooms, and top with cheddar cheese. Bake at 375 or until the cheese has melted and is bubbling.

Top with chopped cilantro and sour cream if desired.

This amount made two dinners for us (2 adults plus 1 preschooler), plus one lunch for my partner to take to work. It goes really nicely with avocado so I made a salad with that in it. You could probably eat it in a pita or a tortilla too. For a vegan option, omit the cheese and sour cream.

I’m planning on making more dinners with black beans since I bought a 3 kilo bag from Food Basics (about 17 cents per 100 grams). Any recommendations?

A pita-riffic dinner idea

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been buying cheap whole wheat pita bread from the Food Basics that my friend has taken me to a couple of times–$1.69 for 6 huge pitas. Turns out they’re a great replacement for tortillas. I think they’re tastier too, and more filling.

So tonight we had sort of a Tex-Mex burrito/fajita/wrap kind of dinner, which could have been very inexpensive if it hadn’t been for the red and yellow peppers that each cost $3.99 a pound. It was around five dollars for just two peppers! But if you can get your peppers cheap, this would be a very tasty, filling and inexpensive meal. I should also mention that this turned out to be another accidentally vegan meal!

One thing with using pitas rather than tortillas is that they do tend to get soggy faster. I suppose one could use a lettuce leaf to hold the fillings to protect the bread from the moisture, or possibly skip the salsa, or at least squeeze the juice out of it. I just went with it, and then gobbled my wrap quickly before it fell apart.

I’ve never had much luck eating tacos neatly either 🙂

Pita Fajitas

four large whole wheat pita breads, split into rounds

one onion, sliced lengthwise

two red, yellow, orange or green peppers, or a combination, sliced

chili powder

salt

refried beans

salsa

2 avocados, sliced lengthwise

other optional additions: sour cream, shredded cheese, cilantro, guacamole, shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, chopped green onions, etc.

Saute the onions in olive oil until dark brown in places. Remove from pan and set aside. Add peppers to the pan and season with chili pepper and salt. Saute the peppers until blackened in places.

Build your pita fajita with generous spoonfuls of refried beans, avocado slices, onions, peppers, salsa, and any optional condiments you choose. Wrap and enjoy.

Serves four.

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One of my next projects will be to make my own refried beans. I’ve got the pinto beans–now I just need a good recipe. Any recommendations?

A Cheaper Way with Beans

Cans of beans were on for 99 cents for the last few weeks, and I stocked up on some of our favourites: black beans for soup, mixed beans for tabouli, kidney beans and white kidney beans for chili and other stuff, and our favourite: chick peas, for hummus, tabouli, and many other things. But darn, they take up a lot of room! And is 99 cents really a bargain?

Well, we ran out of chick peas, and I really want to make both hummus and tabouli this week, but the sale is over. So I finally pulled out the giant 2 kilo bag of dried chick peas from the back of the cupboard. I measured a cup of dried peas and almost 2 litres of water into a large bowl, and left them out to soak last night. This afternoon I’ll give them a good boil for about an hour, and I’ll be good to go with the equivalent of 2 cans of chick peas.

And is it cheaper? Well, if memory serves, my 2 kilo bag of chick peas cost about $3.99, or $2 per kilo. 1/2 cup dried peas (equivalent to one can) weighs about 110 grams–about 22 cents. Yes, it takes some energy to boil them afterwards, but it’s still about 1/4 the price.

The other benefit is how little space dried beans take up to store compared to cans. A great benefit in our teeny tiny kitchen.

Once I’m done this 2 kilo bag, I’ll head to the Sandy Hill People Food Co-op and pick up some organic beans for $3.85 per kilo–still around half the price of conventional canned! I’m all about bringing down the price of organics.

So, for beans, as with many other things, I can either spend money or time, and in the words of Erik Knutzen, “my time is cheap”! (And BPA free.)

Detox Week

I can’t link it to just one thing, but a bunch of things: being busy last week and eating mostly beige food, coupled with two giant Easter dinners back home flanked by two terrible fast-food-on-the-road travel days on the way to Sudbury and back . . . all this has led to a terrible feeling of heaviness, slowness, general lack of good health.

In response, I’ve named this week Detox week. I’m aiming for lots of vegetables–including lots of plant leaves; lots of fish; little meat; and lots of raw food. While I’m totally not “into” raw food as a lifestyle or even a concept (food tastes REALLY GOOD cooked, and I’m not about to give that up!), right now I just feel the need for as much nutrition as I can cram into my body.

I’m also going to exercise and drink 2 Litres of water daily. My dream about doing Sun Salutes must mean something! In addition, I think we’ll try to forage some greens for salads this week. There should be some dandelion leaves budding in the parks, and maybe I can find some lamb’s quarters too. I’ll report back on what we find.

So here’s this week’s meal plan: 7 days of health!

Tuesday: green soup (watercress or spinach) with homemade crackers

Wednesday: salmon and roasted sweet potatoes

Thursday: roasted veggies and salad

Friday: tabouli and spaghetti squash

Saturday: veggie lasagne

Sunday: squash soup, and salad

Monday: eggs, salad and bean salad

Wish me luck! Let me know if you have a detox week at your house, or if you had one, what would you plan?

A-mayonnaise-ing Cupcakes

As it turns out, I’ve made quite good progress working through my giant jar of mayo. And it’s all thanks to this recipe for my “A-mayonnaise-ing” chocolate chip cupcakes. It’s adapted from a America’s Test Kitchen recipe for “Emergency Chocolate Cake” which is both SUPER easy, and also takes a full cup of mayonnaise. I’ve added chocolate chips for extra-chocolatey flavour, and made it into cupcakes so I can freeze most of them and ration them out to myself during those long afternoons (defrosted for 25 seconds in the microwave).

A-mayonnaise-ing cupcakes

2 cups flour

1 1/4 cups sugar

3/4 tsp baking soda

1 cup chocolate chips

3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 1/4 cups water

1 cup mayonnaise

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin very well or line with cupcake papers.

Sift together flour, sugar and baking soda. Add chocolate chips and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together cocoa powder and water until smooth. Add mayo and vanilla and again whisk until smooth.

Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until combined. Then portion into the cupcake tin. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into one of the interior muffins comes out with only a few crumbs attached. I have had a tough time taking them out of the cupcake pan, so if you have any tips, please let me know. Cup liners might be preferable (though my current strategy of eating all the crumbs–er, chunks–that fall off or stick or smoosh off is working pretty well for me).

I eat them as-is but you could probably ice them if desired. To freeze, I wrap each one in a square of wax paper and then store two wrapped cupcakes in a ziplock baggie (I actually use an empty milk bag, but have recently learned that Ontario is the only province that sells milk in bags. Seems unbelievable, but apparently is true).

In any case, I’m hopelessly addicted to these delicious things. I just might buy another big tub of mayo just so that I’ll “have to” make batch after batch of chocolate chip cupcakes.

Sneaky Chef Chocolate Cupcakes: It’s a Win!

Well, I finally got around to trying a recipe out of The Sneaky Chef, the Chocolate Cupcakes, and I have to say they were fantastic! I’m not going to post the recipe here because I want you to go out and buy the book, but let me just tell you they contained whole wheat flour, blueberries, and . . . spinach! Yes, spinach. But it turns out, spinach has almost no flavour on its own; it is totally masked by the blueberries to make what Missy Chase Lapine calls “Purple Puree”, one of her power-packing additive mixtures.

The other genius trick employed with these cupcakes is to use candy sprinkles as a texture decoy to distract from any textural difference the whole wheat flour could cause. She recommends using sprinkles, chocolate chips, and crushed crunchy whole-grain cereal as textural cover-ups where necessary. This is just one more of her thirteen strategies for healthier kid-friendly eating.

I gave a few of the cupcakes to friends as  well, so I’ll update with their comments if they have any. I was a bit nervous, especially since the “icing” is actually a mixture of nonfat milk powder, icing sugar and water, but after trying them myself I’m fairly certain they will have gone down just fine!

Another Recipe: Granola

As you can imagine, I’ve been pretty busy lately. I hardly have time to check my email let alone post a blog entry. But this recipe has been screaming out for posting lately. Which is because I’ve been making it alot. Which is because we’ve been eating it alot. In fact, the only problem with this recipe is how quickly it gets eaten around here! I’ve actually been known to take spoonfuls out of my husband’s bowl because he has taken “too much”! He didn’t like that.

I love this granola: it’s easy, fairly low-cost, and absolutely delicious. It’s based on the recipe in the Moosewood Restaurant’s New Classics cookbook, but with a few modifications. Here you go:

Moosewood Granola

4 1/2 cups old fashioned oats

1/2 cup each sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, coarsely chopped walnut pieces, sesame seeds, wheat germ, large flake coconut (sweetened or unsweetened–it’s up to you) or combination of any of those

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup liquid sweetener (maple syrup, fake maple syrup, honey, corn syrup, golden syrup, etc.) with 1-2 tbsp molasses added to total 1/2 cup.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients including cinnamon and stir until everything is well distributed. Add oil first and then liquid sweetener, and stir until well combined.

Pour out onto a large rimmed cookie sheet and place in oven. Bake for a total of about 20 minutes, stirring several times during the cooking to prevent burning and promote even browning. I used to stir every 5 minutes but found I can bake it in 3 bursts of 7 minutes instead. Try it on the cautious side to see how your oven behaves. You don’t want to burn it!

Some notes: I never worry about the “ratio” of dry ingredients to oil and sweetener. No matter how much or little I add, it always turns out. Also, see how I’ve cleverly changed the recipe to use only one dry measuring cup. If you measure the oil first, and put the liquid sweetener into the same un-rinsed cup, it just slides right out! Oh, and my favourite version has been with the cheap fake 15% maple syrup pancake syrup! I’ve never done a cost analysis of this, but it seems to me that it is cheaper than the store-bought variety. In any case it is better and healthier, and pretty easy to whip up if you need a quick treat. I eat mine with raisins and milk, but dried cranberries are also delicious! Vegan if made with anything but honey.

Fruit Crisp

[photo to come] I was writing up this recipe for my friend Holly, but it fits the bill for the blog as well. It is cheap, easy, and delicious, especially when it takes advantage of seasonal fruit. I made this yesterday with most of a 3-Litre basket of peaches that I got for $3–and that was at the overpriced grocery store near my house!

I actually doubled it in 2 dishes, and froze one with an aluminum foil “sling” so I can remove it from the baking dish, and then take it out and plunk it back in the dish when it comes time to bake it later. I’m hoping to be able to bake it from frozen–maybe for longer at a lower temperature?–but I will have to look into this more.

The recipe is from my good ole’ Five Roses Cookbook. It’s basically just a crumbly sweet oat topping over chopped up fruit. The fruit really compacts as it cooks so if you have it, I suggest really filling up the dish with fruit and then topping it. Also, I added sugar as the recipe called for, but then I found it too sweet. In the past I have usually just put fruit on the bottom and with the topping, found it sweet enough, so that is what I am going to instruct here. If you want to add the sugar, the recipe called for 1/3 cup sugar or brown sugar, depending on the fruit, so you can decide for yourself.

Oh, and a vegan alternative would be to use margarine instead of butter, or another recipe I saw called for chilled coconut oil . . . sounds tasty especially with the addition of shredded coconut in the mix!

Fruit Crisp

2/3 cup flour

2/3 cup oats

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup soft butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in butter until completely incorporated. A food processor would make short work of this in a few pulses.

Prepare fruit as indicated below and spread in the bottom of an 8 x 8 inch baking dish. Sprinkle oat topping over it and bake about 30 minutes until top is crispy and fruit is soft. Delicious hot with vanilla ice cream, or cold with yogurt for breakfast.

Fruit filling instructions

Chop fruit, peeled or unpeeled as you wish, core or pit removed, until it rises a good way up the side of baking dish. The fruit will shrink substantially during cooking. Add sugar if you wish, to desired sweetness, and mix with sliced fruit. You may also want to add lemon juice or grated lemon rind, especially for apples.

Suitable for: pears, apples, peaches, blueberries, rhubarb, or apparently canned pie filling . . . though I wouldn’t recommend it!

Super Economical Black Bean Soup

I kinda regret making this today, with the humidity at 80%, but it is super cheap, super easy, and pretty delicious. And with its wholesome list of beans, tomatoes, corn, lime juice and cilantro, it fits the nutrition bill too! It can also be vegetarian or vegan depending on the broth and additives you choose.

This comes in under $3 for the pot, and will feed our family of three for at least 2 meals. Whoever said eating beans was cheap, was right on!

Black Bean Soup

1 onion, diced

1 tbsp vegetable oil

2 tbsp chili powder

1 green pepper, diced

1 tbsp garlic, crushed (1 large or 2 medium cloves)

1 can diced tomatoes

1 can black beans, rinsed

1 cup fresh, frozen or canned corn niblets

2 cups chicken or veggie broth

juice of 1 lime

Toppings (optional, depending on what you have on hand)

chopped cilantro

sour cream

shredded cheddar cheese

crushed corn chips

Heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Add diced onion and chili powder and cook until onion is soft. Add green pepper and cook until onion is somewhat browned. Add minced garlic and stir until fragrant (30 seconds). Add tomatoes, beans, corn and broth. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes until tomatoes start to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Serve with toppings on the side so everyone can add what they want. This would be delightful with quesadillas or toast, depending on what kind of day you’re having.