Friday, July 22, 2011

The Great Bread Adventure

Several of my friends have asked for my bread recipe, so I posted it here. For me, getting started was the hardest part because I wanted to find the easiest, fastest way to make homemade bread. And I was really intimidated because I didn't know much anything about bread. There are a lot of great options I considered, all of which have links below...just in case I change my mind in the future about what works for me.

I learned how to see if my yeast was any good.
I had a lot of expired yeast. Apparently getting married, moving, and having a baby doesn't leave much time for baking. But here's the cool thing...the recipe above actually proofs your yeast at the begining of the recipe so you can skip this link and not waste any of your yeast! {My yeast that expired in 2009 was still good at the end of 2010, by the way. I kept it in the fridge, but it will keep even longer if kept in the freezer.}

I learned more than I ever wanted to know about yeast.
For instance, it's a fungus! Learning what hamburger really was turned three of my siblings-in-law into vegetarians. I wonder if they would stop eating bread, too. That was really the only disturbing fact, and now I've shared it with you - sorry! So go ahead, click on the link above if you're interested in yeast. Personally, I eat hamburger and bread. I know, I'm gross.

I learned I can use my bread machine for dough and then bake the bread in the oven.  I really prefer bread baked in the oven much more than in the bread machine! It all comes down to the crust; too thick, crispy and tough in the bread machine.

I learned I can use my KitchenAid mixer for dough!
Please don't laugh. I know I am soooo underutilizing my KitchenAid; it would probably make people crazy to know that until now I had only used it for mixing.  You have no idea how ecstatic I am about this - honestly, the mess of kneading dough played a big part in keeping me from making bread. Hence, the idea to use the bread machine for the dough. Since my KitchenAid discovery I have actually sold my space consuming bread machine.

I learned about freezing bread dough.
I thought about making a bunch of dough at one time and freezing it. This is great for saving on the mess, but it really doesn't save much time when you consider it has to unfreeze and rise which takes about eight hours. I actually recently tried this just to see how the bread turns out. I was NOT impresesd, as it greatly affected the quality of my bread. It almost seemed to separate - lots of air pockets when I normally don't have any. Odd.

Found a visual (yes, there are pictures!) guide to shaping bread dough for rolls and other goodies. Apparently once you have a dough recipe you like, you can shape it however you want to get different baked breads. Now that I have the dough, there's no stopping me! Except for maybe three things. You know, the short little cuties running around my house shoving freshly baked bread in their mouths.

So there you have it. Ready to bake some bread? Have you used the internet to learn a new skill that you were previously clueless about? Or find instructions for a project? Do share!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fresh Bread

Back in December I started baking my own bread, and now we enjoy fresh delicious bread for just pennies compared to store bought bread. Several of my friends have asked for my bread recipe so I decided to post it instead of writing it a million times.
I found an amazing recipe that only takes 2 1/2 hours from start to finish. Don't stop reading because of the time commitment! I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find the time to do this, but if I start the bread going before breakfast it's usually done by the time we are all showered and ready to go somewhere. If I have early morning activities scheduled I do it in the evening right after dinner. So far this year I've made about 60 loaves of bread!

This recipe is so stinkin easy and actually faster than using a bread machine. What could possibly be better than easy and fast? Well, let me tell you: DELICIOUS! I read a comment that helped me modify the recipe for use with my Kitchen Aid Mixer. Of course one could easily modify it back to traditional kneading if they want to, but I have great results with much less mess! Here is my version, which also includes less sugar so it's perfect for daily bread use. If you want the original version, click here.

White Bread
2 C warm water {recipe says 110º F, but I don't use a thermometer to check - I just run my tap water until it's borderline hot}
¼ C white sugar
1 ½ Tablespoons active dry yeast
¼ C vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt
6 C flour

1. In a large Kitchen Aid bowl dissolve the sugar in warm water, then stir in yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam {this is when I sift my 6 cups of flour, and it's usually proofed by the time I'm done measuring and sifting}.

2. Mix salt & oil into yeast. Using dough hook, mix in one cup of flour at a time. Let dough hook knead for 5 minutes. Take out and put a little oil in bowl; turn dough to coat. Cover with plastic saran wrap and a towel. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk; about 1 hour.

3. Punch dough down. Knead for a couple minutes til it's not oily anymore and cut in half. Use a rolling pin to squish out all the air bubbles and roll it into a rectangle shape about as wide as your bread pan, maybe a touch wider. Roll up, tuck in the edges to shape into loaves, and place in two well greased bread pans seam-side down. Cover with same saran wrap from above, cover with a towel, and let rise 30 minutes or until dough reaches top of pans or 1 inch above. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool 10 minutes before slicing {otherwise bread will cave...believe me, I've tried to eat it immediately and it didn't work. Even after knowing it would cave if I sliced it right away I've done it, but boy was it delicious!}

If you're interested in doing a little learning yourself, check out this post with the links I found to be the most helpful in my quest for bread knowledge. You'll find info on shaping, freezing, and more!

Update: After making this bread recipe once or twice weekly for a year and a half, I realized somewhere over time I omitted a couple steps. I haven't noticed a difference in the quality of my bread, so I updated my recipe accordingly. Raise your hand if you like fewer steps and less time to make homemade bread!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thank you Teachers

Summer break has officially hit. The luxury of not going to school is over and the boredom has begun. Luckily I have some tricks up my sleeve, but more on that later.  As I was looking through our pictures I found this one from the last day of school.
This was such a fun, easy, and relatively fast project. I'm not one to reinvent the wheel, so if you're interested you can find the tutorial here. I would, however, modify the wheel by adding a little note about the ribbon {made to look like a ruler}. This tutorial doesn't mention length, but I found that 31 inches was just about right - the other one I made was shorter and I had a hard time tying it into a bow {sorry, Ms. Rogers}. And a word to the wise, be careful when carrying. The pencils aren't glued on {so they can be used later} and they will slip off if you're not supporting the vase from the bottom while carrying.

While we're on the topic of thanking teachers, here's another one we made during teacher appreciation week. This one was even easier! This is a pretty lame photo, but you get the idea. We attached the tag with some curling ribbon.
This could easily be adapted to give to anyone you think is AWesome.
Do you do anything for teachers at the end of the school year? Something crafty or just a note to tell your teachers how much you appreciate them? I've heard those simple notes of gratitude are the best.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Money for the Orphans

Remember how we had a yard sale to earn money for the orphans in Africa? If you have no clue what I'm talking about, this post will fill you in. I thought we only made about $400 because I only counted the bills and left the coins for Camille to count {for math practice, of course}. She did an excellent job - I was amazed at how well she counted by fives and tens!
Math isn't her only forte. She is quite skilled at funny faces!
It turns out we made $464.02! A huge thank you to all the family, friends, and even a few strangers who made this possible. We had 27 people come together to make this happen through their generosity; we never could have done this on our own. I am reminded of the parable when Jesus fed the multitude with two fish and five loaves of bread. I have witnessed the faith of a six year old turn two pennies into more than $450 which will benefit children of God through Mothers Without Borders.
The money we raised is enough to feed a child for a year and a half or 18 children this month.
This money could send three children to school for a year {includes two uniforms, shoes, socks, a book bag, pencils, text books and school fees}
Perhaps it will be used to buy farming tools for the community gardens.
Maybe it will buy textbooks or other school supplies. Perhaps it will even help build a school.

Mothers Without Borders has many programs that benefit the children in Africa, and we are grateful that this money will be used to bless the lives of others.

If you want to read more about our yard sale adventures, you can check out the pre-yard sale post and the "what I would have done differently" post.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Joseph's First Birthday

Our baby turned one year old! What? You missed it? I know some parents enjoy going all out for the first birthday but we decided not to rent the zoo and invite every person we've ever known. Sorry bout was nothing personal. Todd was still recovering from surgery to fix his deviated septum and my parents were out of town on vacation, so we decided to have a nice quiet birthday celebration at home. 
We did invite a few of the cousins, aunts, and uncles. Actually we invited them all {at least all the local ones} because our family is tight like that. But just a few were able to make it and we're so glad they joined us. We did some of Joseph's favorite things like dancing...
 And eating...
And playing with garbage. Okay, perhaps Joseph's the only one who decided to do that. Cue the typical "kids enjoy the packaging more than the toys" comment. 
Each person wrote down something they like about Joseph or a special memory from this year, and the younger cousins drew him pictures. I have these in an envelope for him {maybe I'll decorate it someday} as a special keepsake from his first birthday.

So there you have it. Yep, that's it. No fancy decorations {just a couple pom poms and balloons}, no creative invitations {we just called family}, no smothering of gifts {just practical things like sippy cups and cheerios}, and no designer cake that cost us a small fortune {we're saving for college}. Is everyone in the blogosphere gasping yet?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-party and I love looking at all the fun party themes and ideas out there. In fact, sometimes I see all those creative parties and feel guilty for not having the time and energy to tackle something like that. But then I remember that my time and energy was and is being spent on my family, which will outlast any party favor I could ever muster making. The lack of an elaborate production in no way diminishes the way we feel about our bundle of joy that arrived a year ago. We are so blessed to have Joseph in our family. His sweet spirit radiates pure joy throughout our home, and somehow he unites our family and strengthens our bonds of love for each other.

So how do you like to celebrate birthdays? Do you like to keep it simple or go all out with theme parties or do a little of both depending on the year? Any birthday traditions out there?