Would you think less of me if I told we ate the entire first loaf in less than six hours? In our defense, we were mostly stuck inside with all the snow, but that first loaf of warm soda bread and salty butter in early March always tastes so good, it’s hard to stop with just one (or two, ok, three) pieces. I’d say it tastes almost like spring but given the two feet of snow outside that would be a big fat lie. But it still tastes really good like a leprechaun’s smile.
I made our favorite classic recipe with the girls, but I also tried a new recipe this year for whiskey soda bread. Despite, ample trials and evidence, every few years I start to wonder, “Maybe this isn’t the best recipe? Maybe I should try something else.” Nope. It is. And I shouldn’t. But can you blame me for wanting to try a recipe with the title Irish Whiskey Soda Bread? C’mon?!
Two parenting milestones this week. First, I spent a solid 90 minutes waiting in two separate lines in a leaky gym to register Ally for kindergarten. Since her fifth birthday she appears to have hit that growth spurt where kid’s grow faster than Japanese knotweed and I definitely won’t miss the day care bills, but hard to believe that she is almost old enough for school.
Second, and obviously just as big, we took stock of our multicolored, plastic 36-piece IKEA kid’s dinnerware set clogging one kitchen cabinet and began to consider that maybe it was time to start at least considering replacing those with something age appropriate.
Picked up on a whim almost nine years ago, they might be our best IKEA purchase ever. Quick and easy to clean and virtually indestructible, they are perfect for meals or as art project accessories. I have eaten more meals than I care to admit off the purple plate.
I will be a little sad to see them go, but all good things must come to an end. And all little girls must eventually go to school.
They say you can judge a really good restaurant by how well it does a really simple dish. A simple dish gives the cook no room to hide. If the restaurant can do a really good roast chicken or pizza margherita than you know you are probably in good hands. Maybe we can say the same thing about cookbooks? If they can teach an amateur to make something simple or make it look simple than you have found yourself a good cookbook.
I feel that way about Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast. This is the cookbook I find myself reaching for most when I want a foolproof loaf ready for tonight’s or the next night’s (when I have my act together) dinner. These are not fancy or high concept breads, just simple, tasty, every day basics. If you can understand the concepts and follow the instructions for these loaves, you will not only make great bread but also have no problem with those fancy breads in other cookbooks.
We are getting closer but not yet to the point where all four of us eat the same dinner. The girls still have foods that they refuse or simply don’t like to eat. So, in 2017 I favored quick and easy recipes that hit one of three things: the girls can help, the girls will eat, or I can get it on the table quickly.
These are my favorite recipe discoveries in 2017 that I know I will be repeating in 2018.
On the cookie spectrum, I am firmly in the chewy camp. I don’t mind a little crispness on the edge, but give me 85% soft, gooey and chewy and I am a happy man. My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, maybe just plain my favorite cookie recipe, is Alton Brown’s The Chewy. But I don’t let those personal preferences limit my baking.
I aim to please the people, so when Michelle needed something to bring to a neighborhood ornament swap, I went for this simple cookie brittle. It’s completely on the opposite site of the cookie spectrum from my taste, but it’s simple to make, a little different than the norm and tastes really good, even to a chewy guy. I support that!
This Saturday we were going over to a friends’ house for dinner and we were bringing dessert. With a frightfully light agenda (nothing after morning soccer and art), I thought baking some cookies would be a good (time consuming) activity for the girls.
It’s not hard to spot the personality differences between Michelle and I, but if you need a telling example watch us in the kitchen with the kids. Michelle is the more intuitive cook. She gets the general shape of the recipe and then goes about making it in her way. I have more the baker mindset. I like precision, measuring and following directions.
The end result is usually very tasty no matter who is at the controls, but the process and the state of the kitchen before, during and after are a different story. Throw some child-sized helpers into the mix and it’s a multiplier effect. I need to physically leave the room when the all the girls are in the kitchen. For her part, Michelle can’t understand why it takes me so long to bake a dozen cookies.
I’m not claiming these are the best bread books, these are just the four that have worked best for me so far. They are the ones I reach for the most and the ones that I think about first when I want some bread. The best cookbook in the world is no use if it remains on the shelf.
If you are interested in baking fresh bread any one of these books will get you off on the right foot.