Monday, January 24, 2011

CSA 26: Sweet Potato Bread

There are many reasons I joined a CSA. Certainly my health was a major reason. But the health of the planet was another. Organic farming is healthier for the land and eating locally and seasonally is an easy way to reduce my carbon footprint.

My CSA is just about 100 miles from my home, which for most modern, and certainly city-dwelling locavores, is considered a gold standard radius for local eating. Sure some extremists might have a smaller radius, but really 100 miles is pretty tight. I try to get as much food from within this range as possible. But I'm not super strict; I will expand my radius as needed, while always bearing it in mind. So I will always choose New York apples and avoid Washington. I favor New England maple syrup over Canadian, and Florida citrus and avocados over their Californian cousins. There are a few items I will make exceptions for (Guinness for example) that simply aren't available in local form. But to a large degree I do make some culinary sacrifices.

I will not buy Chinese garlic for example. And my banana and pineapple consumption has taken a major hit. I will eat these things if served to me - I did not hesitate for example, recently cutting into and savoring the Honduran pineapple presented to me. But I do not buy them anymore.

Mostly I'm happy with my choice to live like this. After all, why have morals if you aren't going to live by them?

But sometimes, I really miss bananas. Banana is one of my favorite foods. Raw banana, banana in cereal with milk, banana & cinnamon in oatmeal, banana bread, banana pancakes, banana and marshmallow fluff moon pies, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, banana pudding parfait, banana smoothies, banana ice cream; Oh how I do love banana.

But bananas are foreign fruit and I've made a moral choice. So no, I have no bananas today (or tomorrow, or the day after).

So here I am, in a mid-winter funk, thinking I need to get my diet in order, and faced with a fridge full of sweet potatoes and the looming knowledge that in just a few days, I'll have a whole new batch of winter veggies. And it occurs to me - banana bread is just a basic baking powder bread (as opposed to a yeast bread) with a mass of sweet squishy banana added. So why wouldn't sweet potato work? It is also sweet and squishy.  And I was right, it does work. So I made myself some healthful, delicious, moist, sweet potato bread, the perfect breakfast solution for a busy week.

I roasted my sweet potato first (bake at 350 until they start to ooze), and scooped the insides out and mashed them before adding the other wet ingredients. For my seasoning blend I used a kitchen staple I whip up: 3 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cloves and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. I always have this blend on hand for breads, muffins, oatmeal and sweet potato or pumpkin dishes.

While my love for banana bread is in no way diminished, or forgotten, this bread is a tasty alternative. It’s got the same moistness and same level of sweetness as banana bread. And it’s reassuring to my diet that it’s loaded with whole grains and the loaf as a whole has 4 servings of vegetables in it. A couple slices with fresh salted butter are a quick easy on the go breakfast.

Sweet Potato Bread
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup flaxseed meal
3/4 cup sugar
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinn-blend

1 egg
2 sweet potatoes, baked, peeled & mashed
3/4 cups water
3 tbsp olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Mix dry stuff in a big bowl. Mix wet stuff in a small bowl. Add wet to dry and mix well (it will all mix in, no matter how dry & doubtful you may find it at first - keep mixing). Pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

(Almost the) Best Whole Wheat Bread

I grew up eating homemade bread. It was delicious, but it was also so not like everyone's at school. It was a love-hate relationship.

Both my mother and my grandmother made bread regularly.  I remember having all sorts of homemade breads, rolls and biscuits. I learned at a very young age how to cut a straight slice of bread to make a sandwich. I am one of those people who can say “it’s the best thing since sliced bread” and truly mean it as a compliment.  But there is a joy to hand slicing homemade bread: a thick slice is a small meal in of itself, especially with a layer of butter or a drizzle of honey.

I had someone say to me a few years ago “you make bread?  I never knew you had a bread machine.”  They were dead serious.  It just never occurred to them that bread could be hand made. (Surely they just never thought of it, since daily bread pre-dates the industrial revolution by thousands of years.) I’ve always known the simple acts of mixing and kneading and rising and punching and rising and baking.

I have several bread recipes. A favorite is from a recipe card printed "From the recipe file of Helen Griffin" (my mother) with the recipe for Best Whole Wheat Bread in my grandmother's handwriting. I've made it, it is a very familiar bread, certainly a recipe they both used, or at least very close to it. That's a cool thing about it - it is the best tasting whole wheat bread, but it’s also an easily modified recipe. I adjusted down for size and had to alter some ingredients due to what I had on hand. When I made it last I accidentally tripled the yeast I meant to use (whoops!) and my oven got pretty wonky on me as far as heating up, but it came out ok.  Below is with the proper amount of yeast.  To make oat flour, put 5 minute oat meal in a food processor, blender or mini-chop.  It’ll turn in to flour in about 45 seconds.

In a small bowl, whisk together:
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 tsp sugar

Mix well and set aside. It’ll smell yeast-y, this is a good thing.  In a big bowl, mix:

2 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup flaxseed flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt

Then in a small-medium bowl, mix:

1 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp olive oil

Add to the flour, along with the yeast, and mix well. Towards the end, it'll be hard to think you can keep incorporating the flour, it'll just be a big doughy ball, but keep trying, it'll all mix in.

Turn out onto a floured board, flour your hands and knead for 2 minutes.

Put into a clean bowl, bigger then the dough ball. Place in a warm spot, cover with a clean cloth (I use a linen napkin) and let rise about 45 minutes to an hour; it will double in size.

Punch down, roll into a loaf shape and place in a bread pan. Punch a bit more. Let rise, covered, again.

Place in a cold oven and turn it on to 400°. After 15 minutes reduce to 350° and "cook until done" as the recipe card says. The old way to tell is to knock on the loaf, if it sounds hollow, it’s done.

Try not to eat the whole loaf at once.  This will be difficult.