Thursday, March 31, 2011

English Muffin Experiments

The quest to find an English muffin recipe that I like as well as the store bought variety continues. I have tried several recipes, and this one ended up with the same results: not enough nooks and crannies for my liking. Through these experiments, I have come to find that there seem to be two schools of English muffins. The first is the Thomas' or Bay's school of thought, more like a crumpet and less like a roll. The dough on the outside is definitely all roll with some good chew and a little crust; the inside reveals a velvety softness that is held aloft by huge air pockets. Fork split is the only option as knife cutting mars the pockets left by the leavening. The other type is decidedly more bread like and no where near a crumpet. This has its merits too, but it is not what I am look to replicate. I would love to replace the expensive store bought ones for a cheaper but just as tasty and craggy delicate product.

This time I tried the recipe from Reinheart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. This recipe was one that is completed in one day, but it made a bread style dough. From the outset I was afraid that this one would end up like the old Fleshman's recipe I had tried. These muffins that are more dough based are more like a lightened up dinner roll style dough. There is kneading and shaping involved. I kept thinking that perhaps somehow these could end up with the airy middles, but that was not to be. They cooked up really tall and the browning I achieved on this set is probably the best I have ever reached. These also take some time in the oven after the initial skillet cooking. They had great flavor and were very soft and pleasant, but not what I was looking for in terms of school one of English muffins. I did make sure to fork split them just in case I was wrong, but alas, no really big nooks or crannies to be found. The crumb was nice and the muffin was rather light, but it was not the recipe I was looking to keep.

If you do fall into the more substantial English muffin school of thought, these were very easy to make with little hands on time. Their flavor was good, and we enjoyed using them with eggs Benedict as well as with some homemade jam and marmalade. I am looking at a new recipe that I think may finally be the winner. This one is more of a batter like dough that needs to be spooned into crumpet rings on the griddle and the muffins do not go into the oven at all. The pictures look promising, and other home bakers who have blogged about their use of the recipe have pictures that look exactly like what I am questing to achieve. As soon as we get more bread flour and finish off the last of these muffins, I will dive in and let you know my results.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is There Anybody Out There?

So I am sure a few of you have been wondering where I went, and I am sure for many of you, since I fell off your blog roll, have forgotten about things here entirely. It has been a very busy and tumultuous four months. I know that I usually disappear for the month of December and return in January with my holiday in review postings of the gifts I had made that year. I had hoped to do that again this year, but well life kind of got in the way. It has a way of doing that as we all know too well. However, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel, and end to the rush, a pot of gold under the rainbow? Nah, but it was a beautiful one out of the window of our apartment.

I am pretty sure I mentioned somewhere in the blog that we had to move. Our apartment in Oakland that we rented was bought by a new owner, and they wanted to live there. Sine we had no long term lease with the builder, we had to move. It was hectic trying to find a new apartment during the fall holidays. I was spending all my time working on gifts and apartment hunting. I am not sure if any of you have had to find a new place around the holidays, but if you have you know that it is not a pleasant experience. Most people move in the spring, so there were minimal places available to view. The ones that were available were not ones that would fit us very well. Then, a seemingly good thing happened. One building across the street from ours had an opening for February 1st. It was a great loft space, and we jumped at the chance to stay in our neighborhood. We contacted the new landowners and they graciously offered us an extension on our 60 terminate notice. All seemed to be heading in the right direction.

Then things got substantially more interesting. The TSA changed their security procedures, and Dan and I began to feel uncomfortable about flying. We decided to opt out of our plane tickets back to the Midwest and drive home instead of flying. It was an interesting time as the storms along I 80 were rather bad and very snowy. A three day drive turned quickly into a long four day trek. We had fun along the way and listened to a lot of holiday music as the blue Subaru and the two of us glided along the two lane interstates that had become one slow line of trucks and cars driving down the middle of the roadway. I had grand plans of getting the sewing done on my projects in the car as well as filling out our holiday cards. All lofty goals, none of which were completed. Some people had to receive store gifts this year and no cards were sent. It was a bit too nerve racking to sew when the roads were so slick.

The holidays went by quickly, and it was so great to see all my family all together in one place. It was especially nice to see the kids open their handmade gifts. They are finally at a fun age where presents are extremely exciting. After an all too short time at home, we packed up and headed out for the trek home, this time through the southern I 40 route in an attempt to avoid the snow. This winter it seemed impossible to beat it as we were held up for a four day drive again when the snow closed the roads through New Mexico and Arizona. We were never unlucky enough to have to sleep in the car, managing to literally wish on a falling star and get a hotel room late one night when the roads were closed. We wanted to spend some time in Las Vegas, and we did.... Las Vegas New Mexico. No casinos or floor shows, but a pretty nice hotel with a great staff that cut us a deal on the room due to the snow storm stranding us.

Overall, the road trip and holiday was a true Dan and Amy style adventure. The only setback, we had lost our apartment that we were going to rent. The person we were renting from was going to be transferred to work in Australia, but that fell through, and so did our apartment for the next year. We scrambled quickly to get our second choice place, and boy am I glad it worked out this way. We had to move from the old neighborhood, but the new one is much better for us in a lot of ways. There are grocery stores and fabric stores in walking distance from the house. There is a shuttle system to take us from our door to the BART, so I can do things on my own later into the evening without needing a ride from the station to our house anymore. There are lots of restaurants also with in walking distance and several community gardens that I am now on a waiting list for entry.

From there it has been the usual packing and moving... oh and unpacking that is still going on, yes since February. Having a completely different style of place from the last two has made this move more trying in the packing and unpacking department. We are now in a tri-level condo instead of a single floor and mostly open floor plan. This means lots of going up and down stairs, and unpacking is rather tiring. There were also setbacks with the movers being unable to bring our bed upstairs and some other minor issues with the washer and tub that our simply wonderful landlord worked out immediately. I have to say I really like him! Some of the hardest things of moving were leaving behind old routines to make new ones, downsizing my sewing space into a more cozy one, and losing the balcony for gardening. We kept the Meyer lemon tree, and I am working on killing the scale it has gotten infected with now that I am indoors with it all day. I did not give up gardening entirely. I have the Aerogarden started again, this time giving the thyme a month or now almost two head start before I plant anything else. The African violet seems happy enough since it is blooming again, and the chives are as nuts as usual. The rosemary is a bit harder to win over. I fed it today in the hopes of winning it over to the new place.

I have also planted some new containers indoors. Peas will now be on the old trellis system that held the jasmine. I have a special set of container cucumbers that I am trying out as well as some container strawberries that I am trying to grow from seed. Crazy? You bet! I also threw out the herbs I have had since we got here and am starting that all new as well. I added borage and tarragon to my usual sage, oregano, and marjoram. As soon as I get some more dirt and catch pans, I will also plant the parsley and cilantro pots. I am trying to grow some new container hybrids of bibb lettuce as well. We will see how that goes partnered with a container of spinach. I am not expecting much as the lighting conditions are not the best, but hey it is about the fun on experimentation right now. Figuring out how far I can push things so that when I have perfect conditions I feel extremely accomplished.

Bread baking experiments are still going on as well as several other cooking obsessions. I will share more on those items soon. For now there is a very late birthday present that needs to be made. Prepping for a dance show made that happen again, and I am sure there is a little girl that would really like her gift. More on that soon as well. It feels good to get back to writing, and I hope it feels just as good for you to catch up with me through your reading. Thanks for coming back, and I am glad to have you as readers. More homemaking hi-jinks and more frequent writing for consistent editions of the blog. I promise...