In Praise of the Bread Machine

a loaf of challah fresh out of the oven

A bread machine is one of those big bulky kitchen appliances that I never imagined would be an essential item in my house—that was, until I got a bread machine. I love this thing. The loaves that bake in the machine are a little funky in size: tall and puffy with a hole in the bottom from the mixing device. But, the kids don’t complain: they love fresh, warm bread. The thing that I really love about the bread machine is that it mixes dough perfectly. We use every week to make pizza dough: dump the ingredients in and the dough is ready in 45 minutes. All it needs is a short rest and then it’s ready to roll out.

I’ve also discovered that the bread machine can make lots of other doughs, including enriched doughs for brioche, sweet rolls, pan de muerto and challah. Look at this beauty I made yesterday:

a loaf of challah fresh out of the oven
a loaf of challah fresh out of the oven

And here is today’s school lunch, featuring that lovely bread:

challah with Nutella and jam, pistachios, baby carrots and strawberries
challah with Nutella and jam, pistachios, baby carrots and strawberries

In Praise of Strawberries and Fancy Sandwiches

crazy big strawberry from the SLO Farmers Market

Here at Love and Lunch Corporate Headquarters, we have had a rough couple of weeks (a month?) of sicknesses working their way through the office. As a result, I haven’t been keeping up to date with my lunch posts. But, rest assured, we have been eating. And eating quite well, I might add. I was thinking about this as I made sandwiches for the kiddos last night. I took sandwich requests (always a mistake), so I had to make two different types for today’s lunch: one with mortadella and the other with roast beef. Making these fancy sandwiches made me reflect on my own childhood of bologna, American cheese (Kraft singles), and ketchup (Heinz, please) sandwiches. Yep, that atrocious combo was my favorite. My kids definitely have way better taste than I ever did at their ages.

sandwiches made to order: mortadella, cheddar and sprouts for Princess and roast beef, cheddar, a few sprouts and dill pickle relish for Big Dude
sandwiches made to order: mortadella, cheddar and sprouts for Princess and roast beef, cheddar, a few sprouts and dill pickle relish for Big Dude

Of course, I didn’t grow up in California (except for a brief stint in kindergarten when Dad was stationed at March AFB), land of plenty. I mean just look at this strawberry:

crazy big strawberry from the SLO Farmers Market
crazy big strawberry from the SLO Farmers Market

My kids are so lucky to have year-round access to such amazing produce. It makes it a lot easier to pack reasonably healthy lunches when you always have delicious fruit and veggies on hand. Here is a round-up of some recent lunches. Almost all the produce is from the SLO Farmers Market. Yum, yum and more yum.

lunch on 13 Mar 2017: carrots, apple slices and strawberries with mini peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and pistachios
lunch on 13 Mar 2017: carrots, apple slices and strawberries with mini peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and pistachios
lunch on 14 Mar 2017: rice cake with crunchy peanut butter and jam, graham fish and dry roasted peanuts, strawberries
lunch on 14 Mar 2017: rice cake with crunchy peanut butter and jam, graham fish and dry roasted peanuts, strawberries
lunch on 15 Mar 2017: jam and butter on homemade egg bread with dried apricots, a Fig Newton, strawberries, carrots and sugar snaps
lunch on 15 Mar 2017: jam and butter on homemade egg bread with dried apricots, a Fig Newton, strawberries, carrots and sugar snaps
lunch on 17 Mar 2017: sandwiches with grapes, carrots and baby cucumbers
lunch on 17 Mar 2017: sandwiches with grapes, carrots and baby cucumbers

Lunch Roundup and Bread-Making Extravaganza

lunch on 2 Mar 2016: applesauce with a peanut butter and Nutella sammie
lunch on 2 Mar 2016: applesauce with a peanut butter and Nutella sammie
lunch on 2 Mar 2016: applesauce with a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich, veggies and Goldfish

Lunch making just got a little more fun here at Love and Lunch, because—BIG NEWS—we just got a bread machine. I love to make bread and was raised in a house of homemade bread made by my Mom (and expert baker) who learned how to make bread from her Mom (and expert baker), my amazing Nanny Yetman. Well, both Mom and Nanny are probably having a heavenly tête-à-tête right about now—enjoying a nice cuppa and discussing what a hopeless Yankie (this is the Newfoundland term for us ‘Mericans) I am with my newfangled bread machine. Now, I never even considered buying a bread machine until a good friend, neighbor, expert baker and all around superDad extolled the incredible convenience of a bread machine. I thought about it, did some research and then thought about it some more. Then I asked our wonderful neighbor to make us a loaf, which the kids promptly declared the “best bread ever.” Sold.

The bread maker arrived last Thursday, and since then I’ve made three loaves of white bread, one loaf of whole wheat bread and a focaccia (by using the pizza dough setting). This bread is not artisanal or crusty or complex: it’s super soft, amazing sandwich bread. The process is ridiculously easy: measure ingredients, put in pan, press start. A loaf of white bread takes four hours start to finish. Wheat bread takes longer: five hours. Dough whips up in about 45 minutes. Amazing. I’m in love with this newfangled contraption.

Lunch Roundup

Making lunch on Monday morning: Iain slicing up some sweet peppers
Making lunch on Monday morning: Iain slicing up some sweet peppers
Making lunch on Monday morning: Iain slicing up some sweet peppers

Due to the insanity that is life, I haven’t been posting lunches lately. However, I have been making lunches and the kiddos have been helping—not everyday, but I’ll take what I can get. One of my goals this year is the get the kids more involved with meal prep and clean up. I’ve put them in charge of cleaning out their lunch boxes after school, which is a little thing but a big help to me. When I get home from work and am scrambling to make dinner, I don’t have to worry about washing the lunch boxes to clear some counter space. Here are some recent lunches the kids have helped make:

Lots of Fruit and a Salami and Cream Cheese Sandwich

lunch on 2 Sept 2015: salami, cream cheese and cucumber sandwich with peaches, raspberries, dried bananas and chocolate powerberries
lunch on 2 Sept 2015: salami, cream cheese and cucumber sandwich with peaches, raspberries, dried bananas and chocolate powerberries
lunch on 2 Sept 2015: salami, cream cheese and cucumber sandwich with peaches, raspberries, dried bananas and chocolate powerberries

Doesn’t that fruit look delicious? I don’t know what the kids are going to do when stone fruit season is over. For today’s lunch I cut up a couple of nice big yellow peaches and made a salami, cream cheese and cucumber sandwich. I also threw in some raspberries, banana chips and chocolate powerberries for a treat.

All About Homemade: Yogurt and Bread

lunch on 5 May 2014: yogurt with fruit and granola, pretzels, carrots and radishes
lunch on 5 May 2014: yogurt with fruit and granola, pretzels, carrots and radishes

Sometimes in the midst of chaos, I find it therapeutic to make stuff. Since I got into a serious yogurt making kick over winter break, I’ve been making yogurt at least weekly. I love having a big jar of thick, creamy whole milk yogurt in the fridge. The kiddos just love yogurt with fruit and muesli and granola and jam—you name it. For Monday’s lunch I packed a tin of yogurt and fruit salad with honey granola sprinkled on top. Yum!

lunch on 6 May 2014: peanut butter and Nutella on homemade whole wheat maple oat bread, Goldfish medley and strawberries
lunch on 6 May 2014: peanut butter and Nutella on homemade whole wheat maple oat bread, Goldfish medley and strawberries

On Monday I was able to work from home, so I made a loaf of whole wheat maple oat bread using the ridiculously easy no knead technique from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I made enough dough for two loaves and at this very minute, my house is filled with the glorious aroma of fresh baked bread. On a Wednesday. At 9:30 at night. You can make bread at random times like that when you dough on hand. Craziness.

Summer Adventures in Bread Baking

one hot loaf of bread cooling on the kitchen counter

I have been a terrible [non-existent] blogger of late. A rash of family visits and general summer laziness are to blame. But, that doesn’t mean that the kitchen adventures have been lacking. Far from it. Several weeks ago, I discovered a recipe for the most incredible loaf of bread you will ever have the good fortune to make in your own kitchen. It’s a variation of Jim Lahey’s revolutionary (oh, yes) No-Knead Bread. If you haven’t heard of No-Knead bread, you should know that it’s the easiest thing on earth: a very wet dough with minimal yeast gets mixed by hand (no kneading required, hence the name), cooked in a super hot cast iron pot in a super hot oven, and comes out like the crustiest fancy pants bread from a fine bakery. No lie.

The only difficult part of making No-Knead bread is forming the loaf and getting it into the steaming hot cast iron pan (I’ve used a cheap-o cast iron dutch oven from Target as well as a 6 qt. Le Crueset French oval dutch oven, and they work equally well). At some point in my No-Knead bread journey, I discovered a great trick for forming the dough into a nice loaf (use LOTS of flour) and getting it into the pot (form the loaf on parchment paper and put the loaf and the paper into the hot pot). Here’s what it looks like:

dough formed into a round loaf, dusted with cornmeal and oat bran
dough formed into a round loaf, dusted with cornmeal and oat bran

The recipe I used for this bread called for a nice poppy seed, sesame seed, garlic powder, onion powder, salty topping, which I’m sure is amazing. But, I omitted it, because sometimes the kiddos aren’t crazy about lots of seeds on their bread crusts. And I was worried that the flavor might be a little overpowering: I wanted a savory loaf without too much garlic flavor. Here’s the dough—and parchment paper—being put into the HOT cast iron pot:

the bread dough, parchment paper and all, placed into a HOT cast iron pot
the bread dough, parchment paper and all, placed into a HOT cast iron pot

And, then, 45 minutes later—my sweet Lord in heaven—this emerged from the oven:

the finished loaf: nicely cracked on the top
the finished loaf: nicely cracked on the top

I can’t stop staring at. See what I mean by fancy pants crusty bread? Trust me: it tastes as good as it looks.

one hot loaf of bread cooling on the kitchen counter
one hot loaf of bread cooling on the kitchen counter

Here is a delicious summer lunch with slices of this glorious bread for my culinarily (is that a word) spoiled children:

summer lunch: leftover grilled chicken drumsticks with carrots, cherry tomatoes, plums and nice slice of homemade bread with butter
summer lunch: leftover grilled chicken drumsticks with carrots, cherry tomatoes, plums and a nice slice of homemade bread with butter

Thank you to Joy at Braisen Woman for this fantastic and creative take on Jim Lahey’s bread.

9 Apr 2013: Sunflower Seed Butter and Blueberry Jam on Homemade Whole Grain Bread

lunch on 9 April 2013: sunflower seed butter and blueberry jam on homemade wheat bread
lunch on 9 April 2013: sunflower seed butter and blueberry jam on homemade wheat bread
lunch on 9 April 2013: sunflower seed butter and blueberry jam on homemade wheat bread

Since I made a couple of loaves of bread yesterday, the kiddos get sandwiches today made with yummy homemade whole grain oatmeal maple bread. Aren’t they lucky? The sandwiches are make with sunflower seed butter and blueberry jam. The little bento container next to the carrots contains pieces of fresh mozzarella, which is strangely comforting in its blandness. The strawberries here are now the size of small dogs. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but they are big and beautiful right now.