January 28, 2012

Cast iron skillet! German Pancakes!

I received a cast iron skillet for Christmas, and I can honestly say HOW DID I COOK WITHOUT ONE?! I love it. I love it so much. I want to make everything in it all the time.

The other night I decided to make what in my family we called German Pancakes.  Who knows if that is actually what they are, but it is simple, and it bubbles up beautifully and is a delicious warm winter treat.

4 eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup flour (I used whole wheat, but white would work just as well)
2/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons soft butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Put the eggs in the blender and blend until it's a light yellowish color.  Turn it down a notch and continue to add the other ingredients until it's smooth.  Poor the batter into the cast iron skillet of magical wonder and put in the oven.  After 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 350 and cook for another 10 minutes.  We top ours with warmed cinnamon brown sugar apples and vanilla yogurt, but really anything would work!

January 22, 2012

How to make bread: Honey Whole Wheat

Yesterday we got our first 'real' 'snow' here in Philadelphia, which meant an evening holed up in our little casa, a fire in the stove, and fresh bread in the oven!

This is one of my favorite recipes, that I've been tweaking here and there for the past few years.  At first I was skeptical, as there is no resting time for the yeast in warm water, which is how my mom always started bread, but I promise, it works!

Oatmeal Toasty Awesome Yummy Bread

4 cups HOT water (I heat it in a kettle)
2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats (not quick oats)
1/2 cup wheat bran, I sometimes add some ground flax as well
1/2 cup honey (the original post calls for brown sugar, but I am obsessed with honey)
1/2 stick of butter

1 tablespoon dry active yeast
6-7 cups whole wheat flour, bread flour is best

Old dough (I'll explain in a bit)

Combine oats, wheat bran, honey and butter in a large bowl.  Add the hot water and stir until combined and let it sit until it's about 80 degrees, about 30 minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine the yeast and 2 cups of flower and mix it into the oat mixture.  Continue stirring in flower, one cup at a time, until a soft dough forms.  You might use 4 cups, you might use more or less, just use your best judgement.

Transfer to a floured surface and knead for at least 8 minutes (use them muscles!).  You'll have a beautiful warm ball of dough:

Cover the dough with the bowl and let it sit for 20 minutes.  This is when the yeast grows and eats and becomes happy.

Knead in salt and the old dough at this point for about 5 minutes. Old dough is simply that, dough from past batches.  I've been using old dough that I started in 2008! By saving a small bit of dough from the previous batch of bread and adding it in before the first ferment, you've added prefermented yeast, which gives your bread better flavor and helps it rise.  It also improves your crust and the older it is, the better. It's a method used a lot in sourdoughs, and some strains of yeast can be traced back for generations!  So now, each of my loaves of honey whole wheat bread have a bit of yeast from 2008!

After you've kneaded in the old dough and salt, you are back to a nice ball of dough.  My mom taught me to slam the ball down on the board a few times to help force out any air bubbles.  It's a nice way to get out any agression. Sprinkle flour into a bowl (wooden bread bowl is something on my list of must haves, it's like the cast iron skillet for baking- the more seasoned, the better it is) and place the dough in it.  Dust with flour and cover with a damp tea towel.  I placed mine near the stove because the kitchen was just too cold.  You want to be sure it is an a warm (but not HOT or else it will start cooking) place so the yeast can continue to grow.  

This is the FERMENT stage. This is when the yeast really goes to town eating up the sugars.  Let it sit for 1 to 1/12 hours.  The dough will be ready when you can stick your finger in about two knuckles deep and it doesn't spring back. 

After the fermentation stage, cut off a chunk for old dough if you so desire, and split the rest in two.  Form the dough into loaves and place in greased loaf pans. 

Now is the PROOF (second rise).  Cover the pans with a damp tea towel and let rest for another hour ish.  Apply the same finger rule, but keep in mind the dough will not rise nearly as much this time.
Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and if you knock on the top or bottom with a wooden spoon it sounds hollow.  

Remove from the pans and let cool on a wire rack.  THIS IS THE HARDEST PART.  You must let it sit for about 40 minutes or else it might be a big doughy in the middle.  Last night, we could not resist, and cut into it early.  It's ok, it still tastes amazing :)

This is a great bread for thick slices of toast, topped with butter!

January 7, 2012

Oil face

My newest OBSESSION!

Well, it’s not that new.

I got obsessed a few months ago.

But didn’t blog about it.

So, it’s more like My Many Months Old Obsession!

As you know, I like eco-friendly things. And I like home remedies. And I like CHEAP stuff.  So, when these three things collide I fall in love (hello, vinegar). And such is the story with CASTOR OIL. I (not so) recently read up on using oil as a part of one’s beauty routine and all the benefits therein.  I realize as Americans the idea of using oil on one’s FACE sounds like pure torture, especially considering all the time and money we spend trying to RID our skin of it.  But think about it, why would we want to completely obliterate something that naturally occurs in our body? Couldn’t it have positive use and a reason for happening? Skin produces oil, we know that, and sometimes it feels like your face was rubbed in a plate of greasy fries, and all you want to do is de-grease your face.  Oil (in our minds) equals zits equals utter shame and embarrassment (or just a little).  Have you ever had a breakout, and washed your face multiple times a day trying to dry them buggers out, only to have more breakouts happen?  When your skin is stripped of its natural oils it goes into OVERDRIVE trying to replace what’s missing, hence making your skin a million times more oily (slight exaggeration).  Your skin needs oils in order to stay fresh and healthy.  It helps push out gross stuff, and keeps your skin resilient and moist from within.

Using oil to cleanse your face is really very cool.  I won’t attempt to speak as though I am a face oil scientist (FOS) but I can say in my research I understood this simple fact: certain oils will actually dissolve other oils and will gently remove them without drying out your skin. Pure magic. 

So, what oil are we rubbing so happily on our faces?

Here enters our new friend, Castor Oil.

Castor oil has been used for ages as a homeopathic cure for constipation.  Which, makes it a bit funny when you go the pharmacy and say “Hello Dr. Pharamacist, I need some castor oil FOR MY FACE!” Look in the laxative section and you will see it.  It’s cheap, which will make you love it more.  And has multiple uses!

It is an anti-inflammatory oil, which is one of the reasons it helps with breakouts.  It works its way into the pores, dissolves the excess oil, and helps to calm the skin. Or, as the FOS would tell you, castor oil “penetrates deep into the skin due to its molecular mass, which is low enough to penetrate into the stratum corneum. Castor isostearate succinate is a polymeric mixture of esters with isostearic acid and succinic acid”. Yeah.

 It’s also a good idea to mix in a bit of a secondary oil, like sunflower oil (make sure it is a pure, cold pressed oil).  Since castor oil is so thick, it helps to thin it out a bit. Plus, one like sunflower has fatty acids and is packed with vitamins and nutrients that are also great for your skin.  The mixture is sort of up to you, the oilier your skin, the more castor oil you can add.  It might take a few tries to figure out what you like best.

Ok. Now how is this magical concoction actually used?

I like to do my ‘oil facial’ after a shower.  The hot water and steam help open up your pores so the oil can really get in there and do its work.  Have a washcloth handy.  Pour some of your oil in your hand, and start rubbing it all over your face.  Massage massage massage.  (And OH! It totally removes all makeup -including eye makeup- so there’s ANOTHER bonus!) Focus on problem areas.

After you’ve rubbed it in for a while, take your washcloth and soak it in hot hot water.  Squeeze it out and just lay it on your face. Let the steam help pull shit out of your face and then lightly wipe with the washcloth.  There should still be oil on your face.  Keep massaging it, and repeat the steamy washcloth step until there isn’t really enough oil to repeat the process.  Be sure you don’t SCRUB your face with the cloth, a gentle once over each time is all you’ll need.  Keep in mind your facial skin is very delicate and really should never be treated harshly! Pat dry with a towel and you’re done!

If your skin feels dry after this, you can take a small dab of the castor oil and rub it in and leave it.  The next morning when you wake up, you won’t need to use face wash, simply splashing your face with water will do the trick!

This is not something you should do every day, but a few times a week is perfect.  The first few times you do it, you might say “my skin still feels overly oily” but this is only because you’ve cleared out a lot of junk and plugs in the pores and it takes a while for them to get back in proper working condition. But give it a few tries, eventually your skin will be back in working order the way it should be!

Ok, are you ready for YET ANOTHER WONDERFUL BENEFIT from this magical oil? It’s age fighting! It’s an anti-wrinkle oil! So, if we keep this up ladies, we’ll look like we’re in our twenties FOREVER!

I’ve also used castor to help work out splinters and I rub it on my cuticles at night… it’s magical.

I used the word “oil” 36 times in this post. BOO YA!