The Garden

With all this unrelenting heat and humidity, I'm taking a break from baking! It is far too hot to turn on the oven, and probably won't until the fall!

Until then, I'll be concentrating on food preservation techniques such as canning, pickling, freezing and drying - mostly with produce from our garden! Here are photos of our two garden plots at the community garden:

June 1
(a few weeks after initial planting)

We used the square foot gardening technique - that's my husband in the background.

A tomato plant! I accidentally dropped my seedlings and now I don't remember which tomato plant is which. So...this is either a Pruden's Purple or a Peacevine cherry...guess I'll find out in a few weeks.

Zucchini blossoms! A couple of male blossoms on my largest zucchini plant.


June 22

Even bigger...and now with zucchinis!

Rattlesnake Pole Beans starting to make their way up 'n up...

I planted a little bed of sassy salad mix in the middle of the pole beans.

Tomatoes grew about 6 inches!

Plot #1 with plot #2 in the background.


July 8 (Today!)

Plot #1! So bushy and starting to creep beyond it's boundaries...

Plot #2! A little slow going...but getting there!

The Rattlesnake Pole Beans ran out of climbing room!

Little tomatoes all in a row...I'm pretty sure these are the Pruden's Purple.

Zucchini, Baby Butternut, and Little Leaf Cucumbers all hanging out together.

My two favorite greens...Rainbow Swiss Chard and Lacinato (Dinosaur) Kale!

I'll keep posting garden updates every couple weeks and once my garden really starts producing, I'll share my food preservation techniques and recipes. Hooray!!



First off...how do you like the new look? Better than pure white, eh?


You know what has fiber and tastes like this background?

Crappy whole-wheat bread!

You know what doesn't taste like this background?

My whole-wheat bread!


So, as promised, I'm posting more regularly (no pun intended) and this time the post is accompanied by photos! Yippee! This afternoon I carried on with my lesson in baking and gave the whole-wheat bread recipe in the CIA text a whirl.

Like before, I only made a fourth of the recipe so I wasn't up to me ears in dough and modified it a little. This time I'll fill you in on the ingredient details. Mind you, like any good baker, I'm using weight instead of the imprecise volumetric measurements....


AP Flour: 3/4 lbs. (12 oz)
WW Flour: 1/2 lbs. (8 oz)
Instant Dry Yeast: 1/6 oz. (.167 oz)
Water: 14 fl. oz.
Salt: 4/9 oz. (.44 oz)
Vital Wheat Gluten: 4 teaspoons (as directed on the box)

The process was similar to the one with the white bread - but just a couple changes. After the ingredients were briefly mixed into a rough mass, the dough was left to sit for about 30 minutes. This step is called autolyse - a hydration rest that is especially useful when making fiber enriched doughs such as this. During the rest, the flour has a chance to absorb the water and aids in gluten formation.

Dough just before autolyse rest.

Dough after autolyse rest. I smoothed it just a little bit...

After a thorough kneading after autolyse, the dough was left to rise (ferment) for 30 minutes. Now here's another change - after the 30 minute rise, the dough is folded (gently kneaded) several times to redistribute the little gas bubbles as well as nutrients for the little yeasties. This step is then repeated, then left to ferment for another 15 minutes. So, that's...30 min, fold, 30 min, fold, 15 min.

After the initial fermentation, the dough is formed into an oblong, just as before, and allowed to rest for about 20 minutes to let the gluten relaaaax.

Then into the pan it goes! The shaped dough is placed in the pan for the second fermentation (proofing).

This is what it looks like when it's ready for the oven!

Okay...now it's ready! The dough is scored and misted with water.

A few blasts of steam and 30 minutes later...

...it's golden brown and delicious! Well...I haven't tasted it yet...but I'm sure it's delicious!

*Please excuse the photo quality. I'm using my iPhone while I search for that stupid camera cable*


Bread is Life

No really...it is! No matter where in the world you go, you will find numerous varieties of bread. Each have their own cultural and historical significance, and each have been sustaining life for centuries. Don't worry...I'll save the history of bread for a later date. Today I'll try to breifly discuss my trials and tribulations with the fine art of bread baking.

I haven't told anyone this before (I don't think) but I have been toying with this idea that maybe someday in the far off future I could be the local baker of a town - you know, as a side job from the awesome photo gig I'll have. I imagine myself outside on a crisp snowy morning, sliding beautifully crafted loaves into a wood burning oven - which I built by hand of course. Not bland split-top white breads, but flavorful, traditional, and rustic breads. The kind of breads that make your soul happy.

Okay...back to reality...

I have worked in various grocery store bakeries, mostly as counter help, since 2007. I know that doesn't seem significant, especially since the longest bakery position I've held is my current one at 5-ish months. At work I sometimes pan out pre-formed loaves, toss them into the proofer until they're big enough, then toss them into the oven...375 degrees, 60 seconds of steam, 18 minutes total bake time. All of that has been figured out for me and I don't really have to think about it.

At home it's a whole different story. No proofer, no steam injected oven, no frozen, pre-formed dough. I start from scratch with just the basics - flour, water, yeast, salt, and maybe some seeds or whole grains - but from where everything would go awry (a rye? ha...ha...ha). The dough would be too wet, too dry, proofed too long, not proofed long enough, stuck in the pan, beheaded. Yes, beheaded. I almost gave up everything.

I scoured the local library for a good bread baking book and found The Culinary Institute of America's Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft. I gasped and put it on hold immediately! What better source than the textbook that teaches culinary students how to bake bread?

Yesterday, after a brief introductory skimming, I put the book to work and prepared their recipe for White Wheat Lean Dough. I had to improvise a little by subbing all purpose flour (moderate gluten) with some vital wheat gluten (pure gluten) mixed in for bread flour (high gluten). I also had to cut the recipe down quite a bit - from 8.5lbs of dough to about 2lbs for one good sized loaf.

The dough came together very nicely and I popped it into the fridge overnight. I did this because I made the dough at 11pm (I was super excited and couldn't wait), and I read that slow fermentation (the first rise) aids in flavor development. In the morning I covered the dough with a *clean* well floured kitchen towel, stuck a probe thermometer in it (the book states that it should rise at 75 degrees), and put it outside to warm up and finish fermenting. After that I pre-formed the dough and let it rest to relax the gluten, then put it in the pan to let it rise.

Next came the tricky part. To get a really nice crackling crust on these kinds of breads, you have to introduce steam to the oven. The steam promotes gelatinization of the starches on the surface of the dough, which ensures a nice, crisp crust (science!). In the past, since I don't have an oven with handy-dandy steam injection, I tried tossing a cup of water into a preheated pan placed on the lower rack...which always scares the crap out of me....

One: hot oven.
Two: hot steam.
Three: my cheap sheet pans always warp and jump when I do that.
Four: I'm afraid of breaking the glass on the inside of the oven door...even more so than it already is...like shattering...

Instead I opted for the super soaker method...

Okay...so I didn't use a super soaker...but that would have been sweet! When the oven was preheated and before I loaded the dough, I used a spray bottle and gave the wall of the oven a good soak. I sprayed the top of the dough to help it along, then loaded it into the oven with a few more sprays. I must say, this is the best method so far because the crust is thin, even, and delightfully crisp...although a little dark from not paying attention. Next time, I won't go scampering off to play video games.

Now that I have really good instructions, I'm feeling better about my baking abilities. Also, starting with the most basic bread dough is always a good idea for beginners! Stay tuned for the next installment...I promise I'll post more often!

*Note: I will update this post with a photo...once I find the cable for my camera!


A New Direction

Now that spring has sprung, I have more energy and more drive to make food and maintain this blog. I'd like to take Gwen in the Kitchen in a new direction. Instead of writing about food all willy-nilly, I think it would be better if I concentrated the more specific theme of food from scratch.

Vaughn and I have been reading about homesteading, permaculture, DIY food and can't wait until we can buy a house and tear up all the grass! That's pretty far off, so in the meantime, we have been researching how to grow, preserve, and cook/bake/ferment the foods we love.

In a previous post, I talked about the two 4'x8' plots that we are renting at our brand spankin' new community garden. I started seeds weeks ago - they are thriving and can't wait to get their roots into the soil! Today was the big build day for the community garden - volunteers from the community came out and built raised beds and filled them full of super rich compost and soil. Soon, all of the beds will be completed and the planting will begin!!

One plot is reserved for preserving, so I will be honing my canning/pickling/freezing/drying skills. Also, I will be giving a workshop on food preservation later in the season for any of the gardeners who wish to learn how to make their harvest last through the year.

In addition, I'm learning how to make food from scratch. For instance - bread, granola, yogurt, butter, and cheese - which are among the most consumed items in our household. Also, more cooking with dried beans, grains other than rice, making my own flour and other pantry staples like bread crumbs, crackers, pasta, etc.

In other words, I'll use the blog to share my experiences, challenges, and share more information, recipes, and tips relating to the above mentioned topics. Hope you enjoy!


Dinner Menu Fail!

Oh no...someone forgot that her birthday was on Sunday. Yes, I forgot about my own birthday when I was creating last weeks menu.


The brown rice supper was amazingly delicious for how simple it was. The tofu was perfectly golden brown and crispy, the carrots were sweet and zippy, the brown rice was delightfully nutty, and the roasted peanut sauce was spicy and tied everything together.

Brown Rice: about $.50
Carrots: about $.50
Ginger: about $.50
Scallions: about $.25
Tofu: $2.50
Peanuts: about $.75
Other Ingredients: about $1
Total: $6


Mac & cheese with spicy broccoli is always tasty and oh so simple. Unfortunately, I underestimated the amount of macaroni one box made. The broccoli made the meal substantial enough.

Annie's Classic Mac: $.99
Broccoli: about $1.50
Other Ingredients: about $.50
Total: $2.99


I had planned for rice and black beans with chorizo, but Vaughn and I agreed that we should prepare the fish first before it got too funky. I prepared the oven-roasted sesame salmon with soba noodles and broccoli slaw. Broccoli two nights in a row? Who cares - it's tasty! I couldn't find miso at my co-op and didn't feel like running around to find it, so instead I made a teriyaki-soy glaze. A friend told me about South River Miso, a wonderful mail-order miso company that gets creative with their products. Also, a great thing about my co-op is that they have a great selection of bulk items, including sesame seeds which cost half as much as the seeds that come packaged. Anywho...

Salmon: $8.50
Sesame: about $.50
Soba Noodles: about $2
Broccoli: about $2
Other Ingredients about $1
Total: $14

Sure, this meal was more expensive than the others, but you dont want to get cheapo salmon. It was still only $7 per person!

Now here is where the week gets a little (a lot) more relaxed with the guidelines...


We just didn't want to cook, and how could we resist a great Friday fish fry during lent? We went to Cafe Centraal for their beer batter, potato chip crusted Alaskan cod, delicious fries, tasty beer, and the best coleslaw I've had in a while. I'm not going to tell you the total. Let's just say it's part of my birthday gift. :)


We went to Honey Pie as another birthday gift of food. Vaughn had The Davenport: turkey, mustard-laced cranberry sauce, horseradish mashed potatoes, tomatoes, onions, bacon, served over rye bread and covered in Gruyere cheese sauce. I had Fancy Mac: macaroni made with cheddar, mustard, and Gruyere cheese sauce topped with bread crumbs and bacon. So good. Honey Pie does a phenomenal job at putting twists on diner food. We were also amazed by how well they prepare their dishes. Food that sounds like it would be heavy and greasy is surprisingly quite the opposite. Again, not going to tell how much.


Birthday! Yay! We visited Vaughn's parents near Chicago and his mom made a delicious meal of plank baked whitefish, red quinoa, spicy garlicky broccoli, and flourless chocolate cake. Sue was eager to show off her brand new appliances - the new range features burners that you don't have to light with a match, a left front burner that doesn't meander, and an oven that bakes. She also has a new microwave/convection thing that I think is magic because I have no clue how it works. Microwave popcorn one minute and bake something in a metal pan the next...yeah...that's magic. This dinner cost us a half tank of gas.

Monday (last night):

Leftover night! Vaughn was sick and I was exhausted from a frustrating day at work so we raided the fridge of all its culinary bric-a-brac. Vaughn made Irish stew at some point last week because they had nice lamb neck bones at the co-op, so that was the main portion of the meal. Tasty!


Finally made Ina's Tuscan lemon chicken, Bittman's bread salad and roasted Delicata squash. The rock hen was very good, although I undercooked it the first time around. I tossed it under the broiler for another ten minutes to finish it off. I was amazed that it was still juicy and the skin crisped up nicely. The bread salad recipe was good, but I didn't soak the bread - I just don't like soggy bread. Instead I tossed everything in a casserole dish, added a splash of veggie stock and let it meld in the oven while the squash was finishing. Also, as much as I love figs, I will reduce the amount in the recipe because they made the dish a too sweet for my liking.

Rock Hen: $5.99
Kale: about $1
Lemon: $.50
Bread: about $1
Figs: about $.75
Other Ingredients: about $1
Total: $10.24

Looking forward to either whitefish or lemon sole! :)


Table For Two

Vaughn and I tend to splurge when it comes to food - we just can't resist tasty treats! In an attempt to curb our spending, we have set up a weekly budget and limited dining out. Planning is another great way to curb the splurge - keeps my eyes on the list rather than on the shelves. Here is what's in store for this week:

Monday (yesterday): Dine out.

Ate at Guanajuato (a little Mexican place) last night. We're trying to keep eating out to once a week.

Tuesday: Brown Rice Supper with tofu, roasted peanut sauce, and stir fried carrots.

This recipe is from Deborah Madison (queen of vegetarian recipes). A simple, tasty, healthy, seasonal meal. The carrots get a spicy punch from fresh ginger. The roasted peanut sauce is lighter than the usual peanut butter based sauce and unifies the entire dish.

Wednesday: Mac & Cheese with spicy sauteed broccoli.

Super simple and delicious! I like to make homemade baked mac & cheese, but our co-op was having a sale on boxes of Annie's Homegrown. Nutritionally, there is not much of a difference between Annie's and Kraft, but Annie's does boast organic wheat macaroni and annatto extract for natural color instead of synthetic food dyes.

Thursday: Rice and black beans with chorizo.

Rice and beans is becoming a weekly staple. Our co-op has a sale on their homemade chroizo, which will be a very nice addition to the meal.

Friday: Oven-roasted miso sesame salmon served with soba noodles and broccoli slaw.

This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks that I've forgotten about - the Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers cookbook.

Miso and sesame seeds should be a staple in our pantry, so I'm going to pick some up this week. Salmon is a great fish because, since it is a cold water fish, it is higher in omega-3 fatty acids than tropical fish like tilapia. I'll reserve some broccoli florets and the stems from Wednesday's dinner to make the broccoli slaw - don't want the stems to go to waste.

Saturday: Eggs baked on a bed of sauteed mushrooms and croutons

Breakfast for dinner! Another one of Deborah Madison's that I'd like to try. Eggs are a delicious, healthy and cheap alternative to meat or fish. Our cage-free eggs come from a local poultry farm called Yuppie Hill. Sure, they cost more than their caged counterpart, but they are $3 a dozen - $.25 an egg!

Sunday: Tuscan lemon chicken, whole grain bread salad and roasted squash

I saw Ina Garten make this chicken on Food Network and it seems like a great alternative to roasting a whole chicken. She butterflies the chicken and lays it flat on the grill which would speed up cooking time. Instead of a broiler chicken, which would be too big for the two of us, I'll make this recipe with a rock hen (Cornish game hen) which our co-op usually has frozen. I'll pick it up early in the week to give it plenty of time to thaw.

The bread salad is a recipe from Mark Bitmann's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and is like a fresher, brighter stuffing. Whole grain bread, kale (my favorite green), and dried figs make this a tasty, nutritious side.

I will try to post recipe total prices, photos, and recipes this week!

and now I'm off to the store...


A dream come true!

I'm torn. I want the snow to stick around because I want to do more cross-country skiing. I also want the snow to melt and ground to thaw so I can start working on my garden!

The apartment has a small garden plot in the backyard, which is to be shared with our downstairs neighbors. But when I say small, I mean small. It's roughly 2' x 10' of shared space.

Through a bit of online research we discovered that a new community garden will be established a mere three blocks from our apartment! A vacant lot in front of the Hide House - a tannery turned artist space - will be transformed into a beautiful garden space, thanks to Bay View residents and the Victory Garden Initiative.

Vaughn and I jumped on this opportunity and reserved two 4' x 8' for this season! Now the planning begins...



Beans: Rattlesnake Pole Bean - an heirloom variety available from High Mowing. These will grow up bamboo teepees

Beets: Bull's Blood Beets - an heirloom variety available from High Mowing. I grew these as salad greens in my garden last year. Beautiful and delicious!

Broccoli: Belstar F1 Hybrid - a compact plant for a compact garden, available from High Mowing. I'll probably stagger the plantings so that I can have broccoli throughout the season - this one does well from spring to fall. Also might grow some broccoli raab, available from Seeds of Change. This one likes cooler weather so I'll plant it in the spring.

Carrots: Napoli F-1 Hybrid- an early full-sized carrot, available from both High Mowing and Seeds of Change. Not sure if I should get regular seeds or pelleted. I tried pelleted last year and the carrots never came up. I'll stagger the plantings on these so we can have harvests throughout the season. The flavor also improves when the temperatures cool off in the fall.

Chard: Rainbow Mix - of course! This will add a splash of color to the garden and my plate.

Cucumbers: Adam F-1 Hybrid - a variety of little picklers available from Seeds of Change. I'll train these up a bamboo teepee like the beans. Can't wait to make pickles again!

Kale: Lacinato Dinosaur - my new favorite heirloom variety available from High Mowing and Seeds of Change. This is a very hardy variety and gets sweeter after a hard frost. I'll sow an early and late season crop.

Peas: Sugar Ann Snap Pea - an early dwarf vined pea with a heavy crop of petite pods. Available from High Mowing.

Peppers: King of the North - a sweet variety that's great for shorter growing seasons. Available from High Mowing. Hungarian Hot Yellow Wax - an early variety and Vaughn's pick. Perfect for pickling.

Spinach: Renegade F1 - a very bolt resistant, smooth-leafed variety available from High Mowing and Seeds of Change. A great quality, tasty leaf.

Tomatoes: Pruden's Purple - an heirloom variety from High Mowing. A large, balanced tomato that rivals the Brandywine. Peacevine - a de-hybridized selection of the Sweet 100 F1 available from High Mowing. Small, uniform, tasty and sweet!


Basil: Aton - a semi-compact Genovese-type basil available from High Mowing.

Cilantro: Santo - easy growing and cool weather tolerant variety from High Mowing.

Sage: Common - my favorite herb. Available from High Mowing.

Thyme: German - might use as a border plant. Available from High Mowing.

Catnip: Common - a little something for Bowie. Available from High Mowing.


Nasturtium: Dwarf Jewel - makes a beautiful border and provides peppery flowers for adding to salads. Available from High Mowing.

Marigold: Tangerine Gem - smaller plants with beautiful bright orange edible flowers that have a citrus flavor. Also great for keeping pests at bay. I plan to plant these around the border.


The challenge will be fitting all of those into our plots! To save space in the plots, we will probably plant the tomatoes and peppers in our backyard. Training the beans, peas, and cucumbers to climb will also save space in the garden.

I can't wait to order and start seeds! The only south-facing window in our apartment is the one in my office. I have my long sewing table set up under it, and the spot right in front of the window is Bowie's favorite napping spot. I'll have to temporarily relocate Bowie so I can use that window for starting seeds. I'm thinking of using the leftover window plastic to make a mini greenhouse - which will also prevent Bowie from messing with the plants and knocking them off the table. We'll see how it goes...


Pizza and Little Swimmy Things

We might have established a new Sunday night dinner tradition: homemade, individual pizzas with toppings to our liking!

I used Alton Brown's recipe for pizza dough. I always turn to Alton for no-nonsense recipes for the basic stuff. At the bottom of the recipe there is a note about the salt. He said that some people have complained about too much salt and provides instructions for proper reduction it. I read that after adding the whole tablespoon, but I have no complaints. I have an affinity for salt - heck, I the lick salt off of pretzels and chips before eating them. Weird, I know, but I have a condition where I need more salt than the average person so that I'm capable of standing for more than fifteen minutes without passing out. Fun, huh?


Vaughn chose red pepper, jalapenos, and ham for his toppings. I chose red pepper (it was huge), garlic, and sardines. Now, before you say "ew!", "gross!", "ick!", I must defend the little brinies from the deep!

Sardines are good for you - and they taste good too! They are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, B12 and protein. These little guys are low on the fishy food chain which means they're also low in mercury. In addition, they are sustainable because they are proficient reproducers and the demand for them has decreased significantly since the early/mid 20th century. Just to clarify, they're not the same as anchovies which have a strong flavor from the curing process. Sardines are just canned, not cured. They come fully prepped, lightly smoked, and packed in little tins with water, oil, or sauces. I like the ones packed in olive oil...mmm!

Moral of this story - put down pizza delivery menu and try making your own pizza sometime...and give sardines a chance!

For more information on sustainable seafood, check out the Monteray Bay Seafood Watch website.


Success and Lunch Plans

Concentrating on the job search has finally paid off! I had an interview yesterday morning at the Sendik's grocery store in Elm Grove. After 15 minutes of questions and such, the manager something to the effect of, "I don't normally do this, but you seem like a pleasant person...I'm going to offer you the job." After months and months of applications, waiting, and hoping, I finally found someone who wanted me to work for them.

I start next week as a bakery associate. The job is only part time, but it gives me a chance to work on my photo business and take the photo management class at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). Oh, and it will take care of my bills - which is always a good thing - leaving me with a little left over for fun things.


In other news, I have a guest coming over for lunch tomorrow. Elliott is a very nice, older gentleman and my mentor. I was given a scholarship in his name at Ohio University, and, after graduation, I just happened to wind up living a mile from him. What luck to already know someone before moving to a new city! So I spent the morning figuring out what to make for lunch. Fortunately, Ina Garten has a list of lunch menus on her website. Here's the plan:

Mache with Warm Brie and Apples
French Onion Soup
Croque Monsieur

I most likely won't be able to find Mache at my local co-op, but they usually have something I can sub it with. Tatsoi, baby spinach, or mixed baby greens would be tasty and the co-op always has those stocked. Since this is easy to throw together, I can whip it up at the last minute so that it's ready to eat when Elliott arrives at noon.

French onion soup will be souper easy. Haha - get it? Just onions, broth, a little booze, and seasoning. Ina's recipe keeps it simple and doesn't fuss with the whole French bread and gob of cheese topping in individual bowls and stuck under the broiler. The recipe calls for Sherry and Brandy or Cognac, since I don't have those I'll just use broth and white wine to deglaze the pan. I'll probably start it at 11 and have it ready and keeping warm at noon.

The Croque Monsieur is a little more labor intensive, but since the other two dishes are easy, I can concentrate on prepping the sandwiches. I'll start the Gruyere cheese sauce at about 11:30. Assemble the sandwiches at 11:45. Toss them into the toaster oven to broil when Elliott arrives.

I can't wait! I love entertaining - especially with all the new wedding gifts.


Here are the links to the recipes: