Saturday, October 27, 2012

Baking is hard when you're broke.

Fact of the day: life is expensive. If you haven't figured this out by now, you're either a very lucky person who gets all the jobs they can handle or you have rich parents. I have moderately well-off parents, but I'm kind of over asking for money, especially after I drained their funds when I went to England.
So, my grocery budget is shot for a while because I'm trying to pay rent and bills, and I owe my parents about that same amount for my computer. Bundled in with this is me not wanting to turn up the heat in the house because I am paying for 1/6 of it.
I'm baking more than usual because I can't really afford to buy new food. Unfortunately, the heat being on low means that yeast dough isn't really down with rising as fast as one might like.
My pita bread was supposed to double in about an hour, but an hour and a half later, it's still just a mostly cold lump of dough instead of a big puff of warm dough. It's even sitting on the stove.
However, I figured out the problem. I'd wrapped the bowl in a damp towel (instead of my usual dry towel plus plastic wrap because the instructions called for it; that's the last time I try to follow instructions like that) and tucked the ends under to keep in the moisture, then set it on the stove (warm because the oven is on with my housemate's strange experiment). The warm damp towel in the cold room had cooled almost instantly, and the ends of the towel under the bowl had insulated the dough from the warmth of the oven with incredible efficiency.
Next time I try to follow weird instructions about how to rise dough, remind me that saran wrap plus a dry towel works wonders and that other methods are probably less useful, especially given my propensity for screwing things up in little ways.
Update on the dough: it's doing great now that the damp towel is firmly pressed around the bottom of the bowl and keeping the oven heat focused into the bowl. My dough is all big and puffy.
You may be asking yourself, why is she making pita bread if she seems to think that she can't afford heat? That seems kind of fancy for someone who, by her own account, is about to become a vagrant who doesn't even own her computer.
Well, I don't quite have enough flour for regular bread for longer than one week and I'm unwilling to pull too much money from my savings account (really sick of debt), and I do have falafel mix and beans and all manner of pasta and plenty of sauce and some peanut butter and potatoes, so a small, easy-to-store bread as a vehicle for falafel and possibly bean soups is just what I want.
And I've been kind of taken with the idea of pita bread for a long time (it was the first thing I pinned on pintrest when I set up my account this summer) and happen to have all the ingredients AND something to put in it.
I used a recipe from a cookbook, but this is the one that I pinned: DIY pita bread. My recipe required more rising steps (the whole blob of dough rises until doubled, then you split it up, then you let the balls rest, then you roll them out, then you let them rise for 30-40 min), but I feel like this is an equally valid recipe. My recipe also doesn't call for a stand mixer, which I don't have anyway. It works okay, although they're a bit crunchy. Still delicious, though.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pumpkin All The Things and Pumpkin Apple Plum Bread

My housemate's family gave us a 75 lb pumpkin. This weekend, we tackled it. Well, C did the actual tackling. A (whose pumpkin it is) was at work, and no one else wanted to get in C's way.

Housemate Stabs Pumpkin
C has it in for that pumpkin.

We (by which I mean S) invited a bunch of people over (some of whom came), chopped it up, cooked it down in oven or on stove, strained the juice out and saved it (Harry Potter style!), and blenderized the cooked flesh.
That was the easy part. Well, I actually wasn't there for it, and L, S, and C did most of the work, but it can't have been too horrible compared to the hard part.
The hard part? I hear you cry. It's figuring out what to do with the tons and tons of pumpkin puree we have in our fridge and freezer. We also have a bunch of uncooked chunks of pumpkin in both locations.

Pumpkin Bread with cool lighting
Bread that I made up: Pumpkin Apple Plum Bread

Overly sugary pumpkin butter in a spaghetti jar.
Pumpkin butter that mostly tastes like brown sugar. Good in plain greek yogurt, though.

Pale, flattened pumpkin doughnuts.
Pumpkin doughnuts by C. She tripled the pumpkin, so they kind of went flat. Delicious, regardless.

Harry Potter food and british food in one delicious parcel!
Pumpkin pasties, made with pie crust instead of puff pastry.

Half-eaten heart-shaped pie.
Pumpkin Pie in the heart-shaped cake pan.

Pumpkin juice in a pitcher and glass, artfully.
Pumpkin juice! We just strained the cooked pumpkin and didn't add apple juice or any spices.

Way too much pumpkin.
All the stuff we haven't cooked, minus a pound of uncooked stuff C took to a friend.
Pumpkin chocolate bread in a parchment paper-lined tin
I'm a parchment paper convert.

Pumpkin chocolate bread looking artsy and decadent
Pumpkin chocolate bread! Decadent.

So far, we've made 4 pies, 9 10 loaves of bread, 16 doughnuts, 4 doughnut holes, 9 pasties, a soup, and a batch of pumpkin butter, and we still. have. so. much. We did give away a bunch of the baked goods, but still! I'm afraid that we'll start gagging at the smell of pumpkin before this is over, and I'd hate for that to happen.
[NB: Don't add so much sugar to the pumpkin butter if you do it in the crockpot; it'll end up tasting like brown sugar even though it smells like pie. Also, it will probably smell like apples for a long time. Adding some fresh puree at the end and cooking it on low for about an hour works pretty well.]
My goal (aside from bringing NB over to the west coast of the US) is to find creative ways to use this stuff up. I might try some savory recipes, even though I'm not a big fan of the "pumpkin as a vegetable" thing. Short of that, although my housemate did try with the soup, I'm thinking about putting pumpkin in things we don't normally associate with pumpkin.
I'm thinking pumpkin crepes and waffles, and more types of bread. There's a thing called "pumpkin hot chocolate" that I want to try. Possibly a cheesecake. I'll also push for more doughnuts, but I'm not confident in my baked doughnut-making skills so we're at the mercy of my knife-wielding housemate there.
And may I just say that I friggin' love The Post Punk Kitchen? Other than the veganism, which I adopt only when I'm out of eggs, butter, and normal milk, they're pretty much exactly how I want to be. I'm a college student. More than that, I'm a science major. I have no plans to be a stay at home wife, and only very vague plans of every being a mom, much less a stay at home one, so my culinary aspirations are strictly in pursuit of frugality and wickedosity. I don't have time or money to cook extensively, so when I do cook, it had better be pretty badass. I cook because I can't afford $3 for a slice of bread, but that free pumpkin and less than $3 for miscellaneous ingredients I don't already have is something I can afford. Mostly I cook pasta, but sometimes there's an explosion of old-fashioned cooking and baking and two weeks' worth of soup and bread. If I'm going to cook, I'm going to use the most effective recipe I can find, and it will be delicious.
Incidentally, the chocolate pumpkin bread linked twice already is delicious, and I felt badass chopping up the dark chocolate (which my mom bought me when she was in town) because I'm too lazy and poor for normal chocolate chips.

The word "pumpkin" no longer looks like a word. I hope you appreciate this.

I made a loaf of quickbread that does not follow the recipe linked above (which S picked because it was the first hit on google); in fact, I made it up by myself with minimal help from the internet. And that was months ago, so this is adapted from a recipe adapted from several recipes to the point of not looking much like any of them. Besides, there are only so many ways to combine flour, leavening agents, and fruit and have bread happen.
This recipe can be vegan if you use a cornstarch egg; I'm wary of flax eggs for the time being because my pear bread (which followed this recipe, more or less, and used a flax egg) was pretty flat. I also forgot the salt in the pear bread, so I'm not sure who the culprit was; in fact, I might just not know how to make flax eggs very well, which results in pudding-like bread when combined with a lack of salt. Who knows.
Don't forget your salt.

Pumpkin-Apple-Plum Bread


  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in this case)
  • 2 medium baking apples, peeled, one grated and one cut into small chunks
  • 4 Italian prunes or 2 plums
  • 1 c pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg


Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 1 lb loaf tin (or 9" pie plate) or line with parchment paper.
Mix dry ingredients, up through the spices. Add more spices if you love cinnamon-y bread. I'm a little sparing with the spices because I hate it when all I can taste is cinnamon and I was hoping for pear or pumpkin, you know?
Peel and prep your apples into a bowl. I cut a soft gravenstein into small chunks and grated a hard granny smith. You could grate both, chunk both, or just use applesauce.
Cut your plums or prunes into small chunks. Leave the skin on, unless you hate color and beauty in your quick bread. Add to the apples. Alternatively, just use about 2 tbsp of your favorite jam.
Add pumpkin puree and the rest of the wet ingredients to apples and plums/prunes.
Mix wet ingredients well.
Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients just until mixed.
Add chocolate chips if you have them and feel especially bold. I neither had them nor would have felt bold enough to do this.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for at least 1 hr.
Poke occasionally with a toothpick to see if it's done. There's a good chance you'll stab a chunk of fruit, so don't worry about plum-colored toothpicks.
Let sit for no more than 10 minutes before taking it out of the pan.

Alternatively, you could just use pumpkin puree or a mix of pumpkin and applesauce if you're not up for a chunky bread or don't have apples. Prunes/plums can be omitted without substitution if you're not feeling the red fruit thing. I'd say add another half cup of smushed cooked fruit if you omit the fresh fruit entirely, but add it after you've made the batter in case you don't need it at all. Tossing in a tablespoon or two of jam wouldn't hurt anything, either.

Note: This is not a terribly sweet bread, courtesy of the baking apples and the prunes. Add another 1/4c sugar if you want a sweeter, chunky bread. Don't add more sugar if you use sweetened applesauce or sweetened pumpkin, unless you like it really sweet.