Sturdy bread suppers for snow days

For the Gazette
Published: 1/11/2020 1:50:28 PM
Modified: 1/11/2020 1:49:46 PM

It’s January. February is on the way. Both months can bring us snow days. Though they disrupt plans and schedules, snow days create oases of free time at home. And that’s what you need for making a bread plus something good to eat with it for supper.

Of course, you might long for a snow day to catch up on stuff like cleaning or sorting out closets. But you can do those things and make bread too because making bread doesn’t require all that much hands-on time. What it needs is elapsed time to do its own thing. This is a problem when you are at work. But when snow keeps you home, you can mix some dough and then leave it slowly blossoming into bread while you do whatever else you need to.

Served with a warming supper dish, homemade bread turns the evening meal into a celebration of your day at home. For example, you could make bread rolls to use as base for sloppy joes, or English muffins for topping with Welsh rarebit or turning into mini-pizzas topped with tomato sauce, vegetables or sausage, and a sprinkle of mozzarella.

Classic international pairings include Indian breads such as naans or parathas teamed with a curry, Irish soda bread with stew, and Middle Eastern pita breads stuffed with veggies and chunks of herby chicken or lamb. America’s own classics include cornbread and chili from the southwest, and Massachusetts’ own Boston brown bread with baked beans.

Now rarely made at home, Boston brown bread was a staple in earlier times. The English colonists were not used to indigenous breads made of corn, so they cut it with wheat or rye. Boston brown bread uses all three grains, along with another bygone staple: molasses. Because only wealthier homes had ovens, the bread was steamed in water simmering at the fireplace, while the beans that are its famous accompaniment bubbled in another pot nearby.

Like Boston brown bread, neither English muffins nor Indian parathas are baked in an oven. They are made on a hot plate. At home, a pancake pan or frying pan is perfect for the job. Kids can help. While kneading is heavy work for their small hands, shaping dough into muffins and dusting them with flour is an easy task for them, and they love watching the muffins puff into fragrant disks on top of the stove.

Parathas is another one kids can help with. The dough needs to be brushed with oil and folded to get its characteristic flakiness. Armed with a pastry brush and a saucer of oil, even a kindergartner can do the job.

They can also help with confetti cornbread. If you’ve snipped the chives and chopped the peppers, they can stir in these bright ingredients that give the bread its name. Stirring three different flours and pouring in a black stream of molasses to make Boston brown bread is a kick for them also.

So, for when you next get the gift of a snow day, here are some fun-to-make-recipes for breads paired with supper suggestions.

English muffinsand Welsh rarebit

English muffins were traditionally made on a metal bakestone over a fire. Nowadays a frying or pancake pan does the job perfectly. Welsh rarebit is equally easy. Old recipes vary from those that simply melt the cheese and slap it on toast to others that include beer. This version from North Wales combines milk and eggs with extra-sharp cheddar or a similarly tangy cheese.

For the muffins

3 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter, lard, or olive oil

1 package (1 tablespoon) dried yeast

2 tablespoons cornmeal or cornstarch

Turn the oven to 300 degrees. Mix the flour and salt into the mixing bowl or the bowl of a food processor, and warm them in the oven for about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the milk with three-quarters of a cup of water and the butter or other fat. Heat until it is warm to the touch and the fat has melted. Pour about a third of a cup of this into a small bowl and stir in the yeast.

When the flour is warm, make a well in the center and pour in both the milk and yeast mixtures. Stir, then knead for 4-5 minutes if using a processor or 10 minutes by hand, until you have a very soft but not sticky dough. Form into a ball, put it back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand in a draft-free spot for 40-50 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Sprinkle the cornmeal on a plate. Divide the dough into 8 portions. Form each portion of dough into a 4-inch disk. Place both sides in the cornmeal, then move to a board or a tray. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for another 35-45 minutes or until very puffy.

Heat a lightly greased frying pan or pancake pan over moderately high heat. Handling them very gently, add 3-4 muffins, and lower the heat. Cook slowly for 7-8 minutes a side until pale-gold and well risen. Remove the first batch to a cooling rack while you cook the others.

For the Welsh rarebit

3 tablespoons milk

8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, sliced

Dash cayenne pepper

3 eggs, beaten

Put the milk and cheese in a saucepan over moderate heat. Stir to mix. When the cheese has all melted, add a dash of cayenne then remove from the heat and stir in the eggs. Return to the heat and stir all the time until the mixture is thick. This takes only a minute. Serve on toasted muffins. Add sliced tomatoes or sprigs of watercress if you like.

Boston brown breadand baked beans

Soda, not yeast, is the raising agent in Boston brown bread, and it is steamed, not baked. Raisins are optional inclusions. This recipe is closely based on Fannie Farmer’s recipe in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896). The classic companion is Boston baked beans. The excellent B&M brand cans are a good choice. Or make your own by cooking canned navy or great northern beans with molasses and salt to taste. This bread is also excellent with cream cheese or smoked salmon and deli meats.

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup rye flour

1 cup stone ground yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup molasses

2 cups buttermilk, sour milk, or milk with a tablespoon of yogurt or sour cream stirred into it

1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Grease a mold with butter. In the 19th century, coffee cans were often used so the bread slices were circular. A deep heat-proof glass or ceramic casserole is fine. Cut 2 pieces baking parchment that fit snugly onto the top and set aside

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the whole wheat flour with the rye flour, cornmeal, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the molasses and milk, and when everything is mixed, stir in the raisins if you are using them.

Pour into the mold. Place the parchment paper on top. Cover the mold tightly with foil. Then stand it another sheet of foil and fold it tightly over the top. Put it in a large pan standing on a trivet or on an old saucer turned upside down. Add enough boiling water to come half way up the sides. Simmer for 3 hours, topping up the water as needed with more boiling water. When the bread is ready, take it out of the pan, let rest for 5-10 minutes, then run a knife between the bread and the pan, and invert onto a plate. Let it finish cooling.

Parathas with curried winter vegetables

Parathas are one of many breads Indians eat with their meals. They require no yeast, so they don’t rise. Instead they are folded and each fold is brushed with oil so they develop a rich flakiness. They are good with any sort of moist curried dish. Here common winter vegetables are used. Each can be replaced with an alternative or more of one of the others if necessary.

For the curried winter vegetables

2 tablespoons oil

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeno, minced (or substitute 1/ 4 teaspoon red pepper flakes)

1 medium onion, chopped

2-3 teaspoons curry powder

2 medium carrots, in bite-size chunks sliced

1 parsnip, in bite-size chunks

1 large potato, in bite-size chunks

1 medium sweet potato, in bite-size chunks

salt to taste

2 cups canned or fresh diced tomatoes

1 leek in 1-inch pieces(optional)

1-2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro, parsley or chives

Heat the oil in a deep lidded frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeno and soften in the oil for 2 minutes. Stir in the curry powder. Then tip in the chunks of carrots, parsnip, potato, and sweet potato and stir them around. Season with salt, and add the tomatoes and a cup of water. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender but not falling apart. Now add the leeks if you are using them and simmer for another 5 minutes. Add more water as necessary to form a sauce and prevent sticking.

For the parathas

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons oil

About 1 cup boiling water

3 tablespoons melted butter

In a bowl or food processor, mix the two flours and salt. Mix in a tablespoon of oil. Make a well in the center, add a quarter-cup of water, and process or mix quickly. Gradually mix in enough additional water, and process (for about 5 minutes) or knead (for about 10 minutes) until the mixture forms a soft but not sticky dough. Shape into a ball, sprinkle with a few drops of water, cover with plastic wrap, and leave for 30 minutes. (It rests but won’t rise.)

Now, mix the melted butter with the remaining oil. Briefly knead the dough and divide into 8 equal portions. Keep 7 under plastic wrap while you dust one with flour and roll thinly into a 5-6-inch disk. Brush the surface with the oil and butter mixture, then fold in half. Brush the surface of this semi-circle with oil mixture, and fold in half to make a triangle. Again, brush the surface with the oil, then dust with flour and keep covered.

When all the disks are prepared this way, brush a heavy frying pan with oil and place over high heat. Put one or two of the triangles in the pan, Brush the tops lightly with the oil and let them cook for 2 minutes, pressing them down with a spatula so they develop brown patches. Flip and cook the other side for a minute. Keep warm until all are ready and serve immediately with the curried vegetables.

Confetti cornbreadwith chunky chili

Bright confetti-size bits of vegetables and herbs give this cornbread its name — and also lots of flavor and moistness. It’s the classic southwestern companion to chili, and good also with soups.

For confetti cornbread

7 tablespoons butter

1 cup medium yellow cornmeal

1 1/3 cups unbleached flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon powdered cumin

1/ 2 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 egg

1 cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream

About 1/4 cup milk

1 cup corn kernels

1/4 cup red pepper, cut into tiny dice

1/4 cup green pepper or black olives cut into tiny dice

2 tablespoons snipped chives

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley

Turn the oven to 400 degrees. Put 6 tablespoons of the butter into an 8-inch square or an 11-by-7-inch rectangular pan and set it in the oven until it has melted. Swirl or brush the butter around to thoroughly grease the pan. Leave about a tablespoonful in the pan but pour out and reserve the rest.

In a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, chili powder, cumin, and salt. In a smaller bowl, lightly whisk together the egg, yogurt and remaining melted butter. Make a well in the center of the cornmeal mixture and stir in the egg mixture. Add milk a little at time to make a soft batter. Now add the corn kernels, pepper and olive bits, chives, and cilantro or parsley. Stir briskly just until everything has come together and the vegetables and herbs have dispersed throughout the batter. Spread it in the baking dish and set in the middle of the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick poked in the center comes out clean. While the bread is still hot, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and brush it over the surface. This helps keep it tender. Good warm or cold.

For chunky chili

2 tablespoons canola or corn oil

1 pound chuck beef or pork cut in half-inch bits

1 medium onion chopped

garlic cloves minced

1-2 teaspoons powdered chili pepper

1-2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon cumin

Salt and cayenne to taste

1 -2 cups chopped fresh or canned diced tomatoes

Heat in the oil in a frying pan or saucepan and add the beef or pork bits. Let them brown then remove and add the chopped onion and minced garlic. Let them soften for 3-4 minutes, then return the meat to the pan and sprinkle on the powdered chili pepper and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the oregano, cumin and tomatoes with salt taste. (Add cayenne if you want a spicy hot chili). Cover and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes or until the meat is tender and the tomatoes and other vegetables have formed a thickish sauce. Serve with squares of cornbread.

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