Friday, April 27, 2012


The day has come that I can say I made a delicious loaf of whole wheat bread. I assure you that I am not meaning to brag or to “toot my own horn”. It is just that this seems like this day has been a long time in the making. Here is a brief recap of my history with whole wheat bread.

My first attempt was fairly successful but I have to admit that I didn’t do it by myself; I had help from our resident bread baker at the Eco-House and we made it in the bread machine. However, it was still a little bit dense and too misshapen for my liking. My next attempt is something that I can look back at and laugh but I think I might actually have cried when I first saw it (it had been a LONG day). It was a misshapen, dense brick. Literally, no rising had occurred. The jar labeled “YEAST” contained sugar. Seriously? Lesson: pay attention to your ingredients. Now I find it rather shameful that I didn’t even notice I was adding brown sugar instead of yeast. It was the strangest incarnation of “bread” I have ever had and I had to transform it into baked French toast to make it edible. My third and fourth attempts were decent and encouraging but I knew that I still had much room for improvement. They were solid but the bread was dense and a little bit dry. (This is a recurring theme with 100% whole wheat bread). I still had faith in this recipe but just thought that my technique could probably improve more. For example, I wasn't sure if the bread rose all the way because the kitchen, where I let the dough rise, wasn’t very warm. Yesterday, Food Club had a potluck and no one had volunteered to bring bread so I thought I would make some with our local whole wheat flour. Wednesday, I set about making the dough and decided that I would take some creative license with the recipe. In hindsight this really could have gone bad since I had already committed to bringing bread and I could have gotten unfortunate results. However, this time I made sure that the dough rose enough, both for the initial rise and the second rise after it was shaped and in the pan. Also, I used a different kind of sweetener. The molasses I used gave the bread a nice color and slight sweetness. I also used a tad bit less flour.


But, I am sure you would much rather hear about the results. The bread had beautiful holes from the yeast and was light. It wasn’t dry which is a nice change from bread that you have to choke down or wash down with a lot of water. Also, the recipe is easily doubled. Here is my recipe, adapted from the one above:


1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons molasses

3 1/3 cups whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (or active dry mixed with the lukewarm water before adding to mixture)


Combine the ingredients in large bowl until a fairly wet, shaggy dough forms (you can do this with your hands or a spoon). Let the dough rest, covered for 20 minutes. Then, knead dough for 10 minutes. Allow to sit covered for 1 to 2 hours (or more if your kitchen is not warm).  When it is about doubled in size, gently deflate and shape the dough. Put shaped loaf in a greased 9x 5 loaf pan. Cover and allow to rise for 30 minutes to an hour (or more if it isn’t in a very warm place). Preheat oven to 350 degrees about 10 minutes before the hour is up. Bake for 35 minutes or until the top is brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.



Monday, April 23, 2012

Blue: A Restaurant Review and My Quest for the Top 25

Several months ago, I discovered a Charlotte magazine article online that details the top 25 restaurants in Charlotte and the best dishes served at each. Instantly, I was hooked. For some reason I love eating at a restaurant or just going somewhere that I have heard or read about. I think it makes me feel in the loop. So, I added to my bucket list to eat at all 25 places.

I now have seven restaurants from the top 25 checked off. I think that is pretty good progress thus far. Granted, a few I went to based on recommendations from friends or other sources and then just happened to notice I could check them off the list. One trend I am happy to report is that several of them use local and sustainably raised meat and produce. I think that this attests to the growing amount of importance placed on this, and rightfully so, in my opinion. It also shows that Charlotte has some pretty great places to eat, you don’t have to go to New York or California to get inventive food from creative chefs who care about quality ingredients.

Thursday afternoon, I was able to see where I would be working this summer for my internship and given a tour of the agency. It was really useful and got me so excited about this summer! I know that God has some very challenging but great things in store for me. Since I was in Charlotte anyway, Jerry and I agreed to meet for dinner. Little did I know that he had made a reservation at Blue, a restaurant that I have been dying to try (and also one of the Top 25).

The interior was beautiful and surprise, surprise there were hints of blue. Wavy lines adorned the walls and soft colors permeated the restaurant, making it a relaxing but elegant atmosphere. Our waitress was very friendly and helpful and I treasured the man that kept refilling our water (I drink my weight in water at a restaurant). The valet service was also a great plus. It’s free and then you don’t have to worry about parking in a sketchy or far away parking deck.

However, my main hardship was that it very hard to pick what I wanted from the menu. Blue serves Mediterranean food and Mediterranean, specifically Greek, food is my very favorite kind of food. Finally, I settled on an appetizer and a mid course. I chose the jumbo diver scallops (served over a fava bean puree with a lemon marmalade), which won Taste of the Nation Best Hot Appetizer, and the Flavors of the Mediterranean (with excellent baba ganoush, hummus, olives, dolmades, peppadews stuffed with goat cheese, white bean salad, and warm pita bread). Both were amazing! I would definitely order both again. The Mediterranean sampler was huge, Jerry and I easily split it. And, the complimentary bread must not be left out of the equation. They served big hunks of warm bread, both focaccia with cheese baked into the top and a cinnamon raisin walnut bread (I think). The two were very different, crunchy and salty versus soft and sweet. The focaccia was elevated by the housemade olive butter (kalamata olives mixed with butter). For the main course, my scallops were presented beautifully and although there were only two it was just the right portion (it was only an appetizer) since each scallop was about 4-5 bites big. I could definitely understand how it won such an award. Finally, Jerry and I agreed to split dessert. After much debate about which one to order, we picked the pumpkin cheesecake with white chocolate croquant, praline syrup and a praline crisp on top. It had warm pumpkin and cinnamon flavors and was very homey tasting. It was a great way to finish the meal.


The pumpkin cheesecake, above, was delicious and beautiful. (This is an edited version of the picture, though, meant to look kind of artsy so don’t think it is totally true to life.)

Side note: Wednesday I was lucky enough to go to Savor Café, also in Charlotte and on the Top 25 list. I tried the pad thai, which I was warned was not like any same old, same old pad thai but the noodles were covered in a spicy thai curry sauce made with coconut milk. I got the Asian veggies instead of chicken or shrimp on mine. I am a coconut hater but I loved this dish! The veggies were cooked perfectly and the sauce was a little sweet with a strong curry flavor and kick. It was quite a mound of noodles though; I took home half as leftovers. On the Top 25 list, it recommends several dishes/drinks (which are not really options to me being a pescatarian and under 21), but it does suggest to try their dessert. They are evidently best known for their banana pudding and cobbler although dessert specials change daily. The banana pudding might look slightly foreign to a born and raised Southerner at first, but all the components are there, the thick and creamy banana pudding, Nilla Wafers, and banana slices (the toasted meringue is just the cherry on top, so to speak).

Some favorites from Savor:

IMG_3533 IMG_3537-001

You could get the butterscotch bread pudding (pictured left), but the banana pudding is what they are known for and, although our table’s opinions were split, this is the better option. The swirl of the toasted meringue tops off the creamy banana pudding with just enough airiness and a hint of salt (pictured right).


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cake for College Kids

This past weekend, my friend and I wanted to hang out. We hadn’t gotten a chance to do so in what seemed like forever. I was really excited about it so I asked her what she wanted to do. She suggested that we bake something (obviously knowing that I like to bake). Among my friends, I have become the baking “expert” (although really far from it), a fact that is both embarrassing yet thrilling for me. This raises two points: 1. Do people think that the only thing I think/care about is food?(Although I love it a lot, I care about so many other things and not just about food as a thing or physical nourishment but how it brings people together) 2. Also, if someone asks me about baking, this makes me feel kind of special. While this expertise is totally not the truth it really makes me feel flattered because I am so passionate about baking and love to do it so much. Also, I have this grand illusion in my head that I am going to leave some sort of baking legacy in which my name is associated with moist cakes, sweet and fruity breads, and delicious, buttery bars. Then, everyone will know that I am passionate about baking, especially as a way to show people that I care or to connect/bond with them.


Here is a recipe that I found that is very fun to make. And, I find it perfect for college students. It requires very few ingredients and they are all staples that are probably in your fridge/pantry if you have one. It doesn’t take a lot of prior preparation or bowls, pans, utensils, etc. Also, it is super easy and fast. No need to be a pastry chef or some other culinary expert, you can make and eat this cake- in-a-mug in under ten minutes flat.

It is also the perfect dessert to make with a friend. And, let’s face it, dessert wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t eaten with someone special and if it didn’t satisfy a longing for that certain something that tickles your sweet tooth (for me, this is cake without a doubt).

**Notes for the recipe: I would definitely double the sugar, it wasn’t nearly sweet enough for me (but I didn’t try the chocolate glaze). Also, for the two servings you can divide the batter into two mugs to make it easier/less awkward to eat. Finally, I added a pinch of cinnamon to mine and I really liked it; actually, next time I would add more (but this probably has something to do with my cinnamon obsession).