Today we welcome a special Bread Blogger, Jennifer MacLeod, who got into bread making the lazy way (thank you no knead) and who aspires to make Aliyah one day soon just like Jamie. You can learn a lot about bread making here and comment below with any questions. And make sure to head over to the Breadland blog for a chance to win a set of Kosher Kitchen Labels.
Tell us about your blog and how you got started:
I've been baking for years, but a couple of years ago, I realized that too much of my regular blog, Adventures in MamaLand was being taken up with my latest obsession, which - at the time - was no-knead breads. So I found a similar Blogger domain name and took it from there! I don't post there quite as often, but I like to think I have a dedicated core of kosher-bread aficionados who read it regularly.
What is your earliest cooking memory?
Baking one-pan brownies with my little sister in my mother's kitchen. I didn't really learn to cook at home, because my mother is as tidy as I am NOT and it didn't make for a very comfortable relationship in the kitchen. But one-pan brownies, we could usually manage without messing up too much. Later on, when I was going to school and living alone with my future mother-in-law (my future husband was in a different city), I was amazed at how mellow a person could be in the kitchen - she didn't care where I put stuff in the dishwasher and loved coming home to fresh-cooked and -baked food. With that freedom, I started experimenting! I remember making a jelly roll, step by step - baking it flat, rolling it up in a towel to cool, gently unrolling and filling it -and being so proud of how perfectly it turned out. Even though, these days, I'm usually rushing to get family food on the table, it's wonderful to sometimes find a stretch of leisure time to cook or bake.
What is your favorite kitchen implement / utensil / gadget?
Hands-down, my Danish dough whisk. Here it is on Amazon; it's a beautifully simple gadget, made in Poland - they're all made in Poland, apparently. Basically, a twisted coat-hanger on a wooden handle... but it WORKS. It's great for no-knead doughs; literally, you just stir them together. But it's also the best thing for muffins and anything that suffers from overmixing. And it's super-easy to clean!
What's your favorite kosher dish to cook?
Can't every dish be a kosher dish if you fiddle with it enough? I didn't grow up eating kosher, and I remember at one point missing dim sum terribly. Now, dim sum is practically the opposite of kosher - little dumpling pockets of shrimp, "mystery meat," tripe, you name it (okay, the tripe never appealed). It's all about presentation and little bursts of flavour. I didn't mourn; I gathered ingredients, rounded up recipes, bought some bamboo steamers, and spent the better part of a day re-creating my favourite dim sum of all: "char siu bao," the well-known "barbecue pork" buns... using kosher beef. They were utterly delicious, but it was a ton of work. I guess that's a very long answer. In my work as a freelance writer, I interview a lot of caterers, who all claim that their food "doesn't taste kosher." I have no idea what this means, so my short answer is that my favourite dish to cook, period, is one we'll share with friends and family. I love thinking about who'll be eating it while I cook; it's almost meditative.
Who is your cooking inspiration?
I don't know if I have one. Honestly, any eishes chayil [woman of valour] who manages to cook a delightful meal for her family seven nights a week (or organize takeout or husband cookery for one or two of those evenings!), year in and year out, regardless of how she's feeling and what else is going on, should be an inspiration to us all. In that sense, my mother was an inspiration - I guess everybody says their mother, but now, my jaw drops when I think about everything she accomplished. I have the same number of hours in the day... perhaps the difference is that she didn't have the Internet and great sites like joyofkosher.com!
Please share a favorite cooking tip or trick with our readers:
MEASURE! Cooking is fun, an art, but baking is a science. Measure your ingredients properly. A normal cup of flour can weigh anywhere from 120 to 170 grams; we North American home bakers are terribly lazy, but you can find good recipes that give exact weights, and you may be amazed at how much more reliable your baking becomes! Also: measure the temperature of your finished bread - 185 to 195 is a good internal temperature. My digital thermometer cost under $10 and it's saved so many loaves from over- and under-baking! Again, it's one tip: MEASURE! Oh, and don't "punch down" your bread, no matter how many times your Bubby's challah recipe says you must.
Which recipes are you sharing with us today?
Two recipes - one is an easy and practical Pareve Hamburger Bun recipe, and one is a Blender Challah Recipe which is a little harder to work with but which should yield the softest, fluffiest challahs you've ever tasted.
Jennifer is a Jewish supermama of four and my family's adventures in learning, eating, growing, and living according to Hashem's plan. Visit her on her bread blog, BreadLand or on MamaLand or AliyahLand.