Fresh & Frugal

How to cook fantastic, fresh food on a tight budget

Month: January, 2012

So Kneady

I have always wanted to make bread. I don’t mean buying a little bag of pizza dough from Trader Joe’s and plopping small pieces into a muffin tin with a little olive oil. That’s just cheating your way to kind of crappy rolls. I mean, I want to mix flour and water and yeast. I want things to rise. I want that delicious smell, first thing in the morning (or right before dinner). I want… I want… I want to make bread.

Luckily, I have a friend at work who is a culinary genius (all natural, all delicious), and she let me take a quick looksie at her bread cook book, and even brought me a little vial of yeast. I copied a cliff notes version of the “Master” recipe, and headed home. The book, worth a mention, is called something like, “Fresh Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” or something — it’s brilliant. The idea is that you make a bunch of dough when you have the time, and then break off hunks and bake them as you need them. Perfect, right?

So yesterday morning, I threw everything together, gave it a quick stir, and let it sit on the counter for two hours — apparently, this is a secret. Shhhhhhh! Then, into the fridge for at least 3 hours, but the longer the better. I had so much to do, so the bread would have to wait until this afternoon. Luckily, the longer the dough stays in the fridge, the more complex the flavor becomes as the yeast… does yeasty things. With that done, I had to take care of some other things that kept me busy until this morning.

Making bread is so easy!┬áIt’s ridiculous. sprinkle a little flour on the top of what’s in the bowl, break off a hunk, and let it rest for a little while before popping it into the oven. Then, voila! Fresh, warm, delicious artisan bread. The next adventure: figuring out how to put crap in it.


Master Recipe

3 c Lukewarm water

1.5 Tbsp yeast

1.5 Tbsp coarse salt

6.5 c flour



Mix the water, yeast, and salt.

Add the flour to the mix and mix until it isn’t lumpy. We’re going for homogeneity, here.

Here’s the easy part: Let it sit on the counter for two hours with a lid or saran wrap on it. Be sure that it’s not airtight. Gasses need to move around in there.

After two hours, pop it into the fridge for at least 3 hours. The longer it sits, the more complex the flavor will become.

Then lightly dust the top of the dough that you plan to cut off from the rest to bake, and then cut it off. You want it to be about a pound, or about the size of a grapefruit.

Next, use your thumbs to stretch the top layer of the dough around to the bottom of the loaf, little by little. The bottom of the loaf should look a little pinched when you’re through (this should only take 30-60 seconds). Plop that baby down on a nice layer of flour (either on a bread stone or a tray, doesn’t matter) and let it rest for 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450.

Put an oven-safe container into the oven to warm up. Put it on the bottom rack, with enough space between the top of the container and the rack above, so that you can add some water to it in a minute.

When the dough has rested for 40 minutes, dust the top with flour, give it a quick slash across the top with a sharp knife (to get those neat lines), and stick it into the oven.

Now, add a glass of water to that hot container below the bread. It’ll steam, so be ready. Shut the oven door, trapping the steam. I think it’s the steam that gives the bread that awesome crustiness.

In 30 minutes, take that bread out and enjoy it.


First Frittata


The weather here is torturous — completely and absolutely torturous. No, there’s no snow or ice on the ground. I’m not snowed in. I’m not stranded. My heat is working just fine, and my television hasn’t been cut off (yet). Rather, it’s frigid outside and the wind is beyond blistering. It’s been this way for days and we both know what happens when it gets this cold: I want to eat everything. My poor conservation coworkers have to listen to that mantra over and over and over again. I want to eat everything.

Yesterday, I woke up and decided that it was high time to put one of my favorite Christmas presents to good use: my cast iron frying pan. Of course, on the drive back to Philadelphia, my grandmother admitted to having three of them, each heavily seasoned, which I would have loved so much more than getting my hands on a brand new pan… But don’t take that to mean that I’m ungrateful for the one my brother bought for me. Hardly. I couldn’t wait to use it! Thus, an unwarranted trip to the grocery to pick up some avocados and cottage cheese.


I was knackered after a short walk to the store, lugging home a $50 load of fresh food (how some people can pass over fresh food at its peak absolutely baffles me). I whipped up a batch of guac with the surplus of fresh avocados I purchased (80 cents for six not-quite-rotten fruit), and settled into the couch to go through my hoarded magazines from the past year, ripping out my favorite images, articles, recipes, and advice, so I could pitch the rest. Thus, yesterday was not a good day for making a frittata. It was, however, the perfect day for reading, deep-cleaning the apartment, organizing, tidying, and movie-watching. Passing out in a clean bed with a book in hand around 2 am was most definitely well earned, I think.


But this post isn’t about how lovely and productive I am, is it? Well, not necessarily. I don’t have much to say about this first blind stab at making a frittata, aside from a strong insistence that one use a clean broiler for the last step. All too late, I realized that the previous tenant had never cleaned the shelf in the broiler, where she had made some sort of awful, oily, fish-based thing. There was smoke everywhere, a terrified cat huddled under my desk to watch from a safe distance, and a great deal of mid-morning cursing.

In the end, I managed to wiggle the shelf out and rest the pan on the very bottom of the broiler (the heat source comes from above in this one). It’s a little over-done, but it’s certainly a beginning. Hopefully the frittata planned for next Sunday will go considerably better.


First Freaking Frittata

5 eggs (with yolks)

3 egg whites

1/4 cup cottage cheese

4 spring onions/scallions

6 mushrooms (clean, thinly sliced)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the broiler and warm the cast iron (or other stove- and oven-safe container) skillet with olive oil on medium heat.

Whisk together eggs, egg whites, and cottage cheese.

Add scallions, mushrooms, salt and pepper, and cook on stove until eggs begin to set (3-5 minutes).

Relocate to broiler, until the frittata appears to cook through and the top begins to brown just a touch (another 3-5 minutes).

Remove from broiler and use a flexible spatula to separate the egg from the edge of the pan. Slice into wedges and serve.

Important Note: If you have a glass-top stove, do not use a cast iron skillet! You will ruin your stove! Use an oven-safe stainless steel pan, or something similar.