Two Easy, Good Bread, Practice Until You Own It!

Bread making is easy, just follow a few rules any one can make a delicious loaf of bread from scratch. It may take you a while to become a master bread maker, but I think you should at least learn a couple to give you the satisfaction of eating fresh baked bread. That's right, practice until you own it! I will share with you two types of bread I make most often, they are also the easiest to make. Find yourself a heavy crock for bread making. I use an oval insert of a slow cooker. Nice thing is, it comes with a lid.
1. Sue's Pillow Bread: For dough: Dissolve 1 T. dry yeast, 1 T. sugar in 3/4 C. warm water, add 1-2 T. oil, one egg, and 1 t. salt and enough flour to make a soft dough. Let the dough rises until doubled in size. Place the dough in a well floured surface. Roll out the dough to about 1-2" thick, brush the top with egg wash and sprinkle with salt, pepper or sesame seeds or any other topping you like. Cut into ~3" squares with a pizza cutter, arrange the pieces on cooking sheet lined with parchment paper. Let it raise until puffy (be patient!). Bake in a per-heated 375 F oven for 15-18minutes. (you may need to check it at 15 minutes first time you bake it in your oven, it goes from perfect to burnt pretty quickly). Enjoy! This is a great bread for sandwich making.

2. Overnight Bread: This one is even easier. Mix together: 1 t. dry yeast, 1 t. kosher salt, 3 C. flour, 1-1/2 C. water. Stir just combined. Cover, leave it in the bowl for 12 hours. 12 hours later, place a cast iron skillet in the oven, heat the oven to 500F. Dump the dough on a floured surface (the dough is quite soft at this stage), fold it up so it will fit in the cast iron skillet. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on, then another 10-15 with the lid off. Viola! Enjoy!
In case you need a visual reference, here's a link:

Get ready, set, sow!

It is that time of the year again, gardeners everywhere are itching to start their vegetable garden. Before you start your seeds, let's look at some of the basics of seed starting.
First make a good soil mixture, I like to use a large Rubbermaid tote (18 gallon). My formula consists of  50% of potting soil (1 large bag of potting soil, 2 cubic ft size), 25% coconut fiber (available in pressed bricks or bags) and 25% vermiculite. This will give the soil enough lightness and water retention for seeds to grow. Next I add  2 C. of slow release fertilizer (polymer coated 14-14-14 or 16-16-16) to the soil mixture. This will give the seedlings some baby food once they germinate, and allow them to grow in the soil until you are ready to transplant them to bigger pots. All kinds of containers can be re-purposed for seed starting. Make sure you cut holes on the bottom for drainage. Fill the containers with the soil mixture and sow your selection of seeds, cover the seeds with a thin layer of the soil mixture, water then tap it down to make sure the seeds have good contact with the soil. Keep your containers in a warm spot, keep them moist, with a little TLC they should germinate soon. Keep in mind, fresh seeds will germinate sooner than old ones, so buy high quality seeds whenever you can.
Long maturing vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants must be started indoors, while short maturing types can be direct sowed. When sowing out doors and transplanting always keep a close watch on the temperature, especially pay attention to soil temperature.
The following is the dates I sow my seeds:
Jan.: Onions, green onions;
Feb-March: Indoors: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants; Outdoors: peas, spinach, beets, fava beans.
April-May: indoor/outdoor: radishes, lettuce, cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi), zucchinis and watermelons.
June: Beans, soy beans, cucumbers, melons, carrots, just about anything can be sowed or transplanted to the garden by now.
Here's a little something special about cucumbers: I really like cucumbers and would do everything I could to get an early harvest. You can start cucumbers indoors, but I generally do not recommend that. Cucumber roots are extremely tender, they don't fare well when transplanting. It take them a long time to recover from the shock. From my experience, it is better just to sow them direct. If you do wish to get an early harvest, use other methods such as covering the sowing sites or use a cold frame over the cucumber seeds you sow.
And for a fall crop sow seeds at the end of July and early August. Many vegetables do well in the fall. By then a lot of your crop are cleared out of the garden. Planting a fall crop is a great way to extend the fresh veggies all the way into the winter. That will be the subject of another blog.