Tag Archives: baking bread

What’s Cookin’?

As readers of my new novel, One Woman’s Island, have discovered, I included local Bequia recipes at the end of each chapter to give you all a “flavour” of what the food is like that the book’s characters eat.

Also at the end I included a recipe for an Island in the Clouds cocktail I invented that Sharon Wilson and Dan Erkelens kindly tested and reviewed here on reading recommendations reviewed.

One Woman’s Island is a very personal book, and one thing I definitely share with the main character is a love of good food and cooking. Over the years living on Bequia I’ve had the opportunity to develop my cooking skills and have become quite a good baker. Of course, it helps to have a pizza/bread oven close by …

I also developed a recipe for cinnamon buns that produces a light and fluffy bun not cloyingly sweet. (Recipe is in the book.)

So, if you haven’t read my novel yet, you’re in for a taste treat as well as (I think) a good story!

But now I’m coming to the reason for the title of this blog post, and I want to know …

What’s Cookin’ in YOUR kitchen!

Everyone has a recipe that’s special to them, either something your mother made for the family or a favourite recipe you’ve “owned” over the years – your party trick! – that receives accolades whenever you serve it. Or it could be that you now live in a different culture altogether (as I have) and you’ve discovered some local specialty you find very appealing and representative of the place and its people. So here’s what I’m asking you to do …

Please share that recipe with us! If you have a blog, please write a post – link to this blog post then tell your own story about the importance of your recipe. Include the complete recipe and add a photo of the dish as it’s served, if possible. But please do give us the background information as to why this particular recipe is so important. (If you do not write a blog, please contact me if you would like to participate and I will create a separate blog post for you here.)

Even if you are not a cook yourself, I’m sure you can think of something you’ve enjoyed eating during your lifetime, something that has significance to you. I want to hear about it!

In a way, we’ll be creating a kind of online cookbook for other readers to enjoy.

And … just in case you were wondering, this is what half of a 22-dozen order for bagels looks like.

Food, glorious food … prepared on Bequia!

We haven’t been cooking anything unusual lately here on Bequia, other than regular meals to sustain us. But we have used freshly grown local pumpkins recently picked from our own vines:

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And we made this:

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A Caribbean Pumpkin Soup recipe I developed a number of years ago …
And this:

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Beef Curry (recipe from CaribbeanPot.com) cooked inside a whole Pumpkin.

Then I got back into baking bread again …

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Two loaves each of Rye with Caraway Seeds and 100% Whole Wheat.

Finally, here’s one of my most favourite desserts to prepare for company – Bequia Lime Pie! Not only is it always delicious and a surprise to those who haven’t eaten it before, but the recipe is super-easy to prepare, calling for few ingredients. (And I have this recipe memorized since I’ve made it so many times.)

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So, there you have it – gastronomic delights from Bequia!

And the good news for those of you looking for any of these recipes … “some” will be included in my next novel, One Woman’s Island!

Popular posts … Who knew?

For the longest time now, since about 5 or 6 years ago, the two most popular phrases used on search engines that have brought people to my blog are “baking bread in a pizza oven” followed closely by “meeting my best friend for the first time”. Here are the two posts that those searchers click on: Baking Bread in the Pizza Oven and I met my best friend for the first time.

The first search always made sense to me, because home pizza ovens are becoming popular among foodies, Dennis had built one here on Bequia, and I had written a number of blog posts featuring our experiments in using it, both for making pizza and baking bread.

The second search I always took as being very flattering. There seemed to be a lot of people out there on the internet who were nostalgic for that first meeting with a best friend in their own lives and wanted to read about and enjoy my personal experience.

At least, that’s what I thought … until recently, when those same search words came up with “writing an essay about …” attached to them. Then I saw a site link attached to those searches, and noticed that some of my hits and views were being directed from – a writing instruction site!! So, instead of being flattered, I became worried those students could be plagiarizing my essay and turning it in as their own work. I considered taking down the post altogether.

But then I realized that my experience was uniquely my own, and perhaps these students were being sent to my sight to read an example of how to write about meeting your best friend for the first time. (Oh, how we can delude ourselves at times …)

So I decided to leave things as they were and write this post about my findings instead. Perhaps … just perhaps, one or two of those students have come to my blog, read that post and more, have liked what they read and became subscribers. That’s a big “perhaps”, I know, but we can always hope the intentions that bring readers to read our work are ultimately good.

And maybe there’s an online writing instructor out there who actually did find my blog post to be a compelling example of how to write an essay about meeting your best friend for the first time, so much so they are recommending that all their students check out my blog!

And here’s the subject of that original blog – Darcie Friesen Hossack!

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From the vaults – Baking bread in the pizza oven, Dec. 2009

It still amazes me that after all this time of writing my blog – which was mainly meant to be about all things “Books” – the two search words/phrases that are still most often used, almost daily, and by which people are directed to my blog are “Chikungunya” (tells me there are too many people out there still suffering with this awful virus!) and “baking bread in a pizza oven”. “Meeting my best friend for the first time” is the third most-popular phrase. I’ve posted links (above in the menu on a separate page) to all the posts I wrote regarding Chikungunya. But I thought I’d reblog a few earlier posts regarding that good old pizza oven Dennis built a number of years ago. We have it in mind to publish a guide some day to building your own backyard pizza oven. It’s obvious there’s an interest! So here’s some of the links to those posts I’ve pulled out of the vault today for your reading pleasure, and the answer to that burning (!) question so many of you seem to have … Can I bake bread in a pizza oven? (And, no, we have not fired up the oven this morning to bake pizza or bread – it’s pissing down rain!!!)

You can bake bread in a pizza oven, but you can’t bake pizza in a bread oven. The temperature in our oven can get up to 900F, so that a pizza cooks perfectly in a matter of minutes. Then, after the oven temperature falls overnight, you can bake bread the next day. We prepared several batches of dough early in the morning.

Bread bakes a bit faster than in a conventional oven, and the crust is much crunchier, plus you get that great crackling sound as the bread cools. Here’s the first batch, fresh out of the oven. (Jay is in the background, lounging in the pool. Such a mild-mannered guy, how were we to know he’d soon be scarfing down nearly an entire baguette all by himself?)

And Mr. McAnderson surprised us with this great sign he picked up at a flea market in Notting Hill, and will likely soon be nailed to the rum shack right next to the pizza oven.

Further reading:
Pizza Oven
Adventures in Baking on Bequia (1)
Adventures in Baking on Bequia (2)
Adventure in Baking on Bequia (3)

Recipe for Onion Buns

This is a recipe I developed recently that is mentioned in a guest post I wrote for the blog Happy Lifeaholic titled, “Why I bake bread in a pizza oven but have never owned a microwave … and other cooking stories” which you may read here.

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Onion Buns

(recipe adapted from a mash-up of the Round Country Bread recipe in The Il Fornaio Baking Book and what was in my refrigerator at the time …)

Ingredients
1-1/2 tsp. yeast
1/2 cup warm water
7 cups white flour
1 Tbsp. salt
2 cups cool water
1 cup Biga* or sourdough starter
1 cup caramelized onions**
Olive oil
Additional flour

Dissolve the yeast in warm water in a small bowl. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Stir 4 cups of flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Form a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture, cool water, Biga and caramelized onions (including oil they were cooked in). Mix together and add remainder of flour as needed until it all comes together fairly easily.

Knead for as long as you can (and this is where my Kitchen Aid with the dough hook comes in handy!) The longer you knead bread dough, the better the overall bread will be. I usually knead for 8 minutes altogether with the kitchen machine; 15-20 minutes if kneading by hand. Once you’ve been making bread long enough you can tell by the feel of the dough when it’s been kneaded enough.

Rub a large bowl with olive oil, form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl. Turn the dough so it is evenly coated with oil then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and lay a kitchen towel over it. Allow the dough to rise at room temperature until double, about 1-1/2 hours. (These rising times and temperatures also depend upon where you live and your altitude above sea level. I’m baking AT sea level, for instance. So you may need to adjust some of this method accordingly.)

Punch down the dough and allow it to rise a second time, about an hour.

Turn the dough on to a lightly floured surface and divide it into 16 equal-sized pieces. Form these into buns and place them on a prepared baking sheet. (I use an over-sized cookie sheet and place parchment paper on the surface – for easy cleanup.) Allow the buns to rise again for about half an hour. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425F. When the buns have risen sufficently, bake them for 30-35 minutes until they are golden brown on top. (I am in the habit of turning off the oven and leaving the oven door closed for 5 minutes then opening the door and leaving the baked bread in the oven for 5 minutes more. This seems to give home-baked bread a better crust.)

Remove the buns from the oven and separate them. Allow to cool on racks.

Makes 16 large buns

*Biga
3/4 tsp. yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3-1/2 cups white flour
1-1/4 cup cool water

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Set aside for 15 minutes. Pour flour into large bowl, make a well and add the yeast mixture and cool water. Stir until all ingredients are combined. Cover tightly and allow to ferment slowly in the refrigerator for 24 hours before using. This makes about 3 cups of Biga. (The longer the Biga remains in the refrigerator the more sour it becomes. It’s still active as long as there are bubbles on the surface.)

**Caramelized onions
2 large white onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter

Heat oil and butter in a large frying pan, add the onions, separating the slices into rings. Add more oil, if necessary. Fry on low, stirring occasionally, until the onions brown and become caramelized. The onions may be stored in the refrigerator.

From the archives – More Than 2-Raisin Bread for Rodger – Apr. 10, 2010

I realized I haven’t written much lately about food … but then I haven’t been cooking a great deal either. So I decided to pull another post from the archives for today. And, hey! I actually feel like baking some bread now!

Not long after I arrived on Bequia this time, our neighbour, Rodger, had a special request: Would I make raisin bread that had more than just two rainsins in each loaf? He said he’d been buying the local bread in town, but was disappointed with the miserly amount of raisins included. I told him I knew of just the recipe for that, but needed to contact Darcie Hossack as she had published it earlier in a food column. When I made this bread that first time, Rose and her crew were here at the house working for a few days to varnish all the railings on the verandah. The smell of cinnamon and baking bread nearly drove the crew nuts, so when I offered to share they knocked off one entire loaf in about 10 minutes. Everyone agreed with Dennis and me that it was the best Raisin Bread they’d ever had. What’s not to like, though, about home-baked bread fresh out of the oven?

When I asked Darcie for the recipe again the other day, because I had left my printed copy in Calgary, she couldn’t remember how long ago it had been since she’d published that particular column. At least two years, I figured, because it was certainly before I moved back to Calgary in 2008. Turns out it was four years ago, when we were still both enrolled in the Humber programme. Time flies! And I’ve only ever made this recipe that one time. I have a feeling that if Rodger loves these loaves as much as Rose’s crew did that day, I’ll be baking many more for him to store in his freezer before I leave here in a couple of weeks.

Adventures in Baking on Bequia (2)

Yesterday, I baked bagels. This is a recipe I’ve worked with for years, that originated in Baking with Julia, one of the best books I own and use regularly – it’s falling apart, it’s so well-used! I’ve modified the technique somewhat to compensate for baking in a tropical climate and, for all intents and purposes, at sea level. I always plan to bake bagels at least once whenever I visit Bequia. Here’s a photo essay of yesterday’s effort:

First rising of dough – it’s ready to be punched down and sit in the fridge for a couple of hours, where it rises again. Then the dough is ready to be formed – and unlike making donuts where you cut out the hole from the round dough, with bagels you actually punch your thumbs through and pull the dough apart to form a hole. Once there’s a rolling boil going on in the pot, you add the bagels, 8 at a time or however many fit comfortably so they swim next to each other with room left for expansion, boil for 3 minutes, turn, then boil another 3 minutes. Remove from pot.

First batch done!

To recap… This is how much the bagels have increased in size after boiling on one side. They need to be turned over at this point. Increase the size of the holes in the bagels again just before dropping then into the water. After boiling, you wash them with egg white and add whatever topping you prefer – these were topped with poppy seeds and the first batch with sesame seeds.

While the bagels bake for 30 minutes, you have time for a celebratory cup of espresso…

and to begin mixing the recipe for Focaccia. The recipe I love to use is from Dishing: Calgary Women Cook published by Whitecap Books. Easy-peasy and an excellent flavour and texture. (Book available from The Cookbook Company.)

And back to the bagels, here are all 32, finished and ready to eat!

Adventures in Baking on Bequia (1)

Baking Baguettes

Developing a good recipe for baguettes that works in the tropics was not easy. With the humidity here, it’s difficult to get a crunchy crust that lasts for very long, not to mention a toothsome quality to the bread itself. I had been somewhat successful over the years, but then began baking bread in the pizza oven Dennis built and, Voilá! Perfect bread (almost) every time!

Here’s a photo essay of the various steps it took to make baguettes yesterday. I was very pleased indeed with the results – as close to perfect as I’ve ever baked! But in everything we do there’s always room for improvement.

Two batches of dough, risen and ready to form…

First shape into small baguettes that need to sit for 20 minutes

Then stretch them into baguettes with tapered ends long enough to fit the pans, let rise for at least half an hour and score with a sharp knife

Into the oven, hoe-hoe-hoe!

Finished and ready to eat!

Only then is the tired and hot baker allowed to enjoy a cooling dip in the pool with a glass of wine as reward for her labours…

Bagel/sourdough update

Success on both fronts! The bagels had the exact same soft and chewy texture that they’ve had in the past with the addition of gluten powder. Excellent flavour, Dennis says!

And this is the second attempt at baking a San Francisco-style Sourdough Bread – much better-looking than the first batch I produced earlier in the week:

After slicing and sampling, we all agreed that 5 days of sitting on the counter in 85F+ temps was exactly what the starter needed to give the bread a good sour taste. That sourness was almost like an after effect, and we didn’t notice it when biting and first chewing, but it definitely followed through upon more chewing, and was pretty much the taste that Pammy Cantina had been looking for in a sourdough bread. She’s given this batch her thumb’s-up!

Pammy also managed to find a bag of rye flour over in St. Vincent, so I’ll mix together another starter today and give that a try.

Baking in Beqiua 5

Off to a late start with the baking as I hadn’t realized that today I was scheduled for a dentist appointment in St. Vincent. So off I went to catch the 9:30 ferry, and fortunately had P&T Cantina as my travelling companions.

First up – the music selection. Since I’m making this bread for Pammy, it seems fitting to listen to her favourite Live365 station, Spirit of the North, with songs from the 60s & 70s, broadcast by Truenorth out of Brampton (?), Ontario. No, really… Brampton. Al Green is playing now. The good thing about Live365 is that they list the artist and song being played so there’s no need to stretch those memory cells unnecessarily.

I thought yesterday that the starter smelled “ready” and plenty sour (as they say on Bequia) to be test-driven. I’m using a San Francisco-Style French Bread recipe that I’ve made before, from the Sourdough Cookery book published by HP Books, but had used a sourdough starter recipe previously from that same book that proved to be not sour at all. Since the loaf itself turned out quite nice, I figured I might as well try baking it again, but am using the new very-sour starter this time, to see if I get the results we’re looking for in a sourdough bread.

It must rise first for an hour-and-a-half – plenty of time for a swim and a snooze in the hammock! Have to work off the effects of that Gravol I took for the ferry crossing.

Okay, first rise is over, and I’ve mixed in the rest of the flour. Now I have a very stiff dough – too stiff for the machine to finish without straining a bit, so I have kneaded it by hand for a few minutes. I’m going to let it rise for a second time, hoping to incorporate more air bubbles into the dough, before I shape it into loaves. Time for another swim! (Did I mention that it’s hot here again?)

The dough doubled in size in less than half an hour, so the starter and yeast are definitely working. With as little handling, and deflation, as possible, I’ve formed the dough into two French loaves and will let them rise on a buttered baking sheet. Time for another swim – and a glass of wine!

And this is why one should reread the recipe a couple of times before venturing forth – Let rise 1 to 2 hours or until almost doubled in size. So that means we can prepare dinner and be eating by the time these loaves are ready to go into the oven.

In the meantime, and while we were swimming, Dennis lit a small fire in the pizza oven, because he hasn’t used it in a while and was afraid it might crack if he set a raging inferno going tomorrow for our planned pizza-birthday dinner for Rodger. We might actually have a good sunset tonight, too. It hasn’t rained all day. Music has been great, as well. CCR just now. Stampeders with Sweet City Woman. Rolling Stones. Too many others to list. The sun is setting behind a big cloud on the horizon, so no green flash today.

Time to switch the music over to Radio Vietnam. I feel as though this other station is on a tape loop and that I heard everything already on Sunday. Course, how much Classic Rock can there be from the 60s?

The bread has baked and cooled a bit, and the official taster has cut off the heel of one loaf. The verdict is… Pretty perfect! There’s a crunchy crust, and the interior is chewy. But the taste is what we were after here, and Dennis declares, “I think it’s excellent!” It is very tasty, too! We’ll see what Pammy and Tommy have to say about it tomorrow.

And while the bread was baking, Zoom was sleeping on Dennis’ desk…