Thursday, February 28, 2013

Get Dressed!

     If you have kids you know getting them dressed is a royal pain in the bum. If they are very small you have to thread their fragile bones through the straight jackets Carters tries to pass off as onesies. If they are toddlers you have to clothe a beast more slippery than a eel and more flexible than an Olympic gymnast. Once they hit the "young kid" stage you have to beg and plead for hours to get them to even put socks on and when they do, they'll complain about them. What's the deal?! Get dressed already and move on with your day! But alas, they do not. 

     After going insane trying to get my 2 and 4 year old dressed every morning I realized I needed a new strategy. They both are wildly independent (which is how we train them 'round here) and have opinions they don't mind voicing. However, they are still kids and don't actually want to accomplish anything requested of them. Dressing in the mornings used to be a battle where I would choose clothes and the girls would vehemently reject them. They would shout and cry and the sight of outfits I chose, refusing to put them on. Or they would emerge wearing bathing suits in November and I would be forced to go in and dress them myself in the 11th hour anyway. GAH!

     Finally I figured it out. I sat them down and talked it out with them. I explained that taking 20-30 minutes in the morning to dress was unrealistic and wasting valuable time. Time when they could be playing or doing other activities they like before dropping my oldest at school. I'm not sure that resonated though. I also explained that I did not particularly want to spend my time choosing clothes that weren't going to be worn. Still, they didn't seem to really mind. I even pointed out that it made them unhappy to wear clothes I chose for them. That they agreed to whole heartedly. My proposition was this: dress yourself.

     That's it. Dress yourself. There was no catch. If they got up, picked out their clothes and put them on- to the absolute best of their abilities-then they could wear whatever they chose (seasonally appropriate). If they didn't, I would choose their clothes and dressed them myself, like babies...dun, dun, duuuun! The first few days it didn't quite click. My oldest still protested getting dressed so I went in, chose an outfit and dressed her. My youngest still went straight for the bathing suits and dance costumes with no under garments, so again, I took over.

     On the 3rd day my oldest came from her room wearing peace sign multi colored leggings, a brown polka dot long sleeve, green Tinkerbell socks, and her fanciest purple sequins dress. She was upset because she couldn't zip the back and thought I'd make her take it off. Instead I zipped her up, told her I thought she did a great job, and that I am always there to help as long as she tried her hardest first. In that instant she got it. The look of understanding was profound and plastered all over her face.

     From that day forward I have had to lend minimal assistance to either of my girls when dressing. I help with zippers, shoe tying and dress reaching (if they ask with manners and have all other components on already). They have been able to express themselves through their clothes and are even helping each other out in the morning now.


     It has made my mornings infinitely easier. It has also allowed them to feel 100% confident and comfortable in dressing themselves. My job is only to make sure that they are appropriately dressed for the season and weather conditions. Otherwise it's all up to them.

May sparkly dresses and play construction goggles abound in your home too!

Simple City Sam

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Potato Leek Soup


     There are few things in this world as satisfying as a warm, delicious bowl of homemade soup. There are so many kinds to make and experiment with. They are somewhat fool-proof, in that there's really no wrong way to make soup and no wrong ingredients to use. They can be made to fit any diet or health plan: vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, Paleo, you name it. Top it all off with the fact that they can be very inexpensive to make and it just makes me love them even more.
     Potato and leek soup is my 4 1/2 year-old's favorite soup, and one of her favorite meals. She gets a kick out of "drinking" it from a mug, so I let her. Hey, why not? When I asked everyone what my next recipe post should be she immediately jumped up and down and screamed, "POTATO LEEK SOUP!".
    
     So here you are, by request of my oldest.

Ingredients
(Will make 4-6 servings)

2 medium sized leeks
4-5 medium sized potatoes (roughly 2 1/2 lbs)
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 cup (or less) milk or cream
salt, pepper, desired seasoning

Step 1: Chop the tops off of the leeks. Slice the white stalks into long thin quarters, then chop the quarter stalks.



 Step 2: Place the chopped leeks into a bowl of cold water to rinse them.


TIP: Leeks are notoriously dirty throughout the entire vegetable. After soaking them briefly, remove them from the bowl with a pasta spoon, or small strainer. Do not pour them into a colander or pour the rinse water over the pieces. This would re-introduce all the dirt you just got off.


Step 3: Place the leeks into a hot saute pan with a little butter or oil (to keep from sticking), salt, pepper and any other spice you want to add to you soup. Saute the leeks for 20 minutes. They will be very soft and almost translucent when ready.

 

Step 4: Add your chicken stock to the pan. As you know I always make my own and it's a huge money saver.


TIP: If you add the stock to the pan frozen it will gradually thaw, which is ideal. Also it will allow the leeks even more time to break down further. The stock will take only about 10 minutes to thaw. This really simplifies everything. I never remember to pull the frozen stock out to thaw in time, and I'm often too impatient to let the leeks go as long as they should. This is a simple solution!

Step 5: Peel and chop your potatoes.

 


Step 6: Once the chicken stock has completely thawed, add the potatoes to the pan. Add up to 2 cups of water to ensure that all the potatoes are fully covered by liquid. Simmer on high until the potatoes are soft and easy to brake in the soup with a spoon.


Step 7: Turn the heat down to low and blend the soup. I recommend an immersion blender (I bought this one at T J Maxx for $15 and it's perfect) to save on dishes and keep it simple. If you don't have one, transfer the soup to a food processor or blender in small amounts and blend that way.

 

Step 8: Gradually add the milk or cream. Cream will make it richer and thicker, but also higher in fat. Milk will still make it smooth and creamy but be a little healthier at the same time. We almost always use milk. Add only enough milk to achieve your desired consistency. This may vary each time depending on the amount of stock and water used and your mood.


TIP: Anything that is being added as a consistency changer (thinner or thickener) should always be added as the very last step. Do not try to guess how much liquid will be needed to thin out a recipe until you see the finished product. It could be perfect. It could only need a dash, or maybe a whole cup. You will never have an accurate baseline to gauge off of if you try to thin or thicken before it is done. Let it show it's true colors before you go trying to change it.

Step 9: Let simmer on low for 5 minutes to fully incorporate any milk or cream added. Taste and add any seasoning necessary before serving.
  

     I bought a 10 lb bag of local potatoes for $5.49. Using roughly 2 1/2 lbs, I spent about $1.38 on potatoes. The 2 leeks cost $3.98 and the 1/2 cup of milk cost roughly $.25. The chicken stock, seasonings, and water are all pantry items I have on hand or were frugal byproducts, so they all cost me nothing. So for a total of $5.61 we made a hearty a delicious meal that pleased everyone. I even had enough left over for lunch the next day. In the fall this is even more economical because leeks are in season and less expensive.

Viola! Super easy and super simple.

Simple City Sam

Monday, February 25, 2013

Re-Group...& A Bonus

   

  Today I wanted to take just a few minutes to re-group with everyone. I have to say that I feel truly thankful to have all of you as followers. I consider you the "beginning crew" and I am humbled and honored. So I want to ask you all: What do you want to see from me?

     I've noticed that most of the comments come from food related blogs. I want to make sure I cover many avenues of simplifying life but also want to help where needed. Are there specific recipes or meals you'd like to see? Are there other aspects of domesticity or family city life you'd like covered?

     I of course have tons of ideas myself, and that may be the problem. I have almost too many ideas floating around in this noodle of mine. This spring/summer we will go into detail about my urban garden. While visiting my brother, sister-in-law, and new nephew I will be blogging a lot about homemade baby food and newborn (and new parent) tricks. I have some favorite meals, including a thrifty and delicious leek and potato soup coming up soon. And, it's almost time for me to make another batch of laundry detergent, so you can bet that will make it too!

     But that still leaves me wondering "what ails ya?". Leave me suggestions here or on the Simple City Sam  Facebook page. Either way I'll do my best to hit on all of them, no idea too big or too small. Also, please share this blog with your friends. The more followers we have, the better the resources, so let's see what everyone has to say!


     I don't want to leave you empty handed today so I'll leave you with this instead. This is my wildly talented and handsome hubby. This cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" is one of my most favorite things ever. This was a few years ago but he never seems to age. Love you HB! I hope you enjoy it!




Thanks for the help and support, as always!

Simple City Sam

Sunday, February 24, 2013

From Wet Boots To Dry Boots

     If you live in Maine, like me, you've been out shoveling, or playing in the snow, or brushing off your car today. In any case your boots and feet are probably wet. If you got the lion's share of the outside duties, those boots may be soaked through entirely. Most of us put them near the heater, if available, but that only works from the outside really. The inside of the boots still tend to be damp and cold.

     Fear not! Here's another quick tip: Stuff your boots with paper. Use old newspaper, used wrapping paper, recycled fliers, anything. Crumple the pages up and stuff them all the way down into the toe of the boot, filling it with paper. Then place them near the available heater. The paper will absorb the moisture from the inside out, acting like a sponge. The heater will then be able to actually warm your boots instead of working to dry them.

     Trust me this works! I spent years doing archaeological field work which almost always left my boots soaked and muddy. This method was tested and proven fool proof. Each night I'd stuff my boots and let them sit overnight. The hotels rarely had heaters that were helpful with this cause but the paper was all that was needed!

May your feet be happier in the morning!

Simple City Sam

Friday, February 22, 2013

My Beloved Crown Of Thorns

     Today's post comes from a heavy heart. I have had to say good-bye to a 10 year long member of the family. I have had the most beautiful Crown Of Thorns plant for roughly the last decade. Though a plant, it has always brought me such comfort and joy. I truly love this plant and have cultivated it from a clipping. I wish I had an actual photo of it...healthy, anyway.

     Many people would plant this in a standing pot. Being that this will actually climb and vine though, I have always opted to hang it. In reality, this may not have been the best choice. Those that stand tend to have thicker, stronger branches I have come to find. But, it blossomed the most beautiful, delicate little yellow flowers every spring and summer and has always had vibrant green leaves.

     Until about 4 weeks ago...

     It was then that it took a rapid turn for the worse. Though I tried to trouble shoot and figure out what was going wrong, I couldn't. I literally watched it worsen daily. I even sought help from my extremely knowledgeable mother and grandmother (who've had green thumbs since before I was born) to no avail.


 

     The only thing left to do was to try to salvage whatever we could. I tried to remind myself that everything has a life cycle. And really, how poetic would it be for a Crown Of Thorns to be resurrected?! Poetic or not, it was what I needed. I was confident I could do it, after all I did raise it from a clipping the first time.

     We clipped about 8 small branches, everything left that had any green -life- left to it. We made sure only to keep the healthy parts of the stalk. We planted them, watered them and fed them. I then cut the entire plant at the base and planted the only remaining pieces of root to see if anything good could come from them. That will be a long shot, though.

     My once giant, twisting, thorned plant was now 8 wispy stalks in 6 pots. It was the next generation of my plant. I was sad  but a little hopeful too. It's been 3 days now and the stalks are doing pretty well. One of the smallest has already gone, but 4 others have already begun generating new growth. This is exciting!

                                    

     I hope to be able to cultivate these all into even stronger,  healthier plants than their parent ever was. I am up for the challenge. I can't help feeling too, like this is a tangible metaphor in some way. As I take on the new adventure that has become Simple City Sam I feel newly awoken in so many ways. I like to look at this as both of us having a rebirth of sorts and a beautiful new beginning to life. I find it truly fitting for this plant.

Onward and upward.

Simple City Sam

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beer Can Chicken

     Admittedly, beer can chicken isn't my genius idea. That doesn't make it any less genius. We started making beer can chicken years ago and it's become one of our favorite ways to prepare chicken. As with all our favorites, we've tried this in many of our own variations and perfected the best ones. Typically it is a summer meal for us. We will tent the chicken with foil and stick it on the grill. It didn't take us long to start making this dish in the winter, though. It is even easier to make in the oven and, for us at least, is a wonderful reminder of summer.

     First, make sure your chicken is ready to go. Again, we buy ours at the Farmer's Market so we need to remove the organs they left packaged for us and check for any stray feathers. Next, season your bird. We rubbed ours down with garlic, dried sage, salt, pepper, and olive oil.

     Tip: Separate the skin from the bird, without removing it entirely. Take your rubbing mixture in your hand and massage it into your bird under the skin. This will allow all the flavors you've chosen to really integrate into the bird while still allow the skin to get crispy and flavorful too. No longer with all the flavor be stuck on the skin alone.

     Now you're ready for the beer can. Have a big sip (or pour some off), you only need about 1/3 of a can. Add to the can the same spices with which you chose to season your bird. Our can had pieces of rubbed sage, chunks of garlic, salt and pepper. Lastly, sit your bird right on top of the can (all on a roasting pan). The whole thing should stand up nicely. 

 

     Roast it the way you normally would. This chicken was at 350 deg F for around 1 hour 45 min. The can essentially steams the bird from the inside. Again infusing the bird with the flavors you've chosen, this time from the inside out. The steaming also keeps the bird moist, more moist than any other preparation we've found. If you've got kids, don't worry, as with any alcohol, the actual alcohol is cooked off so it's safe for the whole family.

     We served ours with a beautiful spinach and feta salad and a side of couscous. Of course after it was all said and done we also picked the remaining meat for another meal and made a stock from the carcass. I mean really, would you have assumed anything else? Just look at what we accomplished in "Getting The Biggest Bang For Your Cluck". 

     Any beer, in any can will work. So grab a bird and grab a brew!

Simple City Sam

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pack It Up, Pack It In, Let me Begin...

     While packing up Etsy sales this weekend I was faced with a packaging problem. I needed something small, but sturdy. I refuse to go to the Post Office to buy my supplies, it's too expensive. And you know me, I'd rather find a way to upcycle or recycle something before going out and buying it anywhere.

     I went in search and came up with a fabulous solution! I recycled one of the many empty oatmeal containers that I have. Typically they get used in fort and castle construction, but, this is almost better.


     All I had to do was peel off the label, which was easy, and I was set to go.  The product was safely packaged and ready for travel.

Another situation solved simply!

Simple City Sam

Monday, February 18, 2013

For Mobile Followers Too

     Today a friend of mine turned me onto Bloglovin'. It is a website and mobile phone app for iPhone and Android. It allows readers to follow all of their blogs from one location- their phone- by notifying the user when a blog has been updated. It will also update in your browser.

     I have not had a lot of time to check out this feature. However, a good friend of mine uses it and is very happy with it. In fact, she is the one who lead me there. Simply City Sam is newly added to the Bloglovin catalogue of available blogs so you'll have good reason to download! The best part though, is that it's free.

     I am excited to see if this app makes mobile readership easier or not. Being that the app allows the user to compile their own list of followed blogs I believe it will. No longer will users be limited by the mobile blog app. I am anxious to have your feedback.

Thanks Meghan! I hope this helps everyone!

Simple City Sam

Update:    <a href="http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/4788409/?claim=jzs7tcqnnqh">Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a> 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

I'm Drowning In Board Games!

     It's snowing here...again. That means yet another day where we spend most of our time indoors. Sure, the girls will get their obligatory play outside time, but that's it. Otherwise, we're stuck inside. So we do crafts, bake, clean, and play games. I have to admit I am a fan of board games. People call me "The Original Gamer" or "O.G." because I like board games so much! Ok, you got me. No one calls me that, but it would be kinda cool, right? As my hubby rolls his eyes, I'll get back on point.

     We like playing board games. We play as a family, as a couple and even have grown-up game nights. There is something to be said for all sitting around a table playing a game and having fun and good conversations. It is one of my favorite activities because of it's simplicity. There are so many types to choose from- card, timer-based, board, imaginative. There are no costs for "updates"- I still have board games I had as a child. They are relatively inexpensive new (around $15-$20) and even cheaper second hand- every thrift store and yard sale will have at least one for sale.

     What I don't like about board games is how much space they take up. The packaging seems to encompass so many things I dislike. The graphics are usually of fake people having fake fun with items that don't even resemble the game or it's pieces. That "Hungry Hippo" will never actually growl to life so why show my girls that he will? Rampant consumerism, that's why. I mean, really, why don't they show Checkers pieces wearing capes and soaring over the board, taking each other out? Because that's not marketed toward young, impressionable children. It's for educated, older adults who like to sit in the park, evidently. Not only that, but there is so much of the packagining itself! Do you mean to tell me that a small pile of cards and a board (like in Candy Land) really needs a giant cardboard box?  There are those boxes, too, that have yet another piece of cardboard or plastic packaging inside, safely cradling the pieces you are going to rip from their bags and throw back in the box with reckless abandon when you're done. Great.

     I had the entire underside of a giant TV stand  full of these game boxes and still didn't have enough space for all of them. During one of our many moves a friend of mine said casually (while trying to manuever a HUGE box of games), "You've got a ton of games, I'm surprised you haven't figured out a way to downsize.", genius. I did need to downsize but not in number of games, in the amount of packaging alone. I was on a mission.

     I separated the games into kid games and adult games (or games with LOTS of pieces). Then I took the pieces from each game and put them into plastic bags, put the instructions into a pile, and put any boards into another pile. Then I recycled the cardboard. Even after breaking it down I had more than would fit in my standard bin. I had pink and green canvass boxes that had been used in my youngest's nursery and were sitting in storage, so I pulled those out. Pink was for the girls, green for the adults. I had so many games! 
    

Kids Games Shown:
5 Little Monkeys Jumping on The Bed
Spanish/English Opposites Matching Game
Disney Trivia
Twister
Dora The Explorer Matching Game
Goodnight Moon
Candy Land
The Cat in The Hat
Dr. Seuss Matching Game
Checkers
Barrel of Monkeys
Canvas Bag (for imaginative play games, like Charades)

Grown-Ups Games Shown:
Clue
Monopoly
Disney Monopoly
Yahtzee
Scattegories
Apples to Apples
Playing Cards (of multiple sizes)
Battleship
Bag of pens and scrap paper for scoring

     Then I packed them up neatly in their new boxes, stacking boards and large items to the side. I also binder clipped together all the instructions so none would be lost.

                                       
                                      

     Of course, there were a few that had too many pieces to consolidate, or were already in small cases, like our Chess set, Cranium, and Backgammon. No matter, I had just cut my board game space by more than 75%. I had my hubby install a shelf high in the living room closet (ours is an open, recessed closet) and stacked everything up there. It was out of reach from the kids, compact, organized, and accessible. All things I truly love!
  
 

     It was an extremely simple solution that cost us absolutely nothing! For us, living in a city apartment, space is limited and needs to be used smartly. I have done that with this conversion and am thrilled!

And good news, unnamed-friend, moving these games will be much easier next time...probably only one box!

Simple City Sam


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Don't Keep Your Comments To Yourself

     I don't think it's any secret that I'm no Steve Jobs. I mean, this blog is the most high tech thing I've ever done. I spend a good deal of time researching questions and manipulating the page and just generally experimenting. So far I have only a few complaints and I feel like I'm doing fairly well.

     My goal, however, is to keep expanding, to gain more followers. I would love to tweak this venture and get it just right. My hope is to allow these passions I've discovered to flourish and become full time endeavours. Of course to do that I am back to needing more followers.

     I realize that most people I know, and most of the people this blog is targeted toward are just as busy as I am. The fact that you read my blog at all truly thrills me. I am, however, going to ask a small favor from all of you. Don't keep your comments to yourself. How many times have we heard that? Probably never.

     I would love your constructive feedback, in any way. In addition one of my biggest issues right now is with Blogger and how the comments are posted. I have tried to set this in the most user friendly manner but that has left me with nothing but "Anonymous" commenters. We are all friends here (I got your back) sign your name. Still, I've heard lots of verbal comments and Facebook comments about how it's still tricky- especially on the mobile version. Well, I've updated and changed the settings there too.

     I appreciate those of you, here in the beginning, who are willing to help me out and stick with me as the blog ebbs and flows. I want to see all your smiling faces (even if it is of your dog, or a flower) right next to your comment. Play around with your follower settings. Try leaving me a comment via one of the options other than "Anonymous".

     Is it possible? How hard was it? Where else would you like to see improvement? What additional issues would you like addressed? I'm here to grow and learn. I would really love your help in doing so.

Thanks in advance!

Simple City Sam

     

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentines To Go

     Now that my oldest is in school I have a new found appreciation for the involvement my mom had in my school. I'm faced with many of the same obligations, volunteer opportunities, commitments and "group activities" that so many other parents are faced with. Valentine's Day is certainly a great example of that!

     It's not like you can send your kid to school and have her be the only one not giving out valentines, she'd feel left out and by now it's almost a right of passage. I don't want to spend a small fortune on something she (and everyone else) is just going to throw away. I don't want her to learn to get wrapped up in the absurd consumerism that drives "holidays" now. I mean really, how many of us know the actual story of St. Valentine or the fact that he's also the patron saint of the plague? My goal, as with all things, is to simplify and enjoy the moments.

     So 3 weeks ago we started making our own valentines. No, they aren't uber fashionable cards that I whipped up all on my own via help from Pinterest. That would defeat all purposes. They are cards that my oldest and I planned before making, a card with a heart made of crepe paper with stickers (some of her favorite materials) and a temporary tattoo on the inside- we like tattoos. They were all crafted by her (except for the written message), she chose the gift to place inside and signed her name to all 30 cards she made! She is beyond proud of herself. Each one was truly made with love. We would make 3-4 a night,  maybe every other night. We took it in stages and took our time. Planning is a wonderful thing. When we finally finished them she was bursting at the seems with excitement, pride, joy, and accomplishment.

 

     She also asked if we could make a snack for the class (oh boy, a "volunteer opportunity", yeah). Of course I said yes, she used her manners and everything. So,again, we planned it out and she decided on Rice Krispie treats. That was a bonus for me because they are so easy to make and they are equally as easy to make with "help" from a 4 1/2 year old. So we set out to get what we needed. Butter and Rice Krispies are basically staples in my house so we only had to get marshmallows. Double bonus!

     We made them the night before (tonight) so they'd be fresh and packed them up. Now, I don't know about you, but honestly, for me the biggest reason I don't like bringing group snacks is tracking down the dish. You have to remind the teacher (or your kid, which is never good) to please put it aside and/or send it back with your child. Or you have to call your friend 40 times before she gets you back your casserole dish. If you opt for the paper plate, "I don't need it back" route, then you have to bring like 9 paper plates with you. Those things can barely hold a dozen treats before they fold under the pressure or start looking like the leaning tower of Pisa. So I came up with a better plan.

     I recycled a hinged shirt box. I save all my gift boxes and reusable gift bags, there is no point in wasting. I buy wrapping paper MAYBE once a year, otherwise I typically have any wrapping need right on hand. In fact, at this point I probably have more boxes than I could ever use! So I simply took one that was hinged (has the top attached) and lined it with wax paper. Now I have a shaped container (so nothing gets damaged) that has a lid (not 2 pieces to track down) and I don't even want it back (so there!). This is perfect! Full, easy to carry, protected and never coming back to me again. Hooray! Success!

     My oldest was involved, happy, and fulfilled. I spent almost nothing to give all her friends and classmates personal valentines. Lastly, the weeks before the holiday were spent having fun with this project and enjoying the moments creating together with my daughter, moments I think most of us miss.  It was wonderful!

 

 


I'd say I got my valentine a little early this year!

Simple City Sam

Monday, February 11, 2013

Why do I live in Maine, Again?

     After accumulating no less than 3 feet of snow in the last 4 days it is now raining here in southern Maine. That should make everything nice and icy.

     It's on days like today that it is especially hard for me to remember why I live in Maine. I mean sure, I love the"city" and the people and my hubby and oldest love the snow. Nevertheless, I'm not a fan of winter OR long drawn out storms. I need reminding of what I love about this place. I love the summer. The warm breezes off the ocean when I'm on one of my favorite islands in Casco Bay. Being just far enough away from everything to feel at peace but close enough to get anything I need with a good walk or boat ride. I DO LOVE IT HERE. Some days it's just nice to be reminded.
  
 Oh, yeah. That's why...

Simple City Sam
    

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bagels!

     Bagels are hands-down my favorite breakfast/brunch item in the world. When they are done right, they are crispy on the outside, a little chewy and soft on the inside and they always have the perfect amount of toppings. Rarely do I find a bagel that meets all the criteria. Usually they are limp, or hard as a rock. There are those whose toppings fall off as soon as you look at them, and those so covered in toppings you can barely even find the bagel. Ugh, what's a bagel lover to do? Well I could spend a fortune on the perfect bakery bagel, assuming I had found the perfect bakery making the perfect bagel. Or I could make them myself. I must admit that this is mostly accomplished because of my husband (ok, nearly entirely...ok, entirely). He is an amazing chef with a knack for baking. Years ago he perfected his bagel recipe and now makes me bagels as a treat.

     I have picked up some of the tricks over the years and together he and I have made some really amazing bagel flavors and combinations. I am truly in heaven! Several folks have asked for a lesson in bagel making, and I'm only too happy to oblige. I will say, that like most chefs, he is unwilling to part with his secret, perfected recipe (I can't blame him, it took years, and we're working on opening a restaurant with those recipes). We did however compile the perfect "starter's recipe". Make this recipe a few times and play with the ratios of liquid and salt to see which you like the best. Make notes on the recipe for the next time you bake, so you don't have to try to remember on your own!

Ingredients Makes 1 dozen

6 cups all-purpose flour




 

Step3: Add half the flour and mix on low until incorporated. This will take several minutes.     

                                                     

Step 4: Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until dough hook pulls dough from the bowl cleanly and completely. (Dough will feel slightly sticky but will not physically stick to your hand.)

Step5: Remove dough from hook and form into a ball.

Step 6: Place dough ball into a well oiled bowl and roll ball to cover in oil. Cover the bowl tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 12 hours. (We almost always complete this the night before, so we can have the dough super fresh in the morning.)


Step 7: Put large pot of water on the stove to boil with the tablespoon of brown sugar to create a brine. We use a large roasting pan,the more surface area, the better.

Step 8: Remove proofed dough (which should be popping up over the bowl) from the bowl and place in on a floured surface.
                                                   
Step 9: With floured hands push the dough into a large rectangle approximately 8"x12" & 1/2" thick.


Step 10: Cut the rectangle into 12 equal pieces.


Step 11: Dress and form the squares into bagel "pillows". Place any ingredients you want incorporated into your bagel on top of the square (the more ingredients the harder it is to form). We are making Plain, Cheddar & Chili, Salt & Pepper, Cinnamon & Sugar, and Poppy Seed. Fold all four corners into the center and gently roll dough into itself to form a small pillow. Gently place off to the side and continue for each bagel. Once complete, let all 12 bagels rest (proof) for 10 minutes. This will help the dough stick together and rise around any ingredients you've added making it harder for the bagel to fall apart. It will also help seal up where you pinched the bagel closed.


Step 12: Take each formed ball individually and form into bagels. Poke a hole in the center of the bagel with your finger. Gently enlarge the hole with your fingers by working the dough into a ring. If ingredients start to pop out or the bagel cracks (which can happen easily with dry ingredients, like cinnamon) gently pinch the dough back together with your fingers. Set all twelve off to the side and let them rest and proof for another 10 minutes. Again, your helping it bind together here, this will make your life easier in the long run and give you a better product.


Step 13:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Step 14: Place each bagel into boiling brine for 3 minutes. Again, we use a giant roasting pan and stretch it across two burners on the stove. That way we can boil 5-6 bagels at a time, but this can be done in any pot.


Step 15: Flip the bagels over and boil on the other side for 3 minutes. Try using two wooden spoons to flip the bagels, the goal is to be very gentle with the bagels at this point.


Step 16: Remove from brine and place on oiled baking sheet.You could also lay parchment paper down instead of oil and have equally as favorable results.

Step 17: Using egg whites only, brush the tops of each bagel with an egg wash and top with any topping you choose. The egg wash helps the bagel crisp up and helps the toppings to stick. 

Step 18: Bake for 20 minutes. Rotate 180 degrees. Bake another 20 minutes.

     Remove from oven and enjoy!! Place in plastic bags or plastic containers to store for a few days at most. It's really best to consume these within 3 days (or immediately!).

 

     It's true that these certainly take a bit of planning and are an indulgence that my waist line doesn't need. However, I can't help myself. They are so perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. They are perfect!

Enjoy!

Simple City Sam

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Homemade Pasta

     Unless you've been living under a rock lately, you know that there is one heck of a snow storm hitting New England right now. We are all snowed in. That makes today the perfect day for crockpots, fresh baked goods, and, for us, homemade pasta. Fresh pasta is one of my all time favorite things in the whole world. We make almost all of our own pasta, from lasagna sheets, to ravioli, to spaghetti, linguine and anything else you can think of.

     I know it sounds daunting, and it can be a bit intimidating, but it's actually quite simple. The first thing I'll point out is that we have a pasta "maker", a machine that helps roll the dough very thin. This is one of those kitchen tools that is not necessary but absolutely worth it. We made pasta for years with nothing but our hands, a rolling pin (sometimes it was a wine bottle) and a knife. However, the luxury of the machine is really wonderful. The other thing I'll mention is that we specifically use pasta flour. Regular wheat or unbleached flour can be used as well, I just find that we get better results when we use the pasta flour. The price is pretty comparable to that of regular flour and it can usually be found in the very same aisle. If it's not with the baking goods check out the "ethnic aisles", you may find it there. I buy ours at Micucci's, the local downtown Italian foods market. There I can buy it in bulk and at an amazing price. They also have a fantastic selection of Italian imports and spices!

     The recipe that I will use here will feed 4-6 people. After it dries and is ready to be cooked to eat, remember that it will cook EXTREMELY fast- much faster than store bought pasta. This pasta will have maybe a 2-3 minute cook time. Be careful, it is very easy to over cook fresh pasta!

Ingredients

1 cup pasta flour
1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt

Step 1: Make a well with your flour and salt.

Step 2: Slowly add the water and oil to the well and mix quickly with a fork. The dough will be sticky and moldable when fully mixed. This may use less or more of the water than is called for, use your judgement and go slowly.

Step 3: Form into a ball. Cover with a bowl and let stand for 10 minutes.

Step 4: Cut ball into 3 equal parts and form into 3 balls. Cover and let stand for 25 minutes.

           


Step 5: Using a pasta machine or a rolling pin, roll the balls out into 3 long, very thin sheets of pasta.With a machine this may take 3-4 passes. Use flour to keep your hands, tools and surface dry and easy to use.

Step 6: Cut the long strips into "spaghetti length" sheets and feed them through the cutting attachment on the machine. If you don't have a machine, or it doesn't have a cutting attachment, take a sharp knife and cut thin strips length wise.


               

                                           

Step 7: Hang the cut pieces to dry, either on a drying rack or over baking cooling racks. Let the pasta dry for a minimum of 1 hour prior to cooking.

     After the pasta is dried it can be stored in an air tight container and used for roughly a week. We usually only make enough for one meal at a time. The cost is almost nothing, maybe 20 cents a batch, including the oil. The only trick is planning in advance so the pasta has ample time to dry. Otherwise it couldn't be more simple.

Mangia, mangia!

Simple City Sam