Simple pleasures

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I don’t make bread often, and it’s only when I’m home that I get full reign. Making it made me appreciate just how amazing freshly baked, homemade, handmade baked is. As soon as it’s done, I let it cool for only a little bit. I then scramble for minced garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and chili flakes – my dip of choice, with no balsamic vinegar. I heat all of that a bit, just so the flavors infuse.
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I slice through the bread, the exterior is hot and crusty. Steam billows out, it’s definitely fresh. The inside is pillow-like, riddled with holes – just right.

I pick up a crusty slice, dip it in the garlic oil, take a bite and just allow a moment of silence to sink in. Reverence is at play here. There is joy to be had from eating something made from scratch in all its humanity. It’s simple. It’s good.

You have to eat and enjoy bread while it’s still warm and crusty. Now more than ever I understand.
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I’ve been hit with the realization that there are certain things and people in this world, like good bread, that are just too good to last forever.
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Life is beautifully and painfully short. Although it’s painful to know that Jad’s life was abruptly and unjustly halted, I can find comfort in the idea that he was in a good place in his life when he died. He realized what fulfilled his days, and until the last minute, he was chasing his happiness.

Let’s make bread while we still can.

Mini walnut baguettes

makes 15 – 16 pieces

adapted from King Arthur Flour’s baguette recipe

For the starter:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
  • 1 cup bread flour

For the dough:

  • 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
  • 1 cup to 1 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 starter recipe
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnutes
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

In a medium-sized container, combine all the ingredients for the starter and mix. Allow it to rise and bubble at room temperature for 14 hours. 

When ready to make the bread, to the starter, add in the water, olive oil and brown sugar. Mix together.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the dough. Make a well at the center and add the starter mixture. Mix together. If you’re using an electric mixer, handle it with the dough hook. Otherwise, knead it by hand, until it starts to become smooth. Let the dough rest in a generously floured bowl for 20 minutes. Resting it will relax the gluten more, hence cuts down on fermentation time later. Afterwards, knead until dough is smooth and supple. Place the dough back into the bowl and allow it to rise for 45 minutes, or until the dough feels airy when lightly poked (it may be less than 45 minutes). Afterwards, to remove some of the gas that has formed, “fold” the dough by bringing/folding the top part to the center, then doing the same with the sides, then folding the top part towards and over the bottom. Let the dough ferment for another 30 minutes.

When done and if you’re going to add the nuts, knead it now then press down on the dough, and roll it like a log. Divide it into around 40-gram pieces. Shape each piece into a rough ball and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Then shape each piece into a roll by flattening the ball, folding the bottom part towards the center, then doing the same with the top part, then finally folding the top over the bottom. Seal the seam by flattening it with your palm. Then roll it into a tapered log, with both edges slightly slimmer than the center. Transfer it to a baking sheet with a silicone parchment. Lightly dust each piece with flour. Allow it to rise for 20 to 30 minutes. It’s best to place them in the oven when they’re not completely proofed, because they rise more in the oven. While the bread is rising, preheat the oven to 220 C.

With a sharp paring knife, diagonally slash (“score”) each log 3 times (because baguettes have odd numbered slashes). Lightly dust with flour again, then place it in the oven. Prepare an aluminum tray with some water and place it below the rack where you’re going to place the baguette. The steam with help the bread rise. My oven came with a detachable tray placed at the bottom of the oven that’s supposed to catch drippings, so I used that. As soon as I placed the trays of bread in the oven, I poured water on the tray and that became my steam source.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until a nice golden color is achieved. 

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Vienna Sausage Soup

Organization isn’t really one of my strong suits. My part-time teaching gig ended around November, but it took me more than a month to rearrange my study table here at home, cluttered with piles and piles of test papers and essays (which I confess, never really read thoroughly, hence, I’m too lazy to be a teacher).

But I’m attempting to organize my blog a little bit more. I’ve noticed a few hitches here and there – posting schedules, what to post, and tags. The last one I have yet to address, if that only means I have to go through every single one of my 75 posts to tweak the tags, then that can wait (notice my failed logic).
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On posting schedules and what to post, I tried to go back to basic pen and paper lists, with days and dates marked with tentative recipes/dishes I might try. I seriously need visual reminders to keep me on track (haha).
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Today’s the first day my “list” takes full effect, and I’m pretty happy that I managed to make at least one dish. I tried to break it down into smaller, attainable goals every day with breathing space in between dishes. That simply means in a week, I’ll TRY (and I will, I promise), to post dishes of varying degrees of difficulty to challenge myself and bring in more variety to my blog.

For today, I wanted to make something that uses basic canned items that take up too much space in our pantry. Instead of the usual frying and microwaving, it would be so much better to go the extra mile and make something “special” but still incredibly easy.
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Mom woke me up today and told me she’s in the mood for soup, and like it was meant to happen, soup also happened to on my shortlist for today, and I needed to make good use of vienna sausage.
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The secret to this hearty soup is using good quality vienna sausage. I was really never a fan of vienna sausage because I thought it tasted funny, and most of the local varieties are exorbitantly salty. But all that changed when I tried Libby’s, an imported brand. And before somebody lectures me about patriotism, let me just put it out there that Libby’s trumps all y’all local cans. Even you, Purefoods. And I really think Libby’s can be found in any major grocery nationwide. Even the largest grocery in Zamboanga has it, so yeah, it’s accessible.
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If you think you’ve found a better vienna sausage brand than Libby’s, then please, use it to make your soup more special. And drop me a line, I’d like to hear more about it.

But for now, cheers to great, easy soup on a Saturday morning.
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Vienna Sausage Soup (serves 6 – 8)

  • 1 large can (around 255 grams) Libby’s Vienna sausage, drained
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 4 shallots or really small red onions, sliced in half (for garnish; optional)
  • 1 small potato, sliced into small cubes
  • A dash of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 (a total of 20 grams) chicken bouillon cubes
  • 4 cups water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • a dash of thyme
  • 4 – 6 cabbage leaves, sliced into strips
  1. In a medium sized saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Heat until oil glistens or “shines”, an indicator that oil is hot enough. When oil is hot, add garlic and fry for 10 seconds.
  2. Add the onions and continue to fry until it starts to go limp. When using shallots/small onions, be careful when stirring so the half pieces do not crumble. At this point, remove the shallots sliced in half and reserve for garnish.
  3. Add the potatoes and reduce heat to low. Continue to fry until potatoes are lightly browned and tender, around 3 – 5 minutes.
  4. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
  5. Add the Vienna sausage and stir to coat it with oil.
  6. Add the water and the bouillon cubes. Crank up the heat medium and stir to dissolve the cubes.
  7. Add the flour and cornstarch and simmer for about 3 – 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the thyme. Add the cabbage leaves at the last minute.
  8.  When desired taste and consistency are achieved, remove from heat, garnish with shallots and serve warm in individual bowls. Enjoy!