Oatmeal

Wheat Bread

Minimalist Baker is one of my new favorite food blogs. I stumbled upon it while searching for a quick and painless whole wheat bread recipe. On Wednesday, I baked their Easy Homemade Wheat Bread, and while I haven’t taste-tested it myself, I have received glowing feedback.

I found out earlier this week that a colleague of mine passed up his free opportunity to chaperone the eighth grade trip to DC in April just so I could go. It was very generous and warmed my heart. He was on the fence and didn’t want to take the space knowing that I badly wanted to go. We are both hopeful that a few more students will register for the trip so that another chaperone is needed; maybe he will be less on the fence by that time.

I made him a loaf of this bread as a thank you, and according to the e-mail I received last night, the recipe did not disappoint. I may make a loaf for myself today…or I may make focaccia. Who knows?! That’s what snow days (3 this week!) are for.

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Easy Homemade Wheat Bread
recipe from Minimalist Baker
yields one loaf

2 C whole wheat flour
1 1/4 C all purpose flour
1/2 t salt
1 packet instant yeast
1 1/2 C warm water
1/4 C millet (I didn’t use this because I wasn’t about to drive to Whole Foods in the snow)
1/4 C oatmeal (I used more like 1/3 -1/2 C because I left out the millet)

In a large mixing bowl, combine warm water and yeast. Let it sit until it gets foamy. Once you can smell the aromatics of the yeast, add the flours and salt and stir with a wooden spoon. Dough will be rough and sticky. Cover snuggly with plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour. You may also let the dough rise in the fridge for 2 hours.

Dough should double in size. When ready, generously flour a work surface, sprinkle the dough with flour, and dump it out. Knead the dough for a little while, incorporating the oatmeal (and millet, if using) as you go. Continue to knead the dough, adding flour when needed, until it is no longer sticky. Lightly grease a baking sheet and place the ball of dough on it. Sprinkle the top with flour and let rest for 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and place a cast iron skillet on the bottom rack. Fill a glass measuring cup with 1 C water and set aside. Once you place the bread in the oven, you will pour water into the skillet, producing steam, which will help provide a crust for your bread.

After dough has rested, prepare it for baking by scoring the top. I did three scores, as suggested by Minimalist Baker, about 1/2″ deep. I also sprinkled a little more oatmeal over the top. Place the baking pan in the oven, add the water to the skillet, and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 25-35 minutes (broad time span, I know) or until the loaf sounds hollow when you firmly knock on the bottom of it. It took my loaf about 30 minutes.

Let bread fully cool before storing it in a large plastic bag.

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Monster Cookie Bars

I teach sixth grade at a middle school in Maine. This week, the student council is sponsoring a Food Drive. All the food collected will be donated to the local food pantry and will benefit members of our community. It’s a great cause, but sometimes, preteens and adolescents struggle to understand the potential magnitude of this kind of event. Food insecurity is a scary real issue, and it’s EVERYWHERE. If you want to know more, check out No Kid Hungry, the national campaign to end childhood hunger.

Just an FYI – in case you don’t already know it – preteens and adolescents are kind of all about themselves. Us adults call this egocentricity. It’s totally alright because it’s the way these big kids/young adults are SUPPOSED to be! So, why not celebrate our kids being exactly the way they are supposed to be by tempting them with tasty treats?

Tonight I baked peanut butter free (too many allergies!) Monster Cookie Bars. They will be used to reward the homeroom students who donate the most food items to the Food Drive tomorrow. Here’s my recipe.

*Disclaimer: Do not, and I repeat DO NOT, choose to bake this recipe on any day when you have low patience, no energy, a bad attitude, or anything else negative going on with you. The dough spreading and M&M dropping process requires time and attention to detail. 🙂

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Monster Cookie Bars (peanut allergy friendly)
recipe makes 24 large triangles; 48 mini triangles

This recipe is pretty much Nestle’s original Tollhouse, but with a twist or two.

1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
2 C quick oats
1 t baking soda
1/4 t plus a pinch more kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 C granulated sugar
3/4 C brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract (trust me, do it)
1 regular sized bag of milk chocolate chips
1 large bag of plain M&Ms (you won’t use them all, but plenty will end up in your mouth throughout the prep and baking process)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper so that you have excess hanging over both long sides.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk dry ingredients (flour, oats, soda, salt) until combined. Set aside. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer or stand mixer to whip butter and both sugars. Whip for many minutes in order to incorporate air into the mixture; you’ll want it to be almost white before you add the eggs. Remember to constantly scrape down the sides of the bowl as you go. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing very well after each addition. Add both extracts with the second egg. Whip the mixture for awhile. This should be the last time you mix thoroughly, as once the flour mixture is added, you don’t want to overwork your dough.

Add half the flour mixture. Give it a light mix and scrape down the sides of the bowl. You’ll notice that the dough is particularly sticky from all the whipping. This is good. Add the rest of the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips with your favorite wooden spoon.

This is where the going gets tough. Spreading this sticky cookie dough onto your sheet pan must be a labor of love; otherwise, you may possibly throw it all out the window…literally. I may have gotten that frustrated baking once, but only once, before. Make sure you have clean hands, because from this point on, you’ll need them. Using a combination of a spatula, your hands, and a knife, spread that cookie dough. You may get fearful that you won’t have enough dough to fill your pan. You’ll be fine. Just be patient, love the dough, and carefully, carefully spread. I make five piles of dough – one in each corner of the pan, and one in the middle. I make the one in the middle extra large so that I can pull from it when I’m having a hard time building my edges. Once I think I’ve succeeded and all my dough is spread, I do a double-check. Is the surface of the dough even? Are there any gaping holes? If you miss either of things, you’ll regret it when your baked product comes out of the oven.

Once you have a sheet pan full of beautifully spread cookie dough, grab the other half of that bag of M&Ms you’ve been devouring. Pour them on! I take my time doing this because I like when my bars are pretty. You can do what you want! My only suggestion is that you take the time to press each M&M gently into the dough so they may bake right in!

Bake your bars in the preheated oven for 21-22 minutes. The edges will be golden, and when you press into the middle, the dough will not bounce back. Let the pan cool on wire racks for an hour; then, carefully remove the bars by pulling up on the excess parchment on both sides of the pan. Let the bars continue to cool on wire racks for another hour. Then, creatively cut on your x-large cutting board.

I hope the kids enjoy these tomorrow!