Homemade bagels

For years, I assumed it would be next to impossible to make bagels at home. They seem like a specialized bread, and surely require some unusual equipment or extraordinary effort. It's not like bagels are particularly expensive or hard to find. Why not just head over to the local shop and be done with it? The problem is that bagel quality is variable. I don't mind the local Bruegger's when their bagels are really fresh, but it's easy to end up with baker's dozen that tastes like they were made the previous day. If, like me, you buy a dozen and freeze what you don't eat, you'll be stuck with mediocre bagels for a while. It turns out making great bagels at home is not difficult, and a bit of effort guarantees high quality, fresh bagels. I adapted my current recipe from Peter Reinhart, who I have found fairly reliable for bread making. This recipe makes 14 bagels. Start by making a sponge. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix: 500 g bread flour 12 g vital wheat gluten 1 teaspoon instant yeast Add to this 560 g of lukewarm water and stir until all the flour is absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about 2 hours. The mixture should appear to slowly bubble. Mix about a tablespoon of non-diastatic malt powder in a tablespoon or two of boiling water to make a syrup and add this to the mixer bowl (if your powder hasn't clumped, you can add this to the dry ingredients below, but I find this technique is easier). In another large bowl mix: 1/2 teaspoon yeast 470 g bread flour 12 g vital wheat gluten 1 tablespoon salt With the mixer running at the lowest speed using the dough hook attachment, slowly add in the flour mixture. Continue to mix until all the flour is absorbed then crank it up to kneeling speed (2 on my Kitchen Aid) and let it work for about 6 minutes. The dough will be a bit tough and smooth, and a bit tacky but not sticky or wet. Take out the dough mass and form 14 balls of about 112g each. I like to stretch the outer surface to the bottom and roll the ball a bit on the counter so it's smooth. Cover with a damp towel for 20 minutes or so. To form the bagel shape, roll the ball into a snake shape about 8 inches long, trying to keep the thickness even throughout. Take the ends and loop the dough into a circle, overlapping the ends by about 2 inches. Pinch the ends together so the seams are closed, then stick 2-3 fingers in the middle of the bagel and roll the outer edge of the bagel against the counter to smoothen the exterior. Rotate the bagel as you go so the thickness is as even as possible. Transfer the bagels to two baking sheets lined with parchment. I usually spray my parchment with cooking spray so the bagels don't stick. Cover the bagels with plastic wrap. Let the bagels rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes then stick them in your refrigerator overnight. The next morning, preheat the oven to 500° F and boil 3 L of water in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda to the pot. Add the bagels to the pot for about two minutes each, flipping then halfway through. Don't crowd them too much: in my large Dutch oven, I can fit four at a time. While the bagels are boiling, scatter some cornmeal on their spot on the parchment so they don't stick when you put them back. I find a skimmer a useful tool to transfer the bagels from the water back to the parchment without traumatizing them too much. If you want to top the bagels with, say, sesame seeds, the best time is soon after they have come out of the water. Scatter some seeds on a plate and put the bagel upside down onto the plate to pick up the seeds (just scattering these on top tends to make them not stick very well). Bake the bagels for 5 minutes. Rotate and swap the trays then turn down the heat to 450° F and cook at least 5 minutes more until the bagels are as dark as you like. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 10 minutes.

Think outside the oatmeal bowl

I've advocated creative ways of flavoring oatmeal, but the variations I've written about so far have been relatively minor variations on the usual sweetened breakfast. There is no reason oatmeal has to be sweet. It works surprisingly well as a savory grain, with a taste and texture reminiscent of wild rice. Try this for a savory breakfast: Cook old fashioned oats as usual: boil them water for 5-10 minutes (until it's as thick as you like it) with an oat:water ratio of 1:2. Now top with a fried egg and some quickly cooked vegetables or meat (I used mushrooms and scallions). Add salt and pepper (or even hot sauce) to taste and enjoy. An egg also works with sweetened oatmeal, but I like this truly savory variant for a hearty breakfast.


Speaking of Apple Pie

Better than Apple Pie Oatmeal is the real thing. Or so I thought until I tried this slight twist on the original. Cooks' Illustrated Apple Cranberry Pie is a typical double crusted apple pie with a thin layer of cranberry jam beneath the apples. This provides a tartness that pairs particularly well with sweet, crisp apples like Honeycrisp. The pie itself is pretty easy as pies go. How easy? Why, it's as easy as...never mind. The key thing is planning. The biggest mistake I make with pie is starting too late. Unlike many foods, these are not best fresh out of the oven, but really should be allowed to cook to room temperature. This can take several hours. Fortunately, the pie dough, cranberry jam, and apple filling can all be prepared a day or two in advance and kept in the refrigerator until needed. The combination that works best is the Cooks' Illustrated Cranberry Apple Pie with their Foolproof Pie Dough. I suggest using only butter in the crust (instead of butter and shortening; yes, that means 20 tablespoons of butter) and using this rolling pin to ensure an even thickness. A few pointers: I find I only have to microwave the apples for nine minutes, but judge based on how your apples look. Make sure not to slice the apples too thin: 1/4 inch is more generous than you might think. Err on the thicker side to avoid making an applesauce pie. Using a bit more sugar than suggested on top of the pie may also help to add a nice crunch (consider sanding sugar). Cinnamon sugar (e.g. A 1:4 ratio of cinnamon to sugar by volume) works well also.


Apple Pie Oatmeal

Apple pie a timeless dessert that takes me back to childhood. It's simple and satisfying, without the cloying sweetness or excessive richness of many desserts. It's not practical or particularly healthy to have apple pie too often, but I wanted to capture its essence in something that was more practical to have as a frequent snack. Since I am also a fan of oatmeal, it seemed like a natural fit. Here's the result:
  • 1.25 cups water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 an apple, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Quaker Old Fashioned Oats (don't use the quick stuff)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon powdered milk
  1. Boil the water in a small saucepan with a pinch of salt and the sliced apples. I leave the skin on.
  2. When the water is boiling, add in the oats, stir, and turn down the heat to a low simmer.
  3. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or to desired thickness (the oatmeal with thicken slightly when it cools).
  4. Add in brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and powdered milk and stir well.
  5. Pour the oatmeal into a bowl and allow to cool a few minutes
It's perhaps more reminiscent of an apple cobbler than a pie, but it captures the feeling of apple pie. Feel free to tweak the sweetness to your liking. You could add a pinch of cloves as well, though I've tried to keep things simple here.

Yogurt jalapeño sauce

We made falafel last night, which really should be made fresh and eaten while hot and crispy. With fried foods, I like to add something spicy and creamy, but many mayonnaise-based sauces are just too heavy; you're already eating something deep fried after all. I've developed this easy yogurt jalepeño sauce which is quick and easy and does the job well. It's easy to modify as well. I made it with jalepeño here, but in the past I've used poblano, which is a bit milder. I find this easiest to make in a small food processor. Ingredients
  • 1 jalepeño (or more, if your jalepeños are weak)
  • 1 lime
  • 1 medium clove garlic
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • fresh cilantro leaves, about 1/4 cup
  • salt and pepper
    1. Squeeze the juice of one lime into the food processor bowl.
    2. Using a garlic press, press the garlic into the lime juice and let it sit.
    3. Roast a jalepeño until the skin is blackened. This can be done over an open range flame if you have gas, or under a broiler with the rack on the highest setting if you don't. You basically want to burn the thing.
    4. Hold the pepper under running water and rub off the skin.
    5. Slice the pepper in half lengthwise and roughly scrape out the seeds.
    6. Chop the remaining pepper into a few chunks and toss into the food processor
    7. Add the yogurt and the cilantro to the food processor.
    8. Blend until there are no chunks of pepper. It should only take about 5-10 seconds.
    9. Season with a salt to taste. I sometimes add black pepper as well.
This goes great with falafel, but also with any sort of fish.

Banana bread with a twist

I've been slowly accumulating overripe bananas in the freezer, waiting for an adequate supply (3) for banana bread. I have tried a bunch of recipes in the past, but none have been particularly memorable. This weekend, I took this recipe (originally from Mark Bittman) for a spin, and it worked out great. The key is the addition of shredded coconut, which adds both flavor and texture. I also added 1/4 tsp of cinnamon for a bit more flavor. Highly recommended if you're looking for a new take on banana bread. It's always hard to be sure when these kind of breads are done. I cook to an internal temperature of about 200 °F.

6 or 6 Plus

I bought the original iPhone on launch day in 2007, and upgrading has become an annual ritual for me.  Each model has been enough of an advancement that the only decision has been which color and capacity to get. This year's decision is more complex: with the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus, many people including myself have agonized over the options. My first thought was to just go for the 6. It's relatively close in size to the 5 and 5S, which have worked well for me for the last several years. While not as big as the 6 Plus, the screen is larger. It's a model within my comfort zone. Besides, haven't I spent the last several years snickering to myself whenever I saw someone holding up a massive Samsung or other similar device to the side of their head? Yet I am drawn to the promise of the 6 Plus. It's so much larger than the 5 series that it's almost a different category.  It has nearly 3 times the number of pixels. When the iPhone first came out, it was a fancy phone that also had  a number of other interesting functions. Now the iPhone is a pocket computer that happens to be able to make phone calls. In fact, I recently took the phone app out of my dock (it's current filled with Mail, Safari, Overcast and Tweetbot). For modern usage including reading (mail, web, apps, etc.), videos, photos, a larger screen is optimal. But the 6 Plus is not a straightfoward decision either. At some point, a phone will be too big. Too big to comfortably use, too big to fit in pockets, too big to take everywhere. I thought about the key characteristics for form factor that were important to me. These boiled down to portability and usability. Portability: the phone needed to be easy enough to carry that it would always be with me. I enjoy the iPad Mini greatly, but it's not always with me. Many times, I'll sit down to read and won't be able to locate the iPad, so I will just end up using my phone. I refuse to go back to using a holster or wearing a jacket just to carry my phone. It needs to fit in my front pockets. Usability: If the phone is too big to comfortably use in my hands, it's not worth the increased screen real estate. So I did what any sensible person would do: I made cardboard mockups of the two devices. I only needed the larger mockup since the 6 is so close to the 5S. It fit, albeit barely in some cases, into my pants pockets without being even partially exposed, so it would pass the first test. Testing usability was harder without the real device, so I turned to comments from friends and people online who have used these devices. The general consensus is that these larger devices require some adjustment to handle (often requiring two handed use), but that any inconvenience is outweighed by the increased screen real estate. Lastly, there is the novelty factor. The iPhone 6 is a slightly larger iPhone. The 6 Plus really is a new device category, sitting somewhere between a one-handed compact smartphone and a small tablet. The only way to really know if this will be a worthwhile trade off of usability and functionality is to live with it. So I went with the 6 Plus. I don't think the iPhone 6 is the wrong choice. It is certainly safer. But I'm all for trying something different this time around.

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