The Cooking Well Runs Dry

With all the vegetables we’re receiving lately, you’d think that I’d be posting recipes almost every day. The trouble is that I have entered a rut familiar to all cooks who have been at this game for a while. “I just cook the same old things,” my grandmother used to say. So it is with me. Tired at the end of the work day, I turn to well-worn formulas, spices, and combinations to get supper on the table. Onions and garlic are sauteed in olive oil; another vegetable or meat is added; herbs are tossed in; everything gets dumped over pasta, rolled into a burrito, or served over potatoes.

And that’s okay, because a few experiments over the last week or so revealed why it’s probably best to trudge along in your little food rut until a clear path out is revealed. Efforts to claw your way over the edge will result in injury only to yourself and others who are forced to eat the unsavory products that emerge in the process.

The baked cabbage should serve as sufficient warning. We’ve been slightly overwhelmed with cabbage lately, after buying a couple of heads just before receiving more from Britt Farms, our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Of course, it really doesn’t take much cabbage to overwhelm even an experienced cook. Not only does it increase exponentially with each cup that is used, it also conjures only a limited number of dishes to mind. Having made cole slaw, added it to soups, steamed it, eaten it raw, and even considered then quickly dispensed with the idea of making homemade sauerkraut after realizing the impracticality of storing rotting vegetable matter in a pot in the basement for a month, I was pretty well out of ideas.

Then I remembered a recent New York Times Magazine article on baked kale, which I’d tried and which had made a pleasantly crunchy snack. You took kale leaves, rolled them up, sliced the rolls into thin strips, tossed in olive oil and salt, and baked them in the oven at about 400 degrees for several minutes until they crisped up. They made a light, crunchy snack.

Cabbage doesn’t do that. It makes a heavy, chewy, oily snack. You can try cooking it until the cabbage browns, but then you will have a bitter, crispy, burned-tasting, oily snack. If you have a sweet, kind husband as I do, he will taste the results and declare them “interesting.” If you are a sweet, kind wife in return, you will take the whole mess, toss it straight into the trash, and make a nice dish of olive oil, onions, garlic, your favorite spices, vegetables, and pasta.

Better Amish Friendship Bread

The moment we’ve been waiting for since February 24 has arrived. In an effort to create a version of Amish Friendship Bread that I actually like, I’ve turned our house into a bread factory over the last few months. I’m pleased to say that these attempts have not been in vain.

I started with the original recipe, below.

Original Amish Friendship Bread

I’m not sure this is the original starter, but it’s what I found on the Internet. There are many versions that use yeast, but I suspect this one did not.

1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar

Put ingredients in plastic bag and seal.

Day 1: Do nothing.
Days 2 – 5: Mash the bag
Day 6: Add 1 c. plain flour, 1 c. sugar, 1 c. milk, and mash the bag.
Days 7 – 9: Mash the bag.

Day 10:
Pour entire contents of bag into a non-metal bowl. Add 1 cup plain flour, 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 1/2 c. sugar, and 1 1/2 c. milk. Mix.

Measure out 4 bags of 1 c. each. Put batter into Ziplock gallon bags and keep a starter for yourself and give the others to 3 friends with a copy of the recipe.

Baking Instructions

Preheat oven to 375. To remaining batter in bowl add and stir:

3 eggs
1 c. oil (or 1/2 c. oil and 1/2 c. applesauce)
1/2 c. milk
1 c. sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
2 c. plain flour
1 lrg. Box instant vanilla or choc. Pudding (surely the Amish cook who added this was excommunicated)
1 c. raising or chopped nuts (opt.)

Grease 2 large loaf pans. In a bowl mix 1/2 c. sugar and 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Dust the pans with 1/2 of this mixture. Pour batter evenly into 2 pans and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mix over top. Bake for 1 hour.

And Now for Something Completely Different

It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that no one has enough friends to keep this up. Maybe you know dozens of people who want to keep rotting dough in plastic bags around the house and bake bread every 10 days, but I don’t. After just one month I felt like the owner of an unspayed cat, with kittens everywhere and no idea who would take them. And you are one blessed person, or an Olympic marathoner, if you can eat this stuff week after week and not become a bloated testament to the effects of a sugar-infested, overprocessed American diet.

I also wanted a recipe that didn’t completely cover up the flavor of the starter itself. Starters, after all, are the key ingredient for wonderful sourdough breads, and what better way to make one than with, um, soured dough? I’d hoped that the friendship bread would have the nice bite of one of these loaves, but it was, alas, buried in the onslaught of sugar, cinnamon, and the lrg. Box of inst. Pudding.

My experiments over the last couple of months have led to a series of recipes that alter the original so much that to call it a “variation” would be ridiculous. So I’m christening this “Newlywed Bread” because a) it rhymes; b) two people can eat a loaf in a week without gaining so much weight together that they have to spend every Monday night at Weight Watchers; and c) like newlywed couples, cooks who make this don’t have to share even one tiny bit of it with another living soul.

The starter is simple and very forgiving. The only trick is not to use any metal when working with the starter (though using metal in the baking process seems to work fine.)

Newlywed Bread Starter

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk

I put this in a glass bowl covered with a towel (hand-embroidered, of course, to remind me that I’m a little old lady at heart). Yeast does not seem to be necessary, and I like to think it’s because this starter works like the ones for sourdough bread, which absorb yeast from the environment.


Day 1: Do nothing.
Days 2 – 5: Stir with wooden or plastic utensil.
Day 6: Add 1 1/2 c. flour, 1/2 c. sugar, and 1 c. milk.
Days 7 – 9: Stir.
Day 10: Bake (recipes below).

After the first ten days, feed the starter every 5 – 10 days. It is a living thing and requires nutrition to keep going. It will rise up overnight into a bubbly mass if it is healthy. If it starts to rise less, lose its bubbly texture, or quits rising altogether, it needs to eat. Feed it:

1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. whole milk (I use 1% with a little half and half)

You can add half this amount (3/4 c. flour, 1/4 c. sugar, 1/2 c. milk) if your starter is getting too big.

Every ten days or so, you should bake a loaf. You can bake more often if you like; just feed the starter whenever you remove some for baking. If you can’t bake very often and your starter gets too big, you can freeze it, refrigerate it, discard some of it, or–heaven forbid–give some to a friend along with a copy of the recipe.

All of these breads have a hearty whole wheat texture. Most are still on the sweet side, but they’re closer to bran muffins than cakes. Most also include buttermilk, which add an extra bit of sourness–perfect for the sour among us, without enough friends to share.

Newlywed Bread Basic Recipe

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 1 loaf pan.

Remove 1 c. starter and place in large mixing bowl. Add to starter:

3 eggs
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 c. melted butter (add to buttermilk to cool before adding to mix)

Whisk together in separate bowl:

2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. oats
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. brown sugar

Add dry ingredients to batter mix and stir. Pour into loaf pans and bake one hour. Remove from pan and cool.

I’ve made several variations on this recipe, though the “variations” are often quite different. Below are some favorites.

Sweet Potato Newlywed Bread

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 1 loaf pan.

Mix together in large bowl:

1 c. starter
1/2 c. baked sweet potato, mashed
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. melted butter (add to buttermilk to cool)
3 eggs

Whisk together:

2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. oats
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 c. brown sugar

Pour in loaf pan and bake for 1 hour.

Variation: Maple Fig

Replace sweet potato with 1/4 cup pureed fig preserves and 1/2 c. maple syrup. Increase oats to 1 cup.

Irish Soda Newywed Bread

This one is more like a hearty sandwich bread, with only slightly sweet taste, and with the strong soda flavor characteristic of the orignal Irish version. It’s baked as a round rather than in a loaf pan to give it a beautiful crispy crust all over.

Fred prefers this loaf sweeter than I do, so simply increase the sugar to 3/4 cup if you want more of a breakfast bread.

Preheat oven to 400. Grease bottom of cookie sheet.

Mix together in large bowl:

1 c. starter
1 c. buttermilk
2 1/2 tbsp. melted butter (add to butter milk to cool before mixing)

Whisk together:

2 c. oats
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 – 3/4 c. brown sugar (depending on sweetness you prefer)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt

Add dry ingredients to batter and stir until mixture comes together. Turn out on floured surface and knead about 15 strokes. Form into round loaf shape and place on cookie sheet. Bake for 1 hour (check after 45 minutes for doneness.) Brush with melted butter.

New variations keep emerging. I’ll keep you posted.