My 2012 has gotten off to a bit of a slow start. This is because, for the first time in several years, I actually had something fun to do on New Year's Eve -- New Year's weekend for that matter.
Usually, Eric and I can be found at home on December 31, doing anything that we can to avoid the chaos and the Kardashian-magnet that is the Las Vegas Strip on New Year's Eve. I'll whip up a batch of cheese fondue or an antipasto platter, and we'll watch the ball drop in Times Square, declaring that it "counts" as staying up until the New Year.
We'll head to bed by 10, unless Eric happens to discover a Storage Wars marathon on T.V., in which case I will just head to bed, ready to get a good night's sleep and a fresh start on the new year.
But not this year. This year, I had a wedding to attend. A New Year's Eve wedding! Sounds fun, right? Believe me, it WAS. I mean, I stayed up until the actual midnight, maybe even 12:35. That's BIG for me. I even got my husband onto the dance floor. That's HUGE for me.
My handsome cousin, David, and my beautiful new cousin-in-law, Claire, got married in Dallas, and the weekend was jam-packed with activities (including, of course, lots of eating.) It was great to spend time with my extended family, who I don't get to see often enough, and the weather was consistently perfect.
The icing on the incredibly delicious lemon and berries wedding cake was that our travel could have not gone more smoothly. I mean, think about it: We left Vegas for New Year's, and we traveled back to Vegas after New Year's. Who does that?
Here's a little non-wedding photo from the wedding weekend: I am modeling a Christmas gift from my mom with my brother, Jay. I didn't know that he was sticking his tongue out at me until after I saw the photos. Typical. (Note: She really likes me best.)
When we returned home, the house was in a complete state of disarray. Between winding down from Christmas and getting ready for the wedding, there hadn't been much effort exerted in the cleaning department. So making the house look somewhat presentable (should Martha Stewart drop by) and catching up on work were my first orders of business. Then, I could get back to blogging.
So, my obligatory "start the New Year with a healthy blog post" post has been delayed by a few days. My house is still kind of a mess, but I saw Martha on the Today Show this morning, so I figure that I have at least until tomorrow to prepare for any surprise drop-ins.
Resolving to go on some sort of an extreme diet/cleanse in 2012 is setting yourself up to fail. Sure, they might work well in the beginning or for the short term, as with many popular cleanses, but following a regimen that only allows you to eat beet greens for six months will, at the very least, make you cranky.
Resolving to eat a healthier than you did in 2011? To incorporate raw fruits and vegetables into each meal? To introduce whole grains to your diet? That sounds more like it.
Some people have no problem whatsoever eliminating bread from their diet. I am not one of those people. I love bread. Not just any bread though. Admittedly, I am a total bread snob, so when I choose to consume bread it must be good bread. Fresh bread. Artisanal bread. And more often than not, whole grain or multi-grain bread. I don't go for the grains simply because they are healthier, although that does make me feel better about reaching for the bread basket and spreading on a little butter. To me, bread and rolls made from whole grains are so much more interesting to consume -- they generally taste better, have greater depth, and have a more complex texture than their white flour counterparts.
I've mentioned in previous blog posts that one of our favorite places to go on vacation is Jackson Hole, Wyoming. While in Jackson, Eric and I make sure that we go to The Bunnery at least a few times for breakfast and usually once for lunch too.
The main reason for these multiple visits? The Bunnery's signature O.S.M. menu items. For breakfast, I'm all about those massive O.S.M. blueberry pancakes prepared on a cast iron skillet, perfect fuel for a long hike or a morning on the slopes. Lunch tends to be a sandwich on The Bunnery's O.S.M. bread, lightly toasted to perfection.
Oh, sorry! How rude of me--let me explain: O (Oats). S (Sunflower). M (Millet).
I've never been much of a pancake eater. I enjoy them, but I'll usually opt for an egg-white omelet or oatmeal when I am out to breakfast. The Bunnery O.S.M. pancakes are the exception to my rule, and I found myself craving them long after we had departed Wyoming. Fortunately, smart businesspeople that they are, The Bunnery sells their O.S.M. pancake and waffle mix at their store and on-line, and it produces flapjacks that are pretty darn close to the real thing.
So we've got the pancakes covered, now what about the bread?
I wanted to start the new year off by making a few loaves of homemade multi-grain bread, so that we could have easy access to healthier options for toast, sandwiches, and even croutons for soups and salads. I've made other good bread recipes before, but I decided to try my hand at recreating The Bunnery's O.S.M. recipe. Using the ingredients on the back of the pancake mix as my guide, I came up with a recipe that I think is pretty close. I added the wheat bran and cracked wheat, not only for extra fiber but because I had them in my pantry.
The resulting loaves rose beautifully, giving the kitchen an enticing aroma as they baked. I tried the bread several ways (for research purposes, of course), and my conclusion is that it actually tastes best after it has rested overnight, tightly wrapped, and I also prefer it toasted. It makes a killer PB&J too. Next, I'm turning it into a panini.
One last thing! Just before the holidays, I did my first official gig as the Sterling Ultimate Host on our local Fox newcast. I'll give myself about a B grade on this one....maybe a B+. I start out a little shaky, but I think that I ended pretty smoothly. All in all, not too shabby. I didn't knock anything over, and I had a lot of fun. PLUS, one of the original Pips (as in Gladys Knight) and celebri-stylist Kim Vo were hanging out in the green room with me. That was pretty cool! Enjoy (and no laughing.)
Here are my extra tips for making this healthy, whole grain bread:
- When you first glance at the list of ingredients below, you will likely see several which are not currently in your pantry. Fear not! There is a bit of flexibility with the ingredients. You can omit the cracked wheat/wheat bran and substitute another whole grain, such as additional oats, oat bran, etc. I would recommend investing in the millet and sunflower seeds though, as they add a nice crunch to the texture.
- Regarding the tip above, I would not recommend substituting a raw larger grain, such as wheat berries, for the smaller grains. Wheat berries take a bit longer to soften, and you don't want to break a tooth when biting into the bread! If wheat berries are a MUST for you, then boil them per the instructions on the package before adding them to the dough.
- I like to use maple syrup as a sweetener as often as possible, because we always have plenty in supply. You can certainly substitute honey, agave nectar, or brown rice syrup.
- This bread will keep, tightly wrapped, for several days. You can also freeze it: My suggestion is to slice the bread, tightly wrap it, and freeze it. That way, you can remove slices from the freezer as needed and place them directly in the toaster/toaster oven.
(PB&J's attempt at) The Bunnery's Famous O.S.M. Bread
Makes 2 loaves
2 cups warm water (105-110F degrees)
⅔ cup pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup safflower oil
4 cups whole wheat flour, divided
2 cups bread flour
½ cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup wheat bran
⅓ cup cracked wheat
⅓ cup millet
⅓ cup sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon kosher salt
In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together the water, maple syrup, and the yeast until the yeast has dissolved. Allow the mixture to rest until the yeast is foamy, 10 minutes.
Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment, and mix in the oil on low speed. Add one cup of the whole wheat flour and the two cups of bread flour to the mixture. Increase the mixer speed to medium, and beat the mixture until smooth and shiny. Allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes before continuing.
Add the oats, wheat bran, cracked wheat, millet, sunflower seeds, and salt to the bowl; mix until well blended.
Switch the mixer attachment to the dough hook. Add two more cups of the whole wheat flour to the bowl, and mix on medium speed until the flour is fully incorporated. Gradually add the remaining cup of whole wheat flour to the bowl, and mix until the dough is soft, but not sticky, about 5 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times with your hands. Shape the dough into a ball, and place it in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel, and place it in a warm location for 1 ½-2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Spray two 9X5-inch baking pans with nonstick baking spray, and line them with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and punch it down to deflate. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, and shape each piece into a loaf. Place each loaf into one of the prepared pans. Cover the pans loosely with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise until doubled, 45-60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees and place the oven rack in the center position. Bake the loaves until they are browned and sound hollow when tapped, 35-45 minutes. The internal temperature should be about 200F degrees. Allow the loaves to rest in the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.