Twisted Sister

When you grow up in the South, you get accustomed to hot weather. Extreme humidity, clothes sticking to you from the moment you wake up until the sun sinks underneath the horizon, you look forward to October. Heck, you look forward to January, which is probably hard for those of you from the Midwest or the New England area to imagine.

Prior to moving here, I thought the Midwest was the land of moderate summers. Aside from one or two lackluster ones, I was sorely mistaken. You see, while the humidity may not be anywhere near the stifling heat of the South, it is still nice and toasty here in the Windy City. The difference, is that here in the Midwest, we have Fall.

And whoa Nelly, I do love me some Fall, but I’m not quite ready for it. I’m not ready to wear a jacket, to put away my sandals, and to stop enjoying the city I’ve lived in for 6 years. And after that, I most certainly am not ready to wear snow boots and curse the city for operating ‘normally’ in feet of snow, and I am not in any way, shape, or form looking forward to windburn from the lake on my way to work. If you can’t tell, I am milking Summer for all it’s worth. Sadly, that poor cow is dry as a bone…

It was different a couple of weeks ago, when my sista and niece came to visit (my niece’s first flight!). Fearing a swift end to the blue skies and jacketless walks, we took full advantage of the 70-80 degree weather and trampled through the city with the rest of the tourists. And even though I live here in this wonderful place, I know many of you do not, so I thought I’d post some pics of our wanderings. Who knows, you may find yourself visiting these parts one day, and we’d be happy to have ya. Here goes.

While most tourists walk through the city, or ride those unsightly Double Decker buses, I prefer to view the city by river. Above is a view from a Chicago ‘water taxi’, which costs a whopping $2 for a one-way trip. Pay a little more and you circle all the way around through Chinatown. Any Wilco fans among you? Notice the ‘corncob’ building on the left side, seen on the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. They are from here, you know…. and if you don’t, now you do ;).

Yes, friends, this is a life-sized ginormous bean. It’s the centerpiece of one of Chicago’s newest sights, Millenium Park, which opened the year we moved here (2004). Designed by artist Anish Kapoor, the real name of this monstrosity is ‘Cloud Gate’, and it’s made entirely of stainless steel that’s polished so well you see not a seam, but lots of wicked reflections. It is gorgeous at night.

I think this might have been my sista’s favorite: the library. And no, it’s not because she’s a bookworm. Truth be told, she’s more of a movie buff, anyway. This is the main library in Chicago, the Harold Washington, and it is 10 stories large. The outside’s primarily red brick and early in the 90’s they put those green sculptures on top. I refer to them as gargoyles, but apparently they are call ‘acroteria’. Details, details.

Another new addition, the Eye sculpture, made of fiberglass and housed in the Loop (near the library). This one’s outta here later this year, though. If you look closely, you can see that the homeless folk like it here, as do the pigeons.

Please tell me you remember the show, ‘Married, with Children’?! My sista didn’t, and that made me a little sad. She made up for it by making zillions of movie quotes though, which is something I’ve never been good at, but that might be because I’m sleeping halfway through most movies… Anywho, the fountain at left is Buckingham Fountain, which is housed in Grant Park. Not only was it filmed in the opening of MwC, but it is also the hub of Lollapalooza, the weekend concert festival that’s here every summer. The right is an area of painted tree trunks, which is pretty genius if you ask me. Genius and pretty.

Just like any city worth visiting, Chicago has a shit-ton of museums that’ll each cost around 20 buckaroos to get into. Some boast free admission on certain weekdays, and some claim to be free but suggest donations. Anyways, while we didn’t venture into any of them during this touring venture, this is one of the gardens outside of the Art Institute. If art is your thing though, definitely check this place out on the inside. There other ‘main’ museums are the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, and the Field Museum (all downtown; I still haven’t been to the Planetarium or Field Museum) as well as the Museum of Science and Industry, which is further south.

Outdoor sculptures, anyone? I much prefer this sorta art to the indoor paintings and displays. These are both in Grant Park and are a couple of my faves. I also like the cast iron legs, but we didn’t get to those this time around.

Another view from the water, but this time it’s Lake Michigan. The following day was a bit cloudy (that’s obvious, right?!), but this is the day we wandered over to Navy Pier. Aside from tons of tourist traps including a ferris wheel and Bubba Gump, the views are pretty great, and the boat tours are again, some of the greatest ways to see the city.

If you don’t go anywhere else, go to the Hancock Tower. It’s not as tall as the Sears (now supposedly call the Willis) Tower, but get this: there’s a “free” observatory on the 96th floor with 360-degree views. All ya have to buy is a drink, which while steep, is far less than the price at the actual observatory. Sears Tower has a new observatory with a glass bottom, which isn’t half bad though, if you’re into that sorta thing. This view is from the Hancock looking south, with the Trump tower, the newest skyline addition, over to the right.

And with that, the tour’s over! This is certainly only a snippit of Chicago; the best part of being here is seeing all of the neighborhoods and cultures, and there’s tours for that too, if you want. Even in 6 years of living here, there are still plenty of things we’ve yet to do; living here gives one the illusion that you can put touristy stuff off, but some of it really is fun, even to the residents. Either way, I hope you enjoyed the tour, and if you didn’t, no worries – there’s a reward at the end for all of your hard work.

A reward meaning, pretzels, which I hinted at up top. I made these prior to my sis and niece getting here in case we ever found ourselves in need of a snack while lounging around the house. I don’t think we were ever really hungry enough to snack on them, what with the deep dish pizza, sushi, and ice cream, but that’s generally not a problem with Hubs around, because they certainly got eaten eventually (most of them, at least). These are the result of another recipe from Kim Boyce’s book featuring rye flour, which adds a nutty character, and a little sour note as well. Perfect in pretzel form, I promise.

Oh, and were you wondering about the food in Chicago? Yeah, I’ve got that covered too. Click here for a Chicago Food page; I try my best to update it with the places we’ve been to and recommend, starting with 2010.

Soft Rye Pretzels
Adapted from Good to the Grain, makes 12

i tend to agree with Kim Boyce on this one – these twists are best right outta the oven. though I didn’t try it, I’d be willing to bet that you could probably freeze them right after the poaching part (before butter and salt), and then bake them straight from the freezer (after buttering and salting). if you try it, let us know how it works! In our house, one Wetzel had his pretzel with grainy mustard, while the other had hers just plain.

printable version

cooking spray
1 package active dry yeast
1 T honey
1 c rye flour
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 T kosher salt
1/2 c baking soda
2 T butter, melted
coarse sea salt, preferably Maldon

measure yeast into large bowl. heat 1.5 c water (warm, not hot) and pour over the yeast. add honey and stir, add flours and salt and stir again.

pour dough over floured surface and knead. add up to 1/2 c flour if needed, until dough is “tacky” but not “sticky” (it won’t be smooth, but won’t stick to your hands constantly). knead for about 12 minutes, or until dough is smooth and soft. spray bowl and put dough into bowl. cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 1.5 hours, until doubled in size.

once the dough has doubled, pour it onto floured surface and cut into 12 equal pieces. take each piece and roll out into a snake, about 17 inches long with thinly tapered ends. try to keep minimal flour down as your roll so the dough will roll out easier. form each snake into a pretzel shape by folding one third of the left side over the center and then one third of the right side over the left. place onto sprayed baking sheets and let pretzels rise for 15-20 minutes.

while pretzels are rising, place two racks at top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 450 F. fill a large pot with 10 cups of water and bring to boil. once pretzels have risen and the water is boiling, add the baking soda to the water. to poach pretzels, lift pretzel and place in hot bath; let each side boil for 30 seconds, removing from water bath with a strainer. pat excess water with a towel and transfer back to baking sheet. finish boiling pretzels, brush with butter, and sprinkle liberally with salt.

bake for 15-18 minutes rotating sheets halfway through. pretzels will be dark in color. transfer to rack to cool.

Totally Smitten w/ Pumpernickel

pumpernickel ingredients
If you haven’t heard, I’ve been making a lot of bread products lately. In class, we’ve learned how to make all sorts of baked delicacies – muffins, biscuits, 4-grain, foccacia and challah breads. We even learned how to make eclairs – those were a hit and a half with the folks at the office. Despite my excitement regarding the outcome of that gorgeous, perfectly braided (well, perfect enough) challah loaf, not to mention my tender hand muscles from kneading for two nights straight, the pages of my baking book kept somehow turning themselves to the recipe for pumpernickel. And then, as if the Oklahoma blogger were reading my mind, she invited another blogger to her ranch where they made the prettiest darn bread I’ve ever seen. You might imagine, this sealed my fate, and prolonged the hankerin’ for a warm, dark, intensely flavored slice of pumpernickel.

more ingredients

I imagined it a number of different ways – warm (smoking, even) with butter melting into it, or perhaps toasted with cream cheese and smoked salmon inside, and the best – just plain, as my afternoon snack at work. Oh, and in the freezer – so I could pull it out whenever I wanted it!

My teachings in school had led me to believe that baking bread would be a day-long (or two day-long) process. This is not necessarily true. It is time consuming, and tedious. And this bread, this bread has a lot of ingredients (17 by my count without the optionals) – each just as important as the other. I was surprised to find that I already had 15 of those ingredients, just waiting to be brought together for the first time. I only needed the rye flour and bran and I was set. If you don’t have all of the ingredients, they are all fairly easy to locate minus the rye flour. Whole Foods carries it, but most regular grocery stores probably don’t. If you aren’t near a WF or other specialty store, like Trader Joes or Fresh Market, you can buy it online.

the yeast works!

Pumpernickel is definitely my favorite samich bread. It’s not the same as rye bread, which I don’t love so much. I’m not certain that I’ve actually eaten true German pumpkernickel bread, and this version is definitely not true German pumpernickel, but rather the Americanized version. Traditional pumpernickel has a looooong baking time (meaning a whole day in a steamed oven – by no means a “green” practice) and use of a Sourdough starter, which is also used in rye breads. The long baking time brings out that coffee/dark chocolate flavor, while the starter contributes to rising.

dough rising

We Americans cheat a little in the making of pumpernickel by baking it less and instead, adding the flavors lost by such faux pas. Hence the addition of molasses (as if adding molasses to anything deems explanation), espresso, cocoa powder. Hell – none of those require explanation, but I had a feeling if I didn’t tell you, you’d unnecessarily burn kilocalories by furrowing your brow, frowning, and quite possibly, turning your nose up at the thought of adding such ingredients to bread. Save yourself the trouble – please – they are necessary! And in absence of the starter, as preferred by die Deutsch, we add wheat flour and yeast to facilitate gluten formation and the rise.

rounded and ready to bake

You’ll also notice the choice of using a loaf pan or rounding your dough. It doesn’t take a professional baker to realize the difference here, people. [Think: if you put your dough in a pan, how does that affect the baking? And conversely, how about letting it bake openly in the comfort of a parchment-lined baking pan?]. Er… the answer is… you get a loaf that is very dense or a round that is a bit ‘airier’. All about your preference – I like the less dense version, personally. But suit yourself.

I bet by now you are doing one of two things: cursing yourself for reading a blog entry about something you could care less about or performing a mental checklist of your pantry to see what you’re gonna have to buy to make the best bread on earth. I hope it’s the latter, but if not – your loss. I have another round in my freezer so I won’t be missing out any time soon.

cut wonkily

Russian Black Bread
from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible
Makes 2 large, in charge, rounds or loaves

printable recipe

2 packages of active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups water
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 T unsalted butter
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups rye flour
3 cups bread flour
1 cup oat bran
2 T caraway seeds
1/2 t fennel seeds
1 T salt
1 T instant espresso powder
1 T minced shallots
1/4 cup cornmeal (optional)
1 T all purpose flour (optional)
1 t caraway seeds (optional)

Special stuff: stand mixer (can do all by hand if you’ve got muscles and energy!), spice grinder (optional), instant-read thermometer (optional)

1. In a small bowl, combine yeast & sugar with warm water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. This ensures your yeast is alive 🙂

2. Heat 2 cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter & chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside, and let cool to warm so it doesn’t kill the yeast.

3. Combine whole-wheat, rye, and bread flours in a large bowl. Set aside.

4. In a bowl of a heavy mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 2 cups mixed flours, bran, seeds (can grind prior to adding if desired), salt, espresso, and shallots. At low speed, add yeast and chocolate mixtures. (I added salt after adding yeast because I am paranoid and my baking teacher always said to add salt last).

5. At low speed, add half cup of remaining mixed flours at a time, until dough clears sides of bowl and begins to work its way up paddle. It will be sticky but firm, and you’ll probably have leftover flour.

6. Scrape dough off paddle, flour counter well, and knead to make a springy yet dense dough (until it looks sexy, as my teacher says). You may still have flour left over, but maybe not.

7. Form into a ball and place in a bowl sprayed with Pam. Turn over to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2-2hours (I preheat oven to 100 and then turn off, leaving door open to let temp drop some before putting dough in). Meanwhile, combine cornmeal, flour, and remaining seeds if you’re topping the bread before baking, and set aside.

8. Deflate dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Divide into 2 equal portion and form into two rounds or loaves. If making loaves, place in a sprayed loaf pan. If rounds (like mine) place seam down on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet (one round per sheet). Sprinkle w/ mixture if using. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise again, until doubled, about 45 min to 1 hour. Slash an X into the top of a round before baking (none needed for loaves); you can see from my pictures that you don’t want to slash too deep or it affects the prettiness. Just a small slash.

9. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes or until internal temperature of 200-210. I baked mine for about 40-45 minutes. (1/2 way through baking, I switched the positions of each sheet too). Remove from sheet and cool completely on a rack.

10. Let it cool (if you can resist the urge), and then slop whatever your little heart desires on it.

p.s. – I’m aware that, if this is your first foray into the wonderul world of bread-baking that this recipe might be a bit intimidating. I’ve found that making bread definitely takes practice. You can probably tell I need some practice prettying up my bread – rounding and scoring are not my good points – not yet! So, if you’re scurred (Southern for scared), drop me a line in the comment box, and I’ll find you something more basic to start with. Promise 🙂