Frozen is the New ‘Fresh’

You would think that a breakfast staple so common that it can be found in every bakery, grocery store, and even gas station that can boast a minimum of competency, would be as simple to make as rousing yourself from bed in order to chow down on it. In the case of the deceptively humble bagel, you would be sadly mistaken. Meant to be firm, chewy, and just a touch toasty on the outside while remaining soft inside, even the professional bakers don’t always get it right. Authentic bagels are kneaded by hand, followed by a leisurely rise that can last for as long as 12 hours, after which they are cooked first by boiling, and then finally by a trip through a scorching-hot oven. Bread baking is truly an art when done correctly, and being so artist myself, I would be quite reluctant to attempt such an undertaking. Sure, it’s easy enough to have bagels at home thanks to those convenient hockey pucks of bread-like material found in the freezer section, requiring nothing more than a quick defrosting before consumption… But the quality takes a serious plunge as soon as each icy brick enters into industrial blast freezers at the factories.

There are few feasible solutions to this dilemma, the most palatable usually being to give in and buy them fresh from a bakery as needed, shelling out more money in comparison to the bulk bagels at a grocery store. Not convenient, and not for the budget-minded.

However, it has been brought to my attention that there is in fact an alternative: Meeting the manufacturer half way on the labor. It may sound funny, but Bake’Mmm bagels hopes to prove that this particular compromise can be worth the work. They are still frozen, but they differ from the other brands out there in one big way – They’re boiled, but then left unbaked.

Removing the packages of frozen bagels from my freezer on a laid-back sunny weekend morning, I was ready to see what these partly factory made, partly homemade lumps of dough could do. Frozen together quite solidly, it took quite a struggle to separate a single one from its unbaked family, although I must admit that my desire to break out a chainsaw to dislodge them is more an indication of my weakness than a flaw in the product. Pale and icy, it was hard to imagine that these would be ready to go in no time.

Once they finally decided that individuality was worth a try and yielded to my pathetic beating, I lay them out on a baking sheet and checked out the helpful hints printed on the wrapper. Suggesting a heat of 425 – 450 degrees, I balked at powering up my oven so hot just to cook those wee little blobs. I know that bread baking does require higher heat than your typical cake or cookie, but I still can’t help but be reluctant to venture that far up the thermometer, so I opted for the lower setting of 425 degrees to start. Waiting for the oven to heat up took longer than the actual baking time, and after 10 minutes a golden brown tint began to creep across the surface, as though they were blushing in their unfinished state. Still pressing on for the full amount of time suggested, the bagels were out and steaming after another 5 minutes.

Opening the oven to release a pungent cloud of the yeasted scent indicative of fresh bread, the once rock-solid lumps had transformed into perfectly browned, authentic-looking bagels, and I could hardly wait to dig in. Slicing the first one I could get my hands around in half, I discovered a disappointing surprise inside. Although the exterior was gorgeous and clearly fully baked, the innards still appeared mushy and moist, almost to the point of being raw. Not prepared to discard this specimen with such high potential, I threw it into the toaster in hopes of finishing up the undercooked insides. Proving to be a satisfactory solution for the time being, the bagels emerged looking much more ready to eat before long.

On a second occasion, I did try setting the oven higher at 450 degrees for the full 15 minutes again, but alas, the same results awaited me lurking within the center of each bagel. A frustrating flaw to be sure, but not a deal breaker; They still come out perfectly after a quick cycle in the toaster, no matter what which setting you choose for your oven.

First up in the toaster was the Whole Wheat variety, sporting a lovely tan coloring through and through. Teasing my nostrils with a faint nutty smell indicative of the whole grains baked within, my taste buds couldn’t wait to get in on some of the action. Even unadorned, this bagel speaks volumes of deliciousness; Crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and chewy all over, the purely tactile sensation of masticating made me wonder if I had ever eaten a truly fresh bagel in all of my life. This must be what those bagel-fanatics always talk about, as my only experiences thus far have been with bagels that were nothing more than round pieces of toast with extra crust and a hole in the center! Hearty, satisfying, and dense, this is an excellent vehicle with which to deliver whole grains into finicky eaters. Just a tiny smear of margarine kicks up the savory, salty side of things quite nicely, but nothing is really required to make this one fantastic breakfast.

I’m a real sucker for anything cinnamon, so the Cinnamon Raisin bagels were calling my name from the moment they took up residence in the freezer. Smelling fantastic as soon as they emerged from the heat, one mere whiff was enough to start my mouth watering. Lightly speckled with raisins throughout, it was just the right amount – Raisins aren’t my favorite in applications such as this, but there were few enough that they simply provided an occasional burst of tart, fruity sweetness without covering up the more subtle cinnamon flavor. Hoping for a cinnamon bonanza, I will admit that my first bite was a bit of a letdown. Wondering if there was some mistake here, I could have sworn that it just tasted like a regular, generic bagel. Where was the cinnamon? Slowly but surely, bite after bite, a gentle hint of spice crept up on the tip of my tongue, creating a quiet background flavor that permeates the whole dough. Nice for a mild, spicy treat that would be an excellent match with cinnamon peanut butter or cinnamon “cream cheese,” it was slightly underwhelming by itself. However, it was very pleasant nonetheless, and I’m sure it would be a great way for someone accustomed to fairly plain breakfasts to spice things up a bit.

Speaking of plain breakfasts, the last bagel on my hit list was the classic, Plain. Expecting a bland mass of dough like the typical frozen bagels I’m accustomed to, the difference from baking these fresh really struck me again. This was pure, no-nonsense, yeast-raised bread, simple but perfect as is. Sure, it wasn’t flavorful in the traditional sense of intense or overwhelming tastes that can be described by individual components, but this was the most delicious plain bagel I can recall tasting, and whether you can define a specific “flavoring” that would explain why it leaves all the other similar types in the dust or not, it definitely has spoke loud and clear to my taste buds.

Being such an excellent blank canvas, these would go with anything you fancy – Sweet or savory, seed- or herb- toppings, jam, margarine, or even marmite, these bagels are the epitome of versatility. Even on by itself, the soft, chewy texture makes for a breakfast that the most refined palates could crave without shame. I had only planned to eat half of this one after downing such great quantities of carbs, but I was powerless to stop myself from devouring the whole thing!

With all of the hard work done for you, I think that the requested baking time isn’t asking too much of the average eater. Easily defined as a convenience food all the same, it doesn’t take a skilled baker to produce a fantastic, fresh bagel any more. I must warn you though: After trying this new breed of frozen bagel, it may be near impossible to return to the regular old rings that pale in comparison.

[Written for Go Dairy Free]

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Throw Me a Bone

Isis sure has been scarfing down her special birthday cookies with great enthusiasm ever since the first savory morsel appeared in her dish that morning. Since the recipe ended up making a relatively large batch for one lucky pup to eat on her own, I thought they would last her for a good few weeks at least, but clearly she had thoughts of her own that were quite a departure from mine. Reaching into the cupboard to reward her for being so cute, [Her best trick!] I was mystified when my searching hands emerged with nothing, as the container of biscuits was no where to be found. Seeing my dear little chow hound in action for so many years now, I guess I should have seen this coming, but the way that this tiny creature can put away massive amounts of food is still impressive all the same.

As luck would have it, one of Isis’ friends stopped by shortly after to wish her a belated birthday, excited to see his “favorite” basenji in town. Compliments on her lovely fur coat and deep brown eyes followed in quick succession, as though he was merely reading off of a grocery list, entirely impersonal and growing all the more pathetic by the minute. Well, it’s a good thing that we raised her to resist insincere praise like this, because she was completely unswayed by his thinly veiled ulterior motives. Certainly any good friend would be willing to share their birthday treats, especially those fantastic homemade cookies he’s heard so much about, right?

After informing him that he came too late to sample those treats himself, as if Isis had had any intention of sharing the wealth with such a leech, I expected him to scamper off just as quickly as he had dropped in. Much to my surprise, he still forced his way into our begrudgingly opened door and continued to ask for sustenance all the same. Gourmet or not, he came to be fed and was clearly not planning to leave until we obliged. Thinking fast so that we could rid ourselves of this parasite, I hastily exhumed an old box of stale, machine-made “treats” from the back pantry – They were composed more of sawdust than of edible material, but quality was not my greatest concern in this instant.

Hiding his disappointment well, I’m sure he knew very well that beggars can’t be choosers, and the lack-luster goods were consumed without complaint. Despite his rude intrusion, I guess we should still be thankful that he helped clear out more shelf space by taking those inedible bricks off our hands!

Mean, Green, and Crunchy

Thanks to modern technology, the processes by which even the simplest foods are made today tend to resemble industrial procedures much more than standard cookery. In countless factories across the country, questionable materials and chemicals are manufactured with the express purpose of being added into edibles, usually with little warning given to the consumer. Such practices reveal the evil potential for scientific experiments gone awry; Reason enough to eschew processed food altogether, without even considering the lacking nutritional content. Increasingly rare is the attempt to use advanced technologies for the greater good of a nation hungry for real food, but there are still some valiant souls who strive to put a better face on the typically intimidating and even threatening masses of machinery. What’s truly impressive are the ideas in this field being executed by Crispy Green, especially considering the end results.

Dried fruit is nothing new, as the peoples of all imaginable origins have been laying fresh fruits in the sun to dehydrate for centuries, without a single piece of special equipment necessary. Recently though, a new interpretation of the word “dried” has been taking this prehistoric practice by storm; Freeze-dried is the hottest thing since solar power, apparently. Employing special drying chambers and a good amount of labor, freeze-drying fruit isn’t the sort of thing you’d be able to do in your own home, which is a large selling point for this product in my eyes. Baking mixes and frozen meals are handy, but I’m perfectly capable of replicating them on my own, so I can easily do without them. Crispy fruits, though… Although it sounds standard, boring, and simple, it’s amazing what a little dose of science will do.

Pictured here are 3 out of 4 of the fruits available [I’m not a real fan of peaches in general, so that one was the odd man out], and let me tell you, the believable flavor packed into each tiny piece more than makes up for their unassuming appearance. I’m not kidding when I say the flavors are intense – Each new bite produced a jolt of bright, concentrated sweetness, so pure and unadulterated that it made me wonder how it could all fit into such a small package. Each little baggie holds only .36 ounces of actual consumables, a fact that I found unappealing at first, but the quality of those contents far outweighs that meager measurement. Excellent for health nuts and those striving towards a healthier lifestyle alike, everyone can appreciate how substantial the slices feel without carrying a hefty caloric content as well. Great for a quick snack on the go or a re-energizer before a workout, these crunchy fruit slices provide a wonderful burst of energy and flavor.

If you’re still confused about how each of these may taste, just go to your local grocery or farmer’s marker and take a bite of an apple, apricot, pineapple, or peach. Now, just imagine that taste being 100x times more powerful. There’s no other way to describe these than to compare them to the actual fruits they came from, and I am personally overjoyed by that. With all of the things that can go wrong through processing, these delicious gems have come out completely unscathed, and perhaps all the better for it.

Kracking the Code to Whole Grains

The words “whole grains” may have meant very little to Americans only two or three years ago, but now that buzz-worthy term is on the tips of all mindful mothers’ and health conscious consumers’ tongues. Only recently has it gained such attention, and a panic has seemed to spread through the concerned public as though there were no feasible remedy. How should one squeeze these whole grains into your diet? Where do they come from? Why were they lacking in the first place? Such a simple answer should have been elementary, but there are countless articles, books, and television programs popping up to teach us how to eat again. Contrary to the struggle that so many make it out to be, whole grains should be the least of your worries when it comes to eating healthy, because they really are quite delicious in their own right.

Sure, everyone has old standby comfort foods that aren’t so easy to exchange for more nutritious alternatives, but allow me to introduce you to a snacking dream in the form of crunchy, hearty crackers that make no bones about their wholesome nature. Crackers are a staple in every well-stocked pantry, and now there is no excuse to keep those stale, tasteless cardboard squares on hand when Dr. Kracker is pumping out salubrious flat breads that could rival any others on the shelves in both taste and nutrition.

Even the pickiest snackers will find something that appeals to them; Producing seven flavors in total, browsing for healthier morsels among Dr. Kracker’s products alone will banish any thoughts a healthier diet can be limiting. Be mindful of the labels though, as some of their offerings include cheese and thusly are not vegan. Of those that included no dairy that I was lucky enough to try, I flat-out loved them. Forget about looking for something more nourishing; These are damn good by any standards.

Taking care to source high-quality ingredients and present them in a pleasing manner, what struck me as being unique was the amount of attention paid to their shape. All flavors are made as the standard small, rectangular crackers, as well as larger flat breads, chips, and smaller individual packs as well. I only obtained one pack of flat breads in addition to four flavors of the regular “snacker crackers,” but since they have the same flavor anyways, it was nice just to have an idea of what they would look like in comparison.

Grabbing the first package my hands happened upon, I started by taking my chances with the Seedlander variety, and I’m sure it requires no further explanation than the picture to understand why it might be called that. Doused with whole pumpkin, sesame, and poppy seeds, the dark brown cracker holding it all seems like almost an afterthought. Taking a whiff from the open package, all that my nose could pick up on was the smell of seeds, which excites me to no end. Finally, a cracker that is more than just a vehicle for goopy, artery-clogging dips – There’s real substance to this one!

Crunching loudly enough to arouse the curiosity of people in adjoining rooms, it occurred to me that this is perhaps what the exact opposite of Wonder Bread. The thick slices of dense, crisp bread possess a hearty taste similar to rye bread, but coupled with all of the toppings, they are elevated to a whole new level. The deep undertones of poppy seeds seemed to dominate the flavor profile, but each individual element was far from forgotten. Even those seeds that didn’t share the spotlight contributed amazing texture, bringing added dimension to each bite. All of these hearty subjects did amount to a serious test of my teeth and jaws at times though; These crackers were so solid that I might not recommend them for the weak of dentistry.

Taking somewhat of a departure from the savory chips that I had anticipated, I discovered a package of unusual snackers that went by the name of Muesli Kribbons. Muesli I understand… But what makes these “kribbons?” Moreover, what are kribbons? No matter, the same sort of deep rye crackers made up the base for these sweeter munchies, but instead of a barrage of toppings, a more modest sprinkling of sesame seeds graced the exterior, revealing dark spots of dried fruits lurking just below the surface. Aided by the natural chewy tendencies of dried fruit, this one was a bit easier to just pop in my mouth and grind down like usual, but rest assured that absolutely no crunchiness was sacrificed to achieve this.

Powering through these with enthusiasm, I was surprise to take a closer look and discover the appearance of sunflower seeds every now and then tucked into the base of the cracker as well. An uneven distribution of fruits and seeds all over perturbed me at first, but I soon found that making every bite just a little bit different was a huge draw, as it kept me coming back for more. Only very lightly sweet and more tart if anything due to the choice of fruits, I could very easily see myself enjoying these for breakfast instead of a bowl of cereal.

Picking up a farer-skinned cracker next by the name of Klassic 3 Seed, I can’t help but find the cutesy use of “K” instead of “C” to is starting wearing on me, but luckily the goods aren’t in the package for long, and the taste more than makes up for their creative spelling. Resembling the Seedlander in many aspects, it boasted a fairly similar flavor as well, but with slight nuances that effectively held my rapt attention. Flax seeds replaced the previously dominant poppy seeds, but this time seemed take the place of a silent vowel. Contributing mainly to aesthetic appearance and nutrition, the flax allowed other seeds to shine instead of hogging all the glory, while simultaneously allowing the more subtle nutty flavors typical of whole wheat goods to quietly sneak into the background. Having more restrained flavors, I could more easily see this one being paired with a hummus or other sort of dip, whereas I would have been completely content to eat the former completely unadorned. While I may prefer the Seedlander to these overall, I would certainly not be averse to picking up another box of the Klassic all the same.

Reaching once more into the depths of my cracker horde, I pulled out the final flavor within my grasp. Although it definitely had some tough acts to follow, this one needed no introduction all the same. Seeded Spelt really lived up to its name, so even though I’ve never had any definitive spelt-product before and therefore couldn’t specifically describe its unique taste, but it is definitely a pleasant change of pace. Lighter and less powerful in general, this would be another good cracker to be paired with some sort of topping or spread to kick it up another notch. A simple, solid, all-purpose cracker, this could be the flavor that the less adventurous might feel more at home with, if easing into new foods is the way to overcome initial reluctance. Aided in the textual department by the addition of toothsome sunflower and sesame seeds, they were quite pleasant to nibble, but I don’t think that this is the one I would come running back to first.

My only small complaint is about the packaging for the snacker crackers. I like the shape and design of the boxes, but just musing about the ingredients and turning one upside down to read the label unleashed a downpour of loose seeds and crumbs… Directly into my keyboard below! Still, I can forgive that tiny flaw because I don’t think that the crackers would really hang around in that package for too long in the first place. I sure know that even though I had a huge box of these nibbles packed away in the back hall closet, my supply dwindled down to mere crumbs much faster than I had anticipated!

If there was ever a processed food to dispel the myths that whole grains are difficult and distasteful to fit into the standard person’s diet, these crackers would get my vote. Instead of serving weak party platters full of insubstantial dusty squares comprised mainly of salt and trans-fats that are truly nothing but filler, why not venture out of the realm of the mediocre and try dishing out real food? Take the hint from your gagging guests and end the suffering – Beneficial to your health and your taste buds, whole grains are the way to go.

[Written for Go Dairy Free]

Putting the “Art” Back in Pop Tarts

No matter how much I love to cook and bake, it seems like my efforts are rarely destined for my own mouth. Birthday cakes and bake sale cookies flood the kitchen in a torrent, flying out of the oven faster than I can slide more in, let alone snag a sample for myself. Not a minute to cool on the counter, they parade out the door to their various destinations, never to be seen again, along with whatever platter accompanied them. Though it’s funny to think that perhaps the recipients were so ravenous as to eat through the sweets and straight into the plate, I’ve lost more than my fair share of serving ware this way. Glass and ceramic slabs aside, the real loss is spare time in which to prepare food for myself, since dirtying more dishes or firing up the oven yet again are rarely appealing by the time meals come around after my usual baking frenzies.

Meals usually consist of simple things straight out of the fridge such as plain old veggies and fruits, or if the pantry’s goods are particularly alluring when I scavenge through them, the typical assortment of cereals and junk foods. Pulling these items from the far ends of the food pyramid keeps it all in balance, right? Well, don’t tell me if I’m wrong, because the convenience factor is often more valuable than the nutrition at this point. Running around madly to keep up with school, writing, crafting, etc, it’s good enough that I have enough fuel to keep running sometimes. In fact, it was my lucky day when I came downstairs for breakfast and saw a delicious looking toaster tart already waiting for me, unwrapped and clearly waiting to be eaten.

Well, I certainly didn’t need any further invitation (Lest the real owner of that treat return to claim it) and I reached down hastily without further though. Immediately I noticed that it felt different than your garden-variety hand pie, so I took a closer look at my newly acquired prize. Giving it a gentle squeeze to examine what sort of filling could be residing between these odd sheets of dough, I must have looked as though I stuck my finger in an electrical socket when I reeled back in surprise at what came out.

Good thing I didn’t absent mindedly shovel the whole thing into my mouth! Turns out it wasn’t a sweet snack at all, but a cell phone cozy instead! I swear, only in my house do such absurd possibilities exist! However, if you’d like such strange occurrences in your own home, you can now make your very own faux pop tart using the following pattern. Very easy and straight forward, even beginning knitters will find it to be a breeze to complete, with fabulous results. Although it won’t satiate your craving for sweets, it will satisfy your need to knit!

Please note that this pattern calls for color work called “intarsia,” and when switching colors the two strands of yarn must be twisted together or else the piece will not hold together, as many earlier crafters have found. For further help on color work, please refer to this video tutorial here.

With US size 5 straight needles and tan worsted weight yarn, CO 15 sts

Beginning with a k row, knit in st st for 42 rows

K2 sts in tan, switch to pink yarn and k11 sts, switch back to tan for the remaining 2 sts

Repeat this color scheme in st st for 25 rows

Starting with a p row, switch back to using only tan yarn, and knit in st st for an additional 5 rows

BO

To assemble, fold your long rectangle in half and sew up the two longest sides using a whip stitch. Embroider rainbow-colored bugle beads for sprinkles onto the pink area, or get creative – Try different decorations like embroidering squiggles for contrasting icing, or interesting beads for shaped sprinkles! With different colors and materials, the possibilities are endless! For extra security, sew a small snap onto the inside at the very top of the pouch, to prevent your phone from falling out.

Keep those phones warm and comfortable, but resist the urge to chow down on your new toaster tart! They may have plenty of fiber, but I’m sure you can still find a more nutritious breakfast instead!

Beautiful Blooms

Is every spring quite this gorgeous? It’s hard to believe that nature can ever look so perfect in real life; Even after seeing it with my own eyes, the pictures look like some sort of wild fantasy that could only come true in dreams. Nothing could compare to the actual experience, but since all of you lovely readers can’t be here with me, here’s just the faintest idea from what I was able to capture…