How to make perfect Bread

I have been wanting to make this post for quite sometime and just never got around to it. I am in the process of baking today and thought again about this post so here it finally is. One thing that I am pretty good at is baking. Even my mother in law who is one of the best cooks I have known asked me to teach her how to make bread like mine. What a compliment right? I hope that my tips help each one of you achieve the perfect bread from now on.

How much yeast to use? The general yeast rule is 1 tablespoon per 3-1/2 cups of flour. You can use less yeast (I have) but the rise will be a bit lower.

Proofing Yeast: surprisingly hardly anyone seems to do this. This is one of the main things I get questioned on. Just because you have yeast it does not mean its alive. You should always keep your yeast stored in the fridge. To make sure your yeast is alive add the amount you will be using in a small bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of warm water, do not use hot that will kill it and do not use cold it will not activate. Then add 1/4 teaspoon of sugar so it has something to eat. Wait for 5 minutes and you should see foam, that means its alive. If not throw that yeast out and buy some more. You should do this every time you use yeast. Just add the mixture to your recipe as usual.

How to get the perfect dough? I hear so many people say that every time they make bread the dough is way to sticky. You should never add the entire liquid amount that the recipe calls for. This saves a lot of time. What I do is add all the dry ingredients then I add the liquid a bit at a time until I get the perfect consistency. Some recipes may work perfect for others but the same amount just may not work for you. You may end up using less or more liquid.

Dough Rising: A lot of things effect the rise of your dough. After you roll your dough into a ball you should pat the outside (do not work in) with oil so that the dough is not hard to work with after the rise. I use sunflower oil. You HAVE to place the dough somewhere warm. Do not use a glass or steel bowl they are cold and the dough may not rise. I use a plastic mixing bowl. I then place the dough in a large bowl and cover with a towel. Take the bowl anywhere in the house that is really warm. For me that is the front foyer and the hottest place in the house. I always just sit the bowl down and go about my business. I have yet to be disappointed. The idea temperature is 70-75.

Kneading: Some breads call for it others do not. Try to follow the directions when it comes to the kneading. Some people use mixers or food processors but honestly my favorite tools are my hands.

How to get moist breads and cakes? I always fill a cake pan to the top with water and sit in on the bottom oven rack. This creates a moist environment for the bread or cake to bake in which results in a really delicious piece when your finished.

How do I know if its done? Nothing works better then the old fashion toothpick test. You should always have them on hand. Anytime you want to check a baked good insert a toothpick into the thickest part. It it comes out wet stick it back in the oven. It not then its finished.

I hope my baking tips work for you let me know if you try any.

Herb Roasted Chicken

What an amazing meal you will have when you make this dish. This is a pretty easy dish to make with loads of fresh flavors. I find something very satisfying when standing at my counter chopping fresh herbs up. I am sure anyone who loves to cook can relate to this. This dish goes along well with so many things such as salad, rice, vegetable or pasta.

1 medium-large whole chicken
1 small bunch fresh mint leaves
1 small bunch fresh dill
1 small bunch fresh cilantro leaves
1 small bunch parsley leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1 small onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves

1. Pre-heat oven to 425F. In a blender add mint, dill, cilantro, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, onion and garlic. Mix until a smooth paste forms. Clean chicken with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.

2. Make a few small slits on chicken skin and carefully loosen the skin from the meat. Stuff herb mixture in between the meat and the chicken. Rub remaining mixture all over chicken. Place into roasting pan and cover. Bake for 1 hour, remove lid and place oven on high broil. Cook until chicken is golden about 5 minutes.

Yields: 4 servings

Chicken Gravy

Chicken Gravy is extremely easy to make and is a must on the table when you do serve most chicken dishes. You not only end up not wasting the chicken leftovers but you get this savory side dish as well. When I make this I just add the flour into the roasting pan where the drippings are and whisk, yes its that simple.

drippings from 1 whole chicken
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1. Add 2 tablespoons of flour into the pan where the drippings are. Whisk until gravy is smooth.

Yields: 3/4 cup

Cream of Vegetable Soup

This is a great dish to serve along side any chicken meal or just to have alone for a warm lunch on a chilly day. This is a Southern classic that has became popular all over the world. You can find this dish on many restaurant menus these days. Of course you can substitute any vegetables you may like but keep in mind they they should go well with a cream based soup.

3 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon corn syrup
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 cup chicken broth
1-1/2 cups water
1 carrot, finely diced
1/4 cup frozen peas
1 potato, diced
1 pint half-and-half or heavy cream

1. In a 3-quart saucepan on medium heat, melt butter. Add onion, garlic, and corn syrup. Simmer for 1 minute.

2. Add flour, white pepper, salt,basil, chicken broth, water, peas, carrots and potatoes. Bring to a full boil then reduce heat to low. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes occasionally stirring.

Yields: 2 servings