Whole Wheat Bread That Doesn’t Suck

whole wheat bread
After many, many unsuccessful attempts, success!
So, OK, if you follow any of the food news about azodicarbonamide in bread. If you don’t, just know it’s completely safe… in the USA. Most other countries ban its use in food products, and the FDA even admits it causes cancer in female rats. NPR takes an objective look at the chemical (used as a dough conditioner) that the makers of yoga mats also use in the manufacturing process.

How unhealthy is azodicarbonamide? In all honesty, I don’t know. I forgot to get my chemistry degree in college, and I know all too well how article after article about all the things that can kill you has a tendency to make you want to go get a Happy Meal, head to the beach, and lather up with baby oil while drinking gallons of diet soda mixed with moonshine. 

I also know baking bread isn’t like making a time machine; we shouldn’t need 1.21 gigawatts and laboratory-grade plutonium to turn yeast, flour and water into bread. That, coupled with the meditative effects baking has on me, prompted me to search for a bread recipe to replace the four dollar, store-bought, potentially carcinogenic loaf of bread.

The thing is, gluten is a fickle master, and while I have no problem making white bread, I actually don’t eat white bread. I prefer whole wheat, which is a cruel master. After several failed attempts – which were harder on all my test subjects than they ever were on me – I think I’ve found a recipe that works pretty damn well. I’ve adapted it from the King Arthur Flour web site.

1 packet active dry yeast dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water
1 to 1 1/8 cups lukewarm water (this will vary depending on humidity)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup molasses (honey or maple syrup should work)
3 1/2 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
1/4 cup nonfat dried milk
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Combine all of the ingredients; stir until dough pulls away from bowl.

Let the dough rest for 20 minutes. According to King Arthur, “this gives the flour a chance to absorb some of the liquid, and the bran to soften.” Since my chief complaint about most recipes I’ve tried is tough, chewy, overly dense loaves, this step is crucial.

Oil a glass cutting board (or other non-porous surface) and knead the bread for five minutes. Do not knead too long. Once the dough turns into a smooth ball, stop. If it starts to get stretchy, you’ve gone too far.

Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with a towel. It will rise (don’t expect it to double); it should look puffy, and this can take anywhere from one and two hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.

Oil a loaf pan (I sprat mine with cooking spray) and shape the dough to fit. Put the dough in the pan and cover it loosely with plastic wrap sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.

Allow the dough to rise until the center of the dough goes about one inch above the pan rim. In my Florida kitchen, I let the dough rise for three hours, although that was more a convention of us going out to get oysters than anything else.

Bake in a 350º oven for 45 minutes. After 20 minutes, ten the pan with aluminum foil. This, according to King Arthur, prevents over-browning.

King Arthur also promises the finished loaf will register 190º. Mine never went above 180º, and that was after an hour.

Cool on a wire rack; do not slice until completely cool. Store in a freezer-safe bag, because whatever you don’t use in the first few days can be frozen before it goes bad (no chemicals means the bread has no preservatives, which means it won’t have a Twinkie-like shelf life).

This is the only whole wheat bread I’ve made that tastes like bread, and good bread at that.

If one loaf yields 16 slices, here’s the nutritional information for one slice (courtesy, again, of King Arthur):

Calories: 150
Fat: 3.5 g
Sodium: 200 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 24 g
     Dietary Fiber: 3 g
     Sugars: 5 g
Protein: 5 g

For those of you following Weight Watchers, one slice costs 4 PointsPlus, but as with most whole wheat breads, it’s filling enough that you can cut a slice in half and make a fine sandwich. 

Shelly’s Chili (The Wilsonator)

Oddly, my Italian family didn’t make a lot of chili. Which we totally should have: it has everything in it I love. EVERYTHING. However, my friend Shelly DOES make chili. She actually makes all soups like nobody’s business (whatever that means… but it sounds good!), but her chili is the best.
After dragging her over to my house many, many times to watch her make the chili, I broke down and asked her to just send me the recipe and directions. I’ve included them as she sent them below, but first, read the notes below the ingredient list:

Ground turkey – one pound
Kidney beans – one can
White beans – one can
Green Tabasco
Chicken broth (low sodium, 100% USDA organic) – one carton
Worcestershire sauce
Apple cider vinegar
Green Tabasco

Chopped or whole plum tomatoes – one can
Any other fresh, local veggies – squash, zucchini

Sweet and Spices
Brown sugar
Onion Powder

Fresh herbs

1. I typically have low-sodium Worcestershire in the house, so I’m liberal with it. If you don’t use the low sodium stuff, be careful because it is salty, and since you add it early you’ll really bring out that salt flavor by the time you’re done. 
2. I use the lowest fat ground turkey I can find. This eliminates trying to drain fat off the top later.
3. The apple cider vinegar is crucial for taste. I typically use at least 1/4 bottle of the Trader Joe’s stuff and add more as I go.
4. I use either peeled stewed plum tomatoes or other no-sugar-added ones. I’ve also had incredible luck with the canned chopped tomatoes that have onions and garlic in the can – Del Monte, I believe – but they have high fructose corn syrup, which I really try to avoid. I like food in my food.
5. I use brown sugar when I have it, but if I don’t have it I add a pinch of Xylitol. Just a pinch. 
6. I use my food processor to slice everything. Don’t make things tough.
7. If you follow Weight Watchers’ Points Plus, this is about five PointsPlus a cup (since the measurements vary on things like corn, it could be more if you go heavy on corn or if you use tomatoes with added sugar), but if you’re using Simply Filling, these are all power foods, so there you go. 
8. I usually make cornbread to go with, because, well, cornbread. Cornbread! ‘Nuff said.


Ground turkey: brown with garlic, onion, celery, carrot, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, lots of cumin, paprika and maybe onion powder and a good amount of apple cider vinegar. And that green tabasco you have. 
You can toss some fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, even basil) in then as well, and add a little bit of your chicken broth here too. 
Cook it up so the veggies are tender and everything gets nice and happy, then add the rest of the chicken broth (one container should be enough) and also add softer veggies here like zucchini, squash, corn, etc. Whatever you want. Also add in canned tomatoes (I like chopped and/or whole plum tomatoes – check sugar content) and canned beans. I like red kidney beans, but you could also use the white ones, which are softer.  
If you didn’t use tomatoes with sugar added, you might want a little bit of sugar (I use brown, but whatever). I like the chili a little bit on the sweet side, and balance it with a little more vinegar, if needed. I also like to add more fresh cilantro at the end. 
That’s about it. Once you get the last veggies and beans and tomatoes in there, you can let it simmer as long as you want, or eat it right away. But I do like to babysit it a little and check the flavors, add things as needed. 

Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oats

Steel cut oatmeal made in a slow cooker

I love steel-cut oatmeal. The problem, though, is while I’ll gladly spend hours on a tomato gravy or making macaroni, I have no desire to watch a pot of oatmeal for almost an hour. This means I usually only make oatmeal on days off where I have nothing else to do. Since we bought the house, that means… never. I make it never.

So when I saw on Pinterest that you could make steel cut oatmeal in a slow cooker, it piqued my curiosity. The recipes there have things like cream (too rich) or carrots (just… no. I love carrots, but no) so I’m posting my own, simple, boring, delightful, tasty recipe.

4 cups water
1 cup steel-cut oats
(I tripled this with no ill effects, in hopes that since I didn’t use dairy in the recipe the oatmeal would last in the fridge)

Cook on low for nine hours

Add salt and a splash (less than a teaspoon) of fat-free milk and whatever fruit you want (I guess you could even add carrots, but if you do, please don’t tell me. I will judge you.)

The Good News: It tastes every bit as good as the stuff on the stove, plus you wake up to breakfast-y smells.

The Bad News: One half cup has seven PointsPlus values. Which doesn’t stop me. My Trader Joe’s O’s and milk amounted to about four PointsPlus. This is more. To be fair, a true serving of steel-cut oats is only 1/4 cup, but it just looks so… tiny. I had a half cup this morning and did everything but lick the bowl (my face wouldn’t fit).

The Verdict: There’s no way I’m not making this and eating it, although I guess I’ll try and see how I do eating only 1/4 cup. I’m the first to admit I have issues with eating in moderation. Weight Watchers has been great for me in that respect – I’m eating the same things, just less of them – but I still get a little start every now and then when I see how high some of my “healthy” foods are in PointsPlus values.