Sunday, October 6, 2013

Farmer's Pie: One More Way to Use Leftovers

Lately I've been trying to do a better job of using leftovers without just reheating the same meal over again. I had some pork tenderloin and mashed potatoes from a meal earlier this week. Since I went with stir-fry to repurpose the leftovers last week, I decided on a combo of pot pie and shepherd's pie for this week, using only things I already had on hand.

First of all, technically shepherd's pie is made with lamb, and if you use beef instead it's called cottage pie. I decided mine should be called "farmer's pie" since it was made with pig!

I added a teaspoon or two of olive oil to a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. I diced up half an onion and a stalk of celery I had in the refrigerator.

When I went to get a clove of garlic to mince, I realized I was out - exactly the reason I like having this minced garlic on hand in the fridge. Just a half teaspoon and we're in business!  

While the onions and celery got tender, I cut the pork into small bite-sized pieces. When I cooked it earlier in the week, I left it a little pink in the center so it was perfect for adding to another dish now without getting overcooked. I set the pork aside for the moment.

Next I found some mixed vegetables in the freezer. I added about a cup to the pan and let them cook to warm up, just a couple of minutes. 

Then I added a couple of tablespoons of flour to the veggies, stirring and cooking for another couple of minutes.

 At this point I would normally have added 2 cups of box chicken broth but I didn't have any on hand. I added 2 teaspoons of chicken base to 2 cups of hot water and added that instead. I turned the heat up to bring it to a boil so it would thicken.

Once the mixture had thickened, I added the pork so it could get heated through. While that happened, I sprayed a couple of dishes with nonstick spray.

I also chopped up a couple of pieces of bacon I spotted when I looked in the freezer for the vegetables, and added it to the pan as well.

I rarely need more than a piece or two of bacon for a recipe. The last time I needed bacon, I cooked up the whole package and just popped what I didn't need into a storage bag and stored it in the freezer. It works well any time I need crumbled bacon for a recipe.

I tasted the mixture for seasoning. Because I used the chicken base instead of broth, I didn't need any more salt. I added a good amount of pepper and thyme for a little more flavor.

Once everything was warm, I poured the mixture evenly into the two dishes.

Then I took the leftover mashed potatoes, divided them evenly in two, and pressed each half into a thin patty to "float" on top of the mixture in the dishes.

 I placed them on the dishes and sprinkled them with paprika to add a little color. (This is pronounced with an extra syllable "pap-a-REEK-a" if you're from parts of the south)

I put the dishes on a baking sheet and baked at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until they started to bubble around the edges.

I forgot to take a picture of them when they came out of the oven, but they looked essentially the same as this, just a little more golden.

We really liked it and I think this method will come in handy in the winter months.  It would work with leftover chicken, beef or pork and you could also throw in small amounts of whatever veggies are in the fridge or freezer that otherwise would get thrown away.

This particular dish also happens to be healthy, since the meat is lean and there is very little added fat. If I'd used my usual low sodium chicken broth instead of the chicken base it would be even better for you.

Anyway, I count this as a success and look forward to more "pies" this fall and winter!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Aunt Shirley and the Dees Women

Last weekend, my mom and I joined two of my aunts (Peggy and Patt) and a cousin (Susie) to spend a day cleaning my Aunt Shirley's house. As a child, I never imagined my feisty, sharp-tongued, hardworking aunt would ever need my help.

Here she is about three years ago along with my Uncle Bully.  (Yep, that's his name, and well-deserved!)

Now she suffers from a form of dementia. She has a lost look in her eyes. When my Mom told her I was along for the day, she asked me who I belonged to, though I spent many weeks at her home through the years. (The "who do you belong to" question is a common one among us cousins, but I've never been asked that by an aunt or uncle.)

But that's recent history.

Way, way, back, in rural south Georgia, there was a young woman who was one child of ten. She grew up in various places, mostly in and near Worth County. Her father was a sharecropper, and later worked on dairy farms.

There were lots of kids at home and not much - if any - money. But they always had clothes to wear and food to eat. My mom says she never felt deprived since they were like most everyone else around them. They were taught (mostly by example...and switches they selected themselves) fear God, work hard, and take care of family.

Aunt Shirley is the one on the back row, second from the left. Aunt Peggy is in the front on the left. My mom is in the front, far right. If you know my family, you'll see how much my niece looks like my mom here. (I love that about family: the resemblances pop up everywhere!)

I love this picture. I love that my older aunts (married, with kids of their own by then) are dressed as if for church, and my uncles look a little more casual, including the baby, Uncle Robert. All of them are fun, friendly people, which does NOT show up here. I guess having your picture taken was serious business in 1953!

Later, apparently bouffant hairdos were all the rage.

My Grandma Dees is seated, and from left to right are Mom, Aunt Shirley, Aunt Margaret, and Aunt Peggy.  I'm going to guess this is the late 60's since my Mom looked like this when I was born. I don't actually remember it, of course....I've seen pictures. ;-)

These women have had a lot of influence on my life and who I am today. A LOT!  Among a million other things....Grandma taught me to show hospitality and love through food; Mom taught me to value family; Aunt Shirley taught me to work hard; Aunt Margaret taught me to sacrifice for family; Aunt Peggy taught me the value of having someone who will always think you're perfect just the way you are.

That was the 50s and 60s. Here they are in the late 90s!

In the background is Aunt Shirley's house. I've always loved it.  It's sad to see it in disrepair now. I used to imagine how I would live in it someday.

That, of course, was before I realized that I'm not the fixer-upper type. Well, and that pesky little detail of actual ownership....

OK, one more picture. Here are Aunt Patt (a voluntary Dees by virtue of marrying my Uncle Wallace), Aunt Shirley, and my cousin Susie. This is at a baby shower for my sister. Since Grayson is almost 12 now, you can do the math.

It was Susie's idea for us to get together at Aunt Shirley's last weekend. She's a super hardworking wife and mom who has, by necessity, learned patience through life's challenges. And the woman is a cleaning machine! 

Many summers, my sister and I spent a week at Aunt Shirley's house. We helped pick vegetables from the huge garden (while whining), clean the house (while whining), hang laundry out on the line (while whining), shell peas (at least we got to sit down), and shuck corn (you guessed it - while whining). OK, before you judge, let me tell you there was no air conditioning in the house, and when you shuck fresh corn outside, the silks stick all over your sweaty self and there are WORMS!

A couple of those years, Susie came too. (I think she now goes by Susan, but she's still Susie to me!) Those were the special years, when we had someone else to help come up with new things to do. And as it turns out, when three little girls whine about shucking an entire truck bed full of corn, something magical happens and your uncle tells you to JUST GO AWAY! And, because you are little girls, you DO! And without one bit of guilt.

Anyway, although last Saturday at Aunt Shirley's was hard, it was also wonderful. I spent a whole day with some of my extended family. We worked together, laughed together, were sad together.  We shared a few meaningful glances and found that it's still hard to get much past Aunt Shirley. We remembered our times together, and worried about the future together. And that's the key; we were together

These days, when we are so busy just getting from one day to the next, we don't always take time to just be together. Cleaning and organizing is physical work, but we are quite capable of talking and catching up at the same time. And somehow, even if we aren't talking about deep, personal issues, we're still bonding. My Aunt Shirley didn't always know who I was throughout the day. But she knew that I was family. And that she is loved. 

Maybe that's the secret of Aunt Shirley and the Dees women. They aren't touchy-feely. They might not sit around and share their deepest thoughts, fears, and triumphs. They probably won't ask you, "How do you feel about that?" when you mention your latest struggle. But they will pray for you. They will come alongside you and will often offer practical help. Just know, if they offer advice, it's likely to be of the "buck up" variety. 

I'm glad I went to Aunt Shirley's last weekend. I hope I remember its lessons.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Choose Your Companions

"Choose your companions before you choose your road."   
Mark Burnett

I heard this quote last week and it immediately resonated with me.

Now, as a believer I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to choose my road first. You know, the straight and narrow. But well, I guess I did choose Jesus first, so maybe it works after all.

Anyway, I have some great traveling companions in this life: husband, family, friends, coworkers. They make all the difference.

First came the family. I had two hardworking, loving Christian parents who only wanted the best for us. I have a sister I love and with whom I played house, school, Barbies, Lite Brites, and Monopoly. She's added a great husband and two amazing kids to the family. My mom has even recently added to our number by marrying into the Knowles clan, which is full of fun, friendly people. Not to mention the nearly innumerable aunts, uncles and cousins we already had!

Of course, I didn't choose them; I'm just blessed to have them.

I did choose my husband. Or maybe he chose me. Whichever it was, it's worked out pretty well! He loves and supports me, works hard, and is lots of fun. He knows the worst and loves me anyway. I am a better person today than I would be without him.

I've had some great friends all along the way, from childhood to now. They have encouraged me to good behavior and embarrassed me out of bad. They have told me the truth, and laughed and cried with me. A big part of who I am today has been influenced by my friends.

I even get to work with great people, many of whom are also my friends. How often does that happen?

Back to the quote. It means that who you're with is even more important than where you're going. Again, I'm not completely sure it holds up if you take it literally, but I love the sentiment. The people with whom we choose to spend our time influence us greatly. They can encourage or discourage, support or undermine, energize or drain, build up or tear down, exhort or criticize, love or hate. It's important that we choose our companions wisely.

But, you know? It's also important that we are good companions. Could those around me say that I make them a better person just by knowing me? Do I bring out the best in them? Do I "rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep?" (Rom. 12:15) Do I consider others more important than myself? (Phil. 2:3) Do I act with kindness and forgiveness? (Eph. 4:32) If I'm honest, I have to say not often enough.

How about you?

Monday, August 5, 2013

DIY Terra Cotta Servers

I like crafts. Unfortunately, mine can often be mistaken for 3rd grade vacation Bible school projects. So, it was really brave (or delusional) of me to plan to use homemade projects as serving pieces at a shower we gave recently.

I was watching "The Chew" and saw them making serving pieces of terra cotta pots. Here's the link to the segment:

I made a few minor changes in mine. Theirs had the pots turned right-side-up, but I thought they would be more stable with the widest part of the pot down. Also, I tried to make the pots as small as possible compared to the saucers so I would maximize serving space, but still maintain stability.

I went to Home Depot and Pike Nursery and bought saucers and pots. No one seemed to mind as I used a space on the shelf to try out pieces for my servers. I mixed and matched pots and saucers until I had what I wanted. I got materials for one three-tier server with each tier smaller than the one below, one two-tier server with saucers of the same size, and one plain saucer to use as a tray.

I washed all of the saucers and pots with soapy water and let them dry for a day.

Next, I realized I wanted to seal the terra cotta so it wouldn't stain with moisture, and also to produce a consistent color.

I got a spray can of terra cotta sealer at Michael's. An employee said the sealer was food safe, but the can didn't mention it at all. I decided I would line the servers with cloth napkins, parchment, or saran wrap just in case.

When it came time to seal the pieces, I started to spread paper on the garage floor. Then I thought, "Why should I be uncomfortable in my crafting?" I set one cardboard box on top of another in my basement utility room. The room is not quite climate controlled, but it's close enough and there was no breeze to blow the spray around!

I used two coats of the sealer.

Once the sealer was no longer tacky (within one hour), I assembled the servers.

I plugged in my new mini glue gun so it could begin heating up.

A glue gun is pretty important in the crafting world!

This one worked fine but leaked a little. Yeah for paper towels!

My impatience sometimes works against me, as it did in this instance. I didn't take the time to mark the center of the saucers so I could center the pots inside them. I decided to just eyeball it.

(Hmmm, could this have something to do with the often childlike quality of my crafts?)

I started with the two-tier server. I set out the bottom saucer, then added hot glue to the rim of the pot that would sit on top.

Working quickly, I set the pot  in the center of the saucer and pressed. The glue dries really fast, so hurry!

Then I added glue to the other end of the pot.
I quickly placed the other saucer on top to form the top tier and pressed firmly.

This one turned out fairly even and centered. 

Next, I used the same method for the three-tier server. I had three different sizes of saucers and two sizes of pots. This one did NOT turn out quite so centered, so we had to place it strategically on the table so as not to call attention to its wonkiness.  

Mark the center of your saucers (on the top and bottom as appropriate) if you do this! I think the drainage holes in the pots would make it fairly simple to line up by eye.

Anyway, here's the three-tier one on its good side!

Obviously nothing more than glaze was needed for the serving tray.

A few things I learned and am passing along to you:

1)     As already stated, mark the center point on your saucers. To be really accurate, you could run a small dowel (or chopstick) through the drainage hole of the pot to help line up the hole with the center mark.

2)      After the shower, I was loading the larger server into the car and the top two tiers fell off of the base. Nothing was harmed, but I realized that for longevity, I should have used an adhesive made especially for ceramics.

3)     If possible, pass up pots that have stickers on them. One of my pots had a sticker-shaped mark left on it even after it was washed and sealed. I used it anyway. (Once again, childlike quality.....)

Anyway, overall I was very happy with how they turned out and how easy they were to do. I highly recommend this project.

Here's a picture of the table at the shower.

Go forth and craft!

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Lesson From Dad

At our small group summer Bible study, we begin with dinner. Well, of course we do. We’re Southern women and several of us are Baptist, so really we have no choice in the matter!

Anyway, the conversation over dinner the other night got around to our first cars.  Most of us had similar stories. Anyone who knows me well has probably heard about my first two cars. The first one was a Volkswagon Dasher, school-bus yellow, with an enormous steering wheel because it had no power steering. I think I only had it for about a year before it made the trip to the junkyard.

My second car was a 1978 Honda. I don’t even know if it had a model name; it was about the size of a Smart Car. It had a manual transmission (with a choke, no less) and had after-market radio and air-conditioning. Sometimes the engine stopped while I was driving and I had to pop the clutch to get it started again. At one point, I had to carry gallons of water with me because the radiator leaked and it wasn’t worth repairing. I drove it for a few years before it too made its way to the junkyard.

My friend's dad was a mechanic. He wouldn’t let her ride with me in one of them (I think it was the Dasher) because he didn’t think it was safe. When I reported this to my dad in the hopes that I could guilt him into getting me a better car, he just shrugged and smiled. I even accused him of not caring about my safety: again, the shrug and the smile. So frustrating!

Now, I’ve known my entire adult life that I had those cars because that’s what my parents could afford for me to have. I probably really even knew it then. I’ve enjoyed sharing stories with friends, each trying to one-up the other with “my car was so bad….” stories.  I’ve felt sorry for those whose parents gave them new cars because they had no stories to tell; they had no cars with “character” in their pasts.

Only this week as I reflected on that dinner conversation, did I get a new revelation.

It started with me remembering how one lady said she didn’t have a car at all. Another had to share a car with her siblings. My sister and I each had our own cars so obviously we were better off than lots of people even If I didn’t appreciate it then.

Then I remembered how most of my life I’ve heard that we tend to relate to God according to our relationship with our earthly fathers. If you had a loving, caring father, it's easier for you to see God as a loving, caring God. 

Somehow (can you say, Holy Spirit?) I put the thoughts about my first cars together with the truths about earthly fathers and God. For the first time, I realized that maybe the reason that I have been able to trust God even when bad things happen, is that I trusted that my dad loved me and wanted the best for me. Even when I didn’t understand it.

I accused my dad of not caring for my safety by giving me bad cars to drive. I didn’t really believe that and he knew it. But he never felt the need to defend his decisions. He never said that’s all we could afford and I should be grateful to have a car at all. He never took away the keys and said, “you can drive this car or have none at all.”  He just shrugged and smiled, and deep down I knew, because of a million other things, that he did love me and care for my safety. I just didn’t understand it all then.

I really think that because he didn’t think I always deserved an explanation for his decisions and plans, I can now accept most things without losing trust in God. I may not understand things, or like them, or think they were the best option (after all, I usually have a plan and surely mine is the best!), but deep down, I know God loves me and wants what’s best for me. Even when I don’t understand it.

I didn’t understand when my dad was diagnosed with leukemia at 56 and died at 58. Why him and not some nasty person who would never follow God? Why don’t my niece and nephew get to know him? My dad was faithful and good and steady. I have a vivid memory of walking with him through the hospital during one of his lengthy stays. He was bald due to chemo, wearing a hospital gown, and wheeling an IV pole. He stopped to talk to a woman who was crying outside one of the rooms, asked her if he could help, and prayed with her. How could God take this man and not someone else?

I didn’t understand why it had to happen, but I never really lost trust in God. I knew deep down that His ways are higher, that He loved me and wanted what’s best for me.

It's pretty cool that I can still learn from him, even though he's been gone for over ten years. Thank you, Dad.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mundane Chores = God’s Blessings

 I’m doing Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study, Gideon, with some friends this summer. It’s only been two weeks of homework and already I’m getting so much out of it!

As part of the study, she asks us to summarize what we learn each day in a “tweet” with the hash tag LessonsFromGideon. It’s something you can do even if you don’t have a Twitter account: just record your lesson in the workbook.  I can’t come up with one every day, but the process of trying to create a brief summary of the day’s study helps me solidify it in my mind.

Last week, we studied about how Gideon, the most insignificant member of his family, was doing the most mundane of tasks in the most mundane of places when God came to him. God called him a “valiant warrior” and told him to deliver Israel from their oppressors, the Midianites (Judges 6).

One lesson from that day was that my boring, thankless daily tasks today (think making the bed, doing laundry, cooking dinner, washing dishes, routine jobs at work) may be preparing me for a greater calling in the future
He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much,” Luke 16:10.  
Am I so faithful in the routine items of the day that God will trust me with something great for Him and His Kingdom?

The bigger “A-ha!” for me, though, was the idea that those mundane, boring things that I often dread or just take for granted, actually represent great blessings from God.

That bed I make means I have a safe, warm (or cool) place to sleep every night.

The laundry I do means I have clothes to wear, and lots of them.

The dinner I cook for my husband means I have a husband who loves me, provides for us, and comes home to me at night.

The dishes I wash (actually, load into the dishwasher) mean I have a nice home to live in, with modern appliances.

The routine jobs at work mean I have a job and that I find meaning in it.

What else do I take for granted each day that actually stems from a blessing from God? After all, 
“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights….” James 1:17
How much better and more fulfilling would my life be if I had a grateful heart every day?  How about you?  Do you need to develop an “attitude of gratitude?”

By the way, I just “tweeted” the title of this entry. It’s my first tweet!  If you want to see what other people are learning while studying Gideon, search #LessonsFromGideon on Twitter. There’s some good stuff on there!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Leftover Stir Fry

We (and by "we" I mean "I") waste so many leftovers. I just don't usually want to eat the same thing two nights in a row. And I enjoy leaving the office for lunch, so I don't bring my leftovers for lunch. I'm working to only cook the amounts we need for one meal, but sometimes that doesn't happen. 
Tonight's dinner inspiration came from restaurant leftovers. My husband and I had sauteed mushrooms, grilled shrimp, and steamed vegetables left after combining what was left when we ate at Longhorn last night. Since I also had a few small pieces of pork tenderloin in the refrigerator from a couple of nights ago, I decided to make a stir fry for supper tonight.

When I got home from work, I put 2 servings of brown rice on to cook. The package called for 1/2 cup of rice and 1 1/3 cups water. I added salt but omitted the butter. I used a nonstick pot, which I always use when cooking starchy stuff. I'm not a fan of scrubbing pots!

Then I chopped half a sweet onion and diced the leftover pork tenderloin into 1/2-inch cubes. I also diced the Longhorn vegetables: broccoli, carrot and squash. To my Southern palate, they needed more cooking anyway! Then I removed the tails from the shrimp (so much better than trying to eat them!) and cut each shrimp into about 4 pieces.

When I looked at my ingredients, I thought I could use more veggies. On my last grocery run I had bought a microwave pack of fresh French green beans. I didn't need them all, but I took a good handful, chopped off and discarded the ends, and cut the beans into small pieces.
I put a large saute pan over medium heat, added a drizzle of olive oil, and added the onion and carrot. I added a little salt and let them saute a couple of minutes until they softened some. 

A couple of days ago I put two small frozen chicken breasts in the refrigerator to thaw. I needed to cook the chicken, so I cut it into to small bite-sized pieces on a separate, dishwasher-safe cutting board.

I added the chicken to the center of the pan, then added the green bean pieces as well.

Once the chicken was cooked through, I added about a teaspoon of ginger to the pan. I like this ginger-in-a-tube I found in the produce department. I've bought, peeled, and frozen countless pieces of fresh ginger only to have them wither away before I use them. This stuff works great for me.

I also added a clove of garlic, minced.

Once that was combined well, I added the remaining veggies, the pork, and the shrimp. See how pretty?

Here's a close-up:

 Meanwhile, the rice had cooked long enough so all the moisture was gone. I let it cook a minute or two more and a cool thing happened: it started to stick a little to the bottom of the pan and some of the pieces were crispy. The texture was similar to fried rice without any added fat. Yeah!

I added the rice to the pan and stirred it in, along with a tablespoon or two of soy sauce, and about 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil. I tasted it as I went and added from there.

The finished result was pretty darned tasty! The great thing about this dinner is that it can be made with lots of different proteins and vegetables. I plan to make this again when I have random leftovers in amounts too small to make meals of their own.

(P.S. If you noticed that the mushrooms from the restaurant leftovers were not included in the stir fry, there is a very good reason for that. My husband does not like mushrooms. I made a great sacrifice and ate them as I cooked dinner. Sometimes you've just got to take one for the team.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Roast Chicken Dinner

A roasted chicken dinner is classic comfort food. This one took two hours to cook, but pretty much cooked without too much interference. 

The recipe is from one of my Giada DeLaurentis cookbooks. Click here to get the recipe found on the Food Network website: Garlic and Citrus Chicken

One key is to gather everything you need before touching the raw chicken. I got out my big roasting pan and rack. Do what I forgot to do: spray the rack with nonstick spray! 

I cut up the lemon, orange, and garlic head, then put some salt and pepper in small bowls so I could use it while working with the raw chicken.  

I unwrapped the chicken, removed the packet inside, and rinsed and dried the chicken. After seasoning the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper, I stuffed as much of the citrus and garlic as would fit into the cavity.
Then I was supposed to tie up the legs, but my kitchen string had somehow disappeared. I was able to make slits in some of the extra skin to secure the legs. Not very elegant, but it seemed to work OK.

The chicken cooks for an hour before it is basted in a citrus sauce. It already looked pretty nice and it still had another hour or so to cook.

After I got the chicken in the oven the first time, I went ahead and made the basting sauce. In retrospect, I will probably skip this in the future. We don't eat the skin anyway, and it made the chicken and pan sauces more likely to burn.

When the chicken was almost finished cooking, I made a simple salad of mixed baby greens and tomatoes. I love a vinaigrette, and this is the easiest one ever. Put the greens in a bowl and sprinkle them with red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss together and adjust the proportions to taste. Add the tomatoes on top.

Another great quick side are these French green beans in a microwavable pouch. I'm not normally a fan of cooking in the microwave, but these are so quick and taste good. You just cut the corner off of the package and microwave them for 3 minutes. Then, for a little extra flavor, I put them in a small skillet and sprinkled them with red wine vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. 

All in all, it made a nice looking plate. 

You'll notice I did not take pictures of my great butchering skills. That's because I have none!

Try it this weekend. If you have a small family, you might even have more than one meal with this roast chicken.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Baking Bread!

Who doesn't love fresh-baked bread?  With a sourdough starter, it's actually pretty easy. If you don't know, the starter can live in your refrigerator  - literally - forever. You just have to feed it every 3 - 5 days. It sounds kinds creepy, but it makes such yummy bread!

Over the years, my dear friends have given me their sourdough starter again and again. The reason? I forget to feed mine and it dies. (Come to think of it, maybe it's a good thing I never had kids....)

So - when I found a recipe for a sourdough starter in the Cobb-Marietta Junior League "Southern On Occasion" cookbook, I was so excited!

I made the starter, which is a simple mix of water, instant potato flakes, sugar, and yeast. The mixture was left on the counter for 4 days to "sour;" then it was ready to use. I took 1 cup to use in the bread and put the rest in the refrigerator.  (I sure hope I remember to feed it this time.)

In my mixer bowl, I added 6 cups of bread flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 cup of starter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup canola oil, and 1 1/2 cups hot water.

With the dough hook attached, I ran the mixer until the dough came together into a ball and cleaned the sides of the bowl.

I lightly oiled a huge bowl and dumped in the dough, turning it around to coat the whole ball.  (When we received the giant bowl as a wedding gift, I thought it was pretty, but I had no idea how I would ever use it. Now I love it for my bread bowl.)

Then I covered the bowl with a damp cloth and put it in a sunny spot on the kitchen table. (Since it was only a sunny spot for an hour at most, it was probably pointless, but it seemed like the thing to do.)

I let it sit until the dough doubled in size. It took about 12 hours.
This recipe makes 3 medium-sized loaves, so I sprayed 3 bread pans with nonstick spray. Then I dusted  the counter with flour.

Then came the best part: punching down the dough. It's not nearly as violent as it sounds. All you do is put your fist down in the middle of the dough to deflate it, but it's surprisingly fun!

Then I dumped the dough onto the floured counter. It's pretty sticky, so I sprinkled a little more flour on top. I kneaded the dough for a couple of minutes, incorporating most of the flour on the counter in the process.

Don't know how to knead? Just pick up one side, pull it over the rest, and press down on the dough ball with the heel of your hand.

 Repeat over and over for a couple of minutes.

(Incidentally, it's a lot easier to do this with two hands. I don't recommend trying to knead dough and take pictures at the same time.)

When I was finished kneading, I took my handy-dandy bench scrape and cut the dough into 3 equal(ish) pieces. I love this tool. I usually use it to gather up chopped veggies to add into a pot, so it was pretty cool to use it for it's actual purpose this time!

I took each piece and formed it into a rough log. You can see what I mean by "rough." I don't worry about trying to make it too smooth since it's homemade bread. Who wants people to wonder if you really made it yourself?

I brushed each loaf very lightly with canola oil, and covered each one loosely with plastic wrap. I left them out 12 hours to rise.

I love it when time goes by and the result is beautifully risen bread! It's somehow very satisfying.

I baked the loaves in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes, then cooled them on a rack. I like a tender crust, so I wrapped them in plastic wrap when they were still a tiny bit warm. Otherwise, I would wait until they were completely cooled.

Lessons I've learned:
1). Use only fresh ingredients. My canola oil was a little stale and you could taste that in the end product. 

2). Check the instructions to your mixer to be sure it's OK to mix a heavy dough. I burned out the motor of my first KitchenAid mixer by mixing heavy dough on the wrong speed. An expensive mistake I don't intend to make again!

3). Rotate your loaves halfway through baking if your oven has a "hot spot." I have no excuse. I knew the back left corner of my oven is hottest but didn't bother rotating. Hence the dark brown spot!

The bread is great toasted with jelly and it makes the absolute best grilled cheese sandwich anywhere. The dough also makes great cinnamon rolls. I plan to try substituting some of the flour for whole wheat flour and see how it works.

Try making your own bread if you never have. It makes me feel so accomplished! You don't have to tell anyone how simple it is.