Day 223 – National Flour Month

Today was one of those days where the daily holiday doesn’t really lend itself to a celebration. It was National Girl Scout Day and I felt like trying to track down a Girl Scout hoping to find some elusive Somoas or Trefoil cookies on a Sunday afternoon might not be the best use of my time. Plus reducing the Girl Scouts to their cookies isn’t really celebrating the institution, it’s celebrating the cookie.  I felt that was a disservice to the Scouts. It was also National Plant a Flower Day too but my gardener friends tell me that getting seeds or bulbs into a snow covered ground in twenty degree weather is not really ideal for planting. When these kind of days happen, I fall back on whatever holiday is being celebrated throughout the month and this month just happens to be National Flour Month. I know how to celebrate that.

I’ve been hitting the flour habit pretty hard lately. I guess this kind of quest will do that to a guy. I never thought I would have a bag a month habit, but here I am.  It truly amazes me because prior to this, I think we would go through our flour supply maybe every six months. Now the flour is in high rotation out of the cupboard. I now even have a favorite brand of flour too, King Arthur. I’ll admit that part of my favoritism is because they tweet me back whenever I tag them on something I post on Twitter with nice messages of support. I appreciate that. It gives me comfort to know that some social media manager has to at least skim through my blog to make sure I’m not bashing the company or some kind of ranting white supremacist, and when they do, they give back some encouragement. The company is from Vermont, so a good New England organization, and it is 100 percent company owned. I haven’t done much more research on them than that, so if they are enslaving Oompah Loompahs behind their factory walls and making them grind down the whole grains into flour, its news to me. No, I think it’s safe to say they are a good company with a great website and a great product. Plus they know how to build fans.

🎶 Oompa, Loompa, doom-pa-dee-do, I have the perfect flour for you.
Oompa, Loompa, doom-pa-dee-dee, if you are wise, King Arthur’s it’ll be. 🎶

That’s in case they are looking to hire jingle writers (you know where to find me). King Arthur is actually celebrating National Flour Month all month long too which is kind of how I knew about the celebration after seeing one of their posts. I like when I’m not alone in these celebrations.

Today was going to be a cooking day, holiday or not, but just getting ready for the week and that started with making some soup. Like I’ve said, all it takes to make Lola happy is to have a nice bowl of soup ready for her, so I made a big pot of my Creamy Chicken and Rice, her favorite. That’s when the flour first came out to play today because to make a cream soup, you need to make a roux which you do by adding a fat (butter) to flour. That will help thicken the cream that you add to the soup. So the flour went into the base of the soup (just a little, maybe two tablespoons), and my soup came together nicely after that. By 2 pm, Lola was enjoying a nice hot bowl of her favorite soup and I had my first use of flour for the day under my belt.

I also cooked some chicken to have on hand for sandwiches during the week (I was cooking chicken for the soup, so it was easy to just cook it all off) and then I started prepping for corned beef on Friday which meant I had to brine the meat. This process takes a few days so today, I cooked off the sugar and salt along with spices, cooled it down with some ice, then poured it over the brisket and placed it in the fridge to brine away for the next few days. I had to warn Lola that this was in the fridge because I was afraid if she stumbled upon it, she’d think I was keeping fetal pigs in there. It’s not the prettiest of sights to see, so I made sure the Tupperware with the floating corned beef was hidden way in the back. I’ll revisit that again on Friday. And no, I didn’t use flour in that or in the chicken cooking, but I wanted to show you I really was cooking up a storm today.

For my next flour use I went to King Arthur and skimmed through their website. I was looking for something I had yet to make and something we could enjoy later in the afternoon with a cup of coffee. The answer was obvious: coffee cake. Naturally, they had a bunch of recipes for it but I decided on their Sour Cream Coffeecake recipe. I love coffee cake. It goes back to my youth. While we were never a Hostess Cupcake or Twinkie family, we were a Drake’s coffee cake home, mainly because my Mom liked them. But we did too, and it was always a magic little morning to be able to enjoy a whole package of two while watching cartoons. We were also partial to the Entenmann’s crumb cake which is another type of coffee cake. This was something we would have every Sunday along with breakfast after church, especially in the summer when we were at our lake house with our cousins.  It was a ritual there and one I looked forward to. But I suppose the all star coffee cake of my memory comes from an old friend of the family, Mrs. Grandfield. She and her husband were friends with my parents and my Aunt and Uncle, and they were always at big family parties and functions. Mrs. Grandfield made a bomb-diggity coffee cake too which she would sometimes bring to parties. It was a sour cream coffee cake, I think, but it had a sugary-cinnamon filling and a streusel topping. It was ring shaped and whenever you saw it on the table, you would be instantly excited. It was moist and buttery, but the filling and streusel set it a part. It was everything you wanted from a home baked good.  That’s what the recipe on King Arthur reminded me of, so that’s what I set out to make.

It was actually pretty easy to come together. You make the batter and the filling separately, and then you plop them in the pan by alternating them: filling first across the bottom, batter on top of that, then filling, then more batter. This confused me when I read it, but then I realized that this is how you cook it and then you flip it over later so the filling is the top layer of your coffee cake. I realized that this was probably how Mrs. Grandfield achieved her crumbly top as well – a real eureka moment. It cooked for about 40 minutes (about ten minutes more than the recipe had suggested) and after it cooled for about 15 minutes, I flipped it over and it popped right out of my tube pan.

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This cake did not have the streusel topping that Mrs. Grandfield’s had and that was the slightest of disappointments. Then I realized that this recipe was different and it had it’s own unique quality. The top layer actually kind of created a glaze-like quality to it, so you had this sweet crunch to it with hints of cinnamon and walnuts throughout.  The cake itself was nice and moist with the layer of filling in the middle giving the right touch of sweetness at the right time. It was great. I served some to Lola with a cup of coffee and she was excited for it. She said it was the best coffee cake she ever had, although I think she was being a little heavy on the hyperbole (especially because she has never had Mrs. Grandfield’s).  Nonetheless, it was great and the perfect sweet treat for a lazy afternoon. Flour use number two in the books!

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The final use for flour for our day came during dinner and I wanted to make something I had seen a recipe for earlier in the week. The recipe came from the Food Network show called The Kitchen which I don’t really watch but their videos pop up on my Facebook feed from time to time. This one was from Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and it was for Stuffed Crust Cast-Iron Pizza. When I saw it, it looked so simple to make and I knew it would be a great treat for a Sunday dinner. Now I didn’t make my dough, I bought some at the store from Calise Bakery. I figured why go through the effort when someone has already done the work, but I’m sure they used flour in the dough so it was appropriate for today. I did have to grab the flour at our house and use it on the rolling pin and cutting board to roll it out, so I was actively using flour too.  I decided to go Margherita style pizza, a Lola favorite, and drift away from the Food Network recipe, but the recipe gave me the basics so I figured it would still work.  I rolled the dough out and then put some olive oil in the cast iron skillet. I then draped the dough over the entire pan and as I folded the dough back in, I wrapped up little slices of mozzarella cheese into the edges of the dough. I then topped the inside of the stuffed dough-rim with fresh garlic, a little olive oil, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, parmesan cheese and shredded mozzarella. You cook it on the stove top for five minutes and then it goes in a super-hot oven for another twenty.  When it came out, I started to drool.

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I had to walk it into our family room and show Lola; that’s how excited I was. It popped right out of the pan and I placed it onto a big cutting board and let it sit for a few minutes.  I’ll tell you where I went wrong first. I think I rolled the dough too thin, at least the part that covered the middle of the pan, because that burned on the bottom. I’m not sure what I could have done differently because the rest of the dough was cooked perfectly. Maybe less time on the burner? Plus, I don’t think I tucked the mozzarella sticks into the dough securely enough because they melted out. That made it look super cheesy, although not a terrible problem to have. Now let me tell you what went right: everything else. It was super good. The tomatoes, basil and garlic all came together to give you that fresh Margherita flavor, the cheese was just perfect, melting nicely over every bite. The crust, even though it was burnt, was still warm, chewy and delicious. It had sections of really thick dough, and then other sections of really thin dough – the best of both worlds. It really was a top notch creation. Lola was in heaven. She even asked if we had any more. We didn’t; sadly it makes kind of a small pizza. But a great dinner!

That was my day of cooking which also happened to honor flour in three distinct ways.  Flour is a pretty incredible ingredient and its effect on the world and on history has been life changing. It has evolved our society and has brought families and communities together for thousands of years. When we break bread with friends and colleagues, we are really celebrating flour. When we celebrate life events with cakes and cookies, we are celebrating flour. When our ovens are on and our house is warmed with fresh baked goods, we are honoring flour. That is the tradition I was trying to honor today, and I think I did. I brought smiles to my love buy feeding her soul. And that’s what flour can be. So thank you flour for all you give. It is a true honor to celebrate you today and everyday.

Next up: National Coconut Torte Day

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