I’ve been baking a lot lately. A LOT! We taught our first bread baking class a couple of weeks ago and it seemed a great success. We’re looking forward to the next round of classes in May. The preparation for the classes along with the recipe research has been exhausting and yet at the same time exhilarating. Our “office” desk is lined with all the cookbooks we have on bread baking along with a large handful of books we’ve checked out of the library and I’ve been scouring the web for even more. Just looking at the spines of all those books gives me a much-needed mental boost to continue baking and our oven hasn’t gotten much rest as a result.

A collage of the steps in bread making.

I’ve been experimenting with baking bread using “harvested” wild yeasts. I have one yeast starter made of a chopped apple and peel that has a very sweet vinegary smell. I made another out of golden raisins that first developed a very sour ammonia smell that has mellowed to a sweet earthy yeasty aroma. We’ve tried harvesting yeast from juniper berries in the past, but the only thing we created was a bacteria farm that smelled worse than dirty socks. We’ve tried to capture yeast out of thin air, unsuccessfully. This time, using William Alexendar’s leavin method from 52 loaves and the yeast starter made from golden raisins and one from apples, I’ve produced two wonderful loaves of bread. The starters seem to be thriving now and will likely be a source of many loaves in the weeks and years to come. I’m looking forward to experimenting with different yeasts, including Chad Robertson’s method of just using the yeast that collects naturally on his hands.

The gnarly beasts. Loaves second and third.

The challenge I’m facing now is in the transferring of the dough from the basket to the peel and then to the oven. With my first loaf of bread I tried something non-traditional in baking: I dusted a lot of corn flour over the bottom of the bread while still in the basket. Next, I placed the peel on top of the basket and then, in one quick swoop, flipped the dough-filled basket over to transfer the dough to the peel and then, with a quick tug of the peel, the dough was in the oven on a heated pizza stone. The only problem was that the bottom of the bread had a lot of flour on it and it just wasn’t crisp enough coming out of the oven. With the subsequent two loaves I’ve tried the traditional method of dusting the peel and then flipping the dough onto the peel and then again sliding the dough from the peel to a pizza stone that has pre-heated in the oven. My first attempt at this method resulted in a fold over of the dough and my next attempt wasn’t much better as the dough oozed over the edge of the stone and between the wires of the oven rack. While both loaves of bread turned out gnarly and twisted they both tasted great.

The bread created by members of our first class. Top – L to R: Kathleen (before), Joe. Bottom – L to R: Jess, Kathleen (after).

Once I feel like I have my dough transfer method down to a science I’ll be sharing the bread recipe with others on our blog and in another baking class. So, stay tuned for more in our ongoing quest for the best homemade loaves and congratulations to the bread baking 101 class for their successful loaves! I hope we have inspired you to keep baking.

Chicken Involtini Part II: Collard greens, feta, pine nuts, & bacon

See also Chicken Involtini Part I: Apple & Bacon

As we were making up our recipes for the involtini we found that a lot of them called for spinach. We wanted to make the most of the ingredients we had on hand and we still had a bunch of collard greens from our CSA box, a fitting, if not obvious, substitute for fresh spinach. Most people think that collard greens need to be cooked for hours in a pot of water with a lot of smoked pork, but eating the greens raw, or just blanched, is a wonderful way to enjoy the big flavors of this hearty green.

The filling, a Mediterranean-inspired mix of feta, raisins, pine nuts, and bacon, comes together with sweet salty crunchy goodness.

Mediterranean inspired Involtini

1 slice bacon
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
1/8 cup pine nuts
1/8 cup golden raisins
salt and pepper

4 large collard greens, stems removed (chard, kale, or spinach can also be substituted)

2 chicken breasts

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 small shallot, minced
¼ cup vermouth
1-cup chicken stock
1-tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Fry the bacon in a small sauté pan over low-medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon and set aside to cool, once cool, crumble into small bits. In a small bowl combine bacon, feta cheese and pine nuts, season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Add water to a skillet filling it half-way up. Heat the water to a simmer and blanch the collard greens for 30 seconds to two minutes, or until the leaves are pliable. Dry on a clean towel.

Carefully butterfly the chicken breasts by cutting through the center of each as if you were opening a book. Do not cut all the way through. Open the breast and place between two sheets of plastic wrap. Using the flat end of a meat tenderizer or the flat bottom of a small sauté pan, gently, but firmly, pound the chicken breast between the plastic making sure to pull the mallet or pan away from the center of the breast toward the edges of the cutlet. Pound each breast until about ¼ to 1/8 inch thick. Season the inner part of the breast with salt and pepper.

Place two leaves on each breast and divide the filling between the two. Spread the filling evenly over each breast, leaving about ¼ inch on each side. Roll each breast starting with the thin end first, being careful that the filling does not fall out. If needed, secure the breasts with toothpicks to keep the filling in.

Fill and roll.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the chicken breast to the pan, presentation side down, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Be sure not to move the chicken breast until it releases from the pan on its own. Turn and sear on remaining three sides, each about 3-4 minutes. Place in the oven for approximately 10 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the involtini reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fry the involtini in a lot of oil to keep from sticking to the pan.

Remove involtini from the oven and transfer to a plate. If any cheese has dropped on to the skillet remove it. Place the skillet over medium heat, add the shallot and sauté for a couple of minutes or until translucent. Add the vermouth and scrap the bottom of the pan to get all the good bits from the bottom. Cook until almost evaporated then add the chicken stock and reduce by half, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in the soft butter, and season with salt and pepper.

Slice involtini into one-inch thick rounds and serve with pan sauce.