Fresh Off the Vine

We’d heard some rumblings about this local bakery popping up quietly in town. There were breads showing up at Ward’s and Citizen’s Co-op, farmer’s markets, and then The Top! What? How did this sneak under our radar?

I hunted them down online and stalked them on Facebook. And then like a big, wet, unexpected kiss from an overly friendly dog, I saw that they were actually opening up a storefront right across the street from Satchel’s. Boom! There you go. Vine Bread & Pasta.

I always said that the reason I wasn’t heavier on the scale was because Uppercrust was across town, and harder to get to. Now this place is right around the corner. I could walk there if I wanted to (yeah, like that’ll happen). So when The Man and I had a spare morning free, we went to check this place out.

If you’re driving there, you will miss it. It’s back off the road in a little warehouse park between the Ole Barn bar and the row of storefronts next to it. It was hot the day we showed up (check their days and hours before popping in), and it was a typical warehouse space, so as the summer warms up, it should get painful in there for working.

Anyhow, we grabbed up some pastries and a loaf, and scurried home because we hadn’t even had coffee yet (gasp!). We got a cheese croissant and chocolate croissant, a cranberry scone, and a country loaf. The croissants were tasty; the pastry dough was not as flakey as Uppercrust’s but miles better than Flour Pot. I would have liked a bit more cheese in the cheese one, maybe another kind of cheese in with the Swiss? And a great deal of the chocolate in the other croissant was designer and you could taste the quality.

The country loaf is a sourdough, and I can count the ingredients on one hand. It’s good bread. That being said, we did one set of sandwiches with it which wasn’t very successful, and then one set of grilled sandwiches, which worked out better. The bread didn’t quite hold up in its unaltered state, and required a bit of toasting or grilling to give it some structure. And the whole heel of it turned out to be a giant air pocket, which was disappointing, but happens with wild bread like this. On the whole (haha, pun intended), it was a nice, simple bread that somewhat lacked the stronger sourdough qualities we were expecting.

The scone was nice, and I’ve craved and scored a few more since our first visit. It feels like eating a bowl of oatmeal instead of a pastry. Happy belly and happy mouth–almost a meal in itself. The cranberries are a nice touch, but I’d love to add a hint of orange or lime to give it a little pop of flavor.

We’re looking to get our hands on more of the other bread styles, including the rosemary baguette. And I really, really, really want to try some of their fresh pasta. Overall, it’s good bread, and a local business, so I highly recommend trying it if you can (look at their site to see what other local businesses use their bread, like Tempo Bistro, Manuel’s Vintage Room, and Civilization).

We will be watching and tasting, and keeping our fingers crossed. This bakery has some growing to do (haha, another pun! I am so not funny), and there’s a lot of potential here. It’s fresh off the vine and might need to ripen just a little longer (okay, done with the horrible plays on words here, I swear).

Vine Bread & Pasta
1801 NE 23rd Ave, Unit C2
Gainesville, FL
352-682-8038

VineGainesville.com (their site has been down since I last checked 5/14)
On Facebook

Check site for hours and other place to get Vine products.

[Girl21]

Green Stuffed Shells

Green Stuffed Shells

I’ll be honest. Every time I make these, I adjust the recipe a little bit. So this isn’t really a recipe. It’s an invitation to join the experimentation.

I’ll also admit that these were a happy accident and I’m no kitchen genius.

Oh, and they don’t have anywhere as much cheese as they seem like they should. Don’t tell anyone how healthy they are, and no one will know.

Ingredients

1 box jumbo shells
4 cups of pasta sauce

2 cups fresh spinach, ribboned
1 medium onion, diced

2 cans cannellini beans
1 cup quinoa, cooked
Medium bunch fresh parsley, leaves only
2/3 medium head of garlic, peeled

1+ cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/2 cup gorgonzola
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano or parmesan
1-2 teaspoon Italian season
1 teaspoon garlic powder
4 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Start shells cooking. Water boiling, the whole bit. You’re going to have to handle these later, so cook them while you’re doing everything else, and let them drain and cool.

2. Sauté onions and 1/2 teaspoon of the Italian seasonings and some salt. Once the onions get glassy and start to brown, turn off the burner, toss in the spinach, and cover to let it wilt.

3. In a food processor, combine beans, quinoa, parsley leaves, garlic cloves, oil, vinegar, and the rest of the seasonings. Process until mostly smooth. My food processor is large, but I do it in a few batches to make sure it’s mixed and a good consistency. (I like to have quinoa cooked ahead of time so it’s cooled. About 1 cup quinoa to 1 and 3/4 cups bullion, like you would cook rice. I’ve been only using about 2/3 of the cooked quinoa last few times I’ve made this.)

4. Preheat oven to 350. Hopefully by now your shells are cooked to the point of being leathery but not soft. Drain them and set aside. Don’t cook them all the way in the water or they get gross.

5. In a heat-safe bowl, combine the onions and spinach you sautéed, and all of the lovely other things you pureed. Then add most of the cheese (save about 2/3 cup to spread on top at the end) , and rest of seasonings. Mix well. The cheese usually gets a little melty by now.

6. Pour about 1 cup sauce in the bottom of a 9″x13″ deep dish. Stuff one giant tablespoon of filling into each shell and line them up in the dish. Pour balance of pasta sauce to coat the shells. Sprinkle the last of the cheese over the top.

7. Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cheese has melted and sauce bubbles. Remove from oven and cool for ten minutes.

Green Stuffed Shells nakedI can add a lot more in here, but I’m going to assume you know your way around a kitchen and can figure out simple tasks like how to sauté onions in a little olive oil and salt until they’re glassy. I also assume you know how to adjust cooking time for your oven and the type of dish you are cooking in. I use a heavy stoneware tray, where a glass or metal tray would bake faster and possibly dry out your pasta quicker. Also I don’t cover my pasta with foil, which just leaves little splashes when the sauce is bubbling at the end. That’s your call.

My only complaint so far about this whole set up is that the only big shells for stuffing available seem to be Mueller’s or Barilla. So the pasta lacks the flavor of the Barilla Plus that we normally get. But the sauce and garlic and everything else make up for it.

As soon as my basil plants are up for the challenge, I fully intend to work some fresh basil into this recipe. There’s no substitute for fresh herbs and real ingredients. (Like using good quality pasta sauce in a jar will never quite be the same as the slow-cooked red gravy that The Man makes.)

My absolute favorite thing about this pasta dish though, is that when I make it, I suddenly have a bunch of unexpected guests dropping by. And when I send it to work with The Man for lunch, I get love notes from his co-workers. Everyone loves good pasta.

[Girl21]

Green Stuffed Shells parts

Boxtastic Breakfast

Cheating is such an ugly word.

The fact of the matter is that I’m not a morning person. I’ve never been a morning person. Ask my friends and family. They have scars to prove it.

If you wake me up in the morning and expect food to magically appear out of the kitchen, it had better involve a box. And preferably something that doesn’t require me to handle a knife before I’ve had coffee. Since there are only two kinds of cereal after a few minutes in milk (mush and gravel), I’ve never been a big fan of that option. Bagels are delish but I can tell you the statistics for people going to the ER to get stitches or parts of fingers reattached because of a stubborn bagel.

That leaves something tasty from the oven. I vote for muffins mostly because they’re supposed to be lumpy. Not all boxed muffins are created equal though. You often get that overtone of chemicals and flavorings that are mixed in 55 gallon drums. I stumbled upon the Krusteaz (because I am a Publix BOGO fanatic), and like to keep a box in the pantry for impromptu muffin cravings.

Specifically, the cranberry orange muffin mix. Yes, feel free to put your thumb over the ‘Fat Free’ part of the label because I hate fat free marketed products, and these just don’t taste like they’re short of anything. The fun thing about this boxed mix is that the cranberries are in a cute, mini can.

Toss the mix in a bowl with a cup of water, and stir it up so it’s lumpy. Add the cranberries and stir a little more. Drop the batter into 10 or 11 muffin cups, and bake for about 15 minutes. Simple, and no one gets hurt.

So this is one of my secrets. If you get these on BOGO, grab a few boxes and you’ll thank me later. It’s easy to remember … Krusteaz… like Krusty the Clown from the Simpsons.

[Girl21]

Beer Yeast Bread Experiments

Yeast Beer Bread

We have friends over from time to time, and people bring beer. Then they drink our craft beer and leave their not-so-delicious beer in our fridge. Leaving me with the quandary of what to do with it. I’m certainly not going to drink it for the fun of it. I’m not really into beer all that much so if I’m drinking it, it had better be good.

So I’ve been experimenting with cooking with beer (with mixed results). No comment.

And then I thought about baking with beer. I’ve been treated to some great beer bread over the years, but it never crossed my mind to try making any. Of course, why stop there?

Traditional beer bread is baking powder/soda based, and more like a savory coffee cake. I knew there had to be a decent yeast and beer bread recipe out there. (Well if you Google it, there’s lots, but they look sketchy even at best.) So I picked a few that looked promising and worked them together into one that seems to work for me.

First of all, ‘beer’ means a lighter beer. I’ve experimented with a porter and a few other darker beers, but it just didn’t go well. I have a bunch of Presidente left over from a recent party, and this seems to work just right.

Now, because I’m either super busy or secretly lazy, I’ve always owned a bread machine. Just to make the dough. Who would want to cook it in there and end up with that huge cube of bread? Yuck.

Yeast Beer Bread
Makes 1.5 lb loaf

12 oz. bottle of room temperature beer
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 1/3 cups bread flour
1 packet or 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

This is a long but almost labor-less process, so start off with pouring the beer into a bowl and whisking it a bit to get the froth out. Since my beer is all in the fridge, I have to let it sit out for an hour to get it to room temperature also. Then pour it into the bread maker bucket (remember to put in the little paddle if yours is detachable because that’s FUN to forget!). Then put in the ingredients in the order listed. Most bread makers tell you to put in all wet ingredients, then dry ingredients. But really who cares since you’re about to mix it all together.

Set your bread maker to dough only, then go about your life. Mine does this in about an hour, giving me plenty of time to check Facebook, do laundry, wash dishes, blog, etc. And I don’t have to fiddle with timing, checking, punching down, and resting it.

Just before the dough is ready, I get out a big bowl and oil the inside, and oil whatever pan or tray I’m going to use. This recipe makes very fluffy dough that gets out of hand, so I’m actually looking for an over-size loaf pan. Standard size just gives me a huge loaf with a giant bread-afro. When your dough asks to be let out, get your fingertips a little oiled so you can help scoop it out of the bucket and slide it into the oiled bowl. Punch it down a little in the bowl (I tend to overwork my dough which is bad bad bad), and then shape it into a loaf by gently tucking all of the corners and edges under for a smooth crown. Center this on a flat baking tray, or fit it into your loaf pan.

Cover this with a dish towel and set aside for an hour or until it doubles in size. And it will. Like the federal budget deficit during Ronnie’s first term.

Now, my oven and I have a hate-hate relationship, so I can only offer guidelines for baking. I put in a flat loaf on a tray at 360 for 25-30 minutes. For the loaf pan style, I go at 350 for about 40-45 minutes. To make sure it’s cooked through properly. Nothing like opening up a lovely loaf of bread to find it’s got a squishy middle.

Not only does this make a nice loaf of bread, it’s a great base for being creative with. Add ingredients to make it garlicky, sweet, cheesy, whatever. A few cloves of pressed garlic at the very beginning with the beer, some finely shredded basil leaves, some Italian seasonings, and 1/2 cup of pecorino romano, and you have some mighty fine bread there. Or dried cranberries, a touch of nutmeg and powdered ginger. Mmmmmm…

And you can split up the dough into smaller balls, roll them in garlic and oil before the last rise, and make dinner rolls. My next experiment will be using this to make cinnamon bun inspired rolls that don’t make your eyeballs want to fall out from all of the sugar.

Beer bread using yeast is unusual because beer naturally has a lot of yeast in it, so depending on the type of beer you use, you might end up with some super insane fluffy dough that crawls out of the pan while it’s baking (yes, I know from experience). And I have to make the observation that some of these recipes called for honey instead of brown sugar, which seemed to make the dough very unstable. Sounds yummy but not so practical.

I’m not all about the brands but I have to say that since I switched to Kind Arthur Flour Co. flour, I can absolutely tell the difference. Between the good quality flour, and the extra power of the beer, this bread is ridiculously easy and turns out really fluffy and soft. A little butter and good jam, and dig in while it’s fresh. It doesn’t get any better than this.

[Girl21]