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Foothills of the Rocky Mountains

15 Sep

Foothills of the Rocky Mountains

High desert in September.

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Home of the Enchiburrito

15 Sep

Home of the Enchiburrito

Stop in next time you are in Fort Davis, Texas. Elevation: 5,050 feet above sea level.

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Sky full

15 Sep

Sky full

Alpine Balloon Festival 2013

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Taking flight

15 Sep

Taking flight

First balloon lifts off at the 2013 Alpine Balloon Festival

Teaching and learning

4 Sep

I used to think it was funny when a prospective student asked if my classes were anything like “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Then I started getting the question more often, sometimes couched in different terms, but underneath lurked the issues: Are the classes stressful? Will there be yelling and cursing? Will everything be timed? Will I be judged?

scones
Photo by Olaf Growald

Maybe it’s because I’ve taught in training programs designed for professionals, maybe because these entertainment shows are billed as “reality,” or maybe it’s just a fear of the unknown, but I have come to understand that it’s a valid question and deserves serious consideration.

Short answer: No.

No yelling, cursing, judging, grading or timing (except the oven timers) in my classes.

Because those things don’t encourage a positive environment where learning can flourish. I don’t succeed as a teacher until you succeed. And that’s what motivates me to teach.

I offer classes because I love to teach baking and cooking, and l love to learn. I learn from my students, and I learn from the act of teaching. My goal is to alleviate the stress of learning new techniques, not cause it.

It’s something I’ve been doing for almost 10 years, in diverse classrooms that have ranged from purely fun and entertaining demonstrations to serious professional hands-on training and everything in between.

If you’d like to read more about our classes, please check out our website by clicking here: artisanclasses.com

I have learned that it’s possible to have a rewarding learning situation and to have fun. That’s what I foster in every class, no matter where I teach it.

While I do my best to deliver a message that is meaningful and appropriate for my audience, I don’t really change much how I teach. I ask questions, I listen, I ask for your questions, I talk about the subject matter at hand, I demonstrate, I watch and, when I can, I do whatever you’re doing, right along with you, and work at your pace.

I started teaching classes here at the bakery almost a year ago, after about six months of planning and then preparing the work space, because even though I had been teaching at a number of venues, I was asked often about offering classes that were techniques-driven, “more serious” than some, “less serious” than others, short (one or two days at most) and, probably most important, hands-on and small.

The last was easiest: our kitchen is small, so it won’t accommodate more than eight students at a time. But some classes I limit even further, to four or six, depending on the subject matter and the equipment requirements. All in order to ensure the best experience for you, the student, with as much attention as you need.

Most of the classes are scheduled for three hours, and I try to allow some leeway built in — just in case a student has more questions, or someone would like a bit more practice. But I also ask that you give yourself a little extra time before and after, so you don’t have to be rushed to get to class or in a hurry to leave to make your next appointment.

My success comes only with your success, so I work hard to make sure that each student gets what he or she needs from the class. But I’m no mind reader: Be sure to convey your expectations at the outset, so we can work together to achieve your learning goals.

If you’re ready to start baking or cooking, want to brush up on your skills or challenge yourself with an advanced technique, take a look at our fall schedule of classes by clicking here.

Class preview and open house, with demos and samples, from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Sept. 8. Free, but RSVP by clicking here.

The whole truth about whole wheat

27 Aug

 

Alas, if we only had a dollar for every time we were asked why we don’t make a bread that 100% whole wheat. And another dollar for the disbelieving look we get when we explain that our other breads made with multiple kinds of whole grains have more fiber and nutrition than 100% whole wheat bread because 100% whole wheat bread is 83% white flour.

We’ve been told by various pundits that we should buy bread with only 100% whole wheat flour, or that the first ingredient should be 100% whole wheat flour.

wheat kernelBuying any 100% whole wheat bread is certainly better for you than the squishy white pre-sliced supermarket loaf with 39 ingredients, many of them chemical dough conditioners.

Supermarket 100% whole wheat bread achieves its light texture from those same chemicals.

Homemade 100% whole wheat bread, or the kind of bread we could make here in the bakery, is dense, does not rise well and is not particularly palatable. We know, we’ve tried. These loaves resemble Acme bricks more than a sandwich loaf.

Whole wheat is a good ingredient because it contains the whole wheat berry, pictured above (the illustration is from the Fooducate blog, which has an interesting discussion of the marketing use of “wheat flour” terms).

Mills grind the whole thing: the bran and germ, the “brown” parts of the berry that contain the fiber and most of the nutrition of wheat, and the endosperm, or “white” part of the gain — which, as you can see from the graphic makes up 83% of the wheat berry. White flour is made when the mill strips out the bran and germ and grinds only the endosperm.

So, 100% whole wheat flour is 83% white flour.

 

We think we can do better than that, so we supplement wheat flour (whole wheat and unbleached bread flour) with other whole-grain flours and additional wheat bran and oat bran (our multigrain) and with soaked whole grains (soaking helps make the nutrients more available to our bodies through enzymatic activity) and soaked flaxseeds (our nine-grain harvest).

Not only does this give our bread better flavor and nutritional bang for the buck, it also makes it taste good and gives it a great texture.

Because even if something is the healthiest thing in the world, if you can’t stand to eat it, it’s not going to do you much good. Food shouldn’t be punishment.

Sometimes we wish we could offer nutritional analyses of our breads, but it costs from several hundred to a thousand dollars for each item. Those are costs we’d have to pass along to you, so we won’t.

We trust our own evaluation of what makes good bread: We go by taste, texture and, for nutrition, how it makes us feel. Listening to our bodies makes more sense than a list of numbers, because every body is different. The best nutritional analysis is still only an estimate.

People have been eating bread, mostly whole grain, for the better part of 5,000 years. Demonizing or glorifying one kind of bread or flour or grain over another — and I’m not talking about food allergies or diabetes or other serious illness, that’s a separate issue — is pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things.

To quote the modern-day food philosopher Michael Pollan: “When you eat real food, you don’t need rules.”

Eat well, do good in downtown Fort Worth

11 Jul

 
 
 
 
The YWCA’s mission is to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. 
 
And if you can help further that mission just by buying a sandwich, why not? You gotta eat, right?
 
When I was first approached by one of our customers, who is on the board of the YWCA, to see if I’d be interested in making bread for the Power Lunch social enterprise venture, I didn’t hesitate. 
 
power lunchAs someone who benefited from YWCA programs as a child — specifically in the form of summer day camps that helped turn me into a good swimmer and no doubt helped save my mother’s sanity by getting me out of the house for a few hours a day during summer vacation — how could I say no?  
 
But it wasn’t enough for me to say we’d do it. We are making the ciabatta, focaccia and potato sub rolls and selling it to the YWCA at our cost so that the money they make can help more women and children.
 
We are hoping that you, our regular customer, will not only support the YWCA by buying their sandwiches if you live or work downtown, but also continue to shop with us so that we can afford to give back to the community in this way. Because the only thing we get out of our deal with the YWCA is a warm, fuzzy feeling — and that is something that money cannot buy.
 
When you purchase a loaf of bread or package of cookies from us, the small profit that we make covers our overhead: a paycheck for Sharnet and a dishwasher (Mark and I do not draw salaries from Artisan); rent; utilities; ingredients; packaging; insurance; taxes; and gas for the breadmobile (aka our ’99 Honda CRV). Anything left over gets put to good use keeping the building or our equipment out of complete decrepitude.
 
We purposely keep our prices as low as we can in order to make good, wholesome food — “real food” — available to as many people as possible. If we charged a standard markup, with the kinds of organic and local ingredients we use, we no doubt would not be able to serve as many as we do now.
 
That’s why we don’t offer “wholesale” prices, even to our restaurant clients. We are, basically, selling direct to you at a wholesale price. It’s also why are prices are competitive with other local bakeries who use commodity (cheap, industrial) ingredients. 
 
For examples, our locally produced, certified organic eggs are 32 cents each. I can buy commodity eggs for 8 cents each. King Arthur certified organic flour, which we use exclusively, is about 80 cents per pound (and rising). Conventionally grown flour (which has been grown with pesticides, chemical fertilizers and is likely from genetically modified seed) can cost upwards of, oh, 30 cents per pound.  But our products do not cost three or four times more than similar items at other local bakeries. 
 
But we think the best ingredients worth it, both in taste and the peace of mind we have when we make our products. And from what you tell us, it’s worth it to you, too.
 
It’s not enough to make good bread. We want to do good, too. Thank you for helping us do that by buying from us and supporting what we do. 
 
If you’d like to do more, the best way you can help us is by telling friends, neighbors, family or co-workers about us. Forward this email, share a loaf of bread or simply tell someone about us.
 
And thank you for taking the time to read our newsletter and letting us share our story. It’s an important part of what we do. Because if we were just in this for the money, well, we’d be in another line of business! 

One-stop shop:
Buy local, support local agriculture

market 

Tuesdays:

Cowtown Farmers Market – Downtown

9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Federal Plaza Park

1000 Throckmorton

 

Fridays:

9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Artisan Baking Co.

4900 White Settlement Road

 

Saturdays:

Cowtown Farmers Market – Traffic Circle

8 a.m. to noon

3821 Southwest Blvd.

Fort Worth

 

and

 

Cowtown Farmers Market – Richland Hills

7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

6980 Baker Blvd.

 

Local tip: It’s not new, and it’s not different. It’s in a recycled Long John Silver’s, and has the ambiance of every other strip-mall Joe’s and Tony’s. But it’s so much better than that, and so much better than it has to be. That’s why we love Nizza Pizza, 401 University Drive. Their bolognese is textbook-good, with visible bits of carrot of celery, and the lasagna pizza is unparalleled. Skip the red house dressing and try the spicy bleu cheese. But don’t just take our word for it: check it out yourself. And tell Hysen that Mark and Gwin from the bakery sent you.

Have a Fort Worth hidden gem? Don’t keep local treasures a secret! Click hereto send us an e-mail so we can check it out.

Like us on Facebook                                                         Follow us on Twitter

Find us on Pinterest                                                                        View our profile on LinkedIn

 
Bakery open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays, 4900 White Settlement Road
Cowtown Farmers Market, 8 a.m. to noon, Saturdays
Richland HIlls Farmers Market, 6980 Baker Blvd., 8 a.m. to noon, Saturdays
Downtown Farmers Market, 1000 Throckmorton, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesdays
 
 
This email was sent to chefgwin@gmail.com by bestbread@gmail.com |  
Artisan Baking Co. | 4900 White Settlement Road | Fort Worth | TX | 76114

The greatest thing since sliced bread? Hardly.

17 Jun

We’re not really into slogans on T-shirts. Bumper stickers, yes.

But when we found a T-shirt that read: “Sliced Bread: An invention surpassed by nearly everything since 1928,” we couldn’t resist.

Now, we don’t know exactly when pre-sliced bread was invented, but it was definitely an industrial-age “convenience.”

For about 5,000 years prior to the early 20th century, people tore or cut or sliced their bread, even if they purchased it from a neighborhood bakery.

But modern technological advances made it possible for factories to not only make bread in huge quantities, but also to deliver it sliced and in a plastic bag. It was convenient and it had a relatively long shelf life, thanks to chemical preservatives — but it wasn’t necessarily good. Heck, if you read the label on some of that stuff, you’d hardly recognize any of the 28 ingredients as food.

And that industrial-grade bread represents much of what is wrong with our food system. We’re so far removed from our food now that slicing a loaf of bread presents many with a seemingly insurmountable challenge. That gives us a sad face.

We’ve had people ask us to slice the bread while we’re at the farmers market. In the middle of a parking lot. We’re not sure whether these folks think we’ve got an enormous, $10,000 bread slicer hidden in our Honda CRV or they believe that we’re going to whip out a cutting board and bread knife and proceed to hand-slice their loaf in said parking lot.

Health department regs aside, it sure would be irritating to be standing in line while we sliced loaves to order.

But even if we could afford an expensive slicer, and hire someone to operate and clean the thing, we wouldn’t.* Because we don’t use preservatives in our bread, it would stale much faster if we sliced it before we sold it.

Many of our breads stay fresh for five to seven days — if you slice it as you use it. Slicing bread exposes the cuts to air, which stales it. So, would you rather have a bread you have to eat in its entirety in a couple of days or throw out, or slice it as you use it and keep it around a week?

Seems pretty obvious.

Of course, sliced bread proliferates and, with it, our bread-slicing skills have evolved into something else. (We’re hoping it’s not texting while driving, but some days we’re not so sure.)

A bread-slicing primer: All you need is a cutting board and a sharp serrated knife. I’ve found very good bread knives for $10 or less at discounters like Ross or Tuesday Morning.

If jumping into slicing your loaf free-style is too intimidating, try rooting around in your kitchen cabinets for grandma’s electric knife — you know, the one she uses to carve the turkey. They make slicing a loaf simple.

Keep your bread tightly wrapped in plastic to prolong its life.

There is much debate in the bread world about refrigerating bread. Some experts say it encourages mold growth; others say it will keep your bread fresh longer. I say experiment and do what works for you in your home. After all, what is “room temperature” to one is too hot or too cold for another.

We have learned that most of our breads do freeze well. Double wrap the loaf — it could be in plastic wrap and a freezer bag, or plastic and foil — just two layers to help insulate the loaf and help prevent freezer burn.

We do have some customers who pre-slice and then freeze their loaves, removing only a slice or two at a time as needed.

Don’t freeze baked goods for longer than three months, for the best results, and allow the bread to thaw in the wrappings. Bread that has been frozen always is improved by toasting or at least warming it in the oven.

For crisp crusts, heat unwrapped bread in the oven until warm. For soft crusts, wrap the loaf in foil before heating.

* We will slice your bread, by hand, with a knife and cutting board, if you buy it at the bakery on Friday and you don’t mind waiting while we do it. If you need a large quantity of our bread sliced, we’ll need a little notice so we can make sure someone is handling customer service.

Diner days

27 Mar

Mark and I come from a line of cafe-sitters.

His mom, Alice, liked nothing better than to sit in a diner and drink coffee for hours. Just one of the reasons I got along famously with my mother-in-law.

I remember tagging along to breakfast with my grandfather, Maurice White, to his favorite cafe in the Springhill neighborhood of Mobile, Ala. I mostly recall the waitresses — they were definitely waitresses then, not generic servers — teasing him about his new car: a Dodge Swinger. Yes, that would have been in the early ’70s.

Breakfast with my grandmother, on the other hand, was at the lunch counter at either the drug store or the Woolworth’s in the Springhill shopping center. I liked Woolworth’s best because I could shop after gulping down my toast and juice.

Once retired, my dad had Saturday breakfast at a cafe in one of the little towns in Baldwin County, Ala., while my mom set up shop at the flea market or checked on her booths at area antique malls. He was quite the talker, my dad, and he loved nothing more than shooting the breeze with the farmers and fishermen who frequented the diners. Or the short-order cook or waitress or deliveryman.

Now Mark and I set up shop most mornings at Moe’s Cafe in River Oaks or Old Neighborhood Grill on Park Place. It’s our lunch hour, see, and our break after long hours of standing on our feet.

The two places couldn’t be more different, but they also have a lot in common.

In working-class River Oaks, the waitresses (yes, they’re still all definitely waitresses) call most customers by name, or sweetie or bébé. It’s definitely a culture of “regulars,” but newcomers are welcomed just as warmly.

Over in the hospital district, Old Neighborhood Grill appears to attract a wider swath of society amongst its clientele. In the mornings, we see worker bees but also TCU professors, suits, old retired guys and what appears to be a round table of pastors.

I often say to Mark, or whoever will listen, that all restaurants should send their staff for hospitality training  at Old Neighborhood Grill. It has always been absolutely perfect in its own way, and a match for their patrons.

But I truly believe that the warmth and professionalism I see every single time I visit would translate to any other restaurant in the area. I couldn’t say if it would work in New York City, but it’s just as good as any I’ve had in local restaurants with much higher menu prices.

Peter, the owner, no doubt is the model and sets the tone for the service at ONG. His perpetual smile and kind words never fail to cheer me.

And it was this kind of attention that originally brought Mark and I to his restaurant. Mom had stopped in one day while on an errand in the area and had breakfast. It was after she returned a second time that she told me about it — how the staff was so friendly, and seemed to remember her from her prior single visit.

ONG staff are servers, not waitresses, and not just because you may be waited on by a man. There’s just something professional about them, and that is not a bad thing at all.

The staff at Moe’s is also warm and professional, but it’s different — maybe a little more personal, which I know that some people might find off-putting. The tone here is set by the head waitress Miss Jackie, as she is known to many.

Mark and I have “followed” Jackie to three restaurants over the past 10 years. She first waited on us at the now-defunct 7th Street Cafe and, later, we found her in the restaurant she and her husband started over on Jacksboro Highway, also closed.

We met up again at Moe’s after we first moved in to the bakery almost five years ago. You can’t miss Jackie — the Fort Worth Weekly once described her as the perfect Fort Worth waitress, noting her big hair and friendliness as well as her professionalism.

Indeed, Miss Jackie has been waiting tables since her teens and followed in her mother’s footsteps. She was a fixture at Vivian Courtney’s on Jacksboro Highway and everywhere else she has worked.

She can joke with her regulars, train a new server, refill coffee and juggle a full section without missing an order or forgetting a side of jalapenos. She is the very definition of multitasker.

But we know Jackie’s husband, Mike, since he also breakfasts at Moe’s about the same time we do, and we’ve seen photos of Jackie’s grandchildren. And her dogs. Maybe it’s just that we’ve known her longer, but I can’t imagine the servers at Old Neighborhood Grill showing me photos of their kids. Not that I’d mind, it’s just … different.

But this isn’t a ode to Jackie, as good as she is. Tanya and Christine and the other girls — they wouldn’t take offense at being called girls, any more than the customers would complain about being called “hon” — are professional and friendly. But it’s clear they’ve been trained by Jackie, no matter how much other experience they’ve had.

Isn’t it funny? All this, and not a word about the food. That’s another post.

Southern Belle Start-Up Kit

16 Feb

Nothing says southern belle like cheese straws.

Maybe hot pepper jelly over a loaf of cream cheese served with crackers.

Southerners like their spicy with a little sweet, and their sweets with a little spice. Hmmm … sounds a little like a Southern woman.

Surprised to learn that cheese straws are something of a novelty here in Texas. I can’t make ’em fast enough. I suppose I could be a cheese-straw factory if I wanted to be — but, really, cheese straws are something you can  (and should) make for yourself.

Cheese straws are little more than grated sharp Cheddar cheese, some cayenne and Tabasco, bound with a little flour. While I have certainly seen some recipes that call for rolling the dough in a log and slicing them into coins before baking (kind of like slice-n-bake cookies), those are not the cheese straws I know and love.

Oh, no. Cheese straws must inflict pain. To achieve the perfect crispy texture, cheese straw dough must be extruded from a vintage Mirro aluminum cookie press fitted with the “cheese straw” plate. It’s a flat opening with zig-zag teeth on top. In the photo, it’s the one above and slightly to the left of the star.

I say pain, because if you’ve ever used one of these beauties, you will know that “ergonomic design” was unheard of in the 1940s when these things were commonly used.

By the way, they don’t make them any more. A few years ago, I bought a bunch on eBay, and I’m glad I did before they turned into “collectibles” with the accompanying “collectible” price tag.

I use my mom’s old cookie press and, of course, her recipe. The pedigree couldn’t be finer: My mother and I were both born in Mobile, Ala., belle central. She’s got belle cred galore, with the bridal-shower-punch recipe to prove it. All teas — as in social events — must have bowls of little pastel butter mints and mixed nuts.

And cheese straws.

Real-Deal Southern Belle Cheese Straws

In true vintage style, this recipe is a mere sketch. It’s not hard, though, to figure out what to do — if you’re a Southern Belle, that is! Yankees are on their own. (Just kidding! Mwah, darlings!)

Makes about 10 dozen

1 1/4 pounds sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 stick butter

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more, to taste

Dash of Tabasco sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and cheese together.  Mix all ingredients thoroughly and put in cookie press. Press out strips on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for about 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

Store in old holiday-cookie tins for authenticity. Serve with, well, anything.