it should really have the decency to snow

Miserable raw & rainy Sunday demands comfort dinner.  I’ve decided to work my way through Green Aisle Grocery’s selection of dried heirloom beans & lentils, so today picked up a bag of French Green lentils (& a quart of organic local chocolate milk for dessert, in part because chocolate milk, in part because the heavy glass bottle is pleasing).

Lentil-Mushroom Soup:

Rinse off an ounce of dried porcini mushrooms to remove grit, then put in a glass or ceramic bowl (a glass Pyrex measuring cup is ideal).  Cover with 2-3 cups boiling water, stir, cover, & let soak for 20-30 minutes.  While the mushrooms are steeping, heat some olive oil in a big soup pot or dutch oven, then saute 2-3 chopped onions, salting lightly.  When the onions are translucent, add a cup or two of chopped carrots; then 2 cups of sliced mushrooms (cremini or baby bella are nice; white are fine, too).  Salt, fresh ground black pepper, 2 dried bay leaves, a tablespoon of dried thyme leaves, crushed in your hands before you throw them in the pot.  Stir, stir, stir.  Scoop the dried mushrooms (now squishy & soft) out of their soaking liquid (save this), chop them up, & throw them in the pot.  Add 1 1/2 cups dried lentils (rinsed & sorted), stir, stir.  Add the soaking liquid from the dried porcini, pouring slowly so any grit or sediment doesn’t get into the pot.  Add a cup or two of red wine, enough water to cover everything by 2 inches, bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.  Taste.  Adjust seasonings.  During the last 20-30 minutes, add a few chopped red potatoes, skin on, & simmer until they soften slightly & lose their sharp edges.  The broth created from the red wine & mushroom liquid is earthy & wintery goodness, & will want bread for soaking.

Potato Bread:

As with all breads, this is going to go a lot easier with a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, which is one of the things I would rescue from the house in event of fire, which is unfortunate because it is very heavy.

Potato bread sounds like it’s going to be dense & heavy, but something amazing happens between the potato starch & the yeast, & it’s light & chewy & makes amazing toast.

Chop up 1 1/3 c. red potatoes, leaving the skins on, & boil until soft.  Let cool a bit in their cooking water until warm enough to reach in, scoop them out & into the mixer’s bowl, add a tablespoon of salt, & 4 c. bread flour, & 1 1/2 tablespoons of gluten (you can get this at most markets anymore).  Mix with the beater attachment to mash the potatoes into the flour, then (mixer running on low) add 1 packet (or 1 tablespoon) yeast, then 1 tablespoon Greek yogurt.  Slowly add 1 1/3 c. of the lukewarm cooking water from the potatoes (too cool will not activate the yeast beasties, but too hot will kill them).  Add another 1/2 cup of bread flour.  When this shaggy mess starts to look like dough, switch to the dough hook on lowest setting, adding flour as you need (you may need to ad another cup or two).  Let the dough hook do it’s thing for about 10 minutes, then tip the blob of dough onto a floured workspace & knead by hand for another two minutes.  While you’re doing this, soak the mixing bowl in hot soapy water.  When you’re finished kneading, wash out the mixing bowl, butter the dough ball (easiest way to do this is to take a lump of butter btwn your palms & rub together so your hands are lightly coated, then smear all over the dough), put it in the mixing bowl, cover with a towel, & let it rise for an hour or so some place warm, or overnight someplace not-so-warm.  When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, knead for a minute then form into whatever shape you like (another ball, or more of a log-loaf).  Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal, put the dough on top & cover with a towel.  Preheat over to 450 (I let the second-rise take place on top of the stove, to give it a little heat oomph).  When the dough is puffed up & almost doubled in size, remove towel & pop it in the over for 20 minutes.  Lower heat to 375 & cook for another 15 minutes.  Check bread for done-ness by lifting it off the baking sheet (use a towel.  it’s hot) & knocking on the bottom; when it’s done, it will sound hollow.  Let cool a bit, slice, serve with soup, make into toast, eat for dessert with chocolate milk.

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