Lifestyle

HOME ON THE RANGE: Frozen dough is bes invention since sliced bread

My new best friend in the kitchen is frozen bread dough. It’s perfect, waiting there in the freezer for the mood to strike. If I were a painter, I’d liken it to a ready-made canvas upon which spontaneous works of art can be created. Since I am by no stretch of the imagination a painter, I’ll say it’s like college-rule paper upon which I can scribble a grocery list or a love note or a funny doodle of George W. In short, frozen dough is versatile.

In the past, I’ve avoided messing with bread that rises because, really, who wants to deal with yeast and all that kneading and gobs of flour in your hair? Then I did myself a favor and picked up a five pack of Rhodes frozen white bread dough loaves (they’re cheap, something like five for $3). The loaves look weird in the bag, all pasty and hard. They roll around like a pack of severed limbs.

You can bake the loaves as they come, but that wouldn’t be any fun at all. The pleasure lies in their malleability. Pull a loaf from the freezer and thaw it in the fridge for 12 hours. Then set it on the counter to warm. The warming is important if you’re going to roll out the dough (which you are). I, comically, tried to roll it while cold. It was utterly elastic. I’d stretch one end and the other would contract, like trying to flatten a rubber ball. I may as well have been acting out a Three Stooges routine.

Once you have the dough flattened to about a quarter-inch thick, you can do a million things with it. Press it into a pizza pan and top it with sauce and cheese. Presto! You’ve got pizza. Or you can create a tasty filling to spread on top (it will eventually form a pinwheel of flavor inside the baked loaf). Fill it with thinly sliced apples, sugar, cinnamon and melted butter. Or shredded cheddar cheese and jalapenos. Or how about finely chopped nuts, sugar, and a little milk? You can make any good-tasting paste and lay it on thick.

Once you’ve added your filling, you have to roll up the dough (see recipe below) and let it rise for about an hour. There’s no escaping it. You can either let it rise as a loaf or you can slice the loaf into roll-sized chunks and lay them side-by-side on a greased cookie sheet. If you do the latter, they’ll bake into a sort of coffee cake. Either way, consider yourself just a few steps away from delicious, easy, homemade-tasting bread.

What follows is a very scrumptious recipe. It comes from my friend Mary Todd, who lives in Seattle. She’s a graceful woman, who decorates her home the colors of stones when they’re wet. Try it sometime. It works! Mary Todd reads a lot of food magazines. She owns good pans. She knows what she’s doing.

Spinach-Feta Bread

1 (1-pound) loaf of frozen white bread dough

1 cup (4 ounces) of crumbled feta cheese

1/3-cup (3 ounces) of cream cheese, regular or low-fat

1/2-teaspoon of dried oregano

1/4-teaspoon of salt

1 (14-ounce) can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1 (10-ounce) package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 large egg white

2 tablespoons (1/2-ounce) of grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Cooking spray

First, thaw your dough in the refrigerator for 12 hours. Placing it in a covered Tupperware container works well. When you’re ready to use it, let the dough warm on the counter for 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the feta, cream cheese, oregano, salt, artichoke hearts, spinach, garlic and egg white. Mix until everything is blended into a nice, sticky paste.

Now, spread some flour on your counter or on a large cutting board. Lay the thawed — and now warm — bread dough in the middle of the floured area. Roll it into a 16 x 10-inch rectangle. Spread the spinach mixture over the dough, leaving a half-inch border. Beginning with a long side (if this were a bed, you’d start from the pillows), roll the dough up jelly-roll fashion. Pinch the seam and ends to seal. Place the roll, seam side down, on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Cut diagonal slits into the top of the roll using a sharp knife. Cover the loaf with a towel and let it rise in a warm place (85 degrees) for 1 hour or until it doubles in size. If you’ve got a gas oven, you’re in luck. The pilot flame should create enough warmth. If not, turn on your electric range just long enough to create a little heat and pop the loaves inside to rise.

When the dough is ready, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top of the roll. Bake it at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden brown. It’s important not to undercook the bread or it’ll be gooey inside. It yields about 10 slices.

Jennifer Vogel only recently began serious cooking. Readers will enjoy her culinary adventures. Recipes and suggestions can be sent to vogel@whidbey.net.

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