Thursday, September 25, 2014

Char Grilled Okra

If you are not from the South you may or may not have eaten okra before, and if you did it was probably boiled and slimy.  You probably have no clue why anyone would ever eat it voluntarily much less actually plant it and hope it grows.

 The okra in our backyard is producing at an amazing rate.  It goes from a pretty flower, to a tiny vegetable, to a 4 inch long pod in about 4 days. We only have  6 plants and are almost overrun with these tasty green veggies.  Every evening TheHub grabs a bowl and paring knife and heads out the back door to "get his farmer on".  He comes in each time with a bowl of okra and cherry tomatoes. ( All of our regular tomatoes are nothing but chipmunk food, but for some reason they leave the cherry tomatoes alone.)  We are eating okra nearly every day, every way possible except boiled.

Everyone from the South knows there is nothing better than fried okra. Pickled okra is a staple of Southern pantries.  Pan sautéed okra, onions and tomatoes are delicious and of course you can't make a decent gumbo without okra.  After all these years of only eating it only these  four ways I find there is another, much simpler method to cook it. Now I have a new favorite way to eat okra.

There is no recipe for this, just directions.  About an hour before you plan on cooking, soak completely immersed bamboo skewers in water.  Soak at least one per person, but after eating these I will have a minimum of 2 per person. Wash largish fresh okra and pat dry, toss in olive oil.  Now here comes the tricky part (not really).  Poke the pointed end of the skewer through the top part of the okra close to the cap.  I made 5 per person, but that was way too few.  Next time I will have 10 pods per person.  Place the skewers across a medium heat on the grill and grill for 3 minutes, flip and grill for about 4 more minutes.  You want them soft but not mushy, with a nice char on them.  Season with a little coarse salt and eat.  It was so good and will be my go to method of preparing okra.

When you bite into them you get a little crunch, a little tenderness, a mouthful of fresh okra flavor with a hint of char. What you don't get is the calories of fried okra and slime from the boiled stuff. We were all blown away by this and have plans to repeat it this weekend.

If okra is already your friend try it this way for an easy yet delicious treat.  If you are new to the okra pool just go ahead and jump feet first into the char grilled stuff.  If you have only eaten it boiled ( bless you) give this a try.  You will be surprised!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lavender Pound Cake

A couple of weeks ago three of us ate at FoodBar, a new to us restaurant.  It has actually been open for a year but we were just getting around to trying it.  We do eat out more often than we should but most of the time we save a restaurant like this for a more special occasion.  This time, though, we were just going out for our regular Friday night meal and instead of "just dinner" we fell into a food well of deliciousness. 

We went all out, starting with  Mushroom Stuffed Quail over Braised Turnip Greens, and  a Tomato Stack  which was 4 thick slices of garden ripe heirloom tomatoes and 2 thick slices of fried green tomatoes. I can't begin to tell you which I preferred.  They were just different types of delectable tastes that really did set the bar high for the entrees.

 We decided to get 3 different meals so we could each share a bite and sample their different flavors.  As luck or choice would have it we each ordered a fish dish, but we did get 3 different kinds of fish. TheHub had Tuna Steak, I ordered Pan Seared Catfish over Succotash and Son2 had Snapper.  All were really sumptuous but the tuna won the taste test hands down.

 After dinner drinks and dessert finished us off.  The guys both had small individual apple pies ( about the size of a single serving frozen pot pie) with a beautiful lattice crust.  They looked fantastic, but I am not a fan of cooked fruit so I chose the Lavender Pound Cake. I thought it was so good that 2 days later I was trying to recreate the flavors of the cake.  This is the result of that attempt.

                                      Lavender Pound Cake with Blueberry Lavender Sauce

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

 Pound Cake:

2/3 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon food grade lavender buds

1 1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter
2 eggs
2 cups  sifted flour ( I used all purpose but next time I will use cake flour)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons food grade lavender buds
1/2 cup blueberries
1/3 cup sugar

For the cake: Pour buttermilk into a glass and stir in the lavender buds ( be sure to only use food grade lavender, not those for sachets or crafting).  Let the milk hang out  and steep for about 45 minutes.  Using a sieve strain out all the lavender buds.  Set aside

Cream the butter the add the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Beat in the 2 eggs until it is light colored and creamy.  In a small bowl blend the flour, baking powder and salt to thoroughly combine.
Pour the vanilla into the lavender flavored buttermilk.  Add 1/2 of the flour mixture to the butter mix.  Beat in to lightly blend then add 1/2 of the milk mixture.  Blend then add the last half of the flour mix and mix it together.  End with the remaining milk and beat until it is well blended.

Pour into a well greased and floured loaf pan and bake for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. ( I use an uncooked spaghetti noodle) Remove from the oven and set on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes.  Then invert the cake on a wooden board, then invert the wooden board over a serving platter.  Let the cake cool completely. ( Next time I will have some lavender flavored sugar* made ahead of time to sprinkle on the top of the warm cake).  Slice and serve with the blueberry lavender sauce. (Though I didn't do it this way, next time I will add a dollop of whipped cream when I serve it)

For the sauce: Put the lavender buds ( again use only food grade) in the water and bring to a boil.  When the water boils turn it off and let it steep for about 20 minutes.  Turn it back on and boil until the water reduces by half.  Strain the lavender from the water.  Add the blueberries and cook until they begin to pop.  Mix in the sugar and cook until it forms a syrup.  It is totally your choice how thick or thin to make it.  Mine was fairly thick. ( Side note here:  If you cook the berry syrup too long at a low heat they will become like glace' berries suitable for only some bizarre fruit cake.  I may possibly have cooked mine just a tad too long and learned this unfortunate lesson. Ah the joys of starting over!)

This was really good. The texture was not as light as the FoodBar cake but the taste was very similar. The pound cake had a lovely herb flavor and the complimentary blueberry lavender sauce was outstanding.  I used regular all purpose flour, but when I make it again I will use either White Lily flour or cake flour.  They both have less gluten and the resulting cake should be a little lighter.  I think I would like it better that way.  Also next time instead of buttermilk I will probably use kefir.  I still have an abundance of it and am looking for any way to use it. ( For the record, dogs love kefir.)

I would call this a successful experiment and plan on cooking it again, just not too soon.  I think this belongs in the once or twice a year category.  It is such an unusual take on a very typical dessert that it really does need to remain special.  

* To make lavender sugar simply put lavender buds ( again, use only food grade lavender because the craft type has added oils that smell really good but are not to be consumed) in an air tight container.  Pour sugar over it and let it stand for several days. I tend to shake whatever flavored sugar I am making on a daily basis.  I have no earthly idea if it does any good or not, but I shake it up just the same.  To use just  sieve to separate the buds from the sugar crystals.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lentil Burgers

I have been hearing a lot of conversations lately about being a cheerful giver.  I am not talking about giving in the very traditional financial giving aspect, but about giving of the self, sharing time and personal resources with others.

I have been trying to find a way to use my rather limited talents in service.  Recently some friends were discussing gifts and how we can use them.  Some are gifted speakers, some are wonderful care givers, some have extreme wisdom and compassion and I cook.  It looks kind of weak on the service scale.

When you start thinking about how you can use it, it mainly means cooking for homeless shelters.  I do it and I enjoy doing it, but it is not something I can do regularly.  My food budget can only go so far and my favorite shelter (First Light) now houses about 80 women and children.  Even being a good steward of money, you just can't feed that many people for less than $150, and that is not  spectacular food. ( I have always believed if you are doing something as a service you should put your best forward  so the food cost is always more than that.)

I was really wondering what, where, when, and how to turn the non-gift of a gift I have into something I could do on a more regular basis.  Serendipitously I ran into 2 young mothers who are feeding their families using EBT cards.  It works out to about 38 dollars a week per child and is doable, but only if you have an idea of what you are doing.  Neither of the moms I spoke with have a clue how to cook from scratch, and have no idea how to prepare a full meal and get it on the table.

I offered to go to the grocery store with one of them and show her how to get the most food for her food buck.  She had been buying frozen lasagna, frozen pancakes and such as well as Hamburger Helper and other convenience foods.  ( I am not knocking prepared or frozen foods, but a limited budget just cannot accommodate them. )   After we talked about what to buy she confided she has no clue how to prepare it. ( Even buying lettuce, carrots and cucumbers to make a salad is not a part of her skill set). Eureka!  I finally found a way to use "my gift".  For the next few months I will be testing extremely low cost foods. We are going to eat them first and make a yea or nay decision to include them as a potential meal. Afterward I plan on developing extremely low budget menu plans to pass along to people who have the desire, but limited time and means for food planning.

The criteria is pretty simple.  It must be cost effective. It has to use readily available ingredients which require minimal kitchen equipment and tools to prepare.  It has to be able to be prepped and cooked in under 45 minutes.  It has to be something a wide variety of ages can eat ( no super spicy foods) and mostly it has to be tasty.

My first experiment was the lentil burger.  Lentils are some of the cheapest and most versatile of the dried bean/pea/legume family.  They can be cooked in under 30 minutes and require no soaking time, so they are a natural for a quick cheap meal.

2 1/2 cup cooked lentils
1 small onion, minced
1 small clove, garlic minced
1finely grated carrot
2 tablespoons minced bell pepper (optional)
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon basil
pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup cornmeal
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

With a potato masher mash the lentils but leave it somewhat chunky. Stir in the vegetables and blend well.  Add the egg and stir it through.  Blend all the seasonings in the breadcrumbs then add it to the lentil mixture and stir it very well.  You want all the breadcrumbs mixed evenly through the lentils.  Shape into 4 burger shapes.  Put the cornmeal in a wide shallow bowl and put the bean patties in it, one at a time, making sure they are coated on both sides.

Heat the oil in a skillet to medium high.  Add the burgers to the heated oil and cook on one side for about 4 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium and flip the burgers.  Cook for an additional 4 minutes then remove using a spatula.  Blot on a paper towel then serve on buns, bread or on a plate as a patty.

The first time I tried these I realized (after cooking them of course) I had no buns or bread in the house so I just tossed them on a plate with tomatoes from the garden and some squash pickles. ( Seems I was also out of lettuce and ketchup.)  They were very tasty, with a crisp outside.  There were enough breadcrumbs and the egg acted as a binder so the bites held together well.  It is certainly not meat and doesn't have the same feel that beef does but it is a really nice alternative.

 The second time I tried this I ate it on a bun with a slice of onion, tomatoes, lettuce and dill pickles along with the usual burger condiments. It was really good then.  Except for the consistency I would not have known I was not eating a real burger.  Next time I am going to melt a slice of cheese on it before I plop it on a bun.  I am guessing that will make it outstanding.  We give this one a thumbs up.

For those who are counting It took about 50 cents worth of lentils, 11 cents for the egg, 25 cents for the bread crumbs ( Thanks Publix for bogo) 25 cents for the oil, 10 cents for the cornmeal, and possibly 15 cents total for the spices.  For under $1.50 I managed to cook 4 very large burgers, compared with the $2.99 ground beef sale price now.   I think this is a keeper.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cool Whip Copy Cat Recipe

I read Lili at Creative Savv on a regular basis.  A few days ago she had a post about the rising costs of dairy and mentioned several ways she was trying to cut her reliance on those products.  One of the things she mentioned was making an almost Cool Whip product at home using powdered nonfat milk, gelatin, sugar and water.  I had not only never tried it, but had never even heard of it before. So what does a NERD like me do when there is something I have no clue about? Well, of course I research it and then I try it!  Doesn't everybody?

                                          Completely and Totally  Fake Cool Whip Recipe

1 teaspoon plain gelatin
2 teaspoons water
3 tablespoons boiling water
1/2 cup ice water
1/2 cup powdered non fat milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract*
3 tablespoons oil ( I used grape seed oil because I wanted a neutral flavored oil)

There are a couple of tricks to making this successfully. Before you do anything at all put the glass or stainless bowl you will be using to beat the cream into the freezer along with the beaters to your mixer. (I suppose you could use a whisk but if you do you will need forearms like Popeye)  To say they need to be cold is an understatement.  They need to be ice cold.  Also go ahead and fill your largest drinking glass with ice and pour 1/2 cup of water over the ice.    Put the gelatin in a small glass bowl and add the 2 teaspoons of water to soften it.  Pour the boiling water into the bowl and stir like crazy so it will dissolve completely.  Set it aside until it cools down a bit but does not start to thicken.  Now you are ready to begin the actual process of making it.  In the ice cold bowl beat  1/2 cup ice water with 1/2 cup non-fat powdered dry milk with the ice cold beaters. ( Do not use a full fat product like Nido because it will not whip.  I know because I tried both.) Beat it until the mixture holds stiff peaks.  Slowly add the sugar and vanilla.  Add the oil and gelatin mixture alternately until it is all gone.  Continue beating until everything is nicely combined.  Put it into the freezer for about 15 minutes, whisk and it is ready to use.

This is a very straightforward and "easy" way of creating a whipped topping to use in place of Cool Whip.  I will confess I am a purist and prefer whipped cream or nothing, but I understand that is my personal taste.  For that reason why anyone buys Cool Whip is a mystery to me.  I think it has a very slick mouth feel and tastes like a chemical sundae.  This did not have that unpleasant after taste nor the funny mouth feel.  It did have a very slight oiliness to it but it did nothing to detract from the overall consistency.  I found it tasted much closer to a true whipped cream than the frozen in a plastic bowl stuff.

I had to go to the store to by unflavored gelatin and found a 1 slice package of pound cake in the deli section.  It was the perfect vehicle for a taste test.  The cream formed a very nice dollop on the cake and was actually pretty darn tasty.  The down side was that there was a lot left over.  I put it in a covered container and set it back in the fridge.  According to all the comments for the original recipe it was just as good the second day.  I happened to find some jello when I was hunting in the pantry for plain gelatin, so I made it for my day 2 test. ( I should have just bought another slice of cake).  I will just let the picture do the talking and you can decide for yourself whether it holds up to your specs or not. To be honest I did not try beating it again.  It might have become fluffy again but it was more trouble than I thought "fluffy" was worth. ( I probably should have tried it in the name of science, but science would not clean the dirty dishes.)

                        There was just no way to make this look good, so I didn't try.  Sorry!

This made slightly under 1 cup of whipped topping.  I would only make as much as I was going to use in one sitting because, well you saw the picture. (Those who gave it a thumbs up for day 2 must have some mad beating skills that I do not possess.)  For that reason I would not use it in place of Cool Whip in a recipe.  It does not have the stabilizers, emulsifiers or hydrogenated oils that the commercial product has.

When I make it again I will make half as much so it can all be consumed at one sitting as a topping only.  And trust me, it was a pretty tasty topping!

* Using vanilla extract changes the color ever so slightly.  If having a pure white whipped topping is critical, I would suggest making vanilla sugar a few weeks beforehand. Just slice a vanilla bean and place it in a cup or so of sugar in a tightly sealed glass container.  Shake it daily and at the end of a couple of weeks you will have lovely vanilla flavored sugar.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Almost Beef Bourguignon In A Roundabout Sorta Way

Bonjour!!! ( Said in a Julia Child voice)  About a week ago I watched the movie, Julie and Julia.  Actually watched it is a misnomer.  I had the TV on as I did a few things that needed to be done, so I mainly listened to it. It was fine though, since I had seen it before.  In the early part of the film they continually talked about making beef bourguignon.  It is not something I make often ( maybe twice in my life) but for some reason I couldn't quit thinking about it.

Fast forward to a couple of nights ago, as I was pawing through the freezer looking for something that would cook quickly for dinner. ( The trouble with beginning to think about dinner after 6 in the evening means options for a quick turn around are limited.) I found about 3/4 of a pound of ground beef already browned in a nice little package on the freezer shelf.  At first I thought about making spaghetti, because it is a go-to fast fix, but then I remembered the movie and all I wanted was beef bourguignon__made with ground beef?  Why not, the original recipe has beef, ground beef is beef.  No problems right!  I actually found Julia Child's recipe online and realized in addition to having the wrong beef, I had no bacon and lacked a couple of other ingredients.  It was time to punt, so I did.

                                  Almost Beef Bourguinon In a Roundabout Kinda Sorta Way

3/4 -1 lb browned ground beef ( If using fresh ground beef, use at least 1 pound, brown and drain)
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups red wine*
1 1/2 cups beef broth (homemade would have tasted better but I used some from a carton)
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon thyme
salt to taste ( I used about 1/4 teaspoon but we use little salt)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon corn starch
3 tablespoons water

Put  the browned beef in a pan ( or brown your beef in a pan then drain the grease from it) and add the 2 teaspoons of olive oil.  Bring to a medium hot temp and add the shallots and garlic.  Cook until wilted then add the flour.  Cook stirring continually until the vegetables are wilted and the flour no longer looks white.  Pour in the wine and beef broth.  Add the herbs, salt pepper and tomato paste.  Cook on medium high at first then turn to a high simmer until the liquid reduces by about half.   In a separate pan saute the mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of butter until they are nice and cooked. ( I did not do this step) Toss  the mushrooms into the beef mixture and stir to combine well.  Make a slurry of the corn starch and water.  Add it one teaspoon at a time to the beef mixture stirring well.  When the sauce thickens to your desired thickness stop adding it.  (Everyone has a different take on what thick enough is. I like mine a little thinner, but TheHub likes his thicker. I do all the cooking so, well, I win!)

Serve over rice or pasta ( I can hear Julia turning over in her grave. Oh yeah, she had already turned over in her grave because I used ground beef instead of cubed chuck roast and used no cognac, no pearl onions and all the other shortcuts I took. Sorry Julia!)  I used orzo because I had a partially opened package and this would finish it off.  I served it with side salad and that was all.

We could not believe how good this tasted.   It had most of the flavors of a traditional beef bourguignon (well, minus the smoky pork flavor of the bacon, the pearl onions and the butter Julia would have liked me to cook the mushrooms in prior to adding them to the mixture.  I probably should have because they picked up the color of the wine, but it was fine for just us. We ate those eggplant colored mushrooms and were none the worse for it. )  I understand the consistency was off a tad from the traditional, but good grief, I was using hamburger meat, so give me a break on that. I promise this was good enough to serve to guests, and I am sure at some time I will.

*I have no idea what kind of wine combo I added to the stew.  Whenever we have a bit of leftover wine ( we only drink reds) I put it in an ice cube tray and freeze it.  Then I dump it all together in one large freezer bag.  If I was lucky I had 2 of the same kind of wine. This contained a smorgasbord of frozen wine cubes. ( BTW for those who want wine slurppies, the wine ice cubes don't freeze to a hard freeze due to the alcohol in the wine.  It is a softer freeze.  If you whirr them in a blender for about 10 seconds  you could have the perfect wine slurppy)

If you are hungry for a beef bourguignon but do not want to go to the expense and trouble of the real thing, I say try this.  It was the inexpensive peasant version of a classic French dish and the taste was dang close to the real thing.  Try it and you just might like it. I know we did, and I have already been asked to make it again next week. If that is not a food win, I don't know what it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Best Grilled Chicken Thighs Ever!

I was shopping at The Pig recently and found a fantastic deal on chicken thighs.  Not only were they priced right but they were huge. Monster thighs, in fact!  My biggest beef with thighs is they are usually small and you have to cook several per person. That was not an issue with these babies!

I was searching for something different to do with the chicken instead of my usual summer bbq.  I wanted to cook outside since it was hot, but really did want a complex palate.  I found a recipe for a Korean basting sauce for slow roasted chicken and tweaked it to fit our tastes using what I had on  hand.

It could turn out one of three ways: we would try it and it would be horrible, mediocre but nothing I wanted to try again especially with the amount of sesame oil I used, or something really good that we would throw into the chicken rotation. I was more than pleasantly surprised that this exceeded any expectations I had about being just good.  This was some of the best grilled chicken I have ever made!

                                                      Korean-ish Grilled Chicken

8 chicken thighs (skin on or off, personal preference)*
1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce
1/4 cup sesame oil
3 cloves garlic minced ( substitute 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder if preferred)
1 quarter size slice of fresh ginger, minced ( substitute 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger if preferred)
1/4 cup agave (or honey)
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup minced green onion

Put the chicken thighs in a non reactive dish.  Mix all the marinade ingredients together.  Save about 1/3 of the mixture for basting and pour the remaining over the chicken.  Cover with plastic wrap and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Heat the grill to a medium heat ( I have a gas grill so this is pretty easy.  Supposedly using a charcoal grill you should be able to hold your hand about 3 inches from the surface of the grill for 3-4 seconds without it burning your skin to measure for medium heat.  Personally I would rather guess than use the almost burning flesh test.) Take the container you are marinating your chicken out to the grill.   Using tongs place the chicken pieces on the grill and get rid of the marinade in that dish.

(I generally cook chicken over indirect heat, so it can cook through without the outside burning. Again this is easy on a gas grill.  I only use the burners on the left side of the grill and cook on the right. On a charcoal grill it means keeping your coals to one side and cooking on the other)

Cook the chicken on the grill, covered for about 5 minutes.  Take the mix you put aside and brush it on the top of the chicken.  Let it set for about a minute then turn the chicken pieces and brush the tops with the marinade.  Continue cooking until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  They are ready to serve straight from the grill.

They were the bomb.  Only TheHub and I were eating so all we had was a small salad and 2 thighs each.  They were so big we both just ate one apiece. They were not only big thighs but they were huge with flavor.  They were a little sweet, a little hot, a little salty, with the dense earthy sesame flavor and the bright flavor of the 5 spice.  It honestly did a little flavor dance in my mouth.  It was one of those meals that I had to write down what I did immediately so I would know how to do it next time.

A day or so later, it was lunch time and I took one out of the fridge to eat__cold.  Bad idea!  This is not an eat it cold food.  It needs to be rewarmed to be eaten as leftovers, though ideally just cook enough to consume at the meal.  It was so much better that way.  I liked it so much I made several more batches of the marinade and used the food saver to vacuum seal the thighs and marinade together.  I am not sure how long it will keep frozen, but I am guessing I will cook all the packs I made within 3 months.

I am sure it would be great with rice and possibly noodles of some type. Or you could be like us and just stick to a salad side. Whatever your tastes, try this.  It was so worth it.

*If you like your chicken crispy leave the skin on.  Grill it for a few minutes over direct heat and then turn and move it to an indirect cooking spot.  I always skin mine, because that is how I grew up eating chicken.  It truly is personal preference, so do it your way.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Kefir Bread? What The Heck Is Kefir

I had been reading and reading and reading a little more about the benefits of drinking kefir and kombuchu daily.  The only real problem is it's only found in health food stores or places like Whole Foods and we know what that means. $$$$$$$$$$.  So I started doing a little research about making my own and found I could do it for very little money and very little time.  It just required something I did not have__starters.

Thanks to the FaceBook trading sites I found both from a very kind man in my same little suburb.  I have been a fermenting fool lately with large jars of yeasty milk and yeasty tea doing whatever they do in the process. I can't say I really love  the taste of either of them, but I have noticed some benefits from using them so I will continue. But I am finding I have much more than one person can consume. ( Ask me how many others in the family will touch it?)

When I have leftover Kombuchu I don't mind throwing it down the drain.  It is nothing more than a tea and sugar base, so I have very little actual cost in it.  But the kefir is a fermented milk product and at about $4 per gallon I just cannot waste the milk.  Consequently I am always on the lookout for recipes to use some of the excess kefir.  I have made soft cheese, scones and biscuits and they were perfectly fine, but not terribly inspired and then I found a recipe for sandwich bread.  Since the kefir grains use yeasts to ferment the milk, using the kefir to ferment the flour causes the yeast  already in it in it to raise the bread. Kooky, yes, but it works.

                                                                     Kefir Bread

3 cups kefir
3 cups unbleached flour

3 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

In a large glass or stoneware bowl mix 3 cups of kefir with 3 cups of unbleached flour.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for 12-24 hours. The mixture with become like a thick liquid.  Add the remaining flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt to the mixture. Stir until the mixture holds together.  Since bread making is an inexact science and the air moisture can alter the amount of flour needed have an extra 1/2 cup flour out and work as much extra in as necessary to have dough that separates into 2 parts and holds its shape.  Put it into 2 well greased loaf pans and cover the tops with plastic wrap.  When the dough rises to the top of the pan remove the plastic and bake in a 350 degree over for about 40 minutes.
Immediately when you take it out of the oven either rub butter over the top or spray with olive oil.  The top crust is a little hard and the butter or oil softens it a bit.

This is a dense bread, perfect for toast or sandwiches.  With a serrated knife I can hand slice it into slices little more than 1/4 inch thick.  It has a nice yeast flavor, not at all sweet and a very mild salt flavor.  It is almost the perfect bread for a southern tomato sandwich (that is 2 slices of white bread, good mayonnaise, and thick slices of vine ripe tomatoes) and it's also wonderful toasted with butter and  homemade cherry preserves. ( It would probably be delicious with any preserves, but I have only made cherry this year)  I  made 4 loaves this past week and they baked perfectly.  I am going to try monkeying with some additional flavors and herbs soon, since my kefir stash is increasing daily and it looks like I am going to be baking a lot of bread.

If you live close to me and are interested in making your own kefir but need a starter just let me know.  My starter grains are multiplying like crazy and I can hook you up.  If you decide to join the kombuchu ranks I have a starter for that too!

UPDATE:  This afternoon I had a craving for something sweet but did not want to actually take the time to make anything.  After rambling through the cabinets I found a package of  Son3's chocolate chocolate chip muffin mix.  It only calls for milk and I used some of my kefir instead.  I mixed it and let it sit in the bowl while the oven preheated, then put it in a mini muffin pan.  The results were outstanding.  The muffins were so light and fluffy and now are so gone!