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No-knead bread mix is good for beginners, pros

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 8:42 p.m.
Homemade no knead bread mix from Fleischmann's. Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MCT
Pinch and pour bowls from Crate & Barrel. Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MCT

Never baked bread? Fleischmann's Simply Homemade No Knead Bread Mix is a good first step. Mix water into the box's contents (packets of yeast, sugar, bread mix), shape dough into a loaf, let rise, then bake. Been baking bread from scratch since I was a kid, and this dough was easy to handle, produced an artisan-sturdy loaf and took less than an hour (57 minutes to be exact) from start to finish. In Country White, Stoneground Wheat, Multi-Grain and Italian Herb, its suggested retail price: $2.99 for a 14-ounce box. A store locater is at simplyhomemadebread.com.

Prep bowls

Fall in love with the colors of these Pinch & Pour Prep Bowls, then embrace their ease of use. When the sturdy white plastic sides are squeezed, the colorful rubber makes a pouring spout. The stacking bowls, in graduated sizes, have measure markings (1 cup, ½ cup, etc.) and can be used with hot or cold, dry or liquid ingredients. They're top- rack dishwasher safe. A set of four bowls is $14.95 at Crate & Barrel. For a store locater or to buy, go to crateandbarrel.com.

An app-titude for Food-ucation

The Fooducate app promotes healthy eating and losing weight, but the best functionality is hidden inside the food scanner. Scan food items at home or in the store and the app will produce a grade based on the nutrition facts and ingredients.

A “things to know” list will provide bullet points of the product's pros and cons, telling you if it contains artificial products and what they are.

The best part is that if your food gets a poor grade, you can click the “alternatives” button for some healthier, less-processed options.

Why do we soak dried beans?

Soaking dried beans takes remembering to cover them with water the night before. The reason we do it is because beans are dried for storage. If you don't soak them, you're looking at a longer cooking time. Once upon a time, cooking something meant chopping wood or burning something expensive like coal. So cooking efficiency was critical. You didn't want to burn more calories than you'd gain by eating the food.

These days, it's easy to speed dried-bean prep with the quick-soak method: Cover them with water, bring them a boil, cover and remove from heat. Let them stand for 1 hour and then cook them. It's much easier and quicker than overnight soaking.

Because black-eyed peas are smaller than, say, Great Northern beans, they may cook through faster. The age of dried beans also makes a difference in how long it takes them to cook. Beans that are especially old, like the ones people use in decorative jars, can cook for a long time without ever completely softening.

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