Laura Dean Bennett
Those who dabble in the culinary arts, be they cooks or bakers or both, come in several varieties.
There’s the “follow the recipe exactly” type, the “who needs a recipe?” type and the “if I don’t have the exact ingredients, I don’t mind substituting” type.
Some stick to traditional home cooking, while others do some of their best work when branching out into more exotic fare.
Shirlene Groseclose, a chef and baker, falls in the adventurous category.
Although she considers herself a novice baker, she’s really innovative and adventurous and even comes up with her own recipes.
“One good thing COVID-19 has done is wake up my need to keep busy experimenting,” Shirlene said. “It’s an honor to recreate family recipes, but it’s fun to make up my own, too.
“My advice to novice bakers like me is to not be afraid to try. It will either work or it won’t, and you’ll know how to improve next time.
“Also, learn to substitute ingredients,” she added.
According to Shirlene, you can always turn to the internet for ideas.
“There’s no need to panic if you’re out of eggs or you want to use oil for a certain recipe,” she said. “There are many ways to overcome obstacles or to make a recipe healthier.”
And she recommends improvising.
“I often add something I think will make a recipe taste better and ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s a hit.
“When following someone else’s recipe, don’t be afraid to give it your own twist.
“When I’m baking, I turn on some music, I pray, I sing and think of things that I’m thankful for.
“Above all, enjoy the process!” she added.
Shirlene teaches Spanish at Pocahontas County High School and her husband, Jesse, is a farmer and a Pocahontas County Commissioner.
She and Jesse will celebrate their 20th anniversary in May.
They raise cattle on their farm in Edray.
Shirlene enjoys being a farmer’s wife and helping out on the farm.
“I think I’m a good example of someone who didn’t grow up on a farm, but I’ve loved proving that anyone can flourish here if they appreciate the land,” she said.
“I used to always have a garden, and I’m going to have one this year. We’ll grow beans, beets, tomatoes, peppers and corn.
“I learned to can from my mom and Jennie Viers. They canned everything and so do I – even deer meat.”
Shirlene makes applesauce from the apples on their early transparent tree, and she freezes all of it.
“I started cooking when I went off to college and didn’t have a choice.
“I could live off Ramen or I could cook,” Shirlene explained.
“I’d watched my mom, Mayra, and Yanira, our nanny, cook for years and Yanira’s cooking is the best! So I called and asked questions and started cooking.
“At that time I lived in Puerto Rico, so I cooked a lot of rice and beans but Dominican style, which is my heritage.
“My grandma Esther was a big influence, too. She made soup for “Sunday Soup Day,” and I do that from time to time in her honor.
“Once I moved to the states, Jennie Viers had a great influence on my American cooking.
“She was a great cook. Her Watergate salad is one of my favorites.
“Inevitably, cooking brings me back to family and peace,” Shirlene continued.
“My sisters-in-law, Shana and Amy, and brother-in-law, Kim, are great cooks and every time they visit, I learn something from them.
“There’s no family gathering without my mother-in-law Connie’s homemade rolls – which are Jesse’s favorite.
“There’s nothing like cooking together.
“When they are home, we have a blast in the kitchen. It’s our gathering place.”
Shirlene’s favorite bread to make these days is olive bread.
“But, if we are talking about non-yeast bread, then it would be zucchini bread,” she said.
“I have Grandma Groseclose’s recipe, and it is perfect.”
When I asked Shirlene about doing a bread-baking story for The Pocahontas Times, she’d just baked a beautiful loaf of Black Olive Crusty Top Bread, and she graciously agreed to share the recipe with our readers.
“I wish I could say this olive bread is an old family recipe passed down for generations,” Shirlene said. “But the reality is that I am not much of a baker of yeast bread.
“I can make good zucchini and banana bread and muffins.
“I’ve been successful with tortillas, Naan (Indian bread), and last week I made bagels for the first time.
“I’ve only made yeast bread once before – about 18 years ago.”
But as she was casting about and deciding what to bake the other day, she came upon the idea of making bread with olives.
“While looking to see what I had on hand, I found two four ounce cans of olives.
“Jess and I both love black olives, and I thought black olive bread sounded yummy.
“As I’ve said, I do love to cook new things and to experiment.
“I found olive bread recipes online which called for kalamata olives and bread flour.
Shirlene didn’t have either, but, you guessed it, that did not stop her.
“I used a combination of a couple of different recipes and my own adaptations,” she laughed.
“All purpose flour substituted for the bread flour and instead of kalamata olives, I used the canned diced and crushed olives I had in the pantry.
“I decided to use some of the crushed olives, in addition to the diced olives, because I really wanted the black olive taste to abound throughout the bread,” she added.
Apparently, her improvisation was a hit.
The bread was beautiful and it tasted good, too.
“It was delicious,” Shirlene said. “Jess said it was perfect, and he wouldn’t change a thing!”
Shirlene’s Black Olive Crusty Top Bread
3 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp. or half a packet of Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise yeast
2 Tbsp. plus 3 tsp. olive oil divided (I use extra virgin)
1 cup warm water
1 3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 of 4 oz. can crushed olives
3/4 of 4 oz. can sliced olives
1. In a small bowl, combine yeast and warm water. Wait a couple minutes before you stir to combine.
2. In a large bowl, I use my Kitchen Aid bowl, mix flour, salt, add the yeast mixture, 2 Tbsp. olive oil and the olives. Mix until it forms dough. I use my mixer on low-med speed with my dough hook.
3. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. (It probably needed to be worked more but I didn’t have the patience.)
4. Before placing it back in a large bowl, coat the bottom with olive oil. Cover it with a cloth and let it rise for about 2 hours or until it has doubled in size.
5. Slide it out of the bowl unto floured counter again and punch dough several times, kneading in between punches.
6. Meanwhile, I like to speed up the proofing process by heating my oven to 180 degrees and then turning it off. Let it cool a bit.
7. Again, I coat the bottom of the bowl with olive oil. Then place dough back in the bowl. Cover with a towel. Put the covered bowl in barely warm oven. Place a glass of water on the rack beside it or below. Let it proof for about 30 minutes or till it doubles in size again.
8. Recipes I found asked for it to be baked covered in a Dutch oven. I didn’t have one so I placed my round loaf unto a pie dish to keep it from spreading out. I coated the top with olive oil.
9. Bake at 425º for 30 minutes. Then lower temp to 375º for another 15 to 20 minutes or so. I just watched mine so the top would not burn. You may need to play with your times and temperatures to get it just right for your oven.
“As for the unused olives, you could put them on top of the bread before baking it,” Shirlene said, “but I made myself a grilled cheese sandwich with olives the next day.”
There may never be a better time to plan a baking adventure in your own kitchen. Why not get started?