Thursday, September 30, 2010

When the Starter Hasn't Started

Many of the directions for sourdough starter result in excess that needs to be discarded. But do you really have to throw it away?

Nah.

I mean, after all, it's just flour and water, right? It may be bubbling a bit, or it might just be sitting there being sad and unresponsive. But it's just flour and water with not enough wild yeast to give your bread a rise. Because if it was active, you'd be using it for real sourdough bread, right?

Lately I've been experimenting with sourdough cultures, trying to find the ultimate method for growing a culture with the least amount of fuss and the least amount of waste. But that experimenting has resulted in a lot of excess starter that's not quite ready to work on its own. There's no way I'm going to throw away food that I can find a use for, even if it's just flour.

Unfortunately, my recipe for using that leftover starter it is less than precise. It has to be that way, though, because there's no way to predict how much starter you'll have to dispose of, or how wet that starter might be.

But here's what I did:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ribs on the Grill - Vacation Inspired

When we drove to Chicago for a family get-together, I stopped at stores all along the way looking for interesting regional products. Since we stopped in both Kansas City and St. Louis, barbecue sauces and rubs landed in my cart with alarming regularity.

Babyback pork ribs were on the menu, the grill was standing ready, and I randomly chose one rub and two sauces to sample.

The rub was Zarda Barbecue Rub, and the two random sauces were Gates Sweet and Mild and Maull's Sweet and Mild. I didn't purposely pick two "sweet and mild" sauces, but they were the first ones I grabbed from their respective cities.

I sprinkled the ribs generously with the rub about an hour before I was ready to cook, and put the ribs into a plastic bag and tucked it into a fridge.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

BOTD: Caramel Apple Bread

After working on perfecting apple cider bread, I kept thinking about what else I could do with apples in bread. I've already done an apple cinnamon bread, so I was looking for something different.

Halloween decorations and the chill of fall in the air got me thinking about caramel apples.

Neither of the apple cider breads that I had made were particularly sweet, which was the goal. But once I got the idea of caramel apples in my head, I wanted to marry that sweet flavor with the tart apples. My favorite caramel apples are the ones with nuts on the outside. So that was the flavor profile I was looking for.

Like the apple cider bread, I used grated apples and apple cider in the dough, but I wanted that mixture of apples, sweet caramel, and nuts to shine through, just like that first bite of a caramel apple leads to pure apple. To accomplish that, I made a swirled bread with dulce de leche, diced apples, and chopped peanuts in the sweet swirl.

Monday, September 27, 2010

BOTD: Apple Cider Bread, Version 3

What happened to Version 2? You saw Version 1, but didn't see Version 2 posted? Hmmmm.... 
You can almost smell the apples... What? You can't?
Well, it's like this...

We're best off skipping right past Version 2. While I was adding ingredients and adjusting the method, I somehow managed not one, but TWO massive screwups in the midst of making the bread.

Let's just say that the bread was less than perfect and not worth your reading time, and now we'll move on to something more worthy, shall we?

In this version of Apple Cider Bread, I opted for Jonathan Apples from the farmer's market. Might as well go with fresh apples and support the local economy. Size-wise, these were smaller than the Granny Smith apples that I used in the previous version. The Jonathans weighed about a quarter-pound each.

I've since heard that this is very similar to the Wegman's bread I was trying to replicate. Except, of course, that this one doesn't have golden raisins. I don't do raisins. Add a handful or two to your bread if you like them.

This apple bread adventure also spawned the Caramel Apple Bread, with a weet swirl of dulce de leche, apples and peanuts in addition to apples in the bread itself.

In this version, I decreased the amount of apple cider, and increased the amount of boiled cider, sugar, cinnamon, and butter. I also opted to grate some of the apples. And since the grated apples added moisture, this version has a bit more flour, as well.

I also have been decreasing the size of the apple chunks with each version of the bread. Now I'm down to about a 1/4 dice.

While the larger sizes look more dramatic, the smaller chunks give a better chance that there will be a couple chunks in each slice. And I figured that the grated apples would distribute that apple flavor through the bread, rather than just those few big chunks.

This bread is a slow riser once the sugar and cider are incorporated, so while I don't normally suggest rising bread in a warm place, for this one, it's a good idea, unless you have all day to let it take its time.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mushooms, Zucchini, and Piquillo (Oh my!)

Okay, I'll admit it. Some of my recent mushroom posts have been inspired my a mushroom contest running at TasteSpotting. It would be nice to win a little something for my efforts, but I'm not selling my soul for the contest, either. I really do like mushrooms. A lot.

Okay, I'll admit it. I looooove mushrooms.

This time, I decided to pair the mushrooms with a giant zucchini that suddenly appeared in my kitchen. This wasn't a ridiculously overgrown zucchini, but it was a lot bigger than the little ones that I like raw in salads. The seeds weren't completely inedible, but the center was getting spongy.

I used about a third of the length of the zucchini. I cut that third lengthwise in thirds, turned it 90 degrees and cut in thirds again. I removed the center piece which was the spongiest portion, then cubed the rest.

Mushrooms, Zucchini and Piquillos

1 pound button mushrooms, cleaned as needed
1/3 of a large zucchini, cubed
4 fire-roasted piquillo peppers, chopped
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Balsamic vinegar, to taste
Olive oil for cooking, about 1 tablespoon

Heat the olive oil in a medium frying pan, then add the zucchini. Let the brown a bit, then add the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the mushrooms release their water, then add the piquillo peppers and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Keep cooking until the liquid has evaporated.

On the hot dog trail with Adam Kuban

When I heard that Serious Eats guru Adam Kuban was coming to Denver to sample hot dogs, I volunteered my services as sidekick. Happily, he agreed to let me tag along.

Here's Adam, looking happy. We're gonna go eat hot dogs! Yay!



I'm not sure who those four guys in the background are. They might be (a) a barbershop quartet; (b) a nonthreatening-looking gang; (c) employees of the business in the background wearing the company tee shirt; or (d) guys eating hot dogs.

My money's on c and d.

Adam had one place on his "must try" list, and that was Biker Jim's, a stand that can be found at the 16th Street Mall in Denver during the week, and in the parking lot of Argonaut Liquors on Saturdays. Since it was Saturday, we headed off to the liquor store.


Biker Jim's had a bit of a crowd assembled, so we had some time to chat, take photos, and decide what dogs to sample. For some reason, we talked a lot about food. And a little about Serious Eats, which is all about food, anyway.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Longmont Breweries

It's funny how, when you have out of town guests, you rediscover your own town. 
In this case, we toured and tasted beers in Longmont, Colorado.
Come along for the photo tour:


First stop: Left Hand Brewing Company.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Miracle Berry

I read about the Miracle Berry several years ago, and it intrigued me. When you eat this strange little fruit, it does something odd to your taste buds so that sour things taste sweet. Lemons and limes are supposed to be sweet and Guiness beer is supposed to taste like a chocolate malt.

I looked online to find this strange berry, but didn't have a lot ot luck finding a good source. But then I found a nursery that was selling plants. So I bought one. It's a nice looking plant and I got one that was a decent size, maybe about two feet tall.

The first year, at first the plant didn't do much at all, but when I moved it outdoors and fed it some acidic fertilizer it started growing new leaves and looking a lot happier. Later, I got a couple reluctant flowers, but no fruit. The second year, I got two crops of flowers and two berries that never got ripe.

This year I got a lot of flowers before I moved the plant outdoors (I move quite a few plants outdoors during the summer and move them back indoors when it gets cool.) The first batch of flowers didn't give me any berries, but then it bloomed again. A lot fewer flowers, but I got one berry and it was early enough that now it's ripe.

It's a pretty thing - bright red against the green leaves. But does it really do what I've heard? Does it really change the way things taste?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Marinated Mushrooms with Black Garlic

Do you love the marinated mushrooms that are sold at olive bars and in jars?

Why not make your own? You can tweak the flavors and the tartness to suit your taste and match your meal. Make a few or make a big batch. Toss them into salads, eat them as appetizers or snacks, use them in recipes...the possibilities are endless.

While I love the garlicky marinated mushrooms sold at my local specialty store, there are times I don't want that much garlic. And although I'm a big fan of tartness, it's not a bad idea to temper that a bit. There are plenty of smooth vinegars to choose from.

I didn't eliminate the garlic entirely, though. Instead of using regular garlic, I used black garlic, which has a sweeter, smoother and less harsh flavor.

For the vinegar, I chose a good sherry vinegar. If you don't have sherry vinegar, balsamic or red wine vinegar would be good - or use half red wine vinegar and half balsamic for a nice balance.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Technique: The Windowpane Test

One of the keys to getting a loaf of bread that rises well is developing the gluten enough so that it will hold all the lovely gas bubbles that the yeast creates, and then stretch even further so those gas-holding pockets can expand in the heat of the oven.

Most bread recipes, mine included, will tell you to keep kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic. That's simple enough, right? The dough goes from being a clumpy, lumpy mass to something that is cohesive and, well, smooth. And instead of tearing off in ragged chunks, it begins to stretch. And the more you knead, the stretchier it gets.

But when do you stop kneading? How elastic does it need to be?

Oh, if only there was a simple test for checking the elasticity of the dough!

But wait! There is! It's the Windowpane Test!

Ask about the windowpane test in any serious bread-baking forum and it's almost guaranteed that some wise guy will tell you to throw a hunk of dough at the window, and if it sticks, it's done. In kinder, gentler groups, someone else will probably explain the windowpane test.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

BOTD: Milk and Honey Bread (with Saffron)

For no good reason, the words "milk and honey" were bouncing around in my head when I was thinking about a new bread. I didn't want a sweet bread, though. I wanted something that would be savory and interesting, but also useful for sandwiches.

In particular, I wanted something that would complement a tomato and mayo sandwich.

I nixed the idea of making anything with oregano or basil after a brief consideration, even though both would pair nicely with tomato. I settled on saffron. It has warm, luxurious flavor, and it adds beautiful color. A little saffron goes a long way - the flavor should tease your senses rather than sledgehammer them into oblivion.

The resulting bread is soft, but not in that annoying gummy squishy way. As for the flavor, even though I knew what was in it, my first thought was how buttery is was. The bread is a pale yellow; not enough that it seems artificial, but just enough to hint at specialness.

This is great buttered, toasted, as part of a sandwich, or just plain. It's that good.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

Along with the lamb chops from the previous post, I grilled some portobello mushrooms.

To prepare the mushrooms, I brushed them on the top with olive oil, brushed the gills with lemon olive oil, and sprinkled with a bit of salt. They willingly shared the grill with the lamb chops. By the way, those aren't huge portobellos in the photo, those are really small lamb chops.

I grilled the portobello mushrooms until they were just about cooked through. The great thing is that you can eat them anywhere from raw to fully cooked, so it's entirely up to you. The portobello is meaty enough to work as a vegetarian entree or as a side dish for meat eaters, and grilling adds a nice smoky flavor.


To finish the meal, we had fresh cucumbers and tomatoes served on my new salt slab.


That's a mighty mushroom!

Grilled Lamb Chops

I'm not ready to say good-by to summer yet, so I decided to grill some lovely little lamb chops.


In the morning, I put the chops in a zip-top bag with a few springs of finely chopped garden-fresh rosemary, a little bit of lemon olive oil, and more extra virgin olive oil to coat all of the chops. I left that refrigerated until shortly before it was time to grill.

Then it was simply a matter of grilling the chops to the desired doneness.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

BOTD: Apple Cider Bread

My first version of Apple Cider Bread
Facebook made me do it.

Okay, not really Facebook, but some of my Facebook friends started talking about some kind of bread that they thought sounded good, and the next thing you know I was dragged into the conversation with the suggestion that I should make this bread and publish the recipe.

Well, fine, I'm up for a challenge. And this was really a challenge because I was trying to replicate a bread that I had never tasted. And some of the people who were asking about the bread had never tasted it either.

The bread in question is sold by Wegmans and the major ingredients are: Enriched Flour, Apple Cider, Apples, and Golden Raisins. Minor ingredients (2% or less) are: Apple Juice Concentrate, Yeast, Rye Flour, Salt, Cinnamon, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Silicon Dioxide, Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavor, and Preservatives.

And this is a photo of a slice that someone sent to me:


In my world, raisins are always optional, so my ingredient list for my first effort includes bread flour, apple cider, apples, boiled cider, yeast, vanilla, salt and cinnamon.

I think the easiest way to deal with apples for a recipe like this is to cut them in half, core with a melon baller, then cut the halves in half and peel those quarters. But do it any way you like.

This was Version 1 of the recipe. (There was a second version that was less than wonderful and a third version in another post. Not that I disliked this version, but it has a lot of potential for different tastes. In subsequent versions, the apple pieces were smaller, with even more apple flavor to the dough.

This also spawned a Caramel Apple Bread that was sweeter than either of the two apple breads.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Kitchen Throwdown: Silpat vs. Parchment Paper

If you have a Silpat (or similar), do you need parchment paper too? Is there a better option than those rolls of parchment at the grocery store? Can you re-use parchment paper? Which is more cost-effective? How long does a Silpat last?

I've heard all these questions, and some of them assume that it's an either-or choice between parchment paper and Silpats. For some people, it is and either-or. Me, I use both.

First, let's talk about the Silpat. On the plus side, it should last nearly forever if you take care of it properly. BUT. You shouldn't use it if it gets damaged. So you have to treat it a bit gently. You can't cut things on it, and you should fold it or scrub it or mangle it. A Silpat has glass fibers inside, and if it gets cut or damaged, those fibers could end up in your food. Yuck.

Silpats are cheaper now than they used to be. Recently, I've seen them for about $20 for the half-sheet size. But if you plan on using them for your Christmas cookie baking frenzy, you'd probably want several of them. It starts getting expensive if you can fit three sheets in your oven and then you want an extra one or two for the cookies you are getting ready to put into the oven.

But is parchment any cheaper? I've seen rolls of parchment paper of various lengths at the grocery store for under $10. Honestly, though, the rolled parchment is annoying to deal with. Flat sheets are so much better. I've seen little packages of parchment paper in the grocery store as well. These are folded. I've never bought them, so I don't know if the folds are as annoying to deal with as the curls in the rolls, but if you don't need a lot of parchment, I suppose it's nice to be able to buy a few sheets at a time. But it's probably not cost effective if you use as much parchment as I do.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Accidental Cheese

As hard as this is to believe, I was on my way to making bread and ended up making cheese.

No, really.

I wanted to bake a loaf of bread and at the same time I realized I was overstocked with milk. So I decided I should make a bread that would use a lot of milk.

I put 1 1/2 cups of milk in a saucepan to scald it. Heat went on, milk barely started to bubble, and then it looked ... funny. I stirred it and there were great large lumps of curd in the whey.

Oh well.

Now, I know the milk wasn't bad. Not even starting to go off. This was the milk I had used in my coffee in the morning. It was fine. Except for some reason it wanted to separate when it was heated.

Okay, cheese then. I've made enough cheese. I can wing this. But 1 1/2 cups of milk is not nearly enough to make a sensible amount of cheese. So I tossed in the rest of the milk from that batch of milk, which was a bit over a quart. I stirred it around, kicked the heat back on and nothing was happening. Decided to add a bit of acid to move it along, and found 1/2 of a lemon that had been partially squeezed. Got the juice out of that and dumped the lemon juice into the water. Still no separation.

In fact, the curds that had been there before had now dissolved. I had hot lemony milk.

Sigh. And the bread was waiting to be made.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It Rocks!

Ooooohhh ... a present!

A pretty rock.

It's pink!

It's BIG.

I'm such a lucky gal!

Solid Salt!
Himalayan salt plate. 
It's approximately 8 x 12 x 1 1/2 inches, and weighs about 16 pounds. 
For baking, cooking and serving.

I'm sure there will be recipes to come.

Pasta with Mushrooms, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes

Yes, I said "mushrooms" twice. I looooove mushrooms. They were my favorite food when I was a kid, and I never outgrew my fondness for them.

The first mushrooms I ever ate came from a can, and later I discovered the wonders of fresh mushrooms.

Button mushrooms were the first fresh mushrooms I learned how to cook, and I still love them. There are more exotic mushrooms in the stores these days, but button mushrooms are always available and they're comfortingly familiar. They're great raw, cooked, or pickled. What's not to love?

But sometimes one mushroom isn't enough, so I added a portobello for some variety in both texture and flavor.

I love lemon and mushrooms together. Here, it's not so much a flavor as an added brightness. If you want a lemony flavor, add a squeeze of lemon after plating.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Milk Liqueur

When I saw a recipe for Milk Liqueur at Serious Eats, I had to give it a try. Back in the day, I used to be quite fond of White Russians, and Baileys is still on my list for winter sipping now and then, so a liqueur based on milk and infused with chocolate sounded pretty darned good.

As far as recipes go, it was a slam-dunk. Pour it all into a big jar, shake it once a day, and strain it after 10 days.

The ingredient list was a little strange, with vodka (or grappa), milk, sugar, lemon, and grated chocolate. And this mess is left to sit at room temperature.

I ended up making it with both grappa and vodka - I had grappa on hand, and thought I had enough. But no. So I bought vodka to make up the difference.

BOTD: Chickpea Sourdough

When we last left our experimental chickpea sourdough starter, it was Day 5, and I was stirring it but not adding anything to it. It was bubbling happily.

On Day 6, I fed it twice, two tablespoons of flour each time and I stirred it down several times. It was rising up in the jar with great enthusiasm.

On Day 7, I decided it was time to bake with it. I also decided I didn't need another starter in my refrigerator, so I opted to use all of the starter for the bread.

At this point, it had a faint odor of beer. Not a bad smell, but quite different from the all-wheat starters I had sitting right next to it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BOTD: Lazy Day Summer Sandwich Bread - Cooked in the Gas Grill

Good bread can't be rushed, but it can be delayed. When you're feeling lazy, this bread accommodates. There are the usual steps, but it's all at a slow pace. And perfect for summer, I cooked this one in the gas grill. Why not? It's just a big outdoor oven.

The tricky part about baking on an outdoor grill is regulating the temperature, and the first part of regulating is knowing what the temperature is. My grill came with a thermometer that listed low, medium and high, which wasn't good enough for me, so I replaced it with a thermometer that lists actual temperatures. After that, it was just a matter of figuring out which of the three burners need to be on, and how high they should be to hit a particular temperature. 

When I make things like bread, I leave the center burner off to keep from burning the bottom of my loaf of bread, and the side burners to go medium-low after the initial preheat. That's what works for me, but your grill might be different, so experiment.

The other thing to know about cooking bread in a grill, as opposed to in an oven, is that when you open it, you release a LOT of heat since it goes straight up and ... gone. You lose heat when you open an oven, but not as much. So don't be checking your bread any more than you need to, or plan on increasing the baking time.

If you don't have a dedicated thermometer to check the temperature of your grill, use a remote-read thermometer so you can check the temperature without having to open the lid.

Of course, you can always make this bread in your oven.

For this particular bread, I used whey that was left over from yogurt-making, but water will work just as well. Normally, the liquid used in bread dough is warm, or at least room temperature. In this case, I used refrigerator-temperature whey, and I had a good reason. I wanted the flour to hydrate and the gluten to develop while the yeast woke up slowly.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sourdough starter, three ways

I have several different sourdough starters in my refrigerator, but after a couple of conversations about creating one, I began thinking about possible new starters. I've always been a sourdough purist, using nothing but flour and water. No fruit juice, no potato water, no additives. Just flour and tap water.

But it's been a while since I started a starter, so my recollection of how much and how many days was fuzzy, so it made it hard for me to explain my procedure. And then I started questioning some of the conventional wisdom. I decided to do a little experiment.

And then one new starter morphed into three.

I'd read that chickpea flour gives your starter a big boost, so I thought that might be worth trying. And to see how it compared to the usual flour-water version, I figured I'd start one of those, too. And then I started questioning why you have to feed your starter before it's bubbling. I mean, it's not eating anything until it's bubbling, so why do you need to double it several times a day before it's active?

So I decided to add another element to my test. Feed one starter and just stir the other one. Stirring is good for the starter - adding oxygen makes the yeasts happy. So when I added more flour and water to one jar, I stirred the other. Vigorously. Just as vigorously as when I added the flour and water.

And while I was at it, I decided to make my flour/water starters extremely wet. Better to see the bubbling action.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Next Iron Chef

The Next Iron Chef, Season 3, begins on October 3.
Okay, I'll admit it. In my dreams, I compete in Kitchen Stadium.

If there ever was a chance for home cooks to battle it out in that venue, I'd be all over it. I recently went to a casting call for The Next Food Network Star (nothing came of it; let's not get excited) and in my far-fetched dreams, I was thinking that one of the biggest thrills of the competition would be to compete in the mini-Iron Chef challenge.

I'm really that much of an Iron Chef geek.

I know there's no chance I'd ever compete there outside my fantasies, but a girl can dream.

Meanwhile, reality says that there's a new Next Iron Chef competition coming up. The list of chefs is interesting: Marco Canora (Chef & Owner of Hearth, Terrior, and Terroir TriBeca, in New York), Bryan Caswell (Chef & Owner, Reef, Stella Sola, and Little Bigs, in Houston, Texas), Maneet Chauhan (Chef at Vermillion, in Chicago and New York), Mary Dumont (Executive Chef at Harvest, in Cambridge, Mass.), Duskie Estes (Chef & Owner of Zazu Restaurant + Farm, Bovolo, and Black Pig Meat Co., in Sonoma County, Calif.), Marc Forgione (Chef & Owner of Marc Forgione, in New York), Andrew Kirschner (Executive Chef of Wilshire, in Santa Monica, Calif.), Mario Pagán (Chef & Owner of Chayote and Lemongrass, in Puerto Rico), Celino Tio (Chef & Owner of Julian, in Kansas City, Mo.), and Ming Tsai  (Chef & Owner of Blue Ginger, in Wellesley, Mass.).

My immediate thought was that one chef was not like all the others. While some of the restaurants and chefs were sort of familiar to me, Ming Tsai is very familiar. He's had his own television shows. He has appeared on other shows. This is a guy who could probably walk into the Food Network and create his own show tomorrow. So why is he competing to be an Iron Chef?

Maybe it's not just me who thinks the show is cool. Maybe chefs think it is too - even famous chefs?

So folks, are you going to watch it? Are there any chefs that you're rooting for? Me, I'm rooting for Ming, but I'll have to see how the others stack up. I wasn't on the Michael Symon bandwagon initially, but since then I've come to really like they guy. And having him as a judge on The Next Iron Chef will make the show even better for me. I love his giggle.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chipotle Beans

All righty. I'm still on a spicy kick. Tonight I went a little crazy. We had chicken mole, these beans, the spicy summer salad I posted before, and a version of guacamole that had chipotle peppers in it. The only thing that wasn't spicy was the rice.
 
Speaking of rice, I'm thinking that these beans mixed with some of the leftover rice would make a great lunch tomorrow.

Cooking dried beans up here at high altitude can be a bit challenging. Cooking it in a pot on the stovetop can take too long and require too much attention to make sure the water doesn't boil away. So if I've got a lot of time, I usually cook them in the crockpot.

If I'm time-challenged, the beans have to go into the pressure cooker. Today, I was time challenged. I didn't even have time for soaking - it was just sort, rinse, and cook.

If you're using a pressure cooker, make sure you check the proper timing for cooking beans in your particular cooker - they're not all the same. Undercooking isn't a big deal since you can finish on the stove or re-seal the pressure cooker and go for a few more minutes. But if you overcook, you'd better be planning on refried beans or bean soup.

When you're planning a meal that requires the pressure cooker, keep in mind that the timing starts when the cooker comes up to pressure. And then the top won't come off until the pressure is released. Depending on what sort of pressure cooker you have, that can be quick, or it can take a little longer.

I used an electric pressure cooker for these beans. The pressure doesn't come up as high as with my old stovetop model, but on the plus side, the timing is automatic. I tell it how long to cook and it starts timing when it gets up to pressure and it beeps when its done, so I can ignore it once the food is in. It's also faster to release pressure than my stovetop model. So the cooking can take a little longer, but I gain some time back because I don't have to wait as long to open the lid. It's not a big deal if it's opened at the end of cooking, but if I want to add ingredients in several stages, it's nice to be able to do it quickly.

If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can make this in a crockpot or on the stove. Just adjust the cooking time accordingly. And if you've got time to soak the beans, you can do that as well.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Spicy Summer Salad

When Serious Eats posted "A fond farewell to summer (produce)" as the Weekend Cook and Tell talk topic, I wanted to kick and scream like a toddler. NO! I'm not ready for summer to end! I'm not done eating fresh tomatoes and lovely produce from the farmer's market!

NooooooOOOoooooo...

But really, it's fall and the fall produce is just as wonderful as the summer selections. And most of the summer vegetables will be available here until the market closes in late fall. Some things will disappear, but much of it will be around until I finally say "good-bye" to the farmers at the end of October.

Besides tomatoes, my favorite summer vegetable is the often-ignored pickling cucumber. While they make great pickles, they're also my first choice for eating. And when I buy too many, they become salads. Much of the time I pair them with dill, but lately I've been on a spice binge, and I happened to have Serrano peppers growing happily outside, and I thought a red one would look pretty in the salad.

The summer squash I used was a yellow pattypan, but use whatever you like. I used just one serrano, but you can use more - or less - or use any pepper you like. I like this salad best after it has rested in the refrigerator overnight. Particularly with the hot pepper, it gives that flavor a chance to mingle. It also mellows the bite of the onions.

I left the Serrano pepper in slices so they could easily be picked out of the salad if someone didn't want that much heat in one bite. You could also choose to dice the pepper to spread the heat around more. And remember, the seeds can be very hot, so if you don't want the heat, seed the peppers before you slice them. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

BOTD Work in Progress: Water Rising

The control loaf, risen normally.
In the previously mentioned book, Bread Matters, the author briefly described a method he'd found in an obscure Russian cookbook written in the late 1800s, where the dough was left to rise in a bucket of water.

I couldn't read something like that and not try it.

The theory is that the bread is ready to be baked when it is floating on top, presumably because that means there's enough air trapped in the dough.

Allegedly, if you drop a lump of dough into water, the whole loaf you have formed will be ready for the oven when the lump floats. Before I tried this experiment, that test made sense. Now, I can see some flaws in the theory.

The water-risen test loaf.
Andrew Whitley, the author of Bread Matters, said that he tried the method but found that handing a slippery loaf of wet bread was too annoying. That wasn't enough to deter me.

One missing bit of information was the temperature of the water. Whitley said that the Russian book called for water that was the temperature of the river in summer.


I have no idea what river that was or how warm or cool it was in summer, but I went for something a little cooler than room temperature. And there was no mention of what type of bread was being dropped into that bucket of water, but from what Whitley said, it was more of a general tip for new housewives who needed help with breadmaking.

With that little bit of information, I carried on with the experiment. I made a batch of my basic, everyday bread with no frills except that I substituted whey for the water because I had whey on hand from making yogurt. I let it rise once as usual. Then I divided my dough in half. The plan was that I'd use the water-rising dough as my gauge for when both loaves were ready to bake.

Plans don't always work.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What I'm Reading: Bread Matters

Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley has recipes, but I'd have a hard time classifying it as a cookbook. The recipes don't start until chapter six, which is about 140 pages into the book. The first part of the book is history, ingredients, techniques, nutrition, and a whole lot more.

There's a whole lot of science in the book, but I do have a little quibble with some of the conclusions the author makes from the science. He goes a little further than I'm comfortable when he moves from correlation to cause-and-effect. He might be correct, but I tend to be a little more cautious.

But that's not a terrible flaw. You can read the science and draw your own conclusions. But in the end, the book is about making better bread. So whether or not you believe that store-bought bread is bad for you or not, the truth is that home-baked bread is probably going to taste better.

The book is also Euro-centric, so he'll often say "This is what it's like here... and in America, it's that." It's a small world and there aren't that many differences that we need to worry too much about, though.

I do agree with Whitley that a long rise makes a better bread. He does give some instructions for speeding up the process to about three hours, which is reasonable. I haven't made any of his breads yet, but they look like they'd work well.

He's got quite a number of basic breads, and then later in the book, he uses some of those breads as the base for breads with additional ingredients or slightly different techniques. I'm not sure yet what I think of that. On the one hand, it shows that the same recipe can become a number of different things. But on the other hand, treating them as completely different recipes means you'll start in one part of the book and have to flip back to se how to make the base dough. It might be easier to work with if all the recipes that used one base were grouped together, but you'd still be flipping pages to get there.

At this point, I've read the first chunk of the book and many of the recipes, and I've got to say that I'm probably going to read it again and refer to it often. I'm already picking out a couple recipes that look interesting, and thinking about playing with some of the techniques in the book.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fourmile Fire near Boulder, Colorado

Let me interrupt this cooking blog to show you what else is going on in the neighborhood. There are wildfires burning about 20 miles from where I live. I'm okay, but we're all feeling the effects.

On the first night, the fire was estimated to be encompassing an area of about 3500 acres. By the second night it was over 7100 acres and was "zero-percent contained" according to reports I've read. The fire isn't moving my way, and I'm not in danger of much except smoke and dust, so don't worry about me. I'm fine.

My friend Curtis Jones took these photos of the smoke seen in the distance. They're pretty photos of a disturbing event.




For more of Curtis's great photos, check out his flickr photos at www.flickr.com/photos/curtisjones

BOTD: Savory Monkey Bread

MMmmmm...savory monkey!

Wait. What?

Monkey Bread - it doesn't stay whole for long.
It's a funny name, and it's a fun loaf of bread. I don't know what it is about pull-apart loaves, but they invite nibbling. People who would normally eat one slice of bread often find themselves unable to resist pulling off just one more little bit. And then one more. And then this little piece is dangling ... this bread simply doesn't last long.

While I normally suggest that you don't slice a loaf of bread until it's completely cooled, the monkey bread doesn't want you to wait. Go ahead and serve it warm.

When most people think of monkey bread, they think of the cinnamon-sugar version, but there's no reason why you can't make a herby, savory version that's perfect for lunch, brunch, or dinner. The flavors I chose for this one were garlic, paprika, rosemary and thyme. If you now have a song stuck in your head, don't blame me. And if you don't like the combination of flavors I chose, use whatever you like.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Longmont Farmer's Market

It's my favorite time of the year for farmer's market shopping. There are peaches, pears, apples and hard squash right next to delicate lettuce, sweet and hot peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. It's almost time to start buying in quantity for canning, freezing and preserving.

Here's just a little of what I found over the weekend:

At the beginning of the alphabet, we have apples.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Kitchen Hack - Cheap Baking Stone

A visitor to this blog emailed me about what sort of baking stone I use in my oven. Truth is, I used to have a couple stones that I liked. A few were gifts, and I picked up a really heavy one at a garage sale. But time took their toll on them, and one by one, they broke.

I went shopping for a new one, but then I decided to go the cheap route and bought unglazed quarry tiles instead. I bought them at the local Home Depot, and they cost me about fifty cents each. The tiles are 6x6 inches, and at that size I figured that six would make a decent-sized grid - 12 x 18 inches. I bought a dozen so I could double-stack them, and if I wanted to I could divide them up so I could have six above and six below whatever I was baking.

I also figured that if I needed to replace a single tile, it was a heck of a lot less expensive than replacing a whole stone. I decided that I'd use the tiles for a while, and if I hated the idea, it wasn't a big expense.

I've been using them now for several months, and I discovered a couple little flaws with my cheap baking stone hack. First, because they're individual tiles, they can move around a bit if I'm being too aggressive with them. They don't move far, but they do jiggle apart a bit. Not really a huge deal, but a minor annoyance.

The second small issue is that they're sort of annoying to take out and put back in, if I need to do so. I don't do it often, but sometimes I need to rearrange the racks, and sometimes that extra bit of space makes a difference when I'm baking on all three racks. Bad enough when I remember to remove them before I preheat, but if I forget and have to pull them out when they're hot...not fun.

I thought about putting them on a baking sheet, but they don't fit in a standard half-sheet pan. I considered cutting them, but, eh, never got around it. Then I was at the local restaurant supply house looking for parchment sheets (and that's a whole other post) and I saw that they had 3/4 sheet pans. The owner explained that the full sheet pans are usually just a little large for home ovens, and that they 3/4 sheet pans are the biggest that most people can use.

The light bulb over my head turned on, and I went home to measure my quarry tiles and my oven. The next day I went back to pick up a brand new 3/4 baking sheet.

Just that little bit helps them grip each other.
And here's the great part. The stones were a little slippy in the oven, but when I laid the first layer top-down, they didn't slide on the pan as much as I expected. This left the ridges facing up, and I laid the next layer on top of that, slightly jogged upward and sideways so that the stones would interlock a bit with each other and that little bit seems to be enough for them to grab each other. And the weight of them seems to be enough to keep them from slipping around inside the pan at all.

I considered adding a third layer when I first bought the tiles, but my oven rack was already flexing from the weight of these twelve. I just weighed one tile and did some quick math, and figure that this is about 16 pounds, including the tray. Seemed heavier when I was lifting it. If this was a permanent fixture in my oven, I might consider that third layer, but for now, this is plenty.

When I was thinking about putting the tiles on this larger baking sheet, I thought about making an aluminum foil "snake" and running it around the outside edges to keep the tiles from moving, but it doesn't seem like that's going to be necessary. I've already taken the sheet out a couple times, and I haven't noticed any movement. And really, if the whole mass moves on the pan but they don't slip apart, that's fine.

If I do notice them slipping in the pan and it starts annoying me, I might arrange the bottom tiles with space between them, but filling the whole pan edge-to-edge. Then I'd put the top twelve as they are now so I'd have a solid top layer. I don't know how the air space would affect the heat retention and the evenness, but for right now, this looks good to me.

The other nice thing about having the stones on a tray with a lip is that if I'm being messy in the oven and something drips onto the stones, it can't go any further than the tray.

Between the quarry tiles and the tray, I spent just a little over $20. If this ultimately doesn't work out as a baking stone, the baking sheet isn't a loss. It would hold a lot of cookies at Christmas.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Black-Eyed Peas

No, not the band. I found fresh black-eyed peas at the farmer's market and decided to give them a try. I grabbed a couple handfulls.

Some pods were bright green and plump and some where more brown and almost dry. I thought briefly about sorting them out for cooking, then changed my mind.

I've eaten dried black-eyed peas before, but never fresh ones. I looked for recipes online and finally decided to cook them through with a little salt and serve them fairly plain at first, to get the true flavor of them before I started added things.

It took a while to get all of the peas out of their pods (or are they beans, really? I looked it up and I'm still not sure). 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Summer Vegetable Stew

All fresh from the market. Then stewed.
More bounty from the farmer's market, and this time it started with eggplant. I bought four small ones without any plans for them, and the more I thought about it, the more my thoughts turned to a stewed item. I wasn't thinking about a ratatouille, exactly, or a caponata.

I started off by peeling and slicing and salting the eggplant. I know that some people don't peel or salt their eggplants, and that small ones are less likely to be bitter. But hey, they were my eggplants, and I had the time to do what I wanted.

I rinsed and squeezed the eggplant slices, chopped them into chunks, and tossed them into my slow cooker set to "brown." Oh - and there was a bit of olive oil in the slow cooker, too. I stirred those around occasionally as I prepped the rest if the vegetables: two medium zucchini, chunked, 1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced, 1 onion, diced rather largely, and 1/2 of a bell pepper, large dice as well. All the pieces were bite-size.

Those vegetables all went into the slow cooker and got stirred around a bit, still on the "brown" setting.

Meanwhile, I peeled five medium-small tomatoes, cored them, and cut them into chunks. Those went into the slow cooker with a few pinches of salt and a generous amount of white pepper. I stirred again, put the lid on, and turned to slow cook.

This cooker in particular cooks at a very low temperature compared to my other one that can get up to a little simmer. So I wasn't too worried about these overcooking to mush. And I let them go for a couple hours. After that, the zucchini was cooked through, but not soft or mushy at all. See, it really does cook at a very low temperature. If you're cooking this on a stovetop it will cook a lot faster and require some stirring. I put mine in the crockpot and went to run errands, knowing it was cooking slowly and gently - and not heating up the house.

Just before the stew was done, I was looking around for a spice to finish it off, and almost went traditional with oregano or basil. But then I changed my mind and went with Zatar, instead.

The great thing about this dish is that it's just as good hot, cold, or at room temperature. It can be a side dish or a meal. Plain or over pasta or rice. Good thing, because I made a lot.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tomatillo Salsa

The chilis I used - they might be Hatch, but I'm not sure.
The farmer's market got me again. I walked in knowing that I only needed a few things, and walked out with several bags.

When the produce is this beautiful, it's hard to say "no" and particularly hard when one of the vendors is having a "bag sale." I filled my canvas shopping bag with things from the stand for just ten bucks. You can't beat that.

Yanno, until you get home and start unloading and realize that you've got a confusing array of vegetables that aren't sure if they want to be in the same meal, much less in the same bag. I got them separated, and made the obvious items first. To me, tomatillos want to become salsa. It's their destiny.

Tomatillos have to be rinsed well after the husk is removed. There's a sticky substance that coats the fruit and it can be bitter. Peel the papery husk off and rinse them well before you use them.

When it comes to using chilis, it's up to your taste. And of course, different chilis pack different amounts of heat. I suggest that you start with less and add more as you want it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

BOTD: Cinnamon Rolls

Not much of a recipe, considering I started off with left-over dough from this recipe. The last time I made it, I split it in half and made just six of the almond rolls.

I wrapped the other half of the dough in plastic wrap and then put it into a zip-top bag. That went into the refrigerator, where it spent a couple leisurely days before I got around to using it.

I pulled the dough out of the refrigerator and  preheated the oven to 400 degrees.

I rolled the dough out to a rough rectangle about 9x12 inches, sprinkled it generously with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, leaving about an inch on one end so they'd seal, and rolled it up.

I cut the roll into six pieces and then smashed them down a bit so they were all the same height, and they were fatter than they were tall.

I arranged them on a baking sheet with one roll in the center and the other five around it so the the seams were touching the center roll so it would keep them from unrolling as they expanded and baked.

I covered the dough with plastic wrap and set it aside to rise for about 30 minutes.

I brushed them with milk and baked them for 18 minutes, until they were a pretty golden brown.

When they came out of the oven, I brushed them with a little bit of butter to keep the crust soft, and let them cool just a bit on a rack before I sampled.

This has been submitted to YeastSpotting.
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