Friday, December 31, 2010

Sourdough Starter Q&A

The Top 6 Questions About Sourdough Starters

My biggest project for 2010 was the Starter-Along series on Serious Eats, where I posted a photo and description of a growing sourdough starter. I also included a few extra facts about sourdough when the starter was in the middle stages, when it was just a matter of feeding and stirring on a regular basis.

I also republished that series here, on Cookistry.

That series generated a lot of extra traffic for me, and apparently it was good for Serious Eats as well, since it was the #3 post on Slice for the year. A mention on LifeHacker helped boost its popularity, but even before that, it was having a pretty good run based on the traffic that trickled through to Cookistry.

And then, there were the questions. I’ve gotten them at Serious Eats, on my Facebook page, at Cookistry, and in person. Based on my unscientific polling software (my memory) these were the top six questions asked, along with my answers:

My starter doesn’t look like yours. Have I done something wrong? Should I start over?

No, nothing’s wrong unless you’ve got mold growing on the starter, or unless you’ve got no activity at all after about five days. Starters are all different because the flour, water and environment are different at every location. That’s part of the beauty of a sourdough starter. It’s unique to you and it can be a little bit different every time you use it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bulking Up

This was published in the January issue of the Left Hand Valley Courier as part of my Vicinity and Beyond series.

If the words “bulk food store” make you envision a behemoth warehouse filled with giant bags of rice and restaurant-sized jars of pickles, you’ll be in for a surprise when you step into Simply Bulk in Longmont. The “bulk” in Simply Bulk means they buy in bulk so you can buy in any quantity you want, whether it’s five pounds of flour, or a couple ounces of a spice you don’t use often.

The business is owned and run by Phil Bratty and his wife, Georgia, and it  has been open in Longmont since March 1, 2010. Phil Bratty said that it may be the only business in the country that is entirely bulk products.

Bratty isn’t a newcomer to the food industry. For the eight years before opening the store, he worked for a natural food chain in the bulk foods end of the business, and he spent a total of about 30 years in the food business.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Technique: The Role of Fat in Yeasted Doughs

Fat isn’t required in bread dough, and some might say that it doesn’t belong at all in pizza dough. Whether – or when – you use it is up to you. But since it’s so common in so many doughs, we might as well discuss it.

Of course, there’s flavor. Butter adds its own distinctive creaminess, while olive oils add their own notes. When you’re using fat in small quantities, though, it might be hard to tell the difference between a bread made with olive oil or one made with butter. Then again, you can also use infused and flavored oils to easily add flavors to your bread.

Besides flavor, fat affect the texture of the finished bread. The fat coats the gluten strands and makes the finished product more tender – both the crumb and crust – and it makes the crumb more fine grained. It also makes the loaf seem moister. Breads that are made with fat in them don’t dry out as quickly, so the shelf life is improved.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

BOTD: Oat-Wheat Loaf

Now that the holidays are over, many people are on their way to vowing to eat better. What that means depends on what kind of bad eating has been going on. For me, sometimes my "be good" vow includes an effort to eat something in the morning instead of just slurping a cup of coffee.

The problem is that I'm not much of a morning person. I don't want a meal. If something is easy - cold pizza for instance - I might be tempted. But I don't like typical breakfast foods in the morning, and even more than that, I don't have any interest in cooking anything resembling a meal in the morning.

Around the holidays I get even busier than usual, and my non-breakfast sometimes turns into non-lunch. So when I think about improving my eating habits, I start considering ways to eat something simple in the mornings. 

Of course, there's always some kind of bread around. But not every bread inspires me to make toast. And not every bread I make fits my criteria for reasonably healthy breakfast. This one does. White whole wheat and oatmeal add enough fiber and flavor. If I want a little protein, peanut butter isn't far away.

Another benefit to this bread is that making it is designed to work around your schedule. There are plenty of times when the dough rests, and you can stretch that time to fit your schedule.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Simple Seasoned Squash

It time for the December contest at Kitchen Play, this time sponsored by I'm really late with getting an entry up, but what the heck, might as well have some fun now that I'm done with the holiday madness and I have some time off to play around in the kitchen. This is my first entry for this month's contests. I might get another one up before the week is over. Yes, I admit it, I've become a contest junkie.

Did I mention that these Kitchen Play contests are pretty simple? You just pick one of the recipes, make it as-is or change it up, whatever you prefer. Then blog about it and post a link to your blog post on Kitchen Play. Unlike some contests, you don't lose the rights to your recipe. And, gee, you just post on your own blog, so if you're stuck for inspiration on what to post, these can help you brainstorm a bit.

Oh yeah. And there are prizes. Those are nice, too.

I decided to riff off a recipe for Spicy Pumpkin Soup Shooters. My first riff was that I didn't make a soup. Second, instead of pumpkin, I used fresh winter squash. After all, pumpkin is a variety of squash, and to be honest it's easier to find good winter squash than it is to find a decent baking pumpkin. After I was done riffing, I used some (but not all) of the same spices as were in the original soup.

Simple and Classy - Little Bites

Sometimes simple is best. A few clean flavors in a single bite can be impressive in its restraint. That's what this recipe is all about. It's easy enough to make on the spur of the moment, and elegant enough for parties. And it's endlessly customizable.

Even better, the same concept works just as well for dessert flavors as for appetizers.

While you'll get extra points for presentation, these are quick to assemble if you have all the ingredients on hand. The most difficult part is the pastry shell. You can make your own from the scraps left from pie making - just press the pieces into the wells of a mini-muffin pan and bake until golden brown. Use them within a few days, or freeze for long-term storage.

Or, if you don't have pie crust scraps, you can buy phyllo (sometimes spelled fillo) or puff pastry sheets to make your own shells. Or buy ready-made shells and keep them on hand for times when you need an emergency nibble.

The red pepper tapenade I used wasn't spicy at all - just a blend of red bell peppers and mild spices. Make your own, or buy it already prepared.

The skin of some cucumbers can be bitter, so taste the first slice to test. Peel the cucumbers if the peels are bitter. No cucumber? Slices of zucchini would be a great substitute.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Technique: Fermenting

Maybe the thing I like best about breadmaking is that it accommodates my lazy, forgetful, procrastinating self. Good bread can’t be rushed. Great bread likes to hang around and chill. It likes to loaf just as much as I do.

Pre-fermenting a dough – that is, letting it sit around for a while before it becomes a finished dough – amps up the flavor of your bread. That’s one reason sourdough is so flavorful – the starter spends a long time fermenting before it becomes part of a bread dough.

For breads leavened with commercial yeasts, there are several types of pre-ferments and probably thousands of variations. There’s also some disagreement about exact terminology. Some authors call everything a sponge or a pre-ferment, and some disagree on other distinctions between the types of pre-ferments. Since Peter Reinhart is one authority I trust, I use his definitions when there’s disagreement.

Types of Pre-Ferments

Pre-ferments can be broken into two categories: the wet (or sponge) and the dry (or firm) pre-ferments. The wet pre-ferments are the poolish and the regular sponge (in French, the levain levure, or sometimes shortened to levain). The dry pre-ferments are the biga and the pâte fermentée.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the Cookistry Crew!

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Iron Foodie - Now That It's Over...

Earlier this month, I participated in the Iron Foodie Contest sponsored by Marx Foods and Foodie Blogroll. I've got to say that from beginning to end, it was a blast.

First, I had to post a blog entry explaining why I wanted to be an Iron Foodie. From over 100 entries (125? 150ish - I don't remember), there were 25 contestants chosen, and I was one of the lucky ones. We each got a box with eight ingredients, and we had to use three for our recipes.

Before I even posted about why I wanted to enter, I was giddy excited about this contest, and I told my husband (who patiently listens to me blather about such things) that I'd be thrilled just to get the ingredients and to play the game.

When the box arrived, it was like an early Christmas present.The items were Dulse Seaweed, Fennel Pollen, Bourbon Vanilla Beans, Maple Sugar, Dried Porcini Mushrooms, Tellicherry Peppercorns, Smoked Salt and Aji Panca Chilies. Quite the interesting selection.

And then we all posted our recipes. Shortly after, the public voting began, and a secret ballot was held where only the contestant and sponsors could vote.

And oh yeah, it was fun! I wrestled with ideas and thought about the ingredients, played with the recipe, and finally got what I wanted and took photos and posted. Pretty much all in one long breath, just like that. And then waited. And watched the votes. And waited some more.

And then it was over, and I managed to win third place in the public vote AND I won the contestant-only vote. Wheee! I was thrilled!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Turkey-Brined Pork

A whole lot of people cook turkey on Thanksgiving, and there are some who serve it on Christmas as well. But when the Christmas sales come around, you'll find bargains on all the trappings of turkey cooking. While you might not need a turkey stuffing bag until next year, there's something you can buy and use right away: a turkey brining kit.

Yes, that's what I said. You can use it right away, even if you've sworn of the big bird for another 11 months.

Here's the deal. Turkey brine works just as well for pork. The flavors are very compatible, and there's nothing in turkey brine that screams "Thanksgiving!" at you. While it's simple enough to make your own brine, when those kits go on sale, you can stock up on them, cheap, and have them on hand when you want to brine a pork roast, pork chops or ... chicken.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Technique: Storing Your Bread Supplies

I already discussed the essential ingredients for making bread and pizza crust, but if you've gone out and stocked up, where are you going to put it? The first logical answer is that you’re probably going to put all of the dry goods into the pantry or into the kitchen cabinets. But is that really the best place?

Probably not. Or at least not for long-term storage.


While dried yeast is designed to be shelf-stable in its original packaging, once it has been opened, it’s vulnerable to air, moisture and heat. For long-term storage, the best place for your yeast is in an airtight container in the freezer. According to Red Star Yeast, it will stay fresh for 6 months in the freezer, but in practice it can last longer.

But putting yeast in the freezer has its pitfalls. For one thing, every time you open the very cold container, you’re introducing moisture, which isn’t good. And yeast is vulnerable to thermal shock, so if you take a spoon full of frozen yeast and add it to warm water to proof it, you could kill off a whole lot of yeast before it has a chance to shake off the cold and wake up. Letting your yeast warm up a bit before adding it to warm water is a good idea, and it warms up faster if you keep some in a slightly less frigid environment.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

BOTD: Honey Buns - A Better Use for Pizza Yeast

I bought a three-pack of pizza yeast to test it, and after making one pizza crust with it, I decided that I wasn't interested in making another.

The package very clearly said that this yeast wasn't designed for bread-baking. So of course, I took that as a challenge. Yeah, I'm a risk taker.

When I used it for pizza dough, the pizza yeast made the dough rise super-fast, but it didn't have the flavor or texture that I wanted in my pizza crust. It also wasn't what I wanted in a loaf of bread.

I figured that not only could I fix the flavor, but I could take advantage of the quick rise at the same time.

While these buns don't rise as fast as that pizza dough, they only rise once, and they're done a lot faster than if I had used regular yeast.

This dough is sweet enough that you could use it for cinnamon rolls, but without the cinnamon/sugar combo these resemble dinner rolls I've had at some barbecue restaurants as well as at a local chain. So, sweet or savory, it's up to you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

BOTD: Sourdough Pizza, two ways

Besides making bread from my one of my latest starters, I also made pizza. Two different ones, actually.
Here's how it went:

In the evening, I combined:
Thin crust sourdough pizza

8 ounces starter, by volume
2 1/4 ounces all purpose flour
2 ounces water

I covered it and let it rest at room temperature overnight.

In the morning, I added:
2 1/4 ounces all purpose flour
2 ounces water

I mixed them and covered the bowl and let it rest for four hours.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

BOTD: Sourdough Bread

Most of the time when I'm making sourdough bread, I'm working with an old starter. I've got six different starters in my fridge, and when I'm ready to bake, I pull one out, feed it until it's lively and I have enough to work with, then I take out what I need. I feed the remainder and put it back in the fridge for the next time.

A new starter is different. It's not quite as enthusiastic, and it's never as complex as the next few loaves. And it's unpredictable. The crust and texture from the first dough is not necessarily what it will be like for subsequent loaves.

After a while, the sourdough settles into the sort of starter that it's going to be from that point on. The first few loaves, though. are usually a little unpredictable. The crust, texture, flavor, and speed of rise can change from one loaf to another. After a while, though, it becomes more stable. You'll know what to expect.

This was the first loaf I made from one of my newest starters:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

BOTD: Sourdough Pizza (Starter-Along)

I already posted about making sourdough starter, so here's the pizza dough I made from the starter.

I put 4 ounce of the 100 percent hydration starter into bowl and added 2 ounces of bread flour and 1 ounce of water, and let that sit, covered, at room temperature over night.

The next day, I put that into the bowl of my stand mixer and added:

8 ounces bread flour
5 ounces water

I kneaded that with the dough hook until it came together, then added:
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

I kneaded that until it was becoming elastic, the put it into a plastic bag with a bit of olive oil to coat. I left it there for 2 days (I had planned to leave it for one day, but plans intervened.)

I pulled the dough out of the refrigerator a couple hours before I need it, and left it on the counter to come to room temperature. I kneaded it a bit, stretched it to a circle about 14 inches in diameter, topped it with sauce, sausage, mushrooms, onions, green pepper and cheese, and baked it at 500 degrees until it was nicely browned and the cheese was bubbly. I considered a minute or two under the broiler to brown the cheese more, but left it as it was.

Darned good pizza.

This has been submitted to Yeastpotting.

Friday, December 17, 2010

BOTD: Sourdough Bread (Starter-Along)

Now that I've walked you through making a sourdough starter, what's next?

The instructions in my "day-by-day" posts resulted in a starter with100 percent hydration.

To 4 ounces of that starter, I added 2 ounces of bread flour and 1 ounce of water, and let that sit, covered, at room temperature overnight.

The next day, I put that into the bowl of my stand mixer, then added:

8 ounces flour
4 ounces water

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Long-Term Storage for Sourdough Starter

Once you've established a soudough starter that's working well for you, how do you ensure that it stays alive when you can't tend to it?

Frankly, I've left starters in the refrigerator for months, and they've revived with no problem. Okay, they're a little sluggish at first, but they still spring back to life after a few feedings.

But what about some sourdough insurance? What if you have a starter that seems really, really good, and you don't want to lose it in some terrible refrigerator accident? What if you want to share your starter with a friend who lives in another state?

The simple answer is that you can dry it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Growing a Sourdough Starter, Day by Day

This entire day-by-day series, along with recipes for sourdough bread and sourdough pizza ran on Serious Eats as the "Starter-Along," with one post each day until we got to the recipes. The participation in the event was amazing, as readers asked questions and posted photos of their developing starters.

This is the complete series in one post, from Day Zero where we discuss the equipment needed, all the way through the last day of the series which shows the aftermath of a neglected starter.

If your sourdough doesn't progress at this pace, don't fret. Plenty of people who came along on this journey had starters that lagged behind and caught up later. Some were slow overall, and some sped to the finish line ahead of everyone else. Some folks neglected a feeding or two, but were successful in the end. This isn't meant to be a rigid formula, but more of a guideline. If I can predict anything at all about your starter, it is that it will somehow be different than this one. Because they all are unique.

A sourdough bread recipe is here, and a pizza recipe is here, when you're done with your starter. There are more here as well. those are just to get you started. hehe.

Day Zero

A sourdough starter is a simple concept—let some flour and water hang around for a while, and almost magically, the correct combination of yeast and bacteria will take up residence. And that same combination, when healthy and happy, create an environment that's unfriendly to unwanted organisms.

But now that every grocery store stocks dry yeast, why bother with sourdough? The simple answer is flavor. You'll never get the same results from dry yeast that you will from sourdough. Another reason is uniqueness. Sourdoughs cultivated in different areas will result in different breads. Not only will the flavor be different, but the crust, crumb, and rise will be different. It's as far as you can get from the concept of nationwide mass-produced industrial bread.

There are so many questions about how to grow a sourdough starter, and so many different methods. To me, some of which seem awfully complicated and technical considering sourdough is as old as the pyramids. I forgo the chemical soups and stick with basic flour and water.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chocolate Coffee Cookies

I decided to make cookies, and mulled over the options. Nuts? Chips? Sprinkles?

I had some crushed peppermint that I wanted to use in baking, and thought it would be great with chocolate.

But when I got around to mixing up the ingredients, my plans took a left turn. I had the bottle of vanilla out, then decided to add coffee liqueur instead. I used a local Colorado brand, but any one you like should be fine.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Spice Cookies

If you don't bake any other time of the year, when December rolls around, it seems like there's a need for cookies - for Santa snacks, a cookie exchange, for guests, or as a simple treat for yourself after a hard day of shopping or decorating.

While these cookies have familiar holiday spices, they aren't quite like gingerbread. In fact, I've known some gingerbread-haters who have loved them. They're perfect with a cup of coffee, some hot chai tea, or even a mug of hot chocolate.

These are refrigerator cookies - make them one day and let them chill. Perfect when you want to be prepped and ready to bake on another day.

You can get carried away with decorating, if that's your style, or use something simple, like sugar pearls. You can find sugar pearls in a huge variety of colors to match the holiday - or just pick your favorite colors.

I got a big bag of assorted red, green and white pearls from King Arthur Flour - enough to decorate cookies, cakes, and anything else that gets in my way.

If you're using a Christmas tree cookie cutter like I did (or even wreath), the little pearls make perfect ornaments. Just press them into the unbaked dough, and your decorating is done.

Or let pretty cookie cutters do all the work for you and leave the cookies plain. Whatever you decide, you can rest assured that they'll be a tasty addition to the cookie platter, and not quite like anything else on the plate.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ingredients: More Flour!

Clockwise from top left: semolina, durum, whole wheat.
While most people are going to use nothing but refined white flour in their pizza dough, some people like to experiment with other types of flour. And of course, bread bakers are going to use a much wider range of flours. Here’s a quick glossary on some of the more common varieties.

Semolina – Often used in pastas, semolina comes from durum wheat, a hard, high-protein wheat. While it has a lot of protein, it’s not the type of gluten that works well in bread, so it’s usually combined with standard refined wheat flour when making bread. There are some exceptions, of course. When it’s labeled “semolina” the flour is more coarsely ground. When it’s labeled “durum” it more finely ground. I like adding semolina to my dough recipes for the depth of flavor it adds.

Whole Wheat – The bran and germ of the wheat are included along with the endosperm, whereas normal white flour contains only the endosperm. Whole wheat flour tends to absorb more moisture that while flour, so you need to adjust for that if you’re making a substitution in a recipe. Whole wheat flours have a shorter shelf life than white wheat, since the oil in the whole wheat can go rancid. If you don’t use it quickly, it’s best to store it in the refrigerator or freezer.

Stone Ground Whole Wheat – A coarser ground version of whole wheat, and milled differently than whole wheat. One thing to keep in mind with any whole wheat flour is that the coarseness can vary from brand to brand.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hey, Santa! Listen Up!

At this time of year I should already have my Christmas wish list compiled, but it's getting to the point that there's not much else that I want, much less need, in my kitchen.

That's what I think until I go browsing websites. Then I get the "Oh, I like that" reaction when I see something I hadn't thought about before. I try avoid temptation, but it's danged easy to wander from looking at cooking shows and recipes on the Food Network to shopping there.

Yes, that's the place where all of my favorite and un-favorite Food Network personalities are gathered together in one big marketplace.

Sigh. It's just too much fun to go from one cooking celeb to the other, to browse the bakeware, and pretend I'm immune to all of the glitz and spritz and shiny sharp things. But then I saw it.


But first, the history. The predecessor. The prelude...

The very first episode of Good Eats I ever saw (we were a little slow getting cable) was when Alton Brown was drying herbs using a box fan and furnace filters. I was fascinated. And then I was hooked. I taped his shows, I watched reruns, I copied recipes off the Food Network site, and I made ALL THREE VERSIONS of his chocolate chip cookies.

When it first came out, I got Alton Brown's book Good Eats: The Early Years because of course I had to have it. Had to. I read it from cover to cover, laughing at the little bits from the episodes and giddy to have those recipes all in one place, along with all the tips and factoids and humor. Gah. I'm such a geek-fan.

When I perused the recipes with a more serious focus, and I found his potato soup recipe. I've made a lot of potato soup. I've made a lot of potato leek soup. I know I watched the episode where this soup was introduced, but I never thought about making the soup. Yeah, I enjoyed watching the episode and I probably learned something obscure about potatoes, but I didn't go look up the recipe because potato soup is so easy.

But when I saw it in the cookbook, it intrigued me because it had a few ingredients that I never thought about using. So I made the soup. It was different from my usual, but really good.

er ... Eats.

When I got to the end of the book, I was sad. Because there were MORE EPISODES that weren't written about. I wanted more Good Eats. More! More! More! Hi, my name is Donna and I am a cookbook addict... with the patience of a toddler.

Okay, yeah, I knew there had to be another book in the works because of the subtitle. And this year, I sort of knew the book was out, but I had other things on my mind ... and then there it was for sale, like geeky manna from Gutenberg: Good Eats 2: The Middle Years.

Sigh. I really don't need another cookbook. Want is a whole 'nother thing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wine Sourdough (Now, with Bread)

I had the bright idea of starting a sourdough starter with wine flour added to the mix.

Well, that didn't go so well. After a couple of days, my starter had spots of blue-green mold growing. They were mostly on the sides of the jar, but the starter had an off smell, so I tossed the whole thing and pondered my options.

The thing about sourdough starters is that once they're established, they do a pretty good job of warding off the things that you don't want growing. So I decided that instead of starting a new starter with the wine flour, I'd add the wine flour to an already-established starter and let it grow for a while.

I took my Colorado starter from the fridge, stirred it, fed it, and waited until it got bubbly. Then I moved some of that starter to a clean jar, added some flour, water, and about a teaspoon of wine flour. I kept both starters on the counter and fed them until they were both very active.

It didn't take much time for the starter with the wine flour to change its character - or at least its scent. It smelled winey, for lack of a better description. The starters were equally active, and there was no sign of mold or other contamination in the one with wine.

So far, so good...


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Turkey's Done! It's Soup!

When Thanksgiving is over, the last thing I make from the leftovers is turkey soup. After sandwiches and after pot pie and after everything else that uses up bits and pieces of the bird and the sides, the last bits of just about everything go into the soup. That includes the gravy, the vegetables, and the mashed potatoes.

Yes, I said gravy and mashed potatoes. It's not a clear soup when it's done, that's for sure.

Whatever turkey is left goes into the soup, along with the stock. Some years, there's barely any meat and other years, it's a meaty soup. And then I supplement. This time, it was the rest of the frozen vegetables that I had bought for the pot pies. Because there weren't any vegetables left over. We ate all those right away.

And with most turkey soups,  I usually add some rice or noodles. This was no exception. I added tri-color orzo.

It all went into a pot where it got simmered long enough for the vegetables and pasta to cook, and for the flavors to meld. And that was it. Done, served, turkey is gone.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

365 and Potato Pancakes

When I started this blog, it was my goal to put up, on average, one post a day. I figured there would be some days when I couldn't manage to write something brilliant, but I hoped I could make up for those missing posts on sparkling days where I'd have enough cooking for two posts. At the end of the year, I wanted to have 365 posts.

And I really, really hoped that at the end of the year I would be just as interested in this crazy idea as I was when I first launched it. Because, you know, it sounded sort of fun when I first picked a name and a color scheme and a tag line. And then I stared at a blank screen and wondered if anyone was out there. Hellooooo? And I wondered how long it would be before the first stranger happened upon my blog and started reading.

Well, the year isn't over, and this is post number 356. A milestone. A lot of words. And over 100 original bread (or bread-like) recipes. Yes, over ONE HUNDRED. In less than a year. And along with those breads, there were soups and dessert and reviews and gadgets. And visitors! I'm not talking to myself!

But the year isn't over. Just because I've reached 365 posts, it doesn't mean I'm going to take the rest of the year off. There are a couple weeks left, and I've got a few more original recipes up my sleeve before I wrap myself up and cart myself over to 2011.

But meanwhile, a topic on Serious Eats got me thinking about the first recipe I ever created completely on my own. It ended up being potato pancakes. I say it "ended up" being potato pancakes, because there wasn't all that much of an endgame planned. It was a food experiment that went amazingly right.

It went like this. My mom worked nights waitressing sometimes, and as a "treat" I was allowed to make snacks for me and my dad. Yeah, back then they bribed me to be good by allowing me to cook. I guess the writing was on the wall that long ago.

Anyway, most of the time that meant mixing cream cheese and chili sauce and spreading it on crackers, or using that as a filling for celery sticks. Or I made other dips with sour cream and herbs. Simple stuff without much real cooking because I was too short to see the top of the stove, much less be able to stir a pot way up there. So the stove was off limits for solo flights, although I was allowed to use sharp knives at a young age. I have the thumb scar to prove it, after an apple peeling incident.

But I digress.

Monday, December 6, 2010

BOTD: Sourdough Pizza

I've been playing around with sourdoughs a lot lately, and this time I decided to make pizza instead of bread. This starter wasn't one of my really old ones - it was only a few weeks old, but it had been sitting on the counter the whole time being fed and used and fed some more..

Sourdough Pizza

8 ounces (by weight) sourdough starter (at 100 percent hydration)
16 ounces flour, divided
8 ounces water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

I combined the starter, water, and 8 ounces of flour in a bowl, mixed it well, and covered the bowl with plastic wrap. I let it sit overnight.

The next day, I added the rest of the flour and the salt, and kneaded it until it was well combined, but not completely elastic.

I put some olive oil into a zip-top bag, put the dough into the bag, and stashed it in the fridge for several days, until I was ready to use it.

When I decided to make the first pizza (day 3, I believe) I cut off a portion of the dough, kneaded it a bit, formed it into a ball, and covered it with plastic wrap to let it warm up and rise a bit - about 2 hours.

I rolled it out, topped it with a basic tomato sauce and shredded cheese, and baked it at 550 degrees on a preheated baking stone for about 7 minutes. Mmmm.... pizza.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Okay, so I've been putting cranberry sauce in everything, but what about the turkey?

To be honest, I've been enjoying turkey sandwiches. And stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes ... little mini-Thanksgiving meals without the formality.

Soup is coming soon, but meanwhile I made some turkey pot pies.

No measurements, but a double batch of pastry dough went into four little cast iron pots. The filling was roughly equal parts of turkey, mixed frozen vegetables, pearl onions, cooked diced potatoes, and gravy. I tossed in the few leftover carrots from dinner. There didn't seem to be enough moisture, so I topped it off with some heavy cream that was left after I'd needed some for other holiday recipes.

The dough went into the pots, the filling went in, then I put on the top crust, crimped, slit some vent holes, and baked at 400 degrees until the crust was brown and the filling was bubbling. And that was it. Simple. Filling. Dinner. Yum.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Technique: Flour Additives and Enhancements

Last time, we looked at different types of white refined flour, but that’s not the end of the story. While some bags of flour contain nothing but wheat, many contain enhancements.

Without looking at the tiny type in the ingredients list, one common treatment you’ll see listed prominently on the front of the bag is bleaching. Or it will just as prominently proclaim that it’s unbleached.

Flour in its natural condition isn’t pure white, it’s more of a cream color. The resulting bread – or cake, if that’s what you’re making – won’t be a bright white if you use unbleached flour. Whether whiteness is important to you or not is up to you. Given the number of other things I throw into a typical loaf of bread, whiteness isn’t high on my priority list.

However, a bright white color might be more desirable in cake flour, since some cakes are intended to be pure white, and even colored cakes might look better without the yellow hue of unbleached flour.

But bleaching isn’t all about color – it’s also about aging. Flour is bleached not only to make it brighter, but also to oxidize the surface of the grains. That oxidation occurs naturally over time, but bleaching speeds up the process.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

This recipe came to me by a rather convoluted route. Someone on Serious Eats posted a comment about it, so I went to Smitten Kitchen to find it. But the original recipe came from Gourmet Magazine.

I have no idea how close this is to the original, but this is how I made it for Thanksgiving.

I don't normally make untested recipes for holidays, unless I've got a backup. Usually I'll try a recipe at least once before the big event, just to make sure it works.

This time, it was a first run. If it failed completely, I had pumpkin ice cream in the freezer, and some maple whipped cream ready to go, to add a little pizazz to the ice cream.

That would have been fine, but not as impressive as a cheesecake.

Luckily, it worked out.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wine Sourdough

I've been having so much fun reading the comments about my Sourdough Starter-Along series on Serious Eats and the comment from Facebook friends.

And then, a comment by dhorst on SE about her grape-infused starter named Blossom made me think about the wine flour I got from Marche Noir Foods. This is a flour-like product that's made from the leftovers after grapes have been pressed to make wine. It's a dark purple and smells sort of like raisins.

I've had this wine flour sitting here, waiting for inspiration to strike. I was thinking I might save it for cookies or some baked good for Christmas, but I just hadn't settled on a particular recipe... and then I saw dhorst's post and I knew I had to give it a try.

Now, I've got a new starter using the usual all purpose flour and water, but with the addition of one teaspoon of the wine flour. I have no idea if this will work or not. It's a pretty color, though.

And meanwhile, I'm still pondering other recipes where I can incorporate the wine flour. We'll see how it goes.

Holiday Crescent Cookies


Two people have reported problems with this recipe, so I'd suggest you DON'T make it. 
I'll go back the the original scribbles and see where I screwed up.

Now that I've pulled out my original recipe, THIS IS NOT IT. Not sure where this went wrong, but this doesn't match up with any of the versions I've made, so I'm not sure what happened. 

I'm pulling the recipe for now, and I'll repost when I find the correct version.

I was first introduced to these cookies as a child when we'd visit relatives on Christmas Eve every year. These powdery delights were my favorite, and when I got old enough to be interested, I asked my aunt for the recipe. I was crushed when I found out they were bakery cookies, but eventually I found a recipe that was similar.

Then I found a lot of recipes, with a lot of names. These could be Mexican Wedding Cookies or they could be Snowballs, but when the winter holidays roll around, these become Crescent Cookies at my house.

It's easier to make a round ball and be done with it, but the familiar crescent shape reminds me of those long-ago holidays when the most pressing question was whether Santa made it to our house while we were out, or if he was working the late shift and would be stopping by after we were all asleep.

One trick to these cookies is rolling them in the powdered sugar at just the right time. If you do it when the cookies are warm, the sugar will melt and it will be a mess. Wait until the cookies are stone cold, and the sugar won't stick nearly as well. And we all know that the powdered sugar clinging to them is a critical part of the fun as it sprinkles down when you eat them.

Walnuts or pecans are my favorites in these cookies, but you could use any nut you like. Chop them finely, but don't let them turn completely into dust - you want some small bits and pieces in these cookies.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Browned Butter Ice Cream with Butter-Roasted Pecans

Browned butter ice cream infused with Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans and garnished with butter-toasted pecans generously coated with maple sugar and a touch of smoked sea salt.

That's a decent description, but it still doesn't do justice to the richness of this ice cream, the nuttiness that the browned butter imparts, or the salty smoky surprise hidden in the maple sugar. And real vanilla beans. Let's not forget those.

Okay, it's just ice cream and nuts, but it's a gloriously decadent ice cream with sugary-smoky-salty-crunchy nuts that are a perfect foil for the richness. It's the closest thing to a perfect bite that has ever come out of my kitchen. While the ice cream is good on its own and the nuts are a fine snack, together they are that rare commodity - that perfect marriage - where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

This dish is also a perfect bite of my food philosophy. While I eat a lot of what people would consider "healthy" food, when I indulge, I go all the way. No holds barred. Great ingredients, carefully prepared, with attention to details. And then served in reasonable quantities. You don't need a lot of this ice cream to satisfy. A small scoop, a few nuts, and some quiet time to savor the indulgence and it's a perfect end to a great meal ... or a great reward for surviving a crummy day.

And it wasn't that difficult to make, considering the outcome.

Buttery, Salty, Sweet 'n Nutty Ice Cream

See the specks of vanilla and browned butter bits?
For the ice cream:
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 vanilla beans
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the garnish:
1/2 cup pecans
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons maple sugar
1/2 teaspoon smoked sea salt

To make the ice cream:
Place the milk, cream, and about 1/2 of the sugar into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Slit the vanilla beans open and scrape out the seeds with the back of your knife. Add the seeds and pods to the saucepan. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally, then turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, melt the butter on low heat in a small saucepan, then turn the heat up to medium, stirring often and watching carefully. When the milk solids in the butter begin to brown and there's a nutty aroma, turn off the heat. If the browned bits turn black, it's gone too far, and you'll need to start over. So watch carefully, and be ready to kill the heat quickly.

Mmmmm ... crunchy nuggets of maple sugar and salt.
In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolk, the remaining sugar, and the salt. Beat with an electric mixer until it is light-colored and thick.

When the melted butter has cooled so that it is still warm, but not hot, begin adding it to the egg yolk mixture slowly, a little at a time, beating it in thoroughly. The butter needs to emulsify with the eggs, so make sure it fully incorporates before you add more. Scrape in all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan as well.

The milk mixture should still be rather warm. Add it slowly to the egg yolk mixture, a little at a time, beating or whisking it in quickly. When you've added about 1/2 of the warm milk to the egg mixture, you've warmed the eggs enough to prevent them from scrambling. Transfer all of the egg-milk mixture from the bowl to the pan with milk. Mix well, then turn the heat to medium.

It's a little melty here. No more photos. Time for me to dig in!
Heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until it thickens so it coats the back of a spoon. Basically, dip a spoon in the mixture, run your finger down the back of the spoon, and if the line holds, it's done. Turn off the heat.

Pour the mixture through a strainer into a medium bowl, and place that bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice. Stir the mixture occasionally, until it cools, then refrigerate for at least a few hours. I usually let it rest overnight and churn it the next day.

When the ice cream base has chilled thoroughly, churn following the instructions for your ice cream maker.

You can retrieve the vanilla bean pods from the strainer, rinse them, and find other uses for them. Like making vanilla sugar or adding a more subtle vanilla flavor to something else.

To make the garnish:

Make extra. You will snack on them.
Combine the maple sugar and smoked salt in a small container and set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium skillet and add the pecans and the granulated sugar. Turn the heat to medium and stir constantly while you watch for the sugar to melt. Stir quickly to coat the pecans with the hot melted sugar.

You're not looking for an even coating here, so don't worry if you see bits and blobs of melted sugar. There will be enough clinging to the nuts to add a crispy crunch and to grab onto the maple sugar.

Turn off the heat and add the maple-salt mixture, stirring quickly to coat the pecans with the sugar. Remove to a plate to cool. You can make this in advance, but you might want to make extra - these are addictive to nibble on.

To serve:

Scoop the ice cream and garnish with pecans. There will be extra sugar/salt mixture that hasn't adhered to the pecans. Sprinkle some of that over the top of the ice cream as well.

You can garnish with a bit of whipped cream, but that might be overkill. If you do use whipped cream, make it a good one, like my Best Whipped Cream Ever.

This ice cream was made for a contest sponsored by Marx Foods. I received some samples for my use in creating the recipe.

My Five Seconds of Fame

The local newspaper, the Longmont Daily Times Call, ran and article about me in the food section today. Here's a link directly to that story.

And here's a photo of the infamous bear cracker that was mentioned in the article, and here's where I blogged about it originally.

And for your cooking convenience, here are links to both of my Fire Cracker recipes. The first version was a little bit milder. That's the one that was published in the Times Call. The second one had a little more kick.

If you're new here, you can find MORE of my writing in the Left Hand Valley Courier (print edition), in the Longmont Ledger, on Serious Eats, on Slice (it's about pizza), and in the emailed newsletter for Cayenne Kitchen.  

Now you're all caught up!

The Best Whipped Cream Ever

Okay, maybe too much hyperbole over something that's pretty simple, really.

Most of the time, I like my whipped cream fairly plain. Just a tiny bit of sugar. Not enough to make it super-sweet, but just enough to make it more than just fluffy cream.

This time, I decided to add a bit of flavor, which is something I don't normally do. Maple. As in maple syrup.

But more specifically, I used Blis maple syrup. It's aged in bourbon barrels, so it has a more complex flavor than regular maple syrup, and it added the perfect amount of sweetness along with an interesting maple-bourbon flavor to my whipped cream.

This could be whipped by hand, but I used my nitrous-oxide-powered cream whipper. I like it because it can sit in the refrigerator and dispense just as much whipped cream as I need at the moment.

The recipe?

1 pint heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons Blis bourbon-aged maple syrup

Put both ingredients into cream whipper. Screw top onto whipper, and tighten. Shake to combine ingredients. Charger cream whipper.




This could be dessert all by itself. Call it maple mousse and no one would know the difference.
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