Thursday, February 2, 2006, 12:28 AMToday I made sourdough bread. I say this as if I made it in one day, but I started the starter a few days earlier. The whole process was incredibly intimidating. The idea is that you are trying to catch microorganisms by leaving food out for a long time. That's scary. But I'm not dead yet, despite having eaten several pieces. This is sort of a bastardization of the S. John Ross's and Alton Brown's recipes, filtered through my own bad habits and complete inability to follow directions.
In that old plastic container that you lost the lid of ages ago and is otherwise useless, add a cup of flour and a cup or two of water. I think the reference I was using said 2 cups of water, but I probably used more like a cup and a half to avoid spills. You're basically making wheat paste, so you don't want spills. Stir it up and leave it lying around. You should give your room mate a heads up so she doesn't throw it out or spit in it or something. It will separate, so if you get bored and figity, you can always go over and stir it-- good times. One day, a magical foam will form on the top. That means you have yeast. Now you can make bread. I waited a day to make bread after this, which was probably a bad idea because it really smelled up the house. But real life happens.
Stir up your starter. Scoop out a cup into a mixing bowl. Add a cup of flour and a cup of water back into the starter bowl. This feeds it. It's kind of like having goldfish. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and poke some holes in it for air and throw it in the refrigerator. It will stop stinking up the house after you do this. You either need to make bread periodically and feed it when you make bread or just dump out a cup and feed it like you would if you were making bread if you aren't up to making bread.
Back to the mixing bowl... add a couple of cups of flour, a cup and a half-ish of water, and a teaspoon of sugar. I used half white flour and half whole wheat. I also added about 1/4-1/3 tsp of yeast-from-a-jar because last time I tried this I ended up with a very, very flat loaf. My yeast is pretty wimpy so I feel like this helps. You might ask why I bother with sourdough at all, in this case. I think it just helps to make a commitment. If I have starter lying around, I'll feel the need to use it and I'll make bread once a week or so, which is more fun than buying bread.
In any case, I ended up with something very sludgey. This is appropriate. Put a dishcloth over your bowl and let this sit for half an hour or so. Actually, I think I let it sit much longer. I checked some email, graded some homework assignments, made some phone calls, and read a bit. I don't think sitting too long can hurt at this point because it's pretty close to the starter consistency and that sits around for weeks. So I figured it couldn't hurt and didn't keep track of the time at all. It was probably closer to an hour and a half.
When you come back, add a teaspoon of salt. Then keep adding flour in 1/4 cup increments until the dough isn't goopy anymore. I alternated between white and whole wheat flour. I ended up using 4-5 cups (counting the 2 cups used earlier). I guess I should say that your mixer should be on while you do this, but use the lowest setting if you don't want a flour-dusted kitchen. When your dough is of appropriate consistency, knead it. You can do this in your mixer or on the counter. I wimped out and used my mixer. Knead it until you're sick of it, then knead it a little more.
Turn your oven to bake, and set it's temperature to it's absolute lowest setting. Grease a largeish mixing bowl. Dump the dough in there and cover it with a dishcloth. Turn off your oven and put the mixing bowl in the oven. The oven should be slightly warm, but comfortable to touch. You don't need to do this if it's hot, but if it's winter, your dough won't rise otherwise. Wait about an hour. See if your dough is more or less twice the size it used to be.
Empty the dough onto the counter and punch it. Yes, beat the crap out of it. You can pretend it was that dumb kid who shoved you violently out of the way in order to get a better seat in programming class. If you're like me, you're wondering why someone was SO excited to get to programming class that he had to resort to violence, but back to bread. Punching your bread is supposed to help disperse the bubbles. Knead the dough into a loaf shape. What shape is loaf shape? You decide. I go for long and skinny. Sure, round loaves look cool, but when you first cut into them they make itty bitty pieces of bread, then later they make gaihugeous pieces of bread. I like a little predictability in my sandwich-making life. I don't want to starve on thursday because I made the bread yesterday and it's small, then have to wolf down a giant sandwich on saturday because I've gotten to the widest part, then starve again on monday because it's back to being tiny.
Put your loaf onto whatever you're going to cook it on, or a baking peel if you're cool like that. Flour that surface first. Put the loaf with the pan on top of the stove, which should hopefully be warm enough. Or someplace that's naturally warm, if you have such a place handy. Come back 45 minutes to an hour later; the dough should have doubled in size again. Poke it someplace unobtrusive. If the hole stays hole-like instead of filling back out with dough, it's done rising. If it's not done, keep checking back every 10 minutes or so. I actually put it in a little before it passed the finger test because I was worried about over-rising, which, rumor has it, is worse than under-rising.
A little before you think the dough will be done, preheat your oven to 400. Slash the top of your dough. I always make multiple slashes or a cross shape, but I bet you could do anything; maybe next time I should try a metal skull. The point of the slashes is to give the dough space to rise into further while it's baking. My loaf doubled in size again in the oven.
Stick the loaf in the oven. Put some water in a bread pan and stick it in the oven also. This will make it nice and crusty. If you don't like crusty bread, don't do it. Check back in 40 minutes; it should be done. Voila.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006, 03:40 AM - flatbreadA bunch of friends and I had a group-cook the other day. Everyone should do this. This is cheaper, messier, and more fun than going out to eat... and you know what you're eating. We made corn chips, guacamole, and pizza.
2.5 avacados (the 0.5th one soaking in lemon juice to avoid badness)
1 bunch of chives
salt and pepper
Free the avacado meat from its pits and skins. Mash it up. Add lime juice. Finely chop some chives. Stir them in. Add salt and pepper. Taste. Adjust salt/pepper/lime juice as needed.
a big stack of organic corn tortillas that someone has lying around that will go bad if not used soon.
several cups of oil (preferably peanut, but canola will do)
Heat the oil in a wok or a dutch oven or something like that. The temperature should be in the low-mid 300s. Cut tortillas into wedges. Add several wedges to the oil at a time---not all at once, add them one at a time actually, but add about 6 for each batch or you'll over-cool the oil too quickly. Let them go a few minutes then fish out with a spider. Put them on a cookie cooling rack with paper with something to catch the drips underneath it. Salt to taste. If they come out too chewy, cook the next set longer. You can do this and snack on chips and guacamole while you wait for the pizza to cook.
premade pizza crust from trader joes. yeah, it's a little wimpy, but we didn't plan far enough in advance to make our own pizza dough and we wanted the kind we could throw in the air instead of the kind you pat out.
tofurky italian sausages, sliced
1 can tomato sauce
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 onion, chopped
Heat a saucepan. Add oil, garlic, onion, and spices. Cook for a bit. Add tomato sauce. Cook for a bit then remove from heat.
Take your ball of pizza dough. Pinch it flat and make a little ridge around the edge so the center is thinner. Toss it back and forth in your hands to start stretching it. Then throw it up in the air and spin it. Be responsible here, accidents can happen. Just don't throw it very high. When you feel like it's big enough, put it on a bread peel. Add sauce, then toppings, with the cheese going on last. Transfer to a baking stone in the oven. Cook the way the pizza dough directions tell you to. We made 2 pizzas; the whole wheat crust was 10 minutes, the garlic herb crust was 20 minutes. Go figure. It worked, though. Fun was had by all.
Friday, January 20, 2006, 10:04 PM - comfort foodMy brother got me a cookbook for Christmas, which I've finally cracked open. It was sufficiently enthraling that I um... didn't cook dinner for a while, despite grandiose visions of making something amazingly cool. So when I realized it was 9pm and that dinner really needed to happen if it was going to happen, I settled on the old standby of spaghetti. Most people go to to much effort when they make spaghetti. This is the lazy way.
3 cloves of garlic, chopped. By the way, you can get it pre-chopped in a can. Usually this is hidden in the vegetable section of the grocery store. It's one of those things that's always in cans underneath the vegetable display that you never look at because it's below eye level and you don't believe there will be anything besides vegetables in the vegetable section.
A bunch of shakes of dried oregano. Probably about a teaspoon, but who knows.
A bunch of shakes of dried basil. About as much as oregano.
Some fennel. Maybe 1/3 of a teaspoon
3 crushed thai chillis. Why thai? Because they're amazingly easy to grow so I have a lifetime supply dried and hanging in my kitchen. I'll probably grow more because they're fun to grow, but I keep toying with the idea of growing something else. But it really doesn't matter what you use, just something to give it a bit of a kick.
3/4 onion, slivered
a bunch of grinds of black pepper
maybe half a teaspoon of salt?
1 can of chopped tomatoes
one serving of spaghetti. That's not 1 bag, but some portion. I think it's an eighth, but who knows
2 glugs of vermouth
Some olive oil. Lets guess 1 tablespoon.
Heat a saucepan. Add olive oil plus all of the spices. Cook it up a bit. I cooked it until some pepper/onion fumes wafted up in my face. You're trying to free up all the fat soluable flavors in the spices and get them into the olive oil. And you're trying to sweat the onions while you're at it.
Add 2 glugs of vermouth to the pan. I do this first because it's going to splatter. You would rather have vermouth splattering than tomato sauce. Trust me. Add the can of chopped tomatoes after it's done splattering. Now put a lid on and let it simmer for a while. This is to disolve all the alcohol soluble flavors as well and let things blend.
Break the noodles in half (or not; usually I don't but I got impatient) and drop them into the sauce. Most people go to the bother of boiling them in seperate pots. This is silly because your pasta just tastes like pasta, as opposed to pasta infused with flavourful sauce. And it means you have to wash another pot. The 2 pot method is for people with lots of time and dishwashers.
Let the noodles ook until they're done. Stir them periodically so they don't stick together. They're done when they're pliable instead of stiff when you pick them out of the pan with a fork. Or, at least, they're done enough. Let them go a while with the lid off to let most of the residual moisture evaporate. I left it a bit saucy, but not too saucy.
Add 2 eggs. Yes, you can add them directly to the pot. Beating eggs seperately is for people with dishwashers. Beat the eggs on top of the noodles then mix them in well. As the eggs cook, they'll give the sauce a frothy texture and a salmoney colour.
This made 1 dinner-sized serving plus one lunch-sized serving. It was really yummy.
Saturday, January 14, 2006, 09:08 PM - flatbread, breakfastThis morning we had buckwheat pancakes for breakfast... or whatever you like to call the meal you eat at 1pm on saturday. They turned out a little texturally wacky. Next time I will use half wheat flour/half buckwheat flour instead of all buckwheat. Somehow I got into the habit of doing all buckwheat when I was trying to figure out if I was allergic to gluten or not. And I'm not so I can use all the wheat I like.
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs baking powder
a shake or two of salt
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 of water
Put a pan on the stove at medium heat. Beat an egg. Add everything else. Stir well. Don't stir well if you're using flour + buckwheat because you might overstir things and make the gluten tough. But you don't have to worry about that with buckwheat, you just have to worry about weird texture.
The pan is heated when water drops bounce on the surface instead of sticking and slowly evaporating. Spray it with de-stickifying stuff. Spoon 1/4 cup dollups of batter onto the pan. Let them cook until bubbles form on the surface. After the bubbles have formed, flip them. Continue until you've used up the batter. Butter them if you like. Serve with syrup. This makes enough for two people to have 4 1/2 pancakes.
Saturday, January 14, 2006, 09:00 PM - soupsWe made carrot soup yesterday. Or maybe it was the day before. Recently, we made carrot soup.
2 smallish bags of carrots
2 brown or yellow onions
Clean and chop the carrots and onions. Try to make them more or less uniform in size (for even cooking purposes) and throw them in a pan. Add a tablespoon or two of butter, maybe 3 TBS of tumeric, about a tsp each of fennel and corriander, several shakes of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and 4 smooshed up thai chillis. For added pathos, rub your eyes after you smoosh up the chillis. Stir everything for a while on medium heat and sweat them a bit.
If you're incredibly organized (which I'm not) you probably should put the butter in the pan first and cook up the spices in the butter then add the vegetables to that a little later. Then again, if you are extremely organized, you probably went to the grocery store when you ran out of olive oil and didn't have to scrounge around for other forms of fat. The spices will ook into things better if you cook them in the fat for a while first because fat is good at activating flavour.
Add water until it just covers up the veggies. If you have a water boiling pot, you can boil it first and you'll be able to set things to ooking sooner. Add a couple of glugs each of whiskey and lime juice. Let everything simmer for half an hour or so. Then blend everything well with an immersion blender.
This looks like it makes about 5 servings. Serve each serving that wants to get eaten into bowls (let the rest cool enough to refrigerate or freeze). Crack an egg into each bowl and stir it in. Put some cheese on top--we used some obscure medium hard cheese whose name I can't remember. Microwave to melt the cheese/cook the egg. Eat.
Other Carrot Soups:
October 6, 2005
December 19, 2005