This was fun and exotic, until I realized it was just a GF pancake.  The best discovery on this, is one doesn't need a sophisticated wet mill to get a nice result.  I mixed urad dal (20 g), basmati rice (80 g), a few seeds of fenugreek, water (150 mL), salt (ca. 1/2 t, 2 g) and let it sit an hour before pureeing with my immersion blender.  I cheated and added a touch of yeast.  Then, cooked 'em like any pancakes adding a mix of cilantro and green onion to the uncooked side of the pancake before the flip.

Try these, they're tasty at room temperature.  Fun snacks.

 Here's the batter after fermentation, about 8 hours after I added yeast.  All the fine particles of yeast and dal had degraded during the fermentation to give a soupy batter that doubled in volume sitting at room temperature.

I took a ladleful and cooked it on a non stick pan using some olive oil.  Just like a pancake, when the top surface gets the bubbles popping through it's time to add herbs/onions and flip.

Final pancake.  I left them out at room termperature for snacking.  They disappeared pretty fast.


more experimentation on fries

Heston Blumenthal does a triple cook on his chips (fries).  One boil until the potatoes are nearly falling apart, drying in the freezer, a double dip  in oil.  The drying in the freezer is what kills the method for me.  No way it's going to be easy to prep 10 lbs of potatoes with that kind requirement.

In order to dry them out, I took the boiled potatoes and placed them at room temp in front of a fan last night.  I may have overdone it.  A sample of potatoes indicated I had a loss on drying of about 50% (sample of potatoes went from 50 grams to 27 grams).  These were placed in a tub and I'll  fry them tonight for kicks.

Russets: soaked, rinsed, dried for 8 hours at room temp with a box fan.  I stored these at room temp in a plastic container, covered and will fry them tonight.  I fear they have been dried out too much.  For better or worse, I'll post the result, because I do not fear failure!


potato chips, another thing microwaves suck at

Food bloggers have a funny twitch.  If something can be done, it's a great method.

The other day I saw a microwave potato chip maker at the thrift store.  It was a round plastic carousel in which potato slices are placed and the loaded ring tossed in the microwave.  What emerges is a slightly colored, crisp chip - As Seen on TV.  There's a million posts about this method, without the carousel thingy.

A slice of raw potato and a piece of paper are similar; they are a hydrated (ligno)cellulosic or complex carbohydrate network.  When moisture is removed, the residual starch dries out, upon continued dehydration, it can ignite.  Igniting paper in the microwave is one of life's joys afforded only to the adventurous and drunk (similar to an exploding egg).

Still, intrigued by the idea, I had to conduct this one myself.  I would easily swallow my pride and fancy theories and happily eat chips if it worked well.  I sliced russets, rinsed them of residual starch, dried them lovingly, sat them on paper towels and tossed 'em in on HIGH.  And watched closely.  As the fine stream of smoke that precedes a fire started to rise from the chips, I stopped the microwave and rescued my starch nuggets from the (almost burning) microwave.

The chips had some reasonable color, were crisp but would not accept salt since they had no means to cling to it.  They were not objectionable.  A fun party trick at best. Real chips are deep fried.



pasta, stat

The other night, the wife and I wanted to eat a special chili gifted to us by a friend, a special Indian vegetarian chili in limited supply.  Given the child's finicky nature when it comes to chili, we coveted it and gave her spaghetti.  Side dish of spaghetti coming up!

Rolling pasta by machine can take a lot of time if the initial hydration of dough isn't correct.  Too wet and the dough requires running it through rollers, dusting with flour, and repeating that until it absorbs enough flour to get to a fine texture and dry enough not to stick when the noodles get cut.  I also wanted to use a coarse wheat as part of the dough makeup.  Here's what I came up with: 1 yolk + 1 whole egg, 65 g, salt 2 g, olive oil 5 g, unbleached white 110 g, coarse whole wheat 20 g.  I mixed this quick by hand, dumped it on the counter and folded the stiff crumble a few times.  It eventually gathered into a ball after some work, but it was tough.  I resisted adding more water.  The rollers would finish the kneading.  I let it rest at room temp only about 10 minutes, passed it through coarse rollers and then down to 4 using a roller on a KitchenAid.  Then the strips were cut to fine noodles which turned out to be a nice looking spaghetti.  Because the dough was on the dry side, it flew through the process without too many passes and was silky smooth by the end.  We got our chili and the kid her spag.

The noodles were allowed to sit on the counter for 20 minutes while I prepped dinner.  These were boiled and tossed olive oil, butter, slivered garlic and hot pepper flakes.


oven fried (coconut shrimp)

"Oven fried" is an expression commonly seen in the doctor's office copy of Family Circle. Potatoes or chicken skimmed with oil (because low fat food makes us all thin) and baked will make food that tastes "just like it's deep fried" claim the recipes.

These methods are an  insult to the beauty of deep frying.  With one exception. Mayo. Frankie and I will take thin pieces of chicken breast, coat with mayo and cover with seasoned bread crumbs and bake in a 400F oven.  They're really great.  It's not deep frying, but it's really a great coating that doesn't flake off.  The mayo sticks to the flesh and holds the breading better cooking with just a skim of oil.  It's like oil fixation .. or something.

I used this the other night on some frozen, poor quality shrimp in an attempt to salvage them.  I thawed the shrimp, air dried them a while, plopped a bunch of mayo on the floor of the sink (I frequently use the floor of the sink as a workspace for messy jobs), dumped the shrimp and worked the mayo over the outside of the shrimp with my hands leaving as much on the surface as would stay on.  I took the coated shrimp and dropped them in a mixture of 1 C bread crumbs and 1C sweetened coconut (and about 5 g salt) to coat them.  I baked them in a 425F oven (a little too hot) on top of parchment.  Next time I'll cook them a little lighter in color.  Fun appetizer for the gang.


"natural" peanut butter

I'm a Jif super crunch guy. I lived on it during grad school. Almost everyday, lunch was a quick sandwich at my desk. When I'm not eating the maligned processed peanut butters, I love the peanut butters made before my eyes with peanuts ground in the hopper before my eyes. The style/peanut-crunching-machines are in most fancy supermarkets. The peanut butter has got great texture, doesn't separate for a long time, about a few weeks and tastes great.

Today's question: Why does each and every "natural," no additive peanut butter taste like shit and absolutely nothing like the stuff crushed just prior to eating? Sorry locals, even @KremaNutCompany. The pre-ground peanut butters have some texture, kind of runny, separated and above all, the deal breaker, with a bitter aftertaste?

Machine mashed before my eyes...yum.

Leading "natural" brand, runny, icky, bitter.


baguette, focus on the baking

Instead of forcing you all into compliance regarding specific ingredients, I'm going to let my hair down a bit (ha, that's a joke) and let you use any damn recipe you like.  The baking method here is the thing to take a shot at with any dough you have lying around.
I'm using a slightly enriched dough.  I was curious to see the results using higher temp and a cast iron surface with a little steam.  The result was unexpected and great.  The dough I used was 73% hydration with some enrichment and baked at 500F.  What I got was incredible oven spring and a higher hydration gave a nice open texture.
The dough I used: unbleached white 275 g, whole wheat 25 g, salt 5 g, sugar, 5 g, crisco 9 g (sounds odd, but I wanted a neutral shortening at 3% rel to flour), water 220 g, fast dry yeast 3 g.  Straight dough mixed in a bread machine and left in fridge 2-3 days (I've made this many times now, I love it.
Using a 9 x 17" cast iron surface in the upper half of the oven (NOT TOO LOW, the dark surface can burn the bread if it's too low).  I'm a few inches above the half way mark with normal heat, no convection.  1/2 hour before baking, preheat to 500F (500F and above, your oven has to be clean).
For steam, lately I've been using a hand-pump pressure sprayer, 2L (dedicated use for water).  Have it charged, pumped and ready.
In this image, I'm squirting the water in a fine stream on the front margin of the floor of the oven to avoid hitting the electric element (I heard it can stress it and ruin the element; I've never had the problem).  I also avoid hitting the cast iron bake surface, I want that to maintain high heat - vaporizing water requires a lot of energy.  If you hit the cast iron, the surface goes down in temp rapidly, can't remember how much, but I've measured this a few times.  So, by squirting the floor and walls of the oven, you're able to maintain a hot cook surface from the pre-heated, high thermal mass of the cast iron.  That will stay hot while the oven recovers.

Dough removed from the fridge.  This is about 300 g and 15" shaped into a baguette and allowed to proof for about an hour.  Having proofed enough, I docked it (slashes) using a favorite serrated knife (I've tried a lame extensively and prefer the knife for docking).

Slide the loaf onto the cast iron, give a ca. 50 mL blast of steam initially and give another blast 5 minutes later, and that's it.  About 5 minutes into the bake, the soft dough jumps with oven spring. Use a total bake time of 15 minutes 500F. Watch your oven! I know mine very well.  This is a rapid bake.  It's over when it gets the color you like.

Even with this much enrichment, it's pretty crusty.

Pretty nice open texture (sliced AFTER at least 10 minutes cool down).  Aside from the cast iron ($20 at World Market columbus people), it's an easy method to try.  Let me know your results.


porcini pasta

Ingredients tossed together, mixed, rested and rolled.  That's my quick fix for fresh pasta.  It's not quite as fine as that derived from machine rolling, but it's pretty good for a weeknight and a few servings barely takes an hour.

The other night @ChefBillGlover gifted me a sample of porcini powder and suggested one good use for it was as a partial replacement for flour in pasta!  

Here's my version:
 The powder, WOW!  After I broked the vacuum seal what an earthy strong smell!

This is the dough after some mixing in the bread machine: eggs (3, 160 g), olive oil (10 g), salt (3 g), porcini powder (20 g), unbleached white flour (290), whole wheat coarse ground flour (10 g).  I like a bit of whole wheat to tighten up the dough.  Look at that color!

After a few minutes kneading in the bread machine, I cut it into 3 balls, wrapped and let the dough rest for about 10 minutes.

 Using some whole wheat flour to keep from sticking, the first blob of dough was rolled to about 18" x 12" and kind of thin.  It got tough at the end and I was too impatient to wait for it to relax to get it thinner.

 To cut noodles, I laid out the pasta and let it dry out about 5 minutes.  This prevents the noodles from sticking to each other later.  Then I just cut lines with a pizza roller.  This is different than many cut pasta, but I like it, it's faster than it looks.

 Scooped the noodles from the center into a bunch.

 I let these rest on a wooden peel for about an hour while I went out for a quick wine tasting.

  Tossed in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes, strained and tossed with blanched/sauteed asparagus and peas, and topped with reggiano.


poached, a validation

Validation has many meanings.  The most interesting context for this word from my experience was in big pharma.  When scaling up a process, bringing a chemical reaction from research to manufacturing, a reaction procedure goes through a process of being tried by many others to see if it  works as described.  If you're the first chemist in line, the innovator, it is a humiliating process.  You see your personal touch get shredded with vigor by others until it becomes reproducible.  It's one of the fastest ways an experimental chemist matures.

This is what I think about when @TestKitchen or the ilk call something "Master Recipe."  It rarely is.  But this poached egg method, it's perfect.

So, this post is only my experience with someone else's method, a validation of sorts.  The only thing - I don't know where ground zero is, feel free to chime in via comments.  I don't know who created this method.  I'd like to have a beer with whoever it is.

 Crack open and egg and swirl on a fine screen for a minute or so.  A small but crucial amount of white, will come through the screen, discard it.  Then place the egg in a cup or ramekin for dropping in the water.  Repeat with as many eggs that you want or will fit in the pan.

 Gently spill the egg into simmering water (no vinegar needed).  Let sit 3 minutes.  Use screen to remove them.  As they cook, they'll lift off the bottom of the pan of boiling water.  The eggs will stay separated!

 To serve, bake a baguette, slice in half, toast and butter.

Grab your egg out of the water with that same screen, swirl to remove excess water and plop on baguette.  Enjoy.  It always works.  Always.


biryani (or something like it)

Inspired by the little industrious guy at Curry and Hurry who makes a killer chicken tikka biryani that we all love, I tried a few recipes to make something similar, failing miserably each time.  I thought about the flavors I liked and took a stab at creating it from scratch.  It didn't come out like Curry and Hurry's but I found a general prep for veggies and Indian spiced chicken and rice.  What I like is the rice is cooked well, not mush, like what happened with oven versions.  It's flexible and the "recipe" below is just an illustration of a general scheme - have fun with it.

my mise, click to embiggen

This is what I envision about 3 pm everyday before dinner.  I find a recipe, memorize it, shop for the ingredients and walk through it driving home.   
1. closest to the stove (right) are the whole spices (cumin, mustard, black cardamom, coriander, fenugreek) that'll hit the hot dry pan, ca 2t - 1T each, until the seeds start to pop.
2. moving left, ghee, 3-4T, added after the whole spices are popping
3. the holy trinity of Indian: chopped serrano, grated ginger and garlic all chopped to a paste, added on top of the ghee
4. the brined, chopped chicken breast sauteed next in small batches, reserved.
5. the powdered spices: mustard, thyme, paprika, coriander, garam masala, turmeric, ca 1T each.
6. veggies: cabbage and carrots this time, tossed in to steam/sautee to soften.
7.tomato paste, 2T
8. precooked basmati (2/3 C dry), peas and toss until all hot.

Final dish.  Indian chicken and rice, biryani, casserole, whatever.  Veggies and rice done nicely and well spiced and lots of veggie options.

Served with raita (yogurt, green onion,cumin seed and salt) on the side.


a simple crusty white, revisited

The learning curve on my flatbreads has flattened out; I'm giddy with my results.  They've become a regular accompaniment to our Indian fare and Frankie's lunches.  Whenever I spin off into a niche, I inevitably learn a new albeit subtle technique and am able to apply it to other areas, parlaying a history of nifty personal tricks.

What I learned most recently is the value of baking on a cast iron surface while using my 15" diameter low ridge cast

iron pan (Amazon).  It lives in my oven now.  The color and weight of a bake surface has a profound effect on a baked good.  Generally the darker the surface, the darker the bread - unless, I learned, it's high enough in the oven.  So, my pan is positioned in the middle of the oven to prevent overly dark bottoms.  Additionally, I learned to value how much heat is stored in that heavy mass.  I can cook pita / naan with only the broiler on.  The bottom of the bread browns from the residual heat of the steel and the top cooks via the top element, it's a nice combination.  I've used this set up for pizza too.  This heat capacity also translates to a vicious capacity to transform water to steam, more on this later.

With that in mind, I meandered back into the crusty, lean, free form loaf.  I've always admired the gods of slack doughs and natural starters - alas, that is not me.  I've dabbled many times unsuccessfully in this area and failed.  My bread today is a simple straight dough (entire dough mixed at once) but reasonably high hydration, low yeast loading and long retarded rise.  Gods of bread, kill me, I'm a commercial yeast guy.  Also, I'm not a fan of cooking in preheated cast iron, it's a great trick, but a little risky for a clutz like me and shape-limiting.

Today's loaf was mixed from unbleached white (Montana Sapphire, 360 g), atta flour (an Indian whole wheat, commonly available from local stores, 40 g), water (300-310 g, ca. 75% hydration), yeast (Fleischmann's instant active, 1/2 t), salt (7 g).  I've found that 10% or so of whole wheat and its ability to absorb more water, makes a high hydration dough more manageable.

I mixed with a wooden spoon, then used my wet hand to squish it around.  I did a few turn and folds for the first hour at room temp.  A few more turn and folds and let it rise about 6 hours.  Another turn and fold, bench rested for a 20 min or so (dog walk), loaf formation into a boule,  placed it in a banneton, placed the banneton in a plastic bag and tossed it in the fridge overnight (ca. 8 hours).  Removed it,  let it warm and finish the proof about 2-3 hours.

Baking.  Oven preheated with the cast iron in there at 500F for an hour (your oven needs to be clean to sit at 500F empty).  I dusted the proofed loaf with atta, inverted it onto a peel, slashed the top and slid it on the cast iron.  Then I opened the door and misted the crap out of the oven using a hand pumped water sprayer (from Lowe's).  I sprayed the walls and the actual cast iron the bread sat on.  I repeated this a few times for the first 10 minutes of baking.  Then turned the oven to 425 and let it go for 30 minutes.  The loaf came out and the crust slightly fractured on cooling (the singing).  Not a lot, but it happened.  The fractured crust means a lot to me.

That's it
i. tightened up the dough with a small addition of wheat
ii. long slow rise
iii. baked on cast iron with steam at 2 temps
It's a keeper.


some bean tips

I've been preoccupied with cooking legumes for about the past year.  Fortuitously, in the middle of that period, I got to spend a couple weeks in Bangalore eating lots of beans.  I left there with wonderful memories of my favorite bean dish, dal mahkani, a spiced butttery, tomatoey mix of urad dal and kidney beans.  Drawers in our kitchen now overflow with masoor dal, lentils, kidney beans, navy beans, black and white chana, black eyed peas, black beans, etc.  Beans are a big part of our diet. 

This exploration into beans started when Indian coworkers tried to impress upon me the importance of a pressure cooker.  After some practice with one (I use a Faygor 8 qt stainless steel) I realized there is a loooong way to go between the doneness of a canned bean and overcooking to mush.  Canned beans are ok, I used to be a big fan of Bush's.  But a truly silky smooth bean needs a lot of extra cooking.

Here's my tips on beans:

1. My favorite weeknight method: Pressure cooker, most beans about 8 minutes, lentils less.  I use 720 g water (3C) / 200 g beans (1C, unsoaked, I almost always forget to soak beans) and about 10 g salt, often I use a source of pork too, most of the time just a slice of bacon.
2. I fully cook beans before other ingredients are added.  
3. I also slow cook beans, but NOT in a slow cooker.  I never have luck with a slow cooker, chalky.  Instead my slow cooker is the oven.  In a tightly covered cast iron dutch oven, I use beans, water, salt and a source of fat, often a few strips of bacon and bake at 220F for 3-4 hours.  Beans this way are sublime, perfectly smooth.  I've done black eyed peas and navy this way.  I've even cooked pulled pork on top of beans.  Also pretty perfect.
4. Chickpeas are bullet proof.  I see no other way than a pressure cooker, high setting, a good 30 minutes for a properly done chickpea (then conversion to chana masala is easy).  The outer skin may burst, but still need to taste to know if it's done.

Here's some recent oven preps:

Here's navy beans in water with some bacon.  Heated in tightly covered cast iron.
After 4h, the beans are perfectly tender.  I added molasses, mustard, brown sugar and some ketchup for perfect baked beans.

Here's a pork shoulder with salt and pepper on a mound of black eyed peas.  The meat to bean ratio was kind of ridiculous, but anyway, in the oven at 325F.

Affter about 4 hours, the beans were perfect and meat fell apart.  We piled this on crisped tortillas for a kind of nachos meal.



As far as I've read or experienced, I don't know the difference between naan and pita bread.  Regarding ingredients, they are both enriched, leavened (w yeast) flat breads.  The enrichment is often milk, butter and/or yogurt (@CocktailStat even uses sour cream!) and sweetener honey or sugar.  Regarding method, pita is often baked while naan is supposed to be made in a tandoor oven.   The other significant difference is in form, pita is thicker and naan often much thinner so as to use as a flexible scoop for food.

I've posted on this type of flatbread a million times - I love them because they're tasty and fast to make, no need to warm up the refrigerated dough.  I've done them on the stove top, and again on the stove top, and baked them in a ridiculous oven I made.  Some I've started on the stove top and then tossed them in the broiler to finish.  These methods aren't bad, but I wanted something better, better color and texture, faster bake on the outside to leave the middle super soft and tender.

Having studied a few diy tandoor ovens on YouTube, I identified the tandoor's critical components: a super hot surface with high contact to the dough and an exposed heat source that sears the other side of the dough.  The broiler!  I placed a 15" diameter cast iron pan on the middle rack, and heated the oven to 550F on broiler setting - this means only the top element is on.  Your oven must be damn clean to do this.  With the cast iron in place - I did many, many trials.

1. Dough made of milk 180 g (3/4 C), yogurt 20 g (1 T), butter 12 g (1 T), sugar 10 g (2 t), salt 5 g (1 t), Fleischmann's instant active 3 g (1 t), unbleached white flour (Montana Sapphire or Gold Medal unbleached white) 300 g (2 C + 2 T).  Mixed/kneaded in a bread machine and left in fridge overnight.

I rolled a 50 gram piece to a 6" diameter, let it rest a few minutes and tossed it on the cast iron.

Bubbled within a few seconds.
 The dark side was on the surface, the other side only a few flecks of brown.
 Thin delicate layers.

2. You can roll it too thin.  I rolled a 50 g piece to a 10" diameter and made a cracker.

I also placed the pan as close as possible to the broiler element; it wasn't all that different than baked mid oven.  So the top element preheats the pan enabling a nice browning of the bottom, then the top gets browned, albeit with a little lag.  Not sure how to remedy that.  Still some work to do.

So, this method is a single toss on the hot surface, remove and done, about a minute per bread.  And for the small ones, I can make a bunch at a time with the big cast iron surface.

I did chapathi on here too, but ate it too fast for a pic.  Chapathi dough is atta flour 100 g, water 60 g, salt 1.5 g - that's it.  They are wonderful cooked like this.  Better than stove top.  Pics later.

I think this method is also amenable to cracker thin pizza and crackers, there are a lot of variations in ingredients and forms to try.  If you don't have the cast iron disc, try a dark enamel on steel sheet.  Enjoy.


pizza, with crackly crust

Past couple weeks we've had the occasion to eat pizza at Tommy's Pizza and Subs on OSU's campus.  It's an interesting pizza, super thin crackly crust with layers of crackly goodness.  I think it's similar to Rubino's and Clintonville Pizza (some time ago, recently CP changed and their pizza is awful).  We observed, in the basement of Tommy's is a sheeter, I've also seen one in Cville Pizza, so I figured this had something to do with the texture of the crust.

If one searches for this crust style using terms like "thin," "crackly," etc. results are filled with various dough formulations that fall short.  There's more to it than thin.  I can roll a dough extremely thin, but then there's no life to it, it turns into a soft dead crust, no bubbles, no nothing.  There's crispiness and sometimes layers of crispiness.  Recalling my experience with dough for biscuits, if I fold it a couple times and bake I get a pretty good set of layers and some crispiness.  In an unlikely attempt, I tossed together a quick dough from quick rise flour, leavening from baking powder only - no yeast, tried to fold it, rolled it out thin - very hard to work with, it produced a terrible kind of cookie pizza crust.  It was pretty disgusting.

When I incorporated the word laminated into my search, several posts from pizzamaking.org popped up and the problem had been addressed.  Little did I know that laminating was not only a technique for croissants, but for lean doughs as well.  I recently read of a lamination procedure used on a relatively lean dough when reading about paratha vs naan, so it's definitely nothing new, but it was to me.  And what a great application of a powerful technique!

I happened to have some dough in the fridge, 2 days old.  I made it for my crusty mini banh mi rolls.  The dough consists of Gold Medal unbleached white flour 250 g, water 150 g, Fleischmann's instant active yeast 3g, salt 4g, crisco 4 g, just mix and knead and toss in fridge.
 Started with 124 g.

Rolled it out to a rectangle of about 12" x 9" and folded it in thirds.  This is a pretty dry dough and rolls easily.  I kept dusting it with flour.

Rolled it out thin and folded it into thirds again.  If this were croissants, this would be called the second turn.

Then I rolled it to a 10" x 10" square, the thickness can then be given by a density: 1.25 g dough/sq inch.  This derived quantity is a better way to accurately describe thickness than trying to describe the actual thickness of the dough.  This compares to my usual of 220 g per 90 sq in round pie (11" diameter) or 2.4 g dough/sq in.

When I get a pizza idea but have no tomatoes on hand, I often just make a mush of olive oil and tomato paste and use that for my first coat, it's pretty nice.  Then I added mozz, oregano, olive oil, salt and coarse pepper.  The black enamel on steel sheet was coated with some oil and placed in a 500F oven, slightly above half way in the oven, to bake for about 15 minutes.  I did NOT dock the surface as is normally done with cracker crusts, I prefer the bubbles.

Boom! Lots of bubbles, super thin crisp crust.  As it cooled it became a little more crisp.

Appetizer time!