Cookies, Frankie and Decorations

More cookies! During the past holiday, Frankie decorated cookies with Mom (kind of) and showed amazing potential. Trish finished 'em off (2nd image).

The cookies were heavenly. Flour was used merely as a support for butter and sugar in this rendition of the sugar cookie. These were the most delicate sugar cookies I have ever had (I think it was from the Cooks' Illustrated Baking Book). Then, they were decorated quite festively. Christmas this year was food, food and more food.


A Turkey, A Weber and 1-deg-F

The weather for Christmas stunk this year; snow followed by lots of ice. But, we kept indoors and had a very relaxing holiday.

However, we still needed to cook the holiday bird. Recipes developed for barbecueing from the infamous Weber Grill Company (note the sucking up so I can be in their televeision commercial) are created based on an ambient temperature of 60-deg-F. I figured it'd be about March before we saw those temps and the bird needed to be done by 4 pm. On Christmas morning, it was only 1-deg-F (note the ice covered bush in the foreground: proof it's wicked cold out). Luckily, it wasn't windy. Wind makes temperature control nearly impossible in the cold.

I knew my Weber was still the weapon of choice for our brined bird. The 8-pounder was prepared in the same manner described previously (only it wasn't given a name). The cold posed a bit of a challenge but a relatively steady temp of about 300 +/- 40 degrees was still realized; it simply required a bit more lump charcoal than anticipated. Four hours later, we had our bronzed turkey resting and waiting for dinner. It was pretty tasty and we reached a new low in 'cue.


Raviolis, et. al.

They need names.

Our Christmas eve feast will include ravioli with tomato sauce, breaded/fried smelts, cod (breaded/baked), assorted veggies, etc. Yesterday, I made the dough and stuffed it with a mixture of cheeses and spices to make our ravioli. For the first time ever, I used the food processor for the dough and it worked miraculously. A typical batch of dough was:

Pasta Dough (soon to be replaced by measures in mass, not volume)
unbleached white flour, 1 3/4 C
eggs, two
olive oil, 1.5 T
water, 1.5 T plus enough to make it "ball up" in the processor.
salt, 1/4 t

I didn't weigh the ingredients, but should have since eggs will always vary and moisture content is key to ease of rollability for pasta dough. Each batch of this dough was rolled to a huge, very thin sheet of pasta by hand. It was not sticky; almost a texture of kids' fruit leather. I used a mold to make about a dozen ravs at a time. Worked pretty well, a bit tedious, but worth it. Well, off to prepare more food (Trish has taken over cinnabon-style rolls - hers are better!), play with the kid and listen to Andy Williams tunes. Merry Christmas all.

I'll be pulling this entry back up and updating it sometime in the future with weights of ingredients.

ps: The image is of the little guys undergoing a flash freeze stage on our back stairs. It's been chili here in Columbus.

pps: Boy were these good. Not one burst on boiling. The pasta could probably have been rolled a tad thinner (to give them an apparently greater tenderness) but not many complaints. Of course it was just Trish and Frankie.


Artisan/Straight Dough Hybrid

A good bread can make even a quick meal seem special. But can a good bread be made when the night's hectic and time's short?

I think so. I've been playing playing around lately with my favorite hobby, the baguette recipe and realizing some nice unexpected results. That prep is a simple straight dough with a few small but significant modifications. Lately, I've been making the dough (up through step 6) and placing the resulting dough in the fridge.

This time, I made the dough (500 g) on Sunday and put it in the fridge (ca. 40-deg-F) and took off a piece on Tuesday, warmed it up for 20 minutes, baked it and repeated with the rest of the dough on Thursday. The resulting bread on the latter day was different, but each day good. Tuesday's was a bit bigger in volume; by Thursday, I think the yeast was nearly spent and the resulting loaf (pictured in this post) was a tad more dense than the one earlier in the week.

I suspect it's kind of a continuum where baking early is closest to the result of a typical straight dough but after several days in the fridge, even though a full shot of yeast is used, a more elaborate flavor profile develops; the resulting loaf has a bit more irregular crumb, open holes, etc. and it begins to approach a sourdough-derived loaf in texture.

I've repeated this a few times; here are a few specifics: After step 6 on the baguette recipe (for the delayed loaves I use chilled tap water anticipating not baking for at least 24 hours) I refrigerate the dough immediately. On the first or second day I want to make bread, I take about 250 grams of the dough and round the remaining dough and put it back in the fridge. With the portion I removed, I squash it into a disc (ca. 7" in diameter) to expose a lot of surface area and let it sit on the counter loosely covered with a dish towel for about 20 minutes to warm up (kind of a second rise). I then roll up the disc into a baguette shape (also a break from convention), dust it with flour and proceed as in the recipe using about 30 minutes for the final proof while the oven preheats to 450-deg-F. Last night, I only used about 200 grams and made something closer to a ficelle. It was very nice to have with leftover greans/cannelini bean/chicken soup we had.

Incidentally, the baguette, or better, the ficelle, offers another advantage for the busy weekday night. It can cool properly and quickly before the meal. A warm loaf is nice but if you crack into the baguette prematurely, the crumb doesn't get enough time to develop its flavor.


Frankincense, Myrrh and Samichlaus

About a year ago, I shamelessly begged for a special beer. Suddenly, out of the blue came a special package in the mail. It was two bottles swaddled safely in bubble wrap and carefully placed upon my porch. Behold, it was two bottles of Samichlaus Bier. Given some recent events, this was no less than a miracle.

You don't just drink a Sami. When indulging, it's more like a date. You put the kid to bed, wear something comfortable, find a friend to share it with and savor the spirit. It's on par with a good port.

And, while you savor your fine drink, you remind yourself of your wealth of good friends and family. Thanks! I owe ya big time.


I Win

I know my food preps are either too simple or too tedious to have any broad appeal to be nominated in The Floggies, so I'm going to nominate myself and give myself the honor of winning in the Too Simple or Too Tedious Food Blog category of 2004.

I'll be spending my $20.04 that I paid myself tonight on a bottle or two of Chimay.

And, if there were a Lifetime Achievement Food Blog award, KIP should get it.

Thank you all!


My 2.5 Minutes of Fame?

A gentleman from Picture Show Films contacted me by email today. He's working with the gods of The Weber Grill Company to make some tv spots for 2005. They need candidates who care and worship their grills using an improv/documentary style.

I am so all over this. Wish me luck. I'll be grilling something this weekend trying to create some good vibes.

Update: Just gave a quick phone interview, the info will be submitted to Weber for decisions and, yes, I did inform him I'm a short white bald guy. It wasn't a dealbreaker.


Food Finds Columbus: Northstar Cafe

Last Saturday we went out for breakfast and tried the Northstar Cafe. The Dispatch had a piece on it recently (paid content though). An excerpt:

An increasing number of restaurants are finding that the rewards of knowing the grower outweigh the bother.

One example is Northstar Cafe, founded earlier this year with a mission of buying from Ohio farmers.

A seasonal special uses beets from the Sippel Family Farm north of Columbus.

Chef John Skaggs oven-roasts the beets -- he uses Bull's Blood beets, an heirloom variety -- and then cuts them into large chunks that form the basis for the roasted-root salad ($7.80), where they're joined by goat cheese, house-glazed pecans and lots of designer greens in a light vinaigrette.

Another special is fresh-pressed apple cider from Charlie's Apples near Newark. The apples used are the yellow-colored GoldRush, which has the intense apple flavor missing from most types developed for cross-country shipping to supermarkets.

Northstar is now open for dinner.

Where: Northstar Cafe, 951 N. High St. (at 2nd Avenue), 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
We were there for breakfast with Frankie. There were a few other little kids there, good thing for us. I ordered a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit and was initially regretful. Such a nice place, why did I get a McD's knockoff??

This sandwich was exquisite. Perfectly cooked egg, perfect sausage, cheese and served on the best biscuit I have ever had in my entire life. How could a simple biscuit be this good? This is an example of what excites me about food. The simple preparations that have no absolute standard. A biscuit has only a few ingredients. But there are an infinite number of possibilities in the way they are processed - and the outcome is always different. In this case, I wanted to go and sit down with the chef, pat him encouragingly on the back and tell him how thrilled I was about this biscuit. It nearly drew a tear.

Instead, I chased Frankie around the restaurant.

But you should go there. B'fast or dinner, it's about $5-7/meal. It's got a small magazine stand in there, wireless and extraordinary coffee. It's so not Tarbucks. Go there. You won't regret it.

Update: Additional Reviews
Columbus Alive


Viewer Mail: Dense Bread - Part 2 of 2

Recently, I posted an exchange about a reader who, when trying one of Leader's Poolish recipes, had some problems with the final loaf being too dense. Since it's one of the most frequently expressed problems in bread baking, I posted the feedback.

It was revealed in a later email with this person, unlike Leader, the bread was made with ALL whole wheat flour! As virtuous as this sounds, breads made entirely from whole wheat flour are, for the most part, pretty darn dense. Leader, Silverton and most of the baking world use a fraction (typically not more than 1/3 of the flour makeup (by weight) whole wheat or whole grain flour and the other 2/3 unbleached white (UBW)) when making grainy breads. The UBW has the type of protein that gives structure to the risen loaf so it stays somewhat airy during the proof and subsequent baking.

That person wrote me later to give an update. Using the flour Leader uses (20% whole wheat) indeed made a difference and the results sounded quite good.

If there were ever a discipline in which the lessons are learned and relearned over time, it is baking. This individual also forwarded a cool quote from the 3rd printing of the 1975 Edn. of The Joy of Cooking found at a used book sale:

Whole-grain bread

Feather-lightness is, of course, by no means a prime objective in making whole-grain breads. Yet such loaves should have substance without high density. If our instructions are closely followed, you will never have occasion to level at us the reproach of Mrs. Burns, who, on viewing an impressive monument to her illustrious son, exclaimed: "Aye Robbie! Ye asked for bread, and they've given ye a stane".


Roll by Frankie

After a busy couple days, Sunday was a relaxing day of reading and baking. Scones in the morning and some good bread for the afternoon to have with dinner. I made the dough in the morning and Frankie and I pulled it from the fridge and pounded it like Play-Do. I made a baguette and Frankie pounded a piece and then diced up another piece with a "pastry knife" (spackle knife). Hers ended up squashed in a ball and it cooked along side the baguettes. Not bad for her first shot.


La Baguette Modified

In a recent post in C&Z, Clotilde states: "Very rarely do I repeat a recipe.".

I, and most of the world, adore Chocolate and Zucchini but food blogs are not created equal; this site is the antithesis of C&Z. If Clotilde were the pastry maker, I would surely be the stereotypical moody baker in the oven-heated cellars baking from midnight till dawn. My baguette is the recipe (or what I refer to as process) that motivates me the most. That loaf is our dominant food staple and the bread I have the most pride in, despite using yeast rather than a starter.

The prep for it is not as constant as one might think, however. I'm constantly tweaking it and adapting it to a changing lifestyle. I'll be making some modifications to the post soon, but the significant changes are:

1. I use 2-3 grams of fat per 500 g dough. This is to impart tenderness to the interior while maintaining a razor sharp exterior crust. I switched from butter to vegetable shortening for this and am getting an even better texture. Originally, this was done to accomodate a friend's milk allergy, but, it turned out so well I adopted it as a permanent practice. This additive is unconventional, but, in such small concentration, I consider it "catalytic".

2. I'm starting to use the refrigerator for the first rise. I can now prep the dough a day or 2 ahead and when I want to bake the loaf, I warm it up by squashing it into a flat disc (to maximize the exposed surface area and hence have it warm up faster), letting it rest, and then molding it into a baguette shape for the final proof. This means we can have a fresh baguette for our meal an hour in the door. Frankie loves the warm middles and we like the crust. Win-win. Details will be added to the baguette post in due time.


Meet Tom

He's been hiding in our freezer for about 9 months now. We haven't had the chance to cook him. Sunday, we finally got the time.

He's a 6 lb turkey breast. I learned a few things with this one. Thawing for 24 hours in the fridge, like the directions instructed, didn't do squat. On Saturday afternoon, I plunged him into a gallon of brine composed of: 1 cup kosher salt; 1 cup brown sugar; and 1 gallon of liquid composed of water and some leftover apple cider. I mixed this until the salt and sugar dissolved and plunged Tom in. I left him sitting at room temperature for the rest of the day indoors. The temperature of the solution was never greater than 45F (stored indoors) and by the end of the day, I could pierce the breast; it was thawed finally. Much more effective than the fridge. I placed the pot outside (ca. 30-40F) overnight and let it come to 50F the next day (by bringing it indoors) before blotting it dry.

I rubbed the bird (I would've called it Tom in this case but I'm just not that secure) with olive oil, rosemary, salt, pepper and finished it off with a slather of butter. It was 50F outside and not windy; ideal conditions for 'cue. I tossed him on my Weber for a good dose of indirect cooking. I used lump charcoal and opened 1 and 1/2 vents on the bottom and full open on the top vent which afforded a dome temperature of about 350 throughout the cooking. I was shooting for 170F internal; got it in two hours. Since it was brined, I let it go longer (a total of about 3 hours, very little maintenance). The image was taken when I pulled Tom off and tented him with foil for a full 2 hours (that large mass has great heat capacity) and got ready for the remaining feast.

I strained the drippings (collected in a foil pan below) and made a killer gravy with it. Trish made the rest. Fried green tomatoes, mashed russets and we feasted with a cheapo cabernet. I won't even admit the brand. Franky ate a bit of turkey too.

Things I wanted to remember
1. Brining for a full day did not make the meat taste salty.
2. Brining also facilitated the thawing much better than the fridge at a safe temperature (bacteria-wise).
3. The meat was so tender I think I could've cooked it much longer with no fear of drying out.
4. I used lump charcoal and added no fresh wood chips for smoke flavor; I relied on the native wood used to make the lump. In this particular case, it didn't have much smokiness. For turkey, that suited us just fine. But it's interesting. Each brand of lump has it's own native flavor. Applying smoke by smoldering fresh wood is heavy handed and should be used cautiously. Too much smoke isn't good.


Tofu Fries

This won't earn me father of the year but when I need a break to just sit back and veg while Frankie isn't on the brink of death somewhere, I go to McDonalds. Most of them now have flashy big panel monitors scattered about (apparently McDonalds' patrons don't want to or don't know how to read) and our local franchises have been rennovated so they're actually nice inside. And - they have the absolute best child restraint devices high-chairs in the industry. I go there with her so she can eat fries and I can rest.

A while back, her Mom had a great idea. Deep fried tofu in the shape of french fries! I forget the brand we tried, but it was just some generic supermarket tofu but the REALLY firm variety (otherwise the splatttering in the deep-frier is too much), we cut it into strips (and cubes) and deep fried it. We used a Fry Baby, took about 5 minutes per batch. Trish and I ate a bunch. I like tofu and they were really good. Did Frankie like them?

We won't know till we re-try them. We did this when she was a screaming demon child and didn't want to eat anything.

Or sit. Or stand. Or not scream.

Fortunately, that night, Julian and his parents came over to take the edge off. Both kids were much more calm. No one ate much, but it was much more pleasant. Thanks guys! We survived another dinner.

Anyway, we did achieve proof of principle. Tofu can be fried up into shapes that look like those seductive looking McD's fries.


Serendipitous Huckleberries

Columbus, OH.: Clintonville.

I've been frequenting Glenmont Avenue in Clintonville lately (secret reasons you know) and happen to think it's one of the nicest steets in all of Columbus. I was there yesterday taking a walk and came across a sign "Vegetables" in front of a well-kept bungalow. I eagerly ran up the steps hoping for some late-season tomatoes. None. Darn.

I did however see many jars of Huckleberry Jam, an empty tin for cash and a pricelist. I knocked on the door and a woman came out to show me some of the huckleberries she had used for the jam. I never saw one before. They look a lot like blueberries. I read they don't ripen after they're picked so they're actually quite delicate. As I contemplated getting a jar of this jam (the only thing that held me back was the intense color; Frankie could make one heck of a mess with it) the woman ran in the house to get me a Ritz and and a sample of the jam. It was so good. A bit like blackberry jam. And only 3 bucks! What a deal. It was good jam and pleasantly unexpected.


Viewer Mail: Dense Bread - Part 1 of 2

An occassional series here at the weber_cam is when we answer the mail in the form of a post because of its general significance. This is directed to the baking community. This person will remain anonymous but let's just say the mail is from our north; the place with cheap prescription drugs - but that's all I'm saying. It's just a Q&A regarding what I believe to be one of the best beginning books for making artisan loaves, Dan Leader's, his poolish recipe for "Country Homestyle-Hearth Loaf".

Her initial message (I lost, unfortunately) said her first attempt came out kind of dense. She needed some pointers. Here's the exchange:

First I gave some general comments (that I believe to be useful):

1. Baking even as much as once a day, you and I could never get the reproducibility that a baker gets who bakes hundreds to thousands of loaves a day. I say that only before saying something as painful as "just try it again".

2. Generally, let's go quickly through the steps and I'll make some pointers to keep an eye on:
  • The flour. Dan Leader uses a flour composed of 80:20 white:wheat. I use a smaller fraction of wheat and it's often mixed with rye. I don't like most wheat flours but wheat and rye make for very healthy fermentations. Your loaves made from a poolish should always include at least a little wheat and/or rye. The other flour recommendation I have is I absolutely HATE King Arthur unbleached white. I tried for years to like it and still don't. It just has bad flavor. Don't know what to say. ANY other unbleached white should be fine.
  • Poolish. The observations and procedure in the book are spot-on. Your observations at the point of the poolish should be the same.
  • My difference from Leader is I simply use a larger fraction of poolish in the final dough. Leader uses around 120 grams poolish, 300 grams water and 500 grams flour - I use 300 grams poolish, 300 grams water and 500 grams flour. I think this is actually a small variation.
  • The first rise. The poolish is done, toss in the rest of the ingredients and let it rise. If you let one rise go long, it's this one. Four hours isn't too much. It may appear to be nearly unrisen too. Its appearance at this stage is deceptive.
  • The second rise. This doesn't have to be more than 30 minutes but is pretty flexible on time.
  • The final rise - called the proof. This is the most critical part of the entire proccess. You form it into a loaf and let it rise. When it's risen ENOUGH, it's docked (slashed on top) and tossed into the oven. If it rises too much, when it hits the oven it will get no "oven spring", deflate and the result will be a tad dense - sometimes cakelike. If you bake it too early, it will get better oven spring, it won't deflate in the oven, but will come out a tad dense - again, cake-like and tight crumb.
  • During the first rise, I mentioned it may look like a slack limp lump. When you punch it for the second rise (the more brief one) you SHOULD notice it rise significantly more in that 30 minutes than it did in the previous several hour period. IF YOU OBSERVE THIS, things are going well. If this is indeed the case and until you become more comfortable with the final rise - do the final proof for 30-40 minutes. Slightly underproofing is a far better mistake to make than over proofing.
3. Addressing your specific concerns:
"I just bought the book and tried to make the Country Homestyle-Hearth Loaf, but it didn't quite turn out as I'd hoped. It was delicious, but it didn't rise much."
See above general comments.
"I prefer my bread light and airy"
I do too. That is always what I aspire for - even artisan wheats should be light rather than the earthy crunchy and dense. Those are vile.
"Did I not knead it enough, or did I overknead it?"
I can say with confidence you DID NOT overknead. My machine kneads a loaf for a full 30 minutes. I don't think so much is necessary and you don't need a machine - it's just something I find handy.
"Should I have added more yeast, since I'm just starting out at the bread making thang and probably don't have enough wild yeast cells in my kitchen?"
A little extra (1/4 t) can never hurt. But for the poolish, stick to the recommended 1/4 teaspoon. For the final dough boost to a teaspoon. Could help quite a bit.
"One other thing - Dan's straight-dough method. In Chapter 7 he says that all of the recipes in Chapter 6 can be made the straight-dough way without the poolish, and says to just mix them all together. Does that mean you are only supposed to use the "final dough" amounts in the Chapter 6 recipes, or should you also add the amounts (yeast, water, and flour) given for the originally intended poolish?"
He means add the poolish ingredients and dough ingredients. A note of caution though. Straight doughs that are unenriched (little/no fat or sweetener) are exceptionally challenging. The baguette recipe linked on my sidebar is something I've worked on for about 10 years and it's absolutely awesome but can fail - and the lack of reproducibility kills me. I'll work on it till I die. I think the easiest and most reliable loaf I make "American Style Wheat" also linked on my sidebar.
"Thanks alot if you get the time to respond to this."
I LOVE talking bread. I will never be too busy to respond to questions, just give good detail and we'll take it from there. I may take a while to get back but I'll definitely get back when I get a chance.

Good luck and be persistent.


Kettle Corn Fine Tuning

Like Prison Pete, Martha Stewart is publishing from the slammer. Her recipe for popped corn simply uses 1T oil (she uses olive oil, this is wrong) and 1/2 cup kernels. I just tried these relative amounts with the addition of 1T sugar and it worked wonderfully. I used a 3 1/2 qt. non stick sauce pan as in a recent post. I think a big part of it is: let it go. Don't remove the heat source till the popping nearly stops; it's tempting to stop early. Not exactly disasterous but this results in many unpopped kernels. So if you're not having good runs, keep trying, it's worth it. Martha's publication, Everday Food is linked on the sidebar and it's great for fast preps.

ps: I now appreciate Martha more than ever. It's just lousy she's in the slammer and the rat bastards of Enron still are walking the street.

Master Recipe for Kettle Korn
1. To a 3 1/2 qt sauce pan (I use non stick, don't think it matters, cast iron is not right, retains too much heat and can burn some of the popped corn) add 1T vegetable or soy oil.
2.Place 2 "test" kernels of popcorn in the oil (I use generic white) and place pot over highest heat, covered.
3. While waiting for the test kernels to pop, prepare 1/2C of kernels and add to it 1T sugar and wait for the test kernels to pop.
4. Just after both test kernels pop, remove lid and pour the kernels and sugar into pan and quickly cover with lid; maintain high heat throughout the entire process.
5. When popping starts (within about 30 seconds) jostle pan approximately every 15 seconds to make sure unpopped kernels sift to the bottom of the pan (to the heat). It's tough to say how long this will take because everyone's stove is different. I use a 14,000 btu burner and it takes about a minute for full popping to occur.
6. Once popping has almost completely ceased, remove the pan from heat and dump in bowl.
7. Lightly salt and enjoy. The 1/2 cup kernels just perfectly filled the 3 1/2 qt saucepan I used.


So Long Our Baby

It took me about a month to write this one.

Conspicuously absent from this site is anything about beer making. It's not a mistake. I'm an opinionated chemist with manufacturing experience and I brew my own way and have no desire to share (damn it). I'm an extract guy; I'm process-oriented and make some darn good ale and I don't have the energy or desire to combat the all-grain naysayers. So I don't. My family, friends and I like the brew and that's all that matters.

When Francesca Rose came home from the hospital, I brewed a batch of ale. It was a ridiculous act conducted in a fit of sleep-deprived mania to convince myself things would still be the same.

I have never been more wrong in my entire life.

Life has changed for us and it's much better than it was. A bit more challenging but better in ways we couldn't possibly have imagined. The sad part is the batch is just about finished and I can't bring myself to take the last sip from an almost empty keg. The ale in the keg is just about gone and she's not a baby anymore.


My Newest Food Find - FoodNerd

Food Nerd is the newest food blog to catch my attention. The particular post, Escarole and Cannelini Beans (which we bulked up a tad with chicken and paired it with crusty bread and a few slivers of reggiano) was unbelievable. We had it last night. I never realized escarole, with its relatively soft leaves would do well when cooked. I thought it would sog-out like spinach, but it's robust. It's the simple recipes like this one, that keep me coming back to food blogs. The little guy does have something to contribute. We now have a new staple meal. Something we can make easily, quickly and still have time to play with the kid. Thanks Food Nerd (and she's from Boston).


Dave's Rotten Stinking Wine

Several readers have asked about my recent adventure into wine. And they kept asking. And asking. And they won't go away. So we're coming clean. Deep down we're scientists damn it and we're not afraid of failure. We fail often, but we learn from it.

The crew here at Dave's Beer are an adventurous bunch. We routinely make damn good ale that we'd easily match with the best commercial ales. We laughed at the potential difficulties of making our own wine.

But this project served only one purpose. It made two buck chuck taste like a Chateau Lafitte. It was vile. The Weber_cam is a happy place and a detailed description of the result of this pursuit would not be appropriate here. This subdomain gets more traffic than the whole site and we fear some children may occassionally read this.

We're just hoping the city doesn't slap a fine on us for dumping it into the sewer system.


Goodbye Fresh Tomatoes

Second only to pasta and grains, tomatoes are a favorite staple in our house year-round. Even Suzi likes them. From October to June we have no choice but canned (Dei Fratelli is are our current favorite brand). The only reason for eating grocery store tomatoes during the off season is it makes the home grown, freshly-harvested tomatoes from the garden that much more perfect.

Our favorite dish from July to September is hot pasta tossed with diced FRESH RIPE tomatoes, with finely sliced fresh basil (thanks K & E!!), good quality olive oil, a tiny bit of sliced garlic and salt and pepper. The hot pasta is tossed and the residual heat is enough to just barely cook the tomatoes. The mixture is allowed to sit for up to 20 minutes (very convenient for toddlers). During this time the flavors blend. We eat it slightly warm and topped with finely shredded reggiano (and of course, a crust of bread). It's a decadent treat that only comes 3 months a year. We look forward to it.


La Baguette: The Proof

My Baguette is the most often baked bread in our house but, historically, it's not been the most reproducible. Each parameter seems critical.

I once took a statistical experimental design short course. I forgot most of what I learned because I don't use it anymore. In fact, my current profession only requires me to use an organ grinder and tincup for donations of loose change. But that's another whole thing.

When I did learn it, the first application (other than for chemical reaction scale-up, my previous career) I thought I would try is with this loaf but there were simply too many parameters and the dependent variable - the outcome - was too difficult to numerically characterize. What I do recall is when planning the design, you need to know boundary conditions of the independent variables; extreme values for each parameter. Using either of these extreme values would cause a failure and optimization would provide a value somewhere between these two extremes.

This long-winded discussion brings me to the value for the final proof time for this straight and fast dough. The final proof is probably the most critical part of any baked loaf of bread. Too long and it hits the oven, sinks and comes out dense; too short and it gets good oven spring but still comes out dense. However, this isn't my profession and experimentation with this value can mean my family gets a lousy loaf of bread. I have to be careful when I do my experimentation. My currently written recommendation for the final proof is 20-25 minutes for the Baguette. Last night, I decided to go dangerously close to what I guessed to be the lower limit of the final proof, 15 minutes. Oops, Frankie needed a diaper change at 12 minutes. I docked the loaf, tossed it in, threw in a shot of steam and dutifully went to change the diaper.

WOW! What an awesome result. Great oven spring, good crust, good volume, good color, just awesome. I think I established a new lower limit for the final proof parameter.


Kettle Corn Emergency

We here at DavesBeer.com take viewer mail quite seriously and also happen to pride ourselves in the level of detail we communicate during our culinary pursuits. A reader said she tried to make Kettle Corn using our method and failed. However, she used a Le Creuset (beautiful cookware) but probably too heavy-duty for this application. I suggested a lighter weight, non-stick pan and she got a lot of unpopped and burned kernels.

Totally unacceptable. We're sorry. We take full responsibility and will refund your money immediately.

In the meantime, I did another run Saturday night while watching a movie about a place I'm familiar with.

What I did this time
I repeated my procedure linked above but made a few more measurements and tried to increase the batch size. I used a 3 1/2 qt. sauce pan with loose fitting lid and added 30 grams of canola oil (2 1/2 T) and placed it with my two test kernels on top of a full-blast 14,000 BTU gas burner and fumbled to find the lid (and then put the lid on). It took a good 2 minutes till I heard the first kernel pop and an additional 20 seconds for the second. I then dumped in 1/3 C kernels (white corn, generic brand) and 1 T white sugar, put the lid back on and waited for popping to commence while the heat was still full blast. Things started going in about 20 seconds and took over a minute to fully pop. During this period I left it on the burner and only jostled it a few times during the entire period. BUT, fearful of burning (from my reader's findings), I pulled the batch off while I still heard popping. I then quickly dumped it from the hot saucepan into a waiting bowl and lightly salted it. It clumps a bit at the beginning and as it cools, it becomes more brittle and easily breaks up. Note: Many of the dimensions here were measured. In the previous post, I estimated and guessed.

The quality was excellent. T had more than half and Suzi wasn't interested. The yield was low though; lots of unpopped kernels but no burned ones. I became timid at the end.

I think this has to be done with really, really high heat in a pan that heats and cools quickly. My next expt on this will make use of a cheap, thin aluminum (not non-stick) pan that I have yet to find (Goodwill).

Don't know if this will help but email me again and we'll figure it out. It's worth it.


Follower of the Toasted Marshmallow

I don't follow a religion to find peace, but if I did, it would involve toasting marshmallows.

I had never toasted them over a fire before. Honest. I learned quickly though and then became obsessed. There are apparently as many preferences in the way marshmallows are done as there are ways bagels can be cheesed - and everyone's preference is the ONLY correct one.

My tactic involved heating the marshmallow until it was uniformly warm inside; an endpoint only gleaned from experience. The appearance helps also. As it puffs, it acquires a type of tiled appearance. Once warm, the marshmallow is lowered closer to the flame to achieve the final browning.

Browning - not blackening.

But, this is the tricky part. Once the marshmallow begins to brown, it loses its hold on the marshmallow stick (another post entirely). Balancing this browning with the weakening grip is the final stage of achieving the perfect treat. Just as it's slightly brown, puffed and hot you must eat it right off the stick. While contemplating the joy of this treat though, you have to start on the next one. It is totally addictive.

Let me know your marshmallow preferences in the comments.
(I recently altered the font size in the comments; should be easier to read now.)


Kettle Corn Lite

I recently broke what I consider to be the cardinal rule of weekend parenting. When the kid naps, rest. This past Sunday, when Frankie napped, I mowed the lawn. In fact, I figured out that my lawn mower (it's a crappy manual push thing) can be adjusted and I mowed it AGAIN. If my lawn were a 14-year old that just had its hair cut, it wouldn't have gone to school the next day. It was mowed that short. Needless, I was a bit tired and settled in for a rest once I sheared my lawn. My rest lasted a good 5 minutes before she woke up.

What in the hell does this have to do with kettle corn?

A while back, I described a method of making my own kettle corn using a funky popcorn popper. Turns out it's even easier, better, lighter in calories and finally - this is where it relates to parenting - is a treat that will keep a toddler in place for more than 35 seconds.

Kettle Corn
My instrument of choice this time: a non stick 3 1/2 quart deep sauce pan. I poured in enough vegetable oil to almost cover the bottom and two test kernels, put the flame on the highest setting on the stove top and covered it. Waiting for the test kernels to pop, I prepared a 1/4 cup of kernels (generic stuff, white corn) and poured over this about a tablespoon of sugar. When the test kernels popped, I dumped in the 1/4 cup measure of kernels and sugar. When the popping commenced, I gently jostled the pan while holding the lid on (to let the unpopped kernels go back to the bottom). Within about 20 or seconds, the popping ceased, I removed the lid and dumped the fluffy nuggets of goodness into a bowl and lightly salted them. Once cooled, the kid and I had our treat. That other gizmo is very cool but kind of silly for this application.


Elephant Ears

Last night, Trish got the urge to make some Elephant Ears. Having just received a trial size sample of some instant active dry yeast from a co-worker (thanks Larry), it seemed like a good place to put it to use. Trish made the dough, I shaped them and she cooked them - all while keeping the kid from harm's way. It's a really slack dough, almost batter-like. In the first image are the balls of dough that were separated and patted into ca. 6" discs. Had to use a ton of flour to work with these things or they'd stick. Then, we dropped them in the Fry Baby and finally coated them with cinnamon and sugar. Frankie absolutely loved them. They were a little like donuts, the delicate kind - not the crunchy cake ones. They were incredibly tasty and MUCH better than we'd had at the state fair. Yes, they're a tad high fat so we won't be doing these often, but it was a fun activity. And, yes, Suzi-q got her share too. And some of Frankie's as well.



We live in Columbus, OH. Not Sicily. But, a few doors down, a Sicilian neighbor of ours works quite hard to take care of his fig tree, which originated in Sicily. The first crop was harvested last night and we were among the few lucky recipients of the bounty. Trish and Frankie love them. Depicted is one of the figs cut in half. They're purple on the outside, soft, very ripe and sweet. They are heavenly.

I found a site called Adriano's Figtrees, Etc.; it's a site about cultivating fig trees in northern climates. According this site, I think the fig we generously received is called a Bifara (Italian Purple, A large sweet fig with strawberry pulp). My neighbor's going to give me a sprig to start my own. In the meantime, I'll be reading on their care and cultivation. These are too good not to have every year.


Crushed Grains

A few years ago I bought what I thought was a grain mill at a homebrew store. I wanted a mill with knurled wheels that could crush grain. This device does that but it was completely inappropriate for malted barley and its related cousins. Basically, the wheels are too close and it crushes the grain too much, almost into flour.

I found another grain mill for beer malts but kept this one anyway. Someone later informed me it's called a flaker (rather than a mill). It's got a few thickness settings and eventually gets the grains crushed into a very coarse powder. Shown here is a collection of rye berries, wheat berries and flax seed that have been crushed (several times through the finest setting). I can do several hundred grams in about 10 minutes. It's strictly low output. To make some really grainy breads, I substitute 1/3 of the total amount of flour with whole grain. I'll show you an example in the next post.


Parmesan Herbed Biscuits

The other night, while preparing our usual meal in 20 minutes or less, I really had a desire for some fresh bread but just hadn't enough time. Then I thought about the possibility of biscuits. We usually have biscuits for breakfast but I changed a few things to bring them into the savory dinner realm. I made a small batch that had grated parmesan and dried oregano. Including preheating the oven, I think they took about 25 minutes. It's not a good photo but they look pretty cool. The dark flecks are browned cheese I believe.

Parmesan Herbed Biscuits
Makes four biscuits.

1 cup self-rise flour (contains salt and b. powder)
1/4 cup sweet butter
milk, ca. 1/3 cup
parmesan reggiano, grated, 1/4 cup
dried oregano, 1 T

The oven is preheated to 450F. Butter is cut into self rise flour and the resulting powder is mixed with cheese and herbs. This is mixed with milk using a wooden spoon until all the solids form into a single mass. This is dumped onto the counter and kneaded a few times, squashed into a 7-8" disc and cut into 4 pieces and placed on a parchment-lined sheet. The biscuits are then painted with additional milk and baked till brown, about 15 minutes. Yum.


Box Wine?

Sometime ago I posted my opinion on a box wine I tasted. This month, Consumer Reports ran a piece on these brews and I thought I'd give them another evaluation - at least on paper. I searched a bunch of food/wine blogs looking for some reviews. I like blogs because for some topics, an opinion from an amateur is useful. You're never going to get a pompous wine expert to admit, if it were the case that a box wine was palatable.

Finally, I found this review by food writer Carol Emert at the San Francisco Chronicle (NO registration required!) and she seemed to like a few she sampled (and she also hated the Franzia I sampled sometime ago). A recommended wine was 2002 Hardys Stamp of Australia South Eastern Australia Merlot. I thought I'd try to hunt this one down to use for Lenn's Wine Blogging Day. It's a non-US merlot and dirt cheap. I'll keep you posted on my findings.

Also, I contacted Ms. Emert at the SFChronicle and she said she's soon doing a follow-up piece on box wines. I look forward to it.


Sourdough: A Different Rising Schedule

In the context of my recent sourdough attempts I've made a couple observations: 1. I realize a long fermentation is necessary but doing the majority of the fermentation during the third rise using a refrigerator and warming up the dough is inconvenient. Warming it from the fridge takes a long time (ca. 3 hours) and sometimes the warming results in slight condensation and the dough sticks to the linen-lined basket. 2. Rises tend to speed up going from the 1st fermentation to the preshaping to the final proof. It must correspond to rapidly increasing yeast population.

So . . . why not do the really long fermentation first instead of making it the third, retarded fermention? E.g., do the first fermentation over the course of 10 hours or so (work day or during the night) and bake the loaf after a pre-shaping followed by a more brief final proof?

Well, we have a playgroup today and I wanted a two-pounder to be ready for it and wanted to try this new scheme.

Sourdough Boule with a long first rise and no retarding step
1.Dough: Silverton's white starter (200 g), water (300 g, cool), unbleached white flour (500 g), kosher salt (10 g), honey (15 g), butter (1.5 T) and wheat germ (ca. 1/4 C, I enjoy using wheat germ lately by the way).
2. The mixture was machine kneaded for 13 minutes.
3. The resulting firm dough was fermented for 10 hours at an ambient (basement) temperature of 69F; it increased in volume at least 2.5X.
4. The dough was punched down and allowed to rest in the shape of a boule for 30 minutes.
5. The dough was again punched down and shaped into a boule and placed in my linen-lined basket and covered with plastic and allowed to rise at 73F for 1.5 hours.
6. The dough was dumped on a peel (no sticking), docked and baked at 450F first 5 min and then 425F for 40 minutes with initial steam shot on clay tiles.
7. Cooled the loaf for two hours, sliced and ate.

-It was good, darn good. Moist, nice crumb. If I was being picky, the crumb was a bit tight and maybe I could've done the final proof for 2 hours instead of 1.5.

-But, after the long rise, I'm still committed to 3 hours of waiting prior to baking (similar to the refrigerator retarding protocol). What fascinates me is the flexibility when not using added yeast. The doughs seem to be able to tolerate just about any schedule.

-This particular schedule could best be applied in our life by mixing the dough in the morning, letting it rise the entire workday, a pre-shape and final proof at night and, after a cooling period, the loaf would be ready for the next day. Big boules need a long cool down time so it'd be tough to make it for dinner.

-It was an interesting expt, just thought I'd share.


IMBB - Leg of Lamb

Finally, my first Is My Blog Burning. We have Trish's brother, Mike staying for the week and decided to have something a bit special. I got this recipe from FoodTV (Bobby Flay). A leg of lamb (shank, 3 lbs) was coated with a mixture of labne (wicked high fat yogurt, deadly good, 2 cups), minced fresh mint (1/2 C), cumin (ground, 1 t), salt and pepper and slathered all over the lamb. It was wrapped in foil tightly and placed in the fridge for about 14 hours and then tossed on the Weber. The Weber was charged with a mixture of charcoal briquettes and lump and the lamb was placed on the grill offset from the heated fuel (indirect grilling, image 1) monitoring both internal temp of the meat (looking for a medium rare temp of 145F) and a dome temp of 380-425F was maintained (see pic 2, two thermocouples used). During the cooking, a monsoon came up and dumped a few inches of rain on us. But the Weber is invincible. After an hour of indirect, I placed the meat over the coals and covered it. After an additional 45 minutes it was pulled (internal 150F) and let it rest tented under foil for 15 minutes. It was carved up and served with roasted potatoes, squash, bread and salad.

The labne "rub" was unusual and gave a splendid charry, crusty bark on the lamb. The only problem is the cut I used was less than perfect. A bit too much fat throughout cutting down on the yield but overall, a nice way to cook lamb.


Kettle Corn

Well, this wasn't nearly as complicated as I had imagined. I've had this itch to make this stuff for days now. I finally got a couple minutes to give it a whirl. Kettle corn is simply corn kernels popped in oil in the presence of sugar. As it pops, some sugar gets impregnated into the popped corn and once sprinkled with a bit of salt becomes a tasty treat.

I anticipated that once I placed the sugar in the stirring mess of hot oil and kernels, it would carmelize and jam the agitator. My pessimism gleaned from many nights of troublesome reactions in the pilot plant was not warranted. This was a piece of cake and the popcorn was awesome. Sweet and slightly salty and scrumptious. Here's the prep:

Kettle Corn
1. I poured soybean oil (ca. 2 T) into the popper and placed it on medium-high heat (gas) with two test kernels sitting in the oil.
2. Once the test kernels popped, I placed 1/4 cup of generic white popcorn kernels in to the oil and ca. 3 T sugar right on top of that and started turning the hand crank on the popper.
3. Nothing happened for a few minutes. I peaked in several times (Note: This is NOT a good idea; I couldn't resist though and was flecked with oil a couple times). The sugar continued to darken but just slightly. As soon as the corn started popping it was done in a about 30 seconds.
4. I dumped it out, sprinkled the hot treat with a little kosher salt and as it cooled I broke up the resulting lumps. It was slightly tacky when hot but became crisp on cooling. Each kernel was slightly sweet, crisp and tender inside. You all need to try this.


My New Reactor

I saw this special on FoodTV the other night on Kettle Corn. Seems it originated in the Midwest and is usually popped in these huge cast iron kettles and commonly served up at state fairs. I haven't had it yet but will definitely get some this year. It's simply popped corn slightly sweetened and salted.

So what we have is a slightly sweet and salty food with 4 ingredients and its preparation is process intensive. I am so all over this it's not funny. I had to figure out how to make this in my kitchen. Apparently the trick is to get the popcorn popping in oil (usually soybean oil) and add sugar as it begins to pop. The sugar carmelizes, coats the popped corn and when it's dumped out, it gets salted.

The key issues:
1. The amount of sugar. Consensus seems to be equal volumes of kernels to sugar.
2. When to add sugar. If you add it too early, the sugar burns; too late and the sweetness is present only as granules over the corn - bad. I guess you need to add the sugar just as the kernels begin to pop.
3. Equipment. Gotta keep things agitated. I considered one of those automatic stirring poppers but $30 was too expensive to satisfy an urge. I went to the local thrift store and found this $3 3 Liter, aluminum reactor with manual agitator. Perfect! If I destroy it, a cheap thrill. I don't think I will.
4. Stay tuned for results.


Sourdough Boule - again

This time, I'm sticking to the recipe. Can you believe it? I'm actually sticking to a recipe. Anyway, this time the fraction of starter is lower and I'll be using wheat germ in the recipe.

1. Silverton's white starter (fed only 4 hours ago, 200 g), water (300 g), unbleached white flour (500 g), salt (10 g, kosher) and wheat germ (1/4 C).
2. No autolyse, just machine kneaded for 13 minutes.
3. Let ferment @ 64F for 3.5 hours (while we went shopping and to the feeding troughs of Hometown Buffet).
4. Punched and let rest for 30 minutes at 74F.
5. Shaped into a boule and placed in my linen-lined proofing basket covered with plastic wrap (my banetton) and placed the covered basket in the fridge (8 pm 7/10/04 -> 8 am 7/11/04), internal 49F (I think this 49F is an error, the internal temp of the fridge I used was 42F and I think I didn't get the probe in the right portion of the dough and for some reason got an inaccurately high reading).
6. Warmed for an hour and returned to the fridge for an additional 6 hours (49F, registered "internal") while we spent a day caving and removed it again for a 1.5 hour warming; I got impatient. Internal read 52F before baking, should've waited).
7. When internal reached 52F, docked, put in oven on clay tiles @450F with steam shot.
8. Baked about 35 minutes. Final weight 872 g.

I think I jumped the gun on the baking (I really wanted it for dinner) and baked it about 10 minutes too short. The innermost part of the crumb looked a bit undercooked. Either I baked it with too low an internal temp and/or baked it too short. The exterior was killer though. Deadly crunchy crust (Frankie nibbled on the heel).

By the way, I realize some may be bored by these repeated sourdough loaves, but this blog is essentially my kitchen lab notebook. So, often, these entries are for me more than anyone. Some of you more tedious bakers might appreciate the entries. Also, I'm building to a spectacular multi-grain loaf. I had it in Strasbourg a few years ago and I'm trying to achieve a similar loaf through these trials.


Country White - no yeast

One problem I've always had with a no-yeast-sourdough-starter-only recipe is the requirement of the retarding step. The retarding step is done close to 40F in a fridge, substantially colder than in a commercial retarder. When to bake the final proofed loaf after the retarding step has always eluded me. The only unambiguous endpoint I've heard described is from Silverton (as opposed to some endpoint like poking the dough and having it not spring back which probably has at least 2 hours of error resulting from person-to-person variability). Her prep says to warm the proofed loaf to a temperature of 62F after the retarding stage.

That's the point of this post. To verify that temperature.

I've been propagating a starter made by Silverton's procedure that was given to me by a friend (thanks Gary) and am putting it to use to make a sourdough boule (900 g before baking; starter = 250 g, water = 250 g, unbleached white flour = 400 g, salt = 9 g).
1. Dough mixed 13 minutes in my bread machine.
2. First rise, ca. 75F, 2.5 hours.
3. Rest, 30 minutes,
4. Shape into a boule and tossed into the fridge for 10 hours (reached 39F).
5. Removed couche from fridge and let warm covered with moistened muslin towel (still with thermometer stuck in the middle of the dough), 39F @ 7 am -> 61F @ 10 am. Pretty amazing. My house was approx 73F in the kitchen and the warming to 62F internal occured at about the time Silverton suggested. Don't know why I never measured this before. Also noteworthy, the final loaf had grown to at least 2x volume. Tough to tell with a boule. Anyway, finally, into the oven.
6. Docked with my usual 4 score pattern and baked in thoroughly pre-heated oven (450F) for 40 minutes on clay tiles with steam shot. Good oven spring in the first 10 minutes.
7. Final loaf = 727 g (20% moisture loss). Let it cool and ate. Pics posted later. It was ok but I still like my poolish method a bit better.

There's a couple things I did different than the Silverton recipe. I didn't use wheat germ, I used a greater fraction of starter and a couple other smaller things. I think I did finally bake it at the right time after retarding the loaf. All things seemed to be consistent (time to warm up, internal temp and volume increase seemed to coincide with the queue to bake). The loaf tasted great but was a little low in terms of oven spring and overall volume. The crumb was quite nice but I wanted greater volume. Maybe the wheat germ was more significant than I thought.

Petra gave me some great information during this recent quest. She pointed me to a discussion and example of someone else who did the same prep (better/different results than mine). Some people feel retarding at 40F is very different than retarding at 50F. At 50F, the bread rises where at 40F it doesn't and just rises when it warms up.??

Next time, I think I'll try some wheat germ. I'm also going to be sampling the loaf over the next few days. Great breads stay good for a few days (in my opinion). Crappy ones look great and taste mediocre for a day and then suck the second day. I read somewhere Poilane believed his mega boules would be perfect by the fourth day!


Sourdough Baguettes

Been using Silverton's starter lately for breads. A good friend developed it and gave me some. Tonight, in preparation for tomorrow's 4th of July picnic I took it out and started my feeding/prep (this is a combination of methods using a large fraction of starter and finally using a bit of yeast (1/8 t) for the final dough):

Sourdough Baguette (attempt) using Silverton's Starter
1. Removed the starter from the fridge and discarded all but ca. 150 grams of it.
2. Charged unbleached white flour (130 g) and water (130 g) and stirred it about 50 times or so with a spatula. The resulting blob was a thick batter. Within a couple hours the volume had increased to nearly double. I let it sit about 6 hours total (went and saw a movie).
3. Charged to the inflated mass water (140 g) followed by unbleached white flour (140 g); mixed as in step 2 and let ferment 10 hours. Ca. 2-3 fold volume increase and held.
4. Mixed starter (250 g), water (rt, 250 g), active dry yeast (1/8 t), unbleached white flour (400 g) in Kitchenaid and let mix for about 3 minutes and let sit (autolyse) for 20 minutes covered with towel.
5. Charged salt (9 grams) and continued mixing in KitchenAid for about 5 minutes and a few minutes hand kneading. Our KitchenAid sucks for kneading, wrapped around the hook. Should've used bread machine for kneading.
6. 1st rise at rt for 2 hours (1.5 - 2x volume increase).
7. Deflated and let rest ca. 30 minutes.
8. Preheated oven to 450F with clay tiles, shaped two loaves and covered with muslin towel.
9. Final proof, 45 minutes (pic on the left after proofing). They proofed sitting on parchment, placed in a baguette pan (to support the sides) and then placed on a peel prior to launching them into the oven.
10. Docked and onto the tiles with a steam shot and baked till amber (about 35-40 minutes).

-They look terrible. Only a couple of the places where I docked them, did they give a nice open vent; the rest of the slashes look "unopened". They look as if they overproofed but I'm not sure. How could they be, I only used an 1/8 t yeast to assist the starter. My other suspicion is under kneading (as noted above). I'll break into them this afternoon. I'm a notorious underproofer but I'm not sure that was it. I'm still not sure what exactly it is I don't like about them. I guess I'll know after a sample.

-Results at the picnic today were quite favorable. They tasted much better than they looked. A pretty good crust,a bit chewey, nice interior, tender but not super airy. I was thrilled with the compliments but still think more kneading would've helped the texture.


We don't need tax breaks, just cheaper cheese.

If someone asked me how the economy is doing, I'd probably say it was ok. I'm employed. I should be happy about that. But a trip to the grocery store lately has nearly put me in a state of shock. I think it was just 6 months ago, parmigiano reggiano, a staple in our house, was $8.99 per pound. At that price I'd shop pretty carefully to get piece with a minimum amount of rind and make the guy at the cheese counter go cut another piece if I couldn't find a satisfactory one. NOW IT'S $16.99 PER POUND!!. What's the deal? I thought it was a local thing, but last month in Chicago, I noticed the same price.

The grocery store is becoming a pretty expensive place to go these days. Things are becoming tough out there.


Maiden Voyage for the New Oven

We finally got our new oven last week and this was the christening loaf.

Several weeks ago my good friend Gary generously gave me a starter culture that he had prepared according to Silverton's procedure. I've been keeping it in the fridge. Once in a while I take it out, dump some out and replenish it with equal quantities of flour and water. Observing it over the course of a day, I see it plump up in volume within a couple hours. It looks very happy despite my neglect.

Well, the oven was coming and two days before its arrival, I fed the starter in this manner twice over two days maintaining a thick batter-like consistency and using it approximately 12 hours after its last feeding. The dough I made used this starter (300 g), water (300 g), unbleached white flour (425 grams) and a mixture of wheat/rye flour (75 grams) and salt (10 grams). I plopped it all in my bread machine and did a 30 minute knead, a 1.5 hour rise, 1 hour rest and 1 hour final proof (no fridge retarding). Baked in abundantly pre-heated oven (450-deg-F) for about 45 minutes on clay tiles with a steam shot (ca. 60 mL).

Looks ok. Tasted ok. I think I have to do the fridge retarding for the final proof. I just get nervous over doing this. I never have a confident feeling when to cook after warming it from the fridge and get paranoid of over-proofing and having it squash on baking.

(ps I've combed this text looking for its/it's mistakes and believe I got them all; leave a comment if I missed any.)


Dom Perignon - We Are So Not Worthy

A kind neighbor came by the other day and offered us a bottle of wine. She and her husband don't drink. She gave us this!! bottle of Dom. We immediately went back to inform them of the value of the bottle they so freely gave us but it's still ours. The only problem, we can't figure out what occasion is worthy of this libation.


Sausage with Lentils

Lately, I've had a wicked urge to cook something with tofu. After suppressing this urge, I got back to thinking about something more dear to my heart, sausage. I modified this recipe after browsing a few suggestions from a google hack I found on ResearchBuzz.com. Put in a couple ingredients and it spits out some links to recipes. Kind of fun.

I put in sausage and lentils and eventually came up with this simple prep:

Sausage with Lentils
sweet italian sausages, 2 (1/2 lb)
olive oil, 1 T
onion, Vidalia, 1, sliced thin
lentils, green, 1 C (ca. 1/2 lb)
parsley, curly, fresh, a bunch
stock, chicken, 3 C
salt, pepper

Saute sausage and break up in chunks. Add some olive oil to pan and saute onion, toss in parsley, lentils and saute everything a few minutes. Then add stock, salt, pepper and simmer for about 30 minutes uncovered until most of the stock is absorbed. Serve. Yum.


The Oriole

When we moved in our house in Baltimore we discoverd an Oriole stove in the basement. It's a cast-iron, several hundred pound beast that I adopted for beer brewing. Sitting on top is my faithful 50-Liter, stainless steel vessel with bottom valve that I use for brewing beer. The oven portion of this is not easy to use however. It has a gas regulator but no thermostat. You turn it on, let the temperature stabilize and monitor the intermal temperature . . . adjust the gas, stabilize, measure, repeat. It can easily achieve 700-deg-F.

When we moved to Columbus, we took it with us to our new home. I don't often get possessive of material things, but this mass of cast iron is kind of special. Since the big lightning strike, we've been without an oven and have had to use this thing to bake. I'm getting better at it and have cooked a bunch of focaccias on it lately. Tonight I baked one for a big potluck next door. (It was eaten quickly, always a nice feeling.)

If I can stabilize the temperature a bit better, I'm considering doing some ultra thin pizzas. Stay tuned for the results.


mmmm . . . ribs

This past weekend, after our house nearly burned down, we were in a several-day long period of hysteria trying to get the roof patched, circuits rewired and figure out how to get the clothes washer to turn on. In the middle of this panic, I decided to slow things down a notch and take 6 hours to cook some ribs. I bought these half slabs at the local grocery store. Gave them a light rub with a ground mixture of:

Dave's Rib Rub
brown sugar, 4T
salt, 2T
black pepper, 2T
oregano, 2T
chili powder (hot one), 2t
paprika, 2T
cumin, 2T
dry mustard, 1T
parsley, 2T

Then I plopped them on the infamous Weber set up for indirect and cooked 'em at 250 +/- 25-deg-F for 6 hours. Gave them an hour rest tented with foil and served them up with a little sauce on the side.

I used to brine ribs, but these were fatty enough, I didn't think there was a chance of them drying out. I was right. They were tasty.


Carbs, Lots of 'em

In celebration of National Carb Awareness Day, we had a pesto dish. Not just pesto, but it had boiled red potatoes in it and we had, as usual, a crusty baguette with it. But seriously, I didn't make this up. It was leftovers from our semi-monthly vegetarian dinner we hosted the other night. I found this really nice basil at the market and just had an itch for pesto. Mario Batali had this recipe which was a pretty standard pesto, with pasta, french green beans and boiled potatoes. I was a bit nervous at the amazing amount of starch in it, but it worked. It was a nice combination. A good meal to kick off Summer.


Focaccia - a repeat

Another recipe of a focaccia I got from Artisan.net. This time it was a double size:
water, 350 g
unbleached white flour, 500 g
salt, 8 g
active dry yeast, 2 t
olive oil, 36 g
Straight dough, 1 long rise, 1 rest, 45 minute final proof as a 13 inch diameter disc. Docked just before baking at 430F for 35 minutes on parchment on clay tiles. Topped with fresh rosemary and coarse (La Baleine sea salt) salt.


To-Do List

1. I was buying some chocolate covered strawberries (yum) the other day at this bakery (Mother's day you know) and noticed a sign advertising their homemade scones FROZEN for sale. Said, just pop 'em in the oven at 350F for 45 minutes. I'm going to give this a shot. Make them the night ahead and put them in the oven frozen. Anyone have any luck with this?

2. I'm pulling out the most massive mortar and pestle ever to make a batch of pesto this weekend. I've heard there's actually a difference when it's made using a mortar and pestle vs. food processor. Any comments?

3. Jam packed weekend. Will not get to smoking ribs. Darn. Maybe next weekend.


Food Finds Columbus - Cedar's Bakery

A busy week prompted us to have take out last night. Believe it or not, I got some hummus, pita breads (fresh baked), baklava and some olives for $9 at a nifty place on the way to daycare. It's called Cedar's Bakery. This link is a bit old but pretty accurate. It's a Turkish place selling baba, hummos, stuffed grape leaves, etc. and they cook their own pita breads. They're only $1 for 10! It was quite a feast and pretty healthy too. Frankie even had some hummus.


Bootleg Bailey's

Trish asked me the other night if we could make Bailey's at home? Hmmm. Sounded like a great project that could be accomplished between diaper changes. Since I have MUCH less time for experimentation than I used to, I looked for an authoritative source for a recipe. Research Buzz is a great source for new developments in data sources on the web. A recent discussion regarding the redesign of About.com sounded encouraging. Despite the design/advertising complaints, the site bears human-generated content. Here, I found this recipe for a Bailey's imitation. Reproduced here for my convenience:

Irish Cream

1 Can Sweetened Condensed Milk (14 oz.)
1 Cup Heavy Cream
1 1/2 Cup Irish Whiskey
3 Eggs
1 Tbsp. Chocolate Syrup
1 tsp. Instant Coffee
1 tsp. Almond Extract
Beat eggs, add rest of ingredients and whisk until thoroughly mixed. Bottle and store in refrigerator. Keeps up to one month.
(A month? Yeah right.). I'll update when I give this a shot. Hopefully tonight.

Results - 05-May-04
I whisked the eggs using an immersion blender for a couple seconds. Then mixed all the other stuff together and just before I added the alcohol, I gave it another quick shot with the immersion blender. Once the alcohol was added (total volume about 1 L), I stirred it and refrigerated it. I ran out of chocolate syrup and owe the batch about 2 teaspoons but I thought it was excellent. Bailey's is 36 proof. By my quick calculation, not correcting for any air incorporated into the final mix by blending, this concoction is about 34 Proof. I didn't do a side by side comparison because I was so tired, even Bailey's would've knocked me out last night. I thought it was a pretty successful expt. Even with the sinister Ohio prices of alcohol, it was about 35% the cost of store bought Bailey's.


La Baguette

Here's a recipe for our daily bread. It's not artisan, it's a yeasted straight-dough. It's got a wicked crust, tender interior and it's done in 3 hours. I usually program the mixing and first rise to be done by the dough cycle of my bread machine, but here, I present it using hand kneading.

There will be a separately published faq for this recipe. A repository of observations justifying just about everything. It's a special preparation and I repeat it often. This is the best I have to date. This recipe is basically Julia Child's baguette recipe from The Way to Cook with 3 critical changes:
i. The yeast is rapid rise; any brand seems to be just fine but it has to be fresh. I guarantee this by using individual packets. I've had good luck with: Fleischman's bread machine yeast, RedStar Instant Active Dry Yeast, a rapid rise SAF type and even Kroger makes a rapid rise yeast. They all seem to work with equal efficacy.
ii. I use 2.5-3 grams of shortening per 500 grams of dough; I currently use Crisco (it's a cheat but the results are worth it).
iii. I use a baguette pan as the cooking surface, NO clay tiles.

The baguette in 18 simple steps in under 3 hours.


1. Whisk unbleached white flour (300 grams or 2 cups + 3 T), salt (5 grams kosher or 1.5 t), rapid rise yeast (1.5 level teaspoons), vegetable shortening (ca. 3 grams, 1/2 t).
2. Add water (200 grams or 3/4 C + 1T, ca. 110-deg-F) mix with a spoon and let sit for 10 minutes, kind of a mini autolyse, it'll make kneading easier.
3. Plop dough on counter and knead at least 7 minutes.
4. This is the dough after 2 minutes kneading.
5. This is the dough after 7 minutes kneading, rounded.
6. Place the ball of dough in a container to rise for 1 hour 15 minutes. I use a 2.4 L (10 C) plastic container with a hole punched into the top. This allows the gas to escape.
7. This is the risen dough after the first rise. Do not coat the dough with anything!
8. Plop out the dough on the counter, round it and cover with a moistened lint-free towel for 20 minutes and NOW, preheat the oven to 450-deg-F.
9. We're going to convert it to a baguette form in the next 5 steps. First squash it into an oblong shape and press a groove into the middle.
10. Fold the bottom half to the middle.
11. Fold the lower half onto the upper half, should be a tight roll.
12. Repeat steps 9-10.
13. Repeat step 11, finish elongated baguette shape by rolling gently on the counter. I don't care what Rinehart says, it should be tight and dense.
14. Place the loaf into the baguette pan, it's 16-17 inches long.
15. Cover the rising baguette with a moistened, lint-free towel and let rise for 20-25 minutes.
16. Dust the loaf lightly with flour, it facilitates a clean slash. With a visciously sharp implement, slash the loaf several times along the top nearly paralell to the length of the baguette (I never bothered with a lame; I use a chef's knife).
17. Bake in the lower third of the oven and upon adding it spray the oven floor and/or sides with a squirt bottle of water for steam. Use at least 50 mL of water (ca. 2 ounces).
18. Remove from oven in 25-30 minutes, should be golden on the outside. Do not cut it for at least 15 minutes. As it cools it should crackle. It's awesome.
Printable version.

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