I Have It

For as long as the Weber_cam has been in existence (plus about 15 years prior to its launch), I've been damn close to reproducibly baking a baguette that would rival some of the best French bakers. Not an artisan loaf derived from carefully nurtured natural yeasts; a quick loaf with a good crust (for the adults), soft tender inside (for the kids) and neutral enough in flavor to accompany any food perfectly.

It is here.

I'm just thinking about when I'll have time to present it in its entirety. I'd like to produce something like the Pizza piece, but I'm still organizing things. Frankie introduces an element that complicates things as well. She's a rowdy kid and I can't just fuss obsessively with photos and stuff while I'm putting together a loaf - so it might be a while. But I do like to share and hopefully, someday, you'll all be taking a shot at this awesome creation in the comfort of your own kitchen.

(ps I've corrected some of my awefully placed apostrophes, thanks my love)



Trish jumped into the action this past Saturday with a nifty treat. From the Better Homes and Gardens book, she made doughnuts (or donuts, whatever). Pretty easy recipe. Yeah, they're deep fried but we had a couple people over to help eat the goods even though we really wanted to finish them ourselves. Frankie even ate a piece.

In the donut spectrum of krispy creme glazed on one end and a kind of hard cake-like on the other, these came in closer to the krispy kreme end. Kind of soft but slightly crispy on the outside and very tender inside. We just coated them with a little sugar and cinnamon. I tried to get a crunchier exterior by frying one a bit longer (that one in the front slightly to the right) but it just got darker, not crunchier. Anyway, a success. Not exactly healthy enough to do too much, but a lot of fun once in a while.


Still Going Well

The baguette is still going well after a revelation, 4 days and about 4 straight attempts. Before the big blizzard hits tomorrow, we got out today and shopped for plenty of my favorite flour (it's Montana Sapphire, unbleached, more on that later) and yeast. Tomorrow I begin trying to figure out critical variables that would interfere with ease of execution. First, I'm going to try to wean myself from rapid-rise yeast. It's expensive. Then, I'll probably try to determine if can substitute hand-kneading for the machine-knead I currently use. As always, I'll keep you posted. This pic is last night's loaf. Had it with Deb's curried garbanzo bean soup. Thanks for the recipe Deb and congrats on the new kid!


Thinking of Pork

Look at it. It sucks. My Weber. It's just sitting there unused and cold while the temps drop into the teens. Last night I had a bit of pulled pork from the freezer from the last time I slow cooked the living crap out of 21 lbs of pork. It was nice to reminisce of warmer times; times that allow slow cooking outdoors. For now, we're stuck in with persistent colds. At least we have good bread.


Got It

I've reproduced it and I'm repeating the prep daily and enjoying every crumb of it. Weighing in at 409 grams and 16 inches, this baby is a masterpiece. Notice the stress fractures on the left side of the baguette. These occur on cooling as it leaves the oven. The exterior is crispy and the interior white, puffy and tender. I'll be continuing to reproduce it and will eventually do a long piece on it. Although, I may do separate techniques in a more modular form (kneeding, baguette formation, etc.) but I'm still thinking about it.


la baguette est reproducible, non?

I have a baguette I make that is finicky. But when it comes out as planned, it is amazing! Razor sharp, thin crust that crackles as it exits the oven with a tender, moist interior. It's not an artisan bread. It's a quick prep, a straight dough. However, it is the most irreproducible bread I prepare. I'm on the verge (I always am) of fixing this problem. I'm afraid this entry may be boring but it's more for my memory than your entertainment. I have to record these observations somewhere, or I'll lose them. Several recent observations guided my most recent success (last night):

1. Flour choice. I don't exactly know which specification(s) is responsible for the flour I find success with. I judge a flour by the way the resulting dough feels when I mix it in a ratio of 1:1.5::water:flour (w/w), e.g., 200 grams water and 300 grams flour. When mixed this way, the dough should not feel tacky. Some flours, no matter
how dry or slack they're mixed result in a tacky dough - not good. Don't know the significance of the observation, just saying when I use flours that exhibit this property, I have a good run. My latest favorite is called Montana Sapphire, unbleached white, 10 lb bag, protein, 10% (purchased from Giant-Eagle).

2. Yeast. I had a series of successful breads recently whose success I attributed to using Pillsbury's all-purpose flour (had "that" quality). But was it actually the yeast? I used Fleischmann's Bread Machine yeast in the 8 oz. bottle. But, interestingly, using the same flour throughout the series, by the end of the bottle, my loaves had less volume at the end of the first rise. I do my mix and first rise in a machine, so the conditions are pretty controlled. The first rise volume is also a pretty reliable indicator of final product success. In the near future, to eliminate any possible aging effects of the yeast, I'll be using the same brand of yeast but in the individual foil packets.

3. Enrichment (the purists cringe). The classic baguette, according to, e.g., Reinhart, is the "60-2-2". Based on a 500 gram flour recipe this corresponds to 60% water (by weight, 300 grams), 2% (10 grams, fresh) yeast and 2% (10 grams) salt. This is a pretty standard starting point for most of my breads. From here, I enrich them for American style white and wheats and keep them lean for European crusty versions. Recently, however, I enriched a lean recipe with butter and honey and instead of cooking the American style white in a pan, I baked it as a baguette and it was fascinating. Not super crackly crust or anything, but rich and satisfying with good exterior color and nice crumb. I started to realize that enrichment with shortening and sweeteners simply provides an unlimited number of variations between a lean crusty baguette and a Duncan Hines cake. My most recent baguette was simply a 60-2-2 with a near catalytic amount of butter. This butter enabled the interior to stay delicate, moist and tender while I got a good crisp crust.

All the ecstatic babbling for now. In the meantime, I'll be doing validation runs and trying to figure out the critical variables.


Just Bread, Cheese and Salad Tonight

Nothing big and fancy to show off today; instead, I promote others.

I'm always on the lookout for some tasty new dishes to try and I'm especially excited if they're vegetarian. Veggie dishes are more challenging to make as flavorful as when there's some meat involved. My two favorite cooks on the web today are Deb, who writes: In My Kitchen and Clotilde, who writes: Chocolate and Zucchini.

Looking a bit into my future (next week), I like to try to plan and shop for at least 4-5 dinners so we can get them prepped fast (kid, daycare, commuting, etc.). I recently spotted two vegetarian dishes and have them on deck for next week. Swiss Chard and Chickpea saute (in my kitchen) is one. The sauce made from the cooking water of the Swiss Chard really caught my eye and I look forward to trying it. And, we absolutely love greens.

The other dish we have in the queue is Velvety Lentil Chestnut Soup (Chocolate and Zucchini). Ever since Thanksgiving, when Trish made an absolutely killer chestnut stuffing, I've yearned for more of these delicate morsels and this soup looks like a tasty place to use them.

Thanks to both of you for the great recipes!


Adventures in Deep Frying - II (Sweet Potato Crisps)

This Saturday, in addition to our simple turkey sandwich, we had a little decadent treat. Occassionally, I make a potato's worth of crisps. I slice the potatoes, skin on, using a mandoline slicer and deep fry them for about a minute. They're unbelievable and surprisingly, not greasy at all.

This time, being the depths of winter and all, I wanted a richer treat and used a sweet potato. I did these the same way. Sliced, skin on, using the mandoline and deep fried 'em. They didn't quite fry the same way a russet did. A russet fries fast, crisp and clean. Not so with the sweet potato slices. These took a bit longer to get crisp and never got quite as crunchy as the russets, but, lightly seasoned with kosher salt they were scrumptious.


Shrimp go swimming . . . in hot oil

If I waited any longer to eat these, I'd have named them.

Deep frying gets an undeserved bad rap. I love deep frying and do so almost once a week. We've grown kind of fond of a small side of fried seafood with out pasta. NO ONE fries fish like my mother. Maybe it's the source of fish (Boston you know) or that special frypan she uses but I can only hope to make fish as good as hers.

But, we must eat fish. My weapon of choice: the Frybaby, loaded with vegetable oil. This thing has nice high sides, keeps the splattering in and gets the oil to a perfect 365F (or so) and holds it. Lately, my favorite sacrificial crustacean has been the shrimp. We found some pretty good quality frozen guys recently and subjected them to a quick dip in egg and coating in very fine breadcrumbs (seasoned with salt, pepper and parsley) and tossed 'em in for a spell. About 2 minutes. The bobbed to the top crispy and brown and barely produced a spot when we blotted them on paper towels. These shrimp were heavenly and not in the least, oily. Give 'em a try.


Outside of the Box and Into the Pot

Whenever I've heard the expression "thinking outside the box", it's been in some mundane corporate context or I've missed it while sleeping through some meeting. But, in the kitchen, this tired cliche means something. It's hard to go beyond one's usual repertoire to create something new.

This Sunday, it's our turn to cook for the gang (8 adults, 3 children, 2 babies). Every two weeks (or so) 4 families on our street take turns cooking a Sunday dinner for each other; a vegetarian dinner. Vegetarian, I said - therein lies the challenge. One of our favorite meals is simple tomato sauce (or as we call it, gravy) with pasta, bread and salad. Oh, and the tomato sauce usually has a piece of meat, or a bone, or some meat-derived morsel to flavor it and give it depth.

Not this time. So, could we serve up the same meal sans-meat and have it be as comforting as it's always been? I thought I'd try to make the sauce a bit more substantial by incorporating veggies, using a long simmer and maybe going a bit heavier on the spices (and fresher, e.g., fresh basil rather than dry). This sauce would then be served with pasta. Add a couple loaves of sesame semolina, salad a desert and presto, a meal. My fear with a chunky vegetarian sauce is all the veggies would make the sauce too sweet; I always felt the meat countered the sweetness of the tomatoes with a depth of other savory flavors. Here goes another experiment, maybe I shouldn't do this to friends???

Here goes anyway: Chunky Vegetarian Marinara

1. To a large stock pot saute in 1/4 cup ex virgin olive oil the following:
-yellow and red bell pepper finely diced
-red onion, large, finely diced
-1 clove garlic, minced
-finely diced portobello mushrooms, 12 oz.

2. Add to the pot:
-4 28 oz cans tomatoes, plum, whole and crushed (2 cans each)
-finely slivered fresh basil, 1/4 C
-salt (2 t)
-pepper (a lot, coarsely cracked)
-bay leaves, 3
-dried oregano, 1 T
-additional dried basil, 2 T

3. Simmer over low heat for 4 hours (barely simmering).

4. Refrigerate overnight, reheat the next day to a simmer for several hours.
During all this simmering, the sauce probably concentrated to about 3/4 of the starting volume (the amount of concentration will depend on the amount of water in the cans of tomatoes).

I used this to top a whole pile of penne. It was awesome and the guests seemed to enjoy it as well.

The sauce originally tasted really sweet and tart. But over time, I was quite surprised, the sauce mellowed and became much less tart and less sweet. The mellowing of the sauce is usually something that occurs when I slow-cook meat in the sauce. As the fat renders from the meat, the sauce becomes richer and less tart. While this sauce wasn't as good as a sauce using meat as flavoring, it was quite good and we'll have it again.

One other interesting observation. With two bell peppers and nearly a pound of shrooms, I feared the sauce would approximate some kind of bottled "chunky" style mixture. Initially, the sauce was pretty chunky, but by the end of the simmering, the vegetables were not present as huge chunks but small bits. Although this is a poor description, the consistency was very nice. And, it had the obvious benefit of all those extra veggies.

Mushrooms are often used in vegetarian dishes as some sort of meat substitute. Since the shrooms I used didn't interfere with the desired consistency, I might look into trying different kinds and amounts next time.


Why weber_cam?

Hi. I'm Dave of Dave's Beer and I live in Columbus, OH.

The story of the weber_cam is an old one. When I started davesbeer.com, I wanted to set up a web cam pointed to my Weber. I often cook on it low and slow. E.g., a 12-15 hour cooking of a Boston butt is not uncommon. I thought I could start one in the morning of a work day, keep an eye on it from work via the web, and have some good eatin' by dinner. I never rigged it up but liked the concept enough to name my food blog the weber_cam.

I love writing about my daily adventures in the kitchen. I used to do elaborate preparations with photographic detail. Now a parent, I cook to survive and get my daughter in on it as much as possible (she rolls out a mean focaccia; been doing so since she was 2). I cook fast now, I think I could survive as a sous chef in a NY kitchen.

I'm a scientist at heart and most every thing I cook is an experiment of some sort; subtle variations on staples, major changes, totally new dishes ... complete flops. Lessons from failure are often more valuable than success. I love baking breads more than anything. And, the baguette is something I'll never tire of making. And, of course, I love 'q on the Weber. Some day I'll break down for a Smokey Mountain.

A few years ago, I was in a commercial for Weber-Stephens. It was a blast. The commercial aired around the country. I barely escaped fame.

But, seriously ...
One big reason I started this food blog is from the question: "Do you have the recipe?" My breads are special to me. When I'm on my deathbed and someone asks me (family bonds notwithstanding) what I am most proud of, it'll probably be my daily bread, my baguette. It's not quite a recipe but a way of life. In order to give an adequate response to the recipe question, I felt I needed to provide a reference in case someone was really ready to tackle the "recipe." I used to write pilot plant directions to execute chemical reactions in 4,000 L reactors. I know how to describe a process. I receive too many communications on my baguette prep saying it didn't work (... "oh, and I didn't use the yeast you said, I didn't use the pan you mentioned, I didn't ..."). No dice. Every detail has a story. If there were a shortcut, I probably tried it. I get lots of mail about the baguette thing and not one has done every thing stated in the recipe.

I live for your participation via comments - good or bad, anonymous or not - leave a comment and make my day.

Thanks for visiting.