Sunday, January 31, 2010

My 3rd Sourdough

Now that I successfully have three different batches of sourdough under my belt, I feel competent to post about them, recipes and all.
I will admit, in the same way I never really understood high school math, I didn't understand sourdough at first. The whole concept of baking bread from a sourdough starter made me feel a bit lost and, even though I had two wonderful books to consult, it took me quite some time and reading to really understand what was going on here. And still, I'm learning. I think making good sourdough bread is something a class could really help. I've never thought I needed a class for anything--just hands on experience--but I'm changing my tune. As of now, I think a class would be good for sourdough bread baking basics as well as for Japanese and Central South American cooking. These are just culinary categories that I know I am not "a natural" at performing. I need experiential exposure from an expert to really "get" them.
Anyway, back to the bread.
This is a basic sourdough with the addition of rosemary. This time, I used Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible as my consulting force. She describes things differently than Peter Reinhart, which I liked for some things and didn't like for others.
The bread took over 24 hours from start to finish. I don't know if that's typical or if it's because I made it on the coldest weekend in forever (what, like 13 degrees?), but that's just how it went.

Here's the deal. I'll start the recipe for you, but you need to already have a sourdough starter in the works. Consult if you need help with this.

If I understand correctly (and this is what I did), you first need to convert your liquid starter into a storage starter, and then into a stiff starter.
  • So, you take about 1/4 of your sourdough starter and put it in a bowl.
  • Mix in 1/3 c flour and 1 T water. Mix with a wooden spoon, and then knead with your hands until its a cohesive blob. Put blob in oiled glass container, cover with plastic wrap, leave for a few hours.
  • Now mix in another 2/3 c flour and 2 T + 2 t water. Leave to rise another few hours (about 4?).
  • Now you have your stiff sourdough starter. You don't have to make the bread right now. You can wait until you are ready and put the starter in the fridge until then. If you decide to do that, just let it warm up 1 hr on the counter before you use it.
Put 2 1/4 c flour in a bowl. Mix in 2/3 c water until all incorporated.
Let sit 20 min.
Cut or tear 2/3 c stiff starter into pieces. Discard the rest.
Mix pieces of stiff starter into the flour/water mixture on low speed for 2 minutes. Then mix on high speed for 3 minutes. Add the salt and the rosemary. Continue to mix another minute. If not mixing well, stop mixer, do a few letter folds with your hands, and then put back in the mixer and mix.
Oil glass container. Drop dough in. Wrap with plastic wrap so dough doesn't dry out. Let rise 1 hour. Take out. Do 2 business letter folds. Put back in container. Let rise 1 more hour. Repeat folds. Let sit 4-5 hours, or until dough has doubled in size.

Now you can shape it. A plain ol' ball of dough is a good shape. In french, it even sounds fancy. It's a boule.
Shape it, put it on a baking sheet on parchment, cover in plastic wrap, and leave about 5-6 hours.
Preheat oven to 475. Put a cast iron pan on the bottom rack of the oven. When its hot enough, put bread in on baking sheet. When bread goes in, throw about 10 ice cubes into the cast iron pan and shut oven door. Bake 5 min. Lower heat to 450. Bake for 20 min.

Remove from oven. Let chill COMPLETELY before eating, as it bakes as it rests! IF you cut it before it's cool, it will dry out. This part takes lots of patience. It's true.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

She just couldn't wait...

When I came home today, I used whatever leftover momentum I had to make banana chocolate chip bars. I've been wanting to cream butter for the last few days. I know, it must sound funny, but I develop little food goals I want to accomplish over the course of a week. This week it was:
  1. cream butter
  2. use the really ripe bananas that are turning black
It took me a while to figure out what, exactly, I wanted to do with these goals. Banana bread just seemed so... boring. I consulted King Arthur. The answer was right in front of me, but I resisted. I had only softened 1 stick of butter, not 1 1/2 as called for by their banana chocolate chip bars. I also didn't have spelt flour (and baking in Oberlin's Fairchild may have turned me off to the flour that seems impossible to make rise). So I adapted. It was...Delicious. Go ahead, try it.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bars

1 stick butter, softened
1 1/4 c brown sugar, packed
4 mashed very ripe bananas
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 t vanilla
dash nutmeg
3/4 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1 egg
1 1/4 c whole wheat flour
2 handfuls chocolate chips
2 handfuls walnuts, chopped (or hammered in double plastic bags)

In a bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add bananas, mix. Add lemon juice, mix. Add vanilla, nutmeg, baking powder, salt, cinnamon. Mix. Add egg, mix. Add flour, mix well. Pour and spread in an oil-sprayed 9x13 pan. Let sit 10-15 min while mixture thickens. Bake at 350, 35 minutes. Cool, and eat, but really let cool first, unlike my mother who just couldn't wait.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's true... I'm addicted to making granola

I just can't stop.
So here, no recipe. Just ingredients.
It's called Dump-It-In Granola.
You just pour from the containers. No measuring cups or spoons allowed. Just pouring and sprinkling and tasting and mixing.
Oats, mixed chopped nuts, dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, nectarines, cherries), brown sugar, honey, vegetable oil. Taste. Adjust. Taste again. Adjust again. Bake at 350 for about 12 minutes or longer, depending on how crunchy or burnt you like it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Comfort me with Casseroles

As you may have already figured out, I love to bake. When I think of baking, I typically think of breads and sweets coming out of the oven. On the contrary, when I think of cooking, I think of savory flavors, prepared stove-top. Perhaps that's why I love a good casserole so much-- because it's cooking, but it requires the oven to make it the comfort food it is. Perhaps what I find so enjoyable about making and eating a casserole is that it merges "cooking" and "baking". I'm not sure what draws me to the casserole. What I do know, is it represents the perfect comfort food for me.
Tonight I prepared two pans of vegetable lasagna, prepared with home-roasted red peppers, eggplant, and zucchini. The noodle layers were whole wheat, and I think this factor made the lasagna a bit sturdier, in a good way. The sauce is super simple to make at home (only three ingredients), and as simple as it is, it is delicately delicious.
Try for yourself--the recipe is pretty easy. It takes about 1-2 hours from start to finish. Also, this recipe is for two 9x9 or 1 9x13 dishes. I made two 9x9 casseroles so I have one for this week, and one to freeze for later, in a few weeks, when I'm too tired to cook but still want something yummy.

Vegetable Lasagna
1 1/2 lb (about 3 small) eggplant, diced
1 lb zucchini, diced
3 red peppers, roasted and chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
3 T olive oil

1 box (about 16 sheets) whole wheat lasagna noodles

olive oil
2 28-oz cans plum tomatoes, crushed with an immersion blender
6 cloves garlic, minced
basil, to taste

1 c ricotta cheese
1 lb mozzarella cheese, grated

Toss veggies with olive oil, crushed garlic, salt, and pepper. Roast at 375 for 30 minutes. Set aside.
Cook lasagna noodles according to package instructions for al dente (about 7 min). Remove from pot and set, in a single layer, on two baking sheets (this way, they won't stick together). Let cool.
In medium saucepan, head olive oil. Add garlic and saute. Add tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, over relatively high heat, for about 15 min. Add basil and stir.
In the bottom of each pan, spoon a thin layer of tomato sauce. Layer three noodles in each pan (you may have to use a knife to trim them to fit). Dot each noodle with ricotta cheese, then vegetables, then mozzarella, then sauce. Layer three more noodles on top, and repeat this layering pattern. At your fourth noodle layer, pour on remaining sauce and sprinkle remaining mozzarella. Bake at 375 for 30 min, covered in well-oiled (spray works best) foil. Uncover after 30 min, and bake another 15 min.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's Time for Payback

Whenever Matt visits my family, he makes a point of cooking them dinner at least one of the nights. Tonight, he and I orchestrated a Thank You feast. The two-course meal was one of the best savory things we've cooked together in a while. The salad and the main dishes weren't part of the same theme, but the flavor profiles of each were amazing. I must say, this was one of those meals I tasted a few times while preparing, but I had no idea it would turn out this good.

To start, we served baked goat cheese atop a bed of salad greens tossed with red wine-chive vinaigrette. To follow was Moroccan chicken breast and drumstick served with almond-cranberry cous-cous. The chicken dish was akin to a curry, although not in flavor but in composition. The flavors were rich, bold, and clean. Also, a few months ago, I started preserving lemons. They had been curing for at least 8 weeks by tonight, and their addition to this dish gave it an indescribable complexity. Not quite sour, not quite salty, strangely rich, I urge everyone to try to cure their own lemons.
Below is the recipe for the Moroccan Chicken with Almond-Cranberry Cous-Cous. I looked to Cooks Illustrated as well as for guidance with the recipes.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 drumsticks
2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 quarters preserved lemon rinds, sliced lengthwise, then chopped crosswise
1 1/4 t paprika
1/2 t cumin
1/4 t cayenne
1/2 t ginger
1/4 t coriander
1/4 t cinnamon
squirt honey
2 c chicken broth
2 carrots, sliced thinly
1/2 c halved, pitted green olives
cilantro to garnish

In a large pot, brown the chicken, two minutes on each side, in 1 T olive oil. Place it on a plate, out of the way. Add remaining oil to pot, and saute onions and garlic. Add spices and preserved lemon, stir regularly, and cook for about 5 minutes. Add honey and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, add carrots, chicken pieces, and simmer 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from pot, set aside under foil. Add olives, and raise heat to thicken liquid in pot. Cook about 5 minutes. Return chicken to pot, add cilantro. Serve atop Almond-Cranberry Cous-Cous.

Almond-Cranberry Cous-Cous

3 T butter
2 c cous-cous
1/2 c onion, chopped
3/4 c dried cranberries
2 c chicken broth
2 c water
1/2 c toasted sliced almonds
juice from 1 small lemon

Saute cous-cous in 1 T butter until lightly browned. Pour cous-cous into a bowl and set aside for later.
Saute onion in remaining butter. Add cranberries and then add liquids. Raise heat and bring to boil. When fully boiling, pour contents of saucepan into the bowl of cous-cous. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 15 min. Add almonds and lemon juice, and fluff with fork.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

...I'm back!

Apologies for the lack of posting towards the end of December/beginning of January. I was away on holiday visiting family in Cape Town. I took lots of pictures, but cooked and baked a lot less than usual. My days were filled with lying on the beach and braiing (South African's way of our classic BBQ, pronounced brai, rhymes with eye) at night. It was wonderful, I even had time to read novels.

One of the best markets I had the chance to visit was in Observatory, called the NeighborGoods Market. It's not quite a farmer's market-- much less fresh produce and more food items being produced on location or pre-baked and sold, looking beautiful. It's held at an old biscuit mill, which makes it rather quaint.

At the market, I bought some uniquely South African flavored macarons, a chocolate croissant, and a couple of giant meringues (can you tell I have a sweet tooth?). The presentation of most of the vendors' goods was out of this world adorable and delicious. There were booths for fresh pizzas, omelets, and biltong, among other things. The photos are below. I hope they at least leave your mouths watering.