Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Monday, July 18, 2011
If you're not familiar with Mark Bittman, here's a synopsis: Food writer extraordinaire and James Beard award winner, he recently was diagnosed with very high cholesterol and was 35 pounds overweight. His doctor instructed him to take drastic measures by becoming vegan, but obviously with his job this was next-to-impossible. So he adopted a "vegan before six pm" attitude and set out to not only eat more healthy foods, but to make sure those foods he did eat actually WERE healthy and responsible for the planet. He wrote a book called Food Matters and then created this companion cookbook.
First up from the book for us: Cold Cucumber and Avocado Chowder with Shrimp and a panzanella salad. After shopping for ingredients, here's what we have:
Certainly looks like we're on the right track! Things I learned from these recipes:
1. The people who print preparation and cook times in cookbooks are sadists. And my knife skills are seriously lacking.
2. Chopping large amounts of vegetables goes best with a glass of wine and the first *NSYNC album.
3. Panzanella is essentially bruchetta in salad form with the bread already in it.
4. Cold soup kinda weirds the husband out."Soup" is on the left, and panzenella is on the right. Bittman's comment on the soup that it's "really more like a chopped salad that you eat with a spoon" is an understatement. This was just a chopped salad that you pour an avocado and orange puree over, like a dressing. I thought it was tasty enough, but the husband didn't like it. Said it was missing something and the cold shrimp was off-putting. But he ended up eating both his and my helpings of the panzenella, and that was the dish without any meat! But as he put it, "I could eat bruchetta till I'm sick."
Panzenella: Making again. Easy ingredients, easy prep, and a great use for stale bread.
Cold Cucumber and Avocado Chowder with Shrimp: Mixed reviews, not worth the time spent.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
The move away from processed foods was simple, except for the I'm-exhausted-and-refuse-to-chop-or-otherwise-prepare-more-than-three-ingredients meals. Just last night we flew home from a week-long trip halfway across the country and went straight from the airport to a friend's birthday party at a dueling piano bar. Afterwards, the last thing I wanted to do at 10:30 pm was go grocery shopping to restock the house and then cook. Frozen bagged meals are my friends at these times, though they're loaded with sodium. But all in all these minor offenses aren't really a cause for concern.
The move away from red meat wasn't too difficult, either, once I learned how to properly prepare pork. Much more lean, usually cheaper, and more versatile than beef, anyway. Hamburger Helper no longer sits in our cupboard as an evil temptation, and I can whip up an awesome pork tenderloin in no time.
But even though we've cut out many boxed-and-bagged foods, and hardly ever eat red meat (aside from the weakness my husband and I both have for Carl's Jr's western bacon cheeseburgers - don't judge), we still don't need to eat meat at EVERY meal. It's just not necessary. Meat is hard to digest, and it's expensive. Plus nowadays, who knows where it came from, or what other friendly hormones or additives have hitched a ride?
My new goal is to incorporate some non-meat dishes into our diet. I'm not going to call them "vegetarian" because I'm sure there will still be milk, butter, eggs, and other animal-related paraphernalia in the dishes. Our biggest challenges will certainly be:
1. Protein. My husband and I both have very physical jobs. On our feet from 8-12 every shift, sometimes overtime or extra shifts, working with equipment or hazardous materials, we can't exist on vegetables, and we don't get breaks to snack on carrot sticks. Those meals have to stick, and have to last.
2. Tofu and beans. I dislike most beans, and tofu is not allowed. I may be trying to eat healthier, but I don't believe in half-assed substitutions like tofu. If a meal doesn't taste good because you substitute an inferior ingredient, you just ruined your whole meal. There's enough good food out there you shouldn't have to "suffer."
So off I go to the bookstore to find a new cookbook. "Flexitarianism" is the new "it" term for doing a partial-vegetarian diet, and it at least gives me a starting point. Hopefully you'll be able to look forward to great new recipes that will help you incorporate healthier ingredients without even missing the meat!
Wish me luck!
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Friday, June 17, 2011
When feeding your starter you want to add equal parts bread flour and warm water to add up to the total weight of the starter. In my case when I scooped Jack out of his jar into a large bowl, he weighed 11 ounces.
I simply stirred in 5.5 ounces of bread flour and 5.5 ounces of warm water. Be careful the water isn't too warm; it can kill a starter. Remember, it's alive! Be nice to it! I usually use the same wrist test you would use to check a baby bottle or bath. No worries if it's too cool; it may just take longer to activate your starter. That's it! Now I leave him alone to wake up, grow, and begin bubbling. Below is a photo I took after only five minutes:
Looks a bit like pancake batter, smells a little funky, and tiny bubbles have already started to rise to the top. I covered the bowl with plastic wrap and left it on my butcher block table in the kitchen. Came back ten hours later and Jack looks like this now:
Lots of new little air bubbles! But he's not quite ready yet. 16 hours later and now Jack looks ready:
Doubled in size, covered in air bubbles, and ready to use! At this point you take out however much starter you need for your recipe and return the rest to a jar for the fridge but DON'T SEAL THE JAR. There are still gases escaping and could blow the lid. Just set the lid on top and screw it down after a day or two. If you don't bake very often but want to make sure your starter stays alive and well, simply throw out the extra starter you won't need; you'll have to feed it again soon anyway!
My starter took 16 hours to reach the ready-to-use point. Yours will be different, depending on the age and activity of the yeast. It also depends on the weather. It was about 65-70 degrees in my house where Jack was sitting, so if it's in the heat of the day in August your starter will obviously move faster. Plan to feed your starter 24 hours before you plan to bake; then you're sure to be ready!
As far as frequency of feeding goes, that will depend on you. Commercial bakeries feed their starters at least once every day and have the strongest ones out there. But I've forgotten about starters in the back of my fridge for up to a month or longer and they have revived just fine, though they took quite a while to wake up and then proof later. Simply put: more feedings make for stronger starters.
Next up: bread baking! Actually we'll start out easy and fun with sourdough pizza dough.
NOTES regarding equipment and ingredients:
*I have heard many times that metal bowls will react with your starter if you leave them to ferment. I've even heard it taken so far to say you shouldn't use any metal object to stir the starter with. Now, I've used all kinds of utensils and had no ill effects, but I've never left my starter to ferment in anything other than a glass bowl. I figure I have one; why take the chance?
*Bread flour is different from All Purpose flour in that you will get a much better bread product due to the higher gluten content. It makes for a more structured, chewy bread with a great crust, whereas cake flour, pastry flour, and AP flour (a mixture of pastry and bread) are lower in gluten and provides that necessary softness for cakes and pastries. If you plan on baking bread you really should get bread flour. Most grocery stores carry it now, and it's not any more expensive than AP flour.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
What makes sourdough so, well, amazing? Why is it sour? And what in the world is a "starter?" I'm sure if you're following a cooking blog you've heard the word "starter" before, even if you don't know what it is. The basic concept is this: all bread products needs a levening agent in order to rise. It can be chemical (baking soda, baking powder, etc.), mechanical (whipping something into a frenzy to incorporate air), or biological. In most cases, biological leveners are yeasts.
Yeast is a naturally occuring organism in the air. When yeast is added to bread it will eat sugars in the dough and release CO2 gases, which makes the dough bubble and rise. The yeast dies during the baking process but leaves its lovely air bubbles throughout our breads, making them light and fluffy.
Most people are familiar with the yeast that comes dry and in little yellow packets from the grocery store. This is dried, dormant yeast, but once you add sugar, moisture, and heat, these little guys come to life and do their CO2 magic. But how does that differ from a starter?
A starter is a LIVE yeast that is cultivated and kept alive through regular feedings. Every couple of weeks or so I pull Jack out of the fridge, feed him some fresh bread flour and warm water, and watch him grow and multiply. Then I take out what I need for a recipe and put the rest back in his jar and put him back in the fridge.
And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is what is meant when you hear a starter is 75, 100, or 150 years old. That starter began by catching live yeast cultures from the air and feeding and caring and using it for that many years. That is what makes sourdough sour. The older the starter, the more flavor. You'll also hear a sourdough starter refered to as "the mother" since all bread comes from it. That's also why sourdough breads can taste so different based on where they were created. Different areas have different yeasts.
Jack is a very, very, VERY young starter, but I'm attached to him. When I was in culinary school our chef instructor created Jack especially for us in September 2009 and named him Jack, after his fat cat. Chef said if you name your starter you're more likely to feed it, rather than neglect it in the back of your fridge. Jack isn't very sour yet, or even very strong, but he still makes yummy bread, and has even already "spawned" some offspring when my mom took some of Jack to keep her own starter!
The next entry will be all about how to feed your starter and keep it alive. If you're interested in getting your own sourdough starter there are hundreds of websites available. They'll simply ship you a little packet with a dried out starter (similar to those little packets at the grocery store) with instructions on how to reconstitute it. You can also create your very own personal starter at home with nothing more than a bowl of flour and water, and a little time. There are also lots of instructions online to teach you how to catch native yeasts.
I hope you guys will enjoy this new series of posts! I'm looking forward to sharing my results with you.