Saturday, October 22, 2005

the sour smell of success

thanks to a comment left by bryanna grogan i finally got a little sour success with the third incarnation of my sourdough starter mr. lucky. the first loaf i cranked out using lucky (who i visualize as the photographer on the love boat - before he showed up in married with children), though pretty-pretty, was terribly, horribly, pathetically, crushingly bland. disappointing in much in the same way i imagine it would be to meet some film star or supermodel for whom you've been secretly pining away, just to be met with shiny, marlble-like eyes and a blindingly white vacant smile that clearly shows nobody is home.

this loaf had a wonderfully springy and chewy interior with a definite note of sour-ness. not quite as sour as i like it but next time i will proof a little longer. the crust however didn't get as crispy and crackly as i'd hoped - it was a little tough and cardboard like. i attribute this to the fact that i threw in 4 1/2 cups of (king arthur) flour into the bread machine before i hit the knead button, and it quickly became apparent that this was way too much. the dough was quite dry and not tacky at all. to remedy this i kept adding water until it was passably tacky. next time i will start with 3 cups and add additional flour bit by bit. also i substituted kosher salt and added half again as much as the recipe called for - it could've used a bit more.

at the end of the day, lucky is a fine, healthy, fermentable lil' feller and i think i'll keep him. i'm now looking for other things to bake using this guy. any ideas?

Bryanna's San Francisco Sourdough Bread

the morning before baking day refresh your starter.

the night before baking day mix together in a large bowl:
2 c. warm water
1 c. fresh, bubbly sourdough starter
2 c. unbleached white flour (*canadian flour is high-gluten; in the us you may want to use unbleached white bread flour)
stir well, cover with a plastic bag, and let sit overnight in a warm place.

the morning of the baking day stir into the bubbly "sponge" or batter:
1 T. salt (do not reduce this)
about 5 c. unbleached white flour (see * note above)
knead the dough for about 10 minutes, adding 1/2 c. more flour if needed. knead by hand or with a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook. sourdough bread dough is stickier or "tackier" than ordinary bread dough, so be careful not to add too much flour in an attempt to make it drier. if necessary, you can use a little oil on the kneading surface and your hands, rather than flour, during the last half of the kneading process. or, just use very small amounts of flour.

let rise until doubled: place the dough in the rinsed, dried, and oiled bowl, cover or place inside of a large plastic bag, and rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2-4 hours.

knuckle the dough down to gently remove air bubbles, and divide it in half equally. shape the dough into 2 round or oblong loaves and place on cooking-parchment-lined greased cookie sheets. Sprinkled the parchment with cornmeal.

cover and let rise again in a warm place for 1 to 4 hours, until doubled.

preheat oven to 400 degrees F and set a shallow pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven. Slash the tops of the loaves with a razor blade about 1/2" deep (3 diagonal slashes on an oblong loaf; an x, square, triangle, or crisscross design on a round loaf). Brush or spray the loaves with cold water before putting the loaves in the oven.

bake the loaves for 20 minutes, brushing or spraying the loaves and the sides of the oven (cover glass oven door with a heavy towel when you do this to avoid breaking the glass) with cold water every 5 minutes during this time. this encourages good "oven spring", or rising in the oven, and a nice crust.) turn the loaves around to face the other way and reduce heat to 325 degrees F. bake about 15 minutes more for long loaves or 30 minutes more for round loaves, or until dark golden brown. the crust of sourdough bread is slightly darker and harder than ordinary french bread. remove to racks to cool for 2-3 hours before cutting as the loaves continue to cook during the cooling process.

for variations of this recipe or to see it in it's original format, click here and go to the comments page.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

weekend cat blogging

i've done it. it's all over now. firmly in the crazy cat lady zone, publicly doting on my furry, purring, bird killing feline friends. next thing you know i'll be dressing them up in little frilly gingham dresses and having tea parties. "another spot o tea, mrs. dallworthy?" "why yes dear, that would be lovely..."

as you can see, rambunctious White Kitty is giving poor old Black Kitty a rather creative early morning goosing. and yes, those really are their names. creative, no?

and check out this book if you're into kitty tea party dress up gingham fantasia, feline mug shots, and general bizarre behaviour caught on film a la cops.

Monday, October 10, 2005

sourdough bread: a tragic lovestory

oh sweet victory. oh ye bitter ashes of defeat. both in the same loaf.

they say you never forget your first, and i do believe it's true. especially when the first we are speaking of is your first sourdough starter. especially when this first ends with an emergency visit from the plumber. especially when this emergency visit ends in a graphic excision of a tennis ball sized lump of a hardened rubber cement type substance. all of this under the rolling, accusing, i told you so, eyes of your partner.

and the second? well, the second can be no less memorable. especially when it sends you hunting around the house for that rotten garbage, lifting up the cat's tail to make sure there's nothing lurking down there, looking suspiciously at your own feet for days on end. little mr. second manically laughing on the kitchen counter. little mr. second bubbling down the toilet (much more accustomed to handling tennis balls of rubber cement type substances, no?). little mr. second wedging himself deep in the u pipe. little mr. second getting speared by the plumber's powerful suction device known as the "snake". more accusational eye rolling.

so it is no wonder that it took a while for me to get up my courage up to try again, to try for mr. third. but i'm a stubborn old ox and secretive to boot. quietly, in the dead of the night whilst my man slept i crept into the kitchen and began the dreaded alchemy all over again. hidden deep behind the stale rye vita crackers mr. third bubbled and festered. i tended to him, my secret passion for three weeks, creeping out of bed every night to mix and stir and sniff and hope. then back into bed to dream. three weeks passed before i deemed him, mr. third, mr. lucky, ready for the grand experiment.

and so i proofed. i proofed overnight. and i sponged. i sponged for six hours. and then i kneaded. actually my bread machine kneaded. then i waited while it rose. it rose for five hours. then i shaped and it rose again, my heart all atremble. then i slept and when i awoke there he was, mr. third time, mr. lucky, mr. sourdough. he was beautiful, big and puffy, shaped just like a baked alaska. my heart was light with giddy joy as i preheated the oven with a little pan of water for that magic crust inducing steam. i was going to do it right, by golly.

and imagine my glee when i pulled this out of the oven. oh my god, i might have shed a little tear. dancing and cavorting about like a drunken stevie nicks on horse tranquilizers impersonator as i snapped picture after picture of mr. lucky. so beautiful. my firstborn.

determined to do it right, i went away. i left lucky alone to cool and prepare himself for the knife. i walked around the block again and again and again as i waited for him to ready himself, a trail of saliva marking my rounds. and oh how he yielded to my serrated knife, showing me a textured airy interior cloaked by a dark, crispy outer shell. oh joy.

and then the ashes. mr. lucky was so beautiful. so well behaved. so goddamn perfect. but he was dull. bland. tasteless. not a bit of sourness. very little flavor. no character at all. just another pretty boy, square jawed, perfect teeth, full head of hair. dumb as a stick.

ready to try your luck? maybe these links will help you. they didn't me.
baking 911 sourdough information
sourdough baking basics
how to make authentic sf sourdough bread

Monday, October 03, 2005

a trio of middle eastern dips: muhammara, baba ganoush , spinach pate

smoky babaganoush, spinach pate and muhammara

since dining at marouch in la last month i've been craving middle eastern fare. i don't often make these types of dips and pates, being both ingredient and labor intensive, but this craving coupled with a call to make appetizers for an upcoming dinner party moved me beyond my usual complacent self. all three of these recipes are from paula wolfert's cooking of the eastern mediterranean, with some minor changes.

the baba ganoush turned out very well with a nice smoky flavor. i used small italian eggplants and imparted that yummy smokiness by overcooking the eggplants a little. a happy accident. my only complaint is that it turned out a little runnier than i usually like but it could have been remedied by adding a little less water or draining the eggplant a little more thoroughly. i also added a little more lemon juice than called for since i like a little tart bite on my baba.

the spinach pate had a wonderful texture and flavor. the freshly ground corriander and spinach worked together nicely. but then again i could pull spinach right up out of the ground and love it. this pate would also make a great filling for little spanitokopita, miniature calzones or stuffed mushrooms.

and the muhammara. the only other time i've had this dish was at marouch and their version was a little different. first off, it was a much brighter, more vivid shade of red. secondly, the dip was not pureed completely with bits of finely chopped walnuts and breadcrumbs lending a bit more of a mouthfeel. i used a slightly more pomegranete molasses than called for to get a more assertively sweet - tart bite to the dish. i also increased the lemon juice slightly.

following are recipes for all three dishes plus guidelines for making pita chips. i hate stale, floppy pita bread as a dipper.

baba ghanoush
1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
4 Tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic
3 T. lemon juice
3 - 4 Tablespoons water
1/2 salt
1 T. olive oil

pierce eggplant and broil until skin is charred and is collapsing. scoop out flesh and place in a collander allowing juices to drain. in a food processor mix the tahini, garlic, and lemon juice until thickened. thin with a bit of water, if necessary. add eggplant, salt and olive oil and blend until smooth. serve garnished with olive oil, parsley and tomatoes. you can also use the smaller japanese or italian eggplant. according to ms. wolfert, you can obtain a smoky flavor while cooking indoors by wrapping the eggplant in two layers of aluminum foil and cooking over a gas burner.

2 1/2 lbs. red bell peppers
1 - 2 small hot chillis, red pepper paste, hungarian hot paprika or cayenne
1 1/2 cups walnuts
1/2 c. wheat crackers, crumbled
1 T. lemon juice
2 T. or more pomegranate molasses
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 t. sugar (optional)
2 T. olive oil

roast the peppers either over a gas burner or in a broiler until black and blistered. place in paper bag for 10 minutes or until charred skin is easily removed. slip off skins, remove seeds, stems and membranes. let drain. in a food processor grind walnuts, crackers, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, cumin, salt and sugar. add red peppers and blend until smooth. add olive oil. add hot pepper to taste. if you prefer a more textured dip puree all ingredients except 3/4 of the walnuts. finely chop and mix in after the other ingredients are blended. garnish with pine nuts and chopped parsley.

spinach pate
1 lb. spinach, washed and drained (may substitute frozen chopped spinach)
1-2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup walnuts
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. corriander seeds, ground
pinch cayenne
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
2-3 T. chopped parsley
4 T. grated onion, rinsed and dried
1-2 T. mild vinegar (rice wine) or lemon juice
black pepper

cook or defrost spinach and squeeze to remove liquid, reserving 2-3 Tablespoons for later use. grind the wanuts, garlic, corriander, salt and cayenne until pasty using a coffee mill, food processor or mortar and pestle. add in 2 T. spinach cooking water. in a large bowl combine spinach, parsley, cilantro, grated onion and walnut paste, adding the vinegar to taste. if you like you may add 1/4 c. chopped roasted red pepper. chill for at least 24 hours for best flavor. garnish with pomegranate seeds.

pita chips
this are a great way to use up stale pita bread. split whole wheat or white flour pita breads into two halves. cut each circle into 12-16 triangles. place in a hot oven or toaster oven (450) on a cookie sheet and remove when just browning. if toasted long enough they will crisp up once cooled. you can also give the pitas bits a light misting of pan spray and sprinkle with seasonings before cooking, but if so, watch the bread carefully as sometimes the herbs may burn.
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