Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sprouted Sunny Wheat Bread

Freshly ground wheat, dandelion flower water, sprouted sunflower seeds, rolled oats, sea salt and sourdough...yum. An airy and delicious loaf that defies the conventions of what whole grains can do (and perhaps another contestant for YeastSpotting?)

It was a gloriously beautiful day today, with sunshine aplenty, but there was nothing I was looking forward to more than slicing into the loaf I left to cool while I out on a 40 mile bike ride through the mountains (I got a bit lost). A true 36-hour sourdough, this all began two days ago when I was feeling lazy, so I popped some wheat berries into the grinder and started cranking away. I invested in a grain mill from Lehman's this winter and I can say that, aside from my waffle iron, it's one of the best investments I've ever made. Solid, sturdy and grinds like a champ. Buckwheat flour, lentil flour, chickpea flour, quinoa's all fresh and you can definitely taste the difference.

Not only is fresh stone-ground whole wheat flour tastier and healthier (germ oils are just being exposed to oxygen), it also forces you to work for your bread, making the final product all the more wonderful. With the flour ground, I added the standard dollop of rip sourdough, a handful of rolled oats and enough water to make a very wet dough (the oats and freshly ground flour will soak up a lot of water over time). For some added sunshine and protein, I pureed a handful of dandelion flowers with part of the water before adding it to the flour (you admittedly can't tell in the finally product, but the love is there). I left that all to ferment overnight and also started soaking some sunflower seeds to be sprouted for the bread.

The next morning, the dough was wonderfully elastic and really came together nicely. I had used about one and a half cups of water, so I added about a teaspoon and a half of salt and kneaded that all together for a couple minutes, then put it in the fridge. The sunflower seeds were starting to sprout already, so I drained the water, gave them and extra rinse and let them be for the day.

That night, I pulled the dough out to warm up a bit before kneading in the seeds. To incorporate those little sprouts, I flattened out the dough, covered the top with a layer of seeds, rolled it all up and gently kneaded them in until well incorporated. A boule was formed and put back in a bowl lined with floured linen (a piece of an old pillowcase is what I use for linen) to wait out the night in the fridge.

Baking morning...wake up, turn on oven with baking stone and flower pot inside. Let it preheat for at least a half hour, an hour if you can (to let the stone and flower pot absorb the heat), then turn out the boule onto a cornmealed peel (today was an old magazine), score, and flick it into the center of the stone. Cover with the pot for steam effect (see previous bread post) for 10-15 minutes, remove the pot, cook 'till golden brown and then let cool. The only way I could avoid cutting right into it was to go for a bike ride, at which point I took a wrong turn and got very lost, making 15 miles into 40, so upon my return I had to resist completely ravaging the loaf (at least before taking pictures).

A very happy man I am. I love when complete satisfaction can come from something as simple as a wonderfully moist crumb and light texture in a 100% whole grain rustic loaf...well worth every crank of the mill. Yum. So get a crankin' and a bakin' is guaranteed deliciousness.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mole Ribs

Yes, mole ribs, but thankfully not from the little burrowing rodent we know and love (though I may have to try that some time). This is a creation derived from a craving for something different and inspired by a jar of wonderfully aromatic smoked paprika that I bought on a whim, paired with some grass-fed beef short ribs that I got at a nice little farm down the road. A mole is a type of sauce that originated in Mexico and although there is no one way to make mole, the sauce is usually composed of a variety of spicy peppers, some tomato, other spices, maybe some fruit (I've seen raisins used), and usually chocolate as well. Though this dish probably cannot be called a traditional mole by any means, I did my best with what I had and I couldn't figure out what else to call it. So here it is in all its glory:
We started with some delicious fatty short ribs. Some people will cut off that chunk of fat, but I say don't. Instead, score it a few times with a knife and when you brown the meat, leave it on that side for a while over low heat to render off some of the fat and crisp it up a bit. After the ribs are nice and browned up...wait, a quick aside. I have met many people who think that "browning" meat means just cooking it until it turns from pink to brownish grey -- this does nothing for the flavor. To "brown" means basically to toast and create a nice deep brown roasted color and is best done over a moderately high heat in a thick bottomed (cast iron is great) pan, especially if the meat is to be cooked to temperature (rare, medium-rare, etc). For the ribs, it doesn't matter much and a lower heat might make less smoke and more brown without worrying about burning the meat.
Anyway, after the ribs are nice and browned, put them aside and toss in some onions to the pan with all that delicious beef fat (when in doubt of what to do next, sauté some onions, it will almost never hurt). Once the onions are starting to brown, pour in some water (it will sizzle violently) and scrape up any deliciousness that has stuck to the bottom of the pan. Pour all this into a sauce pan for the long simmer to come.

To this I added the ribs, some chopped sweet potato and carrots (for thickening), a couple sundried tomatoes for the tomato component, a couple cloves of crushed garlic, few bits of unsweetened chocolate and spices. Really whatever you have in the fridge would work as long as you follow common sense and the basic guidelines of peppers, tomato, chocolate. Tonight's spices included some undertones drawn from the Middle East with some cumin,
coriander, fenugreek and star-anise seeds (in order of prevalence: only two anise seeds) and black peppercorns toasted briefly together and then ground up into a powder and added with a bay leaf. As for the peppers, I have no access to some of the unusual and speciality peppers of the Mexican pallet, so I used as many peppers from the cupboard as I could including a dash of crushed red pepper, a bit of cayenne and a generous helping of the wonderful smoked paprika. I didn't have any fruits on had, but I would have also added a few raisins for some subtle sweetness.
That all went in the pot, it was topped up with water (stock would have been nice), a dash of soy sauce for salt and robustness and then left to simmer for many hours (I think it was five hours tonight). A good meal to think about at lunch time, prep it and forget that terrible infomercial "Set it and forget it!". When the meat is barely hanging on with the last little strings to the bone, or maybe it has fallen off by this point, and is tender as a ripe tomato, then pull out the meat and bones and set aside for a brief moment. Now puree the sauce with a stick blender in the pan, or take it out to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Taste and season with something quickly if it needs anything (mine needed a touch of salt), return to the pan and reunite with the ribs. Simmer for a couple more minutes and then serve over brown rice. Yum.
Ooooo...and those spring greens: some green beans sautéd with dandelion greens from the backyard topped with some fresh chopped garlic and a pat of butter. Bon appetit.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Whole Wheat Sourdough Oat Loaf

So delicious, so beautiful...that's how the boule turned out (perhaps worthy of YeastSpotting?). Bread is notorious for scaring away your average home cook and even your occasional professional chef who never developed a hand for it (I've actually worked with quite a few). Many recipes incorporate long rising times, yeasts, baking percentages and even flour measured in ounces (oh goodness!)...but unless you are working a professional bakery and looking for consistency, you can throw all that jazz out the window and start experimenting.

This one started with what all good bread should start with...a big dollop of sourdough starter (see the
pizza post for a good way to make your own). Since I was going for a small personal size loaf, I added only about a cup of lukewarm water (hot water will cook the flour and kill the starter while cold will just make the rising and fermenting process a bit slower). I had some wheat berries that I was sprouting, so I ground up and added handful of those to bring some extra enzyme activity to the dough. The sprouting process activates enzymes in the berries - I forget their names right now - that break down complex starches into simpler sugars, imparting delicious flavor to the dough and helping develop that nice golden crust. If you look at most unbleached flour, they will have malted barley flour as a minor ingredient which is essentially sprouted barley flour and since barley is particularly high in those enzymes, that little bit can make a real difference in the outcome of the bread.

Anyway, back to our loaf. A dollop of starter, a cup of water, some sprouted wheat and now enough whole wheat flour to make a very soft dough consistency. Always add flour a little bit at a time because it is always much easier to put more in than to try kneading in more water later (which can be done in a pinch - very slowly, just a splash at a time). I like to add just enough so that you can barely stir the dough, then let it sit and go do something else for a while (10 minutes to an hour). This will allow the flour to absorb the water and the gluten strands to start aligning, making kneading later a lot easier (also called an autolyse period). At this point I also added some rolled oats so that they could absorb some of that excess moisture as well and give a nice texture to the dough.

When I came back, the oats and flour had absorbed so much liquid that I could actually knead the dough pretty well...a little more flour was necessary, just add it a sprinkling at a time to keep the dough from sticking to the counter as you knead it. After a couple minutes, put the dough ball in a bowl and let it rise until you are about to go to bed (ideally a few hours). At this point, add the salt. Yes, probably the most important part of the whole flavor profile - without it the bread tastes closer to cardboard. As mentioned in my pizza post,
a good ratio is 1 teaspoon salt for every cup of liquid in the bread, so for this one I added a teaspoon plus a little extra to account for the liquid in the starter. Once it is kneaded in, taste the dough to get a feel for raw dough flavor...this will help you hone your skills and improvise more easily in the future.

Now comes the waiting and baking. For this loaf, I put the kneaded dough in the fridge for the night, then took it out and formed a nice little boule first thing in the morning, put it in a bowl lined with a floured dish towel and let it rise while I had breakfast. Other shapes can be fun too, like batards or baguettes, but this was my first time using the flower pot steaming method (follow that link to the WildYeast blog - great site - to learn more about steaming, but in summary: steaming helps oven spring and crust development). When it was starting to look puffy, I preheated the oven for an hour to 450 degrees with my quarry tiles and flower pot inside. Come baking time, the boule comes carefully out of the bowl, onto a cornmealed piece of cardboard, scored with a sharp bread knife, slipped quickly onto the tiles and covered with the flower pot for ten to fifteen minutes. After that time, the pot was removed and cooked until golden brown. Yum.

Now comes the most difficult part...not cutting in right away. I know from experience that cutting in too soon will spoil the crumb, so take my advice and wait at least a half hour, preferably a whole hour (torture, I know) before cutting in. When you do, enjoy!

ps. As for flour type, I love baking this type of bread with King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour. It is still whole wheat, but it is a special variety of wheat that does not produce the same level of tannins that your normal hard winter wheat has (what usually gives whole wheat flour its darker color and sometimes a bitterish taste). It also has a very fine grind and a high protein content, making it perfect for great bread. Check it out!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sweet Potato, Carrot and Butternut Curry

Curry is one of those funny dishes that is either a staple or a mystery to any given home cook. The unfortunate reality is that the first thing to come to mind for most people when they are confronted with cooking a curry is to reach for the "curry powder," a completely western invention developed in England (I believe, correct me if I'm wrong) in an attempt to capture the flavors discovered during colonization in India. Now one yellow powder is sometimes used to encompass a myriad of cuisines across the world...oh dear.
my bag-o-spices and some garlic to pave the way

You can look histories and recipes for different cultural spice mixtures (very interesting and definitely worth a browse), but here I will just describe last night's deliciousness: a curried amalgamation of orange. Yum. Unfortunately by virtue of the texture, a curry slurry is a difficult dish to photograph, so please forgive the photos, but if anyone has food styling or photographic expertise please let me know if you have any tips for capturing the beauty in a dish whose aesthetics do not necessarily do justice to the flavor.

To start, the essential base for the flavors to come are the whole spices and it is worth the paltry investment to go get a few little baggies from a store that sells them in bulk (much less expensive - you can spend less than $10 for all these and they will last for many many dishes). The basics to have (all in whole form...with an exception for turmeric which is not always available fresh) are: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, ground turmeric, mustard seeds, cinnamon bark, red pepper flakes and whole peppercorns. For some dishes you may want to play around with some nutmeg, star anise seeds, whole cloves and curry leaves if you can find them. It's all about experimentation! Make sure to keep these all in an airtight, cool, dark place and they will keep for a year or more.

So, it all starts with the onions (funny how that comes up in almost any culture). Saute some chopped onions in a liberal amount of butter, ghee or/and olive oil (a little cultural blending and's all about doing what you can with what you have). When the onions start browning, toss in some spices. This may seem vague, so here are some guidelines (what I used for this dish), but don't stress too much about being exact:

cumin and coriander - start with a heaping spoonful each
fenugreek and mustard - about half of what you did for the above two
a sprinkle of red pepper flakes
some of a stick of cinnamon
a few peppercorns

Saute these and some chopped garlic and ginger (if you have it) for a couple minutes with the onions until you start smelling the fragrance of the spices bloom into the oil. Add the orange stuff (butternut squash, carrots and sweet potato), some water or stock, a small sprinkle of turmeric and then cover and simmer until the veggies are nice and soft. There will probably be a lot of watery water around the veggies (not the texture you really wanted), so take out about half and puree or mash until creamy, then return to the skillet. This will both enhance the texture and flavor because some of those whole spices will now be pulverized, deepening their flavor. At this point I added some whole coconut milk and simmered until it was the consistency I wanted (creamy and not too thick). Serve over brown rice and garnish with chopped cashews. Yum.

There are infinite combinations of these spices that you can experiment with in your dishes. Sometimes if the dish doesn't come out quite strong enough for your taste (always better to err on too weak over too strong), it is nice to have a homemade spice mix to beef it up a bit at the last minute. You can do this by taking some of your whole spices, toasting a mixture of them in a hot dry cast iron until they are fragrant, then grinding them into a powder and storing them in an airtight jar in the fridge. You can look around the web for ideas as to what spice combinations and ratios are tried and true, though once you get the hang of it, making up your own masalas as they are called is a unique touch.

Making naan, chapatis or other flat bread is an amazing compliment to any curry-style dish as well, but I think that will have to wait for another post. Until then, cook well and keep experimenting. Pace.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Today is a lucky day. I am about to share my favorite breakfast of all time...a dish so wonderful that I almost dropped everything and started a restaurant around its shear deliciousness and satisfying character: the egg veggie waffle. Ok, I admit the name is less than elegant and needs some work, but bear with me and you will find a new breakfast of champions.
It all starts with the waffle. This morning's creation was particularly special in that it was mostly pureed sprouted buckwheat grouts (which takes some forethought) mixed with some rolled oats and sourdough starter, and left overnight to bubble away. Waffles are an excellent and delicious way to use your sourdough regularly. Normally, I just use a glob of starter mixed with enough water or milk to create a batter, and since I am always adding different types of flour to replenish the starter (rye, buckwheat, quinoa, etc...), every batch of waffles is a totally unique experience! Contrary to popular belief you do not need any more than the flour, water and starter in the batter (ok, maybe a tad of salt). If you really want, you can add an egg, but since I am making waffles for myself a lot of the time, one egg is too much liquid and protein binding power and the waffles turn out weird. Occasionally for the savory dish (ie. the legendary waffle burger) I toss in some dried herbs like basil and rosemary for a unique touch.

Anyway, once you have the batter set, preheat your waffle iron (preferably belgian style), butter it up even if it's non-stick by rubbing a chunk of cold butter all over the waffle nubbins, stir a pinch of baking soda (not powder) into the batter and pour 'er in. The use of baking soda at the last minute is key here because it reacts with the acidity of the fermented batter and in the heat of the iron creates a tende
r fluffy waffle with a nicely browned crispy exterior. Yum.

The topping involves whatever cooking greens you have around (this morning was kale and rainbow chard) cut to a rough chiffonade (thinly sliced into ribbons) with a poached egg on top. Luckily, the beauty of this dish is that the cooking of the greens and the poaching of the egg and be done easily at the same time in the same pan! Just create a little nest for the egg out of the greens, crack the egg into the nest, add a splash of water, cover tightly and cook over medium heat until the egg is to your liking (I like a nice runny yolk that soaks into the waffle). If you do this a couple times you can time it perfectly so that the waffle and the egg are done at the exact same time.

The rest is quite self explanatory. The nested egg goes onto the waffle, garnishes added (avocado, homemade cream cheese and chopped pistachios) and enjoy! You can trust me in saying that this will not be the last waffle post you will see. If you are looking for an iron (mine is one of two appliances I actually use), check any tag sale this spring - they always seem to be there, or for a non-electric option this was
one of the best investments I have ever made. Apparently Howard Dean once said "I've waffled before. I'll waffle again." I agree.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easy Cheesy Pizza

I apologise for the cheesy (there I go again) alliteration, but it's too true: pizza is one of the easiest (not to mention most delicious) things that you can throw together on a whim. This may sound contradictory given what deters most people from homemade pizza: the dough, which, in order to achieve that fluffy, crispy, full-o-flavor crust, needs a lot of time to rise and rest. Luckily, it's just this time that gives you complete and total flexibility to make pizza on the fly.
My pizza dough consists of a dollop of sourdough starter, some water and enough fresh whole grain flour stirred in to create a pasty dough consistency (when the dough starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl) kneading necessary! I just put this mixture in a corner to rise for the day (or overnight) then knead in some salt (an easy salt ratio is 1 tsp per cup of water used), and throw it in the fridge until I have that pizza urge. Any leftover can be added to next week's batch for additional flavor. If you don't have sourdough starter laying around, you should make some.
my sourdough bubbling away

The easiest way I have found to do this was to go buy some organic raisins (non-organic have pesticides that will inhibit yeast growth) and fill a jar a quarter way up with them. Fill the jar with water, cover with plastic wrap (so you don't completely seal the gasses in) and let it sit for a few days to a couple weeks (depending on temperature) until it starts bubbling. At this point pour off the water into a bowl and add enough whole grain flour to make it a stirable paste. The paste should bubble and rise over a day or so. Now you just have to feed your starter by taking out a bit and adding a bit more water and flour each day (easy if you use it often), or you can throw it in the fridge and only remove/feed once a week.

Ok, back to the pizza. Tonight's toppings included:
-Roasted garlic tomato sauce (laying around in the fridge)
-Broccoli (torn up into tiny pieces)
-Vermont Cure sweet Italian sausage (cooked, split, seared and chopped)
-Caramelized onions
-Sweet potato (itty bitty little cubes)
-And of course, cheese (sharp cheddar and mozzarella 50/ favorite combination)

Cooking is much less about quantities and much more about ingredients and technique...exactly why so many chefs have a living today. Everyone has their own opinion on what style of pizza rules the lot, but for me it involves an über thin crispy crust topped with lots of delicious stuff. To help achieve this flatbread-style pie, you want the oven hot (400 to 500 degrees)...or go build yourself a nice brick or earthen oven in your backyard. To get that base nice and brown before the juices trickle down and make it soggy, put the pizza pan right on the bottom of your oven, if you can, or as low down as possible to get that direct bottom heat that helps simulate the environment of a brick oven that conducts tremendous amounts of heat directly into the crust. Bam! In any case, keep cooking until you lift up the edge (very carefully) and can see significant golden browning on the bottom of the whole pie. Take out, let rest (at least until the cheese stops sizzling) and enjoy!...yum.

Anyway, that's all for this first night of freestyle cooking. Send in your comments and suggestions for future posts or other dishes you'd like to see made without a recipe (disasters are good fun to watch). I'm always up for a challenge. Until then...