One of the more interesting online communities that has sprung up in recent years is Pinterest. It serves as a kind of Internet inspiration board: people clip pictures of projects that interest or inspire them, and post them as a sort of pin board that can be shared. I recently found several boards on ships in a bottle which are serving to inspire me to my first such project. One of the most popular topics is food: people pin recipes and pictures to serve as ideas for their creative cooking endeavors.
As might be imagined, not everyone who is inspired succeeds in duplicating the source of their inspirations. Some people lack the experience or expertise to turn out the creations they imagine. These are somewhat comically chronicled on a number of blogs, such as the Pinterest Fail blog, and the Epic Pinterest Fail blog. For instance, this isn't one of mine, but it easily could be: I'm a miserable baker.
But today, I received a Kickstarter prize in my mail which is illustration of the diametric opposite of the Pinterest Fail: Allen Hembergers Alinea Project. I'd describe the project, but Allen is much better at describing the project himself:
I work with a lot of talented people, but Allen is off the chain amazing. I only became aware of his project a couple of years ago, and didn't really even know who he was at work (our circles/projects don't overlap) but I became amazed at his passion, his writing and his glorious photography. The problem with food is that at its best, it is a very transitory art form. But through his photography and writing, Allen could allow you to experience at least a part of what cooking at this level was like, not only as a consumer, but as a creator. I found that incredibly appealing. His photography immortalizes dishes, and are done with such amazing technique, such amazing lighting...
It was with great pleasure that I backed Allen's Kickstarter Project to turn all of his photographs and writings into a book. Along with 510 other backers, I ponied up my $75 to get a copy, and it arrived in my mailbox today.
It... is... amazing.
It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful books on food that I have ever seen. I've only had a few minutes to briefly skim it, but I'm sure that over the Christmas holiday, I'll be reading it from start to finish. The quality of the binding and the color reproduction is incredible, a level of quality nobody has any right to expect, but which is entirely keeping with Allen's obsessive compulsion to do everything at the highest level.
I'm in awe.
It almost seems unfair that one individual could be as good at as many things as Allen is. And yet, he's obviously also very humble, very self-critical and is struggling every step of the way. Even if you do not aspire to become a great chef, I think there are lessons to be had and inspiration to be taken from his creative march.
If you weren't in on the KickStarter, I don't know how you'd get a copy, but you are missing out if you don't have one. Incredible.
Addendum: It looks like you can order a copy of his book from his website.
I have previously mentioned Jim Lahey's no-knead bread (posts here and here and here. I've continued to make this at least once a week since those early days of experimentation. I thought I might include a few notes about how I'm makind and refining the process that I use.
My early loaves kind of reminded me of the experience I had when first taking drawing classes. When I first started drawing classes, my improvement was immediate and dramatic. Childish squiggles gave way to portraits which were at least recognizable. But after that initial rush, you become more discerning, more critical of your own work. It's that way for this bread as well. Initially, it's amazingly good. But then, you begin to notice a few things which are perhaps not as good as you imagined. After a few weeks of that, I decided to try to be somewhat more methodical in trying to figure out what I was doing right or wrong, which approaches yielded better results, or worse results, and try to refine the basic recipe into something that is repeatable.
The recipe is so simple (flour, salt, yeast and water) that simple experimentation wasn't difficult. The most obvious thing to vary was the ratio of water to flour. Jim Lahey's book suggests a 2:1 ratio by volume (three cups of flour to one and a half of water) but when I tried to do that, I didn't get repeatable results. Sometimes, the dough would appear to be fairly dry and it was difficult to get the flour to integrate, other times, the dough would be wet, and the second "rise" would look more like a "relax": the dough would spread out rather than rise up. "Real" bakers will tell you that you need to weigh your ingredients to get an accurate measure, so I went ahead and bought a simple mechanical food scale that I could use.
Okay, but what amounts to use? Three cups of flour doesn't really have a consistent weight, but it probably weighs a little over 4.5 ounces per cup. That would make for 13.5 ounces for three cups. Water is easier: a cup and a half is 12 ounces. So, I started experimenting. To make things easy, I decided to keep the weight of flour constant, and only vary the amount of water to
try to find the appropriate hydration ratio. My early experiments were all with dry yeast (1/4 tsp) and one teaspoon of salt.
I was a bit surprised. I'm using slightly more flour than the recipe would normally recommend, but it turns out that 12 ounces of water was ample to hydrate the flour. In fact, it appeared that the final dough was too wet: it spread out a lot during the second rise, and the final loaf was quite flat. A few more trials over the next couple of weeks (I can only eat so much bread) revealed that decreasing the water to eleven ounces gave a nicer result.
So, here's my first rule of thumb: weigh your ingredients, sixteen ounces of flour, eleven ounces of water seems good for basic bread.
Secondly, I was concerned that my oven wasn't coming up to temperature. I purchased an oven thermometer, and verified my oven was having a difficult time getting even to 450 degrees. Even with 30 minutes of pre-heating, it seems to reach a maximum temperature of 430 degrees or so. By 45 minutes, it seems to be more or less at 450 degrees. If I do a long preheat, I end up with nicer deeper color on the crusts, and the bread seems nicer overall.
Second rule of thumb: don't rush your preheat, especially if your oven might have a hard time getting that hot.
Third, the depth and crispiness of the crust seems to be dependent on the humidity in the Dutch oven. Some have suggested spraying the bread with water as it goes into the oven, and I've found that to be helpful. When I take the time to spritz the loaf, the loaf seems to expand a bit better, and the resulting crust forms more nicely (more tender). But when you remove the lid during cooking, it also appears to be helpful to let the oven vent for thirty seconds or so: if you are too quick, the humidity in the oven can remain high, and when you pull the loaf out at the end, you may still feel some wet steam. That prevents the "singing" crackling crust that you want.
Third rule: spritz it with water when it goes in, when you remove the lid for the last fifteen minutes, vent the oven pretty well.
Fourth rule: let the bread cool before you eat it. My wife loves it when it's hot, but frankly, some of the starches inside still seem fairly gelatinous to me when you cut into it, and they need some time for the steam to redistribute water inside the loafs. Just like resting a steak, the bread will be better when it's rested for a while. After an hour or two, I put the whole loaves into paper bags and store them in our bread box until they are ready to eat. I don't recommend plastic for whole loaves, especially if the loaves are not completely cool: the residual steam condenses inside the plastic, and wrecks the crust. Once you've cut into the loaf, plastic might be useful to store the bread to keep it from drying out.
I've just begun experimenting with similar ratios for using sourdough. My first tests have been with the same amounts of flour and salt. Previously I would use one and a half cups of water and 1/4 cup of starter, but again, I found that to be a fairly wet dough, creating a fairly flat loaf. My current experiments have centered around the ratio that I found for my yeast loaves: I take 1/4 cup of starter, and add enough water to make eleven ounces. I've made this twice, and the resulting loaves are nice and round, but perhaps a bit dense, with fairly even but small bubbles inside the loaf. I think I'll try to add a very small amount of additional water (11.5 ounces total weight) to compensate for the small amount of additional flour that is in the starter. More experimentation is clearly called for.
I also have begun to wonder if I'm "overrising" some of my dough. Leaving this dough for 24 hours may be too long. I like to make the dough when I get home after work, and then bake it the next day, meaning a full day for it to rise. I suspect that (especially for the bread made with commercial yeast) it may be better to cut that down to 18 hours or so (make the dough just before going to bed, but bake it when I get home from work). I'll be experimenting some more over the next few weeks.
Anybody else having fun with this recipe? Any tips you might want to give this budding baker?
This morning I was in a rush to get out of the house, and didn't have time to make a big breakfast, so while I was gathering my stuff, I cut a fairly thick slice of bread off the loaf I made last night and jammed it in the toaster. As I was about to leave, the toaster popped, I quickly smeared on a tablespoon of peanut butter, and headed out.
It was really quite delicious.
Other than some Jewish ryebread that we got the other day, I haven't bought a loaf of bread since last year. Instead, I make it, using what I consider one of the greatest food hacks of recent memory: Jim Lahey's no-knead bread. Making bread this way is straightforward and ultimately rewarding: to have a tasty hot loaf come out of the oven, after filling your kitchen with that bready, yeasty smell feels like you are really cooking, that you really understand food.
Yes, yes. Some of you are of the anti-carb religion. I know, carbs do terrible things to your blood sugar and insulin levels, which mucks with all sorts of things having to do with metabolism and weight management. I even agree with it, at least to a point. But "bad foods" have gone through cycles. When I was a kid, it was sugar. Then it was fats. Then carbohydrates. We want to do the right thing, but we get fed conflicting information. We were told that there were links between consumption of fats and coronary disease, but more recent studies seem to refute this basic idea. Recent studies question the idea that omega-3 fatty acids improve cardiac health, or that dietary fiber protects against colon cancer. What's a guy to do?
I'm trying to develop a philosophy of food, cooking and eating that will feed and nourish my body, and still provide me with the rich, emotional experience that I enjoy from food. I like Michael Pollan's simple philosophy:
Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
I'm been mostly thinking about the first one over the last month, that I should be eating food. I began to realize that my weight (and the associated health issues related to it) weren't really being caused by the occasional trips to the fancy restaurants that my wife and I enjoy a few times a year, nor by the meals that I prepared for myself, but were caused by all the "food-like" substances that I ate without thinking. So-called fast food. Processed food. Food that came in boxes, with nutritional labels. I began to view even the "Smart Ones" frozen foods that my wife and I consumed almost daily in our previous bought of Weight Watchers were part of a basic problem: a prioritization of convenience over actually taking the time and energy to think about, prepare, and consume actual food.
So, back to bread. The no-knead bread takes about 3 cups of flour to make. Along with infinitesimal amounts of salt, yeast, and a water, all it takes is heat to convert this into a large crusty loaf such as the one I pictured above. I made that loaf with unbleached bread flour (King Arthur's). Should I be eating this? Should I be making this?
I'm going to say "yes", with certain reservations.
First of all, while it is made from a fairly processed raw material (bread flour), it contains none of the "non-food" items that you frequently see on bread labels. It has no high fructose corn syrup (in fact, no added sugar). It has no preservatives. It's just flour, salt, yeast and water. It's pretty much the same recipe that humans have been making for thousands of years. It would be hard to classify bread made this way as a non-food: bread is practically the definition of food. We could deconstruct all the components: a cup of bread flour has about 361 calories, 2g of fat, 73 grams of carbohydrates, 12.7 grams of protein, and 1 gram of sugar. That is a lot of carbohydrates. There isn't a lot of vitamin content in the bread either. But even if you ate 1/3 of my loaf in a day, it would account for less than 20% of the calories of a typical 2000 calorie diet. Reasonable (not even small) portions of this bread can be a part of your daily meal, and of course, I don't even eat it daily. When I do, I try to make sure other aspects of my diet are richer in proteins and vegetables.
Secondly, I'm making it myself. I'm under no delusion that the bread is more nutritious as a result, but I'm trying to modify some of my destructive food behaviors. One of the ways to do that is to stop shooting for convenience. Convenience foods are there when you don't want to be bothered to think about what you are eating, but you should be thinking about what you are eating. While this bread is simple to make, it does take 24 hours to make. You have to think ahead of time, and that means that you tend not to eat it without thinking about it. I firmly believe that so-called 'food scientists' are working mostly to make products which are addictive and convenient, rather than satisfying and nutritious. I can do better.
Third, and perhaps most importantly: it's better in almost everyway than the convenient food it replaces. Check out that loaf again. It looks better. It smells better. It tastes better. When I make it, I feel like I'm cutting out the bad stuff, and concentrating on the good stuff. I think about building meals around a few slices of bread. I think about butternut squash soup. Or maybe just some braised greens and some crusty slices of toast. This morning's peanut butter and toast was brilliant. The toast had a crispiness that I don't think you get in prepackaged, pre-sliced bread. I modified the cooking times and preps a bit from my previous loaf, and the bread came out higher, and with a more delicate crust. I'm already imagining the next loaf I'll make (probably next week).
I'm going to enjoy bread and pasta, but I'm going to think carefully about it. I'm going to maximize my enjoyment of it, while moderating my consumption.
Addendum: One of the most interesting books I've read lately is Tamar Adler's incredible Everlasting Meal. She makes a claim in her book which struck home with me, that it's impossible to solve dietary problems without cooking (I'll have to look up the exact quote). Her book is a brilliant celebration of the art, craft and philosophy of cooking and food. Well worth reading.
My early success with making tasty no knead bread has sent me off on the Internet looking for additional recipes. As a complete breadmaking newbie, I have a lot to learn, but luckily, there is lots of good websites to help me understand and extend my tiny skills in this vast topic. The best of these that I have found so far is Breadtopia, which has all sorts of great recipes and many cool videos that will take the mystery out of breadmaking. I of course focused on the no knead recipes, which seem the most accessible to me, but apparently Cooks Illustrated extended this recipe in a couple if interesting ways, notably by adding a small amount of vinegar and beer to the dough. They also have an interesting recipe for a sandwich loaf, which has a tighter crumb and thinner crust. I'll be trying some of this out over the holiday weekend. If you've never made bread before (or even if you have), consider trying this stuff!
Tonight I baked up my second loaf of no knead bread. The first batch was promising, but was a bit dense. I used ordinary all purpose flour, and for whatever reason, I didn't seem to get as high of a rise as I thought I should. This time, I decided to try some King Arthur unbleached bread flour, and made sure that I got the yeast well mixed into the dough. I also chose the top of my fridge as the best location to give it arise (the weather has been cold, and the top of the fridge is a bit warmer). That seemed to be a good move: the dough seemed quite a bit livelier.
I turned it out onto a floured towel for its two hour rest/rise. I then started to work on my Christmas hat project, and got absorbed in what I was doing. Two and a half hours later, I remembered that I had bread sitting out, and set the oven (and my Dutch oven) preheating for thirty minutes. When I flopped the dough in, it stuck to the towel (next time more flour on the towel, and perhaps less time sitting on the counter). That mucked up the top a tiny bit, but I flopped it into the Dutch oven. Into the oven. Thirty minutes covered, and twenty uncovered.
Smell: good. Looks, well, check it out for yourself:
As it was cooling on the rack, I could hear the outer crust crackling. Tapping it, the bread sounded nice and hallow, and the crust was very dry and crackly. Slicing into it, the inners were much less dense than my previous entrant, with many larger holes. The flavor was even better than the first loaf: light, yeasty and delicious. I think going the extra five minutes uncovered was actually a mistake: it made the outer crust just a little too dry. Also, the bottom of the loaf is a bit tougher and thicker than I would like, but the flavor is still good.
I proclaim this a complete success. Yum.
The creator of the no-knead bread, Jim Lahey, has a book entitled My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method which looks good. Perhaps it will show up in my Christmas stocking. 🙂
Frequent readers of this blog might be shocked to learn that I'm not entirely consumed by the usual geeky topics that I post about. Among other things, I also like to cook, and as the holidays approach, I like to try to find a few new recipes and techniques. This week's experiment was one of the most basic: breadmaking.
While I'm not exactly inexperienced in the kitchen, I don't do a lot of baking, and have never really done any serious incursions into breadmaking. We have a breadmaker, but frankly, the bread it makes was just not very exciting. It's been unused for a few years. If I want bread, I go to a bakery and buy it. I just figured that bread was too hard and complex for a guy of average skill and equipment to master.
But then I read a recipe which seemed simplicity itself: Jim Lahey's recipe for No Knead Bread. Flour. Yeast. Salt. Water. And time. Simplicity itself. It is cooked inside a cast iron Dutch oven. It doesn't require kneading or working. How good could it possibly be?
Well, here's the loaf as it comes from the oven:
After it was cooled a bit, I sliced in with a good bread knife:
My first attempt wasn't perfect, but was very promising. The crust is awesome: crusty, but not too thick. Carmelized, pretty, and beautiful. The inside was just a trifle too moist to be called perfect, but still is much better than any bread you'd get off the shelf at the megamart. I think I could have done a bit better job integrating the yeast during the first mix, and it probably should have left the bread in the oven for 30 minutes covered and 30 uncovered (I only did 15 uncovered). I was concerned about the bread sticking to my cast iron Dutch oven, but it just flips out. I won't worry next time.
I'll be trying this bread again shortly. I got some unbleached bread flour for next time instead of the ordinary all purpose flour I used. If you haven't given it a try before, check it out! For the price of three cups of flour and a pinch of yeast (only one quarter teaspoon) it's even economical.
If you try this, let me know how it works out.
I have fond memories of In-N-Out. In fact, one is fairly near my house, so I don't need to go deep into my past: I can simply go over there and get one whenever the mood strikes me. I recognize that the burgers themselves aren't (to the truth be told) particularly all that good. I suspect that my fondness for them stems from a memory of the first time I had one, when the In-N-Out in Pinole had just opened, I was in the process of hunting for my first house. Carmen and I stopped in, and had a couple of them, and whether it was the stress of the day or whatever, I thought they were the best thing on earth.
Some others seem to have similar notions. This article was interesting, because a fanatic went to the trouble of dissecting their burgers and making them at home. That he used mathematics and their nutritional information as clues is just a bonus. Check it out:
If you are a long time reader of this blog, you know that it wasn't always about ham radio. It's really about whatever I happen to be thinking about and doing that I wish to share and talk about. Tonight's topic was simply this: applesauce.
I was watching America's Test Kitchen, where they were making homemade "shake n' bake" style porkchops and applesauce. I didn't really feel like having porkchops, but because I've been eating poorly lately (too many restaurants because of visiting son and his wife, and my own visits to my brother) I had a bit of a sweet tooth, and the idea of making some homemade applesauce sounded really good, and much better for me than the ice cream which I've been indulging far too often in lately.
If you buy applesauce in a can or jar, far too often it suffers from a number of problems. It can be made from apples which just aren't very good. It's often far too sweet, with lots of high fructose corn syrup. It can have preservatives or other additives. Often it includes overpowering spice elements like cinnamon. Yuck.
America's Test Kitchen suggested a very simple recipe. Take 4 pounds of apples. Wash them, core them, and dice them into coarse chunks (skin on). Put them in a pot. Add 1/2 a cup of sugar, a pinch of salt, and a little water. Cook for around 15 minutes, until the apples are soft, and then put them through a food mill to remove the skins and even the texture.
They suggested a number of different apples that could be used. For my experiment, I used eight of the Pink Lady variety. They are related to the Golden Delicious, but have a nice rosy color to them that's pretty. Eight of them was about 3.5 pounds uncored. I chopped them fairly coarsely, added a splash of water, a pinch of salt, and just a little sugar (no, didn't measure, but probably less than 1/2 a cup, maybe just two table spoons). I set this covered on medium heat.
After a few minutes, you could smell a cider-like smell, and the apples began to boil and liberate a lot of water. I thought that maybe I had too much water, but after a few more minutes, the apples began to break down and lots of the liquid was reabsorbed. After about 15 or 20 minutes, the apples were soft and smelled delicious.
I don't have a proper food mill, so I just took a potato masher and crushed 'em. Yep, skins still on, but as I mashed them, they lent their rosy color to the mash, and I actually liked the textural element. I added a very small amount of cinnamon, stirred it in, and then let it cool for a couple of minutes.
It was delicious. What's really great is how the fresh complex flavor of the apples really come out. They are sweet, and tart, and clean tasting. Next time I make pork chops, I'll have to make some of this applesauce. I think it would also be good with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream, or maybe with a cobbler like topping of oatmeal and brown sugar and maybe some cold cream.
We don't appreciate these classic foods very often, at least in the way that they used to be made. Thanks to America's Test Kitchen for motivating this delicious culinary experiment.
Okay, I'll admit it: I like cooking, and I've begun to read a bit upon the subject of so-called "molecular gastronomy". I was also watching Iron Chef America, and saw (not for the first time) a chef use the "sous vide" technique of cooking: where a protein is sealed in a vacuum bag and placed in a temperature controlled water bath to cook. This is an interesting technique because it prevents eggs and meats from being overcooked, even with very long cooking times. The temperature simply never rises high enough to cause the chemical reactions which overcooking typically causes. You can (for instance) place eggs in 148 degree Fahrenheit water for 75 minutes, and they won't overcook. If you place an egg in 135 degree Fahrenheit water for at least 75 minutes, you can pasteurize an egg (it won't solidify).
Anyway, there is a lot to this, and I'd been thinking I should look up more details on this technique. And of course, the Internet delivers.
Lots of interesting stuff here, including instructions on cooking beef, pork, fish and eggs, and important food safety considerations.
Don't worry, I'll be back to radio stuff soon.
Carmen and I have reached the point in our lives where buying stuff for each other at Christmas is kind of superfluous. Stuff we need, we already buy, and stuff we don't need aren't the greatest gifts. What's really valuable is the time we spend together. Toward that end, my wife Carmen used her own creativity, and signed us both up for a cooking class at Kitchen on Fire, a little place next to Chez Pannisse in Berkeley.
From their website:
Founded in 2005 by seasoned restaurateur and author Olivier Said of Cesar and popular chef instructor and caterer Chef MikeC.of Party Lifestyle, Kitchen on Fire® is located in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto. Kitchen on Fire® is located in the Epicurious Garden which is an expansion and continuation of the gourmet cuisine legacy started by Alice Waters at Chez Panisse more than 30 years ago. Our classes offer a range of real skills for entertaining from learning how to throw a party on a budget to uncovering the mysteries of baking the perfect chocolate chip cookie. We also offer kitchen design consulting, corporate teambuilding workshops, in-home classes, classes for kids , private parties and events.
Our class was entitled "A Chef's New Years Feast", and included:
- Spinach and Smoked Salmon Salad with Soft Cooked Egg, Radish, and Lemon Dill Dressing
- Winter Vegetable Tarte Tatin
- Truffled Three Cheese and Seasonal Mushroom Cheese Gratin
- Maple Glazed Ham with Root Vegetable Puree
- Spiced Poached Pears With Almond Brittle
The class was three hours, with the first spent just discussing the menu, and the last two hours spent prepping and eating the food. Each of the dishes was just a little bit more elegant than the version that I would attempt. I've done salmon and spinach salad, but typically don't make my own dressing from scratch. Their vegetable Tarte Tatin was very similar to the ratatouille that I've made a few times, but over puff pastry dough. The gratin is dressed up mac and cheese (very tasty). The ham was cooked over a bed of apples, tangerines and oranges, and was scented nicely from the fruit. And the poached pears were awesome, served with a little almond brittle, some pomegranate molasses and a scoop of vanilla gelato.
We had a great time. The class wasn't intimidating at all, and the resulting dishes were delish. We'll probably go back for another class sometime in the future.
Here are some camera phone pics:
ReadyMade Blog has a nice article on making your own butter, ricotta cheese, or cottage cheese.Â I may give the ricotta a try sometime, fresh cheese like this have a mild creamy flavor that I really enjoy.
Have those little sirens of cookiedom (otherwise known as Girl Scouts) lured your diet onto the rocks with promises of Thin Mint cookies? Me too. Well, I'm probably preying on you when you are already in a state of weakened resolve, but check out the following recipe:
All natural ingredients, including whole wheat flour and obsessively organic ingredients. I suspect I'll have to give these a try.
Addendum: Here is the Girl Scout cookie FAQ.
Courtesy of a Japanese TV show, learn how to peel a potato in one step.Â Well, to be fair, it's not really one step.Â You do this by:
- Cutting the skin all around the middle of the potato.
- Boiling the potato.
- Immersing it in cold water to the count of ten.
- And then, just pull the skin off.
It's not quite as radical as folding T-shirts, but it's kind of cute.
What can I say?Â Life sucks today, but there isn't a day so bleak that isn't improved by a massive plate of brownies.Â Over at Cooking for Engineers, those kitchen elves whipped up a batch of "John's Favorite Brownies", made with none other thanÂ the excellent Scharffen Berger chocolate.Â Yum-mee.
Dan Lyke's Flutterby! has an interesting article on cooking with sugar. I haven't looked into this as closely as Dan apparently has, but I am aware that the addition of some corn syrup into sugar recipes can prevent crystallization as you heat sugar mixtures. I recently had some fun making my first real caramel for an apple tarte tatin that I made for Christmas dinner, but there is lots to this whole science of sucrose manipulation: check out this cool recipe for lollipops from the Exploratorium.