Saturday, September 28, 2013

Making Bread

On a lazy weekend, when the days and nights are cooling as we head into fall, there is nothing wrong with baking some bread.  Lately, I have been using a starter (levain) that I keep in Tupperware in the fridge, adding a bit of flour and water each week as 'food' to keep the yeast alive, and taking out a cup or two to bake a few baguettes or a loaf of bread.  My recipe is from the book "Bread Alone," which really, honestly, does not demystify the process. If you want to feel at ease with bread making, stick with the no-knead bread that Bittner's NYT column has made famous.

With Bread Alone you'll grow --if anything-- more in awe of artisan bread bakers. But after months of experiments and disasters, I now have a reliable go-to bread (that only takes about 6 hours!).

Here is a peek at the dough, getting on its way to a nice loaf.

Really, only about an hour of work (including clean up), and a lot of rising time.

The levain was made of flour, water, and literally a pinch of yeast.  It was left covered on the countertop for three days, as I fed it more flour and water each day. Now, as I mentioned, the levain lives in the fridge and gets a weekly feeding. For two loaves I use:

Two cups of levain (the mild sourdough starter),
5-6 cups of flour (I use bread flour usually but all-purpose works)
About 2 &1/4 cups of water
One tablespoon of salt.

After a 2-hour rise, I will punch it, then rest it for 30 minutes, shape it into loaves and let it rise another 2 hours before baking for half an hour in a hot  and steamy (450) oven.

I'm tempted by the possibilities at this point.  I have some minced sun-dried tomato and jalapeño I could knead in. Or should I fold in some fresh herbs or nuts? Just a few sesame seeds on top maybe? Or just score the top to let steam escape, and make it a nice naked bread?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Watermelon Agua Fresca

Ah, the sweet pink taste of summer. Perhaps my favorite two-ingredient recipe: Watermelon Agua Fresca. Popular in Mexico, any number of fruits could be used. One of my housemates during college made this watermelon agua several times during one long, hot Portland summer.  It doesn't get much simpler or more refreshing than this.

I.   Chunks of watermelon, just covered with water, blended well.
II.  Refrigerate and serve, diluting with additional water, to taste.  
(My preference is about 50% watermelon juice and 50% water.) 

This is one of those times when you "pulp-free OJ people" might want to strain it. You'll still be left with lovely pink fresh water that is soooo much better (healthier and more delicious) than any kool-aid or commercial flavored beverage. But give it a try without the extra step and extra mess of straining, and you'll get the benefit of a little fiber in there, too. For those of you who are already juicing all the time, give yourself a break; hold the mint and protein powder, and cucumber-kale-ginseng... etc. Just relax: watermelon and water. I'm telling you. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Scary Godmother doll

The Scary Godmother doll by els82
The Scary Godmother doll, a photo by els82 on Flickr.
To those who love dolls, love Halloween, love witches, love friends of Neil Gaiman, or love The Scary Godmother herself....

You should run over to kick starter and back this doll project. It's by the woman who created the character and it needs to be made! She's so close...

I backed her and hope to get a first run of this amazing doll.

Check it out!

(UPDATE!!!! As of 6:51pm central time, the goal has been surpassed! I guess that means its a go!!)


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Golden Potato Soup / Vichyssoise

Happy Vegan MoFo, everybody!  As we wend our way toward fall, thoughts turn to comfort foods, root veg, sweater-weather, the crunch of leaves, and a pumpkin-spiced soy latte.  It’s not quite chilly enough to think about some of those yet, even in Chicago. So when you aren't sure whether to wear a tank top or a fleece, make potato soup! Served cold, it’s vichyssoise. Here is my make-it-up-as-you-go version, featuring the “holy trinity” of flavor bases (onion, celery, carrot).

7 small-medium potatoes, scrubbed and boiled whole, in enough water to cover
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 med. carrots, finely diced
3 stalks of celery, finely diced
2 small yellow onions, finely diced
2 leeks, white and light green parts, well rinsed and minced
Salt (or onion salt, or salt substitute) to taste

While the potatoes boil in one pot, heat up the olive oil in what will become the soup pot.  Add carrot, celery, onion, and leek. Sauté until onions are translucent and all vegetables are soft. If potatoes are not ready yet, add a little water to the veggies to prevent burning.  When potatoes yield to a knife with almost no resistance, transfer the potatoes and about half of the potato water to the veggies in the soup pot. Mash with a potato masher and/or blend with an immersion blender (or wait until it's cooler and run it through a traditional blender). The blender pulverizes the potato skin, which otherwise will float around in larger chunks in the soup. If your family is weirded out by potato skin, you could peel the potatoes before boiling, but that is a lot more work, and you should explain to them that the skin’s where the most nutrients and fiber are. Seriously, don’t make me go all Thug Kitchen on them. Eat the skins. After mashing and blending, you probably will want to add more potato water to thin to desired consistency. Add salt to taste. This recipe makes up a bunch (maybe about 4 pints) of delicious golden potato soup. If you eat it cool it’s “vichyssoise,” which in my household growing up we always pronounced vishy-swah and ate wearing sunglasses.