Thursday, December 28, 2006

princess reggiano (holiday raviolis part 2)

My kid definately takes after me in the application of parmesan. I remember as a kid putting a layer of it on anything allowed. It was the same with romano. Minestrone got three applications if the portion was prodigious and the bowl it was served in was deep enough. Layer one would be applied, and the "skin" that formed on contact with the hot soup would be devoured while still gooey. Layer two would be applied, and if you obliterated the first quickly enough the soup would still be hot enough to melt this. If the bowl was deep enough, and this was often the case if you managed to melt the previous two layers of cheese, you could throw on a third layer, warm it sufficiently to release the sheepy goodness of the cheese and snarf that down too. And then came seconds, because despite the cost of the cheese, the soup is cheap to make (today it is a mere $20 for 8 quarts, WITH great ingredients).

What can I say? My broccoli would be equally obscured from recognition if this was my plate as a kid. When I saw the monkey had "sprinkled a little" of the reggiano on her raviolis, enabling them to look like moguls near a collection of dwarfed firs, I recognized the gene and took the picture. This was our second serving of ravioli from this batch and it was on x-mas night that I served this.

With the subject of this post being concealed from view, the suspense must be killing you. Shall we get on with it and construct some ravs for that there sauce from the other day?

Day two began with making a dough and letting it rest. Then I mixed the filling and let it rest. While they rested, I went to the store. Even though I was making ravs, there is no rest during the cookie season that had started. (Just kidding, more like your mouth gets no rest incessantly grazing on broken pieces and "rejects" that had been around for a few days already.) The hour before dinner I removed the ingredients from the fridge and got down to work.

The filling consisted of spinach sauteed in olive oil that had been infused with sage earlier. To this I added fresh parsley, oregano and rosemary, salt and pepper, heated briefly and then set aside to cool. The ricotta mixed well with this, and I used a few eggs to finish the bonding process. This acts as a nice paste for spreading and is difficult to stand over without salivating on it. With this in place, I turn 180 degrees, take a step, and roll out number 2. With the top sheet in place it is time for the best part: using the pin.

After placement of the second sheet, you simply roll the pin while applying a consistent downward pressure, from front to back, that is if there is just the right thickness of filling, and you have accounted for the inevitable squishing forward that occurs. After a little practice you can easily roll out some 60 or so "survivors" with each attempt. Which to me makes alot more sense than the prevailing mold and stamp technique.

It is a genovese style of making raviolis, and involves a piece of kitchen equipment that few here know about. Like the folks who SELL THEM. When I purchased my latest model a few years ago, I initially made a request for a "ravioli rolling-pin." The sales clerk said "a what?" and brought me to the section of the store containing "anything that could be considered a rolling-pin." When we arrived, I spotted the pin, picked it up, and began admiring it while daydreaming of ravs. The clerk said "oh, that's what that is." He pointed to the chef behind a nearby counter and mentioned that she actually did the ordering for them. I approached and asked if they could order a larger sized one and she thought about it and said no. Then she admitted that she may order them but doesn't know how they work. Am I really in Dean and Deluca? In Napa County? It just shows to go you that often times knowledge resides in tradition, not corporations. I gave her a brief description of process and walked out happy, that having given away my last pin as a gift, I now had a replacement. And amused, very amused, when it dawned on me that you can school folks in food, as I'm sure a fair portion of the staff was, but food is a great big wide world, and I have some knowledge here and there that is definately handed down. I love the niche I occupy in my family tradition of pasta and with this batch, the monkey supplied some downward force, becoming the fourth generation to see the way of the pin since the knowledge left "the old country" along side much more.

Thank you Nana C. And Grandma. I think of you two often. Three cheers for raviolis! Now how is that for a christmas colored meal? It even snowed in Oakland this year!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

beef and porcini tomato sauce (holiday raviolis part 1)

I love christmas. I love the excuse to make decadant things, you know stuff that takes FOREVER to make or involves multiple days and layers of creation to arrive at mouth bliss. Raviolis definately qualify for satisfying these criteria, and prior to the cookie crunch of last week I managed to take two days creating a new version of them. Three cheers to the reason for the season!

Day one involved a ton of stuff. It started with a run to the local market that houses our new source of good beef. When I discovered that Baron's of Alameda was now in Star Grocery, within about a mile of my house, I thought "Marin Sun available in the hood, I just gotta make ravs!" Grandma's version calls for at least two different types of meat to be included in the ravioli (chicken, pork, veal, usually the first and last but I just can't do it), and beef in the sauce. I thought about it a while and concluded that I would venture into new territory by sticking to some form of fresh cheese with herbs in the filling this time. The sauce would remain beef, being as though I've been feeling good about supporting Marin Sun Farms, and didn't want to stray too far from what I've made in the past.

The butcher gave me some bones from a prime rib to start my stock. I roasted these in the oven for a darker stock (but in retrospect should have started off with more bones). After these were done, I put the veggies in the pot to saute a bit, then added the bones, boiling water, and my own little bouquet garni (I've been wanting to say that one for a while now). This concoction was boiled together for about five hours, strained, and then reduced in volume by half.

With the stock complete it was time to start the red sauce. The beef chunks get sauteed in olive oil with garlic cloves after being dredged in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. While this happens, the dried porcini need to be soaked in the stock. I chop the dried shrooms somewhat finely and add to a few cups of hot stock. When the beef reaches a nice dark brown, the bowl of soaked porcini and stock gets dumped in with the beef. Cover and turn this way down to a slight simmer and allow to cook until the beef is starting to fall apart. This usually takes at least two hours and gives plenty of time for the rest of the vegetable ingredients to be put into a large pot (8 quart) and boiled together to make a nice red sauce.

With the beef all tender and the red sauce ready, I married the two so they could cook together for at least another hour while I made some ricotta. I started with using a half gallon of whole Straus and two cups of Berkeley buttermilk, heating together over a medium high burner. Stirring the mixture until it reaches somewhere around 140-150 degrees (I no longer check it with a thermometer, but it seems to be steaming nicely at this point) I stop, and begin scraping the bottom of the pot gently, trying to stir it as little as possible in order to free the curds that form without breaking them. These will float to the top and the milk will look like it has cottage cheese floating in it. When the milk gets to the high 170's it will suddenly separate into easily distinguishable curds and whey. There is no mistaking it. One moment you have milk with lumps, the next you have water and cheese curds. At this point the ricotta is done.

Remove the pot from the stove and using a ladle, begin pouring the whey through the cheesecloth lining a strainer. It is not critical, but saving the whey by having another bowl under the strainer will enable you to use this nutritious by-product for something else, like watering some plants, as they apparently like the stuff. With most of the whey removed from the pot, start gently ladling the curds into the strainer. When complete gather the edges of the cloth into a knot and tie around something which it can hang from (the kitchen faucet is handy) and let it drip. After a half hour or so, depending on ambient conditions, the ricotta should be ready for your recipe.

At the very least, the cheese should be ready to sample. But with so much sauce cooling on the counter, and spaghetti in the cupboard, I just had to try out the combo to gain some sort of perspective on how they should come together the next day. After this bowl I was thinking ricotta, spinach and parsley with sage ravioli. Yeah, that's the ticket. Yeah.......and that, would be part 2.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

pre-christmas cookie crunch

On the first day of cooking
my monkey made for me,
some oatmeal vegan cookies
(with grandma that is)

On the second day of cooking
I made for my monkey,
fun stripey cookies,
and we ate more of grandma's cookies

On the third day of cooking
we mixed and mashed and beat,
nana's biscotti,
noshed some stripey cookies,
and raisens from grandma's cookies

On the fourth day of cooking
I made for my monkey,
citrus stripey cookies,
we sampled some biscotti,
and tried the other stripeys,
and finished crumbs of grandma's cookies

On the fifth day of cooking
I made for my monkey,
christmas english muffins!
we had some citrus stripeys,
a few more biscotti,
a neapolitan or two,
sniffing the bag, dreaming of cookies......

Okay, so the last ones aren't cookies I know, but I did use a cookie cutter to get the shape so I thought they qualified.

As the song makes fun of, we have been making cookies everyday for about a week, and eating those that came before with each successive seating. I haven't had much time for writing down much but have taken a few pics over the past few adventures and will post them after x-mas when there is a little "lounge" time to be had.

May thoughts of sugarplum fairies dancing with cookies fill you with glee!
Merry Christmas all and peace be with you!
And oh yeah, happy solstice!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

feeling a little anadromous

Winter rains around here mark the beginning of the local Coho run. It happens in a few places around the Bay Area, but the Lagunitas creek watershed in Marin is the star for viewing. Last year at the end of the season I saw one pair of fish in the creek under the Kent Lake spillway. It was a thrill, being the only spawning salmon I had seen in my life, with my own eyes that is and not on a PBS show about Alaska. This past Wednesday I went for a drive, hoping to see some fish at the beginning of the run and witnessed some dozen or so over the course of an hour. Not exactly thick with fish, but impressive nontheless.

The next night we had some baked salmon fillets with steamed cauliflower and quinoa. I should point out that the fish here came from Alaska via TJ's. It was thawed the night before and simply baked with some salt and pepper. Mmmmm....salmon.

This morning, I brought our family out to view the fish in Lagunitas creek. I told the Monkey how the fish were all grown up after spending a few years in the ocean, and how they were now adults that were ready to be mommies and daddies. They go up the rivers and creeks where they were born to go lay eggs. After that the adults get washed back down (euphemistically speaking) into the ocean and the eggs hang out in the gravel and sand for a while before being born. Then they spend some time in the creek (until they're about your size honey, just kids really), when they go downstream and out to the ocean for a few years, before coming back to be mommies and daddies themselves. "Oh, do the children go out to the ocean where their mommies and daddies are?" Yeah honey, only they never actually see them again, because the ocean is soooooo big (that and because they have been thoroughly recycled at this point).

The viewing was equally good, with a few pairs of fish in various places along the creek. The females occupied a "redd" where the gravel in the creek bottom was an obvious lighter color from being washed by her. This action literally rubs the scales from her tail, making it look white compared to the rest of her pink and golden body. Sometimes a corresponding male (with a more pronounced red color, larger size, and intact tail coloring) would be swimming beside her, and chasing away other males on the prowl up and down the creek from one redd to another.

It may not be like areas to our North, with larger populations of fish, but it warms my soul to see them here. This is a federally protected species, so it is quite awesome to see the biological drive to procreate play out in the open like this, on the side of a road within 30 miles of my home. It is truly a wonder that these fish can come back up the watershed from where they originated to start the cycle over again, and a miracle of sorts that they are still doing it today.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

colorful holiday cheesecakes

When I shop for sweet potatoes, I always hold a sort of hope that a taste of the islands can be found. You see, on the two trips I have taken to the Big Island, we delighted in sampling some of the local produce: coconut, bananas, papaya, pineapple, guava, longan, and some of the more familiar to us tomatoes, corn, and sweet potatoes. Only one thing, these sweet potatoes were purple. Heavenly, yummy, purple, gorgee-ous little sweet potatoes. Some of the local restaurants served it up as a side dish, to say a seared ahi steak or grilled ono fillet, in the form of light and fluffy lavender mountain, with a red colored salad sprig stuck in the top, representing lava spewing out. I fell in love with this form of mashed potatoes at first tasting, and we later purchased some raw ones at the local farmers' market and tried mashing them up ourselves. Well, our selections in lodging somehow never managed to have the right utensil, namely a masher in a kitchen drawer. We made do with forks and big spoons, and plenty of cream and butter I believe, and they ended up palatable. If only we could find these back home....

Shopping at "The Bowl" one afternoon last summer, I'm cruising the tuber section in produce and see something called an okinawan sweet potato. I look at it a little closer and see that the flesh looks like it has purple streaks in it. Ohhhhh, could it of...........those.........hawaiian ones..........? I make my way toward the register to read a book I brought from home for entertainment while standing in line (or so I wish, about every-other time I'm in the place) and purchase somewhere near ten pounds of them. I get home and google it. I had found them. The very thing. I was so happy. I looked up a few recipes and found something entitled "Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Haupia Frosting " by anonymous locals. One look at the ingredients and you could tell they meant island locals. So, for thanksgiving last year we had this purple cheesecake for dessert.

Looking up the recipe again yielded this site:

Sadly, this year I have not seen the sweet little purple things. I've been back to the source, then another, but without luck. I should probably check chinatown, as I did last year and found them, but you see, most of the crop comes from Hawaii. This doesn't sound too bad right? Think about it a little harder and consider the requirement that the USDA has on irradiating them first, before shipping them the 2,500+ miles (at least) to your door. Purchasing them, should I even find them, is something I just can't do now, for either of those reasons, when there are just so many great locally grown sources of equally delicious tubers. So this year, our family has happily plugged away at eating our papas in the white, yellow and orange color scheme. And as it happens, this week found leftover baked garnet yams, sitting in the fridge, just waiting to be made into something else. Sister A was spending some time with us, so technically it was a holiday and why not, let's do another colorful cheesecake!

Based on making the purple variety twice, adjusting for my own preferences, and of course altering the recipe into one more accommodating to my ingredients, it became something like this. So for a first time, I shall put something into an actual recipe form (of sorts), so here goes:

Garnet Ginger Grenadine Cheesecake (a work in progress)

1 cup chopped pecans (fine)
1 cup mashed graham crackers
1/2 cup buttery stick
2 tbsp chopped candied ginger

combine and pat into that fancy pan you have for such occasions and bake at 350 for ten or so minutes

1 and 3/4 cup mashed garnet yam (1 cup at least, or up to nearly 2 depending on consistency and size of eggs used)
3 jumbo eggs (use large sized if using only 1 cup potato, more like 4 large or 3 jumbo if using nearly 2 cups potato)
1 pound cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

combine these together in a large bowl, preferably in a mixer to save your arms from breaking off. when finished, wrap your pre-baked and now cool pan with tinfoil (if using a springform pan) and pour this mixture in. place the pan into a large roasting pan that will hold it and lots of boiling water around it (should you consider a water bath, which I highly recommend) pour in boiling hot water (around the cheesecake pan please) and bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes. it should be hardly done (no more jiggle in the middle). carefully take the roasting pan out of the oven, making sure to not scald your arms off with sloshing HOT water. DO NOT POUR WATER OUT while cheesecake is still in the roasting pan. it will slide to one end and not being horizontal at this high of a temperature will destroy it. siphon off the hot water with a turkey baster or the like and then remove the cheesecake pan from the roasting pan. place on a cooling rack and leave for several hours on the counter until it is totally cool. mix up 1 cup of sour cream with a few tablespoons of grenadine. pour this over the cheesecake and smooth it out. place in the fridge to chill for a few hours before serving. when chilled, place pomegranate seeds on the top, hopefully in a pattern more thought out and interesting than the one above.

Oh how I love leftovers like these. Because when the weather outside is dreary and gray, I feel like wrapping myself up in a blanket and snuggling down with a nice piece of cheesecake. Besides, it's kinda funny to see the colors of Fall on a plate, and be reminded that this weather will pass (after a few more months of rain that is) as this season of colorful cheesecake comes to an end and ushers in a new year.

Monday, December 04, 2006

north oakland home scene of double cancercide

Tuesday morning, Oakland CA.
-Sourdoughpress Intl.-

The remains of at least two individuals were discovered today outside a home in North Oakland, victims of an apparent double cancercide. A grisley scene horrified area locals, challenging them to stay focused and go about their typical morning routine, in what they believed would be another great day in this quiet neighborhood. "I was just going out the door to work, when I noticed a peculiar smell," reported the neighbor closest to the scene, where the remains of the victims were found amongst the refuse of a local family, leading some to question the motives involved in the incident.

The victims are believed to be members of a Northern California gang from the other side of the "Gate" known by some as the Magisters, and are yet to be fully identified. Preliminary sources came up with a few leads including the nick-names "Left-E" and ironically enough "Din-ner." According to one Magister youth, he remembered "seeing them all the time, and then gone" from the typical hangout, at some point late last week. DNA analysis will confirm the identities of those who found themselves part of a horrendous chain of events carried out by an area local and suspected Sapien.

A rash of recent cancercide has hit this area of North Oakland, as it seems to each year as it draws to a close. As detective Hardcastle of the Oakland DFG pointed out this past October: "We're coming up on our toughest season for tensions between the Magisters and the Sapiens, partly because of longstanding, family taste." He went on to add "and if there is a glut when the coming season opens, watch out, things could really heat up for this ancient rivalry."

After the remains were discovered, detectives scanned the neighborhood, concentrating around a local "market," where it is believed the victims had spent their last few days prior to their cancernapping, around 11:15 Monday morning. Hard as it may be to believe, members of the Sapiens have a facility in this quiet neighborhood that reportedly houses captured Magister members before they disappear, the victims of demand for their flesh. A blog posted shortly after the news came out had a few things to add to the case. Anonymous sources reported: "We were just chillin' in the tank, where we all hang out. It was as typical a morning as you could imagine around here. Sure, a few of us had disappeared already, but there was no sense of panic or anything" as coming from an eyewitness at the scene of the cancernapping, who also wished to remain anonymous. "It happens all the time at this joint. It's what Hapuku is known for really." (Hapuku translates as: one-way to death, in the local magister dialect.) Another eyewitness added "If you end up here, after being hauled off the ocean bottom, and you already spent a night confined to a cage to make matters worse, it seems nice just hangin' with your pinchin' buddies, but the truth is, we all get taken away from the party soorner or later. I guess it was just their time."

Evidence at the "market" pointed toward a ghastly end for the individuals involved. The suspect was reported to have been with a smaller accomplice, both of them with audible gurgling sounds emanating from their stomachs when they nabbed the victims, making a getaway and leaving two crumpled green pieces of paper on the counter. Employees remembered the bearded fellow, who seemed nice enough, but kept looking down seemingly occupied with something under the counter. It is also reported that he smiled a little too big when he approached the "tank" where the victims were last seen. It is believed that the suspect handed a plastic bag containing the two victims to his younger accomplice (now undersotod to be a female around three years old), as her smaller stature would remain mostly hidden from view by the market's coolers, boxes and tanks.

For detectives on the scene, the remains in the trash outside the home were only the beginning. Upon first entering the home in question, everything appeared normal. But a quick glance inside of this urban refrigerator revealed evidence that could only point to murder. The victim's disarticulated legs were found amongst fresh parsley with lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. The suspects had obviously tried to stop the spread of aromas that are associated with such carnage. It was a sight that could get a persons stomach going. Detectives combed the home and immediate environs for further clues to what went wrong for the gang members involved.

"Typically what we see in cases like these is a suspect (in this case a Sapien member) who appears normal to his neighbors and friends, but harbors a deep seated lust for the flesh of young individuals" reports Lieutenant Carapace with the Farallon chapter of the DFG (Department of Fish and Gastronomy). "They usually take their victims alive, back to their home, where a boiling pot of water awaits. The victims are usually dispatched quickly, as in some circles it is believed that this lends toward a fresher taste. Fact of the matter is: a gruesome death ensues. Gastronomic-minded plans often await the bodies, followed by a quick clean-up of the evidence. Often times, the only clue we have is a lingering smell of what some decribe as the sea." He made further note that if the evidence is not found within a week of the murder, that the bodies will have to be looked for elsewhere. "It seems that the murderers have an entrenched system of disposal that they readily use. Truthfully, less than three percent of such murders are ever reported, however 90 percent of that is from the evidence left outside the home and witnessed by neighbors olfactory senses" he lamented.

Thanks to modern forensics, evidence at the scene paints a detailed picture of just what happened to the victims after their murder. It appears that the family who rents the home is host to a repeat offender. This suspect may have worked in conjunction with the smaller individual, possibly an off-spring, but from clues left behind, he obviously was experienced at dispatching his victims and likely did the killing alone. Magister sources believe this case to be the work of a notorious serial killer and have dubbed him the "Merciless Monkey Wrangler" as he is always with a younger "monkey" (slang for little Sapien) and has been known to rip their fellows apart while still alive.

"One thing's for sure" said Carapace, "this guy cooked up the victims into several dishes. It is a learned behavior that some suspects employ to spread the evidence of the killing, rendering it harder to find as the days go by. I didn't need the artists recreation of the ensuing meal involved. I could tell by the smell, this guy was a regular quiche lover!"

Forensic scientists with experience in such cases believe that portions of the victims became a chilled bowl of remains in a simple vinaigrette, and yes a quiche, that included leeks, chevre and leg-meat from only one of the deceased, leaving a chilling detail yet to be answered. Another odd clue was that a bowl consisting of steamed carrots was likely involved, probably evidence of the "killer's guilty conscience screaming out that the meal could have been made without the deaths of the victims," reported an analyst working on the case for the Farallon DFG.

"If I had to sum this case up in one word, it would be pre-meditated" said Carapace. "I beg all of our kind, if you're out having a good time scavenging, and you run into a bunch of your pals loitering around a cage, don't join them. I repeat, don't join them, go the other way, search for a clam or something, I mean come on, use your claws for what they were designed; go tear something out of a shell! Please! Don't become another victim of a different species' food choices."

"I tell you what," Carapace was overheard saying as he left the scene of the murders "if this guy ever finds himself at the bottom of the ocean, in OUR neighborhood, well, let's just say that I couldn't guarantee his safety........if you know what I mean."

Sunday, December 03, 2006

plain jane bread (or re-inventing the wheel)

Last Tuesday the monkey was in the throes of a nasty stomach virus. Poor thing. She yakked for quite awhile and it was early in the morning when she stopped. H slept with her that night, and I wondered what else I could do to help. I could feed the sourdough right? Yeah, bake a loaf of plain white bread for the delicate recovery into eating food, that always accompanies such experiences. And for Z, I know that she just loves bread, in just about any form, so at the very least, I could get some bread in her in the near future.

Wednesday morning H went to work and the monkey lay around. She was on the couch watching "Wonderpets" and was saying she was cold. "Wrap me like the burrito daddy, with the blanket." What was that honey? "I'm cold daddy. Wrap me up!" I commenced tucking the edges of the folded blanket around her. She enjoyed it enough to pull it off so that the process may be repeated. She wasn't really smiling though, so the sicko-meter was still reading at least half. Can I get you anything sweetie? "No." How about some orange? (citrus has been a big hit lately) "No, I'm not hungry"

I pulled out the starter, fed from the night before, and it was bubbly and happy. I gave it a thorough stirring and measured out about a cup into another bowl. I added 1+ cups of water and about 2 1/2 cups of bread flour. I mixed it quickly and left it to get all spongey.

See, believe it or not, I have read about doing sourdough as a sponge first, but have never attempted it myself. Well, actually this isn't totally true, I've done it for english muffins and it is quite tasty, but for just a big loaf or baguette, no. I have been playing with a sourdough starter now for 9 months, basically unsupervised, so my experiments, though based in the published world of sourdough technique, are really me re-inventing the wheel of dough and learning the hard way, by repetitive motion, how to produce a good bread. I am an apprentice, with only my senses as master.

The sponge did its thing for around five hours, until it was threatening to vacate the bowl it was in. I stirred in a few more cups of bread flour, a little over a teaspoon of salt, and tablespoon or more of a nice green-hued olive oil. After mixing by hand brought the dough together, I put it onto the board and got down to thumping, slapping, and twisting it into a fluffy white dough, appropriate for a plain jane loaf. All white flour, salt, water and oil.

Hey sweetie......."Yes dada?" Can I get you anything, maybe some applesauce or something? "No." You sure, maybe we could have a little chocolate afterwards? "No, It's okay, I'm not hungry right now." She is DEFINATELY still sick. Well, the bread will be awhile more anyway.

After the dough had risen once, I split it into two baguettes and a free-form loaf. Before going in the oven, the dough had at least doubled in size. This stuff was going to be very light. Only one thing, after turning on the oven, the power went out. First a small on/off flicker, then maybe 5 seconds of on. Hmmm. What was that abou?[DARK] We fished out our flashlights, lit a few candles, determined that the heater wouldn't work, or the hot water heater (what was in the tank hot, but cooling despite its protective insulation I'm sure). But the old gas stove, dating to a time when electricity was not standard in most homes works just fine when the power is out. It contains no technology that involves an electrical spark. In fact at this point in time, the now common sparking lighters on gas ranges were some 50 years out. In short, my oven worked fine.

I baked the baguettes first, as they rose faster. I was using a head lamp when judging during my first oven intervention. They were looking rather dark, I thought at the time, so I turned the oven down to about 375 for the last ten minutes. When these were removed, I placed them on a rack to cool by an open window for a draft. I was going to try these tonight, torturing myself until after they cooled completely so I could judge the moisture content as it would be in an intact loaf. At this point, the monkey had brushed her teeth, after eating the tiniest morsel of a dinner, and would have bread in the morning. I'm sure about it. About half an hour before the loaf went in the oven the power was restored. I looked at the baguettes and thought: "self, you could have left the heat up for longer on them, try it with the loaf okay?"

On Thursday morning, the monkey woke up in a pretty good mood, ready to try the bread from the night before. I'm not saying she horked down a ton of it. She was just starting to eat a little something. But toasted, with butter or raspberry jam (or both as she prefers sometimes) seemed like something worth trying to eat.

Since then, our whole family has experienced some form of this little stomach enemy of ours. And we have been living off of bread. You see, with the nice fluffy results from my first sourdough involving a sponge, I just had to make it again the next day, in a half whole wheat form. Turns out that works great too. And when you are not feeling like eating much, or need it to be nice and plain, then my vote is a plain jane loaf. White, or whole wheat will satisfy, although the whole wheat probably has a higher nutritive value, that maybe we should think about leaning toward after a few days of not eating much.

When this weekend came around, we were all looking forward to some fruits and veggies (and hoping for some fresh live crabs, but without luck). This morning the monkey and I wandered over tho the Farmers' Market and blew all the cash we had on us. I was looking at the individual booths, seeing the span of region that it reprsents, and had a smile of contentment. We had our goods, likely the bulk of the veggies for our week, and it came from areas that either have a special place in my heart (Northern reaches of the Sacramento Valley) or in my family (Fresno County) or in my blood (my Californio connections to the Central Coast). It is a priviledge and an honor to talk to the purveyors at our market, and support some more of our local* scene. We rode the bike back, unloaded the loot on the table and took a photo as a means of archiving what was available this first week of December

So do I title this picture "Still life with morning market bounty" or simply "37 bucks, Dec. 3rd, 2006, Temescal Farmers Market"........

Sunday, November 26, 2006

P's backyard olive bread

This is a picture of happiness in my life. A few simple ingredients, worked by hand, involving only starter, flour, water, oil, olives and salt. (Or to look at it another way, only flour, water, olives and salt if you consider their sources and ignore the microscopic stuff that seems to come from the "ether" to inhabit our starter - but more on them later)

I think I have gone over some sort of hurdle when it comes to making bread. The tedium of kneading has changed, it is a joy to fold and squish away, nurturing a live mass with tough love until it becomes food. Don't get me wrong, when the monkey is at my leg, not able to give me 10 minutes alone with my dough, and I'm trying to finish it up quickly, it's not really fun or relaxing. That said, the process is now a sort of meditation (of course, that is if I enter the task aware and intentioned, and with cooperation from the three foot tall forces at hand).

It is a delight to gather ingredients, and contemplate where they came from and how they lived. I like to think about the olives growing on a sunny slope, within view of the majestic lady Pele in her Shasta form. How some of these were pressed for their oil while others relaxed in a brine, maybe with some herbs, after being tended by folks who care about them deeply. I like to think of the high plains that the wheat was grown on. Probably a hard winter kernal that makes this such a fine bread flour. Hard beacause you need to be tough in winter, to deal with taking more time to grow while the elements try to keep you down. I like to think of the salt evaporated from the sea, and the water that came down from the Sierras (actually bringing that salt into the ocean, as has happenned since the first days that water ran over rocks). I contemplate how a mixture of mold strains, constituting what some call "bloom" on the surface of grapes, can be used to create a live symbiotic mass, a balance of saccharromyces and lactobacillus in a wet flour medium, that tended just right and used often enables my family to enjoy a satiny-dough that is fluffy (thank you mold world) and tasty (love them bacteria).

Why backyard? Or even more suspiciously and specifically P? Well, I have mentioned in a past posting of a sourdough starter derived from grapes, grapes from a certain brother-in-law's golden ratio'd grape arbor. That is the same starter used here. It has acclimated well to its life in and out of my fridge. It has a spot on the second shelf, usually in a container labeled "P's Starter - Do Not Open!" (The uninitiated may well throw it out, for their good intentions of ridding the icebox of the stuff that may be a bit fragrant, and shall we say not too appetizing to look at.) After creating the dough from our elements seen above, and setting aside in an oiled bowl for a few hours, we have a notion of how alive and gaseous the creature is.

This represents the dough at maybe 80% of capacity, as this picture was taken during an interim, don't over-rise period.

After three rises the dough was put into an oiled ten-inch round cake pan. When it formed a nice dome above the rim of the pan I gave it a four slashes like slanted spokes, only reaching half way to the center of the sphere. This seemed to give the center a nice loft when baked at 425 for about 18 minutes, and then removed from the pan and left in the oven, now turned off, for another 10 minutes. Baking bread takes some paying attention and a little time, but the satisfaction granted to my mouth as I splurge on slice after slice is splendid.

Even the next morning, after half being consumed, it was springy and soft (okay it spent the night in a plastic bag).

After eating so much of the bread plain, or with generous portions of butter, it was time to mix it up a little and try it with something else. What better than to go back to the fruit source of the bread. I believe the folks over at Olio Olinda will agree that this is definately a nice way to enjoy bread, fresh or leftover, and a nice way to contemplate what we eat. From thoughts about the dependance upon the sun for our sustenance, and the water coursing down the rivers to nourish the olives and wheat, all the way to "should I really have had that 17th piece?"

May the dough (and a high-quality source of olive products) be with you.......

Saturday, November 18, 2006

israeli couscous with carotenoids, betacyanins, and xanthophylls topped with anthocyanins

The monkey was mixing up a batch of fruit salad. "What do you want in your salad dada?" Her method involves tossing in ALL of the fruits and veggies that she has into a large bowl, and giving them a thorough mixing. When this is complete she fishes out your requested items, plus a few that she thinks will pair well with them, and carefully arranges them on a plate for you. I believe her last plating involved peach, orange, cabbage and cauliflower as a bed, supporting the bell pepper and corn 2nd floor. I was inspired to duplicate her range of colors into a dish that had alot of local* ingredients. It made me think of using our carrots, butternut, beet, and yellow bell pepper that was hanging around the kitchen from the last trip to the farmers market. We also had local* mushrooms, celery and onions that I figured would go well with everything else as long as I tied it all together with some ginger, and maybe drizzled it with grenadine.

So, I roasted some butternut, steamed some beets, sliced some carrots and bell peppers, chopped onions, celery, mushrooms, garlic and ginger, picked a few strawberries and little bit of mint, and measured out a few tablespoons of grenadine. A few cups of israeli couscous topped it off.

I sauteed the onions/celery/mush/gar/gin combo in olive oil and combined it with the couscous and some water in our largish green caserole thingy. To this I layered the sliced carrots on one side and bell pepper on the other and then piled on the butternut and beet. I topped this all of with the strawberries and a healthy pouring of the grenadine. I poked some mint sprigs in a few places and put it in the oven at 350 for over an hour.

And because this meal was all about the fresh, colorful, and somewhat local* produce, we steamed some cabbage (yet more anthocyanins) and carrots (carotenoids........duh?) to serve up with it. Those crazy beets stained the couscous a nice burgundy (those betacyanins are the ultimate in staining, they will even turn your urine pink if you eat enough, so I hear...) and that cabbage, WOW! (although in honesty the cabbage was not that color when I put it in the pot. It was no trick, just plain ol' purple cabbage, steamed until quite tender). In fact now when I look at it, I think that we needed some more yellow stuff (xanthophylls) to offset that shocking bluish purple. I mean, do you eat bluish veggies THAT often?

This meal really made me reflect on how dull and boring most of the typical American diet is. I guess as a stay at home dad, who cooks, loves veggies, and doesn't eat much meat (less than twice a week lately, and that usually fish), I'm not exactly typical. I like that.

* Local for purposes here being produced in California, within about a three hour drive (say 150 mile radius from home) and purchased by us at the closest Farmer's Market or at our one of our neighborhood stores (all walking or biking distance). The onions, celery, garlic, bell pepper, carrots and beets are all organic and from the Farmer's Market. The grenadine was from Reedley pomegranates, juiced by hand with a ricer and then boiled with a cup of organic sugar (Whole Foods). The butternut was also from Reedley. The ginger is admittedly from Brazil (Berkeley Bowl), and is a leftover from my last attempt at making candied ginger. The mushrooms and couscous are from Whole Foods, the mushrooms produced locally (Monterey County), the couscous from unknown sources (I didn't pay much attention to the bin it came from as this too was a leftover ingredient from a past dish, I do believe it was organic). The olive oil (Greece, Kalamata actually) and the salt (France) were from the mediterranean by way of Trader Joe's. We had a locally produced olive oil that could have been used, but I can't yet justify using the $15 bottle of dipping/dressing oil for frying in a pan. I will look into getting a "cooking" oil from the local folks. The little strawberries and fresh mint are from our yard. You could say that this dish was a result inspired by the monkey's color scheme, local ingredients, what was in the cupboard, some oil-economics (olive), and the food we pass everyday going in and out of our door.

Putting it all down in this form and documenting where the meal came from goes out to my sister-in-law Sheryl. For being one of those folks who are brave enough to look at where your food REALLY comes from (and who having made it through the corn chapters in the Omnivore's Dilemna, now probably doesn't see that big grass the same anymore). Let me know when you get your hands on one of them Polyface chickens.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

various breads from the past month

Can you say Death Valley? There is nothing like a fresh bread in the morning, especially when the backdrop is like this. This was looking East/Northeast from our camp at the southern end of Hidden Valley in mid October. The day before I made up a pizza dough and we went on a gnarly hike, returning a little too spent to have too much for dinner. The dough became a pizza the night before, and morning rolls the next. They were white and fluffy on the interior with a nice matured sour that blended well with the grated parmesan in the dough. Considering that we were about forty miles from any paved road, they were pretty damn good if I say so myself. In fact, a bit of starter has now made it on about half dozen camping trips and is becoming a nice way to bring some "home" out doors. My friend's mom would call it my zinger.

Whole wheat with soy flour based on sourdough. This became a plain baguette and a little something called sharkie bread (the San Jose Sharks need a new mascot, what better way to blend our food with sports?) It had a light coating of seeds and a few slashes to augment the overall shape. Too bad it didn't make it long enough to be intact for the photo shoot.

I had just pulled the various breads from the oven and I spotted her. Fae Fae the lover of meatballs. She is a kenyan bread hound and is therefore seldom from sight of the kitchen. She can be seen with a few experiments based on a whole wheat with rye flour dough, sourdough of course. The S-shaped loaf is a contorted baguette roll that is stuffed with a celery-onion-mushroom and blue cheese mixture. The calzone is the same mix, minus the cheese, with some meatball pieces and a touch of red sauce. And then there is the pizza. It had the above mix, plus the cheese and meatball. All of it turned out nice, but I think I liked the calzone the best.

The last two days were filled with bread so I couldn't decide which to have the next morning. So I toasted a piece of the onion-celery-mushroom with blue stuffed baguette and then slathered it with butter, and toasted a piece of the plain baguette and put rasberry jam on top. The blue cheese contrasting with alternate bites of rasberry was like doing culinary calisthetics from sweet to savory and back again only to be repeated several more times.

After several days of sourdough I was hankerin' for something else in the bread department. So I worked on it by deciding corn bread would do the trick. I went out and purchased some organic blue corn meal to go with the eggs from the farmers market and straus milk in the fridge. I just HAD to double the recipe, so it became a round dished loaf and some muffins. With melted butter it hit the spot. And just because that last one was a bit crooked, I thought I should end with another, but make it from DV for some kind of symmetry to this one......

Friday, November 03, 2006

pumpkin moon fun (blasphemous, please be warned)

I have been wanting to feature a guest for some baking fun and the other night complied with my wishes. This guest has been invited several times but has a very tight schedule so he did this one on a fill-in from a previous cancellation. You may know him from his other work as a carpenter, but some of the information lost with unknown gnostic texts revealed him to be a baker, with how do we say, that "special touch." Considering leavening agents are a more modern invention, it is my theory that the J-man must have been a sourdough master, so when he agreed to drop by for a guest appearance on such short notice, I was floored. I thought "holy s___! the big heavy himself!" The timing was a little weird, being Halloween and all, but also being El dia de los muertos, it seemed perfect. So I cleaned up the kitchen and tried to look like I've had it together lately, and fed our grape starter in anticipation of his preferences (rumor has it that JC actually prefers his sourdough on the sweet side, go figure).

When he arrived (a touch late, he complained that the URW coalition {ultra-right-wing angels} had recently passed legislation that cut into the saviors promptness, despite being designed to do precisely the opposite), he gave us his trademark greeting and we soon got down to work. Flour, starter, water, oil, salt. He likes it simple, and employed a gentle kneading technique (involving throat singing) that he admittedly picked up from some zen buddhists on his last trip to the bay area. I thought it was pretty cool that even he sees room for improvement, and that in the working with the dough of life, he is willing to learn from other master bakers. It only makes sense. Mankind was making bread long before there were ANY saviors or the like.

After 20 minutes of kneading (no toddlers at home, so J-man is used to taking his time), we put the dough in the oven to rise once, and then shaped them into baguettes. I asked his opinion on fennel versus anise as a topping and he said something like "split the dough and I am there" which indicated to me that our selection of spice in life is special for its similarity, not its differences, which to me also implied that if the meal in question is savory then you usually go with fennel, sweet........definately anise. This settled, we painted the loaves with melted soy garden and seeded one of the baguettes with sesame, fennel and celery seeds.

I slashed the loaves when we went to put them in the oven, closed the door and heard a strange buzzing come from somewhere inside his tunic (which seemed synthetic when I was close to him; do today's use of animal products disgust him? Is he vegan, right down to his clothing, I thought at the time) He put his elbow up to his mouth and mumbled something that sounded like "thanks Cynthia, I'll get right on it" then turned to me and said he had something important to go attend to. "What about baking our bread, our shared dough of life," I whined. He made for the door, flashed his departure greeting and was gone.

I was honored to have the sourdough tutorial, however brief it was. I turned for the oven door and saw something strange, or didn't see something that is. The oven was empty, save for a 425 degree baguette pan, one side lightly sprinkled with seeds. I was pissed. All that work, and all I get is a few lousy pictures of him coming and going. No warm, fresh bread and the intoxicating aromas that come with the baking. Wait, something was different when he left, besides his hair being pulled up from the work in the kitchen............I have the technology, let's investigate.

There they were. Baked (now how did he do THAT?) Looking great I might add, with a nice color and shape. I felt a smile break across my face as I thought about whoever was now enjoying them, probably under the impression that HE, not I actually had performed most of the labor involved in their creation. I laughed as we went trick or treating as planned, and scored plenty of nasty corn-syrup filled candy, that seems to be the norm for today.

When I awoke on Wednesday morning and went down to the kitchen, it looked like someone had been there. I looked at the bread board in front of our toaster in response to the lingering burnt smell. A morning-after note from the man himself, how pathetic. Have a good x-mas, cheee-yaw..........I BETTER, after that stunt he pulled last night. Now, what to do with this loaf?

Smoke some salmon, get a good cream cheese, and get on with it. Like granny always said: when life (read JESUS) gives you lemons, you can choose to make lemonade, or you can mope.

Or in this case, you can brew some coffee to go with that fish and cream cheese, and get to constructing yourself a killer breakfast to go with that loaf, brought to you by our lord, of sorts.......

Thursday, November 02, 2006

navarathna korma with a side of alter-ego

In my dream our mortar and pestle was grinding away without me. It didn't need me to define it. It knew what its purpose was in life, so it merely performed it. It was calling out for a garam masala. It wanted hot and sweet and I had a recipe in mind......we have had Reedley produce still lying around so I got to work on a butternut and a few eggplant, and added tomatoes from our garden. Also a sweet potato that needed cooking. These were roasted on a pan in the oven at 400 for about an hour while I ground 1Tcardamom seeds, 1T black peppercorns, 3 sticks of cinnamon, 1t coriander, and 1t fennel. To this I added 1t ground cloves and called it good.
With the garam masala ready for takeoff I needed to work on some veggies to saute. Two huge onions were chopped, about 10 mushrooms, plus an inch or two of fresh ginger and cooked in olive oil. I added 1/2t chili powder and about 1/2 of my masala and stirred well. Next came a large can of diced tomatoes and some lentils I had boiled earlier. When the roasting veggies were done, they too were added, plus some diced carrots and frozen peas. Then a top for the pan was found and this concoction was put on the back burner for a while. I served this with pita and sticky white sushi rice, of all things, cause I was in the mood. It was very satisfyingly spiced and I derived great pleasure from the garam masala in particular.

The next day my cousin Rohan dropped by. Upon hearing of the leftover spices and veggie korma as well as the lingering butternuts, he suggested that we make some of his authentic Indian calzones......huh? Yeah, Cousin Rohan! Give him a beer and he can make anything!
We made up a half whole wheat sourdough and let it rise once before shaping into calzones. The filling consisted of roasted butternut combined with mushrooms, onions, garam masala, cumin and mustard seed, and a can of coconut milk. This was all cooked together for a while and then the sauce was reduced slightly, leaving what you see here. It ended up being enough for 4 huge calzones, which is good because Rohan is a big kid who can really pack em' down, especially after working up an appetite kneading dough.

After baking them for near half an hour at 400 degrees, we pulled out the leftovers and got to plating up. Rohan poured the stout and procured the chocolate dipped, candied ginger cashew biscotti, while I heated the korma and chose two of the pretty calzones to eat. We discussed the latest book he's been reading, once again drifting toward the merits of vegan eating, and how our geography no longer dictates our eating habits (as it once righftully did, in the not too distant past). We talked how this may be a boon for veggie-headed lovers that comes with sometimes conflicting problems of transport that can seem to negate the good you are trying to propagate by going organic with your selections........we thought these things until we realized that the beer was from a town kinda close. This made us feel so good about supporting our local brewers that we finished it off, reasoning that the need for more would contribute to the local self-sustaining market right here in the bay area.