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.