Saturday, March 31, 2007

i'm so lamé; a sourdough tutorial of sorts

So, in an attempt to share what my techniques are, in a sourdough tutorial of sorts, I blew it. I thought about taking pictures AFTER mixing up the dough, so this opening pic is really a re-creation of the ingredients involved. I'm so lame. I'll try and make it up to you with a story, I promise. Anyway, from bottom left to top right it goes: "fed" starter*, water, bread flour, whole wheat flour, salt keep, and partially risen, made ahead of time like on TV dough.

Okay, see, what you're aiming to do here is combine a cup of active starter (nice and bubbly), a cup and a half of warm water, 4 cups of white bread flour, 1 cup of whole wheat flour, and mix while you can. Then knead together for a few minutes on a bread board. Or in a mixer if you like, but I prefer my hands. Keeps 'em strong and makes me feel connected more with my food. After making dough just a few times, you will begin to feel more of the texture and gluten development as you knead and the time involved will become less. Oh yeah, after kneading cover with a clean cloth while you go do something else. Sourdough hates to be watched. Don't know why, just does. (Perhaps because of modesty; it's alive and ALOT of procreation is happening during the first rise, hmmmmm.)

Come back about half an hour later, mash into a flat disk with your hands and sprinkle half of your salt on it. Knead for another minute, then add the rest of the salt. Knead for five more minutes and then put into a lightly oiled large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put in a warm** place for a few hours and punch down when doubled in volume, cover, and leave alone, so continued doughy hanky panky occurs. Come back when doubled in size again.

Punch dough down again, remove from bowl, place on floured board and cut in half. Take one half and using a rolling pin, or your hands if you're up to the challenge (most days not), form dough into a rough rectangle shape roughly 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.

Take long edge of dough and roll, forming a plain, jellyroll looking thingy, dust with more flour, and place on parchment paper. (I can totally relate to the anal-retentive chef sometimes, so I like to trim the paper to a shape about an inch or two larger than the loaf, with an extra few inches on one side for pulling off of its rising place before putting in the hot oven.) If you have a pizza peel, or something like it, you would probably let your bread do its final rise on it and then tranfer to the oven, but I don't have one and having a large paddle in the house is not a good idea with a toddler around. Besides, using parchment works fine. The extra tab of paper at the end will make a nice pull handle for smoothly transfering your loaf onto a pizza stone.

Oh yeah, equipment. I have baked free-form loaves on cookie sheets and the results are alright. Putting loaves in baguette pans is nice, but I get the most satisfaction from shaping by hand and transfering to a pizza stone. The stone puts a huge amount of heat into the bread while retaining it's own, so in essence it cooks things as evenly as possible. If this doesn't make sense, look it up sometime. The extreme hot temperatures of the stone will make one poofy loaf as all the gas in the dough rapidly expands. Since you don't want to blow up your bread, it's nice to cut it, or give it a few slashes with a bread scoring device called a lamé in order to help it escape. If you don't know what that is, just go down to a nice kitchen supply store, like Sur La Table, with your little one and ask the kind person who strikes you as having the highest likelihood of speaking the most french. Put the accent on the last vowel and announce confidently "Yes, I'm here for a lamé, have you ever heard of one of those?"

With any luck, they will direct you over to them and show you the varieties in stock. While discussing their attributes and razor sharp edge, if your child is perhaps banging on your legs and demanding your attention and wanting to see what you are holding whilst trying to have an adult conversation, hand your kid one to play with and shock the clerk. (Taped up, rendering it safe, mind you.) As you strain to understand the clerk discussing the proper use of said bread tool behind their thick accent, catch snippets of what your child is saying in a low but clear voice as they run the tool up and down your upper thighs, working toward your crotch "scrape, scrape, scrape." Scrape, you think. Huh?

You look down to confirm the safety of the hopefully still good to play with instrument and try to refocus on the clerk, "yes, so what are the advantages of this model over the other?"

"Scrape. scrape.......oh, mommy uses this in the shower....." you hear emanating from somewhere below your belt.

"Yes, I see the longer handle would come in nice with larger loaves" you say rather loudly, hoping to drown out your child as the clerk politely smiles at you, then glances at your kid as they continue dragging the tool up and down the front of your pants.

"Yes, this green handled one seems like it might work rather nicely" you blurt out abruptly as your monkey is now innocently running what they think is a shaving razor with a protective cover over the top, all over your thighs and partially between your legs, saying "scrape, scrape, scrape, mommy uses this to shave her vulva."

"Thank you very much, you've been most helpful. I believe I'll take this one, yes. Might you direct me to the register?"

I highly recommend getting one of these. Purchase one alone if you don't want to announce to Berkeley's Fourth Street shopping district that it is summer time and therefore possible that the bikini line and inner thigh shaving that accompanies such fine weather was witnessed by your (then ) 2&1/2 year old. The lamé edge slices into a loaf much easier than a kitchen knife and it's curved orientation allows for much shallower approach angles. Bake a couple loaves at the same time and cut them different ways to get a feel for the range of possibilities and your own personal preference. So far, I prefer orienting the curved blade so that it matches the curve of the loaf and I cut as quickly as possible with light finger pressure and much wrist.

With the pizza stone in the oven, and having been preheating at a good 500 degrees for at least an hour (depending on the width and thickness of your pizza stone), slide the freshly sliced loaf onto the stone and begin spraying the sides of your oven with copious quantities of water for a minute. Close the oven door and set your timer for about 7-10 minutes depending on the size of the loaf. After two minutes, open the oven door and spray vigorously into it, wetting the walls, bottom, top, and even pizza stone and bread.

When the timer goes off, pull open the oven and flip the bread around 180 degrees in orientation and put back in for another 7-10 minutes. Resist the temptation to spray it again. When loaf looks nice and brown and done, turn off oven and place loaf onto upper wire rack and let sit with the door open while the oven cools off for about five minutes. If you are going for the ultimate in texture and springiness, let the bread cool completely before cutting into it. If you have a life and/or kids, cut it when you can't stand waiting any longer and immediately spread some coagulated butterfat or oily substitute all over it and stuff it in your face.

After loading up on carbs, run down to the "playground" and make sure you follow the painted lines on the asphalt wherever you go, letting them dictate the route from one end of the basketball court through the four-square and over to the monkey bars. The exercise will help settle your stomach.

While enjoying the spontaneous game of "horsies flying around like airplanes daddy!" think back to the artwork at your house. If there is a small artist in residence, perhaps the geometric hand prints left in the steamy window, prompted by their attempt to make order out of the chaos we call modern life, might come to mind.

While you contemplate your child's growing expression of life and art, think about your own expression of that. Think about the delicious bread being digested into your cells. Think about the love and process that went into it. Think about how whenever you use a lamé, a little voice pops into your mind saying "scrape, scrape, scrape." Then fall onto the ground, laughing your ass off and crying with joy as you realize how much you love your job here on earth.......

Thanks for bearing with me on my first "tutorial," if you can call it that. If you have any more questions and still have the confidence that I may be of some further help, please go ahead and ask.


* A fed starter is one approximately the consistency of pancake batter that was mixed with one part flour and one part water the night before and allowed to sit on the counter, covered until use. The remainder of the starter gets put back into a container and placed in the fridge until used again, usually within 5-10 days.

** A warm place could be the inside of your oven with the door closed and light on, somewhere near a warm air vent, or simply your countertop. Covering the dough is ideal, as with longer rising times you will keep most of the airborn cooties from interfering with flavor and it will keep from developing a skin and drying out. I find somewhere near 70 degrees works nice.

Friday, March 23, 2007

fungal and games, maybe even a lesson

We like doin' it the old fashioned way here at the monkey ranch. Whenever possible, we strongly encourage making things with the use of critters! Fungus among us? Put it to work!

When my kid asks for "fizzy juice," (and there is no way I'm gonna give her a soda cuz' of all the crap in 'em), I think, why not make ginger ale? I'd give her some homemade of that as a sanctioned soft drink for sure. Boil up some ginger tea with honey, let loose a few fungi beasties and let them work wonders. Yeah......that's the ticket. A quick trip to the grocery store for ginger and the beer store for yeast and we're in business.

Simple ingredient recipes can be deceiving. Lots of time and cleaning. Finely shredded ginger, a couple of gallons of fresh water, over a pint of honey, and about an hour of boiling and you are nowhere near done. Cooked yes, ready no. Hot ginger, no ale.

After all that boiling, you need to cool it all off for the yeasty beasty so you don't kill it. Big deep sink of cold circulating water does wonders for this. Mix well, split into two batches and flavor one with some freshly squeezed tangelo plus "some of this daddy, so mommy knows we love her" (nutmeg), while making sure containers for storage are cleaned and ready. Put unflavored batch into one gallon polycarbonate jug to use as judge for baseline and measure of subsequent carbonation. Bottle the flavored batch right away. Put into oven to experience 80-ish degrees for a wee bit to help get fermentation/carbonation going. Intentionally forget about it.

Check a few times while forgetting:
2 hours and the bottle is looking rounded some.
Wow, at only 5 hours, quite a head must be forming behind that swelling plastic bottle.
At near 8 hours, very tight and swollen, check. PPPFFFFFTTSSSSSSSSS!
Nice. Seems they could go longer though. Bottle the plain batch and put back in door cracked open oven with tangelo version for storage in warm place overnight.
At 16-ish hours (next morning), wake amateur self up and check in on experiment. Bottles look good, some bubbles near the top. What is this? Small glints of green...........shards perhaps? Sh_t!

Only one had "grenaded" during the night. Luckily, I had a pan under it that caught most of the liquid. Messy and filled with glass bits, but contained in the yeasty oven. Begin clean up and put everthing in the fridge to chill and try when cold. While cleaning, pretend how CSI would have determined the burst occurred........somewhere around 4 to 5 am, rampant carbon dioxide formation put excess stress on a weak seam in the container resulting in roughly 30% volume being aspirated in characteristic array toward far wall of oven, while remainder cascades down broken shards and onto cookie pan and oven bottom. More liquid then evaporated in the dry conditions of the stove, resulting in the seeming discrepancy between bottle capacity and liquid found at the scene. Sorry, brain does these things sometimes. I contemplate how best to capture the lesson I should take from this. Got it.

Homebrewing Lesson One: Use secondary containment next time you find self behaving so casually with carbonated glass containers.

2 hours later and yummy! Nice honey smoothness and sharp ginger bite. Tangelo and nutmeg batch also very nice. Different, but Mommy felt the love.

The following day, go to grandma's to play "name that quiche." Looks like spring, smells like garlic goat. Holy mobile hen-house, these eggs were dark yellow when scrambled. I knew it would be good before I put it in the oven. I like that.

The nearly all butter crust dripped some, burning and smelling up the place. Small inconvenience. If you own a kitchen exhaust fan, perhaps you should turn it on sometime. We have these fans for this reason, amongst a few others.

Quiche came out good. Dark yolks imparted dark eggy custard. Evening light out on the deck accentuated it. Heady smell of feta and garlic was perfecto. Quark instead of cream also lent a nice tang. Whole wheat crust, flakey and buttery. All of which went rather nicely with the ginger ale. Write this one down I tell myself.

Thursday, read a tasty post about pizza and decide I can't do without. Use two pizza stones in the oven in a new configuration and play the 8 minute, 2 cheese and 4 herbs pizza game. I love it, what's not to like at that single digit speed.

Of course, the oven took nearly an hour to heat up, but you should forget that and focus on how long it took to cook it.

With pizza a huge success, I had high hopes for the bread, and they were realized. A 'normous french loaf was to be had, done in a mere 17 minutes.

I believe the homebrew russian red 22 ouncer only lasted 13 minutes, so I guess you could say the whole numbers game sped up with the double pizza stone action.

Champagne yeast is amazing stuff. For a full three plus minutes, tiny bubbles escaped from the top of the bottle before settling down. And this was 5 days after making it. Apparently refrigeration doesn't necessarily stop the fermenting with this strain, just retards it some. Probably has a point of alcohol by now, sure smells like it. Next time I'll use half the packet of yeast in this recipe. I'll also try another one and shoot for something more like ginger beer, not soda ale. A plan is in the works.

While enjoying the "fizzy juice" Aunty reminded me of the delicious tuna she had recently bought. I immediately went inside and whipped up a sammich with the can she got me. Lip smackin' albacore I'm tellin' ya. If you enjoy tuna and can get this near you, try it. Muy delicioso! I especially recommend it mixed with mayonaise, capers, freshly ground mustard seed and a pinch of salt. On homemade sourdough of course.

If you've never played with a packet of yeast, or grown your own, try it. It's fun and tasty. And possibly alcoholic.

Because in my effort to share more, I just had to write a few down:


2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 stick butter
1 cup ice water
pinch of salt

chop butter and freeze. put flour into food processor and pulse with salt briefly. add butter and pulse until crumbly. remove from processor and gently mix in water until it begins sticking together. stir and handle as little as possible. gather into a ball, wrap and place in fridge for a few hours.

small head of broccoli
small yellow onion
2 small carrots

saute in olive oil, onion and carrots first, then broccoli until tender. remove from heat.

8 ounces garlic quark
6 ounces grated feta
2 ounces grated dry jack
4 eggs

mix together and add veggie saute. shape crust into desired dish and fill. bake at 400 for first 15 minutes, then 350 for next 30-40. let sit for a minute before cutting. breathe in tangy garlic goat on buttered wheat. eat.

and just because I love a nice pizza pie:


sourdough crust
tomato paste
3 ounces colby jack cheese
2 ounces dry jack
pinch of rosemary
a few sprigs of parsley
a couple of big-leaf thyme branches
one nice stick worth of oregano leaves

shape dough and smear with paste. add the cheese and top with minced herbs. crack some pepper over it. let rest for 20-30 minutes before putting on extremely hot stone (500-550). bake for 8 minutes. eat half before putting on plate.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

respecting my eldgers

Elder bloggers. Not older in years on earth necessarily, but on the food blogger scene, certainly. They come with experience and attitude. They should be respected more. So here, I will pay mine to two.

One is a meat master.
The other is mad.
They both rock.
And roll.

(can I get a drumroll and E-chord please)

Okay....First. Dr. Biggles recently commented that I will no longer be known as D-man over at the Henge. His logic was bulletproof. Monkey Wrangler is far better than D-man. I figured I should listen to the wise ways of the master, who with a site so exquisitely named, obviously has the upper hand in discerning title recognition. An image of the mythical meat heaven came to mind, and I saw a big red-bearded angel engaging in discourse with a file clerk:

"You know, maybe you should uhhh, change your HELLO MY NAME IS tag Bro."

"Yes, yes Mr. Meathenge.......I mean, Sir Angel of Meat. Thank you, I'll get right on that!"

So, I went into my Blogger profile and updated it. From now on, my posts will be signed Monkey Wrangler. D-man still exists. He's right here. He just has a better, more modern and descriptive title. You can still call me D-man if you want, many of my friends do, and it's easier to sign, but if I were a real livestock rancher, my critters cows say, I'd be a cattle rancher right? So if the animals I tend to are little and pink, somewhat hairy, that often screech and break stuff, have incredible strength and the ability to climb everything, I'd be a monkey wrangler. Which I am.

Thanks Biggles. This picture of St. Patty's Day pork butt and brisket goes out to's a bit out of focus, as I was.

Second. Cookiecrumb had been experimenting with a recipe of mine, and I believe her version was better. Why? Because I made my own version of hers. Really, that makes this a version, of her version of my version, of my grandmother's version of my great-grandmother's version of rice torte.

Do I hear another version? Any takers?

Cookiecrumb's version was brilliant in it's use of maitake paired with asparagus. Funny thing is, my family version doesn't have mushrooms anywhere near it, but my winter take on it did. While my use of trumpets instead of say, crimini, were a nice change, cc's take on using maitake instead was perfect. I tried it that way and was very impressed. I will qualify all this by saying that mushrooms in a rice torte change the character of it completely, and with veggies other than zuchinni in it, it is certainly not grandma's.

It is something new and exciting and worth a try. Thanks for the take on it cc! This is one that will be had again and again, during the winter and spring while awaiting the tender young summer squashes. So yeah, you could easily call that an "Intant Tradition." And since she didn't give you a recipe of a recipe of a recipe, I will. It goes something like this:


1 bunch asparagus (1 pound)
1 large yellow onion
4 ounces maitake (hen of the woods) mushrooms
10 ounces baby spinach
1 large carrot
2-8 cloves garlic

1 c arborio rice
4 c milk
1/2 stick butter

6 eggs
1+ c grated dry jack

simmer rice in milk and butter (in a small covered pot) with salt and pepper to taste, until tender but not completely done (about 20 minutes). while cooking rice, saute chopped onions and mushrooms, along with thinly sliced carrot in olive oil. when onions are translucent add chopped asparagus and garlic. saute until most of moisture is gone and the veggies are soft. toss in spinach and saute until it begins to wilt. remove from heat and set aside. crack the eggs and mix with grated cheese. combine the rice, veggie saute, and egg/cheese mixture and fold thoroughly, (being careful to temper your eggs into the mix if the ingredients are hot enough to cook them). pour into a 13x9 inch glass or ceramic dish and sprinkle with more grated cheese. if the ingredients are hot going into the dish, then no need to grease it as the mix will melt it and incorporate your well intentioned plans, making this step unnecessary. bake at 375 for 45-60 minutes, depending on the initial wetness of the mix in the pan and the degree of brown you like on the top. and like cc's version, save the nicest looking tips of the asparagus to impress your friends with cool projectile toppings. serve with beer, or wine, or water. it's all good.

Thanks eldgers. For paving the way, and showing us newbies where the trail is.......

Thursday, March 15, 2007

eating, at heart's desire

Man, this past weekend was gorgeous. We went out to Tomales Bay State Park and spent a day at the beach. We had planned for a picnic, with the thought of dropping by the butcher shop on the way for some tasty ground beef. They also had some pork "stew meat" so a bit of that made it into the cooler as well. A little jaunt over to see some cowgirls and our menu for the day was set.

There were only a handful of cars in the parking lot when we arrived, which was a bit of a shock. We had last been here during the summer, and by noon the place was a mad house. This adventure, there were never more than twenty cars there, and it seemed like most of those folks were there to hike, not sit in the sand and chow.

After settling in, I took the monkey out for her first ride on a kayak. The bay here is very protected, with waves only a few inches high. The tide was just beginning to come in and the water clarity was nice. I had another one of those bizarre culinary ideas in my head, involving a container for collecting water, and a stove for boiling it. I had recently read an old post by a bay area blogger who had made her own salt, and figured I would try my hand at it too.

After checking on the sea grass, looking for "Mr. Crab" with no luck, I paddled out from the shore a few hunded yards and gave my collection container a dip. With approximately five liters, we made our way back to the beach. I fired up my tiny alcohol stove under a pan of sea water, put the top on to get it boiling faster, and got down to mixing up some burgers.

With them safely on the grill, I looked in on the boil and it wasn't going to happen. I mean, it was lightly boiling, but I didn't have enough fuel to sustain it for long and the wind and grill configuration was doing wonders at battling efficiency. H flipped the meat and we began getting out our fixin's and prepping our plates. I left the water to cool, and attended to my stomach.

Yeah, it was juicy. Good thing we used the leftover sandwich bread. It had the right sourdough tang and was tough enough to absorb the steam and cheesy goo without falling apart completely. It was a most satisfying burger, enjoyed with my family while gazing out at the smooth bay and incoming fog.

Afterwards we engaged in a ritual "dig to china" hole to kill off the remaining hour and stay warm. Cold and caked with damp sand, we packed up the car and made our way back to sunny warm Oakland.

The next day, I put the sea water (remarkably free of sediment, thankfully) into a large stock pot and got it boiling. I reduced it down to about half a liter and then poured it out onto a ceramic serving platter and set it out in the backyard to crystallize in the sun. By evening, I still had a pool of water, but the crust on the edge was glittery and white. I brought it inside and let the dry conditions of my oven pilot light do the rest.

The following morning I had a damp, salty sand, so I scraped it up to mix it around and put it back out in the sun to finish it off. Heaped onto a little plate it looked....salty. Somewhat glittery, pretty darn white, and sea salt tasting. I guess that's a success. I gave some to Aunty, and put the rest in a small container. The entire "harvest" was somewhere near a cup in volume. I didn't weigh it, but my guess was about four ounces in mass.

Heaped on a tea saucer, it looked more impressive. If I had more money to spend on that fancy stuff, and didn't have to go make it myself, I'd pay about ten bucks for this. I mean hey, in striving to go more local in my diet whenever possible, this was a good step, but I wouldn't start using it for ALL my salt needs. It confirmed my suspicion: salt making is easy and cheap, but involved and time consuming. I'll do it again sometime.........after I start making my own beer to enjoy while watching the water boil.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

urban legends

I live in an urban area, and have been doing some of my own scientific study of our bay area phenomena. I'm an avid hiker, putting many miles on bay area trails, and I can say with utmost confidence that there are no Sasquatch roaming the east bay hills. I've heard there are some other large hairy beasts making their way back here and there, but not on my side of the bay. The hairy beasts of Food lore though, that's a whole 'nother story. In the past few months while researching the phenomena of the urban bacon man, I encountered not one, but two.

If you have ever cruised a food blog, looking for some supreme meat item, chances are really good you found Dr. Biggles at Meathenge. If anyone is a credible source of food info, and a verified food legend, he is. (It's really a no brainer, I mean think about it, the guy is a doctor and all, with over twenty years in practice.) I have the fortune of sharing a geographic proximity to Da Man and managed a time slot for a farmers market rendezvous. I was stoked I was going to meet Mr. Meat. Our first encounter (in the flesh, I guess) the "meat angel" introduced me to a few market regulars and told me a few stories. He told me about mornings when his family sprang from bed with glee, in anticipation of what the bacon fairy had left at the door before they awoke. Huh? I'll have to get to know him better and inquire further at a later date.

After seeing Biggles a few more times and swapping stuff, his buddy Chilebrown wrote me and offered a food swap. He was interested in some sourdough starter and offered bacon in return. I wrote him back immediately. I had onions and potatoes, many eggs around, and english muffin batter going. When we later chatted and shared info, I told the monkey that a friend was coming over to give us some bacon.

"Oh, bacon daddy. What are we giving him?"
Part of whichever starter he wants. We have two right here.
"Does he like the sourdough too?"
That's what I hear honey, and he likes bacon.
"Oh yeah, I LIKE bacon."
Well you're in luck bubba, 'cuz the bacon dude is on the way!
"The bacon dude daddy?"
Oh yeah!
"With bacon? I LIKE BACON!"

Chilebrown is an enormously generous man, who suffers from no paucity of pork. He gave us two packages, each lovingly vacuum-packed, in return for some muffins and starter. I took the opportunity to do some kitchen math with the monkey, to show her how we made out like bandits. In essence, after CB visited my home last friday, I had no doubt that I had met another from the hominid group known as "Homo urbanus," sub-species "Porcinus edibilis."

For the next five days, we reveled in hog. Good hog, done right and delivered by a bacon god.

Day 1 started off with some red-flannel hash. It's one of my favorite breakfast items at Rick and Ann's. I'm not sure what the real recipe is, but I used beets, onions, potatoes, trumpet mushrooms, garlic, and bacon. Sprinkled with green onions and served up with a quick egg and english muffin, it was most satisfying.

Day 2. When you have canadian bacon, but no pineapple, do you still call it Hawaiian pizza? We didn't. But it was still good. Roasted red pepper and eggplant spread for the sauce, three cheeses and bacon on one side. Sauce, three cheeses, trumpets, artichoke hearts and green onions on the other. Yummy on both.

Day 3. If you know my ways, you might assume that these are calzones, but really they aren't. They are cheese and meat filled english muffins. While making our family staple, I used some of the bacon gift as a filling. I was thinking it would be kinda like a sourdough english pupusa.

How about more like a griddled ham and cheese calzone? It was gooey and filled with smokey pork. Like a hot pocket, only real.

Day 4. When you've already made something with most of your bacon, and have only a tiny bit, you make biscuits and gravy. But we had no biscuits, only potatoes. Easy! Fry some onions, garlic and mushrooms with the leftover bacon, add flour, stir, add milk and cook until it thickens, then add some cheese and pour over some sliced potatoes, top with "sourdough salt" and bake for an hour.

When you serve it with fresh focaccia and a nice salad it even seems healthy. Well, almost. Except that I couldn't help thinking of it as scalloped potato biscuits and gravy.

Day 5. I woke up, dreading my first day of no bacon. While packing the bag for grandma's, I realized H forgot her "calzone" for lunch. Knowing that the quality of this food item is rapidly deteriorating, I packed it, heated it up at lunch, and split it four ways. While my folks were taking the first bite, wondering where this fantastic pork product came from, I simply smiled, and matter-of-factly said, while winking at the monkey "the BPS-man, of course!"

"The BPS man?"

"The Bacon Parcel Service Man. There isn't one here in Novato? What a shame......"

Thanks for the delivery CB, we can't wait for the next.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

grandma's test kitchen

Each week when we cross the bay and visit grandma, I try to get something done that is food related. Whether it's hitting the store, or driving out to west marin for a visit to one great food vendor or another, we usually come home bearing some kind of sustenance (even if we cross the bridge back home empty-handed and have to get a burrito on the way). This past week, I brought some whole wheat dough and the ingredients for a winter version of great-grandma's rice torte and spent the day experimenting in my mom's kitchen.

I've been wanting some rice torte lately. It is a family recipe from italy that incorporates rice, milk, veggies, cheese and eggs, and it is certainly one of those things where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Its flavor is imbued in my genes from eating it so much. Each time I take that first hot bite, it is like hugging the memory of my ancestors, but somehow doing it with my mouth. But in my quest to eat more seasonally I've been unable to make it, for there are no local zucchini at the moment. So I rummaged around the farmer's market veggies we had, picked some of the spinach from my planter box outside my bathroom window, made a few adjustments to the recipe in my head, and dragged it all to my ma's and began.

I cooked my rice with butter and milk while beginning to saute my veggie items. When the cooked items were done and ready for combining, I lightly beat a few eggs, grated some cheese, then combined the whole mess together and threw it into a caserole dish to bake. I topped it off with a sprinkling of more cheese and baked it for almost an hour. Even though it had many different ingredients than usual, it smelled familiar. I mentioned to my ma about the dry jack in particular and she told me that my great-grandmother sometimes used it in place of parmesan in her torte.

Whoa! I had unknowingly re-created a tweak on nana's torte recipe by using a different cheese. No wonder it smelled so familiar. Can you say: "deep-seated aroma memory being recalled........*deep nasal inhale*......ahhhhh."

The finished product looked like the real deal. I couldn't wait to cut into it, but it really needs to cool some and de-gas a bit. I put my flat whole wheat baguettes in the oven and prayed that they would poof up some. I had brought a "new" whole wheat sourdough with me, but it really needed to be fed more before having the strength to lift all that whole-grain goodness. The baguettes tasted nice in the end, even if they could be yielded as weaponry as soon as they cooled. The torte though, was worthy of note and needed to be recorded so that I may re-create it some other winter or spring while awaiting the arrival of garden fresh zucchini.


1 head of broccoli
1 large yellow onion
6 small stalks celery
3-4 ounces trumpet mushrooms
1 bunch Italian parsley
6 ounces baby spinach

1 c arborio rice
4 c milk
1/2 stick butter

4 eggs
1 c grated dry jack

cook rice in milk and butter with salt and pepper to taste, until tender but not completely done (about 20 minutes). while cooking rice, saute onions, mushrooms and celery in olive oil. when onions are translucent add chopped broccoli and most of chopped parsley. saute until most of moisture is gone and the veggies are soft. toss in spinach and remainder of parsley and continue to saute until popeye begins to wilt. remove from heat and set aside. do the same with the rice. crack them eggs and mix with the grated cheese. combine the rice, veggie saute, and egg/cheese mixture and mix thoroughly. pour into a 12 inch oval caserole dish or 9x9 inch square and sprinkle with more grated cheese. bake at 375 for 45-60 minutes, depending on the initial wetness of the cheesey rice n' veggie glop and the degree of brown you like on the top.

As usual, this goes well with a nice dark, high-alcohol beer. In this case, I was wishing I had a Moretti La Rossa. For you TJ's folks out there, it's that Italian 6-pack in the red carton with the guy who looks like he's gonna blow the head off his beer. I think it's $5.99 (a great deal considering it says "doppio malto" and carries a 7.2% rating). The green lager Moretti makes is fine and all, but the dark red is MMMM! If you've never had two or three of them, go get yourself some and give it a try, when they open at 9 am.....

Saturday, March 03, 2007

february was vegan abandon month

Yeah, I know. This post is coming out in March, but I need to document an experiment before it fades from memory.

My cousin Rohan dropped by last weekend after hitting the farmer's market. A strict vegan, he unloaded his veggies all over my counter and then said "ho, what have we here?" and presented me with two pounds of ground lamb.
"Damn, bloody hell Rohan, what gives with the meat?"
"Well, Ted had some good looking stuff and I was hungry for samosas."
"LAMB samosas? Are you running a fever of something? The last time I checked, lamb was still considered meat."
"But it's february."
"And I eat some meat and a few sorts of carefully selected animal based items then."

His logic went something along the lines of this: being the shortest month of the year, if a vegan is going to "loosen" their restrictions for a bit, then it makes sense to have it be then. We were nursing beer while he pontificated on this one, and by the end of his diatribe I was grinding up a garam masala. At least he offered to do more than play with bread this time and set about making a dough for the samosas.
"Really, it's kinda like your grandma's pasta dough, but without the egg. You'll get the hang of it in no time."
While our dough was resting, he sauteed the lamb with an onion and potatoes, then finished it with peas. He showed me how to pack the dumplings and while assembling them, we began to fry them as we went.

They looked delicious and were well received by the mouths around. We all gorged on at least two, but had leftovers. Bummer. They might not be as crisp the next day, but tasty indeed. I immediately looked forward to waking up the next day. I fed my starter, and started thinking of what to add to my dough tomorrow. Rohan raised a brow at the prospect of bread, and begged to crash on the couch, promising to not snore too loudly, and even referring to making breakfast for us sometime before noon, if he should wake.

The following morning we had plenty of leftover meat filling, so Ro heated it in a pan and poured in some scrambled eggs. It was before noon, a two full hours in fact. I began thinking that maybe he should eat meat more often.
"What do you call this dish cousin? Samosa scramble?" I asked.
"Nah, Huevos Rohanos. Hey these eggs are nice and fresh amigo, did you get them at the tienda or the farm-mark?"
"Yeah fresh indeed, from Senor Velasquez at the Tuesday night. They're laid the day or two before I get them, can't beat it huh?
"No you can't. Hey did I ever tell you about the time a chicken laid an egg in my hand while I was holding it?"

Always one-upping me that guy; fuck he can be annoying sometimes......

Before the scramble, while he was getting his beauty rest, the monkey and I pounded out some sourdough, and shortly after breakfast, we punched it down for the first time.
"Hey can I run an experiment with some dough?" he wondered aloud.
"Sure, what'cha thinking? Calzones?"
"Whoa, how'd you guess?"
"We've made them together before Ro, remember?"
"Kinda, did we have a few beers?"
"I'm positive. Maybe even more than a few."
He sighed. "Oh yeah.......those were rippin'!"

We formed a few rounds and filled them with our meat filling and a bit of jack cheese, then folded them over and crimped the edges. Into the oven they went. When they came out, we did a side by side taste test with the samosas as the challenger. I included some hot mango chutney as a dip for my samosa and Rohan went with some hot pepper spread for his calzone. I suspected that he wouldn't hardly touch the spread, not for lack of taste, but distraction with the sourdough encasing the lamby, spiced filling and cheese.

We reflected on my latest reading adventures and started to pick apart our meal. The lamb was a touch "older" tasting as they tend to be this time of year at the ripe age of one or so. The potatoes were creamy and soft and complimented the green pop of the peas nicely. Our garam masala was just divine for this flavor pairing, and the construction of the samosas was a simple task to execute overall. The calzones were equally yummy and the sourdough had a nice chewy texture and strong flavor that went well with the seasoned lamb. Looking at the two side by side, I thought about how it represents my cousin and I. I'm thinner skinned and a bit crunchy on the outside. He's soft and doughy, but a bit sour. But we both have the same insides, even if his is a little.....cheesey.

I love my cousin dearly, even if he is a total quack. And with an ever-changing set of culinary restrictions, he is a hard man to pin down. I can't wait for our next adventure in californio indian cuisine. Until then, this is more or less what we did:


garam masala for this:
1 t cardamom seeds
1 T black peppercorns
2 t coriander seeds
1 t cumin seeds
1 t brown mustard seeds
6 cloves
1 stick cinnamon

grind into powder and store in a sealed container. this made about twice as much as needed for the meat filling.

lamb filling:
2 pounds ground lamb
1 pound russian fingerling potatoes
1 large yellow onion
1 cup frozen peas
garam masala powder
1/4 t turmeric

saute onion with about a tablespoon of the garam masala in hot oil. add lamb and continue to cook. add diced potatoes and cook until lamb is no longer pink anywhere. decide that it needs a bit of yellow stain for those creamy potatoes and add some staining powder. cover and lower the temp, checking every few minutes until the potatoes are tender. add peas, stir, replace cover and remove from heat. make dough while this is cooling some.

samosa dough:
1 c whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1/4 cup canola oil
about 1 c warm water
1 t salt

combine flours and salt with oil. begin mixing and start to add water to the dough a few tablespoons at a time until it starts to form a shaggy ball of sorts. knead for what seems like ten minutes and set aside to rest for a while. divide into 12 balls and begin rolling each into a flat disk. roll each disk into a cone, pack the hole with filling, fold over the "flap" and pinch the edges closed. the pot we fried these in would only hold two at a time, which worked out to be perfect as it took about as long to fry them as it took to construct two more. serve with your favorite hot style condiment and a large beer or two.

Should you feel adventurous and want to try the filling stuffed into a dough of sorts, go right ahead, you'll like it. Indian lamb calzones are really good. We were kinda pissed we only made two, as it necessitated us reverting back to childhood and fighting about who got the bigger one. We never really grow up do we? Especially with family around.