Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Great Sourdough Starter Experiment...


I spent the last month trying different things - AND torturing my starters - and I've discovered a few things. (Like, starters can't be killed - no matter how much you ignore them). I'm nearly ready to release my full experiment and the results, so tell your friends to subscribe and stay tuned. I did stuff that you'll never do, and yet I STILL made some GREAT bread (recipe included soon).

Gotta love this stuff!!!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Leftover Pumpkin Puree Dilemma

So... it's the week after Thanksgiving. You made the requisite Pumpkin Pie, and now you have a half of a can of pumpkin puree sitting in the fridge, drying out. What to do?

I, for one, am a huge fan of soup - especially when the snow is falling (like it is right now where I'm at), so I'm going to make a flavorful, healthy Pumpkin Soup. At the end of this post, there are some links to some other interesting sounding (but not personally tried) alternative recipes.

For now, here is my Simple Pumpkin Soup Recipe:

Over med-high heat, sauté 1 Cup Onion, chopped (about 1 small yellow or white onion)
In 1-1/2 tsp Butter (or Chicken Stock for lower fat)
Stir and cook until Onions are translucent & some start to brown
Add 1 clove Garlic, minced
Stir and cook about 2 minutes, until Garlic is fragrant.
Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of your favorite Wine or Sherry (deglazing just means scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan and incorporating all that flavor back into the mix; the higher heat also cooks off most of the alcohol in the wine - just stir and scrape and it'll be wonderful.)

When you are bored of stirring (about 2 minutes), add:
1 Can (14-15 oz.) Chicken Stock (approx 2 Cups; alternately, you can use 2 Chicken Bouillon Cubes + 2 Cup water OR use Vegetable Stock instead).
Bring to a boil and cook about 5-7 minutes, until liquid is reduced noticeably.

Reduce to simmer and add:
1/2 Can Pumpkin (about 1 Cup)
1 Tbl. Agave Nectar (or 1 Tbl. your choice: Honey, Regular Sugar, equal amount of artificial sweetener)
1 Dash Tabasco (or Hot Sauce of your choice)
1 Pinch* ground Cloves
1 Smidge* ground Nutmeg
1 Pinch* ground Coriander
1 Smidge* ground Cayenne pepper
1 Pinch* Celery Salt
1 Smidge* White Pepper
Stir well to combine, then let cool enough to put into a blender.

Blend all ingredients to a smooth texture, return to pot, set heat to low simmer and add:
1/2 cup Milk
Warm over very low heat until soup is a nice, thick consistency, about 20-30 minutes.
Add Salt & Pepper, to taste if desired, and serve.

*I have an actual measuring spoon set with these measurements; if you don't, just know that a Pinch equals about 1/16 tsp and a Smidge equals about 1/32 tsp.

Soft Pumpkin Pretzels
Spiced Pumpkin Fudge
Gingerbread Waffles
For Your Puppy - Pumpkin Dog Treats

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Notation Notes

Previously, I posted my thoughts on how to differentiate Tablespoons (Tbl) from teaspoons (tsp). After further thought, I've got another thought: When using Cup notations, use the capital "C" if it's full cups, and the lowercase "c" if it's portions of a cup. Again, it avoids room for error.

Well, what do I use if I need to indicate a cup and a half?
I suggest 1 C + 1/2 c.
Just saying.

Spread the word.

The Great Sourdough Starter Experiment

Lately I've become obsessed with sourdough starters. There's nothing like growing something from, well, basically nothing, and then having it taste great once you bake it. The concept is so incredible: "harvest" 'wild yeast' and make it grow and multiply; it's like an indoor winter garden. Who can resist that?

Everyone knows that San Francisco has some of the best sourdough bread in the world. But is it the method - or the yeast? What if you have some incredible, and as of yet undiscovered, yeast around you? That alone makes me want to try to cultivate some :)

Although there are many wonderful commercial sourdough starters on the market (Camaldoli (Italian) Sourdough Starter, Real San Francisco Sourdough, ALASKA JACK'S), I just couldn't resist trying to grow my own; one of those "back to basics" things, I guess. During the last month I tried one method using pineapple juice, and another using grapes, both with mixed and unpredictable results. Mostly due to my lack of taking notes, I'm sure. But I learned a few things along the way and now I'm ready to commit to a full-fledged side-by-side comparison trial.

SO, the GREAT Sourdough Starter Experiment begins...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Recipe for PERFECT Hard-Cooked Eggs - EVERY TIME!

The Method ("recipe," if you will) for Perfect "Hard-Boiled" Eggs:

  • Pick a pot with a tight fitting lid.
  • Fill pot with approximately 1" water.
  • Place eggs IN A SINGLE LAYER on a vegetable steamer basket that will sit just above the water. (Don't have a steamer? No problem! Neither do I :) Just crumple up some aluminum foil to keep the eggs above the water line. Still - single layer of eggs only!).
  • Cover the pot.
  • Bring water to a boil, then lower to a simmer.
  • Steam 15 minutes*.
  • Plunge into waiting ice-water bath. (Or just dump a few trays of ice cubes right into the pot with some cold tap water - that's what I do.)
*Time given is for standard Large eggs AT ROOM TEMPERATURE. Additional time may be necessary for eggs straight from the refrigerator, and other adjustments may be needed for larger or smaller eggs.

The result?
Delicate egg whites (no rubber here!), yolks done just to firm, no green ring (unless you skip the ice bath thing), and best of all - super easy to peel.

And I was going to buy Eggies for Momma K for Christmas! Silly me. I guess she'll be getting jingle socks again this year.

Along with a copy of this recipe, of course :)

Hard-Boiled Egg Failures... and Success?

My youngest stepdaughter decided to move in with us back in July (good news!), but she LOVES hard-boiled eggs (bad news - for her, anyway). When she went to boil up a few, I wanted to mention the altitude (she'd been living in Nebraska, aka "sea-level", with her mom), but I kept my mouth shut; maybe she'd have beginner's luck, maybe she knew something I didn't. I just stood back and watched.

Guess what happened?

Failure. Again. That left two of us greatly disappointed.

But I love my (not-so-little-anymore) Samii, and there's nothing I wouldn't do for her, including thinking about stealing my Mom's antique Sunbeam egg-cooker, which shielded me from this issue for so much of my life - lol. (I didn't do it, just thought about it - ha!)

I set out to get it right, once and for all - for Sam...

Without going into too much science, there IS a reason that eggs don't cook the same at high altitudes as at, or near, sea level. Here it is in brief: higher altitude = less sky. Sky = atmospheric pressure. Less pressure = longer cooking time. But 200 degrees is 200 degrees, right? Wrong! The pressure actually plays a role in "pushing" the heat into the object to be heated. (Which is why it takes 20 minutes or longer to cook pasta here - no joke.) With everything else, you just cook it longer, no big deal. So why doesn't longer cooking work with eggs???

I found no specific explanation behind why longer cooking doesn't work with eggs, but we all know that eggs are a very delicate structure. They don't like high heat. They also don't like long cooking times. In fact, eggs don't like being boiled at all! They appear to tolerate it at the times needed at sea-level, but they become a pouty and impossible child (no pun intended!) at the cook times needed at 7,200 feet. And much like a difficult child, when things aren't working out, it's time to try a different method. And that's when I discovered...

...Steamed Eggs!!! (Dramatic, movie-type booming music plays in the distance.)

It turns out that steam isn't affected by altitude (although the time it takes to create steam DOES change). But once you have steam, you have the perfect environment for the best "hard-boiled" eggs you'll ever make - at any altitude. And best of all, it's easy to steam cook eggs!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Search of the Perfect Hard-Cooked Egg...

Our family LOVES eggs - scrambled, poached, "fried" - but, most of all: Deviled Eggs. At any family gathering, there was always a fight over the last deviled egg (a friendly fight, usually ending up with the last creamy ovoid of deliciousness being split). Thanksgiving before last, Momma K - the family's official deviled egg-maker - announced that she was no longer up to the challenge; the buying eggs well in advance so they'd be "old," then having to fight them out of their shells anyway, ending up with ugly shells that didn't live up to the promise of her beautiful deviled egg serving tray. (They still tasted awesome! But we understood where she was coming from.)

After two consecutive family gatherings without deviled eggs, I decided to be the next bearer of the eggs. The event was Easter; eggs went on sale well in advance and I searched out the oldest dates in the case that I could find. I left the eggs on the counter for two days before I boiled them, to help age them further. I cooked them exactly according to the precise instructions provided by my personal cooking icon: Alton Brown. Everything was going perfectly according to plan.

Easter egg coloring was a total hoot! We didn't have any small children, so all of the adults joined our two teenagers and the eggs went fast. Yoo-hoo! A few quick pix of our artistic creations, and it was time to whip out a batch (or three) of the devil'd bad boys.

What a total, complete disappointment! Despite my planning, cooking to the letter and high expectations, the eggs were nearly impossible to peel (even under running water), but WORSE: the whites were rubbery, there was a green sulphur ring around the yole AND, the centers weren't fully cooked. Yuck!

The next time, I tried the method recommended by my go-to "how-to" cookbook, The Joy of Cooking (every kitchen needs this gem). Again, failure, even though I followed the instructions for high altitude (we're at 7,200 feet or so above sea level).

The time after that, I searched the internet for "how to cook hard boiled eggs" and discovered there were basically three schools of thought for "hard-boiled" eggs (the proper designation is "hard-cooked," since at least one of the methods does not involve boiling the eggs - just so you know):
1. Place eggs in cold water, bring to boil, turn off heat, cover & let cook for designated time [the "Alton" method];
2. Place eggs in cold water, bring to boil and boil for designated time [the "Joy of Cooking" method]; and,
3. Bring water to boil, place eggs into water, and boil for designated time [another "Joy of Cooking" method].
Some sites said to add salt, some to add vinegar - tried each and both. I even bought an egg timer that gets placed in the pot with the egg and thus experiences everything that the eggs do and changes color to show what's going on inside the eggs. I tried less time, more time, faster cooling, no cooling. And I tried every possible combination of the above that I could think of. (I'm almost embarrassed to admit that, one night, I took a dozen eggs and cooked each one with various methods and combinations, then peeled each and opened them up; I ended up with a dozen failures - and a huge batch of egg salad.)

And that's when I GAVE UP.
Until last month...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Using Sourdough Starter to Make Pizza Dough

With all of the starter testing I've been doing, I've thrown a lot of "dough" down the drain. Last night, I decided that would all end. After halving my pineapple starter, I saved it in a ziploc bag in the fridge.

Not having enough to make dough for the whole family, I combined it with a recipe from my current favorite cookbook ever "Cook This, Not That." (Seriously, this cookbook is the BOMB! We've tried about thirty recipes - 15 are "keepers," 13 are "can we have that every night?" and only 2 have been relegated to the "try again - maybe?" category - probably because I had to make revisions due to ingredients on hand.)

Here's the Recipe I used for INCREDIBLE Pizza Dough:

Mix 1 tsp. Instant Dry Yeast
With 1 Cup HOT water (yes, hot!)
Now, turn on the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit - trust me, now is the time.
Then ADD:
1 tsp. Salt (preferably Sea Salt - I used Fleur de Sel because it was what I had in the kitchen)
3/4 Tbl. Olive Oil
1 Tbl. Agave Nectar (or use Honey, or even regular sugar - I'm watching my carb sources)
Stir well while water is still hot. Stir until the "sugar" is well disolved. Then...
1 Cup Sourdough Starter
3-1/2 Cups Flour (approximate!) (I used unbleached white flour - knock yourself out, use what you have)
2 Tbl. assorted cheeses (mine was a mix of Romano, Edam, Cotija, Parmesan, Asiago - dry, whatever you have on hand cheese)
1 Tbl. Italian seasoning (Oregano alone does fine, as does Marjoram, Basil, Parsley) - or skip this altogether, it really doesn't matter; if all you have is garlic and/or onion powder (or minced, either/both), toss some of this in; if you don't, don't worry about it. Seriously.
Mix until most of flour is incorporated. Don't kill yourself getting it all in. Add more flour or water as needed. You want a thick dough that doesn't stick. Turn out onto a floured counter (or kraft paper, in our case), and roll from the center out until you reach about a 15"-18" diameter.
Semi-bake for 5 minutes. Pull out, (and knock down if it's puffed up too much,like ours was) and top with Olive Oil (thin coat) and your favorite ingredients.
Topping Ideas (mix & match): Chicken, Ham, Bacon, Onions, Green Chile, Alfredo Sauce, Cheese (any kind), Pepperoni, Jalapenos, Tomatoes, Pesto, Mushrooms, Pineapple, Bell Pepper - whatever you like, great time to clear the fridge!
Bake for 12-30 minutes. We gave it 15 minutes, then turned off the oven and just let it sit. Judge doneness by the appearance of the toppings and when the crust looks done. You'll know when it's right. In our house it was like Taco Night - everybody did their own, and everybody was truly happy.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Tablespoon vs. Teaspoon notation equation

Is it just me, or do recipes make it really hard to differentiate tablespoons from teaspoons.

Here, once and for all, is my solution to this problem. Please use these notations from here on out.

Tablespoon = Tbl.
Teaspoon = tsp.

Note the caps for Tablespoon yet the lowercase for teaspoon. Use these notations and you will never mistake one for the other again. So simple, yet so effective.

Spread the word!