My perfect crusty loaf

April 6, 2013 § 24 Comments

sourdough baked in pot

Hello dear people!  We’re just back from Denver.  Did I even mention we were going to Denver?  I don’t think I did.  There were more important things to talk about!  But, in spite of the lack of public acknowledgment, that is, in fact, where we were for the last week.  We were at a distilling conference, which, as you may suspect, is a whole lot cooler than many of the conferences one could find oneself attending.

Craft distillers are a pretty good bunch, as far as I could tell from my observations of the 600 or 700 or so that were at the conference with us.  Quirky, driven, creative, Jacks and Jills of all trades, and quite friendly besides the occasional curmudgeon – there always has to be at least one curmudgeon in any bunch.

I didn’t make a ton of connections.  I’m an absolutely terrible networker!  I clam up and get shy and awkward and can’t think of a thing to say to anybody, so I float off around the edges and watch people talk.  But, there were some smaller, more intimate gatherings where I could actually connect with people and those people I found to be stellar ones!  Also, the sessions were generally useful and fascinating.  We learned about variables in aging spirits, how to work with wholesalers, innovations in packaging, women in distilling, surviving an audit, how to “nose” (that is to say, smell) unwanted compounds in your spirits.  Good stuff.

Now we’re back and the refrigerator is starkly empty.  I need to do a major restock.  And I need to bake some bread.

As much as possible, I’ve been trying to bake all of our bread at home.  Which sounds like some sort of half super-hero, half Ma on the prairie type of domestic prowess.  But, I’ve found that there are so many recipes for low maintenance loaves out there, that baking one a week isn’t all that great of a commitment.  And the payoff is huge.  (Mostly.  Sometimes my loaves totally flop.  Those are sad days.)  Plus, it means we deeply savor every bite of bread.  (I usually only have one slice a day so the bread lasts through the week.  Joel always accuses me of bread rationing.)

sourdough dough

I adore good bread.  I can completely understand how civilizations could be built on bread and why it is a metaphor for life, for spirit, for giving, for abundance.  So, it makes me terribly sad to know that more and more people can’t eat bread, and that bread in the way it’s commercially produced these days is not very good for us at all.  It’s a tragedy really.  What are we if bread no longer makes sense in the context of “the bread of life” or “our daily bread?”

I’m no expert, but from what I’ve read, I suspect the reasons for this change in bread are complex and many.  Part of it, I am quite convinced, comes from the changes in the grain supply with the industrialization of agriculture.  The wheat available today is not the wheat people ate for hundreds of years.  The wheat available to us now has been bred to be durable, shippable, highly storable, easy to harvest, and high-yield, but not to be nutritious or flavorful.  The potential goodness of the grain has been bred right out of it, leaving instead a highly gluten-filled, hard to digest, inflammatory commodity. « Read the rest of this entry »

Down to basics – the omelet

March 25, 2013 § 23 Comments

basic omelet 1

After I posted about my method for making creamy scrambled eggs, I received several requests asking whether I could write a similar post on making the perfect omelet.

The answer:  most certainly! … Well, sort of.

The perfect omelet is a fitful, finnicky, tricky thing.  It is said that you can judge the caliber of a chef by his or her plain roast chicken and his or her omelet.  So, I knew that if I was to post about how to cook an omelet, I could not do so lightly.

So, I decided to put in a whole bunch of practice first.

eggs for two omelets

On the whole, I’m relatively unpracticed at making omelets.  Certainly if you compare with my practice in fried or scrambled eggs.  I like eggs in nearly any preparation, but omelets are not at the very top of my list, so I don’t make them as frequently as some other eggy delights.  Actually, if I were to order how frequently I made different types of eggs, the list would be something like this:

  1. Fried eggs
  2. Baked eggs (most often baked plainly with just a drizzle of cream and maybe some herbs)
  3. Scrambled eggs (with or without lots of mix-ins)
  4. Poached eggs – Frittatas – this one’s a tie
  5. Omelets
  6. Soft or hard boiled eggs (though, actually, I do absolutely love a soft boiled egg, if someone else prepares it for me)
  7. Other egg-based things like savory custards, stratas, souffles, etc.

So there you go.  And I have now started the most boring conversation ever, listing egg preparation preferences. Or maybe it’s actually one of the most interesting potential conversations ever.  Your egg preferences may be like a personality barometer.  Maybe it’s an edible Myer’s-Briggs!  Do all other INFJs have the same egg preferences as me?  Do ENTPs prefer scrambled eggs above all while ISTJs are omelet people?  Feel free to discuss. « Read the rest of this entry »

Some thoughts on diets and eating

March 2, 2013 § 41 Comments

shower feast

Shuffle shuffle shuffle, shplop, clump, clump, clump…(that’s the sound of me hauling in and climbing up on my soap box, actually no, let’s go with it being me setting up my 2 cents booth, and special for you, today only, there’s no charge!…)

So a study came out and suddenly everyone’s all abuzz with the Mediterranean Diet all over again.  Perhaps you’ve heard?

Which I suppose must be nice for the Mediterranean Diet and all, given it was probably feeling a little dusty and lonely and ignored from several years of being quite out of the spotlight.  And maybe, if things go well, it’ll get some people to eat a little extra olive oil and seafood.

But, here’s what I worry.  I worry that this is just going to add back one more way we measure ourselves and judge ourselves when it comes to what we eat.  It provides one more set of potential boxes to constantly fret about ticking off so that we can feel good about ourselves because we “were good” that day, and to feel bad about ourselves if we deviate from because we “were bad” that day.

This is actually my problem with all the diets I hear about these days be they “paleo,” “vegan,” “raw,” “4-hour body,” “bullet proof,” or what have you.  It’s not a problem with the diets themselves, actually, but a problem with how we – or, well, let’s personalize this, how I – respond to them emotionally.  They make me judge myself.  And if there’s one thing I don’t need extra help with, it’s judging myself.  I’m super good at that all on my own, thanks.

When I’m trying to adhere to one of these carefully delineated ways of eating it becomes a constant rating game, just like so much of the rest of life can feel.  When I’m getting praise at work or I’m on a run of eating no grains at all or something, inside I start jabbering, “I get a star for this, ooh that means I’m a good person. Must try to maintain stars at all costs”… and then I get worn out and feel bad about myself because I’m just trying to maintain my internal idea of how many stars I have, and then I do something “wrong,” like eat a scone or get a negative comment back from a journal I’ve submitted a paper to.  “I get a big black X for that, oh no! disaster!! despair!!!!!!  I must be a bad person.  I am a horrible person…”  And then I feel bad about myself.

Either way, it turns out, I feel bad about myself because I tie myself to my rating system of the moment (and I have a feeling I can’t possibly be the only one who does this, including with regards to food).  And with diets, this winds up making me feel frightened of my food.  And I’m quite certain that when you’re frightened of your food, it can’t really nourish you, no matter how many micronutrients it might contain. « Read the rest of this entry »

Down to basics – Soft scrambled eggs

February 17, 2013 § 32 Comments

soft scrambled eggs 1

My dear friends, would you be up for bearing with me for just a moment so I can talk about scrambled eggs?

Plain old scrambled eggs.  Not scrambled eggs with crisped asparagus or lacy pieces of prosciutto, not scrambled eggs with cheeses and meats and peppers and mushrooms.  Not scrambled eggs with anything, except perhaps a helpful piece of toast.  Just scrambled eggs.  Soft scrambled eggs.

Scrambled eggs are a staple breakfast of mine, and it has occurred to me – given the many times I have been given not very good scrambled eggs – that this absurdly simple preparation, requiring only a few ingredients and minutes, can be quite tricky to pull off.

scrambled eggs start

I think, like me, for many people the ideal of scrambled eggs is soft and creamy, a smooth pillowy mound of golden eggs with barely a curd to spear into.  Eminently scoopable eggs, almost like a savory custard.  But more often our eggs turn out dry, in large chunks.  It’s disheartening.

I didn’t used to feel this way about scrambled eggs.  When I was little, scrambled eggs were my favorite food, after any of the sweets we weren’t allowed to eat, but I liked them cooked until totally hard and dry.  Then I’d chop them into tiny pieces with my fork.  I was weird.

When I was 6 or 7 I got into a huge argument about this with my grandmother, in fact.  She explained to me that the proper way to cook scrambled eggs was to leave them partially uncooked and creamy.  I insisted this was a disgusting and terrible idea.  We faced off, dug our heels in, and neither of us would give an inch on our stance.

It was time that wore me down (happily).  I began to prefer my yolks runny and my scrambled eggs soft, and it became a point of intense experimentation to try to achieve my new vision of scrambled egg perfection. « Read the rest of this entry »

Down to Basics: Stew & Co.

January 28, 2013 § 11 Comments

stew gremolata vegetables

Ever since eating salad while admitting it was stew weather, I haven’t been able to shake stew off.  Stew has been following me, or more accurately I have been following stew, chasing it into every manner of manifestation in my kitchen and out onto the table, beef, pork, lamb, venison, chicken, simple, spiced, something in between.  It’s been stew all of this last week.

Or, if not stew itself, a member of the stew family.  That is, tagines, curries, chilis, and so on.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, all of those are really stew masquerading as something exotic.  And, of course, to those who grew up eating these others as their comfort food, stew is the exotic one.

lamb tagine

And so, because once you can make a stew you can make all of its spicier cousins, let us go over some basics of stew construction, plus variations on how to transform your warming pot of meat and vegetables into a tagine, curry, or chili.

Stew is basically slow cooked pieces of meat (or it can be beans or another protein source) with vegetables in liquid of some sort.  It’s thicker – less soupy – than soup, and the pieces of meat are smaller than the one (or several) large pieces in a braise.  The steps in making stew are approximately these:

Start by cutting a couple pounds of a tough cut of meat into 2-inch cubes (stew beef, lamb, or even pork tend to work well; you can also stew chicken thighs,  but they’ll take a bit less time in the final cooking process) and sprinkle them with salt.  If you wish you can also toss them in some flour, which will help thicken the stew, but which is by no means absolutely necessary.  Follow this by browning all your meat bits in butter or oil in a large heavy pan.  Do this in batches so as not to crowd the pieces of meat because if they’re crowded they’ll steam rather than browning.  Once nice and brown on all sides, transfer the meat to a plate. « Read the rest of this entry »

An everlasting batch of yogurt

January 14, 2013 § 2 Comments

yogurt marinated salmon

We’re off another work trip – turns out that on your way to being rooted in a place you sometimes have to do a good bit of traveling (as my mother pointed out, “you’re on an adventure, and no good adventure happens without a long voyage or two”).  We’re back in Seattle to get trained on some of our specific equipment for the new distillery, and to bring the equipment back with us.(!!!!!)

So, training by day, dissertating by night, and not a lot of time in between for cooking or writing.

However, I have something else fun for you.  Something I’m quite excited about.

My clever friends at Food52 started a new column a couple months ago, and I am hopelessly in love with it.  It’s called halfway to dinner, and the idea behind it is something that I believe in so strongly it makes me want to pump my fist in the air, or some other such psyched up behavior.  The idea (the same as that underlying Tamar Adler’s brilliant book An Everlasting Meal – if you haven’t read it, do.  Amazing.  Inspiring.  And more.) is that if you cook one thing, the leftovers of that thing can bleed into the next meal, and the remainders of that one into the next, and that if you have a few everyday ingredients around and just a bit of creativity, you can usually put together something wonderful for dinner, or even stretch it into dinners for a week.

I wrote and photographed the column for them for this week, stretching a batch of plain yogurt into six different meals.  So, I hope you’ll go over and check it out for a bit of dinner inspiration from yogurt marinated salmon, to Turkish yogurt soup, to yogurt dumplings.  And, of course, check out the other examples by other great cooks while you’re there.

yogurt soup

Down to basics – roasted pork chops with pan sauce

October 25, 2012 § 9 Comments

Two weekends ago Joel was out of town camping.  He went with my good friend Kaitlin’s husband, which meant Kait and I were both home alone.  Not for long!  Quickly it turned into a weekend of yoga workshops, coffee time, and a hot tub with wine.  Talk about awesome.  And continuing the awesomeness, my parents invited us both over for dinner.  My mother had purchased four pork chops, but there were just two of them, so the addition of two more was, in her words, quite perfect.

There were also figs.  Clearly, you don’t say no when there are pork chops and figs involved (which has been rather an obsession for me this fall – I think I’ve made it 3 times myself).

My mother had a plan.  Obviously.  After all, she had bought the pork chops and figs and is well-versed in the art of getting dinner on the table.  But, I am one of those people who, if I am not doing the cooking, hovers obnoxiously in the kitchen observing and asking questions.  And, at a certain point I, truly obnoxiously, butted in because it became apparent that my mom had never made seared pork chops, finished in the oven, and followed by a pan sauce.  And then I learned that Kaitlin never had either.

Which leads me to the question, have you???  It’s so easy, when you are familiar with something, to forget that that doesn’t necessarily make it common knowledge, to forget that other people may not know that particular information.

Of course, even if you are intimately familiar with pan roasted pork chops with pan sauce, well, too late, because I have already fashioned a blog post about it at my mother’s and Kait’s request, and who knows, you may still learn something!  Or you may discover you have some good tips to offer me (I hope)! « Read the rest of this entry »

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