Blog: Food

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

More sourdough science

The friend who gave me the sourdough starter recently gave me a copy of Classic Sourdoughs, Revised: A Home Baker's Handbook by Ed Wood and Jean Wood. This is the book she learned from, she speaks highly of it, and she was tired of having to look things up in it when I asked her questions so she got me my own. :-)

The basic recipe in there (the authors recommend that you get this one down first before moving on to others) calls for feeding the starter to make it active, then feeding (part of) it again to get what they call a "culture proof", and then using that to make the bread. My earlier attempts didn't include that step; I was feeding the starter, waiting for it to expand, and then using that to bake with (and keeping the rest as starter). I'm getting better rise now.

There were two other differences I wanted to test (well three, but I didn't formally test the last):

  • The book says to feed the part of the culture proof you don't use in bread again before you put it away. That seems wasteful, so I wanted to find out if it makes a difference. Last week I divided my leftover culture proof, feeding half and not feeding the other half. (Remember, it's already been fed twice on the way to getting here.)

  • The book recommends putting the loaf in a cold oven and then turning it on, baking at 375F. The authors say you'll get a nice "oven spring" that you can watch happen suddenly, except that covering the bread with a bowl for humidity defeats that. (I left an earlier loaf uncovered, trying the pan of water instead for humidity, but saw no sudden spring (though it did expand) and was not happy with the resulting crust.)

The third item was using bread flour instead of all-purpose flour. The book actually uses all-purpose in its recipes, and that's what I used in my previous two loaves with this book.

Today (and yesterday, because sourdough requires time) I filled out a little two-by-two matrix: without the extra feed ("1") and with ("2"), crossed by cold-start ("C") and hot-start ("H") in which you preheat the baking sheet, deposit the dough onto it, and bake at 450F. I made two dough batches (for the different starters) following the same recipe, processes, and timings until we got to the baking stage. I divided each into two at the dough-proof stage. I baked the two "C" variants together and then the two "H" variants, which means that within each pair the dough for one had a little more pre-cook time than the dough for the other, but I'm prepared to call that not significant.

All loaves were made with bread flour. All loaves were brushed with olive oil right before baking. All loaves were covered with inverted metal bowls for the first half of their cooking time.

Also, all loaves held their shape better than in the past. I found myself adding some flour toward the end of the kneading (last night); possibly the bread flour makes a difference here too. Read more…

Garden thief!

On Tuesday I hit peak tomato, harvesting 22 (!) cherry tomatoes. There were several more that were almost ripe that I expected to pick the next day.

But the next day they were gone, all of them. I found the half-eaten carcass of one green tomato on the ground. I couldn't tell what ate it. I wonder if it was the rabbit I saw when I went out Tuesday evening to harvest some basil.

rabbit on steps

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Weekly garden report

During 2020 I posted near-weekly updates from my first vegetable garden. I have not imported all of them here, but you can see them on the gardening tag on Dreamwidth.

Last Sunday I noted that the peppers were still green but looked like they were starting to turn yellow. By around Tuesday we had clear signs of yellow, and I thought I knew what kind of pepper plants I had. (These are "lunchbox peppers", which come in any of yellow, orange, or red; any given plant produces one color.)

Ha ha no, that was just stage one. The peppers that have developed color are all solidly orange now. I don't know if this is, in turn, a step on the way to red, or if orange is their final color. I'm also not sure when I'm supposed to pick them.

For the past couple months these plants have been showing four peppers each, and I've been wondering if I was going to all this trouble for eight peppers. Finally some small green ones have appeared farther up on the plants. I don't know what the seasonal yield is supposed to be.

Meanwhile, I've been picking 5-10 cherry tomatoes a day. The plant on the left doesn't have any more green ones, while the one on the right is continuing to make those. These are supposed to be "tidy treats", which are supposed to be indeterminates, which I understand to mean "makes fruit all summer". But these are also clearly different varieties despite the labeling, so perhaps I've now identified which of the two plants is the variety I ordered. The one on the left, whatever it is, started producing earlier, by maybe a week or a week and a half. It also has the smaller pot. (It was, originally, the larger of the two plants originally sharing a pot, before I realized just how much room cherry tomatoes would need.)

Pictures follow. Read more…

This is how it begins

Last year one of my spring CSA boxes included a cute little basil seedling. And I said "huh -- I wonder if I can help it make more basil or if I should just recognize my ineptitude and eat it now". But lo! I decided to be daring, and I was rewarded -- that picture is from July, and it it just kept going and going (with periodic trimmings, a subject I still consider black magic). And I said to myself that hey, we should try that again. I entered this spring with plans to buy a basil seedling.

Then the pandemic happened, and the food-supply network is not as reliable as it once seemed, and Siderea wisely counselled people to grow food if we can. And I said to myself that, well, I'm not going to try to plant a whole garden with attendant kneeling-on-ground (or in my case pavement) and weed-battling and the like (and anyway I don't have places with the right sun exposure), but I can expand from one pot. I ventured out to buy two seedlings, basil and rosemary, and one more pot because I only had the one.

But herbs, while delicious, aren't really food in the sense of sustenance, so I thought some more about what I use a lot of and what is practical in pots and durable enough to withstand my ministrations, and so when Grow Pittsburgh (the people who supplied that basil seedling to the CSA) started its weekly seedling sale and one week I was able to get stuff (as opposed to everything being sold out in the first few minutes), I decided to add cherry tomatoes and lunchbox peppers (those are the miniature ones that come in red, orange, and yellow) to my plans. And because my basil seedling that I'd had for a few weeks now was not looking super-perky and the basil had been the whole point of this excursion, I ordered a couple more basil seedlings, and a little redundancy for the others (for parity). I ordered a couple more pots from Amazon to hold them.

Once they were in proper pots and getting more quality outdoor time they started to perk up, and the Internet told me that I was overcrowding some of them. And, well, this is how it begins.

Photographic evidence: Read more…

Quarantine cooking

We're under a stay-at-home order (which, granted, isn't exactly the same as a quarantine), so much cooking is happening. I don't think any of my cooking is especially exciting, but since I enjoy seeing what others are doing and coworkers have asked for pictures of some of mine, I'll go ahead and share some. I'm also pretty happy with a soup I made tonight (recipe below). Read more…

Produce of unusual size

Since our CSA didn't do a winter share this year, we signed up with Imperfect Foods to see if it delivered better produce value than the local grocery store. They take stuff that isn't "pretty" enough for grocery stores and try to make use of it, so your carrots might be huge, your sweet potatoes might be cracked, and your peppers might be misshapen, but who cares? I'm pretty satisfied so far; you get to pick what's in your box and the quality is decent.

Sometimes there are surprises. Pop quiz: which of these items is of unusual size, the mini watermelon or the "purple" daikon radish?

nearly the same size

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Fall CSA, week 6 (and final)

  • Turk's turban squash (I'm just copying what the manifest called it...)
  • 5 Rome apples
  • 6 potatoes
  • 6 rainbow carrots
  • 2 heads garlic
  • large yellow onion
  • tomatillo salsa
  • whole spelt flour

Anticipated but not present: watermelon radish. (Drat! Those are nice, and I've never seen them at the grocery store.)

They suggest that Rome apples are best for cooking. I've been doing baked apples a lot; maybe I'll make a cobbler with these ones.

Does anybody have suggestions for breads using spelt? I am particularly interested in recipes that work in a bread machine and ones for quick breads (which I would make in the oven). The CSA linked to a recipe for a blueberry/lemon quick bread, which sounds interesting except that it calls for several ingredients I would not otherwise buy. If I were to try that one, what do flaxseed meal and coconut sugar contribute to the result (chemically, flavor, baking properties, etc) and what can I safely substitute for them?

This was the last week of the fall share. I was looking forward to the winter share; that's when I started last year and we got a lot of great produce, including several things that were new to me. I learned that radishes come in more than two varieties (red and daikon)! And the baby turnips were great, and I cooked with rutabagas for the first time! Alas, they cancelled the winter share this year for a combination of supply issues and low subscription volume. I've heard good things about Imperfect Produce but they don't serve my city; a (remote) coworker recently mentioned Misfits, which apparently does, so I might give that a try. But for the locals, I'm also interested in hearing where I might shop for local produce, particularly things that Giant Eagle doesn't carry. Connect me with those radishes, parsnips, and baby turnips, please!

Read more…

Fall CSA, week 5

  • 7 poblano (?) peppers
  • rhubarb preserves
  • butternut squash
  • head green cabbage
  • delicata squash
  • 5 stayman winesap apples
  • 5 red potatoes
  • 7 rainbow carrots (most medium-large)
  • 1 red onion

The email said we'd be getting poblano peppers, which I'm used to being less long and skinny. These smell like they could be poblanos. Is this just a variant form (it's not like I've seen tons of these, after all)? If not, what are they?

Dani would like cabbage soup. The last time I went to the elves Google for a recipe, he thought it was ok but wasn't what he is used to as cabbage soup. He couldn't really articulate it, though. If there is such a thing as a canonical eastern-European-Jewish cabbage soup, please enlighten me.

The preserves were listed as "a surprise valued-added item". I wondered if this were a way for them to solve a "misc" problem (having assorted stuff but not enough of any one thing to list it). Perhaps it was, but everybody at my pickup location got the same preserves. These ones are good on toast.

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Fall CSA, weeks 3 and 4

Things have been hectic, so here's a belated post covering two weeks.

Week 3:

  • 5 carrots (1 white)
  • 5 yellow onions
  • 5 empire apples
  • butternut squash
  • head napa cabbage
  • small acorn (?) squash
  • bunch arugula
  • 11 small red potatoes
  • jar tomatillo salsa (last-minute substitution for maple syrup)

Week 4:

  • large acorn squash
  • head purple cabbage
  • bunch green kale
  • 3 red peppers (I don't know if the darker one is a different variety or if that's just normal color variation)
  • 5 yellow onions
  • 2 heads garlic
  • delicata squash
  • 5 roma apples
  • green tomato relish

The salsa and relish both appear to have a fair bit of liquid content. Suggestions on what they're best used for?

The napa cabbage mostly went into stir-fries; I'm not sure what I'll use the purple cabbage for. (That's a lot of coleslaw, but I don't know if I really want to make sauerkraut.) The squashes have been accumulating in my squash cellar (ok, bin on the basement landing, where it's cool and dark but accessible), from which I fairly regularly pull one to bake stuffed with apples. Much of this is staples, and well-timed; I was almost out of both onions and garlic.

Unfortunately the winter share got cancelled this year. I haven't yet looked for local alternatives. The winter share last year was my introduction to a CSA, and I particularly liked a lot of the winter produce, some of which I'd never seen before (i.e. is not in the local grocery store). I'm thinking particularly of the different types of radishes, and also baby turnips.

Read more…

Fall CSA, week 2

  • large bulb fennel (with fronds)
  • pie pumpkin
  • large bag green curly kale
  • head escarole
  • white eggplant
  • acorn squash
  • 8 carrots (3 large, 5 small)
  • 7 red carmen peppers
  • 5 D'Anjou pears
  • 1 enormous sweet potato

The escarole never even made it to the fridge; it went into a pot of risotto last night (yum!).

I'm not actually a big fan of pumpkin pie. I might roast it, or maybe it can be the basis of a soup (like butternut-squash soup, but with pumpkin). I'm definitely open to suggestions!

I'm not familiar with this type of pepper. One went into the beef stew I made tonight (for Shabbat lunch), along with some carrots and a turnip left over from last week. They're large enough to stuff.

Clearly it is time to do some baking with pears. And I need to find a field guide to pear varieties, so I know which types are best for what applications. So far, all of 'em have been good for eating raw.

Read more…