Sourdough, attempt #2. And meeting Michael Pollan

My second attempt was much more successful. First, I tried a different recipe. Second, I think I got better at kneading dough. Third, I used a cup of whole wheat flour. Fourth, rising time was better.

Taste and texture was good, especially when warm! but the next day the crunchy crust was not as crunchy…everything was more chewy. Maybe this has to do with oven temp? I did spray the oven but possible not enough, or just to frequently…I don’t know and I have to read up a bit more on getting the crust right.

Problems: this time it rose to much and popped before I got it to the oven. Thats what I get for letting it rise while going to class and not getting home for 2.5 hours, when it was only supposed to proof for 1 hour. Also, as I mentioned above, I am still not able to get that golden crust.

But there are some pictures! And I removed Stanley the starter from the refrigerator to come back to life and I will bake again on Tuesday.

Above is my deflated, overly risen bread
This is the completed loaf. I had to pinch it together on top before baking because it was all over the place (in case you couldn’t tell from the above photo) This may have restricted some rising in the oven, I’m not sure. But it makes for an interesting looking loaf. 

A roll. With some bites taken out of it. My bites to be exact. 

I am really excited to be done with midterms tomorrow for a couple of weeks. That doesn’t mean the workload goes down, but I am better able to manage my stress when I don’t have things due or things to study for and its mostly reading. This means I can hop on my bike again, its been neglected for quite some time save the weekly grocery trip. I can also read more about bread.

This past week I met Michael Pollan. He was very genuine and nice. One I introduced myself and started talking (telling him about alternative breaks) my nervousness seemed to dissipate. It was pretty awesome. He shook my hand. I have not washed said hand since. just kidding. But I am planning to go to his office hours in order to speak with him in more detail. It was really exciting to meet the person who got me interested in the food system a very long time ago. Also, since I have been reading lots of social theory, I can see it in the food industry in almost every sphere. Hegemony in GMOs, commodification in corn, rationalization in the fast food industry, reification in production. Theory is taking over my life.

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sourdough, attempt #1

First, I would like to introduce Stanley. Stanley is my new pet. He is a sourdough starter. This is what he looks like up close:

He gets fed twice a day and likes to stay in the oven when its not on. I used Stanley to make my first ever sourdough loaf from wild yeast. I have made bread on a few occasions but it always used commercial yeast. Still tasted good, but I wanted to do the real thing. Like from scratch from scratch, not just from scratch. Anyways over a period of 24 hours I mixed and kneaded and punched and proofed and waited and ended up producing 12 sourdough rolls and a loaf of bread. And how was it? Well, the taste was delicious and tangy like one might expect. Also, my crust was a pretty good consistency, but I think a little longer in the oven would have been beneficial. It does “thunk” which is pretty cool. I have a lot more criticisms however. First, used all white flour (which I have not done in some time, I usually use whole wheat or half and half) and was highly disappointed and a little disgusted by how…white and pale my bread was. I want some more complexity so next time I am going to bake it with half whole wheat flour. Second, I did not use the “spraying technique” to get a golden crust. This consists of spraying the crust with water during the first 10 minutes of baking in order to give it that golden hue and crunchy texture most commonly associated with sourdough. I am definitely doing it next time. Third, the bread didn’t seem to rise enough. When it was proofing it rose a lot more than after I shaped in in the pan. I am not sure if this had to do with punching it down, or just being impatient. Fourth, it was a little to chewy for my opinion, I think mostly due to lack of crust. 
I do not have a food scale, so I wonder how weighing the ingredients versus measuring them would affect my loaf. Also, all the information I am gathering is from online, I think it would be nice to have a book with recipes and theoretical information so I can have everything in one place. If I keep consistently baking with Stanley, that is if this is not some phase I am going through, I will obtain a nice sourdough bread book. 
I have already started a sponge for another loaf of bread; it is sitting in my oven for 24 hours. Tomorrow evening this will be turned into a loaf, and hopefully one more reminiscent of real artisan bread than this first attempt. I am excited for this. I am sure you are all dying to see what my first attempt looked like, and its a little embarrassing to show as it is not very aesthetically pleasing. I suppose I can compromise and reveal the rolls: 

starter is here!

thats right, you heard it. My dehydrated sourdough starter has arrived in the mail today…see…

It is dehydrated in that little baggie. Pure sourdough starter goodness (with wild cultivated yeast, not the commercial strain). It was time to…activate!!! I mixed it with a tablespoon of lukewarm water to rehydrate…
I am hoping that my water wasn’t to hot. Temperature is important because the little yeast spores can die if the water is to hot, and not activate if its to cold. Picky little creatures. I don’t have a thermometer, so I hope that my wrist was an OK gage…
I added flour and water (1 cup of each) and mixed it in slowly. I am using all purpose flour, although some recipes call for bread flour. I figure an all purpose starter can be used to bake bread with bread flour. Also, I didn’t have bread flour on hand and was impatient.

And here is my sourdough starter in a sauerkraut jar. It is sitting in my kitchen until tomorrow morning when I will feed it. I will continue feeding it for the next few days and I am hoping that by Sunday I can have a go at a loaf of bread.  

I also hope that the conditions in my kitchen are ok. That is, not to cold. I am considering storing it in the oven if it gets cold and putting a sign on the door to take it out before baking. If I managed to kill my starter already, well, I can always get more for the price of 2 postage stamps. 

banana cupcakes and food in jars

It is a friends birthday. Said friend loves banana bread. Said friend needs a birthday treat. Said friend is getting banana cupcakes (vegan) with cream cheese frosting and chocolate cream cheese frosting with a dusting of cinnamon.

I agreed to help make a cake/treat of sorts and although making the cupcake itself vegan was fine, I would have felt very self imposing making a tofu buttercream or something else. And I am having moral dilemmas with tofutti and earth balance so I didn’t really want to go buy it for the frosting. And since someone else was purchasing the ingredients and I was making it for someone else, it would be inconsiderate to make something otherwise.

Anyways, the cupcakes turned out beautifully!! I made the cake part in the AM, read and did some work during the day, and frosted them with said friends boyfriend in the afternoon. The recipe I used is based adapted from here but I added cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. I also replaces the chocolate with pumpkin seeds because I had those on hand and I added the equivalent of 1 flax egg…I am not really sure why. But they turned out great, pretty much a good quintessential banana muffin.

The muffin was transformed into a cupcake with frosting! wooooohooo!!! Lacking a real piping bag, I used a ziplock bag. It turned out rather well I suppose.

Earlier this week, knowing how crazy it would get given the work that had to be done, I made a mass amount of food, which I stored in glass jars. Glass jars are probably one of the best things ever. First off, they are ‘free’ when you buy pasta sauce, or peanut butter, or jam, or a anything else that comes in a glass jar. They also come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. And, its probably a lot better for one to eat out of glass then plastic. Anywho this is what I made:

2 sweet potatoes+6 carrots+1 onion+bag of frozen brussels sprouts+1 T olive oil+3 T soy sauce+2 T brown sugar+a sprinkle of garlic powder+salt
Put it in a baking casserole type dish
I think I baked it covered for about 20 minutes and then uncovered for 35 ish on about 350. Something like that. The numbers are not as important as the texture of the stuff. And let me tell you, it was delicious. The soft creamy potatoes and slightly sweet caramel-y onions were my favorite, but the sweet onions go well with the brussels sprouts in my opinion. I have been obsessed with them lately. Anyways, it was quite nice not to worry about lunch for the duration of the week. 
I am also currently obsessed with this song. You should listen

Peter Sellars on Food

It is an unfortunate fact of life that I cannot attend Michael Pollan’s edible education class every week as it conflicts with Break leader training. What is fortunate, is that I took the class last year, and I can crash it every other week this year. That is what I did last night and had the privilege to hear Peter Sellars talk about…food. What did he say?

Simple things, really, but they are things we often forget when eating and going about our daily life. If there is one way to summarize his entire 90 minutes of jabbering, it is that we have to dedicate the things we do and the things we have to those who do not and to those who do not have. It goes a lot deeper than the surface-y wishy washy-ness of the above statement and I was astonished as to how much of what he was saying related to the loads of Marxism I’ve been studying as of late. But anyway, our position is only possible because of the people that toil in the field, and everything that we put into our mouths contains within it the labor of farmworkers. The supermarket and glossy packaging hides it. (Commodity fetishism anyone?) By dedicating our actions we break what is “habit energy”

“Habit Energy” is formed when we do the same thing day after day after day without even thinking. For example brushing our teeth, walking to and from class, and of course, eating our food. If we take a moment to think about these actions, the entire world behind them is revealed and we see beyond our autonomous existence. And we are never alone. Things are no longer just objects but alive with the “karma” of the people who made it. What is its history and where did it come from? Unfortunately, many of the things we eat are produced under conditions of modern slavery. Very little pay, forget about health insurance, housing without running water, exploitive hours, and exposure to deadly pesticides which cause a multitude of negative side effects. As Sellars emphasized,

“your strawberry doesn’t have much taste because it’s the taste of the miscarriage of the woman who picked it”

It was funny to hear Peter Sellars talking about all this stuff in such a passionate way, because the entire time all I could think about was my social theory class.

Commodification in action is the food system and the recent developments in it. People keep freaking out about “feeding the world” and how its to be done. We need to grow more food! More resources need to be exploited! But whats funny is that the areas with huge populations consume way less resources than in the states. If everyone were to be as wasteful as we are that might present a problem; but perhaps its our turn to take a leaf out of someone else’s book and REDUCE. (also, lets not forget how much food is thrown out and wasted every day). Don’t even get me started on meat consumption.

chocolate pumpkin bread semi-fail

Being the start of September and it never being to early to begin making pumpkin delicacies, I decided to make Chocolate Pumpkin Bread, recipe courtesy of the post punk kitchen. I had made this once before and was thoroughly satisfied with the results: dense moist loaf. That comes from the addition of the pumpkin, I believe.

I made a few alterations this time around (some by choice and some by circumstance). The recipe calls for 1/4 C applesauce (as a fat replacer) which I did not have. Instead I threw in 1/4 C silken tofu. I am not sure if it works as a fat replacer, but I had success using it in banana bread instead of an egg and I decided to try. I also added 1/4 t. of cayenne pepper because I am obsessed with the chocolate spiced combinations. I wanted the loaf to have a kick, in addition to the spices already included to compliment the pumpkin (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger). Finally, instead of chocolate chips (which are optional anyway) I used oats to give some texture.

The result? Well, it was OK. The texture was moist and delicious, yet slightly to gummy in my opinion. This may be due to the fact that I keep my flour in the freezer as I am afraid it will either go bad or collect moths as the semester wears on and my baking time wears thin. Using cold flour is excellent for pie crust, but in other recipes I am not quite sure. Because the flour was colder, I had to mix more rapidly and for longer time which is the exact opposite of what you want to do for quick breads and muffins. A google search on baking with cold flour yielded a variety of results, with the only consistent on relating to yeast breads (cold flour inhibits rise when using yeast) but this I was aware of. So possibly this affected the texture. 
Tastewise…it was a bit bland in my opinion. Not cloyingly sweet, not uber chocolaty, and only faintly reminiscent of pumpkin. I was expecting something with pizzaz, especially because I added cayenne. I did like the oatmeal in the bread, and would even add more next time. 
I had half a can of pumpkin leftover, so that was obviously converted into pumpkin butter. In a saucepan I put pumpkin, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, a dash of lemon juice and 1/4 c of water. I also added agave to taste, about 1/3 cup I would estimate. I stirred it and brought it to boil for a while until it thickened to a nice consistency. It makes for a delish topping on oatmeal in the AMs or on a Peanut Butter Sandwich. 

soba noodles with brussels sprouts meatballs

I love peanut butter. I also love brussels sprouts which, along with beets and yams, I used to hate. I also am a fan of using silken tofu to make creamy sauces. I also had some soba noodles in the pantry. I also had some yummy fresh lettuce mix from the farmers market. Combine all the above…inspiration has struck!!!

I used the tofu and peanut butter to make peanut sauce. I recently uncovered the immersion blender and was curious to use in on the silken tofu as opposed to the food processor which is annoying to wash. First I chopped and browned 3 cloves of garlic. In a bowl I combined tofu, about 3 tablespoons of peanut butter, soy sauce, Trader Joe’s “south african smoke”, a bit of mustard, and a bit of curry powder. And in went the immersion blender. It was surprisingly successful, the sauce turned out creamy, with maybe a few visible pieces of tofu. The trade off between slightly lumpy and less dish washing was worth it to me.

While all this was going on, I had the frozen brussels sprouts boiling in a pot so they were ready to be added into the peanut sauce. One this was done, the last thing was cooking the soba noodles which only take 4 minutes at a boil. I like soba noodles, their texture is similar to pasta, a little less slimy perhaps and they are half wheat flour and half buckwheat so they’ve got a slightly more complex flavor. I added the cooked noodles into the peanut sauce/brussels sprouts concoction. The brussels sprouts most definitely looked like green meatballs. As an afterthought I grabbed the bag of greens from the farmers market and wilted them ever so slightly in the same pan I used to brown the garlic. And then I added them to the mix. Here is the final product: