Cranberry Raisin Nut Sourdough Boule

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I’ve been happily working on various bread recipes, and make them as I dream them up. (It is truly a labor of  love). I’ve been taking in as much as is humanly possible, or as much as my brain will allow me to, in the last few weeks as I can — it has been a joy I tell you. It’s beyond any expectation I had of getting it right, this early on in the phase.

These two mixed dried fruit and mixed nut loaves were borne out of an idea someone hinted at a few days ago. I’m very happy that she did, as these two loaves turned out amazing if I may say so. The bad part or unhappy ending to this story, is, I didn’t keep either of them. I actually gave them away. I know right?! Weird and it sucks too, but I made a promise and I kept it (more like a commitment). I wish I’d kept one, but anyhow, it’s part of the process of making someone else happy — sometimes at your own expense. I think they call that altruism! Yeah, that’s me, Angel the altruist. Argh! Now now, I’m not really upset honestly, but I do wish I had a piece of  either of these loaves to go with my bedtime tea right now. (After I’m done writing this bit of text).

The good part or happy ending to the story, is that I have a loaf proofing right now as we speak for myself. The bad part, is that it still needs another stretch and fold before bed (and it won’t be ready till tomorrow). After which, I will place the dough into the fridge to continue its bulk fermentation quietly and overnight. (Sleep my beautiful loaf).

I can finally sleep alas, and dream of the many wonderful bread loaves to come –soon. Cheers for now, and sweet dreams y’all.

Ciabatta Bread

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I think we can all agree, that today, was either a miserable day or a beautiful one. But of course, that depends on which side of the coin you prefer — heads or tail (I prefer to look through rose colored glasses). Thursday started out rather uneventful, in spite of the snow and all (No! I didn’t have to shovel snow or dig a car out I don’t own), so I decided it would be a good day for baking; although for me, that’s most days. There is nothing I enjoy more than baking great bread (It’s my raison d’etre lately). There is something soothing and just perhaps, metaphysical about the process, that I find both attractive and alluring. When you think about all the crap going on in the world, this is a great way to (for me) to relax and escape all the b..s..!

In recent days, I find myself day dreaming of  bread — a lot. Well, not about eating it, but rather, making it (therein lies the joy!). However, not being one to sit back and rest on recent laurels, I inevitably delve further deeper into the science and  machinations of it. (Bread leavening | proofing and all the various incarnations of bread making; ciabatta being my newest exploration).

Having had great success baking other breads like: country sourdough boules, I decided to tackle a sourdough ciabatta. I think they turned out quite remarkable for a first time attempt at baking a couple of loaves. It is fast becoming my new favorite bread. It has the perfect chew and crumb, and just the right amount of crust — making it perfect for breakfast with a genuine slather of butter avec une café con leche. I wish I could share the experience with some of you, but hey, that would make me one hungry boy. Any how, here is the result.

Sourdough Starter | Preferment | Mother | Poolish | Miche | Pâte Fermentée

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I love bread! Do you? Well, I find that I actually love it just a little too much. I’m not sure if it is perhaps some kind of gene incursion, or some other mutation in me if you will, that makes me crave bread from time to time — or maybe I’m just hardwired that way.

I’ve decided to try and figure that out. Not the physiological or scientific reason for my insatiable desire to consume bread, but rather, what makes bread tick. Here, I will examine the inner workings of bread, and what makes great bread great — by exploring the “mother” of breads I enjoy eating a lot. French country sourdough bread, with a crispy exterior and a slightly sour crumb. (Mildly sour). I like a hint of controlled sourness to my country bread and I think you’d agree if you tried my bread.

Sourdoughs, by and large, are sour by the natural yeast trapped by the starters, used by bakers to make their breads sour. Whether in a professional kitchen, or just a mom making sourdough bread at home and in her kitchen. My journey or sojourn started with the introduction of a thought, or implied thought of the implications of sourdough and how it can be life transforming. Not in a prayerful way, but how it can take up a lot of your time, in a good way, figuring out the machinations of great bread. So to work I went, trapping wild yeast from the very air I breathe and am accustomed to everyday I breathe within the confines of my Williamsburg Bk, apartment. I’m loving the ride and experience.

A great loaf of bread albeit, starts with what the industry calls a “Mother”, “Starter”, “Sponge”, “Preferment”, “Biga”, “Pâte Fermentée” or “Poolish”. By what ever name you give it, it is the butter of the bread metaphorically speaking. Sourdough starters, can take the place of commercial yeast, by acting exclusively as the leavening agent in a dough. Thus eliminating the need for commercially produced yeast, like baker’s yeast, active dry yeast, or rapid dry yeast. What makes the use of wild yeast starters unique, is, the fact that they give sourdough bread the unmistakeable quality and taste. It is after all, one of the oldest techniques used in bread production, with a pedigree that dates back to the Egyptian’s. It is a natural leavener, and one that must be nurtured over long periods to produce a quality product like great bread. Some starters are said to be in some families dating back perhaps a hundred years or more, whilst being handed down from generation to generation.

A great way to know that your starter is ready for use, is, to perform a float test. Simply taking a bit of the starter or poolish, and dropping it into some cool water (tepid if using immediately), will tell you if  it is ready by floating to the top of the water. It is a strong indication that there is enough carbon dioxide in the dough and should provide great leavening to your bread dough.

Taking a time out, to stretch and fold proofing bread dough!

French Sourdough Country Bread (Pain De Campagne)

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It was cold, it was snowing and in the end, it poured. What I did on my Saturday afternoon and Saturday night one might ask?! I made bread, I broke bread, and I ate lots of bread. I guess some would call me a Pillsbury dough boy, but that’s a moniker I’d rather not have to live or identify with thank you very much. I like my name just fine! Continuing on, It’s been sometime since I first contemplated the idea of baking, kneading, prepping and learning all that there is in the world, about the finer points of great bread making. Woot! I say; I did it. Scratch that off my bucket list, at least for now. Albeit, this trek for me, is not yet over though. As my dangerous foray into the netherworld of puffing and rising dough, is only yet begun, and beginning.

Plans are in the works today, to prepare yet another one of these fine culinary anomalies, this afternoon, and evening. What can I say, it’s a long prep for God sake. I digress, the trick today, barring pulling a rabbit out of my –bleep! is to execute a long ferment, or slow ferment in the refrigerator, over night: 18 hours roughly. It’s called “delayed fermentation, or retarded fermentation”. It is said to create a better chew and better flavor by allowing the yeast and flour the time to meld and create better flavors over night. Can’t wait! This is gonna be a good one. Umm umm! Not that the last one was bad I tell you. Right then, off to the market to pick up more flour.

So all of the above, from going to the market and baking off another loaf, was done. I am very impressed with both loaves. They were different in the texture of the crumb, with the latter, having a tighter crumb, while the first loaf I baked, had a bigger or wider crumb. They are both wonderful and make amazing breads. The difference in the crumb width, is due to the amount of water introduced during the mixing process, and also, to a large degree, the kneading process.  As you introduce more bench flour, to keep the dough from sticking to the counter or board, you consequently dry the dough a bit, making for tighter crumb. Ciao for now!

Storing Basil, Cilantro And Parsley

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How to properly store fragile herbs, like basil, cilantro, and parsley, has for most home cooks been a quandary and mystery. Here is a simple technique you can use for storing those precious herbs. I realize some people might say, if they go bad then I’ll buy fresh. Well, that may be true, but as a cook you have to figure out ways to keep cost down and maximize your bottom line. With a herb like basil, just cut off the stem just above the root level (re-snipping helps water absorption) and place into a quart container or something like it, glass is fine — then cover the whole thing with a clear plastic bag, or a zip-lock bag. Keep basil on the counter and never refrigerate. On the other hand, cilantro and parsley, can be kept inside the refrigerator, using the above method described. Simple efficient and it works. Harvest fresh herbs and change out the water occasionally and that’s it. I keep my basil right next to my hooch and sourdough starter. Enjoy!

Goat Cheese Pizza Con Prosciutto E Aceto Balsamico

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Not long ago in the hood, my hood, I discovered an amazing little pizza shop. It was called La Nonna. It was the very best Bedford Avenue pizza, and without question, the very best pizza from here to south of Spring street. Miraculously, they managed to coax uber flavors, from their basic tomato based sauce and wonderfully thin crust slice. Sadly, they are gone now and I am disappointed to say the least. After learning of their demise and hasty closure, I decided to take pizza matters into my own hands. So what’s a pizza lover like me to do, without their favorite pizza shop you ask?! Make home made pizza and figure out ways to make it exciting and fresh (and maybe jazz it up a bit too).

So that’s what I set out to do with this superb little pizza I came up with, that is finished with the very finest Villa Manodori, Aceto Balsamico Di Modena. Short of being somewhere on the Naple strip in Italy, I have found a winner right in my very own kitchen. I didn’t want to use the quintessential red tomato based sauce for this recipe, so I came up with a tomatillo salsa that is the absolute perfect balance of flavor and acidity for the fresh slices of bosc pear and sweet basil harvested from my kitchen counter green house. LOL! It’s really just a quart container with fresh basil, with their stems cut off  just above the roots and placed in about an inch of water (basil leaves are covered with a zip lock bag, to create a mini green-house). Keep this set up on your counter top, and do not refrigerate.

Braised Pot Roast (Żywiec Beer)

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So, yesterday I got this text from my neighbor, Margarette Garland, telling me that I need to eat meat (red meat). What struck me ass odd, is that she happens to be a vegetarian. (Altruism has no face or shape). Oh wait, she does have a face and her name is MG. The follow up to that text was that she purchased a gorgeous piece of beef chuck, from the local butcher. She was so keen on making sure that I ate beef for some odd and strange reason. Reasons only she knows. She also included a wonderful assortment of root vegetables, and aromatics, along with brussels sprouts, red bliss potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and lastly, this gorgeous acorn squash. We got down to business, prepping and getting this pot roast in the oven in no time flat. I also took the time to photograph every step of the process, and also found the time in between, to give Margarette a knife skill lesson, cutting onions.

In addition I discovered some rainbow carrots in the crisper portion of my refrigerator and decided to cook those along with the roast. They are so beautiful representing just the right colors of the spectrum, needed to make the pictures pop; also, flavor and texture. The roast was braised in Żywiec Beer, from Poland. I first pan roasted the meat in extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, to develop a crust and brown the meat. No color no flavor!  The mira-poix, and other aromatics were sauteed and the pot (Le Creuset dutch oven) deglazed with beer, to harvest all of those beautiful flavors that develop during the caramelization of the meat proteins and natural sugars that are released during the process. A bouquet garni, was also included with the aromatics of: laurel leaves, black pepper corns, fresh thyme, and dry rosemary.

Żywiec Beer, is a staple in my fridge and my go to beer for price and flavor. Well worth it! Part of the recipe came from Margarette’s mom, but of course, I had to chef out with her and make this recipe along side her, to lend my skills to the process (it’s my OCD). It is every bit as delicious as it looks. In fact, I’m having a second helping right now, or is it my third?! Yummy!

Handmade Pasta (Hand Rolled And Cut)

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It is late on a Wednesday night, when suddenly and without warning (soon after arriving from work), I get this insatiable urge, for homemade pasta. (No! I don’t smoke weed). I could barely keep my eyes open, let alone start rolling out dough, but roll out dough I did and this is the result. (The case of satiating an untenable and beguiling, pasta craving!).

I don’t own a pasta machine or fancy Kitchen Aid, with pasta attachment, (not yet anyway!), but found the creative energy to satisfy my urge and indulge my taste buds in a simple yet decadent handmade pasta. The ingredients are a staple in my kitchen, and so, they should be in yours too. All purpose unbleached flour, eggs, extra virgin olive oil, and kosher salt. That was all it took to make this delicious pasta, albeit, and some common household kitchen accessories: cutting board, chef knife and bench scraper.

Organic Vegetarian Quiche With Farmer’s Goat Cheese

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So I’m not exactly what you would call an advocate of organic foods, mainly because they are very expensive to buy and shop for. If however, I did have my druthers, I would buy only organic. Albeit though, in this instance I did manage to shop exclusively for all organic products, including the flour that I used to make the dough with and butter. Oh and lets not leave out the eggs too. :-) All manner of organic ingredients, were taken into account and considered for this amazing and brilliant little tart quiche, that I made especially for my very dear and good friend, Margarette Garland. (It is without question the best quiche I have ever had). The inspiration for the ingredients, was dictated by market price and the freshness of the product too. For this all vegetarian quiche, I used farm fresh organic goat cheese, lacinato kale, asparagus, organic eggs, whole milk, and double cream.

Dough Dough Dough!

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So what do you get when you are exhausted beyond words can describe?! Really and truly I am. You get dough, dough and more dough: that’s right! I knead dough!! It’s amazing what a small and tiny little voice in the back of your head and mind, can do for you. It’s called impetus I guess. At any rate, that small impetus to make dough, defined an evening of refinement for me in terms of technique and harnessing those infinitesimal details that can get away from you (me), in understanding the complete process (gestalt premise). Here I show off four different dough’s and what it takes to make them and the obvious difference (or not), to perfect them in my kitchen and the delicate science behind it. The last shot is of resting and proofing pizza dough. And finally the second rise of the pizza dough, after resting it over night in the fridge. All in a nights work! Some folk’s need a drink, while others need a fix of some elicit drug, whilst I Knead Dough!

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