Monday, January 30, 2006

A hearty loaf of bread for a friend

Back a few weeks ago when I posted my answers to the Seven Seven's meme one of my answers to why I blog was the interesting people I have met that I would not have otherwise. One of those people is Lauren over at ArdentEden. I'm not sure now how or why we started reading each other's blogs but it seems like I've known her for years. To make things even better, Lauren lives across the Charles River from Cambridge in Boston.

For the last two weekends we have had the best intentions to actually meet face to face at this incredible organic and green restaurant in Davis Square, Somerville called O'Naturals. Unfortunately, I've been sick and as Lauren has a baby, we have decided to postpone until I'm feeling better. But, I'm looking forward to meeting her very soon because I have this funny feeling that we are going to have one of those can't stop talking lunches over Thai noodles and steaming cups of tea. Or as Mr Bennett told Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice after Mr. Bingley became engaged to Jane, "There are few men whose company I can tolerate but you may just prove to be one of them". Lauren is one of the many people through this strange and odd world of blogging I consider a good friend.

Yeast breads can be tricky devils. Not because they are difficult recipes but rather there is a mystique about them and they require time and patience. I think we are scared away from yeast breads unnecessarily. We are told that we MUST knead the dough for a long time but not too long or the loaf will be tough. That we have to have the water just the right temperature when adding the yeast or we will either kill the yeast or not activate the yeast. There is some truth to each of these but over the years I've learned that yeast breads are actually rather forgiving and while not every loaf baked is perfect, I have yet to have a loaf turn out inedible. Sometimes it takes two or three tries with a new recipe but once you have a feel for the way a little bit of flour, a little bit of water, and a little bit yeast come together, you can make any type of bread. As you can see, I'm pretty passionate about my bread because I believe that making bread from scratch is one of the most essential things we can do as bakers.

Recently, along with learning to make yogurt, coming up with a fantastic recipe for granola, and generally spurring most of her regular readers to think more "green", Lauren has been learning to bake bread. I applaud Lauren and my other fellow bloggers who these past months have taken up or returned to baking bread. So, for all of you fellow bread baking bloggers, this recipe is for you.

Hearty 5 Grain Whole Wheat Loaf

2 1/2 teaspoons instant or active yeast
2 Tablespoon luke warm water (80 degrees or so)
dash sugar

1 1/3 Cup water
1/4 Cup vegetable oil or canola oil
1/3 Cup honey
3 1/2 Cups whole wheat flour
1/2 Cup bread flour
1 teaspoon vital wheat gluten (optional but will result in a bit "higher" loaf)
1/4 Cup cracked wheat berries
1/4 Cup steel cut oats
1/8 Cup barley
1/8 Cup cracked rye berries (or rolled rye flakes)
1/8 Cup millet
1/4 Cup non fat dry milk
1 1/4 teaspoon salt

Step One: Activate Yeast. In very small glass bowl, mix yeast, 2 Tablespoon water and sugar. Mix until all yeast and sugar is dissolved. Let stand 5-10 minutes in draft free area until a froth forms. (I don't normally do this with my standard breads but I've found it really helps with whole wheat and grain breads)

Step Two: Make Sponge. In large glass bowl or large plastic bowl with a lid, mix 1 1/3 Cup water, 1/2 the whole wheat flour, and the yeast mixture. Cover with plastic wrap or lid and place in warm area for 3-4 hours until bubbly and doubled in size. (An oven with the light on is an excellent place to let bread rise and sponge to develop)

Step Three: Make Dough. Mix all the dry ingredients with exception of bread flour together and put aside. Add oil and honey to sponge and combine thoroughly. Add the dry ingredient mixture one 1/2 cup at a time. The dough will be very shaggy and wet, don't worry and don't add more flour. Let rest covered lightly for 20 minutes. (Resting this dough lets all the moisture be absorbed by the flour/grains)

Step Four: Finish Dough and Knead. On a very well floured countertop or if you have a stand mixer, using the dough hooks and on low, add bread flour. Dough should begin to look and feel elastic and smooth during this stage. It will still be a little wet and tacky. If it is too wet or stays "shaggy", add bread flour one large spoonful at a time until it becomes smooth. (This will take about 15 -20 minutes).

Step Five: First Rise. In large greased bowl or proofing container (I use my large round Rubbermaid cake keeper as my proofing container), let dough rise until tripled in warm, draft free place (the oven again). About 2-3 hours.

Step Six: Form Loaf (or loaves). Depending on how much your dough rises, you may have enough dough for two loaves. Punch down risen dough and turn out onto well floured countertop. Press into rectangle and fold into thirds. Put into well greased loaf pan, seam side down and brush with melted butter. Cover and let rise until dough is 1-2 inches over edge of loafpan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until internal temperature is 200 degrees (really the best way to determine if a whole grain bread is baked completely). Remove from pan and let cool.

If you want to add some cracked wheat berries or oatmeal flakes to the top of the bread, I suggest you toast the cracked wheat berries or oatmeal for 5 -7 minutes in a 300 degree oven and when the bread is cooled but not cold brush more melted butter on the crust and sprinkle the oatmeal/wheat berries on top. If you add them to the bread before baking, they will get burnt and add a bitter taste to the loaf.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Who WAS that harridan?

Ok. I admit it. I am not a morning person despite being an early riser. In fact, and MBH will whole heartedly vouch for this, until I have been up for about an hour AND (this is the most important part) had my first cup of coffee, I am frankly unbearable. Most mornings I grumble, stagger around running into more things than usual (grace is definitely NOT my middle name), and am generally just this side of cranky. But this morning I surpassed cranky. I was a down right termagant. I guess the fact that I have been sick for over ten days now probably contributed to some of my pissiness but I am sure the major reason was that until 2am this morning I was wide awake.

We live in a quintesential Boston triple decker. The building is divided into three separate apartments and we live in the middle one. MBH and I are early to bed, early to rise people. On most nights at 9:30pm we are in bed reading and asleep by 10:30 at the latest. We also are up and out the door most mornings by 6:30AM. Our neighbors on either side of us unfortunatley are exactly opposite. The folks above us are prone to moving furniture, doing their laundry (their washer/dryer is directly above our bedroom), and generally tromping around on the hardwood floors at all hours of the night with the most activity seeming to be between the hours of 1AM and 3AM. The folks below us like to have friends over after 10pm until at least 1AM three nights a week. Their living room is directly below our bedroom. We cope with these opposite life styles by having a lovely, soothing background noise CD of waves that acts as a sound masker at night so we can sleep.

Last night however, the forces of the neighbors came together and all the sea waves in the world were not going to block out the noise. From 11pm until almost 2AM both neighbors were as active as busy bees. Upstairs they were literally hauling furniture up and down stairs (who HAS that much furniture??!!). Downstairs, our neighbors had two couples over at 10:30pm who, in addition to playing some movie with lots of explosions at max volume, had small children running and screaming through the house until at least 1AM. Finally, just when I was about at my wits end and was going to become one of those neighbors you read about in your morning newspaper, the house settled down. By 2AM, I could finally fall asleep. MBH, being the type who would sleep through an explosion, of course was peacefully snoring next to me as he had been when he fell asleep at 10pm.

Poor MBH, he was at the receiving end of my crankiness this morning. He woke up at our normal 5AM all bright eyed, bushy tailed and ready to greet the day. I, on the other hand, was jerked out of my first sound sleep of the night. Needless to say, I was more than peevish. I was in a crabby, cross, disagreeable, grouchy, grumpy, ill-humored, ratty, snappish, tetchy, and down right ugly and foul mood. I snapped at MBH for being in a good mood. I growled at LB (our cat) for demanding his breakfast half an hour earlier than normal. I stormed to the bathroom to make myself presentable for the coffee shop and then flopped into bed pouting that I had not had enough sleep, my head was still stuffed up, and excoriating our neighbors and landlord. MBH rightfully declared he did not desire my company at the coffee shop this morning and left me to my own devices.

Now, three hours of sleep later, I know it is going to be an expensive trip we take to the New England Mobile Book Fair. I think I owe MBH big time...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Saturday's little game

I was tagged with this "meme" by Todd over at 1000 Movies while I was on my business trip this week and didn't have time to answer. Since it is Saturday and frankly, I'm feeling pretty lazy it makes the perfect Saturday morning post:

- Four Jobs You've Had in Your Life:
Oh many jobs, so little time. These are my four most memorable.
1. Waitress
2. Librarian (college job)
3. Bookseller (Waldenbooks/Borders)
4. Sound System Designer

- Four Movies You Can Watch Over and Over:
I'll pick four that I couldn't list during my Seven Seven's MeMe Post.
1. Amadeus
2. Dangerous Liaisons
3. Amelie
4. Philidelphia Story

- Four Television Shows You Love:
hmm..tough. We don't watch a lot of current TV.
1. The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
2. To the Manor Born
3. Due South
4. America's Test Kitchen

-Four Places You've Lived:
I'll pick the four that mean the most to me
1. Suttons Bay, MI
2. London, England, UK
3. Clinton, MA
4. Cambridge, MA

- Four Places You've Been on Vacation:
Another tough one, we aren't stay at home types
1. Paris, France
2. Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
3. Sonoma Valley, CA
4. Rhodes (Rodhos), Greek Islands

- Four Websites You Visit Daily:
I'm so boring
1. CNN
2. BBC
3. Boatnerd: Great Lakes Shipping
4. ProSoundWeb

-Four Places You'd Rather Be Right Now:
I'm pretty happy where I am right now but...
1. Paris
2. Seychelle Islands
3. In Bed
4. London

-Four Bloggers You Are Tagging:
1. Andrea
2. Lauren
3. Lady Crumpet
4. Alice over at My Adventures in the Breadbox

Friday, January 27, 2006

A little bit of night music

I started out to post about my very long week but was reminded that today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Michael over at Musing's musings with his All Mozart Friday Random 10 and when I "googled" a line from a movie that I couldn't remember the source, the Google icon was dressed in a powdered wig and the G was a treble clef with a staff of music behind the "le".

My relationship with Maestro Mozart stretches back almost two score. The very first song I tried to pick out from ear on the piano was "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" (A little night music). I was six and my grandmother had taken me to a matinee Detroit Symphony concert for children. The pianist had played the song and all the way home that evening I sang the melody (my poor grandmother, 5 long hours of a six year old humming the same refrain over and over). It was love at first hearing. In 1984, when the movie Amadeus was released, I dragged my boyfriend at the time to see the movie three times and my mother at least twice. I once drove sixteen hours to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the incomprable Sir Georg Solti perform the Requiem. The final piece of my senior oboe recital in college was the Mozart Oboe Concerto in C Major and to this day, I use the first twenty or so measures as a warm up when I play. It is to his music I turn to when I need to be soothed. When it comes to classical music, it is a horse race between Mahler and Mozart as to who owns my heart. They say the first love is the sweetest. Happy Birthday Wolfie.

Friday Random 10:

You know the game by now: put your Ipod on shuffle and record the first ten songs. No cheating to make yourself look cool or less like a dork. I've provided links (where available) for you to listen along.

1. Fibre De Verre - Paris Combo
2. Remembrance - Delerium
3. Be With You - Enrique Iglesias
4. Come Undone (12" Mix Comin' Together) - Duran Duran
5. Big Time (Extended Version) - Peter Gabriel
6. (Da Le) Yaleo - Santana
7. Desert Rose (Extended Version) - Sting with Cheb Mami
8. I'm No Angel - Dido
9. Planet Earth (Club Mix) - Duran Duran
10. All or Nothing at All - Frank Sinatra

I think my Ipod wanted to go dancing...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Progress Report

Today marks two weeks since I started the 30/90 plan (Synopsis: under Dr.'s orders, I have 90 days to lose 30 pounds or be put on drugs for high blood pressure and cholesterol). I am very happy to report that I have lost 10 pounds! TEN POUNDS!!! Granted I lost five of those the very first weekend due to that really nasty stomach thing everyone is getting. However, I haven't gained those back and based upon the additional 2.5lb a week loss, I am right on track to get to my goal! I've been eating healthier and paying close attention to what I eat and when I eat. I've been tracking my calories and weight on this handy spreadsheet created by Jeremy Zawodny as it includes a running daily average graph as you can see from the pink line on this chart (down is good):

The jagged line is the daily amounts. The really HUGE upticks are the "medicinal" glasses of wine a rough week at work required and the huge down ticks are me skipping lunch because the aforementioned rough work week. My average daily calories are fluctuating between 700 - 900 calories which really surprised me. Before anyone writes me with great concern that I'm starving myself (average calorie intake for a healthy correct weight adult is 2000 - 2500 daily), let me assure you I am not. I'm not hungry and, I've got to admit something, I've never eaten so healthy in my life!! I'm eating three small but filling meals plus two tasty snacks a day. I'm snacking on things like a 1/4 cup of dried fruit (cherries, bananas, strawberries, and cranberries are my favourites) with a small piece of graham cracker for 110 calories and an apple with peanut butter for 90. For a really decadent tasting snack, I have a new sweetheart, The Laughing Cow; only 70 calories when I spread one wedge of the light herb and garlic on a rye cracker. It tastes like 1000 calories. As for my meals, I'm eating cereal with fruit or oatmeal with plain yogurt for breakfast. Lunch has been soup and a handful of pretzels or pita bread with hummus and cucumbers as well as some fruit or Jello. I splurge with a really nice but low cal/low fat dinner. For example, over the weekend, I made Tarragon and Sage Turkey Breast and Potato Gratin from the December issue of Cooking Light (390 calories/13g fat). MBH liked it and it made enough for some leftovers that I used for the Toasted Turkey and Brie Sandwich from the same Cooking Light issue for dinner tonight.

I lightened both meals further with some substitutions (fat free Ricotta cheese for the Brie in the sandwich, low fat/low sodium Swiss cheese for the Gruyere in the Potato Gratin). I'm really enjoying taking the recipes I'm using from Cooking Light, my recipe box, and a few other tried and true cookbooks and finding ways to keep the flavour but lose the calories and fat. I don't feel deprived of eating tasty foods and already feel much better.

Toasted Turkey and Ricotta Sandwiches
adapted from the December Cooking Light (CL recipe ingredients in parenthesis)

4 Thomas 100 Calorie English muffins (sourdough English muffins)
4 tsp good French Dijon mustard (honey mustard)
2 cups shredded turkey breast
8 Tbsp fat free ricotta cheese (5 oz Brie, sliced)
1/8 cup 2% cheddar cheese (my addition)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
pinch oregano and tarragon for each English muffin half (my addition)

Preheat the broiler. Arrange muffin halves, cut side up on a baking sheet. Spread 1 tsp mustard on four halves. Top all eight halves with a Tbsp of ricotta cheese and a pinch of oregano and tarragon. Top each half with a 1/4 cup of turkey, 1 Tbsp of cheddar cheese and salt and pepper. Broil for 2-4 minutes until cheese is melted and turkey is warm. Serve open face with a small salad and fresh fruit.

Note: The CL recipe also called for 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion and 1/2 cup arugula to be added after the sandwiches come out of the boiler. I omitted the onion because raw onions and I don't like each other and I substituted the 1/2 cup arugula with a 1/2 cup baby spinach to make a little side salad with fat free feta cheese and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Calories/fat (my way): 290/6.5g for two halves
Calories/fat (CL version): 340/11.6g for two halves

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A good use for heels (of bread that is)

It has been a strange weekend around our house. Normally, MBH and I go at full tilt all weekend. Mornings spent at one of the coffee shops in Harvard Square we frequent, followed by a trip to the grocery or gourmet food store, a book store or two, and then home where he promptly dives back into his programming and I normally busy myself in the kitchen baking bread.

This weekend however, I've been doing my best to stave off a cold in hopes of not having to leave on a business trip in the middle of next week with a stuffed head and achy body. This has meant that with the exception of a brief trip out yesterday morning for an engagement neither of us could change, I've been huddled in bed with the cat at my feet, a pot of coffee and oj at my side and a stack of week old New York Times to read. Because I haven't been cooking as much as normal or for that matter really been up to eating all that much, I find that I have one half boule of sourdough bread and one half loaf of white bread that should be used fairly quickly before they go stale. So, this afternoon I will endeavor to crawl out from under my favourite ratty blanket and make good use of both.

Normally when we have these types of left over bread I make croutons for soups and salads, welsh rabbit, and grilled cheese sandwiches. I have also been known to freeze the ends for future use as stuffing when we have the semi-regular turkey dinner of which MBH and the cat are so fond. But, recently, I have been making our own Melba Toast with the more savory breads like hearty wheat and sourdough. ArdentEden also reminded me not too long ago that small chunks of almost stale bread make excellent bread pudding, which I normally bake a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread to make.

So I think this afternoon in the interest of not letting two really excellent loaves of bread go to waste, I will make some melba toast from the sourdough for MBH to munch on while he codes away in his study and a bit of bread pudding from the white loaf for myself; which, according to my 1945 American Woman's cookbook is "quite palatable for the sick room".

Did I mention that I also consider this good therapy for my sanity?

Simple Melba Toast

1/2 loaf of almost stale bread (any type but hearty breads like wheat, rye, and sourdough work best)
2 Tablespoons olive oil or soft butter melted
1/2 teaspoon each garlic powder, dry parsley, dry sage (optional)
1/4 teaspoon each salt (optional)

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Mix spices together and put aside. Slice the bread very, very thin (1/8 inch or so) and cut into 2" x 4" pieces. Brush one side with olive oil or butter. Sprinkle very modestly on the buttered/oil side the spice mix. Place on lightly greased cookie tray butter/oiled side up and bake in oven until golden brown on one side (4-7 minutes). Flip toast over and bake until other side golden brown (3-5 minutes). Remove and let cool on cookie rack. Toast will be very crispy. Can be stored in air tight container or baggie for up to 1 week.

Old Fashioned Bread Pudding

1/2 loaf of almost stale bread cubed to equal about 6-8 cups of bread cubes
4 Tablespoon butter (cubed)
3 Cups milk
3/4 Cup of paked brown sugar
1 Cup raisins
3 Large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 1 quart baking dish with butter. Bring milk to scalding and add butter. Remove from heat and let butter melt and let cool. Beat eggs and add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and salt and set aside. In large bowl, combine bread cubes with egg mixture. Add raisins and then slowly add cooled milk/butter mixture to bowl. Stir in to combine completely and pour into prepared quart baking dish. Place baking dish into a roasting pan and fill roasting pan with water so water is half way up baking dish and place in oven. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream and sprinkle cinnamon on top.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Murphy runs amok

Sometimes it just doesn't matter how well you plan. Things just happen that mess up your day. I have had a whole week of days that have brought new meaning to the phrase, "the best laid plans of mice and men".

It started on Monday when I had to tune a new sound system I had designed for a rather high profile local theatre. I woke up feeling excited as this is my favourite part of my job as a sound system designer. When you tune one of these bad boys, you spend lots of time listening to pink noise and looking at all sorts of test equipment like spectrum analyzers. But after you get everything adjusted, you listen to music that you know very well to make sure it sounds good. Looking at all the tools in the world with your eyes isn't going to tell you how well it sounds. The tools just get you in the ballpark as they say. The proof is in how does it sound to your ears and more importantly to your client's ears. Let me tell you, the rush of turning a sound system for a 100,000 seat football stadium into your own personal stereo system is a feeling that just can't be described!

Anyways, back to Murphy. On Monday, I arrived at the site and the system was in really good shape meaning I didn't have a lot to do to make it sound good. Just set a few equalizer filters and adjust some levels on amplifiers. This theatre has many different acts in and out all month long and, unless the act has their own front of house sound engineer, the system is run by a group of really dedicated volunteers. So, I wanted to put a hard top limit on how loud the system can play. A safety net so an inexperienced person doesn't blow up anything. Setting this limit involves me turning the system up as far as it can go until lights on things are blinking red then backing it down a bit and telling a limiter this is as far as it can go. Normally this won't do a thing to the speakers as professional loudspeakers are designed to handle this type of use. But, on Monday, something went horribly wrong. All the sudden I had no highs out of my center and right speakers (performing arts theatres typically have a left/right/center speaker just like your home theatre and movie theatres) . To make matters worse, we hadn't even really pushed the system. Not anywhere near what I KNEW the system had the potential to do. Not good. So up in a cherry picker we went to take a look. Yup, I had blown two speakers. Ouch...I haven't done that in 15 years.

Come to find out, it was a pretty easy fix and we figured out that the speakers had a bad componant (it happens even from the best manufacturers btw). Four hours later and some amazing high flying repairs at 60 feet in the air by my fabulous installer, and we had a nice and happy system and a thrilled client.

But I knew Murphy was around and he's been sitting right next to me all week.

Friday Random 10:

You know the drill, put your Ipod on shuffle and write down what comes up. No cheating to make yourself look cool. Links to listen along as usual.

1. Who Will Save Your Soul - Jewel
2. Breaking Us In Two - Joe Jackson
3. My Heart Can't Tell You No - Rod Stewart
4. Paint it Black - The Rolling Stones
5. Fooling Yourself - Styx
6. The Last Stop - Dave Matthews Band
7. Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love - Van Halen
8. It's Enough Now - Mandalay
9. Our Town - Aaron Copeland
10. Red Rain - Peter Gabriel

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Breaking bread with friends and family

Every week, we sit down and break bread with our friends and family. We share a meal and perhaps a good bottle of wine. We laugh and tell each other about our days. We pass a plate and through food share a bit of our lives with each other. Food is the one thing that will bring even enemies together. During the Civil War (or the War between the States for my southern viewers), troops on both sides threw hardtack over the trenches to each other and shared coffee and sugar. At Christmas in 1914, during one of the bloodiest campaigns in France of WWI, there was a one night truce. A soccer game was played between the Germans and English and food and presents were exchanged. Food is the great mediator.

One of the pleasures of having a blog that centers around food is getting to share recipes and discover new foods that you may not have otherwise. Food bloggers tend to read other food bloggers I've noticed. When you look at the links on my sidebar, you will find most of the blogs I read daily have something to do with food and drink. With all that reading, I've collected a quite a few recipes that I have been anxious to try.

Sometimes very good recipes come from the most surprising places. As you may remember, I followed a fellow blogger on his quest to watch 1000 movies he had not seen. Todd, over at the aptly named 1000 Movies in 1 Year did indeed see all 1000 movies. This year, he has surprised some of us by revealing he loves to cook. About a week ago, he posted a recipe for an absolutely delicious pan sauce to be served with chuck steak and tonight I cooked it for dinner.

Now I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical because frankly I thought with both horseradish and Dijon mustard it would be a bit over powering but with this cut of steak it was the perfect zip and zing. I think this sauce would make a good marinade as well as work on a nice pork tenderloin. So, if Todd doesn't mind, I'd like to share his recipe with you.

Todd from 1000 Movies in 1 Year: Pan-Cooked Chuck Eye Beef Steak with Herbed Horseradish Sauce

2 (3/4 to 1 inch thick) boneless beef chuck eye steaks
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup beef broth
1 1/2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature

Brush steaks with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a medium size, heavy skillet over medium heat until hot; add steaks and cook, uncovered, 9 to 12 minutes or until desired degree of doneness.
Transfer steaks to serving plates; tent with foil to keep warm. Add broth, horseradish, and Dijon; boil until reduced to 1/4 cup, stirring to loosen clinging particles. Remove from heat; whisk in butter and freshly ground pepper to taste. Makes 2 servings.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Getting "jiggy" with my bad self

I don't have a great singing voice. I wish I did but I don't and even having a gainfully-employed-for-a-major-city-lyric-opera dramatic soprano as an my former college roommate isn't going to change the fact that I can't carry a tune if you give me a 5 gallon bucket. So, I don't sing in public and I don't sing in the shower. I try hard not to even hum when I'm around other people. BUT, when I'm in the car alone, watch out Madonna. I'm not sure if it is the fact that today is Friday or that it is a Friday that is also a pay day or if it is because it is going to be almost 60 degrees here in the normally bitter cold Northeast but this morning I didn't want to listen to my "Rush Hour French" or NPR or even the AM radio newstation that has traffic every 1o minutes. I wanted to sing.

So, I opened the sun roof a bit, turned on the oldies station and cranked up the volume. I belted out "RESPECT" with Aretha. I sang "Sound of Silence" with Simon and Garfunkel. I even got in touch with my ragin' cajun roots with Credence Clearwater Revival. Lucky for me all the people in the cars around me could see was me be boppin' my way into work because I'm pretty sure that if they could have heard me there would have been some rotten tomatoes thrown my way...

Friday's Random 10

You know the rules: Put your I-Pod on shuffle, write down the first 10 songs that pop up and no cheating to look cool. Links so you can listen.

1. Hazy Shade of Winter - The Bangles
2. Stranded - Van Morrison
3. Closing Time - Semisonic
4. Speed of Sound - Cold Play
5. Gloria -U2
6. Eclogue for Piano and Strings in F Major - Gerald Finzi
7. Black - Pearl Jam
8. My Medea - Vienna Tang
9.Interstate Love Song - Stone Temple Pilots
10. Just Another - Sharif

That last song is from a website called Podsafe Music Network. My favourite podcaster, Dan O'Leary uses this site to find music for his very excellent podcast Hotel Coffee. He used this song in his second podcast. I'm hooked on downloading music from there now as well as on Dan's podcast. So, go check both of them out. I think you'll like what you hear.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Not always the sharpest tool in the shed

Ok. Confession time here. Yup, MBH is right, I sure can be blond some days. "Hello, my name is Breadchick and I am a Dufus Marlowe."

I think back in this post I admited to the sin of blogger vanity. To wit, I admit to checking my comments on my blog to see if anyone is reading that day and if my post hit a particular nerve or illicited a good discussion between readers, or what-have-you. Comments on blogs are part of the online conversation we have and no one likes to think they aren't being heard. So, for the past two weeks, I admit to feeling a bit neglected and to thinking "What did I say?" and "Where did all my fellow blog friends go?" Come to find out it was all my fault.

In what can only be described as a forehead slapping "DOH!" moment, I discovered I had turned on "moderate comments" in Haloscan. Yup, it is all my fault. Kind of like leaving the phone off the hook and wondering why no one calls.

Nope, I wasn't ignoring you all. Just learning to drive this thing. Got some catching up to do on my replies. So, thanks for all the great comments guys and gals!!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Yeast Beast in our Fridge

I've been baking bread since I was eight years old. My first loaf was over kneaded, under mixed and turned out flat and hard like a hockey puck but I persevered and pretty soon, I was baking all the bread for the family. My mother swears she doesn't know why but yeast and I have always had a symbiotic relationship. Given all that kneading time under my belt, you would have thought that sourdough bread would be a natural. You would be very wrong. I've only been baking sourdough breads for about four years and that isn't a very long time in the sourdough game. I know one sourdough baker who has been baking for over 30 years and who uses a starter that has been in his family for 80 years. Now, that is a long time!

My relationship with the finicky yeast creatures that are sourdough starters goes back a lot further than four years. About 15 years ago when I was living in Peoria, Il for a brief stint, I decided to amuse myself by trying to bake with a mail order starter (believe me, there isn't anything else to do in Peoria). It was a disaster. Within four weeks I had not only killed the starter but I had a gelatinous pink and brown streaky mess in a container on my counter that caused my landlord to think something or somebody had died in my apartment.

When I moved to Boston a few months later, I decided to give sourdough another try and failed again. This time, I tried using a friend's starter. I didn't kill it but it never quite worked the way sourdough starters are suppose to work. My next failure was when I tried to grow a starter from scratch right after MBH and I had moved in together. He lived in a sterile highrise apartment building and there were no good wild yeasties to be found. All we captured was mold in the Ball jar and while he thought that was pretty cool, I couldn't bake bread with it. But, when we moved into a house that was almost 100 years old I decided to give sourdough starter once last try. After all, a house that old had to have some good stuff flying through the air! Now, four years later, I have a collection of three happy, frothy and healthy starters: one rye, one wheat, and one good ole unbleached all purpose flour.

A little starter history now before we get to the recipe portion of our show. A sourdough starter is an equal mixture of water and flour that has been invaded by varieties of lactobacillius and wild yeast. San Francisco Sourdough gets it flavour from a very particular lactobacillius called lactobacillus sanfrancisco. Rye flour works the best to start the growth of wild yeast but there are recipes for getting starters from wheat flour and grapes. Once you have a starter thriving it must be fed daily. About 2 or three hours after "they" have eaten, a mildly alcoholic liquid will form on top of the mixture. This is called "hooch" and this is where we get the term for bad, cheap booze! It originated from the Alaskan Gold Rush when the Rushers would drink the hooch from their sourdough starters when they couldn't get alcohol any other place.

Once a starter gets very established it can be stored in the fridge between times of baking and it doesn't require daily feeding until you are ready to bake with the starter. Then, it takes about two or three days of steady feeding and you will be ready to bake! Baking with starters takes almost three times longer than with active yeast because the yeast in starter is slow to rise vs the fast acting commercial yeasts.

The starter in the picture above is my all purpose starter. I haven't baked with it in almost 4 months and haven't fed it in about 2 months but it sure is a good and established creature! I pulled it out of the fridge on Sunday, fed it twice on Sunday, Monday and this morning gave it a super feeding (1 cup water/1 cup flour). About 2 hours ago, I started the dough for my Sourdough Sweet Rolls. I'm taking them into work on Thursday and the dough has to rise all night tonight. Tomorrow morning, I'll get up about an hour earlier than normal, roll out the dough, fill it with the cinnamon and sugar mixture, slice the rolls out and it will rise all day on the counter while I am at work. Tomorrow night I'll bake them and frost them the following morning just in time to take them to work. Tomorrow night, I'll also start MBH's Sourdough boule by using the toss off starter from tonight. Toss off is the starter you throw away during the feeding process .

There's gonna be a whole lotta bakin' goin' on here the next few nights...

Sourdough Starter Recipe

Never use metal to stir or store starter, the metal will react with the starter

1 Cup organic rye flour
1 Cup water (filtered or bottled water)

Place in a plastic container or a glass large mouth canning jar, mix with a wooden spoon and leave exposed to the air. (you can use cheese cloth if you are overly concerned about "things" besides wild yeast and sourdough bacteria falling into the starter). Every day feed the starter.To feed a starter, stir back into the starter any hooch. Then throw away or "toss off" about half the mixture. Using cool not hot water, feed the starter with an equal part of water and flour (I use 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour). Keep this up for about 5-7 days. After this time, you should notice little bubbles of gas and the starter should have an acidic smell to it (vinegar and/or gym socks is pretty normal). Once this happens, you have an active starter and you are ready to bake!

(Note: if you want your starter to become a wheat or all purpose starter, start feeding it with the flour of your choice AFTER you have it established. About 4 or 5 feeding cycles into the life of the starter you will have the starter your want).

There are some super resources on the internet for sourdough baking, one of the best is Mike Avery's excellent Sourdough Home (linked under "Who Breadchick is reading") and if you want to try your hand at baking with sourdough without having to grow the little yeast beasties yourself, you can send away for a free sample of excellent starter at Carl's Friend's. Good Luck!

Follow Up on 1/11: I received an email about this post with a really good question about getting a starter going: Do you need to use rye flour for all the feedings during the first week?
I should have been more clear about this, you don't have to use rye flour for the feedings during the first week. I typically use a mixture of rye and all purpose for the first week and then all subsequent feedings for my rye starter. If you use all rye, you will notice a very dark and wet starter but this is great for dark ryes and those hearty German rye breads!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Starbucks Challenge 3.5: Harvard Style

One of my goals for this year is to eat and drink more green. We already eat quite a lot of organic and I make sure the meat we eat is free-range or from humane and ethical sources. I brew free trade coffee at home but frankly really hadn't given what I drink at the coffee shop much thought. So, it has been with some interest that I've been following Siel of at GreenLA Girl's quest to get the largest chain of coffee shops in the world, Starbucks, to practice what they preach. That is, if they are going to say they brew fair trade coffee when asked, then by golly, you should be able to get fair trade coffee (if you don't know what Fair Trade coffee is or for that matter want to read more about Siel and the fine effort, go here). I decided that it was only fitting that I take the Starbucks Challenge 3.5: Go into my local branches of Starbucks and ask for a cup of Fair Trade Coffee (Cafe Estima) and see if it offered as it should have been brewing this week as the Coffee of the Week and then report back. Here are my results:

We live a few blocks from Harvard Square and there are 2 Starbucks in Harvard Square: One at 31 Church St. and the other inside The Garage (a funky American version of a shopping arcade). On Thursday and Friday, before dropping MBH off at the T station and heading into work myself, we decided to go into the Church St location. MBH ordered a venti hot chocolate (he isn't a coffee drinker) and I handed over my travel mug and asked to have it filled with Fair Trade Coffee. The barista behind the counter was very chipper for 6:30am and said "Sure, no problem. You want our Estima. It is this shop's house coffee on Mon, Wed and Friday. And, if you want it any other day, just ask. We'll grind it for you to use in a french press." So, rack up Success #1 (or is that two?) for Harvard Square Church St Starbucks.

On Saturday, we typically get up early and head to a local coffee shop, Dammits, but as of late, we have been less than happy there (more on that another time). So, since I was taking part of the Starbucks Challenge, we wandered over the Garage location of Starbucks. After finding two really nice and comfortable chairs, I went up to the counter to order MBH's hot chocolate and present my travel mug for a much needed cup of Fair Trade coffee. Another really nice barista told me that they didn't have it brewing right then BUT if I would wait a few minutes, she would be happy to grind some for me to use in a french press. Success #2. And, when I went up for a refill, she said that they had brewed some so I could just have it "normal". She also told me it Estima was their house coffee on Tuesday and Sunday.

Today, we meant to go to Central Square location but it was snowing so we trudged over to the Garage location again and once again was met with a warm, steaming cup of Estima.

So, the report from Harvard Square: 2 Stores, 2 sucesses. I'm thankful, considering the responses so many from other places have reported that I live in the Ultra Liberal, Ultra Green city of Cambridge, MA...truly our fair city.

P.S. I'll keep checking on these two locations and the other's in Cambridge.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Weekend Cookbook Challenge: Scalloped Potatoes with Ham

This is my second entry into the Weekend Cookbook Challenge. This month's challenge was to cook winter comfort food from a cookbook in your collection you don't use. I chose to make a classic dish that made good use of the left over ham from our Christmas dinner, scalloped potatoes with ham from The Fannie Flagg's Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook.

I love the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes". It is one of my top 10 Chick Flicks and one of the movies I watch over and over (with a box of tissues of course). It has the added bonus of staring four of my favourite actresses and the scene where Kathy Bates smashes the snotty girl's car in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot plays through my head every time I try to find parking at the World's Worst Grocery Store. My roomate from college knew "Fried Green Tomatoes" was one of my favorite movies and she gave me this cookbook for my birthday about 10 years ago but I have never cooked from it.

I've made scalloped potatoes from scratch before but my recipe is fussy and includes steps like scalding the milk and mixing the flour, salt, and pepper together and setting aside. This recipe was simple and resulted in a very creamy potatoes. Since the ham was a honey ham, there was hint of sweet that really made this a winning dish for a cold New England winter's night.

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham from the Whistle Stop Cafe

2 lbs russet potatoes
3 tablespoons bacon drippings
3 tablespoons margarine (I used butter)
1 tablespoon flour
salt and pepper
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup minced ham

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Grease a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Peel potatoes and cut into very thin slices. Melt together bacon drippings and margarine. Arrange a single layer of potatoes in bottom of baking dish. Spread some of the minced ham and then sprinkle flour, salt and pepper on top of the layer. Repeat layers using remaining ingredients except cream and milk. Pour cream over potatoes and ham; add milk, if necessary to barely cover potatoes and ham. Cover loosely with aluminum foil; bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, or until potatoes are tender. Uncover dish, raise oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake until potatoes are browned. Serves 6.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Once more into the breach...

I've had a small case writers block the past few weeks, perhaps brought on by the hectic season. This has manifested itself in several ways but most tellingly in how hard it has been to get this post into written form. I've at least four draft posts started on various subjects ranging from my frustration with the current state of affairs to some old favourite recipes I rediscovered over the Holiday baking season. I've sat down several times the last few days with the single intent to get out of my jumbled brain all the thoughts bouncing around and bashing into each other only to find myself surfing Amazon for a way to spend the Christmas gift certificates I received or aimlessly following links and pushing the "next blog" button in Blogger. I have had nothing earth shattering or deep to say like several of my fellow denizens of blogworld Andrea, and Mike over at Musings musings. They are much more profound than I and often say what I would have. Nor have I had any huge accomplishments like Todd of at 1000 Movies completing a massive undertaking and already planning for the next. As my grandmother's once told me, "say nothing when you have nothing to say".

I've also been thinking a lot the past few days about the new year and reading quite a few posts from various blogs about how everyone abhors resolutions and goals that are sure to be broken or only partially achieved. Most often when I've read these posts they contain a large "but" and disclaimer right before the poster launches into their new year resolutions. I do, however, like what Lauren at Ardent Eden and Siel over at green LA girl have done. Instead of making self-centric declarations they have focused on how, through their own small actions, they will make the world they live in a better place.

So, to steal a page out of Lauren and Siel's books, here is what I am going to strive to do in the next 364 days to make this big blue ball in the ether a better place to live, play and work.

A. Recycle more of our household waste. MBH and I already recycle quite a lot, but I KNOW we can do more (the cardboard that is part of all our packaging food and otherwise for starters). I've had delivered by the city of Cambridge public works department two more big blue recycling bins. My goal is to fill all three our bins every week.

B. Get back to gardening beyond my window boxes. I spent yesterday happily browsing seed suppliers online and I'm anxiously awaiting a few seed catalogs to spend the next month of the New England winter making a list of what I can grow in a container or tub on our porch. I've also vowed to only use organic and/or heirloom seeds for our garden. I've grown heirloom tomatoes before and I'm looking forward to trying other varieties of heirloom vegetables. These vegetables will form the main part of our meals over the summer and fall.

C. Along the same lines, I'm going to increase the amount of organic and locally produced foodstuffs in our weekly meals. We already use quite a few but again, I know we can do better. I'm also going to go back to baking our breads vs buying them. I admit that the last six months my new job has contributed to me not having the time to bake but I need to get back to kneading dough. If not only for stress relief but also because my homebaked bread is better for MBH and I than even the organic bread we buy at Whole Foods or Trader Joes.

D. Get involved with my local community in a more direct fashion. Lately there have been a few things decided by the city of Cambridge and few small interest groups that have frankly ticked me off and I've been griping about them to anyone who will listen. If I want to gripe then I need to do something that may result in a solution. In two weeks, I will attend my first ever Cambridge city council meeting to speak during the public comment session (rant on this is one the drafts I've mentioned earlier).

These are but a few things I would like to try and do. Even if I only do part of them, I know I will leave my small corner of the world a better place in 2007 than I found it in 2006.

Happy New Year one and all dear friends. May you each find a way to give back to those around you in your own small way.