experiments in sour

April 27, 2010

A friend gave me a jar of sourdough starter a few days ago. It came well fed, and I stuck it in the fridge for a few days, a little afraid of the contents.

I have made sourdough things in the past (friendship bread, etc), but not for a long time. My friend’s starter came from King Arthur Flour company, and is supposedly nice and old. To turn the starter into bread, there are a few steps. It seemed a little tricky the first time, but I think that I can get the hang of it.

The first step is to feed the starter. I fed mine, and then let it sit out to proof. When it is proofing, little bubbles begin to appear on the surface and a bit of foam builds up.

I set my fed starter out for about 4 or 5 hours. It was cold yesterday, and I think that this slowed things down a bit. But it did eventually foam, bubble, and start to smell nice and sour.  I took out 2 cups of proofed starter to make my loaf of bread, and stuck the rest back in the jar in the fridge for next time.

Then I added the proofed starter to flour, sugar, oil, and salt to form the dough. After mixing and kneading, I set the bread in a slightly warm oven to rise. It was taking a while, so I left it overnight. First thing in the morning I shaped the loaf, and popped it back in the oven to rise until doubled in bulk…it took a little longer then I thought, so I handed the loaf over to my mom (I had to go to work..).

She put the bread in her oven, in a preheated cast iron stewpot. Baking bread in a covered pot in a hot oven creates a nice crispy crust. Something about the more consistent temperature, and the moisture being trapped in the pot (I think).

The finished bread was nice and crispy on the outside, a little flatter than the regular yeasted bread that I make, and smelled a little like alcohol. And it wasn’t too sour, which my mom liked. I am excited to keep trying this recipe, changing things here and there to perfect it!

Last week I was not motivated to finish these socks. It was spring. Warm and sunny, and who needs socks when it is 80 degrees? But today, as I struggle to light a tiny fire and enjoy the pitter of rain on the roof, I also finish the socks. All four of them.

Sew in all the ends, turn them right side out, and decide what to do with them.

Maybe I will roll them up into little balls, and tuck them away for the fall. I love seasons for many reasons, including the excuse to finish something and tuck it away for later.

Or mabye, I will use them in my rubber boots to keep my feet warm and dry when I am stomping about in the woods.

They are out there. The morels, fungi, jack-in-the-pulpets, and other things. The nettles are up to my waist, and the peepers are hopping around everywhere.

So why can’t I find them? Skye and I tromped through the woods, searching this morning, and found two little morels. Argh.

They are sitting in my fridge, soaking in salt water, to be fried in butter later, and eaten on toast, or some such thing.

Why can’t we find the patches, and bring in a load like usual? I am beginning to wonder if I have lost my morel vision. Or maybe they are taking their time, waiting until the perfectly prescribed moment to pop up. Regardless of whether or not I am around.

I guess that I just have to keep at it.


April 24, 2010

Spinning. Straw into gold, or for the non-fairy-princess (me), spinning wool into yarn. Or nettles. Or milkweed fluff. My mind has taken off running.

For now I am spinning wool. Into yarn. Bumpy, lumpy, one ply, two ply yarn. Maybe I will knit a doll sweater out of it. Or some hand warmers?

My good friend Jeanne is a master spinner, among other things. She used to raise sheep and goats, shear them, and wash, card, dye and spin her own lambswool and mohair. Jeanne got me started on an extra spinning wheel that she has. It is a traveling wheel, which means that it can fold up into a little bag, and go on the road!

Today I took the three bobbins full of yarn off the spinning wheel, and wound them onto a coat hanger, fashioned as a mini skein winder.

To keep the skeins nice and neat, I tied little cotton ties around in various places. It can be a real mess if a skein gets out of control!

When you spin yarn, it remains twisty and in order to use it, you need to “set the twist,” so that the yarn doesn’t unravel and twist up into little knots (as it has below).

So I gave the yarn a bath to set the twist.

I soaked the skeins in a bowl in my sink for about 30 minutes, in water and wool wash.

Then I set the yarn out to dry. It must dry with something weighting it, or the kinks and coils will remain. I rigged a system to weight two of the skeins, and the third I slipped back on the hanger to dry stretched. The skeins are hanging from a bar, balanced on my drying rack. A second bar is drawn through the bottom of the skeins, and weighted with an empty glass jar (securely fastened). They are by the fire, but not in direct sunlight (according to directions).

sunday eating

April 18, 2010

Asparagus Crepes with Smokey Pink Sauce

Warm Quinoa Salad with Cilantro, Lime, and Olives

Spiced Banana Pear Crepes with Star Anise and Vanilla

Lemon Lime Water

I have been in a banana mode recently, so after the crepe batter was mixed and in the fridge to wait, I prepared a crepe filling of spiced bananas and pears.

I put some butter in a tagine on the stove top, and added star anise and vanilla. Then bananas, pears, and pear butter for sweetener. And a dash of cinnamon! For extra liquid, I added a little juice from the pears. Oh, and a little lime zest and juice. I stirred the mixture on the stove top for a few minutes, and then placed it in a low oven (325 degrees) for about an hour.

Meanwhile….asparagus time!

I picked what we had in the garden, and washed the ends and sliced them for crepe filling number two. I sauteed the asparagus in a little butter and a tiny bit of water, until they were a vivid green. Then I set them in a dish in the warm oven.

Skye made the crepes, which had a little cornmeal and whole wheat flour (one third of the total flour used). The mixture was a little different, but turned out well. We were having issues with the burner heating unevenly, but by the end of the project, after all the crepes were made, we seemed to figure things out.

To top the asparagus, we made a white sauce with tomato paste (a pink sauce I guess), to which I added a dash of smoked paprika and some cheese. We also added some fresh chopped parsley.

In addition to the crepes, I made a warm quinoa salad, with cilantro, lime, olive oil, olives, and cubed cheese. Simple, quick and slightly warm. I served the salad on lettuce leaves, which we used to scoop up the salad and make little bundles.

For dessert, we had sweet crepes. The bananas and pears cooked down, and were warm and mildly sweet, and the star anise was delicious! The flavors brightened with a little squirt of fresh lime.

Because it was such a beautiful day, we set up a table outside in a sunny section of the yard. The table was made out of one of my plant shelves (now empty as the plants have moved outdoors) and the chairs were logs.

After lunch we went for an adventure in the woods, looking for mushrooms (which we still didn’t see…), and other things. We did see a coyote, the bluebells, and other interesting things…

heli-claire’s kitchen

April 14, 2010

A quick blog-ish note.

If you like food, and beautiful photographs of food, and entertaining write-ups about food, I would definitely recommend giving Heli-Claire’s Kitchen a peep. I am biased, of course, what can I say. But who doesn’t want to drool over cornmeal biscotti and potato pie funnelled with cream, or get tips on how to make a tart’s edges stand up to the heat??

I love to cook, bake, garden, harvest, etc with my sister (except when she makes me grate cheese), and so it is particularly fun to be able to see what she is doing in the world of food on a regular basis!

P.S. Here is her tidy, tiny, kitchen, in which she manages to do just about everything!

tarts come in twos

April 14, 2010

I made a lemon tart yesterday, and the tart shell recipe made enough dough for two pies. I have been carrying the extra tart shell around with me today (it made its way into town and back…), trying to decide what to fill it with.

I settled on a mango cream pie (of sorts). When I dropped the meyer lemon pie off at my friend’s workshop, he gave me two limes from his tree, and so I incorporated them into the pie as well. The limes were yellow, and I had the hardest time wrapping my mind around the fact that they looked like lemons. I really associate the smell and taste of lime with the deep green that they usually are.

My mom suggested to make a pastry creme of sorts using whipped cream and greek style hung yogurt. To the yogurt I added lime zest and juice, mixed with sugar. (An idea from Duncan.) As I whipped the cream, I added some Haitian vanilla. Then I folded the yogurt mixture into the cream, and spread into the tart pan. For the filling, I used 1 tiny box of cream (a cup??) and half of a package of Fage full cream yogurt. I added vanilla and sugar to taste, and the zest and juice of one very delicious lime.

On top of the cream, which was already filling the tart shell nicely, I placed some ripe slices of mango. (I peeled and cut up 4 medium sized yellow mangoes.) I think that this would be good with many fresh fruits. Berries, peaches, plums, etc!

They fit nicely in a little mound on the top of the cream.

To garnish, I ran over to my mom’s house and picked a few sprigs of mint, which have popped up in the garden in the past few weeks.

I live in Iowa. Meyer lemons don’t really grow here. Or lemons for that matter. (Just stating the obvious here..) So when my friend Duncan picked one off of his tree and handed it to me today I was delighted. He has a beautiful tree situated next a big south-facing window in his cozy workshop. I stopped by to drop off a piece of pie, and left with a lemon. Big, bright, and juicy.

I wanted to make something special. This was one of 6 lemons on the tree, and I wanted to use the whole lemon, or as much of it as I could. My first thought was to call my sister. She is a little baker, and always has good ideas. And she did, of course. A lemon tart. Because I only had one lemon (not the three that the recipe called for), and I wanted to keep the lemon’s integrity, I adjusted her recipe and made a “one lemon tart.”

One lemon’s zest, one lemon’s juice, one egg, and 1/6th of a cup sugar. And one tiny tart pan, filled with a tiny crust. Prick, prick, prick, prick, prick, pricked with a fork. (My sister wrote a lot more pricks into the recipe.)

And weighted with lentils so that the crust didn’t have any chance at all to puff up. None.

Then came the custard. Zested the meyer lemon, juiced the meyer lemon,

found the unexpected but delightful surprise of sprouted pips inside the meyer lemon,

and stir, stir, stirred the custard…

I am not a custard maker. As you can see from the photograph, I don’t have the proper equipment (I used a shallow frying pan set over a pot of simmering water.), and I am just afraid that the eggs will scramble. After a lot of stirring, quite a few grumpy calls to my sister, and my face feeling like a ripe tomato, I took the custard off the stove, and set it aside to cool. I think that it turned out ok, and I was able to pour it into the crust, and put it into the oven.

I did then call my mom, and had her come over to help me figure out when the custard was ‘set.’ I think that I will leave the custards to Heli, as she likes making them, and will probably do a much better job.

The finished result was a tart tart! Very un-sweet, lemony and delicious.

spring hunting season

April 12, 2010

Today I went out for a hunt with my friend Heather. We were a little late last year, looking for mushrooms, and so wanted to be ahead of the game this year. We were a little too ahead for morels, but we did find a whole bunch of stinging nettles.

I wanted to make nettle pies, so I collected a good sized plastic bag full. Nettles are tricky little plants. If you touch them with your bare skin, it will sting for a few minutes.

In order to pick them, I placed my hand in a plastic bag, pinched off the tender tips of the plants, and placed them in another plastic bag.

To wash the nettles, I filled my sink with water, and stirred the leaves around with a pair of chopsticks.

The spines are still prickly after the nettles have been washed. To remove the prickles, I steamed the nettles in a bit of water, with a little salt. I poured off the nettle broth and drank it. It tasted like the woods, warm, sweet, and full of earth!

To make nettle pies, I chopped an onion and sautéed it in olive oil.

As it was cooking, I added a little of the nettle broth, and then some chopped chard and beet greens.

When these had finished cooking, I added the cooked and chopped nettles.

I set the vegetable mixture aside and made the crust. I made a basic pie crust, using 1/2 whole wheat flour, to give it a little more substance.

To fill out the filling, I mixed one package tofu, one package organic valley feta cheese, and half a package prairie breeze cheese. I crumbled the tofu and feta with my hands, and grated the prairie breeze. To bind the whole mixture together, I added a sprinkle of whole wheat flour. I mixed the cheeses with the vegetables, and blended them a little with my stick blender. When the pie crusts were chilled, I spooned the batter into them, and baked the pies in a 400 degree oven for ten minutes, and then in a 350 degree oven for an additional 45 (approximately), until they were firm.

And now I have two nettle chard pies, and lunch food until I get sick of them…

more pizza (a study..)

April 12, 2010

I really want to get pizza right. The crust, the toppings, etc. Yesterday I made an arugula pizza, and the toppings were good, but the crust came out a little bit soggy.

I made a full batch of dough, and left two parts of dough into the fridge to use later, and today I made pizza number two.

My mission tonight was to try to get rid of the soggy crust. I rolled out the dough, set it aside to rise, and preheated the oven, with my cast iron pizza pan in it.

When the oven was heated, I basted the pizza generously with olive oil, dusted the pan with cornmeal, and set the pizza in the oven to bake.

I let it cook for about 10 minutes (I think…) and then took it out, popped the bubbles, added the sauce, cooked nettles, and cheese, and popped it back in the oven to finish cooking.

I kind of forgot about the pizza and it got a little bit crispy, which I like anyways…and no soggy crust! I also loved the nettles, cooked with onions and other veggies, sprinkled across the top.

I set the pizza on the porch railing to cool, perched out there myself, and had dinner with the gentle breeze, chirping birds, and leftover sunshine…