Sunday, May 18, 2008

Noodle Kugel and Lawrence Ferlinghetti on a hot night

It's hot. It's bloody hot. Last week, it was cool, cloudy, and even kinda misting. Now my plants are fainting and my cat is passed out on the bed. In years past, we used to refer to "May gray" and "June gloom". These were not bipolar months. These were months that knew what they were about -- they were there to remind us that summer's sun was still just out of reach, and that the plants had one last shot at moisture before the summer dry season. So when I was planning the party I was going to throw for my neighbor, who turned 93 this past Wednesday, I was envisioning the whole thing taking place indoors. I saw the neighbors gathered around the island in my kitchen, happily eating and drinking and sharing stories, while Mary, at 93, sipped on her martini. (I think it's her secret to longevity!) And then the heat struck. It's a good thing I had been working on the stone path outside. At least people could walk around without having to avoid the gap between the path and the garden, which had a couple of bricks and stones strewn among the tree roots. At least I finished that part, and all I had to do was rake the dirt to a sorta- kinda level, and borrow some chairs from one of the neighbors. At the last minute I discovered that there would be 11 of us (instead of the original 8), and then a woman showed up at the gate who was the niece of a long-time friend of Mary's, making it 12.

The greatest joy of this party was two-fold: Mary's delight in being surrounded by friends, and my increasing sense of belonging to this wonderful community. I live on a short block which ends in a cul-de-sac, and everyone knows Mary. At 93 she has all her marbles and a wicked sense of humor. People brought salads and wine and stories to share. The woman who showed up late brought a book of Lawrence Ferlenghetti poetry and read one by flashlight for Mary. We all applauded when she was done.

The food was the kind which could be enjoyed hot or cool. The martinis were definitely cold, as was the white wine. Not knowing everyone's eating habits, I always have vegetarian food as well as something with chicken. This time I made a couple of pizzas with chicken marinated in an ancho chili and raspberry sauce (it was too dark to photograph by the time the pizzas came out!), as well as the Spinach Ricotta tart I had posted here back in April. And then there's this dish, which, if you're lucky and have any leftover, makes for a terrific Sunday breakfast!
Noodle Kugel

1/2 pound wide egg noodles
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 pound cottage cheese
2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
6 eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Boil the noodles in salted water for about 4 minutes. Strain noodles from water. In a large mixing bowl, combine noodles with remaining ingredients and pour into a greased, approximately 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Bake until custard is set and top is golden brown, about 30 to 45 minutes.

And here is the poem which capped off our evening:

I Am Waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting
for someone to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep through the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped’ onto church altars
if only they can find
the right channel
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the Great Divide to ‘be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer
and I am waiting
for the American Boy
to take off Beauty’s clothes
and get on top of her
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am waiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunflower Seed Rye

For our last meeting of the San Diego Bread Lovers, the theme was rye bread. Now for me, rye bread means New York Jewish deli rye. Not only the kind with caraway seeds, but the kind you can only really get in New York. Trust me on that one. Even if they call it New York deli rye elsewhere, it doesn't taste the same. But I had been given a gift certificate to Borders and I had used it to buy Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. In it are some of the most drool-inducing photos of breads I've ever seen. So when I saw the photo of his sunflower seed rye, I decided I would give that one a try. Aside from the substitution of sunflower seeds for caraway seeds, I loved the shape of this bread and thought it might be fun to bake something round, with a hole in it, that wasn't a bagel.

I have to share one quick fact with you before I get on to the recipe. I know that the common wisdom these days says that if you want to lose weight, cut out the carbs. Don't eat bread, potatoes, pasta, etc. First of all, since I started baking bread, I've lost 2 pounds. I'm not on a diet, and I think I would have lost more if I had had the time to exercise more, but nonetheless, the scale says I'm 2 pounds lighter. At first I was shocked by this. How could I be eating more bread and losing weight? Then I thought about it. Have you ever been to France? To Italy? Do you see those people counting carbs? Are they fat? How come?

I have been saying for years that the biggest reason why America is the fattest country on earth is because of petroleum. It's not carbs, it's petroleum. How's that, you might ask? Well, we tend to get into a $25,000 car, move it 4 blocks to buy a $5 chicken. In any situation where we might be using our own muscles, we use something that uses petroleum to do the job for us. Hell, we'd rather get on a treadmill at the gym than go for a walk! To put it another way, we'd rather use a machine that aids our legs in moving, than just use our legs. Or we'll take an elevator to go up to the 2nd floor instead of the stairs. The examples are legion, the results are the same: weight gain.

Now go back to the question I asked above: How come Europeans, who don't count carbs, aren't fat? One big reason is that gasoline has been at least $6 per gallon in Europe for a long time. I haven't been there in a while, so it might be much more than that now. But at that price, people don't casually jump into their cars and go 2 blocks to buy groceries. They walk. And in more rural areas, there's always the bicycle. And they don't tend to drink diet sodas (those make you hungrier, by the way, so that you'll wind up eating more), and they definitely don't eat sugar free or fat free foods! They eat real food, with carbs, they drink wine, and they're not fat.

OK - I'm off my soap box now. Time for the recipe!

Sunflower Seed Rye


1 1/3 C (5.65 oz) coarse, whole-rye flour or rye meal
3/4 C (6 oz) water, at room temperature


1 C (5.5 oz) firm starter
2 C (9 oz) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 1/2 tsp (.38 oz) salt
1 1/4 tsp (.14 oz) instant yeast
1/2 to 3/4 C (4-6 oz) water, lukewarm (90-100 degrees)
1/2 C (2 oz) sunflower seeds

1. The day before making the bread, make the soaker by stirring together the coarse rye flour and water in a small bowl. The rye will soak up the water quickly, but it will all hydrate. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it out overnight at room temperature.

2. Also the day before baking (or up to 3 days before), make a firm starter. (If anyone wants the recipe for this, just email me and I'll send it to you!)

3. The next day, remove the starter from the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough. Sprinkle a little flour n the counter and transfer the starter to the counter. Cut it into 8 to 10 pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Mist with spray oil, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.

4. To make the dough, stir together the flour, salt and yeast in a 4 qt. mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the soaker and the starter pieces and then slowly add the water, stirring with a large metal spoon as you do (or mixing on low speed with a paddle attachment), until the ingredients form a soft ball.

5. Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter and knead the dough (or mix on medium speed with a dough hook). Sprinkle on bread flour (not rye) as needed until the dough feels soft and supple, tacky but not sticky. Try to accomplish this within 4 minutes by hand or machine, to avoid overmixing (rye flour gets gummy if mixed too long). Add the sunflower seeds by gradually working them into the dough within the next 2 minutes. Total mixing time should not exceed 6 minutes if possible. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it in the bowl to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

6. Ferment the dough at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until it doubles in size.

7. Sprinkle flour on the counter and gently transfer the dough to the counter, taking care to minimize degassing of the dough. divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and gently form them into boules. Let them rest on the counter for 5 minutes and then shape them into a couronne by poking a hole in the middle of the boule, and then gently stretching into a large, circular doughnut shape. Lay the dough on the counter, and use a small dowel to press a square shape around the central hole. Lightly sprinkle flour over the top to prevent the depressions from closing. Transfer the dough to a sheet pan that has been lined with baking parchment and misted with spray oil. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a towel.

8. Proof the dough at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until it increases to about 1 1/2 times it's original size.

9. Place a pizza tile on a rack in the middle of your oven and an empty water pan on a rack below it. Preheat to 500 degrees.

10. Generously dust the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal and gently transfer the dough to the pan. Slide the dough onto the baking stone (or bake directly on the sheet pan). Pour 1 C of hot water into the steam pan and close the door. AFter 30 seconds, open the door, spray the walls with water, and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals, then lower the oven setting to 450F and bake for 10 minutes. Check th breads, rotating them 180 degrees for even baking. Lower the oven setting to 425F and continue baking until the loaves are golden brown. This should take 15 to 25 minutes longer.

11. Remove the loves from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving.

Kitchen Notes:

If I made this bread again, I'd skip the transference to the baking sheet with the parchment lining, and transfer them instead directly to the back of a sheet lined generously with cornmeal. Transferring twice just increases the chances of degassing, which means your bread will not rise as much as you would want it to.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Country Sourdough Boule

I never thought of myself as having an addictive personality. But I realize that the physical pleasure of the senses draws me like a moth to a flame. After all, isn't that why we love to cook? To inhale deeply the aromas coming out of the kitchen, followed by the play of the tastes in our mouths?

So when I saw this bread rising in my oven, and later when I withdrew it and put it on the rack to cool, I gasped in disbelief. Did I really just make this? Is that possible? But yes, there it was, on the rack, cooling. And the smells in my kitchen told me that yes, this was real. It took all my self control to wait until it had cooled - really cooled - before slicing it. And when I did, another jump of the heart. The crumb was perfect!

Now, I had made bread before. When I lived in New Mexico, I used to make a desem bread and I once posted the recipe here on this blog. But for all that, I never considered myself a bread baker. In fact, I never considered myself a baker at all.

New day, my dears.

It's beginning to dawn on me that my time, energy and money all seem to be going into the kitchen and the garden these days. If I'm not turning out another bread or scone or tart, I'm digging in a new coleus or verbena. It's all been about color, texture and form, whether in the garden or the kitchen. The only difference is that the kitchen has one overarching principle, and that would be flavor. Because after all, if it doesn't taste good, who cares?

This sourdough boule comes from Amy's Breads, by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree, and it satisfies the senses in every way, from the smell of it baking, to the feel of it as you transfer it to the rack, to the hollow sound as you thump on the bottom to be sure it's done. And then, of course, there's the taste. That heavenly, slightly acid sourdough taste that fills your mouth as you crunch through the crust to the chewy interior. There's just enough rye flour in this to give it a wonderful color.

Makes two, 1 1/2 pound round loaves

3/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 C (2 ounces) very warm water (105 - 115 degrees)
5 1/3 C (24 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 C (5 ounces) pumpernickel flour
Scant 2 TBS (3/4 oz.) kosher salt
1 C (7 1/2 oz. Levain Starter
2 1/4 C plus 2 TBS (19 oz) cool water (75 degrees)

Equipment: Two round baskets about 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 inches in diameter. (see Step 8)

1. Place yeast and warm water in a medium bowl and stir with a fork to dissolve the yeast. Allow to stand for about 3 minutes.

2. Whisk the unbleached flour, pumpernickel flour, and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.

3. Add the levain starter and cool water to the yeast mixture and mix with your fingers for 2 to 3 minutes, just long enough to soften the levain and break it up into small pieces. Add the flour mixture and stir with your fingers to incorporate the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl and folding the dough over itself until it gathers into a shaggy mass.

4. Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until it becomes supple and somewhat elastic. The dough will be very sticky at first; keep your hands and the work surface lightly floured using a dough scraper if necessary to prevent the dough from sticking building up on the work surface. As you continue kneading, the dough will become more elastic and easier to handle. Shape the dough into a loose ball, return it to the bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rest for 20 minutes.

5. Knead the dough again on the lightly floured surface for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until it becomes very smooth and springy. Shape the dough into a loose ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Turn the dough to coat with oil and cover the bowl tightly with oiled plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature (75 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit) for 1 hour, or until it looks slightly puffy but has not doubled.

6. Refrigerate the dough overnite to allow the flavors of th ingredients to combine and mellow.

7. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to rise for 2 hours.

8. Line 2 round baskets with well floured cloths. If you don't have baskets, use 2 round bottomed bowls or colanders. Gently remove dough from the bowl and place it on the lightly floured work surface. Divide it into 2 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a boule, being careful not to tear the outer surface of the loaf by exerting too much pressure during shaping. Place the boules seam side down in the prepared baskets. Cover them with oiled plasstic wrap and let rise for about 3 to 4 hours or until they have almost doubled in volume.

9. Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450F. Place a baking stone in the oven to preheat and place an empty water pan directly below the stone.

10. Dust a peel or the back of a baking sheet generously with coarse cornmeal. Quickly but carefully tip the loaves out of the baskets onto the prepared peel or baking sheet. (If the floured cloths have stuck to the loaves, gently peel them away.) Shake the peel or pan gently to be sure the loaves aren't sticking and slide them onto the baking stone, leaving at least 2 inches between them to allow for oven spring. (If your stone isn't large enough to accommodate both loaves, cover one loaf with plastic wrap and refrigerate it until the first loaf has finished baking, the bake the second loaf.) Quickly pour 1 cup of very hot water into the water pan and immediately shut the door. After 1 minute, using a plant sprayer, quickly mist the top and sides of the oven 6 to 8 times, then immediately shut the oven door. (Avoid spraying bread when misting or the flour on top will look blotchy and unappetizing. Avoid spraying any light bulbs in the oven as they might crack.) Repeat the misting procedure 1 minute later.

11. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 400F and bake for 20 minutes longer, until the loaves are a deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer them to a rack and allow to cool before serving.

Kitchen Notes: There's a lot of science that goes into bread baking, and my eyes glaze over with most of it. Perhaps in time it will sink in, but in the beginning, this is what I've learned:
Bread bakers always weigh their ingredients. You can measure in cups and tablespoons, but the amounts will actually differ if you do it this way. A cup can weigh more or less than the desired amount, but 5 oz. will always be 5 oz.

A peel? Oh, yes, that goes with my wood fired pizza oven in the back yard - right? NOT! I couldn't even use one if I had it. The space between my oven and the island in my kitchen is too small. I use the back of the baking sheet and it works just fine, thank you.

I don't have cloth lined baskets. I use one colander and one bowl. They work fine. The important thing is to not wash the floured cloths. You can rinse them all you want, but don't use soap on them in between bakings. You don't want that flavor or the chemistry of soap interfering with your bread!

If you seriously want to make this bread and can't find a recipe for a levain starter, email me. I'll send it along to you.

And lastly, the question is always raised "Is it worth it?" I mean, after all, this takes time! Well, I can only answer for myself. Yes. I live within walking distance of a wonderful bakery. But that doesn't fill my house with the aromas of baking bread. That doesn't satisfy the personal creativity of baking bread, such as - how about if I add something to this dough - like olives or sunflower seeds, for instance? And then, there the warm roundness of the loaf itself as it comes out of your own oven. You didn't need to put socks on to get it. You didn't even need to brush your hair. You just fell out of bed and started the process, and while it was busy rising and doing it's thing, you found the time to do other things. Like run to the nursery and find some kind of plant with reddish leaves that likes shade, to go with the New Zeland flax you bought the other day......

Saturday, May 3, 2008

An Array of Breads

OK. I admit it. I'm hooked. I thought it would be a passing fancy, but it's proven to be more addictive than that. I honestly don't understand it, since it's not like I don't have anything else to do, and this particular "hobby" is time consuming. Not continuously, like playing golf or anything, but you only get a few hours in between the steps for getting your laundry done, watering the garden, running to the store because you forgot something.....that sort of thing.

But there anything better than walking into your house and inhaling the smell of
bread being baked? It's more subtle than a stew bubbling away on the stove top, or a roast simmering in the oven. But subtlety is something I appreciate more and more as I get older. Perhaps because I don't find it all that often, and so it becomes more like a rare gem.

So I'm going to be posting about the 3 breads I've baked recently: A "Pain a L'Ancienne" Ciabatta, a Country Sourdough Boule, and a Seeded Sourdough Rye. These recipes have been taken from 2 sources: Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" and Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree's "Amy's Breads".

So if you're a carbophobe, or have little interest in bread, you might want to check back around Memorial Day. Not that I'll be over my addiction by then, but I've got a number of other recipes to share. It's not that I haven't been cooking or photographing, folks. It's just that I haven't had the time to sit and write. Not when I can be outdoors, expanding my garden, planting new color combinations as well as a fresh herb garden.

Oh! Yes! And go to work!

The recipes for these will be coming soon to a theater near you.........I promise!

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