Monday, September 29, 2008

My cats are so neglected

I clicker trained my dogs, but never thought about doing the same for my cats. This set of videos shows cats sitting and shaking hands on command, and they were all clicker trained. There's even a video with cats helping someone find her keys.

I really want to try this with my cats! Maybe the boy and I can have a competition to see who can get a cat to sit and high five first. I pick Fifty as my cat partner.

A new International Cat Hat is coming very, very soon. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Quick Hamburger Buns

After reading about this 1996 McDonalds hamburger, I could not buy prepackaged hamburger buns for our turkey burgers. I had to make them myself.

I used this recipe since the dough rising time was only 35 minutes and it was a mere hour before dinner. My only ingredient substitution was to use whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour since I'm a whole wheat kind of gal.

Rising buns:

Fresh out of the oven buns:

My total baking time was 16 minutes instead of the 10-12 minutes stated in the recipe, probably due to my flour substitution.

The verdict? Delicious! The boy and I had some friends over to watch the presidential debates, and we had fun serving them turkey burgers with homemade hamburger buns, homemade ketchup, and homemade mustard. We washed it all down with a Navarro 2007 Edelzwicker. The wine and food helped make the presidential debate much more palatable.

I have to give props to Martha. Despite mountain biking in a Martha Stewart Living t-shirt (hey, the t-shirt was free and I've never claimed to be a bad ass!), I'm not really a huge fan. However, the recipes in the Everyday Food: Great Food Fast live up to the book title's promise! This week, I made turkey burgers, roasted pears and sweet potatoes, and pasta with sausages and roasted peppers. The seasoning, texture, and visual appeal of the foods were spot on. As an added bonus, the book has a full color photograph of every recipe. This is a huge claim, but the recipes in here rival those in my favorite cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Breadalong Peeps

For those of you doing the breadalong, check out how other people are doing! I'll keep on adding to this list as people send me their blog links. Also, I put a participant link on my sidebar.

On your mark! Set! Go!
String Cat: There's a Chef in my Jar
Girl on Wheels: Mon chef, papa du levain

The Finish Line
Girl on Wheels: Le Pain
String Cat: Four Ingredients. One Jar. One Loaf
String Cat: Le Breadalong, Loaf Two

Cheap Food Tips

I have a pantry full of spices, and I did not pay an arm and a leg for them. The trick? I shop for my spices at Indian and Mexican stores. Granted, this tip won't work for everyone, but for those of us lucky enough to live in a diverse area, it's an added bonus! I think that part of the reason the spices are so cheap is that you must buy them in bulk, so you're not paying for fancy packaging.

At the Indian spice shop I frequent, they label the ingredients with the packed on date, so I know that the spices haven't been sitting on the shelf for years. Also, can you believe those prices (see pics below)??? I kind of screamed when I saw the citric acid. I had just paid $5 for a quarter of that amount at a health food store (I use citric acid to make cheese, but I've read that it is useful for sprouting whole beans).

For the Mexican spices, I can find them at any big box grocery stores around here, as well as some specialty Mexican stores. The spices are in clear, plastic bags and they are in the store's "International Foods" section, not the usual spice section. Just the other day, I had to buy cloves for an applesauce recipe. They were on "sale" in the regular spice section for $3 for a small jar. I reluctantly put them into my basket. As I was perusing the other aisles, I stumbled across the cloves in the Mexican spices section - $.075 for the same amount of cloves. Crazy cheap.

At the Indian grocery store, I load my basket with mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, chili, cinnamon, cardamon, turmeric, and garam masala. I also can't resist buying bags of fragrant basmati rice and lots of dried beans.

The Mexican spice sections are usually stocked with pantry staples like oregano, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, whole dried chilies, and cloves.

For those of you who live near Berkeley, you must visit my favorite Indian store: Viks Distributors. As an added bonus, you can go next door and eat bhatura chole (boy's head in the background provided for size reference). We were sitting right under a sky light, which gives these photos a funny halo effect.

Or you can eat a masala dosa! (They used to only serve dosas on weekends, but now they serve it all the time.)

Is it time for lunch yet?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Breadalong Part 3: The Rising Loaf

What? You don't know what I'm talking about? Then, see Part 1 and come back to this post in a few days. This, my friends, is how to make pain au levain (sourdough bread).

Instructions for Levain

Day 3 (evening) or Day 4:
Now, you're either on the 3rd or 4th day of the breadalong, and you're getting antsy. You have been entranced by your chef. You've been amazed as it doubles in volume over a 24-hour period. You are mesmerized by all of its tiny bubbles. But, let's face it, it's time for some payoff.

8-10 hours before you make bread dough, and 12-14 hours before you want a piping hot bread, you need to make your levain. Again, the levain is your bread starter. It's thicker than your Mother of All Breads, the chef.

To transform your chef into a levain, add 3 ounces of flour to your chef and stir, stir, stir. You're creating a stiff dough, so this is going to take a bit of muscle. That's it! Let your levain sit, storing up it's yeasty power, for 8-10 hours.

What you're doing with the levain is mixing it and letting it rest for 8-10 hours. At that time, your levain's volume should be at its highest point because your yeast have multiplied to their maximum density for that amount of food. Right at your levain's peak is when you make your bread dough, and again your yeast density will rise, even through your 2 rising periods.

This is in contrast to your chef. When you're making your chef, it rises and falls each day because after 8-10 hours, the yeast start to starve and die off. 24 hours later, your chef will still have more yeast than the day before, though, even though some of the yeast have starved.

Instructions for Pain au Levain:

8-10 hours after you made levain:
Your levain should look similar to the picture below. It is full of holes and it smells slightly sour. Those are good traits for a levain.

If you're using a mixer, combine

  • 8 ounces of levain
  • 8 fluid ounces of water
  • 10 ounces of bread flour
  • 1.5 teaspoons of salt
in the mixing bowl. Keep your flour handy because you might need more of it for your dough. My mixer's instructions say to use speed 2 only with the dough hook, so follow your mixer's instructions.

At first, your dough will be a goopy mess that sticks to the sides of your bowl and the dough hook. This is normal, but if after 4 minutes or so your dough still looks like this, it's time to add more flour. Add more flour 2 tablespoons at a time, then let it incorporate into the dough for a minute or so. If your dough is still sticking, add another 2 tablespoons of flour.

A dough that has the perfect mixture of flour, salt, and water should look like this:

Some days, my bread dough takes an awful lot of flour to get to this point. Other days, I don't need to add a thing.

Once your dough stops sticking to the sides of the bowl and comes together in a ball, like in the picture above, continue mixing it for another 10 to 15 minutes. How will you know when it is done? Well, there are two tests out there. The first is to poke your bread dough and to watch its reaction. If the dent you just made in your bread springs back right away, you're done! The other test is the window pane test. Pull off a ball of dough, and use both hands to spread it apart into a sheet thin enough to pass light. If your dough tears as you're doing this, back to the mixer it goes. Personally, I use the first test, the poke test, and my bread turns out fine. Both of these tests are designed to give you, the baker (yes, you're a baker now!), a rough estimate of the gluten content in your dough.

What? You think using a mixer is cheating and you want to knead your dough by hand? You don't have a mixer? No worries. I got your back.

If you are mixing an kneading the dough by hand, combine
  • 8 ounces of levain
  • 8 fluid ounces of water
into a large bowl. Squish the levain a few times with your hands to break it up. You are breaking the levain into smaller pieces to ensure that it will be evenly distributed into your dough. Next, add
  • 10 ounces of bread flour
  • 1.5 teaspoons of salt
Your hands are already caked in a dough, so go ahead and use them to mix all your ingredients together. Soon, your dough should form a ball can be kneaded. If your dough is too sticky to form a ball, add 2 tablespoons of flour and mix it in. Still to sticky? Keep on adding a 2 tablespoons of dough at a time and mixing until you can form a ball.

Now, you knead. It usually takes me 15 to 20 minutes of hand kneading to get my dough to the right point (see the mixer instructions for testing dough doneness).

Now that your dough is done, it is time for it to rest and rise. Form your dough into a ball and place it into a well oiled bowl and cover it tightly using either a lid or plastic wrap.

Another fun use for a dry erase pen!

Note how big your dough ball is because this is only phase 1 of the rising process and the dough ball's size will determine when this phase is complete. Phase 1 is complete when the dough has doubled in volume. The time it takes for your dough to do this varies by temperature (faster rising for higher temperature). The longer your dough rises, the more flavor because fermentation equals flavor! This is why some people choose to let their dough rise in the refrigerator. However, your yeast can only rise so much before calling it quits, and if you push your rising time beyond that point, you'll end up with flat bread. The temperature in my house varies from 50 to 70 degrees F, and that means that my dough doubles in bulk in 2-4 hours.

Now that your dough has doubled in bulk, punch it! That's right, punch it! You'll hear your bread dough make a sad, defeated sound as the gas bubbles deflate. I love this part. Take your dough out of the well oiled bowl, form it into a ball again, and let it rise for a second time. It's the second rising! At this point, I place my dough into a banneton, a bread proofing basket that makes pretty lines. If you're using a basket, make sure to sprinkle a little flour in the basket so it won't stick when it comes out. You can also shape your dough into a torpedo or a ball and let it rest on floured cutting board. To keep the dough from drying out, I put my banneton in a plastic bag. You can also cover your loaf with a plastic wrap or a clean, damp towel. Again, note the bread dough's bulk because you are ready to bake your bread when the dough has doubled in volume (2-4 hours).

When your dough is almost ready to bake, get your oven ready! Turn on the oven to 450 degrees F. If you have a baking stone, don't forget to place it into your oven at this point. You want your oven to preheat for at least 30 minutes or so so the temperature will return to 450 quickly when the oven door is opened. If you have a clean spray bottle full of water, get that ready too.

When your dough is done with its second rising, gently place it on your baking stone (removed from the oven) or a pan. If you used a rising basket, you gingerly flip the dough out of the basket so the pretty pattern stays intact. Now, give your bread some vent holes by swiftly slashing your dough using a serrated knife. I usually cut 3-4 slashes that are about an inch deep and 2 inches long. Be creative with your pattern because this is your signature!

Quickly now, open your oven, place your bread in, and close the oven door. Note the time because it usually takes 25 to 30 minutes for the bread to bake. If you're using a spray bottle, open the oven door again and spray water into your oven floors and walls (careful, don't squirt the oven's light bulb!) to create some steam - this helps with crackly crust development. You can repeat this spraying process a couple more times during the first 10 minutes.

When your bread is done, about 25 to 30 minutes later, your crust will be browned and when you thump the bottom of your bread, it makes a hollow sound (like the sound I get when I tap Mingus's head). Let your bread cool on a rack and no matter how tempting it is, do not cut into it until it is completely cool. If you want hot bread, you can reheat it later, but cutting into your bread as soon as it is done from the oven makes for crushed bread slices.

Congratulations! You have bread! But wait, you're not done yet. This is a continuous process, remember?

Back to the Chef

So, let's get back to our levain. You used part of it to make your bread, but there is still some left in your container. What do you do with it? Drum roll please..... It becomes your chef! Place your container back on the scale and add 3 fluid ounces of water and 1 ounce of flour. Scrape down the sides of your container and mix it well. Voila! You have a chef again!

If you are not going to bake bread in the next 3 days, you may place your chef into the refrigerator. If you do this, you'll only have to feed your chef once a week versus once a day.

If you are going to bake bread in the next 3 days, you do not need to repeat part 2 of the breadalong because you now have a fully developed chef. Here's what you do: on day 1, the day you make bread dough, follow the instructions in this section for turning your levain back into a chef. On day 2, make a levain again by adding 3 ounces of flour to your chef. Now, follow the instructions on making bread dough. Neat, eh?

Feeding the Chef

To feed your chef, first remove 4 ounces of chef. You can discard of this excess chef, or my preference, put it in a hot skillet to make a sourdough pancake! Now, add 2 ounces of flour and 2 fluid ounces of water to your chef container and mix it up. That's it! As mentioned before, if you stick your chef into the fridge, remember to feed it once a week.

If you are on Day 3 of the breadalong and you do not want to make bread immediately, just follow the instructions in the above paragraph to keep your chef going.

Final Notes

As you continue baking with your levain, the flavor will continue to improve. Sure, we started by cultivating commercial yeast, but as your chef ages, the wild yeast in your environment will start taking over giving your bread a one of a kind taste.

If for any reason you have pink liquid in your chef or your chef smells skunky, toss it and start again. However, a grey liquid that smells like alcohol is normal. It's called hootch, and all you need to do is mix it back into your chef. For me, I only see hootch when I refrigerate my chef.

Whew, this is a long post! As always, leave me any questions or comments and I'll answer them. If you make bread and post about it, let me know so I can share it with others.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Breadalong Part 2: Making Yeasty Beasties

Now that you have all of your ingredients (see part 1), we can start making bread. This is not going to be your "wham! bam! done in an hour!" bread, but bread that takes time and patience. This bread will be holey, chewy, and it will taste like more than the sum of its parts. Seriously.

Allow me to give you a little overview of what we are about to embark on together: bread leavened without the use of rapid rise, commercial yeast has three stages. These three stages have French names: chef, levain, and pain au levain. A chef has the consistency of pancake batter, and it is your Mother of All Breads. It's a primordial soup consisting of yeast, alcohol, lactic acid, and other goodies that I don't know how to pronounce, let alone spell. You feed your chef a modest meal of flour and water daily or weekly, depending on how frequently you plan on baking, and with every feeding, you must sacrifice some chef to the bread gods. Why must you make a sacrifice? Because if you did not, you would have to feed your chef more and more flour and water to support the cultivated yeasts. Some heathens suggest pouring the chef sacrifice down the drain, but I prefer to pour it into a hot skillet with the bubbling fat of my choosing to create a crispy pancake.

When you're tired of feeding the freeloading chef and you want some payoff, it's time to make the levain. Instead of having a pancake batter consistency like the chef, a levain is stiffer. This makes sense, because the only thing you do when transforming your chef into a levain is add flour to your chef. A levain ferments anywhere from 8-10 hours before it is ready for its transformation into bread dough. If you wait any longer to make your dough, the levain looses it's oomph. The yeast population will be on the decline and will not be lively enough to raise your dough.

I need to make a bumper sticker that proudly states "Fermentation is your friend!" My favorite foods and drinks are all fermented. But, I digress... Back to bread basics.

Once you have a ready and willing levain, you take part of it for bread dough (pain au levain means bread made from a levain) and part of it to make more chef. Hence, the cycle continues!

Breadalong participants, it is now time to make your very own chef. You'll be making a chef for 3 days. On the fourth day, you make a levain, and if you make that levain in the evening, on the fifth day you shall have bread! Are you ready? OK! Let's get started.

Instructions for Chef

Important notes: The end result will be one loaf of bread. If you want to make two loaves of bread at a time, double the flour and water measurements given below, but not the amount of commercial yeast (only used on day 1). See the first breadalong post for a better description of the bread ingredients and tools referenced in the instructions. Also, no chef sacrificing occurs when you are first making the chef. Your flour and water for days 1, 2, and 3 all go into the same jar and nothing comes out just yet.

Day 1:
In a glass jar, combine 2 ounces of flour and a pinch of yeast with two fluid ounces (1/4 cup) of water. Stir, stir, stir with a spatula and scrape down the sides of the jar when you are done. You can mark the side of the jar with a dry erase pen if you want to track volume changes in your slurry. Put a loose fitting lid on top of the jar.

What your left with looks like pancake batter. Note the surface of your chef - it's smooth and without air bubbles. As the day progresses, you'll see tiny air bubbles dancing on the chef's surface like the ones pictured below. This is a result of that scant pinch of yeast doing its thing and multiplying!

Since I'm a gadgetaholic, I have a digital scale with a tare (reset to 0) function. I place my jar on the scale, tare, add 2 ounces of flour and a pinch of yeast, tare, and then add the 2 fluid ounces of water by weight. If you have a scale, too, you can make this easier on yourself by weighing 2 fluid ounces of water and remembering that number so for future feedings, you do not have to use a liquid measuring cup.

After all this talk about not using commercial yeast, why do I start with it? Well, you could start by capturing the wild yeast in your area, but if you are in an extremely urban setting, you might not cultivate anything worth turning into bread and it would take at least 12 days or so to have an active culture. I'm patient, but not that patient! Commercial yeast kick starts the process.

Day 2:
In the same glass jar with yesterday's mixture, combine 2 ounces of flour with two fluid ounces (1/4 cup) of water. Give this mixture a good stir and put a lid on it. You curious folks can again mark the side of the jar. Note that your mixture is more lively than it was yesterday. You'll see your mixture rise and fall within a 24-hour period.

Day 3:
In the same glass jar you used yesterday, combine 2 ounces of flour with two fluid ounces (1/4 cup) of water. Give this mixture a good stir and put a lid on it. Does this sound familiar? Again, your chef will rise and fall in volume over a 24-hour period.

Congratulations, you now have a chef! In part 3, we will turn this chef into a levain, which will in turn become pain au levain!

Feel free to leave me questions in the comments section! Happy chef making!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Another Condiment Demistified

It doesn't look like much now, but wait until a week from now! You'll all be jealous of my red wine mustard. The boy and I were talking about what things we like to have in the fridge and pantry and how we can make them without so many additives, high-fructose corn syrup being the main additive we want to cut out. Our list includes ketchup, mustard, jam, and pickles. We also love having sauerkraut on hand - it makes the perfect fast food when paired with bread and bockwurst. Learning how to can was worth it just so we can have sauerkraut handy when our crock is empty.

Amazingly, mustard is easy! You just let your mustard seeds soak in the acid of your choice, then you grind it all up. You can add spices, or not. Because the mustard gods were smiling down on me, I happened to have all the ingredients in the pantry. Yeah!

I've been warned my several websites that it will taste positively nasty the first time it is all ground up and that resting period of at least a week is needed to mellow out the flavors. We'll see if I can resist.

Today, we took a bike ride down to the local farmers' market to pick up some more ketchup ingredients. Biking in our neighborhood isn't trivial, however, since it means committing to a hill climb or two. To fortify myself for the climb back up to our house, I stopped by Stash and loaded up on sock yarn. It's light yarn, so it wasn't a bother at all. ;)

The yarn in the back is Trekking Pro Natural (it has bamboo!) and the one in the front is Schaefer Anne. Both are going to be magically transformed by elves, or me, into Christmas gifts.

Ack! I better start knitting!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fan Love

For the past few days, summer is proving that it's not over yet by giving us temperatures over 90 degrees and clear blue skies. Here in my little corner of the Bay Area, most residents don't have air conditioning because it rarely gets over 80 degrees F during summer and we're used to summer equating fog. But not this week. No, not this week.

Mingus likes to make a big, dramatic show about how he is suffering the most. As soon as I flip the fan on, he hogs it so those of us downwind of the breeze become coated in white dog fur.

When you ask him to move, ever so politely, he pretends that it is too hot and he is suffering so much that he cannot possibly hear you. I caught him squeezing his eyes shut tighter when I told him to moto.

And of course, when he realizes that there is a camera involved, he hams it up.

Incorrigible, that dog.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Crafty Updates

Free time seems to have a way of disappearing around here. Our ongoing effort to preserve summer's bounty so we can eat locally is still going strong. To the left, you'll find the most expensive ketchup in the world. My recipe was supposed to yield 5-pints of ketchup, but instead, I ended up with 2 1/2. Eh, that's not exactly a year's supply of ketchup, so I'll have to make another trip to the store for more tomatoes.

The ketchup recipe is from the Joy of Cooking. I had to check out the Joy of Cooking: All about Canning and Preserving from our library for this recipe. Why? Because my 1997 JOC edition is lame, that's why! People buy this book not for its ethnic recipes, but for "how tos" on American staples! I thought for sure I would find instructions on jams and jellies in my JOC, and I was confounded when none were present. So, consider this a PSA: do not buy the 1997 edition of JOC because it lacks the soul of the earlier editions. There is tons of info on the Internet about the family drama behind this JOC edition, so I'll spare you, but just know that it is out there if you are curious.

I fondly refer to our canned apple butter as "Look, Ma! No hands!" because I didn't have to lift a finger. The boy made and canned the butter on his own. It is soooooo good! We ended up with many jars, but I don't think we'll be sharing it much because it rocks. Those apples, Fujis, came from my inlaw's backyard - they had a lot of tiny apples that were too small for eating.

There has been a bit of knitting going on in these parts, too. These Lisa Sousa (colorway Olive) socks were my first attempt at knitting 2 socks at one time on 2 circular needles. I love this method! Since I do so many on the fly adjustments to patterns, it's nice knowing that both socks will be the same instead of one being a bit longer/tighter/shorter than the other.

The pattern is my own, but it's nothing really creative. I wanted something mindless to knit, so I made spiraling seed stitches on the top of the foot and through the leg. I can type it out if you're interested, but I'm sure that there are other sock patterns out there with this same motif.

I'm currently working on anklets from sock yarn scraps. This is Schaefer Anne yarn, one of my favorite yarns. The mohair content makes it a little itchy, but boy is this durable!

It's a simple 3x1 ribbed pattern paired with a slip stitch, Widdershin-style heel.

I think I have my perfect sock formula down now! They are knit 2 at a time and toe up using the Turkish cast on. I knit them at 9.5 stitches per inch (usually size 1s) and I increase to 72 inches. The heel is the Widdershin heel with slip 1/knit 1 heel stitch, and the bind off is doulble crochet. Yeah, this is going to be my formula until something better comes along.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Root Beer Update

It was good, but it did take 2 tries! The first time I opened the bottle of root beer, it was flat. I added an extra heaping of yeast and sealed the bottle up a second time and another 2 days. This time, success! I'm hoping that my third try will be even better, since the flavor was better the first time I opened the bottle.

The boy and I have been busy bees since we're both taking time off from work. We make good retired people! Our travels plus the "hot" weather (in quotes to show respect to my friends from Austin who have been staying with us and balking at my weather whining) has made me stay away from my computer. A computer produces heat, you know!

During one of our adventures, a friend and I watched the boy kayak surf. In the fog.

It was hot as Hades at our house, but the beach was positively freezing. We were engulfed in fog, which wasn't quite what we had in mind when we decided to go to the beach. My friend and I made sure that the boy wasn't being eaten by sharks, and we knit. I had to stop knitting after awhile because the fog was sticking to my fingering yarn and making my Addis wet. Yuck.

Limantour Beach is also listed as a clothing optional beach, or at least that's what Google told me. We did not run into any nude people, probably because it was frickin' freezing at the beach.

Remember the Cutest Baby in the World. He's 1-years-old now! I wanted to knit him some bibs, but his dad informed me that baby is too cool for bibs and he rips them off.

I also have another sock done. But I'm lame and it's late - pictures will have to wait. Along the "I'm lame" train of thought, I swear I'll get the bread instructions up soon, as well as some more pics of the critters. Eventually. When it's cooler. Although, the thought of the days getting cooler depress me since I see this heatwave as summer's last hurrah.


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