Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Food Systems

Exploded bread - I'm still scared of burning the f*ck out of my hands as I lower the bread into the Dutch oven

The new dog has put a dent in our dining out adventures, mostly because Jaco doesn't like to be alone. While we building up his crate endurance with minimal stress (to both us and our neighbors who can probably hear him crying through our walls), we've been eating in more. This isn't a bad thing, especially now that the boy and I have more time.

In order to feed ourselves 2.5 meals a day (breakfast is a tricky meal for those of us who snooze our alarms 12 times before getting up), I've had to apply some food systems (I don't know if that's the right term, but I'm going to roll with it) to make sure there is always something ready to make and eat with minimal fuss.  It would be a lie for me to say that this doesn't take up a chunk of time, but I do try to make things in parallel and split tasks with the boy so we can run efficiently. Yes, that sounds disgustingly functional, but what else can you expect from two engineers?

First system: bread. Although I had a run where I was cooking bread often, I stopped because we couldn't eat as much bread as I was cooking on a weekly basis. Baking only 1 loaf at a time, although the tastiest way to go about it, seemed wasteful. But then, fast forward 9 years later, and we are both around the house for more meals. The boy became interested in baking bread while I was away at work. At first, I pointed him towards my old methods and recipes, but I was interested in delving deeper into no knead bread. My first attempt were tasteless, and I came to the conclusion that no knead bread had lots of promise, but the flavor wasn't there. Kenji at Serious Eats solved this problem by a 3-5 day ferment. Nope, not for me. I thought about using a starter, and after a quick search, found that many people have tackled this issue already. My favorite method is from Chez Pim. She mixes her dough in the evening, lets it rest overnight, and then does the final proofing and baking in the morning. Easy enough. My only issue is that since we bake maybe 1-2 times a week, I didn't want to continually feed the starter. My solution is to take the starter out of the refrigerator the morning I want to make dough, let it sit out and perhaps feed it if it's been awhile since its last meal, and then make the dough. This wakes up the yeast. Feeding a starter daily was becoming a chore, and since I'm cheap, it pained me to dump some of the starter every time it needed to be fed. Sure, you can make crackers or pancakes out of it, but I was forcing myself to make it. I find that feeding the starter the day of bread making still gives me good results. After I use the starter, I feed it and immediately stick it in the refrigerator for a nap. Some other tips I gleaned along the way: use an instant read thermometer to see if the bread is done (temperature should be between 200-210 degF) and use rice flour to dust the banneton (brotform). Now, I just need to find a reliable way to drop the bread into the  Dutch oven. I always end up hesitating because the Dutch oven is the temperature of the sun, and my bread comes out deformed because I couldn't drop in the dough straight.

Root vegetables ready to load up into the oven as it preheats

While the Dutch oven is heating up in the oven, I toss a pan of vegetables in the oven. If those vegetables don't become dinner that evening, I use it the next day as a vegetable soup, that is also symbiotic with bread. Sometimes I make a fancy soup where I sauté onions and garlic, but other times I just put it into my Vitamix with chicken broth and let it whiz around for 7 minutes or so. Both versions taste good, but be sure to add an acid like lemon juice or vinegar, as well as enough salt, so the soup doesn't taste too sweet. 

Roasted broccoli soup
And that chicken broth? The broth comes from bones leftover from chicken dinners and vegetable scraps (my favorites are leek tops and celery middles) from previous meals. I saw both the vegetable scraps and the bones in the freezer until they hit critical mass, meaning I really need some freezer space. Sometimes the bones are raw, but most of the time the bones were roasted into some sort of chicken bake, but cut away and stored into the bone jar before I plate my food. I can't think of the last time I had to buy chicken broth. If you have an electric pressure cooker, this is really easy. I put everything into my Instant Pot and cook it on manual high for an hour. Meanwhile, I can do whatever else needs some attention because I don't have to babysit the stock.

Figs! And smoked gorgonzola!
As far as food collecting goes, I joined Urban Tilth's CSA. I used to be a part of Full Belly's CSA, but Urban Tilth has many advantages for us. First, they have a biweekly subscription, perfect for us without drowning us in produce every week. Second, I pick up the produce from the farm, conveniently a few miles away from my house. I get to check out the farm and see plants that I can grow at home. Third, my money goes towards a good cause, especially since I can have a "pay it forward" subscription that donates a portion of my subscription fees to a local family that needs a little help. Also, Urban Tilth is about community. They have volunteer days where I can work alongside the people growing my food and my other neighbors. I ended up looking for another CSA when trying to figure out what I could do at the local level to make improvements and build community. I don't know if this is the case with you, but the constant barrage of stupid politics in inescapable and I needed proof that there are groups out there trying to do the right thing.

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