Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sprouted Buckwheat Bread

Nutrient rich bread: 30% whole wheat & 30% sprouted buckwheat
The first sprouted bread I made was quinoa. The quinoa spelt bread excels beyond the typical artisan bread characteristics of open crumb and crust. Sprouting, or germination, is the point at which the seed begins to transform from a grain into a plant through enzymatic process that breaks down starch into simple sugars to fuel the plant growth. Inherent nutrients, vitamins and minerals in the germinating plant are rendered more accessible and easy to absorb for our digestive system. I am after these health and nutritional benefits of the sprouted breads.

Sprouted grain boosts the overall protein of the loaf, adding a slightly green flavor. It's time to experiment with other grains. Buckwheat has always been a favorite grain and lends an earthy flavor to many world's cuisine. Pasta and polenta in the Italian Alps and soba noodles from Japan. It has bold flavor but no gluten to give the bread dough the necessary structure to expand and rise. Sprouting buckwheat groats is one way to get around that while imparting the earthy buckwheat flavor in the bread. Another way to put buckwheat in bread, that I can think of, is by cooking buckwheat and folding the porridge in the bread dough. An exciting bread idea to consider baking sometime!

The bread takes on the color of buckwheat and has a slightly sweeter flavor

Any grain with endosperm and germ intact will sprout. The technique in sprouting grains is essentially the same for most grains. The steps are outlined in the cheat sheet below. You start by soaking the whole intact buckwheat in water in a clean glass jar until it germinates. It'll take two to four days depending on the room temperature. Rinse, drain, aerate (oxygen promotes sprouting) the grains twice a day until you see sprouts emerge, but before spider shoots develop. The sprouted buckwheat can be kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a few days. Drain the sprouted grains thoroughly before incorporating them into the dough, an hour after the start of bulk rise.

Germinating buckwheat groats

This recipe comes from Chad Robertson's Tartine Book No. 3, the source of all the great alternative approaches (porridge and sprouted) in piling on more whole-grain and nutrient goodness in bread. The sprouted buckwheat features 30% of the total flour weight, in wheat flour, and another 30% in buckwheat groats. The resulting bread takes on the characteristic darker tone of buckwheat. No one who has eaten this bread could tell there is buckwheat in the dough. Everyone raves about the flavor, but can't quite articulate why. The bread has a soft and tender crumb with a slightly sweeter wheat flavor. Not bland. Very easy to like and no one would object, like someone you'd feel comfortable bringing home to meet mom and dad. A tinge of earthy sweetness does set this bread apart.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sourdough crackers

Finding the right recipe to save the unfed sourdough starter (100% hydration, 50/50 all-purpose and whole wheat flour) from the trash bin while relieving the guilt of throwing out usable food sources has been on my to-do list. It has taken me too long. But I finally found this fine recipe for sourdough users on the King Arthur Flour website.

I have also adapted the recipe (in the cheat sheet below) so that other ingredients can be scaled based on how much sourdough starter you intend to use.

Can't tell which gets me more excited: the successful repurposing of wasted items or the crunchy and tasty crackers. I'd say a little bit of both.

These crackers are so easy to put together and the results are better than I've expected. Whenever I test out a new recipe, I can always find something that can be done differently to make it work better. But this recipe is almost perfect.

There are alternatives to considered for the flour and oil used in the recipe. Pastry flour makes for a softer and crunchier bite. Coconut oil makes for a coconut flavored cracker. I highly recommend these substitutions.

Feel free to use other flavorings to your liking. Other herbs, seeds or cheese add a punch to the common crackers. The "21 seasoning salute" from Trader Joe's found in the forgotten corner of the drawer and one of my favorites: herbes de Provence, have both found good company with these crackers. Have fun customizing the crackers of your choice!

Used round scallop cookie cutter instead
Scale ingredients according to the amount of starter you have on hand

Monday, August 24, 2015

Green Beans with Freekeh and variety of Tahini

Trio of tahini dips 
The theme of cooking farm-fresh produce continues in earnest. I like the idea of making a vegetable dish in an exclusively green palette, then dressing it up with vibrant eye-catching sides, inspired by the summer bounty. The salad recipe comes from Ottolenghi's Plenty More: green beans with freekeh and Tahini. (Tahini is an oily paste made from toasted ground hulled sesame seeds used in North African, Greek, Iranian, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cuisine.)

Freekeh is an ancient whole grain. The word "farik," meaning rubbed, describes a natural process discovered about 4000 years ago which uses fire to capture the grain at its peak taste and nutrition. I used cracked freekeh which only takes 15 minutes to cook. The key to this salad is getting the freshest beans. The chopped walnuts on top is optional, but you wouldn't want to leave them out for the crunchy texture they impart.

I made a trio of tahini dips on the side: store-bought tahini paste blended with beets, carrots and parsley in the Vitamix or food processor. Beet tahini is topped with roasted pine nuts; carrot tahini is topped with roasted walnuts and pomegranate seeds; extra parsley garnished the parsley tahini. The array of colors, textures and layers appeal to all the senses.

What better way to serve up tahini dips than pita bread. The pita bread dough was made a few days. I took it out of the fridge, shaped the dough into several tight balls and flattened them into about 6-inch rounds. Then they were slapped onto a blazing hot pizza stone in the oven. After a brief five minutes, the rounds were puffed up and ready. Perfect to be eaten with a colorful selections of tahini dip. The vegetables, tahini dips and pita bread are splendid together on a Middle Eastern lunch table.

Green beans with freekeh and tahini

Beet, parsley and carrot tahini dips

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sous Vide Lemon Curd

Meyer lemons are used in this curd

I started using the sous vide technique before I ventured into cooking and baking. It must have something to do with my formative childhood experience. I gained confidence in the science and chemistry lab in high school and college before my time in the kitchen. Fast forward, now my kitchen takes on the look of a food laboratory full of practical and modern gadgets. (The PolyScience immersion circulator is one of those incredible machines.) Hopefully, there are delicious food and nourishing dishes in the making in this kitchen.

Sous vide offers greater consistency and more control over the end results. I don’t have to be a good cook to turn out custards, ranging from airy and fluid to dense and firm, each and every time. Precision, precision, precision. Here I am making lemon curd in large amounts without the hassle of a double boiler. No fear of over-curdling eggs in a constant-temperature water bath. Set the timer. Follow the recipes, which are usually easy and not fussy. All will be well in the end, guaranteed.

Other than lemon juice, juice from grapefruit, mandarin or orange can be substituted in this recipe to make variations of the fruit curd. In addition to using grated zest of a lemon, small amount of fresh puree of passion fruit and mango can be added in the curd. The combination of two fruits magically kicks it up another notch.

Egg yolks cooked and pasteurized in 149°F water bath for 35 minutes
Add mango or passion fruit puree to kick it up another notch

Monday, August 17, 2015

Pita Breads

Hot stone and thin skin are crucial to bread's puffing up
This is my first time baking pita bread. “First time is the charm” has not been my experience, as far as baking goes. I believe there is a proverbial learning curve. Julia Child’s video on PBS (link kindly provided by TWD) gave me just the right amount of information I needed to get started. The recipe comes from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

So far, I baked half of the recipe; the other half is still resting in the refrigerator.  I shaped eight pita rounds initially. About half puffed up entirely, and some puffed and collapsed; some puffed partially. I'm curious to know why.

I thought I did not roll them out as thinly as can be since the recipe calls for rolling out 8- to 9-inch in diameter. Interestingly, the smaller rounds (more like 6-inch) I rolled out suited the size of my hand so that I could comfortably stretch and slap the dough on the pizza stone in the oven. The resulting pita was quite thin, especially the top part, and tender. The bottom part of the pita could be thinner. No doubt, roll out as thin as possible, to about 1/4- to 1/6 inch thick. I have since found out: a thin skin, which traps the steam, inflating the bread once it hits the searing stone, is a crucial factor in the bread buffing up.

What I did differently from that of the recipe?

• I did not knead by hand for 8 to 10 minutes. I took the short cut. After mixing together the fairly lively sponge (which took 30 minutes after mixing 1 tsp active dry yeast, 2 1/2 cups water and 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour), 1 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp olive oil, and part of 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, I dumped the final dough in the Kitchen Aid mixer. Set the mixer at medium speed, with the dough attachment, and let the dough do its kneading for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile adding the remaining all-purpose flour, kneading was complete when the dough became smooth and elastic.

• To ensure sufficient gluten development, I did a series of stretch-and-fold, during first two hours of the bulk rise. It took about 3 hours until the dough doubled in size.

• Shaping the pita breads into rounds gave me the most trouble. Using a rolling pin, I rolled out some strange-looking free-form shapes and not the typical rounds. Finally I resorted to squeezing the dough back to a tight ball and started all over again. I wanted something closer to the round shape. I put enough flour on the work surface to prevent the dough from sticking. Rolling and resting in between, things started to go smoothly. More trials and errors, I got the hang of rolling out the pita rounds. The dough was forgiving and gave me, the newbie, a much-needed break.

• Baking the breads in the oven was all fun. It’s magical watching the bread puff up like a balloon, almost instantly, when the dough hit the oven. I preheated the oven and the pizza stone to 450°F — on one of the hottest days this summer. Baked the pita bread one at a time so that I can adjust the baking time accordingly. I was concerned the bread did not brown. I extended the baking time to about 5 minutes, toward the upper end of the recommended 3- to 5-minute baking time.

I like that this dough can be made ahead. Packed the dough in a plastic bag and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or wrapped the baked pita airtight and frozen for up to one month. Best of all, I like that this bread can be made healthfully with 100% whole wheat! These pita breads go well with a trio of tahini dips made with beets, carrots and parsley.

Beet Salad in Sour Cream Dressing

You are in for a treat with this beet salad, even if beets are not your favorite food. I used golden beets because that what I had on hand. I decided when I last purchased beets at the farmers’ market that I should opt for a different color and a less popular kind other than the usual dark red beets. This simple salad is very easy to like: the clean, refreshing flavor of beets paired well with a sour cream dressing and thinly sliced onion.

For more salad ideas, visit IHCC to see what other home cooks are dishing up this week.

Pepin recommends wearing plastic gloves and covering the cutting board with plastic wrap if you worry about staining. The yellow beet is another way to get around the messiness of the red beets bleeding everywhere. He also recommends serving the beets at room temperature, not cold. His advice is spot on. I’ve learned to lean on his expert, as well as practical, advice more and more!

It’s very easy to underestimate this dish given a few everyday ingredients of: beets, onion, sour cream, cider vinegar, sugar and salt and pepper. I thought I needed to add some tasty accompaniments to dress it up. I sprinkled some oregano on top, just for looks. I doubt that it's really necessary. Tell me what you think. It does not need it, for the flavor. I did not mix the beets and onion together in the sour cream dressing as intended — for a more deconstructed look. This beet salad is truly an easy delightful summer dish that celebrates August’s bounty and still more bright sunny days ahead.

Refreshing and easy-to-make beet salad

Golden beets echo the bright summer sun

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Cherry Crumb Tart

A darker "French baked" tart
Cherry has been on my mind since that weekend in Washington DC when we set out to see cherry blossoms. The weather was still frigid at the end of April and early May; there were only a few cherry trees in bloom. There might have been only five, if I remember that correctly. The good news was there was a location map to find them.

We’d have to wait until next spring to see the splendid blossoming display of cherry trees. But cherries, the red Bing cherries and the yellow Rainiers, are in season. No need for waiting to enjoy the seasonal bounty of fresh cherries.

Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) is baking cherry crumb tart from Dorie Greenspan's Baking Chez Moi this week. Sounds great! Looks like a good recipe to bake along, except one thing...

Taking a second look and reading the fine print in the recipe reveals some daunting and time consuming tasks, necessary for the tart to come together before baking begins. These crucial parts are: 1) making the sweet cookie dough for the tart crust, 2) making the frangipane filling to spread on the bottom of the tart, 3) making the streusel by hand, and 4) pitting one pound of cherries. They can be done separately and ahead of time. That's the good part. However, there are the time schedules to contend with. The tart dough needs to be refrigerated for at least two hours (or freeze for one hour). Next, the filling needs at least one hour in the refrigerator. Overall, you are not just making a tart. You’re making time commitment before you can set your sight on the finish line. I see why I haven’t been making tarts.

Honestly, that is not the only reason. There are other hurdles I have to overcome. Making the tart crust has been my nemesis; it always seems to find a way to foil my best-laid plan. It gives me pauses before I make another crust. Too crumbly, too uneven, too stiff, you name it... As you can tell, my noisy head had been busy going over these nitty gritty issues.

Decision time. To make the tart or not? To confront or to retreat? I chose the former, but not without the constant questioning and a lot of second-guessing inside my head.

Streusel made with 50% whole wheat flour

I mostly followed Dorie’s recipe as written. I made one change in the streusel. Instead of using all-purpose flour, I used 50% all-purpose and 50% whole-wheat flour. I also used a rectangular pan, as shown in the picture above, instead of a 9-inch square or round tart pan. I let out a sigh of relief when the tart came out of the oven and out of tart pan. I had a big smile on my face when I took a bite of the tart. I like the tart. It is very rich and very sweet. Perhaps, a bit too rich for my blood and arteries.

Can't give out details of the recipe. (That's what TWD participants have agreed to abide.) See what others at TWD think about this tart, click here. Some facts about the major ingredients: I spotted 2 1/2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon of butter, and 1 1/2 cups of sugar relative to 3 cups of flour going into the whole tart (including the tart dough, streusel and filling). But who's counting?

There is always the option to just simply eat a bowl of freshly pitted cherries. And sprinkle some short bread cookies and/or a scoop of ice cream on top and call it a day!

Eat a bowl of cherries
Tart in a rectangular pan

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant Sauce

This dish is using ingredients from the local farmers' market. Among my favorites vegetables I have been stocking up on are: white corn (Jersey Silver Queen), heirloom tomatoes and eggplants of all varieties and shapes. More than I could ask for, this dish is doing double duty. It satisfies the three-ingredient minimum out of the MBM Mystery Box Madness ingredients challenge in August at IHCC. I can't be happier making another summer dish, especially using recipes from the talented Yotam Ottolenghi.

I made fresh polenta a few weeks ago with halibut based on a Jacques Pepin's recipe. The idea of making polenta out of fresh corn, in a food processor or blender, was new to me. I was blown away by the green, smooth, sweet, flavorful and earthy taste of the "fresh" polenta. It has since become my go-to polenta whenever fresh corn is available.

In Ottenlenghi's recipe, he recommends cooking the corn kernels first in water under a low simmer. I skipped that step and went straight to the Vitamix, similar to that in Pepin's recipe. Since it worked for me last time in the halibut dish, I opted for a simplified approach while retaining and maximizing the unadulterated freshness of the corn flavor I like.

I was blown away again — this time by the deep flavor of the eggplant sauce. Two teaspoons of tomato paste and some white wine, plus a few minutes of simmering on the stovetop was all it took for the sauce to come together. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least, that the eggplant sauce tasted as amazing and well balanced, against the polenta. The dish was made with all the humble everyday farmers market vegetables. Very plain but with fancy results!

4 MBM ingredients: corn, tomato, feta and oregano

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Walnut Levain Bread

Walnuts are a delicious way to add extra nutrition, flavor and crunch to plain bread. Interior of the bread spotted a slight purple, the distinct color of walnuts. I love to pair this bread with blue or goat cheese. When toasted, the nutty flavor of walnuts really shine. While walnuts are harvested in December, they are available year round. It is a versatile pantry staple, good for baking as well as sprinkling onto yogurts or salads.

This walnut bread wins the prize for being the most photogenic bread. Walnuts left marbleized pattern of random streaks of purplish brown throughout the bread, not found with other ingredients. Other nuts, such as hazelnuts, almonds or pecans, may be substituted for taste, texture and nutritional benefits, but they won't leave the trails of beautiful and darkened markers like those from walnuts.

A very small amount of instant yeast is added based on this recipe, which comes from Ken Forkish. This hybrid leavening dough may take less time to proof. But from my experience, an overnight cold proof in the refrigerator tends to produce a better oven spring. Patience is invariably rewarded in making artisan breads. The doughs have its own time schedule — little that I've learnt. You may attempt to speed it up by raising ambiance temperature, but the resulting bread may not be as good. After an overnight proof, the loaves can go straight to the oven. There is no need to bring them to room temperature.

This walnut bread is my "wonder" bread. Crusty, nutty and marvel to the eye.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Crêpes with Microwave Jam

Having a full and decent breakfast without rushing out the door first thing in the morning is such a luxury. I want more days like that. Vacation days, perhaps? Having crepes for breakfast is another luxury item that I don't seem to get enough of. With some reshuffling of priorities and some practice in making those light and velvety crepes, we could be in for the real treats, hopefully, for my family and myself. This game plan would surely get me started on the right foot early in the day.

Other IHCC's home cooks are making similar breakfast dishes this week to fuel your body and get you going for the day. Please check here for details.

I have been eyeing the crepe recipes for quite sometime. There are a few delicious ones in Pepin’s cookbooks. Pepin said his mother made crepes for his brother and him, usually with homemade jam. Now he prepares the same treat for his daughter and granddaughter for breakfast. How delightful! All the more reasons to make crepes.

There are some remarkable tips in Essential Pepin which caught my attention. Whether I could follow and repeat these recipes and make company-worthy crepes, consistently and in good form, is another story.

Microwave blackberry jam

“When making crepes, the quantity of liquid in the batter can be changed to make the crepes thicker or thinner. Milk or a mixture of milk and water is usually used, but some recipes use cream or even beer. The number of eggs varies from recipe to recipe as well. Cream and extra egg yolks make a crepe that is tender and soft but difficult to turn. The more water and less fat, the more the batter is like a bread dough, making a crepe that’s stronger and more elastic.”
 “Crepes can be made ahead and stacked, then reheated… They can also be frozen.”

These are morsels of wisdom and technique I wish I had. My daughter was the first one in my family who brought crepe making in our kitchen several years ago. She went to summer camp for kids’ chefs and came home all excited about the crepes she'd made. We tried to make crepes a few times thereafter but nothing matched the initial excitement and texture of the crepes that so captured her imagination.

Now this is crepe-take-two with more promising results. To go with the crepes, I made a blackberry jam by microwaving fresh blackberries for about 10 minutes. It was faster than running to the store to get berry jam which just ran out.

Crepes with homemade jam. A breakfast as luxurious as it is sustaining.

50% scaling makes 4-6 crepes
200% scaling doubles the recipe