Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Kefir Ranch Dressing

I don't know why, but ever since the beginning of the year, I've been craving ranch dressing for our salads. My husband loves honey-mustard, and it's easy as pie: 1 part each of honey, dijon mustard, and mayo. But sometimes you just want a good oniony, garlicky ranch dressing, and honey mustard just won't do.

All the brands but one that I found in the health food store had chemical-experiment ingredients, and the other one was not ideal (pasteurized milk, weird mayo). All the recipes I googled called for buttermilk, but I never use it for anything else so I don't buy or culture my own. It seems, however, that the history of Ranch dressing is such that it was made up by dairy folk for the express purpose of using up extra buttermilk generated in the butter-making process. Being a hippie instead of a dairy farmer, I instead have an abundance of kefir piling up around my kitchen all the time, and thought, why not try that in place of the buttermilk? They're both cultured dairy products, so would impart tanginess and that indefinable dairy taste. Yum. The only thing that worried me was that distinct kefir zing, but it turns out the powdered garlic masks it just fine.

This recipe makes a pretty liquidy dressing; if you wish for a sturdier dressing, you may want to try using less kefir and more mayo. If you want something sturdier yet, like a dip, try making kefir cheese (see above kefir link; scroll to the bottom) and use that instead.

1c homemade kefir
1/2 c mayo
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp dried dill
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp fresh chives (can use 1/4 tsp dried chives, or 1/4 tsp powdered onion in a pinch)
1/2 tsp sea salt or to taste
1/8 tsp pepper or to taste
(may also use 1tsp lemon juice, but I don't)

Combine all ingredients in a 12-oz jar, cap it, and shake vigorously. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes for best results (this allows the flavors to meld), or just eat right away if you're in a hurry.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Great Crayon Recycling Experiment

A few months ago--or was it a year?--I bought one of those giant 128-color crayon packs from Piedmont Stationers (may she rest in peace). Those boxes-full of crayons that I'd carefully sorted by color hours after bringing them home have since been lovingly (and not so lovingly) used, dumped all over the floor, re-sorted, relocated to a gallon plastic bag for storage after their cardboard boxes self-destructed, dumped all over the floor, shaken out of holes that appeared in the increasingly cloudy and crumpled plastic bag, dumped all over the floor, stepped on, peeled of their informative and protective paper sheaths, found in random nooks and crannies all over the house and car, and, finally, dumped all over the floor and stepped on once more for old times' sake. Amazingly, a few nearly-whole crayons remain, but they and their half-size and one-third-size counterparts now fit in a mere quart-sized plastic bag, along with many many crayon crumbs and fragments occupying the interstices. Sick of cleaning up the motes every time the bag is dumped all over the floor, yet not wanting to throw them away (Grandma would be proud), I finally decided to do something about them.

First, we preheated the oven to 350F as instructed here. Next, we sorted the fragments by color. Finally, it was time to decide what to use for a mold. My daughter wanted a heart-shaped crayon, and she was in luck as I found just such a cookie-cutter in the mystical drawer of random baking gadgets. We found an eighth-note cutter as well, and decided it'd be a good idea to put some foil around the bottoms of these to contain any leaks (little did I know that melted wax is much soupier than I'd thought). There were so many waxy bits left after doing this that I had to come up with another shape--and what better than a chunky crayon for the under-2 set? So, I used the handle of my whisk as a form for aluminum foil crayon molds. I tore off about 8" of foil, folded it in half to make a thick strip 4" wide, flattened this out on the countertop and rolled the whisk handle around it, tearing off about 5" of the remainder to crumple around the base and make a stand. Then I carefully pushed the top edge of the foil tube down while turning the whisk until it came off. I ended up making lots and lots of these, as they filled up faster than I expected. Then again, we didn't exactly try to pare down the size of the fragments anymore than they had already naturally been, which was possibly a problem.

At any rate, we turned off the oven, stuck the tray in, and waited. After a few minutes they started to melt. So far, so good.

And then they really melted--and oozed out of my haphazardly-rolled and -crumpled aluminum molds and cookie-cutter bottoms into faintly shimmering pools of azure and orange wax. Never mind that, though--we just waited for the wax to cool, broke the amorphous blobs into tiny shards, and filled some more aluminum tubes with them. When the tubes had all cooled for a few minutes--some in the freezer, some on the countertop--each was ready to be peeled away to reveal the magical funnely dwarf crayon inside. Yes, as you can see in the photo at the top, the tube crayons were all short and squatty and had these weird deep funnels in them, which seem to have been caused by the wax climbing the walls of the tubes as it cooled. This happened whether they cooled in the freezer or out, or whether I stuffed the tiny shards into the tubes or just loosely filled them with 1/4" cylindrical crayon bits. Some of the other sites I googled suggested melting the wax in a flea-market pot and then pouring it into the molds. I now suspect this is the way the professionals do it--I mean, Crayola could hardly be expected to sit around waiting for wax shards to melt in an oven to half the mold's height after all that air is displaced. It seems to me that a filled tube might prevent the wax from climbing the walls as it cools--although this might cause other interesting developments, which will no doubt be fascinating to observe the next time we have willing subjects for our ongoing crayon recycling experiment. Until then, from me, Bleucheesy, bye bye!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese

For a meat-eating hippie, I sure have posted a lot of vegetarian--vegan, even--recipes. And again I shall not disappoint my more traditional hippie friends--here is my favorite recipe for Macaroni and Cheese, which, thanks to my good friend Raven, I modified to use egg yolks instead of flour. I used whole wheat bread flour the first time I made it, and that tasted awful. The egg yolks tasted wonderful the first time I did that, but I think I overcooked them during the sauce-making stage because the end result was a little more firm than saucy. But my family didn't care--they wolfed it down with relish and said not to change a thing! Even so, I have modified the recipe so that the yolks are not pre-cooked so long, and I added garlic to try and recapture the remembered bliss of eating The Old Mac at Montage under the overpass in Portland. Still not garlicky enough for that, but I think my kids would mutiny if there were more garlic than shown here.


* 2 cups Rustichella d'Abruzzo 100%-whole-grain-farro canestrini (one 8.8-oz package)
* 2/3 cup whole milk, or mixture of milk and cream
* 1 and 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
* yolks of 2 large eggs or 3 pullet eggs
* 4 tablespoons fat (butter preferred, but use solid fat, bacon drippings, lard, etc. - melt before adding)
* 1/2 teaspoon pepper
* 1 heaping teaspoon dry mustard
* 1-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (optional)
* 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (1 lb by weight--aged longer is better, I find)
* dry bread crumbs from whole wheat sourdough

Preheat oven to 400°.

Cook the macaroni until al dente, drain, and place in a casserole. Mix together the melted fat, milk, yolks, salt, pepper, mustard and garlic. Add all but 1/2 cup of the grated cheese, mix well, and heat stirring until the cheese is almost melted. Pour over the canestrini shells in the casserole and mix together, sprinkle the top with reserved cheese and dried bread crumbs, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the top is nicely browned and the sauce bubbles.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

These are pretty freaking good, even in the experimental stage that they're in. I am so glad I stumbled upon Elise's Sticky Buns recipe and decided to convert it to sourdough/whole wheat/unrefined sugar goodness. This makes so many, you may want to freeze the leftovers to have another morning; once they've cooled I just wrap each one in parchment paper or waxed paper bags (so I can get them apart later) and put them all in a gallon freezer-safe ziplock bag. To keep them moist, you can leave them in the parchment or paper bags when reheating in the oven at 200F or so until soft (I don't remember how long this takes; I'll update this post if I try it again).

1 cup starter, fed with freshly-milled whole wheat flour (either Hard Red or Soft White)
1/3 cup Rapadura or other unrefined sugar
1/2 cup milk
4 T unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
3 large egg yolks
1 T finely grated orange zest (or 1/2 Tbsp vanilla)
1 1/4 t salt
3 to 3 1/4 cups freshly-milled flour; a mix heavily weighted towards soft white or other pastry wheat

1/3 cup Rapadura
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2/3 cup Rapadura
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. sorghum molasses (or maple syrup)
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) coarsely chopped pecans (or walnuts, or almonds)

1. Make the dough. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine starter, milk, butter, sugar, egg yolks, orange zest or vanilla, salt and 2 cups flour. Mix on low speed until blended. Switch to a dough hook and then, again on low speed, slowly incorporate the remaining 1 cup of flour. Increase speed to medium, kneading dough until smooth and slightly sticky (adding a little more flour if too wet), 3 to 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large, buttered bowl. Turn dough over in bowl to coat with the butter from the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until increased in volume somewhat, about 1-2 hours (with whole wheat, it might benefit from the longer time, particularly if it is not in a warm place, but it will not likely double in volume like refined flour, so don't be alarmed). While dough is rising, begin to prepare steps 2 and 3 below. After the dough has risen, punch down. Turn out onto a lightly floured cutting board and let sit 20 minutes.

2. Make the filling. Combine unrefined sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Melt butter; keep separate.

3. Make the topping. In a 1-quart saucepan, combine Rapadura, butter, honey and molasses over low heat; stir until sugar and butter are melted. Pour mixture into a greased 9" x 13" pan (or slightly smaller; see note in next step) and sprinkle pecans on top.

4. On a floured surface, roll dough out into a 12" x 18" rectangle. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Starting with the long side, roll dough into a cylinder. Place seam side down on a flat surface and cut crosswise into 15 slices. (Lately I've been cutting it into fewer slices and crowding them in an oval baking pan I have that is somewhere between 8"x 8" and 9" x 13" in area--the larger pan seemed too big even for 15 slices, and I like the taller size. The oval pan also has a lid so I don't have to waste plastic wrap in the next step).

5. Place spiral dough slices, flat side down, on top of prepared topping in baking pan. Crowd them so they touch. Cover with plastic wrap, leaving room for the buns to rise, and refrigerate overnight (you may let them stand at room temperature first for 20-30 minutes to kick-start the rise).

6. In the morning, remove the rolls from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature while the oven preheats. Preheat oven to 375°. Bake buns until golden, 30 to 35 minutes (in the convection oven in our new house, it only takes 20 minutes). It is important not to overbake, or they will dry out, so check early and often. Remove pan from oven and immediately (and carefully as not to spill hot topping on your toes!) invert onto a serving tray, baking dish, or small cookie sheet. Let buns cool slightly and serve warm.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Whole Wheat Sourdough Pancakes (& Crepes)

What to do with all the excess sourdough starter that is generated when you are trying to enliven it using Mike's instructions? (By the way, I use the "weekly feeding" instructions further on down the page even when I'm getting ready to bake, because it still generates way more starter than I have ever needed for a recipe). Well, Mike has some suggestions like pizza crusts, which I let rise for 7 hours, but I also love to make pancakes, and my 4 year old loves to eat them. Because baking soda destroys thiamine, (and because I can freshly mill my own flour), I just leave it out--the live enzymes and beneficial organisms of the fresh flour do the leavening job just fine. If you don't have a mill or other access to freshly-milled flour (keep it in the freezer), you can whisk and fold in egg whites to provide leavening. These are incredibly easy, the recipe very forgiving, and the quantities very approximate, so experimentation is encouraged to find the pancake each breakfast brigade likes best. Enjoy!

1/2 C starter, fed with freshly-milled whole wheat flour
1/4 C milk
1-2 Tbsp melted butter
1-2 Tbsp sorghum molasses (or barley malt syrup or maple syrup)
1 egg

Mix the starter, milk, butter and molasses/syrup together until uniform (you may want to add the milk a little at a time to make sure it doesn't get too runny for your tastes--I like a thin silver-dollar pancake and today my starter was on the thick side so 1/4 c is probably more milk than many will like). If not using egg whites for leavening, just beat in the whole eggs now.

Otherwise, beat in just the yolks. Then, whisk the whites in a mixer until completely foamy so that no more liquid remains when the bowl is tilted to the side. While the mixer is on, the foam will form little ridges which will fall down again when the mixer is turned off (soft peaks?). Fold a small amount of this egg into the pancake batter until uniform, then fold in the rest. Pour or spoon the batter into circles in a well-seasoned cast iron pan or griddle on medium heat, flipping once larger holes appear in the top of the pancake.

Note: as an alternative, you may want to save some of the foamy egg until you have used up a large part of the batter, as it seems to float to the top and the pancakes therefore get progressively less airy as you go. As yet another alternative, you can put all the egg in at the beginning and then make a giant crepe with the last of the batter, since it doesn't require fluffiness. The crepe is great with Artisana brand Cacao Bliss, although this can be very rich.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Best-Ever 7-hour Loaf of Sourdough Bread

I started this blog to share my experiences in the constantly evolving life of a meat-eating hippie. Latest in my related obsessions is sourdough baking--I created a starter from instructions in Wild Fermentation a few months ago and never looked back. I found a wonderful site on sourdough baking that, while not specific to whole grains and the digestive benefits of sourdough, has some of the best information on the care and feeding of and baking with a sourdough starter that I have seen. Mike Avery, its author, gives instructions on how to make a 100% whole-wheat loaf of bread using sourdough, adapted from the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, which I have adapted further to be NT-friendly (i.e. a total rise time of about 7 hours). I actually don't think that 7 hours is strictly necessary anymore, as long as the flour is alive and freshly milled, but this takes almost that long anyway. Here it is:

7-Hour Sourdough Whole Wheat Bread
Makes 2 loaves

1.5 cup sourdough starter
1.5 cups water
5 1/3 cups freshly milled hard red wheat flour (WonderMill "Pastry" setting)
2.5 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp honey

Pour starter into a mixing bowl. Add the water, salt, honey, and oil. Whisk together.

Add the flour a cup at a time and stir (at first, I used the dough hook on the "Stir" setting on my KitchenAid Pro600, which is effectively 1, then as I got used to the recipe, I used setting 2, but you definitely do not want the mixer to knead any faster). Make sure the dough is well mixed, feeling it to see if the water has been incorporated through the dough. If you find it has not, mix the flour into the dough and get it moistened. Add flour until the dough completely balls up and starts to clean the sides of the bowl, and is not sticky.

Mike Avery now recommends letting the dough rest covered for 10 minutes at this point, before continuing to knead, so that it has a chance to absorb more liquid. Not doing this can yield a dough that is too stiff or too slack, and I've gotten much better results since incorporating this rest period into my routine.

Next, knead on KA setting 2 until it passes the windowpane test, probably 5 to 10 minutes. If you double the recipe, it will take twice as long.

Form the dough into a ball, and then, holding the ball in two hands, tuck the surface of the ball into the bottom of the ball, which will cause the surface of the ball to stretch and form a gluten cloak on the outside of the ball of dough. Don't stretch the dough so much that you tear the dough. Put the ball of dough into a very large bowl and cover it (my dutch oven lid fits perfectly on my largest mixing bowl, so that I don't have to use the evil plastic wrap), and let the dough rise about 3-4 hours in a covered place, at about 80 degrees F. To achieve something resembling this temperature, I put the bowl in an ice chest along with one of those seed or rice bags that you can heat up to put on sore muscles--I heat it for about 3 minutes in the microwave so that it is hot to the touch but doesn't burn my fingers. YMMV, just make sure you don't overheat it or it could burn your dough, or at least raise the temperature beyond the optimal yeast/lactobacillus activity range. Others recommend heating pads combined with cardboard boxes to hold the heat in, and I am thinking of investing in one soon.

When the dough feels spongy and a finger poked into it leaves a dent that doesn't fill in, it has probably risen enough. The dough ball at this point has grown substantially but probably not doubled in size. If the whole dough ball makes a sighing noise and seems to deflate a bit when you press it, it's gone too far--let it rise less in the next cycle. Gently deflate the dough by pressing your fist into the ball, then use a spatula to pull the dough back from the sides of the bowl. Fold over the sides of the ball to form it into a new ball, and put back into the mixing bowl, fold-side down. Again, let the dough rise covered in a warm place until not quite doubled and following the other rise-time criteria outlined previously, which will be about half as long the first rise (about 1.5-2 hours).

I now add in another step here after having carefully read through the Laurel's Kitchen Bread book, as I get bread that rises much better this way. Gently deflate the dough and separate into two halves--I usually use a dough scraper, but you might do OK with a butter knife, nothing too sharp. Round the dough into two balls; each piece of dough should be flattened out to a circle about 1" thick. Take the top edge and fold it towards you to about the center or a little further, then take the right hand corner and fold it almost into the center, going around like the petals of a flower until you have almost a ball. Pick it up and with the heel of your hand press the "petals" underneath so that the top is nicely rounded, and set it down and cover it with a bowl or something that will keep it from drying out. Repeat with the second piece of the dough. And then let them rest for 10 minutes. This has something to do with the gluten relaxing and thus producing a better rise--read the Laurel's Kitchen book for more details, as it is very informative. While it's resting, you can butter your bread pans or wash the bowl.

Finally, form 2 loaves. With each ball of dough, flatten into a 1" thick circle again. Fold the top edge towards you almost in half but not quite, so that it looks like it's smiling at you, pressing from the center of the fold line out to each corner to remove air bubbles. Next take the corners and fold them each 1/3 of the way in, pressing the folds again to remove air bubbles and flatten this piece until it's about 2/3 as long as your bread pan. Roll the top edge toward you like a jelly roll, then pinch the seam and either end together. Pick it up so the seam is on the bottom and put the whole thing into a greased 4 x 8" bread pan, using the back of your fingers to gently press the dough flat so that it fills in the pan. Put the loaves aside to rise a little bit, which should be a bit faster than the second rise (approximately 45 minutes, or a little less). Don't let it over-rise; this cannot be stressed enough. Don't worry if it has hardly risen past the edge of the pan--these loaves seem to rise in the oven in the first half hour if at all, so err on the side of less rise time before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350 F about 15-20 minutes before you think the rise will be done; earlier if you have let any of the previous rise periods go on too long, as you may need to put it in the oven early. When you think the rise is done (criteria are similar to the above, but err on the side of less time), put bread into the oven. After half an hour, look at it. If the loaves are quite brown, reduce the temperature to 325 F. If the bread is pale or pinkish, raise the temperature to 375 F. You may want to use those temperatures for your next batch. If you are at high altitudes, or you use glass bread pans, you may need to adjust the temperature further.

If you've removed it from the pan, set the loaf directly on the oven rack and let it continue baking another 15 minutes (with glass pans, this can help the bottom brown as evenly as the top). Pull the bread out and check it for doneness. Mike prefers to pop a loaf out of the pan and stick a quick reading dial thermometer into the bottom of the loaf; this used to work for me, but I no longer do it. I just go by how brown the outside is. At any rate, it's probably done when it reaches 200 F inside at sea level, or the outside is nicely browned. (At sea level here, this was 1 hour total baking time when using a non-convection oven, or 40-45 minutes in a convection oven).