My Sourdough Bread Challenge

My self-imposed challenge for April was to start the process of learning to make sourdough bread. Unlike the first 3 challenges I set myself this year (Banh Mi, Kouign Amann and croque monsieur), I didn't even imagine I'd get this right the first time--or even in the first 6 months. That's because sourdough bread takes a long time, maybe a year, to develop its true flavor and special sour character. Also I need to learn some baking chops. So this is a long-term challenge. I'll need to make bread about every 3 weeks at least to keep the starter (yeast colony) refreshed and happy.

Colonizing the starter was my first step in this challenge. I followed my mother's recipe which is called "Tried-and-True for 20 Years." To make starter, combine 1 c water, 1 c flour and 1 packet of yeast (2.5 t). Leave out uncovered for 2-3 days. Here's what happened:

The starter bubbled for a day or so, then developed a leathery top with liquid below.

When I scraped the crusty top aside, I could see lots of healthy activity beneath.

After 2.5 days, I was ready for step 2--creating the sponge. This is an 8 hour process where you take 1/2 cup of the starter and combine it with 1.5 cups bread flour and 2 cups warm water. Cover with a towel and leave overnight (or all day).

Here is the resulting sponge close up.

Here it is after I dipped a spoon in--check out that goopy texture!

Step 3 is to remove 1/2 cup of the mixture to save as starter for next time. It is very important to remember this step or you've just "broken your chain"!

Store the starter in glass or ceramic, like this small crock.

Step 4. (Phew, this is getting complicated. It took 3 phone calls to my mother and an email exchange to understand all these steps.) Now is the time when we knead. Add another package of yeast that has been dissolved in 1/4 cup of warm water, plus 1 T salt and 3.5 cups bread flour. (Start with 2.5 cups, then knead in more. Knead knead knead until the texture is right. It will take months to know when this is--I didn't. I believe it has something to do with a kind of "cracking" or "pulling" feeling in the heels of the palms.) Put back in the bowl, cover again and let rise until doubled. This can take about 4 hours.

Out of focus rising bread. With this particular bowl, I think it's doubled when it starts to touch the bottom of the towel that's covering it. (Towel not shown obviously.)

Another step--step 5. Punch down the risen bread and knead it again--just to work some of the air out and shape it. I was using the cookie sheet method rather than a loaf pan. The dough is rolled into a blobby cylinder "loaf" and heaved onto a buttered cookie sheet sprinkled with corn meal. Now let it RISE AGAIN--another hour or so.

It has risen again. Ready for the oven. (Yes I see that it is kind of WIDE.) Bake at 350˚ for 1 hour.

Here's the result! It seemed to turn out pretty well for a first try. My mother inspected it and said it seemed fine to her.

Of course there are a thousand variables I will try tweaking as I keep working on this recipe and making bread over and over again to keep the starter going. I could add whole wheat flour, maybe even gluten. I could add nuts and seeds and whole grains. (These should all be added after the starter is removed from the sponge, so the starter is always "neutral.") I'll need to work on my kneading technique and learning to feel when the bread is ready to rise. I've heard that playing music to rising bread can make a difference, and also spraying it with water while baking can contribute to a nice crunchy crust. I have a lot to learn, but I found this challenge the least frustrating so far because I didn't presume to think I'd get it anywhere near right the first time around. At least next time I bake this I'll get to start at Step 2, because I've already got the starter.

There are tons of variations on how to make sourdough of course. I guess some recipes don't rely on packaged yeast at all, but foster wild yeasts. However I'm interested in learning this particular recipe because it's my mom's and it's what I grew up with. This is my childhood bread!

If you have sourdough or general bread tips, let me know! I'm keen to learn more and will try to post updates now and then about how my yeast children are doing.

Love at First Listen

One thing I've learned from being a radio DJ is how to tell if a song is good or right or appropriate after listening to it for 10 seconds or less. (I can say for sure that if a track sounds like Bob Dylan or Tori Amos in the first few seconds I'm not going to like it. However if it sounds heavily electronic and/or possibly danceable I will probably bite. Also, it doesn't have to be 10 seconds in a row. Try 5 seconds at the beginning, then drag the play-head to the middle of the song and listen again.) This skill has been very handy when wading through free mp3's that come to my feed reader. (Translation for my mom: I find a blog about music that I like, and I type the name into Google Reader as a subscription. Then every time the blog gets updated, the new post gets collected in the Reader. I can go to that one place and read through all the collected posts whenever I want. They often contain promotional audio files of songs. I try to listen to as many as I can to find new and interesting things for my radio show.) Here are some notes on recent stuff I've found:

From north of the border: The song "Tom Cruz" by Montreal outfit Plants and Animals from their La La Land is quite excellent. It's clearly indie pop and yet there is something a little Southern-fried about it, like it would be a good soundtrack to a montage scene from Friday Night Lights, or it would be good on a mixtape that also contains the Allman Brothers, the Doors and the New Pornographers. That sounds terrible--it is a great song and please check them out.

Also cool and Canadian are Woodhands. Their new Remorsecapade has the awesomest album art, tiny version below. "Dissembler" is satisfying mellowish synth-pop (though with break-up-y lyrics). (Their earlier "I Wasn't Made for Fighting" is a satisfying workout/banger--visit it at their Myspace page.)

Twin Sister has been a heavy rotation phenomenon at my house, especially since they gave away their EP for free at their attractive website, Also a good place to visit if you would like a 41 minute mix of Indian film music from the 70s. (Which I do, thank you Twin Sister.)

Happy Birthday is burning up the Internets and they're, like, from THE TOWN WHERE I LIVE! And signed to Sub-Pop, playing SXSW, doing studio appearances and online videos, and generally being fêted and attended to by the music industry types just like any other great band. And they are great. I was excited to have "Subliminal Message" stuck in my head the other day, it gave me a thrill of hometown pride. Nice job Brattleboro peoples.

Here is a fantastic album name: Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates. The interpreters are The Bird and the Bee and I must say their take on "Private Eyes" is both nostalgic and refreshing. It is about time we started properly revering Hall & Oates. I also like that Inara George has been performing lately while hugely pregnant, and why the heck not.

Below are radio playlists from the last few weeks. Please tune in every Weds. nite from 7-8 pm,, when it's Beef Jerky Time on Brattleboro Community Radio!

  • Minus 1: Timecard
  • I am the Tide, the Rise and the Fall: Older than Hours
  • Cigarette Hands: Graph
  • Calculators Won't Hit the Mark: Older than Hours
  • Cosmic Door: Crystal Skulls
  • Operational: Older than Hours
  • Red, White & Blonde: Subtle
  • Choco Flight: Deerhoof
  • Dissembler: Woodhands
  • Manupahk Outrage: Older than Hours
  • Palin Comparison: Jesus Year
  • Tom Cruz: Plants & Animals



4*14*10 This is the show where I played "Imagine We're at Coachella" and played all songs by artists who would be appearing at the 3-day Cali music fest that upcoming weekend.
  • You've Changed: Sia
  • The Reeling: Passion Pit
  • Norway: Beach House
  • Turnpike Ghost: Steel Train
  • Drunk Girls: LCD Soundsystem
  • Answer to Yourself: The Soft Pack
  • Stillness is the Move: Dirty Projectors
  • Percussion Gun: White Rabbits
  • Congratulations: MGMT
  • White Sky: Vampire Weekend
  • Last Dance: Raveonettes
  • Blood: The Middle East
  • Through Being Cool: Devo

  • Stay Close: Delorean
  • June Avenue: The Tins
  • Independence Day: David Byrne
  • I Wish You'd Stay: Club 8
  • Marlene: Lightspeed Champion
  • When the Lights Went Dim: The Rosebuds
  • Need You Tonight: INXS
  • Fixed: Stars
  • Reunion: Stars
  • Count Your Blessings: Guru
  • Perfect Day: Lou Reed
  • Bicycle: Memory Tapes

Orzo with fresh herbs and chevre

Big thanks to one of my bestest friends, Alice, for this killer orzo recipe. She happened to mention it as something easy and delicious, that can be served warm or cold or in between. I love it already and am picturing a summer of orzo variations.

  • 1-2 cups orzo
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 T fresh oregano, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 ounces plain chèvre
  • 3 T fresh chives, chopped

  1. Boil the orzo for 10 minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again and toss with olive oil (about 1/4 cup or so) to prevent sticking.
  2. Meanwhile, prep the dressing. I juiced the lemon into a measuring cup, then added the chopped oregano and crushed garlic. Then I drizzled in the rest of the olive oil while whisking, to emulsify somewhat. I finished the dressing with a hefty pinch of salt.

  3. Toss the orzo in the dressing and season with pepper.
  4. Crumble the chèvre over all and finish with chopped chives.
That's it! I tried the result cold and found the lemon and garlic and chèvre came together marvelously. Tangy, sour, savory, light. I immediately started dreaming up variations. Using the above recipe as a base, you could add caramelized sweet onions, roasted red peppers, confetti of raw green peppers, handfuls of other herbs (fresh basil, tarragon, mint), olives, halved cherry tomatoes, baby bocconcini, edible flowers, blanched green beans, and on and on. I'm so excited--thanks sweetie for this recipe!

When chopping oregano I used our Nigella mezza luna.
Her little logo with cupcake rampant or whatever is so cute.

Weekend Herb Blogging #228 roundup

This weekly event has been going on for over 4 years!
It was founded in October 2005 by Kalyn of the excellent Kalyn's Kitchen.

The basic idea of Weekend Herb Blogging is that people submit blog posts where a herb or plant ingredient is one of the primary ingredients in a recipe AND/OR one herb or plant ingredient is spotlighted, particularly including information about use in cooking. In the past week, I've heard from all over the world, discovered some new blogs, and reconnected with some of you that I've "met" before. Thank you everybody for your entries and for sharing your talents! It's been a pleasure. I've assembled entries in the order they were submitted, with related photo directly below each item.

From Vancouver, BC, TS and JS of [eatingclub]vancouver (one of my favorite blogs!) made Fragrant Celery and Tofu Salad 芹菜拌香干. Using celery and Chinese celery, they describe this dish as "fragrant and flavorful"--it looks really refreshing!

From Melbourne, Australia, Hannah of eat it good made Panfried Wild Mushrooms that look amazing. She used "gruzd" aka "red pine mushrooms" aka "lactarius deliciosus," found by happy accident on a camping trip. Whatever you call them, this recipe sounds delicious.

On Allotment 2 Kitchen, Mangocheeks in the West of Scotland showcases celeriac in Celeriac and Horseradish Burgers. Her description of commercial vegetarian burgers as "carpet tile" and "robotically shaped" made me laugh. These certainly look toothsome and tasty--next time I find some celeriac I'm giving them a try!

Simona of briciole in Northern California highlights oat groats in a recipe for Dolce di ricotta e avena (Dessert of ricotta & oat groats). She is a member of a grain CSA and gets a monthly share of whole and milled grains plus recipes. The dolce is made with sweetened ricotta and peel mixed with cooked groats and topped with grated chocolate. Love the kitty pastry garnish!

From Greece, Katerina of Culinary Flavors cooked up a twist on the customary dish for Great Saturday night, Vegetarian Magiritsa. She says she never liked the non-vegetarian kind, which features lamb's intestine. This recipe is a meatless feast of vegetables, featuring lettuce, endive and two kinds of mushrooms.

From Ohio, USA, Yasmeen of Health Nut spotlighted strawberries by making Blintzes with Ricotta Cream and Strawberry sauce. Dessert for breakfast? Yes please! I would love to be able to slice into one of these right now!

From India, Sra of When My Soup Came Alive created Quinoa-Cranberry Salad. Check out her hilarious story of how this came into being. She reminds us that quinoa is a "wonder grain with all the eight essential amino acids." The recipe includes chiles, lime juice and cilantro too--looks so tasty.

In NYC, Joanne from Eats Well With Others invented Butternut Squash and Morel Chutney. She writes that the earthiness of the wild morels seemed to balance nicely with the tart cranberry and sweet squash in the chutney. She's served it over grilled pork chops--what a blast of color that squash gives!

The organizer of this event, Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once, made Caramelised Pomegranate Cake. Haalo was looking for a recipe that went beyond a pomegranate syrup or a sprinkling of seeds—something that really incorporated all the pomegranate. And indeed, this recipe requires one whole pomegranate, juice AND seeds. What a gorgeous success!

From Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico, Travis and Karin Harvey of De La Tierra created a Pumpkin seed sauce that they served as an "elaborate snack" with pulled pork-filled pumpkin blossoms. They write about how the pumpkin is a long-standing staple in the Americas--this recipe is a great reminder that there's a lot more to a pumpkin than that orange flesh!

From Atlanta, GA, Chris of Mele Cotte made Buttermilk Thyme Ice Cream. I love the sound of this! As Chris puts it, "Buttermilk? Creamy deliciousness. Thyme? Woody earthiness? Combined? Happy happy joy joy!" Those little thyme leaves sprinkled on top are adorable.

Brii of Valsorda, Italy, who writes Briiblog in English, is celebrating the fresh colors and tastes of spring with an Orange, Radicchio and Celery Salad. Before giving the recipe, she puts us in the mood with some gorgeous shots of spring flowers. This salad looks like it has great juiciness and snap.

From Melbourne, Australia, Johanna at Green Gourmet Giraffe made Pumpkin Nut Loaf. The nuts used are almonds, and Johanna shares how this was part of Easter day with her family. It's also very cool that she includes what's "On the stereo" as part of her post: great idea!

Last up, my own entry from Vermont, USA, is Ginger Fried Rice. It was a chilly, windy early spring day and I wanted something warming and easy for our dinner. I hope you can picture what fried rice looks like, because I'd like to show you the beautiful grated ginger instead--pungent and moist!

Want to join in next week? Weekend Herb Blogging #229 is being hosted by Katie from Eat This. Click here for rules.

Cheers to all!

Ginger fried rice

Ginger--zingiber officinale. Full of powerful warming energy, this digestive is a great herb to make you feel full of vim on a cloudy day... or if you're feeling under the weather. Today was a perfect day to explore ginger. It was sunny and bright, but also cold with a biting wind. I got out my ginger and beloved ginger grater.

To grate ginger, I just rub it (without peeling) on the points of the ceramic grater. Easy. Here's how I made it into a one-dish meal: Ginger fried rice.

  • 2 T any kind of oil (I used olive oil)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 2-3 cups leftover cooked rice (I used brown rice)
  • 2 T tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 thumb of ginger, grated
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • dulse (optional)
  • chopped chives (optional)
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet (or wok) and start frying the onions. Once glassy (after 2-3 minutes), add the peas and cooked rice. Mix everything together.
  2. When warmed through, add the tamari and ginger. Mix together again, then push everything over to one side of the pan.
  3. In the empty part of the pan, scramble the eggs. When cooked, gently fold into the rest of the rice mixture.
  4. Finish with dulse and chopped chives.

Gingery delicious! We doused this with hot sauce too--a simple warming meal on a blustery day. This is my Weekend Herb Blogging entry--I'm hosting this week! The event is organized by Haalo over at Cook (almost) Anything At Least Once. Check in tomorrow for the roundup!

Blog event open! Weekend Herb Blogging #228

The first "arrival" to the herb garden this year--baby chives have sprouted.
Welcome little ones! I will eat you soon!!

Are you cooking with herbs--or fruits or vegetables for that matter? Please consider entering "Weekend Herb Blogging" this week, cuz I'm hosting! Deadline is 3pm Sunday, April 11 (Utah Time). Just send your posts to me at: profkitty AT gmail DOT com and please include a photo sized 300px wide. Here are the Weekend Herb Blogging Rules if you're interested. Roundup will be next Sunday night--looking forward to the entries!

This blogging event is open to anyone around the world who wishes to enter a recipe about cooking with any herb, plant, fruit, vegetable or flower. The rules are that posts must either have an herb or plant ingredient as one of the primary ingredients in the recipe and/or spotlight one herb or plant ingredient, including information about how to use it. The event was started by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen and is now managed by Haalo from Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once.

Easter 2010

I broke my foot (well, a very small part of it) on Friday, so this weekend has not been as active as I'd imagined. And that's fine! I am basically sitting about eating chocolates and reading How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, occasionally trying out the crutches I rented, and drinking way more coffee than I should.

My fellow diner loves deviled eggs, so I converted all our Easter eggs into deviled eggs at lunchtime today.

Lovingly colored by 3 generations yesterday afternoon.

My eggs turn out all patchy when I peel them, but they taste good. I decided to pipe the filling in (even though I got rid of my decorating tips somewhere along the line). I just snipped the end off a plastic decorating bag.

A bit tidier than just spooning in the filling.

Quick filling recipe: Hard-boiled egg yolk, dab of dijon mustard, lots of mayo, dash of dried dill, good bunch of salt. Mix well, fill eggs, finish with paprika (not shown).

Hope you had a lovely April weekend. Do you have special uses for Easter eggs (or cold hard-boiled eggs in general)? Please share in the comments section!