Carrot Day

And here you thought today was Monday–maybe even a holiday, as it was for me. What it really was, however, was Do Something with All the Damn Carrots in the Refrigerator Day. As with so many things, the answer is “soup.”

So, along with the 6.5 pounds of carrots (yes, you read that right, and that was AFTER peeling and trimming them), I included lots of onions, some candied ginger that was sitting around in sugar syrup in the fridge, a wad of garlic (about a head), a bit of candied orange peel, about three-quarters of a cup of pumpkin (180 grams, if you care) left over from the brioche experiment, some chicken broth and wild turkey broth, and some spices–salt, pepper, garam masala, powdered ginger, and some powdered mustard. The one thing I did that was a major extra step was roasting the carrots after I sliced them. I thought the roasting would improve and deepen the flavor, and it likely did. I more or less pureed the whole thing (I used my stick blender, but I left it somewhat chunky). I think I’m going to eat it with some of the spinach from the farm share as well–I’m hoping the astringency of the spinach will work with the sweetness of the carrots.

The other thing that likely will help is perhaps a dollop of sour cream mixed in. I intended to freeze most of this in lunch packages, and I don’t like to freeze cream-based soups, but that’s easy enough to add when I heat it. Some milk, or even some rice milk or almond milk would probably work well, too, or I could make up another batch of horchata and use some of that, just make it less sweet.

It tastes fine–it’ll be good with a hunk of bread of some kind, and whatever additional veggies and/or liquid I put in it. It wasn’t completely exactly what I had in mind, but I was kind of vague about what I wanted to do. I think I was fantasizing about a creamy soup, and I think my proposed additions above will get me there. We’ll see.

I also made a triple batch (!!) of the Amazing Crackers yesterday, some of which are slated for a friend’s house. He made a special request, as cheese, crackers, and venison summer sausage is his favorite evening snack-instead-of-dinner meal.

But I could not, simply could not, motivate myself to do anything else in the kitchen. (Oh, wait; I refreshed the starter and took out the garbage; does that count?) I contemplated baking some cookies today, but could not get past the contemplation stage.

Then again, I think of days like today–when I sit around, work out a bit, read a bunch, make some soup, scritch the cat behind the ears–as my payoff for the other long days in the kitchen. I know I have enough lunch packages in the freezer to go without cooking for several weeks, and I don’t have much of the farm share sitting around to be used (except canned tomatos, frozen squash, cabbages, spinach that will get eaten this week, some turnips, and one unused bag of carrots). What is sitting around is in a form that will not rot, so it’s all good, and I could take today to be lazy-esque without either running out of lunches or having raw ingredients rotting in my fridge.

I’m sorry–none of this is particularly exciting, is it? Apparently today is also Boring Day–but, as it was a day off of work as well, I can live with that.

Help Me, Rondo

So last night I settled in to watch “It’s Complicated,” which I had not seen. (I will watch Meryl Streep in just about anything except possibly that ABBA movie.) I liked it quite a bit, but that’s not why I’m here today. (Mild spoilers if you haven’t seen it.)

At one point, Meryl makes chocolate croissants for Steve. The great part about this scene is the two-way dough sheeter that makes a guest appearance. I worked one of these (the rondomat is probably closest to the model I used) every day for two years, and it was entertaining to see someone using one in a movie (okay, to see Meryl Streep using one in a movie!). You do, in fact, use that machine to laminate your croissant dough (you use it for many other things as well, but that’s its primary use).

Another thing that was awesome was when she showed him how to roll up the dough. It really does take a certain touch, and it takes more time to get that right than you would think, though I suspect I could still do it in my sleep, despite not having done it in five years (has it really been that long?).

But. (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?)

Two quibbles. First, the whole process was WAY too short. She pops into the bakery and whips up some croissants? In order for that to happen, she would have had to have had some dough already fermented and ready for lamination–which is possible, of course; a high-production bakery likely would be making the dough nearly every day, so some would be around for the next day’s production. The lamination process would still take a considerable amount of time, however, because the dough needs to be cold enough when you start such that the butter doesn’t just melt into it (and the butter needs to be pounded out and shaped, and also cold enough for lamination), and the dough really needs to rest between folds. The whole process of lamination and folding would be several hours. It was already night when they got to the bakery, so we’re talking the wee hours of the morning just to get it laminated. Then it has to proof. To the movie makers’ credit, they did show her putting the croissants in a proof box, but that part also takes time. In short, what is portrayed as a kind of spur-of-the-moment maybe-hour-or-two process would, in actuality take more like four or five hours, with a bunch of that spent sitting around waiting for something to get cold or waiting for the yeast to do their thing.

The second quibble is that the chocolate croissants were made in a crescent shape. No.  Just no. The crescent shape is for plain croissants. Google “pain au chocolat” under images and see what you get. There are a few crescent shapes there, but by and large? No.  Or “non,” as the case may be.

All that said, I liked the movie and I particularly liked that the croissant scene was even in there, and even made nods to verisimilitude, even if there were mistakes (mistakes, I tell you!!).

At the moment, I am sitting around waiting for yeast to do its thing (the brioche for tomorrow), so I am perhaps a bit sensitive on this subject. What I would much prefer is baking the damn things and getting ready for bed, but that is not going to happen soon. The yeast will take as long as it takes.

226 Grams of Butter

I don’t really have much to report yet. I made the brioche starter and biga, and I subbed some pumpkin for some of the butter (though it’s still 20% butter), but I’m not going to mix the dough until tomorrow night. I rolled out the cookie dough–this time I rolled it between two silpats, so I didn’t have to use any extra flour. I also used about half whole wheat flour, and the cookies came out just fine. Not quite sweet enough, if you can imagine such a thing, but I’m going to put icing on them, so it will be fine. I was going to make more Amazing Crackers, but I’m ordering some sunflower oil from my farm share people (along with a chicken! they’ve started doing chickens, delivering them frozen), and I think that might make a better cracker even than the olive oil, so I’ll make them next weekend instead. All of that said, today’s topic is that 20% up there.

What that means is 20% of the weight of the flour. I have learned two different versions of this method of calculation, and they’re functionally very similar. It’s in reference to something called baker’s percentages. I’m going to leave it as an exercise for you to operate the Google, if you’re interested, to follow the links that appear, but both the King Arthur website and the Wikipedia entry have extensive overviews. (It is my understanding that Europeans use weights rather than volume, and American recipes increasingly include weights, but it’s still not that common.) In essence, bakers think of the flour as the main ingredient, and everything else is expressed as a percentage of the flour. Thus, if you’re using 500 grams of flour, the “20% butter” identified above would be 100 grams, or 20% of the weight of the flour. You will also see this in terms of hydration of bread dough (or sourdough starter): 100% hydration means you use an equal weight of liquid and flour.

Let’s go with an example. My sourdough starter was originally 100% hydration. Whenver I fed/refreshed it, I would throw out (or use) all except 100 grams of the starter. To that, I would add 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water. Thus, the flour and water were always in equal proportions (because the starter was also originally 100 grams of each). Peter Reinhart uses 75% hydration for his starters, so I changed mine, too: when I feed it, for every 100 grams of starter, I add 100 grams of flour and 75 grams of water.

When I was in pastry school, though, we calculated so that the ingredients were proportional to each other and always added up to 100%. In the above example, if you had 500 grams of flour, 500 grams of water, and 200 grams of butter (and I doubt you would), the flour is 500/1200, or 41.67% of the total recipe, the water is also 41.67% of the total, and the butter is the remaining 17%.  This method is particularly useful when there isn’t any flour in your formula, and, frankly, I prefer it. Most of the recipes I see use the flour-based calculation, though–Reinhart does, in his book, and that’s what we used at the bakery as well. (The real challenge at the bakery is that they still used pounds and ounces rather than grams, and it was a complete pain in the ass to do those calculations.)

There are two major advantages to these methods. For one thing, scaling recipes is much, much (much) easier. Instead of fiddling with odd measurements of cups, you just do the math. It’s particularly useful if you’re not doing an even scaling–i.e., you want 2.5 times the recipe, not simply double. The second advantage is that weights are more precise than measures. Depending on humidity, how you scoop something, how you level something, etc., the weight of the ingredient can vary pretty widely. That doesn’t always matter, of course, but it often does matter in baking. Little by little, I’ve been making notes in my cookbooks and recipes; many ingredients have the weight/volume exchange on the package, and you can use that to alter what you do. For example, 1/4 cup of flour is 30 grams, according to my KAF flours; thus, a cup is 120 grams. Whenever something calls for x cups of flour, I do the math to convert it to weight.

These methods are useful in cooking, too, especially if you’re trying to either maintain proportions of some kind in a recipe or if you’re trying to calculate the nutritional profile of something. Think of the last time you cubed squash or carrots: were your cubes the same size as mine? Or the same size as the author of the cookbook? How would you know? So, get yourself a kitchen scale–you can get one that goes up to 11 pounds for less than $50–and start making notes of your own.

Anyway. Tomorrow after work I’ll mix the brioche dough, then shape it, then it needs to rise for several hours before I bake it. I think I’m going to add cranberries and candied orange peel, as well, to give it a more festive air, and I have colored sugar (gold, green, and purple) for the decoration. All of which is probably a bit amusing, given that Fat Tuesday is a Catholic event, and I was raised by atheists.

Then again, my father’s dictum holds with regard to food, too. I once asked him why we celebrated Christmas if we didn’t believe in Christ, to which he replied, “We celebrate Hallowe’en and we don’t believe in ghosts; why give up a perfectly good holiday?” The same holds true for holiday-specific foods, at least in my kitchen.

I Say Tomato

The “chili” I made this weekend is a perfect example of cooking from your refrigerator (and pantry). I have “chili” in quotes there because I included some black beans, and I know that, for some people, it is heretical to put beans in one’s chili. I, on the other hand, like to have something other than wads of meat, and beans are one way to do that. In addition, I had about a cup and a half of dried black beans in the pantry, and I wanted to use them before they got old, so I put them to soak on Saturday evening, plus I mixed up another batch of Awesome Crackers, because I go through nearly a batch a week, especially if I share them. All of the cooking happened on Sunday.

I cooked the beans while I was doing laundry–you don’t really need to do anything to beans while they’re cooking, so they’re a fine candidate for multi-tasking. When I set about making the chili, I chopped up a bunch of onions, including some purple ones; I don’t use the purple ones much in other things, because the color can make the whole dish look kind of grey and muddy. It doesn’t affect the flavor at all, but grey and muddy isn’t really an appetizing prospect for anyone. In chili, though, that wouldn’t make the least bit of difference. I also chopped up a whole head of garlic and a bunch of carrots–I have wads of both from the farm share, and the carrots especially keep for quite awhile. Those got thrown in with the onions. For the spicy part, I had some arbol chilis from a previous attempt (I used the Cooks Illustrated recipe for a batch at one point, and they included multiple kinds of chilis, but the only kind left in the pantry were the arbols), coriander seeds, and cumin seeds, plus those little red chilis from McCormick’s maybe?, and put them all in the extra coffee grinder that I use only for spices. I wore plastic gloves while I was doing all this, I should add.

Once it was all ground up, I threw it in with the onions and mushed it around a bit. I put all of it in the bottom of the stock pot I was using for the chili, and then browned about a pound of ground venison in the same saute pan. That got dumped in with the onions, along with about 8 ounces of wild turkey leg and thigh meat, about three ounces of leftover chicken from my dinner on Friday, a container of cooked turnips from a few weeks ago that I had not gotten around to eating (see above regarding the purple onions: it was a sufficiently large batch of chili that the turnips would just blend in), and a small container of leftover sauce (a combo of vegetarian tomato sauce and venison bolognese sauce), the rest of which had been used to make pizzas on Saturday night. On top of it I dumped two quart jars of tomatos from the farm share, and I dumped in some cocoa powder and a bloop of molasses (both were in the Cooks recipe, though I didn’t measure it out in this case). I stirred it all up and let it simmer very gently for a few hours. I ended up stirring it pretty frequently, because my stock pot is deep rather than wide, which actually wasn’t ideal for this task, but the heat was low enough that the risk of burning was pretty low, especially because I was in the kitchen most of the time anyway. It came out really well–especially with some good 4-year-old cheddar crumbled into it. Most of it got frozen into lunch-sized packages. I suspect it would work well for nachos, too, if you like those.

You will notice that I included leftovers from three different meals in this extravaganza–a very useful kind of recycling. None of the leftovers was of sufficient quantity to make much of a meal itself, and all of the leftovers could be thrown into the pot without affecting the overall flavor of the chili. A few other types of chilis would have deepened and broadened the flavor a bit–it had some heat, but was kind of one-note–but it was still good, and could easily have absorbed some tabasco or other hot sauce for people who like that.

The other use of tomatos also started with onions. (I have a lot of onions sitting around, too.) These I sliced very thin instead of chopping, and cooked them in a little olive oil and butter (the chili onions were only in a little olive oil). Again, I added a whole head of garlic, though I added it earlier in this batch. Then I threw in more carrots, because why not, and some herbs from the window sill (parsley, basil, and a tiny bit of sage; I had envisioned (enflavored?) more sage, but the window box is being taken over by basil left over from the summer, and catnip, but not sage so much), chopped, and a drained can of white beans that had been sitting around forever. I am now completely out of beans, which was another of my intentions for this adventure. And–another two jars of tomatos. This simmered for a few hours, too, as I puttered around doing other chores, and this, too, ended up in lunch-sized packages in the freezer. I had some of this today, heated up with leftover greens (kale and turnip greens, though spinach would be even more awesome, as would chard) and some asiago cheese. It was quite tasty, and I realized the tomato thing is soupy enough that it could go over pasta or farro, or would go nicely with a grilled-cheese-on-whole-wheat-sourdough-bread sandwich, were we to suddenly get a panini maker at work. (I am not holding my breath on that one.)

Even with giving some away, I ended up with at least 12 lunches, and way fewer scraps of stuff.

A glance at the calendar shows that next week includes both Fat Tuesday and Valentine’s Day. I have been known to make “blood”-spattered heart-shaped sugar cookies (actually splashed red food coloring) for VD, and, if my ambition is up to it, that could happen this weekend. Cookies would keep until Thursday. Tuesday I was contemplating a twist on king’s cake. The most common recipes I’ve seen for this include enough sugar to choke a large mammal, a wad of filling of some kind, and enough fat to require an on-the-spot angioplasty. While I am not unilaterally opposed to all of this, I have come to enjoy it less over time, so I’ve been contemplating alternatives. The current lead runner in this race is, indeed, a brioche dough, but one made with 20% butter or so (we’ll discuss baker’s percentages again . . .), and an addition of some pumpkin, which I would expect to augment the moistness and add a lovely color while not necessarily changing the flavor much. And I can sprinkle gold, purple, and green sugar on top to my heart’s content. We’ll see how ambitious I get this weekend.