Cleaning Solution

The powers that be closed our workplace today, which is just as well. As promised, the temperature is -9 to -15, and the wind chill is apparently -45. The schools are closed, as are many other workplaces. It’s deceptive, because the sun is shining brightly, and, given all of the new snow all over the place, it’s nearly blinding, so it looks practically cheery. Nevertheless, it is, in fact, stupid cold, and I’m debating whether I’m going to even step outside. (The cat is strongly recommending that I do no such thing.) Then I think about how long it would take to put on all the clothes I’d need to be safe, even for a walk around the block, and my ambition wanes. It’s still going to be stupid cold tomorrow morning, too, so I’ll get the “experience” on my way to work.

I took the opportunity of an unexpected day off to do some cleaning–yeah, I know, surprised me, too. In particular, I tackled the kitchen cabinets, which reminded me of office chairs.

There have been times when I’ve been sitting in an office chair and I’ve thought that the designer of the chair never had to actually sit in the chair, which would explain the discomfort of doing said sitting. More broadly, there are some things that are so disfunctional in some way that you realize the designer never had to use the thing. In my case, it’s the kitchen in my unit. Let’s start with the aforementioned cabinets. They have this . . . set of ridges? edges? I’m sure there’s a design name for it but I have no clue, and the ease with which crud can embed itself in these ridges is truly impressive.

The crud accumulation process is assisted by the fact that the cabinets aren’t very high-quality. They’re plain painted wood, so kind of rough-surfaced, and the drawer pulls have this scrollworky thing going on, which also–you guessed it–accumulates crud. In addition, someone thought that bead board would make a fine backsplash for the whole kitchen, including behind the counter. They could not have been more wrong. Even a toothbrush doesn’t get at all of it, not least because there’s a line of caulk at the bottom between the bead board and the quarter-round edging, presumably placed there by the previous owner after he installed the wonderful butcher-block counter that extends nearly the whole length of the kitchen on one side and that I adore.

Clearly, the person or people who designed these various bits either didn’t cook in the kitchen or didn’t have to clean it, or both. Certainly the designer didn’t bake in the kitchen, i.e., throw around large amounts of flour, the remnants of which love to embed themselves in the nooks, crannies, corners, and swirls of the design elements.

I cannot wait to redo the kitchen.

What I’m realizing, though, is that even if I suddenly had a bunch of money to do the kitchen renovations, I don’t know everything that I want yet. More to the point, I don’t know what I want the design of the backsplash to be. I want something colorful, and glass tile and/or fused glass decorative bits, but other than that, I have no clue. I have ideas about the rest of it–cabinets, and the window, and recreating the transom, and the sink, and leaving space for new appliances but not actually buying them until the old ones fail–but the main decorative bit is the one piece I still haven’t sorted, and it doesn’t make sense to me to embark on any of the work without having that part. Ah well; no need to worry about it today–and at least the cabinets are clean.

Today’s cooking is a matter of rummaging in the freezer and pulling out things that are getting a little old and that would work okay together (roasted acorn squash; black beans; spicy tomato sauce) and that will use some of the onions, carrots, and celery that are sitting around. I should throw in some turnips, too, because I have them (of course I have them). The purpose isn’t just dinner, though it is that, it’s also creating some lunches–the basic principle is lunch-sized containers of something that can be eaten with cheese melted on top and a hunk of bread on the side. The type of cheese varies a bit, but it’s basically a good formula.

The wrist is mostly a bit better today, despite the cleaning and scrubbing, though it occasionally twinges, and chopping veggies likely won’t help. I’m joined in my injury, however, by my father, who apparently stepped out of the house yesterday and promptly slid down the driveway, eventually landing on and breaking his wrist. My mother said they were also going to x-ray his hip while they’re at it, so here’s hoping it’s just the wrist.

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Limey

The thing about making bread is that, at least in the size batches I make, the mixer and the yeast do most of the work. There’s some kneading by hand–which was an adventure today, because I sprained my right wrist badly two weeks ago, so the kneading had to be done left-handed rather than both-handed–and some shaping and such, but otherwise, it’s not me. Reinhart’s method involves soakers and preferments, which means any given formula is a matter of weighing and mixing the soaker and starter (and mash, in the case of one of the breads) on one day, and mixing those together with a few more things on the second day; even the work that is involved is spread out–a few minutes here, a few there. That said, given that I was making three separate batches, it took me most of the morning. (Of course, if I had a second oven, I would not have had to stagger the rising and baking . . . )

It’s not for people who want instant gratification, though.

Typically, I also interleave a few other chores (peel the beets that I roasted two weeks ago, then froze because I didn’t have time to peel and cut them before we left for the holidays; do two loads of laundry, so all my fleece shirts and warm socks are clean; bake a batch of cookies, to which I’ll return in a minute; move the chicken stock from the kitchen freezer to the chest freezer so it doesn’t all die from freezer burn). It’s theoretically possible to sit down for stretches of time as the yeast does its thing, but I actually prefer the  bread-then-chores-then-bread-then-chores progression. Today is a perfect day for baking, too, as the weather is becoming seriously brutal. It’s been snowing steadily, the wind is blowing hard, and you can almost see the temperature dropping; the latest report shows an expected wind chill tomorrow of -45, which is just stupid cold. I was glad to have a reason to have the oven on for 6 or 7 hours.

What about the cookies? Well, another of my interleaved chores was grating the peel and squeezing the juice from seven limes. (Quick quiz: name a use for pith other than for helmets.) I rummaged around but couldn’t find a recipe that included the main things I wanted to include, namely, honey, lime, coconut (including coconut flour), and ginger. My final formula was:

  • a stick of butter
  • 120 g. honey (about a half a cup)
  • 50 g. sugar (about a quarter cup), plus more for rolling
  • 1 big tblsp. lime peel
  • 2-3 tsp. grated fresh ginger (dried or candied would work, and possibly work better)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 78 g. coconut flour (about 6 tblsp.)
  • 100 g. whole wheat flour
  • 100 g. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 25 g. dried coconut chips (not flaked coconut)
  • 1 egg
  • about 3 tblsp. lime juice

I creamed the butter, sugar, and honey, then added the flavorings, then the egg (at which point it looked kind of curdled), then the dries, which I added slowly, adding lime juice if it looked like it was getting too dry. I added the coconut flakes at the end. I wrapped it up and let it sit in the fridge for a bit, and would even be willing to let it sit for a day in the fridge. I rolled it into small balls, which I then rolled in more sugar and pressed flat-ish on the sheet pan, and baked for about 14-15 minutes.

I got five dozen cookies out of it, and the taste is nice. The texture is . . . pretty okay. A bit crumbly, probably from the coconut flour; another egg might have been the right thing to add. The honey does not come through, but both the lime and coconut do. If I do another iteration (and, with all that lime peel, there’s a good chance), I’ll add the egg, maybe reduce the lime juice, and replace the rest of the sugar with honey. And probably use some of the candied ginger in the fridge. All in all, not a bad experimental result.

Spent Grain Experiment Number 1.0

There’s a new brewery in Evanston. This is notable for a number of reasons, one of which is that, in part because Evanston was the center of the temperance movement in this country, this is the first craft brewery in Evanston. They named their brewery “Temperance,” too, which is amusing in its own way. On New Year’s Eve afternoon, two friends dragged me and Friend out to drink beer with them at Temperance and we sampled the six beers they currently have on tap. They were ALL good, which is not always my reaction, especially when fruit is involved. (One is a wheat ale with blueberries and another is an ESB with Balaton cherries.)

Anyway, not surprisingly, we started chatting with the bartender, who also turned out to be one of the owners, and I asked him what I always ask brewers: what do you do with your spent grains? Turns out that they still haven’t found a way to get rid of them, which means I had no trouble talking them into saving some for me the next time they planned on brewing. The brewer came out and talked to us, too, and she was more than happy to save some grain. Thus, despite the huge piles of snow that remained on the streets yesterday, I shlepped to the brewery (about 3 miles round trip to/from the nearest el station) to pick up the promised booty–a gallon bag crammed full of spent grain from a batch of pale ale, maybe. I’m going to take them some of the finished product; they’re releasing a new beer on Friday, which will be a perfect excuse.

I currently have three breads in various stages of construction, and at least two of them will utilize some spent grains. One is the straight-up spent grain recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. I’ve made that one before, though most recently with dark-roasted grains that were used in a porter, maybe?, so it makes sense to just use the new ones in the same way, i.e., with a formula that I know works, and see what happens.

I recently started experimenting with breads that start with a mash (in this case, raisins, flaxseeds, and water, which soak for a day and then go in with the other ingredients in the soaker), so I did the same thing except added some spent grains to the mash. No idea what will happen, but how bad can it be? Because I’m going to have a whole lot of starter (biga), I’m also going to do what Reinhart calls his “broom” bread (because it acts like a broom to your insides), and I may add some spent grain to that, too. Eventually I’m also going to dry some of the spent grain and turn it into flour.

In short, tomorrow is going to include three batches of bread, and, as long as the oven is going to be on anyway, I’m going to use up some of the limes that have been languishing in the fridge and make some cookies. That’s going to be even more of an experiment: what I have in mind is coconut lime cookies, but the recipes I’ve been able to find don’t do it for me. I also have some coconut flour, which I’ve never used before, but I don’t want to use only coconut flour. Apparently it’s used in some gluten-free baking, so a lot of the recipes using coconut flour don’t have any wheat flour in them. My current vague plan is to use a basic sugar cookie recipe, or the ginger-lemon cookies recipe that’s on the back of my most recent Baking Sheet from KAF, and adapt it: replace some of the regular flour with coconut flour, use grated lime peel instead of lemon, and add the extra liquid the coconut flour apparently requires in the form of some lime juice, or maybe some reduced lime juice. I’ll also add shredded coconut in there somewhere, preferably in a manner that allows it to get nice and toasted; toasted coconut is one of life’s awesome pleasures. And I might keep the ginger in the recipe, because I like ginger with lime and coconut. I’ll let you know whether they’re edible . . .

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.

Welcome to Turnip Town

When I first started cooking a lot, especially when I was cooking from vegetarian recipes, I was a bit confounded because many of the recipes include bell peppers. I cannot eat bell peppers of any color; they do not like me, so we have a mutual non-aggression pact (I don’t eat them and they don’t bother me). I could never make those recipes the way the recipe said (yes, I did used to follow recipes more religiously, which is part of how I can disregard them more easily now), and I had the sense that I was making it “wrong,” somehow, that I didn’t know how it was supposed to taste. Eventually, though, I realized that what I was producing tasted quite good, even if it didn’t have an ingredient that the recipe’s creators included, sometimes in large quantities–which meant that I wasn’t making it wrong, after all.

Sometimes, in such recipes, I’ll make up the bulk that the peppers would occupy with more of the recipe’s other ingredients (onions, for example, or one of the other vegetables), but that’s rarely necessary. And, in general, I throw in more onions (and more garlic) than the recipe lists, no matter what the recipe is. But the spices and/or herbs, and the main ingredients themselves are what give the dish its flavor, and the peppers aren’t missed, at least not by me. I’m not going to make something where peppers are a main ingredient–stuffed peppers, for example–but that’s no different from not making any recipe because you don’t care for the main ingredient; the flavor of the main ingredient will overwhelm everything else you throw in, and there’s no rescuing it if you don’t like the main ingredient.

All of which is a preface to the turnip adventure. I finally got around to cooking some of them yesterday–the purple-tops; I left the hakurai for another day–and no matter what you do to them, they’re still turnips. For those of you who are interested in trying this at home, I cut up a lot of onions–three cups, maybe? possibly more–and garlic. I sweated them in a combo of butter, coconut cream (I got some of the box at the bottom of this on sale, and have been experimenting with how to use it), and olive oil–probably a half a tablespoon of each, then threw in the smashed and chopped garlic for awhile.

I added spices: ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, ground coriander, a pinch of cloves, some grated orange peel I had in the fridge that had dried up, some candied lemon peel and orange peel (I had made the first one, but the second was from KAF), and a handful of leftover roasted pineapple. I also had some carrots–I cut them into strips in the food processor. I took the new one for a spin yesterday, and sliced up radishes and watermelon radishes for roasting, the carrots, and all the damn turnips, after I peeled the latter two. I tossed the carrots with a little butter and coconut cream, and some ginger syrup (also made that and had it in the fridge with candied ginger) and roasted them. I would NOT have taken that step if the oven hadn’t already been on for the crackers and the radishes (and, later, the bread), but I figured I’d give it a shot. After they had roasted a bit, I cut them up very small and threw them in with the spices. I threw in the sliced turnips and about a cup (probably a little too much) of chicken stock from the freezer, but you could just as easily use vegetable stock or water.

So how did it come out? Unfortunately, it still tastes overwhelmingly of turnips–that sharp, brassy, brassica taste, the one that I love in broccoli and cauliflower and cabbage, and even in brussels sprouts, if they’re prepared well and not overcooked. I’ll end up eating them, because the only alternative is throwing them out, and I can’t bring myself to do that, but damn, I am tired of dealing with turnips. Yes, they’re very good for you; yes, I’ve managed to add enough stuff to them to complement the flavor a bit (and I’m hoping that improves as they sit in the fridge); but they’re still . . . turnips. I suppose I could have made more of a curry sauce–more coconut milk, for example–but that starts to increase the fat content rather dramatically. I’ll probably eat them with some brown rice or some bread, both of which break up the brassica taste a bit.

I also made some more braised cabbage and venison ring bologna last night, which I ate with some freshly made whole wheat bread, and it was just awesome. That recipe is such a keeper–and handy, as I got three more cabbages in my farm share box this week.

What else came out of the kitchen this weekend? More crackers! I made them with the KAF Harvest Grains again, and I like that version better than the version with sesame seeds, though I’ll probably try a half-and-half version at some point. And some whole wheat bread, except I replaced some of the flour in the soaker with barley flakes and cracked wheat, and I put a little spelt flour in the whole thing when I made the final dough. (We’ll talk about bread in more detail in some future post.) I made two smaller batards rather than one big boule, and I threw one in the freezer. The aforementioned radishes I sliced in the food processor and tossed with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and let them roast in the oven for, oh, 40 minutes or so? I’m not a radish fan, but I find that roasting them makes them a little less biting.

So, all in all, the curried turnips were . . . a success? Sort of? I mean, they’re still TURNIPS, and I couldn’t disguise that fact, but not every one of these projects is going to work as I hope. Which circles us back around to my original disquisition on peppers. On one hand, there are foods I simply wouldn’t buy–peppers are notable in that list–because I cannot eat them. When they show up in the farm share, I give them away, because there’s nothing I can do to them that will make me be able to eat them. There are other foods I wouldn’t buy on my own–and turnips are at the top of that damn list–but that will show up in the farm share over time. In the case of turnips, I can’t even “forget” about them in the fridge and then throw them out when they turn into a science project, because they last forever. (I also don’t like to do that, because it’s just wasteful.) In those cases, my project is to at least make them edible. They’re not likely to become a favorite food, but at least I’m not throwing them out. Obviously, if you don’t have a farm share you’re not going to run into this problem, but farm shares are becoming more popular, and they’re really awesome, so I doubt I’m the only person with an ingredient problem–and, more specifically, a turnip problem.

Now if I could just figure out what to do with all of the Asian greens (bok choy, tatsoi, tokyo bekana, etc.), because they’re all brassicas, too.