Friday, April 24, 2009

Cooking flurry and multi-grain epiphany

It is a gloriously beautiful afternoon up here in the Great Northwest. A little bit cool but bright and sunny. My tulips are blooming up a storm – when you pack them close together in a pot they make a dense flash of color.

With mom in the hospital I haven’t been doing as much cooking as usual, at least until this afternoon. I was finally able to take my painkillers after spending time at the hospital and at physical therapy, so felt like I could tackle a couple of things. (I suppose I also felt more like cooking since mom is doing better.)

Last night I took my bread starter out of the fridge so it was ready to be used this afternoon. I mixed up the sponge for some multi-grain bread, and that is where I had my epiphany. I reasoned that since the sponge sits and rests and allows the white flour to absorb plenty of moisture, and I always hydrate my cut or rolled oats before adding them to the mix, that perhaps I would get an even better result if I put all the coarser grain ingredients into the sponge instead of later in the mixing stage and allow them to get a better chance at full hydration. So that is what I have done – added the whole wheat component (instead of the white flour component) as well as the flax and dark rye. And I put in some of the molasses so that the grain can absorb a little of that, too. The rolled oats I hydrated separately and then added them to the sponge. We shall see how that all turns out.

(And a side note: when I fed the starter and set it aside to grow a bit, I must have been too generous. It popped the top and overflowed onto the counter. The starter that ate Seattle!)

I’m definitely on a molasses kick right now. I had pulled down the bottle the other day to add some to my morning oatmeal and noticed a gingerbread cookie recipe on the back. I love soft and chewy molasses cookies and this looks like it might have that potential. I shall start with their recipe (done, and in the fridge to firm up before cutting) and see how I need to tweak it to get what I want. I plan to top the cookies with some coarse raw sugar. They will be a nice snack for watching baseball tonight.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Midnight Canner


And I’ve got one more case of Masons

So I’m not gonna let that spoil, you know

Not gonna let that spoil, the Midnight Canner

Okay, you either get that, or you don’t. You have to grok the Allman Brothers Band.

Yes, we were canning at midnight earlier this week. It started simply enough with a defrosted bag of homemade Italian sausage. I needed to do something with it, so I put it in a soup pot with a can of San Marzano tomatoes and some chicken broth, thinking that I’d add some peppers and onions from the freezer and cook it down for Dave’s lunches. But from there it became a “stone soup” project and took on the look and feel of minestrone. Some garbanzos, some green beans I’d blanched and frozen, assorted other vegetables, leftover onion soup. Then some farfalle. By this time I had over a gallon of something that tasted really good, no place in the fridge or freezer to keep it, and a ball game to go to. Dave and I agreed to keep it simmering on the stove and just pressure can it when we got home. And that is what we did.

That is how after midnight I was monitoring the pressure on a pot of five quarts of minestrone soup. And started channeling the Allman Brothers Band.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Adventures in canning, part n+1

Today I am pressure canning Chili Colorado. An outcome from buying two chuck roasts on sale. Well-cooked but still firm pinto beans, red chile puree from dried chiles that came from New Mexico, 1” chunks of very tender stewed beef chuck. And some “warm” spices like cumin, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, cayenne. The chili is very spicy but not spicy hot. We have hot sauces (a couple of dozen) to add that to the diner’s preference. The canning part is a little messy but when you’re only canning one batch (up to seven quarts, in my case) it’s not really an overwhelming project. I made the chili yesterday and let it cook slowly overnight so canning is the only task today. I’m learning to make those accommodations; some lessons are more painful than others.

I will be happy to have some “jars of red” on the closet shelf to go with the chili verde. Green chili, red chili, green salsa, red salsa. I guess if I ever get to New Mexico for an “eating” trip I will have to answer the “red or green” question with “Christmas”.

Monday, April 06, 2009

More than just cooking around here

Woo-hoo! I finished crocheting a baby blanket a few minutes ago. Yes, I know I'm supposed to talk about food but I just taught myself to crochet a couple of months ago, and I am very proud of it. I put a nice lace edging on it.
In addition to the crocheting the kitchen has been busy. Yesterday I made oatmeal-whole wheat bread. I used steel-cut oats that I soaked in hot water to soften them up, and a combination of graham wheat and AP flours. I added some wheat gluten for texture and it turned out soft and fluffy even with all the whole grain stuff. I turned the dough into sandwich buns – more on that in a minute.
Yesterday’s dinner was paella with halibut cheeks, shrimp, and clams, with some asparagus left over from Saturday’s steak and salad dinner. The steak was a flatiron steak, which comes from the chuck and is really marbled even though it’s just a “choice” cut. I sear it and put it into the oven until it’s medium-rare, then slice it down on the plates. Salad was baby shrimp and blue cheese with mixed greens and herbs, and steamed asparagus with sauce Maltaise (a hollandaise made with orange juice and zest instead of lemon). The sauce was good with the steak, too.

Tonight’s dinner will be grilled lamburgers (really 2/3 lamb, 1/3 beef). We are grinding the meat ourselves, so I have cut it all into small pieces and seasoned with cumin, oregano, garlic, and salt. The beef is chuck roast, it was on sale 2 for 1 so we picked up a couple. That’s what the sandwich buns are for. While four days ago it snowed, today it is supposed to get up to 70! That means we will probably take all the dishes and a tablecloth upstairs and eat up on the terrace. Dave wants sweet potato chips so I will have to get busy on those shortly.

I also have a pot of beef stock cooking. When we went to Cash & Carry (the restaurant supply store) we picked up some sliced Swiss cheese and a bag of onions. Dave asked for French onion soup, so of course that is on the menu for this week and I need a good beef base for it. I will add some of the veal demiglace that is now in the freezer to up the richness component.

And finally, I have cubed beef in a seasoning rub for chili. That’s where the rest of the chuck roast went. I’ll make that up tomorrow, probably, and we will can it with the pressure canner. Then we’ll have quarts of my chili on the shelf, and that tickles me no end.

I’m sitting here at the computer with the closet door open, and I can see all the canning jars – pickles, pickled carrots, pickled asparagus, jalapeno mint jelly, apple butter, honeydew syrup, applesauce, pork chile verde, cherry-plum sauce, tomato puree, green salsa, red salsa – and I feel pretty good about myself. I may not be “bringing home the bacon” but I can make it and preserve it.