Friday, May 16, 2014

man + fire + food = fulfilled

I am taking a moment today to acknowledge a subject I've hinted at but never really stated outright: I suffer from depression and generalized anxiety. Today is the second day in what seems like months, that I did not feel like every cell of my body was filled with led. When just getting out of bed, and putting one foot in front of the other is literally all the energy I can manage, and life is reduced to a series of Herculean tasks such as shower, get dressed, eat. This is not mental, it is physiological.

I mention this in context of this blog, not to garner sympathy, but as an illustrative paradigm. Food, and specifically cooking, is the rope I rely on to pull myself out of the mire. It helps me feel connected to the earth, life and death, in a very tangible - primal - way. It requires of me enough concentration and care to pull myself out of my head, and it facilitates connection to the people closest to me when I have forgotten how to do this for myself.

Even when the distance between us is only the diameter of the table, everyone can feel miles away when I am depressed. But, if I'm cooking something that tugs at my memories of growing up, my mother's unbanked macaroni and cheese for instance, then even people that are hundreds of miles away, can be brought into the immediate. I can even conjure people who came before me, but who's presence I can feel. When I am making a recipe that belonged to my great grandmother, I can, not just copy but, recreate her experience of eating this cookie, or that casserole.

The past couple of weeks however, I have struggled to do even the simplest of cooking. Falling back on what are some of my worst habits: skipping breakfast, buying lunch, and sometimes also buying dinner. Feeding the depression excesses of sugar, fat, and salt, surrendering to the ease and convenience of fast food, and letting myself feel powerless to lift a spoon, even when I know it is the only way I can dig myself out of the pit I've once again fallen into. I deliberately do not feed my body - and my soul - what it really needs: whole, real, simple food cooked by my own hands.

So, it's back to the stove for me, and back to basics. Go to bed on time, get up at a regular time, eat good food that nourishes my body, and exercise. Write something, every, single, day.

Dinner tonight was pasta with pancetta, peas, and cream: not any more complicated that boiling water and tossing ingredients into a frying pan, but ultimately better than anything that has ever been served at Olive Garden. Later, I'm making sautéed mushrooms with garlic, thyme, and olive oil on thick slabs of toasted Zingerman's country bread.

I have two baking projects planned for tomorrow: Lemon Poppyseed Muffins, and Rhubarb Streusel Muffins. I am also planning to make a Roasted Tomato Soup, and two different mushroom soups later this week, both due to the local mega mart (Meijers) having mushrooms and tomatoes on sale $10.00 for 10. And, for any obligate carnivores reading this, I'll be inaugurating my in-laws new grill with a batch of venison burgers.

I am hoping to fill the week gap between semesters with a little pot stirring, and freezer filling, and may have travel plans for the long May weekend that involve feeding 6 - 8 at my sister-in-law's cabin. Being busy is best for me, even when it doesn't feel like it: I know that much is true.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


There are times when the problems and obstacles seem so large that it seems easier to give up and learn to live with your own disappointment in yourself. But I am not very good with regrets, so I guess I had better put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.

I have just embarked on reading "Cooked," by Michael Pollan. I am hoping that it serves to spur me forward in my culinary pursuits before I stall entirely. It is reassuring and also a bit disheartening to read someone eloquently layout everything you've been thinking and blathering about for the past few years. Mr. Pollan is a professor of Journalism so he knows a thing or two about writing, but that doesn't prevent me from feeling a twinge of jealousy. To say that he'd scooped my book idea would imply that I'd actually been working diligently towards writing a book of any kind in the first place.

One of the ideas I am thrilled to have confirmed is how central to the experience of being human cooking is. There is evidence to support the idea that cooking is the thing that enabled us to evolve our large brains, our social structures, and family groups. Food shapes our cities, and has organically determined where they are geographically according to shipping routes, water access, and availability of arable land. The country and the city are symbiotically connected to each other through food.

This week I have been dedicated to Spring Cleaning, organizing our storage, and donating, selling, pitching anything that I haven't used in more than a year. In short, I feel lighter and dust bunny free. But, I must be emphatic about this, I am ready to get back to pursuing my goals: cooking, baking, writing, and going to the gym. I have also been adapting to new technology in the form of an iPad. I am hopeful that the excitement of a new toy will likewise inspire some action. It has already inspired me to sit down and write a journal entry for this blog.

I will officially return to my previously scheduled life on Monday April, 21st.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

multi-grain bread

I don’t know about you, but, whenever I hear someone talking about multi-grain bread, I think of the Dead Duck scene in the movie About a Boy. Young Marcus (the boy) has been given a home made multigrain loaf so dense and stale that he gives up trying to tare it up in order to feed the birds, that he heaves the whole loaf into the pond, accidentally killing a duck. Whether this resonates with you or not, we’ve all encountered those leaden offerings so dry and gritty that even a thick slathering with butter can’t lubricate it enough to swallow.

While still being a lean dough, this bread is predominantly made from bread flour with the additions of a multigrain soaker and a proportion of whole wheat flour. Unlike many loaves of its ilk, it is a pleasure to eat toasted or in the right sandwich.

Whether your mixing by hand or by machine, it will take additional time to develop a good gluten structure in the dough. Bran, no matter how finely ground, tends to cut through gluten strands, and the soaked grains compound the issue. It is, absolutely possible, but will require a little more effort than a standard “patent” flour dough. If you haven’t built up much endurance for kneading by hand I recommend making the dough in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. It will still take 8 – 10 minutes to sufficiently work to the dough to develop the gluten.

I did not pursue this step in this recipe, but an autolysis stage may help to reduce the kneading time. My recommendation, and what I am planning to attempt the next time I make this recipe, is to mix the final dough roughly, and then allowing it to sit to fully hydrate and begin forming a gluten structure. About 30 minutes should do the trick, before you begin to work the dough.  

*A traditional autolyse method would have you withhold the yeast and salt until after the resting and hydration stage. This dough already has a soaker component and a pâte fermentée so both yeast and salt are already present, and the small additional amounts applied before the autolysis stage won’t harm gluten development.

Recipe following cut:

morning glory muffins

I wish I invented these muffins, but I didn’t. A nice lady, and Chef, by the name of Pam McKinstry, came up with them in 1978 on Nantucket Island. The recipe was first published in Gourmet Magazine in 1981, and a quick search will reveal as many variations as there are cooks. These, are a correlation of multiple recipes I’ve come across and I think they’re the best…even if I haven’t tried all the rest.

I use these as a healthful or at least beneficial combination of meal replacement and energy bar, and you don’t even need to break out your chemistry set to make them. And maybe healthful, beneficial, and meal replacement sound like disappointing diet food, but I assure you they are anything but. Full of tart apple flavor, the earthy sweetness of coconut, dried cherries, carrots, and almonds, accented by salty sunflower seeds, these pack both a nutritive and flavor punch that is 100% crave-able.

Raisins are traditional, but for a Michigan twist I substitute dried cherries. I’ve also tried dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds for a seasonal twist. You can likewise substitute any equal weight of your favorite nuts for the almonds. It’s all good.

Recipe following cut:

Monday, March 17, 2014

sing out louise

I hadn’t planned to take Spring Break off from the kitchen or this blog, but I accept that I probably needed the rest more than I needed to work on my pate a choux technique. The plan was to get a bunch of baking done, the reality was me doing as little as possible to still put food on the table and stick – roughly - to my lifestyle plan.

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, but today I cooked Corned Beef and Cabbage with fresh homemade Soda Bread. I had to drive some distance to get to the nearest Wholelfoods to pick up a nitrite and nitrate free brisket, and it was $10 more than anything I could get in town, but it was worth it to be able to serve up one of my husband’s favorite seasonal treats without making us sick. By sick, I don’t mean having a long term negative effect on our health, I mean sick in the immediate sense of the word. Next year, the plan is to get ahead and cure - or corn - my own. For this year; however, it just was not possible.

I’ve spent a good deal of time  worrying about this blog. It seems to me, that these days you have to have a gimmick to get any attention at all. Whether it’s being a Beer Bitch, or having an encyclopedic knowledge of every Pizza in Pittsburg, or cooking up vegan vittles in full Death Metal costume, it seems the more peculiar the twist the more attention it receives. The trouble is this is cooking, not burlesque, and this blog has no gimmick. It’s just me and an ordinary home kitchen, doing my best to cook and serve delicious and healthy meals to my family while also learning the art of bread, and pastry baking.  Frankly, I haven’t got the energy to try to maintain something more attention-grabbing, and it wouldn’t be true to myself or my approach to food if I did. 

I am a slow food guy. I believe in referencing the past and eating whole real food: reared, produced, and cooked with care. It takes time. It is real work. It has actual value. No Gimmicks! I have a tremendous amount of respect for those chefs who are trying to push the boundaries, but a perfectly constructed morsel suspended in a smoke filled cloche just isn’t the food that will hold up to the test of time. Cucina Povera, Cuisine de Grand-Mere, this is the stuff that we’ve eaten for hundreds if not thousands of years and we still enjoy, crave, and are comforted by, today.

So ok, this might be the Gypsy Rose Louise of the blog world. Tessie Tura, Miss Mazzeppa, and Miss Electra may have a fun song that always brings down the house, but no one wrote a whole score about them either. This blog, and I, are only part of a bigger story. One that, I hope, continues to be told. Of how we all turned back to real tangible values, put food and people first, and moved money and possessions back where they belong: further on down the list of priorities.   

Monday, March 10, 2014

cinnamon raisin bread

2 – 21.5cm x 11.5cm [8.5” x 4.5”] loaf pans, extra-large 7.5L – 11L [8qt – 12qt] capacity mixing bowl, large 6L [6.5qt] heatproof bowl, silicone basting brush, bench scraper, flexible bowl scraper, plastic wrap, 2 - 46cm x 30cm [18”x12“] half sheet pan, 46cm x 30cm x 5cm [18”x 12“ x 2”]500ml [2 cup] capacity measuring cup with a pouring spout, 2 - 500ml [2 cup] capacity small mixing bowl, minimum 60ml [¼ cup] capacity microwave safe bowl or stove top butter warmer, spray bottle with water, 1.5L [1.6qt] capacity saucepan, fine mesh sieve ~ 500ml capacity [2 cups]

460g unbleached bread flour [~3½ cups]
20g granulated sugar [~4 tsp]
10g fine grade sea salt [~1¼ cups]
7g instant yeast [~2 tsp]
4g ground cinnamon [~1¼ cups]
57g egg, lightly beaten [~1 x-large]
30g unsalted butter, melted and cooled [~2 tbsp]
120g buttermilk, at room temperature [~½ cup] 130ml
170g water, at room temperature** [~¾ cup] 170ml
260g raisins* [~1½ cups]

110g granulated sugar
15g ground cinnamon

-canola or vegetable oil for bowl, work surface, and plastic wrap
-unsalted butter to grease the loaf pans

*Rehydrate raisins after weighing.

Mise en place:
Bring the weighed raisins to a boil in enough water to cover. Turn off the burner and allow them to rehydrate for ten minutes. **Pour into sieve, reserving the water to use in the dough. Allow the raisins to sit and drain until needed. Water should cool to minimum 35ºC [95ºF] before using.

Butter the loaf pans and place together on half-sheet pan.

Weigh flour, sugar, sea salt, yeast and 4g cinnamon into the extra-large bowl, keeping the salt and yeast separate. Place this on a clear and clean work surface.

Melt butter in the small bowl for 30 seconds in the microwave and set aside to cool.

Weight/measure buttermilk into one of the measuring cups, add egg, and butter and beat slightly to combine.

Weigh/measure the cooled raisin water into the second measuring cup and set aside. Add tap water if needed to equal the required amount of liquid.

Oil the heat proof bowl and set aside until needed.

Place additional flour near the extra-large mixing bowl, alone with the bowl and bench scrapers.

Combine 110g granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside until needed.

Place the deep sheet pan on the bottom rack of the oven, and adjust the top shelf to the middle position.

Stir the flour mixture together with the fingers of one hand slightly spread. Move the mixed flour to the outside of the bowl creating a well in the center.

Add buttermilk mixture. Using the same hand as before, stir the ingredients together using an orbital motion, turning the bowl with your clean hand.

Add the water and continue to mix as above until you have formed a ragged dough.

Switch to a kneading action, collecting all of the available flour from the interior of the bowl. If needed use a bowl scraper to help you.

Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes, or until a smooth ball forms that is tacky but not sticky.

Spread the kneaded dough out on the counter and top with the plumped and drained raisins. Fold this over itself once and begin kneading for an additional 2 minutes.

Place finished dough into the oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and ferment for 2 full hours at room temperature.

Lightly oil your work surface and tip the fermented dough out. Divide the dough into two even pieces by cutting it with a bench scraper. Shape these into two rectangles and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Rest 10 minutes.

Using a lightly oiled rolling pin, shape the dough into a rectangle 22cm x 30cm [9” x 12”]. Carefully sprinkle with half of the cinnamon sugar mixture leaving a 1cm [½”] boarder around the outside of the rectangle.

Roll the dough away from you to form a log, pinch the bottom and sides together to fully enclose the cinnamon swirl. Place in buttered loaf pan and repeat with the second piece of dough.

Cover with oiled plastic wrap and proof 90 – 120 minutes until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 180ºC [350ºF]

Slash loves to allow for oven spring and pour 250ml of water on the deep sheet pan in the oven.

After 1 minute, spray the sides of the oven with the spray bottle and close the door. Repeat this twice waiting 1 minute in between repetitions.

Bake for a total of 40 – 50 minutes.

Transfer loaves immediately to a wire cooling wrack and cool for minimum one hour before slicing.

Make ahead:

Loaves keep for five days in an air tight container or zip top bag. Frozen the loaves will last up to one month, but they rarely last out the week. 

a little rest for the wicked

Weigh in: 252 lbs.

The high today was 46ºF. I’ve been enjoying a little rest for the past couple of days, relying on old faithful but boring dinners to keep everyone fed with minimal effort. I am very sore from working out, I know, I’ve mentioned it before, but with all seriousness, OW! Tonight it’s back to the treadmill but I don’t think I’ll be doing any weight training for a few days.

Tomorrow I’ll be back in the kitchen in earnest. Potage Noir for dinner, and I’m making Morning Glory Muffins and if I can manage it, a Chocolate and Stout Cake. Wednesday, it’s Brioche and pate a choux.

The Cinnamon Raisin bread I made this weekend is more than half gone, as is the boule. I guess it’s time to make more.