So, how did that bread turn out?

I just couldn’t wait for the biga to sit overnight, so I gave it about six hours or so (during which time it almost overran the bowl I had it in, attempting to become Blob-like). From there, is was into the dough mix after being cut into ten or so smaller pieces.

The batards, after proofing, ready to go into the oven. A cappuccino for the baker.

Into the oven, with a makeshift steam bath under the pan. Next time I think I’ll bake them right on the stone.

But they turned out well, even in the pan.

And looked decent on the inside.

I had a bite of that slice, with the crust: marvelous! Crisp crust, chewy interior, great flavor from the fermented biga. Takes me a bit to get through a bite, but is it ever worth it.

Nice crumb.

Bread porn!

Tomorrow, after my mom is settled into whatever room they put her in after surgery, I’ll be heading to the house to pick up her things. More importantly, though, I’ll be taking back some real food for her to eat so she doesn’t have to suffer through hospital food. That will include some of this freshly made bread and some butter to slather on it, along with some iced tea and cold cucumber-avocado soup. A care package to tide her over until they kick her out.

A breaded state of mind

The biga for the Italian bread I want to make is fermenting on the counter as I type this. I really do love making breads of all sorts. There’s something always amazing to me that flour, water, and yeast can make food suitable for sustaining someone – or for enhancing a meal. I’m leaning toward making a loaf or two of bread for sandwiches – maybe a white wheat and a whole wheat, since Aubrey tells me that the whole wheat-whole grain loaf is sometimes too much for a sandwich.

That brings to mind another topic, though: storage. I need a good storage solution for all this bread, since my sister always bitches about the end of bread loaves that go beyond the point where they can be eaten. I suppose I could freeze it, sliced, so they could pull out bread as they needed. I’m wondering, though, if they’ll actually do that. I expect they would if it were the only bread available. The fridge is out of the question, since refrigerating bread dries it out much faster than leaving it out would (see, and you thought this blog was only about food porn and not actual education!). Perhaps a breadbox is in order here if I continue to make all these loaves.

Reheated roasted red pepper soup is delicious, even without the addition of sour cream (we’re out, doggone it). I think next time I’ll add another roasted jalapeno to the mix along with a touch more hot sauce. It’s tasty, but I’d like just a hint more kick to it than it has right now. Of course, the red peppers themsleves are very sweet, currently, as it is the height of the summer, so if I make this in winter, we’ll have to have tasting as we puree and combine to make sure we don’t go overboard. If I had a nice loaf of Italian bread, I could have had a small bit of that with the soup. Alas, that will have to wait until the next bowl and the baking of the bread.

I’m leaning toward getting a third fridge – another garage fridge – to give us more storage. There are times when I need more space than we have for various things, like letting cucumber puree drain, or setting aside bread dough in the fridge to retard it, or storing containers of freshly made soup or marinating ribs or what have you. I think what I really need is just a walk-in. That would be something. I also need to get my act together and get a wine fridge with two zones or just get a rack to store the bottles. There’s wine everywhere around here, and a little organization would go a long way.

Mother Nature is rumbling outside, threatening us again. It might turn into prime napping weather…

The Challenge: Day Twenty-Seven – Summer in a bowl

“What will you be doing with all those peppers?” asked the woman behind me in the checkout line at Publix.

“I’m making some roasted red pepper soup,” I said, as I put all the peppers and the dozen cucumbers on the conveyor.

“With cucumbers in it? That seems a little…” She paused here, no doubt trying to find something to say other than “weird”.

“No, the cucumbers will be going toward a cold cucumber-avocado soup. The peppers and the cucumbers don’t work together well in a soup, I think.”

“I think you’re right about that. The pepper soup sounds delicious.”

“I’m sure it will be.”

It is, of course, delicious. I’m not a big fan of cold soups and never have been, but my mom was reading one of my numerous food magazines and saw a recipe for the cucumber soup, so I agreed to make one, loosely based on that recipe. The roasted red pepper-sweet potato soup is one I’ve been meaning to make for awhile, since I’m not visiting Biscotti’s every day for my fix.

First up: cucumbers. Half the cucumbers are pureed with a bit of honey and then put into a sieve over a bowl to drain.

The rest of the cucumbers are peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced, then tossed with honey and white wine vinegar. Overnight would probably be better for the draining/pickling, but I want to make bread tomorrow instead of fiddling around with soup, and I have real work to do as well. So, after ten hours or so, I pulled both and pressed the puree to release some more cucumber juice. The front bowl is the juice, the back bowl contains the sliced cukes.

I worked in batches to blend some of the juice, some of the sliced cukes, and an avocado together. Mix in some diced fresh dill, some salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with more fresh dill, and you have something that looks like this.

It’s good, but again, I’m not a cold soup eater. Mom liked it, and since it was for her anyway, that’s what matters. Plus, since it’s cold and doesn’t require reheating, we can take some over to the hospital Monday night while she’s locked in.

The other soup, of course, is the roasted red pepper soup. For this, you must have peppers.

Sliced lengthwise, seeded, and then pressed down on a baking sheet.

These go under the broiler until they’re blackened nicely. I’d have done this on the grill instead, but Mother Nature was rumbling outside (and still is as I type this), bringing us some welcome rain off and on. After they’re roasted, the peppers go into a bowl and are covered with some plastic wrap to steam a bit, which helps loosen the skins and makes them easier to peel. I also added a jalapeno to the roasting.

The other ingredients for this rather simple soup are prepped: onions – vidalias, of course, at this time of year – garlic, and some spices (pepper, bay, thyme).

The onions and garlic are sweated in a touch of olive oil over low heat. While that’s going on, the peppers are peeled and then given a rough chop. The sweet potato, baked earlier in the day, is scooped out of its skin. It’s so soft that nothing is really required for it.

When the onions are soft, the peppers, spices (in a tea ball, as I have no cheesecloth at the moment), sweet potato, and four cups of (my homemade) chicken stock go into the pan, with a dash of rice wine vinegar and a touch of Tabasco. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Dig out the tea ball, add a bit of salt and pepper, then puree the soup in batches.

Before you know it, it’s soup. In this case, served with a dollop of sour cream and garnished with chives and fresh basil.

I liked this soup much better than the cuke soup, but then, I’m biased toward the heated soups. Served with a piece or two of crusty bread slathered with butter, perhaps a cheese or two, and it’s a meal. I settled just for the soup alone.

Each of the soups makes multiple servings (6) so there is plenty left over from both batches from our tasting this evening. Still, we must have an accounting. Below are the total costs for each and the total cost per serving as made.

Cucumber soup, total cost: 7.00
Roasted red pepper-sweet potato soup, total cost: 8.49

Total cost per serving, cucumber soup: 1.17
Total cost per serving, roasted red pepper soup: 1.42

The cucumber soup, by the way, requires no cooking at all. If it’s too hot to cook, or if you’re one of those raw food people, it’s not bad. Both soups are dead easy to prepare, lowfat, and low calorie.

Comfort food

We sent my sister off to her dinner party loaded down with food last night. She had been to Ginnie Springs during the day with her boyfriend and a few other people, and asked if I would prep the creme brulees for the group. Surely, I said, and so I did. When she returned, they were ready to go and we finished off the rest of the prep: chicken breasts stuffed with asparagus spears and feta, the makings for a large salad, and cut up potatoes for garlic-parsley potatoes. Except for the creme brulees, everything else was cooked at her girlfriend’s place. The group finished off every scrap of food she took, and if that is a barometer of how things went, they went very well indeed.

As for mom and I, it was a snack-y, no good for you sort of food night. After cleaning up from Hurricane Aubrey, neither of us felt like cooking (or eating) much, as we’re busy with month end type of work. I broke out an emergency blue box of mac and cheese, dug a couple of hotdogs out of the freezer, and that was our dinner. As with the pizza from the other night, it’s been a long time since I had a hotdog. The last time, in fact, was the last Jaguars game I went to. That was the opening game of last season, and of course I missed all of the remainder of the season as I was too ill to attend. I have to say that even without a bun, that hotdog was tasty. So was the mac and cheese, an old standby.

Today I’m working on a couple of soups: cold cucumber-avocado soup and a roasted red pepper-sweet potato soup. The cucumber soup starts with two parts: a puree, with honey, of a bunch of cucumbers, and a marinated batch with rice wine vinegar and honey. Both of these need to sit overnight – the first to drain, the second to slightly pickle. For the other soup, after my break with a cappuccino and a Reese’s, it will be time to roast the peppers. Earlier this morning, I baked a sweet potato to add to it. Both should be delicious, and I’ll have pictures of the process later, of course.

Twenty years later

The details of my 20th year high school reunion are up. Mid-October, at a place I’ve never heard of, in the town where my high school is located.

It doesn’t really seem like it’s been that long. I don’t feel 20 years older. I don’t look 20 years older. I don’t have 20 years worth of emotional baggage. And I’m quite happy about all of that. I’m going to skip the reunion, as I’ve not really kept up with anyone from high school and I’ve not stepped foot in Maryland since 1988. Besides, I’m going to San Antonio in early October for a week, and I’ll be recovering from that trip.

I wouldn’t mind going up for a visit, though, perhaps to see the Inner Harbor again and take a trip to the Eastern Shore. It would have to be when the crabs are running, though, and when the silver queen corn is coming in. It’s great dumping out a bushel – or two – of steamed (not boiled!) blue crab on a long newspaper-covered table in the backyard, then dumping a pile of boiled silver queen corn down next to those crabs, then having several platters of Eastern Shore tomatoes next to that, and then chowing down while talking with friends and family and drinking some icy beer. And then after eating all that, cracking open an ice cold watermelon and eating it, letting the juices run down your chin, spitting seeds as far as you can as the sun sinks and the fireflies start appearing.

That would be quite a day, and well worth a visit.