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.

Let there be pizza

And there was pizza, courtesy of a dear friend who fed us tonight.

And boy, was it good.

Not as good as homemade pizza, of course. Nothing beats that. Still, pizza from Pizza Palace runs a close second. It’s been quite a long time since I had pizza – quite awhile before surgery, as it happens. The issue with pizza throughout the months following treatment was of course the crust. Too much bread. Not enough spit.

Tonight, though, I managed half a slice before my jaws gave out. Not a bad return. As a bonus, it forced me to drink a ton of water to get it down.

This afternoon, when we were debating what everyone wanted to eat tonight, my mom said, right off the bat: pizza. Actually, what she said in full was that she wanted me to make some homemade dough, another batch of the sauce I’d made for the pasta, and then make a pizza from those items with fresh veggies and meat. This will have to wait until after she recovers from her surgery, something we thought would be an in and out deal but which will have her in the hospital overnight. None of us is happy about that, but what can you do?

Since it’s month end these next few days, and since we’re going full out on business-related things prior to mom’s date with the surgeon, there probably won’t be a lot of involved cooking as we wind down July. Next Saturday, we are supposed to head out to a beach house owned by some friends, where yours truly will cook something in their kitchen. Seafood, most likely, as they say they have crab legs and shrimp in the freezer. It will be rather adventurous to cook whatever happens to be on hand in a strange kitchen. Somewhere between now and then, there will be more meals, including helping my sister prep the dinner she’s cooking for a group of her friends at the house of one of those friends. A mini-catering gig, if you will. Next week, I’ll also go buy a bin of tomatoes to make a large batch of sauce, suitable for canning. That should be fun, as it will be the first actual use of the canner. It’s also time to start examining this beer brewing thing…

The Challenge: Day Twenty-Six

It was pasta night at the old homestead. If I were some inane host on FoodTV, I’d start in on some story about having a movie night and how Goodfellas is one of my favorite movies (it is, actually) and try passing off some horrid combination of flavors as a meal as I yammered away incessantly using stupid baby-like talk and waved my arms around like I was landing a plane.

Fortunately for all of us, I am not one of those hosts. Instead, I’ll just give you the lowdown on the meal.

My plan for the day was to make some baguettes, make the sauce, make some tofu meatballs, and then make the pasta. The “real” meatballs, as you noticed, were already made and they froze very well overnight.

As plans go, it wasn’t terrible. The day, however, did not cooperate as well as it could have. A few people got their sites hacked, there were questions to answer, one of the servers has a primary drive dying a slow and painful death and we had to plan for emergency migrations from it, my tube is just killing me the past few days, and I ran out of gas a little after 3 this afternoon and had to shut down for about half an hour for a nap. Oh, and in the midst of dinner prep, we had to go look at a house, so this introduced another kink in my plans and between fatigue and pain I was a tad stressed in getting dinner completed.

Even with all this, though, I did manage to get everything done except for making the pasta. Luckily, I’m the planner, and I had emergency backup pasta on hand.

The sauce I would judge: excellent. I think it could be used interchangeably on pizza and pasta, and I plan to make a large batch and can it. The meatballs: fabulous. The combination of meats and the seasonings in them give them a great taste. The baguettes: fair. They were in the French style, so were thinner than the usual baguettes you might find at Publix. We also ran into a multitasking problem because the pasta water was boiling over furiously while the bread was under the broiler (smeared with roasted garlic butter, thank you), so the bread got a little crispy. Still edible, though. Our vegetarian friends loved the tofu meatballs and there were a few left over, so we sent those home with them in some sauce. Fresh strawberry ice cream rounded out this meal.

In the foreground are the tofu meatballs, at the top the meatballs made of a mixture of beef, veal, and pork. At the left is some freshly grated parm-reg. In the middle are the split and broiled baguettes with roasted garlic butter and at the middle right is the great homemade sauce. At the upper right is some multigrain spaghetti (Barilla, if you’re interested).

Gratuitous happy cat photo.

Your cook, tired and in pain, but happy that everyone enjoyed the meal.

Our breakdown for tonight’s meal:

Pasta (store-bought, multigrain): 2.99
Meatballs: 3.15
Bread: 1.40
Tofu meatballs: 2.99
Sauce: 2.17
Ice cream: 2.09

Total meal: 14.79
Total per diner (6, with leftovers): 2.47

Pasta is cheap, cheap, cheap, and would have been even cheaper had I made it fresh. We did uncork a bottle of wine, as well: Chateau Lamargue 2003 Costieres de Nimes Rouge. Quite good, with cherry aromas and a smooth finish (although my sister disagrees with me on the latter, and since I only had a taste and she had a full pour, she may be right).

A good dinner, with good company, at a good price. What more could one ask?

The curd

I will admit up front that I am not a huge fan of tofu. Tofu, on its own, has no particular taste to it: it serves merely as a sponge for other flavors and has no inherent life of its own.

This is not a bad thing, of course, as no doubt there is a place for it in this world. I’d never have thought there was a place for it in my kitchen. But we have vegetarians (or sort of vegetarians – they eat seafood but no meats) joining us for our pasta fest this evening, so today I’ll be making tofu meatballs. For the first time ever. Let’s hope that I don’t do any damage to these very nice people.

The question for me now becomes how the heck to make the things. I’m guessing that with some firm tofu, the mix can be very similar to what I did with the beef/pork/veal meatballs, maybe with a bit more bread crumb mixture as binder. Baked rather than browned in a frying pan, then set aside for the veggie minded. Or hell, maybe fried in a touch of olive oil and then set aside. Who knows? The great fun about cooking is in the experimentation, right?

If you’re in the mood for pasta, with either meat-meatballs or faux-meatballs, feel free to stop by. I’m sure there will be plenty. The poolish (starter) for the baguettes is sitting on the counter, evolving into something great. And we have fresh strawberry ice cream for dessert. Who can resist that?


There were a variety of things I was supposed to do today. That “supposed to” is important, as it means I didn’t get nearly as much done as I wanted to – but as we are cleaning up the details from an acquisition that we just did, business takes precedence over cooking. After all, those paychecks are buying dinner ingredients.

The one thing I did manage to get done was making meatballs (and vacuum packing the remainder of the meat). Spaghetti with meatballs is an American thing, as real Italian cooking doesn’t do the whole meatballs with pasta dance. But what’s not to love about tasty meatballs covered in a great tomato sauce atop a bed of pasta?

It’s been a long time since I made meatballs. When I was younger, making them for the store, I seem to recall a recipe I followed. If there was a recipe, it’s long gone, lost in the ebb and flow of time and many moves. Still, the basic meatball is the basic meatball, and sometimes – most times – simple preparation is the best. Our meatballs therefore are composed of ground beef, ground veal, and ground pork, seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, tarragon, basil, parsley, bread crumbs, egg, and grated parm-reg.

As with anything, it’s important to have a little taste so that seasonings can be adjusted. Since stuffing your face with a raw beef/pork/veal mixture (and as an added bonus, raw egg) is not exactly appetizing, you do the next best thing. Make a baby meatball.

Brown it off all around, then keep spinning it so it cooks through. This is very important with ground meats, and even more important for people like me, who are likely to be (for medical reasons) more sensitive to any little bugs that might be running around in the meat. People with normal, healthy immune systems don’t need to worry quite as much, but really, better to be safe.

In practice, these would be browned and then finish cooking in the pasta sauce. I didn’t get around to making sauce today, and since we have a couple of vegetarians coming for dinner, mixing the meatballs and the sauce is a no-no. For our tasting purposes, this allows for adjusting the seasonings, and in this case, the mix needed more salt, more basil, and more garlic. After reseasoning and retasting, it’s time to make the meatball army.

One of the keys to all this is making the meatballs all about the same size. These were just eyeballed, as I wasn’t feeling anal enough to measure pinches of the mix. I think they turned out pretty well. Right now, they’re in the freezer. While the pasta dough is resting tomorrow, the meatballs will be browning so they can go into the sauce.

Something I really need to do right this instant is get the starter going for the baguettes. I’m planning to have an emergency backup baguette on hand, just in case something goes horribly awry with the bread experiment (since I’ve never made a baguette before in my life). I suppose I should also throw a stick of butter on the counter to soften and mince up some garlic really fine so there will be garlic butter to spread on whatever bread we do wind up having.

Finishing up

The chicken stock is cooling in the garage fridge. The bread? Out of the oven and cooling.

The ice cream? After a quick puree of some of the batch, all the ingredients were mixed.

Then poured into the machine for about 25 minutes or so. The remaining strawberries were added a few minutes before the end of the churn, then the entire batch put into a container destined for the freezer.

The ice cream is a pale rose color, not like those ultra-red, fake versions you can find at the store. There are some nice chunks of strawberries throughout the batch, and you can really taste the strawberries in the ice cream, rather than tasting mostly sugar with the strawberries as an afterthought. I think a batch of peach may be in order…

And now, it’s time for a nap, as my day’s work is done.