Friday, October 26, 2007

Jim McCurry

My mother-dear was out of town last weekend, so I decided to use the oppotunity to experiment with garlic. That's right, I made the famous salsa chimichurri of the Gauchos.

A bit of background: Argentina is famous for its beef and the cowboys are called gauchos. They eat their steak with a steak sauce made from, in its most basic form, garlic, parsley, and olive oil. Supposedly, it gets its name from the first person to serve it, an Irish chuckwagon cook named Jim McCurry, which became chimichurri in Spanish.

So, how did I make it?

A small bunch of Italian parsley, which I chopped whole (I chopped the stems finely and the leaves coarsely), to which I added one small tomato diced, two cloves garlic smashed into a puree, a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, enough olive oil to bring it together into a sauce-like consistency, and quite a bit of salt (it's a sauce, right?).

I put it, covered, in the frigo overnight and then cooked my steaks. With a bit of this on top, they were like biting into the most delicious garlic-salad-covered pieces of undercooked meat I've ever had. I should work on my cooking times for steaks.

By the way, the way I cooked the steaks seemed to work really well. It produced an excellent char and, if I'd cooked them long enough, they'd have been done perfectly. Here's how I did it.

I put a cast iron skillet in the oven and then set it to 500 degrees (that's F). I waited until everything was good and hot, and then I put the skillet on a burner turned to high. While that was heating up some more, I covered the steaks with oil and then salted them (again, quite heavily). I then put a tablespoon or so of oil in the skillet, waited the half-second for it to heat up, and then laid the steaks in. I left them for maybe a minute and a half untouched, then I turned them over, left them for another ninety seconds, and then put the whole thing into the oven. Once there, I waited until they were cooked to medium-rare (except I didn't actually do that and so my second, thicker steak, was about a rare as a steak can be).

Perfect steaks with an amazing char, just like being in a steak house, only much more expensive (I bought some really good steak at a high-end grocery store without looking at the price first).

One note of importance: The cooking method for the steaks produces a TON of smoke. It was fairly billowing out of the oven vent. Make sure you have a well-ventilated kitchen with a fan on high.

I also found some Argentine-style chorizos, which are like a bratwurst flavored with garlic. I made choripánes, an Argentine sandwich consisting of split French bread with a sausage cut lengthwise in the middle and topped with chimichurri. That was a garlic-fest if I've ever had one. After eating it, I told Timth that I was seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and hearing garlic and only garlic. Then I went to see Joanna Townsend. Boy, was that a weird day!


Friday, October 19, 2007

Siwichi Revisited

I decided to try again, using what I had learned from my first try. This time, I bought the much cheaper tilapia (and it seemed quite fresh). I cut it large, but I used an equal mixture of lemon and lime juices. The bitterness was gone. I also salted it much more. Half an onion and the other half of the jalapeño, though this time I didn't completely de-seed it.

Also, I didn't have any cilantro as what was left over smelled, strangely enough, fishy. I threw it out.

I mixed it up and let it sit for only about twenty minutes this time before starting to eat. I ate it while I drank an all right Czech beer and watched a Fire game. Here's what I noticed:

The fish started out stringy, but after it had been sitting in the acid for the better part of a half, it was perfectly tender. Definitely, letting the fish steep for maybe an hour would make the ceviche just about perfect (as would letting it sit overnight).

It's very rich. I ate nearly a pound of ceviche and felt rather ill afterwards. I'm sure it was the large amount of acid I consumed (that's citrate, not LSD). It really does need to be drained.

It needed chips or tortillas or tostadas or something.

Cilantro, though a very nice flavor, is not necessary and, at $0.99 a bunch, maybe a luxury I can't afford right now (of course, I paid something like $5.50 for the fish).

The Fire are good, but not great, and they seem to lake the cut-throat mentality of the perennial powers of Houston and DC.

Czech lager is still not as good as English ale, but it does go better with ceviche than the former.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Supposedly, the Quechua word for that wonderful dish of citrus juice and raw fish is siwichi, and that became ceviche in Spanish. Others suggest that it comes from the word escabeche. Either way, this South American dish is one of my favorite things in this world, as is anything that involves seafood, especially when it does not involve the application heat (uh, oyster and wine, hello?).

So, I decided to make some this past week. It's a simple preparation. I bought a half pound of halibut, which was actually the most expensive fish I could buy. I really should have gone with the tilapia, which was half the price, but I didn't see it until the fishmonger was already cutting off my piece.

I diced the fish in fairly large pieces, then I juiced two limes and a lemon and poured the juice over the fish. I also finely diced half an onion and half a jalapeño (minus the seeds). I put those in with the fish, along with a fair amount of salt, and put the whole thing in the frigo overnight.

The next day, for lunch, I heated up some tortillas, chopped a large amount of cilantro (probably three tablespoons), poured off the juice into another container, and served up some ceviche tacos.


I think I used to much lime juice, because it was very bitter. Salting more helped. Maybe ceviche has to be a salty dish, or maybe it needs lemon. I would also like to try out sour oranges.

The fish flavor was also lost in the midst of all the other ingredients. I think, if I make it again, I'll either use a stronger-flavored fish or else cut the pieces to be larger (closer to the size of a gumball).

The tortillas got water-logged almost instantly, and a water-logged tortilla resembles masa more than a tortilla. Also, they cooled off almost instantly, which was kind of disappointing. I think tostadas or just in a bowl are the ways forward from here.

There was no spice from the chiles. I'm not sure if the dish is supposed to be about the flavor of the chiles, rather than their spice, or if I made it wrong, but I definitely got no capsaicin whatsoever. Maybe I should crush some seeds next time (but just a few, I don't want it to be overwhelmingly spicy).


Monday, September 24, 2007

That Other Old Familiar

I finally found time to write a new post, but only because I have fallen ill. It's a shame, because I was so healthy up until I got sick, and now this sets me back to square one. I had actually hoped to avoid getting this bug which seems to be going around, but my luck evidently is focused on other things.

Unfortunately, making good food is not one of those things. I made a pot of beans last week. It's a simple recipe and one which I love to make: one pound of pinto beans (soaked overnight), add to that one sweated onion, a few rashers of browned bacon, cumin and chili powder to taste (and salt). The final addition, which I don't always add, is a browned chicken cut into pieces. It makes the final product more of a stew, rather than just a pot of beans.

It's been a while since I cooked, so that probably explains why I left the skin on the chicken. Here's a tip: if you're going to stew a chicken, don't leave the skin on. It was a little disgusting to have chicken covered in gummy skin.

Other than that, the dish was great.

I like to serve it with an equal portion of brown rice and freshly made tortillas, while sitting on the veranda, watching the hacienda workers harvest the yucca.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

That Old Familiar Feeling

When I told Becky that I was going to post on this blog, I had a very clear idea of what I was going to write. I have, from extreme fatigue, completely forgotten in the few minutes since making the promise. Sorry, dear. I'll write something soon.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Bear Grylls

Does Bear Grylls have to do this? No, but you might have to.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Un Platillo de Plátanos

I think I should get at least one post a month on this thing, so here goes.

I haven't cooked or baked very much since getting back to Illinois. I vaguely remember doing something with the oven, but I haven't got a clue what it was (I just remembered, I made my excellent scones, although the batter was too wet). I made tortillas a few times, but without a press, they were thick, though still good. ANd that's about it.

This last week, I finally got the things I've been wanting since leaving St. Peter: a Turkish coffee grinder (with birthday money) and a tortilladora. Good stuff. My coffee finally tastes good and the tortillas are thing again.

Anyway, the reason I write is that I find I'm suddenly intrigued to use ingredients I've never used, never even had before. Last week, I made mustard greens, which were good, although underseasoned. It was simple: simmer some water, add some bacon and softened onion, then put in the greens, washed and torn into small pieces. Simmer for twenty minutes or so and then serve. Good, but, like I said, missing something (I used too much water, for one, and they were undersalted).

Another thing I've been excited about are plantains, the starchy bananas. I sliced up a plantain, then fried the discs in bacon grease, serving them slightly salted with the bacon. Excellent! They're really quite different from anything I've ever had before. The peel is incredibly thick, and the texture is more like a stiff potato than a banana. The flavor is somewhere between the potato and the banana, but very starchy (at least for the very green one I used). I have another one ripening in the kitchen so that I can see what they are like when ripe.

One last thing and then I'm done with this post. About a month ago (it was the weekend before the Gold Cup final, if that helps), a friend and I went to a taquería in Waukegan on a Friday afternoon. Now, for those of you not from Lake County, Waukegan has the largest Hispanic population north of Chicago. It's a great place.* But, it is a little intimidating, given the lack of English (all the billboards are in Spanish, and most of the shops obviously cater to an Hispanic majority). Still, after working there for a summer, I knew that there had to be some great restaurants and I was just waiting for the opportunity to go there with another person.

Thus, we went to a place that I'd never been before and it was, simply stated, one of the best meals I've ever had. For those of you who got my Top Meals list two years ago, I'd say it would displace at least number four. I got a bowl of menudo, the slow-cooked tripe soup served on the weekends, and a tamal con frijoles topped with molé. Amazingly good. So good, in fact, that I have vowed never to bring anyone there from this area. Orgasmically good. Without a doubt, the best tripe I've ever had (it was no repeat of that pho meal in the Cities). Everything was homemade: the tortillas, the salsas, the molé, the delicious agua fresca (I got tamarind, of course). So good.


*On a side note, I'm always amazed by the rampant racism of my friends from this area. There was one shooting in Waukegan in 1999 and they all think of it as some ghetto, simply because of the race of people who live there. In truth, Waukegan is a nicer place than Fox Lake, where I grew up, and everyone overlooks the fact that there was a murder in Fox Lake as recently as 2004. There are no places in Fox Lake that I would say are a nice neighborhood. However, Waukegan is replete with beautiful brick houses, parks, great restaurants, and it's a mixed place. Truly, I can think of few places I'd rather live. It's a shame we whites are so rabidly racist, because the town seems to be dying. Despite efforts to attract businesses to the county's largest city (and seat of government), the downtown feels empty. Fortunately, there are strides being made, but they aren't easy: the Genesee theater is open and seems to be running well, the places around the county government complex seem to have business, and the holes-in-the-wall in the poorer neighborhoods have a booming business (and for good reason: the best barbecue in the county can be had in a black neighborhood, and there are two excellent taquerías besides the one I went to). But that doesn't change the fact that even my most liberal of friends has openly scoffed at the idea of moving to Waukegan. It just goes to show you that as much as things have changed since 1964, they've stayed frustratingly the same.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Pesto all'Argentina

Ciao, tutti,

I've been meaning to post this for a few days, but I keep forgetting. I made a pesto last weekend that was quite good. A little background, however, is necessary.

The sauce comes from Genoa, in northern Italy and is properly called pesto alla genovese, which , as nearly everyone is aware, is made of basil, pine nuts, and garlic (often with a hard Italian cheese, too) minced together and suspended in olive oil. One usually finds these ingredients combined in a food processor in the States, forming a paste which is then spread on bread or mixed in with pasta. However, pesto properly is hand-minced, so the ingredients are coarser and the texture is much more pleasant on the tongue to my mind. I wanted to make a hand-minced pesto for a number of reasons, but this superb mouthfeel was one big motivation.

On to the recipe. It's a little known fact, but Argentina has strong ethnic ties to Italy. In Buenos Aires, much of the local culture is inherited directly from Italy, and Italian food is common in the River Plate region. Always wanting to be odd, I got my recipe for pesto from Argentina and it has a few interesting differences from the usual American recipe. First off, besides the basil, the recipe calls for an equal amount of parsley (Italian or leaf, I know not). Since Argentina is not known for its olive trees, corn oil is called for, which gives it a decidedly American feel. Finally, and this is the change I find most interesting, walnuts are subsituted for the pine nuts, which changes the flavor of the sauce in amazing ways.

Unfortunately for me, I have no basil, and I don't like corn oil when I have a very good olive oil on hand, so my final recipe looked something like this hybridization: A lot of parsley, minced with three cloves of garlic, mixed with a handful of walnuts chopped coarsely, and then I poured on enough olive oil to bring it all together. I then let it sit for a number of hours so the flavors could meld. It was served with angel hair pasta, thus making capellini con pesto all'argentina.

The first thing I have to say is that one should never make pesto without basil. The core of the dish is that wonderful aromatic and, without it, I may as well have been eating iceberg lettuce covered with a Miracle Whip ranch. That's of course a bit extreme, but parsley alone was just too much.

Secondly, it takes a long time to mince by hand. I'm rather proud of this, but I had to hold my knife so long that I developed a blister at the base of my index finger.

Third, I needed to add more oil. The sauce was not moist enough.

Finally, it paired perfectly with the angel hair. Pesto is such a dainty sauce that it needs a dainty pasta to go with it. Or, one could replace "dainty" with "delicate." However, I was still hungry after eating my rather hefty portion and if I had to do it all again, I think I'd make more pasta. Or maybe serve some soup with it. Still, it was a perfect dish for a late spring day.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Late Lunch

This is a bit off topic from what I usually write about (soccer and bread), but it's in the food category. Plus, it's sensationalist.

My lunch today, which I'm going to prepare as soon as I'm done writing this, is about as unlikely a meal for this weather as anything. I'm hearkening back to my time in England, actually Ireland more, with a classic plate of:

-Heinz baked beans
-Fried eggs
-Toast with Marmite
-Black pudding

Oh, yes, I got some black pudding and I can hardly wait to eat some. Although it's taken me nearly two weeks to get around to it. Go figure.


Monday, May 7, 2007

Eight a.m. phonecall - Yes!

I bought some cheddar the other day and, not having any pickle in this country, I've decided to try apple butter as a replacement. You may have guessed, if you are wonderful and righteous and an anglophile and I love you forever if you did, that I am in the mood for the perfect late spring meal: the ploughman's sandwich (or just the ploughman's to those in the know).

Mmmmmm, I am reminded of a large pub on a hot day in York, my cheddar to Dan's Cornish yarg, and I've been regretting not ordering the chef's daily choice cheese ever since. Pickled onion there was, and an apple. If only...

But, I was left with my cheese and apple butter (as well as some Spartan apples) without any bread and way too much flour. Thus, I decided to remedy the situation. This afternoon, I made some baps, or are they butties? No, wait, they're cobs. Dang nabbit, they're rolls. What? Not rolls? Sarny, stotty, what are those words you're speaking? The blasted thing is a roll. A ROLL! Do you hear me? Do you understand me? It is a roll, you English tomfoolers with the language of my ancestors. A roll.

Yes, I made rolls, using the last of my whole wheat flour, and they smell delicious, soon to be adorned with thick slices of cheddar cheese, slathered with apple butter, and devoured by one hungry and somewhat anglophilic American.

By the way, I rolled some cumin seeds into one of the rolls (hence why a roll is called a roll, Mr. Braithwaite). I don't know what it'll taste like, since I didn't use any ground cumin and all the seeds seemed to clump together, but it was an idea. Really, it was an ideal, because I'm trying to recapture a fleeting taste of a cumin gouda I had in Notts last spring that made me want to die from ecstasy. I don't think a roll will ever be as amazingly death-inducing and awe-inspiring as a slice of cheese, but it can at least be delicious. I'll let you know how my experiments with flavored breads go, just as soon as la Maquina Roja win the Club World Cup.*


*You don't think I'd actually let an entire post go by during soccer season without mentioning the game I'm currently madly obsessed with?


Although the Fire have yet to win the world, I ate one of the rolls and my, oh, my is it good! Not as sweet as my previous breads, I reduced the sugar because I didn't think it would go well with the cheese and apple butter (and I didn't want the sweetness of the bread overpowering the flavor of the filling). However, I increased the salt and it has made an exciting flavor. I guess you don't need to have sugar in bread for it to be delicious (which I already knew, else explain the French baguette). And with the nice little crust I put on these bad boys, they're practically pub quality (although even the heavy-food-eating English would be find the wholly whole wheat a bit daunting, i.m.h.h.h.h.h.h.o.).

Thursday, May 3, 2007

AC Milan Are Kaka (too easy, too easy)

What about those Rossoneri? Man, alive, I was watching the tie in the caf and there were only a few other people there. After the Seedorf goal, some new guy walked up and he wanted to know who had scored. This guy was talking about Kaka's brilliant one-touch finish and then he said, "And Clarence Seedorf scored. I don't even know how he did it. He was falling over a guy and he just kind of hit it on the bounce... I can't explain it; you have to see it." It really is one of those goals that cannot be explained.

Liverpool are in serious trouble.

Now, to MLS and my previews. I'm going to blow through these because this week still doesn't interest me, as the only match I'll catch is tonight's. I just can't get that excited about teams that I've never seen play and that I won't be able to see play for another two weeks.

The Revs v. DC - 1-2, goals by Twellman and Luciano Emilio, should be good, nationally-televised, I cannot wait to see DC win their first match of the season.

Crew v. KC - 0-2, goals by some new guy and EJ. I like KC, they're my backup team, as in baseball, and EJ should be every child's hero. Besides, KC will be BBQ-powered for this match. (And Onalfo, how good has he been so far?)

Energy Drink v. Fake SL - 3-0, goals by who knows, but with Ellinger finally gone, it's going to be a long road this year and Checketts should be glad the league doesn't have relegation yet (but your day is coming, mediocrity).

Las Naranjas v. Crapids - 0-0, with goals by

The Goats v. DC - 1-2, goals by Razov and Emilio and maybe someone else (Moreno?). Once DC gets the bug, they're going to win a lot, and the bad luck will fall to a Chivas side still reeling from the "SuperClasico," which is about the most ridiculous name MLS has come up with for anything so far.

The Reds v. the Revs - 3-0, this is a very hard one to call, and I'm just falling back on my standby score, but with Mapp questionable and the history (even this season), it's going to be hard for us to get even a point in New England. Expect lots of "graft" and even more fouls than the usual NE game. Is Franchino back yet? (see below)

The game to watch is tonight's ESPN2 match, 'twixt the Revs and DC. I think this match could also decide Sunday's against the Fire: if the Revs are solidly defeated by DC, we'll have an easier time. So, I guess I want DC to win.

Player to watch: Mapp, because his wincing expressions as he sees his team lose with him on the bench should be very entertaining. Here's to his fast recovery. Also: Emilio, Twellman, Dasan Robinson, Joseph and DeRo (to break their slumps).

That's all for now.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Jose Mourinho Is Not Nice

I've dropped the ball on my predictions, but I frankly don't care. How could I care with weather this superbly beautiful?

I did get to watch my first MLS match of the season last night, although I'm not sure how much of a privilege it was to see the biggest toddler blubbering because the ref didn't card him for diving (I refer, of course, to Ruiz of the Burning Hoops). Since Dallas is our league-mandated rivalry, it was nice to see them lose, but I don't like the smell of wealth which currently hangs about the dried bones of the MetroStars, so it was ultimately a disappointing affair. (Is anyone else worried that the big markets are trying to model themselves after Chelski? I don't know why I even asked that because everyone is worried about that.)

Here's my one prediction for the week: The Fire will win at Houston. This is mostly because, with the exception of the very well-run Red Bulls, no team in the league realizes that the purpose of the DP spot was to get Beckham over here and then be able to afford some excellent talent. Joseph and DeRo are that excellent talent which is supposed to be afforded, but until the league stops misunderstanding the new rule as a way to get stars into MLS and starts understanding it as a way to keep talent in the league, the Fire will coast to second in the East (as mentioned above, the Red Bulls understaaaaaaand).

With that in mind, I will offer some predictions for the season:

Red Bulls
DC (defense will hurt them)
Revs (Joseph will hurt them)

Houston (DeRo will hurt them)
Real Madrid (Checketts will hurt them)

Red Bulls
with Red Bulls, LA, or Fire winning

Open Cup:

Red Bulls will win the Supporters' Shield

Me, after a midseason signing with the Fire

I know I don't play, but my big day has to come sometime and I really can't be bothered to think at all, because it's nice outside, my back is only mildly uncomfortable, and I feel like ruining all the gains I've made in the past few weeks with some ill-advised soccer practice.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Weekly Prediction

Since it's Thursday, I guess I need to post my predictions for this weekend's matches. It's going to be hard to match my accuracy from last week; in case you couldn't be bothered to look it up, I got all of my predictions right (although the exact scores were slightly smaller). Here goes for this week.

Dallas v. Los Angeles: 1-1, because I'm nervous, I don't feel like I can gauge this one. Donovan is, of course, an excellent player, and I don't really like Dallas, so I'm tempted to give it to LA, but somehow Dallas manages to score in most games.

Crew v. Real Madrid: 1-2, because Real is just the better team and the Crew have way too much history of being horrible to turn it around in a single week. Still, if Ngwenya can play as well as he did at the Fire home closer last season, and everyone who knows more about soccer is right about Gaven being a good player, then the Crew could do something more than I'm giving them credit for. But Real have the Kid and he seems like he wants to prove himself this year.

KCMO v. DCU: 2-3, with goals from Johnson and Emilio, DC will dominate, but I really feel like Eddie's on the brink of regaining his form. If he gets one, he'll get two, but DC will still win.

Toronno v. the Revs: 1-0, because the Revs are horrible.

The Goats v. Las Naranjas: ? v. ?, again, Houston is the team in the game to watch. Personally, I think the Goats will win it, but Houston's still one of the best teams in MLS.

The Reds v. Arsenal: 3-0, look for more amazing work by Mapp, and the pairing of Rolfe and Barrett will produce.

Dallas v. RBNY: 2-0, first win for Dallas, which will be good for no one.

Match to watch: The Goats v. Las Naranjas.

Players to watch: Mapp, Emilio, Donovan, Johnson, and whoever scores against the Revs.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Weekly Prediction

I've decided I'm going to predict the outcome of the week's MLS matches every Friday. But, first, I just want to ask why pretty much everyone in the entire US soccer world thinks that the Fire are going to implode after Blanco arrives? It really seems to me that, outside of Chicago's fanbase, it is obvious that Blanco is a deathtrap. Sure, there are the Fire fans who think this, too, but I think most of us in the 312 and surrounding Land are pretty sure he's either going to be awesome or benched. Actually, I ask the question just to setup my answer, which I think is ingenius: the Blanco signing has succeeded already. Of course the Fire won't implode; but everyone hates him so much, they want the team to fail. If, or should I say when, the Fire destroy the league in July, there are going to be a lot of really sad people. I'll be one of them, because, I mean, it's Temo we're talking about, but I'll be so overjoyed at the domination which the Fire mete out to the other dozen "teams" that I won't even care that it's because of a horrible, evil, bad man (who is also from heaven and a Mexican).

So, this week's predictions:

Colorado v. DC: 3-2, with goals from Jaime and Emilio, my new hero: It's in the net. Also, Bobby Boswell will assist on all five.

Crew v. RBNY: 0-0, although Altidore will have 14 goals declared offsides, even though he picked the ball up in his own penalty area and dribbled to the half, before slamming home perfectly flat shots into the upper right corner of the net.

Real Madrid v. FC Dallas 96: 3-3, with goals from the Kid and the Cooper, maybe some other people; I don't really know who's on these teams.

Goats v. Toronno: 3-1, look for Guevara to shine, and Canadian Chicago's team to get off to a slow start, but don't expect it to last.

Las Naranjas v. Los Angeles: ? v. ?, to me, this is the match to watch. Houston was my pick for best team of last season, and LA should be an amazing side, but anything could happen. I think Ching and Donovan will both play amazing games, and I don't expect much from Jaqua, but I could always be wrong. I would like to think that DeRo will be the most incredible player on the field again, but he won't be, which is actually fine with me, since I won't be able to watch it. Wait, it's on Telefutura, I think we get that here.

The Reds v. The Revs: 3 v. 0, look for Mapp to shine, and a good teaming between Barrett and Rolfe. Barrett's going to be amazing this season, as he was last season before breaking his foot (odd that both Rooneys would get the same injury in the same year). Pickens won't even have to make a single save because of my man Soumare (who will be known as the Baka Bomb from tomorrow on). Also, look for the Revs to totally suck and play some of the least attractive, English-style footie you've ever seen, while our largely homegrown youth side will play a game that is reminiscent of Brazil v. Argentina at Emirates last fall.

Game to watch: Las Naranjas v. Los Angeles, The Reds v. The Revs (who suck, suck, suck the big green weenie), Goats v. Toronno

Players to watch: Donovan, Mapp, Guevara, Adu, Luciano Emilio, and the Baka Bomb; of course, Altidore's amazing performance will go down in the history books as one of the greatest games for a striker ever, but will be mindnumbingly similar to Romaria v. Keller in '99, except that all the shots will end up in the net.

I Rock

Ever since the sage-eating wizard I call Peter realized that Great Harvest uses enough salt to preserve their loaves in perpetuity, making a loaf of delicious bread has become a laughing matter. I just whipped up a loaf without even batting an eye. I guess this weblog has served its purpose, so I don't know what I'm going to do after this last post. Maybe continue to refine my breadmaking process? Include other recipes, interspersed among my soccer rants? Who knows? For now, here is a basic list of what I've learned about breadmaking:

1) Do not use a recipe; the necessary ingredients are flour, water, yeast, some sort of sugar, salt, and oil. Just experiment with amounts. And bake somewhere between 350F and 400F.

2) If the dough is sticky, add more flour and knead longer. If the dough is stiff, add more water and knead longer. Kneading longer is usually the preferred course of action (although it is supposedly possible to overknead).

3) Bread is usually thought of as flour, but this is wrong. The flour is a base into which you mix salt and sugar. All the flavor of bread comes from salt, and the complexity in a bread's flavor comes from whatever type of sugar is used. Adding seeds and stuff like that is also good, but you really must use salt. A lot of salt. Bread should be salty.

4) I haven't figured out how to make a sourdough yet. Maybe with warmer weather coming, and a warmer kitchen, I can change that, but I have a feeling I'm going to just opt out and make tortillas for the next few months.

5) Salt really is what makes bread worth eating. Don't worry about using too much. It's hard to oversalt a loaf of bread. It's the easiest thing I've ever done to undersalt.

6) Knead the loaf for a long time, at least ten minutes, and make sure that there's plenty of salt in the dough. Taste the dough to check. You can always knead more salt in if there's lacking.

So, those are my six tips. Maybe I'll codify them into something resembling the Rule of St. Benedict. Or maybe I'll just make tortillas.



Thursday, April 5, 2007

Food's Still My Passion

Despite the stated purpose of this blog, it is a blog, and since the only bread I've been making recently has been unleavened cornmeal cakes (called tortillas), I need to broaden the scope. The obvious place to look is to the other dishes I make on an almost daily basis to feed myself, but I'm going to look instead at football.

That's soccer, rubes.

Actually, I quite like the word soccer, especially given its history and the general level of scorn the English have for it.

Anyway, I'm growing increasingly tired of the talk of how to increase the fanbase of MLS*. The Designated Player Rule--which allows teams to sign one player of whose salary, only $400,000 counts towards the rather tight league-mandated salary cap--is supposed to allow greater publicity (by bringing in world-famous stars) without threatening the still tenuous economics of MLS. The DP Rule is just the largest example of a widely held belief that there are things which the league can and should be doing to increase the fanbase.

I think this mentality is completely misguided. It reminds me of the belief which is so intrinsic to many evangelical churches: If you advertise your product (spirituality, soccer, or a combination of the two) in the right way, you will have to beat people away as they swamp your organization with intense curiosity and undying support. There's often little doubt that the curiosity will immediately become support.

Come on! Who are you kidding? Is there a single person, ever, who was attracted to a church (when they weren't actively looking for a church to join) by a giant black-on-yellow billboard proclaiming "Jesus." and an address? You sports fans who read this--which I'd assume is no one--were you attracted to the sport you're most interested in by advertising? In other words, before you were interested in football (the common type) or baseball, were you attracted to the sport through advertising put out by the sports teams?

Of course not! I am a baseball fan because my parents had me play Little League, my childhood friends all played, and my best friends back home are all fans. It's not because the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 (although that did reignite my interest). Sure, I'm a White Sox fan because the team signed Bo Jackson in 1990, for the same year I moved from Kansas City to Chicago, but I already liked baseball because it's what people around me watched. Similarly, I got into soccer in high school because the people I thought were cool and unrube-like played soccer and because I worshipped European culture (things changed). I thought that supporting soccer was cool because of the people I saw around me who were into soccer. Even with MLS, the reason I'm a fan has nothing to do with advertising by the team. I had only the vaguest notions that Chicago had a soccer team. But, after my year in England, I was looking for a place to vent my new-found enthusiasm; I wanted to yell and sing like the English had done during the World Cup. I actively searched out the Fire, and that's the first time that advertising from the team could have helped.

That's right: the first time that the team or MLS had any part in getting me to go to those three matches last summer and buy a strip was after I already had zeal for 1) soccer in general 2) being a fan of soccer and 3) supporting my local club. The further thing I want to point out is that I developed that zeal purely from interactions with the people around me, mostly my friends. I would suspect that the same is true for most people.

MLS and US Soccer will not be able to get 100 million Americans to start supporting the clubs and national team through any amount of advertising and press. However, I can get maybe one or two people to start paying more attention to soccer through conversations with friends. (Incidentally, the same is true of religious conversion and church attendance; see Rodney Stark.) The other thousand strong supporters of the Fire in Chicagoland, too, can talk with their friends and, slowly, Section 8 (the Fire supporters' group) will grow. In ten years, maybe it will be 1400, or maybe it'll be 3000, but I'd bet that every one of those 400 or 2000 new fans will have come to support the Fire through a personal relationship with another supporter, not through a billboard advertising David Beckham's hot visage.

But what do I know? I'm just your average bread-baking genius.



* MLS, for all you rubes I've already addressed once, is Major League Soccer and is generally thought of as the premier soccer league in the United States (and now Canada). USL, or the United Soccer Leagues, make up the second and third tiers, with the USL First and Second Divisions. Both MLS (properly referred to without an article) and USL (likewise) were founded following a FIFA (that's the international oversight committee for soccer) requirement that went along with the World Cup being awarded to the US in 1994. Both MLS and USL are about 15 years old and have suffered from underwhelming fan support, teams often having about 12000 fans at games in all but the largest markets (DC, LA, sometimes Chicago).

Friday, March 30, 2007

Lot's Wife Would Have Been Helpful

It's been a while since I posted. I have been making bread, but I've gone down to only once a week and I think I missed a week, so I've only made a loaf of challah and then a regular pan loaf. However, I've learned two very important lessons and figured out one not-so-important thing.

Not-so-important thing: Adding egg to dough makes the final bread's crust somewhat flakey.

Important lesson #1: My breads have been crumbly because I have not kneaded them enough; the dough should stretch when pulled, not rip.

Important lesson #2: Salt. The. Hell. Out. Of. The. Dough. Salt is a breadmaker's friend. Salt is the source of flavor. Salt is the most eternally blessed substance in cooking and it holds even more honored of a place in baking. Salt.

By far, the second lesson is the most important. Also, since the last time I posted, we ran out of the Fleischman's yeast and had to get some more from the co-op. Not only was it a mere one-eighth the price, it has a much stronger and more natural smell and flavor. Huge improvement. I think I might make a poolish and some French bread for Easter. Whatever, we'll see.

On another note, the weather is about as perfect as a human could possibly hope for. Namely, to go outside is no longer to risk death.



Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Fookken' Shite

In a break from my usual bread-based posts, I just want to say that Nottingham Forest have really let me down this season. They led League 1 for most of the year, and then slumped, and now they've lost 0-1 at the City ground, which makes their bid that much more difficult (they hold onto second by one point, but they're behind in goal differential). If this team fails to win promotion, I will be so livid, I just might fly to Notts and beat the fookken' shite out of every last one of the Garibaldis.

To bring it back to bread for a moment, I made boiled wheat berries today for lunch, with raisins and chopped walnuts, and goat's milk. It was quite delicious, hardy, and not nearly as filling as I'd hoped (maybe if I'd had breakfast, it would have gone farther).

Monday, March 5, 2007

Bread Revisited

My idyllic loaf of last night, on further eating, held up to the high standard I'd set for it. The pastry flour made it so the crumb barely held together and I'd put salt on the top of the loaf, which was maybe a little over the top, but the flavor and feel of the bread are divine, as I said last night. It's only up from here, I hope.

Sunday, March 4, 2007


I took Wednesday off from breadmaking. I don't really know why and I think it was probably a mistake, but it happened. However, I did make a loaf today and, to shroud it in fog, I did it. I did it today, for the first time, and certainly not the last.

What I did, in the step by step and rather boring way I've come to tell you, was simply this: I poured a smaller amount of hot water than usual over brown sugar, covered the top of the liquid with yeast (no idea how much I used, none at all), and after ten minutes I started adding flour. Mostly, it was whole wheat pastry flour, which Peter informs me does not have as much gluten and is not from the usual red wheat. At any rate, that's what I did, adding between three and four cups. I also salted the hell out of the dough and added more than a tablespoon of oil. I might have only added two to three cups of flour; I don't know how much measure my hands hold. I kneaded it until it was the way it should be, then I let it rise once, took it out, set the oven to 375F, formed it into a long loaf by rolling it lengthwise, placed it in a loaf pan and salted the top. It was very small in the loaf pan. I let it rise during the preheat, scored it thrice, and then baked it for maybe forty minutes, maybe less.

But what I DID was create heaven. The salt finally brought out the full wheat flavor and the pastry flour does have a better taste (Peter does know bread). I'm not even going to try to describe this loaf. Everything about it is perfect and I don't even know why I continue to exist after creating such a wonderful delicacy. It's tempting to view this as proof that I am a god, but of course that would just be ridiculous. The bread was not just good, the bread was divine.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Back to Modernity

I was getting fed up with the sours and levains of my last few loaves, the constant feeding (which I would invariably forget and thereby kill off most of the culture), the smell, the mess, and I have to admit that the sourness was just too pungent on some of them. I wanted to make a lighter loaf (since I never waited long enough for my partially-killed culture to leaven the dough) that wouldn't assault my sense of taste. So, I used commercial yeast yesterday to make a whole wheat loaf and it is strikingly different.

First off, I used brown sugar to start the yeast in about two and a half or three cups of water, using less than a tablespoon of yeast. I added whole wheat flour to that after eight minutes and continued adding flour until a very wet dough had formed. I turned it out onto a very heavily floured counter (more than a cup) and then floured the top of the mass with another half a cup and (having forgotten to add it earlier) a very large pinch of salt (maybe a quarter teaspoon). I started needing, adding flour from time to time (I maybe used four cups total; it's a large loaf). Eventually, I had a nicely elastic dough, when I remembered that I hadn't added any oil. I had melted nearly three tablespoons of bacon grease, which was sitting on the stove, but I'd neglected to add it in, so I kneaded it into the dough at that point. It was quite messy, but the dough became somewhat stiffer and much more elastic. I guess oil does make a big difference in the characteristic of the dough itself. I let the dough rise in the oven with the light on for forty-five minutes. I then greased a cast iron skillet (about a foot in diameter) with bacon grease. I turned the risen dough out, turning it inside out (so the top, which had dried out somewhat, was pushed into the bottom and the uneven surface which had been in contact with the bottom of the bowl was stretched out to be the top), forming a round loaf which was quite tall. I scored the top with a cross about half an inch deep and placed it into a 380F oven without steam (I wanted to know what happened without trying to get a crust). I baked it until it sounded fairly hollow when tapped on the bottom and cooled it upside down.


More salt.


Without a crust, the thickness of this loaf was too much. The weight of the inverted loaf during cooling nearly crushed the flimsy Great Harvest style crust. It wouldn't be bad on a sandwich loaf or a smaller round loaf, but this is a very tall rustic country round and the bread just cries for a loaf. But now I know.

Bacon grease is good.

The crumb is superb, although bordering on blandness, the springiness and cohesivenss is ideal. I don't know what caused this, but it is quite nice. Possibilities include the yeast leavening, the improvement of my kneading technique, the late addition of the oil, or just luck. I like to think it's the second.

Next time, I'm going to take off the gloves and just add salt until I feel like I should stop. No more of this wishy-washy salting; I'd rather make an oversalted loaf next time than be left with a bland loaf which is otherwise perfect. I might also try an overnight or daylong poolish, in the boulangerie style.

I'm getting tempted to try a white loaf, but I must resist. Must resist, at least until my brown bread is world class.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Follow Up

Jonathan said, and I agree with this, that the bread's flavor was too simple, i.e. there was not any complexity to the flavor of the wheat. I think he wanted a slightly sweeter bread, which is understandable, since the only sugar in the sourdough was whatever the wheat had. Some more salt would also have help it, I think. Still, it was delicious, albeit it dense. It reminded me of the dark rye bread in Scandinavia (except this had little rye).

The density was another thing which Jonathan mentioned after trying it. It was definitely dense, but that, as mentioned earlier, was due to punching down the dough when forming the loaf.

I've got some more dough rising right now and the starter was a little wilder this time, but I'll hold off telling the secret ingredient until I've tried the bread.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Sourdough Whole Wheat

Yesterday, I made the loaf with the sour I mentioned in the last entry. I started in on Thursday and fed it through Saturday night. There wasn't much activity for nearly three days, but then, when I went to bed on Saturday, I put the sour in the oven with the light on. About seven hours later, it had grown by a third, so I was relieved. I had a quart of sour in the end, to which I added an unknown amount of flour and kneaded it before heading to church.

The sour had been started with about a quarter cup of whole rye, but I used whole wheat after that. I don't think I used enough flour when making the bread, because it was awfully wet still (although not that bad, just on the wet side of a good dough). I think I should have saved some of the sour rather than using it all. I really only needed a couple cups.

I let the bread rise while I was at church, and then for a few hours more. I then flattened it out on a baking sheet greased with bacon grease (bakin' grease?), rolled it into a log, and let it rise while the oven heated to 425F. I also placed a bowl of boiling water in the oven to steam it up (actually, Peter did most of that because he was baking a loaf, too.

Since I'd punched down the dough when I formed the log, and the sour culture was slow acting, and the dough was wet, the preheating time for the oven did not allow the loaf to reach its full size. Consequently, the loaf was very dense, and the side split in the oven from a large secondary rise.

So, lessons: use less sour for a single loaf, let it rise a long time before placing in the oven, use more flour (or otherwise make a drier dough).

Improvements from previous loaves: the dough was not too dry, I didn't have to use commercial yeast, there was hardly any rye flavor.

As to the loaf itself, it was incredible. I didn't expect it to taste as it does. It has a strong whole wheat flavor, but there is a strong sourness as well. It's a strange flavor, but good.

A few things to keep in mind next time: a little more salt, some oil (there was none and I don't know if the bread would have been better with it), the addition of honey to the sour, a longer final rise time for a sourdough, less sour or more flour (in the second case, make two loaves). Also, I'm tired of putting water in the oven. I want to make a loaf without steam next. Maybe I should try only one or two of these changes. I'll be thinking of what my next loaf will be. I'm seriously considering a, well, I'll let you know later.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Trye Poolish

I ate the loaf the next day, partly for lunch and partly as a snack in the library. It was, being rye bread, quite heavy, and I guess maybe that's why I fell asleep at the study table for an hour. Anyway, it was delicious and, unlike many heavy rye breads, I didn't feel as though it sat heavily in the stomach after eating.

Definitely, the size of the loaf was too small. Also, since I'd tried extra hard to make a crust on it, the small size combined to make it way too crusty. I think if I ever make such a small loaf again, I will not put a crust on it if it can be helped.

My next bread will probably be on Sunday. I've started a sour using maybe a quarter cup of rye flour and water. I'm going to feed it (in fact, as soon as I finish typing) with whole wheat flour, so the rye is just in there to get the culture going. After reading, I decided that I need to let a natural yeast dough rise a lot longer than I would a common type dough; as much as four hours, perhaps. Thus, my plan right now is to feed the sour through Sunday morning and then get up before church and make the dough, letting it rise through church and then bake it around noon. I'll let you know what happens.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

First Proof - Rye Poolish

Last night, before I went to bed, I started a basic poolish using whole rye flour and water, maybe a little less than a cup each. Of course, I did all my reading afterwards, but I now know both what a poolish is and how I should have done it differently. Allow me to share the first now.

A poolish is a type of yeast starter, I suppose one could think of it as a sourdough starter (although it's more watery), which is used to preferment some dough to use as a leavener. Rye flour naturally has a very high wild yeast content, so one needn't add the extra yeast which is required for a wheat starter (in fact, for flavor, rye flour is often added to a wheat starter).

So, I started my poolish, put it in the oven to ferment, and went to bed, hoping to bake a rye loaf when I got up. Although it had activated, I found that the poolish was not active enough to leaven a loaf (which was the same problem I'd encountered last week when I tried to make a similar loaf of bread before deciding to embark on this breadmaking tutorial). I added some more yeast (Fleischmann's, I think) about midmorning and then went to class. When I came back, I defered to Peter's expert advice (the guy's been making bread since he was seven!) and he told me that, in fact, the starter was ready now, although I wouldn't have known it. That was due to a combination of the huge growth I'd gotten last week and my forgetting where the original fill level was for the poolish.* So, I started to make bread.

I poured the poolish into a mixing bowl, poured about another half cup or so of rye flour in, as well as maybe two cups of whole wheat flour, mixed in some more water, and started needing on a well-floured counter. Sorry I can't tell you how much flour I used, but I'm trying to learn to do this by touch. I'd decided with the bagels that the dough was too dry; I erred on the side of caution and got pretty much the same result, although the dough was slightly limp tonight. Also, since it was at least a quarter rye, and probably more, the gluten didn't develop nearly as much as in a wheat dough. I think I'm starting to get a handle on this whole rye thing (haha) and I need to make more slits in loaves made with rye to ensure that they don't split the sides because of the generally short stretching ability of the gluten strands.

I placed the ball of dough, which was quite small, in the oven to rise for an hour. Although it had risen some, I decided to add some more yeast, as much to find out what happens when yeast is added after the first rise as to aid in the crumb development. I think I put in another teaspoon (in addition to the teaspoon I'd added before going to class) and kneaded it in. I then let the bread rise for another hour in the oven. When I took the bread out, I formed it into a small loaf by flattening it out into a rectangle and the rolling it up (I've heard this creates tension in the surface gluten both inside and out), set the oven to 370F, put a kettle on to boil, and then let the bread rest until the oven was preheated. When the kettle was done, I poured boiling water into a pan I'd placed on the lower rack of the oven (my 8" omelet pan) and when the oven was heated a few minutes later, I put in the bread. The water is supposed to aid in the formation of a crust and, given my results, it does.

I left the bread in for an hour or so (I think 50 minutes, to be exact). I'd read that crust formation can be better aided still by turning off the oven and leaving the loaf in for half an hour to an hour, so I tried that, as well. Does this loaf have a crust or what! It's a small loaf, with a strong rye flavor, again, which I'm getting sick of, and a rather loose crumb which is itself made up of rather dense crumbs. It is delicious and I'm going to look forward to eating lunch tomorrow with my little loaf.

A few observations:

It is a small loaf, too small for all the work that went into it. The crust is too thick for its size, as well. The flavor is good, although I'm not sure I can taste the fermentation (maybe a product of the additional yeast and short fermentation time. The slits in top were not large enough and baked through almost immediately, not allowing much additional rise to be absorbed (perhaps the knife didn't actually cut the surface gluten, merely compressed it).

Maybe more to follow later.

An idea just occurred to me, spurred on by a delicious Gouda I ate in Nottingham months ago: I should add cumin to a bread sometime. I love cumin and it might flavor (and color) the bread very nicely, much like caraway in American rye.

*After reading on starters while the bread was rising and baking, I learned that a starter, even a poolish, should be allowed to ferment for at least three days in all cases. I have heard that a poolish can be started in as little as five hours, but I now realize that the finished starter in those cases won't have fermented, merely it will have started to produce enough carbon dioxide to leaven a loaf.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Follow Up

After eating another three of the bagels and getting feedback from Peter and Jonathan, I have a few more comments.

The flavor was actually quite incredible, and the poppy seed flavor grew overnight, as did the bageliness (meaning, as it grew stale, it acquired that dry, dense texture of a classic bagel). I'm not sure what the plain bagels would have done overnight, but the honey-scent (which was very strong last night) actually diminished. I looked at some pictures of bagels online today and I think that I didn't overlap the coil enough. It looks like the Montreal bagels I was modeling mine after overlap a full third or more of the circumference; mine only overlapped about a fifth.

I've got to get to Montreal. Eat some smoked meat, too. Stop in at one of the many francophone used bookstores. And have fondue; maybe that same waitress is still working there...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A First Proofing

This weblog, for the moment, will function as my public journal of pain. Over the next few months, I'm going to attempt to learn the art of breadmaking. I have two main reasons for doing this. Firstly, bread is such a basic joy in life, I want to be able to make a number of varieties of bread well. Secondly, I think the act of making bread will help my quite painfully injured back to heal, through the kneading and other activity (hence the pun in the first sentence).

A few notes before I procede.

I have never made bread before this week, except a loaf two years ago which ended up being made with dead yeast (not just inactive).

I eat mostly whole foods, so don't expect to see any recipes for white bread (although I expect to perfect a french baguette at some point).

I will not use any machines for this. Not only do I find the noise of electric motors disruptive, and their use would make nul half of my reason for doing this, but I also don't own anything which would help in breadmaking.

So, now that I've set out that rather inadequate description, let me get on to my first attempt at bread.

On the spur of the moment, I threw together some rather passable bagels after church today. It was pretty easy, although I'm trying to use up a bag of rye flour I bought in November, so the gluten didn't develop as I would have liked. They also have a strong rye flavor (imagine that). Basically, the recipe I used was something like three cups of whole wheat flour, a cup and some of whole rye flour, and some salt, mixed with some activated yeast in a maybe a cup and a half or two of water. Then, I kneaded the dough, let it rise for half an hour, and got a large pot of water simmering with maybe three or four tablespoons of honey. I shaped the bagels by cutting off a chunk, rolling it out in a cylinder, and wrapping it about my hand, overlapping the ends. After letting them rise for another fifteen minutes, I boiled them for between one and three minutes per side, and then put them in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes (although I put them in initially while the oven was still preheating). Also, four of the ten got an light eggwash and a dusting of poppy seeds (because I love poppy seeds).


The overlapping ends didn't hold together in the water. The bagels developed too much of a crust for their thickness (they have a large circular diameter, but a small cross-section). The flavor of the poppy seeds is overwhelmed by the wheat and rye flavors. As for flavor, the crust and and the mou flavors weren't quite in harmony (the crust was honey-sweetened quite nicely, while I think the mou was lacked some sweetening and also tasted too much like bare wheat and rye).

Ideas for the future:

I think I make my doughs too dry (I also attempted a rye sourdough with a friend's help last week); perhaps a bit more water or a bit less flour during the kneading. When shaping the bagels, work faster and cut up all of the dough at once (otherwise, the rising causes each progressive bagel to be larger and larger and larger and larger). Make the holes smaller and the cross-section larger (roll it out less and wrap around a small object than the palm of my hand). Maybe the oven was too hot; 375F might not be a bad idea. Since the dough wasn't sweet enough to match the flavor of the boiled outside, I think honey is necessary in the dough as well, but not much at all, probably less than a tablespoon. Maybe some more salt would be good (I'm pretty sure I ended up using less than a teaspoon, but certainly not more).

All in all, the bagels are delicious. Their flavor is incredibly strong!!! I put that as a warning, not a criticism. One nice thing about that is that the overwhelming flavor of the wheat and rye requires a lot of cream cheese, so once I adjusted the quantity, they were almost too good to be true.