Monday, November 19, 2012

Salt and Yeast

Since I accidentally left my favorite bread cookbook at a friend's house when we moved (and the book hasn't come in the mail yet), I've been using some other recipes.  I found one on that I really liked, but I was having trouble with the loaves falling.

Part of the problem is that I'm using a new brand and variety of yeast.  In Maryland I used Fleischmann's Instant Yeast.  Here the yeast I can get for a good price ($4 for two pounds) is Red Star Active Dry Yeast (RSADY).  Whenever you switch yeasts, you're switching critters.  Different critters behave differently.

The solution to the problem has been to increase the amount of salt in the recipe.  I'm finding that with the RSADY, if I use a proportion of 3 parts yeast to 4 parts yeast (with yeast in the 2 tsp range), then I get good results for a two pound loaf.  If the proportion is lower than that, the yeast gets out of control and things start falling.

A few recipes work fine without alteration, in particular my French baguette recipe and anything from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes Per Day.

We're also using all natural non-GMO unbleached unbromated flour (Wheat Montana, best flour in the world) and organic sugar.  Using high quality ingredients means you'll have high quality results.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Home again

Two weeks after I wrote my last post here, I received a divine call to serve two congregations in southwestern Montana: Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Three Forks, Montana and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Belgrade, Montana.

After several weeks of prayerful contemplation, I accepted this call and began the moving process.  This, understandably, led to a blogging hiatus which is now over.

There are two events that hail the end of the blogging hiatus.  First, we have successfully located my pizza stone.  Second, we have ordered a new bread machine to replace the one that fell victim to a cooking accident a few months ago (don't ask).  Third, we bought two pounds of yeast last night (Yeah, so I can't count... sue me...).

To get back in the swing of things, I just want to mention how great it is to be back in the west.  We have several grocery stores to choose from, all of which stock real food (organic, natural). One of them, called Town and Country, even stocks the organic/natural goods side by side with the processed stuff.  This means that you can compare the prices side by side in the same location instead of having to run halfway across the store thirty-seven times.

The town in which we live also has Wheat Montana.  This means that all of our baking will now be done with locally sown, grown, and ground wheat.  Nothing about that isn't awesome.

Also, I've lost 42 lbs since my last post.  I'm walking two miles per day and eating less.

Also, I want to thank an anonymous Lutheran photographer and artist for the awesome new blog banner.

Finally, here's our new kitchen.  Yup... this is where the magic now happens!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Why are the L's in tortilla silent?

As I sat in my study writing about donkeys, palm branches, and the coronation of the king of the universe, I heard the tell-tale signs of activity in the kitchen.  This meant that Jen was getting ready to cook lunch.  That day we had huevos rancheros.  You can't have huevos without tortillas, and after making tortillas from scratch two weeks ago, there's no way that we're buying them again.

The recipe we used can be found here.  So far we've used shortening, but we're transitioning to lard soon.  We found that we can buy non-hydrogenated lard in our grocery store, and that's awesome.  Lard is pig fat... real food.  But when it's hydrogenated it transforms from porky goodness into a second cousin of plastic.

What seems to be our normal procedure with the tortillas is that Jen does everything but the cooking and I handle the cast-iron work.  My cast-iron cookware was a birthday present from her.  I need more of it.

There's really no comparing fresh hot tortillas to anything you buy in a store.  Last time we made them I was starving and the first tortilla went straight from the cast iron skillet into my mouth.  Elizabeth loves them too.

For the huevos, we went simple.  Scrambled eggs mixed with Great Value Salsa then scooped onto the fresh hot tortillas.  A dollop of sour cream on top of that.

Some of you may know that Great Value is the Wal-Mart generic brand.  Some Great Value products actually are great values.  Short ingredient lists, all pronouncable, and no preservatives.  Their salsa and pizza sauce can often be found in our cupboards.

Also, in the rural area where we live Wal-Mart is the only game in town.  The other options are extremely overpriced or far away.  Recently we've taken to doing Wal-Mart every other week and alternating it with the good, high quality grocery store that's about a half hour away.

We also shop for certain staples and spices at two local Mennonite groceries.  As I typed this I was getting ready to run errands with Elizabeth.  One thing we did was stop at the Springs Store in Springs, PA to get about a third of a pound of cinnamon for $1.  That makes me happy.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Take your artisan bread and shove it

On Tuesday I ordered this book.  Friends have been recommending it to me for years.  We had some rewards points from our bank and a credit card, so I ordered it.

I've been looking forward to the book's arrival since then.  It came today.  I am very disappointed.  I'm downright angry.  This book is pretty much worthless to me until we own an additional (or at least a different) refrigerator.  The whole premise of this book is that you should store large containers of dough in your refrigerator for later use.

While I am willing to admit that part of my disappointment is due to the fact that I had such high expectations, I think my anger over this book is quite justified.  The reason why the bread is only supposed to take five minutes of work is that you do most of the prep work once and only once.  Then you shape the loaves and bake.  Voila.

Great plan if you have a commercial sized refrigerator.  Great plan if you have two refrigerators.  Great plan if you have any freedom to decide what sort of refrigerator you have (which a pastor living in a parsonage does not have).  Great plan if you don't live 30 miles from the grocery store and make one shopping trip per week (which completely fills your refrigerator) so that you can save on gas money.

Great if you aren't me.

The irony is also rather extreme.  Remember this post?  The one where I talk about buying flour in bulk and getting containers to store it in?  Those containers are just what this book recommends you use to store dough in.  One of them fills about half of our chest freezer downstairs.  And I'm supposed to find the space in my little cramped refrigerator for one of those?  PLEASE!

So, yeah...  I'm ticked.  The only way I can use this book is if I store dough in one of the refrigerators at church, and I'm not so sure the congregation would be cool with me having half of one of their refrigerators filled with dough all the time.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cheese - The Bucket List

Goals are important, right?  Yeah... sure they are!

So here's the goal.  I want to taste every variety of cheese in the world between now and the day I die.

Today I can mark two off of the list:

Monterey Jack

I love these cheeses.  I eat them almost every week.

If I could afford it, I would also eat these cheeses every week.  They're made four miles from here and they're fantastic.  I have, of course, had many cheeses other than these, but you have to start keeping track sometime, right?  Sometime is now.

This is the current comprehensive list of cheeses at with the cheeses I've eaten (since this morning) crossed off.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Flour. Lots of flour.

Recently we started purchasing flour in 50 lb bags.  We use lots of it.  Why?  Because we don't buy bread.  As of a couple of weeks ago we don't buy flour tortillas either.  The last 50 lb bag of flour cost us $21.25.  I buy yeast by the pound (about $3) and it lasts about a year.  I think the flour will last a couple of months.

When we decided to buy the 50 lb bag of flour we wondered how in the world we were going to store it.  After consulting with some friends who do a lot of bulk buying, we found out that if you go to a large grocery store with a deli you can usually get large food grade buckets for free or for a buck or two.  Three of those puppies and you have all the flour storage you need.

Wednesdays are Jen's baking day.  Saturdays are mine.  This weekend I'm making hamburger buns, so I'll probably post my recipe.  I might make baguettes too (if I have time tomorrow).  I try to make the baguettes every two weeks.  Jen has considered marrying them.  I tell her she has to settle for me.

Here goes something...

I'm not new to blogging.  I've done it for about eight years in various contexts.  In fact, you can still read my sermons and occasional ramblings on matters theological here.

But life changes in eight years.  I'm now ordained, married, and have a seventeen month old daughter.  I live in Maryland.  I'm a parish pastor.  I have a fairly successful writing avocation.  I could have never guessed that I'd be here now when I started blogging then.

I don't blog nearly as much as I used to.  My world has changed and so has the Internet.  But there is one new thing in my life that I love writing and chatting about: food.  It's not that food is new in my life, but my love of cooking and baking is.

It turns out that I make a mean baguette and that I've inherited some of my Aunt Viola's mad cinnamon roll skills.  I have nearly perfected the art of frying an egg or a mess of bacon in my cast iron cookware.  Just two weeks ago my wife and I made some wonderful tortillas from scratch.

On this blog I'm going to write about food.  Some will be food that I make and some will just be food that I eat.  Most of the recipes won't come from me, but many of them will have my own tweaks in them.

This could be fun, or it could disappear in two weeks.  We'll see.