Roti (Indian flatbread)

As I’ve mentioned, since I got the great cookbook Cooking at Home with Pedatha, I’ve been determined to make more Indian food at home and convince Mark to like it. To that end, I decided to learn how to make roti, which I figured would entice the carb-loving Smark. Breads aren’t covered in Pedatha, but a quick google turned up this excellent video by Manjula, who made it seem so easy. If you are fortunate enough to have a gas stove, search for some of the other roti videos as well because it looks like it’s even more fun to make them on a gas stove (you puff them directly over the flame), but being stuck with an electric stove, I feel particularly attached to Manjula’s procedure.

I was worried that having years of experience, Manjula was making it look a lot easier than it really is, but I’m happy to report it really is (almost) that easy. The hard part is not getting it to puff (though they didn’t puff as nicely as those in the videos by people with gas stoves), but finding the perfect balance of using enough flour to prevent sticking when rolling but not adding so much the extra flour burns when frying. It probably took me a bit longer than Manjula to pull the roti together, but considering it was my first time making roti AND I was photographing every step (which requiring washing my hands every 30 seconds in order to be able to touch the camera), I’d say the time it takes to make these is really negligible and it’s easily doable for a weekday meal.

This recipe is direct from Manjula’s site, and I urge you to watch her video a couple of times because she demonstrates the process far better than I can.

1 cup whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat and ended up using 1 cup + 1 Tbsp)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup lukewarm water

Mix all ingredients. You can do this with your hands (or a wooden spoon) or cheat like I did and use a food processor (actually, I used a Sumeet grinder, but it’s an Indian machine so I decided it was okay…in fact, I think the instruction manual came with a recipe for roti, come to think of it).

Knead until it forms a very soft, cohesive dough. The consistency you are looking for might be a little more difficult to determine for people less accustomed to working with wet bread doughs, but if you watch Manjula’s video I think you’ll get the idea.

Drizzle just a couple of drops of oil on the dough to keep it from sticking and place it into a bowl. Cover and let sit for at least 10 minutes. (I went on a 45-minute walk at this point so mine sat for a while.)

When you are ready to make the roti, heat a very heavy – preferably cast iron – skillet over medium heat. I set my burner just a tiny smidge past “medium” and it seemed perfect. Do not add oil. Divide the dough into 8 equal parts.

Prepare a workspace by sprinkling it with flour. You want to use as little flour as possible to prevent sticking when rolling, but the dough is going to stick, so don’t be too stingy either. Take one of the balls and flatten it, turning it in the flour to coat.

Roll the dough into a circle; don’t worry how rough your circle is. (Mine were awful!) Constantly turn the dough over and sprinkle with and roll in additional flour to prevent sticking. You’re striving for a 5-6″ wide circle.

Place the flattened dough into the hot skillet.

It will cook very quickly and you will see bubbles forming on the top as the edges lift up.

When the top surface changes appearance, flip the roti over with a spatula. Use the spatula to press down on the roti as it cooks; this helps it puff up.

Flip it back over and cook another few seconds.

The roti is done when it’s puffed up and has brown (but not burnt) spots on both sides. As you finish with each roti, move it to a stack with the others, keeping them covered with a tea towel. Ideally put the tea towel in a covered container to completely trap the steam, although just a towel worked fine for me.

The finished roti:

From the cookbook, I made vegetable sambhar.

it may have made more sense to serve the roti with something other than sambhar (which the cookbook suggested I serve with idli or steamed rice) but I’m not known for always making sense. And the sambhar was thick enough to scoop up with the roti anyway.

This was a SUCCESS! When I announced dinner was ready to Mark, I added, “I hope you eat it,” to which he asked, suspiciously, “why, is it Indian?” and I answered, “what it is is yummy!” “It’s basically lentil soup and bread,” I added in my most convincing manner. He poked the sambhar with a spoon and sniffed it, again, with an air of suspicion. Then he ladled a small amount into a bowl and scooped it up with a roti. “It’s good!” he said, somewhat surprised, returning to the pot to fill his bowl. His final verdict: “it may be Indian, but it’s good anyway!” There’s hope for him yet!

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Mark and I visited the Parental Homestead yesterday, and my mom gave me some “chili bowls” to match one of the sets of Chinese teacups I have:

So of course today I made my grandmother’s chili! And to accompany it, I made Peter Reinhart’s cornbread, which I present for you today in vegan adaptation.

Cornbread, a la Peter Reinhart

6 oz (1 cup) cornmeal
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 cups minus 2 Tbsp soy milk (the vinegar + soy milk should weigh 16 ounces)
8 slices vegan bacon strips
8 oz (1 3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
.75 oz (1 1/2 Tbsp) baking powder
.05 oz (1/4 tsp) baking soda
.25 (1 tsp) salt
2 oz (1/4 cup) brown sugar
2 oz (1/4 cup) white sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp En-R-G egg replacer + 6 Tbsp water
1.5 oz (2 Tbsp) agave nectar
1 oz (2 Tbsp) vegan margarine
16 oz (2 1/2 cups) corn kernels (frozen or fresh)
1 1/2 Tbsp corn or vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place 2 Tbsp vinegar in a liquid measuring cup …

… then add soy milk to make a total of 16 ounces (2 cups), whisking together.

Mix with the cornmeal, cover, and set aside. The original recipes says to allow to sit out overnight, but I just let it sit for a few hours this afternoon.

Arrange the vegan bacon on a baking sheet sprayed with oil. (I had two different kinds.)

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until crispy. Crumble and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350.

Here’s my tip for softening or melting margarine: just measure it into a small glass bowl and sit on the stovetop while the oven is on.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, whisk together the En-R-G and the water.

Whisk the agave nectar into the melted margarine, then whisk in the En-R-G mixture:

Whisk the margarine/En-R-G mixture into the cornmeal mixture:

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and whisk or stir until thoroughly blended.

Stir in the corn kernels (I did not manage to get a non-blurry shot of this step.)

Pour the oil into a large cast iron skillet (or a 10″ round cake pan, or a 9×13″ rectangular cake pan, both of which are suggested by Peter Reinhart), then stick the skillet or pan into the oven and allow to heat up for 5 minutes. Using heavy oven mitts, remove and tilt to coat entire skillet. Pour in the batter.

Sprinkle with “bacon” pieces, gently pushing them into the batter. My “bacon” was already pretty crispy, so I also sprayed the “bacon” with water so they wouldn’t burn.

Place in the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Reinhart says this will take 30 minutes but I had to leave mine in for 45.)

Allow to cool in the skillet or pan for 15 minutes before serving. Cut into wedges (or squares, depending in the shape of your pan).

The cornbread got a thumbs-up from Mark!

Here’s the chili in my new bowl:

Brachtune didn’t help me make dinner today, although in general she’s still been acting like my shadow.

She doesn’t appear to miss Tigger, although I sure as hell do. Yesterday at the Parental Homestead, Mark and I looked at the many pictures my mom had saved of Tigger on her PC and we found ourselves laughing at nearly every one of them. He was a very silly cat. Last week I would have just cried. So I guess I’m doing better, but it still really sucks. Brachtune is trying her hardest to get me through it, though.

From my mom’s photos, I realized just how much weight Brachtune – who probably has cancer – has lost. Here is she looking much heavier a few years ago:

And here she is today:

Why do cats have to be mortal? Mark and I will eventually adopt new cats, that I am sure I will love, but the thing is, Tigger and Brachtune were and are THE cats for me. They are nothing alike, but between the two of them, they had/have the two kitty personalities that I think go with my personality. As far as I am concerned, Tigger and Brachtune could have just lived with me until the day I died and I’d have been perfectly happy.

Anyway, if you can imagine how crazy I am about my cats and multiply it by 100, you have a rough idea of how crazy my parents (and my aunt) are about their dogs. They brush Shannon’s teeth every day. He has tartar.

Sophie got her teeth brushed too, but I wasn’t fast enough with the camera to capture it. Here she is waiting for Aunt Lynn to meticulously prepare her “dessert buffet” of doggie cookies and snacks.

Sophie is a bit wary of Mark, so she spent a portion of the day under the sofa.

She’s hyperactive, however, so the sofa-hiding only ever lasted a minute or two at a time.

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Quick and Non-Experimental Tomato Soup

The Smarkster isn’t feeling well today and among his complaints is that he’s hungry but doesn’t want food. I suggested soup and he asked if I’d make tomato soup. It’s so easy that although I wanted to make it as quickly as possible for him, I figured I might as well take pictures and write it up for the blog while I was at it. I just went to Penzey’s last weekend and have a bunch of new spices I’d love to have played with, but I figured if Smark wasn’t feeling well, it wasn’t the right time to experiment.

Quick and Non-Experimental Tomato Soup

1/4 onion, diced
1 small or 1/2 large carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
14.5 ounces vegetable stock or vegan broth (1 tomato can-full)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp thyme
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
fresh basil for garnish

Saute the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic in a soup pot.

Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and remove the bay leaf. Let cool for a few minutes, then blend, either with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender.

Reheat if necessary and garnish with fresh basil. I didn’t have any fresh basil so I threw a small cube of frozen basil in the pot and stirred until melted.

Here’s hoping Smark feels better!

Caution, soup is hot!

I forgot to give him a lemon wedge, but if I were serving myself, I’d probably squeeze a little lemon over it. I think fresh lemon brightens everything.

I put a loaf of Jeffrey Hamelman’s beer bread into the oven to bake just before starting the soup. I plan to serve it with dinner.

There are two things that bread bakers hope to achieve in every loaf of bread, but which sometimes seem to happen randomly, perhaps when Fornax is smiling upon you: oven spring and a crust that literally crackles as it begins to cool after removing from the oven. Oven spring is the extra rise you get a couple minutes after putting the loaf into the oven. This you can control a little bit, in fact, scoring (slashing) is done to control how oven spring affects the bread (by giving the crust a location to expand), but it seems like some loaves spring right up in the oven and others don’t much at all – and that the only deciding factor is luck! I’ve made three different kinds of bread from Bread so far and all of my loaves have had great oven spring. And when I pulled this beer bread from the oven, it started crackling delightfully as I was taking its picture!

I have been really happy with the loaves I’ve baked from this book, and there are so many, many loaves to go! It’s an excellent book and the loaves are a pure delight and joy to bake. Everything just seems to go so smoothly when I follow these recipes. If you are serious about learning to bake bread, I highly recommend this book, although it’s pretty intensive and there are only a few photographs (there are simple drawings that illustrate techniques where necessary). If you are thinking only casually of getting into bread baking, you may find Peter Reinhart’s books a bit more accessible. You could start with this book, but you’ll have to be prepared to read in order to learn the techniques…not look at pictures. For someone who pretty much has the hang of the basics of bread baking but who wants more practice, this book is absolutely perfect.

I can’t wait to taste the beer bread. It’s made with roasted barley, whole wheat flour, and BEER! I only made one loaf instead of the two the recipe was scaled for, which meant I had half a beer leftover this morning. Which meant I drank half a beer before breakfast this morning. Was that wrong?

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I had a specific request for a bagel tutorial, from Fortinbras for his mother. So here you go! This is from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which I really must insist you buy.

Makes 12 large or 24 mini bagels


1 tsp (0.11 oz) instant yeast
4 cups (18 oz) high-gluten or bread flour
2 1/2 cups (20 oz) water, at room temperature


1/2 tsp (0.055 oz) instant yeast
3 3/4 cups (17 oz) high-gluten or bread flour
2 3/4 tsp (0.7 oz) salt
2 tsp (0.33 oz) malt powder OR 1 Tbsp (0.5 oz) dark or light malt syrup, agave nectar or brown sugar

To Finish

1 Tbsp baking soda
cornmeal or semolina for dusting
toppings (optional)

To make the sponge, add all of the ingredients to a large bowl, or the mixing bowl of an electric mixer, and stir until combined.

Cover and let sit for two hours or until it has risen to twice its size and is very bubbly.

To make the dough, add the yeast to the sponge and stir.

Add the salt, malt powder or sweetener, and 3 cups of the flour, and mix until it forms a ball. Slowly add the remaining 3/4 cup flour. Bagel dough is pretty stiff and especially if you are making a full recipe, you may find this easier to do in an electric mixer. However, my Kitchen Aid can’t handle kneading a full batch, so what I do is after adding the initial 3 cups of flour, I put bowl on the mixer with the dough hook and add the remaining flour as it mixes at speed one. It can handle this initial mixing phase. Once all of the dough is incorporated and the mixture is an admittedly somewhat shaggy ball …

… I remove it and cut it in half.

Then I use the dough hook to knead each half on speed 2 for about 6 minutes. When both halves are kneaded, I combine them on my workspace and hand knead to combine them for about a minute. If you are not using a mixer, hand knead the entire dough for at least 10 minutes.

Scale the dough into 4.5 ounce pieces for standard-sized bagels or smaller for mini bagels.

If you are into baking at all, a kitchen scale is really indispensable – and you really should use the measurements by weight above, not by volume – but if you don’t have a scale yet, try to divide the dough as evenly as possible so the bagels bake evenly later. I was so proud of myself yesterday because for the first time, I ended up with 12 bagels that each weighed exactly 4.5 ounces! Usually the 12th or 13th bagel is a little runt. This time it was perfect! Here are my 12 4.5 ounce dough pieces:

Round each dough piece. To do this, cup one of your hands around it and with the other, spin it around, forming a tight ball. I’m not very good at explaining this, which is why you should buy The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and learn from the master.

Cover the balls with a damp towel and let rest for 20 minutes.

Prepare two half-sheet pans by lining with parchment and misting lightly with spray oil. (Don’t omit the misting: I forgot to do so yesterday and my bagels were stuck the parchment this morning and I therefore ended up with a few misshapen bagels after prying them off.) Use your thumb to poke a hole in one of the rounds.

Gently use your thumbs to embiggen (what? it’s a perfectly cromulent word!) the hole to a diameter of about 2 1/2 inches, while keeping the the dough as even as possible on all sides. This one isn’t exactly a great example; try to do better.

Place each shaped bagel on one of the pans; you can fit 6 on each half-sheet pan

We have a small dorm-sized refrigerator in our basement, originally purchased as back-up beer storage for parties, but I’ve commandeered it as a proofing fridge during non-party times. I can’t fit half-sheet pans in it, so I use quarter sheet pans. I don’t know what I’d do without my proofing fridge, although I wish it were full-size!

Wrap the pans tightly in plastic wrap. I don’t like using all this plastic wrap and I’m trying to think of alternative but haven’t come up with much yet. The issue is you don’t want any air getting to the bagels.

Let the bagels sit out for 20 minutes, then retard in the refrigerator overnight.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot – the widest you have – of water to a boil, then add the baking soda.

Remove the bagels from the refrigerator …

… and add only as many as you comfortably can to the pot of water. Don’t allow them to touch, and realize they will embiggen somewhat in the water. Boil for one minute …

… then flip over and boil for another minute. Peter says you can boil for as long as two minutes on each side if you like chewy bagels and although I do like chewy bagels, I have found that one minute per side works best for me.

Remove with a slotted spoon and place back on the sheet pan, which you have sprinkled lightly with cornmeal or semolina. Immediately after placing on the pan, sprinkle with your desired toppings. I almost always make “everything” bagels, a mixture of sesame, poppy, caraway, and dill seeds and salt.

Bake for 5 minutes at 500 degrees Fahrenheit, then rotate the pan 180 degrees, reduce heat to 450 degrees, and bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes or until light brown. If you are baking on two shelves, switch the pans as well when you rotate them; I bake one pan at a time because I’ve found they come out more evenly that way.

Let cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

I forgot to take a picture of one when I served them, so admire this second cooling shot in lieu of the usual “plated” photo, or see my earlier Entertaining the Vegetable-Hating Aussie post, which has a shot of a bagel in Tofutti and jalapeno jelly topped action.

In Tigger news, I stopped by Petco today to get some kitty litter and looked at the kitty toys while I was there. Tigger’s favorite color is red, so I always look for red toys for him. He goes bonkers for red toys. They happened to have cute little red cherry and strawberry catnip toys, so I got him a couple. I thought the packaging was funny:

Cat Toy…For Cats!

Tigger loved them. He loved them before I even removed the cardboard.

I love that cats always rub their heads on things they like. (Tigger often rubs his head on me, which is how I know he loves me.)

Silly kitty.

Of course, he even rubbed his head on the empty cardboard, so I don’t know why I bother seeking out particular toys for him.

Ah, we’ll be hearing the thunder of cat paws running up and down the hallway later tonight…

Until he at long last captures his prey.

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SusanV’s Okara Crab Cakes with some sauces

As I promised in the Imperial Deviled Crab post, yesterday I attempted to make a crabby tofu. And I failed miserably. I was left with, however, an Old Bay and seaweed-infused mass of thick okara, so to keep the thing from becoming a total loss, I obviously made SusanV’s Okara Crab Cakes.

I actually had some tartar sauce already prepared, as yesterday I’d made us quick “fish” sandwiches, using some frozen vegan “fish” patties, but reading Susan’s suggestion of a “spicy cocktail sauce”, I decided I wanted some of that too! I looked up cocktail sauce recipes and quickly learned that horseradish is pretty much essential, but I didn’t have any and it didn’t seem worth a trip to Wegmans (despite my undying love for Wegmans). In case you ever find yourself in the same situation, here’s what I did:

Don’t Have Any Horseradish But Need Cocktail Sauce Cocktail Sauce

1 cup ketchup
1 Tbsp powdered wasabi
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
juice of 1/2 large lemon
hot sauce to taste

Mix all ingredients. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Since I had made the tartar sauce the day before and wasn’t planning to post it, I don’t have any pictures for you, but in case you are interested, here’s what I probably did (I don’t remember exactly and I just make this stuff up as I go along…)

Tartar Sauce

1 cup Vegenaise
1/4 cup sweet relish, squeezed dry
1/4 onion, minced
1 tsp dry mustard
juice of 1/2 large lemon
1/4 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients. Refrigerate at least 20 minutes.

Now, I don’t know how many of you are into photography at all. I’m quite an amateur, but I consider it one of my hobbies. I like to think that most of my photography is better than the awful pictures I manage to take of food for this blog (food photography is a skill I’m trying to improve), but I still have a lot to learn. One thing I DO know is that my aperture was set way, way too low when I was taking pictures of my crab cakes tonight. Wow. This actually looks better in the smaller version (usually the reverse is quite true), but it is still an awful picture and I’m sorry. I’d have skipped posting anything tonight, but it’s been several days and I feel as I’ve abandoned you. I wanted to have an awesome tofu crab tutorial for you today but that didn’t work out!

I’ll leave you with a picture of some rolls I baked yesterday (in addition to a hearth loaf and a panned loaf that is currently in the refrigerator for baking tomorrow). The recipe was the Whole Wheat Bread with a Multi-Grain Soaker and Pâte Fermentée from Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread.

This book has been on my wish list forever and I was ready for a new bread book, but since I’m a book-buying ban until I go to Sydney in February, I borrowed it from the library. I don’t want to hurt Peter Reinhart’s feelings, but I might have a new boyfriend now! I’m either going to have to keep this book checked out until my birthday in October, or I’m going to have to break the book-buying ban, because I need this book. (Fortunately, I’ve been very careful to say I’m only “cutting back” on my book purchases until Sydney…)

Oh yeah, and I found out that Fortinbras promised his mother that I would do a bagel tutorial, so look for that soon. If it weren’t so late and I weren’t so into reading Little House on the Prairie for some unknown reason, I’d start some bagels tonight, but I’m afraid it’s going to have to wait another week. Bagels are fun though! Get yourselves some high-gluten flour in preparation!

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Entertaining the vegetable-hating Aussie

I am currently in the midst of a week-long vacation from work, staying home to entertain my close friend from Australia, Muck (because he’s Australian, he doesn’t always pronounce his R’s, so his given name Mark became Muck…although since my husband Mark is Smark, Muck is more often Smuck). Smucky and I couldn’t be more different in terms of palate: he’s a vegetable- and spice-hating carnivore with little sense of culinary adventure and I’m (obviously) a vegan with a taste for spicy food and trying new things. So I try to find some compromises when he’s here. He’s generally pretty good about at least trying most of the things I make and sometimes he even likes them! I do let him keep a quart of milk and sliced deli turkey in the refrigerator (the latter meaning the cats really like it when he’s in town) so he doesn’t starve, but I enjoy introducing him to new things.

Sometimes I am really surprised by the things that are new to Smucky. For example: bagels. I offered him a homemade bagel last summer and he said he’d never had nor even seen one before. What?!? How can you spend nearly three decades on this planet and never encounter a bagel?!?! The good news is he really took to bagels once he tried one. Now I feel obligated to keep a supply of them on hand when he’s here. They are fun to make, so it’s okay. After he took his jet-lagged self to bed early Monday night, I got to work and surprised him Tuesday morning with fresh everything bagels:

Somehow we’ve managed to go through 8 1/2 bagels already, so it looks like another batch is in my immediate future.

Smucky adulterates his with non-vegan turkey and mozzarella (and, surprisingly, sliced “beetroot”…apparently it’s a normal sandwich topping in Australia): he’s never had cream cheese because he “doesn’t like cream”. I, however, smear mine with Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, and in this case, jalapeno jelly from my mother-in-law in Charleston. Is it the healthiest way to start my day? Maybe not, but I’m on vacation, damn it!

Another thing Smucky’s never heard of is blueberries, which is possibly even more bizarre than bagels. He and I were in Wegmans tonight picking out sodas to buy for a party we’re having this weekend, when he suggested we try a blueberry soda. I said I was skeptical about the universal appeal of blueberry soda and asked him if he’d ever had it and it came out that he didn’t even know what a blueberry is: he thought it was just a flavor of “lolly”. Once I got over my shock, I abandoned him in the soda aisle, ran back to the produce section, grabbed some blueberries and returned stating he was going to find out what a blueberry was and not in soda form. Oddly, I did buy the blackberry soda he suggested without asking him if he knows what a blackberry is…maybe he just thought it best to keep mum about it.

One of the few meals I can think of that will satisfy both of our needs is Italian-style pasta. Usually we end up having spaghetti at some point when he’s here, but today I decided to go all-out and spring vegan lasagne on him. His eyes got big with excitement when I announced we’d be having lasagne for dinner, although he immediately asked, with concern in his voice, “but what about the meat and cheese? You can’t have lasagne without meat and cheese.” I told him not to worry his pretty little head about it.

Not only did I make lasagne, I decided to make my own noodles:

I made a very Veganomicon lasagne, with some alterations.

I substituted one spinach layer with commercial vegan “ground beef” in hopes of better appeasing the one who thinks lasagne can’t exist without meat and cheese. I’m very impressed by the fact that he ate two pieces despite the fact that I kept a spinach layer! (He did ask, suspiciously, “what’s with this green stuff?”)

(My homemade noodles didn’t retain layers very well, I’m afraid…)

One thing that I make that Smucky eats without hesitation or suspicion is ice cream, about which honestly I was at first a bit surprised. He’s such a fan of cow milk that I expected resistance to vegan ice cream…but he’s eaten about three quarters of a quart since yesterday!

Smuck’s favorite is mint chocolate chip, so I make it especially for him. Smark’s favorite is cookies and cream, so I made that tonight:

… although it looks like I’ll have to make another batch of mint chocolate chip tomorrow night. I also bought pistachios today in order to make pistachio ice cream for the party, although Smucky today informed me he hates nuts, so I guess he won’t be having any of that. Sigh.

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Sourdough Starter

I bake a lot of bread, but I’ve noticed I don’t really mention it much here. I guess it’s probably because I don’t often make up my own recipes for bread. I usually bake breads from one of Peter Reinhart’s books, either The Bread Baker’s Apprentice or Whole Grains. I recommend both of them very, very much if you have any interest in baking artisan breads.

Although I bake bread just about every weekend – usually several loaves – I’ve of late neglected my sourdough starter and I recently had to throw it away. Bad Renae. But the first piece of good news is I documented making a new one for you! The other good news is that it’s really easy to do! Don’t be afraid! (Or, if you live in Northern Virginia, just get a starter from me; I often end up throwing some away when feeding it: there IS a limit to the number of baked goods I can make.)

It takes five days to get a starter going, which means if you start it on Monday, you can be baking your first loaf by the weekend. And it takes less than five minutes of attention per day. Here’s what you need:

dark rye (pumpernickel) flour, preferably organic
high gluten flour, preferably organic

Now, if you don’t live near any fancy flour stores, you may be casting a wary eye on this pumpernickel and “high gluten” flour nonsense, but never fear. I actually order mine from King Arthur Flour, but I can understand you may not want to go through the trouble of ordering special flour if you aren’t sure you’re definitely going to get into the whole bread-baking thing. The truth of the matter is you don’t NEED to use the pumpernickel or high gluten flours. Both whole grain and organic flours, though, contain more of the yeast organisms that you are hoping to harness than white, non-organic flours, so try to make the flour you buy fit at least one of those descriptions. Once the starter is, well, started, you can feed it with any kind of flour, so you don’t have to buy much. Rye is thought to yield better and faster results. “Pumpernickel” flour is whole rye flour, similar to whole wheat. I have made successful starters using regular or “white” rye flour, so if you can’t find whole rye flour, it’s an option. You could also use whole wheat flour instead of the pumpernickel.

As for high gluten flour, it’s a specialty flour that contains more protein than bread flour (which in turn contains more protein than all-purpose flour). I use it exclusively to feed my starter, and it’s called for in a lot of Peter Reinhart’s recipes. If you are serious about baking artisan breads, I recommend you get some high gluten flour. If you aren’t sure you’re ready to classify yourself as “serious” about bread baking, just use bread flour, which you can buy at any supermarket, instead.

Getting to the process, though, let’s break it down by day. The following are Peter Reinhart’s measurements from BBA (which is how we bakers refer to The Bread Baker’s Apprentice). I don’t really want to post his recipes because I’m not sure how cool that is, but this is pretty standard stuff and is pretty much exactly the same thing I did before I developed my huge bread crush on Peter. BUT I HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU BUY HIS BOOKS!

Day One

4.25 ounces (1 cup) dark rye (pumpernickel) flour
8 ounces (1 cup) water

Mix flour and water together until all flour is incorporated.

Cover and let sit for 24 hours.

Day Two

4.5 ounces (1 cup) high gluten or bread flour
6 ounces (3/4 cup) water

On day two, your dough may or may not have risen. I’ve read numerous times not to expect it to have risen any by day two, however, I usually do get some rise.

Here it was on Day Two before mixing in the new ingredients:

Add the Day Two ingredients and stir until completely incorporated.

Cover and set aside for 24 hours.

Day Three

4.5 ounces (1 cup) high gluten or bread flour
6 ounces (3/4 cup) water

On the morning of Day Three (only 12 hours after I’d mixed in the Day Two ingredients the night before), I had a huge rise:

I just covered it back up and let it continue doing its thing. By the time I got home after work, it had fallen somewhat, so unless you are checking on it, yours might actually rise and fall without your knowledge. You can usually check the sides of the container; it will leave tracks when it falls. This is how it looked when I got home; you can see the higher level it had made it to earlier in the day before falling:

On Day Three, remove half of the starter and discard*. Mix in the Day Three ingredients until completely incorporated:

Cover and set aside for 24 hours.

Day Four

4.5 ounces (1 cup) high gluten or bread flour
6 ounces (3/4 cup) water

On Day Four, the starter was more bubbly. Here’s how I found it that night:

This is a little redundant, but discard half of the starter again and then mix in the Day Four ingredients.

Cover and set aside.

Day Five

16 ounces (3 1/2 cups) high gluten or bread flour
16 ounces (2 cups) water
7 ounces (1 cup) starter

By Day Five, your starter should be rising a lot – at least doubling in volume, and even better, tripling – and be quite bubbly and active. Here is how I found mine on the morning of Day Five:

As soon as yours has at last doubled and is bubbly – and falls easily when tapped – you can proceed with the Day Five instructions – it may not take 24 hours (although you can wait that long if your schedule demands it). I did the Day Five routine about 12 hours after Day Four. Here’s what it looked like after shaking the container a bit; it fell easily:

Mix the Day Five ingredients in a large bowl.

Cover and let sit for 6 hours or until doubled or tripled. It must at least double. If it hasn’t doubled in six hours, give it more time. Mine had more than doubled in six hours:

Transfer to a refrigerator-friendly container in which it has room to double and refrigerate over night. After 8 hours, the starter will be ready to bake with. And I’ll be back with a recipe – and instructions on how to feed your starter.

* You’ll hear the word “discard” in reference to feeding your starter, because you have to remove at least half of it in order to feed it, and, especially in these times of extravagant wheat prices, the idea of throwing away dough may upset you. Never fear, though, there are many things you can do with the “discarded” dough; I’ll try to share some with you over the next few days and as I get back into the swing of using my starter again. So in the future, when I say “discard the extra dough”, feel free to read it as “reserve the extra dough and make English muffins with it”.

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Streamlining the soy milk process and other soybean news, cookbooks, and catching up

The last time I failed to post for several days in a row, I had the excuse of being extremely busy. This time my excuse is exactly the opposite. There is a direct correlation between the day they finally fixed my pool filter and the day I stopped having anything to post here. I’ve pretty much been either swimming in the pool, or floating atop it in my inflatable barge, reading a book. In short, doing nothing. Dinner’s been a rushed affair every night as I’ve been making up for all the swimtime I’ve lost while the filter was broken. Although I don’t have any exciting food to share with you, my weekend has been pretty idyllic.

I did spend all of Saturday morning in the kitchen, though. It was a soy extravaganza on Saturday, in fact. I recently purchased The New Farm cookbook to see if it held any secrets that would help with my tempeh-making. I made tempeh per its instructions (the main difference being that I cooked the soybeans for an hour an a half instead of just half an hour or so). Success!!

I think the problem last time was definitely cramming too many beans into the baggie. I’ll just have to weigh them from now on and make sure it’s exactly 8 ounces of dried beans, which results in the perfect amount for one sandwich-sized bag. I used a higher quality, thicker baggie this time and not only was it much easier to pierce it with the needle, but I was able to remove the tempeh without cutting it, so I will be able to reuse it.

In other soy news, I’ve been noticing that when I make soy milk, the liquid drains through the okara bag that came with my tofu press faster than it does the bag I made myself out of muslin, which I concluded was because the weave of my muslin was tighter than that in the other bag, and since the faster the liquid drains, the easier it is, I’ve been wanting to find a fabric even more loosely woven. So Friday night I went to the fabric store and discovered chiffon.

If you’ve ever been a bridesmaid, you may recognize chiffon as the stuff the bride made you wrap 200 tiny plastic bottles of bubbles, or Hershey kisses, or other wedding favors in. (No one had to wrap anything in chiffon for my wedding because my entire bridal party consisted of Fortinbras traipsing down the aisle carrying our rings on a wedding stick as we said our vows before all of six witnesses in a Scottish castle. I wore black, Mark wore a kilt, and there was no chiffon in sight!)

I may not have been interested in chiffon for bridal reasons, but I’m here to tell you it makes a great okara bag! Because it is slippery, it’s a bit of pain to sew, but it’s worth the small amount of trouble. The soy milk filtered right through it, and with just a couple gentle presses with potato masher, I had extremely dry okara. Not only that, but cleanup was a breeze! My other okara bags never get really clean, but the okara just slides right off the chiffon! And it dries very quickly. I also used a piece of chiffon to line my tofu press when I made the weekly tofu. This worked well because not only did the whey drain through it rapidly, making a firmer tofu faster, but it’s not as bulky as the big piece of muslin I had been using.

I think my tofu should marry my tempeh!!

Another new thing I’ve incorporated into the soy milk-making process is the Multiquick. It had never occurred to me to use an immersion blender to grind the soybeans; I guess I didn’t think they were powerful enough to do it. But one of the reviewers on Amazon said she used hers when making soy milk, so I tried it out, and it worked fine. So after they are finished soaking, I pour off the soaking water, add fresh water to cover, and blend them right in the same bowl I soaked them in. This is particularly helpful when making more than a quart of soy milk because I used to have to do it in batches in the regular blender.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m ashamed of how wasteful I am when I make soy milk and tofu. Because I haven’t had much success using okara, I usually just throw it away. Same with the whey when making tofu. This weekend, though, since the chiffon afforded me the opportunity to extract so much liquid from my okara with very little effort, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to dry it as suggested by Maki at Just Hungry. So I spread it on a pan …

… and baked it at the lowest temperature my oven allows (170 degrees Fahrenheit) until it was completely dried out. I’m not sure how long it ended up taking because I sort of did it in cycles, being “busy” in the pool most of the day. It was maybe 1.5 hours total?

Then I ground it up.

Now I will do something with it. I think Bryanna was discussing dried okara as a parmesan substitute recently; I’ll probably give that a whirl. Maki suggests using dried okara in baked goods, but ugh, I’m so disgusted with using soy byproducts in baked goods! I’ve tried using okara before and it turned my bread into bricks! I wasn’t using dried okara, and Maki claims the texture is much better with dried, but after baking a brick this weekend using whey leftover from making tofu – because the New Farm cookbook said it was good to add to bread – I’m about ready to claim that soy products have no place in bread!

I’ve become a bit of a bread snob; I rarely bake any “straight doughs”, that is, dough made and baked all at once, with no pre-ferments or sponges. But since I was too busy Friday night playing with my chiffon to put together my usual doughs to bake on Saturday, I decided to try the whole wheat recipe in the New Farm cookbook (which, as you can see, has gotten a lot of use since I got it), and at New Farm’s recommendation, I added some of the tofu whey.

Big mistake! It didn’t proof very well, which was the first sign that things were going badly, but I thought maybe I’d just put it in too large a loaf pan. But when I removed it from the oven, I recognized that signature pale, deathly color I’d seen in my previous attempts to use okara in bread. Look at it, it looks sick:

I hadn’t mentioned my whey trial to Mark, from whom I have to hide fresh bread if I don’t want it devoured within two minutes, and who cut himself a slice after it cooled. He took a bite and promptly came to me with a skeptical look on his face, asking me to taste it and tell him if it tasted, well, tasteless. It did. It tasted like cardboard. Mark threw the slice away in disgust.

So today, I decided to bake the same bread, but without whey. Look at the difference:

Now, to be fair, the bigger loaf was much better kneaded, because my mixer crapped out on the bad loaf before it was fully kneaded, and due to an injury sustained while making the okara bags the night before (my thumb tangled with a rotary cutter and lost – ouch!), I wasn’t able to knead it by hand very effectively.

So, speaking of the New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook, on Thursday night, I was making Vegan Dad’s Green Enchiladas and decided that instead of using my usual “cheese” recipe from Simply Heavenly!, I would flip through the New Farm book to see if they had any “cheese” recipes I could try out. I found one and was shocked to find myself looking at the very recipe I almost always use from Simply Heavenly! I don’t want to say Abbott George Burke is a plagiarist, and I honestly think most of his 1,400 recipes are original, but I just found this weird:

Melty Nutritional Yeast “Cheese” from the New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook Yeast Cheeze from Simply Heavenly!
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 cups water
1/4 cup margarine
1 tsp wet mustard

Mix dry ingrdients in a saucepan. Whisk in water. Cook over medium heat, whisking, until it thickens and bubbles. Cook 30 seconds, then remove from heat, whip in margarine, and mustard. It will thicken as it cools but will thin when heated, or add water to thin it.

1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 unbleached white flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 cups water
1 Tbsp nondairy margarine
1 tsp wet mustard

Mix the dry ingredients in a saucepan. Whisk in the water. Cook over medium heat while whisking as it thickens and bubbles. Cook 30 seconds more and remove from the heat. Whip in the margarine and mustard. This thickens when it cools and thins when heated. Water can be added to thin it more. This keeps about five days.

I have made the recipe on the right so many times I have it memorized, so I recognized it the instant I saw it in the New Farm cookbook…which was published 22 years before Simply Heavenly. Incidentally, although I feel lost, confused, and misled – like I did when I realized that Bauhaus’s song Telegram Sam was really a T.Rex song – I actually recommend the “Simply Heavenly” version because it uses 1/4 the amount of margarine (it’s the only difference!), and it’s plenty. Also, this “cheese” was really good in Vegan Dad’s enchiladas, which you really must make. Mark has been absolutely rhapsodizing about them ever since. I’m a bit afraid he prefers Vegan Dad’s recipes to my own! I guess if I’m second best to anyone, Vegan Dad might as well be the one.

Whew…that was a lot of jabbering on my part without posting a recipe! I’m sorry I don’t have anything for you, especially after deserting you for so many days. I can show you a picture of the Sweet and Sour Tempeh I made tonight:

It’s from – surprise! – the New Farm cookbook. I’m probably the last vegan on the planet to buy this cookbook; it’s been on my wishlist forever, but I just never got around to it. Maybe because I think I have half of it in the form of printouts of recipes that have been posted on various websites, forums, and mailing lists over the years. So I guess it’s about damn time I bought a proper version of it. I was surprised to realize, too, that Tofu Cookery, which I have had for years, is also by Louise Hagler and the folks at the Farm. I had no idea!

That’s all the food news from nowhere. Here is a picture of a turtle we rescued from the pool yesterday, though:

Isn’t he great? I named him Prince Harry. I don’t know why I named him that because I have no special interest in the royal family and in fact can’t tell Harry from William, but that’s the name that popped into my head. Prince Harry didn’t think much of me, I’m afraid. He was so eager to get away from me and my animal paparazzi tendencies that he walked right into a chain link fence and had to be helped by Mark, who relocated him to a safe place. Then Prince Harry toddled off somewhere as far away from me as he could get.

I discovered wild raspberries growing by the pool as well.

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Bread Bowls – for soup or dips

Bread Bowls

I often use any bread recipe I’m into at the moment shaped into smaller loaves, but this time I made a bread bowl-specific recipe, which I found on The Fresh Loaf. The person who made the post says the recipe was “originally from KA”, which to bakers means King Arthur Flour. I substituted a cup of white whole wheat flour for one of the cups of all-purpose flour, which you don’t have to do.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used 2 cups all-purpose and 1 cup white whole wheat)
1 cup semolina
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (this is the amount contained in one packet, if you buy your yeast that way)
1 Tbsp non-diastatic malt OR 2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water

Mix together all of the ingredients except the water, then add the water and mix until it forms a ball.

You can knead this by hand if you like, although I use a stand mixer. It will start off looking shaggy, then start to look smooth and supple:

When you have a nice, smooth ball like this:

… lightly mist a bowl with oil and put the dough into it:

Then put it somewhere warm to rise. I don’t get too worked up about the temperature when I’m letting dough rise, although I do put it in the warmest place in the house, which in this case was a sunny window:

Let the dough rise until it is doubled. How long this will take will depend on the temperature of the room; it will usually take 1 to 1 1/2 hours. It will then look like this:

The original recipe said to divide the dough into 5 pieces to make 5 “large” bread bowls, but not only is 5 an uneven number for my household of two, I was damn sure that wasn’t going to make 5 “large” bread bowls. I therefore weighed it …

… divided the weight by four, and then created four small rounds of equal weight. Place the four balls onto a sheet pan lined with parchment (I re-use parchment, which is why it looks dirty), or lightly oiled.

Cover lightly with a clean towel and place in a warm place to proof. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. I usually proof my dough on top of the stove when I’m preheating the oven; it gets really warm there (sometimes too warm, in which case I put it next to the stovetop instead of on it). Allow the rounds to almost double, then remove the towel and let them finish their proof out in the open for the last 10-15 minutes, which toughens the surface of the dough.

Spray the rounds heavily with water and bake for 18-22 minutes. (If you are doing 4 instead of 5, you’ll probably be at the longer side of this time.) Turn the oven off and prop the door open a bit and let the loaves sit for 15 minutes, then remove from oven and cool thoroughly on a rack before serving.

To serve, cut a cone shape out of the top, …

… then hollow out the insides (reserving the carved-out parts for dipping, or for another use such as croutons).

I need to remember to put bread items on something more contrasty before taking pictures.

Next up is something to put in the bread bowls!

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