Monday, February 20, 2012

The Sourdough Experiments

People really appreciate freshly-baked bread. You pop a loaf in the oven before guests arrive and the smell wafting from your kitchen will make people feel as welcome as anything. I've been experimenting with sourdough recipes since I brought my first starter back from San Francisco about three years ago. I've had a very hard time finding a recipe for a nice rustic loaf, but this one is the best so far. This recipe is from the King Arthur flour website, and it worked pretty well--it yields a nice crust and a chewy center. The problem that I've had is with the rising. I don't know if its the climate or what, but I rarely ever get the nice air pockets that characterize a good sourdough. I also have a hard time getting the loaves to rise high when I made free-form loaves; my dough seems to expand lengthwise, but not rise up. This time I used additional yeast toward the end of the process, and formed a lip of aluminum foil around the dough to keep it from expanding outward. This experiment makes me think that I ought to search for some spring-form dough ring for my next loaf.

I made two loaves in preparation for weekend guests. We served the freshly-baked loaves with a dinner of pan-seared venison, leeks, and sweet potatoes. The leftovers went well with pea soup for the next day's lunch, and toasted for tuna-salad sandwiches.

Rustic Supper Sourdough

1 cup "fed" sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 cups flour

Combine all of the ingredients, kneading to form a smooth dough. Allow the dough to rise, in a covered bowl, until it's doubled in size, about 90 minutes. Gently divide the dough in half; it'll deflate somewhat. Shape the dough into two oval loaves--this is where I deviated from the recipe. I sprinkled a little bit of dried yeast and stretched it through the dough, folding it over and under itself until I had two smooth loaves. Place the loaves on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until very puffy, about 1 hour. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F. Spray the loaves with olive oil or lukewarm water. At this point, you can also do an egg wash to make the crust shiny. I didn't do that this time around. Make two fairly deep diagonal slashes in each. Bake the bread for 25 to 30 minutes, until it's a very deep golden brown. Remove it from the oven, and cool on a rack.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pickled Red Onions

Soler's Pupusas food truck plates its pupusas with pickled red onions, jalapenos, and sour cream. They're so delicious that we had the proprietor Raphael Soler cater our wedding reception from his truck. Ever since we discovered his pupusas at the Red Hook ballfields, I've been saying that I wanted to make pickled red onions. Awesome in tacos, on arepas, and on top of burgers . . . it took me nearly two years to find the time to make them. A colleague turned me on to David Lebovitz's blog, where I found the best recipe for mint chocolate chip ice cream. I used his blog to find a simple recipe for pickled onions that I was finally able to make this afternoon.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Weekend in the Country

The day after Thanksgiving, D's brother came to visit, and in return for a plate of leftovers, left us with two really nice cuts of freshly butchered venison that he had taken the last time he was out hunting around here. One of them was a loin, the other a backstrap. We prepared them both the same way--marinated in a nice olive oil, salt, pepper and some dried herbs for about a day. Then we pan-seared the meat in a skillet and finished it in a hot oven, ensuring that the meat was cooked but rare. The backstrap was a small piece of meat, but sliced thin and served with an apricot-mustard-brandy sauce alongside braised leeks and smashed sweet potatoes, it made a perfect winter meal for four.