Saturday, March 31, 2012

Loafing Around: Whole Wheat Sourdough

So with my wild yeast experiment underway and my first colony ripe for baking I decided to fire off my first loaf of bread!  I've been known to bake my own bread quite regularly but I've never attempted to do it with my own yeast.  Here goes nothing...

I should mention before I start that following directions is just not my forte.  I prefer to cobble together and improvise.  While this does mean that I meet with failure regularly I also feel it teaches me to troubleshoot well and think critically about what I'm doing.  So here is my cobbled together process...

I started with a recipe for authentic San Francisco Sourdough.  However, I wanted to make whole wheat bread because I can't eat white bread.  It just seems wrong to me, so I switched all of the flour to whole wheat with the exception of one cup.


1 cup white flour (unbleached, all-purpose)
2 1/8 cups of whole wheat flour (I decreased it slightly because it tends to be heavier than white flour)
1 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon store bought yeast (I know!  I'll explain later!)


1. I used my rye monster because it was the first one ready.  So, according to the recipe, I mixed a cup of flour with a cup of my monster and some water and let it sit out for 6 hours at room temperature.  At this point I had a crisis of faith (sorry wild monster) and decided to put a teaspoon of bread yeast in with my culture for good measure.  I knew the whole wheat flour would be hard for my wild yeast to raise and I didn't want to end up with a rock hard, inedible loaf.  I added the instant yeast with about half an hour to go so it had a chance to get in there and do its magic.

2. Once the culture had proofed (proven itself to be active that is), I added the rest of the ingredients.  A tip I heard recently to help disperse the salt was to add the salt to the water so it spreads throughout the loaf.  Then the fun began!  This baby needed about 25 minutes of kneading.  In retrospect I wish I had kneaded it for longer.  The dough should be soft and pliable when you are finished and frankly whole wheat flour needs a little more love than white flour.  It should be nice and stretchy.  Then it needs to rise for 10-12 hours.  Holy cow did I mention that I don't read instructions.  I had to get up at 2:30 in the freakin' morning to punch down my dough and give it a little massage.  At this point, I put it in a bamboo steaming basket for the final rise of between 2-4 hours.

3. Once it had risen for the second time, I tipped it out of the basket onto a pizza sheet, slashed it a couple times and it was ready for the oven.  I baked it at 425 degrees for 15 minutes and then turned it down to 375 for the rest of the time.  To get the oven nice and steamy, I put an empty pan in the bottom of the oven as it heated and then poured some hot water in right before throwing the loaf in.  I also threw a few tablespoons of water against the sides of the oven during the first 15 minutes.  Yeah talk about a fun early morning activity, dancing around the kitchen trying not to get steam burns.  The loaf needs to be cooked until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees or until the bottom makes a hollow sound when tapped.  The hollow sound results from a low moisture content on the interior of the loaf and this helps keep the crust crusty.  If the loaf is too wet inside then the moisture migrates out and make the whole thing soggy.  In the future I am going to increase the bake time a bit and brush it with some kind of fat to make it brown up a bit more.

My first attempt at using the wild yeast was quite successful. I will try not to use any commercial yeast next time...

  • It takes time to learn how to make bread.  Be patient and learn what the dough should feel like as each step progresses.
  • Slashing the top of the loaf allows the bread to expand properly as it rises.  A sharp knife works or an xacto blade.
  • Let the bread cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting it open.  I can't remember why this is important but it is.
  • I didn't find that I used enough salt so I would change the recipe to at least 2 teaspoons.  However, keep in mind that salt kills yeast so the salt shouldn't be added until all of the ingredients are being mixed together.
That's it for now!  Up next is the honey monster!

I also got some ideas from these two posts:

    Sunday, March 25, 2012

    Peeing in the Garden

    For those who think I'm straying from food, I'm not.  The subject of this post is vegetable gardening or more specifically preparing your soil to grow gorgeous and plentiful veggies.  A workshop was put on by Can You Dig It! a local organization that supports people in connecting through community gardens.  I was there to learn about soil because I take care of a large veggie garden with two of my Aunties.  Last year was not as successful as we would have liked so this year we are putting more time and effort into learning and preparation.

    The workshop was hosted by Jodi Peters.  She is certified in permaculture and passionate about creating living soil systems that support growing a wide variety of vegetables.  While I recommend contacting her for an in-depth workshop, I wanted to share a few tid bits.  As someone who has gardened since childhood, I thought I knew about soil.  Well I am happy to say that Jodi taught me a thing or two and I am anxious to get dirty.  Oh spring!  Come sooner!

    A few interesting points:
    • Soil doesn't need to be tilled if it is healthy.  What?  No back breaking shoveling?  Sounds good to me.  Think of soil as a webbed system.  If you chuck a shovel in, the system breaks - not a good thing.
    • Excess disturbs the delicate balance of the soil living system.  This can be excess fertilizers, excess shoveling, excess mulch, excess anything...  My understanding is that it is better to coax the soil back into balance than try to force it.
    • Soil should be mulched with brown matter over winter and green matter during the growing season.  Mulching is way more important than I realized.
    • Your own pee is a great way to add nitrogen to the soil.  Dilute it and maybe only use it weekly if your soil system is healthy, but yeah, pee is good for your garden.  Hilarious!  I peed in my garden the moment I got home!
    Honestly there was so much more.  It was a packed two hours and I could tell that she was really just scratching the surface of soil health.  I am going to use my blog to document our garden success this year and, as I found out today, it all starts with the soil.  Here is a current shot with just a few onions poking up that survived the winter.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012

    Homemade yoghurt: cheap and easy

    My little bro told me about making my own yoghurt half a year ago.  He said it was super easy and I finally got around to actually checking out some recipes.  Let me tell you, for those interested in learning how to make cheese, yoghurt is a great first step.  You really can't screw it up!  Well...  I have a couple of times but you won't because I'm going to explain the rationale behind each step so you won't be tempted to skip any!

    First though, where did yoghurt come from?  According to my good friend Wikipedia, the word yoghurt comes from the Turkish word: yogurt! (go figure) which means "to thicken."  Much like yeast, yoghurt is an ancient food and archeological evidence places it as far back as 2000 BCE (possibly, no reference).  These early yoghurts are said to have fermented because of the bacteria found in the goat skin bags that stored the milk.  I am sure that this early yoghurt had a much "earthier" taste than our modern sanitized version!  Yoghurt moved to this side of the pond early in the 20th century, and, according to the article, was popularized by none other than Mr. Kellogg.

    I am a yoghurt fanatic.  It is just chock full of healthy bacteria, protein and calcium.  The International Journal of Obesity (January 11, 2005) has found a correlation between consuming yoghurt and losing weight!  What is not to like about this stuff?  Even better, if you make it yourself, it is dirt cheap.  Trust me if you are buying yoghurt in a store, you are paying too much!  

    Here's the math:
    750 grams (3 cups approx.) of store bought yoghurt = $3.99 (cheap yoghurt with no fillers)
    16 cups homemade yoghurt = $2.00 (contains nothing but milk and bacteria)

    Yoghurt bought in the store costs approximately $1.33 a cup, but if you make it at home, it only costs $0.13 a cup.  That is 90% less and it is pure, pure, pure!  My Scottish thrifty side just loves this math!  Another reason my yoghurt is so cheap is that I buy milk close to expiry.  My local Buy-Low foods sells 4-litre jugs for 50% off when they are a few days away from expiry.  Making yoghurt is the perfect use for this milk and is what takes the cost down to $2.00 for 4L of milk!  I use non-fat, you can use whichever milk you like.  Yay for yoghurt!

    Required Items/Tools:

    A big pot
    A wooden spoon
    A thermometer
    A few tbsp of plain yoghurt (depends on how much milk you are using, more milk then more yoghurt)
    Milk (as much yoghurt as you want to make)


    1. Pour the milk into your pot and clip the thermometer on the edge so that it is suspended in the milk rather than touching the side or the bottom of the pot.  This is to get an accurate read of the temperature.  Some recipes call for a double boiler.  I don't do this.  Instead I stir it every few minutes and I use a lower heat.  The goal is to bring your milk up to 172 degrees fahrenheit in order to denature the milk proteins.  This allows the milk to clump together properly once it has been cooled and seeded with the premade yoghurt.  The heat should be just below medium and the whole process will take a while (approximately 45 minutes).  For the most part it is just a waiting game so put it on when you have something else to occupy your time.  If you want to heat it up faster, then please be my guest, but I can guarantee that once you have spent several days trying to scrub burnt milk off the bottom of your pot you will revert to the lower, slower heat.

    2. Once your yoghurt has reached the appropriate temperature, it is time to cool it down.  I find the water bath method is the quickest.  Basically, I just fill my sink up with cold water and ice packs and put a cooling rack on the bottom.  I pop the pot straight in and it is usually ready in about ten minutes.  You want to take it down to 110 degrees fahrenheit and then pull it out of the water.  Once it starts getting close I check it frequently so it doesn't get too cool.  At this point add your premade yoghurt (it's called seeding your milk).  When I am making 4 litres of yoghurt I add about a cup of "starter" yoghurt.  It might be overkill to put that much starter in but I have found that if I put too little in then the yoghurt doesn't thicken up very well.  Stir the starter yoghurt in vigorously and then put a lid on your pot.  

    3.  It's now necessary to find a nice warm spot so the bacteria can work its magic.  I put my pot onto one of those electric plate warmers (thanks for that Gramps!) and then swaddle it with towels.  It needs to stay nice and warm or the bacteria aren't going to be happy.  Once you have set up a home for your pot leave it to settle in for at least 8 hours.  Then, that magic moment!  Open up your pot and you will find beautiful yoghurt!  I like to stir it, put it into tupperwares and then fill up my fridge.  It lasts for two to three weeks.

    • You can leave it for longer than 8 hours.  The taste will turn increasingly sour the longer you leave it for.  Experiment!
    • Once you have started making yoghurt there is no need to buy any from the store.  Use your own yoghurt to seed your next batch. 

    Tuesday, March 20, 2012

    A Tale of 3 Yeasts: Days 2-10

    Well I certainly feel like I've gotten a crash course in wild yeast production.  It is amazingly easy and also challenging.  Here are my results.

    The rye starter went well.  For those who read the original post, the flour/potato water combo seemed quite dry so I did end up adding more water.  Each day for three days I threw out half the mixture and added new flour and new water (just plain tap water).  On the fourth day I transferred the rye mixture to a clean jar and continued feeding it daily with new flour and water.  Mmmm, bubbly...

    The grape starter was a different story entirely.  After three days, the grapes were a moldy, moldy mess as pictured below.  I was on some wild yeast sites and there were varying opinions of the mold situation.  Some mentioned that a healthy yeast culture should keep mold away, some thought it should be thrown out, some thought grape starter was ridiculous because the yeast on the grapes was a different type of yeast than that used in bread making, and some said not to worry.  Not one to worry overly much about food, I soldiered on and poured the juice off the grapes, trying my best not to disturb my plentiful mold colony.  I even mixed in some flour and extra water and watched (and smelled) as it bubbled away for a day or so.  Then I threw it out.  I kept imagining newspaper headlines detailing my untimely death from my wild yeast experiment.  I need a bit more time on this earth thank you very much!

    Finally, the honey starter.  I stirred the honey starter dutifully every day for five days before moving it to a jar and starting the feeding cycle.  It smelled nice and sour.  Doesn't the picture below look delicious???

    Here are my two jars of wild yeast starter.  I am continuing the feeding cycle (once a day) and will put them in the fridge after a couple weeks so the flavours get a chance to mature.

    A few notes on the process:
    • The culture is alive so it needs to be looked after.  Think of it as your pet in a jar!  Feed it every day if it is out of the fridge and every week if it is in the fridge.
    • Your wild yeast can have a wide range of smells.  From sourdough to acetone to alcohol, the scent changes tremendously depending on where you are at in the wild yeast cycle.  My rye starter is going through an acetone phase and the scent is intense.  I am continuing to feed and nurture it in the hopes that it will soon go back to a nice sour tang.  The lesson is don't give up on your starters!  Fiddle with them and consult the wild yeast community.
    • One lady online called her yeast a "monster," which I thought was hilarious so mine are now officially called monsters.  It suits them doesn't it?
    • I wouldn't bother with grapes in the starter because I don't think they're necessary.  All you really need is flour and water and perhaps a little honey.  Keep it simple!

    Saturday, March 17, 2012

    Pancetta-Apple Chutney

    I was walking home from school today contemplating breakfast.  I often contemplate breakfast because it is my most favorite meal.  As I contemplated I remembered the hunk of pancetta in my fridge.  I've been wanting to make something resembling bacon jam for a while and it seemed like a really good way to use up the last of my pancetta.  Rather than follow a recipe, I decided to make one up.  I've made chutney before so let's see if that holds me in good stead.

    Pancetta-Apple Chutney Ingredients:

    A chunk of pancetta (3/4 of a cup)
    An apple
    1 tbsp white wine vinegar
    2 tbsp white sugar
    1/2 cup water
    1 bay leaf
    1/2 tsp coriander seed
    Cracked black pepper
    A pinch of red pepper


    1) Cube the pancetta.  Keep the pieces small, maybe a 1/4 of an inch.  They shouldn't be too small though because they will shrink as they render.  Put the pancetta cubes into a sauce pan on just below medium, lowering the heat as the fat renders out.  Pour out the excess fat periodically.  Once the majority of the fat has melted out and has been poured out of the saucepan, take out half of the pancetta cubes and set them aside.

    2) As the pancetta is rendering, dice the apple with the peel on.  You can remove the peel if you would like but I enjoy the added texture.  Toss the apple cubes in the white wine vinegar to prevent them from browning while the pancetta cooks.  When the pancetta is ready, throw the apples in as well as the rest of the ingredients.  Cook on medium heat until the apples have almost turned into apple sauce and you like the consistency. 

    3) Add the remaining pancetta just before serving and stir well to combine.  This gives the chutney a bit of texture. 

    • I like leaving the rind on the pancetta for the texture but you might want to remove it.  Whatever your preference.
    • The pancetta was homemade and the centre had black pepper and bay leaves so that is why I chose the spices that I did.  Coriander fit nicely I thought but change the mix to suit your tastes.
    • Don't be afraid to stir the chutney vigorously as it cooks to help the apples break down.
    I dug into my chutney so quickly that I forgot to take a picture of it once it was completely finished.  That is what I call proof positive of success!

    Sunday, March 11, 2012

    A Tale of 3 Yeasts: Day 1

    My blog is really about getting back to the basics.  With all this talk of climate crises and overpopulation, I think it is wise to learn about food from scratch.  I started with meat, and as that journey continues, I am adding more.  Something I started thinking about the other day is bread.  What happens if I can't buy those neat little packages of instant yeast anymore?  Would that mean giving up bread and other yeast-based products?  Not on my watch.

    Enter A Tale of 3 Yeasts.  Three methods of growing wild yeast from scratch.  Which will be successful?  Which will be the tastiest?  Stay with me to find out!

    Before getting started, I thought it might be interesting to talk about yeast a little bit.  Yeast are single-celled organisms and the variety that is used in baking produces carbon dioxide - that is what makes your bread rise!  The yeast cells eat sugar to produce carbon dioxide so any wild yeast needs a sugar source to grow.

    The root of the word yeast is "gyst" in Old English and it means to boil, foam, or bubble.  Yeast is ancient and has been found in Egyptian dig sites alongside mill stones and bake ware.  How amazing that bread has been around for that long?  Its role in the modern world is no less important and it has been commercially produced in Holland since the 1700's.

    So yeast is an ancient ingredient, is it that hard to make?  I guess we'll see.  I am using three different recipes including a red grape starter, a rye flour starter, and a honey-wheat starter.  All of the recipes are simple and rely on time and warmth to grow the yeast.  The ingredients listed are the ingredients needed for the first day not the entire recipe.  Let's get started.

    1 pound of grapes

    Today all we are doing is stemming and crushing the grapes by hand.  Then they'll be covered with a piece of cheesecloth and put in a warm place for three days.  The recipe called for organic grapes but my local store didn't have any so I went for a conventionally grown purple seedless grape.  When you are picking out your grapes look for grapes with a nice white dusting on the skin - that is the start of the yeast that you will be growing.  

    1/2 cup of rye flour
    1/4 cup of potato water (water that potatoes have been boiled in and then cooled)

    Mix the rye flour and potato water together.  Again cover the bowl, but this time with a damp piece of cheesecloth and set aside for 24 hours.  The potato water is not in the recipe, but there are naturally occurring yeast cells on the skin of the potato as well as simple carbohydrates that act as a sugar source so that is why I decided to use it instead of spring water.  This was really not very moist so I am interested to see how it turns out.

    1/2 tsp honey (unpasteurized I would guess)
    1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    1/2 cup potato water (same as in the previous recipe)

    Mix all of the ingredients together in a ceramic bowl and again cover and place in a warm spot.  This will need to be stirred twice a day for five days and then we will check back on it.  For the same reasons outlined in the Rye Flour Starter, I chose to use potato water.

    Each of these starters is going to be ready at a different time.  The recipes range from 5 to 9 days.  As each starter is ready, I will make a loaf of sourdough bread to see which recipe gives me the best result.  

    This is going to be one tasty experiment!


    Sunday, March 4, 2012

    Ghanaian-British Baby Shower!!!

    Okay, okay, okay.  There is no meat involved in my baby shower so it shouldn't really qualify for a blog entry.  However, food is about nourishment and love and I love hosting baby showers.  So, that's my reasoning.  I know it doesn't really make sense.

    The star of the party has a mixed background - half black, half white.  She moved to Ghana several years ago, married a Ghanaian man and now has a lovely child with him - Yaw Nketia.  To honor her background as well as her future and to set an intention for her new little babe I decided to mix Africa with Britain.  Here is my result.

    A classic baby shower item is fancy sandwiches.  My late grandmother specialized in them and that is where I took my inspiration.  Bananas and peanuts are classic Ghana with a thinly sliced white bread bringing the British in.  I used a star shape - the theme of the party - because it symbolizes black pride and is found on the Ghanaian flag.

    Next up is an Accra banana peanut cake topped with whipped cream flavoured with cinnamon spiced butterscotch and topped with chopped peanuts.  Butterscotch is really easy to make.  All you do is melt some sugar - in this case I used brown, maybe half a cup, with a little water to help it melt evenly.  Once the sugar is melted add a few tablespoons of butter and let it cook at a high heat for a while (10 minutes or so).  It will probably darken a little bit more but be careful not to let it burn.  Take it off the heat for 10-15 seconds and then add whipped cream, about 30 ml, and beat until blended.  If you want to flavour the butterscotch add spices during the sugar melting phase.  Yummy!

    Tiny little meringue nests with blood orange curd in the centre and topped with orange zest.  The new mom loves pavlova and I thought the orange added a bright African twist.

    I used the meringue recipe exactly as the recipe instructed and they turned out perfectly.  My little nests were about an inch and a half across.  To make them, pipe a mound of meringue approximately the size of a ping pong ball.  Using two little spoons, press the mound down and out in the centre to create a little nest.  I baked these meringues at 200 F for several hours and then let them sit in the oven with the heat turned off.  You want them crispy but still white.  

    The curd is traditionally lemon but I thought blood orange would be fun.  Follow the recipe but substitute blood orange juice (freshly squeezed) for the lemon juice.  I would also add a squirt of lemon juice for extra tartness and a vanilla bean for richness.  I also definitely recommend putting the curd through a strainer to make it nice and smooth.

    I don't think it's a good idea to fill these tiny meringue nests early because they will get too soggy to eat.  That's what happened to mine.  RIP meringue nests.  They were delicious, just a little too soft by the time my guests arrived.

    My little cousin gave a mini cupcake to her bunny and I just thought it was the most adorable thing ever!

    And finally, date squares...  Another of my girlfriend's favorites.  I followed this recipe pretty closely with a few exceptions.  Another reviewer suggested pre-baking the bottom - good suggestion.  I didn't add any sugar to the date portion but I did cook the dates in orange juice with some dried coconut.  Right at the end I stirred in about a tablespoon of orange zest.  I also added cinnamon to the flour and oat mixture.  I didn't put a picture up because frankly they just looked like date squares.

    Banana chips and roasted peanuts rounded out the party.