Prelude to a Super Bowl Post

28 01 2013

Lately I’ve been fancying myself a baker.  I’m not sure why; the number of breads I consistently make successfully is three.  But those are really the only breads I make, so my self-confidence may have been a bit inflated.

When the NFL playoffs began and I saw that the San Francisco 49ers stood a good chance of making it all the way, I instantly began supporting them.  My mind instantly went to my blog, and the two things from the Bay area that I’ve always wanted to make but haven’t, for whatever reason.  And when they won the chance to play in the Super Bowl I knew I had to make both those things, not just one.

As I said before, I’ve been thinking a lot about bread lately.  So with San Fran in the playoffs I started thinking about sourdough.  I went to the greatest experts I could think of: Google and my sister in law (who doesn’t really make a whole lot of bread, I was just lonely I guess).  What I was searching for was an answer to a very (in my mind) good question: Can you make a sourdough starter in January?  Are the yeasts and things in the air in large enough quantities to collect in a bowl of flour and water and make bread with in little more than a week?

The answer to that question is no.  But in the spirit of my annual Super Bowl posts (or my annual blog posts, at this rate) I must tell you the story.  But it must have some bearing on the game, no?  Karen kept asking me “What metaphor works with this, exactly?”  Honestly I couldn’t think of a thing.  But I know this.  The quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII has only started 9 NFL games in his career.  Being so inexperienced and thrust into the world wide spotlight and a media intent on making this a big Ray Lewis retirement party, I imagine he might be getting some butterflies.  So I submit to you this, my approximation of a stress-induced nightmare as Colin Kaepernick imagines getting flattened by the Baltimore Ravens’ defense.

There are many places you can go if you want to learn about making a sourdough starter.  Usually for these Super Bowl posts I pick one from the internet that I can link to, but this time I didn’t.  The first of many bad decisions.  But there’s this guy.  He makes cookbooks that are so nice.  And the breads are so lovely.  And he says things like “Don’t worry; not much happens after one day.  It’s fine.  Add more flour and water.”  See how reassuring he can be?  His name is Peter Reinhart and he’s originally from PA farm country, so I felt a kindred spirit with the man.  So here’s step one of his sourdough starter, which he calls a seed culture.

It looks like...wet sand, doesn't it?

It looked like, I don’t know, poo?  Yes, poo.  I left this in the plastic container and put it in the dining room so it would stay warm.  Later that evening Karen and Isaac were in there and she asked him “Did someone poo in a tupperware container?”  Mr. Reinhart says to use rye flour on day one of your seed culture because it makes the starter taste better, or something.  I never got that far.

Now there were specific instructions for what to do on day 2, day 3, day 4, etc.  And it usually involved discarding some of the starter and adding flour and water.  I did all this and I even took pictures to document the process.  It was all very exciting.  Except for one thing.  Nothing ever happened.  I’m being told “It should have risen by at least half” or “It should have doubled in size, at least.”  Um… no.  So I’d be happy to send you pictures of the next three days, but they all looked the same.  After day 4 I’m looking at this:

Look!  A bubble!  No, wait.  Never mind.

And I’m wondering “What does this mean for the Super Bowl?  Certainly I can’t predict that the 49ers will forfeit or a horrible accident will occur and the game gets cancelled.”  Except, this isn’t really a spectacular failure, since nothing is really happening.  So it can’t be a horrible accident.  It would have to go something like this:

BREAKING NEWS: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (BOOOOO!!!!!!!!!) has cancelled the Super Bowl because something better was on TV that night.

Anyway, unsure of myself, I left it for one more day.  The book said that after 24 hours it should have doubled in size, but if it’s still sluggish leave it alone for up to another 24 hours.  So here, with a rubber band as reference, is proof that after 48 hours nothing has happened.

It didn't look that appetizing anyway.

At this point I gave up.  Goodbye sourdough, see you in the summer.  I knew going in that a week was a bit of a stretch to get anything decent, and I’m told that the real flavor of the sourdough doesn’t peak until you’ve had it for 2-3 weeks, because the bacteria that makes the flavor grows more slowly than the yeast.  They obviously haven’t seen my yeast.  One thing I will note.  I thought it odd that everyone said to cover the container.  Peter Reinhart, bloggers, message boards, everyone said to cover your starter.  I thought we were trying to trap wild yeasts floating around in the air, and how are we to do that with a covered bin?  Then I saw on one of these message boards people explaining why you cover your starter: it keeps the flies out.  Yes, everyone else does this in the summer.

But for dinner we really wanted bread, so I went to a recipe that I’d used just a few days before and it was a hit.  King Arthur Flour calls it the easiest loaf of bread you’ll ever make.  Sounds perfect.  I made buns instead.  Here’s the recipe:

Hearth Bread from King Arthur Flour

It’s a very wet dough, but I’m becoming increasingly comfortable with that.  I’m not fond of getting ‘club hand’ while kneading, but the end product is worth it.  This time I made some changes to it though, and I’m not sure I liked them.  Here’s them heading to the oven:

At least there's yeast in this dough.

This also looks like poo.  But when they came out of the oven it looked like bread.

They tasted good, anyway.

This is one I’m still working on to get right.  One of the changes I made was to use a cup of whole wheat flour, and I’m not sure the bread was improved by that addition.  Also, I’m working with the cooking temperature for the oven.  With the first batch I used 400° because buns are smaller than loaves, but then they didn’t turn a nice dark brown like I wanted.  So the second batch I baked at 450° and it was a little better, but for some reason those buns turned out a little flatter.  I’m really starting to realize how important a cooking thermometer is when baking bread.  At first you’re all like “The bread is really brown and it’s only been 15 minutes!  HEEEEELLLLLLPPPP!”  And then you check the internal temperature and you’re like “Oh.  Wow.  Cool.  I hope nobody saw that and decided to blog about it.”

Okay, maybe it’s just me.  So Colin, if you’re reading (and I’m sure you’re not) I’m sorry about the night you’re going to have on Saturday.  Blame Roger Goodell for scheduling this game in February.

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“Honey, the kids can’t breathe…”

11 05 2010

This was supposed to be my first official post blogging the CSA, its food, and how we cooked it.  Instead you get treated to a story actually living up to the name of my blog.

NOTE: While reading this story keep in mind that we had company in the house witnessing the horror unfold.

I don’t just cook dinner, I entertain.  And I’m fairly good at it.  So it was Mother’s Day weekend and Karen suggested going out to eat.  I’ve waited tables on Mother’s Day and I didn’t relish the idea of waiting two hours for a table with a screaming one year old.  That’s a celebration of motherhood, isn’t it?  So I decided to cook up some gourmet food  for my foodie wife instead.  That way she can enjoy a fine meal and appreciate my awesomeness at the same time.  My menu included Steak au Poivre, potatoes, CSA veggies, baguettes, and some creme brulee for dessert.    So the day before I made the desserts (they have to set in the fridge you know) and started the poolish for the baguettes.

What follows is proof that a little knowledge can be dangerous, and ignoring other knowledge can be very dangerous.  I’ve made Steak au Poivre before with success, so I figured that this was in the bag.  The steaks used before were filet mignon, about an inch and a half thick.  This time flatiron steaks were on sale, and these are very thin.  So I decided to increase the temperature in the skillet so that I can achieve a good sear on the outside before overcooking on the inside.  What I forgot is that I was still cooking with butter and olive oil in the pan and we don’t have a hood over our range to suck the smoke outside.

See it coming already, don’t you?  Yes, what you’re thinking is exactly what happened.  The skillet was, in fact, too hot, burning the outside without cooking the inside.  The fat in the pan burned completely off quickly, all the while filling the house with black-pepper-filled smoke that choked the lungs and stung the eyes.  So there I was, opening every door and window in the house to vent the smoke, and it was cold outside that day.

The vegetables used from the CSA on Mother’s Day included chives for the potatoes and broccoli raab cooked via a Mario Batali recipe.  In it you poach it over medium heat for 20 minutes in a little water, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and finish it off with sliced olives.  We didn’t have olives so we used capers.  It looked good, but we only had one third as much green as the recipe called for but I sill used the same amount of pepper.  What resulted was so spicy I couldn’t eat it.

Once the smoke had cleared we sat down in our now 55 degree dining room and I then realized that I hadn’t made anything that the kids would eat.  Jonathan doesn’t like potatoes, the broccoli raab was too spicy and the steaks were too raw rare.  I sliced up some pieces of steak, washed the peppercorns off, and cooked them through in a skillet for the boys.  Jonny had some grapes and they each had a few pieces of the baguettes that turned out well (even though they looked like femurs).

The only thing I hadn’t done is set the house on fire.  So, for an encore I got out the blowtorch and set to work on the creme brulee.

Sorry I didn’t have time to take pictures of the carnage as it was being ruined.  I was trying to keep my house from burning down at the time.





It’s as if you were there…

26 03 2009

The school where Isaac takes his piano lessons had their annual performathon.  It’s always fun, we can sit for however long we want and listen to students of all ages and abilities performing on piano, violin, guitar, voice, etc.  We really enjoy it.  But Jonathan gets restless, so this time Karen handed him her point and shoot digital camera.  I always love seeing Jonny’s photographs; it’s like seeing into his brain and how it works.

nothing odd here

quite lovely

what is that thing on the ceiling, exactly?

okay, I suppose the chairs are interesting

yes we all knew this one was coming...

He made me show him these pictures right after he took them.

At this point I'm shaking with laughter

whew!  Back to normal.

omg why am I laughing tears?

So there you have it.  A peek inside Jonathan’s brain.  We hope you enjoyed the show.





One week in

9 02 2009

We’ve got some rules in our house that we actually enforce.  One of them is “No video games during the week.”  The boys have come to accept this rule, but it usually means that on Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday they want to do nothing but play video games.  We also have a “no video games before lunch” rule.  So the actual time spent may be relatively small in relation to the week, but the amount of space in their minds occupied by the games is very large.  Time was not kept by the position of the sun in the sky or by the phase of the moon.  Time was kept by marking how many days were left until the three day gaming binge.  Obsession is a dangerous thing, and these kids aren’t even ten yet.  So we decided to prove to them that there are other things to do than sit in front of the TV with a controller.

We designated February as “No Video Games Month.”  When met with the expected protests we explained that at least February is the shortest month of the year.  We could have picked March.  We could have picked JULY, when they’re home from school (we still may do that one).

next year he performs at the grammys

So here we are, one week into our screen-free month (no TV either) and what’s been happening?  I can tell you one thing that hasn’t been happening.  Much to our surprise we haven’t heard one complaint.  There the game systems sit, in full view of the children (and parents), and I haven’t heard one question about leniency on the rule.  Isaac has, however, delved into Zelda strategy guides as if he’s living vicariously through them.  I’ve hid those now, because I find it a bit creepy.  

Jonathan is summarily unfazed by the whole idea.  While he loves the idea of being free to play video games, in truth he could give or take them.  He often plays for a while then puts the controller down and does something else.  In this case he’s gotten hooked on one of their Christmas presents from my mother, the Smart Globe from the Discovery Store.  

actually looking for Carmen San Diego

He’s played with it so much that when they ask him to locate countries on the globe he can do it pretty quickly.  He was even helping Isaac do it (and mocking him at the same time).  So far I’d say that this experiment is a success, and it’s one we’ll have to repeat in the future.





How do I cook a cardinal?

19 01 2009

Last year I used my cooking to predict the winner of the Super Bowl.  (Click here for the link)  It worked with amazing accuracy, but I had no idea just how much affect my cooking has on the outcome of football games.  Let me explain.

We had a friend over to watch the games this weekend and so we decided to cook as if there was a party.  I made a bunch of food that was heavy on the prep work and light on cooking effort, so we could watch the game relatively undisturbed.  Then the Eagles started to play badly and Arizona took a big lead early in the game.  It was then that I realized something.  Our menu consisted of chili, cornbread, and chips and salsa.  Southwest food!  

super chili

Then I realized something else.  Even though Ben was dutifully wearing a Steelers jersey, Karen had dressed Nate in red.

getting him Troy jersey tomorrow

See? Even Nate was shocked that the Cardinals won.  These two minor infractions cost Philadelphia the game, I’m sure of it.  So now I understand that my cooking has some mystical powers to it, giving me the power to change the fates of NFL teams.  I apologize to the city of Philadelphia, but I didn’t discover this power until after halftime.  Perhaps it was the wings I made a little  later that sealed the win for the Steelers, I don’t know.  I took Bobby Flay’s dry jerk rub recipe and made some jerk wings, and these were some birds that really bit you back (just like the Ravens) when you bit into them.

Have no fear, Steelers nation, I won’t be cooking again until I find a recipe for Primanti sandwiches.  And also, does anyone know, are cardinals game birds or something?  Maybe  close to pigeon, I could cook a squab.  

I’m even afraid to heat up the leftovers.





Blog Challenge: Show me your axe

10 11 2008

My friend Bennie posted recently about selling his beloved B.C. Rich Mockingbird bass and it inspired me to come up with a blog challenge.  And it’s pretty simple.  Go up to the attic and dust off that old whatever-it-is.  Saxophone, tennis racket, ashtray from metal shop, whatever.  Take some pictures and tell me a story or two.  And when you do, post a link in the comments so everyone can come hear your tales of glory. 

Here’s mine:

who needs guitar hero?  I am a guitar hero.

When I was nine years old I told my parents that I wanted to be Eddie Van Halen take guitar lessons.  They obliged me, and for six long years I went from teacher to teacher, all of them taking my parents’ money and sucking all of the joy out of playing music.  My mother complained bitterly about how I never practiced and maybe she should sell my guitar.  

Bartolini P-J tone machines

Then in the ninth grade I bought a cheap little bass guitar and a tiny practice amp and got myself a teacher who was a full-time musician in Pittsburgh.  This cat and his brothers had toured as the opening act for Van Halen.  It was 1988 and he had jet black hair halfway down his back and earrings.  To put it mildly, I was inspired.  My mother’s comments changed to “You know, musicians can’t afford to feed their kids.”  Like I cared.  It wasn’t long before I was playing in a basement garage band with some friends.  I was also playing in church and in school; apparently bass players are always in demand.  It also wasn’t long before I decided I needed something a little more awesome, and my teacher knew a guy.

favorite color - RED

The guy had bought a custom made bass from a guitar maker in the Pittsburgh area.  It was a six-string bass, but the strings were spaced closer together than on a normal bass.  Too close, it seems; his large fingers couldn’t play the thing so he was selling it for a song.  I just happened to have a song, so I got it.  And it worked out well, because this is probably the only six string bass in the world that my tiny little fingers can play.  

I call her "Dino," like on the Flintstones.

People who saw me play always asked me if my name was Dino.  My skills were probably so killer that they thought I must have my own signature bass.  

I don’t think Dino makes custom guitars any more.  Now he makes BSX electric upright basses

signature

My red beauty has served me well through high school, college, and beyond.  I’ve played mostly in churches through the years, so I’m not exactly a rock star.  But I still love playing, and whenever I get a chance to play I do.  I have recorded with my Dino bass, and the recording engineer (a fellow bass player) commented on how great its tone is  (and he, being an expert in the field, would know).  So that’s my baby, and if I’m ever inclined to go smashing my guitar London Calling style, it won’t be with this one.





See? They’re still alive.

16 09 2008

Monday was Karen’s first day back at work, and my first day home with the (rug) rat pack.  When she came home she announced with relief “You didn’t choke the older two and you didn’t starve the younger two!”

That’s my girl.  Always feeding my ego.  

Photo credit: Jonathan.