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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So THAT’S why your blog is called that….

8 11 2010

I get asked a lot “Your cooking looks really good, why is your blog called Mark Ruins Dinner?”  Here’s your answer.

I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post.  There are barely any words to describe what happened today, let alone pictures.  I shall do my best.

We’ve been busy lately.  Like, too busy to cook.  So Karen’s been going crazy on the weekends to make enough food for us to eat all week.  This weekend she asked if I would help her out on Sunday morning while she got caught up at work.  I obliged, of course, for who in the world can mess up a pot roast?

Karen even gave me a recipe as a starting point.  “This looks really good,” she says.  “Just follow the instructions and it will be great!”  I admit, it looked like a great meal.  A sirloin tip roast braised slowly in the Crock-Pot.  Some nice root veggies in there and everything.  And Guinness.

I gotta be honest.  We’re not beer drinkers.  We don’t have any Guinness in the house.  We still had a Coors Light in our cupboards from two Thanksgivings ago, when we had company.  We still had some Miller Light from last Thanksgiving.  Karen had bought a six-pack of Bud this summer to make beer can chicken with.  That’s all we had in the house.

The recipe was called Beef and Guinness Stew and it’s from Cooking Light magazine.  I think.  Karen told me all about it, but I guess I wasn’t listening.  She left it on her computer and I glanced at it, but only to look at the list of ingredients.  I did look briefly at the instructions, but only to see when to add the beer, and how much.  How about I just go through the instructions and tell you what I did instead?

Step 1: Cut the beef into 1-inch cubes. Wow.  I never even saw this bit.  I ignored it completely, leaving the roast as one big lump of meat.

Step 2: Use 1 bottle of Guinness Draught. As stated before, we didn’t have any.  In fact, I even forgot about the Budweiser and used the year-old Miller Light instead.

Step 3: Use 4 cups of beef broth. Really?  Where did this come from?  I just saw that right now for the first time.  Maybe I didn’t look at the ingredients as well as I’d thought.

Stop laughing.

Step 4: After sautéing the onions, stir in the tomato paste. I knew this was coming, I just plum forgot about it.  You ever have one of those days?  Yeah, my mind really was somewhere else this morning.

At this point I chopped up some celery, carrots, and potatoes and put everything into the Crock-Pot.  I switched it on, blew it a kiss, and went about my day.  Later that evening I’m at the store and I get a call from Karen.  “Did you reduce the heat on the Crock-Pot to Warm just now?”

No.  I hadn’t.  I had put everything in the slow cooker and turned the dial one click to the left.  Once again, I wasn’t paying attention.  Now, from my food handling class all those years ago I am aware that for 8 hours my beef roast had been lovingly kept at just the right temperature to encourage bacteria to grow.  I didn’t put dinner in the slow cooker; I put an agar in an incubator.  So yeah, after 8 hours it was still raw.  Karen told me “I tasted it, so why don’t we wait until tomorrow and see if I get sick before we throw it away?”

Uh huh.

The best part is this.  It was a pot roast.  That’s dinner for three days in our house.  So I didn’t just ruin dinner.  I ruined dinner for the week.

So, after a lengthy hiatus, it’s good to be back.





Blackened Chicken

18 05 2010

Two weekends in a row.  Not the kind of trend I was looking for.

It was our first BBQ of the year.  I was obviously out of practice.  I lit the coals with the chimney starter, and once they were ready I spread them evenly in the grill and put some new coals on top.  I didn’t want them burning out before the chicken legs were cooked.  What happened next was predictable.  I put the burgers on first, while the new coals were still warming up.  Once they were cooked I started with the drumsticks and wings.  By that time the new coals were burning and the grill was about 5,000 degrees.  I did my best, but they were still horribly burned on the outside and, you guessed it, raw on the inside.

We finished it up in the microwave, and Karen assures me it’s good once you take the skin off.  Whatever.





“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.





An embarrassment

23 02 2010

When I’m cooking I talk like my favorite TV food personalities.  My top three are Padma Alton Brown, Mario Batali, and Gordon Ramsay.  So I’m one part food science, one part food history, and one part swearing.  This time it was mostly swearing.

I love soup.  Soup in the winter is an absolute must, and we tend to do it a lot.  Karen got me some soup cookbooks and we’d done a good bit of experimenting, but as is our habit we developed some favorites tended to stick with them.  One such dish is a cream of broccoli soup that even the kids like.  I’ve made it so much that I don’t even need the cookbook any more.  But this time I decided to make some changes to it.

My first change came when I asked myself “If this is a vegetable soup, why am I using chicken stock?”  Now, the answer to that question is simply that the recipe tells me to.  Also we found some very good store brand chicken stocks and we use them with great success.  But I wanted a vegetarian soup for some reason this week so I bought some store brand vegetable stock.  (It was College Inn, in case you were wondering.)

What I didn’t know was that Karen had a quart of homemade veggie stock in the freezer.

I knew I was in trouble the minute I started pouring the stock into the pot.  It seems that in making this stock they use some tomato trimmings or whatnot, giving the stock a red hue.  Doing some math in my head I came up with the following equation:

Red Vegetable Stock + Green Broccoli & Leeks = Brown Soup

I knew that the instant I put the stick blender in this soup I’d be witness to something very unappetizing.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

My next failure came when I went to add the dairy to the soup.  It is a cream soup after all, and the recipe calls for half and half.  And I had bought half and half especially for this soup.  Unfortunately I’d used it all up in my coffee that week.  So in went whole milk.

Yeah.  That’s what I said too.

I’m ashamed to say that I fed it to my kids and told them that it was the same as the nice green soup I usually make, except it’s brown and it’s still good.  They didn’t buy it.  It looked like swamp water and, what’s worse, it was gritty when you did try to eat it.  I still don’t know where all that grit came from; I washed those leeks thoroughly. I could only eat half a bowl, then I decided to strain the rest and “fix” it.  That only made it worse.  After straining it looked more vile than before.  You should be glad I didn’t take any pictures; it would ruin your appetite for days.