Archive for the ‘household tip’ Category

Kitchen essentials for baking, first go

January 9, 2010

I’ve just spent the fall and the first half of the winter exploring baking. For those of you who don’t know, I do most of my cooking (and virtually all of my baking) on a wood-fired cookstove. So I don’t do anything that’s too fussy about temperature. If I hit it within 50 degrees, it’s good enough most of the time. But that has nothing to do with the contents of this message. It’s just a little contextual note.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are certain things that no baker should be without. I’ll enumerate at least a few of them here. Others may occur to me later, so I reserve the right to add to the list.

1) A pair of clean hands. There is nothing so useful in baking as the ability to handle and manipulate your dough with your hands. No bread machine, dough hooks, or any other mechanical contrivance are half as useful.

2) Dough cloths. These are plain white fine-woven cotton towels at least 30 inches square. In my childhood they were called “flour-sack” towels. The weave is fine enough to hold flour, but the flour sinks into it. This lets you work your dough on a floured surface without getting an excess of flour. Good ones are hard to find, but Lehman’s Non-electric Catalog has a 10-pack for about $20. Nobody really needs 10 of these, so split a pack with a baker friend of yours. But they are essential for working good bread, pie crust, or pastry. Forget the Tupperware or other plastic stuff. Trust me. You need these. You don’t even have to wash them every time you use them. Just shake them out well.

3) Waxed paper. This is what you wrap dough in that has to sit. Don’t use plastic wrap. The waxed paper breathes a little but doesn’t let things dry out. It’s kind of the Debbie’s Little Green Bags of baking.

4) A flat grater. The first time I found a recipe that called for me to grate the cold butter into the flour before working it with item number 1 on this list, it was like the heavens opening up and a big beam of light falling on my head. Why, I wondered, has no one ever thought of this before? A bazillion recipes call for cutting the butter into little chunks, flattening them with your fingers, then cutting them into the flour with a pastry cutter or a pair of knives. Grating through the large holes of a flat grater achieves the right effect with about 1/10 the effort. Kudoes to whoever thought this one up.

5) A large assortment of mixing bowls, glass or stainless steel, in as many different sizes as you can imagine.

6) A large assortment of measuring utensils–cups in stainless (for dry measurement) amd glass (for wet measurement), measuring spoons from a minimum of 1/4 tsp. to 1 Tbspn. I have several sets of dry-measure cups, and glass cups from 2 oz. to one quart.

7) A good conversion chart. It’s tough to remember when you’re adjusting on the fly whether it’s three tspns or four to the Tbspn . Same with Tbspns to the quarter cup. Hit: One is three and one is four, and if you forget, look at your butter wrapper and all will become clear.

8) Lot of baking pans and dishes. Again, use only glass, cast iron, or stainless steel. I confess I use a very good grade of non-stick cookie sheet for a variety of things. But no Teflon. If you want non-stick, look for anodyzed metal like Calphalon. When using glass, most recipes recommend that you adjust the temperature downward by 25 degrees, but since I’m working within a very flexible range to start with, I usually ignore that. I work with a cool, medium, or very hot oven. I don’t do souffles. . .

9) Good knives, and lots of them. Ben introduced me years ago to the Chicago Cutlery classic walnut series. They are simple and elegant in appearance. They are a fairly stainless high-carbon steel that can be brought to a razor’s edge with a good steel or stone. I’m lucky enough to have a husband who appreciates my cooking enough to keep them very sharp for me. I do know how to do this myself, but I try to hide that fact,

This feels like a good place to quit for the time. If you have any issues, ask me a question and I’ll at least make an attempt to justify my position.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have owned a bread machine, a food processor, and a blender. I never found anything that I could do with them (with the exception of frozen margaritas) that I couldn’t do with my hands and manual equipment. And the manual equipment is a heck of a lot easier to clean, When I realized I really liked margaritas on the rocks better than frozen margaritas, that was the end of my mechanized kitchen.

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“No-knead” bread, as Lee requested

January 9, 2010

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve spent some time finding a version of “no-knead” bread that works for me. Lee asked for the recipe, so I’ll provide it here, but I’m going to have to do another post about proper kitchen equipment. At least that’s what I see coming as I write this. If I combined the two it would be hopelessly long.

Here is a caveat–every flour reacts differently to liquid and yeast. Part of my adventure this winter has been finding a mix of stuff that really works for me. You might have to adjust things if you’re using different flour or like your bread made with milk instead of water or so on. But here’s the basic recipe for two nice-sized loaves:

2 cups White Lily bread flour

2 cups hard-wheat (gold Medal, house brand, etc.) flour

1 generous Tbspn regular yeast (not fast-acting)

1 generous Tbspn salt (kosher or sea salt preferred)

2 cups lukewarm water, about 110 degrees

Whisk together the flours, yeast and salt. Forget the sifter. A whisk works much better. Pour the dry ingredients into the water in a large bowl and stir with a spoon until there are no dry spots. The dough will be VERY sticky and a little lumpy. Cover (but don’t seal–I prefer a cloth towel) and let rise in a warm place for at least two hours and as much as five hours. I generally find that three hours is sufficient.

Put a baking stone on the oven rack in center position and preheat it to about 400 degrees (More about baking stones in the next post). Put a heavy pan in the bottom of the oven to preheat (I use an old broiler pan I scored somewhere).

When the dough has risen to your satisfaction, prepare a pizza or bread paddle by covering the area on which you will place your loaf with corn meal. Divide your dough into two pieces. Sprinkle your work surface with flour, and shape half the dough into a loaf–round, oblong, whatever suits your fancy–and place it on the corn-meal covered portion of your paddle. Let the loaf rise about 40 minuts. Slash the top with a razor blade or very sharp knife in several places. You will repeat this process with the second half of the dough after you’ve put the first loaf in the oven.

Slide the loaf from the paddle onto the preheated stone in the oven (this is what the corn meal is for–it works like ball bearings), and toss a cup of hot water into the heavy pan on the bottom of the oven. Close the oven door immediately to capture the steam. Bake for 35-50 minutes (depends on the size of the loaf) until the top is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with your fingers.

Tear off big hunks and slather with butter. (This last step is optional and only for true hedonists. We generally slice ours after it has cooled slightly.)

Lee, I hope this works for you. I have about 8 different flours and ground meals in my pantry at the moment. All White Lily is too fine in texture for me for most breads (although that’s all I use in pastries), so I mix it up. If you don’t have “bread” flour, you can add a Tbspn of gluten for each cup of flour to get the same effect.

Surge: The war continues

June 5, 2008

If you’re expecting to read a rant about the tragedy of Iraq or George W. or Rummy or one of those things, you probably should just go read another blog tonight.

This is about a much closer to home, much more personal war.

That’s not to minimize the pain and agony we as a nation have inflicted on another country, however well intentioned our efforts. But I can’t influence that one, let alone have any kind of meaningful impact on the outcome, so I’m writing about something else.

We live on approximately 100 acres. A few of them are taken up by a river bed (not navigable year-round, so we own it), a lot more of them by some very steep hills plated in a variety of tree species, and 8-10 acres of relatively flat land.

We share this land with an assortment of wildlife–bears, cougars, coyotes, rabbits, weasels, bobcats, dozens of species of birds, several species of salmon and steelhead and trout, and a WHOLE bunch of rodents.

The rodents range from our chipmunks (cute but sometimes problematic) and gray-digger squirrels (highly destructive) to boomers (mountain beavers–incredibly destructive to new forest growth) and moles, voles, and gophers.

After reading the introduction to Derrick Jensen’s A Language Older Than Words, I have actually come to peace with several of these. I have persuaded the chipmunk not to eat my violets. I know this sounds nutso (that’s what I thought when I read Jensen’s coyote/chicken story), but I just ask the chipmunk not to eat them. And he quit. They are thriving.

And I asked the birds not to eat my blueberries (a problem every year), and guess what? They’re not eating them. I’m awestruck.

But the moles and voles and gophers in the garden are another story. I think maybe I just don’t know how to communicate with this particular group of rodents. Of course, it doesn’t help that I rarely see them. The talking approach seems to work best face-to-face.

I don’t want to destroy all the rodents. With this much land, there is plenty of room for all of us. I just want them to stay out of my garden.

We’ve tried a variety of approaches, but I think I’ve found one that actually works. I have my fingers crossed.

I found a couple of little devices (brand name “P3”–there seem to be several types on the market) called “Molechasers.” They’re little tubes that you bury in the ground. They emit a rather obnoxious sound, but it can hardly be heard above ground unless you’re standing right next to it. A second, more sophisticated device (the “surge” in the title of this post) emits a harsh buzz and vibrates the grounds around it.

According to the manufacturer, all the stupid underground rodents hate the noise and the vibration. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I do know that they seem to work.

The sound-only ones work best on the moles. The sound/vibration ones seem to do a better job on the gophers and voles. So I’m probably going to add a couple of vibrating windmills to the mix.

But whichever type, they are non-poisonous, non-lethal, and don’t pollute the environment. So I’m very pleased.

I hope this year to have unnibbled potatoes, beans, and carrots, armfuls of sunflowers, ripe tomatoes, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Cross your fingers for me.

I feel a small rant coming on, and a household tip for you

November 7, 2007

I absolutely loathe, detest, and despise modern packaging.

I’m old enough to remember when there were real hardware stores with big bins of nuts and bolts. You went in to the store, selected what you needed, and paid for it. Now you have a choice of packages of pre-counted amounts of things, all carefully sealed in unbreakable plastic wrap with a handsome cardboard outer with description, price, and so on.

These packages are the reason I find it necessary to have heavy duty kitchen shears in at least three rooms of my house.

But I also resent having to buy five screws when I need three. What do I do with the other two? They go in my tool box in the mixed screw section. But I’ll never remember they are there.

I’m a great believer in “reduce, reuse, recycle.” I can’t often do much about the “reduce” part. You buy the things you need, and you’re more or less at the mercy of the manufacturer. Although I will say this: For many years we ate only Jif peanut butter. We all liked it. Then Jif switched from glass jars, which I reused like crazy, to plastic. I refused to buy it. I wrote them a letter explaining why. I got no answer.

But the good news is that I then discovered Adams peanut butter, which is a far superior product that’s actually virtually all peanuts and always comes in glass jars. Ben rebelled at having to stir his peanut butter, but I kept buying it. Then Adams came out with a “no-stir” variety that had only minor amounts of adulteration. We’ve all been happy since. I buy no other brand, even though the crunchy style that we prefer is sometimes hard to find.

The “recycle” part is easy. We do huge amounts of that.

But then we get to “reuse.” This is the other part of modern packaging that makes me nuts.

This time of year, lots of things–nuts, chocolates–come in rather large plastic containers. I’m pretty much opposed to plastic on principle, but if I can reuse the container for an extended period of time, my anxiety level goes down. I much prefer glass, but the larger plastic containers can be used to keep tea bags fresh, store bread crumbs, and otherwise make a repository for things that do better if they’re in an air-tight environment. But–

The people who market these things seem to feel obliged to put on their labels with an adhesive with some of the qualities of that ghastly black mastic adhesive that was used for so many years to secure phony paneling or tile to plaster board. It’s almost impossible to remove, rendering the container somewhat less than useful. At least it was. Tonight I made a great discovery.

I had one of these containers that I was trying to remove the glue from. I first of all tried some hand lotion that I won’t use because it’s too greasy. Hopeless. After that, I added some detergent to a scrubber sponge and tried that. No dice.

Then I remembered a tip that I read somewhere about how to get pitch or bubblegum out of your hair. My hair is about 30 inches long, so it’s important to know these things. But the tip was this: Rub peanut butter on it, and it will dissolve.

So I rubbed a little (and it really was only a VERY little) Adams on my recalcitrant jar and–voila! The glue washed right off.

But what a waste of good peanut butter.