Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sourdough English Muffins (Accidental Vegan)

Yesterday was an exciting day for my blogging. My other blog was featured on sparkpeople and I received more than 200 emails by the time I went to bed. It was amazing to receive so much support. If you are not familiar with sparkpeople it is a community for healthy living and weight loss and it is worth checking out! Here is a link to the blog Sometimes the universe gives you a sign
Around 8:30 AM I started my dough for my first try at sourdough english muffins. Sarah over at Peas and Thank You recommended this recipe to me and I debated between it and the recipe on King Arthur Flour's website. I went with the vegan recipe out of sheer laziness. I didn't feel like going out for powdered milk and so I went with one that I had all the ingredients, well after I drank a huge cup of coffee. Not a morning person over here. Oooo I had bought myself a present the day before and was eager to put it to good use. Saving the planet one plastic cup at a time.

(I am not advertising for this company and received nothing for this. I just like the cup)

On to the muffins. Last summer at the farmers market one of my great joys was on Saturday mornings we would browse all of the fruits and veggies and on the way out I would stop at the baker's tent and grab a four pack of homemade english muffins. You have not had an english muffin until you have had a real one. They are like 2 different things and once you go real you can't go back to store bought. I only stopped my obsession when I realized that they were an expensive habit and the one's they sold in the farmers market were much fresher than the one's they sold at their storefront. Don't ask me why. 
I had given up hope until one day I saw a recipe on foodgawker and it started the wheels turning in the back of my mind that I would try it one day. However my fear of yeast dough scared me too much to try. I know, how silly it seems now! 

Here is recipe I tried. Adapted from Sourdough English Muffins 
I got only 10 English Muffins

1/2 C Filtered Water
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 C Sourdough Starter, room temperature (this is important)
1 C. Whole Wheat Flour
2 C. White AP Flour
1 Tbsp Raw Cane Sugar
1 Packet Active Yeast
1 tsp Sea Salt
Course Ground Cornmeal for Sprinkling

1. Combine the water and oil in a measuring cup and microwave for 30 seconds. You want it to be warm to the touch but not too hot for the yeast. 

2. In the bowl of your stand mixer combine the WW flour through sea salt. The add the starter and liquid ingredients. Combine with the paddle attachment until it is combine and sticky, 3-4 minutes on medium-low speed.

3. Switch to the dough hook and add the remaining flour a bit at a time. I found that because the recipe uses cups not weight for the ingredients it was too much flour and it made the dough so tough it almost burned out my industrial mixer. Add about a cup and a half and then add a few tablespoons at a time until it ends up smooth, elastic and pulls away from the bowl approximately 6-7 minutes. 

4. Lightly oil a bowl and turn dough into it making sure to coat the dough with oil on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let double in size, approximately 3 hours. The time it takes to rise will depend on how active is the yeast and starter you are using. 

5. Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a surface dusted with cornmeal. Roll it out to 1/2 an inch thick and cut with a 3-4 inch round ring. I used a 3 inch for the ones in my photos and it made them on the small side but I like it being a good portion size. Place muffins on a baking sheet covered with parchment or a silicon mat. Cover with plastic and let rise until they hold an indentation when pressed. 
6. Grease a skillet well and heat over medium-low. Cook the muffins for approximately 10 minutes on each side until golden brown. Cool. 

Serve split with a fork and toasted and slathered in some golden grass fed butter or earth balance and fresh fruit preserves. 

Would I make this recipe again? It was a good solid recipe but when I ate my first one I wasn't absolutely blown away. They are 100% better than anything you will buy at the grocery store but I still feel there might be a better recipe out there for me. When I find it I will post it. These freeze well so it will be a few weeks before I need to try again. 
Take my brownie poll on the home page and let me know what are you favorite kind of nuts!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Adventures in Sourdough Starters and Baking

For as long as I can remember I have loved to bake. Hours were spent covered in whole wheat flour while I baked away in my grandmother's kitchen. As long as she could try to make it healthy she would indulge me. Let's just say while it was fun to make the treats rarely tasted as good as they looked. Despite my love of food even at a young age I was always in awe and fear of baking bread. Something about yeast being, what I erroneously thought, a temperamental organism I always assumed it was something beyond my grasp. Best left to professionals and only the best of grandma's. My grandmother was a brilliant woman but had no interest in cooking and at a very plain diet so bread was not something we would do together. 

A few weeks back I opened the email notification from one of my favorite blogs and it had a recipe to grow your own sourdough starter. Being in the food industry I knew about starters but again, I had assumed there was some great mystique to them. Artisan bakers love to spin tales about sneaking their starter back from a trip to Italy or some other place that made them sound so special and exotic. Never did I dream how easy making one at home could be. For over a week I peeked at the recipe daily telling myself it worked for her but it couldn't possible work for me. Now when I look back I realize how silly all this was because I am telling you this could not be easier. You may be thinking you don't have time for this. It took me less than a total of 5 minutes per day for the whole 6 days. If you can stir, you can make this starter. 

From Peas and Thank You Sourdough Starter

I will save you typing all of this out again. She explains it very well. If you are like me and get WAY over excited about these things you will probably stare at it on and off all day waiting for the magic to happen. It takes time. I was almost 4 days in before I really noticed any difference. The best anecdote for the whole process was on the last day when you are supposed to transfer the starter to a large container and feed it I REALLY underestimated how much bigger of a container. I fed it and took a nap. When I woke up I went to the kitchen and it had literally blown the top off of my screw top container and was all over my counter. I almost cried. All those days of work. Luckily about half the container was still in there so I fed it again and it did spring back to life. IT'S ALIVE!!! I could her Gene Wilder's voice in Young Frankenstein over and over in my head. Yes, I am very dramatic about my food. 

Here is my starter after I made english muffins this morning and then fed it. You can make out some of the bubbling. This is what it should look like. Excuse my lake of photography skills. I am working on that at the moment!

Monday I made my first loaves of bread and I was nervous. Really nervous. For the sake of continuity I also used Mama Pea's recipe she posted a few days later. Now that I am confident in my mad skills I am going to venture out and adapt my own recipes but here is the one I used for my first try.  Peas and Thank You Ultimate Sourdough Bread Recipe

They came out a bit more dense than I expected but delicious none the less. I used local maple syrup and non-fat milk as I am not a vegan. Most of her recipes are but she gives options if you are not. The next day the bread was good toasted with some Kerry Gold grass fed butter slathered on top. Mmmm butter.  

Here they are. I am so proud! What do you think? Let me know if you try the starter as well! Tune in tomorrow for the results of my attempt at sourdough english muffins! 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Colombian Style Cranberry Beans with Green Chard

I don't know what compelled me but I woke up yesterday with the idea in my head that I was going to learn to cook Swiss chard. The only time I had tried it in the past was at a fancy restaurant and it was terrible. Bitter and almost inedible. Assuming it was me, not the chef, I never bothered to try it again. So what was the precipitous for wanting to try this week? I wish I knew. Coincidentally we are in the height of chard season and I had not realized that the color is really irrelevant and has very little to do with the taste when prepared. 
After making myself my coffee to go, Fair-trade Colombian of course, I headed off to browse Whole Foods for my veggies. As the farmer's markets don't open here until June I have found this is really one of the only places to buy my produce. It frustrates me to that we want to encourage people to eat healthy but most of the produce at large chain stores is on the verge of being rotten as soon as they buy it and has been off the farm for months anyway. Ugh. Fortunately for me there was quite a selection of different chard and as I had no idea which one to pick I went safe and chose the green variety. Kale was also on my list and I have found that I prefer the Lacinato variety with its less curly leaves but they were out of all types except the red. In the cart it went for another adventure. The grocer told me that everything just had arrived and was very fresh. Hopefully that is true but it looked nice and perky.
One of new personal goals is to meal plan for the week. It has something that has evaded me most of my adult life. I find it much more enjoyable to browse the aisles and choose what looks good to me. Unfortunately that can lead me to incomplete meals or more often than not wasted food. I hate to waste food for so many reasons. Last night I planned to use the Cranberry beans, or Cargamanto blanco, I already had and add in the chard. Unbeknownst to me adding kale is a pretty common variation of this dish so this wasn't something completely knew! Here is a link to a great source for buying heirloom beans so you can check them out. They can also be found in a lot of latin supermarkets.

Each region of Colombian has their own variations of this dish. The one I prepare is from the state of Antioquia. They can be prepared vegetarian if you like but you do need to add some fat when you cook them to prevent them from boiling over so add a bit of olive oil in the beginning. It is traditional to cook the beans with a pork hock and it does add flavor. A none smoked hock is normal but if you want to use a smoked one go for it. The beauty of cooking is we can vary recipes to our own personal tastes. Hocks freak you out? Add bacon. Etc, etc. 

This is my recipe so let me know if you like it!

Colombian Style Cranberry Beans with Green Chard
Serves 8

1 lb. Cranberry Beans, Dry
1 Large Ham Hock 

2 C. Sliced Scallions, Green and White Parts
2 Large Plum Tomatoes, Chopped
1 Tbsp Ground Cumin
Salt to Taste
2 Chicken Bouillon Cubes, Organic Preferably
4-5 C. Chard, Washed, Deveined and Chopped
1/2 C. Fresh Cilantro, Chopped

1. I prefer to always work with dried beans. (If you don't have time or don't want the hassle skip ahead to 3 and substitute canned beans. Just make sure to rinse them well due to the excess sodium.) Soak the beans in a bowl full of room temperature water overnight or 8 hours. 
2. Drain beans and put the beans and pork in a pressure cooker and cover with fresh water about an inch above the top. Cook for 30 minutes. You can cook on the stove top but it will take much longer, approximately 2 plus hours, until soft but hold their shape. 

3. Remove lid and finish on stove top at a slow simmer. Add ingredients scallions through chard and cook until beans are completely soft but not falling apart. Add cilantro and salt to taste. Shred meat and serve on top of rice, brown rice or even quinoa. 

It is traditional to serve the cooking liquid or soup with the beans in a bowl but I prefer to just serve them a little wet on top of a starch. 

If I was to make it again I would have added the chard later in the cooking time as it is more delicate than kale. If you substitute kale make sure to add it at step 2 to give it time to cook down. This recipe is so adaptable, enjoy! 

Tune in tomorrow for adventures in baking sourdough bread!