Tag Archives: cooking

Was Grandma right?

I write science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal stories. In my mind, they’re related, but are a bit different.

I write my novels, this blog, the occasional micro fiction, and am probably going to attempt a few short stories.

The blog covers a pretty broad spectrum of topics. Cooking, foraging, writing, reading, plus the writing cabin stories under the Muse category.

When I read, I like online articles, comic books, your blogs, and more. Novels I read are pretty broad based. I read the kind of stories I write, but I love a good detective story, courtroom drama, historical fiction, horror, westerns, biographies, and more.

So am I becoming a jack of all trades, and master of none? I am more than the blogger and writer you see here, but I share. Thus the stories about sourdough, gathering morels, growing peaches, going out with my wife.

I don’t think that makes me so different, but what about my writing? Am I covering too many bases? I understand I don’t have to change a thing, but would I be more successful if I focused more? What if I focused on novels, and blogging about novels?

Just kidding! I’m going to keep doing what I enjoy. One thing I refuse to let go of is my personal enjoyment of this. Chances of getting rich here are slim at best. Chances of having a good time are excellent. I’m having a great time.

My grandmother used to say I bounced around like a fart in a skillet. Maybe she was right, but I’m enjoying myself.

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The Science of Sourdough

Many readers have expressed an interest in Tituba, my sourdough starter. I started her sometime in the 1980s and really don’t know how old she is. One of the secrets is knowing how to put her away for long term storage. I used to freeze a small sample, but these days I dry the sample and refrigerate.

A sourdough starter is a wild yeast culture, but that’s pretty simplified. They really don’t travel all that well, and will eventually become a culture of your local wild yeast. That’s why I never feared adding other yeasts to the mix.

Active dry yeast is the hothouse flower of the yeast world. It will only last a generation or two under the crock environment. Its best use is to medicate an ailing starter, knowing it will all disappear and leave your wild beastie in place. I’ve added champaign yeast, brown ale yeast, and active dry yeast to mine at times.

The lifespan of one yeast organism is somewhere around the blink of an eye. I have no doubt that some hybridization occurred, but Darwinism leaves me with a decent starter. She was born in Nevada, and may be more of an Idaho wild yeast these days.

There is a microscopic war going on all around us. We want yeast to leaven our bread, but yeast is under a constant attack. The enemy here is mold. Tituba needs an ally.

Enter lactobacillus. This simple bacteria hates and kills mold with extreme prejudice. It loves the alcohol produced by the yeast as it devours the flour I feed it. I get bubbles that raise my dough, and the bacteria gets the waste product of fermentation, alcohol. (Every military in history thrives on alcohol.) The bacteria in exchange, keeps the mold at bay.

But wait, there’s more. Sourdough bread has a distinct tangy flavor. This flavor isn’t available to bakers who use active dry yeast. That’s right, it is provided by the lactobacillus.

Tituba is a symbiotic organism. She consists of both a wild yeast culture, and a colony of lactobacillus. She makes great bread too.

I baked my first loaf of the year this morning. It turned out great. I left it out overnight to ramp up the sour flavor. The house is usually cold enough at night, but this time it over proofed a bit. It was about to crawl out out of the Dutch oven when I got up. It fell a bit when I sliced the dough prior to baking. Still, it tastes wonderful.

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Another weekend update

I assume everyone is tired of hearing about my fiction by now. The promotion is over, and I got my first review of The Cock of the South. How was your weekend?

I changed out my background for some Christmas aliens. I like it.

We did a bit of shopping. I needed some more Parmesan crisps from Whole Foods. I also grabbed some smoked salmon. There is a smoked salmon Ceasar salad in our future.

We stopped for lunch at Old Chicago pizza. I made a dent in my Christmas beer tour. I really enjoyed a ginger beer from Sam Adams. Then we grabbed our Christmas tree and headed home. I stayed up late and watched the last half of the Boise State game. They ought to give that Bulldog quarterback a medal, he was awesome in the second half.

Today was all about setting up our tree. We lugged it inside and put on the base. I went up in the attic and brought down all the baubles. Here is the end result:

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I may have finished up my top secret project with Iris the fairy. I delivered the project, and will update all of you as soon as I’m allowed.

 

How many of you spent time in a musty old attic this weekend? Maybe a crawl space or a garage? You know some of you did. Was there beer and football involved? Let me hear about it.

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What I did last night

I had a request for a recipe to make my parmesan garlic rolls. I don’t actually have one, but some items are the foundation behind them. Stick with the foundation, and you can’t go wrong.

I used two envelopes of dry yeast. Put them in about a half cup of lukewarm water and set them aside. Make sure to stir it with a whisk or fork a few times so it doesn’t form a lump.

Take two and a half cups of milk, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of shortening, and two teaspoons of salt. Put it on rising heat and stir it until the shortening melts completely. Make sure it doesn’t boil; keep it moving.

Add two big scoops of flour to a large bowl. As an option, you can whisk the dry yeast in at this time if you don’t want to “wake it up” in the water.

Now you have to set the hot liquids aside. This is the maddening part, because if it’s too hot it kills the yeast.

While you’re waiting, scramble two eggs in a bowl. I add the hot liquids to the flour and stir. The flour brings the temperature down. Add the eggs and stir again, this also brings temperature down. (Remember, my yeast isn’t in there yet.)

While it’s still a loose batter, I add a double handful of grated parmesan cheese, and two huge spoonfuls of minced garlic. (I use the kind from a jar.) Make sure it’s well stirred. By now, the temperature will have dropped so you can safely put a finger in it. If not add another scoop of flour and stir.

Add the yeast and stir. At this point, it’s time to stir in enough flour until it becomes an exercise in futility. Turn it out on the counter with a fine layer of flour and knead it for ten minutes.

Put it in a greased bowl and flip it around so it’s covered with a fine layer of shortening. Cover it and let it rise for an hour. (Great time for a pumpkin beer.)

At the end of the hour, it should be twice as big. The timing here is a guess. You can be longer or shorter, but you want it doubled. Punch it down and let the air out. Let it rest for ten minutes. (I’m not completely sure why, but it matters. It was good enough for Grandma, and it’s good enough for me.)

This is where you decide what you’re making. You can fry some up for scones, make loaves, or bread sticks. I make rolls.

Pinch off hunks one at a time and make your rolls. I roll out a snake. Then tie it in a loose knot. Tuck the bottom end over the top, and the upper end around and in the bottom. This makes a pretty roll. Space them out on your cookie sheet, because they will grow. Cover them and let them raise for another half hour plus. I’ll add some pictures.

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A snake

 

A knot

A knot

A roll

A roll

No resting for you here. Melt two whole cubes of salted butter. Add another huge scoop of that minced garlic and let it cook together. Preheat your oven to 400°. I don’t know what the metric conversions are for any of this. The Internet is your friend here.

When the oven is ready, and the rolls have finished raising, paint them with the garlic butter. You can add a sprinkle of Parmesan here if you like. Bake them for 12 minutes.

Note: my crappy electric oven prefers 410° and about 13 minutes.

When they come out, paint them with the garlic butter one more time and add a sprinkle of Parmesan.

I make my rolls big. We use them to make turkey sandwiches the next day. Your times and temps will change depending on your preferences. I get about twenty rolls out of this.

Here’s what they’re supposed to look like.

Finished roll

You always get one that comes untied. I use these for quality control. (Meaning I ate them hot.)

One for the quality control expert

One for the quality control expert

you can change it up for baking stones, other spices or cheeses. Maybe you prefer a different shape or a breadstick. You can even try to make it healthy, but I won’t.

Enjoy, and I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving, or a wonderful day if it isn’t a holiday wherever you are.

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Where did the time go?

I just received notice that today is my one year blogiversary. I started this project to promote my fiction, but it’s evolved into so much more.

I really look forward to reading your blogs and communicating with you guys. I haven’t accomplished a whole lot, not when you compare my successes to others. I’ve read the blogs that say, “I just hit 3500 followers after only three months. OMG!!! 😃😃😃”

Well, I haven’t done quite that well. I currently have 536 blog followers. I’m sure I could have done better if I’d played the awards game, but I really don’t regret that. I had things I wanted to say, and I’m glad I put my efforts there. I don’t think I’m going to get my 666 followers by Halloween.

This post will be number 306. I fell into a posting schedule that excludes Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m kind of sporadic though, and sometimes post then too. All during October I’ll be posting Halloween stories on Thursdays. Therefore; not quite every day posting.

We’ve covered a lot of ground. We baked sourdough bread, cooked chicken under a rock, and visited an island of discarded story elements. We spent a lot of time at the writing cabin, gathered wild morel mushrooms, and made a few guest posts too. I have no idea where I’m taking this in the future, but there is bound to be some writing related stuff.

The most popular post so far was my micro fiction, “Jack ‘O Lantern.” There are more of these coming, every Thursday in October. It’s so new I won’t post a link for it.

My favorite post was a personal one about my English Setter. This was back when I only had about ten followers, but every word of it is true. You can read it here, if you’re so inclined. I can’t promise more like it, for obvious reasons.

The oddest thing was a post about my Muse, Lorelei. I called it Purple Nurple. It wasn’t that it was a great post or anything, it’s that someone Googles it every week and reads it. This cracks me up, but I have a theory it isn’t what they were searching for.

I’ve made some great friends here, and look forward to those relationships growing even bigger in the next year. I also look forward to all the new friends to come.

Thank you all for welcoming me and my imaginary friends into your world. WordPress friends are awesome.

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And now for Something Completely Different

Old What’s Her Face* and I went to town today. We tried out a new beer pub, and it was pretty good. Good menu, and they prepared the food well. Large beer selection too. She doesn’t drink at all, so we never have to take turns when we drive somewhere.

We stopped off at a fresh produce store on the way back. I’m a firm believer in learning some old school ways of doing things. I’ve fished, hunted, grown my own food, and canned. Everyone ought to have a basic understanding of how all this works before the next major flood, storm, or junta shows up. Humans have been preserving the harvest this way since prehistoric times. Vegetables were pretty hard to come by in February, and pickling was one way of staying healthy through the winter.

Today, I’m pickling and it’s remarkably simple. We used a few modern tools for the sake of convenience, but I’ve done this with basic kitchen knives too. Today’s recipe is for sauerkraut. I always wanted to try kimchi or dill pickles, but never seem to find everything I need at the same time.

First you need a pickling crock.

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This is my crock. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

 This one is kind of souped up, because it has a water valve built in the top. It let’s the carbon dioxide out, but doesn’t let the nasty yeasts inside. It isn’t necessary, but then you have to keep scraping a gross scum off the top. I don’t have that problem.

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Fill the trough with water to make a one way valve

 Here are a few special tools. The crock came with two stones to keep the kraut below the liquid. I made my own kraut bat from a spalted tree root I found along the Boise River. It’s crooked, for the cool factor, but it also helps inside the curved crock.

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Stones and kraut bat

Just add vegetables. This batch is five medium cabbage, four onions, and a half dozen apples.

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Box ‘O Veg

The recipe is surprisingly simple. Put everything through the food mill and make coleslaw. Layer it in the crock, and spread a fistful of salt every couple of inches. Smash the crap out of it with the kraut bat.

The salt, and bat, pull juice out of the cabbage. All the vegetables are covered with the bacteria that creates fermentation. It’s what does all the work. You can pickle almost anything with just the vegetable and salt water. I’ve been told to never attempt green beans though. You need an extra step or they turn toxic.

Someday, I’ll find pickling cucumbers that are ripe alongside fresh dill. Until then I’ll stick with sauerkraut. I will generally eat more sauerkraut anyway. It can stay in the crock for a year as long as the water valve is kept full. I generally freeze some and clean everything up after a month or so. This is the healthy kind of fermentation too. It rivals and may even surpass all the yogurts that are so popular right now. Talk about pro-biotics. You may also can it, but this will kill all the beneficial beasties.

Here’s what it looked like about 2/3 of the way through. You can see the footprints from my kraut bat. These were good cabbages and I only had to add about a quart of water to make sure the veg stays underwater.

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About 2/3 finished

Add some liquid to the trough around the top of the crock and put it away. As long as the water valve remains full, it will keep happily burping along. I’ll probably try it in about 30 days. Maybe a nice pork loin and some Belgian ale.

*Not my wife’s actual name

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Mojo Chicken – Caveman Style

I’ve about promoted my novel enough this week. Let’s have a little fun tonight. This is my Mojo Chicken – Caveman Style. I was first exposed to Mojo Chicken on a business trip to Florida. It isn’t widely available in Idaho, so I had to make my own. I googled and tried several recipes, and the first successful one used frozen grapefruit juice concentrate. I use fresh now. First the basic ingredients:

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Ingredients

This involves citrus and heat. That friendly little vegetable up front is a habanero pepper. Treat it with respect. I use a blender and put in the lime zest and juice, the grapefruit juice, dry spices, a glurg each of water, corn syrup, and oil. Set it aside.

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Spatchcock

Use poultry shears and remove the spine from tail to neck. Discard any giblets if your chicken came with them. Flip the chicken over and spread apart while pushing down. He should make a noticeable crack. Use the paring knife to remove the breastbone and keel. Poke a hole at the back of each thigh and push the knob of the opposite drumstick through. This is called a spatchcock. (Thank you Alton Brown.) it makes the whole thing about the same thickness for even cooking.

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Marinade

Pour the marinade over the chicken, and make sure to work some under the skin of the breast and thigh. Make sure you wash after this. It’s not only because of raw chicken. That habanero is nothing to trifle with. If you rub your eyes, or manage to touch other sensitive places you’ll never forget again. Shove him in the fridge overnight.

The next day, we’re inviting some more players to the party.

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More tools

We need a cast iron pan, two potatoes, some fireman’s gloves and a twenty pound slab of soapstone. Soapstone is like a battery for temperature and holds the temperature for a long time. Today we’re using heat. Shove the rock in the oven and set it for 450 degrees F.

In the mean time, brown the chicken in the skillet and set it aside. Slice the potatoes about a half inch thick and layer them in the skillet. Potatoes are salt suckers so I salt both sides.

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Potato Layer

Put the chicken on top, skin side up. This part is controversial, but I add the marinade to the pan. I know it’s a poultry thing, but I like stuffing inside my turkey too. Besides, it’s what makes the potatoes amazing and I’m going to cook it.

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Rock on top

Adjust the temperature to 400 degrees F. Oil and place the hot rock on top and shove it in the oven for one hour, ten minutes.

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Mojo Chicken

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Potatoes and Sauce

We spoon the sauce over both the chicken and potatoes. I’ve added other root vegetables and they work well. Tonight we had broccoli in the house, so I didn’t. It was awesome, and there’s enough for tomorrow too.

I’ve grown disillusioned with the Apple WordPress app. This is my first time using BlogPad Pro. It’s kind of confusing, but seems to do a lot more. I’ll know how I like it once I see this online.

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Tituba Rising

Tituba, the sourdough starter, relaxed this morning. It was time to bake, or cut and feed. I did both.

This is what she looks like when she’s happy and ready to work:

Happy Sourdough, ready to work

Happy Sourdough, ready to work

All it really takes is a spoonful, but for my little Dutch oven, I usually use about a half cup. This is more a personal quirk than real necessity. I dipped my cup and sloshed it into my favorite Pyrex bowl.

I added some water and flour. This is all you really need for basic bread, but it will taste like crap. For me, salt is an absolute must. I also added a glurg of olive oil. Then I stirred the batch up and added flour until I couldn’t stir any longer.

I used all purpose flour, and do about half the time. It’s what Tituba eats, and readily available. I use sexy flours too, but not today. Semolina is my favorite. It looked like this:

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Now it’s time to knead in as much flour as needed. Tituba raises better with what’s called a loose dough than a stiff one. I’ve made free standing boules, and they always manage to spread on me. They taste great, but with Tituba it may take another day of raising to get a stiff dough up to size. Pour a little flour on the counter, flour my hands and go to work. Keep adding flour until it feels right.

Because she's weird like that.

Because she’s weird like that.

When it feels right, I let it set while I wash the bowl and add a glurg of regular cooking oil. Then I tuck the bottom under while rotating the dough in my hands. When it forms a boule I wipe the top in the oil, wipe the sides and flip it right side up. Cover it and walk away. Time for Tituba to work her magic.

I left it for about five hours, then punched it down. This isn’t rapid rising dry yeast here, folks. Long slow rise times give the sour flavor. A night in the fridge works best, but I don’t have the time available. I have to work tomorrow. I formed the boule once more and plopped it in my Dutch oven; covered loosely so it can grow. In another four hours or so it looked about ready. With Tituba there’s always a bit of oven spring and I don’t want it to overflow. Then I have to cut it out of the mold, and it looks ugly.

This is what we get to have with dinner:

Sourdough Bread

Sourdough Bread

The bread will be more sour tomorrow. I know most of the science here, but not why this happens. Different starters will give different results.

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