Mother – It’s not what you think

Sourdough bread is a technical mastery.  One just can not make sourdough bread.  Not like white sandwich bread, or brioche.  Nope.  This is a food of love.  It needs to be cultured, nurtured into being bread.

For those who do not know, to make sourdough you need to make a sourdough starter, or a Mother.  There are a plethora of recipes online for a starter.  None of them are wrong, some work better for some than others.  Considering altitude, weather conditions, ingredient batches.  It’s all so technical.  I used Paul Hollywood’s recipe for my Mother.

I started it on the January 21, and it was not ready until the 28th.  I do know some bakers that have had the same Mother for years.  As long as you feed it and stir it when it needs to be fed and stirred, and use it when it gets too big.  I also do goofy things like talk to my Mother, and send out positive energy as I feed it.  Just like I do with my dog and cat.  Love, food, and more love.

I travel for work, so I taught my room mate how to take care of the Mother while I am gone.  She has the easy part, she just feeds Mother.  I even told her to sing to it, and she already knew to send it good vibes.  After all, it is a living thing.

What I love about making sourdough bread, something so nutritious and delicious that is made simply with flour, water and time. If you have those three things, it is possible to make some of the best bread ever.

Of course I did a bunch of research, that is how I know that there are so many recipes for the Mother.  The best advice I read was in an article by Emma Christensen on thekitchen.com. She gives solid advice and practical techniques to make a better loaf, not just a better bread.  Fantastic article for the new baker.

If you have never made bread before, I suggest you begin baking breads with dry active yeast, in the packets.  It is an exact measurement, and will make learning how to make bread easier.  As you advance as a baker, then move onto cake yeasts, or the yeast in a jar that you have to measure out yourself.  Then when you think you have the basic techniques down, start a mother for sourdough.

I mentioned to a cheffy friend of mine this weekend, patience is the hardest thing to learn. Keep that in mind when you decide you are ready to make sourdough bread. Nothing can be rushed.  It all takes time.

 

POOF-a-Meal Zone

I am not a professional cook in any way.  I still try to be an amazing cook.  Learning about food has made a huge difference in my life.  It has helped me grow as a human, and understand the world just a little more.  I feel that cooking adds depth to my artistic nature.  I also feel that my artistic nature feeds my love of cooking. I ponder endlessly of the possibilities that are in front of an aspiring artist such as myself.

The Zone is one of those possibilities.  Throughout my artistic “career” the best pieces I have created came from the Zone.  The loss of time, the dedication to the piece just took me over.  Then it was done, and I can’t explain how it happened. The Zone is so nice, and feels so good. It is achieved through the purity of the art. Approached with a sober mind and the readiness to dive in. Like a starting gun at a race, one word starts it all “Okay!”

When I am in the zone time disappears. I am constantly coordinating my next five steps, gathering, measuring, prioritizing, minimizing, cleaning.  My roommate always asks how long I was in the kitchen when I make stuff.  I don’t always have an answer for her.  On those days I tell her “As long as it took to make this.”

POOF-a-meal!

As many of us home cooks know, it isn’t always as simple as just throwing this in to add to that and POOF-a-meal.  Even though we do that POOF-a-meal thing a lot, it can get complicated sometimes. For her it is instantaneous.  For me, it was a day long journey through research, prep work, and execution.  Yet it only seemed to have taken a moment, or did it? Hard to say when it takes over the soul.

The food I create can bring my audience, the eater in this case, to the edge of the Zone.  They can feel what it took to create what has been presented to them.  Bearing witness as they eat and try to define what they feel.  Usually escaping in a series of grunts, groans and mmmmms.  Which i will take as a fair assessment of the end product.

 

Yay Internet

I do a lot of research.  It is a fun hobby that keeps me busy, plus I get to learn new things along the way.  I have to dedicate myself to learning something every day.  My interests are varied enough so I do not waste valuable time on reading the same thing over and over.

I love reading these instructional articles that give “everything you need to make this” and it is all wrong.  Of course, in the days when I was first embarking on this journey, I would not catch these mistakes so easily.  I suppose that is the mark of someone passionate about any area of study.  It separates the novice from the veteran.  Now here I am writing bad blog posts about food and learning food.

I do not consider myself a professional. To further my skills, I look to professionals for knowledge and experience.  Through them I can learn how to apply techniques towards what I am working on.

Huzzah for the internet and all of it’s search engines, all of it’s videos, and especially all of its articles.

 

A path Followed

Food as artistic expression is such a wonderful experience.  Diner or cook, it is a journey with every meal.  Some of us get that.  Some of us don’t.  I remember when I became aware of the beauty in food came to light.  It took an enormous cultural shift for me to open my opinion. Three regional dishes would be the building blocks of my new enlightenment.

I was a designer of seasonally themed entertainment for a company in Japan.  As a key designer, I was expected to go on tour through Japan with my company to set things up.   Japan had always been a top destination for me. Getting to go on tour, and get paid for it was a dream come true.  Being thrown into a culture, and living in total immersion.

Within the first few things you always learn to say in any language, other than the naughty words, is where and what to eat, and where the toilet is.   The crew I went with learned how to say “I would like the chicken.” because they did not like sushi.  I laughed at them then, I laughed harder at them when we got to Japan and found out sushi is expensive there too, so not every restaurant is a sushi bar.

We ate everything that was popular in each of the restaurants we chose.  Shabu shabu was my first experience. We had to cook it at our table in a big pot. The experience was like a character at the table.  Our translator asked if we had anything like this in the states, and it dawned on me, “I don’t know.”

Sitting there making shabu shabu that first night, I was in a surreal state of being from jet lag and being overwhelmed by the size of Tokyo.  Our translator, Takahashi (Take’) explained that as we cook all the meats and veg in the big pot of water, they flavor the water and at the end we all drink the broth.  It was brilliant.  So simple.

Every aspect of this meal was suddenly being scrutinized.  I would look at it with fresh eyes, and smell it before tasting it. How everything was being displayed, and presented and ultimately tasted.   I would look at everyone else’s food too, contrast and compare you see. I slowed down as I ate as well.  I was not wolfing down junk food here, I kept that in mind with every bite.  This whole thing, this meal had to be savored from location to digestion. I was so curious about everything I was living on in that moment.

Then there was sushi, it set me on a new path.

But before take you into that temple, I feel it necessary to mention that the beer in Japan is different.  It is stronger, and cheaper than American beer. We drank litre after litre of beer with every meal.

We did not eat sushi with every meal.  It was far too pricey for a tour group of 25 to go.  Instead, on our days off we would split up and explore.  Being part of the management team, I would get taken out by corporate men to really cool places.

One night after a long fun day of exploring and drinking, Take’, my friend Tim and I were at some tiny tiny sushi bar in some remote part of Chiba, it only seated 9. The entire place looked like it was carved out of one log.  Behind the bar was a wall of fish tanks with various breeds of live fish in them.  There were a few other people on the other end of the bar.  Tim and I were the only westerners for miles and miles and miles.

The exploring, drinking and eating had made us all brave that day.  Take’ looks at us and in a drunken slur says “I want to order you shomshing, however!” Pointing up with his left index finger “You mussst Promise to eat it! It is very expensive and musst not be wasssssted.”

Tim and I looked at eachother and said “Hell yeah we promise!” in unison. Oh the beer.

Take’ told the chef what he wanted to surprise us with this amazing dish.  The chef turned and grabbed a fish from a tank behind him and went to work cleaning it and slicing it up.  Within minutes he place in front of us a beautifully displayed plat of fish, with the fish carcass skewered and used as part of the serving platter.  The meat was displayed as scales down the fish. It was so beautiful and delicate, and the fish was a whole new experience for my taste buds.

Tim and I toasted the chef, and Take’ for thinking of it, then took a nice big drink of beer.  I then looked at the plate of half eaten fish when I saw the tail twitch and the mouth open.  I know at this point many people would have turned their head, unable to continue.

Tim and I looked at each other with big eyes of wonder and giant question marks coming from our heads. We toasted the chef then the fish and finished the dish while it twitched in front of us. The most amazing sashimi ever. It was a dish of culinary mastery.

The third food experience came from a place of comfort. Not like the communal aspect of shabu shabu, nor the artistic approach of sushi.  Japanese curry,  Kari raisu is simple, beautiful,  warming.  Not like Indian curries or Thai curries.  Much more mild. It has this flavor and texture that I would instantly start craving. The the thing that started me wanting to cook.  I knew it was going to be hard to find where I lived at that point in my life, and I was going to be able to eat it, I would have to make it myself.

That was another lifetime for me now.  And I want kari raisu.

 

 

The ultimate in Comfort: Bread

Today is going to be all about bread.  It is cold and wet outside.  The kind of conditions we have a lot of in this part of the planet.  To combat the boredom, I stick to making myself better at something.  Cooking offers me a lot in that realm.  I know how to make all sorts of things.  Conversely, there is more I don’t know. I want to make amazing bread, and right now my bread skills are at good.

My dog isn’t very happy about it.  She wants to go out and run herself stupid in the mud.  I did mention it is cold and wet outside.  The place she keeps telling me to take her to is a river delta area. I have tried explaining that I simply do not have the proper shoes. She huffed at me and decided it was time to chase her tail.

So bread it is!

I am starting a sourdough mother using Paul Hollywood’s method.  The process is fun to watch, and won’t be ready for a week.  So next weeks bread will be sourdough.  Of course I will have to make some amaze-ballz entre to accompany this. The wheels are already in motion. I do not have a sourdough starter right now.  Having one is like having another pet in the house, and I have been arguing with my roommate about not having more pets!  She wants a kitten when we have a perfectly fine cat.  At least a starter is a pet you can eat.

I am also going make bread for this weeks dinners using dry active yeast.  I usually have one of those little jars of dry active yeast in my refrigerator.  It’s important to not use bread machine yeast if you are not using a bread machine.  That is pretty much the difference in dry active yeast in my opinion.

Flour is an important choice, but try a few different brands for yourself to see which works best for you. Examples being bread flour, unbleached whole wheat, all purpose, organic, enriched. Sometimes you have to learn with what you have too.  I have mentioned before that I prefer Wheat Montana unbleached white.

Making bread is a skill.  3 years ago I could not make bread.  I could not figure out what I was doing wrong.  Then my boyfriend at the time bought me a stand mixer.  That changed everything. I am more willing to learn new recipes for baking bread.  I have even made croissants! However, I am still struggling with it, but I know where I am failing.  I am still learning patience.  Last weeks bread did not rise like it was supposed to because I got impatient.

I have always gone by my usual cooking methods, and have had some success.   Today is going to be more technical, more rigid with the rules on baking.  I need to get this baking thing under control.

Alrighty then, wish me luck Drea Readers!  I’m goin’ in.

 

Mac N Cheese Torture

As a kid, the only days I knew I was going to get fed were holidays.  My mother, being a single mother in the 70’s had other agendas going on, she did not always think of feeding her three children. We had to learn how to feed ourselves at very young ages.

When my mother would make us something to eat, it was always something she liked, and she had no taste buds from a lifetime of smoking and drinking.  There were some things she could do well; fried chicken, chicken fried steak, chicken fried pork chops, fried potatoes… etc.  Of course, mom only had her limited imagination. Nothing out of the ordinary came out of her kitchen.  Nope, everything she made was very expected very traditional.  Only half of it was edible, as far as I was concerned.

Which worked out very well at holiday times.

When my mom married my step dad, things kind of changed.  I recognize now what she was trying to do when they were first married (the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach).  Then I did not care, I was getting fed more often, and didn’t have to fight anyone for a piece of bread.  My mom was trying to impress her new hubby.  Trying to impress him with her cooking.

Was she impressive?  Nope.  Recanting the memories has left a bad taste in my mouth as it is.  Thankfully my dad was from the midwest where the men there ate meat and potatoes. Again, this was fine with me.  I was getting fed everyday now, and that was cool. Red meat was the common protein. With the meat, one night we would have potatoes, one night we would have (what would become one of my worst childhood memories) Macaroni and Cheese.

My first memory of macaroni and cheese still lingers with me to this day.  One might think that this memory would be comforting. Not a mission to get through a pile of almost melted cheese and paste.  Stringy cheese mess all over, stuck to everything. noodles over cooked and close to mush.  Cheese sauce and melted cheese have completely different flavors.  Melted cheese does not go on everything cheese can go with.

I cringed when I was told we were having macaroni and cheese with dinner.  First off, I would be the kid in charge of grating the mountain of cheese she would put into it, this chore allowed me to get out of washing dishes.  With now 5 brothers and 3 sisters, it was like fish frenzy at feeding time.  All of them would come around and grab a nibble of the grated cheese.  Even for a family our size, a pound of cheese should not go into a batch of mac n cheese.

My mother did not understand the process behind making a cheese sauce for the noodles.  Which is such a simple recipe. Butter, flour, milk, cheese and salt n pepper. Oh, and whatever it is you are going to put the sauce on.  My mom used store bought elbow macaroni.   For those who do not want to take on the job of making their own, store bought pasta and noodles are terrific.

In consideration of cost, instead of using a whole one pound block of cheese, only a cup of grated cheese is needed.  My dad was making really good money, and could afford it, but food is one of the areas where making better food can be cheaper than making bad food. making a cheese sauce goes so much further.

I wish I could have this conversation with my mom.  I wish I could go into her 1976 kitchen and show her that macaroni and cheese should not be used as a torture device. I would explain that melting a couple tablespoons of butter, with equal amounts of flour whisked in and a cup of milk is the basis for so many sauces.

I would have shown her how to whisk the butter and flour so it didn’t burn, I would have taken the time to go through the process of introducing the milk to the butter and flour.  “With this sauce,” I would tell her, “You can make some of the best soups and sauces, but today we add the cheese, off the heat, and melt it all together for the noodles.” as I would add about a quarter of the shredded cheese at a time.

“See, Mom!  No more cheese beards for us!” Spooning the creamy, cheesy sauce on elbow macaroni.  I can almost see her mocked expression of “Very well then!”  She looked at me that way all the time.

I am still wary of macaroni and cheese, with full knowledge that today’s standards of mac n cheese is so much more than when I was a kid. The funny thing is, she used to make this dish called “creamed peas.” Peas in a cream sauce, the one mentioned above.  I hated it.  I bet I can make it better.  I think I am going to tackle cream peas.