We’re back!

Sorry about that folks, I’m not sure what happened. I don’t know if I caused it or if it was a cosmic ray flipping a bit on the server. Special thanks to my expert web guru, Joe Fulgham from HolyCow.com. I swear, I owe him a keg of beer at this point.

It seems like comments aren’t working right, but that was happening before the downtime. I’m going to try and fix them tomorrow.

Next up, snails!

Update: Okay, I got antsy and decided to see if I could fix the comments tonight.  Sure enough, they should be working now.  Sadly, I had four comments that are no longer available, but at this point I’m just going to take it in stride and be happy that everything seems to be in working order.

White & Brown Bread

Do not attempt too large a loaf if you have any doubt about your oven’s capabilities.

When I had finished the starter last week, I felt a glimmer of hope: Was I actually going to bake something, and have it turn out well?  History dictated a horrible failure was in the cards.  But I was determined to make this work, for no other reason than to exorcise my baking boogie-men.

I gathered all of my ingredients and portioned them out for mise en place.

A whole pound of the starter (well, a little over if you go by the scale) was pulled out of the starter bucket.  At this point, I’d like to point out how much I wish more recipes asked for weighted amounts of ingredients instead of volume.  It’s a much more precise method, which means that recipes will be that much closer to what the recipe writer intended. Michael Rulhman is a big proponent of scales, and has mentioned them here and here.  If you don’t have a scale for your home cooking, go grab one now.  I foresee them being big in the near future.

To the starter I added yeast, some warm water, lots of bread flour and a pinch of rye flour.  I then mixed everything together, and at the final moment I added what I consider now way too much fine sea salt.  I’m thinking that rather than two tablespoons, they probably meant two teaspoons.  Rather than question the recipe, I followed my marching orders.

The dough was tipped out onto a surface dusted with flour and kneaded for about five minutes.  The directions instructed me to gently and purposefully knead.  Fighting with the bread was right out, as too much or overly aggressive kneading would make the bread tough.

The dough was placed into a clean bowl, covered loosely with plastic wrap and placed in a warm place for 45 minutes.

Once the time had elapsed, I kneaded the dough gently again for another five minutes, and then wrestled it into two poorly shaped loaves.  The loaf-like shapes were covered in plastic wrap and allowed to rise for another 45 minutes before I placed them into a hot oven.

Halfway through the baking time I sprayed the loaves with water, which is done to improve the crust.  I tried to get a few images of this part of the process, but unfortunately none of them came out very well.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I MADE BREAD.

That’s right, I made honest to goodness, real, edible, tasty bread.  Here’s a cross section:

It was a nice, dense bread with a fine crumb and a crispy crust.  On top of that, the absolutely divine smell of baking bread permeated every square inch of our house.

Since the steps for making the brown bread are almost exactly the same as the white bread, I’ll just show you that lightning managed to strike twice.

Now, both breads tasted fine, reminding me very much of the french bread I can buy from local bakeries.  The excess salt was noticeable though, more so in the brown bread than the white for some reason.  It didn’t make the bread inedible by any stretch of the imagination, but at the same time it was a bit frustrating that my bread wasn’t perfect.  I took some into work on Friday, and gave samples to my co-workers.  They too noticed the salt, but everyone seemed to not mind it as much as I did.  I was interested in the opinion of one co-worker in particular.  His father is a retired french baker, so when Jerome told me that I had done a decent job for an amateur, I was thrilled.

Maybe, just maybe baking isn’t as hard as I had feared.

Two down, one hundred and three to go.

The Starter

Here are some bready pearls of wisdom passed on to me, and now to you, by Manuel Monade, baker. This is stage one in the baking process, a way of improving the flavor and texture of your crumb, and establishing the amount of yeast you need to use. So a little forward thinking–this needs to be prepared the day before you make your actual dough (of which this is an element) for your bread.

I had planned to write this post Thursday night, but unfortunately came down with a terribly case of food poisoning. I won’t get into the gruesome details, but I now appreciate the simple pleasure of not being in the restroom for the majority of the day.

I must confess something: I am terrified of baking. Absolutely, positively, scared to death of it. I find cooking to be relatively simple as long as you follow the instructions, and pay attention to what you are doing. With baking, I follow the directions, I agonize over every speck of flour, and still the recipe comes out half baked and half burnt. Bakers will always have my utmost respect and admiration, because I just do not have the baker mojo.

If you’d like to see some real bakers, check out Tuesdays with Dorie. Laurie and her compadres always do an amazing job, and hopefully reading her blog will have rubbed off on me a little bit.

Now, for my next update I’ll be attempting to bake bread, so of course I needed to first make the starter. Here I’ve got everything I need ready. Water, bread flour, yeast, and a plastic container. I made sure that the water was very close to blood temperature, and then poured it into the container.

Next, a pinch of Fleischmann’s yeast was added to the water, which I let sit for a few minutes. I don’t know if this type of yeast needs to bloom or not, but I’d rather not chance it.

Finally, multiple cups of bread flour went into the container on top of the water and yeast. I slowly mixed everything together with my hands until I had absorbed all of the water. Momentary panic set in when I noticed that my starter was over all, pretty dry. “Starters aren’t supposed to be dry!”, I cried out loud. So I measured out an extra cup of warm water and added it to the starter. Then another, and with that I had achieved, “moist”.

Now, I know what you’re going to say. I really do. “That looks like _________!” Okay, that was a little ambiguous, but trust me, I ran through a gauntlet of terms trying to describe the above picture. Your description most likely came up at some point. I’m just going to say “bookpaste” and leave it at that. The plastic container was covered and placed into the fridge.

Tuesday, we’ll see how my loaves come out. If you’re a baker, or know a baker, or have recently been in a bakery, pray for me. I’ll need it.

I’ll admit, this isn’t a very complex recipe, but it’s in the book, so it counts.

One down, one hundred and five to go.

Mussels Grilled On A Barbecue

Ideally you are on a Hebridean island, eating mussels you have picked and cooked on driftwood. If this cannot be, the barbecue in the backyard will suffice very well.

P.S. This works just as well for large clams or razor clams.

Hopefully, everyone–in America, at least–had a great weekend with lots of outdoor grilling, cold beer and fireworks. My wife and I managed to hit the trifecta on the Fourth, our first time in a good many years.

The next evening, right before I headed to the market to pick the mussels, we had a pleasant surprise in the fact that our Texas Everbearing Fig Tree decided to finally gift us with scads of ripened fruit.

While we picked the figs off the tree, I kept thinking about an update over on Hank Shaw’s blog that mentioned wrapping ripe figs in prosciutto and then grilling them. I mentally added prosciutto to my shopping list.

Upon returning home, I sliced, wrapped, and scattered the little bites over a heating up grill before I began inspecting and cleaning my mussels

Now, I don’t know if it was the excitement from doing my first seafood recipe of the book, or hunger pushing me to quickly get food on the table so we could eat, but I totally forgot to take any pictures of the mussels in their raw form. This is a very simple recipe though, so good mussel pictures will be along shortly. I did make sure to discard any open mussels that refused to close, as they quickly become toxic after they die. No food poisoning for me, thank you.

Mr. Henderson asks us to make a simple dressing to toss with the mussels once they’ve cooked. Lemon juice, garlic, young thyme, olive oil and a bit of seasoning. A quick whisking and I ran outside to pull the fig-prosciutto bites off the grill.

They turned out beautifully if you don’t mind me saying so–salty, meaty, sweet little tidbits. Next time I’ll be trying the figs with blue cheese, but wrapping them in cured meat is no terrible thing, I promise.

Finally, the mussels! Mr. Henderson mentions that using a wooden fire is highly preferred, but unfortunately I only have a gas grill. I’ll be making this again at my parents at some point, as they do have a proper barbecue pit. The mussels were spread over the grates and I waited for them to open up.

I ran inside and quickly pulled the leaves off of a bunch of celery, and chopped two big handfuls of parsley. Back outside, as the mussels slowly opened up I pulled them off the grill, and then tossed them with the dressing, celery leaves and parsley.

Here’s the final dish with a bit of bread for sopping up the mussel liquor and dressing, and a nice cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc. The dressing and greens perfectly complimented the briny, slightly sweet flavor of the mussels. The celery leaves in particular reminded me of Bay Seasoning.

My wife and I ended up almost polishing off a total of four pounds of mussels that evening, they were so good. If you’re looking to start summer off with a simple yet delicious grill recipe, you’d be hard pressed to find a better one than this.

One down, one hundred and six to go.