Simple, Perfect Bread

Simple Peasant Boule

I made cheese soup for Sunday Dinner this week, and baked a nice peasant boule to go with it.

The cheese soup recipe is one my sister gave me many years ago. It was one of the specialty dishes of a restaurant in the town where we grew up (The Brown Jug in Decatur, Illinois). It’s one of my favorites, especially during the autumn and winter, with cooler weather.

The bread is the master recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Claudia had requested the book for Christmas many years ago, but didn’t really get into it. At some point I became interested in trying to rely less on “manufactured food” and picked up the book, thinking that I would bake bread for us every day.

I haven’t picked up that habit yet, but I do love the way these loaves turn out, and nothing could be much simpler to make, once you get your hands on a Danish Dough Whisk, a wooden peel and a baking stone (which are all pretty necessary to the process).

I used 5 1/2 cups of all purpose flour and 1 cup of whole wheat. That gets stirred together with 3 cups of lukewarm water, and 1 1/2 tablespoons each of kosher salt and yeast. Once it rises overnight, I’m ready to bake, and the dough that’s left will keep in the refrigerator for a week or two. I usually get three or four nice sized boules per batch.

One of these days, I’d like to try my hand at sourdough. Claudia gave me a copy of the Tartine Bakery’s book, and I may delve deeper into it one of these days. But it is honestly hard to beat the AB5 bread for ease of preparation, time invested, and the simple, delicious beauty of the finished product. It has the combination of chewy crumb and crunchy crust that I adore, and the addition of some whole wheat flour, or whole wheat and a little rye, gives it just enough funk for my taste.

The bread board was my mother’s, and I believe that it had originally been her grandma’s, so it is likely over 100 years old. It’s something else that I love for its simple beauty.

Cedar Planked Salmon for Sunday Dinner

For Sunday Dinner this week we grilled Cedar Planked Salmon, Brussels Sprouts and baked potatoes. Claudia made a nice salad, and baked an incredibly delicious chocolate and peanut butter cake for dessert.

For the salmon, I simply soak the planks in water for a couple hours, then place them on the grill to char a bit before turning them over and setting the salmon on them to cook for maybe 20 minutes. The salmon had been seasoned with Pork Producers seasoning, Old Bay and a sprinkle of Turbinado Sugar. I did the Brussels Sprouts on the plancha with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

Claudia used a yellow cake mix, adding peanut butter and chocolate to some of the batter, and then drizzling Wilton PB melt over the chocolate frosting.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Yogi Tea

Good for grounding, energy, digestion and detox, “Yogi Tea” is one of our favorite beverages.

Our friend (and Kundalini Yoga teacher) Warren Armstrong introduced us to this marvelous tea. It was popularized in America by followers of Yogi Bhajan. Warren serves it after Gong Healing sessions to help restore balance and equilibrium. It is also excellent for reducing inflammation. I sometimes drink it to help with joint pain or muscle soreness.

I researched recipes online and brewed several batches before arriving at our variation on the process. We brew two quarts at a time, and keep it in the refrigerator to drink either cold (diluted with a little water) or hot (warmed in the microwave with almond milk and honey or raw sugar).

  • 15 whole cloves
  • 20 black peppercorns
  • 3 sticks of cinnamon
  • 20 green cardamom pods
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, chopped
  • 2 bags black tea

Get two quarts of water boiling while preparing the ingredients.

Crack open the cardamom pods with the flat of a chef’s knife, and cube up a five or six inch piece of ginger. There’s no need to peel the ginger first.

Once the water is boiling, add the cloves and let them boil for a minute or so before adding the other ingredients. Add everything else except the black tea, return to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for thirty minutes. Remove from heat, add the tea bags, and cover to steep overnight (or at least six hours). Strain into a container, and add water to replace what has evaporated to make two quarts.

If serving cold, I dilute about half and half with water. For hot tea, the ratio is 2/3rds tea and 1/3rd milk. You may sweeten either, if you’d like. I prefer it without sweetener when cold, but with just a taste of honey or raw sugar when hot.

Field Roast Franks, Chicago Style

Field Roast Frank, Baked Beans

Where I live in Greater Chicagoland, there is a particular way that we eat hot dogs, with yellow mustard, chopped onion, and a sweet fluorescent green relish that looks like something from a toxic waste spill. This is all usually topped with hot sport peppers, a dill pickle spear, some tomato wedges and celery salt for the finishing touch. You get extra points if you place all of this in a steamed bun, and if the hot dog in question is Vienna brand.

I broke with tradition for our Labor Day cookout this year. Instead of grilling burgers or bratwurst, or Vienna dogs, I cooked Field Roast vegan Frankfurters. I grilled off some Italian style chicken patties for the girls (who are carnivores), and made some sweet and savory baked beans as well.

I have to say that these Field Roast products are fabulous. I have never been one for “meat substitutes” and would rather just leave the meat out of a dish (for instance, chili or red sauce) or eat something else. The thing about these products is that they are meat. It’s just that they are grain meat instead of animal flesh.

Highly recommended.

Happy Labor Day!

Potato Curry and Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage Sausages

Potato Curry, Puri, Field Roast Apple SageI’ve just begun to learn to cook Indian fare. Spicy, plant-based dishes seem to give my body what it craves, and I’m enjoying exploring a cuisine that I’d not spent much time with in the past.

I had made potato curry for a weeknight meal on the spur of the moment awhile back, and it turned out right, so I decided to make it this week for Sunday Dinner. Also, I wanted to try out some Field Roast sausages on the recommendation of my friend, Eban Crawford. I picked up a package of their Frankfurters (saving those for tomorrow’s Labor Day cookout), some Brats, and the Smoked Apple Sage Sausages at Kankakee Natural Foods Friday in anticipation.

I also wanted to try making puri, which is an Indian whole wheat bread that has been rolled thin and then deep fried to puff up. The potatoes and puri combination would have been standard prasad at Kainchi Temple in India where an entire generation of Westerners went to learn from the great Indian Saint Maharaj-ji Neem Karoli Baba in the 1960s and 70s. The vegan sausages would not have been served, but I figured they would make a nice accompaniment, and add a little protein to the meal.

Everything turned out right. The curry could have used a little more kick, as far as I’m concerned. The puri bread was good, though I think for the bother, I would just opt for store bought naan from here forward. Maybe it’s one of those things you get a knack for and can speed the process up with experience. At least I’m no longer afraid to deep fry things.

The sausages were outstanding. Texture was amazing – so very much better than TVP products, and no soy involved for folks who are watching their intake. They delivered on a beautifully balanced sage and smoke flavor. They were just a tiny bit sweet to my taste, but I think that’s because I wasn’t expecting it. I’m really looking forward to cooking the franks on the grill tomorrow.

Recipes

Potato and Vegetable Curry

Sauté two big onions, rough chopped, in olive oil with salt and pepper.

Add several cloves of garlic and a couple pieces of fresh ginger, minced, and cook until fragrant.

Add these spices and toast until fragrant and well distributed.

  • 2 t Garam Masala
  • 2 t Curry Powder
  • 1 t Mustard Seed
  • 1 t Ground Coriander
  • 1/2 t Chili Powder
  • 1/2 t Turmeric
  • 1/2 t Paprika

Add 1 Can diced tomatoes.

Add 1 package frozen mixed vegetables.

Add 3 pounds of potatoes, cubed.

Add 2 cups of vegetable stock.

Cover and cook on low simmer until potatoes are tender.

Make a slurry with one can of coconut milk and 3 T cornstarch, add it to the pot and cook uncovered until the curry thickens.

I think next time I would add some red pepper flakes at table to kick up the heat a bit.

Puri

I followed Swasthi’s recipe for these, as shown in the video below.

The frying was easy once I got the oil hot enough, and after the first two or three, the rest of the batch puffed up fine. It was pretty time consuming to prep and roll the dough out, though. As I mentioned above, maybe that’s a matter of experience. I’m glad that I tried them, but not sure I would invest the time again.

Vegetarian Pho

Vegan PhoI love Pho. It’s one of those foods that is not only tasty, but also soothing and comforting.

I learned to make it using beef bones and round roast. Since we have several folks in our family who do not eat meat, I had considered trying to make a vegan version, but since I thought there was no way that I’d be able to duplicate the satisfying richness of the “real thing” I didn’t attempt it until recently.

Lately, though, I’ve been moving more and more to a plant based diet myself. So I reviewed as many recipes as I could, and ultimately realized that I might be able to adapt the beef-based recipe that I already knew and loved.

Once the broth was done, here are the first impressions that I posted on Facebook:

I tried a plain cup as I doled it out into quart jars. Tastes pretty much exactly like the classic version, but lacks a teeny bit of the richness. Thinking that a little ghee or olive oil at table would fix that, if anybody notices. Maybe a little soy to kick up the umami. By the time I load my bowl up with scallions, hot peppers and sriracha, I don’t think it will matter to me.

This turned out to be true, but I really wanted to get it to the point where I could say “this is every bit as delicious as the original, and I don’t miss the beef at all.”

So I added a little more soy, some MSG and a teeny bit of olive oil to the broth, and it was perfect!

Ingredients

  • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/2 teapoons whole cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds<
  • 3 whole star anise (or 1 1/2 teaspoons anise seed and 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seed)
  • 3 red onions, quartered
  • 4 medium carrots, rough chopped
  • 1 (4-inch) piece ginger, cut in 8ths
  • 7 Tablespoons Turbinado Sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons fine sea salt (not iodized)
  • 1 1/2 Gallons Veggie Stock (I used the organic version from Aldi)
  • Soy Sauce
  • MSG

To Cook

Step 1:
Char onion, carrots and ginger either under the broiler or on the grill.

Step 2:
Toast cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, coriander, and star anise in a dry skillet over moderately high heat, shaking pan occasionally, until spices are aromatic, about 1 minute.

Step 3:
Bring stock to a boil in a large pot. Add onions, carrots, ginger, and Turbinao sugar. Simmer for half an hour.
Add spices, and 2 1/2 tablespoons salt; simmer until spices are infused, about 1 hour.

Step 4:
Pour broth through a fine wire-mesh strainer. Stir in remaining 1 1/2 T salt, a little MSG and soy sauce.

This makes a lot of broth. I think next time unless I was serving a huge crowd, I would cut the stock down to a gallon. The good news is that it stores well, in quart jars in the fridge, or even frozen.

To Serve

Prepare dried thin rice noodles (banh pho) per package directions.

Place noodles in the bowl with sautéed mushrooms, tofu, or whatever else you would like, and add hot broth.

Top with:

  • julienne of  Napa Cabbage, bok choy, broccoli or such
  • thinly sliced red onion
  • basil leaves or small basil sprigs
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • sliced scallions
  • Fresno Chiles or Jalapeños, thinly sliced into rings
  • bean sprouts
  • lime quarters
  • sriracha

I’d love to hear back from you if you try this recipe, and any ideas you have for improvement. It definitely goes to the top on my “favorite recipes” list right off the bat, and I can’t wait to cook it again for the folks in our family who weren’t here during this first attempt.

I also look forward to sharing more plant-based fare on this weblog. As someone who has loved flesh-centric cooking for decades, it is both a challenge and a pleasure to work on alternative dishes which are just as satisfying, but fit a little better with a life devoted to health, spirituality and environmental concerns.

I’d always told folks that if I ever post “I’m enjoying this tofu” on social media, it’s code for “Help! I’ve been kidnapped!” But after trying it in this dish, I’m looking forward to what else I can do with it. 🙂

It’s The Cowboy Way

 

Chicken Fried Steak (and Chicken) – Sunday Dinner 14 April 2019

It was Aunt Pat’s last Sunday with us, so we fixed one of her favorites.

Chicken Fried Steak

I had always been afraid of deep frying for some reason, but after a trip to Horseshoe Hill in Fort Worth last year, I had to get over my fears and learn to cook chicken fried steak. Since Claudia isn’t a fan of the steak, I made breaded chicken for her once and it turned out well, and so now I usually make some of each. Aunt Pat’s favorite is chicken, and she asked for this meal as her last in our home before she moves to California later this month.

The recipe is here. I used eye of round steak for mine and Cousin Joe’s, and chicken breasts for the rest of the table. This batch turned out better than any I’ve ever made. In the past, I used a cast iron Dutch Oven on the theory that it would hold a steadier temperature, but I’ve had uneven results, with some cutlets burned a bit and others under done. This time I used a steel pot, and it was much easier to adjust and keep the temperature of the oil right around 350 °F.

Claudia made garlic mashed potatoes, a nice green salad and some killer green beans for sides, and I made a batch of Cowboy Caviar. Wine was a 2014 Crystal Creek Cellars Columbia Valley Riesling, which was a steal from Aldi’s.

Oh, and Claudia made Lemon Lush and Chocolate Lush for dessert.

Lemon Lush

We’ll be missing Aunt Pat at our Sunday Table. We’re thankful for the time that we’ve had together these past couple of years, and send her off to her new adventures in the Golden State with our best wishes and all of our love.

Another Rotisserie Chicken

Sunday Dinner- 31 March 2019

Rotisserie Chicken

This week we inaugurated the Weber Kettle Rotisserie for 2019, with a whole chicken and drip pan potatoes. It was a small fryer this time, a little less than four pounds. I used the Custom Culinary spice for dry brining, and chunks of cherry wood on the coals. I also cut up about four pounds of potatoes and par cooked them in the microwave for 15 minutes before putting them in the pan.

Because of the cold temperature, after an hour the interior of the breast was still only about 147 °F, so I moved everything to the Genesis gas grill, with the chicken on top of the potatoes, to finish.

We served this with one of Claudia’s lovely green salads and raided the freezer for some delicious local sweet corn that our brother-in-law, Jeff, had given us. Wine was Butter Chardonnay, and Aunt Pat brought a lemon meringue pie from Blue’s Cafe for dessert.

St. Paddy’s Day 2019

Sunday Dinner – 17 March 2019

St. Paddy Snow

The scene out our back windows Sunday Morning showed no hint of green, as a late season snow had covered everything in downy white. Inside the mood was festive though, with St. Paddy’s Day Radio from Sirius XM streaming throughout the house. I began peeling carrots about 7:30, and had them sautéing with onions and shallots before eight. I’d picked up two nice flat cut corned beef briskets (Morton’s of Omaha) from Aldi. They went into the pot next, along with malt vinegar, pickling spices and a can of Guinness.

Corned Beef in the Pot

After that simmered for five hours, I added about three pounds of red potatoes and a couple small heads of cabbage cut into wedges.

This was the second year using this recipe from Sunset Magazine. It turned out perfect this time. Last year I’d used cheaper point cuts from Jewel or somewhere, and it was good, but this year’s meal was dramatically better.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Claudia made dark chocolate Guinness cupcakes with vanilla icing and caramel that were awesome.

Guinness Cupcakes

For the wine pairing, surely you jest.

Irish Libations

So fill to me the parting glass, goodnight and joy be with you all.

Pho

Sunday Dinner – 10 March 2019

Pho

I love the Pho from Koi Asian Bistro, and have thought about making my own for years, but was a little intimidated by the process. I actually bought a 12-quart stock pot more than a year ago, for the express purpose of making a batch, but didn’t get around to doing it until this weekend.

I used Chef Qui Tran’s recipe, from Nudo House in St. Louis. I followed the recipe to the letter, with the following exceptions. Not finding knuckle bones, I substituted soup bones and shanks. For the rock candy, I used Turbinado Sugar. Star anise wasn’t available in our town, so I used anise seed and fennel seed. Finally, in place of the flank steak, I used bottom round roast.

We served the broth over rice noodles and thin slices of the beef, with bean sprouts, scallions, red onions, Jalapeño slices, lime wedges, Sriracha and chiffonade of basil.

Claudia made an incredible lime and ginger dressed salad for the side, and a Vietnamese coffee mousse for dessert.

Coffee Mousse

Wine was a beautiful Mendocino County Sauvignon Blanc from Franc Dusak, which paired perfectly. The other choices would have been rosé or Pinot Noir, but I can’t imagine those being any better.

I think the only change I would make next time would be to brown the bones and onions under the broiler a bit before starting the broth. The other note is that this should be served piping hot, which I was inattentive to because of the timing of the meal this time.

A little of the Sriracha goes a long way, by the way. I put some on every bite of meat, which was fine, but by the end of the bowl of broth, it had added quite a bit of spice. Caroline seemed to like it. A drop or two on a tiny slice of meat, and she said “Oooh!”