Archive for the 'Recipes' Category

A Basic Sourdough

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Several years ago, when I was still working in a restaurant where I occasionally had a shift baking, I did pretty well at maintaining a sourdough starter.  Then, and it’s tough to remember the exact sequence of events, but I think that breaking my leg was somehow involved, I killed the yeast.  Found it one day submerged in a pool of pink slime.  I can’t say I was really devastated, or even surprised.  I’d gotten off track with my starter, hadn’t even glanced at it in well nigh a month at that point.

Still, it was nice to be able to whip up bread with nothing but flour, water, and salt.

I’ve been maintaining a new starter for about a month now.  It was a gift from Brett (of the chocolate sourdough fame) and it has been pretty easy to maintain.  So far, at least.  And I’ve made some fantastic bread and an amazing pizza crust from the resulting dough.

It’s often been said that baking is a science and one must rigorously follow formulae to get the desired result.  I disagree.  If I were to have rigorously followed the formula for pain au levain that I used as a starting point for my dough making, I’d have come up with a ‘dough’ that more closely resembled a puddle.  “Resist the temptation to add more flour,” the recipe said, “this dough should be quite soft.”  I’m quite content to have ignored that bit of advice.

A couple of batches of bread feeling out the consistency under my belt, I decided to take more careful stock of the measurements.  Perhaps get a formula of my own that is somewhat replicable.  No idea if this will work for you, but it seems to do the trick for me.

Basic Sourdough Formula

  • 38 ounces (by weight) fed starter
  • 3 lb unbleached all purpose flour
  • 25 oz water
  • 2 Tbl kosher salt
  • 4 oz additional flour
  1. Your starter should have been fed within the last 2-6 hours.  You should have measured out about 12 oz of it and returned it to its home in a glass canning jar in the fridge.  The 38 remaining ounces are enough to make about 3 loaves of bread and 2 pizzas.  If that’s more bread than you want, give some of it away, or discard some of the starter and reduce proportionately the remaining ingredients.
  2. Use cold water, preferably water that has had several hours to sit since having come from the tap, so that the chlorine included in most tap water will have had a chance to dissipate.  Or use bottled water if you must, but from a waste reduction standpoint, I would highly encourage against that.  Heat the water to 100 degrees F.
  3. Combine the water and the starter.  Add the flour and mix.  Cover with a clean dishcloth and let sit about 30 minutes.
  4. Mix the salt into the dough by kneading it on a heavily floured surface (that’s what the additional 4 oz of flour are for).  Don’t put all 4 oz down at once.  Start with about 1/3 of it and add more as needed.  When you have a dough that is smooth, elastic, and only a little bit sticky, return it to the bowl, cover it with the dish cloth, and let it rise for an hour or two.
  5. Gently deflate the dough by separating it from the side of the bowl and pushing down on it gently.  Cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator overnight, or up to 3 days.
  6. Remove from the fridge.  Divide into portions and let sit at room temperature to warm back up.
  7. For pizza:
    1. Grease the bottoms of two standard half sheet trays.  Stretch the dough by hand to cover most of the area.
    2. Spread with sauce, sprinkle with cheese, and add the toppings of your choice.
    3. Bake in a preheated 450 degree F oven for about 30 minutes or until done.
  8. For bread:
    1. Shape loaves.  Let proof for about 30 minutes to an hour.
    2. Heat cast iron pans flipped upside down in a 400 degree F oven, plus a small cast iron pan rightside up at the very bottom.
    3. When the bread has proofed, transfer it to the hot cast iron pan bottoms.  If doing two loaves on the same pan, allow adequate space so that they don’t grow together in the oven.  Should that happen, the parts that are ‘kissing’ will still be doughy when everything else is done.
    4. Pour some water into the rightside up pan and also scatter some on the floor of the oven.  A huge cloud of steam will result.  Close the oven door quickly to keep it contained.  Watch out for steam burns!
    5. Set the timer for 20 minutes.  When it rings, remove the pan of water from the oven.  Steam for the first 20 minutes will help to produce a beautiful crust, but you need dry heat to finish it.  Set the timer for another 20 minutes.
    6. The bread is done when golden brown with a crackling crust and it sounds hollow when thumped from beneath.  Remove it to a rack to cool.

If you want to know how to start a sourdough starter, there are plenty of great resources that you can find to guide you.  Strange but true culinary school tidbit… when I was in the baking rotation of culinary school, the sourdough recipe they taught involved no starter.  Instead, they added pickle juice to the dough to give it tang.  I was incensed.  “That’s not a real sourdough!” I protested.  The chef instructor said, “wait til you taste the bread.  That dough really is sour!”


What’s For Dessert? Nothing!

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Except that by Nothing, I definitely mean something good.

The name for this dish is a side effect of asking a 2-year-old what he thinks a new dish should be called. 

I guess it shows that Angstrom has a sense of humor, though, because the second time I made it, he laughed every time I told him that I was putting Nothing in the oven and giving him Nothing on a plate.  Rory suggested I ought to give this dish a different name, but I sort of agree with Angstrom: Nothing is a funny name for something to be called.


  • 1 butternut squash or 2 acorn squashes, halved and seeds scooped out
  • 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup + 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tsp + 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp + 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 2 dashes nutmeg
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.  Place squash cut side down in a casserole dish.  Add about 1/2 inch water.  Bake for an hour.
  2. Combine 1/4 cup brown sugar with flour, oats, 1/4 cup butter, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ginger, and one dash nutmeg to make streusel topping.
  3. Let squash cool, then scoop out of its skin with a spoon.  It should come out pretty much mashed.  Combine in a mixing bowl with 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, and 1 dash nutmeg.
  4. Stir cranberries into squash mixture, then spread into casserole dish.  Top with pecan halves and streusel topping.  Bake in 375 F oven for 30-45 minutes and serve.  Invite toddlers to your table so that you get a big laugh when you make a big deal out of serving Nothing for dessert.

Cast Iron Makes a Huge Difference

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

I got some church lady pierogies this week and brought them home to cook.  I always cook lots of vegetables to go with them.  This week, it was onions, garlic, mushrooms, hot pepper, and bell peppers.  My copper-bottomed stainless steel was out and handy, so I used it.

I got about halfway through adding the vegetables into the pan and realized that it was getting a bit crowded, so I grabbed my ceramic-lined cast iron off of the pot rack (the only cast iron that hangs—the rest sit in the cupboard being so heavy that they’ve bowed the cupboard floor.  Whenever we get around to redoing the kitchen, we’re going to have to install a specially reinforced cupboard with custom-built organizational slots to accommodate my collection).  I fired up the heat under that pan and transferred about half of what was in the stainless pan to the new one once it got hot.

Even though my stainless pan was over the so-called ‘power burner’ on my stove, and even though I actually had more gas burning under it than I did my cast iron pan, the vegetables in the stainless pan were cooking but not taking on any color while the ones in the cast iron pan were taking on a beautiful caramel hue.  I wound up doing multiple transfers/ retransfers between the two pans to get all of the veg to caramleize properly.

My Standard Pierogie Vegetable Mix Recipe

Slice onions, garlic, mushrooms and peppers.  Add about a half stick of butter to a hot pan.  Once it has mostly melted, put the onions into the pan along with a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste.  Cook over mediumish heat, stirring about once a minute.  Once the onions have softened and are starting to brown, add the garlic.  Cook for 1-3 minutes until it starts to brown.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have shrunk and taken on some color.  (if your pan is getting too full, divide between two pans).  Add the peppers and cook until they have softened.

One-pan instructions

Remove the cooked vegetables to a plate to hold.  Add the other half stick of butter to the pan.  Brown the pierogies in the butter, flipping just once.  When the pierogies have browned, return the vegetables tot he pan.  optional: Add chicken or vegetable stock and reduce over high heat to a sauce.

Two-pan instructions:

Put all of the vegetables in one of the pans.  Add chicken stock and reduce over medium-high heat to a sauce.  Meanwhile, add the other half stick of butter to the now-empty pan.  Brown the pierogies in here, flipping only once.  When they are browned, transfer them to the vegetable-filled pan, arranging them in an attractive radiating star pattern across the top of the pan for family-style service.

Amazing Corn and Mushrooms

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Thank you to everyone who stopped by the Slow Foods tent at Farmers@Firehouse today!  I had a great time cooking.  Two of the dishes I made were featured in the Farm Stand Project recipe booklet; this dish was not.  One of the samplers asked me what I call it.  “I call it onions, garlic, mushrooms, and corn,” I said, “but you’re welcome to help me give it a better name.”

“I think you should just call it Amazing,” she said.

So, without further ado…

Amazing Corn and Mushrooms

♦ 1 onion, diced
♦ about 8 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
♦ 4 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
♦ about 3 oz. chicken of the woods, diced (or substitute other wild mushroom; or crimini)
♦ 4 ears’ worth of corn, sliced from cobs
♦ canola oil for sauteeing (about 3-4 Tbl)
♦ salt, pepper, and ginger
♦ fresh oregano and rosemary to taste, minced

  1. Heat a pan over medium-high heat.  Add the oil, let it get hot.  Add pepper, ginger, and onions.  Stir onions to coat with oil and spices, then add a pinch of salt.
  2. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes or until they start to brown.
  3. Add garlic, cook for 1-2 minutes, or until it softens and starts to brown slightly.
  4. Add mushrooms.  Turn heat down slightly to medium-low to medium.  Cook mushrooms, stirring occasionally, for about 7-10 minutes or until they look like they’re about done.  Don’t hurry them, but don’t burn them either.  When it comes down to it, getting the most out of your fungus is more art than science; but here is my current best advice for cooking mushrooms.
  5. When the mushrooms hit their stride, add the corn.  Turn the heat up a bit.  Cook it for 2-3 minutes, stir in fresh herbs, and serve.


Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Pierogies are a prime example of classical Pittsburghian cuisine.  Pierogies are little pasta pockets, generally containing mashed potatoes plus something else.

Flavors that have a place in the local canon are: potato and cheese; potato and onion; and potato and sauerkraut.  A ‘modern classic’ is potato and jalapeno.  These 4 flavors are represented in the “Great Pittsburgh Pierogi Race N’At” during every Pirates home game by the mascot characters Cheese Chester, Oliver Onion, Sauerkraut Saul, and Jalapeno Hannah.  Basically, pierogies are a part of being a Pittsburgher.

Everybody’s grandmother makes them around here, whether at home or as a fundraiser for their church (going price at one local congregation: ~$8/dozen).  I think it’s the long tradition behind these fried potato raviolis that made me hesitant to try my hand at making them before now.  But, with a college reunion approaching for which attendees are supposed to bring a food that represents their current region of residence, I decided that the time had come to make my version of this local delicacy, and I’ve got to say, I was quite pleased with the results.

I made 2 versions–potato and cheddar, and my own twist on the theme: sweet potato with sauteed mushrooms, kale, and prosciutto.  The pictures are from the potato and cheddar pierogies, but the technique is the same no matter what type of filling you use.


Peach-Blueberry Crumb Cake

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Crumb cake has long been one of my favorite breakfast items.  The recipe my mom makes is fantastic, and I have used it for many years to consistent results.  I’ve toyed around with it some: adding spices to the crumb mix, for instance.  But it wasn’t until this past weekend, when I was staring at mountains of peaches and blueberries whilst pondering breakfast that I tried adding fruit into the mix.

Wow!  So good I ate nearly half of it myself.

My mother sometimes doesn’t like it when I monkey around with her recipes.  This particular edit to her recipe seems so intuitive that I don’t know why I never tried it sooner.

Peach-Blueberry Crumb Cake

♦ 3 cups flour
♦ 1 Tbl baking powder
♦ 1 tsp salt
♦ 1/2 tsp cinnamon
♦ 1/2 tsp ginger
♦ 1/4 tsp nutmeg
♦ pinch cardamom
♦ 1 1/2 cups sugar (split between white and brown)
♦ 1 stick butter
♦ 3 large eggs
♦ 1 cup milk
♦ 2 tsp rum
♦ 2 cups sliced fresh or frozen peaches
♦ 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Grease 2 x 9-inch pie plates or 1 x 12″ cast iron skiklet
2. Mix all the dry ingredients together.
3. Use fingers or dough cutter to blend butter into flour mixture, like you would to start a pie crust or biscuits.
4. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of this mix and set to the side. This will become the crumb topping.
5. Beat eggs in a small bowl. Blend in milk and rum.
6. Stir liquid into dry until just combined. There should be lumps.
7. Fold blueberries into batter.
8. Spread half of the batter into the pie plates or skillet. Spread peaches across the batter evenly, then top with the rest of the batter.
9. Spread crumbs across top. They will be thickly spread. This is good.
10. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.

Serve warm. Leftovers are best wihin 24 hours. They get somewhat sticky after that. Leftovers best heated briefly in toaster oven.

Naturally Colored Icing

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

One of the things that consistently annoys me about foods marketed toward children are the ridiculous amounts of artificial coloring in them.  This is especially offensive in light of research pointing to ways in which artificial colors exacerbate hyperactivity in children and can even be a contributing factor in the severity of symptoms in autistic children.  Artificial colors are coal tar byproducts (as is saccharine, by the way), and really have no resemblance to actual foods.  So what then to do about providing children with fun and interesting colors to eat?  Why not take advantage of the wide range of fruits and vegetables that have natural colorants to produce colorful foods that are also more flavorful as a result of drawing their colors from real foods?

The cake pictured above has no artificial colors in its icing.  It is iced with blueberry-flavored purple icing; black-currant flavored pink icing; and cocoa-flavored brown icing.

The easiest way to make naturally colored icing is to build the color into your butter.  Follow my instructions for the black currant beurre blanc and let the resulting butter cool to room temperature, then use it to start the icing.  The general formula for icing will be 4 cups of confectioners sugar per 1/2 lb of butter.  1/2 lb of butter is enough to ice a 10 x 15 layer cake.  Make smaller quantities of icing for accent colors.

Here is a partial list of fruit-based colors that could be made this way:

Purple—blueberries and red wine

Pink—black currants and white wine; or strawberries and white wine, mixed with some plain butter

Red—strawberries and white wine

Green—kiwis and white wine

Yellow—saffron-infused white wine or turmeric whipped into the butter

Orange—combine red and yellow butters; or for a paler shade, use peaches.

Blue— This is not a natural color in food.  It can, however, be achieved through chemistry: cook beets down with a base (such as baking soda).  They (and the water they are cooked in) will turn blue.  Reduce this water to almost nothing, refresh it with a half cup of white wine, then reduce again.  Whip the butter into it per the beurre blanc instructions.  It will not be a royal blue, but the hue can be adjusted by combining the resulting colored butter with other butter when making the icing.

The best part about using naturally-colored icing is the flavor that goes along with it.  The purple icing was not just a visual component of this cake, but added a vibrant blueberry flavor that really was a fantastic addition to the final result.

Zucchini Aurora

Friday, July 20th, 2012

I started making this zucchini preparation last summer, but named it this year, inspired by 1) the fact that my wife (Aurora) enjoys it so much and 2) a fantastic novel I recently finished which revolves around the fact that Escoffier failed to name a single culinary creation after his wife.

You can make this with yellow squash as easily as with Zucchini, but “squash Aurora” sounds like a command to do her bodily harm….

Zucchini Aurora

♦ 1-2 zucchini



olive oil

♦ ~1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

♦ minced fresh herbs to taste (basil, rosemary, and/or thyme)

  1. Combine the minced fresh herbs with the parmesan cheese and set aside.
  2. Cut the zucchini into approximately 1/3-inch slabs, on the bias (aka at an angle).  Accomplish this by leaving the squash flat on the cutting board and cutting it in diagonal pieces.
  3. Season the squash with salt and pepper and drizzle it with olive oil.
  4. Either sear it in a small amount of oil in a hot pan (seared zucchini Aurora) or grill it over medium-hot flame (grilled Zucchini Aurora).  In either case, flip it when the one side is golden brown.
  5. Remove from your chosen heat source when the second side is golden brown.  Plate it with the second side to cook up.  Sprinkle it immediately with the herb & cheese mixture.  The cheese will melt on the hot surface.
  6. Serve.

The result of this simple preparation is complex in flavor, and deserves to be a timeless classic firmly ensconced in every household’s repertoire.  Make it this weekend, and you will be hooked and continue to prepare it every zucchini season until your dying days.  It’s just that good.

Building a Better Waffle through Science

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

I made some of the best peach waffles I’ve ever had the other evening.

Ok, so that boast isn’t that tough to back up (peach waffles rarely show up on menus), but these waffles were good, and in large part I credit that to putting science to work for me.  I followed my basic waffle recipe for the most part, but with these alterations:

  1. I added the zest of 1 lime to the egg whites when they were frothy.  Acid helps egg whites to hold their peaks (that’s why many meringue recipes call for cream of tartar).  The lime flavor was also a nice touch.
  2. Instead of adding the spices into the flour mixture, I melted them with the butter.  The fat-soluble flavanoids infused the butter, resulting in better flavor.
  3. I drizzled the butter into the egg yolks while whisking constantly.  The yolks emulsified the fat, so that it did not rise to the top when the milk was added.
  4. I diced a peach and added it into the batter.  I recommend getting lots of peaches as they enter peak season, slicing them, freezing them, and using them all year round so that your family can experience the taste sensation that is these waffles even in the dead of winter.

Make my waffles.  They’re f-bombingly delicious.

Black Currant Infused Beurre Blanc

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Perhaps it would be more accurate to call this stunningly bright sauce a “Beurre Pourpre” as it most certainly is not white, but it’s made with white wine, so call it what you will.

  • 2 ounces brandy
  • 1 pint black currants
  • white wine to cover the currants
  • 1/2 cup white wine (in addition to the white wine already listed)
  • 1/2 lb unsalted butter cut into chunks and kept cold
  1. Heat a small saucepan.  Add the brandy and flame it.
  2. When the flames die off, add the currants and the first dose of wine (enough to cover them).
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until almost dry (will be fairly syrupy).  Refresh with the 1/2 cup of wine, being certain to use it to get all syrup stuck to the sides of the pan.
  4. Strain through cheesecloth.
  5. Return to a boil, then let simmer until syrupy.
  6. Whisk in the butter over low heat.  Add only a few small cubes at a time, whisk until they are melted and incorporated, then add a few more.  Repeat until the entire half pound of butter has been incorporated and the sauce has a luxurious texture and flavor.
  7. Remove from heat and keep in a warm (not hot) place until service.  Whisk occasionally as it sits.  If transferring to a different container for service, make sure that the receiving vessel is warm lest the sauce break.
  8. Leftovers of this sauce are best used as a spread—it is very difficult to successfully reheat this sauce without it breaking.

Here is the sauce, in context, as served with steamed Maine lobster.  It would also match well with many other types of fish; french toast, pancakes, or waffles; muffins or popovers; poultry cooked with a cinnamon spice rub; etc.