Sourdough Challa – A Miracle, Period!

I never did talk about the sourdough challah I tried (and miserably failed) to bake last summer. Blach! But onward and forward, I tried again yesterday, inspired by a fellow baker who opened a discussion on the topic in the ‘Northwest Sourdough Forum,’ which was inspired by another fellow baker who followed Maggie Glezer’s sourdough challah recipe and posted her most awesome results in ‘The Fresh Loaf.’

Needless to say, I would not have been surprised by a failure just as spectacular as my last, so imagine my surprise when I got a bouncing baby challah that had managed to rise and produce a lovely flavor and texture in spite of, well, me!

Click a pic to enlarge it.

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In all her glory! Umm, its, I mean its, but really, to me, challah is always a girl! Okay, so not “all” her glory – I couldn’t stop myself, but there’s only a baker’s ‘couple’ of slices missing.. ๐Ÿ™‚

challah_130323_end-blisters_1177

What a lovely bottom! Check out the deep reddish blush and the blistering freckles – the hallmarks of a successful sourdough bread:

challah_130323_crumb_1197
The crumb, pillowy, yet with body – nothing wonderbread-ish here!

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The one imperfection – some splitting – minor issue, but a good enough reason to bake another one of these beauties soon – is tomorrow too soon?

The really tough part in all of this was not just eating the whole thing then and there. As it was first ready to eat around 2:30 in the a.m., I got first dibs. Slathered with butter, it was hands down better that any cake I’ve ever eaten. It’s sad that she won’t live long enough to bear little baby ‘French Toasts.’ Oh well, maybe next time? Heh, who am I kidding?!

Sourdough – A Miracle of Life?





Sourdough Starter and Bread

A basic sourdough bread requires very little: An active sourdough starter, flour, water, and salt. From this basic formula, many recipes can be derived, but in effect, we are looking at three ingredients (the starter is flour and water, so yes, three.)

It takes about two weeks of “feeding” the starter daily to get it to become active enough to raise an entire bread, but you can use it earlier to make things like pancakes, scones, etc. It takes a couple to several months for the starter to mature further (loose estimate as this subject is still under debate.)

The Starter


  • I begin with a few starters with, each with a different flour, one with "all-purpose-flour,", one with "bread-flour," "whole-wheat-flour," and "rye-flour."

    Early Days

  • Project Sourdough

    Coming Along

  • Project Sourdough

    The Conversion

  • Project Sourdough

    What a Beauty

For me, the novelty never wears off. Each loaf is a “fresh” experience. I am amazed anew at each “real” bread that comes out of my oven, I marvel at my sandwich as I’m eating it. I don’t know of too many endeavours more satisfying than baking bread at home, and baking sourdough bread is definitely at the top of my food pyramid!

The bread below is based on the “Basic Sourdough Bread” recipe from page 444 of Rose Levy Barenbaum’s “The Bread Bible.” The timeline of the recipe did not make sense to me and I am still tweaking it, but the bread rocks!

The Bread


  • The Bread

    The Bread

  • The "Crumb" is the texture of the bread inside

    The "Crumb"”

  • The crust of the sourdough is supposed to blister

    The Crust

  • The sandwich is why we do it!

    The Sandwich

Six Cats Rescued from Thorncliffe Park, Toronto

UPDATE: January 10, 2012 – The last one has proved somewhat elusive. Several attempts to trap her have failed. Today we learned why: Kittens! This last kitty is a mama. She was spotted with two kittens today. It is possible there are more back in the den. It is important to find where the kittens are “stashed” before taking the mum or else we risk leaving the kittens defenseless and without a food source, both conditions that would likely lead to their deaths. Hopefully, I will soon report that mum and babies are all safe and warm inside!

UPDATE: January 2, 2012 – We got another one today, a youngster, So Eight now. That’s a good thing because the youngsters stand much less of a chance in the shocking cold weather that is hitting us tonight! A total of eight now, nine withe the one that was delivered This little girl is now with the rest of her pals at Special Ones Cat Rescue, and now there’s two to go (as far as we know!)

UPDATE: January 2, 2012 – We got another one today, a youngster, So Eight now. That’s a good thing because the youngsters stand much less of a chance in the shocking cold weather that is hitting us tonight! A total of eight now, nine with the one that was delivered. This little girl is now with the rest of her pals at Special Ones Cat Rescue, and now there’s two to go (as far as we know!)


UPDATE: January 1, 2012 – We saw a big girl we thought could potentially be a mama and we were worried that there might be kittens inside that huge wall space. We did not want to take a mom and thus leave behind kittens, so we hired big cuddly Gemil Lacroix from G1000 Home Inspections who showed up for the job with a boroscope, which is a camera with something that looks like a very thin elephant trunk. It’s the “trunk” that goes into the places we can’t and provides us with a view of what we could not see on our own. Gemil was very kind to come out on this cold New Year’s Day and did an awesome job looking for the babies. We could tell it wasn’t “just a job” for Gemil, that he truly cared about helping the kitties. In the end, we did not find any babies so we are now free to trap this big girl and finally bring her inside into the warmth.

UPDATE: December 28, 2011 – We got another one! So Seven now. This one too went to Special Ones Cat Rescue

THE STORY BEGINS HERE:


An urgent plea went out to all the rescue-groups/rescuers that cats at Thorncliffe Park in Toronto were being abused by both residents and management, not to mention coyotes.

Lilly and I went out there with traps and carriers and were met by Jackie, the woman who had been feeding them on location for some time. Jackie took us to the hole in the wall in which the kitties have been living (see photo on the right,) and we began to set up our traps. Jackie was able to get some of them into carriers as these cats are friendly cats, trusting little souls used to being fed by a human.

All in all, it took just a little over three hours to get six cats, which is actually relatively quick for that many cats, and we did count our blessings, and fingers and toes as we were thawing them.. Three hours can end up feeling like a lot more when it’s as cold as it was that day.

Elke arrived just in time to transport them to their destination Special Ones Cat Rescue in Oakville, Ontario – thank you Karen for acting so quickly on this one!

When we left, there was one cat left behind. The next day two more cats “arrived.” We are going back tomorrow to get the rest. Our goal is to have everybody inside before the new year.. ๐Ÿ™‚

To be continued..

Here’s the video:

Can I Be Your Friend?

In real life, it is sometimes easier to have a difficult conversation with someone over the telephone, or even in a letter, rather than face to face. Is it merely the physical distance that gives us more confidence to speak our minds? Maybe it’s the fact that our facial expressions cannot be scrutinized.

For whatever reason, it seems that we tend to feel more comfortable with expressing ourselves when our audience is at arm’s length. In fact, with the advent of social media, we have turned this type of communication into an art form. Our social customs are rewriting themselves. What we couldn’t fathom doing in real life is entirely acceptable online. This is where this video comes in, demonstrating quite comically how different our online life is from our real social lives.

Why isn’t Water an Ingredient in Recipes?

I came across a recipe for an “Olive-Oil Cake with Candied Orange” by “Epicurious” on Twitter today. I have made oil based cakes before, but never with olive oil, and I’m curious how the olive-oil impacts the flavour of the cake.

I have been meaning to try an Orange Olive-Oil Cake” recipe I had seen by Anna Olson on the Food Network Canada for a while now, so I was curious, but doubly so because of the “candied oranges” which we love at our house.

So I checked out the recipe for the candied oranges first – here is the ingredient list:

Candied orange and syrup:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup orange blossom honey
3 tablespoons green cardamom pods, crushed
1 small orange, thinly sliced

And here are the preparation instructions:

For candied orange and syrup:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring sugar, honey, cardamom, and 3 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves.

And there it is: “3 cups water,” clear as day. Now, granted, I do NOT have to go to the well for this water, but what if did? I mean, now you tell me I need water?

Why isn’t water an ingredient?

Chrome Broweser Goes “Off Screen” Fixed/Resolved

Chrome Browser Gone Off Screen Fixed/Resolved

UPDATE (July 11, 2013): I was asked the following as a response to this post: “How do you click the chrome screen if it isnโ€™t even on the screen.” Fair question. Answer: If youโ€™re on a Windows machine, use the key combination ALT+TAB till you are positioned on โ€œChromeโ€ (and there’s probably an equivalent action for other machines.) You wonโ€™t see the window, but it will now be the โ€œactiveโ€ window. From there follow the instructions in the post.

  • Follow the instructions at the top of the post (in the July 11th, 2013 update, in maroon) in order to make the Chrome browser the “active” window before continuing with the next step.
  • Press Alt + Space: This opens the the “Window Menu.”
  • Choose “move” either by clicking on the option if you can see the menu, or by hitting the “M” key.
  • Hit one of the “arrow” keys, the one with a direction opposite to where your browser window has gone (mine went to the right, so I hit the “left arrow” key) enough times until you can see the enough of the browser to be able to drag it.
  • Drag the browser to the desired position.
  • Close the browser (this is important in order to ensure that this new position of the browser is saved and will be the position of the browser the next time you open it. Skipping this step means that the last saved position is “off screen”. Should the brower close improperly, it will re-open in the last saved position, that is “off screen” and this procedure will need to be repeated.)
  • Re-open you browser and proceed normally.
  • Pens Made from Recycled Paper

    I recently received an environmentally friendly pen made from recycled paper from
    Stone-Tile International.

    Seeing this delighted me in a hopeful kind of way! I was born with an intense dislike for waste and this personality quirk of mine came way before the needs for such measures arose.

    Click a picture to view enlarged version.

    Kudos Stone-Tile, it makes me very happy to see business making changes in the right direction.

    A Hawk On My Bird Feeder

    This big guy suddenly landed on the bird feeder.

    He wasn’t actually interested in the bird food – he was looking to score the small rodents it attracts. I have already seen him up in the high branches of a tree crunching on a mouse once before.

    It’s a lousy shot – the iPhone camera only goes so far and by the time I grabbed my “grown-up” camera, the hawk was gone.

    The picture on the left is the original picture. Not only is it a cellphone photo, but also it is a gloomy rainy day. The picture on the right is my effort to improve the one on the left. I think it looks better – don’t you?

    If only I could fix the outside too! Spring 2011 in Toronto has been so wet I might as well have been living in London! I would have said the tropics, but not only has it been wet, it’s been cold too.

    Food Network: Student in need of guidance!

    macaroni

    I had recently responded to a request made by a student on “The Food Network” forum. My response ended up being rather rounded and it has since occurred to me to share it here. If this helps even one more student, I am gratified!

    In the photo: Classic student food – pasta!


    The Request

    Hi fellow foodies-

    I am a student who lives alone- I have noticed that it is much harder to shop and cook meals for one person, especially on a budget. My questions are:
    1) What are some staple ingredients that I should always keep in my kitchen?
    2) Are there any key simple recipes for 1 person meals?
    3) Any tips on what to shop for? Which foods keep longer, or how to make foods keep longer? I hate buying food that ends up getting thrown away or spoiled since I don’t manage to eat it.
    4) What are some tips for dishes I can make that I won’t get sick of?

    Thanks for any advice or tips.

    The Response

    Shopping:

    • Shop at “No Frills” Supermarkets, or better yet, Asian ones, they’re much cheaper than mainstream grocery stores.
    • Check flyers and buy stuff when it’s on sale, especially stuff that keeps for a long time, like staples, canned goods, oil, foil paper, etc.
    • Learn prices so you can recognize a good deal when you see it.
    • Buy family pack meats on sale and separate into individual portions and freeze, then you can pull out ‘singles’.
    • Get someone to take you to Costco, but don’t go nuts there – not everything is good to get in bulk. Be practical about what you can actually use.
    • Remember: IT’S NOT A DEAL IF YOU DON’T NEED IT!
    • Get friends to bring food gifts, especially when they come over to eat. Ask for a chunk of blue cheese, smoked-salmon, nuts, almond-butter, stuff that’s generally not in the budget.
    • Keep on hand items such as grains, pasta and rice IF you eat that stuff. It lasts forEVER ( practically.. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) You can cook enough for several days as a side with your meal.
    • Get a couple of different pasta sauces, figure out which is your fave and together with dried pasta and pre-grated Parmesan cheese (it’s easy and keeps for ages in the fridge), it’s food available on demand any time.
    • Get other canned stuff that you LIKE. Tuna, salmon and sardines are good. I also like corn (I heat up and melt cheese on it) or chickpeas ( I heat up and sprinkle with lots of black pepper), pineapple/peaches/pears/fruit-cocktail  in syrup (add a little yogurt and nuts and there’s dessert.)
    • Evaporated milk (it’s a canned product) is good for when you run out of milk (Use in a 1-to-1 ratio with water to “make milk.”) It also makes wicked ‘Chai’ which is a mini-meal in itself, or at least breakfast in a rush, just heat with tea bag, sugar and a pinch of chai spice mix (which you might get in an Indian grocery store, if available).
    • Don’t buy too much produce at a time. Potatos, onions, root veggies (like carrots etc), and apples last a long time when stored properly. Most other produce perishes rather quickly. Keep potatos isolated (they don’t like anyone next to them, including onions), they prefer dark cool places, but not as cold as the fridge – best in paper bag with ventilation holes. Keep apples in paper bag and then in plastic bag and in the fridge and they’ll last a long time. Store fruits and vegetables separately.Keep citrus away from other produce as it shorten the life of many fruits and vegetables. Keep tomatos in room temperature as they lose all flavour in the fridge. This is true for some fruits too. Berries and cherries, however, strictly in the fridge and use up quickly.

    Freeze

    • The freezer is your friend – cook a lot of something and freeze individual portions in zip-lock sandwich bags.Put the zip-lock bags together in a bigger clear plastic bag and add a note that says the date and what it is (it’s surprising how unrecognizable stuff becomes once it’s frozen.) Don’t forget to eat the stuff you freeze – nothing lasts forever, not even in the freezer. Also, keep in mind that some things don’t freeze well, so if you’re thinking about freezing, find out if it’s a good item to freeze before you prepare it in a large quantity.

    Light Meals

    • I often have eggs for dinner when it’s just me.
    • One of my egg meals: I buy a bag of “Spring Mix” (salad leaves chopped and washed and ready to use), add a couple of chopped hard boiled eggs, optionally some almonds and a few “crumbs” of blue cheese, salad dressing of choice, and voila – Dinner!
    • Sometimes a plate of cheese and fruit and I’m good to go. If I’m in the mood, crackers too.
    • I love open face sandwiches:

      • One of my faves – bread/toast, butter, cream cheese, green olives (pitted and sliced), tomato slices. Another, sub the olives with sardines.
      • And of course, there’s always peanut butter (or preferably almond butter) and jelly.
      • Grilled cheese sandwiches rock and you can make many different versions, adding some of mayo/capers/pickles/tomatoes/onion/garlic, or you could make even make “tuna-melts.”
    • French toast is one of my faves for breakfast or for dinner when I’m feeling seriously picky. I like it with cinnamon-sugar.
    • Finally, there’s always cereal as a meal ‘stand-in’. Try cooked cereals like oatmeal etc when you want something warm. Follow the instructions on the package, then add milk/cream/butter/honey/berries/bananas.
    • When you’re really low on cash, cook macaroni, add a can of tuna, salt, pepper, garlic powder and mayo. Mix. Surprisingly yummy and nutritionally sound!

    “Proper” Dinners

    • Single chops (lamb, pork, etc) are easy to make. Quickly sautee in a pan with a tiny bit of oil and your favourite spices.
    • For a change, “schnitzel” your chops: coat in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs (flavoured with herbs and spices if you like) and fry.
    • Chicken: You can make enough for 2-3 meals and an extra couple of pieces on top of that which you can then chop up, add mayo, salt & pepper and call it chicken salad (you can add other stuff like celery, peppers etc, but that’s optional.) You can “schnitzel” chicken too, and rather that fry, bake it. It’s a very successful dish at our house.
    • Try to eat fish once a week, it’s good brain food.. ๐Ÿ™‚ Make sure you buy it the day you’re cooking it. Don’t refrigerate for more than a day and don’t freeze for more than a week – fish just keeps getting older and fishier no matter what you do.
    • For slightly more elaborate pasta dishes, you can, for example, get a jar of “Classico” “Tomato and Basil” pasta sauce, a pound of ground beef, 2 jalapeno peppers, and 3 cloves of garlic. Sautee (that just means “fry”) the ground beef – keep breaking it up as it’s sauteeing. FINELY chop the jalapenos (if using) and the garlic, toss in and sautee for a couple more minutes. Add pasta sauce, COVER, simmer (really low) for a couple of hours (min 20 minutes, more is definitely yummier though). This will keep for several days (or freeze in single portions) and topped with cheese is yummers! Use some pre-grated Parmesan or use other cheeses when you have them – just cause you can. You can eat this with spaghetti or macaroni. Alternately, you can go nuts and make lasagna (it’s easy,  you cook the lasagna noodles and layer alternately with the sauce – later on you can learn to add other ingredients to it)). This freezes well as individual portions and can be used when you’re too busy to cook.
    • Eat your vegetables – mom was right about that one.. ๐Ÿ™‚ Leafy stuff, like spinach or bok-choy, cooks quickly and easily. Steaming a bit of broccoli or green beans isn’t too hard either. Steam most green veggies for 7-10 minutes. If you’ve gone past the bright green stage and into a yellowish-green, you’ve let it go too long – go sit in the corner! Just kidding, at that point eating it is punishment enough. LOL. Once steamed, toss the veggies with a bit of butter and salt and you won’t hate them.
    • Buy some spices. I’d start with black-pepper, garlic powder, paprika, cumin and if you like a bit of heat, Cayenne pepper too. Get cinnamon: It’s nice in many savoury dishes too – I especially like it with chicken, but just a little bit.
    • Butter makes everything better. A little goes a long way, but definitely everything is yummier with a dot or two of butter. When I say butter, I don’t mean margarine. Yeah, it’s a bit more expensive, but it’s not going to break the bank and I did say a dot or two only. And.. Margarine is an evil product – you don’t want to put that crap in your body.
    • If you like the way your food tastes, you won’t get sick of it. When I eat stuff I like, I eat LESS too.

    Snacks

    • Buy some nuts and snack on them when you’re so starved, you can’t wait for food. Then cook yourself a decent meal. Keep them in the fridge.
    • Dried fruits are nice for a small ‘pick-me-up’ snack. You can really ‘live-it-up’ and mix the nuts with the dried fruits.
    • Ever heard this one – “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?” Turns out it’s true! Apples are very good for you and as mentioned above, keep well in the fridge, so make sure you have some.
    • Get a blender, they’re not too expensive. Buy frozen berries and rotten bananas (well, you know what I mean, the ones with some black spots, often on sale), any other soft fruits on sale, and yogurt and honey. blend the fruit until it’s smooth, estimate the quantity you have and add a quarter of that quantity of yogurt (so if you have 4 cups, add 1 cup of yogurt.) Add honey to taste. Put in a sealed pitcher or jar (preferably a dark one) – it’ll last for days. Have a cup every day – it’s great for breakfast or for when you just can’t stomach solid food.
    • Make rice pudding – it’s easy, yummy and lasts a few days. Good with cinnamon and you can cook it with raisins too if you like.
    • Keep some Jello/pudding around for ease of use. Nutella – even easier – instant gratification!

    Final thoughts

    Try not to eat too much junk – like..  Jello and pudding.. LOL

    Try new stuff. If you hate it – well, now you know what not to buy.

    Watch the “Food Network” – it’s damn inspiring!

    Experiment – come back and tell us how it’s going.

    Play with your food.. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Happy Studying and Bon Apetite!