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20 July 2010

Tomato Thievery

The tomato plant has slowly been getting some fruits, they have been ripening very slowly. One was finally ready about a week ago. I picked it and ate it before I could even get in the house. It was delicious. I got so excited to have a big harvest. There were at least 4 more that were about 7-9 days from being ripe and ready. You see where this is going, right? This morning they were gone. Gone. I am furious. Someone stole my almost ripe tomatoes. Tonight I taped a little sign on, reminding anyone that they are MY tomatoes, please don't pick them. Hopefully it was just the landlady's grandkids, confused about whose tomatoes are whose (she has a plant too) and not  some malicious force that will try to steal the one ripening bell pepper as well. Grrr.
I do have a few things to console me, however. Firstly, my sourdough starter seems to be active. It doesn't grow very much between feedings, but it is perceptable and I think it does have the right smell now, so I'll keep at it. Secondly, I have some peanut butter cookie dough in the fridge that will be eaten tonight, baked. Thirdly, my bread from the other day is still delicious. So there! Take that, world! You can't get me down!

19 July 2010

A Success! And an Epic Failure or Two

I made some bread, the Basic Hearth Bread recipe from "The Bread Bible" using the measurments by weight instead of volume. At first it didn't seem very different, the 156 grams of flour was about equivalent to the 1 cup listed in the other column, and so on. But I persisted. I'm trying more to follow recipes exactly, it has never been my strong suit, but I believe that I will be better at freestyling my recipes if I know the rules first. I've wanted for a while to try to make bread using certain ratios of flour to water, to see how they turn out differently, and now with my new scale, I can.
The bread turned out so well! It has a fabulous crusty exterior, and a magnificent crumb, with perfect size bubbles. Oh, and it tastes so delightful! I wish I had my camera so I could show you just how amazing it is. You'll just have to believe me, I've already eaten half of it. I am absolutely astounded! Especially considering this the other things that have been going on, not working so well.
The other night I tried making agua fresca with the melon I bought that was mostly tasteless, thinking that if I add a little sugar to it, it will tasted great, but no, it did not. Then I added yogurt to it, maybe it needed some zing and sourness, but no, that was still not so good. So then I thought I would freeze it, try to make melon frozen yogurt. And that did not work very well either. It all went down the drain the next day. That was my Epic Failure.
The other thing that is disappointing lately is that my sourdough starter has pooped out. I thought it was trying to rise a little bit, a couple of days ago, but now it isn't doing anything, but it smells nice and sour. I'll give it a few more days. Who knows, it may still take off.
In other news, I have been sitting on a rolly chair in the kitchen, rolling around with my feet tucked under me so my toes don't get cold and my feet don't get tired. Walking is for suckers. I can roll to the garbage to throw something away, I can roll to the sink to put in my dirty dishes. It's great.

14 July 2010

Some Thoughts, New Stuff, and an Experiment

I just applied for a new job, could everyone reading this send some good vibes my way? I'm sure I can do the job, and pretty sure I would like it more than my job now. I'd probably get paid more too. So start rooting for me!! :)
I love candy bars, and I just noticed the the price is really going up (10 whole cents! 99 cents for a candy bar!) which seems like a real shame. Is it the economy? Is it inflation? Is it temporary and will be back down in a week? I guess I'll just have to be better than ever about buying them when they are on sale, buy one get one free, or 2/$1.
The Lovemuffin is out of town for a couple of weeks, and I have to feed the missionaries on Thursday all by myself. The sister from Korea said "we will eat everything" (I think she meant "anything," second language, you know) What on earth should I make? I'm kind of thinking quiche with something crazy like artichoke hearts and fennel, something like that. I learned how to make quiche from a guy that I worked with, and I haven't tried it at home yet. Or maybe I'll just get a huge Papa Murphy's pizza. Any ideas? Let me know.
There are finally some tomatoes ripening on my plant, they are very pretty and I hope it keeps doing well. The one big pepper on my bell pepper plant also looks like it is ripening, I'm very excited. But my zucchini plant is pretty much dead. I thought it might recover, it looked like it wanted to produce more fruits, but the leaves are shriveling up and I just don't think it can support itself anymore. Oh well.

Some Stuff:
For my birthday I treated myself to a trip to Sur la Table; I bought a kitchen scale, a pastry cloth/rolling pin cover and a new pastry brush. Our last silicone pastry brush got lost in one of our moves and I've been missing it. The pastry cloth was kind of an unnecessary splurge, but I'm interested to see if it makes it easier to roll out pie crusts. I also might try to do a strudel. But the scale, ah, to have a kitchen scale. Now I can make things from this book, that only gives measurments by weight. I'll have to check out "The Bread Bible" (Rose Levy Berenbaum) and "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" (Peter Reinhart) from the library. I've never read "The Bread Baker's Apprentice." It looks intimidating. But I think they both give recipes and talk about making breads by weighing ingredients, and how you can get more consistant results and do some interesting experiments by changing the ratio of water to flour. I'm very excited.

An Experiment:
I am trying to make a sourdough starter using my brand new scale (hooray!!) and these instructions. I'm not sure if it's working. It's pretty stinky right now, and it looks like it is rising, but both of those things could be from the bacteria that likes to live in it before the pH changes and makes it not habitable for bacteria. I wonder if this is really a good experiment for me, because I don't even like sourdough bread. But I think it can be made more or less sour, depending on the temperature that you keep it at. I'll have to read up on balance between lactic acid and acetic acid. It should be nice to have a 100% hydration starter, because you can maybe use it in all sorts of things, like this chocolate bread. Hopefully it works and isn't too yucky.

02 July 2010

More Pie!

In case you haven't noticed, pie is one of my favorite things to make and eat and share with friends, as well as just look at and read about. I used the leftover berries from my berry pickin/jamming adventure to make a crazy delicious pie. I used boysenberries, olallieberries, and blackberries. I learned a trick from my grandma to use tapioca to thicken the juices instead of flour or cornstarch. It's a little funky, but it works well and is good because it doesn't have the yucky cornstarch or raw flour taste.

Berry Pie
pie crust dough for 2 crusts or enough for a bottom and a lattice top
4-5 cups berries of your choice, fresh or frozen
3/4 cup sugar or more, if you like it sweeter
lemon zest from one lemon, or less as you like it
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 cup instant tapioca pearls

Roll out the dough and place in the pie pan, trim the dough so that a little of it overhangs the pan, a little less than an inch. Keep the dough well chilled. Roll out the dough for the top half or the lattice, keep it chilled as well. Mix together 3 1/2 or 4 cups of the berries, sugar, zest, juice and tapioca pearls together, pour into the pie shell, and top with remaining berries, as much as you want, but don't overfill it. I just discovered that it is nice to have extra whole berries to put on top that aren't disintigrating because of the sugar and the stirring, it makes it look really nice. Arrange the top crust, cutting vents, or make the lattice top. Fold the excess dough under itself, and crimp the edges. If desired, you can brush the top with milk and sprinkle with a little coarse-grained sugar, to make it extra pretty and sparkly.

Bake at 425 for 40-50 minutes, until the filling is very bubbly and the crust is toasty brown. Check the bottom crust if you are using a glass pan, it should be brown and cooked looking as well. If the bottom isn't cooked, but the top crust is getting too brown, you may want to make a foil tent or rim to put over it, well vented, and let it bake a little longer. No one likes a soggy doughy bottom crust. When the pie is completely cooked, try to not devour it right away, let it cool so that it can set up. Get together with friends and serve with a nice French vanilla ice cream if desired. Eat the leftovers for breakfast.

01 July 2010

What do you do in the Summertime?

Pretty much every summer that I can remember my mom has made jam and I helped. Sometimes we find a great deal on some fruit, so we buy a ton and make jam like crazy for a day or two. It's great. Last year my mom and I picked apricots from Lovemuffin's grandma's tree, and we made seventeen batches of apricot jam. It was pretty incredible. We're still eating it. Lovemuffin's cousin also made a couple of batches, she tried a recipe that didn't call for pectin, so it needed less sugar and then you boil it for a long time so it's more like very thick syrup, but quite tasty, because it is fruitier. This year the fruit I got wasn't free, but I got a good deal because I picked my own. A couple of ladies from church and myself went up to the Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville to pick berries and it was great fun. I ended up with 19 pounds of boysenberries and about 5 pounds of olallieberries. By the way, when you say "olallieberries," it sounds like "lalaberries," even though Wikipedia says you pronounce it "oh-la-leh." Olallieberries are some sort of hybrid, you'll have to look at the little chart. Too complicated. Anyway, they make a good jam and a good pie, but they are a little tart for eating fresh, not quite like blackberries or raspberries, or even boysenberries. Those boysenberries on the bushes were so big and pretty, I just had to keep picking them, and the two women I was with helped, and that's how I ended up with 19 pounds.
When I got home that night I made two batches of jam the regular way, with the pectin and the whole lot of sugar, and then darling Lovemuffin saw how much sugar it was and thought we should try something different. Which was weird. He's never been one to be concerned about his sugar intake. I started looking up recipes for pectin free jam, and in my vast research (read, about half an hour of web surfing) I decided that I would try a small batch using one part fruit, and one part sugar, and a little lemon. And it worked really well! It set up well, it's nice and fruity, not too sweet, and you can do a pretty big batch all at once instead of having to do a lot of small batches over and over again. Which is kind of nice, but it's also nice to have small batches to process in the hot water bath, so that you can fit all of the jars in at the same time.
Here's what I did for my larger batch that worked really well:

Less Sugar Boysenberry Jam
11 cups mashed boysenberries
1 lemon, zest and juice
11 cups sugar

Place mashed berries and lemon zest and juice in a large pot, and bring to a gentle boil. Add sugar slowly, stirring with a very long handled wooden spoon. Bring it back to a full boil and let boil for 10-20 minutes, or longer if you aren't at sea level. The texture of the bubbles will change. If that makes sense. I took some videos, but I'm having a hard time posting them, there are some pictures that might give you the right idea, and I'll try to describe it. The bubbles become more caramelly and persistant. When the sugared fruit starts boiling, it looks pretty much like water at a full boil, and then when it is ready to set up, therer are more bubbles constantly, it is hard to tell when one pops and another takes its place.


When the jam changes in this way, ladle it into clean jars, wipe the top and put on the lids and rings, and process in boiling water. I did mine for 10 minutes and the lids popped right as I took them out of the water. If you are at a higher altitude, process for longer. This batch set right up and I really like the texture of it without the pectin. The pectin-free jam made from berries seems different than the one from apricots, less like syrup and more like regular jam. Probably the berries have a lot more natural pectin in them than apricots. Another thing I have heard that you can try to make pectin-free jam is to use a quince in it, because quinces are supposed to have a huge amount of natural pectins. Maybe I'll try that sometime too. I have to say a big THANK YOU! to Lovemuffin's cousin, for introducing me to a new method of making jam. It's really fun to know that you can experiment with jam and it will still taste good, even if it doesn't set up exactly the same as it would if you follow exactly the recipe from the pectin boxes.