Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sourdough Starter, Day 1

Guess Kea and I are both back in grad school and have bread on the brain!

Last spring I started a new masters program in Public Health that took up all my non-work time, thus the lack of postings on this blog. Having taken the summer off from school, I've been happily filling all my free time with seeing friends that I ignored, picking up knitting projects I'd set down, and using cooking equipment that had been gathering dust.

One of my goals for this summer is to create a nice, healthy starter so that I can take that next step into breadmaking and tackle sourdoughs again. A few years ago I tried making a sourdough starter by following instructions from the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. The starter went through all the textbook phases and was fine, but I was never happy with the bread that I made with it. Looking back, I was still too new to breadmaking, terrified of making any small mistake, and probably set my expectations too high (for myself and my bread). That, plus I couldn't bear throwing away all that starter every time I wanted to refresh it. This time, I am using instructions from Maggie Glezer's "A Blessing of Bread." Her starter instructions are the only ones I have come across that starts off by saying that she uses the minimal quantity of flour and water to reduce waste. Ahh...girl after my own heart! She also reassures her readers that organic flour, distilled water, and (after the starter is established) weekly feedings are all unnecessary, thus taking a lot of the expense and pressure out of the endeavor. What's not to like?

Unlike Kea, I can't complain of the same difficulty in finding good bread. Here in DC we have our fair share of respectable bakeries, but there is an undeniable gratification about making your own bread, and especially one from your very own starter. So for the next few weeks I will be documenting the process of my starter on this blog and hopefully inspire my fellow Bees to try their hand at one of their own, too. Wish me luck!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Bread in London

Greetings from London, everyone. I haven't posted here in almost a year. I don't know if any of you still check this site, but I figured I'd come and say hi to anyone who might be listening. I'm most of the way through my master's degree, exams and term papers are over, Boyfriend's been "kidnapped" for a family vacation, I've got the house to myself for a week, and for the first time in months I have free time on my hands. And I need an excuse not to start working on my dissertation right away.

Since this is a food/craft blog, let me start by saying that bread in England is bland. Well of course bread is bland, you might say. It is bread. But the grocery store bread you get here does not even taste like bread. It tastes like...nothing. The white bread tastes like styrofoam. The brown bread tastes like cardboard. I gave up on grocery store bread and went to the local bakery. It was marginally better, but still tasted like a puffy matzo cracker. Compared to British bread, even the humble, standard Hong Kong "Garden" loaf is bursting with nutty aroma. I can't understand it.

So now that I have free time, I've taken matters into my own hands and started making my own bread. I am operating under the general principle that the more egg, milk, butter, cheese and cinnamon (but not at the same time) I add my dough, the better. I have no idea how any of this works scientifically, but I don't care as long as it turns out anything but bland. Or burnt. Burnt is bad.

I've got some whole grain-ish, eggy, milky, buttery dough rising right now, and I'll post pictures when it's done.

Aside from the bread and the sausages (don't get me started on the sausages - ick), I am enjoying quite a lot of the food here in London. I can get so many ingredients that were rare or ridiculously expensive in Hong Kong. Like almond powder. Or whole wheat flour. And the yoghurt! It is so cheap and plentiful, I don't have to make it at home anymore. Boyfriend is in love with the cheese. And the Vietnamese food here is much better than what you can get in Hong Kong.

But seriously? How does every single commercial bakery in this country screw up bread?

Monday, March 22, 2010

3 Chicks + 3 Recipes = New Friends!

My boss is fond of telling me that I am an introvert, and it's true. I enjoy spending quality time with just a few people versus large groups, but because I also enjoy my "quiet time," it means that I am usually slow to make new friends. I am delighted to be able to say then, that I have two new friends - Liz and Kim - with whom to share my love for cooking and eating. It all started when Liz decided to pop in a DVD of Julie and Julia on a transatlantic flight. Liz hadn't been too enthusiastic about the movie but figured it would do for some mindless entertainment. Ironically, she loved it so much that as soon as Liz got off the plane she wasted no time and started a blog, cast an open call for partners, and picked out a cookbook.

And so, that was how my DH and I found ourselves at Liz's house with her husband Tri, Kim (Liz's cousin), and Kim's BF on Sunday evening, faced with a mountain of red chili peppers, several pounds of ground sirloin, a package of truffle butter, a dozen different spices, and more.

While the guys heated up the grill and sipped wine on the deck, Liz, Kim and I got to work deciphering three recipes from the Top Chef cookbook/web site:
spicy fire wings with pineapple-jicama slaw,

black truffle burgers (sorry, cookbook-only recipe),
and strawberry apple crisp.
Despite some glaring editorial mistakes that required some educated guesses on our part (three QUARTS of chili peppers, people? Really??), the food all turned out excellent, if you can't tell from the photos, and we had a great time getting to know each other and messing up Liz's kitchen in the pursuit of a Top Chef-calibre gourmet meal. You'd never have guessed that Kim and I had never met before this, and that the three of us had never been in a kitchen together before. We made an super team and got dinner out on time, in a good humor, and without any major snafus. Two hours of cooking passed in a blur of happy chattering and a coordinated dance around each other and the butcher block island.

Thanks Liz! Can't wait for the next lesson!

Photos are all courtesy of Liz's DH, Tri, who is a fantastic photographer. Aside from working a 9-5 job, Tri also photographs local boxing matches for an online boxing magazine. Check out his other great pictures at!