And Then Comes the Bread Thursday, Jan 15 2009 

… Just in time for The Strong and Noble, Wonderfully Handsome Mister to have taken my camera with him on a short exercise. A friend is going to be around tomorrow, and has promised to lend me the use of his camera, so I’ll be adding in a picture or two of the lovely loaf I baked today.

Baking sourdough bread is much like baking any other kind of bread, the same kneading, proofing, punching down, reproofing process is used, but the proofing process just takes longer.

A trick or two that I use: whether you’re using milk or water (I prefer the milk) warm it up as it will help to speed the proofing process, same for the starter you’ll be using but be very careful not to over heat it. When you place your loaves in the oven, have a pan with some hot water in it on the lower rack, the steam it will release will help your bread to have a better crust.

If your bread comes out crustier than you’d like it to, leave it alone and try it out again the next day. It does soften considerably. There is nothing like bread fresh out of the oven, but if the crust comes out too hard, one day out of the oven can’t hurt.

Sourdough Bread

2 ½ C sourdough starter
1 ½ C milk or water
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 tsp salt
3-4 C flour (I used one cup whole wheat flour to replace one cup that would otherwise have been all purpose.)

In a bowl, mix your starter with your milk/water, the sugar butter and salt. Mix in flour slowly until a sticky dough forms. I did it by hand, but I’m sure a mixer with a dough hook wouldn’t hurt.

Turn the dough out onto the counter or a cutting board and knead in the flour until no more will go into it. It really depends on the humidity how much flour the dough will take, but when you hit that point where the dough doesn’t seem to be taking it up any more, stop! Clear away the remaining flour and knead a little more, you need the gluten to develop.

Put your ball of dough in a bowl with a little oil so that it doesn’t stick. Cover with a cloth and let it proof until the bulk is doubled. This can be a long process, especially if your water/milk was cold. Expect it to take a couple of hours. Don’t be impatient, a watched sourdough will seem to take longer to proof.

Punch down your proofed dough ball and let it rise again. The second proofing shouldn’t take as long as the first proofing. Punch down for the last time, and shape into two smallish loaves or one large one. If you go for the large one, make it skinnier than you think it should be, or else when you cut it the slices of bread will be humongous (but maybe you like your bread that way).

Let your loaves rise about half way, about 30-45 minutes, and then put it in a 375 degree oven to bake. You know it’s done when you give it a knock and it sounds hollow, it should take a ballpark of 45 minutes though.

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Some fun ideas: finely dice an onion and mix it in with your batter, or maybe a cup or so of grated sharp cheddar or another favorite cheese. You can art up your bread however you want, but both of the aforementioned are tested tasty additions.

What is a Cockle Anyway?: Beef Stew for Wintery Days Tuesday, Jan 13 2009 

It has been devilishly cold out as of late, and though I complain of it making the daily trip to campus more troublesome,  The Strong and Noble Wonderfully Handsome Mister has been feeling the cold a lot more than myself in his work. On a normal day he’ll return home with his motor oiled hands and gritty uniform tired but happy, but these last few days have shown returns of just tired and cold.

After he got off his boots he made his way to the sink, as always to wash away what didn’t come off during the preliminary scrub at the shop. It’s what he does after work, he grabs his scrubby brush and gets meticulous about dirt that would otherwise get ingrained if he left it. But yesterday, and today as well, the scrubby brush had to wait a few moment as the warm mater washed the pins and needles away.

Cold weather like this calls for stick-to-the-ribs, warm your cockles food, and for The Strong and Noble Wonderfully Handsome Mister, a self professed meat and potatoes guy, I made some beef stew.  The great thing about stew is that it is one of those understanding, flexible recipes. Things will not go awry if you use a little less celery or a little more potato.  And its better the next day, that is if a cold TSANWHM doesn’t eat it all! Hopefully this pot of tasty warm goodness lasts until the weekend, when it is supposed to warm a little!

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Beef Stew

2 Tbsp olive oil

1.5 lbs stewing beef, cubed

1 large onion, chopped

4-5 stalks celery, chopped

4-5 carrots, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp rosemary

1 1/2 tsp thyme

salt and pepper

1 C Red Wine

2-3 C Beef stock

2-3 Tbsp tomato paste

4 potatoes, cubed

Heat the oil in your pot and brown the beef on medium high in batches, so as to not crowd the pot. You’re not looking to cook it through, that’s what the stewing process is for, this is just to heighten flavor. Remove the beef from the pot and keep on a plate for the time being.

Add your carrots, onion and celery, sauteing until sweated and perhaps picking up a little bit of color. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme and salt and pepper, stirring until aromatic.

Deglaze with the red wine (I used the end of a Cab Sauv that was round about, but you can use whatever you like or have on hand), add the beef back into the pan and then add your stock until the beef is just covered, not swimming in it. Add the tomato paste and mix until it is mostly dissolved (it will dissolve the rest of the way while everything is stewing.

Bring everything just to a boil and add in the cubed potatoes. Reduce heat to low and let the stew, well… stew, for a couple of hours until you (or your chilly companion) are ready to eat.

If too much evaporation occurs during the stewing process, add more liquid; but remember, this is stew, not soup and so should be hearty and thick. Don’t water it down too much!

*PS: Cockles, being warmed, refers to the heart being warmed. Presumably (I should hope) because somebody made a chilly you some stew!