Friday, May 29, 2009


I'm a fan. Even though the dough was uber wet, it was still pretty satisfying to get my hands in there and work it... it's neat to both see and feel the gluten strands coming into alignment. Dipping my hands in water repeatedly, and kneading in the bowl seemed pretty effective at keeping gloppy hands minimized (but by no means eliminated).

So, last week might have been the last no-knead bread for me... even though I think it's a pretty foolproof method(burnt bottoms aside) that makes great bread... my first impression of kneading, however, makes me want to make more bread with my hands.

Weekend Bread: Pain à l'Ancienne

Pain à l'Ancienne is the Big Ticket Formula of The Bread Maker's Apprentice... Reinhart talks at length about his first encounter with it in France in the introduction, and claims that it will change bread baking FOREVER. Well, OK, maybe he's not quite that enthusiastic... but enthused he certainly is.

The primary concept of the bread is "delayed fermentation"... that is, instead of doing the primary fermentation at room temperature, he mixes the dough with ice water and, after the initial kneading, refrigerates it overnight. This doesn't kill the yeast... yeast does quite fine in the cold... though it does fine very, very, slowly. I've obviously never tasted it, but supposedly this slow motion fermentation brings out some very unique flavors. Seems worth a try, eh? As an aside, the dough for the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day "system" does delayed fermentation as well(they take a very wet dough, refrigerate it for days and days, take pieces off all the while as needed) so if I do indeed love Pain à l'ancienne, then I might need to experiment with their method a little bit.

Despite my recent attempts to make a ciabatta, I'm going to make this as my first recipe formula from BBA... I could use this dough and just fold and shape it like ciabatta, since it's pretty wet, but I think I'd like to learn to make ciabatta the traditional way and use the Pain à l'Ancienne dough for baguettes...  at least for now.

There are a quite a few examples of this formula on the intertubes if you are interested in making it yourself... try here and here.

I'll mix the dough tonight, and probably shape and bake on Saturday with Anna. The only thing to really figure out still is whether I want to make the quantities in the book(6 small baguettes) and freeze the excess... or whether to cut it down to a more manageable quantity using Teh Baker's Math.

photo by flickr user bro0ke used under a Creative Commons license

Thursday, May 28, 2009

China Mieville in Cambridge on June 3rd

Didn't even know he had a new book coming out until I just got an e-mail from Harvard Book Store about his upcomming talk... looks like tickets cost $5 and you can get 'em online here or at the store. With Stephenson, they allowed you to use the price as a discount but I see no indication of that in their posting, so I wouldn't count on it.

The book blurb:
When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined. Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen.
Not sure I'm going to go... I like his writing, and he seems like a pretty interesting guy, but I don't feel the need to get a signed copy of his latest book. We'll see.

POLITICO: Senate GOP won't fight Sotomajor

So far it's only the lunatic fringes and out of office politicians who've had much negative to say about the latest Supreme Court nominee... and if Politico's reporting is accurate, it looks to stay that way.

However, I have a little bit of trouble believing the Limbaugh Wing is going to accept that their representatives in Congress are just going to lay down for Obama here... indeed, this very well could be a trial balloon to see how the base reacts... but maybe they're smarter than I give them credit for.

Headphones Down

So I got about 15 months out of them... though they actually still function, sort of, as it was a plastic bit that attached the earphone to the rest of the headset that snapped. It looks replaceable if I can find the part, but I've had no luck with a quick scan of Sony's repair website.

Since I use headphones in my daily commute, this isn't actually a shockingly short lifespan for a pair I own... though maybe I should stop buying $200 sets then? Or at least buy some sort of extended warranty for them? Yes, that would probably be wise.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sotomajor Day 2

I still can't pick out a definable GOP strategy as far as Congress goes, at this point... but it seems the usual suspects intend to characterize her as an "affirmative action" hire... here's Steve Benen's apt summary:
The right wants Americans to believe Sotomayor is a "racist." George Will, using language we're going to hear a lot of over the next couple of months, insisted that Sotomayor "embraces identity politics," including the notion that "members of a particular category can be represented -- understood, empathized with -- only by persons of the same identity." Pat Buchanan, always a paragon of respect and tolerance, described her as an "affirmative action pick."

Michael Goldfarb, after scrutinizing Sotomayor's efforts as an undergrad in 1974, suggested this morning that Sotomayor "has been the recipient of preferential treatment for most of her life."

And Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) believes, without proof, that Sotomayor's ability "to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences" is in doubt.

It's been one day. It's only going to get worse.

There's been some speculation that part of the pick was to set-up this very bear trap for the conservative base... that the temptation to get very ugly very quickly from the Limbaugh wing was going to be impossible for them to resist, damaging the GOP even further with Hispanics and women. I don't believe it was really all that Machiavellian of a nomination, but there does seem to be some dangerous ground here for conservatives.

UPDATE: Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee and he of dubious racial sensitivity, says "I Don't Sense A Filibuster In The Works." So 1 day in we've only seen the base take the bait, not the Senate.

Garmin Connect

It's been over a year since I last mentioned MotionBased or Garmin Connect... which is mainly because after we went to Jamaica, I got out of the habit of exercising every day of the work week, and only sporadically ran... a couple days this week, nothing for a week and a half, a couple more... sometimes on the elliptical because it was too hot, etc. For most of the summer and fall I mainly used my 305 to GPS hikes we took, not runs, so the features of EveryTrail were much more appealing(synching photos being the main one).

However, I'm trying to get back into running after work 3 times a week at least to start...  and, coincidentally, Garmin Connect's support of the Forerunner 305 just started up yesterday. It seems to have all my old runs, but I can't seem to upload any of my new ones from the last two weeks. Probably to be expected. I don't notice any new features yet, though the site looks pretty slick. Here's the last run I uploaded to MotionBased in September. It's kind of nice they provide an RSS feed to my activities... but I can't see how to embed the maps on this here blog, which is fairly import to me. Anyway, development appears to be an ongoing so I won't judge it too harshly yet... but it doesn't appear to be something to get uber excited about at this point.  It is free if you own a Garmin though.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Homemade Ginger Ale

One of those things you never really think about making yourself, but the New York Dining section has a recipe. As a big fan of ginger beer, this has some appeal... but the snag seems to be "ginger juice"... which you either buy from health food stores or get by squeezing the liquid out of fresh ginger. Seems like the latter could be a bit of a PITA without a juicer, but if not for the taste of fresh ginger what's the appeal of even doing it?


I don't really have any brilliant insight to provide about Sonia Sotomajor's chances of being confirmed to the Supreme Court, but I figured I should note that she is Obama's selection... as has been reported pretty much everywhere. It'll be interesting to watch what the GOP does here, as since it won't change the balance of the court you'd think it wouldn't be too hard for Obama to pick up Snowe and/or Collins and stave of a filibuster... but Republicans have been fairly impressive in their unity in obstruction, so who knows?

UPDATE: Nate Silver has the goods on a 1998 vote for her confirmation to the 2nd Circuit. Looks like Collins, Snowe, Lugar, and a few other current GOP Senators voted for her then... though, of course, that doesn't mean they'll vote for her now... but it's at least promising.

Dinner Party After Action Report

I was too frenetic trying to get things on the table to take any pictures of the food, but I thought everything came out pretty well. I received some good compliments on the horseradish and chive mashed potatoes, but personally I thought the horseradish flavor was a little bit weak. I've always wondered about when you grate something whether the fineness of the grate makes a difference for how much volume the final product takes up... I suspect it does, but I seem to be the only person in the world anal enough to worry about it and wish they supplied weights for everything you grate. Ah well.

The short ribs came out very much like pot roast I thought... which was kind of surprising. The boneless aspect was kind of curve ball as well, as everyone thinks of messy barbecue sauce covered things when ever you say "ribs"... but not here. I don't think I reduced the braising liquid quite enough since I was in a hurry, but it still did an adequate job as gravy.

I did make bread, but I burnt the bottom again... my perpetual curse it seems... but everyone seemed to like it regardless(well I cut the burnt parts off).

You know you've been playing too much WoW...

...when you have dreams about grinding mobs. It was a little disturbing let me tell you.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Horseradish frightens me

It's a root... who knew? Well, probably a lot of people... but I had never really thought about it. The no-knead bread is looking good on its second rise.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tiny Apartment Cooking

I don't if this Kitchen 4B video is part of a new New York Times feature or just something I've never noticed before, but it's kind of cute. Our heroine creates an indoor smoker to make some Texas style ribs with some wood chips, a wok, and lots of aluminum foil in her tiny NYC apartment. It seems pretty effective... visually at least... though, personally, I don't know if I could get away with that much hickory smoke emanating from my apartment.

Regardless, it's an intriguing idea, and since I too have a tiny apartment kitchen, I hope they keep up the videos... though it would be nice if they allowed embedding.

Obama vs. Cheney

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
American Idealogues
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

This Daily Show clip, while not being hilariously funny, seems to hit on all the major points of the "Showdown". The media loves adversarial packaging, especially when they get to use boxing metaphors... despite how purty he talks, Obama's policies sound a lot like Bush's... and Dick Cheney is some kind of simpleton who sees the only options to be 100% adherence to Bush/Cheney security policies or hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans dying in fire.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Braised short ribs accompaniments?

Looks like I'm entertaining some buddies from college and their significant others this Memorial Day weekend while Anna is up visiting her Momz in Maine. Since the vegetarian is out of the house, I'm making some MEAT. I've never made(or even eaten) short ribs before, but everything I've heard is incredibly positive and supposedly they're hard to screw up... which is a plus. I've already got the boneless short ribs in the fridge for this($$$) Cook's Illustrated recipe... but I've got to figure out what I'm going to serve with them.

I really feel like mashed potatoes... but polenta is a good option too. I saw one recipe including a parsnip puree and another picture where the smooth and creamy stuff was white bean based... but I don't think I want to get too crazy. I had been considering roasted potatoes but that isn't as appealing... while the easiest option, it just doesn't seem to complement the meal like a nice creamy puree.

I also had thought that having my friends bring a salad would be enough, but I think it's probably a good idea to do some greens... Swiss chard seems popular... as does spinach... but I could also do collards or kale... though I am limited to what my local Stop and Shop has on its shelves. Will I be able to handle making the greens and mashed potatoes at the same time... all while finishing off the sauce from the short ribs? I'll have to consider that... I don't want my head to be exploding as guests arrive.

Do I make bread? If so, do I just do a simple no-knead or try the ciabatta recipe from Bread Baker's Apprentice? Most likely I don't have time for the latter... but the basic no-knead would be pretty easy to do in the morning.

Sorry if I'm acting a little hyper about cooking for people, but for the most part Anna and I cook for ourselves... so it's kind of exciting people will be trying my food.

photo by flickr user Machine is Organic used under a Creative Commons license

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Obama's centrist governance would be a real disappointment if it weren't for other Democrats

via Hilzoy

Harry Reid, bringing the spineless:
QUESTION: If the United States -- if the United States thinks that these people should be held, why shouldn't they be held in the United States? Why shouldn't the U.S. take those risks, the attendant risk of holding them, since it's the one that says they should be held?

REID: I think there's a general feeling, as I've already said, that the American people, and certainly the Senate, overwhelmingly doesn't want terrorists to be released in the United States. And I think we're going to stick with that.

QUESTION: What about in imprisoned in the United States?

REID: If you're...


REID: If people are -- if terrorists are released in the United States, part of what we don't want is them be put in prisons in the United States. We don't want them around the United States.

Jeebus. They put up one commercial with a little scary O Fortuna action about how Obama is going to force families to provide foster care for terrorists by closing Guantanamo... and you're quaking in fear in the corner?! They're going to be in prison. Not "released". Gah. It should be the easiest argument to make in the world... if there's one thing that the United States is good at, it's incarcerating people. To paraphrase Jon Stewart, it's not like we're dealing with a legion of Magnetos here.

As Kevin Drum notes, with Dems like Harry Reid... who flinch at the slightest provocation... it's no wonder people think we're weak on defense.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Bread Baker's Apprentice

After being a tad disappointed with Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day... a light book dedicated to a "system" of no-knead bread baking... I wasn't really eager to buy another bread baking book solely on star ratings and brief mentions in Slate. It may be that I needed to see what a book dedicated to making the bread baking process simple and accessible was really like before I yearned for a tome that was a bit more... substantial. It's not that I have a problem with the Bittman's of the world who are trying to get people to cook by showing how simple it can be... it's just that their books tend not to be where you turn when you want to know the "why's" and "how's" of what went wrong and how to fix it. I do admit there's also a bit of a "Eh, whatever" kind of vibe from these approaches that often rubs my anal retentive nature the wrong way. Artisan Bread, for example, treats a baguette and ciabatta as just different shapes of the same thing... which while true on some level, doesn't really appeal to my personal aesthetic and isn't at all the what I'm looking for in a cookbook (baking or not).

This is why I am so very very excited about The Bread Maker's Apprentice. I only recieved it this evening, but it has tables. It also seems to have good instructions for those of us without $400 Kitchen Aid mixers which is a plus. It has a very significant section of the book that appears dedicated to giving you a strong understanding of the underlying fundamentals of bread baking... which I desperately need.

I'm very tempted to go straight for the ciabatta recipe in the book... but at the moment I think I'm going to stick with making a basic no-knead bread as a baseline for my next bread baking project, though that may change as I read through the book.

Monday, May 18, 2009

No-Knead Ciabatta

I had planned a whole long post dissecting my efforts of two weekends ago, but since I still consider the recipe a work in progress, I decided to keep it simple and just hit the highlights.

The oven thermometer worked fairly well, and with some trial and error I was able to get the temperature I was aiming at. I hope to set aside an evening this week to adjust the knob itself, so I don't have to do the math in my head... but as you can see below, I definitely didn't burn the bread this time... in fact it was a bit underdone. Not really a surprise that I'd be a little gun-shy after burning two batches of bread in a row previously. I completely forgot to check the bread's internal temperature before taking it out, which might have saved me.

The sourdough flavor was strong... not strong in a bad way, but perhaps stronger than is appropriate for ciabatta(need taste tests!). It's very likely it makes no sense to bother with a biga if you're just going to do an 18 hour rise afterwards, but I'm not entirely sure who to consult on that matter. Maybe write McGhee or Bittman and see if they write back? A possibility.

The crumb was still a disappointment(unfortunately I took no pictures for unknown reasons). Not open and airy at all really, and I didn't even use milk(we didn't have any), as Cook's Illustrated suggested to keep the air bubbles under control. My best guess is that I needed a longer rise after shaping (the Cook's recipe only called for 30 minutes), since other no-knead recipes call for a 1.5-2 hour proofing period after you've shaped. It's also entirely possible that, in under cooking the bread, I pulled it out before it had completed it's oven rise.

So what's next? I'm not entirely certain at this point, but I'm inclined to skip the biga, and do the basic no knead recipe and see where the flavor is with a simple 18 hour initial rise. I liked the shaping and using my baking stone, so I'm inclined to repeat that aspect but with a 2 hour proof on the peel. That should give me a better baseline to determine what it is I'm looking for and what I'd like to change. I pretty much knew that the "basic no-knead" is what I needed to do first, but I wanted to get out of the pre-heated Dutch oven too, so I suppose the order of the steps is somewhat immaterial. I'm not sure bread is on the agenda for this weekend, but I'll update if so.

Green Greenhouses

Bittman linked to a pretty interesting LA Times story from last week about 21st Century Greenhouses:
Climate change is a serious threat to California's $36-billion agricultural economy. The farming company behind this $50-million complex sees it as insurance against perpetual drought, volatile fossil fuel prices and resilient pests.

The facility generates its own renewable power. It hoards rainwater. It hosts its own bumblebees for pollination. And it requires a fraction of the chemicals used in neighboring fields to coax plants to produce like champions.

Much more than local food movements and organic farming, I think it's greenhouses that will be the future of sustainable agriculture. Maybe it's because I live in New England, and don't really want to give up green things in the winter... and yet think the apples you get from Chile in January kind of suck... but being a pure "locavore" strikes me as something only reasonably attractive in places like California. Sure, I can't wait to start visiting my Farmer's Market, but that's not going to feed anybody in Africa sustainably.

Greenhouses seem to have the greatest possibility for neutral environmental impact while still taking advantage of economies of scale. The problem, of course, is that they're expensive... and what they're talking about in this article is greenhouses getting more competitive mainly because regular farming is getting more expensive... which is not really what we want.
Although they need just a fraction of the land taken up by conventional farming, greenhouses require far greater capital investment. The expansion to Houweling's Camarillo farm -- which includes the two greenhouses; the climate, energy and environmental technology; and a new packing plant -- amounts to about $1 million an acre, not including the land.

Houweling said he expected the investment to take as long as 10 years to pay off, depending on the price of tomatoes. More tomato-linked salmonella scares and bad weather during the growing season in Florida would shorten the pay-back period.

I would be curious to see what the costs would be to run a similar farm up here in Massachusetts... what would the ROI be then? I'm guessing a lot longer... if at all.

Pizza Party

It was a fairly quiet weekend... mainly just relaxation, laundry, and WoW... but we did do the homemade pizza thing on Saturday to liven things up a bit. There were only two of us, so perhaps "party" is a bit much, but at nearly 33 years of age that's probably all the excitement my aging body can stand.

I'm a big fan of homemade pizza as a dining/cooking event... and while it was just me and Anna this time, we've had people over on a couple of occasions and I think the process works incredibly well as long as it's a casual event... and you don't mind embracing the idea that "every party ends up in the kitchen" and just running with it. The idea is that you can get the dough and all the ingredients ready well before any guests arrive, so that they can either help assemble pizzas or just drink wine and watch the shenanigans... but it only takes 10-15 minutes per pizza, and if you stick to 10" pizzas you can do a bunch, which gives a lot of variety for experimentation with more "arty" combos. Pizza baking on the dinner party scale is not particularly labor intensive, nor does it require fabulous cooking skillz (shaping the dough and working with a pizza peel are probably the trickiest), so you have plenty of time to chat as you work... and eat. Anyway, I think it's pretty fun and highly recommend it.

We use the pizza dough recipe from New Best Recipe... which is food processor made with a 2 hour rise, unusual mainly in that it calls for bread flour instead of all-purpose, but we've had pretty good results with it. It divides up into three pizzas of the roughly 10" variety, which we find convenient. It's too much food for two people, but it provides great leftovers obviously. If you're going to try such a thing, I highly recommend a baking stone and a real pizza peel. Yeah, they're pretty specialized pieces of equipment, but they're not supper expensive and make a real difference.

The Caramelized Onion, Blue Cheese, and Walnut pizza recipe came out of A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen... as did the Potato Leek pizza, while the Spinach and Ricotta recipe was out of NBR. Though we were consciously picking vegetarian pizza recipes, it was pure chance we ended up with three "white pizzas" (i.e. no tomato sauce). I think we might have been trying a little too hard to come up with unusual and exciting things to make, since it's been a long time since we made pizza. We also obviously had allium on the brain since we ended up with both leek and onion based recipes.

As far as the individual pizzas... the blue cheese one was my favorite, but the flavors were so strong and rich that eating two pieces is pushing it. The spinach/ricotta pizza was solid and quite delicious, but nothing out of the ordinary. I found the leeks of potato-leek fame to call for a little too much tarragon for my personal tastes... as I'm not a huge fan of the anise flavor, but potatoes on pizza strike me as a fabulous idea that needs more research... research done in my belly.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Can we get a Truth Commision now?

All this stuff from the CIA about a few leading Democrats in Congress getting briefed by the CIA about waterboarding... and then those leading Dems claiming the CIA's assertions are untrue. Isn't that just more proof that we need a bipartisan commission to get to the bottom of what happened? I don't really understand why certain people think this ends the torture debate for good... it seems just the opposite to me.

Unless, of course, the stuff about Pelosi is just a red herring to distract the "gotcha" oriented media.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Science makes you smile!

I'm in the lab today messing with a piece of equipment I haven't used in years and trying to remember how it works. It's called "neck suction" and as you can see from the subject's reaction to the left there, it's incredibly awesome. A laugh riot, even. The equipment consists of a neck collar attached to a pressure bellows, that in conjunction can increase or decrease the air pressure around your neck... or more specifically your carotids... causing the vessels to either contract or distend respectively. This fools the carotid barorecepters into thinking blood pressure has increased or decreased... so your heart rate will change in response... but only for a few beats, since they're not easy to trick. As you can see from the uhm... somewhat dated look of the picture, this is fairly old skool technology, but it's still handy because it's noninvasive and as such you don't need to use any drugs to probe the physiology. It's also kind of a PITA to work with... which how this post which nobody cares about is really a long winded explanation as to why posting will remain light to today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


At least I was the last couple days... and I'm just getting back up to speed here at work, so posting will likely continue to be slow. I did make my bread before getting sick, so I do have that to put up sometime, but otherwise I haven't been paying attention to the news or current events so it might be a while before regular posting resumes.

Friday, May 8, 2009

In Defense of Tenure

Would you want to live in a world where Cornell law professors couldn't spend 36 straight hours obsessing about what condiment the President puts on his hamburger? His follow up is an instant classic of the paranoid style.
What gives here? Why the out-sized reaction? If this is a non-story, why is the left obsessed with it?

I don't know about you, but I'm certainly cowering in fear. What ever will we of the "nutroots" do if the American people discover Obama's passion for spicy mustard!? What other heretical condiment loves are the D.C. press corps hiding from Real Americans?


But, wait, it's good news:
A year ago, the loss of more than half a million jobs in a single month would have seemed like a disaster for the economy. On Friday, experts were calling it an improvement.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate surged to 8.9 percent in April, its highest point in a generation. But some economists saw glimpses of a bottom in the latest grim accounting of job losses. The economy, while still bleeding hundreds of thousands of jobs, is starting to lose them at a slower pace, offering the latest hint that the recession is bottoming out.

Before you get too excited:
Many economists expect businesses to cut an additional two million jobs before the economy begins growing again and the unemployment rate begins to ebb, probably sometime in 2010. Any recovery that takes hold is expected to be long and faltering, but economists expressed hope that the worst losses were ending.

Not the best time to be looking for a job.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Non Stop No-knead Ciabatta Posting

No-knead CiabattaOK, so I've settled on what I'm going to try. It's going to be a fairly straightforward modification of the March 2009 Cook's Illustrated recipe found here (if you pay $$$). I've only made bread twice and I burned it both times, so I'm not sure I should be so cocky as to think I can be modifiying recipes yet... but what the hell? Baking is supposedly the most "sciency" of all cooking, what with the digital scales and chemical reactions and whatnot, so maybe that explains my hubris... and though hubris hasn't served me so well in my cooking adventures, this time is going to be different... really!

I did get an oven thermometer and just in the course of making frozen pizzas discovered my oven is too hot by something like 25 degrees, so that probably explains my burnt bread... though we were only trying to get it to 400, not a range of temperatures, so I'm not entirely sure it's a fixed offset(but I certainly hope it is!). Supposedly there should be a little screw underneath the knob that you can adjust to get the temp right, so maybe I'll mess around with that before I bake anything. If you're planning on embarking on some bread baking like yours truly, it might behoove you to get the oven thermometer first, so you can skip the burning phase. Up to you though. My way makes things a lot more mysterious though, which is pretty sexy.

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces)
  • 1/8 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1/2 cup water (4 ounces), at room temperature 

That's ingredient for ingredient from the Cook's recipe. Since their recipe uses the same total amount of flour (15 ounces - 5 for the biga and 10 for the dough) I'm going to use the same total amount of yeast as in the standard no-knead recipe... 1/4 teaspoon. I thought of using it all in the biga and then just using the biga as my leavening agent, but since I'm probably going to leave it for 18-24 hours, I don't want it to have to worry about my poor bacteria starving to death or anything... and for whatever reason, having that 1/8 teaspoon of yeast to add in to the rest of the dough with the biga makes me more confident that the long rise won't be a total disaster.

So anyway... I'll just mix that together until it forms a ball, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit over night at room temp. I'll make it tonight some time before I go to bed so that I have some leeway after I get home from work on Friday for the next step.

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
  • 1/2 1/8 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 3/4 cup water (6 ounces), at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup milk (2 ounces), at room temperature 

Yeah, so like I said... I'm only adding 1/8 of a teaspoon of yeast in the next step since I'm doing a 18 hour long slow rise instead of Cook's use of a stand mixer for kneading. This may be really dumb, but I can't see why... it should work, shouldn't it? Heh, I guess it's pretty obvious I'm not very comfortable modifying recipes.

I'll take the biga and dump it in a big bowl with all of these ingredients and mix with a spatula until a shaggy ball forms. Then I'll cover it in plastic wrap and let it sit again for another 12-18 hours. The main thing I worry about here is that all this crazy yeast-on-flour action is going to make the flavor too strong... but other people certainly use a biga in no-knead recipes, so it'll probably be fine. If it tastes like beer it tastes like beer. I like beer. So see? I can't lose.

That's all for now... I'll post more later.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Equal Marriage Rights in Maine

Good news out of Augusta:
Gov. John Baldacci on Wednesday signed a gay marriage bill passed just hours before by the Maine Legislature.

Baldacci made his announcement within an hour of the Maine Senate giving its final approval to LD 1020. The Senate voted 21-13 in favor of the measure after a short debate.

"In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions," Baldacci said in a written statement. "I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage."

New Hampshire might be sending a bill to their Governor today, as well.

Kindle DX

Just noticed this little tidbit on the new large screen Kindle that's coming out this Summer:
Built-In PDF Reader: Native PDF support allows you to carry and read all of your personal and professional documents on the go

Native PDF support could finally push me over the edge... though the $500 price tag pulls me back. I admit to being tempted... very tempted. What would be super awesome is if I could download articles through Treadwell (MGH's library) directly to the Kindle from anywhere (don't think you can though).

Manuscript Submitted

"Sympathetic Control of the Cerebral Vasculature in Humans" is in the editors' of Stroke's hands. Whew. I don't even want to think about how long it's taken to get that data out the door... moving the entire lab across town in the middle of data collection didn't help, but we need to be a little quicker from start to finish or we're going to get scooped. I have a tendency to reanalyze data ad infinitum... Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.

Now to hope for good reviews.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

No-knead ciabatta thoughts

Since I wrote up my latest no-knead bread experience last night(pictures), I've been trying to figure out how turn my sub par efforts into a bread I really really like. I want an more open crumb than I got with the Cook's Illustrated recipe. The easiest thing to do would be to just use the original New York Times version, since they had a quite airy 85% hydration and most of the changes made by Cook's were to close the crumb... even the light knead they introduced serves this purpose. Alternatively, since beer and vinegar seemed to do a good job as flavor enhancers, I could just throw out the kneading step and up the water content of the Cook's recipe to something in the 80-85% range. Being that I'm not a big fan of cheap beer however, I thought the more traditional usage of a yeast starter (aka sponge or poolish or biga) might be a better way to go. To make a biga, you take some of your wet and dry ingredients with your yeast and do a pre-ferment where it will rise for 8 to 24 hours. Now to me, that sounds a lot like the long rise the no-knead breads all get anyway... so I'm not entirely sure it's necessary to make a biga, mix in the rest of the ingredients for an 18 hour rise, and then shape and rise again for another 2-3 hours... but that's essentially what these variations I've discovered do.

I don't have a recipe yet, but I'm leaning towards using the Cook's Illustrated ciabatta recipe from March, but altering it for a no-knead approach... and instead of making two smaller loaves on a baking stone do a larger one in the dutch oven. Though the baking stone has some appeal since I've had such trouble with burning. My oven thermometer should be here midweek, so hopefully I can figure out what's going on there... and I've got Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day coming in the same shipment, so that may change my thinking... but I'll keep you updated and blog my results.

photo by flickr user ɹǝɯıʇɹoɯ used under a Creative Commons license

Monday, May 4, 2009

Julie and Julia - THE MOVIE

via Simply Recipes

I had somewhat mixed feelings about the book, and wasn't all that interested in the movie because of that... but the seemingly increased role of Julia Child's life in the story intrigues me. Meryl Streep is perfect for the role, and everybody knows Julia Childs kicked ass.

It looks like the movie is going to be sadly devoid of Julie Powell's love of the F-bomb though.

McGee on Asparagus

Speaking of, here's The Curious Cook:
I got much more reliably tender results simply by cutting the spears evenly to between 6 and 7 inches from the tip. But this can leave almost half of the stalk behind. So I tried slicing all but the very bottoms into millimeter-thin rounds. Fibers cut that short are barely noticeable. The rounds are ringed in green and crunchy when raw. I munch on them while cooking and scatter the rest around the cooked spears for contrast. They also cook in seconds in a hot soup or stir-fry.
Not a bad idea. I've got some asparagus in the fridge getting fibrous as we speak... I may have to try this.

Almost no-knead bread: Attempt #2 (still burnt)

UPDATE:  My oven is indeed running hot, so take that into account when reading this post.

My photos with the step-by-step recipe can be found on flickr here, while the Cook's Illustrated version($) is here.

As you can see, the crust here is once again superb. Presumably the work of the preheated dutch oven... but I'm not entirely convinced this is really the way to go... because, as you can see below, I burnt the bottom again. I think I'm going to try other methods to see if I can get similar results... minus the burning of course... with more control. Cookwise suggests a preheated baking stone with a pan full of water on the bottom of the oven to mimic commercial steam injected ovens, so that may be the way I ultimately go.

Now, I forgot to spray the parchment paper with cooking spray this time... though I didn't forget last time and it was burnt too... so that may be part of the problem. However, the bread was done way early again... so it is more likely to be our oven temp being too high... thus I ordered a new oven thermometer to check it. In both of my bread making attempts, the parchment paper as burnt underneath of the bread...  I'm not really sure what role it might ply with the bottom of the bread burning as well, but I have to say that at the moment, I'm not terribly pleased with the parchment paper solution of Cook's... though that may change if I discover our oven is wacky.  If it's the parchment paper's fault, I wonder about trying to slide it out after I take the cover off the dutch oven?  Would it help if I sprayed cooking spray on the pan itself before lowering in the parchment paper plus dough? The parchment paper sling certainly does make it really easy to get the dough into the burning hot dutch oven.

A pretty good "crumb" as the bakers say... but not quite my ideal. I prefer a lighter and airier bread (i.e. "open crumb bread"), but it was tasty... worked great with the soup we made... and was excellent the next day as toast.

There's a recipe for ciabatta (kneading required) in the latest Cook's Illustrated so that may be what I try next... though maybe not, since it calls for a stand mixer(which we don't own and have no plans to buy) due to how wet the dough is. So maybe I should go with a wetter mix and stay with the no-knead approach? With 15 ounces of flour to 10 ounces of liquid (7 water/3 Bud) is 66.7% hydration... maybe I want something more like 75-80%?  Interestingly, the original recipe that Cook's "fixed" had a much higher hydration level (85%). But do I also want a longer autolysis phase?  I'm not entierly clear on what that contributes...  might have to check my McGee.  This woman, who seems to know a thing or two about baking, uses an 18 hour initial rise (and a hydration around 80%). Hmmm.  My oven thermometer should have arrived by next weekend, so maybe a no-knead ciabatta will be my next project.

I think this might be first time I have felt the Cook's Illustrated version of a recipe steered me wrong. Of course, because of their discursive nature and anal methodology it is incredibly easy to see what decisions were made and why and then just... change them.

The Globe shutting down?

via John Cole

According to the WaPo article it could be a negotiating ploy with the unions, but as the New York Times Company is hurting pretty bad, closure is certainly not out of the question.

It would be fairly embarrassing to have the Herald be our only daily, but at the same time I never read the Globe so it wouldn't really effect me otherwise. I'm not a fan of any Boston sports teams, so that helps.  They've won some Pulitzers in recent years, so it's not like they're useless...  but honestly I just check the New York Times and Washington Post for national news.

As commenter on Balloon Juice noted, the coolest thing they do online is their photo essays called The Big Picture.

UPDATE: The Globe is here interviewing my boss and one of our FES subjects... so I guess if they give us publicity, then they'll be my most favorite newspaper ever. On the negative side, I can't talk to my boss about my paper which is irritating.

Light blogging

Trying to finish up a manuscript, so probably no blogging unless I can get my edits done early and hand it off to my boss for his take.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ugh... this Bud's for me

One of the problems with the "Almost No Knead Bread" recipe is that it calls for crappy beer to impart some yeast flavor... luckily I did find a liquor store that sold single cans of Bud... for $2. Not exactly a steal on the per unit volume scale, but I figure it was a good deal compared to the cost in anguish of drinking an entire 6 pack of it.

They say that strongly flavored beers make the bread taste funny, but there have got to be some other alternatives.

Anyway, my bread has embarked on it's 12-18 hour rise. Cheers!

Whiskey-Aged Beers

I've been drinking Allagash's Curieux for several years now... since my first Belgian Beer Fest(maybe 3 years ago?), and it was already a pretty noticeable trend to age beers in whiskey, champagne, or wine barrels... but it was still nice to see an article about it in The Atlantic Food Channel.

The sad thing about it was that the beer that won Clay Risen's taste test was the one I already really like (in fact, I had two glasses of it last night):
We sampled five beers: Brewdog's Storm IPA, finished in an Islay whiskey cask; Harviestoun Brewery's Ola Dubh Special Reserve 16, a porter aged in 16-year-old Highland Park barrels; Orkney Brewery's Dark Island, an ale finished in scotch barrels; Allagash's Curieux, an abbey Tripel ale finished in eight-year Jim Beam barrels; and the St. Louis Brewery's Schlafly Reserve Imperial Stout, aged in bourbon barrels. All of these I found on the shelf of Washington, D.C. liquor stores. (There are several others out there, including the elusive "Black Ops," finished in Woodford Reserve barrels, from Brooklyn Brewery.)

The Allagash won the day. The Jim Beam influence is clear but not overpowering, giving it an extra, smoky sweetness. It has a heavy natural carbonation and a light color. The aroma is of lemon and apple, and the mouthfeel is thicker than one might expect--Charlie found it a bit syrupy and said it had a "slight, sticky burn." But most of us liked the smooth ale finish, highlighted by notes of white pepper and a pleasing bourbon aftertaste.

I'll have to keep my eye out for Brewdog's Storm IPA and Harviestoun Brewery's Ola Dubh Special Reserve 16.

photo by flickr user bpw used under a Creative Common's license


I had never even heard of these before I came across some pictures while browsing the IFA pool... which I would post, but killa cam apparently doesn't do the Creative Commons thing. You can check them out in the above link, however.

As someone who has only really tried to broaden his vegetable horizons in the last few years... and has zero gardening experience... it's not at all surprising when I run across a veg I've never heard of. Since farmer's markets are still a ways from starting up 'round here, I pretty quickly forgot about it until I noticed two posts about them on Bittman's blog which piqued my interest a little further.

I guess they're "wild leeks" that are found from South Carolina all the way up to Quebec, but mainly around the Appalachians. Since I really dig leeks, and ramps' taste is described "a combination of onions and strong garlic" I think I'm going to have to keep my eyes peeled.

Souter to retire

This news is all over the place... but here is the NYT story. I don't really have much insight here other than that he's retiring fairly young for a Supreme Court Justice and he's fairly liberal. Being that appointing another liberal won't change the balance of the court, and the GOP doesn't even have 41 Senators anymore... I don't imagine it will be a particularly difficult appointment... but who knows? As I come across so-called "informed opinion", I will link to it.