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May, 2010:

Boiled, Steamed, or Soaked

I have a reputation, I suppose, for being pretty strongly carnivorous.  Based on what I write about in this space that is partly justified but to pacify my concerns for my health and the planet’s I’m trying to get used to eating less meat.  A critical step in this process is eating more protein-rich pulses and grains.  This week it was bulgur wheat.

For beans, lentils, rice, quinoa and friends I can never remember the ratio of water to food so I always need to turn to Google for instructions.  This time I was intrigued (in a “why didn’t I consider that” sort of way) by a comment in this recipe that bulgur wheat can be cooked by boiling, steaming, or soaking it.  Sometimes the agitation of boiling water and stirring is needed to change the physical properties of what is being cooked–risotto is the obvious, best example–but when that’s not the case this rule seems like it would apply widely.  I’m also struck that during the summer when wasted heat in the kitchen matters most a method that involves an electric kettle for a couple minutes would be ideal. (more…)

A Strong Foundation

In my April post about building a wood-fired oven I wrote about turning the corner from just talking about the project to actually doing it.  As proof that we were getting serious about the endeavour I posted a picture of our ever-expanding resource library that included the plans we intended to use. We now have much more than a pile of books to point to as evidence of our progress.

Before breaking ground we did an extensive amount of research.  My cousin’s friend, Mike Bucci, took us on a tour of his backyard oven that is the first of many for him as he plans to start his own company, Alfresco Living, to install backyard kitchens.  I have also become an active member of the online forum run by Forno Bravo, the company that provides the Pompeii Oven plans we’re using.  Through the FB forum I got in touch with Jim Wills of Mary G’s Bread in Prince Albert, Ontario.  Jim told me about Alphatherm the go-to source for brick oven materials in the GTA which is where we got our first load of firebricks, mortar, and the insulation that will sit below the oven floor. (more…)

Red Fife Rematch

Based on the comments and my own impressions I am convinced that my first comparison test using flour milled from Red Fife wheat wasn’t representative and that my methods need polishing.  I tried to force a square peg into a round hole by having the whole grain Red Fife stand in for white bread flour in a rustic baguette.  This round I set out to let it play more closely to its intended role.

For a more fair and relevant test I pan-baked two whole wheat loaves, one with store brand whole wheat flour and the other with the stone ground, whole grain Red Fife flour that I bought at Pantry.

As is my semi-default practice I used a recipe from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  True to Reinhart form it leans on long fermentation times and calls for both a soaker and a poolish.  Sounds bizarre and like a lot of work, I know, but the bit of extra preparation is worth it.  (more…)

Olive Cheese Balls

Bruschetta is great when tomatoes are in season, delicious things can be done with smoked salmon and blue cheese (separately), but for my mother’s side of the family the king of hors d’oevres is the Olive Cheese Ball.  I know there are some of you out there who don’t like olives and I guess this post doesn’t have much more to offer you than a dose of pity and a wondering head shake. For the enlightened majority: Imagine a larger than usual olive baked–so that all of its delicious, briny attributes are heightened by–in a crisp, cheesy crust.  My idea of pre-dinner heaven.

The original recipe typed by my grandmother

Above is the recipe I was working from simple and concise but my goal for this experiment (and this post) was to tweak it a bit to make it my own.  I’ll deal with the ingredients first and the technique second.  Four easily obtainable ingredients but the volume measuring are a bit of a problem. (more…)

Gambling with Tomatoes

As mentioned in the April Gardening post May 26 is the average last frost date for the general area our vegetable garden is in.  Other than cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini tomatoes are the garden’s most frost-sensitive, common plant.  The consensus advice is to wait until a week after your average last frost date to put them in the ground.

I’m partly motivated by a competitive drive to be the first with backyard tomatoes; I’ve been very good about staying away from mealy, pink-white winter tomatoes and it would be great to break the fast even earlier in August; but at this point there is also a strong desire to get all of these pots off the kitchen windowsill and outside.  The temperature this week are supposed to be above seasonal with highs in the low- to mid-twenties and lows not below ten degrees celsius so it’s definitely time for the tomatoes to go into their final home in the garden. (more…)