Thursday, November 30, 2006

7 Year Bread

Over 7 years ago, on October 27, 1999, I e-mailed myself a recipe for Pumpkin Pecan Spiral Bread by Amy Scherber (of Amy's Bread, 3 retail bakeries in Manhattan plus wholesale baking) that was in the New York Times. Like many other e-mailed recipes, it went into my "Food and Wine" folder for later use.

Every year around late October and November, the stacks of canned pumpkin remind me of that recipe, but I never quite got around to buying the ingredients and scheduling enough time to try the bread. Until this year.

Recently, I had everything on hand -- canned pumpkin, butter, spices, eggs, pecans, yeast, salt, honey, milk, cornmeal and flour -- and allowed myself to be caught up in the spiral bread. It is a real bread, one that requires kneading and rising, not one of the pumpkin quick breads that are popular in the Autumn (and usually quite delicious). The large number of ingredients and the heaviness (and stickiness) of the dough made this one of my more challenging bread projects, but certainly easier than brioche or ciabatta.

I started by making a sponge comprised of all of the wet ingredients and about 1/3 of the dry ingredients (including the yeast, but no salt). This sat for 30 minutes, then I mixed in the rest of the dry ingredients (except for the pecans), and kneaded the dough for 5 minutes. Next, I gradually kneaded a stick of melted butter into the dough -- a messy and somewhat decadent experience --and kneaded the now butter-enriched dough for a few more minutes. After a 20 minute rest period (to relax the gluten in the dough and make it easier to handle), I added the pecans, then started the first rise.

Pumpkin bread proofingWhen the dough had doubled in size (1 1/2 hours), I cut it into three pieces, rolled each one into a long, thin cylinder (about 24" long), and formed the three rolls into spiral domes. The three domes rose for another hour of rising.

The bread was superb. The butter and egg yolks give the bread a great body, the flavor of pumpkin is a warm background, the spices provide some zing, and the pecans give rich flavor and textural contrast. When toasted, the outside surfaces obtain a delightful crispiness that I don't find in other breads. I imagine that it could make a base for a sublime bread pudding (and a very special one, given the effort required to make the bread).

Unfortunately, it appears that the New York Times didn't archive the recipe or article on their website, so if you want to see it, you will need to visit your local library and ask for the microfilm New York Times of October 27, 1999. Amy Scherber has a bread cookbook, and perhaps it is in that volume.

Indexed under Baking
Technorati tags: Food : Bread : Baking

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Week of Eating

A Week of Eating Collage[updated below]

Last week, Sam of Becks and Posh suggested a dare in which participants photograph everything they eat between Monday November 20 to Sunday November 26 (her week is here). And I thought, "why not?"

My Week of Eating
The picture above is the "everything" collage for the week; below I present daily collages with short descriptions. I didn't travel for the holiday, so no airplane or road food. You might notice a lot of repetition -- I typically cook two or three complex and (usually) delicious meals during the week, and eat the leftovers several times, either at the office for lunch or for dinner at home.

The "photograph everything" challenge definitely affected my eating while at the office. I'd be sitting at my desk in the office, and would consider going to my collection of snacks in the break room. But did I really want to get out my camera and drag that along with me? And what if someone walked in while I'm taking pictures of a pile of almonds or a few squares of chocolate from various angles? That would be weird.

Monday Food Collage
Abbreviations: B = breakfast, S = snack, L = lunch, D = dinner, Ds = dessert.

B: Home-made pumpkin-pecan-spiral bread, one slice with butter, one with cream cheese (I'll blog about this bread later in the week). One fuyu persimmon
S: Roasted and salted almonds
L: Saag paneer, spiced cauliflower in yogurt sauce, basmati rice, apple chutney. Dark chocolate (Lindt, 70%)
S: A PowerBar "Nut Natural" (I got it on sale for 20 cents. It wasn't very good.)
S: Roasted and salted cashews
D: Enmoladas (corn tortillas dipped in a home-made mole negro sauce) topped with crema and queso anejo, cabbage and carrot salad with lime dressing, roasted butternut squash and potatoes, black beans, mango lassi (not pictured)

Tuesday Food Collage

B: Pumpkin-pecan-spiral bread (one slice with butter, one with cream cheese). Pink lady apple
L: Saag paneer, spiced cauliflower in yogurt sauce, basmati rice, apple chutney. Bartlett pear
S: 2 squares of chocolate (Lindt, 70%)
S: Slice of pumpkin bread with butter
D: Enmoladas (corn tortillas dipped in a mole sauce), roasted butternut squash, cabbage and carrot salad with lime dressing, black beans, margarita (not pictured)
Ds: Vanilla ice cream topped with dulce de leche and toasted pecans

Wednesday Food Collage

B: Pumpkin-pecan-spiral bread. One slice with butter, one with cream cheese. One fuyu persimmon.
S: Roasted and salted almonds
L: Enmoladas (corn tortillas dipped in a mole sauce), cabbage and carrot salad with lime dressing, black beans, 2 squares of chocolate (Lindt, 70%)
S: Roasted and salted cashews
D: Saag paneer, spiced cauliflower in yogurt sauce, basmati rice, 2 papadums

Thursday Food Collage

B: Pumpkin-pecan-spiral bread (one slice with butter, one with cream cheese). One navel orange
S: Handful of Trader Joe's sesame sticks
L: Enmoladas (corn tortillas dipped in a mole sauce) topped with crema and queso anejo, roasted butternut squash, cabbage and carrot salad with lime dressing
S: Two slices of home-made multi-grain sunflower-seed bread with Bellwether pepato cheese
D: Tossing Thanksgiving traditions out the window. Cheese-less chanterelle mushroom souffle (I forgot to put in the cheese!), braised savoy cabbage, slice of multi-grain sunflower-seed bread, potato-leek-carrot soup, Granite Springs chardonnay (El Dorado County)
Ds: No pumpkin pie for me. Instead, crepes (all local ingredients, using whole wheat flour from Full Belly Farm) topped with applesauce, dulce de leche, toasted pecans, and Cowgirl Creamery creme fraiche

Friday Food Collage

B: Pumpkin-pecan-spiral bread (one slice with butter, one with cream cheese). Bartlett pear
S: Handful of Trader Joe's sesame sticks
L: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich (using homemade jam on homemade bread). A somewhat bland lunch, but the location made up for that: looking out over the Pacific Ocean at Pescadero State Beach
S: Lindt chocolate
D: Enmoladas (corn tortillas dipped in a mole sauce) topped with crema and queso anejo, roasted butternut squash, potato-leek-carrot soup, margarita (not shown)
Ds: Crepes (made with local whole wheat flour from Full Belly Farm) topped with applesauce, dulce de leche, toasted pecans, and Cowgirl Creamery creme fraiche

Saturday Food CollageB: Two small slices of the pumpkin bread with cream cheese, one slice of multi-grain sunflower seed bread with butter and kaya jam (a coconut-egg custard infused with pandan leaf that is popular in Southeast Asia. This one was from Thailand.)
S: Handful of Trader Joe's sesame sticks
L: Saag paneer, spiced cauliflower, basmati rice, masoor dal. A piece of homemade plum candy (recipe on page 125 of The Ferry Plaza Cookbook)
S: Lamb's quarters and cheddar cheese quesadilla
D: Tortilla casserole of lamb's quarters, roasted butternut squash, corn (frozen), cheddar cheese, and crema, with two sauces (roasted tomatillo-chipotle, and tomato-chipotle). Black beans. And a margarita

Sunday Food Collage

B: Two pieces of whole-grain sunflower-seed bread, one with peanut butter and plum jam, the other with butter and kaya jam. Bartlett pear
L: Chanterelle mushroom souffles, savoy cabbage, masoor dal.
S: Bowl of coconut-almond granola with milk
S: Bowl of potato-leek-carrot soup
D: Rice noodles with vegetables and tofu. Pink lady apple
Ds: Crepes topped with dulce de leche, creme fraiche, and brandy-stewed pear

After I wrote "that would be weird" about taking photos of my lunch, I thought a bit about it, and it seemed like it could be fodder for a sitcom. I first thought of Seinfeld, as one could easily imagine the main characters going overboard about something as trivial as a person taking pictures of his lunch. Imagine this:

[exterior shot of Jerry's apartment building, the characteristic music playing]

Jerry: He was taking pictures of his lunch with an expensive camera? Right in the break room?

George: Yeah! Pictures! I could hardly believe my eyes! I had no idea what kinds of nuts worked in my office.

Kramer: You know, my friend Bob Sacamano had a cousin who was in a cult that took pictures of their food. Then his camera broke, he couldn't eat without a picture, and he almost starved to death. That was trouble.

George: See what I mean? One day it's just photos in the break room. Next week he'll probably will he be recruiting me to join in? We gotta do something about this.

...and so on. Perhaps Elaine would volunteer to start dating this guy to see what is going on, and craziness would ensue. Or perhaps to get back at George, the photo guy uses the immense power of the blogosphere to temporarily close down the coffee shop, leading to a tirade from George: "I had to go to Reggie's, Jerry! Reggie's!." (first heard at the end of "The Pool Guy")

Indexed under Events, Miscellaneous
Technorati tags: Food

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Eating in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Photo of Mini-Idli in SambarA Shock to the Senses
For someone used to the low-key, climatically mild, and well-sidewalked San Francisco Bay Area, Kuala Lumpur can be shocking. It's hot, often chaotic, and pedestrians need to take a combined approach of aggression and defensiveness when trying to cross a street (even when the walk sign is on). The noise of zipping motor scooters and ancient buses assaults any sense of calm you might have.

Nonetheless, there are many reasons to like the city. For one, the food is great: fresh, skillfully prepared, clean, and interesting. Malaysia is positioned on a major Asian trading route, so there has a long history of cultural mixing, and it shows in the restaurants and markets, with influences from China, Thailand, India and elsewhere. And since many non-Malays have stayed in the country, relatively "authentic" versions of foreign cuisines are available. Like the mini-idli in sambar from South India pictured above (from Saravana Bhavan in Little India).

Bazaars and Lights
I was in Malaysia during Ramadan, a month of fasting and contemplation for Muslims. During the late afternoon, food and drink bazaars sprout up in various parts of the country to help families prepare for their post-sunset fast breaking and subsequent meal(s). I was not able to see any of the great bazaars in full swing and thus don't have pictures or comments. If you are curious, I recommend visiting Masak-Masak for several great posts about the bazaars with plenty of pictures (one, two, and more).

A frequent offering at the Ramadan bazaars are kuih (also spelled kueh), which are little cakes and sweet things. The pink and white kuih pictured to the left was made from rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, and water, and was steamed in several stages to obtain the layering (sort of like 7-layer Jello, one of the desserts of my childhood). The yellow and blue item had a base of sticky rice that was cooked with coconut milk, and topped with a coconut custard.

Deepavali (the "Festival of Lights", also called Diwali) was also celebrated during my visit, and although I was able to visit a few of the festival bazaars, I did not run across any notable sweet stands. You can find a nice treatment of the sweets of Deepavali in KL at Eating Asia (a must-read -- and must-see -- blog if you are interested in Southeast Asian food and culture).

Putting Instant Noodles on the Menu
In some regions of Malaysia, instant noodles have become part of the street food scene. One of the stars is "maggi mee goreng" (literally: Maggi-brand noodles fried). It consists of the instant noodles with spices, vegetables and other items. On my previous trip I did not try them, but this time I was sure to try "maggi mee" (as part of my first meal in K.L., at Devi's Corner, a Bangsar landmark). It was OK, but I don't really see the point of a restaurant using pre-fried instant noodles instead of normal noodles. I would have rather eaten another masala thosai or roti canai.

Indexed under Restaurants, Malaysia and Singapore
Technorati tags: Malaysia : Food

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Treehugger's 100-Mile Thanksgiving Challenge

Treehugger, "a fast-growing web magazine, dedicated to everything that has a modern aesthetic yet is environmentally responsible," just announced the five finalists for their 100-Mile Thanksgiving Menu Challenge. And I'm one of them!

To create my 100 mile Thanksgiving plan, I did not start with a traditional Thanksgiving menu and try to replicate it using local ingredients. Instead, I used my impressions of autumn---cool days, chilly nights, colorful trees---to guide my selections at the Farmers' Market, wine shop, and cheese shop in Berkeley, California. This is what I came up with:
  • Snacks: almonds, pecans, local cheeses
  • Salad of lettuce and frisee topped with fuyu persimmon and walnuts
  • Wild Mushroom Souffle
  • Braised Chard with Garlic
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Wines: organic Zinfindel from Sobon Estates, unoaked Chardonnay from Granite Springs (both located in El Dorado County)
  • Dessert Crepes Topped with Stewed Apples, Pecans, and Spiced Creme Anglaise
You can find my full menu, more details on the sources of the ingredients, and the menus of the four other finalists over at Treehugger. (the map at the top of the post shows the sources of my ingredients)

If you like what I submitted, please give me your vote here (deadline is midnight on November 23, Eastern Standard Time).

And if you want to keep up with happenings in the world of Green Living, be sure to read Treehugger.

Indexed under Eat Local Challenge
Technorati tags :: :

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More snacks for the ears

Time for another roundup of some of the best free downloads that I have been putting into my ears.

An Afternoon with Pete Seeger - (on Living on Earth) - A long interview with the legendary folk musician about music, protest, sailing, and his efforts to clean up the Hudson River in New York (the Clearwater). The interview ends with an extraordinary "riff" on optimism by Mr. Seeger (it starts at 26:35 if you want to jump right to it).

Tokyo Fish Market - another clip from Living on Earth, a visit to the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

Agriculture in West Marin County - an overview of some of the challenges faced by food producers (another clip from Living on Earth) in environmentally sensitive areas.

And again, another Living on Earth piece: Popcorn Production Harms Workers. "The chemical diacetyl, used to make artificial butter flavoring, has been linked to a respiratory disease called 'popcorn lung' in hundreds of people. Labor unions and prominent occupational health scientists are calling on federal authorities to set an emergency standard for the chemical in the workplace." More coverage at firedoglake.

I might need to rename this post "The Living on Earth Roundup", because here is another Living on Earth link. Wondering how the November 7th election will affect environmental policy in the U.S. Congress? This show from L.o.E. talks to a few reporters and experts about how they foresee the 110th Congress to act on such issues as climate change and energy.

A 24-part series on The Folkways Collection, a American record company with astonishing breadth and historical importance. Artists who recorded with Folkways included Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, civil rights leaders and hundreds of unnamed musicians from around the world. My favorite programs so far are Blues, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Music and the Winds of Change: The Civil Rights Movement and the Overture. The civil rights program is especially moving, as it consists of live recordings of music and speeches made during the height of the struggle for equal rights between 1954 and 1965. The Country and Bluegrass had some good moments too, but also some moments that made me want to smash my MP3 player (it's possible for voices to be a bit too rustic and rough hewn).

The great and never predictable This American Life is finally podcasting. The files are downloadable for just one week after broadcast, so be sure to update your podcasts regularly.

Finally, the ever-interesting weekly radio program Good Food from KCRW (Santa Monica, CA) has a new website that includes timing marks to accompany the content list for their recent programs. So if you want to skip to the interview with Roy Carver about growing real wasabi in Oregon, you'll know how many minutes to jump ahead.

Indexed under Miscellaneous
Technorati tags: Environment : Music : Radio

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wraps Around the World...."Rendang Wrappo", Kuala Lumpur

photo of Rendang Wrappo brochureWhile futilely chasing some shopping recommendations in the latest Footprint Borneo Guide (which includes chapters on Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and has quite a few errors), I ran across an interesting brochure at one of the many multi-floor shopping centers in Kuala Lumpur. "Try Our Delicious Rendang WRAPPO today," it reads. Try it as part of O'Brien's Ramadhan Set, the announcement continues, and you'll get the WRAPPO, fresh juice, dessert and dates for one low price. (Dates, I learned on this trip, are one of the most popular foods for breaking the daily Ramadhan fast because of their high sugar content and easy digestibility, with great taste certainly another reason.)

Rendang is one of the signature foods of Sumatra (Indonesia). To make it, slices of beef are cooked in spice-paste-enriched coconut milk for many hours, becoming tender and aromatic. The spice paste--which varies from cook to cook--could include nutmeg, cloves, shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, chile, and galangal. Stalks of lemongrass, cinnamon sticks, lime leaves and other items are additional flavorings for the broth.

The O'Briens Rendang Wrappo brochure is truly a multicultural effort, with the company logo at the bottom of the brochure reading "Irish Sandwiches", and the offer of chicken tikka masala (a.k.a. CTM) as another option for the Ramadhan Wrappo Set. CTM is widely believed to be the creation of a chef from the Indian subcontinent who was cooking at a restaurant in the UK (Wikipedia's entry and the links within contain many views of the dish's murky history).

I was at the shopping center during the mid-morning, so O'Briens did not have the wrappo available, and thus, I was unable to inspect it in person.

Indexed under Travel, Malaysia and Singapore
Technorati tags: Malaysia : Food : Travel

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Unusual Greens, Part 6 - Orach

Photo of Orach Leaves (Atriplex hortensis, also known as mountain spinach, arroche, butter leaves) Updated 10/3/16: Fixed broken links

At the Saturday Berkeley Farmers' Market a few weeks ago, I saw a vegetable at the Happy Boy Farm stand that I had never seen before. It was a large bundle of arrowhead-shaped leaves with reddish-brown stems. It looked like amaranth greens, but the sign said "orach."

Orach (Atriplex hortensis, also known as mountain spinach, arroche, butter leaves) has a long history as an edible plant. The invaluable Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini (by Elizabeth Schneider) says that the plant has been cultivated for millennia, was part of the diet in classical Greece and Rome, and was a regular feature in meals Europe and the United States until sometime in the 20th century. Schneider writes that orach is a close relative of lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album), but has no mention of amaranth, so while my initial connection between the amaranth and orach might have been superficially correct, it was possibly not botanically correct.

Schneider writes that the salad mix craze has caused a slight revival of orach, as its stark color and aggressive flavor make it a wonderful component of mixed baby greens. So perhaps it has always been in the salad mix I (rarely) buy, and I haven't noticed.

I prepared the bunch I bought like I prepare most greens: wash, strip the leaves from the stems, heat some olive oil in a skillet, cook a chopped garlic clove in the hot oil for 30 seconds, then carefully pour in the greens, and cook until tender. As greens go, they were about average, with a mild flavor, restrained bitterness, and minimal stringiness.

Seeds for Fish Stunning?
My brief internet searching on the vegetable turned up the fact that orach seeds are "high in saponins". Plants for a Future says this about saponins:

Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching the seed or flour in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish.

After reading this, I think that if I buy orach again, I'll cut off most of the seeds.

Here is another link on orach, from Purdue University.

Orach and Mr. Bernstein
I have not seen orach at the market since that day. When I visit the Happy Boy stall on Saturdays, I look for it, hoping for another chance to culinarily commune with history. But it's only a bunch of greens; I certainly won't end up like Mr. Bernstein and the girl with the white parasol.

In Citizen Kane, there is an early conversation between Mr. Thompson (a reporter assigned the Kane story) and Charles Foster Kane's former colleague Mr. Bernstein, in which Bernstein recollects (script from the Internet Movie Script Database):

You're pretty young, Mr. - (remembers the name) Mr. Thompson. A fellow will remember things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me.

One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on a ferry and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in -(slowly) - and on it, there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on - and she was carrying a white parasol - and I only saw her for one second and she didn't see me at all - but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.

(triumphantly) See what I mean?

Photo of Orach Leaves