Friday, February 29, 2008

Baking with sourdough starter

Thanks to a gift of sourdough starter from Dylan the Sourdough Monkey Wrangler , I have been learning how to bake sourdough bread. I wrote two posts about my early experiences over at The Ethicurean. Part One was about how to create a starter and how they work. Part Two was about making the bread.

Here are two photos from my archive. The first is shows two rounds of dough that have just been shaped. They sit in the baskets for an hour at room temperature and then go into the refrigerator (!) overnight (covered with plastic wrap to prevent moisture loss). The next day they spend a few hours warming up before baking.

The photo below shows one way to get a beautiful crust: bake the loaf in a heavy pot (an idea I got from the famous No Knead Bread article in the New York Times).

I preheated the pot and lid for about 30 minutes before I carefully dropped the ball of dough into the dangerously hot pot. Then I replaced the cover and let it bake for 30 minutes covered, then removed the cover, gasped in awe at the beautiful crust for a few seconds, and let it finish baking uncovered for about 15 more minutes.

I've been having lots of fun with the sourdough starter, and my next few posts about sourdough baking will be here, not at the Ethicurean, so stay tuned.

Random link from the archive: Unusual Greens, Part 6 - Orach

Technorati tags: Sourdough : Baking : vegetarian : Food

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Recipe - Thai coconut, galangal and cauliflower soup

illustration of galangal from Wikimedia Commons

Galangal (Alpinia officinarum or A. galanga) is an ingredient that I associate exclusively with Southeast Asia -- Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, in particular. I have pounded it into a Thai curry paste, used it in a Malaysian Nonya Laksa, and stir-fried it with garlic, chilies, lemon grass and mixed vegetables.

So it was quite a surprise when I read in Jack Turner's Spice: The story of a Temptation (which I reviewed back in February 2007) that galangal was very popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. It was often part of a spice "gift basket" to give to nobles, as spices from the East carried as much status as flavor or aroma. It was an ingredient in a famous sauce called galantyne (along with bread crumbs, ginger, sugar, claret and vinegar). The great chef Taillevant, who served several French kings in the 14th century, often called for galangal in his book Le Viandier de Taillevent. Galangal eventually fell out of favor in Europe, probably as a part of the nearly wholesale abandonment of heavily spiced food on that continent after the Middle Ages.

Galangal has a distinctive aroma and flavor, reminding me of camphor and medicine, not really something you would expect to want in your food. The flavor is piercing and ethereal at the same time. That combination, however, really works in some recipes. In the coconut-cauliflower soup shown below, for example, the sharpness of galangal is an excellent counterpoint to the rich coconut, bright lime leaf and earthy cauliflower.

Cauliflower, Coconut and Galangal Soup (Tom Ka)

1/2 c. coconut milk
1 inch lemon grass, finely chopped into rings
1 inch galangal, peeled and chopped into thin disks (as a flavoring agent to be removed later)
3 kaffir lime leaves, roughly torn into quarters
1 small cauliflower (8 oz.), cut into florets
2 T soy sauce
1 t sugar
3 cups vegetable stock
4 fresh small red or green chilies, slightly crushed
2 T lemon juice
Cilantro to garnish

Weights and Measures, Metric Conversion

In a large pan, combine all of the ingredients except for the chilies, lemon juice and cilantro. Over medium heat, simmer until the cauliflower is al dente. Remove from the heat and add the chilies and lemon juice.

Pour into a serving bowl, and garnish with coriander leaves.

Variations: add some tofu cubes, or diced carrots in the first step.

Adapted from Thai Vegetarian Cooking, by Vatcharin Bhumichitr

Image credit: upper illustration of galangal from Wikimedia Commons.

Random link from the archive: Panisse on Stage

Technorati tags: Malaysia : Thailand : vegetarian : Food

Friday, February 08, 2008

An adventure with live cuisine

Cocina Poblano. Regional Mexican cuisine complete with a live tortilla bar and a wide selection of high-end tequilas comes to Jack London Square. 499 Embarcadero West (at Washington), Oakland; (510) 451-4700. Lunch, dinner daily; weekend brunch.

San Francisco Chronicle

photo of tortillas from karindalziel at flickrI don't have the budget or time to travel the world seeking dining adventures like Tom Parker Bowles ("The Year of Eating Dangerously"), Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio ("Man Eating Bugs"), or Anthony Bourdain, so I saw the "live tortilla bar" as a chance to follow in their 'food steps' and be daring with my dining. The next day, a friend and I paid a visit to Cocina Poblano.

I had no idea that Mexican food in the U.S. could be so adventurous. Behind the bar there was a container of the tortillas, wriggling furiously. Every now and then the chef grabbed one with her bare hands (!), doused it in a thin brick-red sauce, sprinkled on a bit of cheese and passed it to the pick-up station.

I ordered a plate and within a minute one was sitting in front of me.

The tortilla was still warm, still full of life. Waves rolled across its sauce-covered body as it convulsed lightly. I could tell it was a little woozy from one of the potent tequila-fortified salsas that the chef had created specially for their live tortilla offerings. My dining companion, a committed vegetarian, would have none of it — she actually had to step away when I took my first bite.

It was a surreal experience, one that I could not…


"Uh, hello?"

"Hey Marc, it's Bonnie. Just wanted to see if you needed a ride to the book signing ..."

"The signing? Give me a second to wake up. I must have dozed off while reading that new report on food-safety regulations." So it was all a dream… just a dream.

Well, the part about me eating a wriggling tortilla was. But what the heck is a "live tortilla bar"? I checked with the Chronicle food department and they said that the restaurant would be featuring tortillas made on the spot by a real live human. That sounds a lot better than my dream, as a fresh corn tortilla made with good masa is truly a thing of beauty, something that makes me want to write another installment of In Defense of Corn.

Inspired in part by This American Life's 2007 Poultry Slam, in which Jonathon Gold eats a live prawn at the Living Fish Center restaurant in Los Angeles. Photo of tortillas from karindalziel's flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License. Cross posted at The Ethicurean.

Random link from the archive: Two Short Book Reviews

Technorati tags: Mexico : Food