Making bread in the winter is challenging for us because we keep the house cool.  Our kitchen is maybe 62 degrees … to rise, bread dough wants to be 75-85 degrees. Usually I  solve this problem by waiting it out. Twelve hours? Who cares? A slow rise for cool dough can make the bread richer, actually. Not in a hurry.

Except when we want to have it for dinner.

So Saturday night we made a neat discovery with the help of our friend, the Interwebs, and came out with a hearty multi-grain boule.

The recipe is here.

I didn’t have any buckwheat flour — and neither did the usually reliable Wealthy Grocer. (Thanks to Nick Hughes for that apt description.) But I remembered some quinoa flour in the back of the baking supplies drawer, and I would have used it except for the hole in the bag. One of our autumn mice had been there first. We added more whole wheat and some extra oats.

But the cool part came (yes, literally) when the dough didn’t rise. At all. Our house is chillier than usual this winter because we have a new woodstove and we’re still working out the upstairs/downstairs details — stove is downstairs, kitchen upstairs.

After an hour or two of not noticing any rising in the dough, I googled bread-problem-cold-rising and was happy to see that other people live in the Northeast.

The solution I liked best seemed almost too simple: put the dough in the oven with a pot full of boiling water.

Huh? The oven is cold. At this point, 62 degrees. How much would a pot of water heat it up, even if it was boiling when it was on the stove?

Well, when I checked back an hour later the temp inside the oven was about 150 degrees, or perfect.  The dough wasn’t 150, but the air around it was. (I know the dough wasn’t at 150 because it had risen considerably, and yeast dies at 140 degrees.)  We took it out, kneaded some, rounded the loaf and put it in a makeshift banneton for a second rise and put it back in the oven with a new pot of recently boiling water.

It baked well, and after allowing it to cool for 10-15 seconds, we sliced off some hunks and ate well. As Ruhlman said, the crust was as satisfying as a pretzel.

We had it with this Chicken Adobo.


Yeast don’t care

… how you treat it, apparently. Thanks to Ratio Man for simplifying yet another quirky corner of culinary practice.

“When I used to read bread recipes, I feared yeast for good reason: Bad bread recipes.  So many instructed me to heat the water to specific temperatures, between 110 and 115 degrees F., and bloom the yeast.  Some wanted sugar in the water.  Some told me to wait till I saw bubbles.  Or they were neurotic about when to add the yeast.  Or the amount, 1-1/4 teaspoons exactly.  Rest the dough in a warm place (because of the yeast), they said, or away from drafts. Or you have to bloom active dry but not instant.  Or don’t add the salt until the yeast has started its work.”

Hogwash? Read the rest here …


Bake / Don’t Bake

As Ron White says, you can’t fix stupid. And you really can’t fix a bad cake. I found this concise warning to non-bakers (me) on The Sweet Beet.

“I’m not a baker. I don’t have the temperament for it.  I have an aversion to precision, preferring to improvise or riff off established recipes adding my own spin. Baking, though, does not reward this trait.   In the same way that Santa divides the world into naughty and nice, I divide the world into baker personalities and non-baker personalities.  I am, without question, a non-baker personality.”

Read the rest here …

And go here for Ruhlman’s Bread Baking Month


A few months ago, I retired a salad bowl I’d used for ever. It’s a pretty old piece of pottery, sort of a beigey pink, with a pear motif on the inside top edge and a crack in the shape of a cross working its way down the side. It is too pretty to throw away and too delicate to use, like the lovely old ladies I used to flirt with at French Club evenings.

I make a simple salad almost every night — greens and onions and tomatoes with a tart garlic vinaigrette — so the vessel is important to me. If I were John Thorne, I’d get a book out of that. But not.

My new bowl is an inverted glass hat of the style worn by Italian members of the Curia in movies about exorcisms. We got it as a wedding present at our surprise nuptials on Thanksgiving a long long time ago. I think it was from our neighbor, Dee thinks it was from the Newspaper Guild local.  Empty, it’s not impressive.  It wants to hold something, like salad.

For a while, I withheld approval of the glass bowl just because I don’t like to take to things too easily.  But it works. In its way, it is pleasing. Which is about all you can hope for from kitchen ware.

So I wash it every day and put it back on the granite island and trust it to hold our vegetable friends in their orgasmic acidic glory. The omelets I made last night, the bean torte tonight, the legs of lamb and the roast chickens and the country pork chops rest easy on the plate knowing they have the full support of the glass hat. Here is how odd I am: it makes me happy.

My cigar store friend Joan Baker asked me today what I was doing, in the WTF sense of what do you do when you are retired. Got me, I said, but I’m always busy, every day, even when I’m just sitting around looking good. Like my former salad bowl.


“The program, which Walmart calls Heritage Agriculture, will encourage farms within a day’s drive of one of its warehouses to grow crops that now take days to arrive in trucks from states like Florida and California. In many cases the crops once flourished in the places where Walmart is encouraging their revival, but vanished because of Big Agriculture competition.”

Read more here.

Living Porkly

My friend Josh likes pig. Not quite as much as my chef, who visited his pig once a week while it was growing to feed it watermelon, but Josh has his own way of making a commitment.

If you’re vegetarian, getting to know your food is certainly more dainty. Pick up a bunch of asparagus at the market and you never think about the rude, dirty hands that wrenched it from the ground and threw it into the back of a pickup. You never wonder if the asparagus liked life better back in the ground or if it is stressed by the crowds and the lights at the farm market.

But if you’re an omnivore, well, yeah, you might have a lot of those thoughts. Like the language. You don’t go to McDonald’s and ask for some dead cow with lettuce and tomato because we don’t eat cow. We eat beef. Like we don’t eat pig. We eat pork. It’s nicer.

Once you get past that to acknowledge that the chop on your dinner plate was part of a live animal a few days ago, the questions become more serious. What kind of life did this pig have? Did he grow up on a farm in Lancaster County where he roamed around the yard and got fed watermelon by a visiting chef?

Or did he survive a brief existence on a factory farm in a filthy cage so tight he couldn’t turn around?

Here’s what I know: the relatively small portion of your grocery dollar that goes for meat should support local organic, free-range farms where animals live a decent life before we kill them and eat them.

The people in this LA Times story go a bit farther.

This is no Halloween gross-out stunt. This class is just the tip of a very porky iceberg. In part, it’s the latest step in the ever-advancing search for connection to where our food comes from.

“I’m all about a direct connection from farm to table and I want to take the next step into meat,” says Kanno, the tattooed, 33-year-old director of Long Beach’s Wrigley Community Garden.

“Some friends and I are trying to find a way we could bring in local meat. And if we do end up sharing a pig, we’re going to need to know how to break it down. So I wanted to familiarize myself with that and hopefully eventually I can take the next step into hog sharing or something like that.”

Read the LA Times story here.