Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. ~ CK Chesterton

Howdy Yall! It's time to lick your lips and drool as we discuss yummy vittles and Texas testaments to taste!

I hope you enjoy your time with us. Please be sure to drop by and leave a message or a hello. We want to know how to better serve you!

~Blue Zebra

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Vermont Sourdough - A Southern Bread?

You know, the birthday celebration for Julia Child got me thinking. Julia wanted to let every American housewife know and understand that cooking flawlessly brilliant meals was at their fingertips; that everyone could do it. She was living proof. Clearly, more of her books and t.v. rubbed off on me than imagined, because that’s the basic premise for this blog. I want everyone to understand that good food, no, awesome food is easy. With a minimum investment of time and money, anyone can make incredible food; food that feeds the soul. The hardest step is to get over your fear of whatever you’re “askeered of” and do it quickly!

My greatest fear was fear of yeast and all things involving kneading and rising. I always assumed that yeasted items were fragile and depended so tightly on measures and rules and it frankly scared the
bejeezes outta me. I avoided it like the plague. Our family was not a family who baked other than the basic biscuit, good old fashioned pie, occasional muffin or cake and maybe a quick bread or two at Christmas. But with the exception of one batter bread, aptly named “Dilly Bread”, because of the loads of dried dill in it, we never saw loaves rising on the counter.

But I knew I had to conquer my fear and de-mystify the process of baking if I was ever going to be able to do what I wanted most. Namely, I wanted to quit spending the outrageous sum of money per loaf for “artisan bread” from the market. I am a tightwad. Frugal doesn’t even come close to my relationship with money and yet, I never seem to have any extra – no matter how tightly I close my fist. I come by this honestly, unfortunately. Few people know, now thousands will know, that for most of my life growing up, we had very severe money issues and were even homeless for almost a two year period, save for the charity of friends and family who let us live with them and who lent our dad money when he lost his business.

It seems like life was divided for me – b.w.d. and a.w.d. or “before Wawa died” and “after WaWa died”. Wawa was Dad’s mom, our grandmother, who lived with us from before the time I was born until the day she died. She died handing me a glass of orange juice at the breakfast table, one Sunday after Church, in September. It felt like all the kids left in the house (my oldest sissy had married and moved away only months before) as well as mom and dad, had a mysterious shake-up and reversal of fortune from that moment onward – but that will be another post. Needless to say, I learned the value of a dollar as a very small girl and it was a large and painful lesson, especially for me and my sissy, A!

So back to bread…curmudgeonly begrudging $3.00/loaf for bread, I determined to make it myself or die trying. I believe fear is the worse part of baking. Bread dough and bread recipes are not shrinking Southern violets. They are fairly tolerant of great abuse and in fact are amazingly resilient: under kneading, over kneading, lack of moisture, over hydrated, cheap flours, chlorinated water, filtered water, over proofing, under proofing, under baking, over baking, you name it! The dough will rise and transform into bread through baking, given enough time and patience. Even the worst loaf of homemade bread on the worst day will taste better than the best store bought bread on any given day. I promise.

The real secret to baking is to have mentors, or people who have been there, done that. They will hold your hand, wipe your brow – metaphorically or even virtually and basically reassure you that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world. Thanks to the internet there are whole sites dedicated to nothing but bread baking and these sights are populated by fantastically talented amateur and professional bakers, alike.

I encourage you to find one of these sites. Face your fear. Then break out the flour, water, salt and yeast and have a bread orgy! That $3.00 loaf will cost you about $0.20 cents to make and take you about 15 active minutes of cooking once you learn the methodology or as Julia said, “Once you learn the techniques, you will free yourself from recipes.” Well, maybe not quite! Baking bread will always at minimum require that you apply a balance or ratio of ingredients, but master the techniques of baking and you will be free to experiment with a window of grace attached. Bon Appetit!

Oh the other secret I learned? You have two choices with dough/gluten development. You can either knead the heck outta it and challenge the gluten, building protein strands as you go or you can let time and hydration do the dirty work and develop it for you. Guess which one I choose? :D

Vermont Sourdough Bread
By Jeffrey Hamelman – Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes
As posted by Weavershouse on another site
Yield – 2 loaves (batards)

150 grams Bread flour (5.269 oz)
188 grams Water (6.603 oz)
30 grams Mature culture (liquid) (1.054 oz)

750 grams Bread flour (26.344 oz)
100 grams Whole-rye flour (3.512 oz)
462 grams Water (16.228 oz)
19 grams Salt (1 TBSP + 1 tsp)
338 Liquid levain (all less 30 g) (11.872 oz)

Make the final build 12 to 16 hours before the final mix, and let stand in a covered container at about 21 °C/70°F

2. MIXING: Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl, including the levain, but not the salt. In a spiral mixer, mix on first speed just until the ingredients are incorporated into a shaggy mass. Correct the hydration as necessary Cover the bowl with plastic and let stand for an autolyse phase of 20 to 60 minutes. At the end of the autolyse, sprinkle the salt over the surface of the dough, and finish mixing on second speed for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. The dough should have a medium consistency. Desired dough temperature: 22 °C/ 76°F

3. BULK FERMENTATION: 2 1/2 hours.

4. FOLDING: Fold the dough either once (after 1 1/4) hours) or twice (at 50-minute intervals), depending on dough strength.

5. DIVIDING AND SHAPING: Divide the dough into 1.5-pound pieces shape round or oblong.

6. FINAL FERMENTATION: Approximately 2 to 2 1/2 hours at 22 °C/76° F (alternatively, retard for up to 8 hours at 10 °C/50 °F, or up to 18 hours about 5,5 °C/42 °F).

7. BAKING: With normal steam, 240 °C/460 °F for 40 to 45 minutes. More often than not, this bread is retarded before the bake. The result is a loaf with moderate tanginess and a sturdy crust that conveys a lot of bread flavor.

Blue Zebra NOTE:

I followed the directions without any tweaks and folded the bread twice after the autolyze period: at 1 hour and at 2 hours. It rose to double in about 3 hours. I divided, rested, shaped and did a final rise of about 2 hours and baked.

This bread was only slightly tangy because I did not retard (refrigerate) the dough following the bulk fermentation. Had I done so, I believe it would have had a much more sharp, sourdough flavor. The texture of the crumb, while not as open as I’d like, was lovely – tender and moist. The crust crunched with just the right thickness and sharp crackle. You could actually taste the color brown when you bit into it. What does brown taste like? Brown tastes like a good piece of toast. Brown tastes like oven-ny goodness. This truly was the best sourdough bread I’ve baked and the prettiest. Hope you will give it a try! Oh, and I used my hands to mix and produce this bread. It still only took 15 minutes of active time, so don't be discouraged if you do not own a Kitchen Aid or other stand mixer! Also sourdough starters can be purchased online from several sources or you can start your own. Mike Avery is an excellent teacher for this Also, a great tool to have at your fingertips is this nifty gram converter. It doesn't take into account specific gravity of an ingredient but here's where I draw the line in the sand. If I need to be talking and thinking in specific gravities, then the recipe is doomed to failure before it hits the mixing bowl. As you can see in the first piccy of the bread...we managed just fine with this little tool. :D However, if you need more precision, here is the gram converter for specific ingredients.

Here's a little toast and jam as requested by my friend browndog! The jam is storebought *wah* but it is good, B assures me. It's peach amaretto with pecans. Now I can say, the peach and pecans are definitely Southern and even Texan. Our peaches from Fredricksberg and Fairfield are equal to any Georgia peach you want to try.

Read more->

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dinner With Julia - Happy Birthday, Julia!

Chicken Provencal with Roasted Rosemary New Potatoes and Zucchini & Red Pepper Julienne

We had dinner with Julia tonight. I know this for certain. I’m pretty sure I channeled Julia and felt her with me as I made dinner! Tonight I made Chicken Provencal from Julia Child’s, “The Way To Cook,” in honor of her birthday.

My friend Lisa, at Champaign Taste, is throwing Julia’s second annual birthday party tomorrow and asked everyone to prepare a dish from one of her recipes. When I heard about the party, I immediately and unashamedly begged to be included.

The meal turned out gloriously. Oh my. Seldom do I make meals that leave me smacking for more. I’m usually so critical of my own cooking. Usually by the time I’m through in the kitchen and plates are served, the last thing I want to do is sit down and “dig in”. But this meal enthralled me from the prep on! From the first cut of the onion, I felt Julia’s presence in my humble kitchen.

I made a beautifully simple dinner based on “my need for speed” being a weeknight and all. It’s actually a combination of two of her recipes: Chicken Breasts Meuniere and Chicken Provencal. From start to finish it took 45 minutes to get food on the table and most of that time was cooking time, not active prep time. Even allowing for dropping everything I touched, the meal cooked quickly. My clumsiness was legend! And as B poured my glass of wine, I felt Julia smiling down and laughing with me!

I loved Julia Child. I adored her from the first moment I watched her on PBS as a young girl, and saw her masterful way of laughing at herself and finding joy in everything. I loved her command of food. I loved her knowledge and I loved that she was a clutz. I can’t remember her without remembering the old Saturday night spoof with Dan Ackroyd as Julia, clumsily chopping his/her hand off…macabre I know, but Julia adored that skit! I love that she loved it! She, as much as my family, influenced my desire to decode the mystique of cooking and entertaining. I wanted to be her when I grew up.

Lisa, thanks for allowing me to have the fun of celebrating Julia’s talent and life. We laughed and had a spectacular time this evening. And every bite was appreciated. In her honor, I prepared Chicken Provencal, served with oven-roasted rosemary new potatoes and a julienne of zucchini and red pepper. Served along side homemade French bread and a gorgeous cabernet (Yes, I know there’s a white wine in the picture…I had that too! *blush*, but the Provencal was cooked with the chardonnay), the meal hit every comfort note you could want.

So, without further adieu, I give you Julia Child’s Chicken Provencal. And actually, it’s two recipes as mentioned above; Chicken Breast Meuniere and Chicken Provencal.

Chicken Breast Meuniere
By Julia Child – The Way To Cook
Yield 4 Servings

4 Boneless and skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp of thyme leaves, dried
1 cup Flour in a plate
2-3 Tbsp Clarified Butter

Optional Lemon-Butter Sauce (I omitted this sauce and substituted a Provencal Sauce)
2 Tbsp Butter
½ Lemon
2 Tbsp Minced Fresh Parsley

Special Equipment Suggestions:
A heavy 10-inch frying pan (no-stick recommended), hot plates or platter

Season the breasts lightly with salt, pepper and thyme. The moment before sautéing, dredge them in flour, and shake off the excess.

Set the frying pan over high heat, add the clarified butter, and, when very hot but not burning, lay in the chicken breasts.

Sauté one minute on one side and turn, and sauté on the opposite side. The meat is done when springy to the touch. Remove it to hot plates.

Optional Lemon Butter Sauce Method:
Swish the fresh butter in the pan, and heat for a moment until it turns a light brown. Squeeze drops of lemon juice over the chicken and pour on the hot butter.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve at once.

To Accompany Chicken Breasts Meuniere:
Try baking tomatoes and fresh buttered spinach or broccoli. Sautéed potatoes would also be welcomed as would a light red wine like a pino noir or Beaujolais.

Sautéed Chicken Provencal – With Tomatoes, Garlic and Herbs
By Julia Child – The Way To Cook

Provencal always means “with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil and often olives and other typical ingredients from that sunny clime.

Sauté the chicken in olive oil, as in the master recipe for Sautéed Chicken. Remove it to the side and spoon the fat but not the juices out of the pan. Stir in 2 cups of ripe red tomato pulp, a sprinkling of mixed Provencal herbs and a couple of pureed garlic cloves. Boil several minutes to thicken the sauce, correct seasoning, stir in several tablespoons of dry white French vermouth and return the chicken to the pan. Baste it with the sauce, cover and simmer several minutes to warm through, basting 2 or 3 times.

Sautéed Chicken Provencal – With Tomatoes, Garlic and Herbs
By Blue Zebra
Adapted from instructions by Julia Child – The Way To Cook
Serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil
3 Roma tomatoes, skinned and seeded
½ Carton Grape Tomatoes, halved
4 Cloves of garlic (large), sliced
1 Onion, sliced in strips
3 Tbsp Capers
16 Nicoise or Kalamata Olives, pitted
1 Lemon, zested
1 tsp Fines Herbes
1/8 tsp Thyme Leaves
1/8 tsp Rosemary Leaves
½ tsp sugar
1 cup of White Wine or dry French vermouth
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Sauté chicken breasts as described in Chicken Breasts Meuniere recipe above and remove from pan.

Add olive oil to remaining butter/juices in the sauté pan and add garlic and onion slices. Sauté until translucent.

Add capers, olives and tomatoes and stir to combine. Cook until you see the tomatoes starting to stick in the bottom of the pan. This means that the liquid of the tomatoes has reduced and the sauce can take the next addition of liquid, the wine.

Add the wine and all seasonings except salt and pepper. Add the lemon zest but do not add lemon juice and sugar. Stir to combine and let the sauce simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the breasts back to the pan, placing them underneath the sauce. Cover and allow to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Do this slowly. The sauce will tighten up and become “melded” with all the flavors and those of the chicken. If it looks too thick when adding the chicken back in, add more white wine to make it thinner. The liquid will reduce while cooking the chicken and the wine alcohol will cook off.

When breasts are tender and sauce is thickened, remove from heat and serve.

Blue Zebra NOTES:
This is absolutely one of my new favorite recipes! The flavor of the fines herbes is fantastic! You can taste the tarragon and the camphor taste added by the rosemary just adds delicious taste notes when combined with the acidity of the tomatoes and the earthiness of the olives and sharp tang of capers. The sugar helps to balance the acidity. This sauce works great for both boneless skinless breasts and also more rustic presentations with bone in chicken pieces.
Read more->

Pizza Club Part 2 - Getting Saucy

It was Friday in the Zebra Pen and that can only mean one thing, Pizza Club. What is Pizza Club? Pizza Club began with my niece, my sissy and brother-in-law back in Dallas. It was all about great friends and family, great pizza and welcoming the weekend! To other blue zebras out there, Pizza Club is all about discussing and making great homemade pizza.

In continuation of our Pizza Club series, I promised we would get saucy this week - talking about anything having to do with sauce. When you really think about it, pizza has three main components that define its quality level: the crust, the sauce, andthe cheese. Get these three things right and the toppings will almost take care of themselves - almost. It sometimes seems as if there are as many variations of each of these components as there are pizzaiolos or pizza makers in the world, so let’s explore the options.

Marinara sauce, sliced tomatoes, chopped tomatoes, olive oil and garlic, alfredo sauce, barbeque sauce, taco sauce, ketchup, hoisin sauce, tiger sauce, or no sauce. This just skims the surface of sauces! I kinda feel like Bubba Gump here but how do you know which sauce to use? Personal preference and trial and error wins every time. What are the conditions under which you are cooking? Meaning, are you making an authentic Neopolitan pizza? Do you need or want to adhere to “the rules” of Neopolitan pizza making? Do you have a high temperature brick or deck oven?

Purists follow strict guidelines depending on the regional specialty they are cooking. Still others will tell you it’s San Marzano tomatoes, canned or fresh and a pinch or two of spices, a grating of parmesan and badabing badaboom, fuhgeddaboudit…there’s your sauce!But once you decide which flavor profile you want: red, white, stylized, funkalicious, then there are other things to take into consideration.

Just as there are three main components to a great pizza, there are also three main variables to determining how to sauce. The most important is determining the heat of the oven along with the length of cooking time. The number and order of toppings also influences sauce integrity. If the sauce is going next to the crust, then the last variable affecting the sauce is the thickness of the cheese and coverage.

Many pizzerias use an uncooked sauce because commercial pizzas cook under high heat in brick ovens or pizza ovens. Temperatures can reach 750°F or more! Temperature this high has the potential to overcook or burn the tomato sauce, especially when cheese is placed in chunks or slices intermittently around the surface area as opposed to grated cheese covering the sauce 100 percent. Using raw sauce effectively combats the over cooking problem.

Most home ovens usually heat up to a maximum 550°F, unless you use the cleaning cycle and I won’t even begin to address that option in this installment! So I don’t really feel like the home pizza cook faces the same types of heat degradation presented by commercial ovens. It’s more important to pick a sauce that carries delicious flavor that won’t break down into water. Water + raw dough = soggy mess when cooked. If that happens, the dough underneath the sauce will never crisp. So choose your sauce, raw or cooked, fresh or canned, traditional or get-down-funky by flavor preference, just watch the water content of it!

As far as red sauces go, I have used cooked sauce, raw sauce and sliced fresh tomatoes. I actually prefer the taste of the raw sauce over cooked and thickened marinara sauces. It tastes “more authentic” whatever that means. For raw sauces I’ve been using canned tomatoes. Again, I feel the flavors are more intense using canned over fresh because of water content. I either use whole canned, seeded and drained or diced and drained. I tend to like the diced and drained better, because it seems like there is higher tomato volume per can. If you do decide to use raw sauce, be sure to allow ample time for the tomatoes to drain using a mesh strainer. At some point in the near future, I will try using roasted tomatoes as a base.

I also like white pizzas either made with an alfredo sauce or a simple olive oil and garlic sauce. In fact, this is my preference for pizzas with non-traditional toppings like artichokes, shrimp, clams or chicken. These simple sauces seem to allow the toppings to take more of a starring role in the pizza.

I have on occasion made specialty pizzas using crazy sauce bases like barbeque sauce and hoisin sauce. They produced good tasting pies but I don’t tend to feel they remind me of pizza from a pizza = comfort food standpoint.

Here is my technique for making fresh sauce. What’s your favorite sauce?

Chunky Pizza Sauce - Raw
Yield 3-10" Pizzas

1-28 oz. Can Diced Italian Tomatoes
3 Cloves Garlic, minced finely
1 Tbsp Dried Italian Herbs (2:1:1 Mixture of dried basil, oregano, thyme)
1 tsp Kosher Sauce
1 Pinch Cracked Red Pepper
3 Tbsp Parmesan Cheese, grated
2 Tbsp Olive Oil

2 Hours before topping pizza, place diced tomatoes in strainer and apply 1 tsp of Kosher salt to allow them to give up much of their water. Try to remove as much liquid from the tomatoes because that will allow the crust to crisp.

After tomatoes have drained fully, combine all ingredients and set aside.

When pizza dough has proofed in the pan, quickly brush dough, lightly, with olive oil then top with raw, chunky sauce and remaining toppings and cheese. I place slightly less sauce in the middle of the pizza than I do around the outer area of the crust. Also, leave 1" around edges, unsauced in order to give a lip to the pizza.

For those who desire a smooth, raw pizza sauce, simply place tomatoes in bowl of food processor and pulse to puree or else, use a burr (stick) blender until smooth. Then add remaining ingredients.

Blue Zebra NOTE:
I made two different doughs this week, experimentation on the perfect crust continues. The thin crust grilled dough version from Cooks Illustrated using the traditional yeasted method was used to make the thin crust. I also used another recipe from a forum member at EpiCurious Forums to make the Chicago-Style deep dish pizza. B voted the Chicago Deep Dish as a 9 out of 10 and within the top 3 pan pizzas to date. I voted the thin crust at about 8 out of 10. I like the sourdough version of it better. I also think there is a preferable dough out there and I will experiment with it next week. Stay tuned, the next pizza club will talk about cheese!
Read more->