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, September 1, 2007

A Loaf of Bread (Sourdough Pagnotta), A Jug of Wine, A Book of Verse And Thou...

...Beside Me, Singing In The Wilderness ~Omar Khayyam

You know what happens when serendipity meets innovation? I don’t always know the answer to that either but sometimes, it results in an incredible loaf of sourdough bread! I recently experienced a most excellent outcome as the result of combining techniques described in two recipes for bread; Sourdough Pagnotta and the so called, New York Times No Knead Bread, so popular today among many home cooks.

My good friend, at another site, kindly amended a recipe for Sourdough Pagnotta that has quickly become B’s and my favorite bread of all time. The pagnotta has a rich, creamy texture, also known as crumb, while the crust is thinner and crispy. It’s the perfect
thickness. Thick enough for crunch and thin enough that it won’t send you to the dentist for bridge work while you are eating it. That’s got to be great news, right?

The pagnotta is a very dense bread and the holes in it aren’t quite as open as other artisan loafs, at least mine aren’t. But, you just can’t beat this bread for having an easy recipe. It takes precious little effort to mix and prepare the dough and tastes delicious and flavorful. It’s great artisan bread for only pennies on the loaf. It’s also a versatile bread, taking well to variants like asiago pagnotta, roasted garlic pagnotta and black olive pagnotta. I have even done a really awesome tasting apple, smoked bacon and caramelized onion pagnotta bread that turned out so well!

It’s a high hydration loaf. This means that it has a higher percentage of water than other sourdough recipes. I believe a standard sourdough has around a 60-65% hydration and this is closer to 85% or 90% hydration. Scary to work with the first time but once you know the ropes about working with wet dough; it’s a piece of cake. Hmm, maybe not a piece of cake but it surely is a great piece of bread!

I had wanted to bring you the history or origins of this bread. But what I found is pagnotta is the Italian word for bread! So essentially this is one of many recipes for a loaf of sourdough Italian bread! Here are a few other words for bread from other countries.

bread in Afrikaans is brood
bread in Dutch is mik, brood
bread in French is pain
bread in German is Brot, Brot, panieren
bread in Italian is pagnotta
bread in Latin is crustum, panis
bread in Spanish is pan

And here is your bread quote for today!

There is hunger for ordinary bread, and there is hunger for love, for kindness, for thoughtfulness; and this is the great poverty that makes people suffer so much.

~ Mother Teresa

This bread is perfect for sharing with your special someone. B, my best friend and partner in crime and I love to eat it dipped in olive oil seasoned with a touch of balsamic vinegar, a pinch of salt, fresh ground black pepper, shaved parmesan, and a touch of basil. A wonderful, full bodied cabernet or other rich wine and a few roasted olives or grape tomatoes dipped in olive oil and salt make a great accompaniment to it as well. Add a slice or two of dried aged salami and a couple of black seedless grapes and you have a romantic picnic for two! The pagnotta is also wonderful as a bread accompaniment to any kind of meal you can imagine, roasted meat to casserole and everything in between! Mangia!

Sourdough Pagnotta
By Bill Wraith
Yield: 1 Large Loaf or 2 smaller Loaves

400 grams fresh 100% hydration starter (my starter was taken out of the
refrigerator after having been refreshed 3 days earlier. I probably should
have used more recently refreshed and vigorous starter) (14.5 Ounces)
650 grams water (22.831 Ounces)
700 grams KA Organic AP (24.587 Ounces)
50 grams KA rye blend (optional - substitute white flour, whole wheat, or
other) (1.756 Ounces)
50 grams Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo flour (optional - substitute white
flour, whole wheat, or other) (1.756 Ounces)
18 grams salt (1.264 Tbsp)
300 grams pitted halved olives (I used calamata olives) - this is an optional
ingredient. (10.537 Ounces)

Method for making bread:
Mix ingredients until well integrated and there is some resistance to stirring.
Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
(Bill’s Note: I think there was slightly too much water for my choice of flours and maybe because of the olives, which made the dough harder to handle. This was very slack dough. I would use a little less water next time, but I'm reporting this as I actually did it.)

Fold and Rest, Repeat:
Every 30-60 minutes pour the dough out onto the counter, let it spread a little, and fold it up into a ball. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover and let rest 30-60. Repeat this process every 30-60 minutes 3-4 times.
(Bill’s Note: I may not have repeated this enough, given the very wet dough I ended up with. The dough was still too slack later when I tried to shape the loaves.)

Bulk Fermentation:
Place the dough in an oiled rising bucket or bowl. Allow it to rise by double at room temperature.
(Bill’s Note: Actually, I wanted to bake by midnight, so I let it get a little warmer, about 80F, which may have been a little bit of a problem. I think it made the slack dough even a little more slack to also be warm.)

Pour the dough out on the table on a bed of flour and cut in two. Work with each loaf separately. Form a ball by carefully and gently pulling the sides toward the center repeatedly to get some surface tension on the smooth side underneath. Do not overhandle.
(Bills Note: Here I was a disastrous dough handler. I way overhandled it because it was too slack and would not form a ball. It just kept spreading out quickly. Well, I just decided after way too many times pulling at the sides to stop trying and went for flat bread. So, I can't emphasize enough, don't overhandle. Just make that shape and be done with it.

I am doing a second version, and I think I've discovered how to do this. Use thumbs and fingers of one hand to pinch and hold the gathered sides over the center, holding the gathered edges up a little to help the sides stretch and the shape to become more round and taking a bit of weight off the loaf. Use the other thumb and a couple of fingers to pinch a bit of the side, pull the bit out and up and over to the center, stretching the side as you do. Gather that bit in with the first hand along with others as you work your way around the loaf. Try to make it round by gathering a bit from the place that sticks out the most.)

Turn the dough over onto a thick bed of flour with the rough side down.

Final Proof:
Allow the loaves to increase in size by double.
(Bill’s Note: For me, this took about 3 hours. I'm still having a hard time figuring out when these higher hydration loaves have finished proofing. As I said there was too much water, and I never got these loaves to stiffen up very much. They mostly spread out on the counter.)

Bake at 425 degrees F.
(Bill’s Note: This took about 25 minutes, and the internal temperature went quickly to 210F, which I've experienced with these flat high hydration loaves. I didn't get much oven spring. I think the over handling was a serious problem.)

Allow the loaf to fully cool.

The flavor was as good as any bread I've made. The crumb was much less open than I had hoped but was soft and flavorful. I think the flatness was because of the over handling and maybe adding too much water to the dough. Maybe another fold or two would have helped. The gluten never really stiffened up enough. Still, this was a great tasting bread. My bad for the handling, but I'm already trying a second one. I also think the olives made the dough wetter, heavier, and harder to handle. The next try will be without olives.

Blue Zebra NOTE:
When working with wet doughs, high hydration doughs, the tendency is to be scared because the dough looks more like a batter than a dough. But be fearless! No worries, mon! The secret is wet hands!

To make it easier for me, I mix the dough in a bowl with one hand. One hand will be a mess; but that’s ok, it washes! I mix the dough initially until it is just a shaggy mess of incorporated flour, water and starter (I go ahead and add the salt…so sue me, I haven’t had a failure yet because of adding the salt at this phase for this particular dough), cover and leave it for the autolyse period. Then I come back and do my initial folding in the bowl!

I pick up a portion of the dough with my hand and stretch high above the bowl as far as it will stretch without breaking the gluten strands! Then I allow it to be pulled into the center mass of the dough. Once that stretch is finished, I turn the bowl a quarter turn (90 degrees) and repeat the action. I will do 8 of these stretch and folds in the bowl at one time, or 2 complete bowl revolutions. I let the dough rest again, covered. By this time, you will have helped form substantial gluten and the batter will resemble a very wet dough rather than a batter.

The next time, I come back to fold the dough, I will pour it out on the counter as Bill describes. It works to use a dough scraper (moisten it with water.) And it also helps to have wet hands. The dough won’t stick to you then. I don’t use any flour on the counter, but since this dough is so wet, I use a light sprinkle on the counter. The wet scraper and wet hands allow you to stretch and fold the dough, pulling gently from the underneath side (the counter side) of the dough with your hand on top of the sheet of dough, guiding it. You try not to flatten or degas the dough while working with it. The gas is what will make great, irregular holes in the final bread.

Here is an excellent video of doing the stretch and fold with a some what dryer dough (lower hydration dough). My friend, Mike Avery, at Sourdough Home developed this video for his student and is an excellent teacher and writer. I highly recommend his books. They are very affordable books and are available as online versions for quick downloads. You can be reading in less than five minutes.

I used my stainless steel Dutch oven to cook this bread because I don’t have my cast iron Dutch oven here. I used the lid for the first 30 minutes and then baked it another 30 minutes without the lid. I cooked the bread for one hour at 460 degrees F, and the final internal bread temperature was 211 degrees. It was perfect even though there was a rather large hole immediately under the top crust. I could have collapsed it with a pin to let the air out but was in a hurry to bake it for dinner.

I hope you will try this bread. Even though I cut into it before it was fully cooled, you can see how moist this bread is and in my opinion, it has much more complexity than the No Knead To Knead bread that is so popular right now.
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Monday, August 27, 2007

What In The Fricassee Have You Done With My Chicken? Chicken Stew Secrets Revealed

Ok so what do you do with a hundred pound chicken? It sounds like the opener to a cheesy joke, doesn’t it? But for those of you who took the time to read The Naked Truth About Hens, you will know I’m almost 100% entirely, serious…Well, maybe I’m only about 20% serious, but I did learn one thing much to our chagrin. Clearly, you do not roast a hundred pound chicken, unless you love foul fowl. I found that out quite unequivocally.

The voice in my head mocks me and I hear it reverberate again and again. What do you do with a hundred pound chicken-chicken-chicken? In desperation I answer the voice now shouting in the recesses of my aching brain, “The answer isfrick, frick, frick, fricassee! You cook the paprikash out of that bird and if that doesn’t work, you smother the little clucker till it makes a sauce piquant! If that still isn’t good enough, then you let it stew in its own juice!” Deep breath. Breathe. At last, the whining voice resides.

Long, slow, moist heat isn’t really much of a secret. Most people who have been cooking any length of time, or have alternately watched one season of FoodTV know low, slow and wet is guaranteed to break down the ropey muscle fibers of a tough cut of meat. But how do you add the flavor to that meat or chicken, in this case?

Growing up, Mom used to make a very traditional Southern dish called smothered chicken. Oh my, I still smack my lips thinking about it! She’d bread and fry the chicken pieces until golden outside but still raw inside. Then she made a roux the color of caramel or not-quite-pecan and added onion, bell pepper and celery (the Cajun trinity, don’t ya know), water and chicken and let it simmer for hours. Mom served it over rice with a side of cornbread and turnip greens. You almost couldn’t beat this dish for pure cold weather comfort food!

If you add Cajun spice and a healthy dose of cayenne “peppah”, pepper sauce, jalapenos and tomatoes you go from a simple smother to a sauce piquant, pronounced sauce pee-cawnt, in a hurry! This is a lively Cajun version of a smother that just rocks my world, completely! The sauce piquant works great for ordinary chicken but it reaches nirvana when you use it to stew dove or rabbit. Paul Prudhomme’s recipe elevates it to celestial. It's so fine. It will seriously make you want to sit up and "slap yor mamma"!

Aromatics like a mirapoix (French trinity), a mixture of onion, celery and carrot is another way to add flavor to stew. Seasoning the chicken pieces with herbs and spices is yet, one more way. Still more secrets to flavorful and tender chicken stews include browning the meat prior to cooking in liquid, making a dark roux, adding acids such as wine, vinegar and mustards or you could just do what we did to tame our hundred pound bird, you could do all of the above!

The end result for our hundred pound chicken was tasty, tender, chicken meat in a rich brown, paprika flavored gravy that had a bite of mustard and lingering mellowness of wine with a slight zip of cayenne to wake up your taste buds. I knew immediately it deserved to be accompanied by homemade spaetzle. Lucky for me it was comfort food on crack. Unlucky for you, you weren’t here to sample it, because like most brown and cream colored foods, pictures just can’t possibly do it justice.

I heartily recommend you try fricasseein' the devil outta your hundred pound chicken, soon!

Chicken Fricassee aka Chicken Paprikash
By Blue Zebra
Serves 8

1 100lb Chicken (hehehe) Carcass with Legs, Thighs and Wings (everything but the breasts)*
½ Quart Brown Pan Gravy
1 Large Medium Onion
1 Green Pepper
2 Stalks Celery
1 Carrot, Large
5 Cloves Garlic
1 Quart Chicken Stock
1 tsp Thyme, dried leaves
1-1/2 Tbsp Paprika
¼ tsp Cayenne Pepper
2 Tbsp Country Style Dijon
½ Bottle White Wine
1 Quart Mushrooms
1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
½ cup Sour Cream

*Recipe Note- Ok, if you don't have a hundred pound chicken, use an 8# chicken. If you still don't have one of those, use the carcasses and dark meats from two broilers or fryers or use wings, necks and dark meat to equal about 3-4 pounds of chicken meat. If you haven't previously roasted this meat, you will need to season and thoroughly brown the meat in a saute pan or roast it with veggies in the oven. I recommend roasting it in order to fully develop the brown layer of flavor in this recipe. Make sure to use extra veggies and not the ones listed in this recipe. The ones listed here are for the final compilation of the stew. This can be done the day ahead.

Remove the skin from the cooked chicken. Separate into pieces. Chop veggies and add with chicken to Dutch oven. Add Mustard, wine and seasonings. Let simmer on very low heat. Do not boil, you want the liquid to barely move. Simmer for 1-1/2 hours or until chicken is tender. Remove carcass and chicken pieces and cover with foil. Let it cool enough to pull meat off bones and chop.

While chicken is cooling, turn up the heat so that the simmer of the liquid becomes more active. You still don’t want it to actively boil. Cook uncovered and allow the sauce to reduce. The sauce will thicken as it reduces because of the flour added to the brown gravy. If it looks too thin to you, you can always mix a couple of tablespoons of flour with a little extra wine and shake it up in a container until smooth. Pour thickener into liquid, stirring constantly to combine. Cook an additional 5-10 minutes to allow the flour to cook and for the sauce to thicken from the addition. Adding flour suspended in a liquid usually eliminates any clumping.

Add diced chicken meat back to the liquid in the final five to ten minutes of cooking. Heat through and taste to adjust seasoning. Serve over noodles, macaroni, spaetzle, rice, mashed potatoes…well, serve over just about anything carbalicious and starchy! You can even serve it over homemade bread in a pinch. Sprinkle with a touch of paprika and a little fresh chopped parsley.

Blue Zebra NOTE:
I served this like a Hungarian meal would be served: sweet and sour cabbage with caraway seeds, cinnamon applesauce, homemade spaetzle and homemade bread with butter. Not exactly what I would call a summer meal, nor a light meal, either. But necessity dictates. So, the good news is this freezes beautifully. We ate it and froze the rest in vacuum seal bags and now have chicken fricassee aka chicken paprikash aka that-chicken-stuff aka chicken stew primed and ready in our deep freeze and just waiting for Jack Frost to make his first appearance!

This stew can also be made using the wing tips from chickens you trim and with legs and thighs only, making this extremely economical. This whole meal with all the side dishes costs about $.85 per serving when made that way. Now, that’s the REAL secret to chicken stew!
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