And the rain still comes …

Slow Cooked Apple Butter

I have been watching the coverage of the Texas storm almost non-stop (I don’t sleep much) and then our own rains started. They were all day, though gentle without wind, it helped sustain the sympatico with those affected by Harvey. So, I thought of things that are great to cook during cool, wet weather, and I put a chicken in to slow roast and started a small batch of apple butter, made from really tart local apples, apple cider vinegar, a cinnamon stick, black strap molasses and stevia (I don’t like to use a lot of sugar).

The aromas emanating from my kitchen all day have been HEAVENLY! And I wish I could share them with all the Harvey refugees. But I will do what I can to help online. Hope you will too!

For my Gourmet Artisan Gin Drinking Customers …

For anyone who does not imbibe, or for those who are struggling, please know that I do not want to encourage anyone to drink alcohol. But for those of my customers or followers who occasionally like a nice gin & tonic in the summertime (and you can put me in that column), this is for you.
Did you know that gin is just infused vodka? High end gins (and there are many) infuse their own special botanicals, spices and fruits before performing a final distillation. But the final distillation is only to remove the color and particulates. Before that is done it is “compound gin” as long as the primary infused ingredient is juniper berry. So you pay an exceptional price for this artistry or artisan flair.
But you can actually create your own compound gin by infusing these same selected botanicals at home. You will save money and create an incredibly delicious and fresh gin for mixing your cocktails.
Now, you can go and purchase or gather these infusion ingredients yourself — and it is fun to do — but CherryGal Heirloom Organics has done the research and put together a great little kit for infusing a 750ml bottle of neutral Vodka which you will purchase. It is a fallacy that inexpensive vodka is inferior vodka. There are very good and inexpensive neutral Vodkas available, including UV, Deep Eddy, Svedka, Luksusowa, Finlandia and Sobieski. Just be sure you choose a clear, neutral vodka, since flavored vodka is also on the shelves.
Another advantage to choosing a CherryGal Heirloom Organics Do It Yourself Artisan Gin Kit  — and an important one — is that the botanicals are all organic. When botanicals are infused in alcohol, the alcohol extracts everything from the botanicals — the flavor, the fragrance, the color and, unless it is organic, any pesticides or chemicals used in production. Yeck! Using my kit you will achieve a beautiful, clear gin with a golden botanical coloration.
So I hope you will give my new product a try. It is legal. It is fun. It is inexpensive (especially compared to Williams and Sonoma and others). And it takes about 5-10 minutes of your hands-on time and 36-48 hours waiting time. Available online at www.cherrygal.com or at the Warrenton Farmer’s Market each Saturday! Enjoy!

Fabulous Offerings next Saturday!

I want to thank everyone who turned out on Saturday May 13 at the Warren County Farmers Market. Despite inhospitable weather all day, we had our SECOND BEST DAY EVER in terms of sales, so thank you so much!

This coming Saturday I think I can confidently predict more new offerings that may interest you. Keep in mind, these are heirloom ORGANICALLY GROWN so I’m sorry if the prices are somewhat higher than others but they do require more attention then hybrids. But they are without a doubt HEALTHIER for you and your family and if gardened properly will be just as productive and satisfying (more so).

TOMATOES: In addition to a few Costoluto Genovese and Hillybilly tomatoes, I will have some Black Krim, Brandywine and Coeur Di Boeuf (oxheart). My favorite “spicy” pepper is Ancho Poblano, and I will have a few ready by Saturday. I will continue to offer Diva Cucumber, and they are getting bigger and stronger by the day. This is a stellar performer in the garden, with disease resistance. I will also have some Rosemary, regular Chives and Parsley Gigante (Italian flat leaf) for your pleasure. I will also have some beautiful Nasturtiums, which are so lovely in the garden, but can also be put to culinary use in salads and as toppers for soups.

I will send out another email before Saturday’s market, so you know exactly what to expect. As with all my offerings, early bird gets the worm!

Special Italian Heirlooms on Saturday at Warrenton Farmer’s Market

It’s been a quiet morning  listening to the gentle rain and the birds while I potted up various herbs that have outgrown their tiny hydroponic start pods. I have some special offerings this Saturday, and I thought I would give you a heads up since, as is my habit, I only have a few of each.
I am pleased to offer three of my favorite Italian heirlooms — organically grown of course. The first is a delicious slicing tomato called Costoluto Genovese. An indeterminate, it can require more attention from you to get to full fruiting (I recommend caging and pruning), but when it does produce it does so abundantly! This old Italian heirloom from Genoa features deep red pleated fruits that have the most extraordinary “slickery” texture and delicious flavor. It was grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, who had very discerning tastes. You can use for cooking, but I particularly like it chopped fresh and combined with homemade mozzarella and basil.
Another Italian heirloom that is the quintessential paste & sauce tomato San Marzano — an Italian heirloom gifted to the Kingdom of Naples in 1770 from the Kingdom of Peru! Since that time, it has become renowned as the best paste/sauce tomato bar none. Recent research by cancer specialist Dr William Li indicates that the cooked San Marzano tomato is the best cancer fighter (prostate and breast) of all tomato varieties! Grows just 4′ high, so very manageable.
I will also be bringing a my special Sweet Italian Pimento Pepper that is a single-lobed, thick walled heart-shaped sweet pepper with excellent flavor and perfect for roasting and adding to any dish or pickling.
Finally, a gourmet summer squash grown for use in traditional Italian cuisine. Costato Romanesco has a rich, nutty flavor and firmer texture than others so it stands up well to various recipes. The green flecked fine ribbed fruits are best picked when no larger than 4″-6″ and for a special treat, pick them even smaller when the large flowers are still attached, which you will gently batter and saute. This bush plant produces an abundance of male flowers if you want to cook just the flowers without sacrificing potential fruit, stuffing with soft cheese and gently baking till runny, then sprinkling with chopped basil. Or add the sliced fruit to soups or shred raw into salads. This variety is just too fine to use for zucchini bread.
If you buy one of these great Italian heirlooms, you will get a special recipe from “Vegetables from an Italian Garden” by Phaidon. Be sure to ask, as I will have them printed out and ready, but if I am distracted I might forget to give you.
I will also have a few heirloom gorgeous bi-color Hillbilly slicing tomatoes and the newer California Wonder Bell Pepper plants and more herbs, including basils — all organically grown of course.
And some Lucky Like treats — reduced because they are from last week that did not sell. I won’t have time this week to do a fresh batch. Since they last a month or longer in the fridge, this is your chance to pick up a bargain. The Lucky Bucks you have collected will be honored.
See you on Saturday!

Warrenton NC Farmer’s Market Season Opens April 15

Lucky Like Premium Dog Treats will be back weekly at the Warrenton NC Farmer’s Market opening 8 am to Noon on April 15. We will be offering our Best Selling Crunchy Peanut Butter Biscuits and NEW Bacon Cheddar Barley Bones.

In addition, we will be offering a NEW Heavenly Herbal Elixir for your dogs, cats and chickens. Just add a tablespoon or two to your pet’s food or water to get the benefits, which are many, from keeping bugs at bay to putting a spring in your elder pet’s step, addressing skin issues, and building strong teeth and bones, anti-depressant and pain reducer and anti-inflammatory. All this achieved with an Organic brew of apple cider vinegar and organic herbs that are safe for your pets! Comes in a beautiful corked bottle which can be returned for a discounted refill.

Finally, get your gardens going with CherryGal Heirloom Herbs offering a wide range of ORGANIC culinary and medicinal herb seedlings, and a few decorative seedlings, during the opening weeks. It is so important to grow organic for anything that you will be utilizing for food or medicine. Most varieties will be in very limited supply, so please come early on the 15th. I can’t bring them all, so there will be more in following weeks until gone, but again it will be first come first served (and no pre-sales). A partial listing:

Allheal (Prunella vulgaris), Apple Mint (Mentha suaveolens), Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis), Blood Sorrel (Rumex sanguineus var. sanguineus), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), Cinnamon Basil (O. basilicum), Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), Bronze Fennel  (Foeniculum vulgare), Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea), Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum), Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’), Gooseneck Lysimachia (Lysimachia clethroides), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citratus), Lemon Mint (Monarda citriodoro), Thyme, Lemon (Thymus citriodorus), Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), Macartney Rose (Rosa Bracteata), Oswego Tea (Mondarda didyma), Painted Sage (Salvia horminium), Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Syrian Oregano (Oreganum maru), Tri-color Sage (Salvia officinalis v. tri-color), Variegated English Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosum), to name just a few!

There will be so many returning vendors this year and some new ones so I hope to see you there!

Bell Pepper Lovers …

Know them by their fruits! I think it is cute that the number of bumps on the bottom of a sweet bell pepper correspond to its gender … if you think about it, it corresponds to people’s gender parts (sort of) lol!

But actually, it is not true. Check this out.

Makes you kind of wonder about the person at AWM Food who was sitting around contemplating peppers and sex enough to create this false pix haha!

 

Autolyse to the rescue

No, its not a contract for car rental, and is actually pronounced as it if were an automatic bug infestation (lice), but AUTOLYSE is a remarkable, innovative, dare I say … “miraculous” way to achieve the kind of flavor, lift, crust and really open chewy crumb, sourdough bakers all strive for.

Autolyse Sourdough Loaf

It does require time and attention. Want to get that out front at the get go. Not a method you can use quickly, or leave and forget it. But not a lot of “hands on” time. In fact, this is perfect for bakers who do not have the upper body strength or energy for vigorous kneading, nor the ability to safely use heavy dutch ovens required for previous “no knead” recipes.

Autolyse is an ancient term meaning “self digestion.” The term was applied to baking by Raymond Calvel (1913-2005) who taught Julia Child, among others, and developed a profound body of research on various flours and in the process developed the autolyse method of baking. In sourdough baking, it translates to a wet, shaggy dough that is allowed to begin the flour hydration process before the sourdough starter is even added, thereby relaxing the gluten.

In the autolyse method I have adopted, this is followed by several short periods of bulk fermention “bf” punctuated by gentle folding of the dough, not kneading (which incorporates oxygen but dulls flavor), and returning for another bf period. After several such sessions, the dough becomes more manageable, builds flavor, and eventually can be shaped, though it will still be soft and appear to not have much lift at all. That is deceiving. The actual baking method is also critical, because it is here that the lift, crumb and crust all develop. You will be astonished. I am every time I do this.

To begin, you will need a mixer with open paddle attachment (not bread hook), a bench knife, a good ceramic bowl, a clean kitchen towel, unbleached baking parchment, and baking trays (not flat cookie sheets). I have my preferences on all these things but I don’t do ads on my blog so no brand names mentioned here.

First Steps:

  • Start your dough by heating 3 Cups water to 85F-90F (I put in my microwave for 1 minute on high) and to that add 3 Cups White Bread Flour and 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour (this is suggested ratio, you can play around with amounts and types all you want) and work vigorously in the mixer until you have a shaggy wet dough. Use a spatula to push all the dough down and toward the center, then cover with towel and let rest for 40 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the type of dough you want to achieve. This is your Autolyse.
  • Activate your starter in a clean glass bowl. So easy! Microwave a cup of filtered non-chlorinated water in your bowl for 30 seconds on High. Then add your wild caught sourdough starter (which is usually about a cup if you bake regularly) and a cup of bread flour and use a wire whisk to give it a thorough talking to. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and put in proofing box (I use my microwave — turned off of course). It is ready to use when it develops a top layer of micro-foam. (You will know it when you see it.)
  • Add to the Autolyse: 1 Cup of activated starter (put remainder in clean glass jar in fridge for future use), 4 t salt, 1/4 C water (again, unchlorinated and 85F-90F) and any other additions your recipe calls for such as oils, sugars, honey, citric zests, olives, herbs, nuts, cheese, etc). [The reason you hold off on adding salt until now is that hydrating the flour first in the Autolyse allows enzymes to free up more sugar for the yeast to eat, whereas salt tightens gluten strands.]

Bulk Fermentations / Folds

  • Begin by removing your dough (a wet shaggy mess at this point) to a floured board) and using your floured bench knife to slide under an edge of the dough, lifting and folding it over toward center. Do this all around several times until the dough is more cohesive but still very soft. You do NOT want to achieve a stiff dough at any point.
  • Put in large ceramic bowl, cover with clean towel and move to the proofing box (i.e. microwave) for the first Bulk Fermentation (bf) of about 30 minutes.
  • Repeat the folding / fermentations up to six times, until dough is still soft, but ready to take shape. At this point you can divide and shape, placing onto unbleached parchment (doesn’t burn at high temps like bleached) on trays. Cover with towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
  • While your loaves are resting, heat oven to 500F.
  • When oven is ready, put the trays at center.
  • Add 1/4 C filtered water to bottom of oven to produce steam (or in pan at bottom of oven) BE CAREFUL as this will produce a hot cloud of steam so you must remove your hand and shut the door very quickly lest you be burned. TURN OVEN DOWN TO 450F and set timer for 30 minutes. [Please note: pouring directly into your oven bottom can risk your oven’s electronics if it doesn’t have a steam clean function, hence use a pan instead.]
  • Repeat the “steam shots” at least once during bake. This is how you achieve the wonderful dark golden crisp crust.
  • Baking times will depend on your recipe and mostly importantly your additives. An olive bread, for example will require up to an hour. A simple ungarnished dough only 35-45 minutes.
  • Your bread is done when the crust color is right and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Using a good sharp serrated bread knife will preserve your loaf. Reserving the heel end to cover the open end will keep your loaf fresh. Use a piece of baker’s twine to keep in place. You do not need to cover if kept in this manner, but you can put in a bread bag or poly bag once it is completely cool though the crisp crust will soften a bit. As with all wild-caught sourdough breads, flavor continues to develop so that your last slice is more flavorful even than the first (which is awesome).

This may seem like an extremely complicated way to bake! It is — the first time you do it. After that, I promise, you will see the simplicity and ease of it and you may find yourself baking bread much more often than you ever have before. Enjoy!

 

 

Sourdough Heaven … Mediterranean Style

 

My Sourdough Olive … a first!

Well, that caption should truthfully say, “my second,” because it took a previous try before I got the recipe right. My first attempt utilized 50-50 white to whole wheat and was just too dense. My chickens loved it though!

This batch utilized a 75-25 ratio of white to whole wheat with a very wet dough that was gently “turned,” not kneaded, multiple times over the course of its bulk fermentation. And to achieve the wonderful crust (which often eludes me) I started with a 500F oven, added the loaves and immediately turned the temp down to 450F and added a half cup of water to the bottom of the oven. I did this periodically throughout its bake. (A word of caution about that … my oven has a steam cleaning option so this can be done. But some oven electronics might suffer with this step. Even a great loaf is not worth ruining your oven.)

Finally!

And the FLAVOR! My first loaf used a different brand of Kalamata olives that were chopped. This time I used a really good salt-brined sliced brand that added tremendous rich flavor. So in addition to the usual health benefits of sourdough, the olives add even more! This is as good as any professional loaf I have ever tasted (so good I had two thick slices slathered in butter), and it is sourdough, so I do feel like I’ve just won the Pulitzer or something … having finally achieved an excellent crusty, open crumb, chewy tasty Sourdough Olive loaf!

Thank you Audrey II!

The Sourdough Schedule

Since I began my Sourdough Life, I have noticed that bakers love to complicate their recipes. Whether it is tweaking the ingredients, measurements, schedule, or interventions, a new Sourdough Baker can get lost in the complexity. So here is a basic schedule for baking Sourdough Bread — once you get the yeast under your wings and can trust your baker’s instincts, this is a handy schedule to print and put on your fridge. Enjoy!

Baking with Wild Caught Sourdough is …

  • MAGICAL because you are capturing these invisible creatures, feeding and caring for them, and then asking them to work for you to make something delicious
  • INSPIRING because it allows your imagination to take flight, creating new and different breads, muffins, biscuits, cookies, pizzas, tamales, noodles, hush puppies, cakes, crackers, pancakes and pie crust
  • HEALTHY because Wild Caught Sourdough Starter is made from natural yeast which requires a long fermentation to rise and this is what creates the immune enhancing, macro-biome promoting, and nutrient rich properties
  • ECONOMICAL because of its long shelf life … it has natural preservative qualities so you don’t waste and don’t need to refrigerate
  • MUCH MORE FLAVORFUL — compared to commercial yeast breads which taste like kleenex tissue, natural sourdough is tangy, rich, deeply delicious and actually becomes more so the longer it sits out
  • MOOD ALTERING — not only because of the different kind of candida that it produces, but also just the slow, rhythmic kneading, the waiting, anticipation and reward that baking with sourdough provides. It can enrich your life!

Each time I bake with my wonderful Sourdough Starter which I named Audrey II (after the insatiable plant in Little Shop of Horrors) it is an adventure. There are so many things I can do with it. This past week I made a delicious pizza. This weekend I will be baking Challah for my Church’s Fellowship Hour. I’ll be baking two loaves — just as is done for Shabbat, representing the double portion of mannah given to the Israelites in the wilderness so they would not have to forage on Shabbat. The braided form which we now associate with Challah, was not used until Medievil Times. Challah made with Wild Caught Sourdough Starter seems to me somehow more traditional, as it is natural yeast, as opposed to commercial yeast, which wasn’t available until the 20th Century. The recipes and form vary, but always incorporate eggs, giving the bread full flavor, fine grain and a golden hue.

New Year’s Challah with 6 Braids