Thursday, February 2, 2012

Shiny Zombies, Vampires, and Rye bread

A zombie ate my blog. Well, not my blog,  since everyone knows that zombies eat brains, but a brain is somewhat needed for the word-putting-into-sentence thing, so you can see where there might be a problem. I’ve managed to stay involved in the kitchen, but when I came to the keyboard to tell you about what I was doing I either got nothing, nada, zippo, or half-statements and occasional paragraphs. My brain was a static snowstorm, and it was entirely too easy to distract me.

How did I get this way? Basically for the month of January everything has worked to keep me up at night. I’ve been keeping thoroughly vampire-ish hours (zombies and vampires. . . . look who’s finally trendy, haha). Naturally we were up for New Year’s Eve. Every year some of Hubby’s awesome friends open their home and welcome their circle of friends to ring in the New Year in style. Spending that transitional holiday with them has become such a tradition, and I have to say I appreciate it more every year. But I digress.  See? . . I’m so shiny- in this case,  raccoon “ooh, look, something shiny”, not “Firefly” Serenity (2002) shiny (which roughly translates to pretty, good, etc.). By the way, I just ended up looking up movie quotes. Shiny. Anyway, from January 1st forward, in spite of keeping odd hours, I do have some good things to show for my time in shiny-town.

The real experiment that brought me back from the (brain)dead, was this homemade artisanal Rye bread.

This recipe is based on posts on two other blogs:

Those recipe are both based on “The Bread Bible" (of which I am not fortunate enough to possess a copy), but I enjoyed both posts, so I wanted to give them props. Naturally, I did a bit of tweaking, especially to accommodate my sensitivities and personal taste, but without the recipe that they cited, their photos and insights, I would have been at a loss. The process is much more involved than any bread that I have baked to date, but the results make it worthwhile to answer to a timer and tend to the dough throughout the course of eight or more hours.

-I used active dry instead of instant yeast, because that is what I had on hand. Normally I proof the active dry yeast, but since this was an all day process I didn’t worry about that step. I did not add additional yeast, as I could allow more time for rising which is known to produce a more flavorful result.

-I am giving instructions for making this by hand, as that is my method, but you can refer to the original recipes for instructions on using a stand mixer.

-I used organic all-purpose flour since I don't use bread flour because it is more difficult to find organic specialty flours in my area, organic all-purpose is readily available, and because of a higher possibility of malted barley added to the flour (malted barley is listed as a possible source of MSG). I found that the all-purpose flour worked great for me, but the recipes actually listed bread flour.
Rye bread, alongside a dish of egg salad. You can see the slice that
Hubby & I just HAD to bite into after buttering a few bites of bread.
·         ¾ cup flour
·         ¾ cup rye flour
·         ½ tsp active dry yeast
·         1 Tbsp sugar
·         1 Tbsp organic molasses
·         1½ cups water at room temperature

·         2 cups flour
·         ¼ cup rye flour
·         ½ + 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
·         2 Tbsp of caraway seeds (optional: I ground these in a mortar and pestle, and even processed in a food processor for a few minutes. The result was still mostly seeds, but with some powder and less crunch.)
·         ½ Tbsp coarse salt

Additional Ingredients
·         ½ Tbsp oil (I used melted butter; add when you mix the dough, and coated the dough with olive oil when it was rising)
·         2 tsp blue cornmeal (for the baking sheet)

Combine the ingredients for the sponge in a large bowl. Whisk well until smooth (intentionally incorporate air). Set the sponge aside while you prepare the ingredients for the dough.
Whisk together the dry ingredients for the dough, and gently spoon it on top on the sponge (cover the sponge completely). Here the instructions say to cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, but since I don’t use plastic wrap, I placed a glass lid on the bowl (I have also read of people using a damp towel- after all they had to use something before the advent of cling wrap, right?).
Set aside to allow the sponge to ferment for 1-4 hours (the sponge will bubble through the dry ingredients in places). Since they didn’t really indicate how to choose between 1-4 hours, I checked periodically for signs of activity and used the full 4 hours. One commenter on Smitten Kitchen’s blog suggested that the original (from “The Bread Bible”) recipe instructs the baker to ferment for one hour at room temperature and then refrigerate overnight. I intend to try that approach next time. Note: I did try the refrigerator method, and I liked the results; it does take a while for the sponge to wake up as it comes to room temperature.

Add the oil (or melted butter) and, with a wooden spoon stir until the dry ingredients are moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until the ingredients come together, then scrape the dough onto a lightly floured counter-top. Knead the dough for 5 minutes (it may be sticky). Cover with the inverted bowl and let it rest for 20 minutes. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Note: Once you have kneaded dough by hand a few times, you come to understand the change that happens in dough, and that statement ‘smooth and elastic’ will become clear. If this is new to you, all I can tell you is to pay attention to how the texture of the dough changes. You are looking for signs that the ingredients have truly combined and the bonds are becoming more elastic; this is what gives dough the structure to rise.

1st Rise:
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn the dough to coat it completely in oil. Cover and allow the dough to rise until doubled, app. 1½-2 hours. Flip the bowl over and allow the dough to fall onto a lightly floured counter.

2nd Rise:
Press the dough gently and fold or form it into a square-ish ball, return the dough the bowl (oil it again) and cover it, allow it to rise for 45 minutes.

Final Rise: Shape the dough into a ball, and place on a cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet. (I chose to use my Haeger stoneware jelly roll pan-I need to get a baking sheet from them, but this worked out fine.) Again the instructions call for plastic wrap, but I turned the bowl over and used it instead. Let rise to almost doubled, app 1 hour-1 hour 15 minutes (to test the dough, it is ready when you gently press with your fingertip, and the depression slowly disappears). When I set the dough aside to rise, at this point I preheated my oven to 450°F (app 230°C*). You want the oven thoroughly heated and ready for the baking bread.

Slash and Bake:
With a sharpened knife, make ¼-inch deep slashes in the top of the loaf. I didn’t have a mister, so I tossed a few  tablespoons of water into the oven and didn’t mist the dough. Place the baking sheet (with the dough on it)  in the oven.
Note: I did end up covering the dough with parchment partway through the baking time to keep it from getting too brown.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 400°F (app. 205°C*) for 30-40 minute, or until the bread is brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. I took Smitten Kitchen’s suggestion and used a thermometer inserted into the center from the side of the loaf (look for 190°F or app. 87.7°C*). (*update: over time I have learned to check the bread at 10 mins, as it is sometimes already close to temperature- I take it out a few degrees shy of 190°F, if possible, and let if finish 'baking' on the stone on top of the stove.)

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Pink slime revisited

On May 11, 2011 I published my first post about pink slime (the familiar name for ammoniated boneless lean beef trimmings). This particular item has received quite a bit of attention in the press, on Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution”, the movie “Food, Inc.”, and the blogospere in general. As a reminder, pink slime is meat particulates that have been spun in a centrifuge to separate out the fat, treated with ammonium hydroxide (to kill pathogens like E. coli), and frozen in blocks or chips. The end product is then shipped out to be mixed into ground beef for fast food, school lunch meat, and even grocery store sale to consumers.

In an interesting turn of events, some fast food chains have dropped the use of this filler product, and the backlash has begun. One article defends “supplementary beef  protein”, and bemoans discontinuing use of this “perfectly edible, highly functional ammonia-treated beef protein”. Activists are being accused of undermining public health by using the “ick” factor to destroy food innovations intended to protect consumers.

I find it interesting that we as consumers are expected to just close our eyes and open our mouths and say ‘ah’. Obviously the food giants knew that people would not want to eat this product, or they would have clearly labeled products and invited the public in to see what they were up to, and THAT is the point to what activists are saying to consumers. Personally I aspire to eat better than “perfectly edible”, my goal is to eat as much whole and minimally processed food as possible. I have chosen to really look at the reality of food, and the quality of the life of the animals and workers that help bring food to my table.

Is it surprising that the beef industry is angry at the people that have exposed the process to public scrutiny? certainly not. After all, there is little doubt that the trimmings, once considered only useful for dog food, became more profitable when they found a way to render them fit for human consumption. They are angry that some people are walking away, and they are losing money, but they are overlooking the fact that we have the right to know the details so that we can make an informed choice.

I am reminded of that old movie “Soylent Green”, the 1973 movie based in the 2022 New York. Population has exploded, food is limited, and the Soylent Corporation produces green wafers touted to be high energy food from plankton (they also make Soylent Red and Yellow, with the Green being more rare, but I digress). However, in the movie, the plankton has died off, and the company makes Soylent Green from the corpses of dead people (recall Charlton Heston’s famous line, “Soylent Green is PEOPLE, it’s people I tell you!”). Obviously the idea is still an exaggeration, even compared to current concerns, but the basic idea of knowing the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of our food system is a valid approach. When we were children, it was okay to keep certain details from us, but we’re big boys and girls now, and some of us want to know the truth.

The fact that some of the fast food industry has rejected ammoniated filler is one step towards better food, and proves the power of the consumer. When the details came out, when the discussions began, and when the public made their feelings known,  changes resulted. Still, there are many more changes that we need to make in our food system, and every dollar spent is a vote towards the future of food.

Vote wisely, keep well.