There are few virtues a man can possess more erotic than culinary skill.
Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses
by Isabel Allende

Starting in November of 2009 Michelle at the Big Black Dog formed a group to bake its way through Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg. I loved Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, so I signed up with the group. Michelle first had us do a couple of warm-up assignments, which were my first attempt at blogging. The first "Official" post was on January 15, 2010, and it was followed by 41 more, on the 1st and 15th of each month. When I signed on I said I would bake the whole book, and like Horton (the elephant) I meant what I said and I said what I meant. I finished baking the book on October 1, 2011. Having completed that challenge, now I am just going to do some stuff, and post about it. As part of that stuff Michelle is posing a new, and different, challenge for us each month.

I am still baking bread, mostly the Five Minutes a Day kind, and if you would like to try the Five Minutes a Day bread method there are some links, with recipes, in the right hand column to get you started. Please give it a try.

But first, a word from my sponsor . . .
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This day be bread and peace my lot.
Alexander Pope

How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?

Julia Child

Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.
Yiddish proverb
(And some are only half baked.)

There is no love sincerer than the love of food.
George Bernard Shaw, via Sharon

Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.
George Herbert

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dog's Body

Since we have all completed our first challenge, baking our way through every recipe in HB in 5, Michelle has graciously offered to give us monthly challenges, to keep us off the streets.  The challenge this month was to make something historical.  For inspiration I looked to historical fiction: the Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian.  These novels, 20 of them in all (plus part of an unfinished 21st), cover the period of the Napoleonic wars.  The series begins in 1800 and ends about 1815.  Jack Aubrey is a captain in the royal navy, and Stephen Maturin is his particular friend, a ship's surgeon, and a spy.  The  movie Master and Commander, with Russel Crowe, is drawn from several of the books.  I have read all 20 books, and am gradually working my way through them a  second time. Needless to say I like these books very much, and heartily recommend them.  You should start your voyage of discovery with the first book, Master and Commander.

The series has spawned several related works: an atlas, an "illustrated companion," and a compilation of music.  Most importantly for our purposes it prompted Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It's a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels (Patrick O'Brian) by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman, Lisa Grossman Thomas and Patrick O'Brian.  (The "which it's" construction is drawn from a speech convention used by Killick, Aubrey's steward, homage to which I have paid in my own subtitles.)  Lucky Jack Aubrey loves women, he loves sailing, he loves prize money, and he loves food.  The novels lavish significant attention on this last topic, hence the Gastronomic Companion, which recreates recipes for the meals in the books.  For a sense of what these meals were like I strongly suggest you visit Blog d' Ellison, for pictures and a description of a dinner prepared 'a la Aubrey. 

On a sea voyage at the beginning of the 19th century the key to provisions was durability.  Right after leaving a port the food could be pretty good, but voyages lasted years, and the fresh stuff soon ran out.  (When the pickings got particularly slim, they caught the rats and cooked them up.  These they called 'millers,' according to Jack Aubrey "to make 'em eat better; and perhaps because they are dusty, too, from getting into the flour and peas.")  For these long voyages stuff had to last, and there was no refrigeration.  It was hardtack, salt beef and pork, dried peas.

I thought about making hardtack, more properly ship's biscuit, but the recipe requires that the finished biscuits be stored in barrels for many years, preferably at sea and somewhere that they would develop a good crop of weevils.   Looking for something a bit quicker to prepare I opted for Dog's Body, or Pease Pudding.   This is somewhat different than the pease porridge of the nursery rhyme, although it too can be enjoyed hot, or cold, or presumably, nine days old.

At least according to the New York Times pease porridge is more of a soup.   Pease Pudding is much sterner stuff.  The Old Foodie observed that
Some sort of porridge/pottage has been the staple meal of peasants in many countries for many centuries. In its simplest form it is a sort of soup with a starchy base, with other additions depending on the circumstances of the time. On feast days, ale or wine and spices, sugar and dried fruit could be added to make this one-pot meal special, and Sam [Pepys] mentions ‘brave plum porridge’ with apparent relish, in another diary entry. All that was needed was the development of pudding cloths in the seventeenth century to enable Christmas (plum) porridge to evolve into Christmas (plum) pudding, and Pease porridge to Pease pudding.

One might wonder why it took mankind until the seventeenth century to develop the pudding cloth, but then again, one might wonder why it was developed at all.   Apparently, puddings started out like sausages--being stuffed into animal entrails.  Some were stuffed into stomachs, like haggis, others into intestines like black or blood pudding.  In fact, according to my New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary one of the early meanings of 'pudding' is the bowels, entrails and guts.  As Humankind  progressed the entrails were abandoned in favor of basins and cloths.  Broadly speaking, a basin is used for steamed puddings and a cloth for those that are boiled.  Puddings are usually cooked for quite a while.

My recipe for Pease Pudding is boiled in a pudding cloth.  To be accurate I should have used a piece of sailcloth for my pudding cloth, but alas I had none.  Cotton towels will work, but I had some unbleached muslin that I used.

The recipe itself is pretty easy, and since this was just for the two of us I halved it.   I took 1/2 pound of dried split peas(e) and tied them loosely (so that they have room to expand) in my pudding cloth.  I  placed this in a pot of boiling water and boiled it for 1 1/2 hours.  Then I drained it and let it cool enough to handle.  At that point I squeezed out as much moisture as I could and put the resulting lump of pease in a bowl.   The recipe then calls for mixing the pease with some butter and flour and salt and pepper.

 As a note the recipe observes that a more seamanlike version can be made using salt-pork instead of butter.   I confess to being even more lubberly (this challenge did start out as HEALTHY bread in 5 minutes a day), and using light butter.  This mixture is then returned to the pudding cloth and this time it is tightly tied.  The tightness of the tie determines the texture of the pudding.  Then it is back into a pot of (fresh) boiling water for an hour.   
 That is it.  It is then carefully unmolded onto the serving plate. 

At first I was concerned that my pudding was too loose.  In The Far Side of the World, Captain Aubrey is on deck "eating a piece of cold or at least luke-warm pease pudding with one hand and holding on to the aftermost maintopgallant standing backstay with the other, ..."   My pudding had the consistency when unmolded of a semi-firm polenta, certainly not firm enough to eat out of hand.  But like polenta it firmed up as it sat.
 So how was it?  Surprisingly good!!  Pease, butter, salt and pepper, how bad could it be?  We did in fact eat it hot, and we later ate it cold.  Thinking to be clever, I also sliced it and browned it in a bit of olive oil, like a polenta.
 I subsequently discovered from Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, however, that this was a traditional treatment for leftover pudding.  There is in fact nothing new under the sun.  Our Dog's Body did not last nine days, so we did not eat it nine days old.  One of the recipes I consulted, posted by Molly at noted that it is  "[a]lso lovely served cold, spread on a chunk of bread and topped with a thin slice of ham."  That does sound good.

Now, as for Dog's Body.  Apparently, according to Wikipedia, this was sailors' slang for pease pudding.  It then became slang for a junior naval officer, and then evolved, as dogsbody, into a term for anyone doing menial work--a drudge.   In usage then it would be "I am my wife's dogsbody."  (And her arm candy.)

So, having baked Dog's Body 'a la Aubrey, I think I will read the next volume on my re-read of the series.

Till next time I wish you all fair winds and a following sea.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hunting Me Some Wild Sourdough

 A post on our Discussion Board (from Renee) prompted me to try to catch some wild sourdough.  I have a strain that supposedly went west on the Oregon trail, but we are supposed to eat more locally, and you don't get much more local than wild beasts captured in your own backyard.  (OK, I know yeasts are fungi, but I am using my poetic license.)  For my trap I mixed 1/2 cup of unbleached flour with 1/2 cup bottled water and 1/8 teaspoon of lemon juice in a non-metalic (I used plastic) bowl.  I set a coarse strainer on top to keep out big chunks and leaves and set it in the garden for about an hour or so--as long as it took to mow the lawn.   Then I brought it inside, set a plate on top as a cover, put it on the kitchen counter, and waited.

After about 24 hours I had some liquid on top, although maybe that was just the stuff settling, and perhaps some bubbles, so I fed it with 1/4 cup each of water and flour.  Once it is going you are supposed to feed it twice a day, and when I checked at 36 hours I had lots of bubbles. 
From there on I just kept the bowl on the counter, covered, and fed it some flour and water twice a day.  

In the past when I used sourdough I usually measured by volume.  Harder core bakers measure by weight, which is what I now do for AB/HB in 5 baking.   So although I began by feeding my starter equal parts of water and flour by volume, I switched and started feeding it by weight, which is not the same thing since equal volumes of flour and water have different weights.  For people who care about the hydration of their sourdough and their dough, weight is the way to go since that is how hydration is calculated.  For a discussion of hydration, or the Bakers' Percentage, you can go to Northwest Sourdough for a bunch of helpful info, including a hydration calculator.   Basically, the flour percentage is always 100%, and it is ignored.  The percentage of hydration then is in terms of the water, or other liquid, related to the flour.  Since in my starter the water is the same as the flour, the hydration is 100%. 

Each time you feed your starter you get more of it, since you are adding more flour and water.  Once it really gets going you remove what you added to use in whatever you are making.  But at this stage, I just kept feeding it, and getting more starter.  Usually, you discard some starter and add more flour and water.  These were my babies, however, so when my bowl got full I divided the starter and kept going.  An heir and a spare.

At about a week I had two bowls full, so instead of discarding some of the starter I used some to make a loaf of bread.  I got up early, since it was an all day project, and formed my dough using a recipe I got from one of my blogging buddies.  I then went to check my email. and right after starting my bread saw a post in our Discussion Board from Danielle stating that you should wait to use a new starter for a full 2 weeks.  OOOPS.  I am not sure if waiting is to get the starter going well or to develop the sour flavor.  Anyway, since I had the dough formed I went ahead.  I got bread, but is was a little heavy. 
It had lots of air pockets, so I think the starter did its job.  But the dough seemed dry to me as I formed it, thought I am used to AB/HB dough, and perhaps it may have been a hydration issue.

It did not take long for me to build up more starter, and this time instead of discarding any I used some to make waffles.  This is my go-to use for sourdough.
You can get my recipe in an earlier post. 

Next, I decided to give bread another try, this time using the Peasant Bread from AB in 5.   I chose this bread because it has some rye flour in it, and I had read that using rye can enhance the sour tang in the bread.  I did not use one of the breads with more whole grain since that seems to mute other flavors.    Jeff and Zoë add a little commercial yeast when they use sourdough, but here I did not, relying entirely on my yeast peeps.
They did a great job.

To limber up for Thanksgiving I had done a turkey in my Oil-less Turkey Fryer, and had leftovers.  So I decided to make some sourdough biscuits to go under some turkey and gravy.  I used the Sourdough Biscuits in a HURRY recipe from Discovering Sourdough, and they came out great.  

And finally, I used the rest of the Peasant Bread dough to make some oval loaves.   They, too, turned out well.

I am getting good bread, but not much sour tang.  From what I have read this seems to be a fairly common issue.  But now that I have my own yeast strain I plan to continue to bake more than waffles with my sourdough, and see what happens.