Of Sourdough Starters and Naan

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I love making sourdough starters. I’ve been wanting to make one with yogurt, but the only instructions I found at first were confusing. Just couldn’t wrap my head around it. But then I found Foolproof Sourdough Starter on Food.com. It made sense, and I had all the ingredients.

So I mixed up Miss Fisher and waited. And waited. I fed as instructed, but nothing seemed to happen. Granted, it was on the chilly side in my kitchen, but I had her wrapped up and under a light.

Let me digress a moment. My landlord participated in some kind of a program that replaced the bulbs in our apartments with those energy-efficient ones. Now I realize it’s good for the environment (supposedly), but they run much cooler. No longer is under my stove light a good place to proof anything. Yeh, I know: first world problem.

I was almost ready to through Miss Fisher out and start over. But then there were a few bubbles. And hope. So I put her in the fridge. A few days later, it was warmer in here, and I brought her out for a project. Miss Fisher likes warm weather.

Miss Fisher

You’d think I’d learn to be patient by now.

Incidentally, I didn’t have buttermilk when I started Miss Fisher. I did get some and am now feeding her with it.

Of course now that I had her, I was anxious to take her for a test drive. I love naan. And though I’ve been repeatedly told it’s easy to make, I’ve not tried making it. But in my quest to expand my culinary experiences, I knew I had to give it a shot, especially with my new starter. I even went so far as to price tandoor ovens. I could so easily picture myself slapping naan dough on the sides of the oven. Okay, that was an eye-opening experience. I was sure there would be an indoor option, and there was. The only problem was that it works only on a gas range. I have electric and a separate induction burner. I gave it some thought

I did some research on alternatives to a tandoor. I knew some people made them in an cast iron skillet on the stove. Others baked them in the oven. Then I found this site. She gets a dutch oven smoking hot on the stovetop, drops in the dough, covers the pot, lets it cook for a few seconds, flips, and lets it cook a few seconds more. Now I could do this. And I did!

It was a perfect accompaniment to some leftover chicken tagine.

I also placed part of the dough in an oiled plastic bag and look forward to making more.

Okay, it’s not a tandoor, but I also don’t have to be bothered by an overheated kitchen, especially in the summer (assuming we’ll ever have summer). And I’m not out hundreds of dollars. After all, I have many dutch ovens.

If you like naan but cringe at having to spend close to $3 or more for a package of 2, give this a shot. Purists may tsk-tsk, but really, who cares?

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Smen, Anyone?

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“Smen?” you ask. Think rancid butter. Or perhaps preserved butter is better. Fermented butter?

One of the things I promised myself I’d do this year is expand my ethnic cooking. I was thinking primarily of Indian cooking, but then I discovered Moroccan cooking. I especially love the smell of the spices as my dishes cook.

As I researched Moroccan cooking, I came across smen (smeneh: rancid butter). It is used in cooking in the northern part of Africa and in the Middle East. It seems to be an important ingredient in many dishes of the region. Whether folklore, truth, or a combination of both, parents bury a newly made jar of smen when a daughter is born and dig it up on the day she is married. It’s that important.

I have no desire to bury a jar until a daughter weds, but, well, you all know about my fermenting bug, so smen seemed like a logical tangent. Besides, I already had the ingredients, and it’s easy to put together. Having said that, I must warn you there seems to be several techniques for making smen. Like kimchi, it seems like families have their own twist to making smen. Some start with clarified butter or ghee. Others simply use room-temperature butter. Some make it plain, while others add oregano or thyme “tea.”

After doing research, I decided to go with a version using unsalted, room-temperature butter and oregano. Water is brought to a boil, added to the dried oregano, and allowed to steep for 20 to 30 minutes, until the tea reaches the desired strength. I let mine steep for 30 minutes. Then the oregano (or whatever herb you want to use) is strained and the tea allowed to cool. In the meantime, spread out the butter in a dish. When the tea has cooled, pour it over the butter. (Cheese makers may be reminded that this is an often-used technique for making flavored cheese, such as pepper cheese.)  Let it sit for a few minutes. Then massage the butter and tea. After a while, take a small taste. Is it to your liking? If so, pour off the remaining tea. If not, you can massage it a bit longer, but you’ll likely not get a really strong flavor unless you made the tea strong. Again, pour off the tea.



Pour the butter into a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Bring the corners together and tie, making a bag. After 15 minutes, twist the bag to release more liquid. Then let drain overnight. The next day, pat dry. Place in an airtight jar and store in a dry, dark place for 3 to 4 weeks. Then store in refrigerator (or bury outside, I guess) for up to a year.

So what does it taste like? Beats me. But according to what I’ve read, it tastes a bit like blue cheese or Gorgonzola. I have to say I quite like the flavor of the butter with the oregano tea added.

I’m kind of nervous about this because of the milk fats. If I’d used ghee or clarified butter, they’d be removed, and I think I’d feel more confident about the ultimate outcome.

Fingers crossed. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, here’s the recipe I used.

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Take That, Burger King and McDonald’s

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I’m not immune to the siren song of fast-food restaurants. Not at all. My downfall? Sausage and egg biscuits, sometimes with cheese and sometimes without. McDonald’s is just around the corner from where I live, but I prefer the biscuits from Burger King, which does require a bit of a drive. But they’re worth it.

I wanted to make my own, of course. It could be healthier, and I wouldn’t have to get dressed to drive to BK or McDs. I wasn’t worried about the sausage, I’ve made my own for a long time. So I searched for the copycat recipe for the Burger King biscuits, but all say to use the Pillsbury Grand biscuits. I’ve used them, and some aren’t too bad. But I try not to use overprocessed foods. And then there’s that fear of exploding biscuit canisters lurking in the back of my mind. Besides, I bake breads; I can do biscuits. But if I’m going to do biscuits, they weren’t going to be ordinary biscuits. Nope, they were going to be sourdough.

I have a variety of starters in the fridge, so it just came down to a matter of picking one. Remember The Woman?

The Woman

The Woman

She’s my 100% rye starter. I decided to use her. But I didn’t want to do the usual. Of course not. So I used 100% AP flour with it. I used the Jane’s Sourdough Biscuit recipe that can be found in the Files section of the Fermenter’s Kitchen Facebook group.

They mixed up easily. As Jane suggests in her instructions, I patted out the dough. Then I realized my biscuit cutter had gone AWOL. And most of my glasses don’t have flat rims. So I pulled out my trusty knife and cut square ones. I definitely need practice cutting biscuits (I usually make dropped ones.) And it didn’t help that I smooshed them into my pie plate.


Regardless of how they look, they taste great! And when the sausage and egg were added, I had a very satisfactory breakfast.

HPIM1253And one I’ll have many more times.

I want to experiment with various biscuit recipes. And while they may not be like the ones at BK or even McDonald’s. they’ll be more than sufficient.

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I May Have an Issue

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You know those days when you get a package that makes you feel like it’s your birthday, Christmas, and every other gift-receiving day of the year? I had one of those yesterday. Here’s why.

HPIM1250No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. I received a package containing 10 boxes of Luzianne Family Size Cold Brew teabags, specially formulated for iced tea.

Let me explain. Iced tea is my beverage of choice. Regardless of time of year, there is always a pitcher of it in the fridge. And I confess, I often go through more than one pitcher a day. I can certainly understand if you’re thinking, Obsessive, much?

Anyway, a couple years ago, I found Luzianne Family Size Cold Brew teabags at my local Walmart (don’t judge). There was a sale and a coupon on the box, so I decided to give them a try. It wasn’t exactly love at first sip. It had a definitely different taste than I was used to. But it didn’t take long for me to develop a deep and genuine love for the tea. I searched other stores in town, but only Walmart carried my coveted tea.

You can imagine my horror when I went to buy my two boxes of tea only to find Walmart didn’t have it. Even the spot on the shelf where I had been able to find my lovely boxes was filled with another Luzianne product, but alas, not my tea.  So what did I do? I went online and checked Amazon. It was available as an add-on, or you could order enough of them to make up the $25 minimum purchase. Not a problem. Ten boxes would do it, and with free shipping, they would be less expensive than what I had been paying at the store.

Alas, I was lulled into a false sense of security about my access to my Luzianne Cold Brew. I was on my last box, so I returned to Amazon. Being a savvy consumer (I try to be, anyway), I decided to subscribe. That way, I wouldn’t have to worry about it. First, the availability was seriously limited. And the price had almost doubled from the last time I ordered it. I did try to subscribe, but when I did, I got a message saying it wasn’t available, though apparently regular orders were available.

Now I love Luzianne, but I do have limits. So I tried Walmart online. Figured it wouldn’t hurt. I was able to order, ergo the delivery yesterday. The price is slightly higher than my previous Amazon order, but to me, it’s worth it.

I really can’t think of another product I feel so dependent on. As much as I love Ben and Jerry ice cream, I can be happy eating another brand. But when it comes to iced tea, there’s nothing like Luzianne Cold Brew in my opinion. Yes, they make other types of iced tea bags, but they’re not the same. Hey, we’re all entitled to our idiosyncrasies.

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Thank Goodness for a Weekend

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This past weekend I did not have to work.  To quote John McClane, “Yippie kay-yay.” This was the first work-free weekend I’ve had in about a month. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to have the work. But it certainly put a crimp in some of my cooking activities.

So that is how I spent much of the weekend. I’ve gotten back into the mustard-making realm thanks to Jane at the Facebook group Fermenters’ Kitchen. I made a basic whole-grain mustard a couple weeks ago, and it was fabulous. So over the weekend, I started a new mustard. I’m calling it Drunken Mustard. Here it starts.


I’m using both brown and yellow mustard seeds in this one. Oh, the larger things in this are just bubbles. I stirred it just before taking the picture. I’m going to puree this one much smoother than the basic.

I enjoy sprouting things, but you knew that. I’ve been in the mood for hummus and have blogged about it here before. This time I’m using sprouted garbanzo beans (chickpeas). So over the weekend, I started them sprouting.

HPIM1241They’ll soon be ready to turn into hummus. I’m thinking I might use peanut butter rather than tahini. But I may change my mind. I am apt to do that.

And then there’s cabbage. As much as I like corned beef, my favorite parts of this US St. Patrick’s Day tradition are the cabbage and carrots. It took me 5 stores to find cabbage. Bless you, Wegmans. So I bought 4 heads. Two went into the corned beef. And I made sauerkraut.

HPIM1238 First, I cut in up, put it into a large container, salted it, and massaged it to help bring out the water. Then I pounded it. It is fun. Trust me. And it releases more water from the cabbage. I had enough for a half-gallon jar with an airlock. The rest of it went into a Fido.

HPIM1239Last night I decided to make pizza—sausage, pepper, and mushroom to be exact. I decided I wanted to make sourdough pizza crust, and Molly was sitting there, begging me to use her. So I did. I had ordered the dehydrated starter from Breadtopia. She has adapted to her new home quite well. Perhaps she recognizes me as a fellow former Iowan. Anyway, she made a wonderful crust, and dinner was marvelous. I’d have taken a picture but, well, I was hungry.

It’s Monday and back to work. But Molly is working, but there will be sourdough bread making this week. Molly is growing on the counter, and it’s her turn.

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Things Are Sprouting

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Sadly, not in the ground or even to eventually get into the ground. Frankly, I don’t have a lot of luck starting seeds inside. At least not ones I intend on planting in my garden.

I’m talking the sprouts that many of us chalked up to hippie food in the sixties and seventies. As I got older, I got smarter (about some things), and started to eat them. Occasionally. They always seemed to be overpriced in the grocery store to me. And for many years, I just never bothered to sprout my own. Silly me.

A few years ago, I started eating them more regularly. It didn’t take long for me to get annoyed at forking over the money for them at the market. And their occasional recall didn’t encourage me to keep buying them at the grocery store. So I decided to sprout my own. I started doing it in jars, but didn’t have a lot of success. So I went looking for a sprouter. I didn’t want a big one (limited space) or an expensive one (limited money). I decided to buy this one. It had the features I wanted, and it was from Victorio.

My favorite sprouts are radish ones. I also like a salad mix, which includes radishes and alfalfa sprouts among others. A while ago I started some, and here’s how they ended up.
HPIM1218Usually the radish ones sprout first, but the salad blend beat them by a few days this time. Still, I was happy with 2 trays that were so full!

So how do I use them? HPIM1219

Of course, they’re really good eaten as a snack, picked fresh from the sprouter and rinsed. They’re great on sandwiches. This was tuna salad on homemade bread, with radish sprouts on top. I find they don’t stand up too well to heat, but I do like to add them as last-minute toppings to hot dishes. The salad mix is good on top of broth-based soups, such as chicken noodle. I like them sprinkled on a pizza or topping a stir fry. And, of course, they’re good with cheese and crackers. Hey, they’re just good.

You don’t need any special equipment to sprout. Jars work, as do bowls and similar dishes. Keep in mind you need to be able  to drain the water. Otherwise, they can get moldy. You can drain by tipping the jar, as I do with my wheat berries. You can pour off the water regularly. To me, using something like this sprouter makes it so much easier to sprout these seeds. And if it’s easier, I’m more likely to do it.

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The Woman Did Well

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I am a walking contradiction. My patience level is so small it could fit on the head of a pin and still leave room for angels to dance. Because I am aware of this, I try to make allowances so it doesn’t become a problem. But while I am patience challenged, I still love food with flavor that comes from time. Hours, days, weeks, months–it doesn’t matter.

My most recent fascination has been for sourdough breads. It began with the levain–Mrs. Hudson–I made for a Forkish bread. A sourdough bread is not one most of us can decide to make at the beginning of the day and have fresh bread for dinner the same night. If you have starter, it has to be fed for a day or so in most cases. If you keep it in the refrigerator, as I do, it may take a bit longer. And if you don’t have starter, it can take you a week or so to have one ready to use.

I love rye bread, so I assumed I’d like rye sourdough. I went online to find a recipe for sourdough starter and chose the one on Sarah’s Heartland Renaissance. It had some of the characteristics I look for in a sourdough starter: it’s easy to make, easy to maintain, and doesn’t take lots of flour.

I read through the instructions and got started. Here’s the first picture of the starter that will always be known as “The Woman.”

HPIM1220This looked pretty much like her picture, so I wasn’t worried. But I must confess there was a nagging concern about it. Most recipes I’ve read call for either equal amounts of flour and water or slightly more water. This one called for twice as much flour as water. But I had faith.

My faith was tested. I kept with the feeding schedule, but my poor little starter just seemed to sit there. Well, it got taller, because I was feeding it 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water every day, not from those little sourdough starter critters getting to work so I could have bread. I read and reread Sarah’s instructions, and mine seemed to be following the same path as hers. Yet I was sure I had done something wrong.

On the fourth day, you’re to switch to adding equal amounts of water and flour. But I still had very little bubble action, so since Sarah said in that case you keep with the beginning amounts, that’s what I did. When another day added no more bubble action, I was prepared to call it a day and start over. But the fact I’d followed Sarah’s instructions–and her starter looked wonderful–and my starter had looked like hers in the different stages, I decided to not withdraw The Woman’s life support. After all, it was on the cool side in my kitchen, so maybe that had slowed her up. I’d give it another day.

When I checked her out the following day, there were bubbles galore! Maybe I scared those little sourdough starter buggers, and they decided they better get to work. Or maybe it’s a question of time. Whatever the reason, at day 6, and despite my lack of patience for it to “get done,” here’s what I had.

The Woman

The Woman

TheWomansFirstChildI don’t think I was ever so happy to see bubbles!

Naturally, I made a rye boule  from The Woman’s starter. I used a recipe from Breadtopia. Incidentally, if you like to make bread, I highly recommend that site. There are also video tutorials.

Overall I’m very pleased with the bread . . . and The Woman. But there are some things I’ll change next time. I kind of got carried away with flouring the banneton (proofing basket). This is a sticky dough, and I was afraid it would stick. I’ll also use a smaller banneton, so it will be taller. The recipe called for anise, fennel, and caraway seeds. I don’t have any anise seeds and decided to leave them out. I have fennel seeds . . . somewhere. Since I couldn’t find them, I decided they were optional. But I did add the caraway. Next time I’ll add a little more. I love the hint of the orange peel coming through, and I might add a bit more next time. I don’t want to overpower it, though.

If you like sourdough and rye, gather your patience and give this a try. It’s really tasty. And it makes a great grilled cheese with swiss cheese.

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Make Mine a Reuben, Please

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About 2 weeks ago, I was enjoying a Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives marathon. I love that show. Guy was eating a great-looking Reuben. That is one of my favorite sandwiches, and it is almost impossible to find a decent one here. So like most things, mine are better. Of course, I didn’t have the ingredients (except the bread), so I made a mental note to pick up the ingredients the next time I went to the store.

In the interim, I saw an episode of “Triple D” that featured pizza. Pizza’s another thing I don’t buy often. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. Okay, you know where this is going, right? Yep, a Reuben pizza. That way I could kill 2 cravings at once.

I had my homemade sauerkraut, and whipping up some thousand island dressing would be no problem. And I have rye flour, so the dough wouldn’t be the problem. All I needed was corned beef and swiss cheese. No big deal.

Uh, in theory maybe.

Twice I bought the cheese and corned beef. And twice I ate them as snacks before I could make the pizza. But the third time was the charm, and I got my pizza.

My rye pizza dough was easy to make. Like the pizza I blogged about here, I parbaked the crust.


Rye pizza dough

Rye pizza dough

While I baked the crust, I drained some of my homemade sauerkraut. Once the crust was ready, I lightly spread it with homemade thousand island dressing. I tore the corned beef I got at the deli into bite-sized pieces. Then came the cheese and the drained sauerkraut. It baked at 400 degrees until the cheese just started to melt, and then I switched to broil to finish. The result . . .

Reuben Pizza

Reuben Pizza

So good. So very good.

The only thing I can think of I’ll likely do differently has to do with the amount of caraway seeds in the crust. I used 1 tablespoon in the crust, because I had added caraway seeds in the sauerkraut when I made it. I’ve found I really don’t care for it in the kraut, so I’ll not add them again. When it comes to making Reuben pizza again, I’ll add more to the dough.

This is another example of how easy it is to make pizza. And you can make it any way you want it.

Here’s my recipe for the rye crust.

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You, Too, Can Have Bread in an Hour!

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The other day I was watching television, and one commercial seemed to be shown at every break. It was the one for Fleischmann’s Simply Homemade No Knead Bread Mix. Personally, I think everyone should make bread. It’s not important whether you use a mixer, bread machine, food processor, or your hands. Just make bread. And since I’ve come to the long, slow ferment school of bread-making, which requires little kneading, I’ve given up the bread machine! But that’s just me.

box-stoneground_wheatI’ve had people say they don’t make bread because they don’t have time. For the most part, some people have a misconception about making bread. It doesn’t have to take a lot of hands-on time.  Take my favorite Jim Lahey recipe. It probably takes me a total–from beginning to putting it in the oven–of 15 hands-on minutes. Sometimes maybe a little less, sometimes a little more. It ferments for 12-18 hours, but I’ve been letting it go 20-22. So if you’re in a hurry, well, that may not work for you.

Would people bake bread using Fleischmann’s mix? Purists would cringe at the thought of calling this baking bread, and to be honest, I’m not sure, either. But perhaps it would be a gateway into making their own breads. And I had to wonder if it was any good. A big complaint many have about the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day basic recipe is lack of flavor. After all, it only has flour, yeast, salt, and water. I find this true if you use it after the initial fermentation period. But the breads made with the dough as it nears the end of its two-week have a more developed flavor. Still, I don’t find they have the same flavor as the ones in Lahey’s and Ken Forkish’s books, and their basic recipes use those same four ingredients.

Well, there was a sale, so I decided to experiment. I bought the stoneground wheat mix, shown above. I brought it home and took a look at the ingredients.

HPIM1215My list of ingredients is quite short compared to this.

  • flour (maybe a variety)
  • yeast (sometimes a starter)
  • water
  • salt

Sometimes I add seeds or extra grains, but that takes it beyond the basic.

To mix, just add water and mix with a spoon. Okay, that’s easy enough. You can let it rise for a while–a short while–in a loaf pan or as a boule. I opted for the latter. It bakes in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. That’s how long it took in my oven. Yours may be different.

HPIM1216HPIM1217So how was it? The loaf had a nice color. It wasn’t very crisp, but that was all right with me. The crumb was quite dense. It smelled good. But how did it taste? I’ve been giving that a lot of thought. There was a slight bitter taste. I’m not sure where it came from. It’s not the same flavor as my 100% whole wheat or my rye. So I’ve not been able to put my finger on it. But there was something else about the flavor that bothered me. Finally, after a great deal of thinking, I figured it out. It tasted old. Not that the bread itself was old; I knew it wasn’t. No, it tasted like the ingredients were old.

Yes, you can use this mix and get your bread in under an hour. But do you really want to? You’ll get much better results when you let the bread work longer. And it doesn’t even need adult supervision.

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I Made Pizza

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I made pizza for dinner the other night. Now I know for most of you, that’s probably not a big deal. But the simple fact of the matter is I don’t usually make pizza from scratch. And I seldom buy frozen pizza. In other words, for the past several years, I’ve not eaten a lot of pizza.

I used to be a regular patron of Dominoes Pizza. It was fast, convenient, and the pizza from my Dominoes was pretty good. Now the operative word in that sentence is “was.” Then they changed their sauce. I tried it once and never again. I hate that sauce. So I pretty much gave up pizza.

Until lately. As my fascination with bread has increased, so has my interest in the potential for pizza and focaccia. I spent some time looking for a crust recipe and found one using unfed sourdough starter. I had some of that, so I decided to give it a try.


So I looked for a basic pizza crust recipe that I could use for dinner. It was, after all, nearly 7:00 p.m. I took a little from here and a little from there and came up with a doable one. It’s based on this one I found on Breadtopia.

HPIM1200One of the greatest things about making your own pizza (and almost everything else for that matter) is that you can make it however you want. I like thin crust, so I made one. I’m not a big fan of pizza sauce, so after par baking for about 8 minutes, I drizzled a bit of olive oil on it. As for toppings, the sky’s the limit. I had fermented some onions, so I put some of those on it. It was followed by banana peppers, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, spinach, and lots of mozzarella cheese (obviously). I bake it for about 10 minutes and then finished it under the broiler setting.

Big win! The crust was nice and thin, and the bottom was nice and crisp. The toppings worked well together and made me very happy.

The recipe makes 2 12-inch pizzas, so I have extra dough in the freezer. My mind has been going wild with lists of potential toppings. And though the crust was passable, I need to fine-tune it to make it my own.

The sky’s the limit.

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