Naturally Leavened Bread as a Harbinger of Activism

When naturally leavened bread bakes off as impressively as it did in my first attempt, it’s hard to imagine serving anything but home-baked bread.  The substance, texture and taste are far beyond anything I can buy, easily equaling the product of great bakeries. There must be time in my week to bake.

My first post was an adventure in the scientific mystery of starter and leaven, an absolute joy to watch and participate in.  Little by little, I can now muster the courage to experiment with the white-wheat percentage mix of my flour blend, and of the flour I use to bake the loaves.

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                                             Laud the emptiness of holes

                                             A network of shocked gluten having its way                 

                                             Rawhide and custard, crust and crumb

                                             An olfactory delirium of rosemary

 

The quality and source of wheat flour is of equal importance to the choice about mix.  The subject will be gathering strength in the near future as we come to terms with genetically modified organisms (GMO) in all our basic foodstuffs, and whether we’re willing to accept it.

The issue of GMO labeling is on the ballot this fall in Oregon and in Colorado.  The issue was narrowly defeated in 2012 in California largely by the influence of pesticide corporations.  Michael Pollan:  “More than 50 million acres of American farmland [has] already been planted in genetically modified crops, most of it corn, soybeans, cotton and potatoes that have been engineered either to produce their own pesticide or to withstand herbicides.”

The significance of this subject cannot be overstated.  Our collective decisions about the American food system are either passive, in which case we subjugate ourselves to corporate feeding, or activist which simply means we decide what we’ll eat.

I luxuriate in the simple elegance of great food.  Each of us can feel the same satisfaction through our choices.

 

 

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A Second Helping of Success: Taqueria Neuve

When a re-invented success story shows up as terrific service and great food, I’m all in.  So it is with Taqueria Neuve in the SE Industrial District.

T9 re-established itself in 2014 to the delight of many dedicated Portlanders who were deeply disappointed when the 2008 financial crisis ripped through the economy forcing it to close.

Today, the menu is fresh and very creative, the restaurant is svelte and the margarita bar is hip.  Small plate apps and entrees.  Great ceviche; lime marinated fish of the day with tomato, onion and cilantro.  An amazing taco list: boar, grilled beef, achiote seasoned pork, roasted beef tongue, chile-marinated chicken, fish of the day (I had rockfish) and vegetal.

Rice and beans are not center-of-the-plate.  The dishes are beautifully styled and have wonderful depth of flavor and, oh by the way, they have a killer chocolate mousse.

There’s great energy in T9, and the chef and staff are on target to maintain a successful re-entry.

I’m definitely among their cheerleaders.

Taqueria Neuve, 727 SE Washington St, Portland, OR 97214, 503.954.1987

 

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When Did Giving Away My Power Overtake Me?

IMG_3553 resizedHow many ways do we give away our power, often without noticing?  Handing over cooking to corporations (ever think of it that way?) effectively reduces the overall quality of the food we consume by allowing companies to make decisions about the quantities of sugar, fat and salt we ingest. Not to mention, reduced nutrients because of necessary processing. And inferior flavor.

Michael Pollan, Professor of Journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and noted author and food activist: “Changing the world will always require action and participation in the public realm but in our time that will no longer be sufficient. We’ll have to change the way we live, too. What that means is that the sites of our everyday engagement with nature – our kitchens, gardens, houses, cars – matter to the fate of the world in a way they never have before.”  That’s a pretty big statement, but it’s true. Corporations will respond to customer demand, or lack thereof.  Do you think of corporations feeding you when purchasing a convenience food?  Sacrificing ease for quality is kind of a sickening proposition in my view.

Hope, as stated by Slow Food USA: “Of all food system innovations in the U.S. in the last 20 years, the resurgence of farmers markets may represent the most public expression of growing community via food.”  When we support locally grown and harvested organic food (that is, sans pesticides), we’re inching our way through and past the corporate chicanery that wishes to put a lot of distance between us and them… basically, relegating our food decisions to out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

We get to choose our culture, and power lies in purchasing. When I buy organic flour or seeds or greens or vegetables, retailers log the purchase. And when I make no distinction, they log that, too. It doesn’t feel like we have control, but corporations can do nothing but respond to consumer demand.

Slow Food has a few other simple ways to make your own food statement. One of them is to “encourage ugly.” How? Check out Slow Food USA.

Be thoughtful. Be courageous. Be activist. Be powerful. A lot depends on it.

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Beauty can Trick the Eye of the Beholder

Let’s be honest.  Beauty cannot compensate for a lack of flavor.  The beauty of produce and, in the bigger picture, of a finished plate is at least as important to me as it is the next guy.

IMG_5874However, even the beauty of summer’s crowning glory, the heirloom tomato, can be a disappointment if the product was hot-house grown and not vine ripened in the summer sun.

Elated to see them at market, I bought three such ripe beauties at Portland Farmers Market last Sat and could think of nothing but Caprese for lunch and a weekday dinner or two.

Let us also be fair.  There are some things the Midwest does better than any other geographical location.  Tomatoes, and specifically heirloom tomatoes, is one such category.  There is a depth of flavor that I find to be unmatched in tomatoes from California, Florida and, yes, Oregon.

If you’re really aggressive in planting, you can have a vine-ripened tomato in the Midwest by the 4th of Jul.  ‘Tis true.  Really aggressive means starting seeds in a cold frame in Feb.  And, you can continue to enjoy them well into the fall.  This appears not to be true in Portland.  These were not great tomatoes, and certainly not up to a Midwest summer standard.  Odd that in an 11-month growing season, true vine-ripened tomatoes are a roll of the dice.

Remember, a little bit of something wonderful is better than a whole lot of nothing special.  Don’t be shy about asking questions about that pretty face on your produce stand.

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I Swallowed the Frog for a Great Loaf of Bread

A serious interest in baking bread recently became a passion.

Chad Robertson’s book, Tartine Bread, recants years of experimentation, development and apprenticeship with American and French artisan bakers in naturally leavened bread baking.

Naturally leavened, meaning no added yeast. Bread using only leaven made from a simple starter, a culture of the wild yeasts and bacteria that are present in the flour and air.

In reducing a much larger conversation to a snippet, the first step is to swallow the metric frog.  Bread baking is done by weight, not volume, so every ingredient is measured in grams and kilograms.  The culture that becomes the starter is equal amounts of flour and water.  Chad Robertson suggests combining 5 pounds each of white and whole wheat flour to create a flour blend. Of course, the scale of my home baking is much smaller, so I used 2 pounds of each, which I keep in the freezer.

Measure 100 grams of water into a clear bowl.  Add 100 grams of flour mix, stir thoroughly, cover lightly with towel or lid and allow it to sit for 2-3 days.  The culture will begin to bubble; a natural fermentation has begun.  This will become your starter as you feed and train the mixture through daily feedings of bread mix and water.

It’s not my intention in one post to minimize the science and other action involved in creating a leaven and, subsequently, baking bread.  It is my intention to plant the seed that if you have an interest in world-class bread, and you don’t mind implementing very simple daily activity to get it, you, too, can accomplish it at home.

I followed Chad’s feeding, fermenting, folding, shaping and baking instructions exactly over the course of two weeks.  I was anxious to see how or if my result remotely resembled the Tartine product.

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I baked the first loaf in a 500 degree oven. It’s the smaller loaf in the photo.  I baked the second loaf immediately thereafter, instantly reducing the heat to 450 degrees, per his instructions; the larger and more well-defined loaf was the result.  The loaves had substantial, crisp crusts and a fantastic, chewy hole-filled crumb.

Great bread is my favorite food category.  I’ll be experimenting every week with other flour blends and different styles of loaves.  The success of this experiment is a revelation; I can’t imagine not having naturally leavened bread (baguette, boule, Ciabatta, pizza dough, English muffins and brioche) at home.

Your effort will be generously rewarded.

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I Genuflected in the Presence of Food Royalty

There are certain culinary convergences that must be responsible for the rising and setting of the sun.

When the tastes of fresh asparagus, shallot, a pat of sweet butter, a bit of cream and,  yes, morels presented themselves in the same dish, I knew I was in the presence of IMAG2222food royalty.  Every bite had the promise of being a luxurious testament to the powerful simplicity of a single ingredient.

Of course, asparagus is at its height in this moment of the season, and I never, ever tire of it.  But, even with luminous supporting characters such as the subtle shallot and freshIMAG2215 tarragon, and the noteworthy enrichments of a tad of butter and a splash of cream, morels are the stars.

The morels at PFM were harvested in Bend.  This year’s crop is small so prices are high.  Sky-high… like $36/pound.  They only remain in good condition for a couple of days at home so I knew I needed to press a strategy into immediate action.  I purchased only the small amount I knew I could use.

A dish of fresh spring loot need not conform to a recipe.  Simply sweat a thinly sliced shallot in 1-2 Tbsp of butter with the thickly sliced few ounces of morels you’ll be using in the dish, stems removed, rinsed and accumulated for use in mushroom broth.  Cooking time is 5-6 min.  Add 1 bunch of asparagus cut in 1″ pieces plus 1 C of vegetable stock or mushroom broth.  My veggie stock has a particularly high concentration of asparagus in it which subtly supports the overall flavor of the dish.  Simmer for 3-4 min.

If you wish for the dish to include pasta, cook it separately at this time; drain and toss with either 2 Tbsp of fresh or 1.5 tsp of dried tarragon.

Finish the dish with a splash… up to 1/4 C… of whole cream, and season with salt and pepper.  Stir into cooked pasta.  The more prominence the earthy, nutty, creamy flavor of the morels can have in the dish, the better, so please resist the temptation to finish further.

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Had morels been priced [much] more reasonably, I’d have purchased in larger quantity to dehydrate as has been past practice with morels and porcini.  Alas, not this season.

My memory of the jewels in this dish will have to linger long so I savored every bite.  The reverent acknowledgment of this meal’s simple excellence qualifies as a curtsy.

Long live culinary royalty.

 

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On a Chessboard, What Role Does a Successful Food Org Play?

Cooking involves strategy.  Successful professional cooking is absolutely strategic.

Restaurant food profit margins are thin.  Perhaps only the grocery business, which depends on large sales volume, operates more leanly.

IMAG2141As a student of the Oregon Culinary Institute Baking & Pastry Management program, I’m noticing a shift away from simple participation in and observation of kitchen protocol, and into the more rigorous mindset of a financially successful business owner or manager.  Hence, strategy.

If the operation’s financial viability is the king on a chessboard, what are the roles of those protecting the king?  In chess, a player may not make a move that places his or her king under attack.  If only that requirement were in place for successful food service operation.

Operating a successful restaurant or bakery or food cart depends upon a clear and precise accounting of food and labor costs.  Sounds obvious, but every cost, every detail is relevant.  Establishing business standards, effective cost controls, maximizing sales and collections andIMAG2293 constantly improving margins are all present in successful organizations, and are factors leading to the quick demise of those who ignore them.

Knowing how to value inventory, how to calculate theoretical vs. actual food cost, and how to recognize how waste or theft or spoilage impacts profits is no small skill.

My head sometimes spins.  Lesser-used neural pathways are opening as formulas and equations are the order of the day.  The repetition of business math forges new synapses.

Just as each player on the chessboard plays a unique and separate role in protecting the king, so do restaurant staff and management in protecting the organization.  And while everyone’s interest in the success of the org is different, each person’s contribution has value.

I like to think of myself as the queen on the chessboard.  I have the ability to move in any direction and take any action I deem necessary to protect the king.  So, the more in command of the food service organization’s health I am, the easier it is to move with dexterity to make strategic decisions that ultimately protect all players on the chessboard.

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