February Daring Cooks, Soba and Tempura

•February 14, 2011 • 17 Comments

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including japanesefood.about.com, pinkbites.com, and itsybitsyfoodies.com.

I love Japanese food. So when I read the challenge I was excited to get started. Tempura is something I have done quite often. The cold soba noodle salad was another story. A little tempura while thinking over the soba was in order.  

This was done with a batter made of chilled soda water, 2/3 cup AP flour, and 1/3 cup of cornstarch.  A trick I use to keep the batter cold is to put a few ice cubes in the batter. Deep fried mushrooms are an old favorite of mine so I did those along with shrimp and sweet onion rings. I made a dipping sauce of soy, chiles, green onion, mirin, and sesame oil. Delicious.

Now that I had gotten my fix of mushrooms, I wanted to try out the rest of the challenge. This time I pulled together the buckwheat soba noodles along with more tempura, ahi poke, and wakame salad.

This time I put together the boiled and then rinsed and chilled soba noodles with a simple dipping sauce. The sauce was made from bonito dashi stock, soy, and mirin. Instead of dipping I basically dressed the cold noodles. As simple as this sounds, it was really good and I will do this again for quick snacks.

To go along with this simple noodle bowl, I wanted to keep clean and fresh flavors that would compliment the salad. Spicy Ahi poke salad is a simple and delicious preparation of raw ahi that will impress any fan of sushi. Take good quality fresh Ahi, cut into cubes, and dress with some soy, sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, green onion, and a bit of chile garlic sauce for heat. I also tossed in some chopped up bits of wakame. You could also use small pieces of nori.

The whole meal was rounded out with some wakame (seaweed salad) that I got from my favorite Asian grocer and zucchini and green bean tempura for a little crunch.

Not a bad Japanese meal considering it was prepared by an Illinois born and Alaska raised bachelor.

Be sure to check out the other Daring Cooks posts.

Vietnamese Fish Curry

•February 8, 2011 • 3 Comments

Ok so maybe I should call it Alaskan fish curry since their were no Vietnamese people involved in the cooking of this curry. Well actually there were a couple when it came to the inspiration. Ray’s Place is a great little local Vietnamese place that I enjoy more every time I go there.

Last week I was there with my friend Duke and torn between ordering the lamb or the halibut curry. That day I went with the lamb and it was outstanding. But since then I have been craving some halibut curry.

As with most Asian cooking, the lion’s share of the work is done in prep. I put together the mis en place.

This is the base for the curry. It is 3 shallots, 2 green onions, 2 Fresno red chiles, 3 cloves garlic, grated ginger, 2 stalks of lemongrass, 3 Thai dried red chiles, cinnamon, coriander seed, and fennel seed. The dried spices were all ground up in a spice grinder. This was fried in a bit of peanut oil in my cast iron wok. I wanted this spicy so I also tossed in some chile garlic sauce. Oh and I have been hearing about the health benefits of tumeric so I tossed in some of that too.

After about 3 minutes this will start to smell amazing. Don’t be pulled in too far though. If you lean in for a smell it will be like taking a big whiff from a can of bear spray. After this takes on a little darker color, add in about a half cup of water and a can of coconut milk.

Now put in about 3 thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves that have had the stem removed. I also put in about 5 star anise and a couple of tablespoons of fish sauce. This mix is put on medium heat and allowed to reduce by about half. The water you add allows a longer simmering time so that more of the flavors can be extracted into your curry base. Now is also the time to taste and season. I wanted a balance of sweet and hot so I added in some palm sugar, salt, and pepper.

Once reduced, add in about 2 lbs of fish or shrimp and whatever veggies you want. I used halibut and sweet snap peas.

Stir this to incorporate  and cover. I turned down the heat and let the fish gently poach in the curry sauce for about 6 minutes. Just stick a fork in a cube of fish to see that it is cooked through and pull off the heat. At this point toss in a bunch of chopped Thai basil, some cilantro, and maybe add a squeeze of lime juice.

I served with brown rice but white rice is also good. The final dish is dressed with a bit more of the fresh red chile, Thai basil, and cilantro.

This really hit the spot. I had a chill all day until I ate this. Spicy food makes winter seem shorter. J/S

Cassoulet, January Daring Cooks

•January 13, 2011 • 23 Comments

Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts, and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

Lisa and I have been friends long distance for quite some time. I am thinking that it has probably been since 2005. Brought together in a long since abandoned, then relocated group of chefs, cooks, bakers, and loudmouth misfits that now meet here on Facebook (group is now private, contact me on my fb profile). I will warn you, we speak our minds. The old group motto was “If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen!” So when I saw that Lisa was co-hosting the challenge I knew it would be good.

Cassoulet is a dish that I have done twice before. It is classic French peasant food that can be made of leftovers and beans to stretch them out, or in a very high end way that elevates the dish to truly elegant. On previous attempts I did all the hard work of making my own duck confit and using traditional ingredients such as pork belly, fresh herbs, and slow soaked white beans. My only shortcut was the sausage. Cassoulet traditionally uses a garlic flavored pork sausage from the area of Toulouse. I got started on this month’s challenge by making my own sausage.

A 7 pound boneless pork butt and 1 pound of pancetta get cut into cubes. I also put together the spices based on this recipe.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, but did use the same blend of spices which were sea salt, sugar, 4 peppercorn blend, fresh grated nutmeg, and about 4 cloves of garlic. I blended the spices in with the cubed meat and set in a metal bowl out my front door. The temp was about 7 deg F. So even with the salt and sugar, the meat started to freeze within about an hour. The chilled meat was then run through my KitchenAid food grinder using the course die.

Into this gets mixed a bit of dry white wine. Then everything is mixed by hand taking care not to mash everything together. This is covered tight and allowed to sit overnight in the refrigerator. I did a quick test after adding the wine to test the spices. It is so good. You wouldn’t think that so few spices and in such small amounts could flavor so much pork. After sitting overnight, these were put into hog casings.

Now on to the duck confit. In the past I have done my confit sous vide to get around the issue of not enough duck fat can be rendered from one duck to confit the legs. This time I wanted to do it traditionally. I butchered two ducks. They were broken down into breasts, leg and thigh quarters, and the carcass. I also utilized 4 additional duck breasts with the skin and fat on. All breast were stripped of skin and fat. Every ounce of skin and fat except from the leg/thigh quarters was then slowly rendered in a bit of water. When the water simmered out, the skin starts to fry in the duck fat and leaves you the most beautiful duck crackling you could imagine.

 The leg/thighs were then salted heavily with the addition of sliced garlic and some fresh thyme. These sit overnight in the fridge.

These get rinsed and dried thoroughly. Then packed tight into the smallest container possible.  That golden delicious duck fat is then melted and poured over the top of the legs to cover.

I put this in the oven at 225F for about 5 hours. Basically you slow poach the pieces in their own fat until they are melt in your mouth tender. The easiest way to test for this without actually ripping a leg out and biting in is to poke a bamboo skewer into the meat. If it slides in with little resistance then your confit is done. 

Now for the cassoulet. I made two different versions because I still had ideas floating around. The first one was to be served on New Years Day. Hangover food. It starts with soaking great northern beans overnight. Then drain and recover with water. I added pork belly, carrot, celery,onion, tarragon, savory, rosemary, bay leaves, pepper, and salt to the beans. They were gently simmered until just done. Think al dente.

Everything is removed from the cooked beans. Save the liquid and the pork belly. I cut the belly pieces into small cubes and then fried them. This was to render out as much fat as possible and to also crisp up the meat. These became my base layer.

I then sauteed some mirepoix in just a bit of the pork fat. That along with some tomatoes, fresh tarragon, savory, and thyme were mixed with the beans and some browned Toulouse style sausage.  Everything gets put into the clay casserole and then your reserved bean cooking liquid gets ladeled in to moisten. You can layer it all in neatly or just mix it all together.

           

I did put the duck legs in whole in this version. Then more bean mixture and topped it all with bread crumbs that were tossed with green onions and butter. Bake it all at 375F until you can’t wait any longer. I like to pull it out every 30 minutes or so and break the crust with the back of a spoon. This has the effect of incorporating some of the crust into the casserole. It is best to then let this thing sit overnight in the fridge. You can the reheat the next day. 

My family wasn’t familiar with this dish. So they weren’t quite sure who would go first. My cousin’s boyfriend jumped in first and then it was on. This huge pot of food was gone in 24 hours. 

After all this work, I still wanted to experiment some with the recipe. I had saved a duck quarter that had been aging for about 10 days in the fridge. I also had made a duck and cognac sausage from all the breast meat that was smoked at my uncle’s house on New Years Day. 

This time was going to be heavy on the pork and duck. I browned up some more Toulouse sausage and the last remaining smoked duck sausage link.

I also tossed in pieces of these amazing smoked pork chops that my butcher makes in house. 

This time I took all the meat off the bone of the chops and the duck confit.   Tossed it all in a dish an baked with a breadcrumb crust.

At the end of baking though, I went with something that could put even this dish over the top. Remember those duck cracklin’ from earlier? Yes I did. 

I just wasn’t satisfied with the breadcrumb crust. It didn’t provide enough textural contrast. So I tossed on some skin rendered in fat. The flavor and the texture it added were out of this world.  It is one of those treasures handed to you in the process of making this dish anyway, why not use it. 

Thank you to Lisa and Jenni. Be sure to check out the other Daring Cooks to see everyone elses take on Cassoulet.                

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

I Didn’t Poach It And You Can’t Prove It. December Daring Cooks

•December 14, 2010 • 19 Comments

Relax everyone. Just a little joke.

This month’s Daring Cooks Challenge was to poach something, as in cook in nearly boiling water. Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

As I have already cooked many versions of Eggs Benedict, the Oeufs en Meurette recipe really caught my interest. It is a classically French recipe that will impress. ( Challenge Recipe PDF )

Of course I had to make a few adjustments to the challenge recipe. I wanted to take every step utilizing the best technique possible to make the final dish perfect. First was to sautee the mirepoix in butter. Then deglaze the pan with about 2 cups of carmenere and 2 cups of beef stock. To that was added a bouquet garni of thyme, rosemary, tarragon, and bay leaves. I also tossed in some crushed garlic and some peppercorns to the sauce. This was simmered over medium low heat until reduced by well over half. The sauce was then strained through a fine mesh strainer and reduced a bit further. A must when making sauces like this is to use the back of a ladel to squeeze out every last drop of goodness from your sauteed and simmered veggies.

I took it this far before finishing with just a few tablespoons of beurre manie.

Then I rendered some bacon lardons. Not just any bacon either. I get this great thick sliced “Ranch style” bacon at my local butcher. Mr. Prime Beef has been my go to butcher for about 6 years now. This past week they were written up in the Anchorage Daily News. I even shared the article on Facebook. Only problem is now I go in at 2 pm on a Monday and there are almost 15 people in the place. It was kind of funny though, I walk in and get served right away. Being a regular has its advantages. 

Using the rendered bacon fat and bit of butter, I browned up some pearl onions. I had a red wine sauce reducing and pearl onions spattering in fat, it was at this point I felt like I was cooking something decadently French. You do the same and tell me how it makes you feel.

The bacon and onions were set aside. Next was mushrooms. I quartered button mushrooms and browned them in a bit of the reserved bacon fat and butter. The trick with browning mushrooms properly is to put them in a hot pan with your fat of choice and DON’T TOUCH THEM! At least until you can tell they are browning on the bottom. Then shake or stir and repeat the process until you have a bunch of caramel colored nuggets.

Now for the poaching. The challenge recipe calls for poaching the eggs in the wine. I was concerned as to how that would affect the sauce and how it would color the eggs. So I went for poaching in water with white wine vinegar. I am also not a fan of the swirl technique. I just crack the eggs into a coffee cup and gently submerge the lip of the cup in the water before slowly pouring the egg into the shallow pan of barely simmering water. Three minutes later and you will have a perfectly soft poached egg.

Pull them out with a slotted spoon and let dry on a paper towel lined dish. I almost forgot, I can’t stress this enough, use the freshest eggs possible. Fresh eggs will stay together in the poaching liquid. Eggs that aren’t, will turn your poaching liquid into egg broth.

The rest goes pretty fast. Brown up slices of baguette in some butter. Reheat your bacon, mushrooms, and onions in the wine sauce. Top the baguette with an egg and sauce as you like. I drizzled some of the sauce off of a spoon around the plate for kicks.

I was especially pleased with the sauce. It had an amazing flavor and gloss that just looked out of this world. The eggs turned out just the way I like as well.

Wow was my first reaction upon tasting. Not your normal bacon and eggs that is for sure.

Check out all the other Daring Cooks that posted this month here.

Finally back in the kitchen, November Daring Cooks Souffle’

•November 14, 2010 • 27 Comments

Holy cow, it has been 5 months since my last blog. For those that are interested, I was otherwise engaged with my busiest summer of work ever. Many smaller jobs and one great big one that was a 24/7 commitment for just shy of 3 months solid. I was tapped by the boss to scout and produce the new series of commercials promoting Alaska tourism.

Talk about a great way to spend my summer. We traveled to Ketchikan, Juneau, Fairbanks, Denali, Katmai, Kenai, Homer, Seward, and many, many points between. Boats, float planes, helicopters, and at least a dozen different rental cars in cities and towns across this great state became my transportation/office. If you read this blog, are traveling to Alaska, and need either restaurant or hotel reccomendations, just let me know.

Things have slowed down for me for the time being. Until the next big project at least. Time to get cooking. This month’s Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen. A PDF of all the recipes can be found here. They provided several different versions including sweet and savory recipes.

I decided on doing a couple different versions myself. For my first ever souffle’, I went with smoked halibut, kasseri cheese, and sauteed leeks. That means I had to smoke some halibut. I start with brining about 15 lbs in 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of kosher salt, 1 cup of brown sugar, and 1 cup of soy. I let the fish sit overnight in the brine. Then the next morning you rinse, pat dry, and allow to dry further on your smoker racks in front of a fan.

Then all the fish goes into the smoker. I let it go for about 5 hours at a temp of between 120-150F. It was cold outside and I had to put a box over my smoker and then wrap the box in a furniture blanket to keep the temp up.

I am always extra careful to barely cook the fish. Halibut is so easily overcooked which renders a very dry product. Notice how this is still very moist.

I started by prepping my ramekins. Thoroughly butter them and then coat with finely grated parmesan. Be sure to clean the top edge. Put these in the fridge while you get everything else ready.

Now on to the souffle’ proper. Whip 3 egg whites to stiff peaks. I probably could have taken these just a little further but being my first time, I didn’t want to over whip.

While those were whipping in the Kitchen Aid I sauteed the leeks in a Tbsp of butter. When they were soft, I added in about a Tbsp of flour and stirred to mix thoroughly. Then add in a cup of lowfat or fat free milk. Fat is the enemy of a good souffle’ because it will collapse the air bubbles in your egg whites. Stir your leek beschamel until it thickens. Then add in one cup of grated kasseri cheese. I took off the heat at this point.

You now need to add a couple of beaten egg yolks to the cheese sauce. The trick is adding in such a way so that you don’t end up with scrambled eggs. I did this by slowly tempering the yolks by adding just a bit of the cheese sauce into the egg yolks while whipping. This brings the temp up slowly. When you have incorporated several spoonfuls of the cheese sauce into the yolks, you can then return the tempered yolks back into the rest of your cheese sauce.

Now you will put the sauce and the egg whites together. I think the best advice I found online was to whip 1/3 or less of the egg whites into the cheese sauce to loosen it up. Then gently with a large spatula, fold in the remaining egg whites. Be especially careful to not deflate the whites.

I lined the bottom of the ramekins with a layer of crumbled smoked halibut. Then gently fill them with the souffle’ mix. I filled these just to the line of parmesan. Put into a pre-heated 400F oven on a cookie sheet. After 5 minutes or so you can lower the temperature to 375F.

Now here is where my blog will differ from Martha Stewart’s. After putting these in the oven I was afraid they would rise into the oven rack above. So I tried to gently remove them and re-arrange the racks. Well my towel had a wet spot on it and when I was halfway through moving the tray, it started to burn the hell out of 3 of my fingers. I just bit the bullet and refused to drop all of my hard work. They did land a little rough on the stovetop. This definitely affected the rise height. Rookie move and I know better. (Insert every known curse word while I ran my hand under cold water)

I kept a close eye on these and took them out after about 25 minutes. They actually peaked after about 23 but I was following the recipe so let them finish. Photographing a risen souffle’ is something to be done fast. No messing around with the lighting or focus because you will miss your best shots.

These were topped with some parmesan after cooking.

I think I have eaten too much smoked halibut over the last week. To the rest of the world these would have been amazing. To me, I guess I was just smoked out, pun intended.

The tops definitely came out light and airy. The rest was more creamy and rich. I enjoyed learning the technique and have since put together a chocolate version. Sweet ones rise a whole hell of lot more.

These were made from chocolate, banana, and macadamia nut.

Be sure to check out the other Daring Cooks for their take on this month’s challenge.

blog checking lines

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.

Pate’ and Bread for June Daring Cooks

•June 14, 2010 • 34 Comments

Our hostesses this month, Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz, and Valerie of a The Chocolate Bunny, chose delicious pate with freshly baked bread as their June Daring Cook’s challenge! They’ve provided us with 4 different pate recipes to choose from and are allowing us to go wild with our homemade bread choice.

This was an interesting challenge. Terrines and pates are one of those classic techniques that just aren’t utilized as often as they have been in the past. That being said, I have always wanted to learn the process. So many ingredients and flavors can be incorporated into these dishes. Many great uses have come to mind and will be attempted in the future.

While checking out recipes for pate’ online I came up with the inspiration of making Banh Mi sandwiches. They are a mix of French and Vietnamese ingredients that combine to make an incredible sandwich.

I started with a chicken liver and pork pate’ based on the challenge recipe. All of the June challenge recipes can be found here in PDF form. Basically this pate is flambeed chicken livers, ground pork belly, ground pork shoulder, herbs, bacon, and spices that is then slowly cooked in a loaf pan in a water bath. It is then chilled for several hours to allow the pate to set up.

The liver flavor is very mild and not something you should be afraid of. The pate’ is very rich and definitely a special treat.

Now it was on to the baguette. I have done baguette a couple of times before with some success. I decided to basically use the challenge recipe with one small difference. In addition to a smaller amount of dry yeast, I added some of my sourdough starter to the dough (See my pizza post for how to make your own sourdough). With the banh mi sandwiches in mind, I baked 6 smaller baguettes instead of  long loaves.

I was especially proud of how these turned out. Breads are such a magical thing. Just a few ingredients can be manipulated with technique into a myriad of shapes, flavors, and textures.

Now for the banh mi. One of the defining toppings for these are a quick pickled mix of daikon and carrot. These are thin strips pickled in rice vinegar, sugar, salt, and water. They add a crunch and freshness that contrasts well with the rich pate’.

Now to assemble the sandwiches. First slice open the baguette and cover one side with mayo. Then lay down slices of pate, sliced ham, slices of English cucumber, the pickled daikon and carrot, sprigs of cilantro, and as many minced Thai chiles as you can handle. I also seasoned with Maggi sauce.

What an amazing combination of ingredients. This is so delicious.

I wasn’t quite done with the challenge yet.  One of the only shows on FoodNetwork that I still watch on occasion is the series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”. On one episode Tyler Florence started talking about a smoked salmon rillette he ate while at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon. I did a little research and decided on a riff using halibut instead of salmon.

The rillette is a mix of smoked halibut and fresh halibut. The fresh halibut I gently poached in white wine with peppercorns, tarragon, and thyme.

I then gently broke up the poached and smoked halibut into chunks.

In a loaf pan lined with plastic wrap, I laid down some slices of lemon, chopped fresh tarragon, and then the mix of fish.

Next I reduced the leftover poaching liquid along with fresh squeezed lemon juice and finely minced shallots. After cutting off the heat I whisked in cubes of cold butter to form a classic beurre blanc.

This sauce was poured over the mix of fish. I banged the loaf pan on the counter and gently used a knife to help the sauce settle uniformly into the fish. Now it all goes in the fridge for several hours to set properly.

The plastic wrap helps make unmolding easy. I served with baguette and apple butter. I forget where I found the suggestion for the apple butter to be served along with smoked fish.

Whoever came up with this combination deserves many thanks. The mild smokiness of the fish and the sweet of the apple butter almost combines to make a classic BBQ flavor.

This was all made using last years halibut. Well last weekend I went out to restock the freezer.

Be jealous, be very jealous.

Edumacating Myself About Some Pizza

•June 10, 2010 • 11 Comments

Pizza. It seems like such a simple thing. Well at least it did for me. My favorite job while in high school was delivering delicious pies for Bella Vista in Peters Creek, Alaska. I sure do wish I had paid more attention to how Bobby made his pies.

Leap forward 20 years. Robert wants to make a pie at home that is better than what I can order from the myriad of pizza places that surround me on all sides. Seems easy enough, some flour, water, salt, yeast, and voila. Well you know as well as I do that the last sentence is exactly why everywhere you turn is one more of those average pizza joints scraping out a living. Serving up mediocrity in a cardboard box for $13-$22 a pie.

My first pizzas were courtesy of Boboli. I know, shameful. Then I actually decided on crust from scratch. You know the recipe, 3 cups flour, 2 cups water, 1 Tbsp yeast, and a pinch of salt for a from home delicious crust. Yeah, my ass. How come recipe sites, chefs, bloggers, and every other person sharing a pizza recipe has a version of this they are willing to share?

Then I stumbled on Jeff Varasano’s pizza recipe. Talk about an eye opener. Not only does he share his hard earned information, he also shares photos of the best pizza around the globe. That recipe and those photos are what I have used as a primer. I have also been reading Slice on an almost daily basis.

It all starts with the yeast. Natural yeast is the only way to develop a great pizza crust. You might be able to get a great looking crust with dry yeast but it will never have the flavor of a crust utilizing a sourdough starter. After seeing an episode of Julia Child, Cooking With Master Chefs with Nancy Silverton of LaBrea Bakery, I had a well respected chef’s guide on making my own starter. Wanting all the details I followed my friend Kitty’s suggestion of buying the book, Breads from LaBrea Bakery. Many of the details for care and feeding of the starter are detailed there better than either I or any other source can do.

Start off with some grapes. Organic is best. Wrap them in several layers of cheesecloth.

Rough them up a bit with whatever you have handy.

Now submerge the grapes in mix of 2 1/2cups flour and 2 cups of water. Cover with a lid and leave on the counter for 2 weeks. Every once in a while you can give it a stir. This is after about 7 days.

Notice the bubbles. That means you have active yeast at work. After 14 days you will have the very hungry beginnings of a sourdough starter. It needs to be fed and fed often. Start by dumping out the grapes. Squeeze out the package into the starter. Mix thoroughly so the the mix is uniform in appearance. Now take out two cups of the mix and put into a clean bowl. Add in 1 1/4 cups flour and 1 cup of water. To make things a little more simple, I am using tap water and King Arthur Bread flour.

This is where I start to make my own way on the sourdough. Silverton recommends doubling the starter three times a day. Then tossing out the excess every morning. It seems like such a waste of good ingredients. So I toss out all but 2 cups every time I feed the “bitch” (not my term, I stole it from Bourdain). You are still tossing out several cups of starter a day while actively feeding it. Only on the day before and the day that I am going to use the starter do I feed her three times a day. Many days I just put her in the bottom of the fridge and forget about her. I have done so for weeks on end. Two days of steady feedings and she is back in shape for whatever you ask of her.

I have changed my feeding schedule to 1 cup starter, 1 cup King Arthur AP flour, and just shy of 1 cup warm water. When I am feeling ambitious and the starter is at room temp, I will feed twice a day. Otherwise I just feed it once a day. In the fridge it will last for weeks.

This sourdough or poolish can be used for many things other than pizza. Authentic pain au levain comes to mind, so does any number of other artisanal breads.

Michael Ruhlman recently posted about a similar method for making your own starter. Well worth the read. Especially because it was inspired by another Alaskan cook, Carri of Two Sisters Bakery in Homer. Her version uses purple cabbage to quickly introduce wild yeasts to the flour and water mix. If you try this version let me know how it works and how it tastes. I am very curious.

Now I get back to the Varasano recipe. Well kind of. He publishes a chart on his recipe page that gives guidlines for your pizza dough. Also very detailed mixing instructions that I would have more than likely followed if only I had a fancy KitchenAid or Electrolux stand mixer. I have nothing but me paws for this kind of work. Well that and a food processor.

I mix 3 cups flour, 1 scant cup hungry starter, heavy pinch of salt and just enough water drizzled in the top of the food processor to allow the dough to come together in a ball. This is then tossed out and hand kneaded until it is smooth and uniform. I then split this amount into four equal portions.  

I left this to rise/proof overnight at room temp in individual plastic tubs. This is really too long with my starter. I am thinking a 12 hour rise or less starter is in order.  

Now this is the part that takes some practice. I have done this in phases over the past 6 months or so. Make ten pizzas, a few successes, a few failures, many a malformed pizza. You will get better. You will develop a sense of what your dough is doing, needing, or telling you.

Take out your dough and put onto a floured surface. 

 

Stretch out and form onto peel.

I used an uncooked sauce of canned tomatoes, oregano, s&p, and just a little bit of grated parmesan. The tomatoes were first allowed to drain in a fine mesh strainer before being seasoned and blended with an immersion blender.

Just a bit about the oven. I am still playing around with a hacked oven. Do not do this on my instructions. It can be dangerous. But basically I have hacked my normal electric oven to work in the self cleaning mode and allow the door to still open. After about 45 minutes of preheating, I am getting temps of 815F on the stone. It is still a struggle to get the right balance of stone or bottom heat and top or reflected heat. Once I get my formula a little more dialed in, I will update.

Now for the pies. Just a little sauce, some homemade Italian sausage, red onion, and a drizzle of olive oil. I also season with s&p before and grate some parmesan and fresh basil after it comes out.

This one got a little hot on one side ( I didn’t spin it halfway through ) and cooked maybe 20 seconds too long. Pie was done in under 3 minutes.

Next was a Italian sausage and mushroom.

Although not as much char on top of this one, check out the pretty upskirt.

Next was a proscuitto with mozz and parmesan that was finished with baby arugula, olive oil, sea salt, and fresh cracked pepper. It was my favorite pie of this batch. The salt of the proscuitto really set the flavor off.

Working with an electric home oven provides many challenges to the pizza maker. That does not mean you can’t make excellent artisanal pies at home.

Next for me is finding an Italian 00 flour. I have made the rounds around Anchorage but have come up empty. Any suggestions on a source?