Archive for the ‘Kitchen’ Category

Baked Eggs –

31 January 08

This is one of those baked egg dishes that is the devil to get right until you learn your oven and the timing. Then you will not be able to blow it once you learn the looks of the thing done right.

Warning: an uneven broiler (like mine) can cook one dish rock-hard and the dish next to it can be just about raw. That can drive you nuts.To bake eggs use individual gratin dishes or Pyrex bowls of about 3 to 4 egg capacity.

Put the oven rack on the top or whatever will get you about 6″ from the broiler. Yeah, I know we call them baked but it is really broiled. So, preheat the broiler while we get all this together.

Crack the 3 eggs each into separate dishes. You don’t have time to futz around cracking eggs when you get going. Be careful not to break the yolks or get shell into the mix.

Mix up:

1 or 2 decent cloves of fresh minced garlic
1/4 tsp fresh minced thyme. (Use a pinch of dried if you don’t have fresh.)
1/4 tsp fresh minced rosemary. (Use a pinch of dried if you don’t have fresh.)
1 Tbs fresh minced parsley. (Use 2 tsp dried if you don’t have fresh.)
1 Tbs grated parmigiano reggiano. (You can also use a Gruyere for a nice variety. Don’t skimp on the quality of the cheese.)

Put 1/2 tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of heavy cream in each dish and place them on a baking sheet under the broiler until it gets bubbly and hot – 3 or 4 minutes. Pour in the 3 eggs to each dish, salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle on the herb-cheese mixture and get them back into the oven.

Broil for about 5 minutes or until the whites are just beginning to set. Take them out a bit before you think they are ready as they will continue to bake in the dish. Serve them up with the nice toast of your choice.

You can vary this with any topping that you like – or nothing but salt and pepper. A good shredded ham goes well. Or crumbled bacon. Different cheeses vary it nicely.

Enjoy.

Herself Sez: As someone who prefers, nay REQUIRES, her eggs to have s*o*l*i*d whites, this was a big disappointment. As Himself Sed, our oven heats unevenly. His eggs were fine for him (somewhat loose). Mine turned out basically RAW!!! Yetch!! Likewise Retch!! In the future, mine will have to be left in an additional 10 minutes or so OR will have to be put in about 10 minutes before Himself’s go in. I can deal with solid yolks. I can deal with solid whites. I cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, deal with raw (or even shakey) whites (except in egg nog, when they are well whipped, or in a milk nog – again well mixed in). This little experiment was a total failure for me – he’ll have to try again. Luckily, however, his failures are very few and very far between! 🙂

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Steaks and Roquefort Sauce –

24 January 08

Here is another delightfully different steak recipe to perk you back up when things are just getting ho-hum. Fast and easy and different and delicious.This is for 4 steaks, so adjust to whatever you have. Reduce about 1-1/2 cups beef or veal stock down to ½ cup and set aside. Mix up 2 oz. room temp Roquefort or Blue Cheese and 4 tbs unsalted room temp butter in a small mixing bowl. For this kind of exercise a good kitchen fork usually works better than a blender for putting together this kind of stiff stuff.

Generously salt and pepper the steaks, cook to medium rare. Pan-fried in butter and/or olive oil over medium heat is best, but you can broil them if you like. When things are pan-fried then there is a layer of brown goodies that incorporate into the suace when the pan is deglazed. This is not true when things are broiled. Plate, cover and let rest while you make the sauce. Pour off the fat from the skillet, leaving about a tablespoon. If you broiled them, pour about a tablespoon into the pan. Add ½ cup of reduced beef stock and whisk vigorously to deglaze the pan. Bring the stock to a simmer and add the butter-cheese mixture in chunks. Stir each chunk in until it has emulsified and blended in smoothly, then add the next chunk. Now the trick is that you may have to diddle the heat and/or move the skillet off and on the heat because you want the mix to blend smoothly and not just become oil. When the sauce is nice and thick spoon it over the steaks and serve. If you want to do a traditional variation you can add chopped nuts just before serving. I don’t like it that way myself.

Herself Sez: I prefer it with the chopped nuts. Lots of chopped nuts. This is a GREAT way to serve steak! Almost, but not quite as good as his Steak au Poivre – wherein I licked the plate when he wasn’t looking the first time he served it! 🙂 Yeah! I reeeely did!!

Ovens and How to Fake It –

17 November 07

The traditional oven that evolved in most settled technological cultures bears little resemblance to our modern home ovens. The traditional oven was made of refractory material: stone, brick, adobe, or something similar. The method of cooking was not direct fire as is the case in the modern home oven. A desirable refractory material has two principal properties: it can withstand thermal shock and it is a good heat sink.

Let us look at the properties and methods. To withstand thermal shock means that the material will not shatter or deform or degrade when exposed to the intense heat of the fire. A good heat sink means that the material will readily absorb a great deal of heat from the fire and release it in a slow and steady manner. With material that has these properties an oven was constructed that had a fair number of shelves to hold the baked goods. Usually somewhat of a beehive shape.

To use the oven a fire was constructed, usually with faggots rather than split wood or limb wood. The reason is that the thinner branches of the faggot burned hotter and faster than the larger pieces. When the walls of the oven had reached maximum heat and all the fuel had been consumed (1.5 to 2 hours) then the smoke vent was closed, the oven was raked and swept out and usually mopped which left the oven in a moist state. Therefore there was no smoke or ash to contaminate the bread. The bread was loaded and cooked by the residual heat. It was possible to get more than one baking from the heat before the oven had to be fired again. The mopping moisture/steam contributed to the formation of a nice crust. When we get to the medieval period the town baker needed to produce enough that the ovens might be fired two or three times a day, and the first firing was fairly easy since the oven would still be warm from the last firing.

This whole operation is sometimes known as indirect baking in a falling oven, since the oven temperature was gradually and steadily decreasing. Therefore the bread was frequently loaded into a higher temperature oven than we use and the temperature was somewhat less by the time the bread was done and removed. Oh yeah, when we talk about loading and removing bread it was not done by hand. That’s suicide in that large and hot an oven. No, a peel was used to slide the goods in and out. You can see a peel used in most pizza joints today. It does take a bit of practice to get things in and out without making a mess or getting burned.

Now the point of all the above is how are we to duplicate the old style ovens and why should we bother? Taste and texture is the answer. We cannot get the rich crustiness of the old methods in modern home ovens without a bit of ingenuity.

Refractory material makes it possible to plop a standard round loaf down and have an immediate flash of heat into the bread resulting in a nicer and fuller oven spring than can be achieved by sliding it in on a cookie sheet. There are a couple of ways to get there, other than by building a bread oven in the back yard. First, you can spend from $30 to ridiculous on a pizza stone. These are usually round and don’t fill the whole available space. However they do work quite well and require very little maintenance. The next step up is the ceramic liner for the oven. These work wonderfully, but they start high and get higher.

However, for the dedicated tightwad there is a much better option. Go to the local big box Homey-D, Lowes, or equivalent and get quarry tiles in the flooring department. These are bricklike tiles 6” x 6” by 3/8” or thereabout. Should be less than $5.00 for enough to do the job. Take out the top rack and line the bottom rack. Instant refractory oven. Note that it takes longer to heat the oven than you are used to since we want the tiles or stone to absorb all the heat possible. This will not hold the heat that a full ceramic oven would but then we are not going to be baking the number of loaves that would be done in a commercial oven.

To duplicate the burst of steam that mopping the floor of the oven would produce we need only a simple spray bottle. Squirt the oven fairly heavily at loading time. Squirt again after about 30 seconds. Squirt again after a minute. That is usually enough.

For the professional baker all this is unnecessary. The sophisticated modern commercial ovens are programmable for varying temperature over time and have programmable steam injection systems. It takes a good bit of technology to make modern ovens duplicate the action of the original ceramic ovens.

On the Nature of Heat –

15 November 07

Look here, engineers and physicists, this is really simplified for home cooks, so don’t get too wrapped around the axle about the lack of precision here. And away we go –

As cooks we are concerned with heat. Cooking is by definition the preparation of food by the application of heat. Heat usually changes the food chemically and/or physically, so that it is safe and flavorful. Yes, we do speak of cooking in regard to some kitchen activity that does not require heat, but then we are just being sloppy with the language.

So, just what is this heat stuff? How does it work? How do we harness it for our taste buds?

We may regard heat as molecular action. The warmer the substance, the more excited and active the molecules are. Conversely, the cooler the substance, the less active the molecules are. Heat always flows downhill – from a warmer object to a cooler object in direct proportion to the temperature difference between the two, as modified by the efficiency of any insulation between the two. Second law of thermodynamics, if you care.

You do know that we can neither create nor destroy energy? We can, however, change form. That’s what we do when we change fuel into heat. We change the energy present in the fuel source to heat, which is just another form of energy. Back to the subject at hand –

Heat may be transferred by three methods:
1. Conduction, or direct touch. When you touch a hot stove and burn your finger it is by conduction.
2. Convection, or hot air (actually currents through a gas or liquid medium). When you feel the warm air coming from the supply registers of your furnace, this is convection.
3. Radiation. The sun’s energy travels to the earth through radiation. When you bask in the warmth of a fire, most of the heat transferred to you is radiant heat.

We cook with all three methods.

The skillet primarily uses conduction to transfer the heat to the food. This is especially enhanced by the use of fats in the skillet as the oil, grease, or whatever. Fat is a very efficient conductor of heat. Although I suppose one could also argue that the use of fat makes it into the convection category. (Sometimes it blurs a bit).

In baking convection is the primary heat transfer method. The air in the oven is heated and transfers to the food. There is some conduction as well as when a loaf is placed on a hot oven stone and the hot stone helps promote maximum oven spring before the top crust forms as well as crust formation on the bottom.

The main place that you see radiant heat in cooking is in broiling, where the heat source is above the food.

So, how come the top of the oven is hotter than the bottom? Heat rises. Lesser heat falls. Doesn’t cold fall? Not really, there is no such animal as cold unless all molecular activity has stopped – absolute 0. Somewhere around -460°F if memory still works. Cold is a nice human word to describe how we feel about it, but there is still heat there. Even when we’re shivering. Anyway, as a given material is heated the molecules become more excited and the material expands, which reduces the density when compared to the same material at a lesser temperature. Gravity works. The denser material flows below the less dense, and voila – heat rises. For the engineering/physics/curious types: Check out Boyle’s law, the ideal gas law, and all the other uglies that describe the heat/volume/pressure relationships on the net. This is why/how air conditioning, cooking, fire, heating, and most industrial stuff works and a significant chunk of our world depends on these little relationships.

Not to confuse things too much more. But I will anyway. There is a significant difference between heat amount and heat intensity. Intensity is easy – how hot is it? We measure in degrees, whether F (Fahrenheit), or C (Celsius [precise] or centigrade [sloppy]) or K (Kelvin), or whatever. We can feel intensity. Amount is measured another way. Here we use BTU, which is British Thermal Unit. A BTU is the amount of heat energy required to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. (The metric johnnies use the joule). Now this may be a little hard to grasp at first. A simple illustration with two questions should clear it up for you.

I have a one pound piece of steel. The temperature is 100°F.
I have a 10 pound piece of steel. The temperature is 80°F.
Which one is hotter?
Which one contains more heat?

The one pound at 100°F is hotter than the 10 pound at 80°F.
The 10 pound at 80°F contains more heat energy than the 1 pound at 100°F.

There you have the difference between amount and intensity.

It takes more energy to change state than it does to heat the same substance. A pound of water (liquid state) at 32°F. To boil that pound of water at sea level takes 1150 BTU of heat energy. About 84% of the heat energy is spent going from 212°F water (liquid state) to 212°F steam (gas state). There is also a large expansion in the volume that steam occupies vs. the same stuff in the water (liquid) state. That is why boilers can explode and what makes your teapot whistle.

There is a use for all this nonsense in the kitchen! We can never get higher than 212°F water at sea level. So 212°F is the hottest we can get food by boiling. Notice I said at sea level? We can get hotter than 212°F if we change the rules. If we get a pressure cooker, it changes the internal pressure as the water starts to boil! By raising the pressure we raise the boiling point, therefore the food cooks hotter, therefore faster. Conversely, if we try to boil water at high altitude, the boiling point is lower than 212°F and the cooking time is greatly extended. For instance, assuming that barometric pressure is 29.92 inches Hg, the boiling point of water at 1500 meters is 203°F. It gets worse as we go up the hill. I won’t even get into the whole barometric pressure routine, which does affect boiling point. We would also lose pressure as we went up said hill, but let’s not overcomplicate the mess. Main thing to note is that the guys at the top of the hill will probably need to extend boiling time of a given recipe (they already knew that). However – us lower down types need to know that we may need to reduce time a bit for a mountain recipe. Swiss, Carpathian, West Virginia or whatever recipes may need a bit of adjustment and careful watching the first time or two through them.

For those masochists that want more, there is a ton of good physics stuff out on the net. Search and ye shall find (with a good search engine).

Westphalian Pumpernickel – the Real Deal –

2 November 07

Herself sez: The Ol’ Curmudgeon has been promising to post this – now it is here! This is incredible bread. Himself slices it fairly thin, butters it, and we eat it with thick soups – yummm! I like it just by itself as a snack. Very filling.

This is a rye sourdough that has all kinds of body. Sort of resembles a black brick. The normal loaf this size weighs about 2.25 pounds. This weighs in at 4.4 pounds.

There are all kinds of stories about what pumpernickel means and where it came from. One story says that the slang word pumpen meant flatulence, or farts. Nickel was supposed to be slang for the devil, something like ‘Old Scratch’ in English. So, according to this version pumpernickel would mean ‘devil’s fart’. There are other tales and there is no way to say anything other than ‘origin uncertain’.

The bakers in the Westphalia area of Germany – the western central area of modern Germany – came up with this hearty bread as a way to save money and energy. You and I tend to think in modern terms – an oven is a gas or electric device that you turn on, use, and turn off. Wasn’t always that way. Ovens used to be massive structures made of ceramic material – stone and mortar (sometimes mud). You had to get up early and build a fire. Or even better – the apprentices would get up in the wee hours and do the job. The oven would still have had some residual heat, so the fire was fairly easy to start. You burned a fair amount of wood or charcoal and, when the fire was out, you could begin baking. If things were right, the heat would last through the day (and the night). Big masonry structures can hold a lot of heat and release it in a slow and gentle manner. Remember, you don’t bake with direct fire type heat – too intense and uncontrolled for baking. Thing was, after the day’s baking there was still residual heat that would last through the night. So the bakers came up with this bread that cooked – untended – all through the night in the gentle and steadily decreasing heat that was already in the oven. The consequence was that the bread became dark, very dark, almost black from the Maillard reaction for coloring, not coloring agents as is the case in the false recipes of this age. People have had various reactions to this hearty rye – some considered it fit for the Gods, others thought it was fit for horses, not people. Whatever – try it – you may like it – you may hate it. I don’t regard it as good bread for sandwiches and such, but you just can’t beat it for dunking into a full-bodied soup or stew. Also good for canapés or open faced endeavors.

This is adapted from Jeffrey Hamelman’s recipe in his wonderful book – Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes.

Several stages are involved. Start a sourdough and a rye berry soaker the night before:

Sourdough
300 grams rye meal or coarse rye flour
300 grams water
12.5 grams good rye sourdough starter – see the article Rye Sourdough Mysteries.

Let it sit overnight, covered with plastic and a towel. 14 to 16 hours in a cool place – about 70°F.

Soaker
200 grams rye berries
enough water to cover well

Soak overnight. Next day, boil in fresh water about 3 times the volume of the berries for an hour. Drain well and discard the water.

You also need an old bread soaker. Old bread is aged bread, but not stale or moldy. You want the darkest bread you can get, rye preferably, but a dark wheat can be used. Slice up 200 grams of bread and bake at 350°F on a sheet until it gets quite dark (not burned). Soak it in enough water to cover for at least 4 hours. I tend to do it overnight in a covered bowl. See Rye Sourdough Mysteries for a good rye to use as the bread soaker (after it ages a bit).

Be sure the rye berries are well drained. Squeeze as much water as you can out of the bread soaker (twist in a tea towel if necessary) and keep the water. The dough will be too soupy if you don’t get most of the water out of the soakers.

Some of this stuff you can get from a local co-op. If you can’t find the berries, chops, etc. then try Barry Farms on the internet – www.barryfarm.com. The have all the stuff. Shipping can kill you on grain products, but that’s life. King Arthur has a pretty good high gluten flour and medium rye flour and – lots of other good stuff – www.kingarthurflour.com

250 grams high gluten flour
250 grams rye chops (sliced rye flakes – looks kind of like oatmeal)
300 grams water
19 grams salt
1 pack yeast
38 grams blackstrap molasses (optional – but it helps)
all the rye berry soaker
all the bread soaker
all the sourdough

You know the drill with dried yeast – warm a bit of the water to 110°F, add the yeast and a pinch of sugar, let it sit for 15 minute or until it foams and wakes up.

Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix for 10 minutes on low. If additional water is needed, use the reserved bread soaker water. This will be a very sticky dough. If it is really wet, you can add a bit of high gluten flour, but don’t get carried away – it is a sticky dough of medium feel. Let it sit for 30 minutes and then shape into a 4.4 pound loaf. Use a lightly buttered 13” pain de mie or pullman pan (found at fantes.com). Let it rise until it almost touches the top – probably an hour or so. Close the top. Now the fun starts. This thing bakes for a long time – like 10 to 12 hours.

Start the oven off at about 370°F. Bake for an hour, lower the temp 15°F. Every 30 minutes lower another 15°F until you get down to 275°. Let bake for about 3 hours, then turn the oven off and ignore for the rest of the 12 hour total time. The work is over, the waiting is not. Cool on a rack, wrap it in linen and let it sit for at least 24 hours before you get into it. Your first reaction is that you may need a hammer and chisel to cut it. It is the densest, coarsest, darkest bread you have ever seen, but it is good with a robust stew or soup.

Painless de Mie –

27 October 07

“A kid comes up to me in a white jacket, gives me a Ritz cracker and chopped liver, he says ‘Canapés,’ I say, ‘Can o’ peas my ass! That’s a Ritz cracker and chopped liver.'” Frank Pentangeli, Godfather II

The French for the bread is Pain de Mie, the American version is Pullman Bread. This is the king of all sandwich or canapé breads, the crumb is tender, smooth, and flavorful without being overpowering to that which is stacked on top of it (even chopped liver!). The crust is almost nonexistent. This bread can be sliced thinner and smoother than any other bread I know of.

Julia Child and James Beard give it very high marks and both have recipes that will produce a nice loaf of bread. Both are, in my opinion, too complex and iffy. There is no guarantee that one loaf will be the same as the next. A much better bread authority is (in my opinion) Jeffrey Hamelman. Mr. Hamelman’s opus Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes should be on the shelf of every serious baker, whether professional or home variety. If you only have one book on bread making, this should be it. Now Mr. Hamelman is a professional baker, primarily writing for professional bakers, but he does discuss home baking and does scale his recipes for them. I don’t pay much attention to the home measurements, I enter the metric professional recipes into my Living Cookbook program and then scale them (in metric) to however many loaves I want at the moment. Dead on every time. I will give this one, as reworked by me, in metric weight measurement – that is really the only way to bake nowadays. If you don’t have a good metric tare scale that will do at least 11 pounds, then get one. It will make your baking 1000% better.

Oh yeah, you really need a Pain de Mie Pan for this. It is a straight sided pan with a lid, 4” x 4” x 13”. There is also a 16” size, but this is a bit much for the home baker. There are several places to get them, the two that come to mind are the King Arthur Flour web store and fantes.com. Both are good sources. If you don’t have a proper pan, you can kind of fake it by taking a cookie sheet or jellyroll pan and putting it on top of a regular bread pan with a brick on top of the whole assembly. Kind of awkward, at best, and you stand a bit of a chance of knocking over and making a mess or getting a burn. Your choice. A good pan is only $30.00 and is useful for many other breads that you might want sandwich size/shape on.

This will make one standard Pain de Mie loaf:

590 grams bread flour
30 grams powdered milk
15 grams sugar
30 grams unsalted soft butter
355 grams water
11 grams salt
1 pkg yeast

Mix all ingredients on low speed until combined – 3 minutes, then 2nd speed until completely kneaded – 3 minutes.

Let rise in a buttered bowl for 1 hour. Turn out, pat down, fold gently. Let rise another hour. I get better results by lightly buttering the work surface. Trying to work this bread on a floured surface will get too much flour into the loaf.

Pre-shape and let it rest for about 10 minutes, until the dough relaxes, then place into buttered pan, gently form to pan. Butter the lid and slide it on with just enough gap to see dough level.

Let rise about an hour, or until the dough is about ½” to ¾” from the top, close the lid and bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 45 minutes.

Turn out onto a cooling rack. After the bread has started to cool, wrap it in a towel to prevent the crust drying and toughening. Don’t cut into the loaf until it has cooled completely.

Prosphora –

18 October 07

For many, many years I was the chief baker for our church. In the Orthodox Church the communion bread must be made by hand by a member of the parish. Now frequently, if the priest if full-time, the bread is made by him or his wife. Our priest worked full-time. I somehow got into being the Prosphora (Communion Bread) baker. Now this bread is very simple, but it must be perfect or it cannot be used. There must be no machinery used in the making, it must be completely by hand. It is the most basic bread I know:
Prosphora

3½ cups very warm water
2 pk yeast
1 tsp salt
10 to 14 cups unbleached or all-purpose NOT bread flour (This bread is really sensitive to how much moisture is in the air at they time of baking)

Mix it, knead it, beat it, you know the drill. Keep adding flour until it is warm, smooth, punches back, does not stick to the finger, and add absolutely no more flour. After the first rise, roll it out to a reasonable thickness, and cut a bottom and a top for each loaf. Some 4” to 5” or so in diameter. Several about 2” diameter, or whatever size the priest likes. Moisten the top of the bottom. Flour the bottom of the top. Stick them together. Firmly impress with the floured seal. Let rise again. Bake in a 350° oven that is humidified. A pan of water is OK, but get it boiling while the oven warms. Bake until they ring hollow, not soggy, and are light tan at the very darkest. If they are dark on the bottom they cannot be used for services. Let cool on a rack. These can be frozen and thawed the night before the service. They must not be allowed to dry out or they are not acceptable for the service.

Now, the Russians are a bit fussy about the size and number of the loaves, 5 main loaves and a slew of the smaller ones. The Greeks and Arabs tend to use just one big loaf. The Coptics (Egyptians and Ethiopians) have the women of the parish each bring in a loaf. The priest then chooses the loaves that will be used in the service. Since it is considered an honor to have your loaf used, this gets to be a competition and a source of pride. Not a good thing.

Of course, the above bread takes a reasonable amount of hand and arm strength. So I don’t anymore.

How to Measure for Cooking –

9 October 07

In the beginning. How long ago? Dunno’, it’s been a while. Thousands of years, at least. Anywho – in the beginning, measuring was done strictly by guess. Eventually people noticed that if you use a handful of this, two handfuls of that, half a handful of the other, and mixed it all together with about this much water, and heated it until it was about that color, you could achieve mostly consistent results. Quite an intellectual breakthrough. Who knows how long it took.

For ages, each cook had his own measuring standards and the recipe came to be one scoop of this, two scoops of that, half a scoop of the other, 1 ½ scoops of water, and heated it until it was about that color, the results were even more predictable. Eventually the scoops became standardized, and people realized that you could make the same dish no matter which town you were in. Good progress.

The baker, in particular, had a whopping set of problems. A cup of flour from the top of the barrel was less flour than a cup of flour from the bottom of the barrel. Why? Well, flour compacts. Volume is not a good way to get consistent measure. That’s why your grandmother sifted flour, scooped gently and swept the top of the cup three times with a knife every time she got ready to measure for a cake or whatever. Still not 100% consistent, but much, much better (and a major pain).

The professional bakers of the Middle Ages were a pretty savvy group. In fact, Medieval technology has gotten a bad rap since the Renaissance snobs got impressed with themselves. The Medieval techs were no fools. The bakers figured out that if they measured by weight instead of volume they got consistent results. Now a home baker can stand some variation in the finished goods, but not the pro. If a baker’s goods were uneven in quality, he didn’t last long. On the other hand, you aren’t going to fire your mama if the latest batch of cookies are not quite up to standard. So, weighing became the absolute standard for baked goods. The large quantities that were weighed lent themselves very nicely to the use of the balance scale.

The home baker was not able to join in the fun and precision. First, most home bakers were not privy to the secrets of the professional guilds. Second, a balance scale and weights small and precise enough for the small-scale production of the home was not an affordable home item even if the individual knew how to use them.

Modern technology has changed all that. We no longer need to struggle with dipping out 5 cups of sifted flour and don’t have to fool with all the bothersome fractions if we decide to scale the recipe up or down a bit.

What you want to do is invest $50 or so in a really good digital scale. I know, $50 gives me heart palpitations, too. But hey, it really is worth it. First off, don’t bother with one of the cheap scales. What you want is something that takes at least 11 pounds. 22 pounds if you bake large. I don’t generally do more than 2 1.5 pound loaves at a time, so the 11 pounder does me just fine. What? 2 x 1.5 is 3 therefore one of the cheap 6-pound scales ought to do. Bad logic! Danger, Will Robinson! First off, we need a tare function, which lets us plop the bowl on the scale, zero it out, add the flour – by weight – zero it out, add the water – by weight, and so on until all the ingredients are in. We are going to quickly get beyond the capacity of a 6-pound scale. Hey, my normal glass mixing bowl weighs 3.25 pounds all by its little self. We would have to measure each ingredient separately and then pour it off into a mixing bowl. Too much trouble.

The other thing that you want in your scale is the ability to flip back and forth between Metric and Imperial (that’s us, dammit!). That way you don’t care which measuring system the recipe is in, you can deal with it with no converting back and forth. If you do Metric, you can take a full baker’s recipe for, say 25 or 30 loaves and scale it down to two loaves without getting into some rather nasty fractions. Say your recipe calls for 5kg (kilograms) of flour for 25 loaves. If we want 2 loaves, a little simple calculator exercise tells us that we need 400g for 2 loaves. Now, in Imperial measure, we would start with 5 lbs, do the math, and wind up at 8 ozs or so. Like this in metric:

5kg/25 = 0.2kg per loaf
0.2 x 2 loaves = 0.4kg, or 400 grams

Easy. Try that with the Imperial measure. Nasty. As they used to say, the exercise is left for the student.

What I’m using at the moment is the Escali Digital Measuring Scale. Rather nice. I haven’t had it for long enough to know how many years it will last, but it seems reasonably well-made. It does metric, ounces, or pounds and ounces for weights. It also will measure liquid, giving the volume equivalents and can be scaled for different liquid densities. Did you know that the specific gravity for olive oil is 0.92? Neither did I. But if you tell that scale to use 0.92 density and liquid measure, then it will tell you when you get ¼ cup. Handy. Of course, we do all know that water has a specific gravity of 1.0. This scale also has a timer. I never seem to have enough timers when I’m cooking several complex dished at once. Takes a bit of talent in my Munchkin kitchen.

It’s not that I don’t still use a measuring cup every now and then, but not nearly as often. Oh yeah, another benefit is that I don’t have to squint sidewise with my bad eyes trying to see if I got the liquid up to the line; I just read the display.

Hey – here’s a fun exercise. Add a cup of brown sugar to a recipe. I don’t know of anyone who knows what a packed cup of brown sugar really means. How hard do you pack it down? Or add a quarter cup of honey. How much of the honey is going to wind up in the bowl and how much is going to stick to the cup and get washed down the sink? Whereas, if I tell you to add 25g all you do is zero your scale from the previous ingredient and then squeeze honey in until the scale reads 25g. A no-brainer. I like simple and easy. Of course, you don’t get to lick the honey spoon. That’s a bummer.

My bread baking has always been fairly decent, but results were not always consistent from batch to batch. Now I can be pretty sure that each batch will be samey-samey, even if it was 6 months since I last made that particular recipe. That’s a goodness. I will admit that I don’t use a scale for much besides baking. Most other stuff I just eyeball and feel and taste. Baking takes a bit more precision than that.

Kitchen Stuff –

22 September 07

I like heavy kitchen stuff. Iron skillets that have been well seasoned and well loved are just a joy to cook in. Unfortunately, my 12” iron skillet is getting way too heavy for one handed use. Two hands for worn out old guys.

Cooking: Gas range is a must. We put in gas the first week we were in this house. I can live with an electric oven, if I must, but I prefer gas. But cook tops – gas is the only option. I really like commercial ranges, but the kitchen in this house was obviously designed by a 70s construction worker. He may have heard of the “golden triangle”, because you can certainly get from the sink to the range to the refrigerator in one step. The counters and cabinets reflect this. I personally don’t mind a few steps to be able to have lots of cabinet and counter space. I would rather have more steps and less cramping. But I digress.

Appliances: I really like Kitchenaid appliances. They are heavy, smooth, long lasting. The only drawback is that they are not cheap. I am cheap, therefore a conflict of emotions when I have to spring for a new appliance. I search the web for the very best price over and over. Then I read user comments until my eyes blear. Then I usually decide to do without. I cuss and fuss in the kitchen, trying to get along without whatever gadget has seized my attention and for which I don’t have storage space. After a few days I realize that I really do need the new whatever. I then break down and do the whole internet search again, this time for the best brand (usually Kitchenaid) at the best price. Then I bravely place the order with the plastic that stands for the pound nearest my heart. Then I have to wait forever for UPS to deign to visit.

Cutlery: The only place I have never skimped. We have a complete set of all the Wüsthof Grand Prix commercial knives from the 70s. They take and hold a razor edge. I don’t know if they make these anymore, but if they did it would probably be around a grand to equal what we have. I would probably have palpitations and faint to pay that much for anything.

Mixer: Kitchenaid, of course. Heavy, smooth, strong. I just wish I had not cheaped out and had gotten the lift bowl instead of the hinge top. Oh well, this thing will last the rest of my life and then some, so it is not going to be replaced. Makes very short work of home sized bread, cookies, or whatever. Attachments also good for grinding up potatoes to make a Rosti – Swiss/German hash browns – damn tasty.

Yeah, I know about bread machines and we have one for when Herself gets on a kick. Arthurwrongus and any kind of real cooking is a bad combo. I don’t like them. I will probably have to break down and use it when the body deteriorates further. But dammit, part of the fun of cooking is the sensual use of the knife to do the chopping, the handling of the dough in its fine, smooth, plastic form when you pat down the various risings. I also like the feel of meat as it is sliced and formed. The bread machine just takes you too far away from the sensuality of cooking. Cooking is not just smelling and tasting, but also touching and hearing.

{{Herself Sez: Now that I’m getting more and more decrepit, and the Ol’ Curmudgeon’s heart is not doing well, I have to consider what to do if/when he precedes me in death. I used to be a pretty good cook – just have problems with standing for any length of time at the counter or the stove. But I LOVE homemade bread – especially the Ol’ Curmudgeon’s recipes! So, I have plans, in that eventuality, to get a Zojirushi BBCCX20 Home Bakery Supreme Bread Machine. I’ll miss out on the sensuality of the feel of the “handling of the dough in its fine, smooth, plastic form when you pat down the various risings,” but I’ll forgo that in order to have homemade bread!}}


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