Thursday, April 26, 2012

Organic Apple Sourdough Bread Starter

Making the starter from organic apple peels and organic bread flour,
 6 weeks ago
I am sad because it appears that my sourdough starter may be dying or dead.
The sourdough starter today -- flat and no bubbles.  Are you still alive?
I fed it per all the instructions I could find, but it seems to have lost its mojo.

My first experiment - scoring the top before baking

Nonetheless, I have had a great time learning how to make sourdough bread over the last 6 weeks.

It all started one Saturday when I saw the PBS show called New Scandinavian Cooking,*(see note below)  featuring one of their chefs, Andreas Viestad.

We love Scandinavia, and Norway, in particular and Andreas was visiting an apple farm on the West coast, in Hardanger, near Bergen, Norway where the terrain is just beautiful.

It is all about "Earth" from the powerful steep mountains, the impact of the Atlantic ocean, to the protection and deepness of the inner fjords.   The rainy, misty hillsides are dotted with fruit trees and farmland.

Andreas visited a wood fired bakery where they were making sourdough bread using apple skins as the basis of their fermented sponge.  As he bit into the freshly baked bread he said that he could taste the apple in the background.

I thought "wow!" That bread looks incredible.  I wonder what it would taste like.  We have spectacular apples here in NYS.  I wonder if I could do that, too.
Starter can be made with the peels of apples, or grapes, or other unprocessed fruit

He showed how you make the sourdough starter:   by peeling organic apples and using the peels mixed with organic flour and water and a little sugar.
Yeast is naturally in our environment, on the skins of fruit, like apples, but also grapes, and the like.  It can be captured and fed with sugar and flour until it becomes alive.  It takes about a week to develop the sponge.

The sponge is then used to start the bread instead of regular store bought yeast.  It can be replenished with more flour, water and sugar. 

Andreas said that he knows people that have kept their sourdough starters alive for years, and have passed their starter on to friends, who pass it on to their friends.

Well, the next Saturday, when I couldn't stop thinking about it, and hemming and hawing, I decided to try.  This project is way out of my comfort zone, but worst case, I would be out the money for the flour.  We could eat the apples. 

I looked up his recipe, and this is all he said!  Not enough directions, in my mind.

Sourdough Made with Apple Peel
(from the New Scandivian Cooking website:

4 apples, unprocessed
3 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/2 cups wheat flour

Preperation:  (note from B: That's how it was spelled on their website.)
1 Peel the apples and put the peelings in a sterile glass with the flour and the sugar.
2 Add the water and put on a loose-fitting lid – the dough needs to breathe.
3 Leave it in room temperature for 4-6 days until it starts to bubble and froth.
4 It is important that the sourdough develops in a draft free room. The sourdough keeps for a week in the fridge without needing to be fed.

So, I had to do some research.  I started with James Beard, as I usually do, and he is NOT a fan of sourdough bread! 

Next, I considered where did I learn first about sourdough bread?  It was San Francisco while visiting family there.  

Success:  The first San Francisco Jr. League cookbook had sourdough bread and instructions, but neither used the organic fruit peel starter method (they used yeast), so I had to adapt the instructions and the recipe.

Next, I will show you how to do it.   It's actually not hard at all. 

Stay tuned!


*New Scan Cooking says their show and food is :  Inspired by the culinary revolution in Spain and the Italian Slow Food movement, top Nordic chefs, Nordic Ministers of Food and key actors within the gastronomic field are strieving to develop a vital and attractive New Nordic Cuisine.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Simple Swiss Chard Saute by Mary C.

Simple Swiss Chard Saute by Mary C.

A simple dinner that I make when I don’t have anything planned is to sauté some greens. Our local supermarket carries bags of greens such as Swiss chard mix, collard greens, and beet greens. I have become fond of cooking the Swiss chard mix which is a mix of Swiss chard and kale. 

What’s great about these Epic Roots Ready to Cook greens are exactly that…..that they’re already cut-up and ready to cook. And they’re a great source of Vitamin A and C……they contribute calcium, iron, and fiber to our diet, and they’re low in calories and sodium. In fact, 1 ½ cups of the Swiss chard mix is only 40 calories! Bring it on!

Although the Swiss chard mix is fine to sauté alone in some basting oil, I usually add some veggies, such as chopped carrots, onions, and halved grape tomatoes. The carrots give it even more crunch and the more colorful veggies the better for nutrition and beauty.  

Also, for some protein and more flavor, I add chopped Canadian bacon. This can be a satisfying meal with the addition of the bacon or it can be a side dish. I usually just eyeball the amount of veggies and bacon that are put in, but below is a recipe using a whole bag, 16 oz, of greens.

               ---Mary C.

Simple Swiss Chard Saute

Epic Roots Ready to Cook Chard Mix, 16 oz, or 7 ½ cups
Baby-cup carrots, chopped into small bits, 1 cup
Onions, chopped, ½ cup
Cherry tomatoes, 10-15 halved
Basting oil with garlic and herbs
Garlic, minced, 1 t. (optional)
Canadian bacon round slices, 4-5 or whole pkg. if you like bacon

Select the largest frying pan that you have for a whole package of greens. I add the greens progressively because they cook down a lot when sautéing/wilting. Use about 1 ½ T. of basting oil in the pan.

Saute the onions, carrots, optional garlic, and Canadian bacon for a few minutes until softened. Add the chard mix and stir. It will cook down quickly…..continue to add the rest of the chard.

When almost ready to serve, add the halved cherry tomatoes, so they become softened as well. And that is it!

I accompany this entrée or side dish with a whole wheat bun. So you have a very healthy and satisfying meal that’s ready in minutes.

    ---Mary C.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why is Real Maple Syrup So Expensive?

Tom is the waffle maker in the house.  He likes to make them as a treat on Sunday mornings.
And we like to use real maple syrup, preferably New York state syrup. 

Highland Sugarworks (Vermont) is a very good brand sold at Wegman's.  Or you can find New York State syrup at most of the farmers markets these days.  This Spring I bought some from a guy in my ceramics class who taps his own maple trees. 

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Spring came early this year so he brought his syrup to class in early March.  Maple syrup is made when the sap of maple trees begins to run, during the Spring thaw.  Freezing nights and warmer days turn starch stored in the tree roots into sugar and start it circulating through the tree to fuel spring growth.

Many people say that real maple syrup is too expensive at $1/ounce. And some people just don't have access to it, or never grew up on it, so they acquired a taste for Mrs. Butterworth's-style pancake syrup.  Pancake syrup is basically maple-flavored corn syrup, so the cost is much lower, more like $.20/ounce. 

I won't pass judgment on which is better tasting or better for you.  I will just pass along this information:

5 Reasons to Buy Pure Maple Syrup  (per
  • It has calcium and disease-fighting antioxidants, including potassium
  • It helps support a sustainable agriculture system
  • It supports small family maple farmers and local economies
  • It's an easily digestible sugar, unlike the high fructose corn syrup
  • It's has no preservatives, GMOs or artificial additives
So, why is real maple syrup so expensive? 
Its production is labor intensive, and there is limited supply.  Forty (40) gallons boil down to around 1 gallon of syrup!
I am glad that we are in a maple syrup producing area--Quebec is the highest at 79% (!), Vermont is second, and then there is the rest.
If you want to read more about the history of maple syrup and how it is made, click here:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lemon Tart with Fresh Blueberries

Lemon Tart with Fresh Blueberries

This is a beautiful tart, not too sweet and not too tart.  I used Meyer lemons but regular lemons or even limes would work well, too.

It's not hard to do but there are lots of steps. 

A food processor makes it easy to make the dough;  however,  you will need a tart pan with a removable bottom.  Lots of fresh eggs.  And superfine sugar.

Serve at room temperature.
A regular lemon on the left.  And a Meyer lemon on the right.
Lemon Tart with Fresh Blueberries
(adapted from The Meat Free Monday cookbook)

Serves 8-10

for the pastry:
1 3/4 cups flour
8 T. diced butter
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
pinch of salt
2 large egg yolks
1 T. cold water

for the filling:
5 lemons
6 large eggs
1 cup superfine sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream or half'n'half

for the topping:
pint of fresh, ripe blueberries, rinsed and dried
confectioner's sugar for dusting

Prepare the pastry by adding the flour and diced butter, confectioner's sugar, and a pinch of salt into the bowl of a food processor.
Use the pulse button until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add 2 egg yolks and 1 T. cold water to the flour mixture,
and pulse again until the a dough starts to form.
Lightly shape the dough into a smooth ball, flatten into a disk, cover with plastic wrap,
and chill for an hour until firm.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour, roll out the dough into a disk,
and line a 9-inch springform tart pan.
Prick the base with a fork and chill the pastry again for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place a solid baking sheet on the middle shelf of the oven.
Line the pastry shell with parchment (or aluminum foil) and fill with baking beans or rice.
Cook on the hot baking sheet for 15-30 minutes until pale golden.
Remove from the oven and cool slightly while you prepare the filling.
Turn the oven down to 300 degrees.
Finely grate the zest from 2 lemons, and squeeze the juice from all five lemons.   Set aside.
Whisk 6 large eggs and 1 heaping cup superfine sugar together in a large bowl,
add 1/2 cup cream or half'n'half, mix to combine. 
Add the lemon juice --- strain it as you do, to be sure you remove seeds and pith.
Add the grated zest and stir to combine.
Pour the mixture into the baked pastry shell
and carefully slide the baking sheet back into the oven.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until the center is only just set.
Remove and evenly distribute the dried blueberries on the top.  Push them into the surface slightly.
Cool to room temperature and dust with confectioner's sugar.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

French Lentils: Roasted Salmon with Lentils

Lentils du Puy (French Green Lentils)
During my hiatus, I have been making lentils because I discovered that Wegman's carries the French green lentils.  Also called lentils du Puy.

I love these little dark green lentils, compared to the common brown lentils.  The French ones stay firm and are earthy, while the brown one seem mushy to me. 

I used to stock up on them when I went to NYC but didn't realize they were in the International aisle at Wegman's, until recently.

Lentils only take 30 - 40 minutes to cook, and are very good for you.  The only tricky part to making them is to be sure to wash them well and to pick out any debris.
What can you do with French lentils?

Well, the first thing I made, and have made several times since, is Dorrie Greenspan's Roasted Salmon and Lentils recipe from her latest cookbook, Around My French Table.

We invited a neighbor over for late dinner on a Friday night, and served this dish with asparagus and a green salad.  It was very easy to make.  Unfortunately, I over salted the lentils, but otherwise, it was excellent dish!

And it's easy to roast salmon inside (versus on the grill).

Roasted Salmon and Lentils
(from Dorrie Greenspan's Around My French Table, pg. 300-301)

1 cup lentils du Puy (French green lentils)
1 clove
1 small onion
1 medium carrot, trimmed, peeled, and cut into 4 -6 pieces
1 celery stalk, trimmed and cut into 4 - 6 pieces
1 bay leaf
3.5 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
1 1 1/4 pound piece salmon fillet, cut from the thick center portion, skin on, at room temperature
Olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
For garnish, chopped fresh parsley and/or snipped chives (optional)
Put the lentils in a strainer, pick through them to remove any debris; rinse under cold running water.

Turn the lentils into a medium saucepan, cover them with cold water, bring to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes; drain the lentils in the strainer.  Rinse the lentils again and rinse out the saucepan.
Press the clove into the onion and toss the onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaf into the pan.  Pour in the broth, stir in the lentils, and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to a steady simmer and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the lentils are almost tender. 

As the lentils cook, skim off the dark foam that rises to the top.  Season with salt and cook until they're tender, 5 to 10 minutes more.

While the lentils are cooking, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with foil.
Place a strainer over a large measuring cup and drain the lentils, reserving the broth, set the pan aside.  Pick out the vegetables, and discard the clove and bay leaf; if you'd like to serve the carrots, celery, and onion with the lentils (Dorrie does), cut them into very small dice.  Rinse out the saucepan.

Put the salmon on the foil-lined baking sheet, rub a little olive oil over the top, season with salt and pepper.  Slide the baking sheet into the oven and roast the salmon for about 12 minutes, or until it is firm on the outside and still pink, and just the tiniest bit jiggly in the center (nick the thickest part with a slender knife to test).  If the salmon is done before you've finished the lentils, cover it lightly with a foil tent, and leave it on the counter to rest.

Meanwhile, put 3/4 cup of the cooked lentils into a food processor (a mini processor is fine) or blender and add 1/2 cup of the reserved broth.  Whir for a minute or so, until the lentils are reduced to a puree, then scrape the puree and the remaining cooked lentils back into the saucepan.  Pour in another 1 /2 cup of reserved broth, add the diced vegetables, if you kept them, and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Note:  You can make the lentils to this point and keep them, covered, at room temperature for a few hours, or in the refrigerator overnight.

Return the saucepan to medium heat and cook, stirring, only until the lentils are warmed through again.

Divide the lentils among 4 warm shallow soup plates.  Slice the salmon into 4 portions, and place a piece in the center of each plate.  Drizzle the salmon and lentils very lightly with olive oil, dust the top of the fish with parsley and/or chives, if you'd like, and serve immediately.

Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator and gently reheated.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Curried Lamb Stew by Tom

Curried Lamb Stew by Tom

Now that the weather has turned back to be more seasonally appropriate, i.e., March going out like a lion type weather, Barbara asked me to make a lamb curry with ginger stew recipe that I have made at least once every year. 

Much to my surprise I have been making this recipe, or some variant of it, since 1997 but had never written it up for the food blog.  This recipe is a major adaptation from the cookbook "Simply Stews" by Susan Wyler.  I say a major adaptation because I have significantly added to the ingredients to make it a complete meal in and of itself. 

Don't let the curry scare you away from this dish.  You can make it as hot or as mild as you like by adjusting the amount of cayenne pepper added.  Obviously we enjoy this lamb stew, and I hope you will as well.


Curried Lamb Stew
(adapted from Simply Stews by Susan Wyler)

Serves 6-8

1-28 oz can of diced tomatoes
2 1/2 - 3 lbs of boneless leg of lamb or lamb shoulder (you can use lamb tenderloins, but be prepared to spend $10 more per pound!)
Olive oil for browning and sauteing
2-3 small to medium size onions, coarsely chopped
10 garlic cloves minced, or 3 tablespoons of minced garlic from the jar (my preference)
2-8 oz packages of sliced portabello mushrooms
2 cans of drained white beans - butter beans, navy beans, garbanzo beans, etc - any type will do
2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper - adjust this to your taste
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of saffron threads
2 tablespoons fresh chopped ginger
1-2 teaspoons Kosher salt - adjusted to taste
Enough flour to coat the lamb cubes during browning - 1/2 - 3/4 cups
1 teaspoon corn starch to thicken the broth

I used a leg of lamb, which can have quite a bit of fat and gristle.  So while you are cubing the meat into approximately 1" size pieces, do a good job of removing as much of the fat, gristle and membrane as you can.

Coat the cubed lamb with flour.  An easy technique is to put a 1/2 cup or so of flour into a paper lunch bag.  Then just add the meat a little at a time and shake the bag up.  You will get a decent coating of the meat that way and it does not make such a big mess.

In a large Dutch oven or heavy pan with a lid, heat the pan on medium-high heat with the olive oil.  Once the olive oil is hot, brown the lamb in bunches not overcrowding the pan.  Once browned, remove from the pan to a plate and repeat the process.  If the pan is too dry, just add a little more olive oil.

After all of the meat has been browned, saute the coarsely chopped onions until they are translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Next add the minced garlic and saute that for another minute.

Now throw in the portabello mushrooms.  Saute until they are shrinking and browning - another 6-7 minutes.  Be sure to stir frequently to prevent the onions and garlic from burning.  The mushrooms during sauteing will give up some liquid, so that will help prevent charring of the onions and garlic as well.

Next add the canned diced tomatoes and the halved grape tomatoes, if you are including those.  Also add the dry spices except the chopped ginger. 

Stir the whole mixture up well to get the meat, onions and mushrooms well coated with the dry spices.

Now add the beef stock, chopped ginger and the red wine.  Bring the mixture back to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to just simmer the stew.  You should cook this for at least an hour.  Two hours is even better as it will make the meat incredibly tender.

About 15 - 20 minutes before you are ready to serve the stew, add the drained white beans to warm them up.  Also prepare the corn starch by adding it to water in a small bowl to dissolve it.  Then add the corn starch mixture to the stew to thicken the broth.

I served the stew over Texmati rice.  I substituted half of the water with leftover beef stock, which made the finished rice richer in taste and complimented the lamb stew nicely. 

As it was just Barbara and I eating our lamb stew, we had plenty of leftovers for the next couple of days.  It kept very well and was just as good day two as day one.