Baking speaks to my analytical, engineering mind. Each bake is a like a science experiment where I am trying to find the right mix of ingredients. Even the slightest of changes in ingredient ratios can have dramatic effects, which is why I like to measure everything with a scale. The ultimate goal is to find the right mix and ratio of ingredients to create a repeatable process.
One of the by-products of growing your own sourdough starter is discard. As any experienced bread baker will tell you, you’re going to end up with a lot of it. And when I say a lot, I mean a LOT of it. Since I don’t like throwing food away, I needed a plan for it, which is one of the top lessons I learned from growing a sourdough starter.
As it goes with just about anything, sourdough discard can be a problem or an opportunity. I like taking an optimistic approach to life, so I chose to treat my sourdough discard as an opportunity, an opportunity to practice my baking skills.
A little over a year ago, I made the decision to curb my carb intake significantly. Yes, it was a choice. I was so influenced by the books Grain Brain and Wheat Belly that I decided it was best to cut out breads and grain-based products. It was tough for the first month or two. I like bread, and I missed it.
Fast forward a year later, and I’ve gotten over it. I don’t miss bread. I don’t miss grains either, with one exception. Pasta was one meal I just couldn’t give up. Spaghetti dinners are a staple around our house. With our homemade sauce, I just couldn’t let go. I had to find some way, any way, that I could rationalize and enjoy a good bowl of noodles drenched in marinara and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
How did I rationalize my decision to eat pasta? We make it ourselves. Granted, it’s still eating wheat, but I choose the ingredients.
An internet search for guacamole will reveal many, many recipes. I haven’t tried them all, but I have tried quite a few of them. Here’s the one that has become my “go to” recipe, along with a few tips that I’ve learned while making it.
Growing up, I can still remember when “the call” would come. Grandma had decided to make pierogi and my grandpap would call the house to tell us it was ready. It would usually be early evening when the call would come, and even if we had already eaten dinner, my dad would rush me out the door. We would speed over to grandma’s house, cutting the normally 5-minute drive in half. Somehow, my dad’s older brother, my Uncle Barry, would already be there working his way through the first batch. He lived 10 minutes away from my grandma’s, so how he got there faster than us is a mystery that remains unsolved to this day. My gut tells me he had inside information about when pierogi were being made, but neither he nor my grandparents ever fessed up to it.
My grandma’s pierogi recipe was a hand-me-down from my great grandma (my grandpap’s mother). She was an immigrant from the old country, Ukraine to be exact. My grandmother took over the recipe and mastered it, with a couple of minor tweaks. My mom and dad took over the recipe from my grandma, continuing the family tradition. Store bought pierogi are good, but they don’t come close to matching the real thing.
Someday, I knew that I should take over the recipe to continue the family tradition. I had procrastinated for years, but watching the Michael Pollan documentary “Cooked” inspired me to action. My parents visited this past summer, and I decided it was time to learn the recipe. I set aside an afternoon to spend in the kitchen with them. It was time well spent.
One of the things that I love about cooking is experimentation. Cooking is not an exact science, and small variations in ingredients, measurements, or techniques can lead to sometimes subtle and sometimes significant differences in outcome.
After doing a little research, I found a suggestion that I figured was worth a try – using vodka as a substitute for some of the water. The rationale is that vodka would provide the required moisture content for preparing the dough, but during the baking process, the alcohol would vaporize leaving a lighter, flakier crust. Given all that I had tried, I figured it was worth a shot.
As part of my efforts to cut as much added and refined sugar out of my diet as possible, I’ve been reading a lot more food labels this year. I was surprised by how much added sugar was in Orange Juice and Tomato Sauce, two items that were regular staples in my diet. I cut orange juice out of my regular routine at the end of last year, but I knew tomato sauce would be more of a challenge. Spaghetti is a regular meal in our house, and we use tomato sauce for other dishes as well. The solution was simple – I had to start making the sauce from scratch.
Thanks to the power of the internet, I was able to discover a couple of recipes for tomato sauce pretty quickly, What surprised me was how simple they were. All you need is a can of crushed tomatoes, a little olive oil, a couple of cloves of garlic, some basil, oregano, pepper, and a few hours to let the sauce simmer on the stove. It literally takes about 10 minutes to prep, and then about 2-4 hours (or more) to simmer.
One of my major fitness goals for 2015 was to cut out added sugar whenever possible. It’s a great goal, but it makes finding snacks really difficult. It’s amazing how much added sugar is put into just about every packaged snack food.
One of my favorite snacks is popcorn, but there’s a good chance that packaged popcorn will contain some amounts of sugar, or extra salt to enhance the flavor. So buying in the bag was out. Microwave popcorn is supposedly bad for you, so it got nixed, too. It left hot air and doing it on the stove as the other viable options.
Since I don’t own a hot air popper, it left finding a good stove top recipe as the best alternative. Of course, doing a quick Google search made one easy to find. Thanks to Elise over at Simply Recipes, I discovered a great, and easy to make popcorn recipe.
I always enjoyed my mom’s chocolate chip cookies growing up. I can still remember the aroma that filled the kitchen while she baked them. Getting them while they were fresh out of the oven and still warm was a treat. The only downside was that the cookies would get hard after setting for more than a few days. Granted, this was rarely a problem since the cookies went fast. However, after using my mom’s recipe to bake cookies with the kids, I was convinced there was a way to make softer cookies.
A Google search for soft chocolate chip cookies pointed me to the “Award Winning Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe at Allrecipes.com. After just one use, we were hooked. Using this recipe, the cookies are soft and stay this way for days. The family absolutely loves them, and we get rave reviews anytime we take them somewhere as a dessert dish.
One of my favorite memories growing up was going to my Grandma’s house after she baked her homemade apple pie. I can still remember the smell in her kitchen, and there was nothing like the taste of warm apple pie fresh out of the oven.
My mother, who is a great cook in her own right, took over my Grandma’s apple pie recipe. She can, and still does, make a pretty mean apple pie herself. I’d be hard pressed to choose which one I like better – Mom’s or Grandma’s.
In any case, I decided a few years ago that it was time for me to start learning how to make Grandma’s apple pie myself. On one of my mom’s trips out to Southern California, she brought the recipe and assisted me on my first try. It was good, but not like what I remembered.
Since then, I’ve made a few pies, but the one I recently baked over Thanksgiving came out best. It’s the closest I’ve come to matching my mom and grandma’s work. I still need more practice, but I figured I’d share my variation of the recipe along with a few secrets I’ve learned so far.