April 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
I had a horrible experience, an embarrassing experience, a humility-inducing experience with homemade bread about 20 years ago. It was a “loaf” of rye bread that more accurately could be called an anvil. It defied some law of physics in how something so small could become so dense.
I swore off baking yeast breads for … oh, I’d say 15 years. And then, I let the embarrassment go. I’m a different person, I said. I can make different bread. I can make bread and be successful at it.
I’ve made a bunch of different bread overs the last five years or so. Various takes on wheat, white, whole grain, pizza, focaccia, sourdough—made with my very own sourdough starter! And it’s all turned out pretty tasty, too. I admit I need to work on my loaf shaping, but that will come with practice.
There’s one recipe for which I don’t need to shape up my boule-making skills, and that’s for pita bread. It’s flat and round, slightly puffy in the middle. I thought I could handle that pretty well. And it turns out it’s as easy as it seems. Why everyone everywhere isn’t making pita bread everyday, I have no idea. Get after it, people.
Pita Bread, adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook
1 cup wrist-temp water (about 95-100F)
1.5 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tbs. sugar or honey (I used raw sugar)
1 tsp. salt
3 to 3.5 cups flour (1 cup can be whole wheat)
a bit of oil
1. Combine yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer and let it get foamy over the next 5 minutes.
2. Add sugar/honey and salt and stir until dissolved.
3. Put bowl onto mixer with a dough hook attachment, add one cup of flour and start to combine on low speed. Slowly add in two more cups of flour and continue to let the dough need in the bowl over the next 3-5 minutes. If it seems wettish, add in a sprinkling of flour as it mixes. You’re looking for a smooth dough.
4. Put dough in an oiled bowl and roll it around in there until the dough surface is oiled, too. Cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap, set in a warmish place (75F is good) for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in bulk. It could take up to 1.5 hrs.
5. Punch down dough and set it onto a clean and floured surface. Kneed it by hand for 5 minutes. Cut the dough into equal-sized pieces, anywhere from 6 to 12 segments. I made 8 because it was simple, and the pitas turned out just the size I wanted. . Knead each little dough ball for a minute or so (I turned each 30 times and figured that was about right). With a rolling pin, roll out each dough piece into a VERY THIN circle (or near circle, it doesn’t matter exactly). You WILL need to throw down extra flour. DO make sure the dough is no more than 1/8 inch thick—otherwise you end up with a pizza crust, no kidding. Let the dough circles rest for 30 minutes. After I rolled out each circle I placed it on a half sheet-sized piece of parchment, four per sheet overlapping slightly. It’s ok, don’t worry.
NOTE: This circle-making process takes some time. By the time you are done rolling out the whole batch, the first circles have already been resting about 15 minutes. So at this point set the timer for 15 minutes, get your oven ready and start moving toward the next step.
6. Preheat oven to 500F. OR, if you have a silly oven like mine that will not go above 450F (Ggrrrrr…), set it to 450F and work with it. Place a sheet pan in the oven to warm up a bit then brush it with oil or cornmeal to prevent the dough from sticking. OR, place the dough circles on parchment and slide them onto the baking sheet, fitting as many dough circles in the oven as you can without them touching. Due to the craziness of my oven I am able to fit just two dough circles, which were placed on the parchment.
7. Let the circles bake for 6-8 minutes or until the circles puff up and are lightly browned and, more importantly, look like pita! At 450F, 8 minutes was the perfect amount of time. As soon as one batch is done, remove from the oven and wrap the pitas in a clean but damp tea towel and place them in a brown paper bag. Close the bag for 15 minutes. This keeps them soft(ish) for a day or so. After a day I would transfer them to a plastic bag.
As an experiment, roll out one dough circle a little thicker than 1/8 inch and bake. Whereas the thinner circles puff up like you’ve filled them with helium, you’ll notice the thicker circle doesn’t puff up much at all—if at all. It’s ends up more like a pizza crust. Which tells me why not have this same recipe handy for when you want to make pizza?
Give pita a try and let me know what you think!
April 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
As a child I never liked mushrooms. Strike that—I never had the opportunity to eat mushrooms because my parents didn’t like them. Entering adulthood I just stayed away from encounters with mushrooms, picking them off the late-night pizzas ordered with friends at college and steering clear of them on Chinese food take-out menus.
Time has moved on, and so have my taste buds. I now love mushrooms. The earthier the mushroom, the better. Every shopping trip sees me sorting through the bins of different kinds. What a silly kid I was, I think as I marvel at the fresh and dried fungi.
This is the year I stop relying so heavily on store-bought mushrooms and I attempt to grow my own. With the popularity of “grow-your-own” everything—from bean sprouts to dinosaur kale to heirloom tomatoes—several different companies now offer grow-your-own mushroom kits. There are two that I know of:
Back to the Roots: Probably the most well-known of the mushroom-growing kits, the Back to the Roots kit promises to produce up to 1.5 pounds of pearl oyster mushrooms in about 10 days, and can produce at least two crops worth of mushrooms—maybe even three crops. Each box, which is shaped like a cardboard milk carton, contains 100% recycled plant-based waste which performs as the growing medium. Just open the lid, mist with water, and set it by a sunny window. How convenient to grow indoors! www.backtotheroots.com
Happy Cat Farm: This organic seed producer from Southeastern Pennsylvania offers a Shiitake Mushroom Log for outdoor mushroom growing. The log comes inoculated with a strain of mushroom spawn. Given proper shade and moisture, the log will produce shiitake mushrooms every 8-12 weeks for several years. Just place the log right on the ground in a place like a shaded mulched planting bed and keep it moist. If it dries out for more than a week, soak the log overnight in a container of water and it’ll be as good as new. www.happycatorganics.com
March 26, 2013 § Leave a comment
Ah, an over-stuffed pita sandwich…yum.
Who am I kidding!? When have I ever stuffed a pita and have it NOT break apart on me? Never. Ever. And once it breaks, it’s just all downhill from there. Your fingers get full of hummus. Whatever dressing you’ve put on the sandwich runs down your wrist into your sleeve. It’s no good, stuffing a pita.
Better to use pita like a sandwich bread.
That’s exactly what I did for lunch yesterday. Toasted pita cut into two half moons, each spread with Red Pepper Hummus, some roasted eggplant, and some greens lightly dressed with Lemony Vinaigrette. After chowing down, I realized the Fiery Onion Relish may have been a fun thing to have as a topping, too.
Maybe I’ll try that for today’s lunch.
March 21, 2013 § 2 Comments
I’m a crafty individual. I am able to craft words for a living, and I’m thankful for that. But I really do like to work with my hands. Typing on a keyboard just isn’t hands-on enough for me. Gardening and cooking are hands on, and I love those activities. But I really do enjoy working with furniture.
I have refinished a number of old family pieces myself, and have killed off many a brain cell from working with wood strippers and stains in an enclosed, non-ventilated space. My dream would be to have Norm Abrams workshop with all the woodshop gadgets—and an exhaust system. Not that I know how to use everything in Norm’s arsenal, or that I’ve ever made a dresser in my life. But I’d love to have those tools, turn some chair legs, stain some cabinets and make things that are beautiful and useful.
We don’t have room for a workshop, but in our new house we at least have room for me to work on one furniture-related project. I have one chair missing its cane seat, and I know how to weave it. I picked up the skill more than 20 years ago in an adult-ed class one summer. And it’s a good skill to have.
There are two types of woven cane seats:
1) The type with a groove around the seat’s opening into which you secure a pre-woven mat (see above). Easy peasy.
2) The type with holes drilled around the seat’s opening, through which you weave individual lengths of cane (see above).
Luckily, I know how to do both.
We are having a dinner party for six people next Friday, and have six chairs—but only five seats. Time for me to start working on that sixth seat.
Funny thing about this set of chairs—antiques from way before my grandmother’s time—is that five of them have the groove, and just this one has holes drilled through the seat. If you look closely at the above photo you can still see bits of that groove. Who knows why they didn’t just replace the pre-woven mat, but it is what it is.
First step: I work with the vertical strips first. Place one cane strip in each hole, secure with a pin, and thread it through to the opposite side. You can use a really long strip and weave it under and through to the adjacent holes.
Second step: Repeat, same step so you now have two cane strips in each hole, side by side (see above). What can go wrong? Well, if someone drilled their own darn holes into the seat, sometimes you end up with holes that aren’t quite even. You can see that in the seat above. Don’t worry – it’ll work itself out. You’ll see.
Third step: Now work horizontally. In each hole you’ll insert the end of one strip. Now is where the weaving begins, over and under each of the vertical strips, ending up in the corresponding hole on the other side. To keep things simple, weave each strip the same. That way you’ll easily see if you’ve made an error, if you notice one row looks different from another.
Fourth step: You guessed it—you’re now going to put a second horizontal strip in each hole, adjacent to the existing strip, and weave in the OPPOSITE manner of the first weave. This is where it starts getting difficult, mainly when it comes to squeezing the cane under another cane that is flush with the wood of the seat.
Fifth step: Haven’t gotten that far yet—but I will very soon. This is where the diagonal strips come in, weaving from upper left to lower right AND THEN upper right to lower left. This is where, fingers crossed, that extra hole on the bottom will kinda sorta disappear.
So, what can go wrong?
- The cane needs to remain moist while you weave or it will break. It’s already happened to me a dozen times. Either the cane you weave breaks, or a cane that is already in the seat breaks as you pull the working cane. Sucks.
- You can have a batch of caning that is just ready to split no matter how wet it is. Again, dealing with this RIGHT now.
- Unless you’ve got yourself a nifty work station where you can suspend the chair at chest level, there’s a lot of bending involved. Watch your lower back.
- Your cats can feel like they must be involved, chewing on the ends of the cane strips from below, stealing your pins, and hoping up onto the unfinished seat.
Once you get going, it’s not so bad. Nothing that frequent breaks and a good playlist can’t get you through. Stay tuned for Part II and pics of the finished product. If I don’t finish, someone will have to sit on a folding chair. And that just CANNOT happen at a good dinner party.
If you have a chair that needs caning and have NO idea where to begin (and don’t quite get what they are telling you in those YouTube videos), I’d be happy to explain or help. Just let me know.