Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Sourdough Chronicles: Sourdough Crumpets

The sourdough starter is finally getting to where it ought to be, in part due to the "sourdough yeast" that was the only yeast option at the grocery store this week. It contains rye, which attracts more wild yeast than all-purpose (plain) flour. It also contains dead sourdough and live commercial yeast.

I've found another wonderful means for using up the discards, and this is also a keeper; again, I find the sourdough version superior to the ordinary variety.

Yesterday I made sourdough crumpets. They have great flavor, smaller holes, and a more pleasant texture (I find that commercial crumpets are on the rubbery side).

This sourdough crumpet recipe from King Arthur Flour (again) is the one I used. It's simple and quick, and I ate three of the four yesterday! The last one was devoured today.

This is the dough at work; it doesn't take any time at all to become bubbly and ready to cook.

It's best to fill the rings with a heaping 1/4 cup of batter, as noted in the recipe, so that they will be thick enough to be split and toasted.

Four to a batch. The last two turned out best, as I under-filled the rings on the first go-round.

Split, toasted, and topped with sweet butter, kosher salt, and homemade crab apple jelly, these are a welcome treat for teatime or any other time, as far as I'm concerned. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Making the most of what you can get: roast chicken

"Oh, wasn't WWII romantic?! Make do and mend, everyone pulling together, bomb shelters..."

Think about it, folks; this was during a WORLD WAR--though people working together to make the best of things is pretty wonderful.

We're not the East End during the Blitz, and there's not a blackout. But we must keep our distance, literally, in order to stay safe. And there's a world-wide epidemic, and life as we know it has ground to a halt.

We can't, however, have a sing song (sing-along) in an air raid shelter, or get together for a party using whatever bits of luxury items we can scrape up (read Berlin Diaries, by Marie (Missie) Vassiltchikov for a very good look at life in wartime).

There is a real similarity, however, and that's making do with what you can find at the markets. Not so much that supplies aren't there--we're not in the midst, of real rationing--but the supply chain has quite a few over-strained or missing links at the moment.

A friend has gone to make a grocery run today, and she texted me, "I got you a chicken!" (I didn't add the exclamation mark...that was hers.)

Now, I've been musing for about a week on what I would do if I did get a chicken. I had decided on a whole one, if possible, because it's more useful--bones for stock, and all that.

I'm partial to a roast chicken, but a stock made with raw bones is superior to one made with a carcass from a bird that's already been cooked, so I decided on a compromise. I'm going to spatchcock it (cut out the backbone and smash it flat). This way it will cook more quickly and evenly, and I'll have some raw bone for the stock. I am also planning on removing the wings before it's roasted, and reserving those for the stock.

So: roast chicken. Probably with gravy, mashed potatoes, and mixed veg. I might even make myself some Yorkshire pudding to go along with it.

That leaves me cold chicken and leftover mashed potatoes. I could make a chicken pot pie, or a chicken pie topped with mash(ed potatoes). If I go with the first, leftover mashed potatoes could become soup, potato pancakes, or potato candy (not very likely!).

I could have cold chicken sandwiches (I've got sourdough starter going, and I can always make another loaf of soda bread); I like them with plenty of mayonnaise, a thin slice of raw onion, and kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

There's chicken hash...I could use raw cubed potato, plenty of onion, and a bit of bell pepper (must remember to save the seeds for planting).

Chicken salad would be great, too.

Part of the fun of cooking is being creative. Instead of considering leftovers a hassle, I prefer to look at them as building blocks for my next creation.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Cooking in Quarantine

Now, if you're feeling the way most people seem to be feeling these days, you'll think Tommy there has the right idea. (I can't deny that I've joined him a time or two.)

But if there's one thing the appreciation for a vintage lifestyle can do for you, it's knowledge of how to make the most of what you've got: from reading the history to making the vintage things you own live long past their projected lifetimes.

I collect cookbooks. When I say collect...well. I have 12 shelves of cookbooks. This doesn't take into consideration the ones piled on top of already full shelves, or the ones piled on my bedside table. Or the ones in the living room, or the Christmas cookbooks tucked under the armoire, get the picture. 

Make do, make do and mend. Whether it's about just being thrifty because it's "moral" or you don't want to drive to town more than once a month, or you're in the midst of a depression, or--again, lots of reasons and prompts.

What it boils down to is this: you can do it. With, surprisingly, the things you might otherwise have thrown out or dismissed. 

Take this for an example. I've been working on making sourdough starter*, absolutely from scratch; I haven't used the stuff for decades, since I baked bread when living in Virginia (because, in the late 1980s, there was very little Italian, French, or artisanal bread available for sale in any part of the South). Yeast breads are not high on my list of Stuff That's Fun To Bake...but needs must, and all that. I got pretty good at it, some 25 years ago or so.

Well, my starter is coming along, but not as quickly as it might. I don't have any commercial yeast around to give it a kick in the pants, and I don't have any wholewheat (wholemeal) flour (which attracts wild yeast more readily), so it's going slowly. I'm on day 5, and it's not much of a sponge when I check on it. 

The best way to get things going, in the absence of what I've mentioned above is discarding some starter, and "feeding" it with another dose of flour and water (50-50 proportions by weight). I don't like to waste things, especially food, at any time, so I looked up recipes for using discarded starter. King Arthur Flour's website to the rescue--I found a smallish recipe for a savory sourdough pancake recipe. I cut it in half and went my merry way. Didn't add the recommended corn and green onion, because I didn't have the onion, and my garlic chives aren't up yet. 

That being the case, I thought about maple syrup (I still have plenty) or jelly and lemon. I looked in the fridge and found the remains of a jar of heavenly jam** (peaches, rind and juice of an orange, Maraschino cherries) that had set too hard. I'm a Yankee (or cheap, if you prefer!) and just couldn't toss the batch. I also didn't feel like adding water and re-making it, so I've been using it for jam cake, once it's suitably diluted to the correct consistency.

I combined the jam--about 3 tablespoons--with about the same amount of water and simmered it until it looked right. When it was slightly cooled, I added a splash of quince-lemon brandy. 

We have a winner! I like pancakes, but I don't love them; I've never been one to choose them over something really bad for me, like corned beef hash and rye toast dripping with butter (and homemade jelly), but they're okay. My usual complaint is that they're just too heavy. I've made good pancakes for years--they're quick and thrifty, and you can ring all kinds of changes on them, but this time, I'm enthusiastic. These things are delicious; light, not exactly tangy, but without the overwhelming sweetness even unsweetened pancakes sometimes have (to my taste buds). 

Besides--they're even more thrifty than bog-standard pancakes. Ding!

I'll be making these again.

*There's a lot of information about sourdough starters available online. Check the King Arthur site for a beginning, and just keep asking Dr. Google. You'll get there.

**If anyone wants the recipe, speak up in the comments. I'll write a post about it.