Thursday, February 4, 2021

Goodbye, Fang

My boy is gone and I am shattered.

Life feels empty and without purpose now.
Forever changed, with eternal heartbreak.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Thanksgiving in the time of COVID-19


And how was YOUR Thanksgiving this year? Mine started out kind of differently right away when I went food shopping. There were no whole turkeys smaller than 16 lbs. to be found anywhere. Let me tell you, a 16 lb. turkey is a lot for just two people. Then, like millions of other Americans who are in a high-risk category, we stayed home, barely having any human contact except to do a food swap with our immediate neighbors. 

The menu was the same as it's been for the last few years. My partner was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in 2019 and has been in heart failure for several years. My goal these days is to make life as normal and routine as possible for him, and having the same old menu seemed more appropriate than ever.

Roast Turkey - Alton Brown's Good Eats version, which always comes out great
Stuffing/Dressing - Ina Garten's Sausage & Herb Stuffing with green apple
Cranberry-Orange Sauce - my friend Cindi aka Blind Bob's Bakery recipe
Mashed Potatoes
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Steamed Carrots
Apple Pie w/vanilla ice cream
Pumpkin Pie (my spicy version based on Libby's)

I do things a little differently from Alton's recipe. I buy a frozen turkey and allow it to thaw and brine for 3 days. Make up Alton's brine as usual, stick the frozen turkey in a bag, add the brine and iced water to the bag, and place the bag in the fridge or a cooler (ideally sitting in a cold place, like outside). After 2 days, take the turkey out and pull the neck and frozen giblet package from the cavity, put the turkey back into the bag and fridge/cooler to finish defrosting. Thanksgiving day, I get the bag, drain the brine, rinse the turkey well inside and out and pat dry. Then follow the rest of Alton's instructions for making the aromatics and his fantastic roasting method. Use a thermometer and I promise you, it'll come out perfect.

The only thing I do to improve Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie (the recipe on the can) is to double the cinnamon, add  1/4 tsp. nutmeg as well as a tablespoon (loosely packed) of grated fresh ginger root. Of course you need to generously slather on lightly sweetened whipped cream, stabilized with instant vanilla or white chocolate pudding mix.

My food-swapping neighbors, who are vegetarian, provided smoked veggies in parchment, potatoes au gratin, crunchy brussells sprout salad, cranberry relish, and baklava. With such a bounty and variety of food, I actually felt guilty thinking of the many people who are now food and housing insecure, and who've lost family members to this terrible virus.  

I sure hope next year's Thanksgiving will be normal, but after four years of a madman in the White House, a political party turned cult and my partner's health issues, the chances of things returning to normal are slim. Nevertheless, I wish all of you out there who may be reading this post, health, hope, and most of all normalcy in 2021.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Sourdough Pizza Crust

Photo from King Arthur Flour

Yup, like everyone else who has an oven, I too have been baking sourdough goods for months now. I like to think I was a little psychic, though, since I began tinkering with a starter back in October last year; that first starter just would not stabilize and I started a new one in December. That starter finally stabilized around the beginning of February, just in time for COVID-19 lockdown. I passed my starter (aka 'Rainier Beach Ghetto Blaster') to a couple baker friends who then shared it with others. While working to stabilize my starter in the beginning, I ended up with a LOT of discard. I could not fathom throwing all of it down the drain, so I made more starters to give away and looked all over the internet for recipes using the  discard. King Arthur Flour has extensive content about sourdough and sourdough discard. Another site I found fascinating was Sourdoughs International, run by sourdough scientist Ed Wood. They even sell exotic dried starters from all over the world! I ended up ordering a couple but they're in my fridge as backup in case my notorious RBGB starter dies. 

This recipe for Sourdough Pizza Crust was one I took from King Arthur and tweaked a little to fit my liking and technique. I love to prebake the crusts, store in the freezer and, when the mood hits, put fresh, hot, delicious homemade pizza on the table in 15 minutes. 

Sourdough Pizza Crust inspired by King Arthur Flour

Makes one 14" round or 18" x 13" thick-crust pizza or two 12" round thin-crust pizzas

5 oz. (150g) warm water
1/2 tsp. instant or active dry yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 cup/8 oz. (250g) unfed/discard sourdough starter
2-1/2 cups (300g) unbleached all-purpose Flour
Olive oil for greasing
Fine ground cornmeal for dusting

In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast and salt into the warm water. Whisk in the starter until blended, then mix in the flour. The dough should be soft and shaggy (add water or flour if needed). Knead by hand in the bowl until smooth, or for about 7 minutes in a mixer with the dough hook until the dough wraps itself around the hook.

Place the dough in a greased container, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk (2-4 hours or more). For a faster rise, place the dough in a warm spot, or double the yeast. At this point if you want to make your pizza later, shape the dough into a ball, place into an oiled ziploc bag and store in the fridge for up to a week. TIP: cold, refrigerated dough is easier to shape. 

Preheat oven to 450°F. Gently dump the risen dough out onto a well-floured board. For two thin-crust pizzas, divide the dough in half. Using oiled hands, gently stretch, rotate and shape each piece into a flattened disk with a rim. Don't pound or roll the dough, as doing so will make the crust tough and cracker-like. Transfer the dough disk to parchment, oiled pizza pan or cornmeal-dusted pizza peel (if using a baking stone in the oven), reshaping and patching if needed. For thick crust pan pizza, oil a 18" x 13" half sheet and, with oiled hands, press the dough out to the edges of the pan. The dough should have a thin film of olive oil on the surface from your hands. Cover the dough lightly with plastic wrap and let rise for 15-30 minutes (or even longer for a thicker crust).

Remove the plastic wrap, spread sauce and toppings on, all except the cheese. Bake thin-crust pizza for 5 minutes, or thick-crust pizza for 10 minutes, before removing from the oven and adding the cheese. Return to the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbly and crust is brown (about 5-10 minutes). Remove pizza from parchment or pan to prevent sogginess, and let cool on a rack for a few minutes before cutting.

Prebaking and freezing pizza crust: After shaping the crust and the final rise, bake the crust without sauce or toppings (thin crust – 5 minutes, thick crust – 8 minutes). Remove from oven, prick any large bubbles, remove crust from parchment or pan, and allow to fully cool on a rack. Wrap crust in plastic wrap, place in plastic bag and freeze. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 450°F. Bake the plain, thawed crust for 5 minutes then remove from the oven, adding sauce, toppings and cheese. Bake until cheese is bubbly and crust is brown, about 10 more minutes. For a toaster oven, just put all your toppings on the frozen crust and bake at 450°F for about 15 minutes.