Simple Sunday Brunch

My sisters Cathy & Camille found some soft shell crabs at the market!

Of course, the first thing we thought of was fried soft shell crabs, since just about everything is better when fried.

What is interesting about the crabs (which came frozen) is that the soft shells are so black, and the undersides so white.

Like lobsters and dungeness crabs, the before and after colors are quite striking.

Because soft shell crabs tend to be quite mild in flavor, we wanted to make sure the batter didn’t overwhelm them.

Mochiko, a sweet rice flour, tends to be both lighter, and somehow softer as a fried coating. We use it for japanese fried chicken (kara-age). You could also use corn starch.

Haruko is the master of frying in our family-she quickly deep-fried the crabs in canola oil; just long enough for the shells to become crisp and turn from translucent to solid.

The fried crabs turn a lovely mahogany color when finished.

We transfer the finished crabs from the paper towels to a wire rack while still hot, to prevent them from getting soggy.

We cut the crabs in half with scissors, and placed them on Bibb (butter) lettuce leaves, to be wrapped up with lemon-garlic-cayenne aoli, green onions, and cilantro.

We also had soft scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, bacon (of course), bagels with lox cream cheese, and a beet salad with candied walnuts and feta cheese.

So, maybe it wasn’t exactly a simple Sunday brunch, but it was a delicious one.

 

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A Long Story About Bread Part 4

Bread made into sammiches for Greg's lunch.

Okay, we’re nearly at the end. If you haven’t started the rising process yet, a word of caution: your bread might try to climb out of the vessel you’ve put it in! Keep an eye on it. After you’ve let your bread rise for one hour (less if it’s very warm where you are), turn it out onto a lightly floured surface again.

BUT: do not tug or pull on the dough to get it out of the bowl, and do NOT punch it down. To avoid tugging or pulling your nicely risen dough out of the bowl, use a spatula along the inside of the bowl to sort of dump the whole big mound out on a lightly floured surface again. There are nice big delicious bubbles in there and we don’t want to squash them!

Decide what kind of bread you’re going to make.

Sammich Bread In a Loaf Pan! I have a new bread pan now, but when I took this picture my old bread pan was starting to get sticky, so I laid a sheet of parchment inside it before adding the bread.

This is an "Italian style" loaf read to go into the oven after it's had it's final rise.

If you’re going to make a sandwich loaf, gently, using your fingertips, fold the dough into a shape that will fit into your bread pan.

If you’re making baguettes, gently pull/roll the dough to slightly elongate it, and then cut lengthwise, the number of baguettes you’re going to make. I think three is ideal for this size batch, but I’m making two because I wanted to make larger loaves that I could use for sandwiches.

Another thing to do is make one large italian style loaf on a cookie sheet.

Okay, so about forming your loaves. This is important. You know how the perfect  baguette has a crisp crunchy smooth crust and the inside is all fluffy and soft and delicious? Well part of that is because of this technique. to shape your bread and to smooth out those gluten strands on the outside of your loaf (this makes a nice envelope for your bread – that’s the only way I can describe it) “karate chop” lengthwise down your baguette, then grasp the outer edges and pinch them together, and chop again. Do this several times.

A blurry photo of me Karate Chopping the bread. This is how we're going to make our baguettes have a wonderful crunchy crust and fluffy interior.

After the bread is "karate chopped" the edges are pulled back together and crimped with your finger tips. This is repeated several times - it's how the crust gets a smooth crunchy consistency that traps the moisture inside the bread.

Once you have your baguette shape, roll it gently back and forth and place it on a baking sheet on which you’ve sprinkled some semolina, cornmeal, or cream of wheat or have laid some parchment. Place the bread seam-down.

No mater what kind of bread you’re making, it will need to rise before going into the oven. Let it rest for about 1/2 and hour.

You don’t want the outside of the crust to dry out already, so you can brush the loaf with some oil or butter, or water and oil.

Another tip is to place a cake pan on the bottom rack of your oven and pour boiling water into it, put your bread in the oven (without the heat on) and the warm steam will help your bread rise without drying out.

After about half an hour you can add the “slices” to the top of your loaf. This helps the bread continue to rise and gives it some vents.

Three slices

If you’ve had your bread rising in the oven with steam, remove it, and turn the oven up to 450. If your bread has been rising on the counter, pre-heat your oven now. Place a pan with about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of boiling water in it on the bottom rack and move the top rack to the middle of your oven.

Cut some slices into your bread. For baguettes it’s really important that you make 3 equal slices that overlap each other slightly like this. Once you’ve made your slices let the bread sit for about 10 minutes or until your oven has reached 450 degrees. Now put your bread in the oven!

three slices

Your cooking time will depend on what size loaf you’re making. A sandwich loaf takes about 45 minutes, but I start hovering around the oven after about 30 minutes because my oven is unreliable and tends to scorch things. Baguettes can be done within 20 minutes if they’re small.

Keep an eye on it after a bit. You want your bread to have a nice dark golden crust, and when it’s done it will have a hollow sound when you tap the bottom. Let your bread cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, and then EAT!

Sammich loaf after cooling. I actually brushed the top of this loaf with oil after I cut the slices into the top, and I think it gave the crust a nice crackle.

Mister Max approved baguette. Smells pretty good.

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A Long Story About Bread Part 3

Let’s bake some bread!

When  you get home you’ll find something sort of like this (minus the salt because unlike me you will have remembered to add

This is sort of what your bread will look like when you come home from work today.

that this morning!) It might have a slightly sour odor, and that’s great! We’re not making a sourdough bread, that takes several days, but that smell is a good sign that time and yeast have converted our four basic ingredients into something new.

The next step as soon as you’re home is to stir in more flour. If you insist on using a dough hook, I guess that’s okay! I might use one if I had one.

The amount of flour you’re going to add will depend (again) on lots of different factors so I wont give you exact measurements. Instead I’ll show you some pictures to help. Using a spoon, or spatula, stir in 1 cup of flour at a time, using a folding motion. Continue to sprinkle in flour until it gets hard to stir / fold. Using your finger tips, press the dough into a ball, add some more flour if it’s still very sticky. Cover the dough and leave it alone for 10 minutes. The reason for letting it rest is that it gives the flour time to moisten and come together. If you start kneading now, the dough will tear and be tough to work with.

After 10 minutes (longer is okay too if you have some stuff you need to do in between… 10 minutes is the minimum), turn the dough out on to a floured surface and start to kneed . Here’s an okay video about how to do it.

Do this for about 5 minutes, adding a tiny bit more flour as you go to keep it from sticking too much. DO NOT add so much flour that your dough is no longer sticky at all! This is one of the biggest mistakes is making too dry a dough. It’s okay if it’s still a bit sticky. This is too sticky though:


Put the dough in the largest bowl or cooking pot you have, cover it and set it aside for 1 hour.

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A Long Story About Bread – Part 2

I’m excited to learn that a couple of people will be baking with me! For starters, I’ve tried to pace-out the process to allow for things like sleeping and working and commuting! We’ll see how that goes.

The important thing to know is that results will vary, but that the process of time (which is actually the main ingredient) will improve your bread making results if you, like me, prefer a chewy baguette style bread with a crunchy crust.

I’ll be writing more about bread, but I’m aware that not everyone is in the same time zone as I am. So, for tonight, what we’re going to do, is that before you go to bed (whatever time that is) or any time later tonight, we will combine:

  • 1.5 cups of water
  • 1.5 cups of flour

… in a big bowl and mix well. Get rid of all the lumps. The texture you’re going for is sort of like pancake batter. Depending on your flour and the humidity where you are, you may need 1/4 cup more or less flour.

Cover your bowl loosely with a clean tea-towl, a plate, a loose fitting lid or whatever. The point is not to seal it closed with saran wrap. Air in and out is good, but we also want to keep dust (or in my case cat floof) or little bugs out of our flour and water mixture.

That’s it for tonight.

In the morning, before you leave for work, or whenever you get up in the morning, combine a generous 1 TBSP of yeast with 1/2 cup of warm water until it’s dissolved, and stir that in with your flour and water mixture from the night before. Add 1 scant TBSP of salt. By stir, I don’t mean “whip”. You’ll notice that tonight what we’re making is essentially glue. AKA gluten. You may or may not pick up some wild yeast over night, if you do, consider yourself lucky, and if you don’t, it doesn’t mater because we’ll be adding yeast in the morning. The reason for gentle folding motion as you stir in your yeast, is to keep from tearing the gluten strands that are starting to form. The yeast will complete the process.

By the time you arrive home tomorrow, the hard part, the complex biochemistry, will have been carried out by the yeast in your absence. Tomorrow I will post more photos and the final steps. Easy right? The greatest revelation to me in learning how to bake better bread is not to rush it. Giving the bread more time allows the gluten to form nice long strands, the yeast turns some of those flour carbohydrates into sugars, and as the sugars age, they sort of caramelize. You’ll find one of the things about this process is that the inside of your white bread will take on a more golden color – that’s the caramelization that happens by not rushing straight from kneading to baking.  At least, that’s what I’ve extrapolated from all the hundreds of bread blogs I’ve read!

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A Long Story About Bread – Part 1

The Bake-along

For the past few months, I’ve been baking all our bread. A couple of loaves / week. I generally make 1 sandwich loaf in a proper loaf pan, a couple of baguettes, and something else; An experimental loaf in which I play with the ingredients or deviate from my tried and true method.

Bread is a funny thing – for something that consists of only four basic ingredients, the range of different types, textures, shapes and flavors is remarkable. And that’s before you even get into additives and different types of flours, sweeteners, and so forth.

I’m not even a fan of bread. Given the choice, I’d rather eat my tuna salad by scooping it up with a cracker. I will always choose a quesadilla over a grilled cheese sandwich. It has nothing to do with some sort of new fangled carb-conciousness, it’s just that bread is just so… bready! I prefer my bagels scooped (scrape out the insides and then toast so it’s all crust). What I’m getting at here, is that I didn’t take up baking bread because I love it. I mean, 90% of bread is so mediocre, and maybe that’s really the problem. A perfect loaf of bread is a work of art. Okay, that might be over stating things.  A perfect loaf of bread is a triumph of biochemistry. It’s not magic or art, it’s science.

But hold on, ’cause that’s not quite it either.  Bakers are alchemists, transforming the simplest bland ingredients into hot steaming crunchy chewey spongy savory life-giving goodfood. I love bread, but  I only like *some* bread.

In my quest for the perfect loaf of bread, I’ve become a person who bakes 2-3 loaves per week. Now that I see it in print, I suddenly feel self-concious about it. It sounds obsessive. Manic even. But there it is.

Have I made the perfect loaf of bread? The perfect, crunchy on the outside, light and spongy on the inside , baguette? Maybe, almost, yes. The bread pictured here to the left is it, but it wasn’t perfect. I nearly broke my tooth on the crust.

So, let’s bake some bread together. We’ll have a Clean Platers Bake-Along. Get ready, because we’re starting tomorrow night. On Wednesday we’ll all be eating Baguettes with our dinner.

What you’ll need

  • Flour. White, unbleached bread flour is best, but all purpose white flour will work too if you happen to have it already.
  • A large cookie sheet if you decide to make two baguettes, or a standard loaf pan if you decide to make a sandwich loaf.
  • A measuring cup
  • A table spoon
  • Salt (I use fleur de sel but sea salt, kosher or table salt will do as well)
  • Good water (if your tap water is very hard, or contains a lot of additives, use filtered water. You’ll need 2 cups.
  • Any one of the following: cream of wheat, semolina, corn meal of any kind. This isn’t absolutely critical, but it can be used to help prevent sticking if you’re baking on a cookie sheet. You can also just use parchment paper.
  • Yeast. Regular bread yeast. For example: http://www.breadworld.com/products.aspx It doesn’t really mater if you use the fast yeast or the regular yeast or the bread machine yeast. I usually use the kind that comes in a jar – I guess that’s the bread machine / quick yeast.
  • A really big bowl or a large cooking pot.

Things that you don’t need but will help

  • A pastry mat (it’s easier to clean than the counter)
  • A dough scraper. A spatula will do the trick, but a dough scraper helps prevent tearing the gluten strands (we’ll talk about that later)

Oh, and on the topic of bread machines, dough hooks and other new fangled gizmos: don’t use them. The bread we’re going to make requires very little kneading, and I’ve never tasted a good bread machine bread.

So! Assemble your tools. Tomorrow night we get started.

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A short story about pie

So, we have all these strawberries and yesterday we had strawberry shortcake for desert – copious amounts of strawberry shortcake. But we still had a few kilos of strawberries! So this morning I baked a strawberry rhubarb pie.

I’m incredibly pleased with myself, so you need to understand that I was raised by a mom who always bought (and continues to buy) frozen pie crust. I didn’t learn how to make pie crust from scratch until I’d been unemployed for a while, and in much the same way I learned to make:

  • Pizza dough
  • Bread
  • Biscuits
  • Scones

… try and try again and fail and try again.

None of these things are difficult, but it helps to have time on your side and people to share your failures with –  kind and loving people who eat your tough biscuits and say they’re delicious with butter, and people who don’t frown when the pie that was going to be perfect this time,  is more than a bit burnt.

Today I used my standard pie crust recipe – the one I’ve found is actually “no fail”, unlike all those other “no fail” pie crust recipes which tend to crash and burn.

Here is my pastry recipe if you want to try it. I used to be a staunch all-butter pie crust maker, and then I discovered the difference a little shortening (aka LARD) can make and now I never make all-butter. The all butter recipes have two main failures. 1) they can sometimes be tough. Butter has a high’ish water content, and a low’ish burn point. 2) butter melts FAST, so sometimes my pie crust would melt down into the pie plate.

Here’s how I make it (this is a double recipe that will work for a large deep-dish style pie plate to make a covered pie. Halve this if you don’t need to cover your pie)

What’s in it:

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup (a stick and a half) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup of all-vegetable shortening (8 Tbsp)
  • 6-8 Tablespoons ice water

Here are the tips:

Measure out your butter. I got a butter ruler – best invention EVER. But you can use the water displacement method as well. Once your butter is measured dice it into little pieces, spread them out on the pie place you’re going to use, and put the whole thing in the fridge while you do the next part.

Mix your dry ingredients in a big bowl. Fill a drinking glass with cold water and throw a couple of icecubes in it.

Measure your lard. It doesn’t need to be fridge temperature actually. Unlike the butter, it’s very forgiving. Measure your half cup and using a pastry cutter, mix it into the dry ingredients. It should be chopped to little bits smaller than pea sizes.

Next put your little butter cubes in the mix and cut them in with your pastry cutter until they’re sort of pea size. Work quickly, don’t let the butter melt. If you have a few big chucks, that’s fine!

Next add your ice water. How much you want to know, right? Well that’s the art. That’s the part that maybe is the part where you want to have a mom who teaches you these things. Here’s how I do it: use a spatula, add a 1/4 cup of water since that’s

about how much you’ll need, and mix it in until the dough just sort of starts to form a loose crumbly ball. if it’s still 80% crumble, add more water. Once it’s 90% dough’ish, that’s good enough. Dump it onto a floured surface and squish it into a ball. It will stick. Cut off about 1/3rd – that will be the top of your pie. Roll out the bit ball and place it in your pie plate.

Click here for the official pie crust recipe. I believe there’s an all butter version there too, but I don’t recommend it. The flavor isn’t better, and the texture is less flakey and over-all, less easy to work with.

The main thing I’ve discovered is that pie crust and biscuits (and scones) all require the same swift resolve and slap-dash attitude. If you fuss over them, they end in failure. 

 

Today I used this recipe for my pie. Strawberry Rhubarb Pie a la All Recipes Dot Com I didn’t change anything about it, and it looks delicious!

I’ve never used an egg-wash on a pie before, I don’t know why not, I just haven’t!  This is also the first time I’ve made a lattice top crust. For this pie, I think it was a good call. The filling was still pretty runny when it was finished baking, so having the extra ventilation helped it dry out a bit.

After the egg wash I sprinkled some pearl sugar over the top and threw it in the oven. After reading some comments on All Recipes I opted to leave the pie in the oven for a bit longer with the heat turned off to give it more time to gel together.

Next up… strawberry jam!

 

 

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Canada Day Treats!

So, yesterday was Canada Day. It was also the first day of strawberry picking at the organic “you pick” farm. As you can imagine, this means we have a lot of food related activities planned for this weekend!

Last night, because you don’t want to mess too much with perfection, (and what could be more perfect than a BC strawberry mere hours from the field!) we ate our strawberries with whipped cream on lovely sweet shortcake biscuits.

I distinguish between BC strawberries and California strawberries because BC strawberries, in my experience, are quite different, and quite a bit more delicious. They tend to be smaller, and much sweeter and more flavourful. You can see how dark red and juicy the flesh is in this photo. I wondered if this difference might not simply be a function of shipping, since a lot of delicate fruits and veggies are shipped before they are fully ripe to prevent bruising. I don’t know and I don’t care, because I have a lot of other things to think about today!

For example, how much pectin should we add this year since last year our strawberry jam was kind of runny, and should I bother making a lattice crust for the strawberry rhubarb pie, or just cut out little steam-holes like usual, and how many strawberries can I stuff in my mouth before Greg realizes that not all the missing berries went into the pie!

It’s nearly noon, so I better get to work! Om nom nom. Slurp!

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