Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wild Yeast Bread

A couple weeks ago, my family decided that we would try to go seven days eating only local food.  This means that everything we eat for that week must be locally sourced (not just locally produced).  I wasn't sure how difficult this would be, but I knew it would  be a challenge.  In thinking through what would be required to do this, I quickly realized that one of the biggest hurdles would be grain products, especially bread.   We eat a lot of bread.  Somehow this had to be solved in advance.

I started with trying to find the simplest bread recipe I could.  I knew ingredients would be limited.  Richard Olney's white bread recipe (The French Menu Cookbook) seemed about as simple as you can get.

Dry yeast

Nothing could be simpler.  I make the Salt.  Flour can be sourced locally.  The only issue here was the dry yeast.  How do you find local yeast? 

The Yeast is the Key
Doing some research I found there are several types of yeast.  I won't go through all of them, but pretty much every bread recipe I found called for active dry yeast.  This is the most common stuff you find in the store.  I comes in little packets.  There is regular and quick rising.  It is easy to use, reliable, and quick.  But it is not local.

The only way to get around the active dry yeast issue I could think of was to find a recipe written before those little tin packets were around.  Bread's been made for thousands of years, but Fleischmann's has only been around for the past 140 years and Fleischmann's active dry yeast was a World War 2 invention (source). 

I had to go real old school.  Pre-war.  Pre-industrialized food.  I turned to Miss Tracy's New Cook Book, 1908 edition.  I found a whole bread section in his tiny book, and even through the pages are literally falling out of my ancient copy, there were several that could have worked very well.  The only problem was the Miss Tracy really likes to use "compressed yeast cake".  I have to admit, I had no idea what that was. Wikipedia gives a definition for compressed yeast.  The closest I could come up with that you can actually buy is fresh yeast.  But this is again, not local and I wasn't even sure if it was really the same thing.

So I went off the grid.  There had to be a way to make my own yeast.  The stuff is everywhere--like pollen or dust or any of the zillion other microbes that surround us all the time which we don't realize.  What I found was that making yeast is actually kinda simple and can be done with 100% local ingredients. I used these instructions which call for pineapple juice, but substituted some juice from local apples and called it good.  A week later, I had my yeast goop and was eager to test it out.

Let the Experiments Begin
Local wild yeast is traditionally what is used to make sour dough bread.  That is why San Francisco sour dough has it's own taste.  It's made with the yeast that is in the air in San Francisco.

Using the sour dough method from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I gave it a shot. Now, I suck at making bread. So I was not surprised when the first batch came out like a pair of 100% whole wheat bricks. 

In the the second batch I started working in some unbleached white flour but it still came out very very dense. 

Doing some reading I found that the dough needed to be kneeded a lot to break down the gluten.   White flour breaks down much quicker than whole wheat so if I increased the ratio of white flour to whole wheat it should get easier.  Peter Reinhart talks about the window pane test as a good way to tell when your dough is kneeded enough.
Dough making a window pane from The Way the Cookie Crumbles blog.

For the third recipe, I modified Reinhart's recipe for french bread by substituting the yeast goop for the packaged yeast as described in the book.  My lovely wife supervised (she's a much better baker than I am).  I kneeded the crap out of the dough. After making the new dough and yeast goop almost entirely out of white flour, the dough was finally able to pass the window pane test.  It rose very nicely.  We proofed it into loaves and baked it later that day. 

Not the most beautiful bread, but these were actually edible!  The crust was crusty.  The middle was chewy and had some air bubbles (see the top image).   We could cut through it without needing a hack saw.  Success!

And made with 100% local, wild yeast. 

I'm feeling much more confident in our ability to do the seven days local challenge.  Now that we can make 100% local bread, I think we're good to go!  Hopefully we can find some vegetables this late in the year...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

11 Images from the Market

A big storm is coming.

But before it gets here, we went to the PSU Farmer's Market today to pick up some veggies.  Baby in cart and camera in hand, we were thankful that the rain held out.  But we were really surprised by the colors!  The market was more vibrant than I'd seen it in a long time.  Everything is looking prime right now.

No recipe or cooking in this post. I just wanted to put up some images from the market in honor of fall and color and wonderful family mornings.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Quinault Rain Forest Mushroom Festival, with recipe

A giant Matsutake.

Let me just start out by saying that I think wild mushrooms are delicious, but had absolutely no clue how to collect them.  Every mushroom seemed like a poison mushroom to me and the thought of being able to identify and collect wild mushrooms without putting my own life at risk seemed crazy.  So, when I saw the listing for the Quinault Rain Forest Mushroom Festival it seemed like the perfect reason to get away for the weekend and learn something magical and delicious.

What a great way to spend the weekend.

This was the 8th year of the Quinault Mushroom Festival, held at the Lake Quinault Lodge.  The weather was the nicest anyone had ever seen.  Clear blue skies in the day.  Starry nights.  Dry enough for a bon-fire by the lake.  No cold wet breeze; just really really pleasant autumn days and nights--the kind we rarely ever see in the Pacific Northwest.

Not only was the weather perfect, but this also was the most popular year ever.  Mike, the festival host, told me that they usually get around 60 or so people at the festival.  This year was over 100.  That made for a couple crowded workshops, but not in a bad way. Sitting in a room full of people who are there because they want to learn about mushrooms and care about the environment that mushrooming depends on was a really great experience.  Most people were older.  Many were retired, I would guess.  And everyone was there to have a mellow good time.  No manic harvesters.  No dread-locked, dirt mongering forest hippies.  No college kids looking for magic mushrooms.  Everyone was considerate and good humored and really easy to get along with.  And the guides were really helpful.  They understood they were taking a bunch of noobs out into the woods and no question was too simple.

Here are some highlights:

The giant living mushroom table.

This thing was amazing. Every kind of mushroom you could imagine was there.  The table was about 20 feet long and had many many trays of mushrooms on it.  All the mushrooms were labeled.  Red meant poisonous.  Green meant edible.  Yellow meant...well, take your chances. They were all alive and had different stages of growth.

This was set up the entire time, right in the middle of the conference hall, so we could ask questions and look around as much as we wanted. 

This table is set up every year and is really remarkable.  At the end they let us pick any mushroom we wanted.

Dr. Trudell's Mushroom Class
Dr. Turdell teaches at the University of Washington and is a leading expert on mushrooms.  Although I missed the first night's class, the second day's class on mushroom identification was really interesting and helpful.

One particularly fun exercise was the hands-on mushroom identification.  We were all handed a clump of mushrooms and walked through how to identify the species using Mushroom Matchmaker.   
Using the program we walked through the steps of identifying these mushrooms:

Cap Shape: rounded
Gills: dark
Habitat: spruce trees (he told us)
Taste: Very Bitter (just take a tiny nibble)

Using the program we successfully identified these a Woodlover Mushrooms.   And they are POISONOUS.

That is why you taste the mushroom and not eat it.  Dr. Trudell assured us we would not die, but my tongue did tingle for about 30 minutes.

Cooking Mushrooms with Quinault Lodge Exec. Chef Patrick Norris

Chef Norris made a really yummy Wild Mushroom Tart for us.  Everyone really enjoyed it.  The Gruyere was a little sharp for my taste, but overall it was really good.  It's amazing how quickly these sorts of things can be put together by knowledgeable people.  It took him about 20 minutes to prepare it (not including cooking).

See below for recipe.

The rest of the weekend they had a special Mushroom Festival menu at the lodge.  I learned that wild mushrooms taste really good with duck confit.  Good to know for the next time I make duck confit.

Mushroom Hunting with Cliff
Cliff.  Mushroom Hunter.

Out of the three guided events, I chose to go with Cliff.  His emphasis was on finding edible mushrooms, not just study and identification.  This turned out to be a good idea.  For, although Cliff was outright pessimistic about our chances of finding anything, we found lots.  He knew that a smaller group is better and played down the situation.  With a group of 15, we all found several mushrooms and some people got some real prizes!  Although we went looking for Hedgehog mushrooms, we spent a good amount of time walking logging roads looking for Matsutake mushrooms.

For some reason, Matsutake mushrooms like to grow next to old gravel roads.  No one knows why. Maybe it's the sunlight, the breeze, the warmth?  Cliff has a theory that the mycelium sends up mushrooms next to roads because it is trying to spread spores past the "barrier" it has come to.  Dr. Trudell didn't think so...

We collected eight different species of edible mushrooms in all.  Each of us brought home at least 2 mushrooms, and some much more.

Cliff showing the correct way to uproot a Matsutake mushroom.

A rare Admirable Boletus.  This was a beautiful mushroom.  The top looked like powered chocolate.

Recipe for Wild Mushroom Tart with Gruyere

Sheet frozen puff pastry
2 large egg yolks
1.5 lbs wild mushrooms
3 Tbs olive oil
1 chopped clove garlic
1 tsp thyme
3/4 cup ricotta
2 Tbs creme fraiche
8oz julienne leeks
1/2 lbs gruyere, sliced (thin)
1 bunch scallions
salt and pepper

Oven at 400.

Roll out the pastry.  Brush with egg.
Saute mushrooms and vegetables and herbs
Mix ricotta, creme fraise and egg yolks. smear on pastry.
Put on the gruyere
Put on the mushrooms
Bake 25 minutes

Drizzle with balsamic if you want.

Important note when serving wild mushrooms (from Dr. Trudell):

1. Notify your guests that they will be eating wild mushrooms.
2. Use only one kind of mushroom
3. Keep a sample to take to the emergency room...just in case.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Impromptu Braised Lamb Shanks

Earlier this year for our Eating Babies meal we bought a whole lamb from SuDan Farms and split it with some friends. The thing about buying a whole (or half) animal is that you have some great ideas for the first couple meals, and then the rest of the animal sits in the freeze for a long time until you tell yourself "I have to finish using that damn sheep" and if you tell yourself this enough times you eventually get around digging through the freeze and pulling something out.

I pulled out shanks.
For those of you that don't know, the shank is the bottom part of the front legs of the sheep.  It's like a drum stick.  Or the forearms.  (Fore shank in the diagram). 

Now I have never cooked shanks before.  I think I've only eaten them a couple times in a restaraunt. The shank is a tendon-y piece of meat and every recipe I've seen calls for slow cooking.  

My wife found a really nice recipe on, but we didn't have all the ingredients, so I improvised.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Garlic and Herbs
Lamb Shanks from SuDan Farms
Onions from Pumpkin Patch Farm
Garlic from Pumpkin Patch Farm
Olive Oil from Belle Ragazze 
Thyme and Marjoram from my garden
Gnarly Head Cab from California
Organic Beef Stock from Fred Meyers

Because this was impromptu, we pulled together some other random stuff we had in the house, none of which was particularly local.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes from Fred Meyers
Butter from Noris Dairy
Milk from Noris Dairy

Cauliflower Soup (frozen in the freezer.  I think someone gave us this.)

And that was random Sunday dinner.

Local Is Hard
This is not a particularly local meal, and it certainly wasn't planned (unlike the other meals I'd posted about).  But what I'm finding is that it really isn't that easy to cook local food all the time.  Imported stuff creeps in all over the place, and it's almost impossible to stop it.  

Even with the best farmers markets in the country, local markets and co-ops that are open every day of the week, and farms that are just 30 minutes out of town, it's still a struggle to eat 100% local. Why is that?  I think I know the answer.

Toilet paper is not local.

You go to the store for some butt wipe and while you're there you remember that you also need some broccoli and the apples look good and how about some bread for lunches this week and might as well pick up some onions while you're at it...etc., etc., etc.

Pretty soon you've conveniently done all your grocery shopping and making an extra trip to the market seems like a huge pain in the ass, so you don't do it.  And you don't eat local.  We don't at least.  

End of confession.

The Local Plan is Born
What to do about it?  Well, here is the thing.  I'm going to try to convince my family that we should eat 100% local for one week.  That is 7 days of local only produce, meats, condiments, spices, herbs, and dairy.  It's mid October and this may be the last realistic chance we have at doing this.  

What does this mean?  No vegetable oil.  No pepper.  No oregano.  No avocado.  No mango.  No lemon. No pasta.  

What else does it mean?  Truly fresh food.  Eating only what is at its best right now.  Realizing that Autumn is more than sweaters and frosty breath--it's squash and nuts and late season tomatoes that fill your mouth with meaty sweetness when you bite into them.  It's seven days to realize where we are. It's seven days of here and now.

So, the timer is beeping for the lamb shanks.  I'm sure they'll be fine.  We'll see what comes after...