Strawberry Mousse in Chocolate Cups

I think I can talk myself into this dessert for Tom and me for Valentines’ Day. Because… strawberries are good for you! And chocolate’s good for your mood! Forget it- you don’t have to talk me into this- I’m eating it anyway 🙂

Strawberry Mousse in Homemade Chocolate CupsI’ve gotten to like frozen strawberries- I suspect the fruit is harvested closer to peak ripeness, unlike fresh strawberries, which often are quite flavorless! (Even the organic ones…)

For a faster dessert, forgo making the chocolate cups, putting the strawberry mousse in a pretty parfait glass instead. Either way, delicious!

Makes about 4 servings mousse, but the chocolate will make 8 or more chocolate cups.

INGREDIENTS

  • One 12-oz. pkg. frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 2 TBS. sugar
  • 1 1/2 TBS. water
  • 3/4 tsp. gelatin
  • 1 1/2 c. cream, whipped
  • 1/2 c. chocolate chips
  • 1/2 TBS. butter
  • Foil cupcake liners

Easy Strawberry Mousse w/frozen berriesPrepare chocolate cups for this dessert, or skip this step, putting the strawberry mousse in parfait glasses instead. For the chocolate cups, gently heat in double-boiler (or microwave just over a minute): > 1/2 c. chocolate chips > 1/2 TBS. butter

Use foil from foiled cupcake liners, and spoon/spread melted chocolate inside to coat, making 8 or so cups. Refrigerate the cups until the foil can be carefully peeled away.

For the mousse, puree in blender until smooth: > 1.30 lb. frozen strawberries, thawed > 2 TBS. sugar

Soften gelatin by sprinkling it over water. Let sit 2 minutes, then heat (or microwave) until melted. Use: > 1 1/2 TBS. water > 3/4 tsp. gelatin

Mix the strawberry puree and the “melted” gelatin together. Whip cream: > 1 1/2 c. cream, whipped

Fold the whipped cream into the other ingredients.

Dollop into prepare chocolate shells, or special glasses or bowls. Refrigerate several hours, until firm.

Chocolate Mousse w/ Raspberry Bark

My friend just came off a 30-day cleansing diet. But of course- it was January, the month of resolutions! But now it’s February and she was hoping I’d make her some chocolate dessert to celebrate. So I did. Now we’re all celebrating, ’cause this stuff is good, and I had an excuse to make some.

Also, since we eat with our eyes, I needed some kind of garnish. And I only have so many groceries on hand, especially this time of year. Fruits are less flavorful… so what could I come up with?

Solution: I always have some dark chocolate and frozen raspberries around, so I melted the chocolate, reduced some of the raspberries to a paste, and ended up with a fitting garnish. Good enough to eat with your eyes! (And your mouth, of course.)

Now all you need is the recipe, right?

Chocolate Mousse- So Light, w/eggs, cream, & tad o' gelatin

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 pkg. gelatin (1 1/4 tsp.)
  • 2 TBS. cold water
  • rounded 3/4 chocolate chips
  • 2 TBS. butter
  • 2 TBS. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 TBS. sugar
  • 3 oz. dark chocolate
  • 1/3 c. frozen raspberries

Soften gelatin in the cold water, sprinkling the gelatin across the surface of the water in a small, shallow bowl: > 1/2 pkg. gelatin (1 1/2 tsp.) > 2 TBS. cold water

Microwave: > Softened gelatin

Also microwave: > rounded 3/4 c. chocolate chips > 2 TBS. butter

Mix together: > the microwaved gelatin > the melted chocolate/butter > 2 TBS. vanilla > 1/4 tsp. salt

Separate the egg yolks, adding the whites to a clean bowl. Add the egg yolks to the melted chocolate, stirring after adding each one. Use: > 3 egg yolks

Whip whites until frothy:  > 3 egg whites

Add to frothy whites, beating until glossy: > 1 TBS. sugar

Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the whipped egg white mixture. It’s OK is some isn’t completely mixed in yet.

Now fold all the the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture.

Use pastry bag to add the mousse to containers (or dollop by the spoonful), into 8 dishes, small wine glasses, etc. Garnish with a wedge or two of the raspberry-chocolate bark.

To make the garnish, melt the dark chocolate. Spread onto parchment, in a 6” square. Use: > 3 oz. dark chocolate

Meanwhile, heat raspberries in small pan, stirring constantly, until liquid is reduced and it’s a paste consistency. Gently spread the raspberry onto the square of chocolate. Use: > 1/3 c. frozen raspberries

Chill the square of raspberry-chocolate bark until firm, then break into chunks to garnish mousse.

PS If you’re interested in a more “paleo” style mousse, very lightly sweetened with honey, using coconut cream instead of dairy, check out this recipe.

Seed Starting- “Stratify”, Baby!

Poppies, Frilly Pink, Starting from SeedThe pictures you see are not of my garden right now. It’s January! But I’m still thinking of the annual Easter Egg Hunt we have each year, and how handfuls of cute little kids will be running around the yard looking for eggs, in just a few months. I’m hoping that some beautiful poppies will be blooming again right around then.Exotic Purple Poppy, Lauren's Grape
I have saved seed pods before, tossing the seeds out in the yard in early spring. But it’s been hit-or-miss. Sometimes I’ve had a new, beautiful crop of poppies; other times, I think the birds just enjoyed eating the seeds.
And then I heard about “stratifying”. If you’ve started seedlings for years, you may have heard of this. But it’s new to me! The idea is to mimic the cold, damp winter soil conditions, but in the privacy of your fridge, where the seedlings get encouraged that it may soon be time to sprout. They are refrigerated in something like dampened perlite for a couple weeks, then come out to room temperature for a week or so. Rinse and repeat (OK, don’t really rinse, but you get the idea). This goes on for six
weeks or more, until you’re ready to plant (refrigerating, “thawing”, chilled again, thawing, etc.).
Easter Egg Hunt

Grandkids’ Easter 2009 (Sans Poppies…)

This is the ideal for poppies–other seeds may have different requirements:

  • Do a 1:3 ratio of seed to sand (or perlite or vermiculite). Dampen and refrigerate 2 weeks
  • Remove to room tempperature for one week
  • Refrigerate for two more weeks, being sure sand is still moist. Add a bit more water if necessary
  • Repeat cycle of cooling and thawing for six weeks, up to three months
Once weather’s warmed (with a soil temperature of 55-60 degrees), set out ON TOP of soil (not buried), keeping moist.
And that’s it! I’m going to see how this works out this year. I’ll add more poppy pictures if it’s a success 🙂
Soul Food: I’ve been thinking about those seeds. They are being tricked a little. They come out to room temperature, thinking all is well now, only to be refrigerated again. Not time to sprout yet!Maybe we can look at our own lives this way–things start looking up, and we think, “This is it!” We think the good times are about to roll in, but then we get “the chill” again. Not time for us to sprout yet either.If we remember God’s got a great plan, it shouldn’t be too disappointing while we wait for God’s perfect timing. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” A great promise!

 

Jen’s Top Ten: Healthy Picks for 2019

Let’s just say this post is a bit like “a word from our sponsors”. That’s because, if you happen to order anything on Amazon, starting with any links from Grateful Table, even if you don’t get the original product, it’s still credited to my account! So, thanks for that 🙂

But once I’m done with this “sponsor” business, I hope to get back to just posting recipes. I mean, Valentine’s Day is almost here! And I’ve got to post my latest chocolate dessert. So… moving on. Right after this “word from” business…

Stay Healthy with SuperfoodsThe new year has brought a new perspective. Every time I turn a corner, at home, at the deli, in the garden, I see MORE things that need attention. The website is no exception. And since I’ve gradually modified my health routine, I better update that here.

So let’s start with my “Jen’s Top Ten” Healthy Picks for 2019!

Liver Tablets for Iron– If you’re around my age (60), and you remember the Geritol ads for those with “iron-poor blood”, then… you probably need these! Or, if you’re a busy mom, or anemic, etc. Forget iron pills- it can be difficult to assimilate iron in this form (and they can be constipating- ew). Best assimilated is the iron found in beef and red meat, particularly in the liver. If you’ve done a little sleuthing and noted that the iron levels in liver aren’t as high as in some other foods, don’t be fooled. Who cares if iron ore is 72% iron, if you can’t assimilate it! But the iron in liver is absorbed very well. (Even more so when taken with something acidic, like orange juice, kombucha, etc.) (I like to get this powder, mixing it into my morning green drink- it’s a bit cheaper than the capsules.)

Capra Mineral Goat Whey– Maybe it’s ‘cuz those mountain goats are chowing down on grasses grown in mineral-rich soil, that hasn’t been stripped of nutrients by farming. But this stuff has twenty different macro and trace minerals, easily absorbed by humans. I feel terrific taking a tablespoon of this a day (I notice when I don’t).

Brewers Yeast– Back in the day, working at a health food store in the eighties, I knew all about brewer’s yeast- how it was loaded with B vitamins and other good stuff, like Chromium. And going farther back, science class in high school, I heard a lot about the importance of these nutrients in our diet. Fast forward to modern times… I just don’t think the average food is all that loaded with nutrients anymore. So I add some brewer’s yeast to my morning powder mix. I particularly like this Solgar’s brand, since it isn’t “fortified” with synthetic B vitamins. Come on- I just want the superfood, not something some scientist created. I’ll trust God’s supply any day!

Cod Liver Oil -I originally got this stuff to address a dental issue my husband was having. I found a bunch of references and positive comments on Amazon, about it helping those that might need root canals. All I know is, the one dentist insisted that Tom needed two root canals; after several months on the CLO, he ended up with one root canal only, and has been doing great since. Now I personally keep taking it to keep my Omega 3/6 ratio in balance. (It’s otherwise quite difficult to get enough OmegGoat whey, brewer's yeast, CLO, etc.a 3s in the diet.) These capsules are handy, but if you prefer the liquid, this cinnamon-flavored Liquid Fermented CLO is great!

Ashwagandha“- Maybe it’s good to say just what specifically a particular item is good for. Because it can psyche us up to be on the lookout for benefits! If I can’t sleep, I should remind myself that I’ve had some Ashwagandha, so there’s no excuse. Ha. I know it doesn’t work that way, but maybe kinda sorta? In any case, this is a root powder, kind of like ginseng, supposedly good for thyroid disorders too. It’s an “adoptogen”, which means- whatever’s wrong, it’ll fix it. OK, can’t go that far. But maybe it has improved my focus and energy.

Chlorella Powder“- Some of us might want to do a heavy-metal detox, or a cleansing diet. Chlorella (a little seaweed-type powder) should be a part of the process, since it binds with mercury in our system to aid in its removal. I guzzle an 8-ounce container of water with a scoop of this mixed into it every morning, first thing. It tastes a tad fishy. OK, so it’s not for everyone…

Collagen Protein–  The label for this grass-fed collagen now says its for “Anti Aging” too. Well, what I noticed was that it was SUPER great for inflammation. It’s been suggested that inflammation is at the root of all disease. For me, whatever the form that inflammation takes (swollen joints, arthritis, fibromyalgia, etc.), it’s better not to have it. And while I haven’t been part of an authentic field study (OK, this is just “anecdotal” evidence…), all I know is- I had swollen knees for several years (couldn’t run, experienced some pain). And now my knees are great. I’m even running up hill as part of my morning routine!

Kombucha– I’m a fan. It will keep your gut happy, which means better digestion, and a happier mood. (Somehow probiotics affect the brain in a positive way.) I’ve got a recipe here for Jun Kombucha, which is the tastiest (made with honey and green tea). But the black tea and sugar Kombucha is also so good for you. Water Kefir is another option.

Fat– I could go on a rant here, but I’ll try to control myself. It’s probably easiest to say: minimize intake of certain fats. Like, polyunsaturates. They aren’t good to cook with (article here), and are often rancid (“rancid” spells death in some language). A monounsaturated like olive oil is a good choice (like those Mediterranean folks use). Or coconut oil, loaded with MCTs for health (or coconut manna, which I love putting in smoothies). Or even grass-fed butter (like Kerry Gold).

Berkey Water Filter“- I’ve linked to the model that includes two black filters (which need cleaning on occasion, but don’t need replacing), plus two fluoride filters (which do need replacing, usually annually). It’s an important tool for your health! The chemicals in treated water are probably not good for us, but I’ve actually SEEN the effect it can have on other living creatures. I’m talking probiotic critters here. My water kefir grains stopped growing at that point when I needed to change the filter (with our water usage, that’s about once a year). No joke that chlorine can suck the life out of probiotics on the kitchen counter, so no telling what it might do inside our gut, ya know?

OK- that’s all, folks. You are now updated on what kinds of crazy things Jen has for breakfast. It’ll soon be time to move on to possibly more exciting topics. Like, dessert or something!

Green Drink for Health in 2019

I believe God gave us the tools to be healthy. I love the verse from Revelation 22:2- describing the wonderful fruit trees lining the river, and how “…the leaves of the tree will heal the nations.” I’m getting healed daily!

Mix of chlorella, ashwagandha & more, for natural thyroid healthI’m pretty sure this green drink recipe would benefit most everyone’s health- it’s alkaline and organic, with easily-assimilated nutrients. (For more specifics on hypothyroid health, check these posts- Jen’s List: 8 Diet Ideas, or my Top Ten for Healthy Thyroid.)

Below is the main “recipe” I use to keep me and my thyroid healthy. It’s not for everyone- a lot of people don’t want to gag down a superfood drink every morning. And a lot of hypothyroid folks would rather get a prescription and take a capsule. It’s great that my friend can get Armour Thyroid from Kaiser through her insurance. But, being self-employed, I have generic insurance that just covers catastrophic events; I pay for office visits and prescriptions. So, when my doctor and pharmacy visits became cost-prohibitive, I went this route instead. Five things I love about this little recipe:

  • It supports my thyroid gland with superfoods that are found to improve its function
  • It’s easy and economical to order the bulk ingredients online
  • It’s all OTC (over-the-counter). Even the “ThyroGold” (purchase here) is rated a “food” it’s dessicated thyroid gland from cows, so it doesn’t need a prescription

SUPERFOOD GREEN BREAKFAST DRINK (“THYROGREEN”)

Add 2 TBS. mix to a small jar half-full of water. Shake it up and drink!

Makes about 7 1/2 cups. Over 60 servings when using 2TBS. daily

Use a big jar with lid on for mixing, if possible. Mixing the dried ingredients together and putting into jars can be messy–I cover the counter with newspaper, and transfer the messy mix into a paper bag, which I use to fill jars with. Yes, green dust all over, but hey, it does cost way less than buying a nice product already mixed. If you don’t want the bother, try some of the quality organic green powders available on Amazon, like this one.

I originally took six capsules of Thyrogold to get the same effect that I was getting from my 97.5 mg. of prescribed thyroid. But by taking the extra herbs, roots, and other superfoods, I’m now down to two of the 300 mg. capsules.

But why do I try to avoid prescription drugs and the doctor visits it entails, you ask? Well…I’ve had a really bad history with the medical field, in the case of hypothyroid treatment anyway. Although I’m really glad I got diagnosed in 2006. I had so many horrible symptoms, and was “near death”, according to the doctor. Whew- close call.

But then the trouble began.

First, after taking what I’d thought to be Armour thyroid (a natural form of thyroid gland), for six years, I discovered my pharmacy had scammed me. They had originally promised they could get me something akin to Armour Thyroid, which was unavailable at the time. In their mind, synthetic was “akin”. Ug. The nerve. They had substituted a synthesized version of Armour that whole time!

Was that why my health and well-being had gradually declined?!

In any case, eventually I stumbled upon the “naturalthyroidsolutions” website, and started in on my new, natural approach, taking OTC thyroid. My thyroid health improved and I felt terrific. The synthetic thyroid had been better for me than nothing at all (I was starting to really fall apart), but it never seemed to improve my health as much as the natural approach has.

But there’s more. To my saga of ranting misfortune with the doctor…

Years later, I went in for some other checkup, and the doctor said I’d have to get back on prescription thyroid. Even though I’d been feeling great for the past four years on the OTC thyroid. Doc said I’d need up to three lab tests- one to make sure I was at a good level now, one when I’d been on the prescription stuff for a month, and possibly one more, if we had to adjust the levels.

Really. What happened to, if it ain’t broke…

She suggested I try submitting the $90 lab test to the insurance company, even though I’d never done that before. The insurance company denied the claim, but gave me a non-negotiable bill for $700 instead. (Such a scam? The lab charges the insurance company that much, even though I only paid $90 cash for the same test?!)

So… you might imagine why I’m kind of obsessed with this natural approach. Right?!

BTW- my blood pressure’s fine, ha. Even though the above tales could get it going LOL. But it’s all good. I’m feeling healthier than ever, and if I hadn’t had so many problems, I might not be this well off!

*Since writing another post on this subject years ago, I stopped adding the Heather’s Tummy Fiber and the Psyllium Seed Powder, since my digestion improved. I take this green mix at breakfast time, and t’s been working well.

Oatmeal Cookie Pie (AKA “Crack Pie”, “Shoefly”…)

Hard to know what to call this. It’s an adaptation of a New York baker’s recipe for “Crack Pie” (from Christina Tosi, of Momofuku Milk Bar). I decided it’d be handy to use our easy New Deli oatmeal cookie recipe for the crust (which might leave a few extra cookies on hand afterward, to eat, freeze for later, etc.)(but which is A-OK with me!).

The Women’s Christmas Dinner Committee decided we’d make thirty of these pies, for our church’s annual Christmas dinner. It took five batches of oatmeal cookie dough, and over four gallons of heavy cream, five cartons of egg yolks, lots and lots of butter and sugar… But it was a hit!

I assume most folks don’t want to make thirty pies, so I reduced the recipe below. But–if you do want the recipe for making lots of pies, just email me and I’ll get that for you 🙂

Jen Cote's "Oatmeal Cookie Pie"

Oatmeal Cookie Pie

This recipe will make 2 pie crusts (I like to save one to bake up on another occasion); it makes one pie filling, serving 6-8.

INGREDIENTS

Oat Cookie Crust for two pies

  • 1/3 c. butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 2/3 c. quick-cooking oats
  • 2/3 c. flour
  • Rounded 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • Added to crumbs- 3 TBS. butter, melted
  • Added to crumbs- 2 TBS. sugar

Filling for one pie

  •  3/4 c.  sugar
  • 1/2 c.  brown sugar
  • 1 TBS. nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. butter, melted, cooled slightly
  • 1/3 c. plus 1 TBS. heavy cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Topping

  •  1 c heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Optional- 1/2 c. chocolate chips
  • Optional- 1/2 TBS. butter

AKA Crack PieFor Oatmeal Cookie Crust, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix well until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes: > 1/3 c. butter > 1/3 c. brown sugar > 1 tsp. vanilla

After those ingredients have creamed, mix in baking soda. Use: > rounded 1/4 tsp. baking soda

Add remaining dry ingredients, mixing until blended (about 1 minute): > 1 2/3 c. quick-cooking oats > 2/3 c. flour

Turn oat mixture out onto parchment-lined cookie sheet; press out evenly until fairly flattened, about 1/4″ thick. Bake until golden on top, 8-12 minutes.

Remove the giant “cookie” to a rack to cool.

After cooling, crumble the “cookie” with hands (or put in plastic bag and use rolling pin). In a large bowl, add: > the oatmeal cookie crumbs > 3 TBS. butter, melted > 2 TBS. sugar

Rub the butter and sugar into the crumbs with fingertips; press into two 9-inch pie pans, pressing mixture evenly onto bottom and up sides of pie dishes.

Refrigerate one crust, and freeze other one if necessary (unless doing a double recipe of the filling, enough for two pies).

Prepare filling. For one pie filling, whisk dry ingredients together: > 3/4 c. sugar > 1/2 c. brown sugar > 1 TBS. nonfat dry milk powder > 1/4 tsp. salt

Mix in butter: > 1/2 c. butter, melted, cooled slightly

Blend in remaining wet ingredients: > 1/3 c. plus 1 TBS. heavy cream > 4 egg yolks > 1 tsp. vanilla.

Pour filling into crust. Bake pie 30 minutes at 350 degrees (filling may begin to bubble).

Turn oven down to 300 degrees and bake about 20 minutes more, until filling is brown in spots and set around edges but center still moves slightly when pie dish is gently shaken

Cool pie two hours in pie dish on rack. Chill uncovered overnight. This dessert can be made up to two days ahead. To store, cover and keep chilled.

The easiest way to serve is to simply sift powdered sugar lightly over top of pie. Or, add whipped cream, to top each piece. Use: > 1 c. heavy cream (no sugar, as pie is so sweet)

If desired, garnish that with a wedge of chocolate. For an easy chocolate garnish, melt chocolate chips and butter; spread on parchment (about 1/4″ thick) and chill until firm. Break into triangular pieces; stick into whipped cream-topped pie. Use: > 1/2 c. chocolate chips > 1/2 TBS. butter

Bittersweet Chocolate with Benefits

I’ve been buying Trader Joe’s bittersweet chocolate bars for some time (the giant, pound-plus bar), and they do satisfy my chocolate cravings. But… I also bought a giant bag of unsweetened cocoa powder at Costco earlier this year. You know how Costco purchases go- sometimes you see something for a really great deal, and feel compelled to buy it, even if it could take two years to go through it…

So. I also had some of this Ceylon cinnamon in the freezer. (Since I’d also bought a big bag of that, because it’s just. So. Good for you!)(And economical- see Costco note…)

Now I needed a way to use up that cocoa powder, and incorporate the cinnamon as well, into a daily routine. I also thought it would be cool to include honey in the mix, since the synergistic benefits of cinnamon and honey are impressive (more info here too).

I figured it’d be pretty easy to accomplish my goals if I made something that could substitute for that TJ’s chocolate I kept buying (and eating every day). And thus the following recipe was born. I made it with just coconut oil the first time, which works fine. This time, I included some of this cocoa butter, which gave it more firmness and flavor. Whoa- I can sub this for the TJ stuff any day, and now my cocoa powder stores will begin to finally get used up. Mission accomplished!

Homemade Bittersweet, Honey-Sweetened Chocolate BarI actually like this better than brownies. And of course it’s gluten-free! Best kept in the refrigerator; makes one big pound-plus bar.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2/3 c. coconut oil
  • 1/4 c. cocoa butter
  • 4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 rounded c. cocoa powder
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2/3 c. raisins
  • 1/3 c. macadamias

Warm on lowest setting in pan on stove: > 2/3 c. coconut oil > 1/4 c. cocoa butter

Stir in dry ingredients in: > 4 tsp. cinnamon > 1/4 tsp. salt > 1 rounded c. cocoa powder

Then blend in the rest: > 1 tsp. vanilla > 2/3 c. raisins > 1/3 c. macadamias

Pour into lined 8×8″ square dish (use wax paper, parchment, or aluminum foil); refrigerate. Cut into pieces as needed, as keep chilled for more firmness.

 

Sourdough Bread, Artisan Style

I’d been making this sourdough whole wheat bread for some time, if only for the health benefits. The sourdough process helps reduce phytic acid (a plus), and makes for a lower-glycemic bread. Also, some of the gluten gets broken down in the long, slow fermenting process. And it has more naturally-occuring B vitamins too, thanks to the wild yeast at work. (The blog Cheeseslave goes into more detail here.)

But my bread didn’t have the greatest texture. I needed to figure out how to make artisan bread. Which wasn’t easy. I kept saying, “Artesian”, like the well… My daughter-in-law said, maybe that’s why it wasn’t turning out. I needed to clarify. Artisan, not Artesian… Ha.

I finally had success. This new bread had layers of complex flavors, with a great crust, and custardy inside. Yum.

Artisan Bread w/Sourdough StarterIt starts with a lively starter (details on that starter here.). I usually feed my baby starter twice a day (removing half of it each time). The extra feedings make for a pretty rambunctious starter. It builds its character. The flavors get more complex, texture more interesting, yada yada. The way I used to do it still works, for busier times when I can’t mess with bi-daily feedings. (With that old method, I feed a refrigerated starter every 3-7 days, which is enough to keep it pretty lively.)

I didn’t like the idea of removing some of that starter, adding it to a discard pile in the fridge. But I’ve changed the name of the discard pile to “Future Cracker Dough”. I don’t feel as bad now. (Or it can become pancakes or waffles with the addition of an egg or two.) Another new discovery: I can add the starter discard to my next batch of dough, as long as it’s not too big a quantity, without affecting the flavor adversely. (Excess starter can also be frozen, for two months or so.)

In the old days, I accumulated large starter quantities, as I would feed the thing every few days, never taking any out. And I only made bread with it once a week or so. The bread turned out well enough using the large quantity of starter, but not quite as exciting as I’d hoped. With this new method, I’m feeding a smaller quantity of very active starter, and it’s not getting ginormous, since I “discard” some of it before a new feeding.

Below is my latest fave bread recipe, “Sourdough Artisan Bread”. Makes one loaf, about 2 1/2 lb.

INGREDIENTS

  • About 2 TBS. stiff sourdough starter*
  • 1/3 c warm water (.16)
  • 2/3 c. whole wheat/rye flour (optional- use half malted flour)
  • Approx. 3 c. malted flour (.88 lb.)**
  • Approx.. 1 1/2c. water, divided
  • 1 TBS. salt***

In a smaller bowl, mix together: > about 2 TBS. starter (un-refreshed) > 1/3 c. warm water > 2/3 c. whole grain flour (optional: use half malted or all-purpose flour)

Let this stiff mixture rest in a warm place for 4-5 hours. Marurizio from “The Perfect Loaf” suggests an oven with the light left on. It works! (My Bay Area kitchen is always pretty cool.)

About an hour before time’s-up for that starter, add most of the remaining water to the flour in a larger bowl, mixing with hands or a spatula until flour’s distributed. Adding water to flour starts an enzyme process whereby the starches begin converting to sugars, etc. This leads to more flavor! (Called an “autolyse”, in scientific terms). Use: > 3 c. malted flour > most of 1 1/2 c. warm water (reserve about 2 TBS. to add with salt at next mixing, an hour later)

Cover the flour/water mixture and let it rest one hour or so in that warm place (next to the bowl of stiff starter mix).

After the big bowl of flour/water mix has rested an hour or so, and the stiff starter (“levain”) has gone four or five hours (and has maybe caved in a bit), mix the two together, breaking up the stiff starter so it’ll mix in better.

‘”Fold” and stretch the dough, as in, pull a chunk of the dough from the edge, into the center. And repeat. Fold about ten times; it will become smoother and not too sticky. It won’t have to be thoroughly mixed at this point, as there’s more folding to come.

Before leaving it to rest, take your fingers and poke a few holes in the dough, adding a mixture of salt and water on top. Don’t mix it in yet; just pour it over the dough. Use: > the extra 2 TBS. warm water > 1 TBS. salt

Let the dough rest 20 minutes or so. It’s good to leave it be for a bit, to do its own thing. At this point, gluten molecules are aligning themselves and doing the work of kneading, all on their own. All they need is time. To themselves. You can’t rush this process by man-handling the dough!

After 20 or so minutes of resting, fold the dough again, mixing in the salt water that’s started to absorb. Fold up to thirty folds if necessary, until the dough gains “strength”. It should feel elastic and smooth. Practice will help you to know when enough’s enough. Less handling is usually better.

Let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Every 30 minutes, for the next hour or two, stretch and fold the dough a bit. Eventually, the dough should bundle up and pull easily from the sides, indicating that it’s ready to be left alone to finish fermenting.

We’re now to the “bulk-ferment” phase. Leave this folded dough alone now for another 4 hours, then gently form into a round. (Again, pulling from the outside to the middle will help shape it.) Do this process in the bowl with a scraper or spatula, or on a lightly floured cloth. (I really like this dough couche.) Let the pre-shaped dough rest another 20 minutes.

After resting a bit (again with the resting!), shape into preferred shape. Set into a lightly-dusted, cloth-lined basket or bowl, with the dough bottom side up. (I like this bread-proofing basket.) It will hold the shaped dough for the final proofing, and make a nice, round, rustic loaf.) Put the bowl/basket into a plastic bag (or cover with oiled plastic wrap), and let rest 2 more hours.

Note: I typically go for a pretty wet dough. It can seem difficult to call the dough to attention for the final shaping; it may want to flounder around a bit like it’s drunk… And yet, even my wettest dough has made a good loaf. The only mistake I’ve made with it has been to add too much flour to the basket/bowl in the final proofing stage. Even though you want a gluten “cloak”, if there’s too much flour on the outside, it seems to prevent the dough from busting forth at the score points while it’s baking. Too much of a good thing (like a gluten-straight jacket). So, like I said, “lightly dusted” works.

Finally (almost done), after the dough has proofed at room-temp for a couple hours, place the covered, shaped dough in the fridge overnight (or up to 24 hours, although 18 hours is probably ideal). This slows down fermentation, which insures more flavor.

Preheat oven, and a Dutch oven and/or a baking stone, to 500 degrees (this usually takes 40 minutes or so). Gently invert refrigerated dough onto parchment paper; score top. (I’ve used a serrated knife, then tried a box-cutter, then finally got this “bread-scoring lame“, which is my fave cutting tool for this purpose.) Lift the parchment and bread into a Dutch oven, covering it for the first 20 minutes. (Or make some other configuration, to create a steamy environment for baking, like a baking stone with a pot/pan on top of it.) (Or bake the bread on a baking stone with a tray filled with hot water on a shelf below it.)

Reduce heat to 450 degrees and bake the bread covered for 20 minutes. Remove cover, lower heat to 400 degrees, and bake 20 more minutes, or to desired doneness.

*This stiff starter gets fed about twice daily. For each feeding, remove some old starter, leaving a tablespoon (or less) in jar. Add about 2 tsp. water, and 1 Tablespoon whole-grain flour. (A mix of wheat and rye flour is great)

**AKA Organic Artisan Bakers Craft Flour (malted) is primo, although all-purpose, unbleached flour can substitute. (I buy mine here. It costs about $1.14/lb. for me, including shipping. Worth it, since I can’t find this stuff anywhere else around here.)

***Use about 1 tsp. salt per pound of dough

Sourdough Starter Maintenance & Use & Other Details

There’s lots of info out there on how to baby our starter. Well… I’ve been conducting experiments to figure out how little I can baby my starter, and still have it turn out amazing bread.

In the process, I determined that my husband and I do not want to have to make pancakes every few days with the starter discard. And, making crackers with the discard seemed like too much work (to eat and to make…).

Now you might be fine with either of those solutions, to use up the starter discard that accumulates. If not, you might appreciate some of my discoveries. On just how little time we have to spend taking care of these starters…

Stiff Starter: 1/4 c. starter, 1/3 c. water, 1/2 c. wheat/rye flour blendI already had my starter. But early on, I’d heard that it’s so resilient, you could ignore it for months, and it would probably still come back to life. One blogger reported that she had some years-old starter in the fridge, and it was still good. I guess it’s true that it might still be “good” enough to revive, but not necessarily to use to leaven a loaf of bread on the spot.

So in the old days, I was pretty casual about feeding my starter, feeding a refrigerated starter once a week. But my overly-sour bread was starting to make me sad. I really wanted to make some artisan-style bread– the kind was flavorful, custardy, open crumb inside, and chewy, crusty crust.

So I read up on bread and changed my method. I left my starter out in a warm place, and fed it twice daily. This new, lively started made some really good breads, even if I was to refine the method a bit more as time went on.

Now here are some scientific facts to chew on, and maybe inspire you too:

  • Starter gets a more acidic, sour flavor when it grows slowly under refrigeration, since the cold encourages the production of acetic acid. Some folks may prefer this, so keep that in mind.
  • Besides temperature, frequency of feedings also affects flavor, by changing the balance of yeast and bacteria in the starter. Fed less often, bacteria will proliferate, eventually making for a very sour bread. Fed more often, in a warm environment (like in an oven with the light left on, if necessary), yeast takes the lead. I suppose that’s why my recent breads received rave reviews. I babied the starter for weeks, feeding it every night and morning after discarding half, while it multiplied happily in a warm spot. My one son said of one recent loaf, “I think this is the best bread you’ve ever made. I mean, wait- I think it’s the best bread I’ve ever had. In my life.” Wow, that’s high praise.
  • Another thing to consider: Moisture. The almost-buttery flavor of lactic acid likes a moist environment. A more-liquid starter might help promote this, although I’ve still had excellent flavor using a stiff starter with a moist dough. Still, something to keep in mind.
  • Use unchlorinated water. (I have a Berkey, which gives me wonderful water for all my fermentation needs- kombucha, kefir, and sourdough.) The chlorine in a lot of tap water will kill some of the starter critters you’re trying to encourage.
  • Whole-grain flour will encourage more of the good yeasts and bacterias. (Unbleached, all-purpose flour can also work, if necessary.) “Hard red winter wheat”, “hard white wheat” and “hard red spring wheat” are all options. (I use these red wheat berries for my starter.) Soft winter wheat, either red or white, is better for pastries and cake-making, so skip those.
  • Rye has amazing qualities of its own, making it particularly good to include in starter-feedings. I use a blend of half wheat and half rye berries, grinding those into a flour for starter feedings, keeping the extra in the freezer for future feedings.
  • About stiff and liquid starters: Many folks say an artisan bread is best made with a stiff starter, so I turned my liquid starter into a stiff starter, which has about three parts flour to a two parts water by weight, or almost double the volume of flour to water by the cup. (Maurizio from “The Perfect Loaf” goes into detail here and has a helpful, in-depth post on starter maintainace, here.) Liquid starter, on the other hand, has a ratio of about two parts flour to 3 parts water by weight, or equal parts flour to water by volume.

Sourdough Starter Maintenance

Remove some starter at each feeding, so that the starter being fed, which might be left outon the counter, continues to be very active. This makes for good bread!

Refrigerate the excess starter that’s removed before each feeding. Let it accumulate in a container, to use for crackers or pancakes. OR, as I’ve recently discovered, add it to the next loaf of artisan bread, along with some of the active starter. It shouldn’t compromise the flavor, if there isn’t too much of the stuff.

To avoid an overabundance of the “starter discard”, reduce the amount of starter left in the jar before each feeding. Leave a tablespoon or less of starter in the jar, adding just a tablespoon or so of flour, plus a half tablespoon of water. This should keep the starter-discard pile from getting too ginormous.

Another management tip: Refrigerate that small jar of starter for a half day or more here and there, to no ill effect. The wonderful flavors found in the perfect starter don’t seem to suffer from some refrigeration; just bring the jar back out for daily feedings for a few days before making that next loaf of bread.

A larger amount of starter below is a good amount for those making bread almost daily. Figure about 1 or 2 parts starter to 2 parts flour to 1 1/2 parts water, or something close to that. (Use less starter in warmer weather, since it’ll “eat” more in the heat.)

Make adjustments to suit conditions, so that the starter doubles and just starts to cave in a bit, before the next feeding. This might mean leaving the starter in an oven with the light on in colder climates. With our cool, Bay area weather, that has worked out well for me.

If overwhelmed with starter discard, slow the starter-feeding process down by refrigerating it. It won’t double as fast, so feedings should be less often. It can be brought back to warm room temperature for a few days, to be built back up with twice-daily feedings, for bread-making, as needed.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 c. starter*
  • 1/3 c. water*
  • 1/2 c. flour*

In small jar, remove enough starter to leave about 1/4 c. To that, add: > 1/3 c. water > 1/2 c. flour

Mix well. Set lid on loosely. Leave in a warm spot for 12 hours or so, until doubled. When it just begins to cave in, feed again.

Refrigerate as needed to slow the process down if it proves to be too much bother, although the flavor will change a bit.

Refrigerated starter can be revived by leaving the starter out for its feedings for a day or two, to get it back in good standing for excellent bread-making.

* Or use a smaller amount, to keep the discard pile down. For that, use about .02 lb. starter to .02 lb. whole-grain flour to .016 water. Those quantities are just soup spoonful-sized amounts, which can be perfect for those of us only making bread once or twice a week.

Top Ten Spices & Herbs (+ 5 or 10 More…)

I brought my Betty Crocker cookbook on my honeymoon (over forty years ago), and studied the spices and herbs list, and the best seasonings to use for various foods. Forty two years later- guess what? Betty proved right! But I’ve added a few favorite applications for various herbs and spices myself, and have listed it all below. Enjoy exploring the exciting world of spices and herbs.

18-Bottle Spice HolderOf course, a garden of fresh herbs can’t be beat. A list of favorite fresh garden herbs is at the bottom of the page.

I keep my spices in a cupboard, where they stay fresher, not being exposed to light. This is my fave spice holder of all times (and I’ve tried quite a few.)

Top Ten Herbs/Spices (I mean, 13… oops)

  • Basil- So good with tomatoes. You knew that, right? It can give dishes a little Italian flavor. Good with meats too.
  • Bay Leaf- Throw it into the pot when making soups. Adds an extra flavor. Keeps things exciting.
  • Cayenne- Even just a touch of heat can enhance a dish. (Well, not according to my husband. So I keep a shaker of this on my dinner table, and spice up my own dish.)
  • Cinnamon- Get Ceylon cinnamon (It’s the best. And good for you.) Great in baked goods, or in a hot drink, like this Golden Milk.
  • Cumin- Make it Mexican-style. Add to beans, meats, chili, whatever.
  • Curry- Easy way to go Asian. Add to veggies, meats, rice, etc. Oh, and gets a bit of turmeric into the diet (and that’s so healthy…)
  • Dill Weed- This is one of the distinctive flavors in our ever-popular, MSG-free New Deli Ranch dressing. It’s also good in tomato soups, with cucumbers, in bread.
  • Nutmeg- A warm flavor, somehow. Makes my tummy happy. Especially in this Rice Pudding. Or add it to other warm drinks, or creamy sauces. We put it in our Chicken Alfredo at The New Deli.
  • Oregano- Spells Pizza. Yum. Or add it to other tomato dishes, or fresh salads. Or meats. Ya know, just about anything! I love the 1000 Island Dressing we make, that we put this in.
  • Paprika- I love how it brightens up so many dishes, giving them extra color. And flavor, of course. But also- it’s a way to get some extra antioxidants in. Paprika’s loaded with ’em. But it comes from red peppers, which are on the dirty dozen list. Which is why I get this organic paprika. I also have this organic smoked paprika on hand. And it is DEFinitely smoky!
  • Sage- Seems like a “deep” herb that warms my tummy. Good with chicken, of course, or in soups, and other meats. We put it in our Meatloaf Mix.
  • Tarragon- This is good in the usual (meats, poultry, soups, salads), but it’s good in fish too. We put it in our Italian dressing at the deli.
  • Turmeric- The darling of the “Golden Milk” craze; it adds color to dishes, and extra health too. Not a lot of flavor, although it is rather distinct…

2nd Top Ten List (I Mean, 16…)More Fave Spices

  • Caraway Seeds- I love to add these to my raisin walnut bread. Good in sauces and sauerkraut. And Chicken Paprikosh!
  • Celery Seed- So flavorful. They pack a punch. Add to Celery Leek soup. (And other stuff.)
  • Coriander- I used to think I didn’t like this stuff. But it adds an almost magical depth to the deli’s Cauliflower Soup. So good!
  • Gumbo File- Made from sassafras leaves. It adds that extra something to Gumbo.
  • Cardamom- Adds a bit of Indian or African flavor to the meal. Add to curries too.
  • Cloves- Spicy goodness to zip up dishes.
  • Cumin Seed- We toast these and add to The New Deli’s Black Bean Chili. Yum.
  • Dill seed- A more intense dill flavor. Doesn’t discolor like dill weed can. But still good added to bread. Like this “Dilly Casserole Bread“.
  • Fennel- Use it in a Chinese 5-spice powder along with cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, and star anise.
  • Fenugreek Seeds- Make a homemade curry mix with this. Incredible maple smell to this stuff. Wild. Toast gently in a hot pan to bring out the flavor, then grind in a coffee/spice grinder.
  • Garlic- This doesn’t really have to be on the list, since fresh garlic is so so good. But… what if you were out of fresh?!
  • Mustard Powder- Every now and then, this comes in handy. Good in homemade mayo.
  • Onion Flakes- We use this in our meatloaf mix too. The texture’s good- it adds the flavor, without adding an overpowering presence of fresh chopped onions.
  • Red Pepper Flakes- Spice up a sauce. So pretty floating in the sauce for these Vegetarian Spring Rolls.
  • Saffron- You can make an amazing paella with this stuff. Such a unique taste. To maximize flavor, let a few threads soak in boiling water for several hours first.
  • Star Anise- Again, use in 5-spice powder! To season many things! (Use with cloves, cinnamon, fennel and peppercorns for the mix.)

Favorite Garden Herbs

Some of these may grow for you, some may not. The herbs below are worth trying though.

Parsley- I’ve practically got a field of parsley now, after having no luck the first few years. Trick was to let one of those first plants go to seed. Then I lay the seed-laden plant in a little pile (with the decaying plant covering it, to protect it from the birds). Come spring, new little seedlings pop up all over.

Sage- Grows easily enough. Some varieties are quite hardy.

Rosemary- Grows like a weed. If you don’t have a green thumb, plant rosemary and relax. I don’t think you can kill it.

Thyme- This plant grows well enough, but realize that pulling the thyme leaves off the stem can be a bit time consuming. Worth it of course, but… just sayin’…

Oregano- This is a pretty hardy plant. Should grow well!

Basil- Mine never thrives. But then we live very close to the coast, with a constant cool breeze. Basil loves the heat. And water. Don’t forget to water.

Cilantro- You may do well growing cilantro, but it often will not sprout  from the cooking seeds found in the grocery store. I found out they irradiate them (or something…). So get them from a seed packet, or maybe a reputable health food store.