Monday, October 20, 2008

Bread Head

Since I've had some time to myself, I've decided to try my hand at baking bread. I think that in the beginning, making bread from scratch can be quite daunting. However, if you give it a try I think that you'll find it not quite as difficult as you thought.

I took this basic bread recipe from my food hero, Alton Brown, host of Good Eats on Food Network. It's really simple and is also a good basis for experimenting with different ingredients and techniques.


1 lb (approx 3 2/3 Cups) bread flour
1 tsp. instant rapid rise yeast
2 tsp. honey
10 oz. filtered water
2 tsp salt

In a small bowl, mix together 1 cup of the flour, 1/4 tsp of the yeast, all the honey, and all the water. Whisk this up real good, cover loosely, and place in the fridge. It should sit for about about 8-12 hours, so it's a good idea to do this the night before you want to bake.

Figure 1: The starter after a good whisking.

8 to 12 hours later

In a large bowl, mix together the starter, the rest of the yeast, salt, and 1 cup of flour. Stir till it's well combined and then slowly add the rest of the flour. You might want to forgo the spoon at this point and just get in there with your hand. You can knead in the last of the flour in the bowl or you can do it a lightly floured surface.

If you're lucky enough to have a stand mixer, this step is a lot easier. If you've got a hand mixer, then I recommend that you put it back in the cupboard. I tried this out with a hand mixer and it wasn't that great. Best to stick to your trusty ol' wooden spoon.

How do you know when you can stop kneading? If you pull off a small piece of dough, you should be able to pull it out into a sheet thin enough that light can pass through. The dough should sticky but not so sticky that you can't handle it.

Figure 2: Kneading in the flour

Grease a straight-sided container with vegetable oil or Pam and place the dough in it. Cover the container with a kitchen towel and place it in the oven (don't turn the oven on for this). Slide a shallow pan under the container and fill it with boiling water. Close the oven and let the dough rise until it's doubled in size. This should take about 1-2 hours.

A neat trick I gleaned from Good Eats is to place a rubber band around the container to mark where the dough is prior to rising. This way you can more accurately gauge how much the dough has risen.

First rise
Figure 3: Dough covered and in container with a sheet pan filled with boiling water placed beneath it.

1-2 hours later

After bench proof
Figure 4: Dough after first rise.

Empty your dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Using your knuckles, press the dough out till it's flattened out enough for you to be able to fold the dough into thirds: first top to bottom, then left to right. Flip the folded dough over and press it out again. You're going to do this 2-3 times.

Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and let it rest for 10-20 minutes.

Press the dough out again and this time you're going to be forming the final shape of your loaf.

To make a round loaf bring the edges into the center and pinch them together, forming a jelly-fish like form. Place the dough down onto your floured surface with the pinched side down. Roll the dough between your hands to get it into a nice rounded shape. Place the dough onto a baking pan that's been dusted with corn meal.

To make a more oblong loaf, flatten the dough out and then roll it up tightly. Place it seam side down onto your baking pan (you dusted it with corn meal, right?) and tuck the ends under.

Cover the loaf with a moist kitchen towel and let it rise till it's doubled in size again. This should take about an hour. After it's risen, slash the top of the loaf a couple times.

Figure 5: Dough after final rise with slashes.

At this point, I like to brush the bread with one of two options:

For a more rustic look, whisk together:

1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/3 cup water

Brush onto top of loaf after slashing.

To give your loaf a bit of a shine, whisk together:

2 Tbsp water
1 egg white

Brush onto the top of the loaf after slashing and then again after about 20 minutes of baking.

Bake loaf in a 400 degree (F) oven for 35-45 minutes (watch carefully because this time varies from oven to oven). When putting the loaf into the oven, fill a shallow pan with boiling water again and place below loaf. When the bread is done, it should have an internal temperature of about 200-210 degrees.

Round loaf
Figure 6: Round loaf with cornstarch wash.

Figure 7: Ready to eat!

Oblong loaf
Figure 8: Oblong loaf with the egg white wash.

Whole wheat loaf
Figure 9: Whole wheat loaf with cracked oats sprinkled across the top (added after first brushing).

Have fun with this. You can do all kinds of things, add herbs, try different flours, or top the bread with different things.

Yay, carbs!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Village Sushi

I *love* sushi. I could eat it everyday for the rest of my life. Understandably, then, one of my top food-related priorities when I moved to Seattle was finding good places for sushi. After reading reviews on Yelp, I decided to give Village Sushi a try. I first went there with Ryan shortly after they opened. The restaurant is inside of a converted house, so the atmosphere is very cozy (but it doesn't feel cramped at all). We ordered an assortment of sashimi and sushi rolls. Everything was delicious! I was especially impressed with the salmon sashimi, which was the freshest I've ever had.

I've been there several more times since, and I always enjoy myself. I usually stick to the sushi and sashimi, but when my cousin Adam was visiting me this past summer, we decided to get an order of their tempura. It was really good--not heavy or greasy. Two thumbs up!

I've liked everything I've ever ordered at Village Sushi, except for the oshinko (pickled vegetables). I'm pretty picky when it comes to Japanese pickled vegetables, and there were a few I didn't care for in the mix. Other than that, though, everything has been delicious! I'd like to work my way through their entire menu. Not in one sitting, of course. But their prices are extremely reasonable, so if you've got a big enough appetite...

Anyway, I'm going to leave you with a few pictures from my latest trip to Village Sushi. If you're ever in the U-District, definitely stop by and try them out. Great sushi, friendly service, good prices. What more could you ask for?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Caffeinated Awesomeness

Zoka Coffee Roasters and Tea Company: Awesome coffee and also home to the best cappuccino that I've ever had. Yesterday I had the chance to go down to the University Zoka's and while I was there I got a soy cappuccino and 1 lb. of the Zoka Java Blend.

Now, I'm no coffee expert and I don't really think of myself as a coffee snob. However, I'm definitely pickier than the average coffee drinker and I've had my fair share of coffees, cappuccinos, mochas, and other espresso-based drinks. I've sampled the good, the bad, and the swill they serve at the US army DFAC (that's "dining facility" in army-speak). I like to think that over the years I've gained the ability to differentiate the good stuff from the bad.

That being said, this morning's coffee, made with the Zoka Java Blend, was great. Yesterday's cappuccino: Caffeinated Awesomeness. If you're ever in the Seattle area and you're craving a cup: Zoka.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Because Google can't convert everything for you (yet)

I just discovered this awesome cooking conversions calculator at Gourmet Sleuth.

I used it to help Ryan figure out what 5 oz of bread flour is in cups (answer: 1.03). He made a very tasty loaf of bread, and yes, there will be a blog post about it! We forgot to take pictures this first time, so the post will have to wait until the next time he makes bread.

In the meantime, enjoy this nifty online tool. Happy cooking/baking/converting!