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Sourdough English Muffins

It just doesn’t occur to people to make some things at home. English muffins are one of those things. But you should! They aren’t that hard, and unlike chocolate chip cookies, whom everyone in the world feels empowered to make at home, they are quite unusual which will make you feel Bad-A when you serve them up at brunch. These english muffins are don’t have any commercial yeast, instead they are leavened with my sourdough starter. They have a wonderful mild sourness, but are totally suitable to being eaten with a little jam or honey. They really are superior to Thomas’.

My nooks and crannies are all natural. And wild.

My nooks and crannies are all natural. And wild.

This recipe is based on Peter Reinhart’s from “Artisan Breads Every Day”, but adapted to use my sourdough starter instead of commercial yeast. The recipe has a few strange twists. For instance, adding baking soda to the batter after it has risen over night. The purpose of the baking soda is to give it a bit of extra lift, contributes to the characteristic pockets and crannies of a good english muffin, and to raise the pH of the batter, which enhances browning. The muffins are also cooked in a pan, not in the oven! (Continued)

Wild Sourdough Yeasted Waffles

Chemicals. Almost without fail, if you can figure out how to make a recipe without them, you will be rewarded by a cleaner and more nuanced flavor profile. It’s true that baking powder and baking soda are totally innocuous from a health point of view, but they leave a subtle metallic harshness to baked goods. I don’t think I ever realized this until I made the Cook’s Illustrated yeasted waffles, and they were a revelation. I decided to take the recipe even further, and use my own wild-yeast sourdough culture rather than commercial packaged yeast.

Weep in shame, Waffle House

Weep in shame, Waffle House

If you don’t have the time/patience/inclination to create, maintain, and use a sourdough starter, I still highly recommend the Cooks Illustrated version (Recipes are uncopyrightable. Here is a link to it reposted on a free website) with commercial yeast. It really is no harder than regular waffles. But for the last bit of amazingness, and a lovely sour note, use a sourdough starter. These really are better than waffles you’ve had before. Let’s figure out why: (Continued)

Wild Yeast Sourdough Starter

You are a chicken. You think starting your own sourdough is too hard. You think only experts can do it. Not true! There is only one small thing that is the least bit challenging, and that is keeping your starter between 70 and 90º for a few days. Come on smarty. You can figure out how to do that right? Does your oven have a “proof” or “dough” or “rise” function? How about putting it in a cooler with a bowl of warm water, and changing the water from time to time? Maybe you can use an electric blanket set on low? Maybe it is just summer, and warm where you are? In my case, I used my home-built sous vide machine, but this being the only challenge of this recipe, and I leave it to you to figure out. You chicken.

Sourdough Starter

How embarrassing!

What the hell is sourdough anyway? It is a live culture. A mixture of yeast and bacteria that enjoy each other’s company. The yeast eat the starch in  flour, releasing gas (which give baked goods their rise) and pooping out sugars, alcohol, and some interesting flavor compounds. The lactobacillus bacteria eat the sugars released by the yeast, and in turn poop out lactic acid (sour flavor) and some interesting flavor compounds. There is lots and lots and lots on the science and black art of sourdough all over the internets, so I won’t go into it. The point of this recipe is to be easy, basic, and give you a critical building block for several of my other recipes. (Continued)

Aged Eggnog Cocktail

Eggnog is an old drink. I don’t mean old as is left out over-night. I mean old as in it’s been popular for 200 years. I recently made a version that is old in the other sense too. As in, it’s been in my basement for a month. A basic eggnog recipe is pretty simple simple, really. Eggs, milk, cream, suger, booze. Sprinkle with nutmeg. But as with any old recipe there are many variations, and passions can run high.

This is my eggnog. There aren't many like it, but this one is mine.

This is my eggnog. There aren’t many like it, and this one is mine.

I’ve had eggnog that is hardly richer than milk. I’ve had eggnog that doesn’t have any milk at all, just a mixture of cream and whipped cream! I’ve had eggnog that is mostly booze. Or without booze. Some people feel whisky is the only apropriate spirit. Others rum. And so on. Craft cocktails are super popular right now, and I wanted an eggnog recipe that was in the same vein. Hey. Nobody said I’m above a trend. This recipe is cool for a couple of reasons. (Continued)

Smoked Smashed Potatoes

Look. The point of this whole website is to post recipes that I like, so obviously I like everything on this website. But these potatoes are different. They changed me. They will change you. They may be the best recipe I’ve ever come up with. Do I sound confident? I do. Lets get started.

The smoke adds just one Calorie

 

There are a several things (in addition to butter) that make these potatoes yummy. A couple of them are unique, and as far as I know, straight out of my brain. I don’t have the heart to google it, and find out that there are 2,847,85 smoked mashed potato recipes out there already. Here are my provisionally unique and original insights: (Continued)

Charred Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts are a controversial vegetable. Not just the taste either, the name confuses the hell out of people. So let’s clear something up. It isn’t “brussel sprouts”. It isn’t “brussel’s sprouts”. They are “brussels sprouts”. They are named after the city of Brussels. At least that is what I read on the internets. The main objection people have to the taste is the bitterness. I personally don’t taste too much bitterness in them, but I’m not a supertaster either. Supertasters are particularly sensitive to bitter tastes, so sucks to be them, because brussels sprouts can be awesome.

Please ignore the leg of duck with port-wine-balsamic glaze, it doesn't concern you

Brussels sprouts were first domesticated in Belgium around 500 years ago, and are descended from the family of wild cabbages found and eaten for thousands of years all around the Mediterranean.  They are close relatives of modern cabbage. Which probably explains why so many people hate one if they hate the other.

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Home Cured Bacon Without Nitrates

Let’s not kill anyone, shall we? Always a fine goal when making any tasty treat. The risk with this recipe is higher than most, (primarily because of botulism) so keep that in mind, along with the fact that I’m not a professional, and basically don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. There. If that didn’t scare you off, then you must be my kind of people. Now let’s make some delicious bacon, without the (allegedly) terrifyingly unhealthy nitrates and nitrites!

UPDATE: Nitrates and Nitrites probably not bad for you. I’ve left the recipe as is, but noted how you could add nitrite if you wish. For what it is worth, I usually do use nitrates these days.

UPDATE 2: People! I’m getting a lot of pushback in the comments about the safety of this no-nitrates recipe. People talking about botulism and other terrors. If you follow my recipe, you don’t need to worry about food safety.  Here is how I convince myself that it is safe: Is there anything in this recipe that someone wouldn’t happily do when smoking a pork shoulder or bbq ribs? Holding a piece of meat in a properly cool fridge for 5-7 days is no problem. Smoking a piece of meat for 2-3 hours is no problem. Just because it is “cured” and we call it bacon, doesn’t make it magically dangerous. Critics, if it makes you feel better, don’t call it bacon. Call it “salty-smoked pork belly”. Feel better?

Tastes like bacon, but more so

My bacon is different than bacon you can buy at the store, and not just because it doesn’t have nitrates. (BTW, that “uncured” bacon you’ve been buying at the grocery store? Packed with nitrates.) Since we are using salt, sugar, and smoke as actual preservatives, rather than just flavorings, this bacon is much more intensely flavored that modern bacon. Since we are dry curing, the bacon loses water in the process, which concentrates and intensifies flavors compared to store bacon, which often has brine added to it to make it heavier! The upshot is that this bacon tastes more salty, more smoky, more intense, more “bacony”, and since it has less water in it, doesn’t spatter, pop, and curl as much during cooking either! Let’s cure some bacon!

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Savory Oatmeal

We often had oatmeal for breakfast when I was a kid, and my mother would call up the stairs “sweet or savory?”, which meant we were supposed to choose which we wanted that day. We weren’t allowed both. Sweet meant milk, or cream (or both), with maple syrup, and sometimes fruit, raisins, cinnamon, etc. Pretty standard stuff. Savory, on the other hand, meant olive oil, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, and an egg. So, sweet or savory? A difficult call on any day, and I still go back-and-forth.

This is not weird

If wheat can work equally well in sweet or savory foods, why not other grains? In fact, most of them can. Oats are almost always eaten with brown sugar or maple syrup, maybe with some fruit and diary, or in sweet goods, (think cookies, crumbles). But I’m here to testify that, like wheat, oats are great savory too.

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Beets, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt

I just finished telling you why not to boil vegetables in my roast chard recipe. Now please enjoy this recipe for boiled beets. Wha? Everything I said in the linked post is true. Roast beats are delicious, and certainly more boldly flavored than these, but this recipe is about subtlety, texture, and letting some really great olive oil play equal co-star. Sure, boiling doesn’t bring out and intensify flavors like dry heat methods, but it is gentle, and preserves the tender, moist texture of lovely beets. A word about slicing… Slicing them thin and evenly is hard. If your beets are small enough, try the slicing face of your box grater. If you have a mandolin or even a meat slicer, you should give that I try. I sliced these by hand, and really, even thinner would have been better.

Sliced beets on a platter

IF YOU DON'T LIKE THESE BEETS, YOU DON'T LIKE BEETS

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Roast Chard

Heat does interesting things to food. The hotter, the more interesting. That isn’t always a good thing, seeing smoke roiling off of your focaccia can ruin your day. But very often people shy away from using high heat, when really they should give it a chance. So often people will steam or (gasp) boil vegetables, when really, roasting makes them so much yummier. There is a time and place for steaming and boiling, typically when you are going for soft and delicate textures. But if you want to boost flavor, you need more heat, and dryer heat.

Chard leaves in a bowl

DON'T RUIN THESE

So why intense, dry heat? Caramelization and flavor concentration. Caramelization is a process whereby sugars and starch in food (yes, chard has sugars in it) is broken down by heat into hundreds of different kind of fragments. Those fragments all have different flavors, flavors which we think of as “yummy” and also that add complexity and depth to the flavor profile. Dry heat also promotes concentration of flavors. Concentration of flavors simply happens when you reduce the amount of water in something. Have you heard of “reducing” a sauce? That is simply boiling away some of the water, leaving behind flavor. So roasting our chard in dry heat drives off moisture, and intensifying flavors. Boiling on the other hand doesn’t get hot enough for caramelization, and actually adds moisture, diluting flavor.

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