015 Worm Composting and Skunks

Our worm bin.

Our worm bin.

On the fifteenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss how our cleaning project is going, worm composting, the ongoing skunk menace in our garden and we review two books. Apologies for some clipping in the audio and the cat interruptions.

Worms
During the worm composting segment we cover:

Skunks

What are we reading

Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

Bread: A Global History By William Rubel.

Kelly mentions Werner Herzog’s Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

2,000 Year Old Bread

A Root Simple reader sent me a link to this video from the British Museum showing a chef recreating a 2,000 thousand year old loaf of bread found in one of the ovens of Pompeii.

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Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Bread A Global History by William Rubel. Rubel puts forth a couple of theories about the history of bread. One, that there’s nothing new about white bread. The elites have been eating white bread for a long time. Ironically, healthier whole wheat breads tended to go to poor folks. Also he says that the Pompeian bread would most likely, as this chef proves, look and taste a lot like contemporary “artisinal” sourdoughs. In other words, the bread you buy at a fancy bakery like Tartine in San Francisco hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years.

The British Museum has helpfully provided a recipe should you want to make your own version of this bread.

Virtuosic Bread Shaping

This video proves that to learn a skill one must repeat it 10,000 times. That was the advice of a chef friend when I asked her how she learned to shape pizzas.

The bread being shaped here is called Markook, In Arabic, مرقوق، شراك. It’s a flatbread found throughout the Middle East (an Armenian friend who grew up in Lebanon told us about it). A casual Youtube search will reveal many different Markook shaping techniques. Here’s a pillow free version making the rounds on Facebook:

Back to learning a difficult skill. In the case of shaping dough it’s often best to practice with a sacrificial lump of flour and water that you’re not going to eat. It takes the pressure off and you’re free to try and try again. This applies, of course, to many other skills. Once you get the basic motion down, than it’s time to put some pressure on and try it for real.

Get Baking and Share the Loaves

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San Francisco baker Josey Baker, who is the best example of nominative determinism I know of, was in Los Angeles this week to share his enthusiasm for whole grain sourdough bread.

Enthusiasm is an understatement. Baker always has a big smile on his face and spent hours, at a bake-off and book signing at LA’s new mill Grist & Toll, answering questions and sharing his knowledge. Baker’s love for bread making is infectious. Catch that infection and you’ll go down a very deep and geeky vortex of hydration ratios and cold proofing sessions.

At a panel discussion on Monday, moderated by KCRW’s Evan Kleiman, Baker announced that he’s working on an Einkorn baguette, the bread geek equivalent of proposing a new route up K2 sans oxygen. At both events he dropped a lot of advice for home bakers that I thought I’d share:

  • The refrigerator is your friend. Do a long proof in the refrigerator. This deepens flavor, allows flexibility in your baking schedule and can help a hearth loaf hold its shape in the oven.
  • Are you beginner? Make your bread in a loaf pan. It’s a lot more forgiving than trying to shape a boule.
  • Use a tip sensitive thermometer to determine if your rye bread is done. Baker didn’t discuss the exact temp, but I shoot for 210°F. For wheat loaves let color be your guide–you want just short of burnt. Baker said that most beginning bakers don’t bake long enough.
  • To keep dough from sticking to your countertop use water instead of flour. Wet your hands too. This way you also won’t be incorporating more flour into your dough.
  • Whole wheat soaks up a lot of water. Your hydration ratio could hit 100% or more. Wet dough like this can be tough to handle which is why Baker’s recipes in the book are around 80%. As you get more experienced you can start working with more water in the dough.
  • Baker said that he often gives a loaf of whole wheat sourdough to people who come in his bakery and say that they can’t eat bread. He says they come back and say, “Holy s***, I can eat this bread!”

To pick up the basics of home baking I can’t say enough good things about Baker’s book, Josey Baker Bread. Baker’s previous job was in science education which makes him the perfect person to write a baking cookbook. The book is laid out to teach you all that you need to know about bread sequentially. You go from a simple yeasted bread up almost to the Einkorn baguette level.

As Josey Baker says, get baking and share the loaves!

008 Grind Your Own Flour With Erin Alderson

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On the eighth episode of the Root Simple Podcast we speak with Erin Alderson about milling your own flours at home. Erin is the author of The Homemade Flour Cookbook and blogs at naturallyella.com.

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In our conversation Erin mentions that she uses WonderMill Grain Mill.

We also discussed where to get unique grains.  Erin mentions a few sources in her book:

Bob’s Red Mill
Arrowhead Mills
Nuts Online
Jovial Foods (source for Einkorn)
Lundberg Family Farms

I’ll add that if you’re in the Los Angeles area you can buy flour and grain at Grist & Toll in Pasadena.

After my conversation with Erin I briefly mention my purchase of a flour mill, the KoMo Classic Mill.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here

An Easy and Healthy 100% Whole Rye Bread Recipe

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I’m a huge fan of making your own rye bread. Why? The rye bread you get at the market ain’t rye bread. It might have a bit of rye in it but it’s also got a lot of other stuff: often white flour, caramel coloring, dough conditioners and preservatives.

This recipe that I often teach as a class, has a lot going for it:

  • It’s 100% whole rye. Whole grains, as most of you know, are much better for you than white flour. Nothing has been removed and no strange vitamins added.
  • The use of a natural starter (sometimes called a sourdough starter or levain) predigests substances in the flour that may not be good for us. You can thank lactic acid producing bacteria that work symbiotically with natural yeast for this. Don’t have a starter? Here’s how to make one.
  • That lactic acid also produces a flavorful tang as well as bread that lasts a long time on the counter (acid is a preservative).

This recipe is also super easy. There’s no tedious shaping or worrying about a loaf deflating in the oven. Breads made with 100% rye don’t hold their shape–rye is low in gluten (though, it’s important to note, not gluten free) and that gluten doesn’t behave like the gluten in wheat–you bake it in a loaf pan which makes it easy as cake, so to speak.

100% Whole Rye Bread
Based on a recipe by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou from How to Make Bread
Ingredients Day One
Before going to bed mix:
150 grams/1 1/4 cups dark rye/pumpernickel flour
150 grams/scant 1/2 cup rye sourdough starter
200 grams/3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold water
Let sit overnight at room temperature.
Ingredients Day Two
In the morning when you wake up mix in the dough from the previous night with:
200 grams/1 1/3 cups dark rye/pumpernickel flour
1 teaspoon salt
150 grams/2/3 cup hot water
1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
Directions
1. In a large bowl mix the 200 grams cold water with the sourdough starter. Add 150 grams of flour. Allow this mixture to ferment overnight.
2. In the morning add the rest of the ingredients.
3. Spoon into a well oiled and floured standard loaf pan. Smooth the top of the dough with a wet spatula. Flour the top of the loaf and cover with a kitchen towel.
4. Allow to ferment for 2 to 3 more hours. The dough will rise a little but not much.
5. Pre-heat your oven to 425º F.
6. Cover your loaf pan with aluminum foil. Put the bread in the oven.
7. After 15 minutes remove the aluminum foil
7. Bake your loaf, uncovered, for at least another 30 minutes, until brown or until the internal temperature is 210º F. Your oven may vary greatly. The best way to check is by internal temperature. Second best is the color of the loaf.
8. Remove bread from the loaf pan and let cool on a wire rack.
9. Let this loaf sit before you break into it! It will taste better the next day if you’re the patient type. At the very least don’t’ slice into it for a few hours.

A note on scheduling

Since there’s no kneading, this loaf goes together quickly. Instead of starting the loaf in the evening, you could start it in the morning and finish it in the evening after work. The fermentation times are flexible since you don’t have to worry about the dough keeping it’s shape. If at anytime something prevents you from completing a step just put your dough in the refrigerator (which is kind of like hitting the pause button).
Troubleshooting
The longer the bread sits the more sour it will get (note that it could get too sour if you really extend the fermentation). Too short a fermentation will lead to an overly dense loaf. That said, you’ve got considerable flexibility. A few hours in either direction won’t make much of a difference. This is one loaf I’ve never managed to screw up.
If you try this loaf please let me know how it works out. Also let me know if you try any variations such as adding nuts and sprouted grains.

Sourdough Rye Bread Class at the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano

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Ditch the preservatives and plastic wrap. Join us and learn how to make homemade, all-natural bread from scratch.

Learn to bake the healthiest bread on the planet: a 100% whole grain sourdough rye. In this class you’ll learn how to start and maintain a sourdough starter and how to work with whole grains. We’ll reveal the secrets of whole grain baking, plus you’ll learn how you can grind your own grains.

In the end, you’ll take home a loaf to bake in your oven. You can’t buy this kind of bread so you better learn how to bake it yourself!

By baking bread at home, you’re in charge of what goes into every loaf and can choose to incorporate local and organic ingredients. Other benefits of baking at home include using less energy (used in harvesting, processing, and shipping store-bought bread), using less plastic packaging, and spending less money.

Become a baker and join us for the rye class on Sunday, June 22, 1-3p.

We’ll provide ingredients, and everyone will go home with a jar of starter ready to make bread.

Instructor: Erik Knutzen

For more information or to sign up head over to the Ecology Center.

Sourdough Bread Class at the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano

sourdoughloaf

Ditch the preservatives and plastic wrap. Join us and learn how to make homemade, all-natural bread from scratch.

Learn to bake bread the natural way, with a sourdough starter. Sourdough cultures make breads with bolder flavors, a longer shelf life and deliver the health benefits of living, fermented foods. In this hands-on workshop we’ll make a simple loaf using a version of the miraculous and easy Chad Robertson Tartine recipe.

By baking bread at home, you’re in charge of what goes into every loaf and can choose to incorporate local and organic ingredients. Other benefits of baking at home include using less energy (used in harvesting, processing, and shipping store-bought bread), using less plastic packaging, and spending less money.

Become a baker and join us for a weekend of heart-healthy, bread baking workshops: Saturday, June 21, 1-3 to make Sourdough and/or Sunday, June 22, 1-3p to make Sourdough rye!

Topics discussed will include:

  • How to make your own sourdough starter (also known as a levain)
  • Types of flour
  • How to simulate a commercial bread oven at home
  • Hydration ratios
  • Kitchen tools for bread baking
  • Shaping a boule
  • Working with whole grains
  • Troubleshooting

We’ll provide ingredients, and everyone will go home with a jar of starter ready to make bread.

Instructor: Erik Knutzen

For more information and to sign up head over to the Ecology Center.

What Epuipment Do You Need to Bake Bread?

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We get a fair amount of spam comments on this blog. Exterminators, search engine optimization purveyors and even, this morning someone promoting gossip news about Beyoncé and Jay-Z (a bit off topic for an appropriate technology blog, perhaps?).

One spam comment that came in last week fascinated me. The website had an extensive collection of bread baking how-to videos. Within a few minutes, on the first video I watched, the instructor was already selling a ton of equipment I’ve never heard of: strange $800 mixers, bread machines, dough conditioners etc. Even with the aid of all those gadgets and industrial ingredients, the instructor went on to describe a method of bread baking that involves a whole lot of unnecessary work to produce loaves that looked to me like squishy supermarket bread.

The ingredients you need to make bread are elemental in their simplicity: water, flour and salt and you can make a perfectly good loaf of bread with no equipment at all. But there are a few inexpensive pieces of equipment I like to use:

1. A digital Scale

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Measuring flour and water by volume is so inaccurate that both of the professional bakers I took classes with last year refuse to give cup equivalents in their recipes. Using a digital scale solved 90% of my bread baking problems. The scale pictured above is not the scale that I own, unfortunately. The one I have works just fine, but the OXO Good Grips Scale has a really great feature: a pull out display. This makes it easier to read the scale when you’ve got a big bowl on top of it. It’s inexpensive, and I’ve seen it for sale at my local Whole Foods. It’s also the scale we use when I teach classes at the Institute of Domestic Technology.

2. A proofing basket

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If you want to make a boule, you need a proofing basket. The one on the right is the economy option: a nine inch bowl from the 99¢ store with a piece of canvas or linen from a fabric store. The one on the left is a 8-inch Round Banneton Basket on Amazon. It works just as well as the much more expensive German bannetons I picked up at a restaurant supply store.

3. A loaf tin

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On Josey Baker’s recommendation I’ve been using a loaf pan a lot lately. It’s a lot less trouble and a lot more forgiving than trying to shape a boule. Plus you get a good sandwich loaf. The loaf pan I’ve been using is a enamelware hand-me-down that measures 8 1/2 inches by 4 1/2 inches.  Baker recommends one made by Chicago Metallic. I don’t like Teflon and you don’t need a non-stick pan. Use some oil and flour and your loaf shouldn’t stick.

4. A Dutch oven or combo cooker

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Mark Bittman popularized the practice of baking boules in a Dutch oven. The technique simulates the humid environment of a commercial bread oven. It works great. For years I used a regular Dutch oven. Just recently, however, I purchased a Lodge Combo cooker, essentially a Dutch oven with a skillet instead of a lid. To bake bread in it you use it upside down. It’s easier to slide a loaf of bread into the pan than it is to plop a loaf down into a Dutch oven.

These few items, plus a plastic container large enough to ferment your dough in, are all you need. If you get fanatical about baking like I have you may want to consider a mill, but that will have to be the subject of a longer post. That said, I could make a decent, rustic looking loaf with absolutely no equipment at all (except, maybe, the scale). Bread is the most elemental of foods. It can be made with just our two hands.

Worth Doing From Scratch: Corn Tortillas

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We do a lot of experimentation here at Root Simple Labs. Some things work out and others fail miserably. I thought I’d periodically look at the projects that have worked in the long term, specifically from scratch. Call this the first blog post in a sporadic series about stuff that’s easy and economical.

Now you should be suspicious of any tortilla making advice dispensed by a gabacho. Let’s just say it’s easy and the results are way better than those dry tortillas you buy at the store. Some things I’ve learned:

  • I have a cast iron tortilla press that works great but my Mexicano friends in the know suggested a wooden press.
  • Making masa from scratch is a huge amount of work and I’ve done just fine with supermarket masa harina.
  • As I like to measure dry ingredients by weight I’ve figured out that for enough tortillas for four people you need to mix 250 grams of flour with 300 grams of water.
  • Cook as many tortillas at once as you can. I can do three at a time on our stove. Cooking one at a time takes forever.

Keep a bag of masa harina around and you’ll be ready for any tortilla emergency. In just a few minutes you’ll have healthy, tasty tacos and save money.