How to Make Clear Ice

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Life is way too short to endure substandard cocktails. While reasonable people can bemoan the pretentiousness of the present hipster, bearded, chef-driven, artisinal, epoch we find ourselves in at the moment, let me just say I don’t miss what passed for cocktails in my youth. Here’s how mixology math used to work in the dark ages: Maguerita=tequila+sweet and sour mix.  Old fashion=whisky+sweet and sour mix. Mai Tai=rum+sweet and sour mix.

What the cocktail sages of Brooklyn and Silver Lake have taught us is that ingredients matter. Take, for instance, the ice.

What if you could make ice as glorious as a pristine iceberg spotted on a bright and sunny arctic summer day? Isn’t a cocktail as much an experience for the eyes as well as the tongue? Thankfully it’s easy to make clear ice free of cloudy impurities. Here’s how you do it:

1. Take a small cooler and fill it almost to the top with water and stick the cooler in the freezer. Leave the top of the cooler off. The insulation in the cooler will cause the water to freeze from the top down. The minerals and impurities in the water that cause cloudy ice will settle to the bottom of the cooler. Later, you will harvest the pristine, clear ice off the top. I filled my cooler with tap water that I filtered with a counter top water filter. A side note on water filters–our tap water tastes better when filtered–depending on where you live you may not need to filter it.

2. Around 24 hours later take the cooler out of the freezer, run some water over the ice (to help release the ice) and turn the cooler upside down. You should have around two inches of ice on the top of the cooler and a lot of unfrozen water on the bottom which will pour out all over your counter and floor (watch out for this!). The water is a good thing. You don’t want to freeze the whole block as you will have to separate the clear ice from the cloudy ice.

3. If all goes as planned you’ll be left with a block of clear ice. To cut the ice into cubes, score the ice with a bread knife and give the top of the knife a tap with a rubber mallet. I like to make large cubes for mixing old fashions but you can cut the ice into any size you like. Put the cut cubes in a bag in the freezer.

4. Invite your friends over for some high-end cocktails.

One tip: try not to jostle the cooler in the freezer. If you do you might end up with some irregularities that will make it more difficult to cut the ice block into neat cubes.

There’s a thin margin between the gutter and the stars when it comes to cocktails and an extra step such as simple as chilling the glass or flaming the orange twist can make a huge difference. Something as simple as clear ice can elevate a drink from mediocrity into cocktail glory.

For more details, watch the Cocktail Chemist explain how to make clear ice in both blocks, rectangles and spheres:

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099 The Amazing Sourdough Breads of Guy Frenkel

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Listen to “099 The Amazing Sourdough Breads of Guy Frenkel” on Spreaker.

Guy Frenkel is one of the most talented bakers I’ve met. If you’ve seen his whole grain, sourdough breads in Instagram (@Ceorbread) and Facebook you’ll know why I had to interview him. During the podcast we talk about his unique baking techniques such as yeast water, stencils and colored doughs. Even if you’re not a baker you’ll be inspired by Guy’s enthusiasm, persistence and creativity. Here are the links Guy mentions:

Guy’s social media: @Ceorbread in Instgram, Ceor Bread Facebook, Guy Frenkel in Facebook.

If you’d like 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. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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Jas. Townsend’s 18th Century Cooking

The recovery journey for open heart surgery involves three things: pain killers, a recliner and a flat screen television. Thanks to our new TV’s ability to access the internet, we’ve fallen into a deep and unlikely YouTube hole: Jas. Townsend and Son’s 18th century cooking videos.

Jas. Townsend and Son is the most unlikely business I can imagine. They manufacture and sell 18th century clothing, cookware, camp equipment and housewares though a brick and mortar shop in Pierceton, Indiana. Founder James John Townsend is one of the most prolific and accomplished YouTubers I’ve encountered. His cooking videos feature professional lighting and sound (rare in the YouTube universe) and look like something PBS would (should?) make. And Townsend has produced over 500 videos giving Kelly and I a chance to spend many evenings catching up on the finer points of pemmican, hardtack and pickled smelt.

Neither of us are historical reenactors, though Kelly sometimes accuses me of trying to relive the 1990s. But you need not be into historical reenactment to appreciate Townsend’s well researched videos. You can tell he’s having a good time making them too.

Kelly wanted me to highlight the portable soup video I embedded above. And note that it’s just one of four videos on portable soup! There’s also a fascinating series on 18th century breads.  If Townsend’s video output isn’t enough for you he’s got a website containing the recipes and videos called Savoring the Past. Does Townsend sleep? I’m glad he doesn’t because we’ve both been enjoying his creative output.

And, lastly, a note on Kelly. She thanks you all for your kind comments, thoughts and prayers. Getting over a surgery like this is no picnic. It’s more akin to eating hardtack and suet by the side of a meager fire (thank you Townsend and Son for the metaphor). It will be awhile before Kelly can blog again but she wants me to tell you how much she appreciates your support.

084 How to Make Your Own Cheese with David Asher

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Want to learn how to make delicious cheeses in your own kitchen? It’s easier than you think. Our guest this week is radical natural cheesemaker David Asher, author of The Art of Natural Cheesemaking: Using Traditional, Non-Industrial Methods and Raw Ingredients to Make the World’s Best Cheeses.

During the podcast we discuss:

  • The difference between natural cheesmaking and the way most cheese is made in North America.
  • Using a kefir culture to make cheese.
  • The importance of quality milk.
  • What if I can’t get raw milk?
  • Easy cheeses.
  • The ins and out of rennet and how to make your own.
  • WalcoRen rennet.
  • Using cardoon flowers instead of rennet.
  • Tools you need for cheesemaking.
  • Hacking a fridge to make your own cheese cave.
  • Using leftover whey for fertilizer and cooking.
  • Making chèvre.
  • How to store cheese.
  • The cheese scene in Canada and the legality of raw milk.
  • Raw milk cheeses in Quebec.

To find out about David’s classes visit his website The Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking.

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. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Josey Baker on Bread: Whole, Wild, Wet, Slow and Bold

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You can make bread or babies with Josey Baker’s advice. Earlier this month, the bread cult I co-founded, the Los Angeles Bread Bakers, hosted a class by author and enthusiastic bread nerd Josey Baker. Baker and his mentor Dave Miller (yes, they do have oddly appropriate surnames) have developed a style of baking that Josey has turned into set of five principles, a kind of Kama Sutra of bread: whole, wild, wet, slow and bold. Let’s get funky and break that down.

Whole
To make white flour, all the good stuff in wheat is sifted out, leaving it lifeless. Even “whole wheat” breads are made with a significant proportion of white flour. It’s been this way now for a long time. White flour, once the exclusive domain of the elite became, in the 20th century, the ubiquitous loaf of Wonder Bread many of us grew up with.

And what about that whole grain flour at the supermarket? Imagine if the only wine available in stores was wine-in-a-box, and it came in two flavors, “white” and “red.” This would be a sad world. Well, our whole grain flour choices are actually worse: there’s only one kind sold in supermarkets. Despite appearances, though, there’s actually a whole wide world of biodiversity and flavor to be found in wheat, varieties such as Kamut, Sonora, Charcoal, Triple IV, Einkorn and Red Fife, to name just a few. All are radically different in terms of color, texture and flavor. It really is analogous to wine varietals. Both Baker and Miller take advantage of grain diversity by working with farmers, milling their own flour and creating 100% whole-wheat loaves that highlight the flavor differences between wheat varieties. We’re very lucky in Los Angeles to have a retail mill, Grist & Toll, that sells many different varieties of fresh ground flour and whole grain. But, for those of you not in SoCal, check the interwebs for local millers or mail-order sources for flour and whole grains.

Wild
The wild refers to wild yeast, as in sourdough or “levain” in French. For me the best thing about working with wild yeast is that the bread has a more interesting, pronounced flavor. Another big advantage is that, due to the lactic acid producing bacteria in wild bread cultures, your bread will last a lot longer–up to a week in my experience. Lastly, though it hasn’t yet been proven, there may be some health advantages to wild starters. The lactic acid bacterias might make bread more digestible.

Wet
Both Baker and Miller mix up doughs that are surprisingly wet. Whole grain soaks up a lot of water to begin with, but both Baker and Miller push that wetness to very high hydration levels: sometimes in the neighborhood of 120% hydration if you’re keeping score. (N.B. Hydration level refers to the ratio of water to flour by weight: 100 grams of flour mixed with 100 grams of water = 100% hydration)  A big advantage of wet dough is that you don’t need to knead it. The gluten strands align on their own in the wet dough matrix. You still have to do some stretching and folding to help the gluten alignment process along, but you don’t have anything that resembles traditional kneading. Very wet doughs have the disadvantage of being difficult to turn into hearth loaves. Dave Miller overcomes this by his almost supernatural ability to shape dough. It’s almost like he can just stare at a pile of what looks like pancake batter and miraculously turn it into neat little boules. Baker had a great tip for those of us not as adept at forming loaves out of wet dough: just bake your bread in a loaf pan. Problem solved! I’ve been doing a lot lately.

Slow
The refrigerator is your friend. Doing some part of the fermentation in the fridge lengthens the fermentation time and helps develop more pronounced flavors. It also allows greater flexibility in your baking schedule. Got to go to work? Pick up the kids? No problem. Put that dough in the fridge. Baker likes to do the bulk fermentation (e.g. the first fermentation) at room temperature, shape the loaves, and then proof them in the fridge. They can then come straight out of the fridge and into the oven. Miller, due to some quirks in his schedule, likes to do the latter part of the bulk fermentation in the fridge, shape the loaves and then proof them at room temperature. One advantage with Miller’s approach is that cold dough is easier to shape. Personally, for reasons I can’t quite explain, I’ve had more luck with bulk fermentation at room temperature and proofing in the fridge.

Bold
One of the biggest mistakes newbie bakers make is puling their loaves out of the oven before the bread is really, truly done.  Both Miller and Baker leave their loaves in the oven until they are almost burnt. The reasons are multiple. Take the loaf out too soon and, particularly with whole grain breads, the crust will be too soft. Another reason is that Miller contends that the sort of whole grain breads you buy at the supermarket are under-baked. Poke the center of those commercial breads and the texture is often like play dough. Plus, I’d say, those boldly baked loaves are pretty.

Josey Baker’s formula is simple: find an interesting grain, ferment it with a sourdough starter with a lot of water, use the refrigerator to your advantage and bake it to the edge of being burnt. The details of this process will be the subject of future posts.