Poor Man’s Paninni Press

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Go ahead, spend your hard earned dollars on an electric paninni press, yet another one of those counter space hogging single-use appliances. But let me tell you what the hip kids do: wrap a brick in aluminum foil, put your sandwich in the pan and plop that brick on top. Turn the sandwich once, and you’ve got paninni.

This kitchen hack will keep you out of trouble with the spouses, partners and housemates who glare at yet more kitchen gadgets. And you’ll still be able to enjoy hot and delicious, horizontally-coerced Italian sandwiches.

lodge cast iron paninni pressBut the hipper kids might have a Lodge cast iron paninni press. For what the aluminum wrapped brick lacks is the ability to make those special paninni grooves across the surface of the bread. Plus you can preheat the Lodge press and avoid having to flip your sandwich. But, you might still face rage from housemates intent on radical decluttering.

I have no personal experience with the Lodge paninni press. Do any of you? Is this something I should order, in a late night Amazon binge, the next time Kelly is visiting relatives?

FlicFloc Flak

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My review of the KoMo FlicFloc grain flaker was featured on Cool Tools and, in the comments, got some push back on the price. At $169 USD (from Pleasant Hill Grain or The King’s Roost), it’s a fair objection.

A number of commenters pointed out that you can buy grain crackers such as the one on the right for around $20 to $30 USD. I had one of these crackers for years (it’s headed to the thrift store on account of our recent decluttering). I’ve never liked it. It’s poorly made. The hopper never fit onto the rest of the unit. It must be disassembled to clean.

Most importantly, here’s the difference when flaking oats between my inexpensive grain cracker and the FlicFloc:

flicflocflack

On the left are some oats run through the cracker versus oats, on the right, run through the FlicFloc. A cheap cracker is fine for cracking corn for chicken feed or making a course grind of rye for a Scandinavian style bread, but it does not make either flour or truly flaked grains. The FlicFloc flakes oats and cracks wheat and rye and it’s easy to clean.

I’ve never regretted paying more for a tool that will last a lifetime. I have regretted, many times, buying cheap tools. The FlicFloc broke my Grape Nuts addiction. It will pay for itself.

032 Grist and Toll, an urban flour mill

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In episode 32 of the Root Simple Podcast I talk with Nan Kohler, owner and miller at Grist & Toll, a mill in Pasadena, California–and the first mill to operate in the L.A. area in the last one hundred years. We discuss varieties of wheat, the health benefits of whole grains, how to work with them and why flavor is important. Kelly is not on this episode but will return to the podcast next week.

Links
Ruth Reichl visits baker Richard Bertinet in England

Joaquin Oro wheat

White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf

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.

2014, a Year in Comments: Plant Thievery, Loquats, Breakfast Cerial and the Apocalypse

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Scene of the crime. Our missing cactus.

One of the reasons I prefer blogging to writing books is feedback in the form of comments. The subject matter we write about attracts thoughtful and compassionate people interested in making the world a better place. And I appreciate discussion and constructive criticism (We’re thankful too, that no trolls live under the Root Simple bridge). As an only child prone to ex cathedra statements, it’s good to have accountability in the form of reader feedback. With this in mind, I thought I’d review the most commented upon posts in 2015.

One curious phenomenon is that the number of comments a particular blog post gets is often inversely proportional to the amount of time it took to write. Kelly and I will sometimes spend hours agonizing over a blog post that gets just a few comments. Other times, a post dashed off in ten minutes will touch off a spirited discussion. This is not to say that a post that gets comments is any better or more popular than one that does not. Some posts, I suppose, are just more worthy of commenting. And we’re aware that many people read and never comment.

Here’s the five most commented upon Root Simple posts of 2015:

1. Plant Thievery. Back in April three barrel cacti disappeared from our front yard. It was a thorny, premeditated crime that prompted many readers to share their loss of plants. Later in the year I heard about two women who stole a lawn in England. And in local plant thievery news, a Los Angeles bakery lost most of its outdoor patio plants and the Episcopal Cathedral had an entire orange tree disappear. I like to think of these crimes from the plant’s perspective. Assuming they survive, the plant probably enjoys being able to travel and spread genetic material. Many plants, after all, evolve ingenious ways of, for instance, getting birds to eat seeds and poop them out over the landscape. Appealing to our lesser instincts could be yet another devious genetic strategy on the part of team plant.

2. Loquat Season is Here. Second to ways to avoid traffic, one of the great questions of life in Los Angeles is what to do with all those damn loquats. As the loquat is not frost tolerant, this is not a question for folks in the antipodal extremes.  And there’s great variation in loquat quality. Some taste, well, almost as good as an apricot (I know this sounds like faint praise). Others are just a thin, watery pulp surrounding huge, inedible seeds. I suspect part of Kelly’s motivation for writing this post was her skepticism of my loquat fruit leather recipe. I considered it the equivalent of discovering the loquat northwest passage. Despite Kelly’s brave stab at understanding the loquat, I don’t think we have a definitive answer on the subject. Perhaps we need to construct a kind of loquat Hadron Collider to solve this problem. Hey, that sounds like our first Kickstarter!

3. A Year After the Age of Limits: 5 Responses to the End Times. While Kelly may not have nailed the lid on the loquat coffin, she did write an eloquent essay on the pitfalls of apocalyptic thinking that was prompted by our attendance to the 2013 Age of Limits Conference. It took us and our friend John, who went with us, an entire year to process this disturbing weekend. Kelly and I recorded a long interview for our podcast with John about his experience that we never used. It’s well past time for me to revisit that recording. Thanks to KMO’s always excellent C-Realm Podcast, I heard that this year’s conference was different, perhaps due to the absence of the near term extinction crowd.

4. The Hugelkultur Question. Popularized by Sepp Holzer and many other permaculturalists, this practice of mounding logs in a hill of organic matter has been making the rounds of the avant-horticulture scene for the past few years. Like many 21st century radical home ec practices, evaluating Hugelkultur takes us to the messy collision point of systems theory and reductionism. This is not to even get into the problem of climate, which I pondered in another much commented upon post, Hugelkultur in Dry Climates. One thing to come out of researching the issue was discovering the Garden Professor’s Facebook page, wherein brainy horticulture types engage in a dialog on newfangled ideas. Use the search function on that page to find the subject you’re interested in. Who would have guessed that Facebook is useful for more than sharing cat photos and speculating about caftans?

5. Non-GMO Versions of Grape Nuts and Cheerios Less Nutritious Than GMO Versions. This may seem to be a post about the GMO debate (I’m not a fan of GMOs in most cases), but it’s really a stealthy realization that my Grape Nuts habit needed to end. Thankfully I discovered the Higgs bosen of breakfast cereals thanks to the KoMo FlicFloc. Which, to cram way too many physics metaphors in one blog post, really is the Hadron Collider of kitchen gadgets.

What controversial and comment worthy subjects would you like us to take up in 2015?

The KoMo FlicFloc

FlicFloc
Kelly hates it when I write a post packed with hyperbole. But I really feel today like I’ve discovered a sort of breakfast unified field theory. And it’s all thanks to an impulse purchase at an awesome new homesteading supply shop in our neighborhood, The King’s Roost. My credit card discharged from my pocket like ectoplasm at a 19th century seance when I spotted the KoMo FlicFloc.

The FlicFloc manually flakes oats, wheat, rye, barley, millet, spelt, rice, sesame, flax seed, poppy and spices. The breakfast possibility it opened to me? Fresh muesli is thy name. Finally a filling and healthy alternative to my Grape Nuts addiction.

The FlicFloc is elegant and simple. There’s not much to say about it. You put grain in the top, turn the handle and deliciousness discharges into a glass, thoughtfully provided. I’ve owned a KoMo grain mill for a year now and it’s been a life changer in the kitchen. I really like having access to freshly milled whole grains when I need them. It eliminates waste as ground grains spoil. And whole grain, including oats, get bitter if they sit around too long.

And cancel the Neflix–here’s KoMo’s Austrian/German design team demonstrating their products. All this video needs is Werner Herzog to narrate the English language version. Note the solar powered manufacturing facility and German breakfast porn. Also note the mouthwatering array of whole grain baked goods.

Who Killed the Non-Electric Toaster?

pyramid non-electric toaster
I don’t regret my unsuccessful attempt this Sunday to fix our broken toaster. It made me remember designer Thomas Thwaites’ attempt to build a toaster from scratch and how well that project showed the complex, interconnecting supply chain involved in manufacturing even the simplest electronic device.

The failure of our toaster was caused by a break in the heating wire. Following these instructions, I attempted to mend the break, but it was in an awkward location and, like most objects these days, the toaster was not built to be fixed.

Disassembling the toaster laid bare the flaws in the design of all toasters. The heating wire (called nichrome wire–short for nickel-chromium) is fragile and extremely vulnerable to an errant bread crust.

I vowed to find an alternative and remembered seeing non-electric toasters that people used to use back in the 1920s when our house was built. These types of toasters have not died out entirely. Most non-electric toaster designs look like the one above. Some Googling  also led us to an innovative looking non-electric toaster called the DeltaToast.

Counter-intuitively, all of these simple stove top toasters coast about twice as much as electric toaster, at least in the US. This leads me to my question for you, our dear readers. Have you used a non-electric toaster? How do they compare to electric toasters?

Note from Kelly:

I noticed that the stove-top or pyramid toaster seems to live on in Australia and New Zealand, judging by the number of businesses I found selling them there. The toasters were also much more reasonably priced than they are here– but shipping to the US was crazy expensive, scudding that possibility entirely. So I’m particularly interested in responses from readers in these countries. Who is buying and using them?

Also, there are many antique stove-top toasters available on Etsy for about ten to twelve bucks, but they’re all rusty and worse for wear.

Pizza Dough in a Pan Recipe

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Renaissance flatbread (this skillet method dates back!). Via pizzanapoletanismo.com.

I’m spending the month of December developing some classes for the Meetup group I co-founded, the Los Angeles Bread Bakers. I’m going to put the recipes on the blog starting with this pizza dough, which is based on Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread recipe. If you try this recipe, please send me some feedback.

A note on flours
My favorite flour for pizza is the Italian 00. This will give you a Neapolitan style thin and crispy crust. If you want a Chicago style pizza with a bread-like texture, go with a high gluten bread flour. You can add a small amount of whole wheat flour but I would not exceed 10%. Pizza is not a health food. It’s a special occasion food and I think it tastes better with white flour.

A note on sourdough starter

This recipe requires sourdough starter. If you’d like to make one, check out our how-to video.

Tools
Digital scale (always use a scale!)
11-inch cast iron skillet or other oven proof skillet
Thermometer

Pizza Dough Recipe

Makes four small pizzas

  • 100 grams sourdough starter
  • 500 grams Double 00 or high gluten bread flour
  • 375 grams 80° F water
  • 10 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) sea salt

1. In lidded plastic container, stir the starter into the 80 degree water until dissolved. Mix all the ingredients with your hands or a dough scraper until water and flour are incorporated. There is no need to knead, just combine the water and flour. Put the lid on the container.

2. Bulk fermentation: 4 to 5 hours. Let the dough sit in your covered container at room temperature. Each hour, stretch and fold the dough pulling the right edge to meet the left and then pulling the left side to meet the right. You can do this stretch and fold without removing the dough from your container.

3. At this point you have a choice. You can divide the dough into 220 gram sections, shape them into balls and then use them to make pizza in another hour or two. I prefer to shape the dough into balls and put them in the the refrigerator, in a sealed container, and use it the next day or even the day after that. A longer, slower fermentation will give you a nice sour taste. Dough can come straight out of the fridge and be shaped into pizzas. You do not need to let it come up to room temperature.

4. Stretching your dough: you can do this by hand, but I prefer to cheat. If you want to do it by hand Peter Reinhart has video here. It’s heresy to admit this, but I use a rolling pin. Stretching by hand is better but using a rolling pin is easier. Your choice.

5. Preheat a frying pan on high heat. Add a teaspoon of oil to your pan. Stretch your dough and put the dough in the frying pan. You have a generous three minutes to add your toppings while the bottom of the crust cooks in the pan. A note on toppings: do not use too much sauce and toppings! Around two tablespoons of sauce will be enough. Too much sauce results in soggy crusts! Start by brushing on some olive oil and then add your toppings. Finish with some salt and/or pepper.

6. After three minutes put the pizza under the broiler until done, probably an additional three minutes. Watch for burning. Remove and place on a rack for a minute or so to cool, then slice and enjoy.

Suggested toppings:

  • Classic Margarita: tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil.
  • Crème fraîche and caramelized onions
  • Feta, figs (dried or fresh), olive oil
  • Pistachio pesto: pistachios, garlic, Manchego cheese, ground in a food processor
  • Eggs: crack two eggs and top with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, salt and pepper.

How to Make Great Pizza in a Home Oven

Breakfast pizza with eggs and zaatar.

Breakfast pizza with eggs and za’atar.

Our cob oven makes great pizzas. Why? High temperatures. You just can’t make good pizza in a home oven.

Or so I used to think. This weekend I invited some friends over for an outdoor pizza party but much needed rain put a wrinkle in those plans. I remembered that Josey Baker had some instructions in his book on how to make pizza in a home oven, so I decided to give it a try. I’m happy to report that it works so well that I’m beginning to doubt why I should bother to spend three hours tending a fire to prep the outdoor oven.

Baker attributes this home oven technique to San Francisco street pizza maverick The PizzaHacker. It’s simple. Here’s what you do. Heat an oven safe skillet (we use cast iron) over high heat on a burner. Stretch out your dough, put a little oil in the skillet and put the dough in the skillet. Top your pizza while it cooks in the skillet for around three minutes. Then, stick it under the broiler for three more minutes. That’s it. It works much better than trying to bake pizza on a pizza stone.

Is pizza out of a wood fired oven better? Perhaps, but not by much.

I’ll share my pizza dough recipe in a future post.

Foodcrafting 101

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I’ve been teaching bread classes for years now at the Institute of Domestic Technology. It’s about time I made note of this. The class I teach is part of a full day of classes that, in addition to bread, will show you how to make jam, cheese and ricotta. All this fun takes place in the haunted Doheny Mansion! There’s a class coming up in January. To sign up head over here. Gift certificates are available.

Sunday, January 4th, 10am ~ 4pm
Historic Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills

A 1-Day Workshop with 4 class sessions & lunch.

$195 {includes lunch, beverages, ingredients and supplies}

Unleash your inner foodcrafter. This full-day, hands-on workshop will prepare you to start making your own artisanal bread, jam, mustards and ricotta from scratch. Your d.i.y ambassadors/instructors will be some of the city’s finest food crafters.

The workshop includes four, 1-hour foodcrafting sessions, catered lunch and beverages. Each participant will be sent home with their very own bread, a take-home containers of cheese, bread dough, a jar of fruit preserves and a container of mustard. You’ll also receive the Institute’s signature instruction manual with recipes and materials/ingredient resource guide empowering you to recreate everything at home.

Foodcrafting 101 Workshop Schedule:

Bread Making:

Master the simple technique of bread making from scratch using the no-knead bread recipe from the Institute Director’s own cookbook. Learn about types of flour, where to purchase them, how to shape loaves and achieve the perfect crust. You’ll learn how to recreate a professional bread baker’s oven at home and produce loaves that rival accomplished bakers.

Cheese Making:

Get invited to better dinner parties with this easy technique to turn great milk into fluffy, creamy ricotta. You’ll be able to take home your cheese with some delicious recipes–if you can wait that long!

Jam Making:
Canning is back big time! We will peel, chop, dice and otherwise macerate whatever we find fresh and in season at the farmers’ market that week and learn how to turn it into jam. We will then learn how to can in a water bath and preserve our bounty for up to a year. After class, equipped with your newly-found knowledge, you’ll be well on your way to experimenting at home with other fruits. Besides, we all know someone with a tree of unpicked fruit that simply cries out to be made into jam.

DIY Mustard:

Good artisanal mustard isn’t necessarily something you’ll only find in a fancy jar from France. Crafting handmade mustard from scratch is as easy as turning on your blender. You’ll learn about different types of mustard seed, unique ingredient additions such as Guinness Stout, liqueurs, orange flower water, coffee or fresh citrus zest. You’ll have an entire flavor bar™ of spices, sweeteners and herbs to pick from as you create your own signature mustard blend.

INSTRUCTORS INCLUDE:

Erik Knutzen: Co-author of The Urban Homestead and Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World and a L.A. County Master Food Preserver

Joseph Shuldiner: Institute Director, and author: Pure Vegan: 70 Recipes for Beautiful Meals and Clean Living, Chronicle Books

Zach Negin: Co-owner of SoNo Mustard company

What Will Be the New Kale?

Our 2011 crop of spigarello.

Our 2011 crop of spigarello.

Since 2011, we’ve been saying that Spigarello is the new kale. Thanks to a tip from the folks at Winnetka Farms, we may need to wait for BroccoLeaf™ to have its fifteen minutes of fame as the new kale.

The Salinas, California based Foxy Organic is, quite sensibly, marketing broccoli leaves. Broccoli leaves are indeed edible and tasty. Foxy has the recursive media to prove it, a Facebook photo of someone Instagramming Broccoli leaves:

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Now I’ve just blogged about someone Facebooking about someone Instagramming Broccoli leaves. How far can we take this? Will broccoli leaves act as the gateway vegetable to Spigarello?