Quarantine Meals From Jennie Cook

Jennie Cook, our dear neighbor (and podcast guest), is a caterer. Covid erased all of the events and weddings that she depended on for income. So she pivoted back to what she used to do: cook home meals for pickup and delivery.

Her food is delicious and the portions are generous. If you live in the Los Angeles area consider ordering some food from her. It will support Jennie and her employees and you’ll get a break from cooking.

On Saturday Jennie sent over a package with an Easter ham dinner. While I’ve enjoyed cooking from scratch for the past four weeks it was nice to have a special meal for a change. Jennie’s delicious dinner really lifted my spirits.

If you’re not in Los Angeles, Jennie has some great recipes on her blog.

Fermentology: Mini Seminars About Cultured Food

Many thanks to Carol Bornstein of the Natural History Museum for this tip on a series of short fermentation talks coming soon. The 20 minute talks will cover sourdough, cheese, beer, history, biology and even something called “zombie medicine.”

Join us for a series of short talks (20 minutes on average, some shorter, some a little longer) for anyone hungry to engage in food, culture, history and science–but in the context of what you have at home.

This project is sponsored by the Department of Applied Ecology at NC State University, the NC State University Libraries and the Center for Evolutionary Hologenomics at the University of Copenhagen.

All talks are Thursday at 4 pm EST, unless otherwise specified. All talks are virtual and will be recorded and available afterwards on the Applied Ecology Youtube page.

Registration here!  Follow us on twitter or facebook for updates.

A closing note: I’m fortunate to be able to stay at home, with plenty of food, and watch fermentation seminars. Many are not so lucky. I have a friend and neighbor who runs several farmers’ markets through a non-profit called SEE-LA. They are soliciting donations to support families sheltering in place in South LA. Your donation will help both those families and the farmers impacted by this crisis. The donation form is here. Please join me in chipping in!

Timing Sourdough Feeding

A recent “quarantine” loaf.

There are many paths up the holy mountain of sourdough bread baking. Wildly different methods will yield acceptable and edible results. But, no matter the method, I think one factor is important if you want to get a decent sourdough bread: the amount of time between feeding your starter and making your dough.

I keep a small amount of starter on hand since I bake, at most, twice a week under normal circumstances (Under quarantine I’m baking a lot more but the reasons for that would be the subject of another blog post). Just before I go to bed, the night before I’m going to make bread, I take a tablespoon of starer and add it to 50 grams of whole wheat flour and 60 grams of water. The next morning I have a little over 110 grams of starter with which to make my dough.

Starter float test.

Here’s the critical issue of timing: while I’m sleeping the sourdough culture is growing exponentially in the flour/water mixture. I need to make my dough within 8 to 12 hours of that feeding. If I wait too long the sourdough starter will lose its vigor. How do I know the starter is ready to use? I do a float test. If you gently spoon the culture into some water it should float, an indication that it’s active and full of CO2 bubbles. One of the most common mistakes with beginning sourdough bakers is not feeding the starter enough (you should feed at least once a day or put it in the refrigerator if you’re not going to use it) and trying to make a loaf with sourdough that’s been sitting too long after its last feeding.

To review my process:

  • The night before I make bread I mix one tablespoon of starter with 50 grams of whole wheat flour and 60 grams of water.
  • The next day I make up a dough and let it rise for approximate four hours at room temperature (this first rise is also called a bulk fermentation).
  • After the four hour bulk fermentation, I shape the dough, put it in the refrigerator and bake the next day. This second period of fermentation is called “proofing”). I’ve found that putting the dough in the refrigerator to proof has a few advantages: it develops a richer flavor, the dough is easier to handle, it’s less likely to stick to the bread form, and you have flexibility in terms of when to bake the next day.
  • When it’s time to bake I pull the dough out of the refrigerator and put it straight into a 475º F (246º C) oven.

So, in total, my bread baking process takes 2 days. You have to think ahead but there actually isn’t much work involved since I’m using a no-knead method. Again, it’s not the only way to make sourdough bread but I’ve found this method works well for me. For exact recipes and techniques I highly recommend the book Josey Baker Bread (library link). What I like about Josey’s book is that it’s kind of like a class in bread baking. He starts you out with simple loaves and then gets into more advanced techniques. There’s plenty of illustrations on top of the fact that Josey is a really nice dude (I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him).

If you’re interested in the details of my starter method I did a video about it.

Stay safe and happy baking! As Josey Baker says, “Make Awesome Bread – Share the Loaves!”

Chicken of the Woods

Am I the only person confused by mushroom taxonomy? Root Simple friend, Brother Lee, let us in on a well kept secret stash of delicious Chicken of the Woods mushrooms growing out of a diseased carob tree in a easily accessible public location. Figuring out the scientific name of this particular mushroom has proven a lot more complicated than harvesting.

Chicken of the Woods is listed in Clyde Christensen’s 1943 “Foolproof Four,” easily identifiable edible mushrooms that lack poisonous look-alikes which also includes Puffballs, Morels and Shaggy Mane. Alas, life is more complex and this “foolproof” list has changed over the years as lookalikes were found and DNA testing complicated the mushroom family tree.

In the case of Chicken of the Woods it turns out that what was once considered one species, Laetiporus, might actually be five or six. From what I can tell on the interwebs all are edible but some are associated with nausea in some people. Some mushroom pundits caution against eating Laetiporus found growing on conifers or eucalyptus. The very same mushroom pundits suggest thoroughly cooking all Laetiporus. I can report having consumed a lot of the mushroom we foraged with no ill effects. It was, in fact, one of the most delicious mushrooms I’ve ever consumed. But one should not trust the musings of an aging urban homesteading blogger when foraging for mushrooms. Find yourself a local mushroom nerd or run it past your cats.

That said, don’t be too fearful either or you’ll miss out on a free source of gourmet food. Chicken of the Woods is distinctive and still considered one of the easier mushrooms to identify. And, yes, it really does taste like chicken.