Serendipity, and a Sourdough Kalamata Bread

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Last Saturday we woke up to an expected high temperature of 60F degrees and sunny, blue skies. So we decided to take advantage of the unseasonable weather, put the home renovations on hold, and headed out for a walk and picnic lunch. Fortunately, I had been forced to bake a sourdough bread the night before, so we threw half a loaf together with some cheeses, cold cuts, and roasted tomatoes and headed for the Trail. That’s the Appalachian Trail, by the way, which is about a 10 minute drive from our house. This was our picnic view from the base of the original Washington Monument (did you know there was more than one?!) on South Mountain, which straddles Frederick and Washington counties in Maryland, and over which the Appalachian Trail traverses. The town of Boonsboro lies just beyond the treeline, and in the distance are hills in Pennsylvania (to the right) and West Virginia (to the left).
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And this is the view of our serendipitous picnic.

One of the truths of caring for a sourdough starter is that it does force you to innovate. With regular feedings, you end up with use-it-lose-it-or-give-it-away sourdough every 4-5 days. This is where I was last Friday, while in the midst of home projects that did not allow for the careful timing of no-knead sourdough bread or for testing the bookmarked and drool-stained new recipes for sourdough pancakes or crumpets.

What I wanted was something relatively quick and a recipe I was already knew — so I adapted the method for the sourdough multi-grain loaf and substituted all bread flour and kalamata olives. Without too much thought or planning — Voila! a nice olive bread just waiting for an occasion.

We liked this bread so much that I will probably make another loaf this week when it’s time to feed the starter again. A subtle tang from the sourdough, and plenty of savoriness from the tapenade, olives and olive oil — this bread is an olive-lover’s dream. Alone with cheeses and/or cold cuts, or to sop up a savory stew or soup, this is a loaf that will turn any occasion into an event!

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By the way, here’s what the first Monument dedicated to our first president looks like — it was erected by the townsfolk of nearby Boonsboro in 1827, and is just a couple hundred feet off the Appalachian Trail. We actually didn’t think about it on Saturday, but last weekend was Presidents’ Day weekend, commemorating the birthdays of our first president, George Washington, as well as our sixteenth, Abraham Lincoln.

Bake some bread — you’ll be prepared for anything! (Yes, we’re talking to YOU!)

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SOURDOUGH KALAMATA OLIVE LOAF
Makes one 2½-lb. loaf

Before you begin, you will need a sourdough starter. If you choose to make a starter from scratch, it may take 7-10 days before it is ready to use so plan ahead. If you already have a starter, this is a good way to use even a groggy starter or some you are ready to cast off. The sourdough lends more flavor than leavening since active dry yeast is also included.

½ cup sourdough starter
½ cup lukewarm water
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 TBL olive oil
3 TBL olive tapenade (optional, but highly recommended)
(if using, taste for saltiness and decide whether to include sea salt with dry ingredients)

In a large mixing bowl, stir together well.

250g bread, aka strong, flour (Typ 500)
½ tsp sea salt (optional, may not need if using tapenade)
2 tsp vital wheat gluten

In a separate bowl, mix well to combine, and add to sourdough. Attach dough hook, and knead for 7-9 minutes. Or knead by hand for 10-12 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic. If kneading by hand, the dough may become stickier as you knead so sprinkle board and top of dough with more flour if it becomes unworkable. By the end of the kneading time, I did find the dough a little tacky but not clinging to my fingers.

Shape dough into a ball and place in a large greased bowl and cover with plastic, or a shower cap. Set in warm, draft-free place for first rise, about 2 hours, or until about double in size.

To finish:
½ cup pitted kalamata olives, about 100g

Punch down the dough and gently knead to stretch. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Gently flatten dough into a large rectangle. Add half the olives, fold dough over and flatten out again. Add remaining olives and fold dough over. Gently knead to distribute olives.

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Shape dough into a round, or your favorite shape. Sprinkle cornmeal on a baking sheet. Place dough on baking sheet and cover (I used an overturned bowl — the one the dough rose in earlier, or just plastic film).

Allow dough to proof, about 2 hours, or until you can press the dough and the imprint does not immediately spring back.

About 15 minutes before the dough will be ready, pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

Remove cover, and score dough, if desired. Bake on middle rack of oven for 40-50 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 190F/88C, or the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when rapped with your knuckles.

Remove from oven and brush with olive oil. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Enjoy!

More sourdough bread recipes:
No-Knead Sourdough Boule
Sourdough Multi-grain Bread
New York-style Light Rye
Raisin Rye

BMB: Sourdough Multi-grain Bread

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After a long hiatus, I’m finally baking bread again. This is actually the second loaf of the new baking “season” — a Sourdough Multi-grain Bread adapted from a recipe on the King Arthur flour website. This is an easy sourdough recipe since it does not rely on the starter for leavening; in fact, it has as much yeast as a typical bread dough. Instead, the sourdough gives this bread a tang and chewy texture like an artisan loaf, but has the quick rising time (2 hours) and softness of a good sandwich loaf. Best of all worlds, really.

This is a great way for sourdough starter “guardians” to make use of that excess sourdough you find yourself with when it’s time to feed the starter. You can use that “unfed” starter in this recipe because you’ll also be using yeast to give the bread its rise.

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I’ve adapted the King Arthur (KA) recipe by substituting two ingredients that are proprietary KA blends with more readily available ingredients. First, I used vital wheat gluten (VWG) instead of KA Whole-Grain Bread Improver. Vital wheat gluten is available in either the baking aisle or natural foods section of many supermarkets, and in bulk in many natural food stores and co-ops. It helps homemade breads retain moisture, and improves their rise. Second, I made up my own blend of grains and seeds in place of the KA Harvest Grains Blend. I started with a multi-grain hot cereal blend that has whole-grain rolled rye, barley, oats and wheat (available at Trader Joe’s) and threw in flaxseed, black and white sesame seeds, cracked mahlab seeds (a type of cherry seed from the Mediterranean, available at Penzey’s Spice and in Middle East groceries), and white poppy seeds (we didn’t have black poppy seeds).

King Arthur is our default choice for baking flours — we keep KA all-purpose, whole wheat, and bread flours as pantry staples. King Arthur flours are neither bleached nor treated with potassium bromate, a flour enhancer that is a possible carcinogen and has been banned in many countries, including the European Union, Canada, and China. It is allowed in the U.S. because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use in 1958, before it was identified as a carcinogen (particularly linked to breast cancers) in the 1980s. For some reason, the FDA continues to decline to ban potassium bromate, and instead “urges bakers not to use it”… what?! In California products containing bromated flour must carry a warning label! (Source: Wikipedia and Livestrong)

This is the third time I’ve made this loaf. It is every bit as chewy, soft and scrumptious as described in the original recipe. It is divine completely naked, or dressed in a coat of butter and dab of boysenberry jam. It is a soup’s best friend, and is an equally great companion to a plate of cheeses with fruit or chutney. Oh, and yes, it holds a sandwich together with some pizazz, too.

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SOURDOUGH MULTI-GRAIN BREAD
Adapted from baker Clay Miller’s recipe on the King Arthur Flour website

1 TBL raw sugar
1 to 1½ cups (132g-150g) all-purpose flour
(start with the smaller amount and add 1 TBL at a time, up to an additional 3 tablespoons)
½ cup instant potato flakes
½ cup (65g) whole wheat flour
1¼ tsp sea salt
4 tsp vital wheat gluten (optional, but helps rise for heavy doughs)
â…“ cup blend of seeds and rolled whole grains
(see article above for some suggestions)

Combine all dry ingredients.

â…” cup sourdough starter
â…” cup lukewarm water
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 TBL olive oil

Place starter, warm water and yeast in large mixing bowl. Stir to blend. Add dry ingredients and olive oil.

Secure bowl to mixing stand, and attach dough hook. Stir on low speed until dry ingredients are incorporated, then increase speed to medium and knead for 7-10 minutes.

The first two times I made this bread last year, the dough was pretty sticky by the end of the kneading time, even after the full 1½ cups of all-purpose flour was added — this was predicted in the KA recipe, and is okay as long as you can handle the dough with floured hands. But this last time the dough came together as a solid dough with no stickiness at all with only 1â…“ cups flour.

Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow it to rise for 1½ -2 hours. The dough might not double, but it should rise significantly.

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Lightly oil a 9” loaf pan (the original recipe calls for an 8½” x 4½ “ loaf pan, but this is the smallest I have). Punch down the dough and shape it into a loaf to fit your pan. Cover pan with a disposable shower cap, or greased plastic film. (Disposable caps are a genius tip I learned from the original KA recipe — they give the dough plenty of space to rise. You can find multi-packs of these cheap shower caps in dollar stores. They are like the ones you find in hotel toiletries too.)

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Set in a warm room, and allow to rise for 1½ -2 hours, or until the dough is well over 1” over the rim of the pan. A finger pressed into the dough shouldn’t spring back right away and should leave a slight impression. Because this dough will not get a dramatic rise once it’s in the oven (known as “oven-spring”), it’s important to give it a good chance to rise in this final proof.

In the last 20 minutes of the proving time, pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 190F/88C. If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, you can use the tried-and-true method of pulling the loaf out of the pan and giving it a good knuckle rap on its bottom — if it sounds hollow, the loaf is done; if it sounds like a dull thump, put it back for a few minutes more.

Remove loaf from pan and cool on a wire rack. Let bread cool completely before slicing. Resist the overwhelming temptation to cut this loaf while it’s hot. You get gummy bread slices — I speak from hard-headed experience. This loaf does have a most heavenly aroma, and it’s really, really tempting to just tear into it when it comes out of the oven. I had to leave for a meeting after taking it out and had to bribe T. with a promise that I would bake him a small roll next time if he promised not to cut this loaf while it was still warm.

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Pairs perfectly with a bowl of your favorite soup
(turkey vegetable soup, anyone?)
and/or with some flavorful cheeses. Bon Appetit!

The first bread I made to kick off the new baking season was the No-Knead Sourdough, which is easy but requires a long lead time. A variation on a straight sourdough are these rye breads: NY-style light rye and sweet raisin-rye.

The Butcher’s Turkey Vegetable Soup

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So far this season, we’ve enjoyed an incredibly mild winter in Frederick County, Maryland — here and there a night of snowfall, maybe freezing rain and ice on a few mornings. On the whole it’s been mostly sunny, with temps in the 40s and even 50s throughout December and January. Of course, this is after we had that freak snowstorm in October!

But today the sky is the color of slate, our high will be right at freezing, and it’s snowing — not the pretty powder snow we’ve seen so far this winter, but heavy leaden flakes. And they’re blowing horizontally! Winds are gusting about 45mph according to my Weatherbug app, but I think they really must be over 55mph — did I mention the snow is flying horizontally?! OK. So it’s snowing, big deal. Punxsutawney Phil did predict 6 more weeks of winter, after all. And if you can’t trust a groundhog to predict the weather, who can you trust?

So why am I whining about the weather? Maybe because the daffodils are beating out the crocuses in blooming this year; maybe because I’ve been stealth-purchasing seeds for herbs and greens already; maybe because my Pacific Rim roots are yearning for an ocean breeze. Whatever the reason, I’m in serious need of some comfort food. So I pulled open the freezer and found some turkey necks that I stocked up after Thanksgiving. Ah, yes… turkey vegetable soup. Simple, light, and loaded with vegetables. What could be better on a day like today?

I learned about using turkey necks to make soup when I was a student in the 80s (ahem… stop doing math in your head, please) from a kindly butcher at the Safeway supermarket near my school in Santa Clara, California. I was staring at the packaged necks in the display case and wondering to myself what on earth one would use turkey necks for, when the butcher came out to re-stock the meat display and saw me staring. “Soup,” he said, reading my mind. “They make the best soup. Lots of bone and a little skin for flavor. And you’d be surprised how much meat is on them if you care to take the meat off the bones. Everybody loves chicken soup, but I think turkey makes the better broth. Do you make soup?” At that point in my life, I had never really made soup from scratch before. So he gave me a quick rundown of the basics of homemade broth, and sent me on my way armed with a pack of turkey necks. I’ve never looked back.

The biggest difference in the way my broth-making has evolved from the butcher’s instructions is that I almost always include ginger in my broths, whether it’s turkey, chicken, beef or pork. Ginger not only adds a nice flavor note, but it is a “warm” spice that many traditional medicinal practices (including TCM and Ayurveda) recognize as stimulating — heating the body from the inside out and supporting or even boosting the immune system. Could be just what the doctor orders when the mercury starts to head south…

Thank you, Mr. Butcher, whoever you are, for a lifetime of homemade soups that started with your generous and helpful suggestions that early winter morning in 1987.

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THE BUTCHER’S TURKEY VEGETABLE SOUP
Serves 4-5 people

So many folks are intimidated by the idea of making soup from scratch. No need! Soups are a great way to make hearty and heart-healthy meals from the toughest cuts of meat — or even better, bones! While it does take some time to extract the most flavor from bones and meat for a broth, much of the cooking time can be done on a back burner or even in a slow-cooker while you do other things. Or if you’re very clever and set up a slow-cooker before you go to bed, while you’re asleep! And while I often chill chicken, pork and beef broths so the fats solidify and are easy to remove, that step isn’t necessary for this broth because turkey necks have very little skin and therefore almost no fat.

You’ll notice that the soup has few seasonings other than onion and ginger in the broth, and sea salt, black pepper and chervil in the finished soup. Most of the rich flavor comes from the vegetables. Frozen vegetables are fine, but use as many fresh vegetables as you can since they will give the greatest depth and sweetness to the soup. In the soup pictured here, the zucchini, carrots, mushrooms and beans were fresh; the peas and corn were frozen.

Broth:
3-4lbs. (about 1.3-1.8kg) turkey necks
1 large onion, halved and papery skin removed
3-4 fingers of ginger, sliced (to peel or not to peel is up to you)
1-2 bay leaves (optional, the butcher recommended this, but I usually don’t use it for turkey broth anymore)

Place turkey necks, onion and ginger in a large Dutch oven or stock pot. Add enough cold water to cover the ingredients by an inch. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Once it starts to boil, turn heat down to medium low. As impurities rise and form a frothy scum, skim them off and discard. Once the broth is cleared of impurities, you can cover the pot, turn the heat down to low and attend to other things in the kitchen (prep the veggies for the soup, or maybe bake a loaf of bread) while time works its magic on the broth, about 4-5 hours.

If doing this in a slow-cooker, set the temperature to LOW and just ignore the whole thing for 8 hours.

Strain the broth, setting aside the necks and discarding the onion and ginger pieces. Remove as much meat from the bones as you can. Rough chop the meat and keep aside.

To Finish:
3-4 lbs (about 1.3-1.8kg) of fresh vegetables of your choice
(In the soup pictured here, we used 1lb. of zucchini/courgettes, ½lb. cremini mushrooms, ½lb. green beans, ¼lb. peas, 1lb. carrots and ½lb. corn niblets. If we had any broccoli or potatoes in the house today, I would have added them in too, and less of some of the other vegetables. Other veggies you might use: sweet potatoes, collard greens, kale, butternut squash, leeks, celery, cooked garbanzo or navy beans [any bean, really], parsnips, spinach, whatever vegetables you have on hand)
1 tsp. chervil (my choice),
or ½ tsp. oregano + 1 tsp. basil (the butcher’s choice)
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper

Return strained broth and chopped meat to the pot, add vegetables and seasonings, and bring soup to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the soup is boiling, turn heat down to medium low and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through. Taste and correct seasoning.

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Serve hot with slabs of a nice hearty bread like this is sourdough multi-grain (next post).
Nutty cheeses round out the meal — goat Gouda and raw milk Emmentaler from Trader Joe’s.
More soup ideas?
German-style Green & White Beans Soup,
Potato, Leek & Rainbow Chard Soup,
Chicken Soup for the Soul,
Creamy Sweet Corn & Shrimp Soup,
Snert (Dutch Split Pea Soup),
Portuguese Bean Soup (it’s really Hawaiian),
Krautsuppe (Orange-scented Sauerkraut Soup)

One for the Cold: White & Green Beans Soup

Lucky for us, when the power went out yesterday this über-hearty two bean soup was already keeping warm in the oven. It was meant to be for dinner, but since it was already hot we had our first bowl for lunch before we sat down to our card game. Thick with potatoes, starchy great northern white beans, fresh green beans, sweet parsnips and carrots, as well as thick chunks of ham hocks, this is a meal-in-a-bowl guaranteed to chase winter (or autumn!) chill from the inside out.

Not sure when it finally stopped snowing last night — it was still snowing when I went to bed at 8:30. This morning the sky is clear as a bell and bright blue, though it’s still below freezing. Surprisingly, there is little snow accumulation considering it snowed over 12 hours yesterday. All there is now is an icy mess. So, still no raking or leaf-bagging today… darn…. See how many leaves are still on the trees? There’s at least another month-of-weekends worth of raking and bagging in those trees. Oh, well, it’ll all have to wait for another day.

This soup is based on a recipe I first tried about a dozen years ago when we lived in Germany. Both the ingredients and method have evolved over time, but one thing that remains intact is the defining contrast of the 2 different beans and the incomparable flavor of marjoram. Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is not an herb that is widely used here in the U.S. so it is something that I still associate with German cuisine. Though a close relative of oregano, marjoram has a sharper, almost pine resin, flavor that makes it quite distinctive. If you must substitute, go ahead and use oregano — your soup will taste good, but will lack the character that belies its European heritage.

For most of the last 3 years we lived in Germany, we used to have mutual language-improvement meetings with a German friend every week. In addition to helping each other with our pronunciations in the other’s language, we were also free to share cultural highlights and dispel myths. One evening, I served this soup to our friend. He was surprised by how much it tasted like a soup his mother used to make, and declared it quite authentic. He used the Pfälzisch (local dialect from the Palatinate region) name for the soup, Brockelbohnensuppe. And that’s still how I think of it when I make this soup.

Guten Appetit!

WHITE & GREEN BEAN SOUP
Inspired by a recipe from The New German Cookbook, by Jean Anderson and Hedy Würz
Serves 8-10 persons

1 lb (450g) great northern beans
2.5 qt/L cold water

Rinse and pick through beans. Soak in cold water overnight.

(If you need the beans in a hurry, place them in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water, set pan over medium high heat and bring to boil. As soon as the water reaches a boil, remove from heat, cover and set aside for one hour to rehydrate.)

For the broth:
1 large fistful of flat-leaf parsley
2 smoked ham hocks or 1 large smoked shank
4 qts/L water
2 bay leaves
1 onion, cut in half
3 stalks celery
2 carrots, scrubbed well

Pick off leaves from parsley stems, and reserve for soup. Put parsley stems and all other ingredients in a 6 qt/L slow-cooker. Set on HIGH and leave for at least 6 hours (I usually leave it overnight while the beans are soaking, and finish the soup in the morning).

Continue Soup:
¼ lb salt pork, cut into ½-inch pieces
3-4 medium, or 2 large leeks (about 1lb/450g), sliced and rinsed well
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 lb (450g) green beans, snipped and cut into 1″ pieces
½ lb (225g) red potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 tsp dried thyme, or 4-5 sprigs fresh
1 TBL dried marjoram
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper

Remove ham hocks/shank from broth, strain broth, and return broth to slow-cooker. Separate meat from bones and return meat to broth.

Drain beans, and add to broth. Add remaining ingredients, and set slow-cooker to LOW for 6-8 hours, or HIGH for about 3-4 hours, or until beans soften and are creamy when pressed with a fork. Alternatively, you can do this part on the stove: place all ingredients in a large Dutch oven (8qt/L or more) or stock pot and bring to boil over high heat, then lower heat to simmer and cover for 2 hours. Meanwhile, prepare the roux.

To Finish:
4 TBL unsalted butter
4 TBL flour
parsley leaves reserved from making the broth, above

Met butter in heavy-bottomed pan, preferably cast iron, over medium heat. Add flour, and stir well to absorb butter. Turn heat down to low and cook gently, stirring often, until the roux is the color of peanut butter. This will take about 1 hour if the heat is low enough. Keep aside until needed.

When the beans test ready, remove fresh thyme stems (if using), then add roux to soup. To get every bit of the roux, you can use hot soup broth to clean the roux pan. Roughly chop parsley leaves and add to soup. Stir well to combine, and cook together 5-8 minutes to thicken soup. Taste and correct for seasoning.

Serve immediately, alone or with your favorite bread for the perfect cool weather warm-up. I think a nice hard cider is best with this — Strongbow from the U.K. if we can find it, but Hornsby’s Amber is more readily available. Of course, you can’t go wrong with your favorite local brew either!