Friday, October 8, 2010

Sweet, Sweet Potato

A friend and I tried a delicious pizza this evening from RealSimple magazine. The toppings: thinly sliced sweet potato and shallots, tossed in olive oil and seasoned with fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Spread the ingredients over a whole wheat pizza crust, and bake in the oven. When pizza is halfway done, dot the top of the pie with cubes of brie (as much or as little as you desire).

Serve with a side of mixed greens, tossed in a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing.

While this pizza is meatless, I think a nice spicy sausage would compliment the sweetness of the sweet potato and the creaminess of the brie.

For dessert, hold your friend's three month old baby on your shoulder and nuzzle his soft cheek while you burp him.

See the recipe at: (baby not included)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wild Yeast

I will never forget baking bread with my friend Betsy for the first time. In the first crucial step of the bread recipe, we added a packet of yeast to a bowl of warm water. When the yeast began to bubble, she shrieked, "That is so cool!"

Even cooking enthusiasts view the bread making process as arduous and obtuse. However, leavened bread (that is, bread that rises) follows a simple template. The primary ingredient is yeast. Yeast is an everyday term for several common strains of unicellular fungi that feed on carbohydrates, creating the gaseous byproduct that causes bread to rise.

Active Dry Yeast is commercially produced en masse; it comes in packets and jars. I used this magic ingredient for several years in bread recipes until a recent radio program, The Splendid Table, introduced a question that should have been obvious to me. Before yeast packets, how did bakers make bread rise?

Ken Albala, a guest on The Splendid Table and author of The Lost Art of Real Cooking, explains that yeast occurs naturally in the environment. "This is the simplest thing to do," he says. "Put out some food, and the babies find it. They like to eat flour. Simple as that." Albala boasts that using wild yeast to make bread results in a better texture and flavor. Just as the flavor of cheese is distinct based on the region in which the cheese is produced, the type of yeasty fungi varies based on location. This isn't harmful; rather, it is essential to the bread making process.

This week, I tried Albala's method. I obtained a large glass bowl and made a "sludge" of about 1c. Organic Rye Flour and 1c. Water. I left this mixture on the counter, uncovered, for 24 hours. Then, I added more Rye flour and water, mixing these ingredients so the sludge maintained its consistency. I covered the bowl loosely with a towel. I repeated this step once a day for three days. Every few days I would transfer the mixture to a clean bowl, in order to avoid mold growth. Day by day, I noticed an increasing amount of bubbles appearing in the flour and water mixture.

Yesterday evening, I added more flour and water. This morning, I noticed the bowl of yeast had doubled in size! Albala's advice worked. I trapped fungi from the environment and created a natural yeast. Though this yeast works more slowly than yeast from packets, it promises to produce unique and especially flavorful bread.

I'm making bread this weekend. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A New Cookbook

Very excited about this purchase from In addition to a myriad of interesting all-natural recipes, this book contains helpful charts that give the low-down on the storage and usage of fruits, vegetables, meats, legumes and cheeses.

New Veggies

This fall I've added some adventure to my regular culinary lineup by trying some new vegetables.

Eggplant looks like a creature that would bound happily behind the Hamburglar in a McDonald's commercial. I harbor bad memories of choking down large slices of eggplant parmesan, hockey pucks with a cheesy toupee.

I avoided my eggplant, all alone in the second vegetable drawer, for about a week. Finally, I chopped it into french fry sized pieces and sauteed the eggplant with onions, green peppers, carrots and mushrooms. Then, I added red pasta sauce and cooked sausage.

The eggplant absorbed the flavors in the sauce and and was a nice filler (30 kcal = 1 cup) in a pasta meal that otherwise might be high calorie.

The only problem with eggplant, besides the fact that it looks like a jelly bean of renown? A little eggplant goes a long way, and I was racing to eat it all before it went bad. When you buy an eggplant, find a friend to share it with.

Brussels Sprouts are a family favorite--to joke about. The first time Dad ate dinner with Mom's family, my mom's father, a ruddy and boisterous German, kept piling these green golf balls on my dad's plate. Bewildered, Dad kept eating them, which only increased the supply. "He was kicking me under the table the whole time," laughs Mom, recounting the tale.

Most of my family wrinkle their nose at Brussels Sprouts, but I find them tasty and a vehicle for a nice olive oil. Cut six or seven brussel sprouts in half. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees until soft. Add salt and pepper, and a little more olive oil. Eat without utensils (while watching Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger).