Category Archives: Cocktails

Sourdough Made Simple

Sourdough has a reputation for being a bit tricky, so a lot of people find it intimidating. Thanks to my friend P, a fellow baking geek, I’ve been introduced to the Lahey method, which makes it super-easy to bake bread at home. I love this book!

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I’ve been experimenting with Lahey’s method for several weeks and my adapted recipe for sourdough is even simpler. It looks like a lot of steps but bear with me.

The genius part: Instead of folding/kneading your dough every few hours, you let your dough ferment overnight (18 hrs), do a second rise for 2 hrs and bake. No more being stuck in your house all day during the rising process!

STEP 1

All sourdough begins with a starter — natural yeast with a brinier flavor than the commercial yeast you find at the supermarket. Plan on 3-4 days before it’s ready to use. All you need is flour, water, air and time.

Mix equal parts water and flour in a wide mouthed container, cover it loosely so air can get to it, leave it out on your counter and wait. THAT’S IT. Really!

Once your starter is bubbly and active, try to make your dough within a few hours, before it loses potency. Thereafter, if you’re not baking regularly, dump out about 50-75% once a week, stir in equal parts water and flour, and start the process over.

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Starter is ready to use!

I encourage everyone to invest a few bucks in a kitchen scale and measure by weight rather than volume because 1) it’s easier and 2) it will guarantee consistent results. Remember, different flours have different densities so one cup of A may be slightly more or less than one cup of B.

Put your empty container on the scale, and set it to zero. Add 50g-75g whole wheat flour, 50g-75g bread (strong) flour, and 100g-150g cool water, resetting to zero after each addition. Don’t worry if you’re off by a gram or two as long as your ratio of total flour to water is roughly 1:1.

STEP 2

You’ve been patient and you now have over 100g of starter. Let’s get going.

Put a large bowl on the scale, zero it out, and add:

  • 600g flour (I like 475g bread flour +125g whole wheat or another grain)
  • 16g salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of active dry yeast (the kind you get at the grocery store)
  • 450g water
  • 107g active starter*
  • Optional: Add a generous handful of chia seeds and a tablespoon of caraway seeds, as I’ve done here.

*If this amount uses up most of your starter, replenish by adding  50g flour plus 50g water, mix well and set it aside to reactivate for a couple of days.

STEP 3

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Once you have a well mixed dough (it will be sticky; DO NOT be tempted to add more flour), loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it out at room temperature overnight for 18 hours. If you do this at, say, 4 PM, your dough will be ready for the next step at 10 AM the next day.

STEP 4

18 hours later, your dough will be bubbly and will come away from the bowl in long strands – this is the developed gluten. It will be loose and sticky; don’t add more flour!

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Those strands are the gluten

Dump it onto a lightly floured counter, and form the dough into a ball by tucking the edges under – using either a dough scraper or your (lightly floured) hands.

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The dark bits are the chia and caraway seeds.

STEP 5

The traditional method is to bake your dough in a pre-heated cast iron pot.  This is an easy alternative.

Divide dough into two balls. Shape each ball into a log and put them in a perforated baguette pan. For a free form shape, place your logs (or ovals) onto a baking sheet that’s been generously dusted with cornmeal. Leave plenty of room between them.

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Lightly dust the tops with flour. Cover the pan or baking sheet with a linen or cotton dishtowel (avoid terry cloth) or plastic wrap, and let the dough rise again for 2 hours.  After 1.5 hours have elapsed, preheat your oven to 500 degrees F.

STEP 6

After another half hour (the full two hours), your dough will have puffed up nicely. Spritz your hot oven with water, put the bread into the oven and lower the heat to 475 degrees F.

You can spritz again after 2-3 minutes to keep the steam going and create a crispier crust. You can also score the dough at this point to let steam escape during baking but it’s not crucial.

Bake for about 25 minutes and check your bread – it should be a rich golden color. Depending on your oven this may take another 5+ minutes.

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Left: the bottom, showing bumps from the perforated pan.

To ensure your bread is baked through, check it with a kitchen thermometer – the internal temperature of the bread should be 205-210 degrees F.

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Nice and craggy with an open crumb

Cool. Slice. Eat.

 

Snark Attack: There’s No Such Thing As a Stupid Question

Wanna bet? Here are some of my favorites:

“Does it hurt?” I’m in the emergency room with blood pouring out of me. What do you think?

“Did you find everything?” If I’m already at the register, what do you suggest if I didn’t? Alternatively, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” Such as world peace, thinner thighs, true love, the hair I used to have??

“Would you like fries with that?” Duh.

“Have you eaten here before?” Unless the restaurant is wildly different from any other restaurant, what possible difference could it make?

“Would anyone care for a cocktail?” Do we LOOK like teetotalers?

“Is everything wonderful?” Usually asked when your mouth is full. If you haven’t sent it back, it’s probably fine. Possibly not worthy of superlatives, but edible.

“Does this make me look fat?” There is only one possible answer.

“Do you love me?” Again, only one possible answer.

“Do you have any regrets?” Who, past the age of 8, hasn’t done something they regret?

“Am I your first?” This one’s a trap, folks. Yes means you’re a naïve innocent nobody wanted before; no means you’re a slut.

“Your place or mine?” Yours — because if you’re a dud I can go home. If we’re at my place I might never get rid of you.

“Do you want to know a secret?” With all due respect to The Beatles, who doesn’t? Similarly, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” Why on earth would I tell you that?

“Is it mine?” We’re both white and the baby’s black. What are the odds?

Which leads me to…

Classic Howlers

Check out this link. I particularly like “How am I sure I’m the real mom of my kid?” The writer is asking because the baby doesn’t look like her but looks like her husband; she’s scared he was cheating on her with another woman. You have to read it to believe it.

This one’s funny, too.

What are your favorite dumb questions? (Besides this one.)

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Images from pixabay.com

Charleston, Va “Benne”

How is it our last day already?! We cram a lot into our final historical dive, as well as two excellent meals.
First, a morning ferry to Fort Sumter, the strategic site where the American Civil War began. The excursion takes about two hours: a 30-minute ferry ride to and from the fort and 60 minutes on the island. During the ride, a recording describes various points of interest and the history of Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor. Best part: we see dolphins off the side of the boat.
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Construction of Fort Sumter was still underway when South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. Despite Charleston’s position as a major port, at the time only two companies of federal troops guarded the harbor.
The Confederacy (500 soldiers) captured the fort in a short but intense artillery bombardment of the US Army garrison (80 soldiers) on Apr 12 – Apr 13, 1861, following months of siege-like conditions. The Confederate victory marked the official start of this bloody war, although there were no casualties in this battle.

 The site includes a museum which details these events.  As a lifelong Yankee/Northerner, it’s fascinating to read the Southern perspective on slavery and other issues of the day. IMG-0273

We get back by noon and Uber over for lunch at the deservedly popular Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Our friends are eager to try the ribs, which could feed a modern-day army and are as fabulous as anticipated. Pulled pork is pretty great, too. Rodney stops by to say hi — we’d talk longer but our mouths are full!

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IMG-0290IMG-0291Next up: the McLeod Plantation, which takes an unsparing look at all aspects of plantation life. The plantation was built on the riches of sea island cotton – and on the backs of enslaved Gullah men, women and children. The stories of these families – black and white, enslaved and free – are vividly told through narrative and photos.  It’s sobering and terrible, yet the triumph of survival is ultimately uplifting.IMG-0293It’s 5:00 somewhere — oh, here! — so we conclude our last day with drinks and dinner. We discover a great bistro and bar right near the restaurant we’ve reserved.

The Ordinary is, in my opinion, rather ordinary.  Food is good but nothing special, the cavernous space (a former bank) is noisy, and the kitchen can’t get everything upstairs at the same time so some of us are eating while others are waiting. Wish we’d stayed at Felix!

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Finally, here’s a recipe for benne (sesame) wafers, a Gullah favorite — and now, one of mine too.

Benne Wafers

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (+ optional splash of lemon juice)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet or cover it with parchment paper.
  2. Place the benne (sesame) seeds on an ungreased baking sheet and toast until light brown (about 10 minutes). Watch closely so they don’t burn!
  3. In a large bowl mix the brown sugar, melted butter, egg, vanilla extract, flour, salt, baking powder and toasted sesame seeds together until combined.
  4. Drop dough by spoonfuls (each about ½ teaspoon) 1½ inches apart onto the baking sheet.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 4 to 6 minutes, until light brown.

Let cookies cool for about 2 minutes before removing from baking sheet to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container.

Makes about 4 dozen, depending on the size of your spoonfuls.

 

A Snapshot of Charleston, SC

Last week, Dear Husband and I spent a delightful few days in Charleston, a gracious city neither of us had visited before.  Highly recommended for food, sightseeing and history!

ARRIVAL DAY

We got in late afternoon, with just enough time to check in to our swanky Art Deco hotel The Spectator— where all rooms include breakfast and an on-call butler — and check out the sweetgrass basket weavers at the Charleston City Market. 

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After meeting up with our friends T & B who’d escaped another nor’easter the previous day, we all Uber’d to dinner at Leon’s Oyster House, which was lively even on a Tuesday.

Fried oysters were terrific, though we didn’t pair them with the local champagne as suggested.  Fried food + champagne = decadence to consider for the future!

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The ladies’ room at The Spectator. I’m coveting this fab mirror and art deco faucets!

DAY ONE

Today was all about walking. Heritage sites and signage abounds, keeping you aware of Charleston’s history before, during and after the Civil War.

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First, DH had a meeting at the Dock Street Theatre. The original theater didn’t survive the Great Fire of 1740 which destroyed many of the buildings in Charleston’s French Quarter. In 1809, the Planter’s Hotel was built on the site and in 1835 the wrought iron balcony and sandstone columns were added.

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Facade of Dock Street Theatre

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The beautiful music room upstairs is used for donor events and other special occasions.

Next, we strolled down Rainbow Row and admired other nearby homes. Many have been in the same family for generations.

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Do you think the resemblance between these bushes and the statue’s butt is intentional??

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Love this old movie theater and more pastel buildings.

All that walking entitled us to overeat at Husk, local celeb chef Sean Brock’s high temple of low country cooking, featuring locally sourced ingredients served with style in a charming Victorian house.

 

We ended with a nightcap at the Spectator’s Prohibition-style bar, where Allen the bartender creates 1920’s inspired cocktails (his specialty: “The Dude Imbibes”) or whatever you fancy.

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And poured ourselves into bed to rest up for Day Two….

 

“Anti”-Aging

Allure magazine has recently reported that they’ll no longer use the term “anti-aging”. It’s about time.

Since we’ve only got two options — getting older or checking out — there’s not much point in fighting the inevitable. Instead, let’s embrace some of the positives and enjoy being our best selves.

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Antiques are so much more interesting than newbies!

The List

1. YOUR DOUBLE CHIN DISAPPEARS. With the passing years, fat pads under our chins usually get smaller as our faces become less round. (Bonus: more visible cheekbones!) So if you’re considering a fat removal procedure in your 20’s or 30’s, you should probably wait.

2. YOU’RE HAPPIER. According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, happiness steadily increases from your 20’s to your 90’s as anxiety, depression and stress levels tend to go down.

3. YOU CAN WAVE GOODBYE TO THE BAGS UNDER YOUR EYES. When we’re younger, these are often fatty deposits. In older women, they’re more likely caused by fluid retention, which decreases as we go about our day.

4. SEX IMPROVES. Caveat: The study they cite in the magazine contrasts higher levels of satisfaction for women in their 40’s and 50’s vs. women in their early 20’s. Older women know their bodies better, are more likely to ask for what they want, and may be more spontaneous. (Note: no mention of post-menopausal issues, though.)

5. YOUR SKIN IS GLOWIER. Again, they’re talking 30’s-50’s, when moisture levels are highest and problems such as acne tend to resolve themselves. Moisture levels drop as hormones and hydration decrease, so 60+ skin often needs extra help.

6. YOU’LL SAVE ON WAXING. As testosterone dips in your 40’s, body hair starts to be lighter and thinner. Post-menopause, skin becomes thinner and waxing may be more irritating than a gentler process such as sugaring. Or, fuhgeddaboudit.

7. YOU’RE MORE OPEN-MINDED. A University of Michigan study found that women in their 50’s were more empathetic than those who were younger. Mature people may have strong opinions but we’re also more likely to understand other points of view.

For more thoughts on aging, plus a delicious cocktail recipe, click here.

 

 

Random Household Hacks

A New Year’s Resolution: I will search for answers to life’s pesky little problems and share my finds with all of you.

#1:  How to open a stubborn jar lid

Let’s assume that brute strength has not done the trick.  Here are some options:

1) Improve your grip

  • Put plastic wrap over the lid and twist.
  • Place a rubber band around the lid and twist.
  • Put on a rubber glove and twist.  (Anyone else reminded of Chubby Checker??)

2) Tap around the edge of the cap with a wooden spoon.  This should release the air pockets of the vacuum seal. It’s also less likely to shatter the jar than banging it on your countertop.

3) Still stuck?  Turn your jar upside down and place in a bowl filled with hot water. After about 30 seconds, the lid should loosen.

4) For sticky stuff (honey, molasses, etc.), plan ahead. Cover the jar opening with plastic wrap before you put the lid back on. (This also helps with paint cans.)

#2 How to quickly chill wine or beer 

Uh oh — unexpected, thirsty guests have arrived! Wrap a damp paper towel around the bottle or cans and place them in the freezer.  They will chill much faster than without the towel. Do not forget they are in the freezer! (Yes, I have done this and then had to clean up the resulting mess.)

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