Friday, April 22, 2011

Natural Easter egg dyes - a learning experience

Update 2013: Full rainbow of eggs from only beets, red cabbage, onion skins and turmeric.

Since DD reacts poorly to artificial food dyes, I decided to go the natural route this year for coloring our Easter eggs.  Last year we didn't even get to do them at all.  :(  I know most of the dye stays on the shell anyway, but better safe than sorry.  And better fun with natural kitchen chemistry than boring little dye pellets.  One of my daughter's friends did the melted crayon eggs this year and those were pretty cool.  We may try that sometime too.  I tried a whole bunch of dye agents including turmeric, paprika, blueberries, red cabbage, grape juice, pomegranate  juice, beets, spinach and carrots among others.  Some worked okay, some were fabulous, some stunk, and some took a few tries.  I definitely love the turmeric for the yellow.  Spinach was a complete dud and not nearly strong enough.  (Though I have heard that people have had good results with chlorophyll tablets.)  For that lovely green egg on the top left, I used red cabbage, blueberries and turmeric.  Oh, that's one thing I learned:

The color of the dye may have nothing in common with the finished product.  As it was, when I pulled this egg out to check for the first time, I was quite disappointed.  Then I gave it a rinse.  I could see the green developing and was happy to give it another half hour.  That's another lesson I kind of knew in advance.  Coloring with natural dyes takes much more time than with fake dyes.  I colored over the course of a few days.  It takes some trial and error.  I was looking at at least four different sites on natural egg colors, mixing and matching ideas.  Here are some of the things I tried and learned.

Grape juice - okay for pale lavenderish blue (bottom right bluish egg)
Turmeric - fabulous yellow, deepening to gold over time (top left yellow egg)
Blueberries and juice - very deep navy blue, a dark but muted color (center top blue egg)
Pomegranate juice - a bust.  Came out brownish and ruddy
Raspberry tea - a bust.  Pale brownish and ruddy
Spinach - barely discernible light green - not worth it
Red cabbage - beautiful Robin's egg blue (bottom left/top right blue eggs)
Beets - intense dark pink (the two pink magenta eggs)*
Carrots - not strong enough
Paprika - not strong enough (but I didn't boil it straight)

* you cannot rinse the beet dyed eggs or you will end up with mud.  Pink was the most difficult color for me.  Lift out the egg with a spoon and set to dry in the spoon for a while, then move to a napkin to finish drying once the top half is dry.  I wanted an intense color and left them in for a long time.  Shorter times would yield a lighter pink I'm sure.

All the rest of the eggs I rinsed.  That second green egg on the top was originally a pinkish lavender that dried to green.  Pomegranate results I think.  The little pale orange egg was originally turmeric and paprika and carrots but the orange didn't take and it was mostly yellow.  I gave it a few minutes in the beet dye to get it to the orange you see.  However, I know that onion skins will give a strong orange, deepening to sienna if you let it sit long enough.  I'll do that next year.  A perk to natural dyes is that you can sometimes scrub off the color if you don't like the results.  I had a few eggs that I tried multiple dyes on because the first ones failed.

In the end I think the most helpful site was the Martha Stewart one.  It was about the simplest and most straight forward with plenty of color options from the fewest mixes and the one I will reference from now on.  The only thing it forgot was to add the tablespoon of salt to each dye mix that was used in the show.  Helps the color.

So, now that I know my preferred dyes, I can take it up a level next year with marbling effects and stripes and maybe some silhouettes with onion skin wraps.  Did you try natural dyes this year?  How did they turn out?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

BBB Gets Garlicky - Dan's Garlic Bread

 Wow.  That is some garlic bread.  If you are a garlic and garlic bread fan, this is the bread for you.  Heck, make just the filling to spread on crostini if you have to, it's seriously yummy.  This was quite the challenge as it calls for 3 heads of garlic!  (It was also a challenge in that I needed to clear 30cm of space on my counter-top.  Are you kidding me?  I named my blog for a very good reason.)  See the original post at Living in the Kitchen with Puppies to bake along.  You've got til the 29th...  Go with the garlic my friend.  It's a thing of beauty.

This turned out to be a brain duster for me as I got it into my head that I needed a certain protein content in my flour and I actually broke out the algebra to figure out how much regular flour and how much gluten to use to reach that number.  (Setting up and solving two variable equations is just as annoying as I remember.)  I found out later I should have probably gone pastry flour instead of gluten, but it still turned out great.  And hey, I used algebra in real life!  It probably would have been much easier to stretch and pin out with the softer flour added in though.  But maybe it doesn't even matter as I think most of the babes used AP flour and still raved about it.  Another cool thing about this bread is that it is practically no knead.  I mean there's about 30 seconds of light kneading involved.  Just a series of stretches and a couple folds and voilà!  Garlic breath.

Dan's Garlic Bread
reprinted with permission from Dan Lepard
Exceptional Breads, by Dan Lepard
Dan has reworked the recipe to include a longer rise, less yeast, and less sugar. 

Step-by-Step photos here

for the pre-ferment
200ml water, at about 35C - 38C (95F - 101F)
1 tsp Instant Yeast

200g strong white bakers flour (I decided on 14% protein)

for the dough
225ml water at 20C (68F)
325g strong white bakers flour (14% protein again)
10g sea salt
75ml extra virgin olive oil

for the garlic filling
3 heads garlic, separated
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
50ml water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (I used white balsamic)
2 tablespoons caster sugar (I used coconut sugar for caramely notes)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 spring fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped

for the pre-ferment
To easily get the temperature of the water roughly correct measure 100ml of boiling water and add 200ml cold water, then measure the amount you need from this. Stir in the yeast then, when dissolved, stir in the flour until evenly combined.

Leave the mixture covered at about 20C - 22C (warmish room temperature) for 2 hours, stirring the ferment once after an hour to bring the yeast in contact with new starch to ferment. 

for the garlic filling
Break the heads of garlic into cloves and place in a saucepan, cover with boiling water from the kettle and simmer for 3 - 4 minutes.

Then strain the garlic from the water, cover the cloves with cold water to cool then peel the silvery skin from the garlic. It's surprising how few cloves you get after peeling so don't be alarmed if "3 heads of garlic" sound like way too much.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan then place the add the cloves to it and cook until they are lightly brown (not burnt) on the outside. If you burn the garlic the flavor is nasty and you will have to start again, or serve it to your friends with a straight face, so watch them carefully.

Measure the balsamic and the water then add this to the pan with the sugar, salt, pepper and rosemary. Simmer for 5 minutes until the liquid has reduced to a thick caramel.

Scrape into a bowl and leave to cool. The garlic cloves should be tender when pierced with a knife.  

 back to the dough:
After 2 hours the pre-ferment should have doubled and look bubbly on the surface. Measure the water into a bowl and tip the pre-ferment into it. Break it up with your fingers until only small thread-like bits remain (this is the elastic gluten you can feel in your fingers)

Add the flour and salt then stir the mixture together with your hands. It will feel very sticky and elastic. Scrape any remaining dough from your hands, cover the bowl and leave for 10 minutes so that the flour has time to absorb moisture before being kneaded. Be sure to scrape around the bowl to make sure all of the flour is incorporated into the dough.

Pour 2 tbsp olive oil onto the surface of the dough and smooth it over the surface with your hands. Now rub a little oil on your hands and start to tuck your fingers down the side of the dough, then pull the dough upward stretching it out.

Rotate the bowl as you do this, so that all of the dough gets pulled and stretched. You'll find that the dough starts to feel and look smoother. Leave the dough in a ball, cover and leave for 10 minutes.

Repeat the pulling and stretching of the dough, for no more than about 10 - 12 seconds. You may find that an oiling piece of dough breaks through the upper surface. This isn't a bad thing, but it is a sign to stop working the dough. Cover the bowl again and leave for a further 10 minutes.

This time oil a piece of the worksurface about 30 cm in diameter. Oil your hands, pick the dough out of the bowl, place it on the oiled surface and knead it gently for 10 - 15 seconds. Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave for 30 minutes.

Uncover the dough, oil the worksurface once more and flip the dough out onto it.

Stretch the dough out into a rectangle, then fold the right hand side in by a third.

Then fold the ends in by thirds again so that your left with a square dough parcel. Place this back in the bowl, cover and leave for 30 minutes.

Lightly oil the worksurface again and stretch the dough out to cover an area roughly 30cm x 20cm. Dot the garlic over the 2/3 of the surface and then fold the bare piece of dough over a third of the garlic-covered dough.

Then roll this fold of dough over so that the remaining garlic-covered piece is covered by dough. Then fold this piece of dough in by a third...then in by a third again. Finally place the folded dough back in the bowl, cover and leave for 30 minutes.

Wipe the oil off the worksurface and lightly dust it with flour. Pin the dough out again as above and fold it in by thirds each way. Replace it in the bowl, cover and leave for a further 30 minutes.

Pin the dough out again fold it in by thirds each way again as shown. Leave the dough for 10 minutes while you prepare the tray the bread will rise on.

Cover a large dinner tray with a tea-towel. Lightly dust it with white flour, then cut the dough into thirds with a serrated knife.

Place the dough cut side upward on the tray then pinch the fabric between each so that they stay separated.

Cover and leave for 45 minutes while you heat the oven to 200C (same for fan assisted)/390F/gas mark 5-6. I put a large unglazed terracotta tile in the oven and shovel the dough directly onto it with the back of a small cookie tray. It gives a much better finish and perhaps the bread is slightly crisper, but the bread will still be good placed on a tray just before baking. I also put a small tray of water in the bottom of the oven so that the heat is a little moist, which will help the bread to rise and colour.

Lightly dust the back of a cookie tray (if you have a stone in the oven) or the surface of a baking tray with semolina or flour. Carefully pick the dough up off the cloth, scooping it in from end to end with your finger then quickly lift it clear of the cloth and onto the tray.

Either shovel the dough onto the hot stone, or place the baking tray in the oven, shut the door quickly and bake for 20 - 30 minutes until the loaves are a good rich golden brown.

Hubby's descriptions: "Oh my God".  "Incredible, incredible garlic bread."  "Thanks a lot honey, you ruined a perfectly good craving."  (He had just gone and bought a pint of cookie dough ice cream.  After eating the bread, he didn't need it anymore.)  ☺

This will go up for Yeastspotting!

Update: Was astonished, honored and tickled for hours when I saw that Dan Lepard himself tweeted this post!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Luscious Strawberry Peach Jam with Pomona's pectin

I finally converted my favorite jam recipe over to Pomona's pectin and I am so glad I did!  The flavor of the fruit is amazing.  Perfectly sweet and less than half the sugar of the original.  After all, this is a fruit jam, not a sugar jam.  Of course after making jam for a few years, store bought jam tastes horribly sweet, artificial and not fruity at all.  No comparison to homemade.  And it only takes an hour to throw together a small batch of jam once you get in the canning groove.  Actually, when I first started canning jam and didn't have a water bath canner, I used a large soup pot to can a batch of squat half pints.  Since they were short, wide jars, it worked just dandy.  ((Though I did put a washcloth on the bottom of the pan to prevent rattling.)  I usually make small batches of jam for our family because we don't go through it super fast, plus it gives more opportunity to try new flavors.  

This is about a 2 pint recipe.  The peaches I used were from a local farm, frozen and available in the grocery store.  They were amazing.  Even frozen, I broke open the bag and was enveloped by the wonderful aroma of peach.  The strawberries were not organic, but from another local sustainable agriculture farm and had beautiful color and flavor.  I would always recommend organic strawberries and peaches unless you know that the farm does not use pesticides as those are two very heavily sprayed crops.  I don't want pesticide jam.  Frozen is fine out of season; do try to get a brand you know is very flavorful.

Strawberry Peach Jam
yields about 2 pints

2 cups fresh ripe strawberries (or a 10oz. bag frozen)
2½ cups sliced peaches, chunked (about 12 oz. frozen peaches)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp butter
1¾ cup evaporated cane sugar (up to 2 cups if your fruit is less than perfectly ripe)
2 tsp Pomona's pectin
2 tsp calcium water (from the Pomona box)

Wash and rinse your jars and let stand in hot water.  If you want to save a burner and a pot, just put the jars, lids and rings right into the water bath canner until ready.  I won't tell.  ☺  Put the fruit through a  food mill using the coarse disc. Or you can just mash them with a fork or potato masher.  Put the fruit, lemon juice, butter and calcium water into a large saucepan.  Measure out the sugar into a separate bowl and thoroughly mix in the pectin.  (This pectin will lump if not thoroughly mixed.)  Bring the fruit mixture to a boil, add sugar pectin mixture and stir vigorously for a minute or so to dissolve the pectin.  Bring back to a boil for a minute and then remove from heat.  Remove your jars from the hot water, draining well; set up and fill to within ¼" of the top.  Make sure the top is clean and screw on the two piece lids.  (Bring the water back to a boil while you are filling.)  Put the filled jars in the water with at least a couple inches to cover and boil for 10 minutes for half pints, 15 minutes for pints.  Remove jars from water and let cool.  Check seals - the lids should be sucked down.  The jam will gel when completely cool.

This jam is absolutely fabulous on buttered toast and fresh bread. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Corn free corn bread!

At last, a more than reasonable approximation of good old corn bread.  Without the corn.  I don't know about the rest of the family, but I have missed cornbread.  Well, the kids can't really miss it because they've never had it.  At least not in the past three years.  But when you make an awesome pot of chili, you really want a good, tender mealy corn bread to go with it.  So at long last, I found a combination that gives good texture and even some "corny" flavor.  I had tried a couple things before in the BBB yeasted corn bread challenge, but I wanted it even more corn like.  This rendition yields a tender, cakey corn bread with good flavor that gets even better and more corny the next day.  In fact, I may try this with a soaked method to see if I can get the most corn flavor the first time around.  But the leftovers do reheat fabulously.  I still hope that our DD will outgrow her corn allergy, but in the meantime this will do admirably.  It can also easily be made gluten free by substituting your favorite GF flour or mix for the half cup of flour in the recipe.  I might add a pinch of xanthan gum for that but I suspect it wouldn't need it.  So if you need to have some corn bread, without corn, try this out and slather it in butter and honey.  Or your favorite way to eat corn bread.  ☺  This did have that corn bread grittiness the most around the edge pieces if that is your favorite part of cornbread.  You can tweak the grind of the cracked millet to taste or you can try using farina instead, but it tends to make things heavier and I was happier with the millet outcome.  Plus, the millet gives the best "corn" flavor.

Corn Free Corn Bread with gluten free option
makes 1 8x8" pan (9 generous or 16 conservative pieces)

1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup melted butter (optional, it will still turn out good and moist without it if you forget it - ask me how I know)
3 tbsp maple syrup or honey
1 cup blanched almond flour, lightly packed
½ cup millet flour
½ cup white whole wheat flour (Or for gluten free, use sweet sorghum flour or your favorite GF flour or blend, plus an optional pinch of xanthan gum or a tsp of flax seed meal)
¼-½ cup cracked millet (I ran some whole millet in my spice grinder until roughly ground)
2 eggs farm fresh if you can get them
2 tsp baking powder (get a starch free brand or one that uses potato starch)
1 tsp sea salt

Preheat oven to 350º; grease or line with parchment and grease an 8x8" baking pan.  Combine flours, cracked millet, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.  Whisk together the buttermilk, melted butter, syrup or honey, and eggs in a 2 cup liquid measure.  Make a well in the dry mix, add liquids and mix thoroughly but briefly.  Pour into prepared pan and bake for 25-35 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted near the center comes out clean.  Be careful not to overbake if making this gluten free.  Slather with butter, drizzle with honey and enjoy!