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No Knead for That

20 Sep

If only I had this amount of counter space! Adorable photo by Dplanet, via Flickr.

So, I recently revisited my previous New Year’s resolutions after a traumatic incident involving a bathroom scale. I had pledged, among other things, to bake more of my own bread and decided that, in order to do that, I needed a bread machine. Really, I gave the issue a lot of thought:

Bake more of my own bread I’ve struggled with this one before. I rarely buy a loaf of bread from a supermarket. There are two big reasons why not. One, I’m just not a big sandwich eater. Two, have you read the ingredients in a loaf of processed bread? It’s actually a difficult task (the reading, not the baking). The ingredients may be edible, but they can hardly be considered food. So, I’ve tried buying a loaf of locally made bread from Whole Foods. Guess what? For twice as much money, not only did I find similar ingredients, but the bread was only produced in a local factory-not by a local baker. Don’t waste your money. The next step was buying bread at the farmers’ market. If you can find a bread vendor at the farmers market, I highly recommend this option. But honestly, a bread booth at the market can be a toughie to find unless your market covers a lot of prepared foods and not just produce. Now, I’ve also tried making my own yeast bread. While it’s satisfying to do and pretty yummy all said and done, baking homemade yeast bread takes a lot of time, kitchen space and money. None of which I have. I rarely say this about home cooking, but in this instance, it just isn’t worth it. So, this year, I am vowing to go the bread machine route. I’ll keep you posted.”

But here I am, in a new apartment with a slightly bigger kitchen and a boyfriend who loves sandwiches every day for lunch. Between us we own every kitchen gadget imaginable except a bread machine. Yes, seriously. I mean, we own a rotisserie, we own a tostone press and we  just added a soft-serve ice cream machine because it was recently on final clearance in the very back of Sur la Tab. Plus, I hear my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Jessica, don’t buy a bread machine, there’s absolutely no need for it. The bread comes out like a brick and you have so many better  options. Waste of money.”

OK, so she was right about the options–when I lived in L.A. But now that I’m camped out in the outer suburbs of the Bay Area, I can’t find a bakery for the life of me. Unfortunately, this is just the case in many suburban areas as I know all too well from my childhood. And Mom was also right about the brick part, at least judging by the end results of our childhood bread machine from Costco. It was about as successful as the pasta maker my dad bought off an infomercial in the nineties, and it got about the same amount of use before being promptly sold in the next neighborhood yard sale.

How I miss my weekly trips to Sweet Lady Jane! And even though I was happy to hear about the opening of The Pastry Cupboard, it’s still about an hour away from me.

But lo and behold, I found a no knead bread dough recipe with very few ingredients and fresh herbs. What I’m saying is, this recipe doesn’t require a ton of ingredients, effort or even counter space! And guess what? It’s really good.

We practically grow an herb farm on our balcony and we always keep a stash of yeast in the fridge for pizza dough so I didn’t even need to make a trip to the grocery store for anything. The only caveat here is that you’ll need to plan ahead; the dough rises for 24 hours. (And it will smell funky after 24 hours. Don’t worry, it won’t end up tasting funky.) The only kitchen hardware you’ll need is a Dutch oven. No fancy-schmancy Le Creuset needed either, I actually used an old oven-safe porcelain casserole with a lid because actually in addition to not owning a bread machine, we don’t own a Dutch oven. (But if you need tostones pressed, you know who to ask.) You don’t even need bread flour for this recipe.

This recipe came from Allrecipes.com and it’s the first thing I’ve cooked from the site.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 2/3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage (optional)

I used all of the herbs and really wouldn’t recommend leaving them out. However, next time I make this I think I may just stick to rosemary.

Fresh herbs; use 'em if you got 'em.

From Allrecipes:

  1. Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl and mix to combine. Add the water and herbs, if using, and mix well. The dough will be very sticky and shaggy-looking. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 18 to 24 hours.
  2. Generously flour a work surface. The dough will have risen and will be covered in bubbles. Transfer the dough to the work surface and dust it with flour. Fold the dough in half, and then form the dough into a ball by stretching and tucking the edges of the dough underneath the ball.
  3. Liberally flour a kitchen towel (do not use terrycloth-seriously, you’ll never be able to get the dough out). Place the dough ball on the floured towel. Cover with another floured towel. Let the dough rise for about two hours. (With floured thumb and forefinger, give the dough a little poke, your indentations should stay if the dough is done rising.)
  4. Preheat an oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Place a lidded Dutch oven or deep heavy duty casserole dish (with lid) into the oven to preheat.
  5. Carefully remove the hot baking dish from the oven. Remove the lid and gently turn the dough ball into the ungreased baking dish, seam-side up; shake the dish so the dough is more evenly distributed.
  6. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake until the crust is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the loaf from the baking dish and let it cool on a rack before slicing.

Ready the butter, friends!

Also, a side note for my gluten-free friends who love baked goods and baking them, check this out!

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Hip(pie) to it

30 Aug

Edible Schoolyard

It takes time to know a city and get hip to its food culture. Six years in Los Angeles still left plenty of unopened menus and undiscovered markets. I only know a few things about the East Bay.

One is that Chez Panisse happens to be located in Berkeley. Another is that Berkeley is full of hippies.

So when I heard Chez Panisse was celebrating its 40th with a free event at the Berkeley Art Museum with food and exhibits, I had a basic idea of what to expect and promptly informed my boyfriend that we would be making the trip. The event didn’t disappoint. And neither did the weather, which was seemingly untouched by the usual San Fran fog.

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Fish Face

19 Sep

There’s good news and bad news for seafood this week. Let’s start with the good.

Your favorite place for overpriced organics, Whole Foods, has teamed up with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program in an effort to green their fish-literally. Whole Foods will now label each seafood item according to Seafood Watch’s color coding. Best choices are green, alternatives are yellow and, well, bad choices are red. Whole Foods plans to eliminate all red-list seafood by Earth Day 2013. I don’t see why it needs to take that long, considering…would you really buy seafood that essentially comes with a label advising you not to? Imagine the dirty looks you would get from other shoppers. But, it’s pointing the boat in the right direction.

Now, get ready to put on the trout pout.

Eat ge salmon and your face might get stuck like this

Eat ge salmon and your face might get stuck like this

Let’s talk about a big step in the wrong direction, unlabeled genetically engineered salmon. That’s right, I said “unlabeled.” This science-experiment fish has completely inadequate safety assessments. The government would essentially rely on the producers of the fish to assess how safe it is to consume. We saw how well that system worked with the BP disaster. This week, the FDA will make a final decision on the frankenfish issue. Frighteningly, ge salmon could be the first genetically engineered animal to enter the food supply — and could therefore set a very scary precedent. And even icky-er; the FDA is regulating ge salmon as a drug, not a food. Well, that’s more than enough to give me the heebie jeebies and certainly more than enough for me to not want to eat it. If you aren’t a big proponent of Monsanto’s ge dance number on our food supply, I highly suggest you strongly oppose this one and I urge you to go straight to the top — call the prez.

That’s right, call the presidential comment line at (202) 456-1111 between 9am- 5pm Eastern and tell whoever answers the phone that you want the president to oppose ge salmon. It’s that simple.

If you’re the shy type about making phone calls, don’t be. Calling the people who represent you politically is fast and easy; there’s no need to be intimidated. But if you need some more incentive:

Check out Food and Water Watch‘s video about the frankenfish:

Roots of Change

12 Sep

OK, guys. I’m gonna let you all in on a big embarrassing secret. 

In case you haven’t read the above tab, “The Idea Behind Chewgooder,” I was not always a foodie. In fact, I wasn’t even close. I ate low fat Pop Tarts-on a regular basis. I grew up on Shake and Bake and Rice-a-Roni. I have (please don’t tell my boyfriend) actually consumed low-carb beer. 

Nowadays, when my friends ask me why I haven’t eaten all day I answer that I haven’t found anything yet worth the caloric intake…ooooh wait, is that the Let’s Be Frank Truck? Move it girls, that’s lunch! 

My first kitchen...incidentally much bigger than my current one.

So, speaking of being frank, I’m usually pretty upfront about the fact that I didn’t grow up dining in fine French establishments or shopping at the farmers’ market, but in case you need some extra proof of this or proof that anyone can get in on the sustainable food movement, I offer the following story: 

I made my debut at environmental non-profit Heal the Bay as a volunteer. I had just moved to Los Angeles and I showed up for training after a long day of work, delighted to find a table of snacks. I’m sure there were carrot sticks that I likely avoided in favor of snack mix, I for-went the grapes in favor of….mmmm, something delicious and salty and… 

“What are these?” (It should be noted that what I almost said was “Who made these?”) 

The director of programs, who I had so wanted to impress, looked slightly confused and answered, 

“Um, they’re macadamia nuts.” (Did you catch that implied “duuh?”) 

Why would I bring attention to my…ahem… humble food roots? Because I tire of hearing the argument that we cannot feed ourselves without the use of our modern industrial food system. One that uses chemical fertilizers, pesticides and hormones and runs like a factory. One that is huge. One that can’t figure out where the salmonella came from. 

I’m heartened every day to read stories about innovative new small farms, people gardening and growing food in the urban environment, new farmers’ markets popping up, all utilizing more traditional methods of raising food. I’m even more heartened to see these stories published in such main stream publications as the New York Times Magazine, so that even people as clueless as I was can get a clue. While the Monsantos and DuPonts of the world will tell you that the only way to feed a hungry planet is with the use of their products, I’d like to share a passage that I recently read in “eaarth” by Bill McKibben that proves just the opposite point can be true: 

So are those gumdrops made with organic cane sugar or what?

“I’ve reclined under a palm tree in Bangladesh where a hundred species of fruit and vegetable grew in a single acre: the farm featured guava, lemon, pomegranate, coconut, betel nut, mango, jackfruit, apple, lychee, chestnut, date, fig, and bamboo trees, as well as squash, okra, eggplant, zucchini, blackberry, bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon and sugarcane plants, not to mention dozens of herbs…A chicken coop produced not just eggs and meat, but waste that fed a fish pond, which in turn produced thousands of pounds of protien annually, and a healthy crop of water hyacinths that were harvested to feed a small herd of cows, whose dung in turn fired a biogas cooking system.”    

As McKibben stresses, not only can this kind of agriculture feed the world, it will need to if we plan on beginning to halt the deleterious effects of climate change that our industrial global food system contributes greatly to. 

Here’s to tradition. 

McKibben brings up another important point as well. Easy access to information due to the Internet is crucial to the transition as well: “All of a sudden it’s possible to have the cultural equivalent of  farmers’ markets — content, ideas, craziness emerging from any place and every place. YouTube is a bazaar. Huffington Post is a souk.” Hopefully Chewgooder is helping to inform your gastronomic decisions and broaden your horizons too.

Here’s to innovation.

Common Thread

27 Aug

In the past few posts we’ve covered a lot of ground:

-the high cost of good, fresh, local food versus the high cost of junk food masquerading as good food

-the money we waste on processed supermarket food that we think is healthy and safe, and the waste involved in packaging supermarket and takeout food

-spending three dollars on a dozen eggs (it was actually $3.75 for a half dozen at Lily’s Egg stand this weekend, to my first point)

The argument to spend more on local, wholesome foods now seems particularly appropriate, given that the recent egg recall has risen now to a half billion eggs and more than a thousand cases of salmonella. While the FDA tries to figure out the cause (could take months, they say), it has become public knowledge that the two farms involved in the recall share ties to a supplier who has already had frequent citations for violating state and federal law.

"Boy, do I have egg on my face," the FDA seemed to say...

Are you starting to wonder where the FDA or USDA was? Are you also starting to wonder why your grocery store in California stocks eggs from Iowa?  Or are you wondering how a twenty-something blogger in the non-profit world with car payments manages to eat enough good, fresh, local food to write about it several times a week (I’m currently accepting donations, especially if you bake, by the way)?

So here’s the connection and the conundrum: How does one get a healthy full belly on a budget? Well, here’s my big secret, friends:

My inbox.

Yes, in addition to poorly-typed letters from Mom, Facebook friend requests from people I barely knew in high school and “Boycott Monsanto” petitions from the Organic Consumers Association, my inbox is choc full of covert ways to dine on a dime in the city. So here’s something I’m really good at-spilling the beans. For all my fellow broke foodies out deciding between making that student loan payment on time and resorting to another box of Ramen or being locally well-fed, here is your tool box:

Sign up for email discounts. There are countless mailing lists devoted to restaurant deals in your area. Preferdine and Blackboard Eats are two examples, but many other email discount programs exist. Living Social and Groupon both frequently feature food deals-be it on cooking classes or cocktails. Plus, signing up for other event related, L.A.-oriented emails usually gets you the skinny on upcoming food events, try Daily Candy if you want to hear about fru fru bake shops, try The Rundown if you’d rather hear about beerfest (I will admit-not really a whole lot of great deals out of these two, but good info on great spots). Follow food related people on social networking sites-use Twitter to track your food trucks for example.

Happy hour menu? Check.

Beyond that, here are the no-brainers. Cook at home and bring your lunch. Freeze your leftovers. For some reason the practice of swapping unwanted food came to a halt following elementary school. Sick of your leftover chili? Maybe your co-worker will take them in return for his/her leftover meatloaf. When you go out to eat, take home the leftovers (I can’t believe it when people don’t do this). Also, always ask if there is a happy hour menu before you order.

Cooking-it's not just for the microwave!

Use your resources-find out about eligibility for WIC and their Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. Some farmers’ markets also except EBT cards (and some offer senior citizen discounts too). Check out Network for a Healthy California for other information. Don’t have time to go to a farmers’ market? It doesn’t mean that you’re destined for a drive-thru. Check out some community supported agriculture (CSA) programs and see if they deliver to a location near you.

Blues Traveler

9 Aug

Duke Ellington once said that he “merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.” I’m not a musician, so when I’m feeling  pouty, I bake something sweet. It should be noted that I’m prone to bouts of baking due to other emotions as well, but for the sake of this post, I was feeling blue, and thus decided to bake, appropriately, blueberry lemon poppyseed cake. This is not exactly a coincidence, blueberries are in season so I thought I could pick up a bunch at the farmers’ market and get a good deal. Not exactly.

Photo: La Grande Farmers' Market via Flickr

I’ve heard the argument many many times that going green is a venture for the wealthy. I’m always quick to point this out as fallacy. Public transportation (if you can find it in L.A.) is much cheaper and more eco-friendly than owning and driving your own car alone for example. Living on a budget forces you to buy only what you need and use. Cutting your utilities bills means you are turning off lights and water when you aren’t using them. I could go on and on, but in the case of sustainable food, I’m frequently grasping for straws. The sad truth is that eating healthy and fresh food is a luxury, one out of reach for many people. Organic food is more expensive food most of the time and many areas lack a proper grocery store, let alone one that will even carry organic and less processed food. However, L.A. is covered with farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture and many farmers’ markets accept food assistance and senior discounts. That being said, here was my experience.

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You’re a Vegetable

5 Aug

That’s right. Your parents warned you; spend too much time in front of that TV or computer screen and you’ll be a total veggie. And here you are, eight hours (at least) in front of a computer screen at work under fluorescent lights, before you head home in traffic, watch the tube and continue work on your laptop.

This could be you…

We all know the worst thing to eat when the 3pm office slump hits: refined sugar and/or carbohydrates. That corn-syrupy, flavored latte, that stashed emergency candy bar, your organic raspberry “healthy” soda… All of these quick, easy snacks generally deliver the exact opposite reaction than the one you were looking for. Thus, you’re still tired and cranky (maybe more so since being tired and cranky tends to make us, well, more cranky). This is because eating (or drinking) a lot of highly-processed foods full of refined sugar and carbs can actually result in your body releasing too much insulin.  Symptoms? About two hours later you are irritable, craving more sweets, sluggish and now you might have a headache (another reason to be cranky).Does that sound like your afternoon in cubicle-land?

Unfortunately, junk food is usually what’s most readily available in or near the office. (Leftover supermarket birthday cake in the break room, anyone?)

Well, yesterday at work I walked in to a wonderful surprise.

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