Liquid Foods Galore

Since Danielle and I are stupid, we’ve decided to partake in something called The Clean Program. The basic gist is this:  21 days of liquid meals for breakfast and dinner, and solid meals for lunch. On top of that the following must be eliminated entirely: sugar, alcohol, dairy, gluten, caffeine, nightshades (basically tomatoes and potatoes), chocolate, fried stuff, and pretty much anything from a can or a box. Today is day 7.

Now I’m not sure about the exact science behind a program such as this, but I think it has to do with tiny robots in your blood stream in an endless war with the dreaded micro-goblins over the treasured transporta-boot, an old shoe with some sort of time travel capabilities (the details are all in the book). Apparently to assist the robots one must abstain from joy, the main source of food for the micro-goblins, and what better way to do that than not eat or drink for 1.5 fortnights.

We enjoy a good challenge, and have been having some mad scientist fun trying to make good eats (or drinks) with such strict limitations. The morning smoothies have been getting better and better to the point that I may not want to give them up when I get back to reality. The Savory blended soups at night have been pretty great too, and I haven’t gone to bed hungry once. And lunch… Oh dear god… Lunch.

Here are some of our recipes, apologies if my measurements are vague, this is alchemy not science:

Coconalmand Tropical D-Light

  • 1 handful sliced pineapple
  • 1 handful sliced mango
  • 1 small handfull almonds
  • 1 small handfull cashews
  • 1 small handfull coconut flakes
  • 1 big T flax seeds
  • 1 c coconut milk
  • 1 c unsweetened almond milk
  • drop or 2 vanilla extract
  • water (if neccesary to blend)

Carob Avocado Shake

  • 1 avocado
  • 1 apple
  • 1 handful spinach
  • 1 handfull blueberries
  • 1 T flax meal
  • 1 T carob powder
  • 2 c almond milk
  • water (if neccesary to blend)

Danielle’s Version of Mango-Cardamom Blast!

  • 1 handfull pineapple
  • 1 mango
  • 1 t cardamom powder
  • 1 handful almonds
  • 1 small handfull unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 small handfull flax meal
  • few drops vanilla extract
  • 1 c coconut water
  • 3/4 c almond milk
  • 1/4 pack stevia

You get the idea. Danielle has been all over the dinner soups, they are all pretty easy to construct: First you make soup, then you put in the blender.

Here are the recipes:

Blended Pinto Bean Soup

  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 c pinto beans
  • 1 shake cayanne
  • 5 shakes cumin
  • 3 shakes curry powder
  • olive oil to top
  • sea salt
  • pepper

Blended Butternut Squash Soup

  • pealed sliced butternut squash
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • T rosemary
  • sea salt
  • pepper
  • cinnamon
  • 3/4 c almond milk

To peal the BNS cut it into 1.5 inch rounds and cut the skins off of each all the way around with a knife. Scoop out the seeds, leave the guts, and cut it into little cubes. Next toss the BNS, garlic, onion, salt, pepper and rosemary in olive oil and bake it at 425 for 20 minutes. When its done, blend it with the almond milk then top with a bit more salt, pepper, and rosemary.

Lunch is too good to talk about.

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Chanterelle Toast Topper

For Thanksgiving ’10 and ’09 Stantastic West ventured up the California coast to our aunt’s house in Seb-town. Both times we extended the 3 day weekend into a 10 day vacation, taking time to wine taste, camp in big sur, rent a yurt, bum on Avila beach, divulge in (the yet to be matched) cocktails of Bourbon & Branch and soak in hot sulfur baths on the side of a cliff at 3a at the Esalen Institute. Trip 1 was 1/2 the price of trip 2, maybe a matter of how much we ate and drank, maybe a matter of learning what November camping really feels like on trip 1 and then opting for lodging on trip 2, maybe a matter of trying to enjoy every last drop of the California coastline without needed perspective. This will forever be our default Thanksgiving vacation plan, but instead of continuing the trend we’re opting for a more adventurous and potentially more treacherous vacation plan.

As we plan for this year’s extravaganza I have been reminiscing about our last trip. Last year was right at the peak of our budding interest in fresh olive oil. We were excited enough to build in time to visit Pasolivo and Olea Farms but naive enough to not realize that late fall is the absolute height of picking season when the new stuff isn’t yet pressed and the old stuff is no longer fresh. Last year was also a reunion with Tablas Creek which we had decided last year was the best of what we’d tasted (but we’re smitten by the fact that they use natural airborne yeast) and our introduction to Demetria.  But for Steve this was also an introduction to the Chanterelle.

One of our great friends recommended we have some 5 course monstrosity dinner at one of his favorites, Shawns. We unfortunately (and fortunately) happened upon a date and time that did not allow for such gregarious over eating. Instead we had a lovely dinner of small plates the first of which was a chanterelle bruscetta special. Upon finishing his second bite, without hesitation, Steve ordered a 2nd plate. Thus, I later tried to remake it.

Interpretation of Shawn’s Chanterelle Toast Topper Special

4 toasts worth


  • 1/2 lb Chanterelle mushrooms (We’ve noticed a wild price variation @ our local whole foods +/- 200%, so I recommend price watching for 4-6 weeks or so before making a plunge)
  • 1 clove garlic (crushed)
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 medium sized shallot (chopped)
  • 3 strips of peppered bacon (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or creme fraiche
  • 2 T white wine
  • Olive Oil
  • Baguette


  • Wash and slice chanterelles into 1/4-1/8″ thick strips
  • Heat butter and garlic in skillet (until butter assumes garlic flavor), at 1 T olive oil
  • Add chanterelles and then shallots and then bacon
  • Let simmer until bacon is lightly crispy and mushrooms are supple
  • Lower heat (if med/high)
  • Add white wine, mix and simmer ~3-5 min
  • Add creme (to taste, + salt and pepper, also to taste)
  • Simmer until combined and thick-ish
  • Let mixture rest
  • Slice baguette, cut into rounds, and brush both sides of each round with remaning olive oil, then toast in oven on cookie sheet ~350 for 5 min
  • Spoon mushroom mixture over toasts

Now looking back at the original (below), I realize that going light on the creme (and/or sauce in general), roasting the toasts, and adding finely chopped parsley might help too…

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Thyme Lamburgers in The New Kitchen

Stantastic East has relocated!  Its been a solid week of dismantling our lives, packing them away in boxes, and then taking them out and putting them where they go.  And while its true that I will miss having a gas range, I won’t miss two flights of near vertical stairs or taking food blog pictures with a work light attached to an extension chord hooked above the stove.

YEAH!                                         NOOOO!

Danielle has been reading up on cleansing.  You know, the ancient practice of depriving yourself of all that’s good about life (food and alcohol) in the name of better health.  A year ago a purchased a book called Alkalize or Die and followed the diet for almost a month, eating nothing but handfuls of raw almonds and plates of cold broccoli.  While I’m sure I derived some health benefits (not too many because I didn’t stop drinking beer) from the experience, I was quickly turned off by some of the debatable science behind it, and the pushy nature of the author.  I neither Alkalized nor died.

Clean seems to be a bit more credible (as far as I know Junger doesn’t reference Jesus as a source), and at very least I’m thinking it will make me appreciate the precious beer and red meat I take for granted on a regular basis.

In preparation for the 21 pizza-less days of liquid food and being sent to bed hungry to come, our fridge has begun to fill with approved foods.  Oddly enough, one of them is ground lamb, even though these burgers were not quite cleanse kosher, they made me feel like maybe I can get through this.  Like many times before I turned to The Joy of Cooking for a recipe, read it, and didn’t use it.

Thyme Lamburgers

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1 t thyme
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 T minced green onion
  • salt and pepper
  • 2.675 dashes of hot sauce

I cooked these to medium rare in the pan, obviously the grill would be a better choice if available.  I also used the ketchup mixed with curry powder that Danielle developed a few months ago, mixed with some seedy brown mustard for lubrication.  Gluten free bread replaced buns, and did a fine job of it I must say.  Finally they were topped with arugula and some intense blue cheese (soon to be contraband) leftover from the house warming.

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Amish Bread (The 10 Day Errand)

One of my favorite guitar students recently presented me with a tub of what was (and could only) be referred to as goop.  While I was taken by the gesture, I was also not sure what it was or why they we’re giving it to me.  Luckily it came with this note:

The instructions for day 1 suited me just fine (do nothing), and the instructions for days 2-4 where manageable (stir), although perhaps not cause I totally spaced on day 3.  Day 5 it got a bit trickier, with the first of about 19 cups of sugar being added to the now bubbling oobleck.  Then things cooled off a bit on days 6-9 (stir), I almost spaced on day 9 too, but I got out of bed and ran in and stirred before the clock struck midnight.

Along the way I saw my students again for another lesson and told them that my goop smelled like wine, and that it was going swimmingly.  They said theirs didn’t smell like wine.  I said that maybe mine wasn’t going swimmingly.

October 1st came and my annoyance about being given an errand 10 days ago had passed, I just wanted some bread.  That’s when I figured out just how much bread this stuff would make.  Looking at the goop after all of the additions there was about 5 cups, with 1 cup of goop making 2 loaves of bread, this was going to be a long day.  Looking in the state of the art Stantastic East supply room, and seeing that we were waiting on a new shipment of flour, sugar, and bread pans, I decided to just make three loaves and freeze the rest.

The First two followed the recipe written out on the page to a T, with the obvious omission of raisons (foul wrinkled turds they are).  For the last loaf, I decided to try something different and make amish banana bread, with walnuts and chocolate chunks.  We had some huge chunks of dark chocolate that would have been perfect, except I didn’t know how to cut them up, and was too lazy to get out (and later clean) the food processor.  Given my recent experience making Ice Cream, I thought that maybe melting the chocolate would be a good idea.  Except with the ice cream, when you pour the chocolate in it freezes it into little shards.  This just made the bread brown.  Anyway, here’s the recipe:

Banamish Bread (or is it Amana)

  • 1/2 c amish bread starter goop
  • 1 c flour
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 3 big chunks of dark chocolate melted down to ‘brown the bread’
  • mad walnuts
  • 1 ripe banana, smashed with the back of an ice cream scoop

Both of these ended up being really good, and because of the yeast I guess, much less cakey then I imagined at the outset.  So special thanks to Darien and Janie for hooking up the goop, maybe I’ll ship some to Megan if anyone has any dry ice.  She can make a California version with avocados…

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Making Kimchi with a Legit Korean Grandmother

I want to make more enormous food. Goat roasts, fish fries, manicotti parties…. I loved Gabrielle Hamilton‘s description of her wedding cake in her recent book Blood Bones and Butter, an enormous ball of barrata for which each guest was given a soup spoon to carve out their own hunk with. I was also inspired by the book Food of a Youngerland, that depicts a turn of the century american food culture which was full of enormous food celebrations. Clam bakes in New England required trenches to be dug, filled, covered, tended to for days, and then consumed in great mass. In Long Beach, (where I’ve lived for 6 years and had no prior knowledge of this history) Grunion Runs used to be celebrated events when locals rolled huge friers out on the beach so that families could grab the fish in buckets and eat them real time. What happened to these big rockus pig roasts, fish fries, harvest festivals? I tried to convince Steve the other day that I might be able to make a good sum of money having a restaurant only open for Sunday brunch if each brunch was always some enormous memorable event. Tia Adelita makes her living making barbacoa in a hand-made bbq pit under a trap door in the floor of her garage every Sunday morning for fellow neighbors to enjoy after church.

An opportunity to scratch this itch came when my korean american friend invited me to learn to make Kimchi with her korean mother-in-law. Kimchi I learned is made in enormous batches every 3-6 months. The batches are then distributed across the family in huge jars that live on countertops or in the fridge for daily consumption. Having a big jar of kimchi seems a bit like making 30 pounds of french fries ahead of time so that you can throw a pile along side anything you happen to be eating. The Kimchi making process is thus an event within itself. It took an evening and one full work day, 3 people (one of whom was an expert), a garden hose, a bowl the size of my kitchen table, and a line-up of  huge glass jars. The sheer volume of ingredients shocked me. I am not even sure where you can buy a pallet of napa cabbage, leave it to LA, you really can find anything here.

In true family cooking style we had 3 generations of Lee’s helping out. Except little B did little to contribute besides squirm and escape from his rubber seat.

The process kicked off the night before I arrived. As I understand it the cabbage was quartered, covered in salt, and left out over night. When I got there we rinsed each head out three times. Exactly 3. After each rinse the head gets a shaken hard. I don’t think our matriarch was satisfied with the quality or ferocity of either of our shaking styles and we learned months later that it may have been a bit wet.

Four enormous radishes were shaved to shreds on a mandolin while a big vat of red chili paste was being created. I chopped green onions, mustard greens, and garlic. All of this went into the radish shred and was mixed until thoroughly coated. My abnormally large hands came in quite handy for the mixing process. I was given some latex gloves which I realized way later had protected me from a slow chili burn and stain.

This table-sized bowl of mixed radish was tasted and adjusted as I mixed. Astounding. I can barely taste and adjust a sauce or dressing that I’m going to eat in an hour. I tried to imagine tasting something now that would be fermented for weeks before consumption and then continue to ferment and change shape and flavor along the way. Great Kimchi evolves well through each stage of consumption to the point where at the very bottom of the jar you are cutting it up and cooking it in stew or stir fry. As far as I could compute these adjustments would take a hell of a lot of projection. You’d have to make a lot of kimchi to know what it should taste like now so that it tastes like x or y later. I just watched and mixed. Each triple washed cabbage head was then stuffed leaf by leaf with this spicy radish sludge. It was much like stuffing a book with peanut butter, you’d slather a page, try to jam some crunchy bits into the binding, and then flip to the next page, slather and jam, and so on until you had a cabbage bursting at the seams with firey red radish goop. Binding first, the cabbage was rolled onto itself into a cylinder and stuffed into a jar. Ester and I got in trouble for making rolls that were too lose and jars that were not packed tight enough.

Right as I was beginning to feel like this was a completely unrepeatable process I learned that we were making the traditional kind of kimchi and that we would also make a lighter more snacky version that could be consumed more or less right away. This one was like making a salad. Cut the cabbage up into bits, mix it with spicy sauce, and throw it in a jar. Ah ha! Repeatable. Kind of. I’ll have to get to the point where I can taste the future, but for now this is what I’ve been able to adapt from what I learned in our family Kimchi marathon and David Lebovitz.

Fresh-Snacky Kimchi (in bits, not rolls)

1 Napa cabbage cut into 1″ bits
Wash, Cut, Sprinkle with 2T salt
Leave Overnight
Wash Thoroughly

Mix Together:

  • 3-4T Korean chili powder
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 5 chopped scallions
  • 1/2 bunch mustard greens (chopped)
  • 2 T fish sauce (the type that looks like biti shrimp with the heads)

Coat dry cabbage in mixture, adjust to taste, fill jar (leave ~2 in from top for expansion), leave out for 2 days, refrigerate for longer life.

A week helped it mature, but I ate some the day of and the next day. It was a bit like kimchi & tonic because it fizzed and bubbled in my belly, but the flavor was right on.

The beauty of enormous food though is that it really isn’t repeatable. I couldn’t make 11 jars of kimchi by myself if I tried. The day for me will be ‘the day we made kimchi’ and that will be its own memory. In this memory, Little B will forever be 6 months old and a squirmy little tike, Ester’s mother-in-law will always be the wise elder, and I will be the human hobart. My gloves were fantastically bright red by the end of the afternoon.

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Egg’s Gary

Curated for you, a guest post from the venerable Alex Ruck.   Runner up in the Great Chili Cook Off (more on this soon), local restaurant expert, and Pittsburgher to the bone, Ruck has a taste for the aggressive that may frighten, arouse, or send one on a sprint for the Tums.

-Alex Stanton

“There are times when I eat, and then there are times when I grub.  There are days when I wake up and have something to eat and days when I make breakfast.  These mornings when I’m fixin to make me some breakfast I usually tend to go a touch overboard on the amount of food and especially on the overall cheesiness.  I dubbed this breakfast ‘Eggs Gary’; as it is the alienated stepbrother of ‘Eggs Benedict’ which is of course possibly the world’s most perfect breakfast. Problem is I feel somewhat guilty while making the hollandaise sauce because it is basically fat sauce, delicious creamy fat sauce.

Eggs Gary was born of a roasted pepper dip I had made the day before.  This dip plays directly into the philosophy that is the aggressive breakfast I hold so dear.  Dip was made with red, yellow, orange and green peppers (some of them fire roasted), onions, corn, garlic.  Then pureed with cream cheese, a healthy dose of queso dip and some hot isaly’s barbeque sauce (not only for your chipped chopped ham anymore!).  These seem like odd additions, but I promise they were both excellent and necessary, at least to me.  This would be my hollandaise.  Yes I know this is just as unhealthy as hollandaise.

The base of this monstrosity was not English muffins, it was a vegetable sauté loaded to the brim with cheese, or as I prefer to call it, ‘chee’. This consisted of potatoes, corn, peas, mushrooms, onions, red and green peppers, arugala and of course pepperoni (you didn’t think I was going to leave out meat did you?). It is very important to allow this to cook to completion, which means that the chee must be a delectable golden brown.  Burnt chee is a staple in my diet.

Now the final part, 2 two dippy eggs (sunny side up to the non-Pittsburghers out there) were the crown topping this mountain of grub.  I will admit one flaw in my execution, I broke one of the yolks when I was splitting the egg, do forgive me I ain’t Bobby Flay fer cryin aht lahd.  A great trick to getting the perfect eggs to slide right out of the pan when they are done cooking without mangling their inherent beauty is to splash a bit of water on them right before removing them from the pan, they’ll slide right out.  Ah, yes and don’t forget the slather on some hot sauce, Red Hot was my preferred on this day, as for breakfast I usually don’t like too much heat.

And now I GRUB!

There may be a few questions you were pondering regarding this breakfast. Here are the answers:

Yes, I did eat this by myself.  No I didn’t totally finish it, I threw in the towel with four bites left (I ate one of these bites before washing the plate. Yes this bite made me sad). Yes I did need to lie down immediately after consuming.

Move over Benedict, Gary’s in town.”

-Alex Ruck

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In a brief moment of concern for our health I bought peppered turkey bacon. About an hour later I looked in the fridge perplexed as to why I thought that was a good idea. It was a pretty hypocritical flash of brilliance on my part. I’m a huge fan of the pancetta sold at an italian deli down the street. I think a dozen lardons of that pretty much over spends the minute savings generated by purchasing turkey bacon. However, I’ve since bought turkey bacon twice again to make these sandwiches. They were much better than expected. They were lighter and cleaner tasting.

Turkey Bacon Lettuce Tomato’s

  • 2 strips of peppered turkey bacon
  • 1 leaf of red-leaf lettuce
  • 2 slices of heirloom tomato
  • lightly toasted french bread
  • a schemer of garlic mayo
  • + sliced avocado (if you want to jazz it up)

Garlic mayo

  • Simmer together:
  • 2 T olive oil in a small saucepan (ideally glass)
  • 1/2 a clove of garlic smashed
  • Let cool.
  • Mix in to mayo bit by bit to taste (probably not all)

Eventually I’d love to learn to make fresh mayo. I have a feeling knowing how to really do it provides an easier garlic insertion point. Eventually. Real mayo may be the final test to see if Steve really likes it at all. He’s seen one too many mayo slathered salads in his life and thus rejects the ingredient on principal. He recommends the rendition with mustard, but the peppered bacon edge + mustard makes me a bit skeptical.

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The Mood for Muffalettas + Mojitos

When I first met Steve I assured him that I had been to the south, I’d been to New Orleans five times and loved it. He assured me New Orleans was not definitive of the south as a whole. We at least agreed that the city was majestic. On our last visit we had a tremendous time at a wine store. It had a living room sized selection, a small kitchen, and a back yard equivalent to the size of the floor plan. No corkage fee, you simply drank whatever you bought out back. Live music kicked in at dusk, rows of white lights clicked on, cheese plates were ordered, and a few bottles were nocked back to some great conversation and warm buzz. Eventually I’ll build such a back yard. If there is some way to incorporate a huge pot into the brick oven pizza plan we might just be able to do an annual crawfish boil too.

I’m heading to NO in 2 days for this year’s IDSA conference so I figure its about time to post that Muffaletta. I followed the recipe with the exception of not coring out the roll and not weighing and waiting to take the first bite. After comparing the set we had for dinner with the set we had for lunch the next day I can fairly say that the marination did make a difference, it was denser and more authentic. The set that we ate right away was fresher and crunchier though if that’s possible for a Muffaletta. I honestly preferred it. Compared to an LA sproutwich the whole thing hits the thicker taste buds. Its all relative. I’m sure I’ll be proven wrong again in 2 days when I’m digging into a real one.

While simmering the olive marinade Steve made mojitos. Not a cocktail local to New Orleans, but just the right amount of rum-y sugar to off-set a simmering pot of oil in the middle of the day. Hits the spot for the mood of a mid-August Saturday afternoon, when the day is about to get shorter but is hanging on and setting at 8:15p. Cooking for the mood has been a new adventure for me. Summery foods taste so much better in the summer, but I’ve always had a list of things to try and not till recently did I begin asking myself why on earth I was making minestrone in the middle of july. Last weekend in Palm Springs it was 110. Which jolted me into the mood-cooking mindset. Cucumber avocado soup, not 5 bean chili. Crepes, not buttermilk pancakes. I’ll have to dig around and see if there is restaurant menu that changes based on the weather. ‘On rainy days we serve ramen and on sunny days we serve salad.’ It looks like it might deluge on me this weekend in NO, too bad muffalettas don’t immediately feel like an ideal thunderstorm food.

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House Sitting

Danielle and I don’t have cable.  So when house sitting for my mom, there’s no question that its TV time.  I don’t consider myself obsessed with food, but for some reason it always seems to be the best thing on.  A few days of Bourdain, Iron Chef, Man v. Food, and the like makes me want to cook really badly, and leaves me constantly disappointed by my presentation skills (I’d be lucky to get 1 point for plating in Kitchen Stadium).  Diners Drive ins and Dives was also quite informative, who knew that sunglasses where made to protect the back of your neck from restaurant heat lamps?

Staying at my Mom’s has its ups and downs.  Not only because her house has a tons of staircases, but because of the raid-ability of the kitchen.  I live next door to her anyway, so raiding her kitchen is always an option when I need something in a pinch (I call it ‘going to the store’), but staying here for a few days means its no holds barred.  The only downfall is that when people are going away on vacation, they tend to not buy groceries right before they go, which is inconsiderate towards whomever they’ve put in charge of feeding their cat.

While the fridge appeared pretty empty at first, upon discovering the kielbasa, everything changed.  Hidden in the pantry upstairs as always was a giant jar of Danielle’s Grandma’s homemade sourkraut or as its pronounced in Pittsburgh Sahr Kraat.  This stuff is incredible and was the key ingredient in my first Stantastic Recipe ever.  The idea to top it off with onion rings was oddly enough, Danielle’s and not mine, which is funny because most of the time I’m trying to deep fry things and she’s trying to stop me.

The Onion Ring recipe couldn’t have been simpler, and could stand on its own:

  • 3 onions cut into rings
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 t salt in the milk, 2 in the flour
  • 1 t pepper in the milk, 1 in the flour
  • frying oil
  • ketchup
  • curry powder

The onions spend about 15 minutes in the milk, you may need to add water to make sure its over they’re heads. Next let them sit with the batter on for another 15 after being dredged.  At this point all thats left is to fry them.  The hardest part about this is thinking about all of the other things that you could be breading and frying now that you have a bowl of salted flour and a hot pan full of frying oil.  While I resisted frying chunks of dark chocolate, you certainly don’t have to (and tell me how it turns out).  The last part is to mix a bit of curry powder into some ketchup for a dipping sauce, this can be used for all kinds of stuff and has a great kick.

I site Adam Richman of Man v Food cutting a loaf of garlic bread in half and making a chicken parm sandwich out of it during a 7 lb italian food challenge as an inspiration for this sandwich.  While its not an entire loaf of bread, and I didn’t get a T-Shirt for finishing it, this monstrosity of encased meat, sahr krat, and onion rings was nonetheless delicious.

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Breadtastic. Bagels, English Muffins, Hawaiian Sweet Rolls, Cheesy Sausage Bread…

Every time I make bread I imagine a proceeding post proclaiming success, “I can make bread” but I’m yet to make such a gracious claim. After half a year of bread making practice since my ‘breadish’ post and enough time spent with The Bread Baker’s Apprentice I’ve been able to muscle through a number of bread recipes, many of which have resulted in successful actual bread outcomes. I have long assumed that at some point the process of breadmaking would transcend into a familiar task which would then allow for creative freedom and experimentation. On the contrary, I have found that every bread making adventure feels as fragile and unpredictable as the last. The edibleness of the outcome is never sure until tried and is often doubted until the bitter end. In the process of covering my kitchen with floury footprints, bowls of rising dough (one on top of the fridge that rose for 72 hours), and sticky finger-print-residue from pre-gluten kneading I can’t say I have any clue ‘how to make bread’ but I do have a a few tips for other amateurs in the very early stages of bread making.

Bread Making Tips From an Amateur to an Amateur:

  • Forget about the warm water crap. After seeing one too many beautiful starbursts of yeast floating to the top (dead) I realized that ‘warm’ really does mean luke warm, and luke warm is really hard to judge. So hard to judge in fact, that I’ve just given up on heating it all together. I’ve learned that it will rise eventually and that the yeast is better to have inert than dead because if you haven’t killed it, it tends to wake up. One thing that helps is truly room temperature additive ingredients (like eggs and milk).
  • Start at 8am. or even days prior… I know this sounds stupid, but I do hold out hope that once we get the hang of this the early hour will not be necessary. What is great about starting super early is that you can always ‘retard’ the bread in the fridge for a day and then bring it back out to rise again. In a few cases I’ve over risen things or forgotten about things that I can still save with time to re-rise, whereas trying to ‘fit it in’ an already packed schedule is a recipe for a chewy chair-flavored pancake.
  • Keep on kneading! Gluten development turns out to be much harder than I originally imagined. Set a timer for 10 min and knead the whole time. Sore and satisfied you should be able to stretch a piece apart so it becomes fibery and transparent but does not break apart or feather. Don’t be bashful, I’ve also learned that you really can and should abuse the loaf, which took me a while to truly explore and feel comfortable with. It required the creation of a new mental gateway to exert force onto something else that was actually better because of it. I still struggle to do this well, often I find myself just going for time over force.
  • Get a digital thermometer. The quickest way to see if you’re kneading correctly or baking fully is to prick the ball. This has lifted a layer of opacity for me, its a channel under the crust and through the gluten that I never before thought was possible. It also makes sense of a nonsensical device, I could figure out what digital thermometers were for. They’re impossible to read in the oven, require you to pull out the whole roast, or prick with the oven door open. Apparently they’re not for meat at all, they’re for bread dough.
  • Start with bagels. Every bread book that I’ve cracked has a pleasant paragraph at the beginning about the challenges and precision of bread making along with a cordial invitation to take it easy and ‘master the french loaf first’ instead of biting off an impossible marble rye. After failing at a dozen or so french loafs re-inspiration is difficult to come by. I would start with an impossible recipe instead, even if you fail, you failed trying to make bagels not bread.

After a successful run at the everything bagel I thought that breakfast breads might just be the trick. They’re denser naturally. Bagels required an over night ‘retardation’ in the fridge, which loosened the timing constraint of having to do step 3 two hours after step 2. Instead you could put together the bagels and then leave them until you were ready to go into the full cooking operation. I went to english muffins hoping that they might be as free from time constraints which was not true in the least. What was fun though, was that they required fry time in the iron skillet. Which gave me lasting satisfaction to know the reason why english muffins are flat.

The first true test after realizing that I might be able to expand beyond breakfast breads was the hamburger bun. I had an American cuisine party for a friend of mine from Japan and decided to do the burger buns as part of the whole shebang. The baking stone that I bought thinking I’d be all-about making knead-less bread, was a key success factor to these kneaded rolls. Upon hitting the hot stone they instantly took more shape and I’m guessing were probably responsible for the shell-like exterior. I tried to repeat this process while cooking 4 other dishes in my friend’s kitchen with less than 4 hours to go and re-learned my own lesson that you cannot rush (yet).

On the new sense that maybe rolls were the solution I gave hawaiian sweet rolls a shot. Steve is a huge fan of Kings Hawaiian so I thought these might be a nice surprise.

Hawaiian Sweet Rolls, adapted from the bread bakers apprentice:

  • Stir in a bowl, wrap in plastic, and leave for 60-90 min: 1/2 c unbleached bread flour, 1 T sugar, 2 1/4 t instant yeast (I used dry), 1/2 c water (room temperature)
  • Cream together: 6T sugar, 1/4 c powdered milk, 1 t salt, and 2T butter. Then mix in 2 large eggs and 2 t lemon extract 1 t vanilla extract.
  • Mix together
  • Knead for 10+ min until 77 degrees
  • Leave covered in an oiled bowl for 2 hours
  • Remove, and divide into balls, pull to create surface tension and tuck in corners to create smooth surface on the top of the roll
  • Leave covered in greased wax paper for 2-3 hours, then brush with egg wash
  • Bake for 50-60 min on 350F, ideally on a baking stone, wait until they reach 190 degrees, they will brown before that but that doesn’t mean they’re done inside

Hawaiian Sweet Roll Burgers:

  • Burger meat marinated in soy sauce and smashed garlic (formed and grilled)
  • Grilled onion, prepped with olive oil and black pepper
  • Sliced avocado
  • Lettuce and tomato
  • I would suggest no condiments, between the sweet roll and the avocado the result is juicer than expected

Lastly, I learned that you can bake in oiled bags. Having had a babysitter that went down in history as “pizza burner” for leaving a pizza box in the oven that burst into flames I was very uncertain that baking an oiled bag was the least big sane. Just in case I had 2 buckets of water ready to douse any bag fires. Apparently this is totally ok, you can bake an apple pie in a bag, or baked potatoes, or a chicken. In this case I baked a bread with sharp cheese and andouille sausage in a bag, but I also baked it in a glass pan to see if we could tell the difference. The only notable difference was that the sausage in the bag version was more evenly dispersed, but we still argue about wether or not there was just more sausage in that loaf to begin with. 

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