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Archive for the ‘Sexy Staples’ Category

We’re silly huge Pixar fans, & I worked in the restaurant industry for years, so it’s a mystery to me why it took us so long to see Ratatouille. It was a fantastic film, with lots of food porn & industry jokes & a minimum of my usual shouting at the TV about horrible kitchen practices.

More importantly, it got me thinking about ratatouille.

Specifically, Mum’s ratatouille.

Summer bounty

My folks are from England, but moved to Montreal when they got married in the late 60s. Mum has a lovely library of her old cookbooks from that era, deliciously “modern” guides to entertaining with photos of impossibly glossy architectural feats of Spam & asparagus. One of my favorite things to do as a child (and even now) was to leaf through the flour-filmed pages & plot exorbitant menus…

Mum’s sense of adventure & our time in francocentric Montreal meant that a lot of our routine meals were well beyond the standard family fare. I grew up eating warm crepes with lemon & sugar, salmon en croute, chicken & apricot curries, all sorts of fabulous stuff. But Mum’s mainstay was ratatouille.

Served over brown rice, ratatouille was Mum’s go-to, the dish that popped up with such regularity that when I think of the kitchen in our old house, it smells like tomatoes & peppers & herbs. I assumed everyone ate ratatouille, or something like it. It was veggie stew, really, just with a little pizzazz. No big deal, right?

Then in 3rd grade, I got the bright idea to invite The Popular Girl over for dinner. She didn’t usually give me much more than the time of day, so I don’t know what possessed her to accept, but the evening came & there she was, sitting at our table & trying to figure out what to do with a cloth napkin. Mum understood the need to play it cool – or else she didn’t feel like slaving in the kitchen all day – so she went with the house favorite. Ratatouille, piping hot, over a pile of fluffy, chewy brown rice.

I don’t remember exactly how things played out after Popular Girl got her plate, but it amounted to her declaring that she ONLY ate “chicken, hot dogs, and BASGETTI”. I think Mum dug a few hot dogs out of the freezer & ran them under the broiler to try & salvage the evening, but Popular Girl went home hungry & huffy and I went to bed thoroughly baffled as to how someone so popular could insist on eating like a 3-year-old. It was a bit of a pivotal moment for me, figuring out that popularity had nothing to do with actually being cool…

Crappy phone picture is crappy

So, fast forward thirty-some years, & my 8-year-old is growing up eating all kinds of crazy food just like his mum. I honestly hadn’t made ratatouille for years, but seeing the film made me crave it again, & got C excited to try something new. Ratatouille is perfect for this time of year, late summer/early autumn, when tomatoes & peppers & eggplant are still coming in from the garden, but the weather’s turning cool & inviting. It’s not a difficult dish to make at all, taking little more than chopping & tending for an hour or two, but it hinges on good fresh vegetables. For the love of Pete, don’t make this in February with out-of-season produce – it’ll be… fine. But ratatouille shouldn’t be fine. It should be a late summer symphony in a bowl, rich & bright & so tasty, you want a chunk of bread to sop up the traces left on your plate.

(A word on eggplant: if you don’t like eggplant, I’d argue that you’re cooking it wrong. Done properly, eggplant is smoky & flavorful, not bitter & chewy. Pick small eggplants, with nice tight, glossy skins. Salting the eggplant draws out a lot of moisture & potential bitterness, so don’t skip that step. Finally, make sure you add it early enough in the process that it gets fully cooked & absorbs all the gorgeous flavors of the sauce.)

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Ratatouille

As usual, this is a total make-it-up-as-I-go recipe, so all amounts are approximate… Yield: about 2 1/2 quarts

1 small/medium traditional eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 t sea salt

1/4 c olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin (I like to cut mine end-to-end, instead of across the center, but it totally doesn’t matter)

6-8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

3-4 bell peppers, assorted colors, cut into rough 3/4-inch pieces

2 small/medium summer squash and/or zucchini, cut into 3/4 inch cubes

2 t dry thyme

1/2 c chopped fresh basil

1 t smoked paprika (yes, smoked, but regular will do in a pinch)

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed roughly by hand

1 c dry white wine (I use pinot grigio)

Salt & pepper to taste

Sprinkle the eggplant with 1 t of sea salt & pile it into a colander to drain for about 20 minutes while you start the rest of the veggies.

Warm the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot (if you don’t own a Lodge, get on that – best money you’ll ever spend) over medium heat & add onions. Saute gently with a pinch of salt until soft & translucent. Add chopped garlic & saute for a few more minutes, until fragrant.

Add peppers, stir & let cook while you tend to the eggplant.

Rinse the salted eggplant under cold water & give it a really good shake to get rid of excess moisture. Add it to the pot, along with the summer squash/zucchini. Stir everything well & let it cook until the squash starts to get bright. Add the herbs, paprika, tomatoes & wine & stir well. Add a bit of water if things look too dry, but not too much – this is stew, not soup. Bring the pot up to a lively simmer, stirring frequently, then lower the heat so you have a nice gentle bubbling. Leave your spoon in the pot & add the lid so the pot’s mostly covered but not sealed tight.

Let your ratatouille simmer away for at least an hour, stirring on occasion to make sure nothing’s sticking to the bottom of the pot. Your kitchen will smell REALLY FREAKING GOOD at this point. After an hour, take of the lid & let it simmer another 15 minutes or so to reduce the sauce a little. Taste for salt & pepper.

Warm up some crusty bread, pour yourself a glass of wine, and devour. A few shakes of hot sauce (we like the chipotle Tabasco) would not be amiss, nor would some good goat cheese to spread on your bread.

Bon appetit!

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(If you’re wondering What’s for Dinner lately, hell if I know. It’s been stupidly hot & muggy for the past week or two, & none of us have felt much like eating, let alone cooking. I have a pile of odds & ends to use up this week, & then we’ll be back on schedule, promise…)

Making yoghurt (Yes, yoghurt. You can take the girl out of England…) is a totally nostalgic thrill for me. When I was 6, we moved from the shady suburbs to a little 7-acre farm in the country. My folks dove headfirst into self-sufficiency with all the zealousness they could muster; we raised cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, goats, the lot. We have memories both heartbreaking & hilarious of those years, & while we’ve all moved on to other pursuits, some lessons still remain.

Our sole dairy cow was a long-lashed, caramel-flanked beauty named Guinevere, & she blessed us with gallon upon gallon of gorgeous, thick milk. Mum & I tried our hand at butter & cheese a few times, but making yoghurt in our little blue-topped incubator became a weekly ritual. Years later, when I found a set of jars & a warmer for $5 at a local yard sale, it seemed a sign that it was time for me to take up spoon & thermometer again.

You don’t need any special equipment to make good yoghurt, but a few key tools will give you a better chance of success: a stem thermometer (or a glass candy thermometer) & an incubator. Temperature is key when making yoghurt, & these two things will help you get your milk to the right temperature & ensure it stays there long enough to make the transformation. If you are feeling rogueish, you can skip the incubator & jars & use a heavy lidded casserole dish instead – use a pile of old towels to insulate the dish. I’m on the lookout for an old wide-mouthed Thermos, myself…

As for ingredients, you only need two things: milk & starter. Use the best, freshest milk you can get your hands on. This is the time to track down a local dairy & start getting your milk in glass, not cardboard. Yes, you can make perfectly good yoghurt with a national brand, but if you’re going to all this trouble, why not make it special? Whole milk makes a truly luxurious yoghurt; we’re watching our diets, so we use skim with excellent results.

You can buy packets of powdered starter, but I’ve never had much luck with them – my yoghurt would always get watery & broken. Get a small tub of plain, live cultured yoghurt from the grocery store & you should be fine. I’m finding Chobani the best option so far in terms of final texture.

To start, boil a kettle of water & use it to rinse everything you’ll be using: a 2-3 quart saucepan, a wooden spoon, a small cup & fork for mixing the starter, a stem thermometer, & your jars for incubating the yoghurt (including the lids). Let your equipment air dry. Cleanliness is the other important factor when making yoghurt – we want our milk to cultivate the good beasties, not the bad.

Measure out enough milk to nearly fill your jars – the actual amount will vary according to what brand of jars you’re using. Pour the milk into the saucepan & heat it gently over medium/low flame, stirring often, until it reaches about 190F. Keep an eye on it – milk will boil over horribly if left to its own devices. Once it reaches 190F, turn off the heat & move the pan to a trivet. Stir gently & allow the milk to cool to 110F (this can take 10-15 minutes).

Meanwhile, put your jars in the incubator & plug it in to pre-warm.

Once your milk has cooled to 110F, add your starter: for every 2.5 cups/600 ml of milk, use 1 tablespoon of your starter yoghurt. Put the starter in your small cup & add a slosh of cooled milk, whisking it with a fork until very, very smooth. Add this back to the saucepan & stir thoroughly to evenly distribute the starter. Carefully pour your milk into the prepared jars, add lids, & cover the incubator. Do this all fairly quickly so your mixure doesn’t lose too much heat.

Now, the waiting game. I find that my incubator needs a full 8 hours to get my yoghurt to the consistency I like, so I tend to make it in the morning & pull the plug around dinnertime. Check yours after 4-5 hours & see how it’s progressing – look for a nice, solid texture without too much wateriness. When in doubt, let it go a bit longer.

Once it’s ready, transfer your yoghurt to the fridge & let it chill overnight before assessing the final texture. It might take you a few tries to find the right combination of starter & incubation time – just be patient. It’ll be well worth the wait. Promise.

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I love little vegetable pancakes for dinner when it’s hot – they feel a little special, but don’t mean heating up the kitchen for too long. And you can make them out of nearly anything, including leftovers.

I’d made some corny quinoa as a side dish earlier in the week, & as usual, made too much. It was delicious, but I felt like doing something more than just a warm-through with the leftovers. We make zucchini feta pancakes fairly regularly during the summer, & I thought I’d try a similar spin with the quinoa. They were gorgeous, golden brown & lightly crisp at the edges, the quinoa popping gently when you bit into them. The 2-second pepper sauce was pretty inspired, too – we’ve had it with several other meals since.

Quinoa is an exceptionally nutritious grain, packed with complete proteins, iron, calcium & magnesium. It’s gluten-free, too, so try subbing in a G-F flour in the fritter recipe below. The important thing to remember when cooking with quinoa is to rinse the raw grains really well before cooking. Quinoa has a coating of bitter saponin, & failing to rinse that off results in a pot of soapy-tasting nastiness.

***

Corny Quinoa Fritters

Makes about 12 3-inch pancakes

2/3 c raw quinoa, rinsed well in cold water

Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil, salt lightly & add the rinsed quinoa. Lower the heat to a lively simmer & cook until the grains are plump, tender & fully translucent, about 15 minutes at most. Drain & transfer to a large bowl.

1 leek, sliced thinly & rinsed well

2 T olive oil

1 1/2 c corn kernels (fresh, tinned or frozen)

Small handful of fresh basil leaves, finely shredded

Salt & pepper to taste

Saute the leeks in the olive oil, over medium heat, until they start to go golden & crisp at the edges. Add the corn & heat through. Add the cooked quinoa, basil & seasonings & warm gently. You can stop at this point & have a really lovely side dish that serves 2-3.

Transfer the quinoa mixture to a large bowl & allow to cool.

3 T all purpose flour

3 eggs, beaten

Optional: 1/2 c crumbled feta cheese

Toss the flour into the quinoa to evenly coat everything, then fold in the beaten egg & feta to make a rather wet, thick batter.

Heat 2-3 T vegetable oil in a heavy skillet & fry the batter in small pancakes, turning as the top begins to set & cooking until the edges are nice & crisp. Hold the cooked pancakes on a warm plate until the rest have been cooked. Serve plain, with warmed tomato sauce, or Red Pepper Sauce:

2-Second Red Pepper Sauce

Puree one large roasted red pepper with 2-3 T thick Greek yoghurt. Add salt & pepper to taste. Serve room temperature or chilled.

I served our quinoa fritters with sauteed squash, a delightful room-temperature side dish for the summer:

Summer Squash Sauté

Heat 2 T each of unsalted butter & olive oil in a large heavy skillet. When the butter has melted, add 2 quartered & sliced zucchini and/or yellow summer squash & toss the pan gently to coat the vegetables with the butter & oil. Turn up the heat to high & let the squash cook undisturbed for 3-4 minutes. Toss or stir well & continue to cook in 3-4 minute increments until most of the squash has turned golden at the edges & the excess moisture has mostly evaporated. Turn into a heat-proof bowl & finish with fresh thyme (lemon thyme is particularly nice here), salt & pepper. Let cool slightly before serving.

 

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You know you’re getting really old when you start meal planning, right? In my mind, that’s something old age pensioners did, a habit picked up during The War & never discarded. Fish on Fridays, lamb on Tuesdays, each meal carefully choreographed to make every last penny of groceries count. My mum did it, too, mapping out the week’s menu in her steno book in what seemed to 15-year-old me the ultimate expression of middle-age stodginess.

When I moved out on my own, I cooked what I felt like eating, when I felt like eating it. Meringues for supper at 9 o’clock at night? Sure! Pasta with butter & pepper for the third dinner in a row? What the hell! Daikon radishes & cheese for lunch, because that’s all that’s left in the fridge? Um, yay?…

Needless to say, 20 years later, with a son & husband relying on me for regular sustenance, I’ve come around to the whole idea of meal planning. For a long time, I’d take the whatever-looks-good approach when I went shopping, & figure out what to do with it when I got home. This was fine at the height of summer, when beautiful produce piles in hand over fist & there’s a veritable rainbow from which to choose.

But by the middle of winter, I’d find myself cooking the same few meals over & over again. Dinnertime would come & I’d have no idea what to make & we’d be so hungry, we’d just order out. And inevitably I’d find a bag of furry green beans/block of questionable tofu/semi-liquefied zucchini buried in the back of the fridge that I’d bought on a whim & totally forgotten. For our sanity & for the sake of our food budget, something had to change. With a shred of reluctance, I decided to start planning out our meals each week.

My goal was to make a list of 5-6 dinners that used as many ingredients that we already had in-house as possible, that took into account seasonal produce above nearly all else, & that got us a wide variety of tasty, healthy dishes we’d all eat. This meant finding something to do with that big bag of couscous in the back of the pantry, not making bell pepper-laden chili in the middle of November, & no more weekly fish stick dinners.

Did I feel like a doddering old lady when I first started? Oh yes. Did I feel like a bit of a prat at the grocery store, my shopping list in hand, passing over gorgeous but out-of-season strawberries for sensible cauliflower & sweet potatoes? You bet I did. Did we notice a difference in how well we were eating, & how much less it was costing us? Can I get a hell yes?!

My first step was to make a list of all the dinners that I knew I could make with my eyes closed, that fit the above criteria. Then I hauled out my favorite cookbooks & added things that I’d been meaning to make more often but that usually slipped under the radar. This became my Master List, & it lives on the fridge.

Each Friday evening, I grab a Post-It & rifle through the fridge & pantry & take stock of what we already have in the house. Then I see what I can make with it, drawing from The List & from my trusty cookbooks. Once I have my menu for the week planned out, I make my shopping lists – one for the farmers’ market, one for the grocery store. On a good day, the whole process takes 15-20 minutes.

I’m not so far gone as to plot the actual days we’ll eat certain things, but I make a point to arrange some fast dinners for soccer nights, longer-cooking dishes for when I know I’ll be able to get a head-start before the boys get home. I plan one fish-based meal & one tofu-based meal a week, & aim for something green every night. Home-made pizza is usually a given, & I try to make a soup or stew that can be frozen for emergency/lazy nights later in the month.

I can honestly say that we are eating much, much better than we were a year ago. We’re spending a lot less on groceries, with a lot less waste, & aren’t doing the desperation-dinner-out dance nearly as much as we used to. Yes, I still sometimes find wrinkly old carrots hiding in the back of the crisper drawer, & the Thai place round the corner still knows us by name. But I made vegetarian shepherd’s pie for the first time in ages the other week, with rough-mashed red potatoes. It was pretty damn tasty…

So, in the spirit of community & sharing the minutiae of our lives, I’ll be posting our What’s for Dinner list each week. Feel free to post your own lists, too – never too many good ideas…

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Disclaimer: What I am about to show you flies in the face of thousands of years of rice-cooking tradition, as well as everything I learned in culinary school. It’s all Amy Karol‘s fault. Blame her. And read her blog. She is awesome.

I don’t know what it is about a bowl of fresh, hot, perfectly cooked rice that is so comforting, so soothing, such a panacea for frazzled nerves & empty stomachs. But I also know that cooking rice gives folks the absolute fits, myself included for many years. The precise ratio of water to rice, the iron clad rule of never ever lifting the lid under penalty of death, the inevitable mis-timing that leads to sad little piles of crunchy/soggy/scorched rice when the rest of dinner is ready to go.

A good rice cooker is a beautiful thing, but also a potentially expensive & bulky piece of equipment to have cluttering up your kitchen. And for my money, baked rice is only good if you’re firing up the oven anyway. You really don’t want to know what I think of boil-in-bag/instant/pre-cooked rice. Really.

Lucky for me, I read a variety of food & craft blogs, & one of my favorite writers started me on the road to a ridiculously simple but nearly foolproof method of cooking rice that yields perfect. fluffy, non-gummy grains every time. You can cook just about any kind of rice or whole grain this way – even the dreaded brown rice, which we really need to eat more of. There’s no delicate timing, no special equipment, and the finished rice will rest happily until the rest of the meal is ready. It’s an all around win.

The secret is two-fold – rinsing & pre-soaking the rice, then free-boiling it in a large amount of water, just like you would pasta. Rinsing & soaking the rice keeps the grains fluffy & separate instead of a gummy mess, & free-boiling allows you perfect control over when to pull your rice from the heat, without the risk of scorching or under cooking. It’s a really simple process, so let’s get cooking.

***

Perfectly Cooked Rice:

Raw rice (appx 1/2 c per serving)

Bowl

1 t salt

Optional aromatics (a few black peppercorns, cardamom pods, or a bay leaf)

2-4 qt saucepan or pot, depending on how much rice you’re cooking, with a tight-fitting lid

Sieve

Clean dish towel/cloth napkin

Trivet/hot pad

About 30-45 minutes before you want your rice to be ready, measure your raw rice into a medium-sized bowl & cover it with 1-2 inches of water. Swish the water & rice around with your hands a few times, then carefully drain out the water (use your sieve if you like, or just pour out as much water as you can). Repeat, drain, then cover the rinsed rice with 1-2 inches of room temperature water & set the bowl aside to soak. Allow your rice to soak for about 10 minutes (20 if you’re using brown rice).

Fill your saucepan or pot with fresh water & set it over high heat, adding the salt & optional aromatics. (I especially use cardamom for Indian dishes.) Cover the pot & bring your water to a rapid boil.

Drain off the soaking water & add your rice to the boiling water, stirring constantly for the first few minutes until the water comes back to a rolling boil. Lower the heat so you have a nice lively simmer & let your rice cook away. Resist the urge to cover the pot at this stage, as it’ll boil over & make a stupid mess. Not that I’d know from experience.

After 6 minutes or so, start checking your rice, using a fork to pull out a few grains for tasting. As a rule, white/basmati/jasmine rice should take less than 10 minutes to cook, so keep an eye on it. When your rice is tiny bit chewier than you’d like, turn off the heat.

Pour the rice out through the sieve, shaking out as much water as you can before returning the rice to the still-warm pot. Put the pot on a trivet or hot pad (not back on the burner). Cover the pot with a clean tea towel or cloth napkin, then fit the lid on tightly. The cloth will help seal the lid, & captures excess steam before it condenses & drips back into your rice.

Let your rice rest in the pot for about 5 minutes, the uncover, fluff with a fork & marvel at your rice-cooking prowess.

Note: If you want a stickier rice, better suited for eating with chopsticks, try using short-grain rice & cooking it for just a bit longer. Authentic technique? No. Easy & tasty & better for you than Chinese take-out? You betcha.

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It seems like we’re holding our breath right now, waiting for spring to properly arrive. The nights are still pretty cold, & it’s too soon for anything local in the way of delicate spring vegetables, so much of what we’re eating are the traditional winter holdovers: potatoes in every shape & form, dark leafy greens, mushrooms, broccoli, & of course, winter squash.

I think winter squashes as a whole get a really bad rap – everyone loves a pumpkin, but mention acorn, buttercup, kabocha & folks tend to recoil. I blame the health food movement of the 1970s, which made steamed & stuffed acorn squashes the ubiquitous (& often flavorless) vegetarian offering at many a Thanksgiving feast. Handled incorrectly, winter squash devolves easily into watery yellow mush which no amount of salt, soy sauce or nutritional yeast can salvage.

Roasted, baked, or simmered carefully, however, & winter squash condenses into a rich, blaze orange wallop of flavor & nutrients that marries beautifully with sweet & savory ingredients. It stores well, & is an inexpensive but deliciously healthy hybrid of vegetable & starch to get you through the long grey winter.

Handling & preparing winter squash can seem a challenge to the uninitiated; they are heavy. And hard. Flippant recipes that direct one to “simply peel & dice” a winter squash can reduce even the most enthusiastic cook to tears. My advice: start small, & carry a big knife.

As a rule, winter squash varieties can be easily substituted for one another, so if it’s your first time, look for a nice compact butternut squash, with a wide, straight neck & a smaller bulb at the base. The neck is solid flesh, with no seed cavity to mess with, & is very easy to peel & cut if you have the right blade.

(If you don’t have a nice, big, heavy chefs knife in your arsenal, do yourself a favor & pick one up. It doesn’t have to cost you a fortune – one of my favorite knives was an $8 utility number from the local restaurant supply store. Just look for a solid tang, where you can see the metal of the blade running through the handle itself, & a handle made of wood or hard composite. It should feel heavy & solid in your hand, & be long enough that you can use your non-working hand to apply pressure down on the tip when needed – 10-12 inches is ideal (Go on. I can hear you sniggering.) A plain, tapered blade is the most versatile, especially if you’re not investing in multiple knives; save the cleavers & serrateds for when you’re ready to branch out.)

Every cook has their own way of handling their ingredients; I’ll describe how I treat winter squash, but it’s by no means the only way to handle them. I know folks who swear by vegetable peelers & hammers, & more power to them if that’s what works.

To dice winter squash, first cut off the stem & blossom ends of the squash, just a 1/2 inch slice or so to get rid of the tough parts. Then, cut the whole squash in half; if it’s a round squash (acorn, buttercup, pumpkin, etc.), just hack it straight down the middle; if it’s a butternut, cut right where the straight neck starts to flare out into the bottom bulb, & then cut the bulb itself in half. Take your time, use steady, slow pressure, & use the heel of your other hand to help push down on the far tip of the knife. Needless to say, keep your fingers up & out of the way. If the knife sticks in the squash, gently pick the whole thing up by the knife handle & tap gently on your work surface to break the surface tension between the blade & the flesh. Once you have manageable halves, use a sharp-edged spoon or ice cream scoop to scrape out the seeds & fibrous netting.

Now the peeling bit. Set a chunk of squash flat-side down on your work surface & cut just under the skin, from top to bottom. Use a gentle sawing motion, & if your knife is reasonably sharp, it should cut through fairly easily. Repeat around the circumference of the squash til the whole thing is peeled. When in doubt, cut a little deeper – the pale layer of flesh just under the skin can be unpleasantly tough, so don’t be shy. Once peeled, you can whack the flesh into 1/2-1 inch chunks as your recipe dictates.

If your recipe calls for pureed squash, you’re in luck. Roasting winter squash is an easy way to get velvety smooth, dense puree. First, preheat the oven to 350F, &  find a baking sheet or shallow casserole big enough to fit your squash times two. Hack your squash in half & scrape out the seeds & fibers. Pour about half an inch of water into your baking dish, & set the cut sides of the squash down into it. Bake for 30-60 minutes, or as long as it takes for you to be able to easily insert a paring knife through the skin – the time will vary depending on how big/thick your squash is. Let the halves cool enough to handle, then use a large spoon (or that ice cream scoop again) to scrape out the cooked flesh. Give it a quick whirl in a food processor or run it through a ricer/smash it with a potato masher & voila! Tasty, fully cooked, non-watery squash.

Next, I’ll give you a few ideas as to what to do with your freshly diced/pureed squash…

 

 

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Yeastie beasties

As I’m going to be doing a few posts on yeast doughs in the next few weeks, I though it would be useful to do a quick stub on what yeast I’m using, why & how.

My yeast of choice is SAF Red Instant Yeast. I buy it in 1-pound bricks from King Arthur Flour, which I pour into a heavy zip-loc bag & store in the freezer. Each pound will last me about a year.

There’s a lot of kerfuffle about instant yeast. Purists will tell you that there’s a lack of flavor, that it reacts too quickly & leads to faster staling in the final product. In theory, I understand their concerns, but in practice, quality instant yeast yields consistently good results for me. The benefit to instant yeast is that, unlike cake yeast or traditional active dry yeast, it requires no coddling or pre-hydrating before being added to a recipe. You’ll notice in my future posts that I don’t do the archetypal step of dissolving the yeast in a bit of warm water & letting it foam before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. That’s because I’m using instant yeast.

So, what if you don’t have instant yeast? No worries. You can use the same amount of active dry yeast as called for in any of my recipes. I’ve found that Red Star is a reliable store brand, Fleischmann’s less so. Always check the expiration dates when buying yeast, especially on those little packets – dig around & pull from the very back of the display, where the air is coldest & the product freshest. Store your yeast in the freezer until you need it – you can take it straight from frozen to your warm water, no need to pre-thaw it.

(Cake yeast, the foil-wrapped squares that our grandmothers used, is to be avoided, in my opinion. It’s devilishly hard to ensure that it’s fresh, & as it’s in a wet environment, it’s very susceptible to mold.)

Now we’ve covered that, let’s get baking…

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