Magic No-Knead Sourdough Bread (and How to Store It)

I’m on a quest to minimize the amount of single use plastic packaging in our household. This week: bread bags.

6384320299_ace6a56591_bWhy cut back on plastic bread bags? After all, most bread bags are made out of Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE), a plastic considered safe enough to store many kinds of food, and for baby bottles?

Because even though it’s “safe,” it doesn’t degrade, and most municipalities don’t accept LDPE for curbside recycling collection. Several grocery store chains have bins in front to collect it, but honestly, how many of us actually follow through there? Better to reduce waste in the first place. Besides, good bread doesn’t need a plastic bag. Many communities have wonderful bakeries which sell fresh bread in paper bags, or no bags at all.

If there are no bakeries around (or even if there are), you can make your own bread. It’s unbelievably easy. Doesn’t require a special machine, a lot of time or space.

Here is a fantastic, classic New York Times No-knead Bread recipe.

If you really get into it, try Scribbler’s Magic No-Knead Sourdough Bread. You’ll need:

Sourdough starter

Heavy pan with a lid

Flour

Salt

Water

The key to excellent bread is a good sourdough starter. The easiest way to find one is to ask around. Sourdough bakers generally enjoy being asked about sourdough and are happy to share.

If you don’t have a friend with a starter or want to start fresh, dried starter is available in grocery stores. I used a packet of San Francisco sourdough starter. To get it going, it needed (A) a daily feeding for seven days and (B) warm temperatures. I kept the light on in the oven and bumped the temperature up a little in the mornings to keep it as close to 80˚F as I could. The starter had strongly sour scent after the first couple of days, then mellowed, and ended up yellowish-white, bubbly, with a mildly sour smell. It looks like pancake dough.

Once your starter is going, here are a couple of sites (1)  (2) with tips on how to feed and care for it.

The more often you bake bread, the more “wild” yeast floats around in the air in your kitchen. This enlivens a starter, and makes the whole process easier.

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Start in the evening, let rise overnight and bake in the morning while you have breakfast and read the morning news. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Scribbler’s Magic No-Knead Sourdough Bread

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups flour. Bread flour is recommended but not necessary.
  • 3/4 c “fed” sourdough starter (see links on feeding sourdough starters, above)
  • 1 1/4 c lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)

Directions:

  1. In a big bowl, stir salt into flour.
  2. In a small bowl, mix lukewarm water with starter.
  3. Pour starter/water mix into dry ingredients. Stir just until mixed and most of the flour is absorbed. It will have a doughy texture. Add a little water if it feels dry.
  4. Cover the bowl. To avoid Saran-type plastic, I use waxed cloth and rest a towel on top. You can also use just a towel. This will leave a skin on top of the dough, which is not a big deal.
  5. Let rise 12 – 14 hours. I set it out at night and bake in the morning. The dough will rise 2 to 3 times its original size, be light and a little bubbly.
  6. Dump into an oiled dutch oven or heavy pan with lid, gently loosening the dough from the sides as you pour so you don’t deflate too much of the rise. Cover with a lid.
  7. Put into a cold oven. Set the temperature for 500˚ F (260˚C).
  8. Set the timer for 30 minutes.
  9. When the temperature reaches 500, turn down to 475˚ F (246˚C).
  10. At 30 minutes, remove the lid. Bake uncovered for another 17 – 20 minutes, until the crust is nice and brown and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped. For a softer crust, leave the lid on longer and/or bake for a shorter time.

This is a dense, crusty loaf that slices easily and keeps well.

Now— how to store it without a plastic bag?

Bread box

I use an expandable breadbox by Prepworks (no, they aren’t paying me for this promo). Shop around. There are a lot of options.

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A bread box does an excellent job of keeping bread fresh. Yes, my box is plastic, but hopefully it will last years and be recyclable when I’m done with it.

Have questions? Tips? A favorite breadbox? What’s your favorite bakery or bread recipe?

 

 

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Make Your Own Kefir

As part of my campaign to cut back on unnecessary containers* I decided to try making my own yogurt and kefir. Yogurt making did not go very well. Kefir, however, turned out to be amazingly easy.

If you’re unfamiliar, kefir is like a pourable yogurt, but with a different set of probiotic bacteria. Yogurt has about one billion bacteria which feed gut bacteria and clean your intestinal tract. Kefir has about 40 billion probiotic bacteria, which repopulate gut bacteria.** If you consume both, you pretty much cover all the bases in the probiotic department.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com 

If you’ve never tried kefir, I recommend starting with a sweetened variety, and work down (up?) to plain.

There is a lot conflicting information about kefir making. Some sources say it has to be raw milk, some recommend pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized, some that it doesn’t matter. Some say it has to be whole milk, others that it can be skim. Many insist it is necessary to strain out the “grains” (the lumps in kefir that carry on fermentation from batch to batch) to use for new kefir. Some advise heating the milk, others culture kefir with cold milk. Some claim kefir should be be sealed while fermenting, others keep it open to the air.

I found the simplest method works great.

You need milk, a jar, and your favorite plain kefir from the grocery store. That’s it. Kefir doesn’t have to made from cow’s milk, but I haven’t carried out experiments. Let me know if you make non-dairy kefir. I’m curious.

Directions:

  1. Find a plain kefir you like. I settled on Nancy’s, a local brand.  It is delicious and organic. It’s also pretty expensive, so making my own saves money. images.duckduckgo
  2. Heat 4 cups of milk (I use 2%, pasteurized and organic, but any kind will do) to barely bubbling, about 180 degrees fahrenheit. Let it cool to lukewarm (less than 100 degrees F). Many kefir makers don’t heat the milk . I do. It sits on the counter for 24 hours, so I’m extra careful to kill any unwanted bugs.
  3. Mix about 1/2 cup of store-bought kefir with a similar amount of the semi-cooled milk. Stir.
  4. Pour the rest of the milk into a quart jar. If you want to remove skin that may have formed during heating, use a strainer.
  5. Add the milk-kefir mix to the milk in the jar. Stir.
  6. Remove a little of the kefir-milk if needed. There should an inch or two of open space to allow gases to expand. Cover the jar tightly with a lid.

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    Photo by Burst on Pexels.com
  7. Leave the sealed container on the counter for 24 hours or so. It’s done when it has thickened a bit — not as thick as yogurt.
  8. Stir or shake thoroughly and try a swig. Delicious! Sweeten (if you must).
  9. Store in the fridge for up to a week with the lid tightly closed.
  10. Use leftovers as a starter for the next batch.

Plain store-bought kefir is a little sour for my taste, but newly-made kefir is mild and delicious. This changes as the week goes on. Refrigeration slows, but doesn’t stop the fermentation process.  Kefir gradually increases in sourness, as it also matures into a better “mother” for the next batch.

Many, many sources recommend using non-metal utensils, so, even though I have no idea if it’s necessary, that’s what I do. I have a silicone whisk for stirring, a glass container with a plastic lid, and a nylon net strainer. Metal spoons, metal lids and a metal whisk, however, have all come into contact with various batches of kefir and it seems to do all right.

Finally, safety tips: if your kefir turns any color other than white, doesn’t thicken, looks or tastes funny, toss and start over. Always use clean utensils and jars!!! Fresh milk is best. Check the sell by  date, and use at home as soon after purchase as you can. Every 2 – 3 months, use a new, store bought kefir, to make extra sure your culture is healthy and fresh. That’s the great thing about this recipe. The starter and the milk are right next to each other in the store, affordable and convenient.

Happy kefir making. If you try this recipe, let me know how it goes.

*You would be right to point out I’m not using fewer containers, as milk comes in a container. The only way to get around a milk jug is to buy from the source, which at one point, I actually did — not just to cut back on containers, but also to test out claims about the superiority of raw milk. I secured a large, washable milk jar, drove to the country and bought milk from a local farmer. It was an awful lot of driving. Also, while it was delicious, I didn’t notice any grand improvements in my health, which is usually pretty good. In the end I decided to go with the recommendations of the FDA, MDs and the CDC, which all dispute the safety of raw milk. I ditched the commute and went back to pasteurized milk from the store. Feel free to chime in on the subject. And, since our garbage hauler does not accept kefir containers for recycling, but does accept plastic milk jugs, technically I am doing my bit.

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

**“Kefir vs. Yogurt: Which One is Better?” , Doctor’s Health Press

Best Food Blog: Minimalist Baker

If you’re anything like me these days, I’ll be on my way home, realize it’s my night to cook, pull over and type “what to make for dinner” into my phone. Often what follows is a rabbit hole search, yanked by pop-up ads, insistent requests for contact info or recipes that look too complicated, unhealthy, exotic or just plain doubtful.

Minimalist Baker is not one of those blogs. Cook and creator Dana uses 10 ingredients or less, one pot, aims for thirty minutes or less, and the recipes are delicious. I often need more than one pot and more than thirty minutes, but the results are worth it.

Most of the recipes are vegan and gluten-free, which ordinarily makes me hesitate. I lean toward a plant-based diet but am not a vegetarian and eat wheat, no problem. Also, I’m from the era of dull-tasting, gas-producing vegan recipes. This site introduced me to a whole new vegetarian world. Dana’s recipes are so good even my Yankee pot roast husband likes them.

The site is beautifully done by Dana and her partner, and offers printer-friendly versions of recipes. Links are provided to their food photography classes and publications, but no pop ups. Thank you Dana and John. In an age of monetized-everything, this blog is a gem.

Minimalist Baker’s Cauliflower Rice Stir Fry

The cauliflower rice added extra time to the advertised 30-minutes, but who knew cauliflower could be so tasty and versatile? This is fun to surprise guests with. I served with real rice on the side to soak up the sauce.

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Photo Credit: Minimalist Baker
Author: Minimalist Baker
Recipe type: Entrée
Cuisine: Vegan, Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Asian-Inspired
Serves: 2
Ingredients
CAULIFLOWER
SAUCE
  • 1 tsp sesame oil or coconut oil (or sub water if avoiding oil)
  • 2 Tbsp (32 g) almond or peanut butter
  • 4 Tbsp (60 ml) coconut aminos (or sub low sodium gluten-free tamari, but it will be saltier)
  • 2 Tbsp (30 ml) lime juice
  • 2-4 tsp chili garlic sauce (reduce or increase according to spice preference)
  • 1 Tbsp (3 g) minced fresh ginger (or 1/2 tsp ground ginger)
  • 1 Tbsp (15 ml) maple syrup (or sub coconut sugar or stevia to taste)
  • 1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) water
STIR FRY
  • 1 Tbsp (15 ml) sesame oil or coconut oil (or sub water if avoiding oil)
  • 1 1/2 cups (150 g) green beans, trimmed and halved
  • 3 Tbsp (45 ml) coconut aminos, divided
  • 1 bell pepper (120 g), thinly sliced lengthwise (red, orange, or yellow are best)
  • 1 cup (100 g) diced green onions (reserve some green tops for serving)
  • 1 cup (89 g) thinly sliced red (or green) cabbage
  • 1/2-3/4 cup (60-90 g) roasted cashews or slivered toasted almonds, or 1 batch Almond Butter Tofu (you could also substitute 1/3 cup hemp seeds sprinkled over the top for serving for extra protein)
FOR SERVING optional
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Lime wedges
  • Sriracha or chili garlic sauce
Instructions
  1. Follow instructions for cauliflower rice. Set aside.
  2. Prepare sauce by adding oil (or water), almond or peanut butter, coconut aminos, lime juice, chili garlic sauce, fresh ginger, maple syrup, and water to a small mixing bowl and whisking to combine. Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more chili garlic sauce for heat, lime for acidity, coconut aminos for saltiness, ginger for “zing,” or maple syrup for sweetness. Set aside.
  3. Heat a large rimmed skillet (I prefer this cast-iron skillet) over medium-low heat and add cauliflower rice and water. Stir and cover with a lid to steam. Cook for 4-6 minutes or until just tender. Then turn off heat, tip the lid to let some steam out, and set aside.
  4. Heat a separate large rimmed skillet (or pot) over medium heat. Once hot, add sesame oil (or water) and green beans. Season with 1 Tbsp (15 ml) coconut aminos and toss to combine. Cover with lid (to steam) and cook for a total of 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add bell pepper, green onion, cabbage, and remaining 2 Tbsp (30 ml) coconut aminos and stir to combine. Sauté for 3-4 minutes or until just tender. Then add cashews and cauliflower rice and stir to combine. (Alternatively, serve stir-fry over cauliflower rice and don’t add to the vegetables at this time.)
  6. Add the sauce, increase the heat to medium-high heat, and cook until well combined and the mixture is very hot – about 3 minutes.
  7. Serve and enjoy! Delicious on its own, but also delicious with the addition of fresh cilantro, lime wedges, and hot sauce of choice.
  8. Best when fresh, but leftovers keep up to 3 days in the refrigerator or 1 month in the freezer. Reheat on the stovetop until hot. Add more coconut aminos as needed.
Notes
*Recipe adapted from my Almond Butter Tofu Stir-Fry.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate for 1 of 2 servings without additional toppings / garnishes, and is calculated with oil instead of water.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1/2 of recipe Calories: 453 Fat: 24.7 g Saturated fat: 4.3 g Carbohydrates: 52 g Sugar: 17.4 gSodium: 126 mg Fiber: 10.4 g Protein: 11.9 g
Featured Image Photo Credit: Nicolas Raymond

Summer with Chris Gonso

Day after day, Chris Gonso, produces beautiful poetry, pose and photographs on his blog about rural life with his family. His work is a potent reminder to turn off the computer, go outside, cook, garden, be with the people we love. Feeling stressed? Discouraged? Too busy to cook?  Pay him a visit. IMG_3645.jpg

 

Lap Lap

Lap Lap With Coconut Milk

Traditional dish from Vanuatu

  1. Peel taro using a sharp knife.
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Taro root + coconut. Remove all of the taro skin, as it can irritate mouth and fingers.

2. Heat rocks in fire pit.

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3. “Scratch” coconuts to extract the meat.

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Grace and a Peace Corps buddy demonstrate how to scratch coconuts using a scraper attached to a stool.

4. Squeeze coconut meat to release the milk. Set milk aside to be used later for sauce.

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Leftover coconut meat is fed to the chickens.

5. Grate the taro.

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Above, traditional method using two sticks, but often a piece of tin with nail holes is used as a grater.

6. Knead taro to remove lumps.

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7. Spread onto prepared banana leaf. Wrap and secure.

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8. Place on heated rocks, cover with more hot rocks. Bake for about three hours.

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9. Unwrap piping hot lap lap, spoon hot coconut milk sauce over the top, slice and serve.

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Mild flavored, a nice texture, kind of like polenta. 

For more responses to this week’s WordPress photo challenge click: Details

Sourdough from Scratch

Inspired by the Netflix documentary “Cooked,” featuring Michael Pollan, this week I’m on a bread-making jag.

In this gorgeously filmed series, Pollen apprentices himself to masters in the cooking arts and learns how the classical elements fire, water, air and earth transform nature into food.

The episode titled “Air” includes visits to Morocco, food laboratories and master bakers to unlock the secrets of gluten, sourdough, and the art of baking bread.

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As my husband will attest, the results of my bread-making have been mixed, but this time, infused with the Pollan spirit, I know I can do it! Sourdough from scratch. No packaged yeast.

Equipment and ingredients:
• Clean glass or enamel bowl
• Clean spoon
• Clean dish towel
• 2 cups flour
• 1 1/2 cups water (optional: 2 T acidic juice, pineapple, orange or lemon)

Day 1: mix 2 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups water in the bowl. Cover with the dishtowel.  Leave it out on a counter.

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The batter attracts wild yeast, which feeds on sugar in the flour. The process produces gas, which creates the bubbles that make bread rise. The resulting culture, known by sourdough officionados as the “mother” and referred to as “her,” might take a couple of days, but can start growing right away.

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Evening of day 1

Day 2: feed with 1/3 cup flour and 1/4 cup water. The batter will be lumpy but that’s O.K. The yeast will finish the job. If a clear fluid appears on top, stir it in. It’s alcohol, a natural byproduct that adds flavor and helps preserve the batter. A pinkish or moldy-looking fluid means you’ve attracted the wrong kind of bacteria. Discard the batter and start over.

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Day 2, before feeding

Day 3-7: repeat feeding procedure up to Day 7, then use or throw away some of the mother and keep the rest in a jar in the refrigerator. Batter that is ready to use is bubbly and has a nice sourdough scent. Mine might be ready by day three or four.

Or, it might not be ready—batter can be activated by the same bacteria that makes cheese ferment, making it bubble right away. Around day 3 or 4 though, this bacteria stops working. The batter becomes flat and dead-looking. This is the point where many would-be sourdough makers give up, when actually the yeast hasn’t started to work yet.

Yeast likes more acid than the almost-neutral pH combination of flour and water, hence the optional addition of an acidic juice listed above. If the culture doesn’t start to grow by day 6, add 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar to the daily feeding.

It’s all right to leave the batter on the counter for an extra week or so to enhance flavor and texture.

Stay tuned for Part B: Sourdough Bread From Scratch. Maybe.

Are you a bread maker? Any tips on making sourdough from scratch?

For a trove of detailed instructions and recipes, visit experts like the Wild Yeast Blog, and The Fresh Loaf.

For more on this week’s WordPress Photo challenge: Admiration

Thank you Shawn Hoke for the featured image.