That's What Cheese Said

I tried making ricotta cheese and failed.  I'm a huge fan of It's Alive with Brad and he makes ricotta cheese. It seems simple - milk, salt, acid. I didn't too much research other than read recipes. Which felt like enough, right? It should be enough? It wasn't. Turns out, after my fail that you can't make ricotta, or faux ricotta, with ultra pasteurized milk. Which is most of the milk you find in stores. 

The difference between ultra pasteurized and regular ole pasteurized is the temperature that the milk is heated to in order to kill of bacteria. Pasteurized milk is heated to 161°F for 15 seconds or 145°F for 30 minutes. Ultra pasteurized milk is heated to 280°F at the minimum. Pasteurized kills all the harmful bacteria and Ultra kills everything. Killing everything is fine, except when you need the bacteria to make a little kitchen magic. 

So, what happened to my no-ricotta cheese? It turned out more like a sweet crème fraîche, sorta. Maybe to put it better, a loose cream cheese. I used it on toasties and sandwiches where it added a creaminess. I also made sure to add a generous pinch of salt. Would I make this again? Heck yea, but I'll make sure my milk is not ultra pasteurized and try to get a real result. Not having a clear head after my disappointment, I think this loose cheese spread (man, that sounds appetizing..not) would be a good replacement for ricotta in cakes, waffles or other baked goods. 

Fail Breadlist - a collection of a few flops and fails I've been following

Cat Cora v. Alinea - Deep dive in to this battle of TV famous chef vs famous restaurant. Who's in the right? (For some post-real time reaction, I first found out about this from @hels on Twitter ) 

Epicurious and the ballad of a "full-time" freelancer - Last week the editor of the Epicurious website posted about a job that didn't go as expected. Learn a little more about this gray area of work and the murkiness of peralancing

Everyone hates this chair and I can relate. 

A universal fail, maybe a stretch, but public shaming is something that we're used to no? Gosh, I hope not. This (not) short John Oliver clip will peel back to layers of the buzz-y news and social shaming. 

I'm Bread Blocked

I've been making the same bread for several months. You might say I've got bakers block. Which, I guess when you find something that works you stick with it, eh? Well squashy gourd bread has been my go-to. I will occasionally spice things up by making variations. For Christmas I made a caramelized onion and thyme squash bread. It smelled amazing - herby and sweet. The onions give the bread this melty sweetness. 

Prior to mixing in the add-ins (salt, seeds, thyme, etc), I've got a hot tip for you. Mix just the salt and thyme in a small bowl together, then rub the them together to help in release the fragrance and oils of the herb. After that, add it to the dough along with the seeds, onion and squash. 

Herby Christmas Squash Bread
700 g water
160 g starter
600 g AP flour
400 g wheat flour

20 g salt
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
30 g flax
100 g caramelized onions
100 roasted squash

Preparation & Method 
- Mix water, starter and flours. Mix until all flour is incorporated; it will be shaggy. 
- Autolyse for at least 20 minutes and no more than 2 hours
- Add in salt, seeds, thyme, onions and squash. Mix until (mostly) incorporated. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. 
- Uncover and with wet hands stretch and fold the dough 10 times. Set the time for 20 minutes and do this three more times. 
- Cover and let bulk ferment for 3 hours
- After growing large and super puffy scrape out on to a lightly dusted counter. Slice and divide into two (for very large loaves) or thirds (for medium size loaves). Scrape into loose blobs and rest for 20 minutes. 
- Prep baskets, bowls or resting containers. After bench rest shape and fold the dough in to their respective shapes (boule or batard)
- Tuck the lil loaves into the fridge for the night to cold ferment for 8-18 hours. 
- The next morning preheat the oven to 500˚ and pull out the first loaf to bake. Lay a piece of parchment paper over the basket and flip out the loaf. Score and place into a dutch oven, put the lid on. 
- Put the dutch oven into the heated oven, after shutting the door DON'T FORGET TO TURN IT DOWN to 450˚.
- Bake with the lid on for 20 minutes and then remove the lid baking for 20 minutes more. It should be golden brown, like a 7 or 8ish on a scale of 1-10 . 
- Remove and let cool. Repeat with other loaves (or do a baller move and have multiple dutch ovens going at once.)

And people think baking sourdough is so hard! Ha - only 27ish hours to make a few loaves. People be crazy. It's also possible I am crazy. 

Other things I've making, reading and puzzling

For new years eve dinner I made some fancy champagne pasta and pear, pine nut and pecorino salad. I don't recommend reheating the pasta, so invite enough people over to eat it or reduce the recipe. 

Dutch cheese is all the rage in the Philippines, or how the Dutch failed to colonize the islands because the Spanish got their first. 

If the new Marie Kondo Netflix show has you clearing things out then you should really read about Swedish Death Cleaning. I mention it at least once every holiday to my parents because I am a very thoughtful daughter. 

Another Lust family holiday tradition is puzzles. We lean heavily into the Charles Wysocki puzzles and have very few by any other artist. His quant Americana and diverse scenes make puzzling.. fun? Since I've been home I've bought two a completed them within 3 or fewer days. Since travel picks up this week, it'll probably stay that way. 

Bread Freeze

Each week when I make a batch of bread it yields three mid-sized loaves. I usually give one or two loaves away to friends, leaving me with one for the week.  Last week I didn't give any away. Not for any reason in particular, they just didn't make it out of the house. Rather then be a bread eating fiend all week, I froze it. 

Freezing bread is a hotly debated topic. But freezing good bread is a way to preserve it. The important thing is to SLICE your loaf before freezing. The same goes for bagels, english muffins or anything else that you don't eat whole. Then take a freezer gallon bag, put all the slices in and press the air our before sealing. Then BLAMO- ready for the toaster, single serving, sliced bread. Perfect for breakfast, ad hoc grilled cheese dinners or the random craving for toast and pimento cheese. Support for this theory can be found in this New York Times article about the secret to the best toast, and I don't disagree.  

Long weekends mean I cook ALL THE THINGS. In addition to too much bread last weekend I made buckwheat pancakes. I'm still trying to work through my bags of alternative flours and buckwheat is the one I'm having a hard time using up. These pancakes are good, I mean, real good. The rising agent is mainly yeast and then after it's risen overnight (so, prep) adding a little baking soda after the bulk rise gives these a fluffiness not see in buckwheat or whole wheat pancakes before. Make these, eat them up or as this the theme of this letter, freeze them on a cutting board then transfer to a sealed bag once they're hard. This will help prevent them from sticking together. To eat them, pop them in the toaster, in a heated pan or the oven if you're doing a bunch. Who said you can't have pancakes on a weekday? 

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Yeasted Buckwheat Pancakes
1 T active dry yeast
1/2 warm water
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 t salt
1 cup cold water

1 T sugar, white or brown
2 T melted butter
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 cup hot (from the tap hot, not the kettle) water 

  • Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Combine whole wheat pastry flour, organic buckwheat flour, and salt. Stir in yeast mixture and 1 cup cold water. Cover and refrigerate overnight or several hours.
  • Combine melted margarine, baking soda, hot water and sugar. Add this mixture to the flour mixture and let stand 30 minutes.
  • Cook pancakes on a lightly greased griddle. Makes 8 pancakes.

What else I've been cooking, reading, listening and watching
Last weekend I made this pasta and cauliflower dish from the cookbook Dinner; which of course I promptly changed everything in it. I used campanelle past, because it's what I had on hand. I added more veggie that the recipe calls for but it was worth it. I added yellow summer squash, onions, roasted banana peppers and olives. I also switched up the parmesan cheese for feta. But man, it's good. The capers and olives give it the salty brineness, followed by a lemon punch and the cauliflower and past a hearty sweetness. Add chicken or heck, any other protein and you are set. 

I made this same dish this weekend but my veg mix was zucchini, red onion, roasted green pepper with olives, whole wheat fusilli pasta and left over rotisserie chicken. Hellloooooo this week's lunches. 

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I have been loving the Amazon show All or Nothing. This mini docu series follows a sports team through one season. Coving all there about that team and the sport. From the actual game to the business of a pro-team. I started with Manchester City, a primer league soccer team; to the All Blacks New Zealand rugby team and I just finished the Arizona Cardinals 2015 - 2016 season. 

The hidden, horrifying costs of being single article from the Guardian wasn't a huge shock to me because I feel it in nearly every aspect of my life. Being single and a woman requires more resources, "over a lifetime, unmarried women can pay as much as a million dollars more than their married counterparts.” In addition to reading that this week, my friend Cindy posted this diagram on Instagram of why she's still single in her 30's. Needless to say, we're in the same boat. 
While on the hunt for a new podcast I stumbled on Friendshipping. Two friends answering submitted friendship and really any relationship questions. The banter between the hosts is great as they talk through and then workshop language to solve the conflict between two people. I'd recommend starting with Please Respect My Bedtime, aka friendship in your thirties. 

The cool weather and feel of fall this weekend has refreshed me and given me renewed energy. Short weeks are hard weeks. Last week was no different. I'm looking forward to this week, Monday's are a fresh start. 


Rarer Than Rubies

This week, Wednesday specifically, ends my course in altMBA. I'm still processing what it all means, but like all good and challenging things I won't be the same. 

I knew I wanted to make a Ruby (the name of my cohort) inspired bread. So I give you- Ruby swirl. I made 2/3's recipe of plain, white sourdough. I reserved tops and tails of beets I roasted and blitzed them. Using the juice and two heaping spoonfuls of beet pulp in the dough to turn it into the most fantastic bright pink color. 

After the bulk fermentation I divided each batch into 3 pieces and let them bench rest. Then when it came time for shaping, I brushed off as much flour as possible then I stretched a plain white out and placed a stretched out (trying to match size) on top. Pushing little dimples in the stacked dough to help seal them together and then shaped them. I had a little bit of mixed sesame seeds left over so two got topped with seeds. You can see my pigeon scratch bread notes below.

In an attempt to do a bread stencil I cut out a ruby-ish stencil from a bit of junk mail. It was tougher than  thought since I don't have an Exact-o knife and had to use a real knife. Not the best decision, but it worked out okay. The shape didn't stay very well, but for my very first try, not bad! 

Now! For the reveal! Plot twist, the pink beet turned brown! There are a few tiny specs of pink from the beet pulp that wasn't emulsified in the dough. It was a surprise, and not expected at all. The taste is like a slightly earthier wheat bread. But oh man, I forgot how much I loved white sourdough. It's soft, chewy and excellent toasted. 

Should I Be Bread-er?

Do you miss bread content? I've been doing some bread things, but nothing of note really. Well.. I made tomato-y bread. And successfully got basil leafs to stay on. (The trick is to place them on the bannetons basket before the final rise. This glues them to the surface of the bread and helps it stay on through cutting, slicing and the like.) 

I do love a cake. A simple cake. I don't go in for these fancy, unicorn horn, drippy swirl shenanigans. Back to simple cake, especially with sweet summer fruit in it. I had to stop myself from making lemon coconut cake earlier this week because I'd already made blueberry crisp. Making any fruit crisp is beyond easy and it's a good way to practice non-recipe cooking. A crisp is more cooking than baking. The science is less exact. My blueberry crisp goes something like this...

- 1/3 cup and then some of oats, whatever you've got
- 3-4 heaping spoons of flour, I used wheat
- 1/2 stick of butter, diced into small cubes
- a few dashes of the good cinnamon, a little goes along way
- 2 heaping spoons of brown sugar, white is okay too

- Mix all this in a bowl, mash with your fingers so the butter in disputed and a little melty. Kinda like when you make pie dough by hand. 
- In an 8x8, 8x9, 12 oval or something similar (don't go as big as a 9x13 pan unless your doing 1 and a half or double the crisp) have a single layer of fruit. I used blueberries but cherries, peaches or any other softer fruits would be okay. Apples might do, but have foil handy incase the crisp browns faster than the apples cook. 
- Bake at 375/400 ish for about 15 or 20 mins. Things to look out for doneness - the SMELL, can you smell it? It's probably done. Bubbling fruit on the edges and a browned crisp top. If the fruit isn't also bubbling, probably not done. Use your best judgement, if you don't trust you self consider this an opportunity to trust the process. 

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In other news, I got a DOUBLE bunch of kale from my CSA this week. Think like... 2 lbs of kale. Just taunting me. So I spent an afternoon making these two dishes and I STILL have a few stems to use up. I kale, sausage, pepper and onion quiche-y tarts mini, and they're so good. Kale and quinoa pilaf salad that I added the turkey ricotta meatballs to from the Small Victories cookbook

Bread has been around forever, basically. Are we surprised? No. Let's face it, this glutinous staple as been in our lives since the dawn of time.    

For all my craft and pun lovers out there (also alert Parks and Rec fans) have you seen Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman's new show? Well Making It is soon to be my new favorite. (I mean, second favorite, who am I kidding, The Good Place is solidly in first.) Watch this super cute pun-off promo and get excited! ARE THEY THE NEW MEL AND SUE?? 


Maybe not. 


Not That Kind of Hooch

This weekend I came to the shocking realization that I had seven little jars of starter. SEVEN. I think my panic of possibly killing my starter made me a hoarder. In my zeal to gain some fridge space back and reduce the number of yeast colonies to maintain (or guiltily not maintain) I set to the task of reducing my starter.

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I had so many duplicates it wasn't hard to slim down my, errr collection? Three beer barm starter was two too many. In a new jar I feed the beer barm, labeled with the date and disposed of the rest. I rarely use beer barm but I really like having it around as an option. My regular sourdough, which I do keep a backup of, was more like backup times three. 

I highly recommend keeping starter in Mason jars with these reusable lids. Long term starter storage is just enough to keep it going. When I take it out of the fridge to feed it before baking I'll transfer it to a small mixing bowl, giving it room to grow. The plastic lids make it easy to label and date, just use a dry erase marker. The writing will stay on until you wash it off or vigorously rub it off. Sometimes both is required, but it is more convenient than blue tape and a sharpie.   

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Several of these starters had something called hooch floating on top. The 'hooch' is a 'waste' product from the yeasts/bacteria in the culture. (SCIENCE!) Basically it means that your starter is getting a little tired and is producing alcohol. Alcohol is a yeast by product. With hooch you can do one of two things- pour it out or stir it in. It really doesn't matter either way but everyone has a preference. I stir mine in. Once you feel your yeastie bugs the hooch is washed out by the fresh flour and water, aka food.  

Here are my final three- main starter, the lil backup and beer barm, just happy to be here.

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I'm in the midst of packing again. I leave this week for Banff, the Canadian Rockies. Five days away, with three of my favorite people. I can't wait. I don't have a lot of internet-y things for you this week, but I have one recommendation of an audio interview. 

"It's strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you." In one of his last interviews John Donohue speaks with On Being in an interview that made me pause everything for an evening and listen to his lyrical Irish accent speaking on beauty. Too often society definition of beauty is narrow, when in actuality beauty is so much more than we give it credit for. Thinking of beauty as "... a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life." Life in DC can envelope you into a work horse, go-go-go life and I find myself unable to pause. Listening to this interview makes me want to pause and be more grateful for where I am and why I'm here. 


This weekend was full of friend hang time. And over lunch, dinner, games and drinks, several people asked me "what's new" and well, I didn't have an answer. I finally watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and Thor: Ragnarok- so Avengers: Infinity War makes a lot more sense now. After travelling so much these past few months, what's new is staying put. 

Being home and that means settling back into a routine. Home routines are good for the soul and good for sourdough. When I bake routinely I don't need to baby my starter because it's hearty nature and weekly feedings will see it through. Since I've gone for so many weeks off and on, I need to spend time building back up my starter. I have a leaven going on right now in preparation for bread and hope that will kick start the the lil yeasties back into high gear. 

But a big ole bowl of pre-bread goop isn't appealing, so here's a recipe and mouth watering photos of COOKIES. These vegan cookies are simple, but do require you to plan ahead- as they take 12-24 hours to... gel..together? 

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Ovenly's Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Food52, Adapted slightly from Ovenly: Sweet and Salty Recipes from New York's Most Creative Bakery by Erin Patinkin & Agatha Kulaga

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/4 cups dark chocolate chips (I used semi sweet)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar (i used light, so my cookies look very pale)
1/2 cup canola, grapeseed, or any other neutral oil
1/4 cup water

Coarse-grained sea salt or flaky sea salt, for garnish

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips to the flour mixture and toss to coat.
  2. In a separate large bowl, whisk the sugars briskly with the canola oil and water until smooth and incorporated, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, and then stir with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula until just combined and no flour is visible. Do not overmix.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. Do not skip this step.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two rimmed sheet pans with parchment paper. Remove dough from the refrigerator and use an ice cream scoop or a spoon to portion dough into 2-inch mounds. We recommend freezing the balls of dough for 10 minutes before baking as the cookies will retain their shape better while baking.
  6. Sprinkle the balls of dough with coarse-grained sea salt (if freezing, remove balls of dough from the freezer first), and bake for 12 to 13 minutes, or until the edges are just golden. Do not overbake. Let cool completely before serving.

Now, let me tell you about these cookies. They're gooey, sweet, chocolatey, richly satisfying and the salt on top- pushes it over the edge into best ever territory. 

This Week's Breadlist
Don't eat gluten free. (But if you're here, then you probably already know this.)
Seltzer wars??  La Croix gives me a headache so I generally opt for anything but. Currently I have Trader Joe's in my home fridge and Giant brand at work. 
A Visual History of Light, animated. This video could also be titled " Chronological History of Things People Made to Stay Up Later."