Book Recommendation: Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf
Saturday, January 10, 2015
If there is one aspect of cooking where I feel my results are not proportional to my efforts, it would be bread baking. It isn’t for lack of trying: I’ve worked my way through the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Whole Grain Breads, the Metropolitan Bakery Cookbook, and My Bread to name just the bread-centric cookbooks I’ve tried. Too often, my loaves would be flavorless, overly dense, underfermented, and even undercooked.
Granted, I have been handicapping myself by both insisting on locally grown and milled wheat and on incorporating as much whole wheat flour into the bread as possible. Still, this is how I eat, and I want the bread I eat (and bake) to be reflective of that.
Therefore, when I opened Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf, I was skeptical. I didn’t see how this book could succeed where so many others have failed. However, Fromartz did succeed with me - and brilliantly. I suspect the reason for this is that Fromartz approached everything from the vantage point of a home baker, translating the lessons he learned in professional bakeries to the home kitchen. Cookbooks typically follow the opposite trajectory. He discusses at length the variations in flour, temperature, and humidity that affect dough, ultimately concluding that the best baking is done by feel. Far more than a cookbook, Fromartz provides an appealing narrative of his evolving technique and growing knowledge, and I found myself reading the book in its entirety before even attempting a recipe.
My first success was a wild yeast starter made with whole wheat flour, honey, and water. Somehow, Fromartz’s method succeeded where so many others had failed. I used the resulting starter to make a version of Lahey’s no-knead bread, which had an excellent sourdough flavor.
So, on these brutally cold winter days when you are drawn to the warmth of the fire for reading or the warmth of an oven for baking, I’d recommend a copy of In Search of the Perfect Loaf to accompany you.
P.S. Samuel Fromartz also maintains the very cool Chews Wise Blog
Posted by Kevin on 01/10 at 06:19 PM
High Street on Market’s Pannettone
Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Here’s one final slice of holiday excess for Epiphany, Three Kings’ Day, Twelfth Night, or what you will: High Street on Market’s panettone, made with local flour. It was quite a bit for two people, but we managed.
Posted by Donna on 01/06 at 09:55 AM
Saturday, January 03, 2015
I’d first read about Unionville in reading about the Judgement of Princeton and, of course, through Carlo De Vito’s East Coast Wineries blog. This reading prepared me for the quality of wine. What it did not prepare me for was the gorgeous countryside adjacent to the Sourland Mountain Preserve. This is some of the most idyllic wine country we have seen in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
Unionville is actually four separate farms making wine under one moniker and winemaker, Cameron Stark. As a result, the wines vary greatly in style, from dry whites to ports. Each tasting constitutes eight wines, so we were able to sample a large portion of that variety. The tasting room is a gorgeous, bi-level, repurposed barn, and our server was knowledgeable and amiable. It is so nice, and more rare than it should be, to have a conversation about the wines we were tasting. We came away understanding the particularities of Unionville wines as well as a better understanding of winemaking in general.
Everything we tasted was of excellent quality, and if I didn’t leave with more bottles, it was only because there are so many excellent local wines and so few square feet in my house. Therefore, I am always looking to take away the bottle or bottles that were most unique to that winery. To my tasting, the Unionville’s chardonnays were the distinguishing wines: they had the most subtle hints of oak I have yet tasted, and the most prominent citrus flavors. However, I wouldn’t want to reduce my description to only those terms; there is far more to them. The Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, which came home with us, is so complex and varied that it deserves a long, slow sipping (and savoring) over a multi-course meal.
When the Farm Stops Coming to You
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Despite the ever expanding selection offered with Winter Harvest, it’s hard not to miss Headhouse Farmers’ Market once it wraps up for the season. Seems like as good an excuse as any to visit one of the many nearby farm stores. We went to two of our favorites on Monday: Griggstown Market and Cherry Grove Farm Store, both a few minutes away from one another in the Princeton area.
Cherry Grove Farm creates an amazing array of cheeses, the making of which you can often view right through the window at the Farm Store as you buy. We took home a Full Nettle Jack - worth it for the name alone, but also herby and creamy. The Farm Store also carries Cherry Grove’s own pasture raised meats and eggs, and dozens of products from local and regional farms and producers. The beeswax candle scented with lavender essential oil would have made a wonderful gift, but we were content to keep it for ourselves.
If you haven’t had a Griggstown pot pie, you’ve got a long, cold winter to correct that. My very favorite is chicken, but they do beef, turkey, vegetarian and Shepherd’s pies, along with whole and ground chicken and poussin, and a variety of meatballs and sausages. There’s even a prepared food counter, soups and chili, local milk and eggs, fruit pies and seasonal produce.
Both stores are open seven days and easily provide one stop dinner shopping.
Posted by Donna on 12/31 at 01:40 PM
A Day of Wine in the Lehigh Valley
Friday, November 28, 2014
Several weeks ago we had the opportunity of visiting four very different wineries within the span of a week. It was highly effective (not to mention enjoyable) in learning how different wine can taste - and by that I mean how different wines made from the same grape can vary year by year, vineyard by vineyard within the same area, and microclimate by microclimate.
I was particularly impressed with what we found during our day trip to the Lehigh Valley, following a route similar to Craig Laban’s. Our first stop was Pinnacle Ridge, where we focused on tasting their dry red wines. This was the first (and likely only) time I actually enjoyed a chambourcin, but more importantly I understood clearly something that Luca Turdo explained to me this summer: cabernet franc does best in colder climates. The cabernet francs I had tasted from warmer microclimates were thinner, less interesting stuff than what Pinnacle Ridge is making here. In fact, it was quite nearly the quality of Roanoke’s cabernet franc from North Fork, Long Island.
After a quick and delicious lunch from Wanamaker’s General Store, we wound our way up (quite literally) to Galen Glen winery.
This was not my first tasting of Galen Glen, but this was my first visit to the winery. It may be the most picturesque tasting room I have seen on the East Coast. Even more impressive were the wines. The Stone Cellar Gewurztraminer had an incredibly floral bouquet and palate of tropical fruit. The dry Stone Cellar Riesling was bracingly so, with a taste of citrus. However, my absolute favorite was, and is, the Stone Cellar Gruner Veltliner. Delicious, complex, and refreshing, I have a difficulty imagining that I would ever tire of this wine. I am still kicking myself for only buying two bottles. Thankfully, they do ship within Pennsylvania.
After our week of wine tastings, and an additional one since, I have a newfound appreciation for the number of truly unique, excellent wineries within an easy drive of the city. We have had consistently and reliably good wineries for some time, but we have not gone even further with some truly exceptional ones as well.
Beyond Red Gravy
Saturday, November 15, 2014
We’ve tried a few types of Vera Pasta over the past few months and have loved their variety and seasonality. Their beet linguine was a unique starter to Easter dinner with soft goat cheese melted in, and we inhaled their kale and lemon linguine with a walnut sauce. This time, we tried their crab cake ravioli and were a bit stumped for a sauce until I saw the Delicata squash in the fridge. Cut into small cubes and sauteed in olive oil, it was ready faster than the ravioli.
Posted by Donna on 11/15 at 06:06 PM
Wyebrook Farm - Honey Brook, PA
Friday, November 07, 2014
To celebrate the end of Daylight Savings Time, we took a beautiful drive last Sunday morning to Wyebrook Farm, a little more than an hour from Philly in Honey Brook.
Wyebrook raises cattle, pigs and chickens, all to meticulous sustainable standards. Their meats, milk and eggs, some vegetables and a large selection of local cheeses and other products can be purchased at their market, while the cafe and restaurant serve lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.
The brunch omelet, with fresh made sausage from the farm, was delicious, as was the “bread basket” full of beautiful little pastries and quick breads.
We took home fresh ground beef and chicken along with various other local items from the market. Definitely better than an extra hour of sleep.
Humble and Lazy Beans
Sunday, November 02, 2014
Each year, I am amazed at the diversity and output of our little garden plot. Even when the success rate of our three-sisters experiment was 66% (no squash), we still came away with delicious corn and an unusual pole bean called Lazy Housewife.
I thought the Lazy Housewife was just amusingly named, but there’s a metaphor buried in that imaginative moniker: there was little effort in harvesting the dried beans. To be honest, we picked the beans, plopped them in the vegetable bin in the fridge, and completely forgot about them. Weeks later, we remembered, peeled them open, and out popped dried beans.
Since these were special to us, I wanted a simple preparation - no stews or soups here. So, I opted for this recipe from Jamie Oliver. The Lazy Housewife may have been used in “Humble Home-cooked Beans,” but don’t let the underwhelming adjectives deceive you. They were absolutely delicious. Apart from the (apparent) simplicity of the dish, I was interested in the technique: simmering the beans with vegetables and spices to impart flavor. I had done so with garlic and herbs, but never this many ingredients. The results were beans that didn’t taste like the vegetables, but a more interesting, complex version of themselves. Just a word of warning: a long, slow simmer is best. In fact, simmer these the way you would simmer a slow-cooking shoulder-cut of meat.
Garden Vist: Mt. Cuba Center
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
For a lovely day trip to a beautiful garden dedicated to education and research of native plants, we highly recommend Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware.
Set on 550 acres, the garden not only offers beautiful grounds to explore both on your own or with a knowledgeable guide, but also numerous classes and certifications in various aspects of gardening and conservation.
Their “trial garden”, where they plant and observe dozens of native species, is completely open for guests to see.
The native plants are meticulously labelled throughout the rest of the garden as well, and guides are stationed at various points to answer questions. In a time when support of pollinators has never been more important, Mt. Cuba Center proves it can be both accessible and beautiful to plant native species.
Posted by Donna on 10/15 at 05:05 PM
A Smoothie with Pears But No Banana
Tuesday, October 07, 2014
Pears to me have always shared a strange similarity to bananas in their ripening. Not ripe enough is barely edible, while overripe is so mushy and cloyingly sweet that it’s hardly worth it. I shouldn’t have been surprised to stumble upon a delicious use of them in a smoothie. On a recent trip to New York, after tortas and guacamole on the High Line, we were looking for a light desert and found Taim Mobile Falafel and Smoothie truck. The choice wasn’t hard - pear, mint and lemon sounded so perfect for the warm fall day, especially after stuffing ourselves at Taco Truck
When I tried this on my own, with lovely little pears from Tom Culton, I honestly forgot the lemon altogether and it was still delicious.
4-5 small pears, such as Seckel, or 2 large
1 bunch mint
4 ice cubes
Skin and core pears. Put all ingredients into a blender and puree until smooth.
Posted by Donna on 10/07 at 05:35 PM
When You’re Tired of Fried Calamari
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
Shore Catch has kept us well stocked in fresh, local seafood all summer - so well that for some products, like squid, we were running out of new preparations. Fried rings or grilled fillets were simple and delicious, but decidedly summery. With the weather changing, this braised squid dish from The Guardian seemed perfect. Don’t be afraid of the long cooking time, as the squid comes out perfectly tender, flavoring the stewing liquid. We served it over roughly mashed Carola potatoes from Savoie Organic Farm. We used Tempranillo from Cape May’s Hawk Haven Winery both to braise and to drink with.
Posted by Donna on 10/01 at 05:04 PM
Sometimes Olive Oil Just Won’t Do….
Sunday, September 28, 2014
We thought we’d tried just about every product the wonderful PorcSalt charcuterie had to offer, but last week at Headhouse Farmers’ Market chef Matthew Ridgway suggested the pork rillons - chunks of slow cooked pork belly that came packed in fat. He suggested we render the fat for dressing, so we did just that, tossing it all with lettuce, thinly sliced apples and croutons browned in the pan after the pork had crisped a bit.
Posted by Donna on 09/28 at 04:23 PM
Cornmeal Skillet Cake with Bacon and Ginger Butter
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Okay, so I may have completely stolen this idea from Kennet’s wonderful brunch menu, but it was the first dish I thought of when I looked at the fresh ginger offered by Blooming Glen Farm at the Headhouse market. Who knew it would be the perfect early fall dish because that’s when the ginger is harvested?
Cornmeal Skillet Cake with Bacon and GInger Butter
1 cup cornmeal (I used a very fine grind and a much rougher grind mixed together for a really pleasing texture)
1/4 cup spelt flour
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
In a bowl, mix cornmeal with spelt flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.
In another bowl, mix buttermilk and egg.
Cut bacon into small strips and cook at low heat divided into two small skillets until some fat is rendered and bacon is crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon to paper towel. Pour rendered fat into small bowl to cool slightly before pouring into liquid ingredients. Quickly saute ginger in one of the pans to cook slightly before mixing into butter.
Combine liquid ingredients with dry and stir in bacon. Heat skillets to medium and pour mixture into two skillets. Cook for a few minutes on each side.
Posted by Donna on 09/21 at 06:27 PM
Blooming Glen Farm Growing Ginger
Sunday, September 14, 2014
There aren’t many fresh vegetables available this season or any other that wouldn’t be improved with the addition of some ginger. It’s almost unfair to think of it as a non local element to a dish, because it’s such a staple and how could we possibly grow it here? Apparently we can. The ginger on the right is what we all know from the supermarket, but the one on the left is freshly picked from Blooming Glen Farm. I will cook with it, and soon, but right now I just keep staring at it, amazed that it grew only an hour away.
If only our little lemon tree would give us another crop.
Posted by Donna on 09/14 at 03:13 PM
Local Wine, Local Food, Local Waters
Saturday, August 30, 2014
It is difficult to imagine an event that more perfectly blended three of my favorite aspects of the Jersey Shore: wine, seafood, and the ocean. For two-and-a-half hours, a small group of us were taken on a cruise of the tall ship the A.J. Meerwald out of Cape May. As we sat enjoying the brilliant, sunset-lit skies and views, Chef Lucas Manteca (of Cape May Point’s Red Store) prepared food and the staff of Hawk Haven Winery poured us wine - lots and lots of wine.
Of Chef Manteca and the Red Store, I have posted a great deal. To this I will only add that there is a very good reason the staff laugh in recognition when we come in yet again. This is some of the finest, freshest, most creative and varied food to be found on the Jersey Shore.
Of Hawk Haven, I have posted before, and they remain one of the finest wineries in New Jersey. This is a far greater distinction than it might at first appear: there are now myriad wineries in the “Outer Coastal Plain” and many, like Hawk Haven, are worth far more than just a visit on a rainy day. Hawk Haven’s Signature Series, in particular, offers unique, high-quality wines grown and bottled on the estate.
Beyond the obvious combination of these things on a sailing ship, both Chef Manteca and Hawk Haven went to great lengths to make the event even more memorable. The food served was always attuned to the wines poured: as we progressed from lighter whites to heavier reds, we moved from taquitos to seared tuna. Moreover, the variety of wines allowed for some very interesting comparisons, comparisons you would rarely be able to find at a winery or restaurant. Thus, we were able to compare vintages (2009 versus 2010) and fermentation methods (oaked versus unoaked) in a highly informative juxtaposition.
Most memorable, though, was the singularity of the experience - an experience that could not have happened anywhere else. Local wines with local food while sailing the local waters.
Posted by Kevin on 08/30 at 04:01 PM