Baguettes, And Another Bread Thing I’ve Been Thinking About

-A.J.

I think I’m learning more baking baguettes than I am most other things right now, and I think that’s because they’re encouraging me to look holistically at how I’m approaching bread baking —   I feel like I can make a focaccia or a No Knead and they’re relatively forgiving. Baguettes require more attention to… everything really. One decision leads to the next which leads to the next.. From start to finish, if I make a serious error somewhere along the line it’s harder to recover from and still have something…  Let me put it this way, I’ve turned baguettes into crostini before anyone else ever saw them because I hated the way the breads were shaped coming out of the oven. I’ll usually serve ugly stuff anyway and call it “rustic”. Not that time.

But getting back to the “holistic” thing:  I’ve been reading a lot of different authors and a lot of bread recipes. Some have lots of kneading in the mixer, some have none, some use refrigerator preferments, some use room temperature, then there’s high hydration, or two hydrations, and on and on and on.

Cell phone picture.

Cell phone picture.

It seems to me that at a fundamental level they come to the same point:  While the dough is in the “bulk rise” stage there will be at least one stretch and fold. This happens before or during the stage that used to be referred to “punching down”. It doesn’t seem to matter how much kneading has happened previously, stretch and folds organize the gluten and gives a much better crumb structure and loft.

As an example – Peter Reinhardt will give a lecture where he’ll start by loosely combining a wet dough in a bowl and during the talk he’ll stretch and fold the dough about every 15-20 minutes. The dough will go from a shaggy wet mass to being fairly orderly and neat in a little over an hour. (In a related note: I’ve heard him say that four stretch and folds is the optimum number, but I’ve never heard him describe why that is.)

Another cell phone picture

Another cell phone picture

2nd example – Jeffrey Hamelman will often recommend not fully developing the dough in the mixer, then giving the dough some number of stretch and folds on the counter.

3rd example – Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread involves no kneading at all, but it does have a stretch and fold at the end of the bulk rise.

I’d heard someone on Youtube, and I wish I’d given it closer attention, but he basically said that given time, gluten will develop, and that kneading isn’t really developing gluten, it’s just organizing the gluten that’s there. I don’t know how true that is literally, but it got me thinking just allowing lots of time with minimal kneading and a few stretch and folds along the way is an excellent way to go about doing things.

I think this one might have used a real camera.

I think this one might have used a real camera.

I’d been heading that way for a while. For the ill-fated Sounders championship game viewing party I made baguettes to be used as part of meatball sliders.  I used some AP flour and a lower temperature bake because I didn’t want a super snappy crust that would have meatballs shooting out when someone took a bite.  The recipe included a 300g/300g AP flour/water mix that spent two days in the refrigerator. It also included a 200g/200g AP flour/water mixture that spent about 18 hours on the counter. I finished it with 1.5 TBP instant yeast, 18 grams salt, 70g of water, and 400g of bread flour.  The total formula:  900g flour, 570g water (63%) hydration, 2% salt. This made 6 smallish baguettes.

What the recipe didn’t include was the KitchenAid. I kneaded the components by hand until it came together, then did a few stretch and folds until I was happy with it.

I don’t know if it’s a breakthrough or a revelation, but I feel like the baguettes have been getting better on average over the last year or so, and the stretch and fold technique likely has something to do with it.

Happy Holidays everyone. And happy baking season.

EarthBox 2017 Recap — The Tomatoes and Tomatillos

-A.J.

The final 2017 garden recap post — The Tomatoes and Tomatillos.

The two “Verde” tomatillo plants had a pretty typical year — 14.6 pounds. Normal output is 15-20 pounds. I think it my have actually been too hot on the patio at times and it may have stressed out the tomatillos somewhat. It felt like they were “done” earlier than usual.

170730 tomatillo

We simplified things with the tomatoes this year. (The “why we did that”, a description of the varieties, and a list of everything else we grew is here.)

Two Oregon Spring in one box. 48 pounds(!).  That’s 12.8 pounds per square foot(!) They’re early, consistent, compact, and no hassle. They taste good, they’re super high yielding, they make good sauce and work great in a Caprese… Did I happen to mention we love Oregon Spring tomatoes?

Two Roma in one box. 31.6 pounds. Still an excellent yield at 8.4 pounds per square foot. And almost all of them ripened. Romas are almost always listed as “determinate”, these stayed small and made large fruit. It may be that the “mono-box” of one variety really helped.

Two Black Krim in one box. 20.9 pounds. If we got 20 pounds of produce out of every box every year I’d be cool with it. Black Krims have a terrific dark, earthy taste — they always win our taste tests and they make a great sauce.

170908 harvest Friday

The final box contained-

One Old German. 20.9 pounds. It ripened to a light orange. I don’t think we were floored by the taste, or, more accurately the taste may have been oversold. We wound up mixing it in with darker tomatoes for freezer sauce.

One Cherokee Purple. 10.5 pounds. It was a slow starter and to some degree was buried by the Old German, but 10.5 pounds is still a nice yield. Sort of a fruitier, less intense Black Krim.

In other notes, I think we made some real progress at other more traditional gardening things. We’re getting the hang of the unique needs of the salad table — very few things bolted this year; we had fresh greens almost all year, and there are still lots more greens to eat now in late November. With more knowledge and practice the salad table may provide a true 4-season harvest. In a related note, we’re getting better at the timing of seed starting for salad greens. We planted more chives in the back yard with the hope of fresh “onions” most of the year. Finally, we grew beans for the first time this year and had some success. I’m enthusiastic about the potential for fresh beans in the future.

 

Pretty good gardening year all the way around.

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Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.

GNOIF’s First Thanksgiving, Or, GNOIF Lacks Historical Accuracy

-A.J.

GNOIF #30 recap — GNOIF’s First Thanksgiving, Or, GNOIF Lacks Historical Accuracy.  (Historically inaccurate games)

Games That Got Played:  Century: Spice Road, Fjords, Fluxx (Python), Guillotine, Star Realms

Games That Didn’t Get Played:  Carcassonne, Castle Panic, Citadels, Gardens of Alhambra, Lost Cities Board Game, Medieval Academy

A quick turnaround from the last GNOIF, the big game this time was Century: Spice Road, which ended in a tie. We also played a long, strangely strategic game of Python Fluxx.

And, as usual, everyone enjoyed the beheadings of Guillotine.

Thanks to everyone who played!

EarthBox 2017 Recap — The Cucumbers And Zucchini

-A.J.

The Marketmore 64 cucumbers had a good year. I think that’s partly because we harvested them more aggressively, and the plants responded by making more, better fruit. (One box, 4 plants. 38.5 pounds of good-looking cucumbers. We elected not to count the weird stuff that grows after the plants are all but done for the year.)

170820 cucumber

The Tromboncino zucchini accidentally got overcrowded. I planted all four plants we wound up with when it should have been two. I thought maybe it could work. Between the extreme heat and the overcrowding things didn’t go well.  3.8 pounds from the whole box. A more typical year would be around 20 pounds. More User Error That Will Not Be Repeated.

170820 zucchini

The plan next year is to try some Fortex (stringless) pole beans and Cranberry beans up the edges of the trellises. We loved the bush beans this year so hopefully the pole beans will be more of a good thing. It’d be nice to find more self-watering containers for that. It’ll be something to potentially shop for this winter.

 

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Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.

EarthBox 2017 Recap — The Peppers And Melons

-A.J.

A recap of the 2017 peppers and melons.

The almost complete list of what we grew this year is here. (Missing from the post is one “Bell” pepper and one “Lilac” pepper). The “grand” total was 238.6 pounds, which is around our average. That total weight doesn’t include anything except for what was grown in the EarthBoxes and excludes the one box of basil.  11 EarthBoxes yielded 238.6 pounds. Calculating the yield and dividing by 45 square feet of growing medium = 21.7 pounds per box or 5.3 pounds per square foot.

2013 Peppers recap here.  2014 Peppers recap here. 2015 Peppers recap here. 2016 Peppers recap here.

 

170820 bell pepper

It was a hot and dry summer, which in theory would be ideal for pepper plants. How did they actually do?

Year Plants Weight Average
2013 10 22.3 2.2
2014 18 31.0 1.7
2015 18 32.5 1.8
2016 18 24.2 1.3
2017 18 25.7 1.4
Total 82 135.7 1.65

As a group they didn’t do all that great, but 1.43 pounds is still within 10% of the average of all years. Also, the entire garden produced more ripe fruit than in past years, so I’m ok with the yield. Here’s how the individual varieties break out:

6 plants, one box, Carmen:  15 pounds, 2.5 pounds per plant.   2.5 pounds per plant is an excellent total for us. Carmens are tasty and they’re easy to clean due to the long straight shape. We committed 1/3 of our total space for peppers to Carmens and it paid off again. Positive reinforcement!

6 plants, one box, King of the North:  5.4 pounds, .9 pounds per plant.   Well, that’s not really exactly fair. One plant got broken off at the base very early one, so the actual yield was closer to 1.1 pounds per plant. That’s well below the usual yield of around 2 pounds per plant, BUT:

One issue that the pepper plants suffered from as a group was a complete lack of support. Usually we put Ultimato cages around each box. This year I decided that wasn’t necessary or helpful.  WRONG! I wound up belatedly adding stakes and trying lots of string around things as the plants all sagged this way and that. End result:  The King of the North produced about half of what they usually do.  Correctable User Error That Will Not Be Repeated.

2 plants, Anaheim:  .4 pounds, .2 pounds per plant.  This total doesn’t feel right. My suspicion is that we miscounted Anaheims as something else, though they were a little buried so I can see the yield being low.

1 “Bell” pepper:   2.1 pounds.  This was mislabeled at the nursery. Still, it produced well, so … ok.

1 “Chocolate” pepper:  1.1 pounds.  We tried this for something different. The yield was a little below average, and the taste was a little strange. We froze these as “Pepper for Chili”, thinking that all of the flavors in a chili will hide the weirdness. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

1 “Jimmy Nardello”:  .6 pounds.  Very nice smokey flavor. I’d like to try these again despite the low yield. I think maybe all the peppers need a little more room next year so that they get a little more sun.

1 “Lilac” pepper:  1.3 pounds.  Like the Chocolate pepper, a bit strange. The yield was fine. Meh.

170912 melon

Minnesota Midget Melons.  4.7 pounds. 4 Plants, 3 of which shocked and died either due to my handling or the fact that there were a couple of pretty cold evenings immediately after transplanting. Despite the warm dry summer the melons ripened late and were mostly bland. I’m glad we tried them and I got that experiment out of my system, but I doubt we’ll be doing them again.

Next post:  The Cucumbers and Zucchini

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Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.

GNOIF: Monsters, Murder, and Mayhem. The Sequel.

-A.J.

GNOIF #29 recap — GNOIF:  Monsters, Murder, and Mayhem. The Sequel.  (Horror/Zombie/Vampire themes)

Games That Got Played:  Dixit, Exploding Kittens, Kill Dr. Lucky (boardgame), Mystery of the Abbey, Ultimate Werewolf

Games That Didn’t Get Played:  Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Dark Gothic, Fluxx (Zombie), Guillotine, King of Tokyo, Last Night on Earth, Mr Jack (boardgame), Seven Dragons, Small World

We started with Dixit and concluded with Ultimate Werewolf. In between we played a marathon game of Mystery of the Abbey. Or, I should say “they” played a marathon game — I knew better than to get involved. If a big group is committed and focused then Mystery of the Abbey can go on for quite some time.

The players enjoyed Dixit — it’s an “interpretation” game, in this case it’s pictures, but the active player has more control over the results than in a game like Apples to Apples.

Thanks to everyone who played!

Container Garden Update — October 1, 2017

-A.J.

The last harvest of summer veg. It’s mostly Siletz tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, Carmen peppers, and Anaheim peppers:

171001 harvest

We also have a big pile of basil to pick through for the “good stuff”:

171001 basil

The newly empty EarthBoxes have been planted with Shallots, Leeks, and Garlic. The romaine in the foreground got a little bit of a head start. All of the alliums are covered with bird netting to keep out the squirrels:

171001 earthboxes

Full circle.

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Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.

 

Container Garden Update — September 17, 2017

-A.J.

It’s been a busy ten days. Everything decided to ripen at more or less the same time. Altogether it’s been almost 80 pounds of mostly tomatoes and peppers. And melons(!)

Starting on Friday, September 8 (Tomatoes: Old German, Purple Cherokee, Oregon Spring, Siletz, and Black Krim.  The big peppers are Carmen, the little bells are King of the North, there are also a couple of Jimmy Nardellos and a mis-labeled-when-we-bought-it regular bell pepper.  The beans are french filet beans from one of the whiskey barrels):

170908 harvest Friday

Tuesday, September 12 (L-R, top to bottom:  Oregon Spring, Marketmore 76 cucumbers, Black Krim, Roma, Purple Cherokee, Filet Beans that just keep coming, Old German, Minnesota Midget Melons):

170912 harvest Tuesday

The smaller of the two melons was the first to ripen. The others still on the vines are the size of the bigger one. Here’s a close-up of the melons:

170912 melon close up

The little melon at dinner:

170912 melon

I’m pleased that we got *something* with the melons. The melons that didn’t survive the transplant and cool early season weather were replaced by a Siletz tomato plant. We’re going to get quite a few Siletz tomatoes to go with the 5-7 pounds of melons from the lone surviving melon plant.

Onward to Saturday, September 16. It’s around 35 pounds of stuff. The left top box contains Carmen peppers. Middle left is mostly Roma, bottom left is mostly Old German. The top right box is a collection of assorted pepers. The bottom right box contains the mis-labeled-when-we-bought-them bell peppers, more Carmens, and King of the North.:

170916 Harvest Saturday

Even after all that, there are still more Romas. I’m guessing there may be 10-15 pounds hanging around:

170916 roma

As I write this, the wind is picking up. It’s supposed to be cool and rainy later today through Tuesday. We’ll see how many “jumpers” we get with the wind.

The melons are about done. But they’re ripening, so “done” is ok:

170916 melon

The basil will need to be harvested in the next few days. We been harvesting aggressively all summer and the plants seem to like it that way. That will be the new strategy in future years. Basically, instead of just managing the very tops and flowers we’ve been cutting a full node below the tops. It’s resulted in better product, and more of it:

170916 basil

Finally, a picture of the salad table. We’re getting our first fall peas now. We’ll remove the shade cloth either today or very soon — we’re still getting days in the 70’s and one of the arugula plants decided to bolt. Better safe than sorry with the shade cloth. The trick will be reattaching it as neatly in the spring — or, remembering which way it goes back together:

170916 salad table

 

We’ll also make a point to aggressively harvest the salad table in the spring. It’s hard not to “wait” and hope the stuff gets bigger, but the plants almost always respond by going to seed.

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Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.

GNOIF: GNOIF Is Working For A Living

-A.J.

GNOIF #28 recap — GNOIF:  GNOIF Is Working For A Living (Industry/ Worker Placement themes)

Games That Got Played:  Biotix, Circus Flohcati, Terraforming Mars.

Games That Didn’t Get Played:  We really only offered the three games. Everyone was looking forward to Terraforming Mars, so that’s what we played.

The small crowd  had fun late late late into the night. I think I wound up making finger sandwiches for the group sometime around 11pm.

In Terraforming Mars you play as a corporation that is working to make the conditions on Mars habitable for humans. Players receive cards each turn that represent actions, events, or building projects. You can do almost anything from bombarding Mars with asteroids, to building domed or underground cities, to encouraging forests or microbes or predators or pets. It seems even on Mars, people like their pets.

I like it for a lot of reasons — It scales well to different numbers of players. There are interesting decisions to make but not so many that the game bogs down. The artwork is good. The cards carry through on the theme extremely well. It’s a very highly regarded game on BoardGameGeek, and it’s easy to see why.

Thanks to everyone who played!

Container Garden Update — September 4, 2017

-A.J.

Despite the dry summer, the tomatoes, as a group, are late:

(L-R) Roma, Old German, Black Krim

(L-R) Roma, Old German, Black Krim

A closeup, looking down on the Romas:

170904 Roma

The Wednesday harvest. Mostly Oregon Spring. On the top right are Black Krim, bottom right are Cherokee Purple:

170904 harvest

Many of the Carmens will likely get harvested this week:

170904 carmen

For the Minnesota Midget melons it’s a race between ripening and the “funk” taking over:

170904 melon

The Trombonico didn’t do well this year. I get the feeling that bugs were attacking the fruits just for the moisture. It was that dry here. This week we chopped out all but the greenest growth with the hopes of getting fruit in the next few weeks:

170904 zucchini

And today we transplanted most of the winter veg (Arugula, Dill, Spinach, Mache, Chard, Winter Cress, Winter Density Romaine, Joi Choy, and Cilantro):

170904 winter veg 2

Some of the Romaine, Arugula, Joy Choi, and Bright Lights Chard went into the recently vacated Tomatillo EarthBox. The Tomatillos are now roasted, buzzed up, and frozen for Roasted Tomatillo Salsa.

170904 romaine, joi choy

Most of the rest went into the salad table:

170904 salad table

Everything is still a little floppy after the transplant. I’m guessing it all perks up by the end of the day today.

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Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.