Backwoods sourdough

Sept 10

This blog is going to be a process blog where I don’t know quite where it will end up.  I’m also going to try to do this entirely on my phone.

Here’s the story. On the last weekend in September,  I will be going on a backwoods canoe trip facilitated by my very experienced son. It’s the first time for me and likely the last as my various commitments sadly tie me down.  Needless to say I’m really looking forward to it.

Yesterday at breakfast I had run out of bread and had only a sourdough bulk rise ready to be made into a loaf.  About 4 hours away. (Proofing baking& cooling). I tore a couple of small chunks from the bulk rise, flattened them out, put a little oil in a frying pan and a couple of minutes later, fresh delicious sourdough hotcake.  My son had one too and wondered about the potential for doing this for our trip. I said ‘sure, easy’ and showed him my lump of dough. He said “Too heavy like this. Can you do it so we only bring the flour? ” I said I would work on it.

I posed the question on a couple of Facebook forums. While there was interest, no one  (so far) had tried what I am trying to do though a couple noted that this is what Klondike miners must have done so many years ago.

My vision is to get a low hydration starter going – something that can stay in a ball. At supper I would take half of it mix it with just enough flour water and salt for an overnight bulk rise; add a little flour and water to keep the starter going. Next morning flatten out the dough into buns and fry on the stove.  If there are large flat rocks I could use them.

I’m about to try it all at home first – beginning with the starter. So for 100g of starter at 166% I need 104g  of flour to make it 65%. (try my hydration change calculator) This should yield 200g of 65% starter.

Best internet discussion I’ve found so far… https://backpackinglight.com/forums/topic/87645/

And I’ll keep adding to the blog as this experiment develops.

Sept 11

Last night I prepared my initial stiff starter. (I am of course in my house experimenting with nothing on the line.) This morning I peeled off half of it, (100g)  added a pinch of salt, flattened it with my hands only and put it on a hot skillet. The remainder of the starter is back in its jar, room temperature,  to be refreshed tonight.

Hotcake in dry skillet

The dough barely rose and felt stiff. Clearly a lot of work to do.

 

Little rise. Sadly its not like the result from my big bag of dough in the fridge. Taste is ok but then again its hot. That’s the idea though- to eat it right away. I have to double check my formula as the dough felt a lot stiffer than 65%.

The crumb shot as such.

So…. a little later in the morning I decided that if I liked the dough I had in the fridge then I should use it as a starter base. So: 50g dough  (1g salt) 100g flour and 65g water. This is how it starts:

The new starter dough

Experiments like this lead to strange places. This is a “french toast fritter pancake”. Instead of soaking a bread slice in egg, egg is kneaded into raw bread dough then fried in a really light coating of oil. Next time I should let it settle / rise for a bit. I’d definitely try it again.

September 12

All is working as it should. Last evening I mixed more flour and water into my starter  (66%) and this morning tore off a chunk of it, added a pinch of salt and cooked it dry on the stove top.  My son’s analysis: “it does the job”.

Next task: scale it up so it can feed 3, but keeping the same amount of starter. What I like so far is that it’s flexible and quite predictable.  The caution: get your heat right.  Less better.

.Sept 13

First a shout out to Bud who seems to be the only FB reader to truly get what I’m doing. Thanks for all your advice!

On my jog yesterday I figured out my weight proportions: there are 3 of us which at 100g per person suggests a dough of 300g plus 100g starter. 200g flour + 130g water gives a 65% hydration dough and a little more than enough per person.  This dough is set up the night before and in the morning split 4 ways. 1 put back in the bag and 3 get a pinch of salt added and are cooked. How much easier could this truly be? Next task: figure these quantities as volumes and not weights. Also give it a final test run.

Sept 15

I tried my first effort with the volume needed for our trip.  I made 3 different sizes/thicknesses. Essentially if one is doing a thick bun it needs to proof just like a loaf of bread. Thin buns are a lot more forgiving.

The 3 bun shapes tried.

The thickest one definitely needed proofing!

Sept 29

We leave tomorrow.  I’ve been given interesting challenges here: pancakes and naan. Both feature oil or butter in the mix.

Here’s how the pancakes could work: a zip lock big  bag with the following little bags within: 100g dough and 9g skim milk powder; a second with 100g flour; a third with 1g flour, 7g sugar,  2g salt,  7g baking powder.

Night before: mix dough and flour with almost a cup of water and gently mix until everything is evenly hydrated. Next morning add the third bag,  and some oil. mix gently leave for 30 minutes. Batter should be ready.

Camping notes

September 29

The starter dough

I put up one of my big 2.8kg basic doughs.  Some of  this went into a loaf for the wonderful person taking care of things while we are away. From this dough I took off 2 pieces of  hundred grams and put them in 2  large ziplock bags.  I also made up of three other Ziploc bags each with 200 grams of whole wheat flour in 4 grams of salt. These would  be the hot cakes to be made on the trip.

Panini sandwiches

Panini sandwiches for the first day lunch had been prepared the day before and day of our trip.  I took the remaining eight to nine hundred grams of my older bulk dough from the fridge,  rolled it out and laid on slices of butter as one would do for a croissant: It was folded and rolled out several times to make a laminated dough. The final roll was approximately one quarter to three eighths inch thick. It was then cut into rectangles about 4”  wide and left them to proof for about an hour. While they were proofing,  I prepared the Panini fillings: BBQ vegetables, cold meats, pickles, brie and cheddar slices. These all went into a couple of bags for assembly early the next morning.

I BBQ’d them on a medium heat about 1-2 minutes per side until they browned and expanded.

September 30th –  we depart

Paninis

These were made for lunch on the first day.   

Before we left I did the final prep. The paninis were thick enough that they could hold together well enough to be slit open easily and filled without breaking up and without breaking the hinge at the back of side of the bread. The butter laminate and grilling method ensured that the outside would stay together and so be fully functional as a sandwich. The completed sandwiches were wrapped liberally in wax paper and labeled. (This is important for later on).

We arrived at our departure point about 12:00PM. We wanted to get going and weren’t hungry. We left the outfitters in a rented  3 person canoe around 1 o’clock and by 3 o’clock we had reached our first portage. Out came the greatly appreciated paninis. The wax paper was carefully folded and returned to the pack.

Hot Cakes number 1

I realized when we were eating the Panini’s that I had not set up the dough for the hotcakes that evening.  Standing beside the biggest beaver dam I have ever seen I mixed the hundred grams of starter dough, 200 grams of flour and salt and  then eyeballed approximately 120 grams of water from my drinking bottle. I set about massaging the dough through the plastic bag, and  realized it would be about 4 hours before I was to cook them for dinner – and they had just begun their bulk rise.  I needed to get them along quickly with their fermentation so in the bag went, under my shirt and next to my tummy for what was to be a fast rise. There they stayed  for a further three hours of travelling and a difficult portage. Once we got once we got to the campsite and began our dinner prep the first thing to do was to extract  the dough  now happily bubbling away.  This dough was divided into 4 equal pieces: 1 was put back in the ziplock bag with the next batch of flour and salt, and again the water was eyeballed. Massaged sufficiently, it was stuck it back in the food pack for consumption the next day.

I retrieved the wax paper from the paninis and use them to flatten out the dough without getting my cutting board dirty.  I put another layer of used wax paper over them to protect them from fire embers and dust. They then proofed while the  rest of our dinner –  guacamole, whitefish, roasted vegetables  and chantarelle mushrooms was being prepared. Once the fish was cooked, in went the hotcakes, soaking up the remaining lovely  oil and butter deliciousness still in the pan from the fish, chanterelles and barbecued vegetables. The result was excellent. They were hot nicely risen nicely browned and delightfully flavored with the pan drippings.  

October 1  – Hang out at the campsite day

Pancakes

it was determined on our first morning we would have pancakes with homemade jam and summer sausage for breakfast. When you think about it, pancakes are really like a super hydration bread with some oil,  sugar, and baking soda.

For the pancakes I decided to approach these separately from the sourdough hotcakes and it’s a good thing I did because I needed to get them started at the same time as the hot cake dough the night before. I calculated that enough pancake mix for the three of us with mean 100 grams of starter dough at 66% (this was the second bag of dough I had prepared)  Here is how I thought it through: 100 grams.of dough @ 66% + 67 grams of water would give me 166% hydration. 100 g  flour + 4 g salt + 166 grams of water would likewise also give me a 166% hydration dough. I’d need to add  230 grams of water to the dry flour and starter  to make it happen. But that is not all.  This pancake mix (according to my pancake calculator based on Theresa Greenaway’s sourdough pancake recipe)  would also needs 7g sugar 2g  salt, 7g baking powder, and 9 g of skim milk powder.  Putting all of this together I had 3 separate zip lock bags

  1. 100g of 66% starter in a large zip lock bag
  2. 100g whole wheat flour in a small zip lock bag
  3. 15 g flour, 7 g sugar 3g of salt, 7g baking powder and 9g skim milk powder in  small zip lock bag.
  4. At our fish dinner, bags 1 and 2 were mixed together along with 230g of water – about a cup – eyeballed!  

I wanted this to proof overnight but I did not  want to add in the baking soda, milk  powder sugar mix  and oil until shortly before cooking. My son was a little concerned about  leaving this freezer bag of yukky liquid, sincerely hoping  it would not explode in the night  while in the food bag slung up in a tree to prevent bears or other creatures getting to it. The next morning after a night of 10-degree temperatures the bag was looking the way it should:  a nicely bubbling ferment. In went the bag of remaining flour and other stuff and also added a shot of sunflower oil – pancakes do  need oil for taste, texture and to  avoid sticking.  I have to say I was apprehensive about this mix, based as it was on quite theoretical assumptions  but they turned out amazingly.

Hotcakes 2

The second batch of hotcakes was for  lunch on the second day as an accompaniment to tomato soup. Again the first thing was to extract them from the bag, divide into 4, and put one back in the bag for the next batch. This batch I felt was a little dry so I added more water before turning it out. All went well  – as it did the night before.

One problem though – after a thorough check I could not find our final bag of flour/salt! Yikes! This was going to be for breakfast the next and final morning. Was it left behind? Must have been! There are  worse things in life.

Our  starter’s final hurrah

Going into our final campfire dinner, I still had the starter. We had planned to have mac and cheese, with rehydrated dried vegetables. What I had forgotten about in making mac and cheese was that you need a roux. The only flour I had left was in that little ball of starter dough. Necessity is the mother of invention and thus I made a valiant effort to convince a little piece of my remaining starter dough that it would have to serve up its life as flour for a roux.  It worked, barely  – with deft and quick stirring, lifting it off the flame, making it as roux like as I could, working the added cheese so it did not become a gloopy stiff chunk.

October 2  – heading back

The next morning I cooked what was left of the starter dough, and it all worked out well in the end. After sausage and trail mix, our food bag nearly exhausted, and we were fuelled for the 5 hour portage and canoe back.

Some conclusions are in order

  • Having hot fresh bread on your camping trip is a wonderful thing.
  • Sourdough camping can be done fairly easily.   70 grams of flour per person per serving is required, along with the 2% salt mixed in. A  100g ball of 66% starter is all that is needed to keep it going.
  • Camp sourdough it does not take a long time but it does need planning
  • It really does need one person committed  to doing  it.
  • Keep the starter in a large sturdy freezer bag and have a couple of other bags at the ready too.  
  • The cooler the temperature  the longer you have to proof it, and   vice versa.  If you need it quickly then you need to find a warm body.
  • There are lots of variations possible from pancakes to fritters to hotcakes. They can be fried or grilled or cooked on a hot flat rock. Cook it dry or in  butter, oil or  bacon grease.
  • One objection from my son was that the extra cooking uses up more heat. In our case it wasn’t on account of the hot cakes that we consumed a lot of fuel –  I was making  cedar tea in large quantities for one of our party who was feeling a little under the weather.
  • Next time (I hope there is a next time) I probably prefer to bring a whole bag of flour and dip into it as needed. That would have saved my bacon on this trip  There is also merit to having each meal laid out with its own bag of flour with the salt pre measured.

Kombucha!

Kombucha is the perfect answer to our craving for fizzy non alcoholic beverages. It is wonderfully flavored, gently effervescent, only slightly sweet, nicely complex, and overall delicious. Although made with black tea and sugar, the bacteria have feasted on these very ingredients, changing them in their wonderful alchemy into more bacteria, yeast, carbon dioxide and a slight bit of alcohol. 

My journey with fermented foods is now well into its second year. Such a lot has happened, and what our household consumes has remarkably changed. Health has also subtly but perceptibly changed too. I now can’t remember when anyone was down and out with a cold or flu, yet we’ve been in contact with many who have. No one has reported urinary infections, yeast problems, or anything like.

My initiation to kombucha had nothing to do with this though. I was aware of kombucha, but had never tried it. One day shopping, I bought a bottle and it was decent if unremarkable. There was a small slimy thing in it I now recognize as a tiny scoby. I set aside a 1 cup jar with the scoby and some mango-orange juice to see what would happen. Indeed in about a week, it consumed all that juicy sugar and now had grown. “Well”, said I, “this is most interesting. Lets see where we can take this.” Long story short I began investigating, joined the Kombucha Nation FB group, started a spreadsheet to chart my initial attempts, purchased a 3 gallon stone crock. By far the most succinct and useful article on it is a Wiley Library online article. I strongly advise readers to click the link for their overview

Initially my family members were pretty skeptical, and in my initial attempts, understandably so. They still kept going for the spritzer, worried the bottles might explode in their faces or that somehow they might be poisoned, or that it would be simply awful. None of that happened, and now our homemade kombucha is the go-to drink. In fact I’m having to increase my bi weekly production by about 50% to keep up.

That all said, they now have their favorites, and just like with commercial products, they expect them to taste consistently similar and be available when needed. My kombucha making is now post experimental and can be said to be in regular consistent production.

Now that I am at this point, I thought I should share what I do. My final ‘push’ came when my butcher to whom I had given a bottle to try really liked it and wanted to make her own. Just passing on the starter and a scoby might not necessarily guarantee the success sought, at least immediately.

But why should I bother to do all this when there are so many other excellent blogs out there? For me, the answer lies in identifying and illustrating a consistent and manageable process that will always give excellent results. Judging by the feedback I have received I know I have an excellent product doing it this way. I look forward to hearing how you have made out with it, and also I look forward to hearing from more experienced kombucha makers than I with your ideas and comments on this process.

Here’s how it goes….

Every 10 days or so I do a Kombucha brew day. I start a new batch and bottle (second ferment or ‘2f’) the old. I process about 4-5 litres at a time and the method I have worked out gives me reliable, delicious kombucha every time.

Materials:

Mise en scene

  • 6 litre (or so) pot
  • 3 gallon crock
  • Bottles – beer bottles, or flip lid bottles. The shape of the narrow necked beer bottle encourages natural carbonation. This is because the fermenting yeasts do not require oxygen, whereas the bacteria involved do. The narrow neck in a sealed bottle reduces the oxygen available, encouraging the yeast to continue fermenting, converting the sugars into carbon dioxide. Once everything is added in you will need about 6 litres worth of bottles. You can use anything technically, but unless you use a narrow necked bottle of some kind, it won’t carbonate as well. 
  • Bottler and caps if you are using old beer bottles. 
  • Measuring cups – 1L, 500ml
  • Funnel
  • A strainer that can nest in the funnel
  • 7-8 1L mason jars
  • Thick kitchen towel
  • Weigh scale
  • wooden spoon

Ingredients

  • 4-5L Good quality water – not flouridated or treated tap water
  • 20g loose tea: It can be a variety of teas – I have used Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Kukicha, and Green tea – any will do
  • 200g sugar
  • 1L of kombucha starter (from previous batch)
  • 1 SCOBY (from previous batch)
  • A variety of good quality juices – about 1.5L in total
  • 1L Sugar syrup (weigh a bag of sugar in a pot, add an equal weight of water. Heat until the sugar is dissolved, yielding a 1:1 syrup. Pour into jars for a variety of uses. )

The very first time

You need to find a scoby – most people get one from a friend, or someone you know.  Anyone who makes kombucha can peel off some of their scoby and give it away. If you are truly in need, take one of the tiny scobys from a commercial Kombucha and put it in a 1 cup jar with a little juice. Leave it out, covered, on the counter. It should grow. As it gets bigger, feed it more juice, and work up towards the container you will be fermenting your kombucha in. You also need to get a litre of kombucha as a starter. This can be from said friend, or can be bought commercially.

Make a tea with 2L water, 20g loose tea and 200g sugar. Boil for a few minutes, cover and let cool down.

20160823_083122

Loose tea works well – you are trying to extract as much as possible from it.

Once cool (under 100F) pour in the crock, add 2L water, 1L Kombucha starter, the Scoby.
Cover with a thick kitchen cloth and let it ferment in a coolish dark room (60-70F) for about 8-10 days. (Note – fruit flies love kombucha too, so you will need to both cover the kombucha and tie it tight with a string or elastic if you have these bugs around)

First ferment ready to do its thing.

First ferment ready to do its thing.

Brewday! (your Kombucha is initially fermented)

This quantity will make a total of 7 litres of kombucha.

  1. Make a tea with 2L water, 20g loose tea and 200g sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, cover and let cool down while you do everything else.
  2. Gather all your materials and ingredients together.
  3. Remove the scoby from the crock and set it in a bowl with water.

    Scoby in water - but if fruit flies are about, cover it up.

    Scoby in water – but if fruit flies are about, cover it up. In the jar beside it is the 1L starter kombucha for the next batch.

  4. Pour 1L of kombucha from the crock into a mason jar, and cover. This will be the starter for your next batch.
  5. For the 2nd ferment, or 2f, the kombucha is flavored and bottled in such a way that it naturally carbonates. Pour the rest of the kombucha into the remaining 1L mason jars with 650 g (or ml) of kombucha in each 1L jar.

    20160823_082534

    The reason for the 1L jars is to make the whole process efficient, predictable and manageable. The jar is filled with 650g of f1 (first ferment) kombucha.

  6. Pour 100g of the sugar syrup in each jar. For kombucha, 5% sugar is an ideal fermentation ratio. Since your sugar syrup is 1:1 sugar to water by weight, you are therefore adding 50g of sugar to your 1L (1000g) of 2f kombucha – or 5%.

    About to add 100g (=50g or 5% sugar)

    About to add 100g syrup (=50g or 5% sugar). The sugar syrup is easy to make ahead of time. It’s also a good base for desserts.

  7. Pour 250ml of the juices you have for your batch of kombucha into each mason jar, filling them to the top. You now have about 6-7 litre bottles comprising 650ml kombucha, 100ml sugar syrup and 250g juice. Stir to mix thoroughly.
    20160823_084211

    Be careful of the sugar content of the juice you use, since you are already adding sugar for the f2. The juice should be as natural as possible. Juicing your own is even better, and since it flavours the kombucha with only 25% of the total content, it goes a long way.

    20160823_084828

    I like to sort out how much of each kind of flavor I want. Using the 1L base quantities helps in this process. Note the pot of tea/sugar brewing and now cooling for the next batch.

  8. Pour each jar into narrow necked bottles, using either a funnel or a 1L measuring cup. If the juice or the kombucha has any sediment you may wish to use a tea ball in the funnel to filter this out. If you are using 344 ml beer bottles, you are looking at 3 bottles per litre. If you are using Grolsh style flip top bottles, its approximately 2 bottles per litre. If your bottle comes up a little short, top it up with more juice.

    A fine mesh teaball inside a funnel to filter out juice sediment.

    A fine mesh teaball inside a funnel to filter out juice sediment.

  9. Bottle and label

    Bottled and labelled. It will be ready in a few days.

    Bottled and labelled. It will be ready in a few days.

  10. Go back to that tea you made that has now cooled down. It should be less than lukewarm. Press out all the tea flavor you can and pour it into your now empty crock through a filter (unless you used a large tea ball). Add 2L of cold water to it, add the litre of kombucha starter, and the scoby along with the water it was in. Cover the crock with dry thick tea towel and let it ferment in a cool dark place until your next brewday 10 or so days away.

    20160823_094359

    The next batch of kombucha (about to be covered) in its basement hideaway at a comfortable, dark, consistent 68F/19C along with some beer, wine – and, yes, the household tools.

  11. Let your bottles sit at room temperature for a couple of days – less if your location is warm. After, move them to a cool location or your fridge. This recipe is quite happy for a couple of weeks in a 65-68F environment, though it will get fizzy! Before consuming, put them in the fridge to cool – it tastes better, and the carbonation is less active.

Keeping it clean: If you are using beer bottles, rinse them out thoroughly and wash them thoroughly once you have poured your drink. If you use your crock only for kombucha and are filling it in the same session you are processing your 2f, a rinse with water works fine.

Enjoy your brew! A word of warning though. The first few times you open them, do it in the sink, with your hand firmly over the top in case it is over carbonated. This might happen for example if the juice you decide to use has a higher sugar content than what I am using. To deal with your own variables you would need to make adjustments – either a warmer or cooler ferment for your 2f period.

There are many ways to make kombucha. All of them are fine, and all of them feature tea, sugar, a scoby and starter, and time. This simply happens to be what I have evolved. I hope this can help to both make conversation about kombucha, and also help readers who have been considering making it.

Making sourdough easy and ‘just in time’

How to make sourdough really easy

Going back over a year now I’ve been looking for ways to tame sourdough to my own schedule. Notably I wanted to have fresh hot bread for breakfast. Since then people in my sourdough workshops proposed other challenges : to make it fit into their busy lives.
In this latter case it was reasonably easy: find cool places in your house for a longer bulk rise including the fridge. But these answers still presumed time for a starter refresh, bulk rise, shaping and proofing, and baking. Controlling for temperature this could be anywhere from a 6 to 24 or more hour cycle.
Recently I’ve been trying something new. Instead of thinking of a whole process ending up with all the dough baked at once, I’m preparing a much larger base dough, letting it rise a couple of hours on the counter then throwing it into the fridge in a large freezer bag. That

The dough bag continues  - slowly - to ferment in the fridge.

The dough bag continues – slowly – to ferment in the fridge.

done, I take only what I need when I need it. That way I get “just in time and just enough” and its always fresh.
Not only can you do this at the bulk rise stage, you can also do it with the final proofing. A shaped loaf can happily be in the fridge rising for a couple of days.
For some of you reading this may bring quiet agreement – perhaps its what you do. For others you will be asking ‘Tell me more’.

Starting off….

As always with sourdough it starts with the starter. I like to use 166% starter. I keep a 100g jar (or so) from the previous batch. It begins with the refresh: 100g starter, 100g fresh filtered water, 60g organic whole wheat flour. 8 hous later I should have 260g of starter. I refresh a second time: 260g starter, 260g water, 156g flour. Now I have about 780g of really bubbly twice refreshed starter. This is something I do when it is convenient to do, and while I have both bead in the pantry and a dough in the fridge. That said, there is some planning and anticipation needed as you want to make the bulk rise when the starter is at its most vigorous.

The bulk rise

I now make a large base bulk rise of 66% hydration: approximately 500g of starter, 1500g of flour (3x the amount – or the starter is 33%), 808g water (66% hydration when the hydration of the starter is factored in). Autolyse as usual for about 20 minutes and add 33g salt (2% when starter flour is factored in). This yields a 2.8 kilo dough. Let it rise out of the fridge until doubled, but do not let it overproof. If anything cut it short. Punch down, take off a chunk for a loaf to be baked next, pack the rest of it into a large freezer bag, seal it up and stick it in the fridge. You now have a chunk of dough that is immediately available for whatever other bread you wish to do: dinner rolls, a baguette or two, burger buns, another loaf, bagels…. The bag can be in the fridge quite happily for a number of days, but I’d want to use it up within a week. You will find it continues to very slowly ferment.

The Loaf Proofing

Although I make lots of different kinds of bread, I always like to have a regular loaf available and fresh. My family varies on how fast it is consumed – a 20-some decides he’s hungry and its all gone, while someone else decides they are going on a severe diet can mean its consumption really slows down. But at the point its needed, I don’t want to have to knead it & let it rise for an hour or two. What I do is that shortly after – or even at – the time a loaf is baked, I set up another loaf – decide on the type of loaf, the various crust toppings, the hydration – and then I wrap it in a plastic bag or a wet towel, and into the fridge it goes. Fermentation is slowed right down and its ready to be baked at the point you want it. I bake it directly from the fridge as opposed to having it warm up first. This ensues it does not get overproofed, and makes scoring a lot easier. Baking it directly from the fridge means it needs to bake longer, so if doing this is new to you, keep a thermometer in it and take notes until you get your time down.

Burger buns: it seemed that we’d be doing burgers tonight.

An example:

On Monday evening I prepared 2500g of dough. It rose overnight. Next morning I took out 900g for a pan loaf, prepared it and stuck it back in the fridge. Somewhere mid afternoon on Tuesday, I decided to make some hummus as part of dinner. I took off about 500g of my dough, rolled it out to make half a dozen pitas. They rose on some parchment paper as I prepared the rest of dinner and heated the oven. The next morning (Wednesday) I baked the loaf I had prepared. Between the loaf and the pitas, no more bread needed for a bit. On Thursday evening I thought that bagels for breakfast on Friday would be a fine breakfast, so I took about 500g of dough, added flour and a little salt, along with diastatic malt to give me a 60% bagel dough. These were shaped Thursday night, and boiled/baked on Friday morning to the surprised appreciation of the family. About this point I refreshed my starter again in preparation for the next bulk dough. On Friday evening, everyone wanted pizza so that used up the remaining 600g of my dough. During dinner clean up I set up my next bulk rise, finding a cool spot in the house to let it go until first thing next morning. As you can see its a system that enables you to not have to worry about the start to finish span of bread making, nor do you have to predict days in advance what you will be baking and when. Much of it can be done when you are doing other kitchen work you would have to do anyway.

Messing around with it a little more

You will notice above that the bagels were 60% while the bulk rise was 66%. There may indeed be other situations where you want to change the hydration (like making a high hydration chewey baguette) or have a more specific flour mix than just your basic stuff. This can be done.
Using my hydration change calculator, you can add either liquid or flour/salt to your base dough to effect this change. In the case of the bagels, I needed to add 37g of flour and .7g salt to my dough. If had wanted to make a 78% baguette, I would use the calculator to find that I need 40g of water, or whatever other liquid.
Supposing you want to add in a different kind of flour – you want a rye loaf. Here you do have to work a little harder. Lets assume my base dough is 50% white all purpose and 50% whole wheat, and its at 66% hydration, and you want the rye flour addition to be the same as the other flours (the 50% weight). Lets say that the weight of all purpose is 200g and also is the weight of the whole wheat. If you wanted an equal part of rye flour, you would then mix in 200g of rye flour, 132g of water and 4g of salt. Now however you have created a condition where unfermented flour has been added to the dough, in a significant amount. You would therefore need to let this new mix ferment for a number of hours (according to your temperature), likely then shape it, wait an hour or so and then bake it. You are in effect using your base dough as a kind of levain, and if you are venturing into this area, it does require some planning. However, if you determine that your thing is to have 2 kinds of base doughs, you could then have one dedicated to rye, or a high hydration white, or whatever you would like.

So you want to make your own delicious homemade tomato sauce…

This blog post is a supplement to my previous blog documenting my own personal process. The purpose is to help the reader sort out how they can best do canned tomatoes. You may be doing it for the first time, or it could be something you have tried before. This article is intended to help you plan it out.

How much you do depends largely on the equipment you have, what your needs are, and to a lesser extent how much you want to spend.

Here in  Ontario, Canada, you should be able to buy conventional tomatoes for about $20 (cdn) per bushel and about $40 for organic, if you can get them. One bushel yields between 18-22 L, depending on the juciness and how much you have reduced them.  Flats are about  half a bushel, or approximately 10 Litres. Add in the costs of garlic, onions, herbs and spices, and propane/electricity, and you are making a litre of homemade organic tomato sauce for approximately $1.50 a jar for conventional tomatoes, $3.50/jar for organic.

The next consideration is the equipment. If you decide to put up multiple bushels such as is described here, you are going to need some specialized equipment. If you are doing a single flat – 10 or so jars, you could do this with your biggest pot, no specialized equipment, and in your (albeit hot) kitchen.  You may wish to consider doing this with  friends, where each of you purchases the burners, presses, and large pots.

Alternatives to a tomato press

Tomato presses separate the seeds and skin from the flesh of the tomato. If you think about great tomato sauces you have tasted, you may recall there are no seeds or skin bits floating around in the mix. If you are trying this for the first time and unsure about the investment, one alternative is to blanch each tomato to loosen the skins, manually take each off, and then once the sauce is cooking, put it through a strainer. As you can imagine this is going to be a thankless task. You could also put up with the seeds and skins in your mix. If you go in this direction, I’d suggest pureeing the tomatoes before cooking them. If you wish to invest in a press, check out cooking equipment stores or hardware stores in neighbourhoods where preserving is part of life.

Alternatives to the burners:

I use a 60k btu outdoor propane burner . Its a massive unit that puts out a lot of heat. You could use it for other purposes – a huge stew for 20 people, a community corn roast – but most of us don’t need this, nor have the space to store it. I started with one, moved to 2 and recently got a third. If you are doing lesser quantities and have a BBQ with a side burner, you can use the side burner to boil the jars, and remove the grills and use the BBQ to boil the sauce. You could also do it inside …… which could work for a single flat, but would get tedious beyond that.

Recipes:

Here are 3 recipes – the only difference being their volume. The process remains the same for each, so its noted only once.

One flat (approximately 10L)

  • 1 flat of tomatoes
  • 10 medium large onions, cut fine
  • 2 garlic bulbs, minced
  • 50g salt (and taste for more before you can them)
  • ¼ tsp pepper (& to taste)
  • 1 tbs each basil, oregano, and thyme (& to taste)
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • enough oil to cook the mash

Bushel (2 flats yields @20L)

  • 1 bushel (MUST BE ROMA) tomatoes
  • 2 pints large onions
  • 3-4 large bulbs garlic
  • approximately 2tbs each of basil, oregano thyme
  • 5-6 or so bay leaves
  • enough sunflower oil to cook the mash – a 1/4 cup or so.
  • 3/4 tbs pepper
  • 100g (.5tsp/litre) salt – check to taste later (+1 tbs/bushel at end of cooking)

4 bushels

  • 4 bushels (MUST BE ROMA) tomatoes
  • 8 pints large onions
  • 10 large bulbs garlic
  • approximately 1/2 cup each of basil, oregano thyme
  • 20 or so bay leaves
  • enough sunflower oil to cook the mash – a cup or so.
  • 2 tbs pepper
  • 400g (.5tsp/litre) salt – check to taste later

Equipment needed

  • a good food processor
  • 2-3 full bbq tanks
  • 1-2 large boiling pots
  • 1-2 large cooking pots
  • 2-3 outdoor 60k btu burners
  • 2 -3 small tables
  • containers to transport finished sauce
  • 1 large spoon (i.e. 1m in length)
  • 80 L of jars – 1 L, 1.5 l sizes
  • 2 tongs – canning tongs and bbq tongs
  • 4 l measuring cup
  • sharp knife
  • breadboard
  • hose and water
  • metal collander
  • oven mits
  • matches or BBQ lighter
  • tomato press
  • canning funnel

METHOD

  • Cut onions, garlic  – food processor with slicing attachment used
  • Add in spices and oil
  • Cook mash until onions are translucent
  • Divide mash into bowls according to how many batches of sauce  you have
  • Set up: make sure the grinding operation and  burners form a triangle around you.
  • The grinder must be on a firm surface with space. There needs to be a place for the seeds to fall, and a surface for the sauce to drop. There needs to be a place for the breadboard and knife to the right of the grinder, a pot of rinse water beside it, and a platform for the bushel basket to sit on above the pot.
  • Fill the canning pot half way up with water, heat it up until boiling
  • Prepare jars, separating lids, tops and jars. Discard any questionable lids. Place lids in a collander that can be easily inserted then removed from boiling water.
  • Pour one batch of herb mash in the cooking pot, and begin grinding the tomatoes, adding to the mash. Light the burner once the first bowl of tomato juice has been prepared. Keep on a high boil, stirring frequently. (This is the key to a thick and reduced sauce). Once the bushel has been ground and is cooking, taste and adjust for salt.
  • Reduce the sauce  – full boil while stirring for about 30 minutes
  • Shortly before canning, put the bottles and lids in the waterbath for a few minutes. Remove them and set yourself up for filling: lids and caps separate, canning funnel and pouring jar ready.
  • Taste to see if you need more salt
  • Fill leaving 1/4″ at top. Tighten the lids before immersing them in the waterbath. (If you need to add more water, DO NOT add cold water if the jars are already in the waterbath. They will crack and break – guaranteed. Take all the jars out, add the water, put the hot jars back in.)
  • Put on a rolling boil for 25 minutes.
  • Let cool, make sure all the lids have popped down. Lids that have not popped down indicate an air leak. Use these jars first, and refrigerate them until use.

Good luck! I hope you do feel inspired to do this. You will never look back!

My DIY week

Sometimes I wonder what kind of monster I have created in committing myself to make everything from scratch wherever possible. Things have gone from a novelty to dependence, and I seem to be doing more and more of it. I do recognize that the only reason I can is because I work out of my home. If I had a 9-5 job, I could probably do the bread and yogourt, and that would be about it. Yet, I also know that if I planned it right I could likely do it. I could also train family members to pick one item to take responsibility doing as well.

I’m not buying less food as a result, but I am buying cheaper, and in considerable bulk: a 10 or 20 kilo bag of flour, or a 4 litre 3-bag of milk. I’m definitely not dependent on running out to a grocery store for a last minute ‘must have’.

When I look back on it, it all began with tomato sauce 25 years ago. A friend said, “why don’t you do it?” and the local Portuguese hardware store was more than pleased to help me get set up. I’m still using the same manual grinder I used to.

A week in the DIY life

So lets take a look and see what I have done in the last week, with links to blogs I’ve published on these items in the past. Perhaps you may be inspired to try out a few of them.

Bread: I’ve made bread a few times in the last week, including this morning. I use my own google sheet ‘app’ for sorting out my quantities, and I now have my default infallible sourdough loaf down.

Ketchup: Last Thursday, I did up some ketchup. My go-to ketchup recipe is pretty simple: 250ml of green tomato chutney, pureed with a 6oz can of tomato paste.

Yogourt: I make yogourt about once a week. I’ve noticed that my starter just keeps getting better and better. We were away for the weekend so I made it when we got back on Sunday night.

Granola: is one of those items everyone has come to depend on just ‘being there’. I get reminders when the jar gets low. This morning there was none, so time to make up a new batch.

Dog food: I just put out my dog food post before this  – and that is this afternoon’s task. I’ve got to put together the meat portion of it.

Pasta: Although we do have a jar of old fashioned dried pasta, if I am cooking it for  a family dinner, I’ll always make it from scratch. Tonight, my wife will be in need of some serious comfort food – so pasta, it will likely be.

What’s ahead?

Last weekend I bought some ‘cultured vegetables’ from the market, and I can’t wait to do my own. I’ll be posting about this shortly.  I also want to make up another batch of puff pastry and croissants. There’s a couple of bunches of rhubarb defying me in the fridge. I don’t know if I will do jam, chutney or both there.

When I think back on it, I would not do it any differently. I know I would feel I had let myself down if I bought a bag of granola or a loaf of bread. I also know that I can’t complain either. My family members would look at me and say, “Well just go and buy it”.

I’m curious to see who else out there approaches their food this way. I’m sure there are though I don’t know anyone in my immediate circles. Drop me a line and send me to YOUR blog!

Burns

 

DIY organic dog food

The background

The other week I took my dog to the vet for her annual checkup. She was pronounced in excellent health: great coat,  excellent teeth,  nothing wrong with her at all. Then I disclosed that I make all of her food from scratch, its all raw, and give her raw (frozen) marrow bones. Upon hearing this, she looked concerned she said, “You may not be giving her everything she needs and terms of vitamins and minerals.”

I responded with “Didn’t you just say this dog was in perfect health?” to which she replied “You never know. Commercial dog food is formulated so that that stuff is all taken care of”. It was better not to engage. I was not going to see her for a year. Needless to say I have not taken her advice to give extra vitamin supplements and dog is still in excellent health.

Some philosophical considerations

I want to go back a little bit and explain how I arrived at the diet that I’m giving my dog. It started with our last pooch who in her dying days, gradually gave up on eating.In response to that I started giving her offering her better and better food. This briefly worked but ultimately it was her time to go.

This started me thinking about what is appropriate for the family pet in this day and age. We expect our pets to be cheaper to feed than we ourselves are, yet so often people agonize about the minutiae of their pet’s diet in a way they don’t about their own. I have a feeling they have been beguiled by the pet food industry.

So one has to ask: Is the pet a member of your family? If the answer is “yes” then the next questions are:

  • What entitlements around food does this involve?
  • Does one apply the same level of food care to your pet as you would to the members of your family?
  • What if anything should be the per person cost differential?

While these are questions someone contemplating this should answer, my answers were essentially that the family dog is entitled to the same as the humans, and that the cost should really be less.

What to feed

I did some research on the net not a lot but enough to find out what ratios people tended to do with their pets and I arrived at a 1:1:1 carbs/meat/vegs ratio. I talked this over with another vet way back when when I was first beginning it and he suggested that I try a 20:40:40 ratio (meat:carbs:vegs) and I use this ratio currently. I did go through some shifts in how I prepare it, however, and hopefully my experimentations will save others some trouble.

I began by making a rich vegetable soup using marrow bones. This was, frankly, time and electricity consuming. One day, I decided to grate raw vegetables instead. The result?  a perkier dog. I’ve never looked back on that one.

I also initially cooked the meat. That was my vet’s idea as he said you can never tell where its come from and what its been through, so its safer to cook it.  However, I do know where my meat comes from. I am very fortunate to have a butcher up in Grey County (Ontario) where I go frequently. Country Meadow Meats goes hoof to table: they are a beef and lamb farm that butchers their own grass raised, antibiotic free, animals. Often I even know when the animal I’m buying from was butchered. Following the success of the raw vegetables, I decided to try raw meat as well – and again noticed a slight but none the less discernable rise in energy. She’s really as energetic as one could possibly wish a lab to be.

For carbs, its whatever is going, from rice, to homemade bread.  I always have a jar of organic brown rice on the go in the fridge, be it for humans or dogs.

Where’s the beef?

My monthly meat order costs me about $50-60. It consists of a beef tongue and heart, 1kilo of liver, and about 2.5kilos of beef trim. There’s lots of organ meat in that, as well as muscle and fat.

How much?

Our pooch is a black lab weighing about 30kilos. In terms of quantities, I settled on 100 grams of meat 200 grams of vegetables and 200 grams of rice per meal, twice day. This seems right: she’s staying on her her weight, is looking wonderful and healthy.

Time commitments in food prep

It is true that scooping out a cup of kibble is fast. Doing what I am doing is slower. I would also argue that having fewer vet appointments over her life from a more natural and healthier diet more than makes up for the time spent in the prep. The meat prep takes a little over an hour and a half a  month, and you need a meat grinder. The vegetables take about 15 minutes a week, using a large food processor with a grating wheel. The rice likewise takes about 15 minutes a week of your actual time.

Organic or not?

I would absolutely recommend using organic meat, vegetables and grains. You do not want your pet ingesting the various hormones and antibiotics found as a result of large agri business food lot meat processing. You do not want spray residue hiding in the leaves of a cabbage, and since you are not washing your veggies, you do not want any insecticide or hormonal residue on any of your other vegetables. In the case of meat , this is where costs can rise, and why its important to make a great relationship with your butcher. Much of the organ meat is a lot cheaper than even the cheaper cuts, and you want to get the absolute cheapest cut you can. My request is usually for ‘trim’ or else ‘what you would usually use to make sausages or patties’.

The prep

Still interested in reading on? Lets get to recipes.

Meat:

  1. Weigh the meat
  2. Divide the weight by 60 to get the amount of salt to add. (Use grams. Its easier!)
  3. Cut the meat into chunks that will go through your meat grinder, and sprinkle the salt over it. Mix it up –
  4. Portion the meat into sufficient quantities for one day each. I’ve found it most efficient to make them into large sausages wrapped in wax paper. These are easily cut in half, and you can then easily tell how much supply you have left. Most of this goes into the freezer, and is taken out a day or two before consumption.
  5. The grinder I use is a Cuisinart home grinder. Its not the best out there, but for my needs its fine.
Meat ready for grinding

Meat ready for grinding

Meat grinder setup

Meat grinder setup

Rice:

Make 3 cups dry (add 6 cups of water) organic brown rice, with a pinch of salt in it.

Vegetables:

There’s no getting around it. Dogs don’t like veggies. A carrot may look initially bone like and interesting, but in the end, its not. So you do need to make it so that the vegetables mixed in with the carbs and meat make the whole affair palatable to a hungry pooch. I weigh out 2 kilos of what I have: carrots, cabbage, broccoli ends, kale stems – anything that has good roughage and constitutes a decent variety. There is no need to peel or wash them. (just think of what goes in their mouths on a daily basis) I gradually mix in 40g (i.e.2%) of salt to help the taste along. Having a good sized food processor with a grating blade is essential. This mix lasts about 5 days and takes about 15 minutes to put together.

2 Kilos carrots cabbage

The 'slaw'

The ‘slaw’

Extensions

I frequently give the dog leftovers as part of her dinner (but always in her bowl, always as part of her regular dinner). These are inevitably things that are still fine to eat, but its clear none of the humans will consume them on short order. You could say that the dog is like the first order of composting. So lets say I have a grain casserole that is in this category. I would weigh it into the dog’s dish, and then add rice until the overall carb complement is at 200g. Or lets say that the leftover is a mix of grains and vegetables. Same idea: weigh it, then add in more or less even amounts of the slaw and rice until it is 400g.

Similarily with meat: Lets say you are preparing a chicken soup with bones from the roast. There’s inevitably all kinds of little bits of meat left from a roast chicken, both before and after the soup. I package it all in 100g packages and put it in with the rest of the dog food. I tend to mix it with the raw beef though as my sense is that once it has become soup much of its nutrition is lost.

Bones

Marrow bones are an equally important part of the equation. Not only are they going to be your doggie’s favorite chew toy, they are wonderful for their teeth and are a great source of essential minerals and nutrients. As our vet noted, her teeth were perfect after a year of raw marrow bones. I understand the issue of raw or cooked is contentious, as with the meat. I would argue that this is what they would be doing naturally, and as long as you trust your butcher and know their practices, raw will ultimately be better.

Consider it at least

So there you have it. Although it takes more time than your kibble, I’d argue that by doing this you  will know exactly what goes into its food, and be assured that it is getting the best organic, naturally prepared food you can possibly give, for about the same cost as cheap kibble. Once you get into the rhythm of it, and can plan ahead, it becomes a part of your regular routine. You also won’t be part of that enormous pet industry that is out there.

Most importantly, and based solely on my own empirical evidence, you will have a considerably healthier and  content best friend.

Your dog will always be there!

Your dog will always be there!

Perfect homemade pasta every time

This is going to be my shortest blog ever.

But it will show how you can make perfect homemade pasta each and every time.

Here is the trick. I’ll assume you have a pasta maker already.

Start by weighing your eggs (not your flour). 1 egg per person eating your wonderful ooh! and aahhh! homemade pasta.

Next divide the weight of the eggs by .6. This will be the weight of flour to use.

So if you are making pasta for 4 and your eggs weigh out to 215g, then 215/.6 = 358 which would be how much flour to add. The more precise you can be, the better will be your result.

This quite precise ratio will give you the precise amount of hydration to your dough so that when you put it through your pasta roller, it will be perfect. No extra flour needed, no extra water, no stickiness, no dryness either.

I’d like to add one note of warning, however. Even though your flour will appear to be completely dry grains, there is still some water content in it. I’ve found that different brands of semolinas require slightly different ratios in order to compensate. Its possible that the flour you have needs a 57% ratio – or in the case above, 215/.57 = 377g. You will know this if when using the 60% ratio it is too wet.

If you want to make something like spinach pasta, weigh the spinach or whatever it is, and add it to the weight of the eggs, because vegetables are 90% water so something like spinach would go on the wet side of the equation.

Something that has become apparent to me is that different brands of flours have quite different hydration points. The bulk semolina  my food coop used to sell was dry and worked great at 60% . Bob’s  semolina as well as Italian semolina locally available has a greater moisture content and needs a 50% hydration  (egg weight÷.5). 

Finally this post assumes you know how to cook said pasta in a great big pot of quite salty water…..