The Lahey Project

Preservation by Any Means Possible (and... a Lahey Bread, if you are still keeping track)

I like to think of words in the English language, and how they look or "feel" like their spellings... my favorite examples: laugh, quiet, grumpy. When I see the word 'August' in type it evokes this feeling of exhaustion, of exhaling with a sigh, of brevity. In the Midwest, our most prolific season is August and the aforementioned descriptions sum it up well. Pretty much any vegetable that grows in our zone is on and ripe for the preservation, and while I don't preserve as much as some, I still feel that pang of tiredness. I wonder if I am doing as much as I can do, wondering if I am doing too much for the food-eating conundrum I find myself in (a.k.a. my picky boys).

Last weekend, the Kiddo and I spent time at my Parents' farm. My only food goal was finding a peck of jalapeno peppers. Last year's peppers were excruciatingly hot, so hot that I actually still have a number of jars leftover despite the near 3 pints of candied jalapenos I ingested myself. When considering my preserving tactics this Summer, I thought of an uncle - since I could justify doing more if I had someone with the fortitude to eat the last of the super hot peppers. And he must have a stomach of steel. Last Summer, I traded some canning for some upholstery work, and when my Mom gave him the peppers he ate almost half a jar immediately.

Finding jalapenos this year was more difficult, and after some hunting, we found a farm with them. I helped an Amish man pick a gallon pail full of mixed peppers. This was after a misunderstanding at a different farm that landed me a peck of crisp green bell peppers. Monday morning before leaving, 4 dozen corn appeared tidily bundled in a green mesh sack, the result of tasting some bi-color corn we got from another Amish neighbor on Saturday during our quest. It was the sweetest corn I've had this year, and now 10 1/2 lbs. are resting in the deep freeze.

As if I didn't have enough on my plate, I decided before I left that I needed to make proper lacto-ferment crock pickles this year. This beautiful photo from Chiot's Run was what did it; after reading the post, I went down to the basement and brought up the crock my Mom gave me a year ago that belonged to my Gram. I re-washed it and sterilized it for fear of mold spores (my poisoned vinegar was in the basement) and then left it on my kitchen counter open to the air for the weekend. Tuesday, I picked up some pickling cucumbers from the farmer's market, exactly 5 lbs. when I weighed them.

I decided not to can vinegar pickles this year, but couldn't bear the thought that I wouldn't have any until next year so these traditional pickles are a welcome addition. So is the handsome crock on the floor of my kitchen.

hitchhiking caterpillar on the dill.

The recipe that Suzy at Chiot's Run used was from Linda Ziedrich's pickle book, which I do not have but intend to pick up soon. I followed the recipe, but I had no allspice. I may pick some up and add it after a trip to the co-op tomorrow... if I remember, that is. I also added just a few more hot chiles de arbol. I felt proud that my coriander seed was saved from my garden last year, I measured it out of an origami packet I made to conceal it.

my salad plate was exactly the right size to keep everything submerged.

Pickles done, I turned my attention to this gem of a recipe: lacto-fermented peppers from the Woodwife's Journal. At the farmer's market I also picked up some other green peppers of varying heats, poblanos, serranos, Aneheims, a few extra jalapenos since I was feeling a bit on the shy side with them. These are so delicious straight away, and I can only imagine they will get better with time. I had a few more alterations with this recipe since I was almost out of live cider vinegar (Bragg's, and I ordered another gallon today).

I eyeballed a half peck each of hot (green) mixed peppers and sweet bell peppers, but used only 1 1/3 c. of the cider vinegar and topped it off with plain white vinegar. I also used part olive oil and part grapeseed oil, and a few grinds of black pepper. Try to find Mexican oregano if you can, because that really makes these I think. They are the perfect kind of mild heat, slightly oily and herby, and just plain addicting. I had a half gallon jar and two quart jars, and already I'm wondering if I shouldn't do a second batch because I want everyone I know to try these. And unlike last year, the jalapenos are approachable.

The two larger projects out of the way, I turned my attention to these crazy, bright peppers. When I stood along this long row of mixed hot peppers of various types with an Amish man and picked these, he told me he planted them for the produce auction since their family doesn't much care for the super hot peppers. The auction draws both retailers and individual buyers, and many of the local Amish have gotten rather diverse in the things they grow to sell there. The most fascinating variety I thought were the tiny purple "ornamental" ones, which he assured me were edible, though he didn't remember the name. I bit into one and let my tongue discover the Scoville Heat Units. It was hot.

Last year, I remembered seeing this lacto-fermented hot sauce recipe and cataloged it. I grew a single plant of cayenne peppers and another of habanero, planning to make a smaller batch after they ripen. I may still do that, but meanwhile I used the whole lot that we picked for my bucket, 11 oz., to make a trial batch. It's fairly thick, bordering more on a salsa consistency and I'm actually not sure that I'll strain it. I have a week to think about it.

This isn't just hot. It's mind-numbingly hot. But it's fruity, and the heat doesn't last long which is kind of strange for something with all the visual warning of a traffic cone.

I saved all of the jalapenos, which worked out to exactly 3 lbs. (enough for one batch of candied jalapenos) for tomorrow and moved on to the corn. According to an old preserving book my Mom has, when blanching corn for freezing, you should boil for just as long as you soak in an ice bath - 4 minutes in the case of sweet corn. I filled up my sink with icy water and boiled 6 ears at a time. My rhythm was so efficient that before the next batch was done in the boiling pot, I had 6 of the drained ears sheared clean of kernels - in part to the bundt pan corn removal method I've been seeing around the Internet.

I crafted a "knife protector" out of a plastic lid, however. and it worked really well!

With all of the aroma of sweet corn in the air, no bread in the house, and a starter that had just recently emerged from refrigerated weekend slumber, I decided to tackle the long-lost and maybe somewhat forgotten task of making all of Jim Lahey's bread for what I affectionately coined The Lahey Project. I saved out 4 ears of corn, stripped them, and blended them smooth. Then I used my new favorite purchase, a nut milk bag, to drain out corn juice that was used for the liquid in the bread.

It rose, sweet and earthy and super sticky and I formed it, messily, into a ball. It rose for a couple more hours surrounded by large amounts of cornmeal to ward off some of the inevitable stickiness and when the time came to drop it into my pot, I of course slipped and mostly deflated it. It's been so long since I have done a no-knead bread, and forgot about the somewhat delicate nature of the risen dough. I baked it anyway. It was delicious. It may not be the most picturesque loaf, but I certainly got the gist of what flavors bread can take on when the liquid is replaced with juice.

So, August. It was midnight before I slipped into bed, finally finished my book, and then had trouble winding down into sleep mode. I love working this way, until I'm so tired I'm not really tired any more. It's all self-imposed now, which makes it feel so much more rewarding than when I made an hourly amount which never seemed to measure enough for the precious time I gave to others. (I'm not talking about you though, GOP...) The hot water bath will bubble with more hot peppers tomorrow and I'll continue to take stock and see what else I should be doing to ready myself for the days when things aren't growing and thriving. When August leaves us as quickly as the sigh that it feels like, and Fall stands proud and cold and begs you to turn on the oven.

The Lahey Project (kinda...): Cauliflower Pizza

Being in the throes of sourdough, I have lately abandoned my Lahey Project fervor. I have not forgotten dear Jim, since yesterday I produced my best loaf of sourdough to date using his ratio (in metric) of flour to water, and counting a heaping 1/4 c. of my starter in the liquid part of the equation. When I saw this Habenero Apple Jelly recipe today, I knew I had to rush off to my favorite apple vendor at the farmer's market in West Allis to get some cider - and while I was there I couldn't pass up a yellow cauliflower. One thing always leads to another, doesn't it?

Even though I have ample things to eat, I know that the winter season will soon be upon us and then that yellow cauliflower will then be the only thing I can think of: so often is that the case when I don't give in to instant gratification. And, while I'm at it, if I'm going to be instantly gratified, it behooves my healthfulness to include a cauliflower. High in vitamin C and fiber, and full of cancer fighting phytochemicals, the yellow version shouldn't actually taste much different than a milky white varietal. I swear that the yellow version is gentler and much more sophisticated. But then again, it's probably just the divine combination of ingredients that comprise a Lahey pizza...

Long before the purchase of said cauliflower, I had started a whole wheat dough this morning using my sourdough starter. I applied the same idea of counting a heaping 1/4 c. of starter as a liquid, and tried a mostly wheat "no knead" dough from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I own this book, and was initially very excited with it (before Laheyitis set in...). The premise of both Artisan Bread in Five books is that you are able to mix up a large batch of no knead dough, and then bake with it for a week or longer. The bread is good, and the time saving is valid for those who may be busy. But after trying my first bite of Lahey bread made with a minuscule amount of yeast, I couldn't go back to stored dough; my new breads developed much more flavor over that longer period of fermentation time.

I also have the luxury of pretty much babysitting any dough project since I work in the home... and there is a very satisfying reward for me personally to be able to bake on demand and set my alarm clock for the middle of the night or supremely early in the morning to attend to such needs of experimentation. It's kind of funny that here I am, trying to take a simple method and make it more laborious, but that is what I do I guess. There are a lot of great recipes in the Artisan Bread books, and now that I know I can make more work for myself, I may set out trying to replicate more of them using a longer, single baking approach.

I scaled back the HBin5 master bread dough recipe to 1/4 of it's intended amount (fairly easy, since the book lists metric weights for the master recipe) using my starter, and compensated for having ALL of my windows open for most of this unseasonably warm November day by leaving the dough in my oven with the light on to raise for about 8 hours. It was ready by dinner time, and by then I had this gorgeous cauliflower. Though I may be stretching to count it in my Lahey Project, I used the recipe for the topping from My Bread.

The dough was super sticky, so I rolled it super thin on a piece of parchment, and baked it on a stone at 500 degrees. When the dough "set", I slid the parchment out from underneath.

Brilliance. The mandolined cauliflower tossed with green olives (I "borrowed" queen sized manzanillas from my in-laws), chile flake, fresh garlic, Parmesan cheese and a trace of olive oil. The dough was nice and crisp - but to be honest, I was so enamored of the topping it was clearly in the backseat. I saved the rest of my dough in the fridge to play with tomorrow - and am figuring that I'll likely make the second half of the cauliflower into another pizza tomorrow night, dutifully complete with Lahey crust.

(Oh, and I forgot to mention that this cauliflower pizza is topped with breadcrumbs. Beautiful, uniformly dusty breadcrumbs now thanks to the VitaMix! But breadcrumbs of any size or shape and added to the top of any pizza just prior to baking are probably only going to enhance your outcome, and that is just one thing I have learned from Jim Lahey.)

The only enhancement that can make a Lahey Pizza better in my eyes is some heat. Even with the ample chile flake my heavy hands added, pizza in my book needs to be consumed with peppers alongside. My candied jalapenos were perfect, and I ate a slice with each bite until my eyes were hot and nearly watering. Not so much watering as "sweating". I've said it before and I'll say it again, you know it's good when your eyes sweat.

The End.

The Lahey Project: Irish Brown Bread (and the Giveaway Winner!)

This morning, I assigned numbers to all of the commenters who desired to win the Blazing Hot Candied Jalapenos, and according to the Random Number Generator, the lucky winner was Neil F.! I met Neil at a dinner a few weeks ago at La Merenda in support of the Eat Local Milwaukee restaurant challenge. He is also an intern at Wellspring Farms, and blogs about his experiences at stream of consciousness, so hop over and check it out!

This giveaway had 18 entrants, which is vastly more than my first giveaway, and I'm very excited to see if these peppers are hot enough for Neil! I'm going to to prematurely say: yes they are!, after sampling the first of my newly canned batch last night.

I must confess that I'm really not a party girl. I enjoy get-togethers, but not feeling awkward and stranger-in-a-strange-landish. I don't attend many parties, preferring to have just one or two people over for dinner now and then. That works pretty well for me, and for my house which is on the smallish side.

I also have never thrown myself a party, which I kind of did last night, when I invited 8 friends to my house for a "Small Ferments Get-Together". We enjoyed an evening of sampling different kitchen experiments: Mr. Mork's Toungesplitter Ale (renamed The Bernadette Peters), Kir and "fermented" chocolate covered cherries (and kombucha) from Peef and Lo at Burp!, and of course an array of lacto-fermented veg and bread. (A particular highlight is that my Husband actually tried Kombucha for the first time! I was shocked! And, he didn't even hate it!)

I used the excuse of company to knock out another of my Lahey Project breads: the Irish Brown Bread. The recipe is actually exactly the same as the Pane Integral bread, but instead of including water, the liquids are Guinness and buttermilk (in my case, homemade whole milk buttermilk). The result was a tangy bread with a tighter crumb than the other breads in his book, and a peculiar rye flavor even though there was not even a trace of rye flour in it.

I must admit, it wasn't my favorite of the Lahey breads I've tried so far, but Peef was on to something when he suggested a grilled sandwich made with some kind of ruben-ish ingredients! I have only 1 piece of that bread left, so I may need an excuse to make it again to try that. I also think it is largely a matter of personal preference, since a few of my guests really loved it.

I feel like I stand on the cusp of bread season. All summer, I make bread here and there, but seldom get hungry for it until the coolness of September and October hit. Nearly two weeks ago, I embarked on a new bread project, a sourdough grown from wild yeast as suggested by Nancy Silverton. If all goes as planned, I should be able to knock out the first of the loaves of Wisconsin Sourdough on Monday - and a more detailed post will certainly follow.

No matter what, Lahey bread is still near and dear to me - a perfectly wonderful addition to any dinner or party, and a fairly labor-free endeavor as well. My rule of thumb is to mix up the dough(s) 24 hours before I plan to bake. I haven't had any trouble with that method yet, but still feel like I have volumes to learn about fermentation as it pertains to bread.

Stay tuned, since Nancy Silverton is probably the best guide on the subject for an obsessive type such as myself!

The Lahey Project: Pizzas Potato and Zucchini.

Friday evening was a good occasion to knock out two more Lahey pizzas: Pizza Patate and Pizza Zucchine. I made two Lahey pizzas in one pan, a half and half pizza, since I have to carefully schedule the Lahey recipes I know won't be immediate hit with my Husband around the times when I have friends or family visiting. It works out splendidly, since I can be generous with the servings and not too gluttonous in my own consumption. Fortunately for me, Lahey pizzas are well designed to be both a bit unorthodox and extremely delicious - both happy mediums for casual dinner parties. And, I know that had he felt adventurous enough to try it, both sides of the pizza would have been a hit with my Husband, too.

(It is also a benefit that since the pizzas are all vegetable, lazy salad makers such as myself do not even feel guilty for only serving pizza and nothing else - well, except for the Mostly Foodstuffs Rhubarb Liqueur and Rhubarb Custard Tart! I have to get my rhubarb servings in when I have company as well...)

This week's CSA box had a pound of new Yukon Gold potatoes and zucchini, last week's box had a yellow squash and a sweet onion, so proudly all the ingredients (save the flour) are native to Wisconsin!

The potato side begins with a salt water soak. I have never soaked potatoes in salt water before, but it actually draws out some of the moisture, making the potatoes both crisp and creamy when they bake. Since the pizza bakes at a blistering 500 degrees, wafer thin slices of potato (tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper) turn golden and parched on top and stay creamy underneath - a combination that is satisfyingly hearty. A carnivorous eater would gladly add bacon, pancetta or prosciutto and never again order out for pizza. I'll save that trick for another day.

I soaked my mandolined potatoes for about 90 minutes, and meanwhile shredded 20 ounces of zucchini/squash, tossed it with salt and let it drain over a colander. I have a number of clean muslin bags in my kitchen drawer that I made from unbleached cotton muslin. I find that I use them for everything: from straining grapes for jelly to this tried and true technique of pressing the excess moisture out of the zucchini. I actually am able to get incredibly dry zucchini by loading it into the bag, then twisting and pressing it until it is virtually dehydrated. Coincidentally, I think the first time I employed this technique was to make the Mostly Foodstuffs Chocolate Zucchini Cake, which is also a winner!

I recently read this post by Otehlia at World of Flavors, where she explains how most recipes that contain zucchini make a large amount, since to make a dent in a zucchini supply, you have to be able to use a lot in one recipe. It is true (and her bread recipe at the link above does look like it will have to be tried sometime soon), and I found myself noticing that many of the zucchini recipes I have do contain rather large amounts of this prolific vegetable. A pound and a quarter on half of the pizza may seem like a lot, but it was not too much, and it was probably the best slice of pizza I've had in a long time. If it is one thing I can't recommend highly enough, it is the proportions in this book. They are spot on - and I am not someone who goes about measuring everything when I'm in the kitchen. I do swear firmly upon weight measurements in My Bread. They have not failed me yet!

The zucchini is supposed to be tossed with Gruyere cheese, but I had some Wisconsin Parmesan on hand from Country Connection, and I used an equal amount of it: 75 grams for the half amount. The pure genius moment of this half of the pizza is that it is sprinkled with bread crumbs over the top before baking. At the high oven temperature, this created gorgeous blackened crunchy bits. This little addition alone endears Pizza Zucchine to me forever, but indeed the flavors of the entire concoction are really inspired. They are simple, but perfectly balanced.

I added just a bit of grated nutmeg... I couldn't resist!

The only thing I could be more excited about than Lahey Pizza lately is rhubarb. I recently crowned Deena my Rhubarby Guru, and it is the truth. She posted a recipe back in May for a liqueur that I finally made, bottled and am trying patiently to let it mellow, but it is so delicious that I keep sampling it. She says it needs time to mellow, but it is already so good, that I can't imagine it getting much better. It is smooth, and tart, and sweet. It is Rhubarb Liqueur, and you need to make some now, if you can still get some fresh rhubarb.

My own rhubarb masterpiece, the family recipe that I almost can not make for fears of devouring all of it's buttery greatness, took a back seat to another of Deena's recipes that I had wanted to try: Rhubarb Custard Tart. I had to use frozen rhubarb here, and I decided to bake it frozen instead of letting it drain - just a little bit of a mistake. It looks fine and tasted delicious, but got just a tad watery as it sat. Overnight in the refrigerator took care of most of the problem, but I would imagine that it would be stellar with fresh, unfrozen rhubarb. The tart crust was particularly nice, and since I had only an 8 inch tart pan, I made a dozen little tarts out of the remains. We ate some, and I gave some away, but still have some left and let me tell you it is hard not to keep swiping spoonfuls on my way past. Rhubarb is like that: A love it or hate it thing, but once it gets in your blood you are hard pressed to not crave it.

So, I'm moving right along, Mr. Lahey! Looking forward to my next My Bread adventure, whatever it may be... the greatness of these pizzas makes me think it just may be the Pizza Cavolifiore: Cauliflower Pizza.

The Lahey Project:: Bacon (Pancetta) Bread.

I'm beginning to realize that these posts about the breads made from Jim Lahey's book could get pretty boring and old. After all, every one I've tried so far has been great - but not just great, tremendous, and even then I'm starting to run out of complementary adjectives. But each and every bread that I've tried has been so miraculous that I still really can't believe I'm pulling this stuff out of my oven.

This one was obviously no different. The crust was even better than normal, probably because there was a sly addition of bacon grease. Yes, you heard me, bacon fat. I feel kind of funny always walking the line between vegan and animalistic ways of cooking, but those of you who know me can attest that I do procure the best meats that I can. This bacon came from the same hog that the rest of my pork stores did, the same animal also feeding my Parents. While staunch vegan readers may audibly gasp at this, I personally do not have a problem with it. I'd probably prefer to go full vegetarian and/or vegan, but my carnivorous Husband would then most likely resolve to eating every meal somewhere else, and that does not a happy home make!

And besides, who am I kidding. Bacon? R1 suspects that even vegetarians crave bacon. Lahey's original called for pancetta, but used bacon as a substitute and if you think that adding bacon to bread could make a complete meal, you would be correct.

The bacon is first fried, then added to the dry ingredients. Here, with a healthy amount of crushed red peppers...

It's meaty and chewy, and could easily gentrify any plain old lunch into a eyebrow raising and sophisticated Brunch. I also made a half recipe, since after all, I for sure don't need the temptations of a 1 1/2 pound loaf of bacon bread siren calling me morning, noon and night.

A while back, Lo asked me if I ever would recommend Lahey's "bread in a pot" method using parchment to raise the dough in and I said not really. On the second olive bread that I made, some of the olives made their way to the outermost of the loaf and had direct contact with the cast iron pot for the duration of the cooking time. It wasn't terrible, either to the palate or to the dishwasher (a.k.a. Me...), but I thought burnt bacon may be a different story. So I decided to line my enamel colander with parchment, let the bacon bread dough rise in it, and then transfer the whole works to the pot to cook. No mess, much easier to transfer. So, Lo - I take it back. It works excellently, especially if you have need for less cleanup or are working with a sticky ingredient (or just lack confidence in the skill of handling a floppy-ish risen bread dough in close proximity to a blazing hot cast iron pot).

My bread was done before lunchtime, and I made another of my favorite recipes to enjoy it with, herby baked eggs. I made my Husband a grilled cheese, which I may have to do for myself tomorrow with some of the leftovers. A cashew pesto, provolone, tomato grilled cheese on bacon bread? I may finally have a submission for The Grilled Cheese Academy after all! You can be sure that I'll let you know how it turns out.

Meanwhile, I'm glad I opted to bake today, even in the extreme heat and humidity. We have air conditioning, but somehow a 475 degree oven manages to slice through it pretty well. The heat also wrecks havoc on my appetite: killing it off almost completely. But that is why I thank you, Jim Lahey, because there aren't many appetites that can't be piqued by the smell of bacon baking into bread. Just one more reason why he really is pure genius.