Review: Flour Water Salt Yeast

For somewhere near eight years of my life I battled stomach pains so intense that I would curl up in a ball for a day or two waiting for it to go away.  I tried and failed to chart what was causing it.  When I married my wife, at the time a chef, I asked her to help me figure it out.  It seemed obvious it was food related but it was so sporadic when it would hit.

We tried a great variety of different diets to pin point what was happening.  We tried removing lactose, gluten, and various other things, and while some of them seemed to alleviate some of the other symptoms of my stomach issues, none of them took away the sharp pains.  One of the last resorts we went to was trying probiotics to see if that would do anything, and amazingly it did!  Probiotics reduced the amount of time I laid in pain and if I was able to sense it coming I could take a pill and eliminate the pain before it started.  But it required constant vigilance to retain a normal feeling stomach.

I wasn’t quite satisfied with it as I believe we can fix many of our bodies health issues by proper dieting and I’d rather work at doing that than taking a mystery pill to fix it.  Probiotics are a concentrated form of bacteria designed to bring your stomach back into balance.  Yogurt is known to be one of the best sources of natural probiotics, but it didn’t serve me well.  And so for a year or two we continued this delicate balance, with no idea what might fix this dieting issue.

Around this time last year, we were watching The Great British Baking Show and I saw a baker bring out a tub of some gooey substance that he claimed he kept in his closet.  Steph and I had a conversation about what it was (sourdough starter) and I got super excited about the idea of making bread with home grown yeast.  Steph began doing some research on it and found a blog where a mom talked about all of her children having stomach issues and starting her own bread using sourdough starter (levain) fixed all of their issues.  With even more excitement we began our own levain.  It instantly healed my stomach but after a month of baking bread we forgot about feeding our levain and returned to our normal dieting regime.

Six months or so later we decided to restart our bread making (both for need of my stomach and also for the delicious results of these efforts).  As part of restarting our levain, we decided to buy a book and work with it to get things going much better.  Steph did some research and found Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish and so began some amazing food experiments.

Book Review – Flour Water Salt Yeast

Ken Forkish writes much about the history of bread, the benefits and drawbacks of various flours, yeasts, and why you only need four ingredients to make a delicious bread.  With exclusion to one recipe in his book, all of his bread recipes are constructed from only flour, water, salt, and yeast.  (That one recipe is bacon bread, because what isn’t improved with a dead pig?  Really, nothing.)

If you want to try making bread with or without levain this book will tell you how to do it and gives you recipes to practice with and suggestions for how you can tweak them into something of your very own.

Ken talks at length about how the best flavored breads come, not from commercial yeast, but from a levain you grow yourself.  His method of growing one is very different than what we tried when we did our little bit of internet research the first time, and I think it has a lot to do with how scientific he gets with his approach.  Throughout the book he includes very engaging stories of his successes and failures in the baking world.  Having made a good number of the recipes I can also say that his theory that all you need is these four ingredients to create an abundance of delicious flavors is very well proven.

This books makes me feel like a bread expert, like I can figure out any issue with the bread.  On a knowledge level that might even be true, I have solved several issues, but on a practical level I have trouble working the dough.  I simple can’t say enough good things about this book.  If you want to know how to bake bread, get this book… it’ll make it seem like baking is as simple as eating cake.

Overall, I give this book five stars.

Next Up: World Sourdoughs from Antiquity by Ed Wood

Recipe: Chicken Curry

In an effort to start going through our unused spices, we looked up a recipe for Curry.  We found one that we only required us to buy 1 ingredient from the store and so we gave it a try.  Our first run was good, but lacked the punch it really needed.  So we tried it again the next night and made some key changes.  It was so delicious we found ourselves high fiving and moaning with delight.  I’m sure there are things we could do to make it even better, but I’m not sure I’d want to mess with this recipe any more…  it’s just too good.

Chicken Curry

Details

Time – 40 minutes

Skill – some

Servings – about 6

Cost – $10 or less

Ingredients

Chicken Rub

2 tablespoons Curry Powder

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons dried cumin

2 teaspoons turmeric

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons sugar

8 serving sized pieces of chicken – skinless

1  tablespoon olive oil

1 onion diced

3 tablespoons curry paste

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1 14oz can tomato puree (or crushed tomatoe)

1 1/2 cups rice

Directions

(If going chickenless, use 1/2 the dry spices and 1 tablespoon less curry paste.)  Combine all dry spices in a bowl.  Cut chicken into small pieces.  Spoon spices over chicken until fully coated.  Take the remaining spices and mix in curry paste, ginger, and garlic.  Then set aside for later.

Cook rice using the normal methods ~20 minutes.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat; cook chicken till done.  Remove chicken from skillet.  Add onion to the skillet and stir in hot oil until caramelized ~ 20 minutes.

Add spice mix to skillet, stirring into the onions. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant ~ 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in the tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes), remove from heat and stir in the chicken and rice.

Enjoy with some garlic naan for an even more delectable meal.

Find the original recipe here.

Review: The Deathly Hallows

136251

I finally finished J.K. Rowling’s heptalogy, Harry Potter!  I read the entirety of this book in two days, so you know I enjoyed it.  Life got busy afterwards and so it took a couple weeks to get to writing this, which has been beneficial for clear evaluation.  I can honestly say that much of the joy of reading this final book comes from how invested I was in the series.  When you’ve read six books already, it’s kinda hard to not finish the story.  You really want to know what happens to the characters, and that shows some good writing skills on Rowling’s part.

There are certainly parts of this story I like, and parts that I think are just poorly written.  As I was reading it, I counted no less than three coincidences that led to culmination of the story.  The absence of any one of them would have resulted in a very different ending to the story (SPOILER:  I.E. the bad guys would have won).

Now don’t get me wrong, I like a good coincidence and I recognize that life is full of seeming coincidences that lead us down that path we live.  Someone else quits a job so you have that dream opening to apply for; or someone pulls out of a parking spot right as you pull in allowing you to snag the closest spot to the store.  These things happen, but if we’re honest they don’t happen with as much gravity and frequency in real life as they do in this final book.  And that difference makes the story unbelievable.  (Funny I’d say that about a book full of Magic, but magic is more believable than these coincidences due to the rules and structure it follows.  Random happenstance that hands you a first place trophy in the Olympics… that just doesn’t happen.)

If you’re looking for a light hearted book of fantasy and adventure, Harry Potter is a good series, but if you’re looking for meat and potatoes fantasy with a believable (though fantastical) story, this may not be the series to invest in.

Overall I give this book 3 stars.

Next Up: Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish

Review: Side By Side

9781433547119

What is friendship?  If you were to ask this question in certain parts of the world, the answer would be that a friend is someone you could wake up at 2am and say, “come with me” and they would come, no questions asked.  In still other places a friend is someone you can easily bear your soul to.  Someone who draws out the parts of you that you can’t tell others about because you’re ashamed of them.  Friendship is a bond that knows no bounds.

That’s not what this book is about.  This book wastes no time telling you what a friend is, but instead tells you how you can best help others.  This book provides useful tips on how to create those deep an enduring friendships we all desire.  If gives practical tips on how to engage people in conversation and to move relationships from the common surface level engagements we have today to more meaningful and deep relationships.  It talks about living life together and about how to move conversations to areas of personal growth.  It shows you how to overcome the pride that prevents us from being real with ourselves and others about our innermost thoughts and feelings.  This book is all about how to help your friends become more awesome.

This book is more focused on how to help others be successful in life that it is about you being a better person.  If you can master the skills here you’ll find the people around you are more open and honest with you and with themselves.  And in turn, you’ll get to be more open and honest with them, but the focus is on them opening up and not you.

My main problem with this book is that I’ve read all of this before.  I don’t know if Welch has just combined all these tips from other places and things I’ve read or what, but there was nothing challenging in it.  The book’s language was simple and approachable to all, that is also exactly what I disliked about it.

It’s not that I think I’m a good friend… the truth is I’m not good at employing the principles laid out in this book; even though I do agree that they should be employed.  The kind of person that does what Welch describes will find themselves surrounded by deep and meaningful relationships.  But despite the truth of all of that, I found this book simply a chore to read.  It could be that I read through the book too quickly (the chapters are short and would probably be best served by reading one every few days while you worked to implement the suggestions in your life).  I was reading 2-5 chapters a day so that I could cram it into the last week of March.  So take this review for what it’s worth, the book has great material and possible a boring delivery.

Now, that I’ve spent explaining how boring this book is and only the hardcore readers are still reading, here are two good insights this book made that make it worth while:

1st, we are all helpers.  Welch states that “a young child is most satisfied when helping a parent cook or clean.”  I fact checked this with several families and they all agreed.  (All wanted to clarify that we’re talking about satisfaction and not happiness and a few wanted to clarify that some kids hate certain tasks and are not satisfied or happy to help with them.)  We are designed to help one another and the purpose of this book is to give you tools to be better at it.

2nd, this book really drove home for me just how bad I am at helping my friends be what they want and more importantly need to be.  Perhaps it’s a bit of pessimism, but I suspect that if you read this book you’ll find just how bad you are at helping your friends too.

There are many good reasons to read this book, and if you want to be a good helper of your friends I think it’s worth the effort.

Overall, I give this book three stars.

Next Up: The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Review: The Half-Blood Prince

32402The Half-Blood Prince is without a doubt one of my least favorite books in this series.  It takes 50-60% of the book for any action to really develop.  The beginning of the book is just so slow that it’s boring.  It’s not as though that boring content is pointless.  I think Rowling did a decent job of making all points of the story come together to tell a consistent story, it’s just uninteresting.  I became tired of Harry’s inability to do anything back in book four and the majority of this story is Harry sitting around and talking to people, but not doing anything.

It’s interesting too, because as I read it I could recognize far more key scenes in this book than in the previous five combined.  What I mean is, I knew ahead of time from having seen the movies that there are 4 or 5 key scenes in this book that were coming up, but I had no idea they would all happen in the second half of the book and that absolutely no development would happen in the first half.  This might be why the book felt so slow.  I was eagerly waiting the cool scenes from the second half and had no patients for the lulls that permeated the first half.

On the positive side, we do continue to see some good character developments in side characters throughout the book.  And we learn more about the magical systems in this world.

Overall, I give this book three stars.

Next Up: Side By Side by Edward T. Welch

Review: The Order of the Phoenix

17521812_906085102669_486076334_oThe Order of the Phoenix is the 5th year in the story of Harry Potter and the adventures at Hogwarts.   This book happens to be the thickest of all the novels, as a result it has the most content that doesn’t make it to the movies. It’s weird to me that the films have the last book broken out into two movies but this one with more than 100 pages of extra content over that book is crammed into one short film.

The story begins to take a turn in this book.  You learn of a secret order of witches and wizards who have dedicated them selves to stopping the evil that is Lord Voldemort (yeah, I used his name).

This book involves several key plot twists.  It’s the first book where an important character dies, and you see several power battles play out and how they effect the world at Hogwarts.  We also get to see Harry develop as a leader, though it’s clear he doesn’t want it.  Hermione seems much more suited to it.

In this book I feel Rowling develops the main characters much more that she had in the previous 4 books combined.  But, more importantly she begins, for the first time, to develop the side characters.  They’re no longer just the boys who sleep in Harry’s dorm, they each have wants, fears, and desires.  We begin to see what has made them who they are.  This development is so key to the story and where it is going.  Without that development we might be lead to believe that only Ron, Hermione, and Harry have a personality.

I have one complaint with this book.  In the beginning of the book there’s a comment made about how they didn’t travel by portkey as that would be a lifetime’s work to accomplish.  But we see in the end of the last book that one of the death eater’s made a portkey with no more than a year of lead time.  And then at the end of the book Dumbledore makes a port key in about half a second and sends Harry though it to wait for him.  Are we to believe that Voldemort’s Death Eaters can make a portkey fairly easily, but a normal wizard needs a life time to accomplish it?  I just can’t follow that logic.  This is a fairly big plot hole and present all kinds of other issues.  Why didn’t Voldemort use a port key to enter Hogwarts at any point in the story?  Surely while Dumbledore lived it makes sense that he didn’t, but once he’s dead why do we have the huge battle scene if he could enter silently in the night?  Perhaps this is answered later in the books, but I find that doubtful.

Overall, I give this book five stars.  I’ll review book six next week, but having already read it I can easily say that this is my favorite of the first 6 books.

Next Up: The Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Experiment #2 Making Bouillon

A few years ago, Steph and I were talking as we were making soup with store bought bouillon cubes.  She asked me if I knew what bouillon was first used for and when I expressed ignorance, she told me it was used to make soup in a world without refrigeration.  It allowed them to make soups when the ingredients would normally be out of season and unavailable.  When I heard this I exclaimed “YOU CAN MAKE BOUILLON CUBES?  We should do that!”

We have since learned that modern bouillon is used for many different functions including quick and easy meals while out backpacking.  Now, that’s something to consider!  The next time you’re going hiking… you could be eating gourmet foods while out on the trail, and that will certainly change your outdoors experience!

This February we decided to act on this desire and see what it takes to make bouillon.  We read several blogs on how to make bouillon including the one we based our recipe upon, The Nourished Kitchen.  From all of the reading we learned that bone broth is an essential part of making homemade bouillon.  The gelatin that comes out of bones is what binds the bouillon together and the nutrients in bones come out in the the slow cooking process providing great benefits to the consumer.  In fact, many of the blogs we read posited the idea that chicken soup became a cultural icon of getting healthy when sick due to all the nutrients that came from the bone broth base.  In today’s preparations of chicken soup bone broth is no longer used so chicken soup has lost many of the benefits that made it famous for healing the sick.

The basic process for making bouillon from scratch involves simmering the bones of your chosen animal for 24-72 hours, straining it, refrigerating over night, removing the fat, and then boiling it down again until it becomes jelly like.  The length of time for simmering the bones depends on the kind of bones you use.  Poultry bones, which are hollow, will take less time than mammal bones.  The longer you simmer them the more nutrients will be pulled out of them.  One blogger wrote that she simmers her chicken bones for 48 hours, and when she’s done the bones are so brittle you can eat them.

Ingredients

  • 5 pounds meaty bones, (chicken, beef, lamb, pork, etc.)
  • 1 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoons unrefined sea salt
  • Some recipes call for adding gelatin, this is something to consider if you’re using poultry bones as they have far less gelatin in the hollow bones.

Instructions

  1. If using mammal bones, Lay bones in 9×13 baking pan and roast at 425 F for 45 minutes.  Poultry bones do not need this step.
  2. Transfer bones to stock pot.  Add peppercorns and bay leaves.  Cover with filtered or distilled water and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, reduce to medium low and simmer uncovered for 8-72.  (Beef bones should be simmered for 8-72 hours and Chicken bones from 6-24 hours)
  3. Strain the stock into a large mixing bowl through cheese cloth. Refrigerate in mixing bowl overnight.
  4. The fat will rise to the top and gel in the refrigerator.  Remove and reserve the fat for use in frying vegetables or braising meat.  The fat should keep for a few months if kept refrigerated.
  5. Pour the fat free stock into a shallow pot, stir in salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil until about 1 cup remains.  The size of your pot will cause the reduction time to vary, but typically it’s around 45 minutes.
  6. Pour into a small container and refrigerate overnight, cut into cubes about 1-inch square.
  7. Each cube produces one cup of stock. Simply drop the cube into one cup hot water and stir.  Store in an airtight container.  Bouillon will keep at room temperature for six months and often up to a year in the refrigerator.

Review: Orthodoxy and Heresy

17440242_905539441179_1908847022_n

I ended February with a week left and decided to grab another book to read.  I pulled this one off the shelf and gave it a quick read.  It’s a brief fifty pages long.  Joel Parkinson’s goal in writing this book was to give a quick, clear outline of the most basic things a believer needs to believe in order to be able to call themselves a Christian.

What’s brilliant about this book is how simple it is.  Aside from the basic Gospel message Parkinson identifies seven other beliefs essential to Christianity.  He spends a bit of time developing each point and showing where that point can be found in Scripture.

All in all, this book is a great read for both Christian and non-Christian to grab a quick and easy to understand delve into what makes Christianity what it is.

Next Up: The Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Recipe: Refried Beans

It’s time for another recipe!  This one is a bit different, who makes their own refried beans anymore?  Well, we do!  We were at Costco one day when I expressed that I had read that making your own beans is far cheaper and healthier than buying precooked, canned beans.  Steph being a former chef was up for giving it a try on the condition that I do most of the cooking of the beans.  I agreed and did some research.  I found an amazing article on cooking beans and learned that there’s an old wives tale about presoaking your beans before cooking.  And sure enough as I have looked at recipes, they all say to presoak your beans over night before cooking.  The summary of that article I linked is this:  “… don’t bother soaking your black beans. Un-soaked beans taste better, cook almost as quickly, have great texture, and don’t cause significantly worse problems for the digestive system.”  As a side note, I love his journalistic integrity.  He only tested black beans and his conclusion was only about black beans.  A far cry from modern journalism.  Another article I read did seem to think that presoaking them cut about 45 minutes off the cook time, but added that: “when I sampled them, the extra 45 minutes paid off.”  He continued: “The unsoaked beans had a noticeably deeper flavor; they were firmer to the bite, and they did not break up as much in cooking.”

Armed with a wealth of knowledge from my research, I began crafting my own recipe for refried beans.  I looked at two other recipes in particular one from Serious Eats and one from Simple Recipes.  From this and several delicious experiments, here’s what I’ve come up with:

17012827_900307031969_947116946_n

Refried Beans

Details

Time – 120 minutes (only around 15 minutes of actual work)

Skill – None

Servings – 6-8 cups

Cost – virtually free

Ingredients

1 lb dried beans (about 3 cups)

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons bacon fat

1/2 onion chopped

Water

Cheese, Salt, and Pepper to taste

 

Directions

 

Wash beans & place in pot.  Add water until beans are covered by 3″.  Add salt.  Important note here, there’s a lot of articles online about how adding acidic foods (example: tomatoes) and/or salt during the cooking process will make the beans shell become impenetrable.  I have made this recipe several times not and not found salt to hinder the process at all.  I think it’s important to flavor the water during the cooking process or you’ll find that the beans need even more salt at the end to become tasty.  Bring water to a boil and reduce to a medium – low simmer.  Simmer for 2 hours checking water level every 1/2 hour.  You may find the beans are cooked as early as 1 hour in.  If this is the case, you do not need to keep cooking.  Make sure beans remain submerged in water the whole time.  When the beans are tender and the shell starts to crack on the beans, remove from heat and strain, saving the bean-water runoff.

In a separate skillet, sauté onion in bacon fat.  Add beans.  While cooking mash with potato masher or puree with a submersion blender.  I recommend the blender, it’s much easier.  As the beans start to dry out, add the bean-water to rehydrate.  This water is what contains all the nutrients from those beans and it adds a really good flavor as well.  Add cheese, salt, and pepper to taste.

Review: The Way of Kings

16997470_900287950209_174719107_n

I chose to read the longest book I had set aside for this year in the shortest month.  By doing so it was my hope that to prove to myself that I can read anything in a month.  So I chose to start The Way of Kings on February 1st, and I blew my goal out of the water.  Despite it being 1252 pages long and spending many weekdays not reading, I still finished in 18 days.  Now I can be very confident in my ability to read a book a month for the rest of the year.

The Way of Kings is one of the most in depth fantasy books I’ve ever read.  It’s fantastic!  The flora and fauna are unique and different from the world we know.  The magic operates on the residual energy of storms… and the story lines follow people as they rise to power or are brought low by slavery and defeat.  Brandon Sanderson clearly hit gold with this novel.

I have only two complaints with the book.  First, the info dumps in the book are useful for explaining a great many things that don’t exist in our world.  And while that’s good, they are too frequent.  In general, I find that I’m the only one that is bothered by this.  But to me, what it feels like is this book is written as a history of another world and things are said in that history that only make sense in this world.

It makes sense when you’re telling a story to describe and unfamiliar place or custom to the person you’re telling the story to, in order to give it context.  But when you’re telling a story to a world that already knows that custom you won’t explain that the world has that custom.  In fantasy all too often they explain customs knowing that the reader has not context for it, and it’s noble that they’d want us to grasp that as we wrestle with their story, but the mode in which they explain it is often, unintentionally, condescending.  Where they actually writing the history for their world they wouldn’t explain some of the things they do.  They’d let us pick it up in context and connect the dots for ourselves throughout the story.  Brandon Sanderson is more guilty of this than other fantasy authors I’ve read.  He explains one creature in his book saying: “it’s like a dog” but there’s no evidence that there are any dogs in the world at all.  So for it me, it came off like cheap writing and sometimes condescending.

Second, The Way of Kings is book one of a trilogy and it leaves off with cliff hanger.  I hate cliff hangers.

Despite those two complaints, I still give this book full marks.  It’s masterfully written.  Yes, there are parts that could be improved upon, but overall the story is intricately woven and full of twists and turns that make it one of the best stories I’ve ever read.

Next Up: The Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling