Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sourdough Pizza with Sausage, Onions & Mushrooms

I haven't work in eight days, and I have to say-- I am feeling very rested. My cooking and baking mojo has returned, and bread baking has been going on for the last few days.  The bread baking beast inside me has been awakened! Being on "Staycation" has allowed me the luxury of being at home, in no particular hurry to go anywhere. 

So, a few days ago, I baked my first Baguettes.  My son, who works at a nice restaurant in Carmel (CA) said that I could easily put these in a basket and serve them at a good restaurant. (I think he likes them.) Today, I baked these sourdough sandwich rolls.  These made the most delicious ham and cheese sandwiches, and I will share that recipes soon. I promise.

My son and I adore sourdough bread.  We live just two hours from San Francisco. Whenever I go to The City, I have to bring home a loaf of sourdough bread from the Boudin Bakery. So good.  To me, sourdough needs to have that "bite", but not too much.

Confession: I bought a sourdough starter from my beloved King Arthur Flour website. According to KAF, this starter has been lovingly nurtured since the 1700's.  I guess I shouldn't feel too bad, then, that I fed my sourdough starter for two years, before finally using it! A few times, I neglected my starter, and though I had ruined it. But, you know what? I learned that a starter can be very forgiving, and I was able to bring it back to life. Yes, call me the "Sourdough Starter Whisperer"! 

Last night, I "fed" my starter.  To feed a sourdough starter, you discard one cup of dough, and then
add flour and water and let it sit at room temperature for 12 hours. This morning, it was a beautiful sight-- all bubbly and happy.

I hate wasting good ingredients, so I was thrilled to discover that I can use the one cup of discarded dough to make sourdough pizza dough. So, last night, I placed the "discard" into a covered bowl. Today, I removed the reserved starter...

Just so we are very clear-- I am not paid to promote King Arthur Flour. I just love their products and customer service. You can call their "Baker's Hot Line" and get professional advice, too.  I've been buying their Pizza Dough Flavor for a few years. This ingredient really adds some extra flavor to any pizza dough recipe. To the reserved starter, I add more King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour, hot water and instant yeast.

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'd know that I enjoy showing step-by-step photo tutorials on how I make a recipe. Well, let's say that as I reached for my camera, today, I had butterfingers. The camera hit the kitchen floor with a sickening crash. My lens came off the camera with bits of broke plastic.  I hoped that the plastic was my lens cap, but it wasn't. Sniff. The camera survived, but the lens is broken.  Not the glass part, thank goodness, but the macro doesn't work anymore. So, the lens is being shipped back to Canon for an estimate that I hope will cost less than replacing it.

So, here we are-- the finished pizza being shot with a wide angle zoom lens. 

I had some leftover marinara sauce,  Italian sausages, sliced cremini mushrooms, an opened can of sliced black olives and a big onion.  I always have an assortment of cheeses on hand, so I use a 4-cheese combo that includes Asiago and Provolone.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Classic Baguettes, Made Easy for the Home Baker

Like a Little League Player, who hits their first home run-- or a beginner golfer who hits a hole-in-one, that's how I feel about making these Classic Baguettes. I have been longing to learn how to bake more Artisinal Breads, ever since I bought Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice".

I'm not the least bit afraid of working with yeast. I love baking cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls and traditional bread loaves. But learning how to shape crusty breads is something that I imagined would take a lot of practice and time-- and I've procrastinted taking the plunge in these uncharted waters, for me.  So, here I am, enjoying one week of our school's Fall Break and I've intentionally kept my calendar commitments to a bare minimum. The weather is still in the 70's, but the mornings have a bit of a chill and the evenings are becoming a little chillier. Last night, King Arthur Flour posted that October 16th would be "World Bread Day".  I'm on vacation, so why not? I was ready to try.

The first step was in making the starter, which was quite easy. I used SAF instant yeast, King Arthur Unbleached Flour, and water and mixed it with my Danish Dough whisk.  Easy peasy, less than five minutes. Done. Time to go to bed. The starter needs about 14 hours to become bubbly-- like thick pancake batter.
This morning, I peeked at my starter. What a relief it was to find that the starter was a success.

I used my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer and added more bread flour, instant yeast, water and salt.  The mixer kneaded the dough for about five minutes. Of course, you can knead the dough by hand-- and sometimes I do that, because I enjoy working with my hands. Today, however, I took the easy route.

I really like dough buckets, because I can visually see how much my dough rises. They can pull double duty, for marinating meats-- as long as they are properly washed, of course, to kill any bacteria. But an oil-lined bowl, covered with plastic wrap works just as well.  The dough needs three hours for the yeast to do it's work.

I don't have a fancy proofing drawer, so I turn my oven into one. I simply turn it on WARM for 2 minutes, then shut it off. I do this while the dough is kneading.  The dough needs three hours of proofing, total.  However, at one hour, I had to gently deflate the dough, flip it over and leave it alone for the remaining two hours. So far, easy, right?

In the meantime, I had a field day watching various You Tube videos on shaping baguettes. There is quite an art to this, and professional bakers have a clear advantage with professional ovens, a baking couche (that I don't own...yet), peels, special bread pans and various tools-- and years of experience, of course.  I had to think of what tools I did own that could work (more on that later).

Three hours later, it's time to shape the baguettes. Gulp. I learned that wetting my hands, a bit, helped to handle the soft dough without it sticking. I can see that the yeast is doing it's job, by the bubbles.

The dough stretches very easily.  That's a good sign. So, using my bench scraper (a tool I can't be without), the dough is divided into three pieces.  Um, I should weight the pieces, I know. I don't. Close enough.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Classic Pumpkin Roll with Orange Cream Cheese Filling

It has been almost five years, since I began my humble little food blog. This coming Thanksgiving weekend will mark the official five year anniversary of "A Feast for the Eyes".  Being a food blogger can be a very time-consuming hobby/business. If you've read my "About me" page, I share who first inspired me, and why  I  wanted my own food blog, .  For the first year, I became obsessed with writing posts. I spent countless hours scouring cookbooks, watching Food Network and reading dozens of other food blogs-- on a daily basis.

Then the unspeakable happened to me, a few weeks ago. I found myself uninterested in my food blog. What???!!  Yes, folks, I lost my mojo.   I realized that I needed to devote what little free time I had to my marriage, and health, first. I began to feel as though I was a failure as a food blogger. I actually pondered quitting this blog. Yes, it's true.

Fortunately, my mojo is slowly coming back. I think that my June "Total Knee Replacement" threw me completely off.  For three months, standing for more than a few minutes was uncomfortable. Instead, I got hooked on Netflix TV series marathons, like "Breaking Bad" and "Scandal". The good news is, I'm back in the kitchen. I've regained my physical strength and most of my knee mobility again. There is no more pain, thank goodness.  All I need, now, is to find a better balance between my job, physical therapy, marriage and girlfriends that still allows me enough time to write blog posts.  Most likely, that means that my recipe posts will be fewer and farther in between. That means less blog income, and most likely, less sponsors for giveaways. But, we make our own choices and I think I've made the best decision for my family and health.

This pumpkin roll is something that I baked last year. The reason I waited a year to post this has two good reasons-- #1 - I was not happy with the finished photo.  This happens when it's Thanksgiving and there's family and friends around. I can't set up my photography lights, and find room to better set up a shot, when the counters are filled with dishes and leftovers. It doesn't help that I forgot to set my white balance, and the pumpkin roll photo was very yellow... it took a lot of photo editing to try and fix the shot. Not perfect, but it will do.  #2 - I completely forgot about this recipe, until I was organizing my hundreds of food photos, last week.

Back to my journey as a food blogger: I finally took the bold leap of upgrading my camera from a point-and-shoot to a fancier (and much more expensive) camera that had all kinds of dials and settings to learn. I have a mental list of my earlier photos that desperately need to be redone. Someday.  I found myself longing to be a better photographer, and buying food props, but I still felt that my own work never quite measured up to the Big Time Food Bloggers.

I've attended a few Food Blogger conventions, and taken classes in food styling, photo editing software, writing, social media-- and I've had the opportunity to meet celebrity chefs. It's been a lot of fun, but...  

... I've had to rethink what my goal is with this humble little blog of mine.  I realized that I was focusing too much time trying to build my audience, and would gauge my success by how many comments I had.  I began to feel guilty for not blogging several times a week, and that I would lose traffic because of it. I know food bloggers who make their living doing what is only a creative outlet for me. There's a lot of money to be made, as a food blogger, but it's a full-time job and a lot of hard work.

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