Roasted Beets and Fennel on Pasta

Roasted Beets and Fennel on Pasta

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How an Accident Became a Favorite Dish
Sometimes it’s hard to find inspiration for meals when you’re cooking for yourself.  Why spend a lot of time to prepare a dish that you’re probably going to eat quickly?

Well, this past year I’ve made Roasted Beets and Fennel on Pasta several times.  It started off as an accident.  One day I wanted to make a meal that required little effort with the ingredients in my refrigerator.  And this dish was the happy result.

 
Red Beets
I usually have red beets in my refrigerator, as I love them prepared so many ways.  I’ll throw o…


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English Toffee Made at Home

English Toffee Made at Home

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What’s the Difference between English Toffee and Almond Roca?
English toffee and Almond Roca are pretty much the same thing.  While English toffee describes a hardened caramel topped with chopped nuts and chocolate, Almond Roca refers to a brand name for the same treat.

Brown & Haley Co. from Tacoma, Washington has been making  Almond Roca since 1914. In the United States, Almond Roca has become synonymous for English toffee.  Almost everyone grew up eating toffee wrapped in gold foil out of their instantly-recognizable pink tins.   In our home, we offered either Almo…

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Trustworthy Sourdough Bread at Home

Trustworthy Sourdough Bread at Home

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Sourdough Bread is My Favorite Type of Bread

Over the past twenty years I've made dozens of loaves of bread.  Quick breads, yeast breads and sourdough breads.  Not all breads have turned out perfectly.  Yet, the process of making bread is always enjoyable.

As the name suggests, quick breads do not require time to rise.  Generally you add baking soda or baking powder to the recipe so your baked goods will rise in the oven.  Sometimes you need to add an acidic agent, such as buttermilk or yogurt, to help the baking soda work properly.

Yeast breads use either dry yeast or cake yeast to encourage the dough to rise.  When using yeast, the rising time will not be very long.  Usually one or two hours for each rise.  Even less time for each rise if you use instant dry yeast.

My favorite type of bread, however, is sourdough bread made from a sourdough starter.  Learn how to create, maintain and use sourdough starter with A Basic Sourdough Starter Guide.  Sourdough bread requires more care and patience, yet does not take more active time than quick or yeast breads.  Like for yeast breads, sourdough bread requires you to mix and knead the dough before letting it rise once or twice.  The dough nevertheless needs more time to ferment.  During this fermentation time the sourdough starter will turn the flour and water into a mouth-watering delight.  You can meanwhile go about your other business.

See A Guide For Making Bread at Home for a useful description of the bread-making process.  This guide will lead you through the various steps of making bread as well as familiarize you with some of the vocabulary used.  It will definitely supplement the information you will find in this post.
 

Finding a Trustworthy Sourdough Bread Recipe

The past few months I've tried several recipes for sourdough bread. For example, I followed a couple recipes from Nancy Silverton's legendary book Breads from the La Brea Bakery as well as another recipe from Moro:  The Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark.


 

Through these experiences, I have developed this trustworthy fail-proof recipe for you.  It skips some of the steps mentioned in other recipes for shaping and proofing.  Yet, you will not notice the difference and will be pleased to save the effort.
 

Ingredients of Sourdough Bread

This Sourdough Bread recipe calls for 75% organic hard unbleached wheat flour (aka bread flour) and 25% organic high extraction wheat flour (aka brown flour), along with the sourdough starter, water and salt.  That's it!  No fat or sugar added.  Five main ingredients for a bread whose flavor is the right amount of tangy, especially when toasted.  This bread is also fairly light and airy while having a medium density.

Definition of flours

Do not be intimidated by the name for the flours used.  Hard unbleached wheat flour is made from hard red winter wheat, which is great for bread recipes as it's higher in gluten.  It is basically a bread flour that has not been bleached white.  Bread flour, like other white flours, are usually made from whole wheat grain, yet have been processed to remove the bran and wheat germ.  Whole wheat flour is also made from the whole wheat grain, but keeps the bran and wheat germ.  As a result, whole wheat flour is higher in fiber, thus more nutritious and heavy than white flour.

Between whole wheat flour (which contains all the bran and germ) and white flour (which has sifted out the bran and germ) lie several types of brown flour.  Each type indicates the level of ash that remains in the flour after being processed.  The ash in flour comes mainly from the bran, with some coming from the germ or even the endosperm.  Whereas Type 50 flour (white flour) contains about 0.5 % ash, Type 150 (whole wheat flour) contains between 1.5% and 2% ash.  The number given to each type expresses the level of ash remaining in the flour.

The term high extraction refers to a higher level of ash remaining in the flour after being processed.  I've been using Type 85 flour, which is considered to be high extraction flour lying somewhere between white and whole wheat flour (Type 150).  It retains much of the nutritional value of whole wheat flour, yet contains less bran.  Consequently, products made with Type 85 flour will be lighter than products made with Type 150.

Buying Bread Flour

Most supermarkets carry bread flour in their baking goods section.  Popular brands, such as King Arthur Flour and Bob's Red Mills sell bread flour at stores across the United States as well as via their websites.  I love Central Milling's Organic Artisan Bakers Craft Plus, which is malted hard unbleached wheat flour.   The slight addition of malted barley enhances the taste of my homemade sourdough bread and helps the dough rise even better.  Central Milling offers a wide selection of flours and grains via their online store and at specialty stores nationwide.  I've purchased the flour directly from Central Milling as well as at my favorite neighborhood butcher shop, McCalls Meat and Fish Company.  The price ends up being the same.

Substituting flour made from other grains

The higher the extraction your flour is, the more dense your bread will be because of the extra fiber from the bran and wheat germ.  However, substituting some oat or spelt flour for up to one-fourth of the bread flour (hard unbleached wheat flour) will give the sourdough bread a different texture.  Oat and spelt flours, for instance, tend to make the bread more soft and tender while giving it nutty overtones.

Likewise, substituting some of the Type 85 flour with flour milled from other grains, such as rye flour or buckwheat flour, will influence your bread's taste.  Personally I enjoy substituting about one-fourth of the Type 85 flour with rye and/or buckwheat flour to give my bread a flavor that has more depth.

While buckwheat and oat flours are gluten free, spelt and rye flours contain some gluten, yet less than in wheat flour.  As flours containing no or little gluten reduce the rise and elasticity of your bread, I recommend substituting only up to one-fourth of the total wheat flour indicated in the recipe with flour made from other grains.

Use this recipe as a starting point to practice your bread-making skills.  Later, maintain the same general proportions when substituting in other flours to try new combinations.  You might need a little more or less flour than indicated in the recipe, depending on the humidity in the room and in the flour.  After making bread a couple times, you'll develop an instinct to know how hydrated you want your dough.
 

Time and Patience will Improve Your Sourdough Bread

Waiting patiently during the entire bread-making process will probably be your hardest task.  This recipe requires between 24 and 36 hours from start to finish.  However, you will only need to work about 30 to 40 minutes of this time to produce a full-flavored and super tasty sourdough bread.  You might want to skip steps or shorten the time needed for fermentation or a rise, but please resist.

The longer the dough ferments, the more complex and sour your bread's flavor will be.  Be careful though not to let the dough ferment or proof too much time.  Otherwise your bread might become flat when baked, as it won't have the spring necessary to rise a last time in the oven.  In short, as long as your dough is hungry it will continue to ferment and grow in flavor and size.  When it stops feeding, it will become less active and more lethargic.  There is, therefore, a limit on how long your dough can ferment or proof without needing to be fed more flour and water.  Remember your dough is alive and will only stop its activity when baked in the oven.

If you start making sourdough bread on a regular basis, you will not even think about the time it takes.  For instance, you will create your sponge (the first mixing of the sourdough starter with water and flour) before going to bed.  Then you will knead in more flour and salt in the morning before leaving the newly formed dough to rise for the bulk fermentation (first rise). Later in the afternoon or early evening you will shape and proof your bread (second rise) a couple hours before putting your dough in the refrigerator to ferment slowly overnight.  The next morning you will bake your dough in the oven.

Below is a timetable for the entire sourdough bread-making process.

 

Sourdough Bread Making Timetable-min

Enjoy the warmth and comforting smells while your bread bakes (between 45 and 60 minutes, depending on its size).  Let it then cool for an hour before tasting it.  Below you will see some ways I've enjoyed my sourdough bread.

Sourdough bread slices with 3 toppings
Toasted sourdough bread with honey, cherry jam and tomatillo jam

 

Sliced Sourdough Bread honey
Sliced Sourdough Bread with honey

Once you try your sourdough bread, you will be hooked!  You will immediately start planning your next loaf!


 

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A Basic Sourdough Starter Guide

A Basic Sourdough Starter Guide

How Much Commitment Do You Need to Create and Maintain Your Own Sourdough Starter?
You’ve probably heard it takes a lot of work and care to maintain a sourdough starter.

Or you’ve read that you have to feed your sourdough starter at least once daily.  It’s true, some bakers feed it two to three times per day.  Ok, a baby or a dog requires about the same amount of care and attention, you might think.  Are you ready for such a life-changing commitment?  Be assured that the feeding schedule can be a lot less burdensome if you want, as you will read below.

Remember all this effort is only t…


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An Easy Quiche Recipe Made Simple

An Easy Quiche Recipe Made Simple

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A Quiche Recipe for all Occasions
Quiche is sometimes overlooked as a dish to serve guests.  I don’t understand why.  I love quiche for informal gatherings, especially accompanied by soup or salad.  It’s an easy weeknight supper with my kids.  Leftover quiche is also super easy and yummy the next day, warm or cold.

Since I started this blog, I’ve made quiche more than a dozen times.  Yet, I have shared only one quiche recipe.  It was a recipe for a Leek Quiche with Wild Garlic, a perfect springtime dish.

What can I possibly add to the numerous quiche recipes already av…


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Tomato Fish Soup in 30 minutes

Tomato Fish Soup in 30 minutes

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How to make a Quick Tasty Tomato Fish Soup
Tomato Fish Soup is one of my favorite soups at home and in restaurants.  There are so many ways to make fish soup, some simple, others a little more complicated.  This recipe is super easy to make in less than an hour.

You can make this Tomato Fish Soup in a single pot, making your clean up afterwards much easier.   All you need to do is put a casserole on the stove over a medium heat.  Add an onion, a few garlic cloves and spices.  Then pour in a can of whole tomatoes, mix and let simmer until tomatoes break down.  Finally thro…

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Vegan Tomato Sauce for All Occasions

Vegan Tomato Sauce for All Occasions

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A Versatile Vegan Tomato Sauce
I usually try to feature here recipes for tasty healthy versions of otherwise ordinary dishes.  Or recipes for extraordinary dishes that will wow your family and guests.

Most people already know how to make an Italian-style tomato sauce to use on pasta.  However, here is a tasty healthy version of a tomato sauce that can be used in many of your favorite dishes.  Several friends have asked me to share this recipe for Vegan Tomato Sauce, as it is as yummy as it is nourishing.


I often use this Vegan Tomato Sauce in my vegetarian lasagna as…

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Fresh Red Beet Pasta

Fresh Red Beet Pasta

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Why Bother Making Fresh Red Beet Pasta?
Recently I developed a recipe for Red Beet Ravioli with Spinach and Goat Cheese, which was absolutely yummy.  Of course, I may be a bit biased.  So don’t rely on my word, try it yourself and see how delicious is this ravioli dish!

The red beets in the pasta make the dough a vibrant purple color, which will certainly make any plate look more attractive.  The red beets also add dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and nutrients that will help you and your family remain healthy.  Contrary to common belief, red beets are not high in sugar;…

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Pumpkin Ravioli with Spinach and Goat Cheese

Pumpkin Ravioli with Spinach and Goat Cheese

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Why Not a Pumpkin Variation for a New Family Favorite?
During a stay in Kosice, Slovakia at the end of my Journey to Greece, I fell in love with a vegetarian red beet pirohy (pierogi) dish served with fresh spinach and goat cheese.  To discover more about my love story with this delicious wholesome dish, read my recipe for Red Beet Ravioli with Spinach and Goat Cheese.

While I was testing out recipes for Red Beet Ravioli with Spinach and Goat Cheese with one of my Belgian sisters, she started harvesting pumpkins from her vegetable garden.


 

 

As I…

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Red Beet Ravioli with Spinach and Goat Cheese

Red Beet Ravioli with Spinach and Goat Cheese

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What Inspired this Soul-Fulfilling Red Beet Ravioli Dish?
Towards the end of my Journey to Greece, I spent a few days in Kosice, Slovakia, near the Hungarian, Polish and Ukrainian borders.  I initially planned to spend one night in Kosice, yet immediately fell in love with its old town.  I ended up staying three nights so I could leisurely visit the town, hang out in its cafes and restaurants, and spy on the hordes of people strolling on the main street, Hlavná ulica.

Hlavná ulica is such a vibrant street with a park, musical fountains, and loads of statues dividing the…


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Greek Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes

Greek Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes

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What Makes this Recipe for Greek Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes Genuine?
Months ago my friend, Diamantis, described how his wife, Thomais, made the absolute best Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes (in Greek known as Gemista).  In fact, his accolades of his wife’s wonderful cooking and his invitation for me to come learn at her side first gave me the idea to embark on my Journey to Greece.

Why not spend time in Greece learning local and family recipes from such a good cook?  I’d enjoy some long-deserved vacation while gathering materials for my blog.  Ok, twisting my arm was  perh…

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Pasta with Fennel and Fresh Garlic – Yummy and Healthy!

Pasta with Fennel and Fresh Garlic – Yummy and Healthy!

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Pasta with Fennel and Fresh Garlic Makes a Quick Yummy Meal
 
Is Fennel an Acquired Taste?
Not everyone enjoys the strong-licorice flavor of fresh fennel.  It can be a bit overwhelming if you eat a lot of it in one sitting.

Fennel offers many health benefits, making it worthwhile to find ways to include it in your diet.  Full of good intentions, I often buy fennel at the grocery store and farmers’ market, hoping to find a way during the coming days to use it.  Chopped fennel with some slices of orange and a vinaigrette dressing makes an easy salad.


However, wh…

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Wild Garlic Pesto

Wild Garlic Pesto

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Wild Garlic Pesto on Pasta is a Springtime Favorite
 
Memories Triggered by Wild Garlic
The sense of smell can trigger strong memories, no matter how faraway they may be.  Wild garlic, also known by many other names, such as ramps, spring onion, ramson, wild leek, bear’s garlic, and wood leek, is probably my most faithful olfactory trigger.  Wild garlic is not actually a variation of garlic, but rather a variation of leek.

At 16 years old I lived on a farm in Belgium as an exchange student.  Farm life was different in almost every way from my life in Los Angeles….


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Crusted Salmon for Special Occasions

Crusted Salmon for Special Occasions

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What makes Sunday family meals so simple yet so special?
After rushing around all week, Sunday rolls around and lets us slow down to enjoy our families and friends.  A meal together, a stroll in the park, or whatever else your family does to reconnect together.

 
Sunday brunch in Los Angeles
While growing up in Los Angeles, Sunday brunch was my family’s main event.  We often enjoyed bagels, lox, and cream cheese along with whitefish, creamed herring and dill pickles. At one time my father made his famous scrambled eggs with everything in it (dried salami, onions,…


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Quick Puff Pastry Dough

Quick Puff Pastry Dough

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How do you make a Quick Puff Pastry Dough?
What do you do when you want to make Puff Pastry Dough (pâte feuilletée) but don’t want to go through all the effort?  Puff Pastry Dough is ideal for appetizers, quiches, and light desserts.   It’s even on its own with a little flavored sugar drizzled on top.  This is how I use up all the leftover bits of dough.

To make a genuine Puff Pastry Dough, knead some cold butter into rectangular slabs of dough.  Fold the slabs over themselves several times.  It’s not terribly difficult but does take a certain amount of patience and rep…


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