Thursday, June 17, 2021

Baking Bread Without Measuring Tools

Baking bread without measuring tools is not hard to do. The sucess relies on being consistant with your techniques and observing the telltale signs that the ingredients are working. To begin practice a few times picking up the various ingredients needed to make bread including flour, water, sugar, yeast, fat and salt. These measurements are approximations but will work as long as only one person is working on the recipe. Our hand size determines the amount of bread we are producing. Bigger people will make bigger bread, smaller people will make smaller bread. Two Finger Pinch= 1/8t
Three Finger Pinch= 1/2t
Four Finger Pinch= 1t
Five Finger Pinch= 2t
Two Handfuls Flour= 1 cup
Two Hands Overlapping Water= 1/4 cup
To begin pinch between your thumb, forefinger and middle finger as much bakers yeast as you can. Take 4 pinches in all and place in a metal bowl. Between all five of your fingers pinch as much sugar as you can hold. 3 pinches in all and drop it into the bowl with the yeast. Turn on your tap water and run it until it is as hot as you can stand. Put your two hands together and put two scoops of hot water in the bowl with the yeast and sugar. Stir the mixture and place the bowl in a warm location or on a stovetop to maintain heat if the yeast has not responded. Do not continue with the recipe until the yeast has bloomed. If it doesn't bloom eiher add more yeast or start over.
In another bowl use your hand again and scoop two handful of flour. Use a good flour to make a good loaf of bread.
Use just your thumb and pinkie finger to pinch a bit of salt. Mix the salt into the flour. Fill up the palm of your hand with oil or cut a centimeter of butter then incorporate it in the flour.
Add the flour into the water and begin mixing the dough together. Start mixing with a fork until the wet and dry ingredients are combined. Then use your hands to work the dough into a ball.
If you need more water just wet your fingers and continue mixing.
Fold the dough for 12 minutes then set it aside for 1 hour to let it rise. When you squeeze the dough you can begin to see the gluten beginning to stretch.
Heat up the oven and allow it to rise to 400 degrees. Enclose in the oven a hot store or a Dutch oven that you can use to cook the break on. Fold the dough over four times and let it rise for another 30 minutes. Scar the top to allow the bread to expand as it bakes.
Once the oven is preheated, drop the dough into the Dutch oven and bake for 30 minutes. Baking on a hot surface will excelerate the cooking and develop the crust further.
Remove the bread from the oven and let it rest, cool on a wire rack before cutting into it. The crust should be dark brown in color. The crumb should be elastic and moist.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Belgium Waffle

The Belgium Waffle has always been one of my favorite breakfast items.  The waffle is thick and has deep pockets to hold the syrup and butter.  I always thought the brown syrup on the brown waffle was not as colorful as it should be so I’d add yogurt and fruit to lighten it up.  When I was living in Europe, the Belgium waffle was served with fresh berries, sprinkled with powdered sugar or it had bits of candied sugar or nuts cooked into the waffle.   
A few years ago my wife and I began a tradition of having waffles with ice cream for our kids birthday breakfast.  The cold ice cream slowly melts over the hot waffle complimenting each other.  When I was crafting the Trees Lounge breakfast menu I knew I wanted to include a Belgium waffle on the menu using a combination of all these influences to inspire me. 
To start preparing the dish, make a ginger syrup by boiling water and white sugar.  As the liquid is reducing to a syrup, peel a fresh ginger root and then slice into rounds.  Once the syrup thickens up, add the ginger and cook it for a few minutes until the ginger becomes aromatic.
Candied macadamia nuts add a crunch to the dish and the spices add layers of complexity.  Chop macadamia nuts into little pieces and bake them in the oven at 300 degrees until golden brown.  Pull the nuts out of the oven and let them cool down.  Separate 6 egg yolks from the egg whites.  Reserve the egg yolks for another use.  Pour the egg whites into an electric mixer with a wire whisk.  Beat the egg whites until they are fluffy, then add brown sugar, vanilla extract and spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and salt.   Combine the mac nuts with the egg mixture.  Spread it evenly on a baking tray and bake at 300 degrees until they are dry.  Every 5 minutes scrap the nuts so they don’t stick together.  Let the nuts cool down before putting them in an airtight container. 
The waffle batter is made by beating four eggs in two cups of milk then adding sugar, vanilla extract, salt, baking powder, flour, and then melted butter.  The Belgium waffle iron needs to be preheated and oiled so the batter doesn’t stick to it.   Cook the waffle until golden brown. 
Plate the waffle.   Boil the ginger syrup, cut up a honey dew melon into small pieces and drop them briefly in the ginger syrup.  Scoop the pieces out of the liquid and place them on top of the waffle.  Sprinkle the candied mac nuts over the melon.  Scoop vanilla gelato and ice cream on top to finish it off. 

Enjoy the dish right away before the waffle gets soggy. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Roasted Beef Tortilla Roll

Tortillas are usually wrapped around the outside of its contents such as in a taco or burrito but I enjoy rolling the contents into a spiral within the tortilla roll. The presentation of food is almost as important as the food itself.  There is only one chance for a first impression.

Before I add any ingredients to the tortilla roll, I always grill the tortilla to warm it up and give it a little flavor from the grill.   Then I coat the tortilla with a thin layer of horseradish sour cream.  To make it I combine fresh horseradish puree, sour cream, lemon juice, salt and white pepper.  On top of the horseradish sour cream, I layer baby spinach over the horseradish sour cream. Fresh spinach works best but if it is not available frozen spinach can be used to add extra moisture and flavor to the dish.  Frozen spinach is known for still being the same if not more nutritious than fresh spinach because its picked at the peak of its freshness and flash frozen to preserve most of the nutrients in it.  On top of the spinach I add julienne caramelized onions which have been cooked in an olive oil blend until dark brown so as to bring out their sweet flavor.

The roasted beef is slow roasted at 300 degrees.  I use a dry rub to seal in the flavor of the meat.  The dry rub consists of powdered rosemary, onion powder, garlic, salt, thyme, oregano, paprika, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and gumbo file.  The steak is roasted and then sliced into thin stripes.  Then the strips are cooked in beef stock made from the bones and scraps of the steak.  To make the stock I brown the bones and scraps then add onions, celery, tomato, carrot, garlic and water.  I continue to cook the stock for many hours while it reduces.

The last ingredient in the tortilla roll is tomato confit.  To make the tomato confit, I slice tomatoes into thin slices then lay them on a baking tray.  I cover the tomato slices in olive oil, lemon zest, salt, and pepper.  Then I bake the tomatoes at 200 degrees in the oven to cook them and bring out all their flavor.

Once all the ingredients are layers on top of the grilled tortilla I roll it into a spiral and cut the roll into pieces.  I present the pieces around the perimeter of the plate and prepare a side salad in the middle of the plate.  I add cucumber slices, tomato slices then pickled onion and bell peppers on top soaked in a rice wine vinegar solution with sugar, red pepper flakes, and bay leaves.            

Sunday, December 18, 2016


The ancient Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica was the first to consume chocolate.  The cacao tree is native to this area in modern day Mexico.  They consumed it as a frothy drink made in this fashion; first the beans were mashed into a paste with chili peppers and corn meal then water or fruit juice was added to the paste which was then left out to ferment for several days.  Ancient clay pots have been discovered that still contain the residue of the chocolate concoction.  The traditional way of serving the cold drink was shaken to create a layer of foam on top.  Eventually the cooks began serving the drink warm along with other spices similar in fashion to the hot chocolate we drink today. 

For the rest of the world the chocolate craze began as unsuspecting Spanish explorers brought cocoa beans back from Latin America to Europe in the 1500’s.  Europeans were at first turned off by the bitter taste of the alkaloids in the beans so it would take another 300 years before Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten began using alkaline salts to reduce the bitterness of the beans.   Eventually he would go on to invent a press to remove cacao butter from the beans thus harnessing the ability to preserve beans longer and produce more chocolate with less beans.

The first step in producing chocolate is to cut the cacao pods off the tree with a sharp knife.  Split the bean pods in half carefully so the beans are not damaged.  Immediately place the slimy beans in a wooden fermentation box outside in a shady cool, place.   Place a banana leaf in the bottom of the box and place another over the beans.  The more beans you have the better.  The beans need daily rotation to ensure they are draining properly and they are being aerated.  The beans will begin to generate heat after a few days as they begin to ferment.  It is to be expected that fruit flies will be attracted to the beans and they actually help the beans ferment as they consume the sweet liquid draining off of the beans.  Continue to turn the beans every day for a week to avoid any mold forming on the beans. 

Eventually the beans will become dry and tacky, this is the time when you should begin drying them in the oven.  I place the beans on an oven tray and set the oven on 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 to 48 hours.  The beans will continue to dry out.  If the beans are not dry enough they will not roast very well.  Roast the cacao beans in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes until they crack and then lower the temperature to 325 degrees to continue baking for another 20 minutes. 

Once the beans cool the chaff and skin will begin separating from the bean which is now called the nib.  The nibs are very fragile and will occasionally crack.  Be sure to keep all the small pieces of bean while discarding the skin and chaff.  Once all the nibs are cleaned I grind them into a powder using a burr grinder.  The finer the grind the better the end product will be.  I spend a good thirty minutes grinding, wiping down the sides and grinding again and again.  

I add equal parts cocoa butter at this point to make raw chocolate or otherwise known as cocoa mass or cocoa liquor.  The cocoa mass is typically how raw chocolate is transported to traditional chocolate making facilities.  Then other ingredients such as milk, sugar, and soy lecithin are often later added to make sweetened milk chocolate.  

I have just scratched the surface of knowing about chocolate making.  It is an intricate and in-depth study in which I plan on spending many more years perfecting.  Right now at home when I make chocolate, I add powdered sugar which is ultra-fine and very sweet to avoid the sandy effect of granulated sugar.  
I use organic powdered sugar that has tapioca powder in it instead of confectionery sugar with corn starch.  Powdered sugar is typically only used in making fudge but I enjoy the sweet flavor and smooth consistency it gives my finished chocolate product.  I either use coconut oil or extra cacao butter as the fat binding agent.  I add vanilla extract for a little flavor.  The chocolate is meant to rest before tempering so I will usually form a block and set it aside in a cool dark place for a few days before tempering.

Tempering consists of warming up the chocolate up to 100 degrees so it melts.  If the chocolate gets too hot the fat will separate from solids.  Once the chocolate is melted and stirred it can be poured in to molds or shaped for a finished product.  I often pour them into small cupcake molds for serving. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Open Faced Sardine Toast

I recently launched a brunch menu at Trees Lounge.  One of the news items on the menu stands out and often gets rave reviews.  I call it Open Faced Sardine Toast.  I have yet to see sardines on any other menu so I have chosen to embrace them because of their uniqueness, flavor and health benefits. 
Sardines are small and delicious.  Packed full with vitamins and healthy omega-3 fatty acids among other things there is no wonder why sardines are considered one of the healthiest
fish.  They are low on the food chain so they contain little or no mercury, unlike larger fish which accumulate it over time eating lots of smaller fish.

Sardine Toast with roasted Red and Sweet Potatoes
I prefer eating sardines on toast so for this noisy food I toast rye bread covered in mustard, roasted red bell pepper, caramelized onions, sliced avocado and then covered with a slice of melted provolone cheese.    

I purchase the skinless boneless sardines in a can but in truth the sardines with the bones and skin are even healthier.  Fish bones are typically really healthy to eat.  The places in the world where people eat fish bones typically are the areas with the highest life expectancy. 

I love Jewish Rye bread for its sour dough flavor and the signature caraway seeds so I use it as the toast for this noisy food.  I also enjoy the complex flavors of Dark Rye bread so I will use it as well.  I always toast the bread before adding anything else on it so the wet ingredients do not make the toast soggy.  The crisp toast adds texture to the dish.  Once the bread is crispy and brown I spread a tablespoon of smooth Dijon mustard on one side.   I open the can of sardines and drain off the excess oil then crush the fishes into small pieces.  For additional flavor I slice an onion and caramelize it in a pan with a little vegetable oil.  I put a red bell pepper in the oven until the skin turns black then I peel off the outer skin, remove the seeds and inner membrane then slice the pepper in long julienne strips.  I add the pepper to the sandwich for color and flavor.  I add a quarter of an avocado cut into a fan so it covers all of the sandwich.  Lastly I place a slice of provolone cheese on top then bake the whole sandwich so it melts the cheese and bring out the aromatic flavors in the ingredients.  I like to serve the toast cut in half on an angle for aesthetics and to make it easier to eat.  

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Meaty Lasagna with Spinach, Eggplant and Red Pears

Lasagna is one of my favorite meals to make because it’s rich, fulfilling and complex.  There are so many different ways of preparing it, lasagna screams noisy food.  Preparation can take a while to make if it is good but a large lasagna can last for several meals.  The basic lasagna recipe calls for layers of pasta, interspersed with tomato sauce, and melted cheese but with a few more added ingredients a lasagna will come alive. 

The tomato sauce is the most important part of a good lasagna.  I believe the sauce is noisier if it is made fresh but it can also be store bought and meat can be added such as sausage, chicken or as I prefer grass fed ground beef to liven it up.  The beauty of a lasagna is that many different vegetable and or fruits could be incorporated into the recipe without throwing it off.   I add local fruits and vegetables such as spinach, eggplant, pears, or apples to add subtle flavor and textural elements to the sauce.  My other secret ingredient in tomato sauce is adding a little unsweetened cocoa powder for richness and color.  Tomato sauce is often best when cooked the day before and allowing extra time for the flavor to develop before using.   

To prepare the sauce start by small dicing a large yellow onion.  Dial in the stove top burner to medium high heat and put a large sauce pot preferably with a thick insulated bottom to ensure even heat distribution on it.   Add ¼ cup of olive oil to the pot when it’s hot and sauté the diced onion with one tablespoon of minced garlic until translucent and then add 16 ounces of grass fed ground beef.  Continue cooking, stirring until the beef is broken up and browned.  Peel and chop two carrots, two stalks of celery and four button mushrooms then add them to the pot.  Reduce the stove top heat to medium and continue stirring with a wooden spoon to avoid anything burning to the bottom of the pan.  Once the carrots have become tender add 72 ounces of diced tomato and 12 ounces of tomato paste.  Set the burner on low heat and simmer the sauce for 1 hour while it reduces.  Stir in 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 tablespoon of savory herbs including thyme, parsley, and oregano.  In a food processor puree and pulse the thick sauce to help break down any large pieces.  Cool down the tomato sauce in a separate container surrounded by an ice bath.   

Heat up a cast iron pan on high heat and add ¼ cup of olive oil.  Medium dice two Thai eggplants and two red pears.  Sauté the eggplant and pear until tender and brown along the edges. Set the pear and eggplant aside until ready to use. 

Prepare 1 pound spinach by blanching it in a boiling pot of water for 1 minute.  Remove the spinach from the water and place it in a bucket of ice water to preserve its color.  Squeeze out the excess water from the spinach and reserve until ready to use. 

In a large bowl combine four cups of all-purpose flour, 4 teaspoons salt, 4 tablespoons olive oil, and 8 eggs.  Form the dough into a ball and press it flat on a smooth surface.  Use extra flour to dust the surface so the dough will not stick.  Using a rolling pin flatten the dough to 1/8 inch thick.  Using a knife cut strips 13 inches long and 3 inches wide.  Cut 9 or 12 strips depending on how many layers of pasta you want in the lasagna, I usually do four layers.  Chill the pasta in the refrigerator separate the strips with pieces of parchment paper until ready to use. 

Grate 1 pound of mozzarella cheese, reserve half of it and combine the other half with ricotta cheese. 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Use a 9” x 13” glass baking dish and ladle a layer of tomato meat sauce on the bottom.  Cover the sauce with three strips of pasta.   Spread of the eggplant and pears over the pasta then cover it with a layer of ricotta cheese.  Cover the ricotta with another layer of pasta.  Spread out the spinach and cover it with a layer of ricotta cheese.  Add a layer of pasta over the ricotta and then cover it with another layer of meat sauce.  Cover the meat sauce with a layer of grated mozzarella and minced chives, oregano, and thyme.  If you have meat sauce leftover, reserve it and serve it on top of the baked lasagna.   

Cover the lasagna with tin foil.   To avoid the foil sticking to the melted cheese, place a skewer straight up out of the lasagna to hold the foil up.  Bake for one hour but remove the tin foil 15 minutes before removing the lasagna from the oven so the cheese gets golden brown and bubbly.

Tomato Sauce Ingredients
72 Ounces of Diced Roma Tomato
12 Ounces Tomato Paste
1 Large Yellow Onion
36 Ounces Ground Beef
2 Celery Sticks
2 Carrots
4 Large Cremini Mushrooms
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
¼ Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoon Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 Tablespoon Oregano, Thyme, and Chives
1 Teaspoon Salt

Lasagna Filling
1 Pound Spinach
32 Ounces Ricotta Cheese
1 Pound Mozzarella
2 Large Pears
2 Long Thai Eggplants
¼ Cup Olive Oil

Pasta Ingredients
4 Cups Flour
8 Eggs
¼ Cup Olive Oil

4 Teaspoon Salt

Friday, September 23, 2016

Noisy Food Overview

I came up with the premise for Noisy Food in 2011 while I was living in Aachen, Germany.  I thought it was a great way of describing food.  At the time I was eating a lot of crusty bread from the local bakeries and enjoyed hearing it crunch as I ate.  Eventually I began thinking of Noisy Food as a rating system to express how complicated, tasty, or creative a particular food was in comparison to others.  The factors to consider include the source of the food, the ingredients, the preparation, the tools used, and the level of creativity.  Generally speaking, the noisier the better but it’s true that food could be too noisy; think messy plates, muddled flavors, and haphazard color combinations.    
The first criteria of Noisy Food to consider is the source the food.  Where did it come from? How was it grown?  For example if you hunted, grew, or foraged for the food it would be noisier than something you bought in the store.  Organically grown food is noisier than conventionally farmed food because the farmer must have a greater understanding of the food; how it interacts with the soil and other crops and what it needs to stay healthy.  The effort you put into sourcing the food makes it more interesting and provides a dialog that would otherwise not exist.  Noisy food should get people talking.    
Secondly, the time input of ingredients used in a dish make it noisy.  If something had to die to be harvested, it’s obviously noisier than an apple picked from a tree.  The more work that went into growing the food the noisier it is.  Most fruit trees, such as coffee, take 3-5 years to produce fruit but will continue producing fruit for 20 years.  Asparagus can take up to three years to grow but will continue growing for 20 years.  Pineapples take two years but only produce one fruit in their lifetime.  Papaya can produce fruit in 6 months.  To cook and clean an artichoke might take an hour.  To bake a loaf of bread might take two hours.  To produce sourdough bread it might take 12 hours.  To ferment and produce chocolate takes weeks.  To brew beer might take a few months.  To distill and age alcohol may take years. Taking time input into consideration, I conclude chocolate, alcohol, and coffee to be some of the noisiest foods.   
The preparation of food is vitally important in making it noisy.  Some foods are best left uncooked while others must be cooked.  I believe a crisp raw vegetable could be just as noisy as a piece of homemade bread.  The cook must think about the highest good for the end food product:  what is going to preserve the color of the food, what will boost the health benefits of the food, and what is going to bring out its best flavors. 
Let me digress and show an example of how a numbering system could be used for cooking a chicken egg.  If you raised the chickens and harvested the eggs you get two points right away.  If you fry the egg in a pan you get two points because the edges are crisp and crunch when you eat it.  If you cover the fried egg in cheese you get three points.  If you whip the egg and make scrambled eggs you get two points.  If you whip the egg and make an omelet you get three points and four points if you fill the omelet with deliciousness.  If you poach the egg you get two points, if you cover it with Hollandaise sauce you get three points.  If you hard boil an egg you get one point but if you then peel the egg, split it, remove the yolk, make a spicy deviled egg filling then pipe it back into the cooked egg white you get four points. You get the idea.
The appearance of food is hugely important in making it appealing.  I believe a beautiful looking dish makes it noisy.  Food presentation should be tall and tight, clean, and have striking color combinations which all play into how noisy it can be.  Keeping food concise on a plate looks better than having it spread out.  Controlling what sauces are used and where the sauce is applied should be considered.  The color of ingredients is vitally important: for example, most vegetables retain their color when they are fresh but lose their color when cooked, so blanching and ice baths are used to hold the color. Think of your favorite dish: how does it look? Could its appearance be noisier with a few tweaks?
The tools used to prepare the food plays into its noise factor.  A smoker is noisier than a dehydrator.  A broiler is noisier than a convection oven.  Cutting vegetables thin on a mandolin is noisier than cutting with a knife.  A deep fryer is noisier than boiling water.  The more complicated or unusual the tool used in the preparation, the noisier the finished product.
Pecan Pie, Tangelo, Bourbon and a Braided Cream Cheese Crust 
Creativity is the last factor in determining noisy food.  We are driven by our passions and that should manifest physically into our finished creations.  Your unique ideas should come together seamlessly to create the uniqueness of your finished dish. We each long to be original once we tire of doing the same old thing.  We want to contribute new ideas to the food world.  The goal of noisy cooking should be to produce new types of food that get people talking about it.  Take noisy food to the next level, let it speak for itself.