Sourdough Starter Questons – Do I feed my starter before or after using it?

This was another question that was submitted about sourdough starters – related to a series of posts that happened in the winter of last year.  I’ve added some of the original posts if you are looking for more information.

I am storing my starter in the frig. I am using it about every 5 days.  When it comes time to use it in a recipe can I use it straight from the frig or do I have to feed it first, let it rest for a day out of the frig, and then use it?

I’ve done both.  Because I’m mostly using the starter for flavor in my no knead recipes rather than a leavening agent, I’m not sure it matters.  However, if your starter smells too strong, then I would feed it first to reduce the sour or ammonia smell and therefore taste of it.  Also, if you decide to use your starter for its rising properties, then I would feed it the night or morning before you use it.

Other posts on the same topic:

Sending out 100 year old sourdough starter

Sourdough starter – can you kill it?

Sourdough starter – can I use different flours in my starter?

And even more questions answered in these posts

Time to pull out the dutch ovens and get baking!

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Cook the Book – Whole Wheat Walnut Bread

Whole Wheat Walnut Bread

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon (1 package) dry yeast
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons melted margarine or butter
1 tablespoon salt
1/3 cup dry milk
2¼ cups warm water
1 cup whole walnuts

Combine both flours and the yeast in a large bowl. Stir in all the remaining ingredients, reserving ½ cup water.  Add more water if needed. Knead for 10-15 minutes. Oil the bowl and the top of the dough, cover, and set aside in a warm, draft free place to rise until doubled (about 1 hour). Preheat oven to 350°. Divide the dough in half; shape them into 2 round loaves. Place the loaves on a cookie pan.  Cover and allow to rise again. When the loaves have nearly doubled, make three diagonal slashes on each loaf with a razor or very sharp knife. Place the pans in the oven, throw 3 or 4 ice cubes into the bottom of the oven (or a pan set in the bottom of the oven) to generate steam and quickly close the oven door.  Bake until golden brown (around 35 minutes).

Makes 2 loaves

For bread machine:
1¾ cups water
2 cups whole wheat flour
2½ cups bread flour
2 teaspoons yeast
1½ teaspoons salt
1/3 cup dried milk
1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons molasses 

Add the ingredients in the order listed above or in the order required for your machine.  Some machines require that the flour go in first.  You must use bread flour rather than all-purpose flour. 

Makes one 2-pound loaf

Cook the Book – Pork Pot Pie

Individual Pork Pot PieI first created this recipe at Jessica’s Bistro on one of those really cold winter days when everyone was moving from one indoor place to another in a rush to get back into warmth. Its’ perfect for what most of the country is experienceing right now. You can make this as one big dish or prepare in individual dishes to swank it up a bit.

Pork Pot Pie

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound pork stew meat
1 cup chopped fennel
2 large onions, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary (or 1 tablespoon dried)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh black pepper
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 cups beef stock
1 sheet puff pastry
Oil as needed to brush on the pastry.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Place the pork in the pot and cook until browned. Add the fennel, onions, carrots, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the onions are translucent. Dust with the flour, stir, and add the tomato paste.  Stir frequently for about 2 minutes. Add the beef stock; cover, reduce heat and simmer for 1½ to 2 hours or until the meat is nearly done. Spoon the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch ovenproof ceramic dish. Rub the edge of the pan with water and cover it with the pastry dough.  Press down on the edges to seal the pastry to the edge of the pan and brush the pastry with oil. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Allow the pie to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 8

You can also use this recipe with chicken. If you do be sure to only simmer your ingredients for 45 mintues. Two years ago I did a segment on Chicken Pot Pie for our local NBC affiliate WCSH’s  “207” program. We found the link for you, if you’d like to see.

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Cook the Book – Wassail Bowl Punch

Wassail is a drink that my mom serves every Christmas and I can’t smell it without remembering family times.

Wassail Bowl Punch

1 quart hot tea (black or orange pekoe, or your favorite)
1 quart cranberry juice
1 quart apple juice
2 whole cinnamon sticks
12 whole cloves
1 cup sugar
¾ cup lemon juice
2 cups orange juice
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced

In a large stockpot, combine all the ingredients except the orange and lemon slices.
Bring to a boil, strain, and pour into a large bowl.
Garnish with orange and lemon slices.

Makes 4 quarts

Dream big, think positive and allow all that goodness!

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Orange, Chocolate Shortbread

Yesterday, just to prove to Rebecca, our very organized onsite gardener of Gabriella’s Gardens, that I could do it, I filed last year’s seeds.  Not alphabetically as she was hinting I should, but by category – greens, heat loving plants like tomatoes, sprawlers like cucs and squash, flowers, herbs and lastly, bushy things.  You know, beans, peas and fennel.  Hmm… I wonder if she’ll still need to “organize” them further in the spring?

So it’s serendipitous that the 2010 Seed Savers Exchange catalog arrived in the mail today.  Perfect for a blustery day, a cup of Earl Grey tea and a wedge of Orange, Chocolate Shortbread.  By the time I ‘m finished with it, the corners will all be dog eared and the cover probably missing.  Signs of being well-loved and used.

This recipe is one I adapted from my Ginger Shortbread in At Home, At Sea: Recipes from the Maine Windjammer J. & E. Riggin.

Orange Chocolate Shortbread
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest from one orange
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°  Cream the butter in a medium bowl.  Beat in the sugar and vanilla.  Mix in the flour and salt; it’s easiest to finish mixing the dough with your hands.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Pat the dough into a 9-inch round cake pan.  Score it into wedges with a sharp knife.  Bake about 20 to 30 minutes, until the shortbread is a pale golden brown.  Cool in the pan; while still warm, cut along the score lines.

Makes 8-10 pieces

It was blustery this morning and now it’s almost 60 degrees outside – how wonky is that?

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Top Twelve Ways to Cook Well in a Small Kitchen

People are always asking how I can cook for thirty people, on a boat, essentially outside, on and in a woodstove, at a heal (meaning angle for those of you who don’t sail) in SUCH a tiny space.  One, I love it and when you bring your whole self to something, the downsides melt away.  Two, I’ve become very organized and clever about how I use my space.  Here are my top space saving techniques I use every day in my galley (kitchen, again for those of you who don’t sail).

A friend and writer of Delicious Musings wrote about her thoughts on saving space in the kitchen and included some of mine.

  1. Organization is the key to small space cooking – focus on one recipe and it’s ingredients at a time. At the same time, when ingredients are called for in several recipes, do all of these recipes in succession.
  2. Place a cutting board on top of the sink to create more counter space.
  3. Use the sink or corners of the sink (if it’s stainless) to place hot pots temporarily.
  4. Stack – bowls of prepared ingredients that are waiting to be used and roasting pans that are cooling.
  5. Use table space for counter space.
  6. Clear the counter of all equipment you are not using.
  7. Clean as you go and reuse the same bowl rather than two or three consecutively.
  8. Challenge yourself to use fewer dishes per recipe.
  9. Only buy what you’ll use within a short period of time.
  10. Take advantage of when the oven is already on and bake or roast more than one thing at a time.
  11. Before going to the grocery store, make sure you really need to go – could you put off going one or two more days by using up what is in the refrigerator or pantry.
  12. Finish one thing before beginning another.

Don’t let space be the reason you forgo making fantastic, healthy food for yourself

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Bringing Rosemary Indoors

The rosemary plants are safely in the house, tucked snugly in their terra cotta pots.  The piney scent of them is still all over my hands and is wafting around me as I type.  Rebecca, our onsite gardener, helped me pull the plants in before the weather got too cold because this time of year its WAY to busy for me to get to.  Soon we’ll be off the boat and home and then I’ll be thankful for my good smelling herbs.

When I bring the plants indoors, I find pots that will accommodate their root balls which are usually about as wide as their foliage.  I then plant them in potting soil and water them immediately.  They come indoors at night for the first few nights and then in for good on a night that will be a hard frost.

Bringing rosemary plants in for the winter is tricky business and I’m really proud to say that these plants are now 6 years old!  Trial, error and observation have been my best teacher.  Rosemary doesn’t seem to like to get dried out, although I’ve never understood why as they are a traditional, Mediterranean plant.   Not that they love to have their “feet wet” but that their large root system can’t handle drying out in the slightest.  I often will water them in the shower, allowing the foliage to get a good drink as well under a steady spray of warm (not hot) water.  The shower always smells fantastic afterward.

Lamb chops with rosemary – here we come!

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The Maine Ingredient – latest column

Wow.  What a response to this weeks column in the Portland Press Herald on No Knead Sourdough Breads! Biggest response to a column ever.  The three recipes include Rustic Sourdough Bread, Brown Rice and Flax Seed Bread and Maple, Oatmeal, Sourdough Bread.  I’ll make the same offer to readers of the blog that I did in the column.  If you’d like to try working with sourdough in your bread, just email me with your address and I’d be happy to send you some of mine. It’s 100 years old and was given to me by a guest on our windjammer.

I’ve been refining my own version of this technique for over a year now based on Mark Bittman’s article in the New York Times and the subsequent article that ran in Cook’s Illustrated.  Neither used sourdough and I’ve found it so easy to incorporate into what has become a solid producer of excellent quality bread with a thicky, crispy, golden crust and a moist, irregular-holed interior.

Space in the column didn’t allow for me to talk much about the care and feeding of a sourdough starter, and while it’s fairly simple, like everything, a few tips here and there to prevent major disasters is maybe helpful.  What is first and most important to remember about sourdough is that it is a living, growing organism.  For this reason, it’s most important to keep your culture in a loose lidded arrangement or a plastic container with a lid that can pop off.  If you store it in glass, the pressure will cause the glass to shatter and it is one unholy mess to clean up.

Because it is living, it needs to be feed.  It is forgiving and I think they regulate themselves to a certain degree as I notice mine changes from winter to summer.  In the summer I’m using and therefore feeding my starter almost every day and it’s fresh and lively all the time.  I don’t refrigerate it and even in the warm galley, it’s fine.  In the wintertime, however, I do refrigerate to dial down the activity.  I use it more sporadically and I notice that it’s overall just a little slower.  This is what I would suggest for most home cooks who will be baking at the most once or twice a week.

How to feed your starter is by using 1-2 cups in a recipe and replacing it with 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water.  It should be the consistency of pancake batter or a little thinner.  Shake it well and return it to the refrigerator.  You can make starter with any kind of flour, but I usually just use all purpose white, mostly for space reasons.

A happy starter is always slightly sour smelling and filled with bubbles.  One that is starving and not as happy has a sharper smell and has separated into a watery top layer and a thin bottom layer.  If this happens, it’s not dead, just feed it and maybe use less of it in a recipe as it’s going to give a stronger flavor.  Then bump up your feeding a little bit.  That’s it.  Also, if you find that once summer arrives and you aren’t baking bread for a few months, just freeze it.  It will come back to it’s lively self in the fall once you defrost and feed it.  I’ve had my starter for years now and its still going strong.

Many happy loaves to you all!

UPDATED 6/15/10
Due to the overwhelming response of requests for this starter we can no longer offer it free of charge. There is now a nominal charge of $10 for the starter and $5 for shipping. Thank you for your understanding.

© 2009 Anne Mahle