Sourdough: The Conception July 18, 2016
I remember visiting Paris, France when I was 13 – my first trip to Europe to visit my sister Gosia and her family in the Netherlands, and anywhere in Europe was as close as Wisconsin Dells was to Chicago. I was enamored with the city, the architecture, and the ambiance (not knowing the word back then). I was a slightly overweight American teen, already jumping from diet to diet. I was off bread at that time. I was also curiously observed that so many slender and pretty Parisian ladies were walking around with pastries in the morning, mainly with long baguettes. Bread, croissants, and other baked goods were abundant, I had to let go of the “diet.” For a long time I wondered why eating bread (ok not just bread, most other foods as well) in the U.S. made people overweight and unhealthy, but many Parisians ate bread daily and seemed not to suffer those effects. Looking at the ingredients in most “American” bread, and having the feeling that 20-30 ingredients shouldn’t be in the ingredients list. I know now that one of the main reasons was the age old fermentation process of sourdough bread and baked goods.
Having been raised Polish and Roman Catholic, it was hard to give up gluten when the issue came about. Sure, the evidence was compelling- like Dr. Hyman’s article, to many scientific studies (i.e. that serological markers for gluten remaining in the body for 6 months after consuming gluten), entire health websites (i.e. greenmedinfo) and other authorities like Dr. William Davis and his book Wheat Belly, Dr. David Perlmutter and his book Grain Brain. No grain left unturned, in many cases it turned out that the so-called whole grain products were actually worse than the low grain due to the processed separation, making the glycemic index pretty high. Certain naturally occurring toxins like gliadin and lectins in whole grains can cause inflammation and even permeate the gut, causing a whole host of health problems.
But for crying out loud, my grandparents and great-grandparents and ancestors in general were raised on and sustained with bread. Considering the raveges of wars and subsequent poor living conditions, malnutrition, and lack of hygiene, they were pretty healthy. Evidence now shows that grain has been used by certain populations for over 10,000 years +. Bread was equated with life, sanctity, and everything Slavic/Polish (as is so in many other heritages and cultures). The Bible is teeming with examples, parables, and discussion about grain and bread. From Weston A. Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, I remember the isolated Swiss valley with extremely healthy individuals that grew up and subsisted upon traditionally prepared rye bread and dairy. According to Dr. Price the Vatican Swiss guards were chosen from among these men for their fine figures and robust health. All this information was constantly striking a major chord of dissonance for me.
With beginning thyroid symptoms and rising autoantibodies, symptoms of IBS ( painful digestion and moreso) after eating most wheat/ conventional flour based foods, I was sure that the gluten free diet would work. I wasn’t for using the usual gluten free substitutes, since they were so high in the glycemic index and in many cases very artificial and/or processed (possibly more unhealthy than the gluten full versions). The flours I used were buckwheat, lentil (or other bean), millet, coconut, almond, sometimes rice, no corn ( due to the fact that so much corn is genetically modified with Bt toxin and already naturally seeping with lectins) and no soy (also due to the genetic modification factor). But the baking results using these flours, besides pies and crumbly cookies, were not too satisfactory.
Digging further and looking for more answers, the evidence seemed to point out that it’s not just the wheat, but that chemicals like glyphosphate ( Round up) that were creating this problem. In addition the higher hybridization of dwarf strains of wheat that amplify the gluten content, as well as the adding of more gluten to commercial and processed breads were adding to the toxic mix. With so many factors combined together, the raw materials (grains but especially modern wheat) and the modern processing of bread and baked goods are all leading to an epidemic of celiac disease, gluten intolerance in the last 40 years or so.
After more digging ( and discovering that I am a foodie at heart), this article summed up the history of bread and baking in a decent nutshell – The rise and rise of sourdough bread. After watching Catalyst – Gluten: A Gut Feeling I felt even better about my return to grains and bread. Certain research also seemed promising. One case study showed that pediatric patients with celiac disease could consume wheat based products that were thoroughly soured/fermented without adverse effects. Another study demonstrated that fermented sourdough products can heal early stage intestinal damage and inflammation persons with celiac disease.
Encouraged, I started with the easiest no knead sourdough bread, made mostly with spelt or rye flour. Sorry, but after a few rounds, the results didn’t give the effect of the bread that I had eaten in Paris – the bread was too hard, not very palatable.
Giving up, as I was daunted by the whole idea of true sourdough, I sought out local bakers and found a local bread ( from Iwanisk) that delivered to the local health food store. It was 100% rye ( a grain with a higher nutritional value than conventional wheat), different from any other bread that I had eaten in Poland or anywhere else. Hearty, chewy, and most importantly unlike most other breads or baked goods bought ( I didn’t buy many artisan or sourdough breads in my student years), the bread hardened but never got moldy. Always delivered in its round boule form, always crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and very filling. The bread didn’t give the the symptoms previous baked goods did.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), for the past few weeks the bakery stopped delivering. My family and I were distraut since healthful sandwiches ( great travel fare) and breakfasts were limited. In my search I found this wonderful website with exacting details on how to prepare and even approach the idea of sourdough: www.theperfectloaf.com. I was enamoured with the author’s zest for all things sourdough and at ease since the instructions were systematic and explanatory – from the idea of using temperature as an ingredient, to exact amounts and times.
My first bake was a flop – I used spelt flour (I though it was wheat, my bad), too quickly overheated the first rise by putting it atop the oven. It was a start, a poor one at best. One hard loaf, edible, better than most common bakery fare, but not delectable.
For my dad’s name day ( July 15th, Henry) I decided to make the best homemade present – a proper, well prepared sourdough bread. In order to prevent lengthening this post more than needed, please refer you to the Perfect Loaf’s beginner’s sourdough page for terminology and specifics. I used the country sourdough recipe with less levain with a few tweaks. I did a 3 hour autolyse – mixing of just flour and water with no levain or salt to free sugars for the future fermentation, and to help build the dough in general. I did the bulk fermentation with minimal folding, since I mixed in some spelt flour in the mix ( now I know I overhydrated the dough). Shaping was a bit tricky, but I added a bit of flour to get it stiffer before the second proof. An overnight stay after the final proof and into the oven at 5 am on Friday.
The set of ingredients used first:
For the levain ( early Thursday afternoon)
Time: 5 hours
25 g mature starter
50 g white wheat flour
50 g spelt flour
80 g water at 29 C ( 84 F) – please note this was too much water still
At the 2 hour mark the autolyse was set, which included:
900 g white wheat flour
100 g spelt flour
700 g water at 29 C (84 F) – note that I should’ve used less water here too – about 650 g would be better
These were mixed in a bowl and left to sit under a plate. At the end of the 3 hour autolyse – 5 hour levain mark I mixed the levain with the autolyse. The final mixing also included 20 g of salt.
At that point I let it sit for about an hour to get a good rise out of it. Then I just lightly folded the dough four corners of the earth ( north-south-east-west) style every half hour, until it about doubled.
Then I dusted the wooden board (work surface) for the shaping phase – rolling the dough in circular fashion, preventing it from sticking to the board. I need to buy the proper scraper/bread-making knife, I used a thick sharp regular one but it was tricky – needs-must.
Then I finally shaped the dough into one piece and let it sit for over an hour. After than I took a basket, lined it with linen dusted with rice flour and plopped the dough in, and it was into the fridge for overnight.
The next morning at 4:30 I set the over for 250 C (the highest the over will go) and placed the dutch ovens inside to heat up for about 20 minutes. I took out the dough and started to shape ( good shaping video here). After I shaped I scored – or lightly cut the top of the bread to help release gases and makes it a unique loaf every time. In went the two pre-breads into the oven at 250 C (about 480 F) for 20 minutes, then 10 minutes at 230 C (450 F) and then the breads were uncovered and finished off after another 30 minutes at 230 C. The finished product were delivered to my dad, looking like this:
Don’t judge too harshly please – the crust was a little thick and not the prettiest, the crumb was a bit dense, but I mentioned that I deviated in a few ways. I hoping to make this a point in the learning curve. Tomorrow is a day off and I start again. Wish me luck – Cheers and good health!
Goodbye Thai Chicken Curry February 24, 2015
Before leaving my wonderful Dutch family my brother-in-law Henny had a huge request: curry. As a young man he lived in India as an exchange worker for some time and grew to love this dish. Now I must admit that I did not eat or cook a great deal of Indian food even as a student, even though I had quite a few Indian and East Asian friends. Being Polish, and mingling with an eclectic group of ethnicities during my college years, my friends and I ate in a largely fused kitchen, mixing spices and elements from many cuisines. Many of us had a staple favorite though – a small Thai restaurant offshooting from our campus – serving great pad Thai, amazing bubble teas and a great coconut chicken curry.
So I dug in my tastbud’s memories to recreate one of my favorite dishes from my late teens and early 20s, which included chicken, potatoes, a medly of vegetables including onions, which are high in phenolics and flavonoids – potent anticancer antioxidants, and bell peppers, which a Spanish study concluded have the most Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin) of all fruits and vegetables, alongside tomatoes. Carrots add even more carotenoids to this dish.
Along with coconut milk, which gives a good dose of medium chain fatty acids -which gives us quick energy – and lauric acid, which is very antifungal and antiviral, we have a creamy base for the curry to simmer in. A generous addition of basil and cilantro make for a perfect seasoning combo, adding a mound of favor as well as a great antibacterial and vitamin filled due. The starchy carbohydrate in this case is the potato, which, contrary to many’s belief, is a very healthy addition, packed full of potassium, vitamin B6, copper, and vitamin C, and of course gluten free.
1/2 pound (about 1/4 kilo) chicken – any part, I used deskinned legs and thighs that simmered in the chicken broth
3 potatoes – we used red skinned
2 medium onions
2 bell peppers – any color
3/4 pound (about 10 medium) carrots
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 can ( about 300 ml) coconut milk – if you have fresh coconut milk more power to you!
2 tablespoons curcumin powder
1 teaspoon basil ( I used dried, fresh is great too)
1 teaspoon cilantro – dried or fresh
salt to taste ( I used about 1 a teaspoon and a half, Himalayan)
pepper to taste ( about 1/2 teaspoon)
A large pan or wok
Total time: 50 minutes to 1 hour
To make this faster, I had already pre-cooked the chicken in broth. Cooking the potatoes in advance is also better. In any case, carrots and onions are diced into small pieces and fried in a dollop of coconut oil, onions first – until glossy, and then the carrots, also sliced and diced. I added a bit of salt with every vegetable to seal in every individual flavor. That takes about 15 minutes. Then add the washed and diced bell peppers, for another 5-7 minutes in the pan. Then in go the potatoes and chicken, along with the basil and cilantro. Let that heat for another few minutes.
The coconut milk goes in next, and a bit of simmering happens. Top that off with the curcumin ( or curry) powder and pepper, and let that simmer for another few minutes. Voila! A real feast all in the confines of one dish. Top with fresh basil or cilanto and serve. Cheers and good health!
all the vegetables looked glorious together the coconut milk that looked the most trustworthy at the local store
meal in a pan
Fat Tuesday Pudding Cheesecake February 19, 2015
So I’m visiting my Dutch family ( my sister Gosia is married to Henny, who is 100% Dutch, and has lived here for a long time) in the Netherlands – the country known for it’s tulips, windmills, massive scale bicyling. What I also noticed about the Dutch is that they know and love their cheese. Jonge kaas – young cheese, Belage kaas – aged cheese (gaining firmness and flavor with time), Geitenkaas (goat milk cheese), Maasdam, Edam, Rotterdam, Old Amsterdam – many of their cities have their specific cheese – and of course Gouda. With the ending of Carnival, what better way to celebrate Fat Tuesday than to make a rich cheesecake, and for easy fun a no bake version?
Looking at recipes, I saw that a lot of them used cream cheese, and using my google translate I found out that the Dutch counterpart is roomkaas. The crust was made with cookie crumbs and grass-fed butter, since it is one of the healthiest fats around. Grasboter, as grass-fed butter is called in the Netherlands, is full of important fat soluable vitamins like Vitamin A (butter is best source) and Vitamin E, necessary for good eye (Vit. A), as well as endocrine (thyroid gland) health. Both also help with the immune system, making us more resistant to infections, toxins, and diseases in general. Butter lowers the risk of heart disease, as a new study at the University of Cambridge shows, circulating fatty acids from dairy reduced heart disease risk.
Butter prevents weight gain, by, contrary to many’s belief, providing fatty acids for quick energy and not being stored in fatty tissue, since butter provides mostly short and medium chain fatty acids. Full fat dairy actually lowers problems with metabolism and obesity, as shown in this multi-study analysis. Butter provides energy for out intestinal flora prevents fungal (like Candida albicans) growth, and contain the highest know amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which reduces the risk of colon, stomach, skin and breast cancer, and prevents cancer growth in children that ate CLA. Butter is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to fight inflammation and prevent many diseases like cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. Butter also helps prevent osteoporosis by giving the necessary factors to absorb calcium like Vitamin K2. Butter even lowers the risk of developing asthma.
Margarine and other synthetically produced fats, which are high in omega-6 fatty acids, do the opposite by slowing the thyroid, and causing inflammation. Cancer risk increases with intake of margarine and other polyunsaturated fats, as well as obesity, and heart disease. Even infertility is linked to these fats, so why not just use the butter instead?
Well we did. This ultra-rich dessert is only for special occasions, and should be eaten in moderation:
Total time: 1 and 1/2 hour
Preparation time: about 15 minutes
500 g Roomkaas or cream cheese ( we used the Dutch brand Campina, but I want to make my own, and found this easy recipe: http://www.instructables.com/id/Dead-Easy-Cream-Cheese/ )
1/2 (50 g) packet vanilla pudding
1/2 liter milk (for the pudding)
1 cup sugar of choice ( we used cane, but Muscovado, coconut palm, or any other is fine)
150 g ( about 5 ounces) cookies or graham crackers, crumbled completely
3 tablespoons Grasboter or grass-fed butter
Strawberries, another fruit, coconut flakes or chocolate for decorations, I used about 150 g strawberries – not in season, but my niece Maaike really wanted them 😉
A pie pan
Make the 1/2 package of pudding, and set aside to cool for a bit.
Mash the graham cracker or cookies ( best to get gluten free and without trans fats). Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter and mix together and set aside.
Next get the cream cheese, add sugar and whisk together in order to mix in the cooled pudding.
Spread the buttered cookie or graham cracker mixture in a pie pan, spreading it evenly.
Then fill the pie crust with the cheese and pudding mixture, put in the fridge or a cool place to set for at least 1 hour. Then decorate with desired fruit or topping and serve. Yum!
photos courtsey of my sister Gosia
Raw Apple Chutney September 12, 2014
So after the LONG hiatus ( my dad broke a spinal vertebra so it was a busy summer, thankfully he’s out of his brace and walking with one crutch) the food dissection is back. With an easy, probiotic-rich recipe made for late summer/early fall.
Apples are coming in season, and to get on with annoying our favorite Dic-Tator, apple chutney is in order.
Apples are one of the healthiest fruits out there. They stablize blood sugar, are full of soluble fiber that help regular blood lipid levels, and even alter gut flora to make important dietary fats like butyric acid (which feed our good bacteria) more bioavailable. Add the burst of probiotics from fresh whey, a burst of minerals from the Himalayan salt and some good old cinnamon, cloves, and anise and cane sugar, topped with citrusy, this is a heart and soul filling recipe to be made as long as apples are available. All groups of taste buds are stimulated with this dish – you have sweet, salty, sour, and umuami ( which comes with the whey and lacto-fermenting).
The recipe is simple, the only hard part is the waiting 😉
1 kg apples peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup yogurt or kefir whey, strained
1 & 1/2 teaspoon fine Himalayan salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground colves
1/4 teaspoon ground anise
2-3 tablespoons cane sugar ( depending on the sweetness of the apples)
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup raisins ( optional)
Large bowl and spoon
Lemon rind zester/peeler
2 quart or 3 1/2 liter jars
Place apples in a large bowl and mix with spices, cinnamon and sugar. Then add the salt ( the apples will start to let their juices out). Mix the zest and lemon juice and add the whey. Pack tightly into jars so that the juices cover the chutney on tope. Let it set from 1-2 days in a room tempertatre spot, and taste to serve. Delicious yogurt or kefir, pancake or waffle topping, nd a great side dish to meat, fish and vegetable meals. Cheers and good health!
Marzipan coconut delights May 8, 2014
Yesterday was my parent’s anniversary, and besides the bought presents I wanted to make a special treat. Not having a tone of time and ingredients, I scoured my panty and happily found leftover marzipan (sweetened almond) paste from Easter. A light bulb came on – bake free easy treat!
Almonds are packed with Vitamin E ( a strong antioxidant), magnesium (good for your heart and muscles), and copper ( essential for enzyme and antioxidant function), lower cholesterol, are high in good fats, protein and fiber. Cacao and coconut add a healthy dose of antioxidants and healthy fats to this delicacy as well. It’s also gluten free and so easy to make. With a spoonful of cacao and some coconut flakes this makes a delightful treat, inside and out.
200 g marzipan paste or
200 g almond paste and a teaspoon and 1/2 of honey
1 tablespoon cacao
2 tablespoons coconut flakes to roll
In a bowl, mix the paste and cacao ( or the almond paste, honey and cacao) until there is a marbling. Pinch off about 1.5 cm (half inch) pieces and roll them into spheres. Cover each sphere evenly with coconut flakes. Serve or store in a cool place to firm.
Cheers and good health!
Dandelion May 3, 2014
Dandelion is abundantly infesting my lawn (maybe yours, too). This is no reason to dispair, since dandelion is and has been a prized medicinal plant throughout human history for its many healing properties of gastric complaints, spleen and liver issues, hepatitis, even anorexia.
There is no way with my ecological and health sensibilities that I would use herbicides like Roundup, which are linked to fatal kidney disease in many countries, one of the most toxic herbicides and pesticides,125x more toxic than the isolated glyphosate. Glyphosate is bad enough with its endocine disruption effects, damaging the metabolism and respiration of our cells, but Round up has a surfactant named polyoxyethyleneamine which makes the glyphosate more penetrable to our cells and DNA, causing much cellular damage and carcinogenic effects. Polyethoxylated tallowamine (POEA), an ingredient declared to be inactive previously, was shown to be more fatal to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than glyphosate, the “active” ingredient.” Enough of the bad stuff – this post is to commend one of the greatest weeds out there.
Dandelion’s Latin name Taraxacum officinales means „Official Remedy of Disorders,” and it is a well deserved name. High in vitamins A, B, C, and D, and minerals like iron, potassium, and zinc, dandelion also has a stimulatory effect on the salivary glands, kidneys (dandelion leaves), and liver (mainly the root), has potent antioxidant and anticarcinogenic (provoking the production of antibodies) properties, works to thin the blood and lower blood sugar. No wonder the Puritans and other European settlers brought over this „weed” to the Americas.
Dandelions grow in many places, and are associated with many plants like sagebrish and blueberries. Bees gather dandelion pollen for honey, birds and other small animals can feed off them, as well as poltury and pigs. The only problem is that they an be a bit invasive, with their strong taproots growing up to 10 feet deep, but the taproot can be used in so many ways – like tea.
As a digression, there was an episode of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman where Dr. Quinn cured (and accurately diagnosed) her mother of hepatitis after the Boston doctors declared her incurable with daily infusions of dandelion root tea (yes I know it’s fiction, but the writers could’ve based the story on some truth).
The leaves and shoots can also be eaten ( blanching them makes them tastier, less bitter). Flowers can be gathered for a delicious wine or an elixir for respiratory tract infections due to a substance called mucilage (which works as a wonderful cough expectorant).
The procedure is quite easy, if not a bit of a workout. The main work is pulling the dandelion plant with a maximally intact root (since intact taproots will regrow, and as much as I love dandelion, no need for an infestation). Using a sturdy pitchfork or a garden screwdriver (I’m not sure if it’s actually called that, but it does the trick), the job can be done.
To get roots for dandelion tea or coffee, you have to cut off the roots, wash them in a bucket of water or the sink about 2-3 times (until they are maximally free of mud/debris), lay them out to dry. After they are decently dry, cut them on a cutting board and set aside to further dry – depending on weather and conditions it can take about 1-2 weeks. For tea, just store and add boiling water to infuse. It’s good to mix a tablespoon of dandelion root, with a teaspoon of chamomile, linden flower, and mint. Most aromatic herbal leaf or flower combinations work well.
For coffee, the excess drying is not necessary. Blend them in a food processor until they are coursely ground, and them either heat then in a cast iron pan or pot until they are evently cinnamon brown (about 7-10 minutes, depending on heat), or roast them on a sheet in the oven, 250 F (120 C) for about an hour and a half, mixing them every 30 minutes. The leaves can be dried alongside the roots, or frozen for later.
The flowers can be gathered for wine, or for a cough expectorant elixir, which I can vouch for. You need about 100-120 flower heads (it’s actually not that hard to gather on a lawn). A quart or liter glass jar will be the incubator. Take a few heads, pour a little brown sugar or honey on them and mash, doing half inch (1 cm) layers of flowers, adding the sugar or honey, and repeat until the jar takes in all the flowers. Put in a cool dark place for a few days until all the juices let out. Drain the elixir in a bottle and store.
After that I add some more honey (about 2 tablespoons), pour over with spirits, and let the flowers infuse their full potential into the spirits (ethylene alcohol – 90% is good 😉 ). After about 2-3 weeks, the flowers will appear drained. Store in cool dark place as well. Here’s to that – cheers and good health!