Thursday, November 19, 2009

Milk for the bread!

My parents joined a CSA this year, and since coming home from Japan, I've been rediscovering vegetation outside of the sparse pickings at a Nagoya corner grocery.

Carrots? Check. Spinach? Naturally. Little white hakurei turnips, heads of napa cabbage, and curiously itty-bitty daikon radishes? Inexplicably, yes. There's synchronicity for you.

Carrots are great for munching (I haven't turned orange, yet), and both the daikon and hakurei were victims to my culinary adventures - the former, boiled into a newly nostalgic miso soup; the latter, victim to a slapdash adaptation of a savory steamed custard that only I could really finish. Mom tends to lay claim to any greens other than lettuce, which is probably for the best, as my cooking reputation isn't exactly built upon being adept at washing and preparing, and these come to us straight from the mud. (We've been forced to offer lukewarm hospitality to a number of hitchhikers, notably a merry little slug from some lettuce the other day. I was entirely ready to name him Stu and be jolly friends forevermore, but mom insisted that he be evicted immediately. Yet, I'm supposed to make eye contact and listen and everything when HER friends visit. Pfft.) Mom has a knack for cooking leaves, anyways - she's come up with some pretty ridiculously good salads, like spinach wilted by sauteed onions and mushrooms, or braised cabbage with apple cider vinegar, or good ol' fashioned grilled radicchio.

What really excites me, however, are the roots, squashes, and cruciferous veggies. While the carrots never seem to last long enough to actually cook, we've pulled dozens of cookie sheets from the oven laden with beets, turnips, parsnips, and rutabega, not to mention cauliflower, broccoli, and (as of tonight, we hope) Brussels sprouts; and both my mother and I have found ourselves stuffing sweet dumpling squash with cous cous, frying spaghetti squash into fritters, and pureeing butternut squash and acorn squash into soups accented by onions and garlic, apples and ginger, or a couple of sweet potatoes.

Yes. The sweet potatoes.

We got a lot of those. I've been playing with them almost every day, and the pile has barely been breached.

A brief tangent: a few weeks ago, I picked up Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a sequel to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I don't own the original, but that's for the best, because the book I do own has taken over my life. I've found wild success in the master recipe, inundating my household with whole wheat in free-form, bread loaves, crackers, and croutons. With a basement full of sweet potatoes, it was natural that I try the "Sweet Potato and Spelt Bread" next. I grated tubers until my arm ached, searched high and low for spelt flour, and left a bubbling concoction perfumed by yeast to rise all night long, with dreams of nuanced sweetness and light, chewy textures. As it developed in the fridge, I babbled about making more for Thanksgiving, sharing it at an office where I volunteer, working out the best price to sell it. There's a strong possibility that I was introducing myself to strangers by describing my highly anticipated sweet potato bread.

My hopes might have been a touch high.

Yeah, well, I probably should've drained the sweet potatoes, because that's not what I got. The free-form boule was a total failure; the muffins and the loaf were somewhat better, but still far too dense, pretty much raw in the middle. This is what happens when you decide at 9 PM that you MUST start combining ingredients NOW, and never mind that this is going to wind up way too wet, because thinking is for daylight hours. It's why I'm a day person.

So, last night, I decided to go in another direction, the "Pumpkin Pie Brioche." This one relied on canned pumpkins and white whole wheat, and was insured by eggs, honey, and oil; it seemed a safe bet. And the result had a far more promising texture, still wetter than average (as the book assures is desirable) but stiffer than the un-enriched versions, slightly pliant. The cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves didn't hurt, either. I left it to rise with high hopes.

Ten minutes went by with nothing - no bubbles, no yeasty aroma. Since physics has yet to back up the theory that the progressed time until completion is inversely proportional to the time spent observing a physical or chemical reaction (read: a watched pot never boils), and since I have far too much free time, I knew from past loaves that SOMETHING should have happened by now. Were the additions of fat and sugar affecting things?, I wondered. Or...

Oh, crud. I forgot the yeast.

Yep. A big bowl fulla sweet-smelling dough, DOA. Maybe the chefs of the Night Kitchen can rely on little boys in suits of bread to pilot wonder-enhanced propeller planes into jugs milk to magically enhance their wares with moments to spare; but it was pretty apparent that the time for yeast had long since passed, and so, down the drain it went, and mope I did.

Though, I stopped moping just long enough to adapt this recipe from Smitten Kitchen with sweet potatoes, wonton skins, and plenty of garlic. An hour or so of sauteeing, mashing, folding, and boiling later, I had a sweet plate of dumplings and a freezer full of more.

And a sink full of dishes. But today, I'm not writing about doing the dishes.


Jeff Hertzberg said...

Hey, I've done that too (forgot the yeast)! Thanks for trying our stuff, I'm so glad you like it-- come visit our website for questions anytime-- still answering ourselves.

Jeff Hertzberg

Bethama said...

Wow! Talk about relief... if the book's author made the same mistake, I guess I'm off the hook. I can't wait to try again!