French onion soup

Usually gruyere or some other Swiss type of cheese is used but this Italian cheese worked very well.

I cannot do better myself than this frozen beef broth.

And I cannot do any better than with my own Denver sourdough.

Onions must cook slowly, never singed, usually more browned than this. Sometimes scant sugar is added to increase caramelization. 

Sometimes wine is added to increase interest but I did not do that this time.

There used to be a restaurant in downtown Denver that served the best French style onion soup that I ever tasted. Toni and I made a practice of dropping in there during the period she insisted we hold season theater tickets. We saw more experimental theater crap than I care to remember but I can never forget that excellent soup. I was bummed out when they closed. You can tell when the soup is authentic by the tiny black bits that float around in the broth. That is charred remnants of marrow from producing beef broth from bones. The way the cheese clumps in the broth as you proceed forms a thick melted cheesy wad wet with beef broth that is compellingly delicious. Good thing I still have some left, but I will have to switch to a different type cheese because I am out of this Asiago. 

peach and cereal

There is more peach than cereal.

An imperfect peach that is perfectly ripe. 

I have no idea what these peaches cost. They are perfect and have been all season. Not at the regular grocery store, no, those things are already hard, already mealy, but somehow Tony's manages to keep fresh ripe peaches and tomatoes in stock all through the season. I think they have agreements with local producers. So I buy them by the dozen and I do not even look at the sales slip.

But they do get bruised up by packing them into a bag and jostling them home.

Within another day, maybe two, these bruised areas will begin to ferment, and when they do that then fermentation will add another layer of extraordinary flavor to the whole peach that already drips all over the place with its wet soppy ripeness. 

I nicked off a portion of overly ripened bruised and fermented peach and tossed it into my sourdough culture whereupon it disappeared entirely. I was reminded of Anthony Bourdain's description in Kitchen Confidential of Adam the bread maker tossing into his sourdough starter overly ripe grapes, rotting mushrooms, basically all types of compost that you would not consider for sourdough levain, but then Adam did produce the most flavorful bread that Anthony Bourdain ever tasted, and that description of Adam's work left a lasting impression on me. 

So, imperfect indeed, leads to perfection. I have a newfound respect for bruised crushed and old fruit.

baked chicken dinner

Baked in a pie dish on a pizza stone under a large upturned bisque bowl that I use sometimes for bread to create a small tight clay oven within the stove's oven. 

The chicken is sitting on top of potato and sliced fennel rolled in lemon. A cut lemon is inside the cavity. The butter has garlic and ginger and chile breadcrumbs.

Next time I do this, if I do, then I will rub the brined chicken with flavored butter and drizzle breadcrumbs onto it the butter or oil so they stick more evenly rather than mixing the dry breadcrumbs into the butter. It globbed in patches and failed to apply evenly.  

Maui sourdough sponge and longterm storage

Loose highly active and unsalted sponge, a small amount of starter is left to proof for hours inside a jar until it foams. The watery sponge foamed quite a lot, the bulk 1/4 of the jar foamed to the top, proving the starter extremely active. 

A few tablespoons of active sponge is spread thinly over a plasticine sheet for easy removal once it dries and breaks into flakes.

But why bother?

For backup. In case I forget to reserve sponge for new starter. To ensure my collection does not disappear. In case my starter dies for some reason, most likely neglect.

The remainder of the jar of starter is mixed with additional water and sufficient flour to form a thick sponge but not so much flour as to form a sturdy dough. The organisms will produce more liquid as the sponge proofs and I do want the dough to be wet to accommodate a high-heat and closed clay cloche technique of baking. This is loose, wet, for bread dough and over days in cool storage it will become even wetter. It will be held until the whole batch shows signs of leavening and then the whole bowl will be inserted into the refrigerator to ferment over days. How many days will determine the strength of the sourdough. If baked immediately you will notice a great difference between this and ordinary bread due to its complexity, but held to ferment over just a few days will produce a difference in strength, complexity and flavor that is quite extraordinary.

After this proofs for a few days and develops intense flavor and before it is salted then a small portion will be reserved to inoculate the next batch. That small portion will be fed and refreshed in a jar and brought up to full activity before being put to use. 

Update: This is a few hours later. Ordinarily sourdough would take 8 to 12 hours to pervade and lift this amount of sponge. This Maui starter did this in just a few hours, about 1/3 to 1/4 the usual amount of time. It surprised me. The bowl was placed in the refrigerator for cold storage and fermentation. It can be baked right now and it would be excellent. But in a few days its flavor will develop even more strongly. It is a powerful culture. 

You can see that the bulk more than doubled. Usually they cannot go this far and almost never this fast. This is at room temperature. This means that I can probably get away with including more than the usual amount of whole wheat flour. 

Denver sourdough longterm storage

Unsalted starter at peak activity is spread thinly across the surface of plasticine wrap. The storage wrap makes it very easy to remove.

Processed to powder. My little processor is not so sharp so reduced to chunks this time.

This batch was revived from powder stored frozen in the wasabi tin for what must have been years, say, five or possibly six years. Provided water and scant flour to form a thick sludge and heat from a 40W fluorescent lamp the starter leapt back to life within 24 hours. This is remarkably fast. By comparison the freeze-dried starters from Sourdough International can take up to three days to revive.  Similarly, Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon trail can take up to two days

I believe this is the Denver starter that was collected over a period of a few days during winter. 

There was more powder than could fit in the tiny wasabi tin. This is extra. This is about double the amount you will receive if you order Carl Griffith's (memorial) sourdough starter online. Carl's starter is free. It is distributed by Friends of Carl to keep the memory of his generosity alive. The starter is vaguely similar in characteristics to regular Denver sourdough starter, although not so cold-inured as this winter collection. But then why wouldn't it be? The Oregon trail begins in Independence Missouri going through the center of Wyoming immediately north of Denver, so pretty much the same or similar weather systems the whole way. Except Carl settled and lived most of his life on the western coast and their sourdough starters there are markedly different. Incidentally, of all of the sourdough starters I've tried, San Francisco is the weakest of them all. Even just inland from San Francisco, at Antioch, and the Northwest, and Alaska have all been sturdier, more reliable, more active, less touchy than the three San Francisco starters I've tried. So how is it that San Francisco is the most famous of all? Marketing. That's how.

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