Aerogarden green salad

* Aerogarden mixed greens kit. These leaves are incredibly tender. They are so delicate and tender that a beetle could come along and break away leaves and carry them off. They wilt at the first hint of acid, so they must not be dressed before serving or else you'll end up with a wilted mess. They're also delicious. 
* Valencia orange, peeled and segmented but not properly supremed, the centers sliced  out and de-seeded. 
* Haas avocado.
* Roma tomato.
* Flecked Grana Padano cheese

Vinaigrette.  If you get anything from chancing upon this blog I hope it would be that there is no good reason for you to be beholden to commercial bottled salad dressing. That entire industry survives on people believing they can do no better themselves. It is what my whole family thinks. The truth is, you can do much better without introducing a single extraneous chemical into your temple, and if I may say so, that's quite a temple you've got there.  It goes like this: something unctuous, something acidic, something sweet. The rest is a  lifetime of experimentation. This here was an experiment along those reliable lines.

The first time I tried mixing my own dressing it came out way too oily. It took me a moment sitting there analyzing what I didn't like about it. After a moment of pathetic self pity it occurred to me I could correct it by adding more vinegar and to taste as I added in increments. Now I've got the knack like you wouldn't believe. It only took a few tries but then I'm a bit slow on the uptake. 

* 1/2 teaspoon grainy mustard
* 1/2 teaspoon 4-fruit preserves, the French kind because I'm fancy that way
* 2 teaspoons rice vinegar, my favorite. It's a bit sweet. I almost reached for the raspberry vinegar because I noticed it earlier and it would compliment the preserves.
* 2 Tablespoons olive oil. I'm guessing here. Actually, I just poured it out of the bottle without measuring. I didn't want too much oil. 


Salt and pepper directly on the salad, not in the dressing.  My salt and pepper is premixed in a ramekin with my own blend of dried chile flakes. I put it on everything. I'm  thinking about including garlic powder but the thing that is preventing me from adding it is that it seems a bit chemical-y and I usually have fresh garlic around anyway. I don't know. I'm torn. What the hell, I ought to just dump it in. 

Edit: I forgot to mention, this Aerogarden green salad greens seed kit is just three weeks old. The seeds germinated within three days. Within two weeks, the point where additional nutrients are added, the light needed to be extended because the plants grew so fast. It filled out noticeably day to day. 

Cantaloupe, Black Forest ham, vanilla ice cream

Vanilla ice cream described in post below. 

Vanilla ice cream, pineapple, banana

Ice cream:

1 pint Half-and-Half (a product in the US, half cream and half milk)
1 pint heavy whipping cream (thicker with more milk fat than table cream)
3/4 cup cane sugar
1/16 teaspoon salt
4 jumbo chicken eggs yolks , or one pterodactyl egg yolk. ← Kidding. 
2 vanilla beans split with the goo scraped out
zest of two lemons. 

Heat all of that stuff while whisking steadily. No need to temper the egg yolks, that's nonsense. Just keep stirring or the egg yolks will set before you know it and then you'll blame me. It thickens. Cover and let it cool to room temperature. Chill in the refrigerator over night or better for at least 24 hours. This allows time for the vanilla and the lemon zest to steep like tea. The longer the better, but less than three days, obviously. Strain. Chill in the freezer to bring it as close as possible to freezing without actually allowing any ice crystals to form. If you misjudge, then take it out and allow to warm at room temperature until the ice crystals melt. Then put the mixture into an ice cream maker of any type. The idea is to help the ice cream maker as much as possible. Two pints equals a quart, but the quart volume grows as the ice cream maker incorporates air. It is even likely to overflow your machine if you are not alert. 

In this case the thickened ice cream was spooned into popsicle forms and frozen hard, but that was just for novelty. 

Ganache: 1/4 cup milk or cream + 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips. Heated to melting. stirred to combine. Adjusted to desired viscosity with either milk or chocolate. 

Conclusion: I have used this combination before, H&H + whipping cream in equal measure (which turns out to be 1/4 milk and 3/4 cream) but this time a bowl of the ice cream was overly fatty. The upper palate is coated unpleasantly with cold fat and that is off-putting, although the popsicle did not have that effect. This confuses me why this happened now but not before but it has a simple solution, less cream. 

Two vanilla beans may seem like an extravagance because they are so expensive in the grocery stores where they are treated like saffron. They're not that special. I buy them by the dozens on eBay where various grades and points of origin are  available at bargain prices. 

I could have done a better job of tapping the ice cream into the popsicle forms to eliminate all the bubbles but I couldn't see them through the opaque plastic forms. So that sure teaches me something about ... something.   

Hot dog and homemade buns

This is a pan specific to East Coast style hot dog buns. It is intended to be filled with dough as if baking one big flat rectangular bread, then use the indentions in the pan to indicate where to cut individual buns. Then each bun is sliced for a hot dog.

I am not using the pan how the pan is designed to be used. I am using it otherwise. Hacking the pan, if you like.

 The bottom of the pan is waved. The pan is made of heavy-gauge steel and coated on the inside with some kind of non-stick surfacing, but I do not trust that. Judging by the product photo, I somehow gained the impression that each compartment would be deeper and better defined so I was disappointed when I opened the box and saw there was little difference between this pan and a regular brownie pan, which in my opinion works nearly as well for how I use it.

Reviews about the pan on Amazon are mixed. Negative reviewers complain the pan does not come with recipes, that the user has no idea then how much dough to make for the best results. I can see how that would present an insurmountable problem.

I figured three ounces of dough per compartment. Just a guess. That would be thirty ounces total dough, by weight.

Hot dog bun dough.

The dough is not shown because I have already shown that dozens of times and because it's a little bit boring. It is dough. A'ight?

I figure, go ahead and make extra dough. Either throw away the surplus or make rolls with it,  but do not come up short. That would be tragic and unacceptable.

Baker's percentages is a mathematic contrivance for bakers that produce batches in large bulks. It is a useful way to think about things. For me it is a way to see it forward and backward, flour to water by weight, water to flour by weight.

I think the useful thing to know is how much water by cup to start out with for the desired end, and then approximately how much flour by cup that water will take because the regular person is using a cup for both those things and not a scale. This is backward from how many baker's percentages are stated.

The exact amount of flour even by weight is never usefully stated due to atmospheric and climatic circumstances and by the nature of the liquids being used and by the variations in weight of other  materials going into the dough. Recipes always leave room to fudge the amount of flour by at least 1/2 cup, often more. So why bother being exact about it?  After all the prescriptions on careful measurement, the weight of sifted flour VS the weight of unsifted flour, the weight of a cup of flour in an arid environment VS a humid environment, how to properly scoop a cup, how to level it, the recipes then say, they all say, adjust with flour as needed.

The inescapable point is, the baker must develop a feel for the dough, a sense of slack VS stiff, sticky VS dry, elastic VS resistant, alive VS barely active or dead.

Online recipes for hotdog buns that I've read all specify milk, eggs, and often butter. Reading them I was left thinking throughout, "Bread dough fortified like this is a recipe for brioche."

Is this what people want then, brioche for hot dog buns? Seems to me that brioche would be too dense a crumb for hotdogs or for sausage sandwiches, although it does make excellent bread. Sure enough, comments to the recipes report that by following the recipe as given the result is buns that are too dense, do not rise correctly, are too crusty, too heavy, etc. Faithful recipe followers were all basically complaining about having brioche instead of Wonder bread type buns of the sort they were expecting, which impresses me considering it is all right there in black and white at the start.  I feel another laughing fit coming on. Focus!

These buns will have only olive oil as extraneous material this time. The dough will also start in advance with a poolish, a portion of the total amount of dough that is a pre-fermentation, and is started with commercial yeast, and made to be wet. It's a sponge. This will have several advantages.
  • It gives the bread more character. 
  • It makes the bread taste better. 
  • It makes the bread last longer. 
  • It uses less yeast, but that's negligible.
  • It incorporates yeast death into the dough . ← I made that one up, but it is how I see it. 
  • It conditions the dough. 
  • It advances enzymatic activity and autolyse. 
  • It makes the dough easier to work. 
  • It makes the dough more extendible. 
  • It takes less than a minute to prepare even if you are a spaz such as myself. 
  • It imparts a lovely odor that tells you that you are on the right track and encourages you to persist.

Poolish started in the early morning hours.
  • 1/2 cup water plus 
  • 1 cup flour plus 
  • 1/4 teaspoon commercial yeast. This is all the yeast that the dough is having. From hereon the dough is on its own. 
  • Ingredients combined. Bang! Done. 
The amount is arbitrary. It is also 50% water / 50% flour by weight, so very loose and wet, a sponge, not quite dough. Here, the poolish is 1/3 the total amount of water but less than 1/3 the total amount of flour, it could just as easily have been half the amount of total water and half the amount of flour. The decisions here were impulse.

In baker's percentages, just for exercise, the amount of flour is always 100% and everything else is related to that one by one so the total is always more than 100%. So

one cup  flour = 4 oz = 100%
1/2 cup water = 4 oz = 100 %

so by the unique maths of baker's percentages, water is 100% to flour, which is very wet sponge.

Go to bed. Wake up. Ignore the poolish. Take a shower. Have breakfast. Goof around. Play with dog. Watch TV. Fly a kite tied to the back of my bike. Put air in tires. Give two dollars to a panhandler. Do a crossword. Empty dishwasher. Read favorite blogs. Leave mocking and antagonistic comments. Check poolish. Oh my, that is beautiful. The smell is captivating. It is fresh and ever so slightly sour at the same time,  It mystifies me and holds my attention. It mesmerizes me.

Hold me, I'm feeling a swoon coming on. No wait, that was gas.

Twelve hours or so after starting the poolish it will now become proper dough. I decide not to add additional yeast, which is the customary thing to do, and instead relied on the yeast already active in the poolish portion to do all the work for the remaining 2/3 water and all the remaining flour that comprises the total amount of dough. The active yeast in the poolish will inoculate the remaining dough and take off from there in a wild undisciplined orgy of sexual and asexual reproduction and take advantage of the sudden influx of fresh food and new raw material. This will take a little longer than refreshing with additional  yeast in quantity usually 4X as much as the poolish was started but that's what I want.  1 cup warm water was added to the poolish and mixed. Flour was added by the cup, its effect observed with each addition. The final additions added by the 1/2 cupful.

* Added 1 teaspoon kosher salt which is flakier and more voluminous than table salt. If I was using table salt, then I'd use less. If I was using sea salt, I would then judge its saltiness and factor its mineral content and its grind.

* Added 3 tablespoons olive oil. This is the only extra material that differentiates this dough from a plain baguette type of dough. It does not match up to the sites I've read online that describe a more fortified brioche type if dough.

Mashed potato or potato flakes would make the dough softer.

This poolish and new water straight from the tap totaled  1 +1/2 cups, 12 oz. took 5 + 1/2 cups flour, 22 oz.  In order to stiffen sufficiently to enable it to be lifted from the bowl and stretched into a snake shape. Stretch and fold, stretch and fold, all the while judging its increasing elasticity, not allowing it to break, sensing it soften under hand, feeling it become more cooperative, more capable of adhering to itself but not to my hands. It is a thing of real beauty to behold and a source of unending fascination, soft as a baby's bum, although I never actual touched a baby's bum. It's a phrase, okay?

The dough is set on the work surface and brought together into a single blob as if that would be one big boule. It is placed back into the same bowl that grew the poolish, and I'm off to other non-bread related activities for awhile. This will be its first rise (its second if you count the poolish) and I will not be too concerned about it. I will return to divide it into segments before it doubles.

This concludes the story of the beginning of the dough. 

The work surface is long. Underneath the work surface are two drawers. The divider between the drawers gives me a nice 1/2 way marker without having to measure anything. It doesn't matter how many inches it is. What matters is the dough snake is divided in half, and each half then divided into fifths to fill the ten compartments in the baking pan.  That's where judgement comes in. For the sake of SCIENCES, I am double checking with a trusty kitchen scale, but honestly, it is not necessary. The divided pan itself is a perfectly serviceable measuring device. I'm just trying to gain a handle for all future dough batches, and all that redounds to how much water to start with.

The segments are held under a dampened kitchen towel as each segment is treated as a separate loaf of bread. Each segment is stretched mostly in the direction that it is inclined to stretch having been a snake, then folded in thirds, then stretched again, folded again, this time in the direction that it is disinclined to stretch due to it having been a snake. It puts up a bit of resistance, but this folding and changing direction redistributes the yeast cells and crosses the direction of the long molecules of the protein network developed by stretching.

Each 3 oz. dough segment is stretched and folded, rotated, stretched mostly in the opposite direction, then folded again. Now there is a tiny dough pillow with loose ends that must be pinched and tidied.

The tiny dough pillow is stretched one last time into a short snake shape in order to accommodate a hot dog or a sausage. It resists stretching because its gluten protein network is crossed and not all lined up like before when it was a long snake. Had the snake just been chopped into ten pieces, then the internal structure would all be in alignment and much looser with a tendency to flatten and result in  gigantic air bubbles forming and finally with a much less reliable supportive structure. That is how baguettes and batons are fashioned, by pulling -- worked and stretched as a snake and then left like that. These keep snapping back to a pillow shape after they are stretched to a hot dog shape, which is good, they must be stretched and re-stretched possibly a few times until at last they fully relax and behave.

I see now that 3 oz. each is too much dough for this pan. Each little bun is circumcised as it were, so that they do not fill the pan with exceedingly tall buns all grown together.

Still too big. They are trimmed again. That means 3 oz. is too much per compartment for this pan, and that means the total amount of dough must be reduced next time if I should aim for an exact amount.

Painted with butter, especially between segments. The dough will rise together and tend to join. this butter will help keep the buns separate.

I return to the dough before it is fully risen. I want it in the oven before it peaks to maximum rise. It will go into the oven a little on the young side. Surprise! You're baked. The risen buns are re-buttered concentrating on the cracks between them in order to help keep the rolls separated since the pan divisions are so shallow as to be nearly nonexistent.

There was 8 oz. extra dough. This was divided into four 2oz. sections, stretched, and heavily buttered, then rolled up and put into a muffin pan. They are wonderful. All olive oily and buttery. These hot dog buns and the four rolls are extraordinary. You will never get anything this good at the grocery. Not even the bakery at the grocery store. They got nuthin', and I mean nuthin' over these. No brag, just FACT.

Conclusion: The same thing happened with this pan that happened with the square steel brownie pan. The buns grew together then rose up taller than they are wide. I don't like that. It results in an East-coast hotdog bun that one slices down the center through the top crust rather than laterally like a normal hot dog bun. This means I must, and you must if you use this pan, put  less dough per compartment than shown here. That is probably 2 oz. to 2 + 1/4 oz. dough per compartment.  That way they will be just as wide but not as tall. Although if you are aiming for dinner rolls then this is perfect.

Meats braised in shallow oiled water, covered at first and then opened to expedite evaporation, and then sizzled in the oil that remained to put a singe on them and crisp them up a little.

For the hot dog I didn't have sauerkraut so I soaked thinly sliced  bok choy in rice vinegar and sugar. It is quite good, better than sauerkraut, in fact. 

Cauliflower and chili soup

This cauliflower soup is different from all other cauliflower soups found anywhere in the universe. It is utterly, hopelessly, not replicable. It is unique. So don't even try. You will see why this is so, but you will also immediately grasp a hundred possible variations, if not a thousand.

Chiles in this combination is one of the things that makes this soup different. I will never again be able to match exactly the flavor combination or the heat quotient of these chiles right here as chiles do tend to vary widely within species due to hybridization, the effects of terroir, and climate.

1) Poblano (Pasilla at the grocery store), a predictably mild chile with great flavor, although occasionally you will unexpectedly get one that is quite hot. 2) Anaheim, another usually mild chile, although here again you will come across some that are much hotter than expected. 3) Jalapeño, reliably moderately hot, low on the Scoville scale but still higher than the previous two,  although occasionally you will come across a disappointing mild hybrid. See? It's a crapshoot. The only way to know for sure is to nick off a piece and taste it. I didn't bother with that because I love them all and I do appreciate their various flavors and I especially love them in combination. However, I would not serve this. Most people I know would find the result objectionably hot. Pussies.

The chiles were roasted under a broiler. Atop a grill works well too. So does a stovetop pan. As well as a blowtorch.  The chiles were turned so that they would blister on opposite sides. An attempt was made to blister four sides, if they had sides, but some chiles roasted faster than others and some chiles finished after one turning. They were removed one-by one, two-by-two until all the sides were blistered. Of course they do not blister evenly no matter how attentive one is to the roasting. It is the nature of the vegetable fruit.

The chiles were placed in a paper bag and sweated while other things were attended. They stayed in the bag until they cooled and wrinkled further and the skin began to separate, about 15 to 20 minutes. Then they were peeled as best as they could be, trimmed, and de-seeded. Some peeled completely, others peeled hardly at all. No need to be too fussy about this. But I am fussy about seeds. I don't like seeds. But I do like the membrane that holds the seeds. Resist the urge to rinse under running water. That rinses away flavor and that will not do. Still, I use lightly running water to rinse my fingertips because the seeds stick and it goes faster. Plus I do not much care for my fingers being icky.

So there's that. Ordinarily all of that ↑ would be left out of cauliflower soup, and if the chiles were left out you would still have a perfectly wonderful concoction, if not stupendous, although less exciting in my humble opinion nor in accordance with my particular preferences.

This smoked salt pork is truly gross but it does impart an incredible flavor. It will be used and then discarded before the rest of the ingredients are processed.

This is the last of the smoked salt pork, and I'm glad it's gone. The segment is sliced into five pieces so at the end I must dig around until all five pieces are found and removed. These are dropped into a preheated soup pot and its fat rendered providing liquid fat to start the garlic. Once the garlic is caramelized, the pan is deglazed with wine and the remaining vegetables are added to the pot.

Wine makes everything better. FACT! Cooking changes wine. Specialists always aver using wine that matches, compliments, the thing being cooked but my wine of choice is saki, a rice wine that I generally despise in its uncooked state, but adore cooked as an ingredient. I do not understand this paradox, I just accept it and use it. One reason I like saki is because I can store it on the counter without it going sour or flat. (That I know about. I never do drink it straight up after a bottle is opened for cooking. So who knows? Maybe it is going flat and souring, but it still works.)

Bay leaves and smoked salt pork removed before the rest of the soup was processed.

The second thing that makes this soup utterly, hopelessly, not replicable is that I used all the cream and Half-and-Half that I had on hand for ice cream (in popsicle form that I will show later). There was a little ice cream left over from filling the popsicle freezer forms so I thought, "Aha! I can use the vanilla ice cream in place of the ordinary cream for cream of cauliflower soup."  Huh? What? Well, that's certainly different. 


The Japanese nabe pot that I bought online arrived a few days ago and I bin itch'n to  try it out. Plus I've been craving sukiyaki and I have a feeling I'm going to be doing a lot more of this type of thing.

The quality of beef is of utmost importance. It must be tender, sliced thinly, and very well loaded with fat. It need not be Wagyu but it must be top quality, and if not, then just forget about making sukiyaki.  Unless you are me and substitute bison, because that is what I had. Bison is the exact opposite of what is called for in sukiyaki because it lacks the fat needed to produce the broth. No bother, I used olive oil instead and added cartoned beef broth to compensate, and not a bad compensation either, if I may say. In the end, do whatever you want. Just don't do it when you are entertaining Japanese nationals -- they will see right through your silly childish little tricks.

The bison steaks were marinated overnight with a serious dry rub and kept vacuum sealed. They were seared in oil right in the nabe pot then removed and sliced. I could have sliced more thinly but I am being a little bit oafish today.

The steak is removed from the pot and cut.  Alternately, it is just as easy to slice the steak partially frozen which makes it much easier to get extra thin slices, then sear it in the pot. Whichever you choose, you will want to remove it to soften garlic in the oil that is either rendered by your choice of fatty steak, or in the oilive oil as in this instance, if you choose to include garlic which is not at all necessary.
When the garlic is softened but not browned, if you are using garlic, the pan is deglazed with saki and before it completely evaporates soy is added with mirin and a cup or so of broth, enough liquid to lift the fond off the bottom of the pan to contribute its flavor to the body of the broth. Original recipes call for refined sugar. Here I am using mirin instead. 
Originally, these two liquids, saki and shoyu (soy) are the chief flavor agents that combine with the fat and fond of the top quality beef along with water to form the broth that is sweetened with sugar.  But here, the broth is added straight from the carton and the sweetness comes from mirin instead of sugar. All the other ingredients contribute flavor too, especially the onions and mushrooms, but not as much as these things right here. You can see how commercial beef stock and seared bison would be a little bit stronger flavored than beef and water even if that beef were a well-marbled tender cut. That's my position and I'm stick'n with it. 
The rest is a matter of preparing the vegetables and setting them in the pot in their own separate pile. This is part of the charm of sukiyaki, in my opinion, each element has its own place so that when you're eating it you can go digging around and pick out exactly what you are going for.

Three types of mushrooms, an enoki type, shitaki, and baby portobellos.

Ramen is not the proper type of noodle for this but it is all the grocery store had that I went to. Usually a thin rice cellophane noodle and a thicker buckwheat noodle are both included. But the Ramen wasn't altogether bad. Of course the flavor packet was discarded. It's useless, if not actually hazardous.

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