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shed antlers

Found a nicely matched pair of whitetail deer antlers on our walk around the property. Male deer naturally shed their antlers in late fall or winter after rutting season. Often squirrels and other rodents around here will chew on the antlers after they drop, so nice to see a pair in such good condition. These will no doubt be turned into antler art the next time I’m inspired.

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spring traffic jam

Wild turkey hen attracting a lot of attention….

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first garlic

First sprouts of Siberian Purple garlic emerging this spring from the few spots in the garden where snow has melted this season.

Much of the garden remains covered in snow, though, and the ground temp is still less than 40F.

Planting cover crops will have to wait a while longer. Crimson Clover going in once the ground warms up a bit more.

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yeast from scratch

Cultivating wild yeast to leaven bread is something I’ve been wanting to try since I learned it was possible. I should have done it much sooner. My bread game is changed.

The process creates a sourdough starter that will last as long as I keep feeding it. Creating the initial starter takes around 14 days before it’s ready to use for baking bread. I started with local hard red wheat berries that I ground into a course flour.

I mixed equal parts of the whole wheat flour with pineapple juice — 60 grams each by weight. I kept it in my proofer set to 70F, and followed the remaining sourdough starter-making videos here.

After a week of tending my starter, it still wasn’t fermenting much. I turned the temp up to 72F. That seemed to jumpstart things a little bit. After a couple more days, though, fermentation activity remained low. I ended up purchasing local freshly-ground whole wheat flour to continue my feedings. Once I did that, fermentation really took off with big bubbles forming in the mix. The wheat berries I had were a few years old, so may not have had enough natural yeast and bacteria to get the process going strongly enough to create a leaven.

I made my first dough with the starter on Day 15. To test to see if the starter was ready, I fed the starter and marked the level of the mix. The videos say the starter should double within a few hours when it’s ready for baking. Mine more than doubled within the first hour.

From there I took out 100 grams of the starter, 390 grams unbleached white all-purpose flour, 8 grams sea salt, and 250 grams water. I mixed that together, and set it in my proofer at 75F for 4 hours. After 4 hours, I took it out, stretched and folded it a few times, and proofed it at 70F for 2 hours. The dough was very sticky at this stage.

At the 2-hour mark, I stretched the dough from the outside to the center to form a gluten “skin” and let it rest for 20 minutes at 70F. In the meantime, I floured a banneton.

I put the dough in the banneton after 20 minutes, put the whole thing in a plastic bag, and placed it in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning I put the banneton with dough in the proofer at 76F for 4 hours until a finger poked in the dough had just the right resistance — not too “slack” and not too tight. Seeing the video helps.

Once the loaf was getting close to finished proofing, I placed my baking cloche in the oven and preheated to 500F.

When the oven was ready, I took out the bottom cloche half and lined it with parchment paper.

The next step was to flip the dough into the preheated cloche. Unfortunately, the dough stuck to the banneton so I had to rip the bottom layer of the unbaked loaf to get it out. Not ideal both for tearing the dough and for deflating it a bit. The top of the loaf looked a bit funky, too.

I reduced the temperature to 450F, sprayed the top of the dough with water, put the top on the cloche, and baked the whole thing for 15 minutes. I removed the top at that point, and finished baking for another 15 minutes.

The resulting bread was deflated on one side, but the crust had a beautiful crunch, the crumb was springy, and the taste was a tiny bit sour and delicious.

Next time I’ll make sure the banneton is sufficiently floured before putting in the dough to proof. I’m looking forward to seeing how the starter changes over the next week as I keep feeding it, and if the bread is any more sour.

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flower skull mosaic

My latest creation…

Bison skull mosaic — inspired by Norwegian rosemaling.

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spring cleaning

Look what was buried under the snow in the yard. Some spring cleaning help, my little woodland scavengers?

Okay, Tika said he’d help.

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endless snow and baking

Getting mad baking skills with the endless snow this winter….

Rye batard today—fresh out of the oven.

 

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first sign of green

Winter 2016-17 has been a snowfest. It’s mid-March and the forecast is for another foot of snow this week to add to the 4-6’+ of snow already on the ground, depending where you look. Last year this time spring garden prep was already underway. The indoor potted chives on the window sill are a good early indicator spring is around the corner, though. The first couple of flower buds popped up this week!

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plant burger review

Is this burger made from plants as good as a beef burger? Actually, no.

I like it better.

I was in Seattle recently, which is one of the test markets for The Beyond Burger.

Grill a few minutes on each side, and quicker than a beef burger, I’ve got a medium-rare looking, thick patty to put on my bun.

It has a nice char flavor, along with the hint of umami and meaty chew I expect from a beef burger. It’s not quite as dense in texture as beef, which I prefer. It doesn’t have that slightly metallic muscle juice flavor of medium-rare beef either, which I do miss a little if I’m being super critical.

All in all, this mix of pea protein, umami flavorings, vegetable fats, beets for color, and starches to hold it together is a winner. Inspires me to try to replicate it in my kitchen.

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sous vide vs oven roast beef

Bottom round is a flavorful, inexpensive — and tough! — cut of meat. It comes from the well-used muscle of the steer’s upper rear leg. There are a couple good methods for cooking bottom round roast beef to keep it tender and tasting good: cold oven and sous vide.

Option 1: “Cold” oven method

The best oven-cooked way I’ve found to make roast beef edible starts with preheating a oven to 500F. Once preheated, place your roast in the oven and cook for 5 minutes per pound. Then turn off the oven, and don’t open the door! Let your beef sit in the “cold” oven for an hour. Remove after an hour, slice it very thinly — using a rotary meat slicer, if you have one, is easiest — and serve.

The meat will be medium rare, which is the optimal temperature for roast bottom round. Any less well done, and the collagen won’t have a chance to soften. Any more well done, collagen will disappear altogether and the fibers will tighten, making the beef very dry and tough to chew. Cooking medium rare is the perfect sweet spot, and cold oven cooking is not a bad option if you have limited time.

Option 2: Cooking sous vide

A better option, if you have the time and equipment, is cooking sous vide. It takes 30 hours to cook this way, so you do need to plan ahead.

Cooking sous vide requires an immersion circulator that keeps the temperature of the water bath you’re cooking in constant and the water circulating. I happen to have an Anova immersion circulator. There are a number of other brands on the market. If you do a search for sous vide circulators, you’ll find several to compare.

Sous vide cooking also requires the beef be vacuum sealed in a plastic bag. I have a Food Saver vacuum sealer. Again, do some research online if you don’t already have one. Some suggest you can put the beef in a zip lock bag and force the air out. I found getting all the air out difficult with other items I’ve tried, and with some air in the bag you’ll need something to hold the bag under water. To me it’s worth getting a vacuum sealer — plus you can use it to store lots of other food items.

The third nice-to-have item is a culinary torch for finishing. More on that in a moment.

Step 1 – Start heating your water

Fill a deep stock pot 3/4 full with tepid water from the tap. Attach your immersion circulator so it sits in the pot without touching the bottom. Turn it on and set to 131F.

Step 2 – Prepare your bottom round cut

Start heating a cast iron skillet to 350F. It will take a few minutes. If you don’t have a thermometer, just make sure the skillet is really hot.

Rub the bottom round all over with olive oil. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt. Sear in the pan on all sides. You’re just trying to get a little flavor from the browning at this stage, not trying to cook it. Once it’s seared on all sides and the ends, take it out of the pan to cool.

Step 3 – Vacuum seal

While your seared beef is cooling down, seal one end of a food saver bag large enough to hold the roast.

After the roast is cool, rub it all over with Dijon mustard (or whatever other rub you like). Give the roast a few more sprinkles of kosher salt, and put the roast in the bag. You can then add garlic cloves and fresh herbs to the bag. I like to add a couple small branches of rosemary.

Vacuum seal the bag, and you’re good to go to the cooking step. As a precaution, I double-bagged and sealed my roast the first time. It turned out not to be necessary — the first bag held together just fine.

Step 4 — Cook for 30 hours

Once your water has reached 131F, place your bagged and vacuum sealed bottom round in pot. Make sure it’s beneath the surface of the water. Set your timer for 30 hours. It takes that long for the collagen to liquify at this temperature, or so I’ve read. The result is great, so I’m going with that explanation.

Keep an eye on the water level and top off as needed. I only had to do this once, but your mileage may vary.

Step 5 — Remove, slice, and eat!

The resulting roast will be as tender as prime rib. You can slice it thinly for sandwiches, or cut it into thick steaks and sear to finish.

A culinary torch is useful for finishing the sear on steaks. While one side is searing on the bottom of your cast iron skillet, you can use the torch to simultaneously sear the top side. If you’re leaving it as a whole roast, it’s easier to use the culinary torch to sear the outside of that as well.

I haven’t tried varying my sous vide cook times yet to see if it impacts the flavor or consistency. When I do, I’ll post an update!

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