Comfort-Cookin'When you say “Sourdough”, people often think of San Francisco, the ‘49ers “Sourdough Sam” or the Yukon Gold Rush.  Did you know that Sourdough has been around since the time of the ancient Egyptians and came to the American west coast by way of French bakers?  When I hear sourdough, I think of sourdough pancakes, my family’s favorite for over 40 years.  I used to fix them for breakfast however the last 20 years or so they have become one of my favorite quick dinners.  You do have to plan ahead (for your sponge) however when it comes to cooking them it is quick and easy.  I serve mine with bacon or sausage and lots of maple syrup (I like boysenberry syrup as well if I can get).  My granddaughters are always thrilled to have “breakfast” for “dinner” and my husband is just happy because he loves them.

First, you do need a starter.  I have had the best luck with a simple flour/milk starter.  I have had one for 22 years and the current one is going on 16 years.  There are commercial sourdough starters and I have seen some other recipes for starters but I haven’t had great luck them.  Of course if you have a friend who has a starter going, ask for a ½ cup to get you “started”.  To do your own, place one cup of milk (I use 2%) in a glass container or crock and leave uncovered at room temperature for 24 hours.  Use a vessel with room for expansion; I use a 2 quart measuring cup.  Stir in 1 cup of flour and let sit, uncovered, in a warm place for two to five days (depending on how long it takes to bubble and sour.  It is ready to use when it smells nice and sour and is very bubbly (my preferred starter comes from Sunset Bread Cookbook 1966).  If it doesn’t work, give it another try (my book suggests trying a different dairy).

Next, keep in refrigerated AND covered (I use a crock).  Most books suggest using or feeding it once a week. When you remove starter, replace with an equal amount of flour and milk that has been left out overnight. Try to keep at least 1 ½ cups starter on hand at all times.  To feed just remove a half a cup and discard, then replace with ½ cup each of milk and flour which has been left out overnight.  (If leaving the milk and flour uncovered bothers you, then cover with wax paper or lightly with plastic wrap.)  When you find liquid settling on top of the starter when you get it out of the refrigerator; just stir it back in.  I know this sounds complicated, but it really isn’t.  The sour dour dough pancakes you can make with this are so worth it.

Now, let’s talk about “breakfast for dinner”, this can be a quick and easy solution to that “what’s for dinner” family cry.  Bacon and eggs, ham and eggs, an omelet, a breakfast casserole (made the morning of or the night before), pancakes or waffles, a breakfast sandwich (using an English Muffin or store bought croissant) or even Eggs Benedict can fit the bill.  I have a warming function on my oven so food can be kept warm as it is done; allowing the oven to warm on a low setting then turning it off will work as well.

“Easy” and “Quick” are terms we toss around when discussing how to cook successfully when you live with pain.  Quick recipes are usually easy.  If you are getting the recipe elsewhere (than this blog) be sure to read it carefully.  If it requires a lot of prep and many dishes, I think it fails the quick test.  Easy recipes can be quick, yet they can also take time—just as long as it doesn’t require a lot of prep and the use of a lot of dishes.  Some recipes fall into the not too complicated category and can still be done if you plan ahead. It is important to do steps in short periods to allow YOU rest time in between; performing some the night before can help too.  With my recipes I will always try to give you a heads up and helpful hints along the way.  Some people love slow cookers.  There are some very easy recipes for this appliance.  I personally find the risk that foods can be overcooked or recipes may take more time when used. I confess that upon occasion I do use a slow cooker.

Finally, I want to share some thoughts about food wraps. You know the items you find in the “wraps” aisle such as plastic wrap, waxed paper and aluminum foil.

Wax Paper: Some of you may not be familiar with it or don’t know what to do with it. It is an old time, tired and true wrapping paper which makes my life easier (a blessing for those of us who live with pain).  Many years ago (throughout the 19th) century it was used to retain or exclude moisture in different foods, or to wrap odorous products. Until the advent of plastic wrap and baggies, it was used to wrap sandwiches.  One of the biggest pluses is it is inexpensive. There are many ways I like to use it:

  1. To cover food or drinks that may splatter (especially melting butter) in the microwave (huge idea).
  2. I place a sheet over my cutting board to form ground meat patties (such as hamburgers). I still wash the board well afterwards however it is not as messy and you can use the paper to lift to plate.
  3. I put between pancakes, chicken breast and other items when freezing them (so they don’t stick together)
  4. Grating citrus rind or parmesan cheese onto a sheet of it.
  5. Wrapping some candies as well as letting candies such as chocolate “set-up” on it.
  6. Although it is not suggested to use in oven (because of the low melting point of the wax) prior to parchment being so readily available, I used waxed paper to line the bottom of cake pans. It works beautifully and I will use if my parchment supply is low.
  7. Wrap cheese to keep fresh.
  8. There are a lot of non-cooking and craft uses as well.

Parchment: This is one of those items I cannot do without.  It is much easier to find these days in most grocery stores.  It is also not as expensive as when I had to order from a specialty store.  There are so many uses to make life easier for someone living with pain.  I like to:

  1. Cover the baking sheet with parchment paper when baking cookies, rolls, bread, and free form scones. You won’t have grease the pan, if making cookies just remove cookies and reuse (no need for new paper for several batches. For bread products I actually cool on the parchment.  Usually there is no need to wash pan.
  2. Lining pans for baking cakes (especially jelly rolls).
  3. Most things you would use waxed paper for (except waxed paper is cheaper)
  4. Cooking foods “en papillote” (wrapped in paper).
  5. Use for baking and roasting to cut down on clean up. Spray a little cooking spray on bottom of dish/pan to keep paper in place.
  6. Make a snack cone: roll paper into a cone and secure with tape. You can put all kinds of snackies into this and don’t have the mess of a bowl.
  7. This cone idea works well for cake/cookie decorating as well. Cut the tip off the cone and either put frosting in the cone or cut the tip a little larger and drop a decorating tip into it so the metal tip points out then fill with frosting.  Works well with other cool foods such as whipped cream.
  8. Reheating cold pizza in the oven? Put a piece of parchment paper under the pizza slices (a little larger than the pizza). Place on a baking sheet and reheat.  You’ll have a crisp crust and little wash up. Substitute a plate for the baking sheet and this works in the microwave as well.

Today’s recipes:

[toggle title=”Sourdough Pancakes”]This is the only recipe I use, adapted from one in The New Pillsbury Family cookbook (1973).  It can be done also 1 ½ times or doubled. Extra pancakes are placed in the refrigerator (with waxed paper separating them) to be used for breakfast; can also be frozen. Start the sponge early morning for evening pancakes; the night before for breakfast or the next evening.  Don’t forget to feed your starter after removing some for the pancakes.  The griddle I use is dedicated to pancakes (prevents sticking) but not necessary.

1 cup sourdough starter

1 cup milk

1 cup all purpose flour

2 eggs

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

3 Tbsp. melted butter

The night before or morning of, combine starter, milk, and flour (to make sponge); mix until smooth then cover and let stand out of drafts for at least 8 hours. Stir in sugar, salt, and baking soda (you will notice batter bubbling up); beat in eggs one at a time then add melted butter.

Wipe your griddle or pan with shortening and heat over med-high heat.  When the griddle is hot (a drop of water will dance on it), ladle batter onto it; the batter will be thin and you want to make 3-4 inch circles (or ovals).  These cook quickly.  When the top looks bubbly and dry, flip to other side for about 30 seconds.  It takes a little practice however you will learn quickly on when to flip.  If pancakes touch, just cut apart with spatula (flipping two at once is harder).  Keep pancakes warm in the oven while the rest are being done.[/toggle]

[toggle title=”French Beef with Burgundy”]In recent years we have seen a huge change in cultural cooking not only in European but Asian and others as well. As our own culture has become more diversified and restaurants have bloomed reflecting this so has our desire to “make it ourselves” (although many times the country of origin would not recognize the product).  This recipe is one such.  Although the subtitle is Boeuf a la Bourguignonne, beef and burgundy are the only real similarities to the original recipe.  It is adapted from BH&G Meals with a Foreign Flare (1971) and is not difficult to do (just takes a little time).

6 strips of bacon cut in ½ inch pieces

3 lbs. beef stew meat (or chuck) 1 ½ inch chunks

1 large carrot sliced

1 medium onion sliced

2 Tbsp. flour

2 cans condensed beef broth

2 cups Burgundy wine (you can use another red-just don’t use cooking wine)

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

2 Tsp. minced garlic

½ tsp. thyme

1 bay leaf

1 lb. mushrooms

½ bag frozen pearl onions, thawed

In a Dutch Oven, cook bacon until crisp; remove and set aside.  Brown meat in bacon grease (use several batches so they brown and not steam.  In remaining grease brown carrots and sliced onions; remove and discard any remaining bacon grease.  Return bacon, beef, and vegetables to pan.  Season with 1 tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. freshly ground flour; stir in flour.  Reserve ½ cup of broth and stir rest into stew.  Add wine, tomato paste, and herbs.  Cover and simmer 3 hours. Quarter large mushrooms, halving medium, and leaving small ones whole; sauté in mixture of 3 Tbsp. butter and 2 tsp. olive oil; when slightly browned add reserved broth and simmer 10 minutes. Cream ¼ cup flour with 2 Tbsp. softened butter (beurre manie); roll into pea size balls; drop into stew and stir until thickened.  Add mushrooms and pearl onions.  Bring to bubbling. This is wonderful served with country bread for dipping, such as Sourdough or crusty French.[/toggle]

[toggle title=”Baked Carrots”]I so love these things.  The recipe came originally from a clipping-looking at the drawings; I would say Sunset in the early 1970’s. They are very easy to make (just not “quick”).

1 ½ lbs. carrots, scraped or peeled

¾ tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. packed brown sugar

3 Tbsp. Butter

If slender carrots can be left whole otherwise slice in half or quarters length wise and cut in 3-4 inch lengths.  Arrange in lightly greased 1 ½ quart casserole.  Sprinkle with salt and sugar and dot with butter.  Cover tightly with foil or a tight fitting lid.  Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour (if at 350 degrees, use 45 minutes). Be careful when removing foil (steam).[/toggle]

[toggle title=”Garlic-Buttered Potato Dollars”]

My family loves these, especially the kids.  Recipe is adapted from one in HP Vegetable Cookery (1982).

4 Tbsp. butter

4 tsp. minced garlic

1 ½ lbs. russet potatoes (about 3 large), unpeeled, sliced 1/8 inch thick.

½ tsp. salt (preferably kosher)

¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Place 2 Tbsp. butter and half the garlic in each of two 9 inch pie dishes.  When melted pour most of butter & garlic into glass measuring cup.  Place potato slices slightly overlapping in circles in pie dishes.  Using measuring cup, pour ½ of reserved garlic and butter over potatoes in each dish (stir mixture just before).  Bake until potatoes are crisp underneath, and tender when pierced with fork, about 30 minutes.  Serves four, but with hearty appetites only three. [/toggle]

[toggle title=”Union Hotel Mud Cake”]

This is a relatively easy from scratch cake.  I don’t even have to use my mixer.  It is utterly delicious and on a day you are feeling pretty good, well worth making.  I don’t know if I should continue to call it by this name as I have adapted it quite a bit from the original recipe in the Fannie Farmer Baking Book (1984).  The original recipe has a whipping cream topping however I just serve it by itself, with a dollop of whipped cream (from the can). This is my granddaughters favorite and mine when some caramel sauce with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt is added to the top.

6 ozs. Unsweetened chocolate

¾ cup of butter

½  Tbsp. expresso powder dissolved in ½ cup hot water (or ½ cup very strong coffee)

¼ cup bourbon (don’t be tempted to leave out; the alcohol cooks away and it is important to the taste)

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups flour

1 ½ cups sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp, salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease and lightly flour (or use cocoa powder instead of flour) 2 loaf pans (8 ½ or 9 ½ inches). In a large mixing bowl melt chocolate and butter in the microwave. Whisk in the espresso powder mixture or coffee.  Set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes.  Whisk in the bourbon, eggs, and vanilla.  Mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together then add to chocolate mixture.  Whisk together until smooth with prefer a whisk or a wooden spoon will do.  Divide batter equally between the two pans (I use a soup ladle).  Bake about 45-55 minutes until a wooden pick comes out clean when inserted in the center (I use a bamboo skewer-the cookbook actually suggests a broom straw).  Remove from oven and cool in pans for 15-20 minutes then turn out to finish cooling (book recommends a rack, I frequently use a piece of parchments on the counter).[/toggle]

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