The Eclectic Quill

Website of Joshua McGee

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Rhubarb-Lime Marmalade with Ginger

This piquant sweet-and-sour marmalade combines fresh limes and rhubarb with a bit of ginger zing.  It is somewhat labor-intensive, but adds a brilliant zest to your morning toast.  By Joshua McGee.

Rhubarb-Lime Marmalade with Ginger by Joshua McGee

Ingredients:

  • 600g fresh, unblemished limes, plus more for juice
  • 400g trimmed rhubarb stalks
  • 1.4 liters of filtered water
  • 1700g granulated white sugar
  • 2cm length of ginger rhizome, peeled and cut into four slices

Equipment:

  • Heavy medium stock pot
  • Large stock pot
  • Silicone spoon and ladle
  • 5 – 6 pint (½ liter) canning jars with lids and rings
  • Circular rack, or clean kitchen towel, for jar sterilization
  • Citrus reamer or citrus press
  • Mandoline (optional)
  • Very sharp knife

Scrub limes with a vegetable brush (yes, even if they are labeled as organic).  Cut in half and juice with a reamer or press.

Peel membrane off of rhubarb stalks and slice, crosswise, as thinly as possible.  You can use your mandoline's thinnest setting, or spend a lot of time and patience with a very sharp knife.  Place in a large glass bowl.

Cut the pointed tips off of the lime halves and discard the tips.  Cut the lime halves in half again, and slice thinly.  Add to the glass bowl.

Measure the volume of your lime juice, then add the juice of more limes until the volume of lime juice is 600ml (you can discard the peels of these limes.)

Add the lime juice, water, and ginger to the bowl and stir.  Transfer to heavy pot.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Cover pot and reduce heat to lowest setting.  Simmer for one hour to soften lime peels and rhubarb.  Remove ginger slices.

Slowly stir in sugar, at low temperature, until dissolved (this may take up to ten minutes).  Increase heat to medium-high again; bring syrup mixture to a boil; and boil uncovered at medium-high heat for 45 minutes – 1 hour, stirring frequently (at least every five minutes) to keep the sugar from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

While the marmalade is cooking, sterilize your canning jars in the large pot via water immersion.  The steps for sterilizing and canning are beyond the scope of this post, but there are plenty of guides online.

Once the boiling marmalade reaches 105°C on a candy thermometer, stir thoroughly, extinguish flame, and ladle into your sterilized jars.  Apply lids and rings (per a reliable guide) and process in boiling water for five minutes.  Remove and set jars aside to cool for 24 hours at room temperature, following all the normal safety steps and checks.

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Spiced Sourdough Pumpkin Popovers

These spiced pumpkin popovers with a subtle sweetness and tang are delicious served straight out of the oven with butter and maple syrup.

spiced-sourdough-pumpkin-popovers

Ingredients

  • 120g reduced-fat milk
  • 110g cooked pumpkin puree
  • 3 large eggs
  • 130g unfed sourdough starter
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 120g all-purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven (with muffin tin inside) to 450°F.
  2. In the microwave or in a small saucepan, heat the milk and pumpkin puree together until the mixture feels slightly warm to the touch.
  3. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin/milk mixture, eggs, sourdough starter, spice, and salt.
  5. Mix in the flour.  Do not over-mix — a few small lumps are OK.
  6. Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven, and spray alternate cups, in a diamond pattern, with non-stick spray (you should end up with six sprayed cups). Quickly pour the batter into the cups, filling them to the top.
  7. Bake the popovers for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 375°F and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until popovers are golden brown.
  8. Remove the popovers from the oven and serve immediately with softened butter stirred with maple syrup.

Yield: 6 popovers.

(Recipe based on Sourdough Popovers from King Arthur Flour)

By

Are Brussels sprouts stalks edible? I cut to the pith.

When I was a kid, I imagined Brussels sprouts as little cabbages with their heads growing out of the ground, carefully picked in Belgium by ... children, maybe? ... and sent to us in the States.

That's not how they grow.  They grow like this.

00_intact_stalk

  You've seen this before but you're still slightly creeped out by it, right?

It's quick and easy to go down the stalk and twist-and-snap off the little sprouts.  So easy, in fact, that it's baffling that you usually pay much less (per sprout) if you buy a whole stalk of them.

01_sprouts_removed

  They're not uniform in size, but that just gives you more ideas of what to do with the different sizes.

But that stalk!  Aye, that stalk!  It's heavy.  It's like a baseball bat.  And I feel so wasteful every time I compost one or (with no compost bin these days) throw one in the trash.  Can a Brussels sprout stalk be eaten?  Is it edible?

So I turned to Google, and someone else had asked the question on Chowhound — in 2003, it turns out, so I'm not exactly the first one to ponder this.

The comments are fascinating.  Some people said "yes".  Others said "no".  Some said they took a lot of peeling and weren't worth the effort.  Another emphasized their woodiness by noting that other cultivars have stalks that are used as walking sticks.  Many pointed out that the shoots were edible and tasty.

02_shoots

  And soft, and lovely.  I might put them into a stir-fry.

But one person said the trick was to "hack them" into six-inch segments and steam the pieces.  They would crack open when they were "done".

Aha.  A lead.

But as to that verb "hack": yikes.  I don't own a cleaver.  I'm never going to own a cleaver.  I'm terrified of cleavers.  But my stalk seemed pretty fresh, and I thought really leaning down on the blade of a sharp, heavy knife would work.  So I went up the stalk, counting in six-inch increments, and wondering if the Brussels walking stick was ruining my $54 J.A. Henckels santoku.

Turns out you don't have to cut all the way through the stalk.  If you score it about 1/4" deep all the way around, you can break it into segments.  No hacking and less knife-dulling.

Awesome.  Now I could see what was inside.

03_cut_stalk_ends

  This was inside.

Steam them until they're "done", huh?  You could hammer in nails with the core of that stalk.  I could see someone going through this exercise and thinking "Forget trying to get food out of it.  Next time I'm just using it as a walking stick."

But into the steamer basket they went.  And I wondered how long "done" would take to reach.

04_stalks_in_basket

  Bye, guys.  See you in ... fifteen hours?

I started to check every five minutes.  After fifteen minutes, there was not much progress.

05_stalks_at_15

  You about to split?  Guys?

Same at half an hour...

06_stalks_at_30

  Starting to wish I had gone the walking stick route.

At an hour, aha!  Cracks in two of them!

07_stalks_at_one_hour

  That guy on Chowhound might not just be messing with the readers.

At 1:45, I could press my thumbnail into the core of the stalk (but could still have used the outer ring as a bludgeoning weapon).

08_stalks_complete

  You guys are ... done, maybe?

So, the moment of truth.  What treasure was inside, assuming I could open them?

09_stalk_marrow

  This was the treasure.

It was coarse.  It could easily have handled more time in the steamer — maybe another half hour, or hour even.  But it was soft enough to scoop out with a spoon.

10_stalks_scooped

  The marrow was no match for the mighty teaspoon.

Aaaand now I had a bowl full of coarse, warm brassica pulp.  I tasted it.  It wasn't bad at all.  Maybe a cross between a broccoli stem and an undercooked artichoke heart.  Puree it, maybe, I thought.  Get some fat and liquid into it and see if I can spread it on some home-baked sourdough.  A touch of parsley, perhaps, to make it look like it was worth three hours' time. 

I put the pulp into the mini-prep; added mayonnaise, kosher salt, freshly-ground black pepper, rubbed sage, and (a little too much) fresh lemon juice; and I gave it a whirl.  Then I removed the lid and added a little more mayonnaise, and whirled it some more.  Then I stopped it, scraped down the sides, engaged it in a staring contest to convince it to become a puree, and ran the mini-prep one more time.

And this delicacy is what I ended up with.

11_stalk_spread

  A bit too much lemon.  Whoops.  But you can't tell that from the picture.

So, in short:

  1. Yes, (portions of) the stalks of Brussels sprouts are edible
  2. Yes, they are palatable
  3. Yes, you can use them in recipes
  4. Is it worth a few hours of cutting, steaming, scooping, seasoning, and pureeing to make a cup of spread?  You'll have to judge that one yourself.

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Sourdough Starter: Care, Feeding, and Use

Sourdough starter is a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria that requires care and feeding.  Fortunately, both are pretty easy, and you only have to do it once a week.  All you need is a jar and a kitchen scale.

Sourdough starter

A vigorous fed sourdough starter

How to feed your sourdough starter

Once a week (set a reminder!), you will need to give your starter new food so that it won't die out.

  1. Remove your starter container from the refrigerator, pouring off any floating liquid.
  2. Stir your starter in its container.
  3. Pour 110g of starter into a measuring cup for liquids.  You will have some unfed starter left over.  Discard the leftover amount; place it into a new container to propagate; or use it in a recipe that calls for "unfed starter".

    sourdough-popovers

    Sourdough Popovers, an example of what you can make with unfed starter
  4. To the measuring cup, add 110g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 110g of lukewarm water and stir.
  5. Thoroughly wash your starter container under hot running water, being sure to scrape off all the crusty bits inside.  Don't use detergent.
  6. Pour the fed starter back into the container.
  7. Leave on the counter, with the lid slightly ajar, for two hours.
  8. Close the lid and return to the refrigerator.

How to use your sourdough starter

Plan 24 hours ahead from when you want to use your starter.

  1. Remove your starter container from the refrigerator, pouring off any floating liquid.
  2. Stir your starter in the starter container.
  3. Pour 110g of starter into a measuring cup for liquids.  This will allow you to continue your starter.  Follow the instructions for feeding your sourdough starter, as above (add flour and water, wash the starter container, return the starter to the container, wait two hours, and return it to the refrigerator).
  4. Pour another 110g of the original starter into a large jar.  Add 110g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 110g of lukewarm water.  Stir.  Leave the jar on the counter with the lid slightly ajar for 12 hours.
  5. After 12 hours, add 220g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 220g of lukewarm water.  Stir, set on the counter with the lid slightly ajar, and wait until it has doubled or tripled in volume.  This can take as little as 4 or as much as 12 hours.
  6. Use in your recipe that requires "fed starter".

    Extra-Tangy Sourdough Bread

    Extra-Tangy Sourdough Bread, an example of what you can make with fed starter

How to propagate your sourdough starter

The most fun part of maintaining a sourdough starter is sharing it with friends.

Sharing Sourdough Starter

Propagated sourdough starter, ready for sharing!
  1. When it comes to feeding time, follow the instructions for feeding your own sourdough starter, but also place 110g of starter in a separate, clean container for your friend.
  2. To your friend's container, add 110g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 110g of lukewarm water.  Stir.
  3. Leave the jar on the counter with the lid slightly ajar for 2 - 4 hours.
  4. Replace the lid and give it to your friend.  If you are not giving it away immediately, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to one week without feeding it again.  You might want to add a date to the container to show when it was last fed.

Troubleshooting

  • I went to feed my starter, and it has a thin layer of brown liquid at the top.  Is it ruined?

    • No.  That's alcohol, another fermentation byproduct.  Just pour it off.
  • My starter smells much sharper than when I put it into the fridge.  Is it ruined?

    • No, there's just a lot of vinegar in it.  Without delving too deeply, lactobacillus produces two primary acidic metabolites: lactic acid and acetic acid.  Lactic acid is what gives yogurt its tang, and it's mild.  Acetic acid is vinegar, and it's sharp.  Refrigeration suppresses production of lactic acid, so your starter will have developed more vinegar than it has developed yogurt-acid.  When you feed it and leave it at room temperature for a couple hours, it will dilute the vinegar and give the bacteria some time to produce lactic acid at room temperature.
  • I fed my starter twice to use in my recipe, but it's not bubbly.  Is it ruined?

    • Probably not.  This often happens if it has missed a feeding or if your kitchen is not warm enough.  After the two feedings (waiting 12 hours after each), if it hasn't reactivated, set aside 220g of the mixture, add 220g each of flour and lukewarm water, and return to the cleaned jar until it doubles or triples in volume.  If that doesn't work, repeat after 12 hours.  Sorry if this threw off your baking schedule.
  • I fed my starter four times at room temperature (and waited 48 hours total) like you instructed, and it's not bubbly nor increasing in volume.  Is it ruined?

    • Probably.  You will need to start over.  Sorry.
  • I took my starter out of the refrigerator, and it doesn't smell sharp or boozy — it smells putrid!  Is it ruined?

    • Yes.  You will need to start over.  Sorry.
  • My refrigerated starter has billowy mold on it.  Is it ruined?

    • Yes.  You will need to start over.  Sorry.

Did I miss anything?  Anything unclear?  Let me know in the comments!

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The best bread in the world (according to my dad)

Rosemary Dutch oven bread with Parmesan and Romano cheeses

When I shared this with my father, another dyed-in-the-wool foodie, he told me that this is the best bread he has ever tasted.  He said "You know, I used to go to Brothers restaurant in Solvang. They had a baker come in every morning and prepare bread for that night's dinner. I loved that bread. And this is the best I've ever had."

rosemary_dutch_oven_bread_with_rosemary_parmesan_and_romano

It's a simple tweak on a traditional Dutch oven bread recipe, with the addition of rosemary and cheese along the way.  All it takes is patience (letting it rise undisturbed for 18 hours); a piece of equipment you may already have in your kitchen (a Lodge cast-iron Dutch oven with a skillet lid); and one little trick (cooking the bread in an inverted Dutch oven).

The basic recipe for crusty Dutch oven bread is as follows.

Ingredients: [1]

  • 405g bread flour [2]
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1½ cup (355ml) warm filtered water

Whisk together dry ingredients in a bowl.  Stir in warm water until well-combined.  Cover bowl with a lid, or tightly with plastic wrap, and set on the counter for 18 hours to rise on its own.

Preheat oven to 450°F with the Dutch oven inside, with the lid separate from the base.  After your oven has reached 450°, it will take another 30 minutes or so for the Dutch oven to reach 450°.

During this preheating time, remove the sticky dough from the bowl with floured hands and placed on a heavily-floured surface.  Stretch the top into a smooth surface and tuck the edges underneath to form a round loaf.  Let it sit on the surface until the Dutch oven is fully heated.

Carefully remove both pieces of the Dutch oven from your oven and place on the stovetop.  Set the dough ball on the skillet side (the interior of the lid) of the Dutch oven, and carefully place the Dutch oven itself, upside-down, on top as a dome.  (Yes, you are cooking in the interior of an upside-down Dutch oven.)

Carefully replace the Dutch oven into your preheated oven.  I cannot stress the "carefully" bit enough.  For best results, wear silicone cooking gloves in which you are holding cloth potholders.  A heavy piece of 450° cast iron can cause serious injuries.

After 30 minutes, remove the dome, leaving the bread on the skillet surface.  Bake for another 10 minutes to brown and shake onto a cooling rack.

To turn it into rosemary bread with Parmesan and Romano, reduce the salt in the recipe to ½ tsp.  Take 1½ sprigs of fresh rosemary.  Rinse and pat dry.  Remove the leaves and snip the leaves into thirds with a pair of kitchen scissors, discarding the stems.  Add to the dry ingredients, along with unpacked, coarsely-grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses (about ⅓ cup total).  Add the warm water as you would in the basic recipe, and proceed as above.

And voila!  You've just made "the best bread in the world".  According to my dad.

[1] Yes, it's a little weird that I'm switching between imperial/metric and weight/volumetric units like this, but it's how I measure it.  Feel free to convert it.  405g of bread flour is about three cups.

[2] Using bread flour is important.  All-purpose flour does not have the necessary gluten percentage to form the delightful big air pockets.