Thursday, June 3, 2010

Feast or Famine

I have plenty to say recently, like I've come out of a fugue and now can't shut up, but I'll try to stay topical and make some separate posts. We'll start with the important stuff:

farmer's market booty with giant asparagus

Notice the gigantor carrots and asparagus. This haul was almost entirely impulse buy because I stocked up on food at the regular guy store (yes, Ralph's) yesterday. I knew the tomato lady was saving me a box of the cherry toms I can eat raw, so I had to pick those up or risk losing my "VIP" status which leaves the supply up to luck instead of planning. Then I saw the fattest asparagus I'd ever seen and a luscious asian pear and... this is what happens.

I have cherries, apricots, mangoes, raspberries, snack peas, and the cauliflower from yesterday, not to mention some hilariously fat carrots from some other vendor. I've eaten about a dozen fresh loquats. I've also tried some daikon sprouts, I'm still working through my stock of lemons and tangerines... The hope is that my vinegar rinse will keep these all around long enough to enjoy them.

I started with the asparagus (and all the stuff that wasn't going to keep). Until a couple months ago I'd never heard of anyone peeling asparagus, and after the overly labor intensive "peel the baby potatoes" recipe from cooking class, I thought it was all the more foolish. But peeling 4 spears isn't too bad and seemed to work out when the extra fellows are the size of a Butterfinger.

steamed peeled asparagus

Also on the food route, I did at least the new baking portion of my resolution. I can't remember if I baked a repeat something, but I'm not going to get bent out of shape about it this month. The eye surgery was not long and helps me see but was pretty traumatic. Still, I managed to try and make pita bread from the "Baking with Julia" book I got for Christmas. The dough is much like pizza crust dough. I put the liquids, yeast and part of the flour together on May 30th, and got the rest combined on the 31st, squeaking it into May by the new hair on my chinny chin chin.

top view baked and fried breads

As you can see from the wildly different coloration, they weren't all cooked the same. The book said there was a stovetop method and with my cast iron skillet feeling neglected, I decided to start there, making one at a time. The results were mixed. The directions specified a lightly oiled surface, but the oil (grapeseed) smoked. So I cut the heat a little and tried again but still, smoking pan, not enough puff to the bread. I'd get bubbles, but not a pita pocket. I thought it was either the heat method or the shaping method.

I tried again, adding more oil and actually frying it, but still patting it out by hand like mini pizzas. This made the bread taste fantastic - I've eaten two just now while writing about it - but still it cooked unevenly and didn't puff. Being seduced by the flavor, I kept trying. I even tried going through the bother of rolling it out. It cooked much more evenly but still didn't puff! Plus, the extra flour needed for rolling fell off in the oil and had to be scooped out with every other bread so it wouldn't burn. That was annoying.

Finally, I tried baking. I should have known: the baking directions call for a heated stone at 450F and that's way higher than the smoke point of most oil. So to cook on a surface, one would do better to use something not oiled like, oh, I don't know, a tandoor or a pizza oven or something designed for, say, making pitas. But an oven does well enough. Even using a cheap aluminum pan instead of baking stones it worked pretty well! (tip: pavers from Home Depot, properly cleaned, can line the oven and be used as a pizza stone.) Even one run of 4 through the oven (3-4 minutes baking time) netted good puffing. Using a baking stone would have helped even the heat and puff them better, but they did all right.

side view pita showing white baked puffed pitas and yellow-brown unpuffed fried pitas

I stored the baked pitas interleaved with the fried ones to keep them all moist but not soggy. They're pretty good for sandwiches, like my favorite ham and hummus, or just PB&J for breakfast. I imagine the fried ones would make good personal pizza bases too.

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