Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from The Homestead Laboratory!

Wishing you an awesome holiday season with lots of fun, craziness, and extra eggnog!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Yuletide Strata

We're nearing the new year, which must mean it's time to close out the 2014 strata campaign with a tasty dessert strata tot help use up leftovers from holiday baking.  Coincidentally, this strata is also dressed like Santa (or Bucky Badger).  Let's get to it!

In the usual strata fashion, we made layers, but without the normal meat or vegetable components.  Here are the layers this time around: bread (as usual), whole cranberries, white chocolate chips, and a mixture of yogurt and cream cheese.  We used about three cups of cranberries and 1.5 cups white chocolate chips per layer.  The yogurt/cream cheese mixture was about 1.5 blocks cream cheese (12 oz) and 2 cups plain yogurt, to which we added about a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  (So, 0.75 blocks cream cheese and 1 cup yogurt per layer.)

There are two layers each of bread-cranberries-chocolate chips-yogurt/cream cheese.  These layers are inundated with an egg mixture, which in this case was sort of like eggnog: six eggs, three cups milk, 1/3 cup sugar, 0.25 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon cardamom.

The whole shebang went in the fridge for several hours to steep.

Then it got baked at 350 °F for 50-60 min until it looked like this. (i.e., sort of a Bucky Badger/toasted marshmallow hybrid, or maybe Santa after coming down the chimney of a lit fireplace.)

We cut the pan into eight servings, one of which looked like this.  Like our berry strata, this one isn't quite as filling as most.  But it makes one heck of a dessert.  Good stuff, Maynard!

The recipe:
6 cups whole fresh cranberries
4 cups white chocolate chips
12 oz cream cheese (1.5 blocks)
2 cups yogurt

6 eggs
3 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cardamom
0.25 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix the yogurt and cream cheese together well.  Layer the bread, cranberries, chocolate chips, and cream cheese/yogurt (chogurt) mixture in a 9" x 13" pan, starting with bread and ending with chogurt, aiming for two layers each. Beat together eggs, milk, sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon. Pour over layers and set in fridge for several hours or overnight. Bake at 350 °F for 50-60 min, until top is golden brown and kitchen smells like toasted marshmallows. No condiments needed, but make sure to get your protein and veggies somewhere else, or your mom will be really mad.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Flours in Your Hair

Earlier this year, we were having some trouble with our bread loaves, namely, that our bread slices would fall apart.  We're pretty messy eaters, so no one really noticed anyway, but it was still inconvenient for us.  We tried everything we could think of, assuming the problem was altitude-related.  More flour, less flour, adding eggs, longer kneading time, lower fraction of whole wheat, shorter proofing time...nothing worked well.

In a classic case of not doing our homework, we had been using Hungarian High Altitude flour as our bread flour, since we're living 5600 feet above sea level. (That's high altitude, right?)  But apparently, the 'high-altitude' refers to where the wheat was grown, not necessarily that the flour is tuned for baking at high altitudes.  Eventually, we got some specifically high-gluten flour from an Amish grocery store the last time we were home to Wisconsin, and poof! Good bread again.

When we finally checked the specs on our 'high-altitude flour,'  we found it had a measly 3 g protein in a 30 g serving, or ~10% protein.  Most flours that are 'good for bread' are in the 13-16% protein range, so that could have easily been our problem. (Although gluten isn't exactly the same as protein, it is does contribute to the protein content, and the two are usually correlated, at least for wheat flour; more discussion here.)

Back to the Amish our experience, these stores have a huge selection of flours.  Which one is best for bread?  Which ones aren't bleached or bromated? The bags just have the brand name and variety, so we can't tell  what's what when we're actually in the store.  What we really need is a database of all the flours and their attributes, collected in a table in a readily-accessible place like a blog. Minions! To the spreadsheet!  Other minions! To the internet!

A few hours of searching later, and we know all kinds of things about the Amish store flours.  Note: if your local purveyor of flour has other varieties you're interested in, sources 1 and 6 have brands/varieties that aren't included here.  Sources: [1] Dutch Valley Foods. [2] MichiganSPARC. [3] [4] Mohamed et al. [5] Wheat Montana. [6] King Arther Flour. [7] Package nutrition info. [8] King Arthur Flour Community. (If you have trouble finding links to the specific product specs, we have more specific links in some cases.)

In case you were wondering...bleaching and bromating are chemical processing steps that make flour whiter and better for some applications (including bread).  But bleaching makes flour white by removing 'carotenoid pigments,' usually by reacting them with benzoyl peroxide. Bromating improves dough characteristics by oxidizing some compounds needed to form gluten, usually through reactions with potassium bromate.  While both of these compounds are oxidants, and are (in theory) fully consumed in the flour treating and baking processes (i.e., converted to nontoxic substances), bleaching is unnecessary and removes nutrients, which have to be added back in.  Residual bromates are toxic and suspected carcinogens.  Outside of the U.S., many countries ban bleaching and bromating agents for those (and other, less chemistry-related) reasons (see also here, here, and here).  Usually the ingredients section will list "bleached flour" and/or "postassium bromate" if those processing steps have been included.

So, why do we care if the flours are bleached and bromated? 

[stepping on to soapbox]

Bleaching is primarily an aesthetic step.  While it helps gluten formation somewhat and removes some oils that can go rancid (thereby increasing the flour's shelf life), we think that those benefits are more than offset by the nutrient removal that also happens in the process.  Furthermore, the aesthetic benefits happen anyway if the flour is allowed to stand exposed to air (or more specifically, to oxygen).  It doesn't appeal to our line of thinking that food production should be more complicated and less nutritious for primarily aesthetic reasons. 

Bromating, in addition to being unnecessary, might pose some legitimate health concerns, especially in home baking operations where the processes aren't perfectly controlled.  If the bread isn't cooked long enough or to a high enough temperature, the bromates don't break down, and we would end up eating them.  While they are generally present in very low amounts, the possibility of consuming bromates in any quantity seems like an unnecessary risk.

It's just flour production--keep it simple!

[falling off of soapbox, hoarse and exhausted]

So, there you go.  Next time we're home, we'll probably be looking for some Wheat Montana or Sir Lancelot flour to make our sandwich bread.

What's your go-to sandwich bread recipe, and what kind of flour(s) do you use? Let us know in the comments section below!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Strata Verde Con Cerdo

Uh oh.  We got busy and missed the deadline for our November strata-of-the-month recipe.  Fortunately, we had a chance to make one this weekend, which means December will have two!  What a lucky month.

We had some salsa in the fridge from our green tomatoes that we've been trying to use up, but we had a lot of green tomatoes.  'Lot' is a technical term meaning 'enough to make more green salsa than you can use.'  Or at least, we thought it was more than we could use until we realized we had a world-class Ohman pork roast in the freezer, a big block of Monterrey jack cheese in the fridge, and were sitting in the heart of a region known for chili verde (often con cerdo).  And that we were overdue for making another strata.

We cooked the pork roast in the crock pot overnight, then shredded it like we were going to make pulled pork sandwiches.  We put half of it in a 9 x 13" pan on a layer of bread, then topped it with about 3 cups green salsa and 6 ounces shredded Monterrey jack cheese.

Then we added a second set of bread-pork-salsa-cheese and poured an egg mixture over the top.  The egg stuff had 6 eggs, 3 cups milk, a teaspoon each of salt, pepper, and onion powder, a quarter teaspoon of cayenne powder, and a tablespoon each of garlic powder and dried rosemary.  (You may have heard the old adage 'where there's smoke, there's fire;' in our house we say, 'where there's pork, there's rosemary.')

Set the whole shebang in the fridge overnight (or at least a few hours) until all the flavors become friends...

...then bake at 350 °F for 50-60 min until the top layer of cheese is brown.

When it cools down, you can eat it!  This is one of our favorite stratas so far.  It made us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but that may have also been from the cayenne.

What's your favorite way to eat green salsa and pork?  Let us know in the comments section below!

The recipe:
2-3 lbs. pork roast
6 cups green salsa
12 oz. shredded cheese (we used Monterrey jack)

6 eggs
3 cups milk
1 tablespoon each of garlic powder and dried rosemary
1 teaspoon each of salt, pepper, and onion powder
0.25 teaspoon cayenne powder

Cook the pork roast in a crock pot until tender, and shred.  Layer the bread, pork, salsa and cheese in a 9" x 13" pan, starting with bread and ending with cheese, aiming for two layers each. Beat together eggs, milk, and remaining seasonings. Pour over layers and set in fridge for several hours or overnight. Bake at 350 °F for 50-60 min, until cheese on top is golden brown and screaming 'eat me!' Sour cream and diced tomatoes are acceptable condiments.