Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Not So Humble Bean

I happen to love beans in  all shapes, forms , colours, textures and flavours but my all-time favourite is the fava bean — aka   Windsor beans, English beans, horse beans and pigeon beans. They've long been a kitchen staple in Europe, the Middle East and South America.  The fava is one of the oldest cultivated plants and yet it's only just catching on in America.  According to my garden sources, it is easy to grow. I've had two minor crops from fava bean seeds  I tucked into my purse when in Italy a few years ago and spirited past the food sniffing beagles at O'Hare.  Unfortunately I failed to dry a few from last years crop and so have been beanless - a has been!

Ah - but all is not lost. My local farmers market had in them in abundance a couple of weeks ago and I was in bean heaven! Most got used in a very simple pasta dish and the 20 or so pods still lurking in the refrigerator door cried out to me yesterday .

Funny things these beans - they grow in a big floppy, fuzzy pod ( and when buying, squeeze the pod to feel the beans - some pods are wimpy and close to empty!) so it's a multi-step prepping process. You have to pod them (kids love to do this) and then, if they are more than a couple of days off the vine they are likely to be a bit tough.  My refrigerator hold-outs were definitely in the latter category so I shucked them, boiled them in lightly salted water for about 6 minutes, drained and when cool enough - popped the inner bean from the outer shell.  A quick dressing of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and Maldon sea salt and I ate like a Roman Emperor!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

When the Going Gets Tough - Bake!

I've kneaded my way through a cloud of dark thoughts and annoying distractions this past two weeks.

About three weeks ago I paid $5.95 for what was described as  an "European style multi-grain"  loaf at the local Whole Foods store.  Controlling my language here - the polite description of this expensive lump of dough is "tasteless, gummy texture, nasty" - not even worthy of converting to breadcrumbs for storage in the freezer.  With success the best revenge, I set about developing a multi-grain loaf to satisfy my craving for a hearty, tasty, good-for-me bread.

Several iterations, lots of tasting, kneading and "well that didn't work" later and I've come up with a winner. A loaf that is fragrant,  crunchy and  firm. It holds its shape, and is equally good for a sandwich or toast slathered with home-made limequat/bloodorange marmalade.  Since I have arthritis in my thumb joints, physical kneading is difficult for me so I usually make bread in the food processor. With this recipe I found that the Kitchen Aid standing mixer used with a dough hook gave a no contest best result.

Multi-Grain Bread

  • 1 cup unbleached white flour
  • 2.5 cups whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur brand)
  • start with 1 cup warm water
  • 2 packets dry yeast plus a pinch of sugar
  • 2 tsp. Maldon sea salt (use a sea salt - regular salt simply doesn't do it - try Maldon, you'll never go back to regular old salt))
  • 1 cup total of grains - mix and match from the following: 
  • steel cut oats, bulgur wheat, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, wheat berries
  • 1/4 cup of a combination of the following or just one
  • honey, barely malt syrup, dark molasses
  •   2 TBS olive oil
  • Additional warm water
1.In a small bowl proof the yeast and sugar in 1 cup of warm water (follow the directions on the yeast package.)

2. Place the flours, grains and salt in the bowl of a standing kitchen mixer equipped with a dough hook

3. Mix the dry ingredients

4. Add the yeast mixture, oil, syrup/honey/molasses to the bowl. Have handy a cup of warm water*

5. With the mixer on slow begin to combine all the ingredients - add additional water in small amounts until the dough has formed a ball. Up the speed and knead until you have a smooth, non sticky ball of dough. When you touch it it should feel like cool leather. Remove the bowl from the stand. Cover dough with a clean cloth, stand in a warm, draft free place and let rise until double - an hour or more.**

6. When the dough has risen, punch down, return mixer to the stand and knead using the dough hook for 3-4 minutes until you again have a smooth ball of dough.***

7. Turn out onto a floured surface . Form into a rough oblong, tuck under and pinch and smooth together any rough areas on the bottom. Spray a standard loaf pan (9x5x3") with non stick oil, pop the dough into the pan. Cover and let rise another hour.

 8. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Bake the loaf at 400F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F. Bake an additional 20 minutes. Loaf is done when the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.

Wrapped but not refrigerated the loaf stayed fresh for three days. It has a crunchy, firm texture - not a wimpy loaf!

***The final kneading in the mixer eliminates 'holes' in the finished loaf. 

* About the amount of water: humidity, types of flour - both can vary the precise amount of water needed. In my situation I used 1.5 cups of water when I made this up at my cabin but a little more than that here in the desert. My technique is to go very slowly when adding more water - tablespoon at a time - it's difficult to go back and add more flour to salvage a sticky dough.

** Your dough will form more of a large, fat cigar than a ball - stop the mixer, fold the "cigar" in on itself and continue kneading.