Monday, April 23, 2007
In my ongoing quest to reproduce the flat bread unearthed in grave finds at Birka and other locations, this weekend I got to try baking them in an earthen oven. I'll post pictures soon, but until then, a brief summary.
The oven was constructed by some friends of mine last fall. It's made from adobe, and is a dome shape about 4 feet in diameter and 2.5 - 3 feet high, with a smoke hole at the top, and an opening in the side just big enough to admit a metal baker's peel.
We fired the oven for probably 2-3 hours before any bread went in. For the first loaves, which were more modern sourdough loaves, we left some of the coals at the back of the oven, and put the bread in at the front. This left the oven way too hot, and the loaves blackened pretty seriously before they were done all the way through. For my flatbread, I scraped out the rest of the coals, and relied on the heat of the oven walls.
I used several different recipes, but the one that worked best was 1/2 whole grain barley flour, 1/4 oat flour, and 1/4 green pea flour, plus about 1/2 tsp of salt. I made a stiff dough using buttermilk, and left the dough unrefrigerated overnight to sour (it didn't, much). The dough was shaped into two flat "loaves", each about 8" in diameter, and 1" high. The surface was pricked with a knife before baking, to increase the surface area of the top crust and encourage drying.
The loaves went into the oven, and backed for probably around 20 minutes. As the oven cooled a bit, subsequent batches took slightly longer to firm up.
The result was quite good, with a crisp crust, and a nice texture. Not light, more like a heavy scone or batter bread in consistency. It went excellently well with some simple soft cheese and dried fruit.
I'll have some pictures up, hopefully this evening. I got pictures of the whole process.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
For this morning's breakfast I tried the "Viking breakfast" that I put together as part of the "Viking bachelor food" experiment. I didn't actually get to implement it over the weekend, as much of the food I'd set aside for the weekend ended up spending said weekend in the fridge in my office, not coming with me to the event. Very sad.
Anyway, this morning I lined up
- A thick slice of the "IKEA bread", more properly "ragbrod", very coarse grained and hearty wheat and rye bread
- two slices of gjetost cheese, a sweet cheese made from caramelized whey
- a hard boiled egg (I settled for chicken, not having any puffins around)
- a pile of home made sauerkraut
- two nice fat pieces of pickled herring with onions (sooooo good)
It made an excellent breakfast, and really got the day off to a fine (and fishy) start. Easy, portable, and very satisfying. I'll definitely be packing this stuff along to events this summer.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
I had some little fingerling potatoes that I needed to use up (nice yellow ones) and decided to pair them with some purple kale and some lovely Pacific cod (wild caught in Alaska).
I oven roasted the potatoes with some salt and olive oil at about 400 until tender, and chopped them roughly. Separately, I sauteed some onion and garlic in olive oil, then added the chopped purple curly kale until it was all tender, and added that to the potatoes.
To finish up, I fried the cod in coconut oil until it was cooked through and lightly browned, then broke it up and mixed with the veggies, then at the last minute added some lemon-infused olive oil, sel gris, and some Balinese "long pepper", which has a very nice floral, peppery scent.
The result was a big hit with the whole family. The soft cod contrasted nicely with the tender-but-firm kale. Vikki suggested that next time I serve the potatoes on the side, largely because I was a bit off on my ratios, and the dish ended up a bit potato-heavy. Maybe only half the bag of fingerlings next time...
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
I'm heading for a small event this weekend that's billed as a "Norse Rendezvous", meaning we're roughing it with as little gear as we can manage, and trying to find out how much trouble we can get into.
In keeping with the theme, I'm trying to figure out what the Viking equivalent of traveling provisions (aka bachelor food) would be. In a Fur Trade (Mountain Man) context, that might mean some bacon and beans or dried corn, maybe some flour and salt for biscuits, jerky, etc.
So far I think I'm going to bring
- a loaf of Swedish dark rye bread (from a mix I got at IKEA over the weekend) which looks like a very black soda bread, coarse grained
- pickled herring ('cause you have to have some, and it's the bomb)
- sauerkraut (good winter vegetable, keeps well)
- cheese (something Scandinavian appropriate, maybe gjetost)
- hard boiled eggs (also good for traveling, keep well, calorie dense)
- maybe a spot of bacon, but I might be too lazy to cook it.
- some dried fruit, apples or prunes would be good
Hopefully by the end of the weekend I won't be too sick of eating that stuff. I'm thinking not.
I'm continuing to play around with lactic acid fermentation at home. The saurkraut came out pretty well, although next time I think I'll let it go a bit longer to see if I can manage a stronger flavor. The second experiment was fermented bean paste. Both recipes and suggestions around same came from Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, which I've been reading a lot lately. It has some very interesting things to say about what we eat as compared with what our ancestors ate, and why their way was probably better, which resonates well with me.
For the beans, I cooked up a batch of black beans, after soaking them overnight with some whey, as per the instructions. The cooked beans got mashed in the food processor with most of an onion, some salt, and 4 tbl. of when left over from the skyr. The resulting goo went into a mason jar, which sat atop my fridge for 3 days. It didn't seem to do much until the third day, when it grew about an inch taller in the jar, and looked a bit fizzy.
As no mold was in evidence, I went for it. The resulting bean mash is quite sour, and is excellent (if you like that kind of thing) on nachos along with some piima cultured cream, and also in wraps with some lettuce, cream cheese and pickled jalapenos. Good eating.
Next experiment... sweet potato. And another batch of cabbage, since we tore through the first batch with some brats in beer last night.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I haven't tried making saurkraut in years, and the last few times I tried I got moldy cabbage, not saurkraut.
This time I'm trying my new favorite secret ingredient, whey leftover from skyr production. It seems to be doing the trick so far. I got some preshredded cabbage, since I'm lazy, and added a tablespoon of kosher salt and a 3-4 tablespoons of whey, along with some caraway seeds. We're into day 2 at room temperature, and it's really starting to smell like saurkraut, with no mold in sight (knock on wood). If it survives until tomorrow, it goes in the fridge thenceforth.
I may be trying some more fermentation experiments over the coming weeks, so we'll see how they turn out too.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Some friends hooked us up with some culture for piima last weekend, and I've been having a great time playing with it. Piima is a culture used in modern Scandinavia to create a buttermilk/yogurt like substance. The best part is that it works at room temperature, so you don't have to heat the milk, or worry about trying to keep it warm with a yogurt maker, etc.
You just stir the piima culture into milk or cream and let it stand at room temperature for 24 hours or so. Cultured in milk, I got something that was maybe a little thicker than cultured buttermilk, but not as firm as yogurt. I'm in the midst of culturing some cream, which is supposed to come out like thin sour cream, and is also supposed to be good for making cultured butter. Only time will tell...
There are a number of online sources for piima culture. Just google for "pima culture" and you'll find several sources.
One thing to note: once you get it going, it has to be "fed" like kefir grains or sourdough starter. The piima milk I made earlier in the week was sufficiently tasty (very mild, not sour) that I don't think it'll be a problem at my house.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Greek Gods yogurt is a fairly recent arrival at our local New Seasons, and I've got to say, it's the BOMB. Wonderful texture, firm, not runny. Not too sour. I'd been impressed enough with the plain, but today I picked up a carton of the "fig" flavor. Fantastic! Honey flavored yogurt with a fig paste at the bottom. Not too sweet, and very flavorful. I have yet to try to pomegranate flavor, but I have high hopes.
Another new Viking recipe I've been working on...
Saute some leeks in butter, along with diced carrots and rutabegas. When just starting to soften, take off the heat. When they are cool, mix with some sour cream.
Very reminiscent of the modern Scandinavian beets in sour cream. The rutabegas come out very sweet, and stand in well for the beets, which aren't Viking period.
This was a big hit with pretty much everyone, including a number of avowed root-vegetable-haters. It went well with the barley bread.
I'm going to be experimenting with dairy products as the Viking Age Scandinavians would have made/used/consumed them over the coming months. I've been making a soft fresh cheese curdled with vinegar for years, but I think that's probably not the most accurate.
For the first experiment, I made my first batch of skyr this week. Skyr was once purportedly made all over the Viking world, but has only survived to the present day in Iceland, where it has remained daily fare. We don't know how closely modern Icelandic skyr resembles Viking skyr, but it's such a simple process that I don't imagine it's changed all that much.
To make skyr, you bring non-fat milk up to around 185 deg. and hold it there for 5-10 minutes, then let it cool down to slightly warmer than body temperature, around 108. Take your culture (I've seen references to using sour cream or buttermilk, or yogurt of various kinds. The Vikings would have used some skyr from the last batch. I read a couple of references to the use of s. thermophilus and l. bulgaricus, which happen to both be in "Greek" or "Bulgarian" style yogurt, so that's what I used. Greek Gods brand to be specific.) and mix it with a little of the warm milk, then add the result to the rest of the milk, along with some rennet. I used Junket brand from the grocery store, but will soon be trying cheese-making-grade rennet, and I'll report on the differences. Then let the milk sit for something between 6 and 24 hours. I've seen various suggestions. I let mine go about 24 hours.
The milk-mass should start to pull away from the sides of the container, and you'll see clear-yellowish whey around the sides and over the top of the curd. That's good. Scoop out the curd with a ladle or spoon into a sieve or colander lined with several layers of cheesecloth, or better still, a nice clean piece of muslin fabric. Let it sit until most of the whey has drained out, and it starts to firm up to somewhere between firm yogurt and soft-serve ice cream.
Store it in the fridge when it's done. The result I got was not very sour, and has a very pleasant texture. I've used it in crepes, and with granola so far with great success.
Save the whey, which you can use in soups of porridge. I have more whey experiments to try too. The 16th Century Icelanders let the whey ferment until quite sour, and then used it as a refreshing drink, and also as a medium for pickling meat, eggs, and vegetables for long storage.
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