Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Austin to Boston Food Blogger Swap

I'm writing this having just finished packing a box of local treats for a fellow food blogger in Austin, Texas. This is my first time participating in the Austin to Boston Food Blogger Swap. Putting the package together was like shopping for Christmas.

My swap partner, Rachel, writes at the wonderful blog and then make soup. She seems to have similar food tastes and blogging approach to me: A lot of home cooking with a good sprinkle of the other joys of life. I find that encouraging, because her blog is successful in a way that I aspire to. She has lots of participation in the form of comments. People are engaged with her blog, deservedly.

We both send our packages last Thursday. She sent her package by USPS. I got it on Saturday. (I wrote about the contents here.) I sent my package by FedEx ground. It just arrived today.

Here's the note I sent with the package:

October 11, 2012

Dear Rachel,

I hope you have as much fun with this package as I had putting it together. I had to deal with a few tough questions when putting this together.  First, I had to decide how to go over the top without going over my $30 budget. Since shipping costs don’t count, I thought about being outrageous by shipping ice cream.

Bostonians apparently are the nation’s biggest consumers of ice cream, and we have an amazing collection of premium ice cream shops. We have one of the best shops, Rancatore’s, in our town. My daughter worked there all through high school. Since you mentioned how much you missed our local sweet corn, I was considering asking the owner to make a batch of sweet corn ice cream. Unfortunately, you convinced me that it wouldn’t even survive FedEx. I’m disappointed I couldn’t pull that off.

To meet my budget I decided to include a larger variety of sample sizes rather than larger versions of fewer things. In addition, I sent some ingredients and recipes, which will give you more variety of local flavors. I also included some homemade ingredients that I think might be highlights of the box.

My next tough question was figuring out what I would consider local. One great option was to send you maple syrup. You really need to try grade B maple syrup. That’s what the Vermonters keep for themselves. That would have made “local” mean New England. I also thought about including products from New York since that’s where my daughters live. That would have made “local” mean the northeast. Ultimately I decided to stick to Massachusetts.

The last tough question was how to make a centerpiece for the package. With all the sample sized items, I needed to have an item that would stand out as the “main” gift. And, I had to do that without spending too much on one item so there wasn’t enough budget to fill out the rest of the box. I was fortunate to find a great cooking item at an unbelievable price courtesy of a local discount kitchen supply shop, China Fair.

What follows is a list of what I’m sending and why. I hope you like everything.

Boston Baked Bean Pot – This is your main gift, and at under $5, an amazing bargain. This will let you make the dish that has “local” in its name. I’ve included our recipe at the end.

Navy Beans – You’ll need these for the baked beans.

Ocean Spray Cranberries – Cranberry bogs are a prominent feature on the road to Cape Cod. The Ocean Spray factory is in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Although, you can make an excellent cranberry sauce by opening a can and shaking it out onto a plate. Really, I love that stuff. You can also make an excellent sauce by cooking the fresh berries like apple sauce in a sauce pan with a little water and sugar. I’ve also included that recipe. Try it on vanilla ice cream.

Sourdough Starter – This is the ultimate in local. It comes from our own homemade starter created with local Lexington lactobacillus. I sent you half our starter. That will make sense soon. The starter is packed in a screw-top plastic container for shipping. You’ll need to feed it soon to get it going.  Unpack the glass Mason jar I’ve included. Pour the starter into the Mason jar. Add a cup of flour and a cup of warm water. Mix it with the handle of a wooden spoon. Finally, cover the jar with the elastic food cover to keep out dust, but allow gas to escape. Put the jar in the fridge. Each time you use it, you’ll take out about half the starter, and feed it with more flour and water. I’ve included some recipes at the end.

Bay Leaves – You should have found these in the Mason jar. They are from a plant in our garden. I know you have a full spice garden, but I took a chance you didn’t have bay leaves.

Homemade Madagascar Vanilla Extract – This is another homemade ingredient. I make it by the gallon using Madagascar vanilla beans and vodka. After a few months, we have an extra special vanilla extract.

Cain’s Mayonnaise – This mayonnaise is made in Ayer, Massachusetts and can only be found in the New England area. It is the correct mayonnaise for the perfect lobster roll.

Sliced Hot Dog Rolls – These are the kinds of hot dog rolls you need to make a proper lobster roll. I’m sorry I couldn’t send you lobster, but I suspect you can get lobster in your own local market if you want. These rolls are also great for hot dogs.

Taza Chocolates – I’ve included two disks of Taza chocolate. These are made in Somerville, Massachusetts. One disk is plain chocolate. The other is ginger flavored. I’ve included recipe cards for both hot chocolate and iced hot chocolate, but they are just as good to eat right out of the package. Last year, this chocolate was in almost every swap package sent from Boston. I didn’t want you to be the only person not to get some this year. Gail and I picked these up at the factory store.

Pepperidge Farms Lexington Cookies – This is more of a tribute to the town we live in. They aren’t made in Massachusetts, but they are a good cookie.

Fig Newtons – These are named after the city of Newton, Massachusetts where your sister lives. They are now made by Nabisco, but were originally mass produced in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Okay, the last two stretch “local.”

Lark Shortbread Trio Cookies – Finally, these cookies are made in Essex, Massachusetts. They are unexpectedly delicious. Burnt sugar and espresso chip seem like delicious flavors, but the salted rosemary stand out with an unusual flavor that happens to be a wonderful adult treat.

Cranberry Hot Pepper Jelly – This treat was the perfect combination of weirdness, local flavor and deliciousness. Cranberries provide the local flavor and this jelly is from our own Lexington farm stand, Wilson Farms. It goes great on a cracker with cheese or just on its own.

Necco Wafers – These candies are made at the New England Confection Company. When we were in college in Cambridge, Massachusetts we could smell these being made in the nearby factory. A water tower on top of one of the buildings was painted like a stack of Necco Wafers. The factory has since moved to Revere, Massachusetts. Now, we use these wafers as the roof shingles on our ginger bread house. The broken ones end up in my mouth.

Well, that’s it. I’ll be interested in hearing how your beans turn out. And, I’m hoping you love the sourdough starter enough to share it with someone else.

Very best regards,
Boston Baked Beans
If multiplying this recipe, make sure the bean pot is big enough for dry beans to double in volume.
Makes: 6 c
Hands-on prep time: 25 min
    5 min night before
    10 min mixing
    additional 10 min over 6-hr baking time
Start-to-finish time: 21 hr

1 lb (about 3 c) dried navy or pea beans
1 c dark molasses
1 t maple syrup
1 T dry mustard
1 t salt
½ t finely chopped garlic
¼ c light brown sugar
Boiling water
Liquid smoke
½ lb chopped bacon (optional)

1 ½ qt bean pot or covered casserole
  1. Cover beans with cold water; bring to a boil; cover; let stand overnight.
  2. Next morning, drain; rinse and drain once more.
  3. Transfer beans into 6-qt pot; cover with 2 qt cold water.
  4. Bring to boil; reduce heat; cover; simmer 30 min; drain thoroughly.
  5. Preheat oven to 300 F; bring water to boil; mix remaining ingredients, except water, in a large bowl.
  6. Mix beans with molasses mixture. Transfer mixture to bean pot; add just enough boiling water to cover bean mixture, about 1 c.
  7. Place in oven over baking sheet to avoid spills. Bake, covered, 6 hr. Stir every hr, adding more boiling water, a few T at a time, if mixture is dry.
Cranberry Sauce
Couldn’t be easier!
Serves: 10 (makes: 2 ½ c)
Hands-on prep time: 15 min
Start-to-finish time: 4 hr

1 c sugar
1 c water
3 c fresh cranberries (about 12 oz)
½ t fresh citrus zest (optional)
  1. Dissolve sugar in water in med saucepan; bring to full boil.
  2. Meanwhile, rinse cranberries very well; pick over.
  3. Add cranberries to boiling sugar water; return to boil. Berries will start to pop. Reduce to simmer; cook 10 min, stirring occasionally.
  4. Optionally, stir in fresh citrus zest before cooling.
  5. Transfer to serving bowl; cool completely at room temperature; refrigerate until set, several hr. Sauce will thicken as it cools.
Sourdough Pancakes
Recipe adapted from: Cowboyshowcase.com
A good use for the pour-off from sourdough starter. Mix in 2 ½ - 4 c measuring cup for easy pouring onto griddle.
Serves/makes: 9 4” pancakes
Hands-on prep time: 1 hr
Start-to-finish time: 15 min

3 T oil for griddle
1 c sourdough starter, room temp
2 T sugar
3 T veg oil
1 egg
¾ c flour
1 t baking soda
½ t salt
Up to ½ c water

Butter & syrup for the table

2 ½ - 4 c measuring cup with pour spout
  1. Bring starter to room temp and soften butter if necessary. Warm syrup; oil and preheat griddle to 375 F.
  2. Mix sourdough starter and sugar in the measuring cup; add oil, egg, and flour, stirring well after each addition.
  3. Combine soda, salt and water, add to batter. Add additional water, 1 T at a time, to desired consistency.
  4. Thin with milk (sour is fine) instead of water.
  5. Pour onto griddle; cook until bubbles form on surface; flip; cook another 1-2 min.
  6. Serve with butter and warm syrup.

Sourdough Bread 
It’s best to get comfortable with the look and feel of basic bread dough before attempting sourdough, since the varying flour-liquid balance of the starter makes ingredient amounts only approximate.
Makes: 1 loaf
Hands-on prep time: 1 hr
Start-to-finish time: 2 days

Equal parts (at least 1 c ea) sourdough starter, warm water, flour

2 c sponge
4 t sugar
2 t salt
Up to 3 ½ c flour
1 t gluten per c flour

Lg measuring cup
Glass bowl
  1. Two days before baking, make sponge: if starter has separated, mix hooch and flour paste back together. Measure starter; pour all into bowl. Measure equal part warm water in measuring cup; pour into starter jar; swirl to pick up remaining starter from jar; pour into bowl. Stir in equal part flour to form sponge, which should be the consistency of pancake batter. Some lumps are OK --- yeast will smooth it out.
  2. Proof sponge in warm place, uncovered, until bubbly and sour-smelling, several hr to overnight. Meanwhile, wash and sterilize starter jar.
  3. Day before baking, mix dough: pour 2 c sponge into mixing bowl with dough hook; return remainder to sterilized jar for next time.
  4. Mix sugar and salt into sponge. Add 2 c flour and 2 t gluten; mix 5 min, then add ½ c flour and ½ t gluten at a time, mixing 5 min between additions, until dough pulls away from sides of mixing bowl. Knead a few min by hand if necessary. Since flours and sponges vary considerably in moisture content, always trust eyes and hands more than recipe amounts.
  5. Place dough in baking pan; set to rise in warm place until doubled in volume. Sourdough has already done a lot of fermenting and doesn’t need to rise twice. Even so, most sourdoughs take much longer to rise than regular bread; we always start our dough the day before we plan to bake and serve it. In warm (70 F +) weather, set bread to rise no more than 12 hr before baking, or punch down again right before bed and bake in morning.
  6. On baking day, preheat oven to 350 F, bake 30-45 min, until crust starting to brown. Cool a few min but best served warm.
If short of time, add 2 t yeast to dough with sugar and salt. Do not add yeast to starter to be returned to jar! We found, quite by accident, that this yeast-added bread is excellent for slicing and sandwiches.
Sourdough Starter
Recipe from: epicurious.com
Extra vitamin C enhances the yeast.
Makes: 1 qt
Hands-on prep time: 5 min
Start-to-finish time: 24 hr - 3 weeks

1 2/3 c bread flour
1 t rapid-rise yeast
1 t sugar
½ 500-mg vitamin C pill (not chewable), crushed
2 c warm (105-115 F) spring water

Sterilized 2-qt sealable container
  1. Combine dry ingredients in med bowl.
  2. Place water in container; whisk in dry ingredients; combine thoroughly. Starter may be slightly lumpy.
  3. Cover container with lid slightly ajar; let stand in warm draft-free area 24 hr. Starter will separate into a brown liquid (“hooch”) at the top and pasty flour mixture at the bottom. If starter doesn’t separate, it may not be getting enough air; loosen lid.
  4. Starter is useable at this point, but develops more flavor by adding 1 c ea warm water and bread flour; letting stand until foamy, about 2 hr, then refrigerating at least 3 weeks, stirring every few days.
To use in recipe: substitute ½ c starter, 5 oz liquid and, optionally, ½ t rapid-rise yeast for dry yeast and every c of liquid.

For every c of starter taken from container, add 1 c ea of warm water and bread flour; let stand until foamy; return to refrigerator.

Use extra starter for pancakes and waffles, batters for fried foods, etc.

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