So- Sourdough!

So apparently, sourdough is trending since so many are in quarantine.  (Quarantine kitchen- seriously, go check out @ManitowocMinute.)  I hope everyone stays healthy!  It makes sense- homemade bread is so delicious, and it’s not too difficult to make.

Around the time this first started, I thought I’d give making a sourdough starter a try.  Last fall, we were able to travel to San Francisco with friends and, as part of our trip, have some sourdough at the renowned Boudin Bakery.  Pure excellence.  We were able to see their museum/restaurant and hear the story about how their starter was saved from disaster- but that’s another post.  That’s also where we had the idea to try their chocolate sourdough.


I’m certain I was not able to recreate quite the same as Boudin’s storied and specialized San Francisco sourdough, but we did get our own starter going, and were able to make some different recipes with it here in Wisconsin.

Apparently, it is a trend to name sourdough.  I asked our son what we should name it, and I had thought he had said “I don’t know.”  Actually, he meant and clarified “Doughn’t know”- I thought that was pretty witty and astute for a little kid.  He loves to cook and help me make bread, so he’s been involved in all of the steps in all we’ve tried.

First, we needed a recipe for starter, and thought we’d give this one from Taste of Home a try.  It worked out well.  We were able to get a starter going quickly, and only tossed the first portion we removed in the first week since I had read that it likely was not strong enough to raise the dough.  We have been baking successfully ever since.  I’m not someone who is going to bake something every day or want to babysit a starter, so the recipe has worked well to store in the the refrigerator when not in use.  We still followed the directions to feed it once a week.  I won’t re-hash all the recipe specifics, or this will get to be a REALLY long post (please review the links!)

Here is the mixed starter:

starter mixed




Starter direct from the fridge, prior to feeding/mixing (notice the liquid on top):

starter fridge

We found several good recommendations for making sourdough bread from this very helpful website- The Clever Carrot:

Always smell the sourdough starter- just to make sure it still smells yeast-y and bread-like.  When baking, I would have just put the dough on our pizza stone, but the Dutch oven works fantastically well.  It helped to ‘work in reverse’ for timing- plan out the amount of time needed to warm/feed the starter, let the bread dough rise, and then rise again before baking it.

We tried the bread recipe from Tasty.

We did use cornmeal on the bottom of the pan, which helped give the bread crust a nice crunch.  It worked better (easier to clean) by using parchment paper in the Dutch oven and put the cornmeal/dough on that.  Definitely score the bread on top so the steam can escape in a specific spot.

bread in Dutch oven





The fresh bread smells so good, but it is important to let it cool and wait about an hour.

One week later…starter in the fridge, and then re-fed.

After we tried regular sourdough, we tried making pretzels:

We did not prepare the egg wash, but they were still fantastic!

pretzel mix

pretzel dough

pretzel dough shaped





(Please forgive our non-standard pretzel shapes- still delicious when cooked!)  They were best as pretzels fresh, but great as burger buns the next day!




Another week later, we tried chocolate sourdough!



chocolate mix

chocolate dough

chocolate dough rise

chocolate sourdough

chocolate bread cut



There was no separate recipe, just my estimate/guess-timates.  I used the Tasty recipe from above (and let the dough rise twice), and added 2 tablespoons of regular cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons of dark cocoa powder to the mix before adding the sourdough starter.  I also added half a cup of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips.  We didn’t add sugar to the recipe- there’s no sugar in the recipe, so next time, we might try adding more cocoa powder (maybe another tablespoon each and/or another half cup of chocolate chips).  This would make it 3 tablespoons of each cocoa powder and 1 cup of mini semi-sweet chips.  Regular size chocolate chips may work as well, but we have not tried it.

Next on the list may be sourdough pizza crust… The tour of deliciousness continues…

If you’ve made a starter, what have you made?


grill with fire

Lit grill (from Wikipedia commons)

There’s nothing quite like grilling out, and one recipe that has turned asparagus-haters into asparagus-lovers in my family is grilled balsamic asparagus.  There are quite a few tasty yet simple variations available online.  Mine is as follows; amounts are determined by the amount of the veggie you are making.  The coriander provides a citrus-y zing that goes well with the balsamic.

This recipe is easy to make in a skillet/wok, though flame grilling provides a better flavor, IMHO.

To prepare the spears, it’s not required to trim them with a knife or peel them.  You can snap the spear in two towards the bottom (the more fibrous part will separate from the more tender part naturally).


Grilled Balsamic Asparagus

Bunch(es) of fresh asparagus spears

Olive or vegetable oil

Balsamic vinegar



Coriander (crush the seeds with a mortar and pestle or use powdered coriander)


Rinse and prepare asparagus (as noted above).  Put all ingredients into a sealable plastic bag and set in a baking pan (in case the bag leaks).  Refrigerate and marinate for at least 1 hour, mixing at least once or twice, so all spears sit in the mixture/are coated well.  Grill until the spears are cooked to desired doneness, rotating as needed.  (I prefer to cook them until darker green, but not so much that they are mushy.)  Serve hot.


(And watch for grill flare-ups due to the oil; make sure to grill safe!)



The Great Pumpkin!

Happy Thanksgiving! There is never a bad time to be thankful and enjoy food (even if you aren’t in the U.S. for this specific holiday)!  If you have not yet had your fill of Turkey Day delicacies, perhaps some pumpkin will tantalize… and not that stuff in the can, either:


Hmm… a pseudo-pumpkin is filling our store shelves?

I grew the sugar pumpkin variety this year to a fair level of success.  I may have to expand to the additional variety he mentions, as well!  I have used pumpkin as a base for a risotto- it can be so much more than dessert… the recipes abound (for slow cookers and more.)  And who can forget the not-quite-so-unexpected bonus of toasted pumpkin seeds- sweet or savory? (After saving some to plant for next year, of course.)  I enjoyed ours fresh from the oven with a little salt.  (Parchment paper was a good tip to keep them from sticking/burning and to cut the fat.)



Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


(But be careful with the name!)  Celebrate with the history and some green, as well as favorite dishes (even though they may not be historically Irish).  Of course, there is nothing like a glass of Guinness.  Visit a local Irish pub, and don’t forget dessert!  I’m not Irish (but I’m adopted Irish through my wife).

We didn’t go with the typical dishes this year; instead, I made a sweet pea and asparagus risotto to celebrate with green.  I’ve made a basic (somewhat healthy) risotto recipe for a while now and have found ways to adjust it to tasty effect.  I have a couple of cooking adjustments so it is not so heavy (1% milk instead of cream, butter added just before the end, olive oil to start).  Enjoy!

Sweet Pea and Asparagus Risotto

olive oil

1 large white onion

2 cloves garlic

2 c white wine

1 tablespoon parsley

1 tablespoon thyme

1 tablespoon marjoram

1 tablespoon coriander

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups risotto rice (Arborio or another kind)

1 cup milk

6 cups water (added one at a time)

chicken-flavored stock granules (or veggie, if desired)

1 small bag frozen peas

1 bunch fresh asparagus, chopped into pieces (tough part of stem removed and discarded)

2 tablespoons butter

8 oz fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded

I cooked this using a wok, but a medium-large non-stick saucepan should work.  Add olive oil to pan and set heat to low-medium.  Chop onion and add to pan.  Saute for a few minutes.  Add garlic using a garlic press (or mince).  Cook for about a minute (don’t let garlic burn), and add white wine.  I added the herbs at this point.  (I tend to like a lot of seasoning, so my herb and spice measurements were more along the lines of 2 tablespoons each.)  Add the rice, and cook so the wine bubbles and starts to reduce.  Add peas and asparagus.  Add milk, and then add the water 1 cup at a time (as the water cooks away and evaporates).  (Add chicken, chicken-flavored, or veggie stock granules according to the package directions.)  Keep heat at about medium so the mixture is bubbling, and keep stirring frequently to prevent burning/sticking and to build the creaminess with the rice.  Taste the rice as you cook so it does not get completely soft (you may need to add additional cups of water if the rice is not yet done, though).  Add the butter just before you are done.  Allow it to melt and stir it into the mixture.  Remove the risotto from the heat and add the shredded Parmesan (while stirring).

A note- fresh peas may be better, but we did not have any available.  The frozen peas we had seemed starchy, but we did enjoy the flavor of the peas, so frozen baby peas may be the way to go (more sweetness, less starch).   Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Prelude to Spring

Yes, we’re still in January, but I’m thinking spring.  That’s not just because I can’t wait to enjoy warmer weather!  Hopefully to help you ‘think warm’, I’m sharing some recipes…

Salmon and Potato Salad with Caper Dijon Vinaigrette

Cheesy Pasta Ideas

Spiced Pear Sauce

More to come, now that we have Internet back, and spring gets ever closer!

What’s cooking on Thanksgiving Eve?

Butternut Squash Risotto

Photograph from recipe

As I’m writing this, my wife and I are finishing up applesauce and baking butternut squash for butternut squash risotto for Thanksgiving.  Risotto is one of my favorite thing to make, given that the recipe is so versatile with add-in ingredients.  I especially enjoyed my mother-in-law’s response upon tasting it- “How can we make our rice taste like this?”   I will often make it with portabellas (with some modifications), but this version with butternut squash is another of my favorites.  I love the flavor of butternut squash, as it can savory or slightly sweet, depending on how it’s made.  I have made this recipe previously, to excellent results.  It doesn’t call for other herbs or spices other than salt and pepper, but it can easily be adjusted.  I use a little cinnamon and nutmeg to add a little spice to the recipe.  Butternut squash risotto is a nice alternative to cheesy potatoes (though I love cheesy potatoes, as well!) and adds in an extra vegetable with the starch.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Keenwah… I mean Quinoa…


(Photo from Article)

Quinoa– no matter how you say it (keenwah… keenwah…), it remains an excellent food option.  I hadn’t tried quinoa until fairly recently- maybe a year ago.  It’s fairly tasty when made with broth and some herbs of your choosing.  Due to its complete nutritive nature, you could use it as a main dish, but I’ve had it more often as a side dish.  Definitely make sure to wash off the natural saponins (the water will run clear through the quinoa), or it may not be as tasty as you were hoping.

Rice is nice

Risotto Rice (Carnaroli)

For Meatless Monday, that is.  Or just about any other time.  I didn’t always know the specifics about risotto, let alone the difference between the rice types (thanks Appetite: A Hunger for Italy by Elena Bertozzi!)  Arborio (a good risotto rice) seems easy enough to find in most grocery stories, but I had to search a bit to find Carnaroli (the best risotto rice).

I tried a few different risotti and haven’t found a bad one yet.  Another favorite is a butternut squash risotto that was quite flavorful.  Last year, when we tried a portobello mushroom growing kit (with prolific results!) we needed to find recipes to use up all those portobellos.  The source recipe was ok, but it seemed as though the measurements were off. (Perhaps a bit too little rice and too much cheese?  It seemed to throw the consistency off.)  Regardless, I was bound to try again with some modifications of my own, and ended up with a much more flavorful result. I made this in a wok- perhaps not the most Italian method.  I also didn’t add any extra salt, since the stock is a main source of saltiness.  I also cut a bit of the fat by taking out the heavy cream and used skim instead of whole milk.  Don’t worry!  I left the butter!


2 tablespoons EVOO

2 tablespoons butter

1 large white onion

1 clove garlic, crushed

16 oz fresh mushrooms, chopped (I used small portobellos)

1 cup white wine

1 cup skim milk

2 cups Arborio (or Carnaroli, if you can find it) rice

6 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 cup grated fresh Parmesan

rosemary, thyme, pepper, salt, and parsley to taste

Warm the pan and add olive oil.  Cook the onion and garlic over medium heat until the onion is translucent and the garlic is slightly browned.  Add the butter.  Once it is melted, turn the heat down a bit, and add the mushrooms.  Add the white wine, rosemary, thyme, pepper, salt, and parsley.  Cook until the mushrooms soften, and add the milk and the rice.  Add the first cup of stock and stir until it is nearly absorbed completely.  Repeat until all six cups of stock have been used.  (The stirring each cup of stock into the rice is partly what adds to the creaminess of the dish- versus adding all the stock at once and cooking it down.)  When the rice is done, add the Parmesan and serve.