Sourdough Bread Starter Adventure

Bread is something I eat sparingly, but I love the idea of baking my own bread. I’ve done it before and I’ve even used starter before, but that was many years ago. The starter I used back then had sugar in it and it made the most delicious loaves of bread. These days I avoid sugar and carbs… so let’s make bread!

I figured why not begin a starter again? The first time, the starter was given to me, so I didn’t have to begin it myself. I just fed it and used it to bake.

The first starter I tried was Paul Hollywood’s apple starter (and watched a video about it too), which called for 4 cups of flour. It ended up a disaster, and I threw it away. Do not cover your starter tightly… the gasses have to be able to escape. The top of that starter was looking pinkish after a few days, and that is not good.

After looking around online, and finding so much conflicting advice about starter, I jumped in and did what I thought might work, using less flour to begin with. A lot less. This sourdough page at SeriousEats would have helped me quite a bit – if only I’d come across it weeks ago.

sourdough starter
Overnight this starter doubled – after building it for 10 days – and was the end product which I used to bake my bread.

I put my largest, and last, batch of starter into this big blue container. I didn’t get a photo the next morning, but it had risen about an inch and looked good. It was ready to use.

Here We Go

If you are ever interested in beginning a starter and making some bread, I will be listing exactly what I did right here on this page. I’m writing this for myself also, as a reminder of my sourdough starter adventure and the things I would change if I ever make this bread again. That’s right, it’s a lot of work and mess, so unless this bread is something super fabulous (the dough is rising as I write), I will not make this bread recipe again! But… I may use this starter to make another type of bread, like that sweet bread I used to make.

Making the starter is a bit messy also, but may be worth it depending on how the bread is.

This is what I did, mistakes and all.

  • DAY 1: To begin the starter, mix 1 Cup regular, unbleached flour (I used regular flour for all feedings), 1 Cup warm water, a little honey. (The honey was my choice, you don’t need it.) Pour into a mason jar (2 cup, wide mouth) and cover with lid and saran or wax paper, with a few holes in the top. The starter sits out on the countertop – not refrigerated.
  • DAY 2: Do nothing but observe. By the afternoon it was up about an inch. I put a little piece of food label tape on the side of the jar to mark the level. That way I could see if it was rising or not.
  • DAY 3: Stirred. Removed 1/2 cup starter and dumped out the rest. Mixed with 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup water and a little honey. Dumped back into Mason jar. It began to separate with liquid on top, so I stirred it. At this point I was not adding enough flour, I assumesee Day 5.
  • DAY 4: AM – Did feeding as above, Day 3. Fed again at night by stirring in 1 spoonful of flour. Didn’t figure out the ratio until Day 5.
  • DAY 5: Discovered that the ratio should be (according to someplace online) to mix equal measurements of starter and water, and then double that for the flour. Mixed 1/2 cup of starter (discarded remainder), 1/2 C. water, and 1 Cup flour. Starter was bubbly, not much rise.
  • DAY 6: Same as day 5. Once I began adding more flour, I didn’t have the “hooch” liquid on top again. The liquid forming means that the starter is hungry and needs to be fed.
  • DAY 7: Same, remove 1/2 c. starter and mix with 1/2 cup water, 1 c. flour and put back into a container. I switched out Mason jars at some point to wash the first one. The starter was not rising much, so this mason jar (2 cup) was the perfect size.
  • DAY 8: Saw a bigger rise in the AM. Saved more starter since I need 2 1/3 cups of starter for the bread recipe, and the starter seems ready. This time I removed 1 cup starter to mix with 1 cup water, and 2 cups flour. I left this in the bowl I mixed it in and covered for overnight.
  • DAY 9: In the PM I did the same as day 8, mixing 1:1:2, and adding a little honey. I put it into a big plastic container. The leftover starter did not get thrown away this time – I put it into a mason jar, covered tightly, to store in the fridge. It will have to be fed once a week to stay good.
  • DAY 10: 9:00AM – Made the dough, combining 2 1/3 C. starter, 3 1/3 C. bread flour, and scant Tbsp. salt. See the video / recipe on YouTube.

The ingredients were mixed together with a spoon then turned out onto a mat to knead. This dough was extremely sticky. Ridiculously sticky! It stuck to the mat, to my hands, and although I put flour down constantly, it would turn sticky again quickly. By the way, you will use LOADS OF WATER to rinse everything off. I ended up taking my pastry mat outside to hose it down. Here’s a video about sticky dough and how to knead it. I definitely need a scraper.

Because this dough was so godawful sticky this whole experience turned me off. I enjoy kneading dough, but this stuff was not fun. Clean up is pretty awful as well. Every bowl, mat, utensil, and measuring cup must be rinsed thoroughly or washed immediately.

I kneaded it for 20 minutes, cut it in half, shaped the dough and put in Ghee-greased bread pans. Now the 2 pans are covered with towels for the loaves to rise. Next I will bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

two loaves made with sourdough starter
Looks bad, tastes good

After waiting for ten hours, and also using the Proof setting on my oven for a couple hours, the bread did not rise much. I baked it anyway and got two relatively flat loaves. It is edible and certainly tastes homemade. I can taste the sourness and toasted it would be delicious.

My plan is to slice and freeze it, after I make some french toast for breakfast. Bread keeps for 3-6 months in the freezer.

Why I Prefer Cookbooks to Online Recipes

I consider myself fortunate to have grown up cooking new recipes from cookbooks. These days food photos and recipes dominate the internet, with very few good ones to be found. Most recipes seem to be carbon copies done over and over, saying the same thing. Once I wade through the advertisements on the page and finally see the actual ingredients, I’ve lost interest.

eclair sweets dessert

Does Everyone Really Own a Food Processor?

I love to find a nice recipe and then discover the meal was made with the help of a food processor. I’m kidding. I don’t love it.

Recently I was looking for a recipe to give me ideas about what to do with some cauliflower and mushrooms I happened to have. Was there a recipe that used both? Yes, some sort of Bolognese which, according to the recipe required all kinds of work, including using the food processor numerous times.

Pumpkin soup

These days when I search for a recipe, I am usually looking for ideas and not specific directions. I’ve been cooking long enough to know the basics. Except for beginner cooks, I can’t understand why people need to follow recipes to the letter.

Which brings me to the next gripe.

Don’t Trust All / Most Recipe Blogs

Aside from the long, advertisement filled pages of recipe blogs, many times the recipes themselves are simply not that good. Some say to add salt at every turn. Some list ingredients which really don’t go together. And many make cooking and baking much more difficult than it needs to be. They lead you to believe that they are sharing their own secret ideas for success.

Let’s face it, most food bloggers are writing to make money. We all have to eat, and mostly love looking at pretty pictures of food, so bloggers have that going for them. They will link to food items, kitchen utensils, and pots and pans while kindly sharing their recipe (which is just a copy of everyone else’s). They make money off those links, and the massive amount of ads which appear on the page. I don’t fault them for that, just the massive overdoing of it.

But do we believe that these bloggers make their own recipes? I suppose some do, but others sound so bizarre and awful, I can’t believe it. Their cutesy way of writing should not distract from the real reason the page was created.

Dig Out the Old Cookbook First

Because of all the moving I’ve done in my life, I no longer have many “things”, but one thing I have kept is my old cookbooks, namely Betty Crocker. Usually I check here first when making a recipe.

It’s falling apart and as you can see the front was burned by a hot stove coil at some point, but it still holds some wonderful recipes which I still use.

Old Betty Crocker cookbook
My 1970’s cookbook

Granted, it’s old fashioned. I don’t use “lard” to make anything, and fondue is a bit unpopular these days, but tried and true cakes, cookies, pies and casseroles made from this book are still the best basic recipes out there. No food processors necessary!

Bloggers have to have a lot of words on their pages for indexing and search engine optimization. That’s why they go on and on about all kinds of boring things when you first land on their pages. We hear about their hubbies, kids and baking mistakes, and blah blah… until we finally get down to the actual recipe.

But, open a cookbook, and there you have it, the recipe ready to follow.

Okay, okay… I realize that most younger people probably don’t have old, faithful cookbooks to follow. I’m just saying be careful of which recipe blogs you choose to use.

Thanks to Pixabay.com for the food images on this page.

Ratatouille Recipe

This is my (easier and quicker) version of the original online Ratatouille recipe found at Tasty. I made a few changes.

Although it seems like you will be slicing and layering forever, this recipe does not take many vegetables at all so slicing was minimal. I used 2 very small summer squash, 1.5 small zucchini, 2 medium size tomatoes, and half (or less) of a large eggplant. I thought about digging out my mandarin slicer, but I really didn’t need it.

Most cooks used a large pan of some sort to create this dish. I decided to use three small round pans (about 6 inches across) because I am the only one who will eat it and I can freeze one of the servings.

What is Ratatouille?

The word “ratatouille” brings to mind that Disney cartoon about the mouse in the French kitchen helping a new young chef learn to cook. The dish for which the movie is named, is made of vegetables, usually the type that are harvested at around the same time in summer. This could mean all sorts of vegetables were used, and way back when, they probably used whatever was in abundance in the backyard garden.

I don’t know about the old original ratatouille recipes, but these days you see the dish as sliced and layered colorful vegetables. Because of this, all the various veggie flavors mingle while they bake. I was very happy with the outcome and ate it with some leftover noodles.

Ratatouille recipe
I sprinkled spices on before covering and baking

My own homemade sauce is my favorite, but this time I used store bought, low sodium, organic spaghetti sauce to save time. One medium size jar worked well to divide up between three small pans. I did sprinkle a little sugar on top of the sauce because the store bought sauce was not sweet enough for my taste.

I oiled the pans, then divided the sauce into each of the three pans. The sliced vegetables were layered on a plate (a few at a time) and then plunked into the pan. Once the pans were full, I tucked the remaining slices into the center and to fill in around the edge.

Vegetables to Use

The eggplant I bought was huge, so I cut each slice into fourths for layering. First I salted the slices and let them sit in my colander for about 20 minutes. This gets the bitterness out. Rinse the salt off before using. A Japanese eggplant, which is long and skinny, would probably work better.

I used 2 small yellow squash and only 1 and 1/2 zucchini. Since I only had small tomatoes, but not Roma, I cut the slices (from 2 small tomatoes) in half. The large eggplant slices I cut into fourths but only used about half the large eggplant.

Other vegetables that would work are thinly sliced bell pepper and onion.

Topping the Veggies

The original recipe I found said to add the herbs and oil after baking, but I sprinkled herbs over my slices before I covered them with foil to bake. It didn’t make sense to me to add all that nice flavor later on. Once the food was baked, I added nothing except a tiny bit of salt (because I add no salt when baking).

My Baking Time Was Reduced For the Smaller Size Pans

I used three small, round baking pans and baked them at 375 for 30 minutes, not 40. (They are covered with foil for the first baking sequence.) Once they were uncovered I baked them for an additional 10-15, which is less time than the 20 minutes suggested. My pans were small, so that makes sense. Just watch your baking time if you use smaller dishes.

Ratatouille recipe
Ready to cover and bake.

If you have a garden and can grow all these vegetables, your meal will be super cheap, and fresher than most. No wonder peasants were known for creating this dish! I wonder if they waited all year looking forward to tasting the first Ratatouille of summer?

I’ve seen some Ratatouille recipes baked in cast iron, but with the acidic tomatoes and sauce, I would use something other than cast iron. This recipe would work nicely in a pretty covered casserole dish. Or individual serving dishes / small cake pans like I used.

What to Serve With Your Ratatouille

Ideas for serving and eating the finished vegetable dish.

  • Serve over rice or noodles as a vegetarian dish.
  • Cook ground beef to combine with the tomato sauce to use as the base.
  • Make garlic bread (softened butter, minced garlic, parmesan cheese mixed and spread on bread and broiled to golden brown). Bread and ratatouille would make a perfect meal!
  • Serve Ratatouille as a side dish to any type of meat / fish, or in addition to a salad or other vegetable.
  • It’s awesome with macaroni and cheese! I liked it so much that the second time I made this recipe I put mac and cheese in the bottom of the pans, then the sauce, and vegetable layer.
Baked ratatouille is ready to eat
Bon Appetit

Ever since I found Ingrid’s Produce just down the street I have been a veggie cooking fool. Over the weekend I made a scrumptious tomato soup with fresh ingredients.

Homemade, Fresh Tomato Soup

Fresh vegetables are difficult to find, or have been for me. You may think that a sunny, hot place like Florida would be full of wonderful produce, but that is not the case. Apparently it is too sunny and too hot. I’ve tried to garden here without luck. So the local Florida growers who are able to supply beautiful peppers and tomatoes like the ones in my photo here, make me feel grateful. Now that I have found some luscious produce, I will make homemade tomato soup from scratch.

Bowl of fresh tomatoes, bell peppers and avocado

Searching For a Tomato Soup Recipe

If you have ever searched online for any type of recipe you know how overwhelming it can be to find a good version. Food blogs are popular and in many cases copies of other food blogs. In other words the writer has never made the food themselves. Food photos are available for free and to buy, so anyone who wants to can pretend to be a foodie. There is money in the advertising and if you notice, most food blogs have many ads and popups everywhere. For this reason I have been wading through blogs featuring tomato soup recipes to find what I want.

My soup will be made entirely from fresh ingredients, as opposed to canned, and all I need to know is what basic additions to make to the obvious one.

Here’s a list of the ingredients I will be using:

  • Fresh, delicious tomatoes (thank you Ingrid’s Produce)
  • bell peppers (yellow orange red and green)
  • chopped onion
  • garlic, finely chopped – about 6 cloves
  • vegetable broth (my own from the freezer)
  • basil, parsley (from my garden)
  • celery
  • heavy cream
  • sugar (cuts down the acidity of the tomatoes)

Putting it All Together

My plan was to roast the peppers on the grill and remove the skins. That didn’t work out too well because they didn’t blacken enough and the skin didn’t come off. Today I will roast them in the oven and try again. This worked, and I peeled the skin and chopped the pepper pieces to add to the vegetables in the pot.

broiled bell peppers
Broiling the peppers to remove the skins

The 12 tomatoes will be blanched in boiling water and then the skin will be removed.

While the water heats to boiling, cut “X” marks in the bottom of each tomato. I read somewhere to do this and it greatly helps when peeling off the skin!

cooking fresh tomato soup
Boiling water to blanch the tomatoes

Use a big pot, like a dutch oven like mine, and bring the water to a full boil. Use a slotted spoon or some large scoop to put the tomatoes into the boiling water. They only need to be in the water for 30 seconds to a minute – seriously… Get them out when they look wizzled. I did all my tomatoes at once, but I should have done 6 at a time.

Be sure the ice water is ready so the tomatoes can go directly in when they come out of the boiling water. I needed a bigger bowl for this! All my tomatoes barely fit. As you can see, the skins have split and are ready to be peeled. Start at the bottom where you made that X and they come right off.

Whole red tomatoes in ice water
Boiled tomatoes need an ice bath

While I waited for the water to come to a boil for the tomatoes I chopped the roasted peppers, celery (3 stalks), whole onion, garlic cloves (around 6), and put them into the broth in my dutch oven. I used my big 6 quart Lodge pot because my LeCreuset pot was too small.

Save Your Own Broth

By the way, the broth I used was saved in my freezer from previously cooked vegetables. Don’t dump that vitamin rich water down the drain when cooking beans, peas, carrots, asparagus, etc., save it in the freezer in a large container and add to it as you boil veggies. It can be used in soup, stew, gravy, chili, and whatever later on.

simmering chopped veggies
Finely chopped veggies simmer in broth

While the vegetables and broth simmered, I chopped up the tomatoes. I’m not sure they really needed to be chopped, but I did. I coarsely chopped them and removed the top stem area, and then added them to the other veggies in the pot. At this point I added chopped parsley and basil from my garden and other herbs from my spice rack, including a tiny bit of salt and some black pepper.

Whole tomatoes with skin removed
Tomato skins are removed and they are ready to chop

I almost forgot the sugar, so added a couple tablespoons to the mix. I always add sugar to homemade tomato sauce and it helps with the flavor. Then I let it simmer for 3-4 hours. I didn’t time it, but I figured the softer the vegetables the better.

Chopped tomatoes and vegetables simmering in pot
I simmered all the veggies for about 3-4 hours.

Cooling, Blending, Straining, and Reheating The Soup

Once I had let the pot of vegetables cook a long while, I turned off the heat and began to cool the food. I used a pyrex measuring cup to scoop out the hot mix and put it into large bowls which I set on a wire cooling rack. Once the soup mixture was cool, I used the measuring cup to pour small amounts into my Oster Blender.

From there I poured the blended soup through my colander which has the perfect size holes! I had no idea how this would work out, but since I had removed the skins from the peppers and tomatoes, all that was left was the tomato seeds. And my yellow colander caught those! So use something with holes large enough for the sauce to easily pass through, but will catch the seeds.

Yellow plastic colander

I repeated the process of blending and straining the seeds until all the soup was back in the same dutch oven. I reheated it and then added some heavy cream (this lightens the color of the soup to more orange than red). I didn’t measure, just poured, but probably a half a cup or so. I’m considering using yogurt or Kite Hill non-dairy yogurt next time.

Tomato soup in a dutch oven
Reheating the soup and adding some heavy cream

I’m pleased with the taste and I know exactly what is in my homemade soup. Because I am the only one who will eat it, I filled several small freezer containers which I labeled and froze. Grilled cheese and tomato soup for supper tonight! Can’t wait.

Homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich lunch
Yum… this was my supper!

Making this soup was time consuming. Between chopping all the vegetables and doing the tomatoes then cooling, blending and reheating it took some time. But I love homemade soup and this is worth making again.

Use common sense when looking for “recipes” online. Some tomato soup recipes called for flour or canned tomato paste. Sometimes a few good recipes will give you ideas and when combined, you get a stunning result. I wanted fresh ingredients only, and I believe I have achieved that.

Homemade tomato soup in containers
Done and ready to freeze!

Butternut Squash Tomato Soup

When I visited New Hampshire last Fall, the Fiddleheads Café, in Hancock featured butternut squash tomato soup on their menu, which sounded so good! Unfortunately they were out of it the day I wanted some, so I decided that one day I would make my own. Since then I have been searching my local Florida area for good tomatoes to use. Most tomatoes here taste like nothing. Once you eat garden fresh tomatoes it really does spoil you. I gave up on making soup because of that.

Just the other day I discovered a fresh produce store just down the road from me. And the tomatoes are fresh and tasty! The owner also had little butternut squash, so I bought two. I love the size because I can’t eat a whole, large squash myself. Now I am thinking about adding some to my soup.

Small butternut squash
I love the small size of this squash

Update on the squash. I baked them both and wasn’t happy with the flavor. They tasted like they needed more time to grow! So maybe that is the case. I ate the squash and did not add it to my soup.

I’m thinking that I could cook some squash (a larger, more tasty one) and simply add it to my already made tomato soup. Why not?

Bon appétit…!