What’s Been Cooking

Park Walk

It’s been another busy month around here, with more work trips (this time to L.A.) and time spent outdoors enjoying the last of the fall foliage (photo above Suraj took on one of our many walks at a park nearby). This week, I’m off to Buffalo for Thanksgiving and am really looking forward to the break.

I don’t have a set recipe for today, but thought I’d just share some links to things I’ve been cooking these past few weeks, in case anyone is looking for inspiration:

–These sweet potato waffles are my new fav. I made this recipe for the first time a few weeks ago, after finally buying a new waffle maker, and they’re awesome. We have a stash stored in the freezer and they are excellent re-toasted and spread with peanut butter and fig jam (trust me on this one…).
–For a quick, ready-made lunch solution, I made a big batch of these freezer burritos a few weeks ago and can’t recommend them enough. I kept them vegetarian and used sour cream, refried black beans (this recipe), brown rice, sauteed ripe plantains, and cilantro for my filling. They reheat in about a minute in the microwave. Suraj is a huge fan. I may do another batch soon, with scrambled egg, for a breakfast version.
–This wild salmon soup is a staple for us, and is especially easy to throw together when I have homemade broth on hand. We usually use potatoes in place of the squash.
–I thought I didn’t like teriyaki until I tried this recipe, and now I’m a total convert. It’s SO simple and SO good. We had it for dinner last night with garlicky green beans. You can get chicken with the skin on (vital for this recipe) at Whole Foods; it’s in the sealed packages.

As for Thanksgiving, here’s a few things I’m taking home with me, as well as what I’ll be making there (each of my siblings is bringing a dish or two, and my mom’s got the rest…homemade pies included. So excited!):

broccoli cheese bites. Super easy to throw together and will be a good breakfast/snack during my 8-hour drive. Would also make a great appetizer if you did them in mini-muffin pans.
butternut squash and orzo salad. I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for months, after my friend Jess sang its praises. She was right; it’s great! I’m packing a huge container and we’ll likely eat it for a few lunches this week. I subbed feta for the blue cheese.
hummus. This is something I seem to take home and on vacation without fail (mainly because my sister loves it as much as I do). This recipe is my go-to; it’s so smooth! I add a little more water and/or olive oil at the end, and it’s done it about 30 seconds in my Vitamix. We’ll probably have it with salad and pita at some point. (Sidenote: Have you ever had pizza with hummus for dipping? You’ll never eat it any other way once you do.)
Italian vinaigrette. Is it weird that I am packing my own salad dressing to take home? Well I don’t care if it is because this is my new favorite dressing and I can’t imagine any salad without it. I also plan on using it in a panzanella (bread) salad I’ll make while I’m there, for which I’ll use this sourdough for the bread.
s’mores cupcakes. I made these a few weeks ago for a Halloween party, and they were a total hit. I’m going to make them again at Thanksgiving, for the kids (in hopes that they will eat them instead of all the pie).

Hope everyone has a fantastic holiday!

Thanksgiving Table

 

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My Top 10 Kitchen Tips

Slicing bread for the freezer (Tip 5).

Slicing bread for the freezer (Tip #2).

Conversations about food are, not surprisingly, some of my favorite conversations to have.

But conversations about food that happen while in the act of cooking—now those are the very best.

They begin, of course, in the kitchen, the invariable place where people linger, no matter how much bigger/cooler/quieter any other room in the house. They’re conversations that are a little of this and a little of that (How’s your mom doing? Where’s this wine from?), jumping around like the cooking itself. But through them, bits of knowledge and cooking “style” emerge. I’ve never seen someone cut an onion like that!, or, I love this little butter knife, or, How do you keep your cilantro fresh for so long?! 

The answers to these questions come from years of cooking, or notes from a grandmother’s cookbook, or a friend’s recommendation, or something somebody once read in a magazine at the doctor’s office. Kitchen fairy dust. We take them home and apply them to our own cooking, adapting as we see fit, and perhaps even re-telling to future guests at our own table.

With that in mind, I’m sharing ten of my favorite cooking and kitchen tips here today. They’re quite a mish-mash and some you probably already know, but perhaps you’ll find a few you can hang onto. Feel free to share your own in the comments as well! 🙂


My Top 10 Kitchen Tips

  1. When prepping for a meal, keep a mixing bowl on the counter just for garbage/scraps. That way you’re not walking to the trash every five seconds to throw peels and onion skins away. I seriously couldn’t function without doing this and the garbage can is only about 3 steps away, ha. Just dump out the bowl once full, or at the end of cooking.

  2. Keep a loaf of sliced bread in the freezer. Whenever I make homemade bread, or buy a nice artisan loaf from the store, I slice it all and put it directly in the freezer. That way nothing goes stale and we always have bread—very important considering toast is my favorite breakfast item. Sliced bread defrosts in no time, so all you need to do is take it out a few minutes before mealtime (or put it directly in the toaster). To serve warm, just wrap in foil and put in a 400°F oven for 10 minutes or so. // As for bread ends and crusts certain people despise, I save them in a bag in the freezer. When it’s full, I pulse in the food processor for instant breadcrumbs, which I use for breaded chicken.

  3. Keeping on the freezer theme, keep a running list of all the things you have in your freezer. I keep mine in the Evernote app (see my screen shot below), so I can access the list anywhere. This is especially helpful when at the store, or when thinking about dinner at 3 pm and trying to figure out a plan. It really helps you use up stuff too, rather than letting it go to waste. Note: We have a small freezer (see photo below) and I’m able to fit all that stuff by stacking things flat and being completely anal about it, ha—though there is still a certain risk factor when you open the door sometimes, as Suraj will tell you, and it’s usually a full pint of Häagen-Dazs to the foot.

    Screenshot (5)

    You name, I have a list for it.

    Freezer

    Jenga, freezer edition. Lots of bread, burgers (veg and reg), broth, beans, grains (farro), and ice cream of course. The meats and veggies are in the back.


  4. Make double batches of grains, rice, and beans on a Sunday (or whatever day you have free), and freeze the leftovers flat in a gallon-size bag. I know I’ve mentioned this before (here), but I truly find this indispensable. Just last week, Suraj and I were eating leftovers for a quick work lunch and he mentioned that his curry would be great with rice, which we didn’t have in the fridge and had no time to make. I grabbed the bag of frozen rice out of the freezer, knocked off a chunk, and tossed it in his bowl. Such a lifelunchsaver. // Bonus tip: While you’re cooking up your grains, start washing and slicing up any produce you have the fridge. This little bit of prep work goes a long way on busy weeknights or when someone wants a snack. Sliced carrots, celery, and peppers are a favorite.

  5. When making homemade burgers, meatballs, or kebabs, add shredded zucchini. This keeps them from drying out, adds flavor, and makes them healthier. It also helps you use up zucchini if you’re lucky enough to have an abundance! I add 1 to 2 cups shredded zucchini for every 1 1/4 lbs meat (usually lamb or turkey). This makes at least 8 burgers for us, and I freeze half the batch for future dinners. // Since we don’t have a grill, we cook our burgers by first searing in a hot cast-iron pan, then transferring to a 400°F for 10 to 15 minutes. Perfectly cooked burgers every time, plus you can throw some potatoes into the oven around the same time for oven fries. This tip originally came from one of my favorite cookbooks, Jerusalem, and the author’s turkey and zucchini burgers (recipe can be found here if you’re interested).

  6. If you get stuck coming up with a new dinner every night, try at least establishing a “theme” each night and using that as a template. For instance, make Monday “meat and potatoes” night, Tuesday “pasta” night, Wednesday “international” night, and Thursday takeout. Then be creative within those parameters. I find this helps prevent burnout and keeps me from getting overwhelmed with ideas. Thursday, for example, is always “sausage and roasted veg” night for us because I have no time/energy by week’s end. This strategy can also be really useful for families with children, as it gives kids the structure they often crave.

  7. My favorite bread dip / oil for roasting vegetables / salad dressing: Garlic confit. It sounds fancy but is dead easy to make. Heat a cup of olive oil over low to medium heat. Add whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic (I add at least 20-25 cloves, or two small heads), a pinch of kosher salt, and any herbs you like (I just do red pepper flakes). Let simmer for 20 minutes. The cloves soften and can be pulled out of their skins and mashed onto bread or added to roasted veggies. The garlic-infused olive oil is pretty much amazing on anything, from meat to veggies to salad (with a little lemon juice). It also keeps in the fridge indefinitely (note that my oil solidifies once chilled, though not all olive oils do).  Garlic Confit

  8. My fastest, goes-with-anything dip: Greek yogurt + squirt of Sriracha. Dash of lime, cumin, and/or salt optional. I eat this with sausage (on Thursdays!), sweet potato fries, and basically any vegetable I can dip (cooked or raw).

  9. Save your strawberry tops (yes, the leaf part) and add them to a bottle of water. Leave overnight and the next day you’ll have delicious strawberry-flavored water. This works with actual berries too, but I prefer eating those! Use organic if you can, since you’re using the leaves. This is a great drink for parties, or when you’re bored with just drinking regular water.

  10. You can clean almost everything with a simple solution of vinegar + water. I measure equal parts of each, add in a few drops of essential oil (usually lemongrass and grapefruit, but anything will work), and put it in a spray bottle. I use this solution throughout the house, and even as a vegetable- and fruit-wash, usually diluted with a little more water. Vinegar is one of the best all-purpose, natural cleaners you can find.

Oh, and if you’re still wondering how I keep my cilantro fresh for so long (astute reader that you are), I wrap it in a moist paper towel, put it in a plastic bag, and keep it in the crisper drawer in the fridge. Lasts for a good two weeks that way.

I’d love to hear your favorite tips in the comments below!

Cucumber Roti (Flatbread)

Cucumber Roti

Breakfast is easily my favorite meal of the day. (You’ll be seeing a lot of it on this blog, I assure you.)

It’s also one my favorite parts of the weekend. I love the gentle pace that comes along with it, the rituals behind it (for us: tea, then more tea), and the stretch of the day ahead. It’s comforting. It’s warm. It’s that place where you want to sit and stay awhile.

Aside from eggs in all forms (omelet for Suraj, scrambled for me), we gravitate toward Indian breakfast items. Dosa/iddly, poha, and savory pancakes like moong dal cheela and cucumber roti (recipe below) are our top picks. I think if I ever actually wrote a cookbook myself (aside from just hiring people to do it), it would be on Indian breakfasts. There is just SO much to love when it comes to this cuisine, this meal. Wholesome ingredients, a light touch of spice, veg-centric, filling-but-not-coma-inducing (and often fermented, like dosa)—addicting, in a word. My “to blog” list includes dozens of these recipes, and I hope to one day share them all here (check out my Instagram in the meantime for photos of most of them, and proof that I am in fact obsessed).

Our weekend breakfasts all take more time to prepare than pouring a bowl of cereal, but that’s what I like about them. I like listening to Sunday Morning while pulling things together, and having Suraj come join me to finish the tea while I take things off the stove, or cut up some fruit. When we sit down together, we’re both relaxed, but hungry, and can look forward to a warm meal in front of us, and the day ahead.

In the case of this cucumber roti, or flatbread, it’s one I posted about to friends on Facebook a few weeks ago, when I was once again waxing poetic about this very subject (I’m fast becoming a broken record, aren’t I?). A few people asked for the recipe, which I’m more than happy to share here. It’s rather easy to prepare, gluten-free by nature, and full of flavors that work beautifully together (cucumber, coconut, rice, cilantro). The cucumber and coconut help keep the interior soft and subtly sweet, while the outside crisps up in beautiful contrast—it’s a savory pancake/flatbread like no other. I hope it finds its way into one of your weekend mornings.

Cucumber Roti 2


Cucumber Roti (Flatbread)
This savory flatbread is made simply from grated cucumber mixed with rice flour, coconut, and a few spices/herbs (cumin, cilantro, chili). There is no water or other liquid added; the cucumber itself hydrates the dough. It is light on the stomach, yet filling at the same time. You can find grated, frozen coconut at any Indian grocery store. It’s pretty cheap, requires no prep, and tastes amazing; I just defrost it in the microwave for about 45 seconds. If you can’t find it, you can use unsweetened, dried, shredded coconut—just soak it in 1/2 cup of hot water for 20 minutes or so, then add it to the dough along with the soaking water (I haven’t tried this personally, so you may need to play with the water ratio).

2 cups rice flour (I use white rice flour, as it’s easier to digest than brown)
1 english cucumber, peeled and grated
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh coconut
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (the salt helps draw out the moisture)
4 green chillies, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Coconut oil, ghee, or other cooking oil
Butter, for serving

Combine all the ingredients (except for the oil and butter) in large bowl. Don’t add any water, just start kneading it all together with your hands. As you work, the moisture from the cucumber will start releasing and hydrate the flour. After a few minutes, it should start coming together into a ball and feel like play dough. If it still feels too crumbly, add a couple of drops of water and keep kneading (I’ve never had to do this, but if you had a small cucumber, maybe you’ll need to).

Divide the dough into equal portions, making each one about the size of an orange. Working with one piece at a time, place on top of a sheet of waxed paper and press down with your fingers to flatten to about 1/4 inch thickness. You may need to wet your hands with a little water if they’re sticking. Conversely, you can lay a second piece of waxed paper on top of the dough (flattening slightly) and gently roll it out with a rolling pin (or use a tortilla press).

Heat a cast iron pan or skillet with a few teaspoons of coconut oil or ghee over medium heat. It’s hot enough when a drop of water sizzles. Gently transfer the roti to the skillet; I do this by taking off the top sheet of waxed paper (if using), then picking up the whole thing by the bottom piece of waxed paper and flipping it over onto the skillet, so the waxed paper sheet is now on top—I then quickly and gently peel off the top paper.

Cook for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until lightly browned in spots. Remove and serve hot with butter and a sprinkle of salt. We like to have ours with hard-boiled eggs, avocado, Greek yogurt, Indian pickle, and chutney.

If you have any leftovers, just keep them in the fridge and reheat in the toaster. They make a great weekday breakfast this way!

Stollen Bread

Stollen Toast 3

Back when I wrote about sourdough, I mentioned that I had a fruit & nut bread, also known as stollen, on my baking to-do list.

It’s since been baked. And I’m already down to my last few slices. It’s a never-ending cycle.

Stollen is one of my favorite breads of all time. I used to just make it for holiday gift-giving, but it’s now become a year-round staple. Soft and lightly sweet, it’s a yeast bread filled with dried fruit and nuts and a log of almond paste. When you cut the loaf, each slice yields a coin-sized amount of the paste, which you pop out and spread on top along with some butter and a little jam, if you like. Please tell me you’re sold. Whoever invented this deserves a medal.

I’d love to make a naturally leavened (aka sourdough) version of this bread one day, but for now, I’m fine sticking with the yeast version. It’s a nice change of pace from our more hearty loaves, and everyone loves it. When I go home to upstate New York to see my family, I can’t show up without a loaf or two (which my sister and I then hide and only have once her kids have already eaten so they won’t ask us for any. Sharing: 0, Us: 2).

If you’ve never made bread before or are “afraid of yeast,” as I hear people say, this is a great first recipe to try (especially for Easter!). Yes, it has a few ingredients, but the directions are very step-by-step and hard to mess up. In fact, this was one of the first breads I ever baked, and I’m still convinced that my very first loaf was actually better than any I’ve made since. If you’re going to capitalize on beginner’s luck, this is the loaf to use it on!

Stollen Loaf 2


Stollen
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour and the Food Network. If you don’t like nuts, you can leave them out, though I’d argue to give it a try as is first, as all the elements together really make it phenomenal. The original recipe uses candied fruit, but I can’t stand the stuff (it’s filled with dyes and additives), so I stick with dried fruit and just soak it first to make it soft. As for the almond paste, I’ve used both store-bought and made my own (using this recipe); both are great. You could use marzipan too, I would think, but it’s less almond-y and even more sweet than regular almond paste, so the outcome might be a little different. // Finally, note that this recipe take a couple hours from start to finish, though most of it is hands-off. Devote a Sunday afternoon to it, and you can look forward to a week of great toast!
Yield: two medium-sized loaves

For the dried fruit:
1 cup dried fruit, diced (l like to use a mix of dried cherries, golden raisins, dates, and figs)
1/4 cup rum or orange juice

For the sponge: 
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
2/3 cup milk (I use whole)
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

For the dough:
1/3 cup honey
1 large egg, beaten
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon or orange zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup toasted and chopped nuts (I like to use a mix of walnuts, almonds, pecans, and pistachios)
3 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Oil, for coating bowl

For the filling: 
7 ounces almond paste (I like Odense brand, which comes in a tube), divided into two pieces

To prepare the dried fruit: Combine the dried fruit and rum or orange juice. Cover and set aside. Shake or stir the mixture every so often to coat the fruit with the liquid. I like to leave it overnight so my fruit is really soft, but a half-hour or so is fine too.

To prepare the “sponge”: In a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Heat the milk to 110 degrees F (just warm to the touch, not any hotter) and add it to the yeast along with the honey and 1 cup flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until light and full of bubbles, about 30 minutes. This is your sponge.

If preparing the dough by hand: Strain the dried fruit mixture, discarding the liquid. To the bowl with the sponge, add the dried fruit, honey, egg, melted butter, zest, salt, nutmeg, nuts, and 2 cups of the flour. Stir vigorously for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining 1 to 2 cups flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl; I usually end up adding about 1 1/2 cups total. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead, adding a little flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 6 to 7 minutes. The dough should be smooth and supple—not dry or crumbly, but not sticking to your hands either.

If preparing the dough in a stand mixer: Strain the dried fruit mixture, discarding the liquid. To the mixer bowl with the sponge, add the dried fruit, honey, egg, melted butter, zest, salt, nutmeg, nuts, and 2 cups of the flour. Using the paddle, beat the mixture on medium low speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Change to the dough hook. Continue to add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just begins to clean the bowl and feels supple, but not sticky or dry. Knead 4 to 5 minutes on medium-low.

First rise: Put the dough in a large, oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a towel or lid and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. You’ll know the dough is ready when you press it gently with your finger and it takes more than a minute for the indentation to fill back out again.

To shape and fill: Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, gently roll/press the dough into a 7 by 9-inch oval. Roll half of the almond paste into a log that is just a little less than the length of the dough (about 8 inches) and lay it on top of the dough, close to the center. Carefully roll the dough up into a loaf, pinching the ends together as you roll, so that the log of almond paste stays in the center and doesn’t stick out. Place the loaves on a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet, seam-side down, and cover with a lightly greased piece of plastic wrap (I cover mine with the top lid of a cardboard box, so it doesn’t touch the loaves but does keep away any drafts that would keep it from rising properly). Let rise for at 45 minutes, or until just about doubled and nicely puffy.

About 20 minutes before the loaves are ready, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the loaves (on the middle rack) for 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees. If the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, it’s done.

While the loaves are still warm, brush the outside with butter (this helps keep the crust soft). Place on a rack to cool completely before slicing.

Eat within 2 to 3 days, or slice and freeze. You can toast the slices directly from the freezer, no need to defrost. I like mine with butter and tart cherry jam.


Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

The first loaf of stollen I ever made. Had to dig up the photographic evidence to prove it. Been a winner since 2011.

Eating Habits, Part II

everyday breakfast

[For Part I, click here.]

I’ve always found it interesting to see/hear what people eat in a typical day. I mean, I cannot be the only one who thought that the best part of MTV’s Cribs was seeing what was in the fridge, amIright?

So here’s a quick glimpse at what a typical few days of eating looks like for me. While I’m obviously not as interesting as a celebrity, you may come across one or two things that surprise you (coughcough, Domino’s pizza, coughcough).

I wrote down every.single.thing, and looking back at it, it appears I eat a heck of a lot of food. (Do any of you out there keep a food journal? …because I found it slightly terrifying.) Perhaps I do eat more than others, but it’s important to note that it is all in moderation and I work hard to stop when I’m satisfied, not bursting at the seams. I gauge this by mostly by the fact that I can still happily think and talk about food even once I’ve finished eating. I don’t mean to say that I still feel hungry, but looking at a recipe or a photo of food doesn’t gross me out—if it does, I know I’ve gone overboard. (Try it for yourself next time you’re eating. Can you not even stand the thought of food after finishing your meal? If so, consider stopping a few minutes before you get to that point in the future.) This is a particularly important strategy for me because the majority of my work day is spent dealing with food-related things. It would be a shame to not enjoy that!

A few final notes before we get to it:

  • You will see four days documented here—three weekdays, and one weekend day. I didn’t plan in advance for this. It was just a normal week.
  • I took photos three out of the four days. If you hover over the images, a caption should give a brief description of the food, with detailed info in the text below. Please forgive the bad lighting/poor quality of some of the shots! I snapped these really, really quickly and some were taken with my smudged-up iPhone camera.
  • Any cooking I did was either just for me, or for both Suraj and me. Still, I cook in large batches, usually making enough to serve a family of 3 to 4, so we always have leftovers.
  • Unless otherwise noted with a brand, everything logged is homemade—this includes nut butter, jam, yogurt, kombucha, broth, bread, desserts, etc. As I mentioned in my previous post, I keep my sanity in this regard by making things in big batches well ahead of time, usually on the weekends, and freezing a TON of staple items. I keep track of it all in a digital list (the Evernote app) so I always know what I have, wherever I am. This is particularly helpful in planning meals a day or two ahead (my typical strategy) and making sure nothing gets wasted. Even with a small freezer and limited living space (my jam resides in the linen closet…), it IS possible to set up a system like this.
  • Wherever I could link to the recipe I used, I have.
  • Milk is always organic and whole, as mentioned in my last post.
  • I enjoy a small amount of carbs at every meal (sorry, Paleo people) and have a deep love affair with sourdough. Probably don’t even need to mention that again at this point.
  • There’s quite a bit of repetition/re-using of the same items (in different ways) here. My breakfasts are pretty standard and with a full-time job, lunch is nearly always leftovers reconfigured in some new way. Heck, sometimes dinner is that too. I’m guessing that’s the case for most of us though. Due to a very long commute (1 to 1 1/2 hours each way), I work from home two days a week, so on those days, I can at least make myself a fried egg, for which I am especially grateful.
  • It’s not really represented here, but we do eat out once, sometimes twice, a week (Friday nights guaranteed). Our go-to places are sushi, Sichuan Chinese (authentic, not American Chinese), and a local Mexican place. For lunch out, we either go for Vietnamese pho (soup) or South Indian vegetarian (dosas!). We aren’t really chain-restaurant people, as you can tell. And you already know we like spice.
  • I/We eat late compared to most Americans. Breakfast is around 10 am, when I start to feel hungry, lunch is around 2 pm, and dinner is not until 9:30 pm or later on most nights. This is what works best for us, and why I usually have a snack or two late in the afternoon or early evening. Late dinners are common practice in Europe and India, and most of the world I would guess, just not in the U.S. (I realize that it also helps that we don’t have small kids.)
  • There are more desserts listed here than what we would normally have, as I was doing some volunteer recipe testing for the baking chapter of an Italian cookbook (tough life, I know). When I’m testing stuff, I usually just keep a slice or two for us, then take the rest to work. Instant portion control.
  • I added in what exercise I did each day, as I do think that affects appetite. If there wasn’t so much *#@#! snow outside, there’d be a lot more walking in there, as that’s one of my favorite activities. I workout on weekdays, but not usually on the weekends. As for the yoga, I am impressed with myself that I went twice this particular week, but that was more just a strategy to avoid Boston evening traffic than any real commitment. Going forward, I’ll probably just go one night a week (and grocery shop on the other, if you really want to know).

Okay, on to the food!


Monday

Drive to Work: turmeric tonic (a good detoxifier to start out the morning), diluted with additional water
Breakfast: 1 1/2 small pieces sourdough rye toast (I bought this bread from the Amish months ago and keep it in the freezer at work), Kerrygold butter and 1/4 avocado smashed on top of one piece, and almond butter and jam on the other half // 1 hard-boiled egg // small cup of raspberries and blueberries // black tea with milk and 1 drop of liquid stevia (I use this minimally) // small glass kombucha (about 1/2 cup)
Afternoon Workout (lunch hour): 1-hour barre class
Lunch (packed leftovers; eaten at my desk): lemon rice // sautéed zucchini rounds // sautéed kale and collard greens with onion // 1 hard-boiled egg // 1 clementine // small glass kombucha
Snack: 1 piece fruit & nut chocolate (leftover from recipe testing)
Evening Workout: 1-hour yoga class (very basic—just my speed)
Dinner: roasted chicken (bones saved for broth; leftover meat saved for soup) // roasted broccoli and cauliflower // warm farro salad with cashews, garlic olive oil, and goat cheese (farro is a whole grain; as covered in my last post, it came straight from the freezer; I had previously soaked it overnight, cooked it, then froze it flat in a gallon-size bag; I just chipped off a piece for dinner and warmed it up with the other ingredients) // sauerkraut // glass of Mirassou Cabernet
Other: lots of water and tea, both herbal and black with milk
Supplements: probiotic pill (I don’t take these normally but just want to finish the container leftover from my post-antibiotic regimen) // dash of bitters in my water (this is an age-old practice that helps with digestion after meals; I am working with the company in the link provided on a book, and I love their products)

Tuesday

Drive to Work: turmeric tonic, diluted with additional water
Breakfast: 1 slice sesame sourdough (again, from the freezer), Kerrygold butter and 1/4 avocado smashed on top of one half, and almond butter and jam on the other half // 1 hard-boiled egg // 1 clementine // black tea // small glass kombucha
Afternoon Workout (gym @ lunch hour): 20 minutes stair-climber + 30 minute interval class (bodyweight exercises)
Lunch (packed leftovers; eaten at my desk): 3 small pieces Domino’s pizza (we had ordered this for the Oscars—it’s really the only takeout we get, and we have it just a few times a year, usually for parties, but I unashamedly love it. I probably should have had 2 slices, not 3, but I was starving from the gym) // 1 apple // celery sticks // Joseph’s-brand garlic hummus // small glass kombucha
Evening Workout: 1-hour yoga
Snack: gelatin fruit snacks (loosely based off this recipe)
Dinner: lamb stew with potatoes and carrots (leftover from the weekend) // multigrain sourdough with Kerrygold butter // sauerkraut
Dessert: small slice of ricotta & sour cherry tart (leftover from recipe testing) // small glass of milk
Other: lots of water and tea, both herbal and black with milk // 1 cup coffee with milk and 2 drops liquid stevia
Supplements: probiotic // dash of bitters in my water

Wednesday

[This is my work-from-home day.]
Upon Waking:
warm water with lemon (another good detoxifier)
Breakfast: blueberry sourdough waffle (again, from the freezer) with Trader Joe’s flax-chia peanut butter and Tropical Traditions coconut butter // 1 egg fried in olive oil // 1/3 avocado // Indian-style black tea with milk and 1 teaspoon sugar // small glass kombucha
Lunch: Asian-style chicken noodle soup (before the work day began, I put the leftover roasted chicken bones from Monday, some vegetables scraps, a few peppercorns, and water in a big pot on the stove, and let it simmer all morning. By afternoon, I was able to strain the fresh broth and use it for lunch [and dinner]. I spiked the lunch broth with a dash of soy sauce, a dash of fish sauce, and miso paste, then added the leftover roast chicken meat, thinly sliced onion/garlic/ginger, kale, and a packet of ramen noodles, discarding that flavor/sodium bomb packet thing. I garnished it with scallions and Thai basil, both of which were also leftover from previous meals. The whole thing took less than 20 minutes.) // small cup of yogurt with crushed nuts, dried cherries, and raw honey
Snack: small Starbucks coffee with h&h and sugar (Suraj picked this up for us) + 2 small pieces fruit & nut chocolate (so yeah…that recipe was a total winner…)
Evening Workout: 30 minute swim
Dinner: mussels in garlic-cilantro broth (same base broth mentioned above—there’s a million ways to dress it up!) // leftover sautéed zucchini and roasted cauliflower // multigrain sourdough
Dessert: 2 Lindt sea salt chocolate truffles (my all-time fav chocolate/weakness) + small glass of milk
Other: shot of beet kvass (fermented beet juice, another great, cleansing drink; I will post about it sometime)
Supplements: probiotic // fermented cod liver oil

Weekend (Saturday)

Upon Waking: warm water with lemon
Breakfast: savory Indian pancakes (also known as moong dal cheela—they’re made from soaked lentils and they’re awesome!) with Fage whole-milk Greek yogurt, garlic chutney, ghee, and store-bought Indian pickle // 1/3 avocado // fresh fruit salad // small glass kombucha // Indian-style black tea with milk and 1 teaspoon sugar
Lunch: ribollita soup (I used cooked beans from the freezer, prepared as covered in my last post) // raw-milk cheddar // apple slices
Snacks: one small piece of biscotti (more recipe testing) + cappuccino // kefir smoothie (kefir + frozen banana + strawberries + coconut water)
Dinner: bayou dirty rice (I am trying to eat more liver because it’s so good for you, and this was a great recipe for hiding it in) // shrimp in a tomato-veggie sauce // champagne (a Saturday night staple!)
Dessert: one scoop Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream with peanuts and “magic shell” chocolate sauce (just chocolate and coconut oil, melted down together—we keep a jar of it the fridge and pop it in the microwave for a minute to re-melt, then drizzle on ice cream and it hardens instantly)
Exercise: None, unless you count standing at the stove
Other: oolong tea


So that’s everything! I hope it’s been useful, and that you see that nobody’s perfect—and that that’s not the goal. Build on what you can do, and go from there. Maybe you start out following the 50/50 rule (eat your best half the time, let the other half slide), then go for 60/40 the next week. Remember that whatever you can do is a step in the right direction!

Eating Habits, Part I

Home

I grew up in an old farm house (that’s it up there), the fourth of five siblings. While most of the house’s farmland was sold off well before my parents ever moved in, my Dad, a carpenter by trade, built a small silo on part of the remaining land. The “playhouse,” as we called it, had two levels, separated by a small wooden staircase. The first floor housed our bikes, yard tools, a wheelbarrow, and a balance beam, if I remember correctly (between this, the two trapezes, and the set of high rings my Dad made for us, it’s really a shame none of us ever joined the circus…).

The second floor of the playhouse was mine and mine alone. Unlike our shared bedroom, this illustrious space (which had one single skylight for light and was probably 12 feet in diameter), was just for me. It was my sanctuary, and, in turn, where my imagination felt the most free.

In my house, I created bunk beds from benches in the yard; a “fireplace” from leftover bricks; and a little kitchen compiled from old dishes my mom would let me pick out from her friend’s antique shop. To “cook,” I’d pick berries (inedible ones, always much to my disappointment), and mash them up to make “pies.”

The playhouse isn’t there anymore, but I still feel like it is. (I still feel this way about my Dad, too. Both are so clear, and so loved, in my mind.)

I’ve been thinking of that beloved space a lot lately, because in a way, I think this little blog has begun to serve a similar purpose. This is a place where I come to play around. To use my mind. To talk about nourishment, and to be nourished. It is my flow. And I love that.

I also love the community that is beginning to grow here. I’ve heard from so many people who are interested in living more wholesomely, or just trying new things, and that is amazing to hear. We’re all after the same goal!

With these comments and emails have also come great questions, many of which, interestingly enough, have revolved around the day-to-day specifics of what, exactly, I eat. What milk do I drink? Why am I eating white rice? (answered here) Do I soak my grains/nuts/beans? Am I a vegetarian? The list goes on.

All of those questions helped inspire this post, which I’ve broken into two parts/posts. First, I’ll go food group by food group, telling you what I eat, what I look for, what I prefer, and so on. In my next post, I’ll share a food journal of exactly what a few days of eating looks like for me—yep, every single meal, snack, drink, dessert, etc. It will be a full tour of the Eat & Edit “playhouse.”

Before I get started though, let me be clear: How we eat is perhaps one of the most personal facets of our lives. We all have to do what’s right for us. What I’ve shared here is not meant to be all-or-nothing plan for others to follow—it’s just what I do personally (and it’s taken me many years to get here)! If you want to pick up one or two of these habits, that’s great! Change doesn’t have to happen overnight.

While I am not a nutritionist (though I’d love to be one someday) and I’m certainly not the fittest/leanest/most-disciplined person out there, I do a TON of food-related research every day (it’s my job after all) and I am keenly aware of what works best for me and makes me feel, well, happy and alive. I’ve been following this “real food” lifestyle for at least 10 years now, and can attest to this:

  • I very rarely, if ever, get sick and cannot even remember the last time I had to go to the doctor for a flu, cold, infection, etc. I take no medications.
  • My cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which were high when I was overweight as a teenager, are great. My BMI is healthy/normal.
  • I have a ton of energy; Suraj will verify that I pretty much never sit down.
  • I sleep well.
  • I’m told (thanks, Mom) that I have good skin and usually get pegged for being younger than I actually am. (I am 32.)
  • I have no allergies/sensitivities (which can result from other body imbalances and are not always “unavoidable”; here’s a link to a study, for instance, about allergies and the gut).

I think a healthy diet plays a role in many of these areas, and more. So let’s get started!
(Hover over the photos for captions.)


My Overall Philosophy
Eat food in its purest form—whole, unadulterated, real. Eat the foods your great-grandmother ate, or would understand. Stay away from packaged products, unless all the ingredients listed are familiar to you and there’s only a few. [Did you know a Nutri-Grain bar contains more than 40 ingredients?] If you can’t decipher the label, don’t buy it!

Eat in moderation and don’t restrict anything. I like to practice the 80/20 rule, focusing on eating my best 80 percent of the time, and being okay with it if 20 percent slides.

A big part of my approach to food has been inspired by the book Nourishing Traditions. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning more about sound nutrition.

Fruits & Vegetables 
Eat all the vegetables you can, as many and as much as possible. Fresh produce accounts for the bulk of our shopping budget. We eat vegetables with nearly every meal, and both Suraj and I love them all—okay, with the exception of eggplant. Neither of us can stand that one.

I buy organic for the Dirty Dozen, but don’t have the budget to do it for everything. Last summer we did a CSA too, which was great. Also, if you follow me on Instagram, you know I forage a bit in summer too—there are wild edibles everywhere! You can check with your local parks department to see if they have any walks you can sign up for. I’ve gone on both a general “foraging edibles” walk and one for just mushrooms.

In terms of preparation, we like both raw and cooked (usually, roasted) veggies, and I love fermenting them too—cabbage and carrot being my favorites (I’ll post about this someday soon). I save any veggie scraps—cores, peels, roots, etc.—in a gallon-size bag in my freezer, and when it’s full, I use them to make homemade broth.

Meat & Seafood
I have never been a vegetarian, though a lot of people seem to think I am. Before I moved in with Suraj and lived on my own, though, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go a week or so without eating meat (more so out of laziness than anything else). Now we eat meat or seafood at least once a day. Suraj grew up a vegetarian, but after trying fish, he never looked back. For religious reasons, however, he does not eat beef, so it’s not something I prepare at home.

We always buy our chicken, lamb, and pork organic (they honestly taste 100x better), and try to get it on the bone whenever possible. Bones are nutrient-dense and are essential to making deeply flavorful dishes—curries and stews especially. Once we’re done with the meat, I add the leftover bones to the broth bag (mentioned above), and simmer them all day long for stock.

For seafood, we look for sustainable choices and favor whole fish (again, with bones), as well as shrimp.

Dairy & Eggs
We drink whole, organic milk that is pasteurized but not “ultra-pasteurized,” which means it’s completely dead. While raw milk is available here in New Hampshire, we don’t typically get it. Pasteurized works for us. Whole milk is our preference because all the others are way too processed for my tastes (skim milk often has highly-processed “milk powder” added back into it after processing to make it drinkable). Prior to World War II, Americans didn’t even know what skim or low-fat milk was, so I’m sticking with tradition.

Sidenote: There was a time when I thought almond milk was great, but after looking more closely at the ingredient label, I dropped it completely. Most plant-based milks contain carrageenan, an additive that’s being put in all sorts of foods, and is raising a lot of health concerns (Prevention Magazine). So unless I make almond milk at home—which is super easy—I just stick with dairy milk.

Aside from drinking it plain, I use whole organic milk to make yogurt and kefir, a fermented dairy drink which I’ll post about very soon. If I buy yogurt, my choice is always plain Fage (full fat). It’s ridiculously creamy.

When it comes to cheese, I favor raw-milk, well-aged varieties, my favorite being cheddar. As for eggs, see my post about them here.

Beans & Lentils
We are bean lovers through and through, which is a good thing because so many Indian dishes feature them. That said, we don’t buy canned beans (which are often full of sodium and preservatives) and instead favor dried. I soak dried beans—including chickpeas, white beans, black beans, whole lentils, etc.—overnight in water, stirring in two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. These helps break down the beans and makes them easier to digest.

The next day, I drain and rinse, then cook the beans in fresh water. Soaked beans cook up pretty fast (in my pressure cooker they only take about 10 minutes; on the stove about 30 minutes) and they’re also hugely economical. I keep however much I need for the week in the fridge, and transfer the rest to a gallon-size freezer bag. I freeze the bags flat on a baking sheet, then once frozen, stack up alongside whatever other staples I have in there (broth and grains, usually). When I want to use the beans in a meal, I just chip off a portion and toss them in to the dish (they defrost in minutes).

Grains & Nuts
I love and cook with all sorts of whole grains. My favorites are probably farro and quinoa, because they go well in anything. As for nuts, I don’t discriminate. They’re all wonderful.

I prepare grains and nuts in the same way I prepare beans (see above)—soaking them overnight in an acidic solution to help break down the phytic acid they contain (as I talked about in my Lemon Rice post). For grains, I then rinse and cook, often freezing in the same manner as with beans. Sometimes I sprout my grains before cooking, but that’s a step/method for another day.

After soaking nuts, I drain then dehydrate for 24 hours, until they’re nice and crispy. I use a dehydrator, but if your oven goes down to 150 degrees or less, you could try it in there too. Nuts prepared in this manner are called “activated nuts” and they are SO delicious. They’re also much easier for your body to digest, and you get more nutrition out of them. I eat them plain or toasted with a little maple syrup and butter. I also grind them into nut butter with some coconut oil.

Bread & Baked Goods
Good bread is essential to me. Nine times out of ten, it’s homemade and it’s sourdough. For Indian meals, I make whole-wheat chapati or paratha. Both we keep in the freezer at all times. Once in a while I’m fine with eating a regular, yeasted bread or roll. It’s all about moderation.

I love to bake other things too, and if the occasion calls for it, will use white flour. Most times though, I favor sprouted spelt flour, as in these cookies.

Oils & Fats
That’s all covered for you here!

Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are like magic to me. They keep my stomach happy, my food well digested, and my gut and body healthy. If you are not already eating fermented foods, I really encourage you to add them into your diet. They are a traditional food staple that only seem to have been forgotten about in the last century or so (directly the same time that our population’s health started going downhill…).

I try to eat something fermented with every meal. My favorites are homemade sauerkraut (this recipe is my all-time favorite; I always add it to my salads), kefir, yogurt, sourdough, kombucha, and beet kvass.

Sweeteners & Desserts
When baking, I like to use coconut sugar. For non-cooking applications, it’s usually raw, local honey or maple syrup. For tea, I’ll use a drop of pure stevia extract (in liquid form, which is much more natural than powdered) when I’m at work; at home, we just use a small spoonful of white sugar. 80/20 rule! 

As far as desserts, I fully admit to having a sweet tooth (directly inherited from my dad). A very small scoop of homemade (or Haagen-Dazs) ice cream or a piece of dark Lindt chocolate after dinner is our usual.

Why Haagen-Dazs? Check out the ingredient label—only real ingredients! Here’s their vanilla ice cream label: cream, skim milk, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla extract. (In this case, I’m fine letting the skim milk slide.) No other ice cream on the market keeps it as plain and simple as they do.

Beverages
I drink water throughout the day, and with meals. Other daily drinks include tea, milk, plain seltzer, and kombucha. I brew kombucha myself, and was able to quit soda nearly completely after starting that (I will still occasionally have a small glass of Coke with pizza, but that’s only every few months).

I like to have a glass of red wine (Cabernet) in the evenings, or a VERY watered down Scotch and seltzer. (I got Suraj to like salad, he got me to like Scotch.)

Supplements
I’m not really a vitamin and supplements kind of girl, but I do take a probiotic pill on occasion (such as after recently having to go on antibiotics after being bit by Lyme-positive tick—joys of New England living!), and fermented cod liver oil when I remember it (I like Green Pastures brand, in cinnamon liquid flavor). Everything else I think our bodies can get from food.

Foods I Strongly Dislike (that may or may not surprise you): Shredded or crumbled cheese—the convenience factor here means preservatives and funky junk are added to keep it fresh; you’re better off just grating that mozz yourself // Granola—I don’t really consider this a health food, since it’s super high in calories and filled with sugar, and I find unsoaked/raw oats very hard to digest // Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—I know it stinks to hear this, but if your bread, pb, and jelly are all store-bought, this is basically a dessert (here’s a visual; scroll to the bottom) // Microwave popcorn—it takes 2 minutes to make your own! and you can put REAL butter or ghee on it! // Flavored yogurt and frozen yogurt (Ron Swanson, you are my hero) // Boxed cereal—even the “healthy” stuff (again, just read the label) // Okay, I’ll stop here…

Exercise & Fitness
I try to work out several times a week, whether that is outside walking/running/biking, at the gym, or at the pool in our apartment complex. I work out because it settles me and helps me focus my energies, and because it just makes me feel good (and hungry!). That said, I’m not a fitness junkie and I don’t think I’ll ever be the type to run miles everyday or compete in any type of competition. While I’d love tighter abs (and leaner legs, while we’re at it…), I’m happy with just flushed cheeks and calm psyche too.

Whew, okay! Anybody still awake out there?! Until next week!

No-Knead Sesame Sourdough

Sliced Sourdough

If there is one thing that you will always find stocked in our freezer, it’s bread. Right now, we’ve got a loaf of regular wheat (this King Arthur recipe is a favorite) and three kinds of sourdough: Amish rye, sandwich-style multigrain, and sesame. I also have a loaf of fruit & nut on my to-do list. We really like toast around here.

Baking bread is my yoga. It calms me, it focuses me, and it fulfills me. It’s a process that takes time, but rewards you infinitely for the commitment.

More often than not, the bread I bake is made using a sourdough starter rather than store-bought yeast. What is a sourdough starter? It’s basically just a mixture of flour + water that has sat out over time, acting like a net and collecting all the healthy microbes and yeasts from the air. It’s “wild yeast” by definition and it’s super healthy for us because it is made up of good bacteria (yes, there is such a thing), which is essential for healthy digestion as well as our health overall. You’ve heard of probiotic foods, right? Well, sourdough is one of the best.

If you are someone who would much rather just buy sourdough bread than bake it, that’s fine too! Just be sure to look at the ingredients. The label should say: “flour, water, and salt” and possibly “sourdough starter” or “natural culture” (which, again, is just flour + water but some people include it). It should not contain yeast. Most local bakeries have a true sourdough—just ask!

Here are few more facts if you’re keen to learn more:

  1. Sourdough bread is healthier than regular (yeast) bread because it is fermented. Sourdough starter helps break down the many of the nutrients found in flour that our bodies cannot access otherwise. You know those microbes I just mentioned? Well, they’re responsible for eating all of the “anti” nutrients in the flour, and their pre-digestion in turn makes your digestion of the bread a breeze—they do the work for you, quite literally (those holes you see in the crumb are, in fact, their handiwork). The longer the bread dough sits/ferments before baking, the more work they can do, and the better the final bread is for you. This is why a lot of people find true sourdough bread easier on their stomachs than any other type of bread. Many people with gluten issues can even tolerate it.
  2. Sourdough baking is the traditional way of baking bread, one humans have relied on for at least 6,000 years. Commercial yeast is a very, very new thing; sourdough bread is ancient. I like to trust our ancestors. Pretty sure they wouldn’t have spent days carefully making their breads if there wasn’t a good reason for it.
  3. Sourdough tastes better. Sourdough breads have a much deeper flavor. I know some say they don’t like the sourness, but this certainly varies by recipe, and I also truly believe it’s one of those tastes that builds on your palette over time (seriously, does anyone like coffee the first time they try it? same kind of thing). Suraj, my partner, can definitely attest to this. The first few slices he wasn’t completely sold, but he now happily eats an egg sandwich on sourdough sandwich bread almost every morning.
  4. It’s exciting! I feel so empowered when I see my dough rising and take my finished loaf out of the oven. “Look what I did! With only air!” Harnessing the natural, wild yeast in our environment to create food is just such an extraordinary, ordinary idea, isn’t it?
  5. It’s easy. I realize this sounds hard to believe, but it’s true. Sourdough requires only three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. Oh, and time. That’s it. The techniques—resting, folding, shaping, etc.—can all be adapted based on what works best for you and your schedule. It’s really hard to mess up.

“In the long slow fermentation that produces sourdough bread, important nutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium, antioxidants, folic acid and other B vitamins become easier for our bodies to absorb. Diabetics should note that sourdough produces a lower surge in blood sugar than any other bread: in a 2008 study published in Acta Diabetologica, subjects with impaired glucose tolerance were fed either sourdough or ordinary bread: the sourdough bread produced a significantly lower glucose and insulin response. In the sourdough process, moreover, gluten is broken down and rendered virtually harmless. In one small Italian study, published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, in January 2011, celiac patients fed sourdough bread for 60 days had no clinical complaints, and their biopsies showed no changes in the intestinal lining.” —The Guardian

I’ve maintained my sourdough starter for a few years now, which I first purchased from King Arthur (uh, can you tell I like them?). I’ve since learned I could have just as easily made one on my own (see link here), but whatever, it was $8 well spent.

If you don’t yet have a sourdough starter, I really encourage you to start or buy one (heck, I’ll even mail you some of mine). They are easy to maintain and can just be kept in a jar in the fridge when not in use. That’s where I keep mine, taking it out weekly to feed it a little more water and flour (in equal parts), discarding any extra. There have been weeks where I’ve forgotten to tend to it, and it’s been fine. I see people claim they’ve “killed” theirs, but I doubt this every time. Starters are resilient creatures. They don’t go down without a fight.

When you want to use your starter in a recipe, just take it out of the fridge and feed it every 4 hours or so, until it’s bubbling nicely and doubles in size each time you feed it—after a few feedings, it’s ready to go. I use it to make pizza dough, English muffins, pancakes, waffles, and even cake.

I have quite a few favorite sourdough loaves, but I wanted to share the easiest one with you today: a no-knead sesame sourdough. It’s the one I make when I have no time or energy, but still want to enjoy a fresh, warm loaf of bread the next night at dinner. The whole process takes about 20 hours start to finish, but only about 10 minutes of that is hands-on time. I usually mix the dough together around 9 or 10 pm, then bake it around 6 or 7 pm the next day, when I get home from work

This long fermentation/sitting time makes the final taste and texture of the loaf incredible—deeply nutty from the sesame seeds, with a soft, chewy interior and a crisp crust. Like something you’d get imagine standing in line for for hours at a trendy artisan bakery in San Francisco (not that I’ve done that or anything… ahem…). It’s also destined to be the best toast you’ve ever had; see my two favorite combos at the end of this post.

If you are still on the fence about obtaining a starter or have questions, ask away. You can also just use store-bought yeast in this recipe. It’ll still have great flavor, and about 50 ingredients less than a store-bought loaf. Whatever it takes to convince you give bread-baking a try! I promise it’s worth it.

Full Sourdough


No-Knead Sesame Sourdough
Adapted from the New York Times’ No-Knead Bread recipe. Note that weight/gram measurements are most precise, but either works. Makes 1 large loaf.

1 cup (5 oz.) white whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups (11 oz.) white bread flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup white sesame seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 cups purified water
1/4 cup sourdough starter, or 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Dry-roast sesame seeds in a small pan over medium heat. Watch them carefully and stir frequently; it should take around 5 minutes to toast them. You want them to turn a deep golden color and smell fragrant, but don’t take your eyes off them because they can burn very easily. Let cool while you gather your other ingredients.

Combine the flours, salt, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Mix in water and starter (or yeast) until incorporated; you don’t have to mix it a ton, just enough so that there’s no dry flour remaining. It will look pretty shaggy and messy.

Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours, during which it will do some fermenting and rising. If you’re not a big fan of that tangy sourdough flavor, aim for the shorter (12-hour) timeframe. I like to put my dough in a large (8-cup) Pyrex glass bowl and cover with a lid, then put it up on a shelf in my cupboard. A dark place is best. You could just cover with a towel on your counter too.

After you’ve let it sit, you should see that it’s bubbled up nicely (this is why I like using glass—helps give you a visual of what’s going on in that dough). It will be sticky and a bit wet too.

Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice (I found this video super helpful for this). Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a large bowl and let rest on the counter for about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour or line a bowl with parchment paper (my preference) and put the dough seam side down on the towel or in the bowl. Dust the top with a little more flour. Cover and let rise for 1 1/2  to 2 hours. The dough should rise slightly (more so if using yeast)—it’ll spring up much more once it hits the heat of the oven, so don’t worry about it rising too much here.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart oven-safe heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic) in oven as it heats—as always, I use my le Creuset dutch oven.

When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is okay. (If you’re using parchment like me, you can just carefully pick up the parchment by its sides and transfer the whole shebang into the pot. The parchment will darken when baking, but it shouldn’t burn—see photo above.)

Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack. If you can wait until it’s cooled a bit to cut it, the texture will be better, but  I understand if you find that to be a ridiculous request.

Eat and rejoice.

Tahini Toast

Favorite toast #1: salted butter + bitter orange marmalade + tahini + raw honey.

Avocado Toast 2

Favorite toast #2: butter + avocado + salt.