Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gutter Lettuce

Did some more digging today. A lot more to do though. Word is there'll be some nice weather through the weekend, so maybe we'll get done by our next major deadline, mid-April.

Also did a side project today, used some of the brick pavers I recently obtained to set up a planter for some lettuce. Yes, those are plastic gutters. Yes, we'll be eating lettuce out of the gutter if all goes well.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Laying the Groundwork

Still lots to do, but some good stuff accomplished.

The raised beds.
The peas have risen!

Hardneck garlic planted last fall.
Softneck garlic also planted last fall.
Cabbages that survived the winter.

Next weekend, the fence!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Genesis Project

What a weekend. Helped a chum pull out an old patio and scored a bunch of 6" x 6" pressure treated beams on Saturday. They should be great, unless they leach arsenic into the soil and the tomatoes kill us all. Then Sunday Jill and I laid out the outline of the fenced garden and put the beams in place. These things are crazy heavy - Jill couldn't even lift them. We still need to cut a couple of them in half with the skill saw. Here's what it looks like.

Beams, hop pole in the background.

Beams laid out.

Plot number 1.

I manually turned over the soil. Dug down a foot to a foot and a half and buried the grass. My assistant slowed progress by performing an anthropological study of what we found down there. Was actually some interesting stuff - a rusty trowel of indeterminate age, glass and charcoal fragments, an old bottle - intact! Interesting. The bed looks pretty good, although there are a ton of roots in there. Next we have to add some compost.

Still no fence. Perhaps next weekend.

Garlic is looking great. Problem with the peas - some of them ended up sitting on the surface of the dirt. Weird. I covered them back over a bit, then poured a pail full of potting soil over them - just a thin layer. one of the ones on the surface had sprouted slightly. Good progress. Some of the peppers Jill planted indoors have sprouted as well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Waiting for Germination

While we wait for germination, here's a new picture of the crocuses from the other day.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Seeding Antics

Today we planted some seeds indoors. We've got a great setup for growing seedlings.

Three types of peppers and 10 types of tomatoes. Peppers: Yankee Bell, Early Jalapeno, Hungarian Hot Wax. Tomatoes:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Let the Gardening...BEGIN

The first steps toward this year's garden have been taken. We weeded and dug up a bed in the backyard side garden and planted Sugar Snap Peas in the NE half and Sugar Sprint Peas in the SW half. According to the package, we'll have peas in 2 months from both. We planted them 2 inches apart in rows roughly 4 inches apart.

We also weeded, raked, and planted the NE half of the side garden with leeks. Those will take a bit over 3 months to get to harvest. The SW half is still planted with garlic from last fall's planting. They're just starting to poke through the straw now.

The beds are looking pretty good, didn't take too long. The weather was very cloudy and there was a fine mist that hampered our efforts a bit. We actually moved a lot of the stones around in the backyard side garden to accomodate our peas. Then we mixed in a bit of peat moss and some ashes with the soil. Just peat mosss with the leeks.

The backyard side garden...

The side garden...

Those two plants at the end are cabbages from last year. They never did head up. Don't have the heart to pull them out.

Finally, some crocuses came up in the rock garden. Spring must really be here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Loafing Around the House

Just a quick note, whipped up a batch of the no knead bread in the mixer. Short photo review.

Buttered the bowl, placed in the warmer with a bowl of water

20 minutes later

20 minutes after that

Split into two halves, loaded one into the preheated baking pan, made a ball of the other. Did add the water to a preheated pan as well.

About 15 min into the 30 min bake. Oh yeah, looking good.

The loaf
Interior of the ball

The ball fresh from the oven...
...and thirty minutes later.

The one thing I neglected was slashing the top of the loaves. I always seem to leave out at least one step or get it wrong somehow. Still, aside from the loaf that was insufficiently cooked none of it has gone to waste.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

More Breadfest

It was 9 lbs of dough, give or take. We burned through it in 3 batches of bread. The third batch was one large loaf. Because it was kind of sticky, it ended up being kind of unattractive. And pretty flat. And because it was bigger than previous loaves, it was not completely cooked at the 30 minute mark. Disappointing. But the crust was superbly crusty, as with every loaf. Cooking the bread with water in the oven is definitely the best lesson from this effort.

I prepared the third loaf on Saturday - a mere 5 days after making the batch. I didn't notice and sourdough notes in the final loaf at all, I guess these take longer to develop. Anyway, here's what it looked like.

The crust was great, but the shape was more like a calzone than the large ball I'd hoped for. Perhaps the wet dough method is just not up to making a tall loaf. Here's a cross section.
As you can see, not quite fully cooked. Just 5 or 10 more minutes would have completed the job.


A couple things I did learn from this experience. Baking bread on high heat with a pan of water in the oven is a great way to go. Good bread can be made from just water, flour, salt and yeast.

But I want bread that will be suitable for sandwiches. Duncan needs sandwich bread, and I don't want to send him to school with a lunch of preservatives if I can avoid it. So I went out and bought some bread pans. I whipped up a batch of the same dough I used. Here's how it went.

The wet dough

After 50 min rising

30 min later

Flagship loaf
The crumb

This worked out ok, and the bigger loaf should do ok for sandwiches. Once again, crust was great. Next attempt I'm going to try a bit less water and see if it'll stand up better on it's own. Also I need to set the pan up better so it won't stick. I just used cooking spray this time. Maybe cooking spray + a little flour next time. From what I've found on the internet, seems like the pan should be hot when you put the risen loaf in. Instead I let the loaf rise in the pan.

On the garden front, we're scraping the walls in the basement to prep it for painting with a concrete sealant. Should get that done this coming Friday. Then we'll get the seedling set up arranged and get a bunch of our plants going next weekend - peppers and tomatoes at least. Today was warm, we did some yard work. Feels like spring is coming.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Today - Rolls

Brought home cheeseburger patties from work and decided to make rolls suitable for them. The dough was sticky, but less so that yesterday. I made vaguely roll shaped blobs of dough and set them out to rise. They didn't rise so much as expand outward. I don't have a suitable stand in for a pizza peel, and the rolls stuck to the glass cutting board. A lot. Which is too bad, because I did a fabulous job of slitting the top in an amazingly intricate pattern. Well, ok, it was an empty tic-tac-toe board pattern. Yesterday with the room temperature dough it did not cut well. I did manage to do the water properly though.

The shape was better than yesterday, but not perfect. In fact, they expanded too much to be proper rolls. But the crust was very good and crunchy. And when I took them out of the oven, there was a distinct crackling that's supposedly an indication that I'm doing it right. The interior was nice and chewy as well. And if I held my mouth just right, I felt like I could taste just a hint of sourdough flavor. I double checked with Jill and she detected no such trace. Wishful thinking I guess.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Two Week Bread Experiment

I like bread. Now, I don't actually eat that much myself, I'm trying to go low carb. Although those efforts have been thwarted lately by our Sopranos Sunday dinners. Why does Ziti al forno have to be so danged tasty?

Anyway, I've been a bread machine jockey for a while and have tried a lot of different types over the years. I love waking up to the smell of fresh bread - just dump in the ingredients the night before and set the timer. Duncan has brown bagged many a sandwich to school on fresh made bread. But then again, there seems to be just something lacking in bread machine bread. It smells good, it tastes good, and it's easy to make, but the shape of the final result seems too industrial, too... I guess soulless is the word. And often the crust is nothing to brag about.

Then there's the other extreme. The ideal of bread making, mixing up the ingredients with your bare hands and knead, knead, knead. I've done a little of that, even with some success. But it's time so time consuming. I seldom find the energy to really do it right. This French brioche worked out nicely, and the family devoured it in no time. But I just can't devote that kind of time very often, what with my important commitments - Facebook games, Warhammer Online. Oh, and spending time with the kids. Yeah, that too.

So I came across this article about having fresh bread daily, and it seemed to be an interesting middle ground. The high points seemed to be make a big batch that'll last a couple weeks, make wetter dough than the recipes I've used in the past, and put a pan of water in the oven when baking for crisper crust.

So I decided to see how it would work out. There was some wrangling with Jill over how much she'd allow me to whip up. In the end, I mixed up enough for eight 1-pound loaves. Oops, we didn't have enough yeast. I assembled the Bread Crew and we headed to the store.

The recipe was actually very basic, just flour, salt, water and yeast.

Eight pounds is a lot of dough. Took two runs in the Kitchenaid to get it all mixed. Here's the result.

The assistants studied it carefully and proclaimed it a good start.

So now we wait. Let it rise for two hours.

One hour later...

Wow, it rose a lot!

Two hours later...

Gathered a all of about 1.5 lbs - it was very sticky. Added enough flour so it stopped being sticky and shaped it into a rough ball. Sprinkled a little cornmeal on a plate and left it to sit for 40 minutes.

Forty minutes later...

It hasn't risen much. Attempted to slice the top, allowing it to expand, it did not work well. Tried to move it to the pizza stone I was cooking it on, it stuck to the plate a little too much. Hmmm, more cornmeal next time. Also put the water pan in the oven just as I put in the bread. It needed to go in earlier so it was hot when I put the water in it. Oh well, next attempt will be better. Still looks pretty good. Almost done.

So the blob of flour...

...became this nice crusty loaf. Lets see how it tastes!

Wow. Ok, there was room for improvement in the shape, but the crust was crunchy, just perfect. Now I'm excited to see how this bread dough evolves over time.