The next frontier…..

It’s been quiet on the Fork Travel front over the last month. My day job has everyone back on campus full time, the semester started two weeks ago, and Wind Symphony rehearsals have commenced. I returned to school part-time to start on a Bachelor’s degree while working full-time (plus everything else), so getting back in the swing of homework has been a slight challenge. The lull is about to change for this blog, because I’m working on a few new things for fun. I hope you enjoy them, and check back often to see the changes. Let me know what you think.

Coming soon…….

Fermented life

Four years ago, I made my first sourdough bread with a homegrown starter named “Stinky”. If you’ve ever made your own fermented food, you can relate to the name. Starters go through many stages of existence over the course of time, and some of them are more funky than others. Stinky developed well enough, but I learned early on not to keep him on the counter near an open bottle of wine or beer. Yeast is in the air all around us, and unless it is a flavor you are going for, an opened bottle of Chardonnay will completely change things. Let’s just say the bread made that week was not bad, but it did have a lot of white wine characteristics. It took about two weeks of daily feeding to get the flavor back to what I wanted.

To consistently bake good loaves, you need to research and practice. Sourdough is a little different than a regular yeast bread in a few ways. First, it takes 2-3 days per batch instead of a couple of hours. That takes a conscious effort for planning the timing of the steps. If you work outside of the home like I do, it can be tricky. I’ve pretty much gotten the timing down so I can bake before or after work. The unpredictable variable right now is the summer heat. We hang around 100-105F July-early September, with relatively low humidity. The best way to combat this is to watch your dough and know how it reacts in different season. When you make sourdough, be patient. You can only push the dough so much because the microbes work at their own pace. I have made hybrid breads with adding a little yeast and sugar, but the timing is harder to manage when you are also working. I’ve had more than a few batches proof merrily along, then zip past the optimal window for baking. The over-proofed loaves taste and texture were still good, but not so much if you are trying for a more open crumb result.

Have patience with your starter (levain) and feed it on a regular schedule. I don’t agree with the “toss half and then feed” idea. It is very wasteful. If you are consistent and careful, you can feed your starter once a week and put it in the fridge. I pull Tex or Stinky out a day before I need to use them and feed them. Since they are both mature starters, they wake up pretty quickly. After I pull the levain for the recipe, I lightly feed again and return the starter to the fridge. If you keep it on the counter and feed on a more regular basis, just use the discard to make frybread, biscuits, or pancakes.

Another major difference between home baking with a starter or yeast is how you handle the bread. With a yeast loaf, there is a lot of time spent kneading the dough, letting it rise, kneading it again, then usually a final rise. With sourdough there is a bit of mixing/kneading early on, but that’s where things change. You fold and coil instead of kneading after the rise, and even that changes depending on the dough hydration, the type of bread (whole wheat, spelt, cornmeal addition, etc.). If not done right, you wind up with a tasty frisbee that makes very thin toast, croutons, or breadcrumbs. Don’t get discouraged if that happens. Even if you are using a recipe, keep track of what you do and what the result is. Some people have beginners luck. Their first loaf or two comes out amazingly beautiful with a distinctive ear or crust, and then the rest are so-so. I figure that if it tastes good and you are able to correct what didn’t go 100%, then you have (mostly) won. No one will know any different if the panzanella salad was made with a pretty loaf or one that didn’t get a good rise. There will always be another loaf in your future to bake again.

One final thing. Unless you know what you are doing or have made the recipe before, DO NOT freestyle bake and swap out ingredients and quantities willy-nilly. Different grains have completely different hydration rates and needs, and some breads really do need oil, milk, or egg added. Baking powder, baking soda, yeast, and starter (levain) are not always interchangeable. Follow the recipe at least once, and even then only swap out 1/4-1/2 cup flour at a time. I know my husband teases me because I don’t log my baking and cooking as much as I should, but I do know any changes I make in ingredients, baking times, or temps to know what went right (or almost right).

Ready to try an easy yeast bread? Try this one on for size and let me know how yours came out.

Time to define yourself

We all go through phases of deciding who we are, what we stand for, and what makes us tick. It happens several times throughout our existence, not just once and done. Different experiences and interactions cause us to grow and evolve over time, which is a good thing. No one wants to be static and never-changing, but you also have to stay true to yourself. For me, that meant figuring out what it means to be a food groupie. Everyone has an idea of what a rock & roll groupie is, and sports fans are simply a rose by another name.

I have always loved food, and grew up watching the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child on television (thanks to my mom). The start of Food Network was a dream come true when we finally got cable. All food all the time. Even before I actively started collecting cookbooks, I had a good selection of books and various pans/dishware to be able to cook and bake better. Food has always been a full contact sport in my family (I’ve mentioned this before, and will probably do so again), so becoming a food groupie was destined in the stars (or pots and pans, you decide). The last few years have been interesting in that I consciously made the choice to push my skills and knowledge regarding food and cooking. You never really quit learning, you just change the focus and intensity. Once I started meeting chefs and talking to other food enthusiasts, I knew I had found my happy place. I still have an office job that pays the bills, but there is always some part of my brain that is percolating an idea about a meal, how to make a snack, or whatever the ingredient of the moment is. I will talk about food with anyone at the drop of a hat. My husband or coworkers can vouch for that.

That time I double-dog-dared Alton in 2017.

The definition of “groupie” is is someone who is a fan of a particular band, singer, or other famous person, and follows them around. Saying you are a “fan” means you like, prefer, or are into someone, a thing, or a group. They are basically the same thing. My interpretation for being a food groupie means that you love food, like trying new dishes in an adventurous way, enjoy learning about food (history, ingredients, people), and collect items and experiences that relate to your culinary journey. I collect cookbooks (1200+ so far) and like meeting celebrity chefs when I can. It is also why I created the Worst Cooks bingo cards when Alton was the guest chef, and kept making them for the past year and a half. By the way, we need more shows with real home cooks (like me!) pairing up with actual chefs to compete. I can be very perky and animated when food is involved.

My husband is very patient with the amount of cookbooks and baking pans that I have, and he is also my #1 taste tester. It’s a rough job, but someone has to do it. It keeps things interesting to grab a random book and try a new recipe, and many of the older ones have short blurbs about the recipe or things about the time. They are a version of food history in their own right. If you are able, grab one of your grandparent’s old cookbooks and take a look. You can even ask an older relative if they have any recipes that they can make from memory. My grandmother was that kind of cook. She used “a handful of this” or “pinches of that”. One of my favorite things is that they measured out her recipes and translated her handfuls/pinches into regular measurements and created a cookbook for all of the granddaughters.

I like being a food groupie, and wear the title proudly (how many people can say they hauled their Kitchenaid to an event to have Fabio Viviani sign it?). It means I am an adventurous eater, and quite happily going down the rabbit hole of learning more about the industry and ingredients. Talking about food with other people makes us happy. If you doubt me, just ask someone where to get a specific dish or how to fix something. There might be disagreements on which is better (BBQ or chowder people, I’m looking at you) but it’s more of the “best team” vibe.

food groupie /fo͞od grü-pē/: person who loves food, likes trying new dishes in an adventurous way, enjoys learning about food (history, ingredients, people), and collects items and experiences that relate to their culinary journey

Sous Vide Jerk Pork Tenderloin with Mango Salsa

sous vide jerk pork tenderloin with mango salsa

1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (you can use more if preferred)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper
2 1-pound pork tenderloins
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 mango, pitted, peeled, and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (I usually have more on hand because I love cilantro.)
3 tablespoons finely diced red onion
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 small jalapeno, seeded and finely diced

Set your sous vide temperature to 135 degrees F.

In a medium bowl combine the brown sugar, allspice, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, 2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Rub mixture over tenderloins.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the pork and sear until browned on all sides. Transfer to a plate and let rest for 10 minutes.

Place tenderloins and any leftover spice rub in a large vacuum seal or zipper bag (think freezer instead of storage weight). Seal using the water immersion technique or vacuum sealer on moist setting. Once the water temperature is at 135F, place the bag in the water bath and let go for 2 hours.

Prepare the salsa by putting the mango, bell pepper, cilantro, onion, lime juice, and jalapeno in a medium bowl. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and keep chilled until ready to use.

When the timer goes off, remove the bag from the sous vide bath. Let rest 10 minutes, then remove from the bag and pat dry. Slice the tenderloin and serve topped with the mango salsa.

Is the year half over, or has the adventure just started?

June 30th is the midway point in the year, with July 1st starting the downhill of the current yearly cycle. If you look at the year as half over, then you most likely have already started planning Christmas and New Year 2022 events. If you take the position of the yearly cycle has only partially started, it frees you up to see where the 2021 adventure can take you. I think most people are in the middle of the two, kind of seesawing back and forth depending on the moment and topic. I think that can be applied to food as well. Is the day or meal half over, or is one part of your brain looking ahead to dessert or deciding what to fix later? I am definitely the latter, always thinking about food and what I can create with what is in the pantry and fridge.

Photo by Pixabay on

Have you decided what you are fixing for the 4th of July? I know for sure I am making ice cream (time to get back into the tradition my dad started when we were kids), most likely corn on/off the cob of some sort, and maybe even toss ribs or tri-tip in the smoker. I don’t know what the weather is where you are, but in the Central Valley it is HOT. I love cooking and baking (but dislike the obligatory dishes that go along with it) and the extended heat creates challenges to find ways of prepping or preparing meals without spending a lot of time in a hot kitchen. I’ve switched my bread proofing and baking schedules a little, so that the majority of the bulk rise is done overnight and baking can be done early in the day to mitigate heat buildup in my small kitchen. Canning is also challenging as the hot water bath turns half the house into a sauna. I think if I ever won the lottery, I would use part of the money to make an outdoor kitchen just for that reason. I’ve also started utilizing my collection of small appliances and the sous vide. The toaster oven can handle pretty much everything needed for a dinner for two, and the electric grills work well enough for a quick burger. Nothing quite replaces using the BBQ for certain things, but sometimes you don’t want to brave 100+ for just a few small chunks of animal meat.

Do you have a favorite small appliance? Several? Which ones make life easier for cooking at the end of the day? I love the Instant Pot and the Zest rice cooker. My Anova sous vide is another one that is becoming a regular part of the kitchen crew, plus the zippy red toaster oven (adult Ez-Bake). We actually had to buy a new coffee maker (Ninja) because the old one up and kicked the bucket a month ago. Talk about major researching and debate as to what to purchase! The hubby wanted certain features, and I just wanted something that would make coffee. In the end, we found one that made us both happy campers. Now, the big discussion on the weekend is drip or pour-over.

Stay cool, keep hydrated, and drop a comment on which kitchen gadgets you love or hate.

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