Thursday, June 7, 2012

Inspirations for a menu

June 3, 2012

  • BLT Salad with Buttermilk Dressing
  • Almost No-knead Sourdough Bread
  • Vella Chardonnay

Many factors contribute to the creation of a menu. As the last few weeks have shown, the amount of time available for cooking is an important factor. Some weekends are free from commitments and there is more time to spend preparing food. Others are jammed full of activities and commitments and you need to minimize time spent shopping and cooking. The time of year is a factor, too, with winter being suited to heavier meals (soups, stews, braised meats) and summers to lighter fare (pasta, salads, grilled meats). The tastes of the people you're serving, the ingredients that are available and fresh, your kitchen skills, tools available, your culinary history, and many more factors can play a role in your decisions for what to eat on any particular day.

This was a busy weekend with a concert on Friday night (The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour – a great show!) in Berkeley and a Giants game in San Francisco on Saturday. Combine that with the need to repair our broken bed (we've temporarily moved to the futon in Caleb's room while our bed is down for maintenance) and the usual weekend activities, and this had to be a simple meal. The menu was inspired by a  Whole Foods recipe for BLT Pasta Salad. I didn't use this recipe, largely because pasta seems such a strange ingredient for this salad (who puts pasta in a BLT sandwich?), but it did inspire me to dig out another BLT Salad recipe that I had made before. Salad and bread are always a good combination and I had come across a suggestion for substituting sourdough starter for yeast and I wanted to give it a try.

I usually follow recipes closely, but for this BLT Salad I just used the recipe as a guide. (As some people suggest you should always do.) Caryn was not home for dinner (I would have served the bacon on the side if she was with us) so I roughly halved the amounts called for in the recipe. I used Earthbound Farm Spring Mix for the greens, because we had them, but I think the prescribed romaine hearts would have been a better. As directed by the recipe, I first made the dressing (buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, pepper) in a bowl then added the other ingredients and tossed them. The salad could have used more bacon and smaller croutons. I made the croutons from a loaf of supermarket french bread which toasted up nicely in the oven. We thought the tomato quantity was small, too, until we discovered them hiding under the lettuce at the bottom of the bowl. Whether they were just shy or fearful of their fate, we couldn't tell.

The bread was inspired by an article I found when searching for no-knead sourdough bread recipes. It suggests that you can substitute ¼ cup of sourdough starter for ¼ teaspoon yeast. This is seems a very convenient suggestion.  To see how well it works, on Saturday morning before the Giants game I took the starter out of the refrigerator, where it had been sitting for several months, stirred it up, and fed it. When we got back home that evening it had expanded and was nice and bubbly. To test the substitution, I used the recipe I am most familiar with, the Cook's Illustrated Almost No-Knead Bread. The dough rose nicely overnight but I found it to be very wet and had to add quite a bit of flour to do the small amount of kneading called for in the recipe. Even with the extra flout, the dough was still pretty wet and it spread out more than it rose during the second rising. However, the baked bread was reasonably light and definitely had a tangier flavor than the bread made with yeast. Because the flavor was so good I plan to try this again to see if I get the same result. If the dough is still too wet then I will reduce the amount of water to compensate for the extra liquid provided by the starter.

This was a simple meal with a menu inspired by circumstances, season, and through reading about what others have done with food. The meal was relatively quick to prepare and suitable for warm weather. I saw a BLT salad recipe on the Facebook page for Whole Foods which reminded me of another BLT salad recipe we had enjoyed previously. I hadn't made sourdough bread in a while so went searching for a no-knead recipe which I could make in the time available. The no-knead method for making bread doesn't require much time from the cook. In the end it all came together and we had an enjoyable meal.

BLT Salad with Buttermilk Dressing from Steamy Kitchen
Almost No-Knead Bread from Cook's Illustrated
Some America's Test Kitchen recipes require registration before they can be viewed on-line. You may be able to find these recipes on other web sites.

Kitchen Tip
Bacon is great, but the mess it leaves behind is not. A convenient way to clean up the grease is to put several paper towels in the pan while the grease is still liquid. When it cools off and solidifies remove the paper towels and discard them. I find this to be easier than finding a container to pour the liquid grease into or wiping out the solid grease later.

Leftover fajitas were easily prepared by re-heating the meat and vegetables in the microwave then serving them with the condiments and tortillas. They're not quite as good as when fresh, the vegetables in particular lose some of their flavor and texture, but this is still a good weekday meal. I like to take use the extra tortillas to make peanut butter burritos: just spread a tortilla with peanut butter, roll it up, and enjoy.


  1. Have you ever tried making a ciabatta bread? It is a very wet dough and so adds some new techniques to deal with wetter doughs in other breads.

    1. Not yet, but I want to and I have a recipe or two set aside. I've made pizza bianca which uses a very wet dough, but it's not meant to rise so it's not a good model