Thursday, April 30, 2020

Show Me the Bread ~ Bialys and Sourdough

I want to share a bread post during this pandemic as I know many of you are baking.  I know this because there is no flour or yeast to be found in any store and presumably there is a lot of baking going on.  Social media bears this out as pictures of homemade goodies abound.  I too have flour and yeast because I live in a perpetual state of emergency readiness.  Otherwise I would have been one of those wandering the grocery aisles bewildered by the absence of staples.  I've always kept a well stocked larder partly due to our remote location and partly due to years of California's  vigilant commercial reminders to be always earthquake ready.  They got the emergency wrong but it still turns out to have been good advice.

It's Springtime and vidalia onions are in season and therefore no better time to share a recipe for bialys.  Never heard of a bialy?  Then you probably have never been to a New York City Jewish Deli.  It's similar to a bagel but it's baked and more squat with an onion topping.  Trust me this tastes better than it sounds.  I absolutely love them and bake several batches every Spring.

The recipe I'm sharing was originally published in Saveur magazine.  It was adapted from Mimi Sheraton's book The Bialy Eaters (Broadway Books, 2002) and was pulled off line for some reason.  I've tried to remain true to the recipe as shared but I had to make a few adaptions for it to work for me.  So this is my adaption of the adaption and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do.  If you ever get to New York City make sure you hunt down a deli that sells bialys. You'll be glad you did.

Bialy Recipe

Yield ~ 16 ~

1/3 cup olive oil
1 small vidalia onion, minced
2 Tbs. coarse bread crumbs, toasted
7 grams (1 package) active yeast or 1/2 oz fresh yeast
3 cups cool water (note: original recipe called for ice water and fresh yeast)
5 3/4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting (I recommend Bob's Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour)
2 Tbs. kosher salt
3 Tbs. poppy seeds


1.  First read over the instructions in entirety as this is not your typical bread recipe.  There are two kneading stages for this dough and two options for baking, one using a sheet pan covering and one simply using baking sheets.  I recommend using the sheet pan covering option as it will result in a crispy crust.

2.  Prepare onion mixture.  Heat oil in a skillet and add onion.  Saute over low heat until onion is soft and translucent, 12 - 14 minutes.  Stir in bread crumbs, set aside to cool.

3.  Stir 1/2 cup cool (or iced) water and the yeast (either fresh or active) in a bowl until smooth and the yeast is dissolved.  Add remaining 2 1/2 cups cool (or iced) water.  Set aside.   In a stand mixer with hook attached combined bread flour and salt.  With the motor running slowly add the yeast mixture (I generally have a very wet and sticky mixture by the time I have added 2 1/2 cups  and skip adding the last 1/2 cup).  After adding the yeast mixture turn up the speed to medium-high and kneed until smooth but still still sticky, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.  Don't worry if there are some lumps they will break down during the second kneading stage.  NOTE:  As a time saving hack I use a food processor to add the water/yeast mixture to the flour/salt mixture by drizzling in through the top opening while the machine is running.  Once I have added 2 1/2 cups water/yeast I stop the machine and transfer the mixture to my stand mixture and proceed to the kneading stage as described above.

4.  Place dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth.  Set aside in warm place until double in bulk, approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.  If I'm using an Air Fryer "proofing" function I generally find it is ready after proofing for 110 minutes at 90 degrees.

5.  Return dough to mixer with hook and kneed for 10 minutes.  All lumps must be gone and if you still have lumps after 10 minutes continue kneading by hand until all lumps are gone (or I simply reach into the bowl and using my fingers work the lumps until they disappear).  This is a very wet dough and will stick to the bowl sides.  If you knead by hand add as little flour as possible.  Cover and set aside in a bowl until doubled in bulk, approximately 60 minutes.

6.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.   Place a pizza stone on lowest shelf in oven.  Divide dough into 16 pieces and with well floured hands roll into balls (these will not form tight balls as the dough is too wet and lax for that.  You will find this dough is different and behaves differently than other breads and don't expect it to have the form or texture of, for example, a bagel or pizza dough).   Place 5 or 6 balls (1 inch apart) on each parchment lined baking sheet.  Remember you will want them close enough that they will fit under a sheet pan cover, if you choose to bake them that way which I highly recommend.  Cover with floured cloths and let rise until slightly puffy, approximately 45 minutes.

7.  Wet the bottom of a small glass or jar (approximately 3 inches in diameter) and press into the center of each ball and twist to create a flat thin center with a puffy rim.  Using your finger lightly apply a small amount of water to rims.  Sprinkle surface with a few poppy seeds and add 1 or 2 teaspoons onion mixture to the center and a tiny bit around the edges.  Resist the temptation to add more onion mix as over filling will cause the center to rise up like a knot.

8.  You will bake the bialys in batches.  If you want to create a dutch oven effect, cover tray of bialys with a 9x13 sheet pan turned upside.  Place tray of bialys (covered by sheet pan) on the pizza stone and set a heavy cast-iron pan (or brick, etc.) on top of the sheet pan to weigh it down and trap heat.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the sheet pan covering and move the tray of bialys to the middle rack and bake until well browned, approximately 6 to 8 minutes (total cooking time 16 to 18 minutes).  Note:  the original recipe does not call for baking bialys under a sheet pan I found that tip online and I find it creates a nice crust.  But you don't have to use the sheet pan to cover the bialys and can simply follow the baking instructions omitting the sheet pan covering.  If you skip the sheet pan covering you can get by with using just 2 baking sheets (8 bialys per sheet).

Bialys are wonderful freshly baked and still warm from the oven but they also freeze well.  To reheat I zap them in the microwave for 30 seconds and toast for a couple of minutes in a toaster oven.  I personally don't add any topping (such as cream cheese, etc.) as I would with a bagel.

Pictured above is a typical breakfast for me.  I love Coach's Oats topped with fruit and walnuts, Japanese green tea (in particular, DavidsTea Gyokuro Yamashiro), a slice of my homemade sourdough bread and I like to have another type of breakfast bread such as a bialy as well.  This is a substantial repast and needless to say I have no need or desire to snack mid-morning.  I adhere to the philosophy of breakfast like a queen, lunch like a princess and dine like a pauper!  At least in a caloric/carb sense.  That is if you ignore my lunchtime baked treat. 

A Word or Two About Sourdough

There is currently a tremendous interest in sourdough.  But a sourdough adventure requires a multitude of things not necessarily on hand including wild yeast, bread proofing baskets (brotform), lame (for scoring), dutch oven (for crust) and a process that is well beyond the scope of my humble blog.   If you are interested in sourdough I recommend the recipe in Tartine Bread and getting a jump start on your wild yeast by buying King Arthur Flour's Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter.  Years ago I attempted to create my own wild yeast via a petri dish until I had the epiphany that it was crazy to try and improve on King Arthur's hundred year old starter that had obviously stood the test of time.  I do keep dual starters - one fed by the Tartine Bread method and the other following King Arthur Flour's method.  I do this as it gives me flexibility with different types of recipes and also ensures that if one starter goes bad or spills, etc. that I have another to begin again with.

I love huge door stopper slices of sourdough and my favorite toppings include butter and honey; olive oil and Zaatar (make middle east style bruschetta by adding feta cheese on top); olive oil and dukkah; and last but not least, butter and seville orange marmalade.  Sourdough isn't just for breakfast though.  It's also fantastic with a bowl of soup, toasted hard and drenched in olive oil.

Homemade bread is one of my favorite foods and I never cease to be amazed at the amazing results you can achieve in your own kitchen.  I hope you will embark on a life long love affair as I have.  If you are new to bread baking and want a try a simple yeast bread recipe I recommend trying my classic dinner rolls.

Just a quick word on the pandemic before closing.  Each of us are having to make changes in our priorities and we are recognizing that the actions we take impact others and the planet.  It is my hope this will lead to positive and lasting changes in society and how we treat each other.  If it does the world will be a better place to live.  Something good coming from something that is bad.  Until next time be well and stay safe and keep baking, it's something wonderful that you can share.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Spring Zweig Sweater and Chicken Vegetable Instapot Recipe

This is a knitting blog and, as always, I have a project to share.  But first I want to talk about the COVID-19 crisis and how anxious and worried I am for our neighbors, community, world and of course our family.  I wish everyone could stay home and avoid exposure to the virus but I know there are those who perform essential roles in providing healthcare, food, supplies, and leadership and my thanks and prayers are with each of you and your families.

I think it will be many months before a vaccine is widely available.  Those of us who are older, have underlying health conditions or family in those risk categories will likely have to take precautions for longer than others.  This means staying at home and not leaving for any reason and that can be isolating and lonely.  But there are things you can do to stay connected and be part of your community.  For example I have joined a group on Facebook (Milk Street Community) that shares recipes and tips and our Temple (Makom LA) has a variety of live services streamed on Facebook as well.  Both are welcoming and friendly communities.  Other options include having a virtual happy hour on Zoom and other creative uses of social media platforms.  Look around and find those that interest you and join in.  This is also a good time to touch base with friends and family and rebuild relationships that have drifted apart.  And of course you should absolutely keep knitting!

In this post I am wearing the very popular Zweig Sweater designed by Caitlin Hunter.  It's a unique design that combines texture, lace, and colorwork and yet still manages to be an easy and straight forward knit.  That's the magic of Caitlin's patterns - they look a more complicated than they are.  I chose to use Spring colors as I don't have many sweaters for that season as Spring in Southern California feels like summer anywhere else.  Ironically it's really cold this Spring but as we are confined to home I'll just have to sashay about the house in my new sweater.  That's okay because next year I may break down and wear this in the Winter as well and make it a two season sweater!

My mother would laugh at that as she is always telling me I am too rigid and I need to be more flexible.  But I like each season to shine for it's own special reasons and I resist crossing over seasons in clothing or food.  Spring is a time for lemon flavored baking, pink flowers, Easter baskets, enjoying the sound of birds singing, baby lambs, longer days and rediscovering the miracle of regrowth and renewal. I'd love to hear what makes your heart sing about Spring.   

I won't go into my tips for colorwork or how to achieve a custom fit for a sweater because I have shared those tips in previous posts.  My tips for knitting a sweater are in the post Knitting a Sweater and Tips to Achieve a Custom Fit and my colorwork tips are in the Hebe hat post (an Alice Staremore design) and to be honest I think there are now a number of Youtube videos that would probably make great free tutorials for colorwork.  But I still stand by my advice to practice, practice, and practice more on a swatch holding two strands in your hand and get very used to knitting that way before you embark on your first project.

Particulars:  Zweig Sweater, designed by Caitlin Hunter (Boyland Knitworks); yarn by A Homespun House (merino/cashmere blend).  This was a very easy sweater to knit.  I made the smallest size (XS) and made no modifications.  I chose the amethyst color and Molly (the dyer behind A Homespun House) helped me pick the contrasting color of stardust and I think that was the perfect choice. 

Other patterns that I've knit by Caitlin Hunter are her Kobuk hat and Sunset Highway Sweater.  I love all her designs and I'm sure I'll be knitting more.  Other projects knit using a homespun house yarn include the beautiful shawl in my last post and All the Angles, a shawl designed by Stephen West that I have yet to photograph.

Before I switch gears to cooking I have just realized that I am approaching my 13th Blogiversary.  That's a long time.  My very first post Welcome to Mr. Puffy and Claudia's Blog! was back on May 5, 2007.  I want to thank you for reading along on this journey and for the comments and private notes that I've received.  I'm glad that I embarked on this journey and I know there are many more projects and recipes that I want to share and I hope you will following along with me and find some inspiration along the way.  

Instant Pot ~ Chicken Vegetable Soup ~

Steve and I have been practicing self isolation long before it became popular.  Largely a result of living in the mountains and working long hours at home.  And when you spend a lot of time at home your meal repertoire gets to be pretty large by sheer necessity.  I know many of you are not used to cooking meals at home and the COVID-19 crisis is making you consider how exactly do you stretch that chicken or use up bags of legumes.  So I thought this would be a good time to share a recipe that will help on both accounts.

A quick word about the Instant Pot (pressure cooker).  No you don't need one to make this recipe.  You can simply cook the chicken and legumes on your stove top and adjust the cooking time.  However I think you'll have to cook it long and slow at a low heat to achieve the same texture and melding of flavors.  

I'm obviously a fan of the Instant Pot and this is how it happened.  One day Steve came into the house calling "I have a gift for you."  I was very excited..... until I saw it was a cooking implement.  To say I was underwhelmed is an understatement.  Then I used it.  Now I laughingly say Best. Gift. Ever!  It does take a few times to get comfortable using it and you do have to be careful that you don't overcook things (I found the recipes included waaaaay overstated the cooking time).  But it's worth the effort and now I use mine weekly to make a stew or soup for the weekend.  They are sold everywhere including Amazon, etc.  I have the 6-quart size which is the most popular. 

Chicken Vegetable Soup - Instant Pot Recipe


1 whole chicken (approximately 4 lbs.), skin removed
1 cup mixed legumes (i.e.split peas, barley, red lentils, and maybe small pasta pieces).  I like Bob's Red Mill vegi soup mix which is a mix of all these.  No pre-soaking required.
1 stock cube - I use Rapunzel vegetable bouillon (low sodium) Ralph's grocery store sells this brand
Assortment sliced/diced vegetables  (zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, red peppers, sweet onion, and small cherry tomatoes)  These should be cut pretty thick or they will dry out during the roasting process.
2 Tbs. Olive oil
1/4 tsp. dried oregano (optional)
Salt to taste


1.  About 1.5 or 2 hrs before you want to eat wash and remove skin from the chicken and cut off all fat.  Place the skinned chicken in an instant pot.  Add 1 cup or desired amount of legumes, salt, and stock (I use 1 cube) and water sufficient to cover chicken by approximately 2 inches.  Set instant pot on "poultry" setting and adjust cook time to 7 minutes.  After the timer goes off leave the chicken in the instant pot for roughly another half hour to allow it to continue cooking in the hot liquid.  Open and remove chicken from liquid at this point and check that it is cooked though.  If it is, set it aside to cool.  Close the instant pot until vegetables are ready to add.

N.B. I find the 7 minutes plenty of time to thoroughly cook a chicken but it never hurts to double check and should you need to cook it longer you can always place the chicken back into the hot liquid and allow it to continue cooking until you are satisfied that it is cooked through.    

2.  In the meantime preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss mixed vegetables in olive oil and salt to taste.  Spread out on a foil covered tray and bake for approximately 40 to 60 minutes or until tender and the edges have started to brown.  Cooking time is an estimate.  You need to check and see how fast the vegetables are cooking because If you slice the veggies too thin they will cook faster and you risk they shrivel up to nothing.   When they are ready remove them from the oven and fold the foil over to tent vegetables (keep warm) and set aside until ready to use.

3.  About 5 minutes before you want to eat shred the white meat and remove all bones (I typically don't use the dark/thigh meat but that is your choice).  Set shredded chicken meat aside.

4.  Add 50 to 75% of cooked vegetables to the hot liquid in your instant pot and using a hand immersion bender or any type of blender pulse a few times to break up the vegetables and legumes to make a chunky rich broth.

5.  Taste broth and adjust seasoning (add salt, oregano) as desired.

6.  Add shredded chicken and remaining 25% vegetables to the instant pot and you are finished!

We often eat an Instant Pot soup/stew with a side salad and bread.  The bread pictured above is a Turkish flatbread that I made following this Youtube video.  It's wonderful to scoop up dips and soup.  If you are simply going to eat it on it's own then I suggest you increase the salt.

Until next time stay home, stay safe and may all of you and your loved ones find ways to stay connected during this stressful time.  In the sage words of my mother "this too shall pass" and we will get through this together.