The Art of Bread Making

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For me bread evokes all sorts of good memories. Growing up in the 70s Mrs. Baird’s white bread was what we ate and I remember visiting the factory where we sampled freshly baked bread with lots of butter- it was wonderful. In my 20s, three girlfriends and I did the backpacking/Euro rail trip through Europe and had bread almost daily- café au lait with bread/jam for breakfast, a French baguette with cheese and pâté for a picnic lunch (after biking to the Castle Chenonceau), Italian bread with our pasta for dinner…oh how I wish I was there now.  More recently, one of my favorites is Macaroni Grill’s rosemary focaccia bread- I could probably eat a whole loaf by myself! Now, whenever my family and I dine out we always make a point to comment on the bread that’s being served. So, am I a bread snob? No. I don’t think so. I would like to think of myself as a bread aficionado.

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Sarah showing us how to de-gas the dough

 

Earlier this month, I jumped at the chance to attend an artisanal bread making class. The bread class was a two-day course at Los Poblanos taught by pastry chef, Sarah C. It was the perfect introductory class and just what I needed to jumpstart my journey into the art of bread making. At the simplest level, bread making consists of mixing and manipulating only 4 ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. Following Sarah’s 14 steps of bread making, one can produce a beautiful, delicious product. She stresses the importance of using high quality ingredients, which will make for a better tasting bread.

  • Flour- use bread flour, it has the highest amount of protein, 12%, of all the different types of flour; protein=gluten and gluten is what provides structure for the bread; use organic if possible because it contains live cultures which enhances flavor
  • Yeast- there are 3 different types: active dry or instant dry, fresh and wild (harvested from the air); 100% fresh = 50% active dry = 40% instant dry, use this ratio if you are using a different yeast than what the recipe calls for
  • Water- its role is to hydrate and always add less than you need to in the beginning because the amount of water will depend on the humidity level in your environment; use the highest quality of water
  • Salt- slows yeast down, strengthens gluten, controls the color of your product, and adds flavor; use fine sea salt or kosher salt not the large flakes which will “tear” the dough

At the next level, one can pay closer attention to the details of time (for kneading and fermenting), temperature (for fermenting), and types of pre-ferments to change the texture of the crumb and the taste of the final product. For example, one would knead a sourdough dough longer than a French bread dough. Incorporating techniques such as the windowpane test (stretching the dough to examine for webbing and tearing) can guide the bread maker on when to stop kneading. The bread maker can use temperature to either speed up or slow down the process of bread making. This is useful when you have time limitations. You can also affect the taste and texture of your final product by using different pre-ferments- biga, pâte fermentée, poolish, or regular sponge. Try making the same bread with different pre-ferments to find out what you like. Furthermore, if you like a crispy crust, you can add steam to the baking process.

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The windowpane test

 

What I look forward to is the day when I find myself at a certain comfort level where I can experiment, create and expand my repertoire. Fine tuning my sourdough starter to my taste, getting creative with ingredients such as bleu cheese/nuts/fruit, or trying different types of flour would definitely make me a well-educated bread aficionado. Achieving this level of adeptness can lead me to endless bread creations!

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One of my final products- Dinner Rolls

 

My first solo attempt at making bread has been the basic sourdough. After studying my new bread book, The Bread Maker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, and using what I learned from class, I was successful at producing two loaves of bread with a crispy crust and creamy crumb. Whole Foods watch out, my bread is better than yours! Since practice makes perfect, my family and friends can expect to be eating lots of sourdough for now. Maybe a year from now I will have the basic French baguette and Italian ciabatta perfected and ready to share with friends and family!

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My sourdough bread

 

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This was really good!

 

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” – James Beard

Tips:

  1. Baking bread requires special kitchen tools- a scale with ounces and grams modes, a bench knife for cutting dough, a bowl scrapper and a thermometer.
  2. Never put dough down the sink drain- it’ll clog it up
  3. La Montañita Coop (on the west side) carries New Mexican flour from the Sangre de Cristo Agricultural Producers. I heard it’s supposed to make really tasty bread.

Date of bread class: January 4-5, 2014

Posted in Taste, Try It, Uncategorized, What I Cooked and Ate Tonight | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

B2B Bistronomy: Hipster Burgers

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Hungry for burgers

If you haven’t guessed yet, my family and I like a good burger.  From a previous post, you learned that we will grind our own meat for burgers at home but sometimes we’d rather let someone else do the work so we go out. One of our favorites is B2B Bistronomy located in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood.

Even though Albuquerque’s Nob Hill is named after San Fran’s Nob Hill, it is nothing like the one in San Fran. It’s located on Central Ave (the famous Route 66) which is lined with small boutiques and specialty stores, a diverse selection of restaurants, tattoos parlors and popular vintage clothing stores. This is the perfect location for a hipster burger place like B2B.

You ask, “Why would hipsters like to eat here?” Aside from the location, the restaurant is small and cozy with a large bar as the main focus of the room.  The people eating and drinking are mostly young 20-30 year olds eclectically dressed and hip looking. The walls are covered with artistically drawn pictures and lettering done in colorful chalk. On one wall you can learn about the different cuts of beef and from what part of the cow it comes from, drawings of vegetables, chemical reactions, and the anatomy of a burger. The menu is a one pager but has a lot of creative burger combinations and toppings to chose from. Free-range grass fed, hormone-free, sustainable beef + creative toppings + brioche bun = hipster burger. My favorite burger is the Nawlins- Cajun black and blue rub with bleu cheese sauce. Fries come in two different flavors, Regular and Cajun- I order the Cajun ones to go with my Nawlins burger. Then you get to choose what flavor of sauce to go with your fries. There’s three different flavors of mayo- wasabi, spicy, and pesto; five different flavors of ketchup- southwest, smoked, berry, curry, and beer. One more decision to make- you gotta have a beer with your burger. Local beers + local wines = hipster beverages. Brews from Rio Grande, Chama, La Cumbre just to name a few are available as well as cocktails and B2B specialty drinks.

B2B
Pierre Burger

So, forget the ramen burger (that’s so mainstream and luckily a short lived fad) and visit B2B Bistronomy for a very hip burger meal at a very hip place while not admitting that it’s all very hip! Oh, and don’t forget to take photos of what you’re eating!

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Make Your Own Double Burger- perfect for a growing teenage boy

Tips:

  1. It’s a small place so make reservations or you may have to wait (outside).
  2. If you’re really hungry they offer double meat patties.
  3. Be sure to check out the monthly burger. During the holidays it was the Christmas burger topped with New Mexican red and green chiles, of course!
  4. We love the fried pickles!

Date visited: December 28, 2013

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Posted in Albuquerque Restaurant Reviews, Restaurants by location: Nob Hill Albuquerque, Taste, Urbanspoon reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Acoma: Sky City

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The American Indians make up about 10% of New Mexico’s population- their culture and traditions are a vital part of the state’s history and way of life. I encourage everyone to learn and know something about this important ethnic group. Sure, you can read a book or visit a museum but for an up-close and personal experience, visiting an American Indian pueblo is the way to go. We are very fortunate to have at least 19 pueblos that are open to the public for tours. We had visitors in town for Christmas, so I quickly suggested that we visit Acoma Pueblo. This would be the perfect New Mexican experience for them. On the day after Christmas we headed out to the pueblo.

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On top of the mesa: The visitor center in the distance and the shuttle bus road on the left side

Acoma Pueblo is also known as the Sky City. Located only about 60 miles west of Albuquerque, the drive is not a bad one. While the I-40 highway scenery consists mainly of sand and desert vegetation with Mount Taylor growing larger as you get closer to Acoma, once you get on the Indian reservation the scenery quickly evolves into tabletop landforms and monument-like rock formations. After about 15 miles, the pueblo comes into view and you will see it’s located on top of a mesa, aka Acoma Rock. Stop by the Visitor Center for an orientation and purchase a ticket to visit the pueblo. There’s only one way up to the top of the mesa and that’s to ride the shuttle bus. However, to get down, you have 3 options: take the shuttle bus down, walk down the paved shuttle bus road, or travel by foot and hand on the ancient path along the side of the mesa.

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Descending the ancient path down the mesa- use the hand holes to help you down or up the steep steps

Being at Acoma one can’t help but feel connected to Mother Nature and the spirit of the ancient Anasazi people. When you reach the top of the mesa (about 370 feet high) and stand on the edge of the mesa looking out, you feel like you are on top of the world and that the pueblo is the center of all the natural surrounding beauty. Just imagine how the Acomas felt over thousands of years ago- so proud and fortunate to call this place home. Acomas are descendants of the Anasazi and are the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. Ancient spiritual traditions are still practiced today. One of their largest celebrations takes place during Christmas. Christmas is a 4-day celebration with feasts, festivals and traditional tribal dances by different clans. On Christmas Eve, one can view the spectacular display of luminarias lining the road up to the pueblo and for the ultimate experience you can spend the evening celebrating with the Acomas until midnight. Interestingly, we learned that Santa Claus visits the pueblo the day after Christmas. We saw him riding in a fire truck with Miss Indian New Mexico (from Acoma). The children up in the pueblo were eagerly awaiting their arrival and all the wonderful gifts. Our tour group was lucky to witness the White Buffalo Dance at the Mission San Esteban Del Rey (photos are not allowed). Many of the dances that occur in the winter are about life and death of animals. This dance sort of reminded me of the Dragon Dance from my Chinese heritage.

Acoma Pueblo
On top of the mesa looking northeast
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Large ladders leading up to the second level where the entrance into kivas are located

Interestingly, the Acomas have a matrilineal society. This means the eldest daughter inherits the property and titles, a tribal member’s lineage is determined by the mother’s tribal kinship, and a tribal member’s clanship will be the same as the mother’s clan, etc. Clans play important roles in the structure of the tribe, both politically and economically. For example, Acomas are well known for their beautiful pottery and pottery making is mainly handed down to the daughters from the mothers, aunts or grandmothers. I will admit this is also one the main reasons I enjoy visiting Acoma. It’s amazing how detailed the designs can be, but what’s even more amazing is that the artist uses a paintbrush made from chewed yucca leaves to paint the designs! There are many opportunities to purchase Acoma crafts and pottery while touring the pueblo. While I may never have a chance to own pot made by Marie Chino, Rebecca Lucario or Lucy Lewis, I would love to acquire an Acoma pot for my home some day.

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Acoma pottery (photo taken with permission from the artist)

Our visit to Acoma this past Christmas was truly special. If you don’t make it for the Christmas celebration, there are other celebrations through out the year. But really a visit any time of the year is worth it. There’s so much to see and learn from the American Indians. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be traveling back to Acoma in the very near future.

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Acoma quilt hanging in the visitor center

Tips:

  1. The Haaku Museum at the visitor’s center is a great place to learn more about pottery and the history of the Acomas.
  2. You can dine at Yaaku Café for Indian fusion cuisine.
  3. I recommend descending down the mesa using the ancient path. It’s steep so please wear appropriate footwear and take precautions regarding your physical state before attempting the ancient path.
  4. You can use credit cards to purchase pottery in the pueblo.
  5. For more on Acoma pottery check out “The Pottery of Acoma Pueblo” by Lanmon and Harlow, a well researched book with lots of photos. It was awarded the “Southwest Book Award from the Border Regional Library Association (available in the Gaisti Gift Shop at the Visitor Center).
  6. Visiting Acoma Pueblo website

Date visited: December 26, 2013

Posted in Around New Mexico, Day Trips from Albuquerque, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coffee Cupping with Villa Myriam

Villa Myriam Coffee Cupping

My friends and I met at Los Poblanos, a working organic farm in Albuquerque’s North Valley. It’s situated on 25 acres of historic land near the Rio Grande River. Going to the farm is like going to an oasis, a high desert oasis. In the summer, when it’s hot and dry, one can escape to the farm for a walk among the lavender fields and under the shady, majestic cottonwood trees, relax under the wonderful portal which is perfect for catching a breeze, and dine outside by the ceramic tiled pool. Today, however, with the cloudy skies, cold temps and snow flurries; it was a perfect wintery day for gathering inside the farm inn for a different kind of oasis offering- coffee cupping.

Villa Myriam Coffee Cupping
Juan, Villa Myriam roast master

Our coffee guides were brothers Juan and David of Villa Myriam specialty coffee. They were born in Columbia and have made Albuquerque their roasting home. They are expert roast masters and are involved with the production from bean to brew. As they say, “they grew up (on the plantation) knowing great coffee.” Their family plantation is located in Columbia at about 5500 feet above sea level where the beans are grown for the most part in the shade.  Citrus trees, bananas trees and flowers also grow on the plantation adding layers of flavor to the beans. The Arabica beans are dried and processed in Columbia, exported to the US, stored in California (as green beans), then shipped to Albuquerque for roasting.

Villa Myriam Coffee Cupping
Specialty coffee lacks these defects

Click here to watch a YouTube video of David explaining the roasting process.

Did you know that coffee beans have more than 800 flavor characteristics (compared to the 400 flavor characteristics of wine)? That’s amazing! Since this was my first cupping, I was eager to see how many different flavors I could detect.  The cupping process includes grinding the roasted beans, smelling the grounds, infusing the grounds, smelling again, slurping and spitting. Surprisingly, the cupping experts can complete the entire process in about 4 minutes. We cupped a medium roast and a dark roast- molasses, nuts, citrus, chocolate, and smokiness- were the different flavors picked out by our group.

Villa Myriam Coffee Cupping

Villa Myriam Coffee Cupping
Villa Myriam Coffee Cupping

My friends and I agreed that spitting the coffee was not ladylike and it seemed kinda wasteful, so we drank the coffee. By the end of the cupping session we were wide-eyed and wired, ready to take on the rest of the day! We had so much fun learning about coffee that we’ve decided to make plans for a visit to Juan and David’s roasting facility. Hmmmm…..a visit to a Columbian coffee plantation would be fun, too!

Villa Myriam Coffee Cupping
Hints of molasses, citrus, and nuts

Coffee storage tips:

  1. Roasted beans should be stored in a thick lined bag with a valve for releasing gas (not in a brown paper bag).
  2. Store coffee in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from light. Do not store in freezer!
  3. Coffee is best stored in the bean form and ground right before brewing.

Date visited: December 13, 2013

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