On having Sourdough pets

20170331_075650I must confess, even though it is technically a form of cooking/baking, maintaining and growing sourdough cultures satisfies my biologist itch.

Sourdough starters are cultures of living organisms.  Mixtures of wild yeast and your local lactobacillus strains ( these bacteria are what gives it a “local” flavor and the sour taste).

The even better news is that they are organisms that tolerate small amounts of stress reasonably well and can be “slowed down” in the fridge ( or even dried and frozen) for periods when life is crazy and daily maintenance is impossible.

Like all microorganisms, a culture can quickly grow beyond useful size… so it is most important to understand what your goals are to set the right feeding schedule.


There are lots of recipes that use sourdough starters- not just bread.  Some of my current favorites include waffles, pancakes and muffins!  20170331_080936Recipes usually call for 1-3 C of active starter ( this is starter that is actively growing and bubbling).  If you know how much starter you need, you will know how often to split and cook with the split along the way ( you can also certainly just discard part of it, although that always breaks my heart).  If you do not have time to cook with your split discards, this is also a great time to inoculate friends and neighbors with their own potion of the starter.

Feeding is adding equal mass flour and water to your starter daily to give the microorganisms new food to continue to grow and divide.  I find right now,  if I add about half as much new total volume as the existing culture, then the culture grows well.  We are not yet into the heat of summer, so I expect this ratio to change.  The most important thing is to watch and listen to your culture- is is bubbling nicely? Then it is happy and growing.

Has the bubbling slowed down?  Then it is unhappy.. try feeding it a bit more.  If this does not help, look at environmental factors…  was there a temperature or humidity change? Don’t worry about experimenting a bit.

If you think about the math, you will quickly see why you need to split and use/discard frequently.

Day 1: Start with 2C fed starter

Day 2: feed with about 1Cup flour/water combination.  – total about 3 C starter

Day 3: Feed with about 1.5 C flour/water combination – total 4.5 C starter

Day 4: Wait a Minute..  just how much starter do you need? 4.5C  is probably already more than most people need.. but maybe you are ambitious.  But do you really want to feed the whole danged thing and have almost 7C starter now?

This is a good time to SPLIT.  Keep just 1 -2 cups of original starter, feed that and then use the discard for something delicious– or just add it to your compost heap.

Day 5: ( see Day 2)

And so on….


if you have a busy week in the rest of your life, or you will be traveling and not around to love and care for your starter, you can happily put an active culture into the fridge and go a week between feedings.  Make sure you put a recently fed culture in, so it has plenty to slow gnaw on over that slow week.





On Soup

Someone asked me about a recipe for my currently simmering pot of soup, and the real answer is just too long for a Facebook reply.

Soup is a staple in our house, at least once a week, often more.  95% of the time, it is a “from scratch” pot, although we have not been above doctoring a can of soup- especially a tomato soup base.

Good  soup starts with good stock.  Stock takes some amount of time and patience, so I try to make the stock when materials and time are available and then freeze it.  Sometimes I have time to make the stock “soup ready” – pre-loaded with the first batch of veggies, and sometimes it is strictly meat broth cooked down.  Both of these can be useful.  If you have a really big batch of vegie broth stock, you can also freeze that for later quick cooking rounds of soup.  My vegie broth tends to be less frequent ( usually driven by guest diets) and thus cooked fresh to need.  I currently have chicken,( with and without meat bits), duck, beef ( maybe??) and 2 kinds of pork stock in the freezer.   This particular soup was made with a dark pork stock that is very meaty and made from hog neck. Because that particular stock was not soup ready, I thawed out 2 containers yesterday and did round 1 on the soup last night.

Soup is all abut blending flavors and getting the texture you want. I make some soups that are very thin and light— a veggie infused chicken broth for cold recovery, for example. Other stocks are thick and hearty- a stew, really.   Today’s soup is a hearty corn and potato cream soup and I want it to be pretty thick, so it needs body.  From the very start, I add veggies that will assist with this.  Given a lack of time and/or those veggies, I have also been known to thicken up soup on the quick with cornstarch- scratch soup is about what time and materials you have on hand. There is not a right or wrong way to do this.

Two summers ago we had a bumper crop of zucchini. We ate and gifted until people started to duck and hide when they saw us coming 😉  We froze a giant laundry basket full of pints of shredded zucchini.  One day, I stumbled across the idea of dumping a bag ( 2 cups worth) of the frozen shreds into the early stages of the soup cooking. It is awesome and any time I am going to do a long cook, I add in one.  It adds equivalent body as adding celery, and all the nutrients from the zucchini as well.  It cooks down to basically nothing but thickness in the soup– no little green strands or bits.

My preferred soup pot ( the one that feeds us for a few days) is a medium sized pot.  I think it holds a gallon and a half, but it might be two gallons.  When I clean up from this batch of soup, I will measure.  It is OFTEN true that soups grow into needing the larger, taller aluminum stock pot, but for cream soups I limit myself hard.  This is an indulgent soup, I do not need 4 gallons of it around!

So last night, into the stock pot went the following:

2 containers of the pork stock, mostly thawed

1 bag of frozen zucchini shreds

1 bag of frozen corn ( vintage 2015 – it is older, but still great in soups)

1 whole onion, quartered

the remains of my celery ,chopped up ( it was about 4 stalks, but if I had more, I would have added it… again, I want this to be a nice thick soup)

top the pot off with water to be pretty much full.




This is also a point when I might have added carrots or other root vegetables, if that was a flavor I wanted in the soup.  Since the meat is already very strong and hearty and I wanted to be able to taste the potato in particular when it was added, I left out any  other root vegetables.

The goal here is to cook down this round of vegetables until they are not visible, or are at least just a very translucent soft mass.  This is flavor layering, not soup texture creation.  The exception last night was the corn. This round of corn was to add flavor and thickness ( think corn starch), but I knew it would not go translucent. That is fine. LID OFF for most of the time, once it got going.  I wanted to reduce the contents of the pot down to half. Any time it got to half or below, but the veggies were not done, I just added some more water.

This is a time intensive, but almost no work step of the making. When I have the time, I like to do some stocks to this point and then freeze, which makes it easier to do the last step of the soup on days when I have less time all at once.

I got the soup to the point I wanted before bed last night, and  put it on pause for a few hours of sleep.

This morning I brought it back up to a full boil to get it started, then turned it back own to low.  A little extra water added in and potatoes where chopped and added, along with a half a bag of corn (this time for texture).  I added in some thyme, some white pepper and a little salt.  I add salt gradually to taste over time, it is easy to add more, it is a pain to try to suck it back out if you added too much.  Taste your soup frequently…. just like any cooking adventure.

This was simmer time.  I want to slow cook the potatoes until tender, but not boil so hard they become mash. It was at this point that I had made the original post and this picture.



Honestly, if you were not wanting a cream soup, you could stop here and have a very nice soup.  But it is cold and snowy and my brain was set on a nice cream soup. I did this last simmer with the lid off, so the fluid volume would reduce down just enough to have room in the pot to add dairy.

Once the potatoes are tender, the pot is turned down to very very low and I added cream and some shredded cheese.  I let it have about 15 minutes of simmer and tasted. It was still not the creamy I wanted, so I added a bit more dairy.  It is now on super low simmer, heating the soup back up ( after adding cold dairy) and read for whenever we want to grab a bowl.

What dairy and how much? This depends on your diet needs ( how much you are watching calorie add) as well as thickness state.  Straight milk will water out a very thick soup. Heavy cream will thicken it just a little as it simmers.  You an use this or anything in between, depending on what you have at hand.  How much dairy depends on the broth. A light chicken stock need much less dairy than a heavy dark stock to give the same result.  Taste and add until you are happy…












New Year Brunch

It is a quiet New Year Morning around here, the kids are all scattered and we are puttering about and recovering from a late night. Seemed like the perfect time to use some of the Christmas gift we got from my niece … Farm fresh eggs from her chickens !

Mix in a bunch of fresh spinach, small bits of bacon from the farm and some crumbled dried hot peppers from our garden… Perfect Brunch Frittata. I topped it with a bit of Salsa and now I am contemplating a nap….

Nap or paperwork? hmmmm