Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ojai Citrus Is Something Special

ojai citrus It's that time of year again, as I wait patiently all year long for the height of citrus season. The farmers' markets are busting out every kind of citrus imaginable, and the colors are incredible. I feel healthy just looking at them. The greatest variety runs from January thru April. There are Cara Cara oranges, Page mandarins, Tahoe Gold, Gold Nugget, Daisy and Clementine tangerines, tangelos, cocktail grapefruits, lemons and limes and so much more.
I especially love the citrus from Friend's Ranches in Ojai. They're at the Hollywood farmers' market on Sundays and the Santa Monica farmers' market on Wednesdays. Their stand is so old school, and the variety is great as well. The citrus from Ojai never disappoints. I'm looking forward to the Ojai Pixie Tangerines, which should be showing up soon—they're seedless and incredibly sweet.
ojai citrus
I’d have to say my all-time favorite is a Page tangerine, and the finest I ever had are from Churchill Orchard in Ojai. Unfortunately, they only sell mail order or at the Ojai farmers' market on Sundays, so I'll be heading up there next Sunday to load up. The tangerines are a very rich deep orange color—sweet and luscious and the perfect juice to use in a cocktail.
This is the time to make your marmalade, squeeze juice for your whiskey sour, cook with them or just eat them plain. Just get out and enjoy while the going's good.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Perfect Loaf

Yesterday after 5 months of testing and baking Pain Levain, I can say with confidence that I made the perfect loaf. Everything was there, taste, smell, texture and a good crust. Considering that I am making a loaf at a time in a pot, it's pretty amazing. I can only imagine what it's going to be like when I get to bake in a wood burning or a professional deck oven. I'm really happy and still have a long way to go, but these benchmark moments make the journey fun.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Back to Bread

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I’ve been traveling and and working to pay the bills. Finally, this weekend I’m back to baking bread. It’s been good to take some time off and reflect on the bread I’ve been making. When I step away, I can be more objective and critique my work fairly.

I did take my yeast with me so I could keep it going which was pretty insane. I guess I could start over, but at this point I’m really attached to my yeast. I really like the flavor and smell and don’t want to loose them.

This weekend was mega baking marathon all day Saturday and Sunday. I am testing different dough, trying to get my dough to have a specific texture and flavor, which for now, is only in my imagination. Trying to produce this is, well, let’s say it ain’t easy. Working with a natural starter has a lot of variables.

I made 6 kinds of dough, all of which use different methods. It’s a bit frustrating. And so scientific! I find myself feeling rebellious and want to quit. Besides which working with a wet dough is even harder but I know once I get it, it’s all going to be worth it.

One thing I am noticing that really makes me happy is the improvements in the smell and flavor of my bread. My loaves really taste alive and stay fresh for 3-4 days after I bake. That is the one thing I wanted, now I just have to get that wet texture down.

A loaf that is a couple of days old is perfect for making a grilled cheese sandwich on the Panini press. I was watching PBS the other day and Ruth Reichel was on the Gourmet travel show reproducing a grilled cheese sandwich she’d eaten at the Borough Hall Market in London.

She spoke about how simple it was because of all the perfect ingredients. Basically she buttered the outside of the bread then piled cheddar cheese on one side then a variety of chopped onions, red, shallots and scallions on the other. She put the halves together then grilled the sandwich on both sides until it’s golden brown and there you have it.

I couldn’t wait to make this panini when my bread was old enough. The result was fantastic. The onions bring the sandwich to life. I kept fantasizing that the inspiration for the sandwich was the Cheddar cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy, which is outside the Borough Hall Market. I made mine version with some of the clothbound cheddar from Cabot which I brought back with me from NY. A perfect choice!

This weekend my friend who is a farmer and on the board of the Hollywood Farmers Market, delivered two of my fresh warm loaves to the women who run the market. I really want to get a small stand there and sell bread. I can’t believe that I am even trying without a kitchen yet, but there is a fire in me and I just have to blind faith right now. If I get a venue to sell my bread, I know I will find the space to do it.

One day when I get a real space with a real oven, professional mixer and more space it will be easier and the results will be brilliant, but for now I’m fine making a few loaves at a time and getting the recipe perfect.