Author Archives: John Graham

The Latest

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You may have noticed my baking blogs have disappeared.  They have, but since I made the (voluntary) switch to Gluten Free, I’ve been perfecting my old recipes and favorites using GF ingredients.  I will be posting updated GF recipes once I’ve mastered the switch in technique.  I’ve learned a lot, and  plan to pass on what I’ve learned.

Since around 2004, I’ve had an idea for a fiction novel floating around my head.  Over the past 8 years, I’ve scribbled ideas about characters, plot, and setting on scraps of paper, inside Notepad docs and other places.  Some of these tidbits were lost, others stayed with me.  After toying with these thoughts, a theme emerged.  My most recent adventure has been translating my thoughts into a coherent manuscript.  More on this process soon…

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Award Winning Chili: “It’s Not Chili Anymore” White Chili

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I made this chili in my company’s 2011 Chili Making Contest and walked away with First Place!  Here’s the recipe.

It’s Not Chili Anymore White Chili – John W. Graham, 2011

  • 1 poblano chili pepper
  • 2 anaheim chili peppers
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 3 shallots (small size), finely chopped
  • ½ yellow onion, chopped
  • ½ medium sized tomato, chopped
  • ½ tsp. Goya Adobo All-Purpose Seasoning
  • 48 oz. reduced sodium chicken broth
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp. roasted cumin
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed, shredded
  • 3 chicken bratwurst sausages, chopped (Whole Foods)
  • 1 can cannellini beans, undrained
  • Salt & pepper
  • 3 tbsp. all purpose flour, dissolved in 1/3 cup water
  • 4 tbsp cilantro, chopped.

Roast the peppers.  Place the chili peppers in a pan and broil at 500F, turning frequently until skin is slightly charred.  Remove from broiler, cool.  Peel cooled peppers, then coarsely chop.  Set aside.

Prepare the garlic.  Slice ½” off the pointed end of the unpeeled garlic.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Wrap in aluminum foil and bake at 350F for 45 minutes.  Let cool, then squeeze the pulp out of the cloves.  Set aside.

Prepare the sofrito.  Sautee the chopped shallots, onion and tomato in olive oil until the mixture is soft and translucent.  Season with the Goya Adobo.  Set aside.

Prepare the chili.  In a large (stock) pot, brown the chopped sausage for 10 minutes, seasoned with black pepper and the roasted cumin.  Add the chicken stock, and bring to a boil.  Add the sofrito, roasted chopped peppers and the roasted garlic.  Stir.  Add chicken and beans.  Stir in chili powder, ground cumin, paprika, black pepper and cayenne pepper.  Season with additional salt, if desired.

Reduce heat and simmer for one hour.  Gently stir in flour mixture (to thicken) and add cilantro 5 minutes before serving.

Elimination of wheat

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In the time since I undertook a decidedly more serious amount of experimentation with baking breads, I have watched my weight climb, along with my BMI.  It was during a recent party where I baked a plethora of breads including a baguette, pain de mie, a sourdough boule and a magnificent fougasse aux olives.  Although my guests were impressed with the spread, I knew that bread was an indulgence that would eventually lead to health problems.  In fact, I noticed some symptoms related to wheat consumption beginning to appear, and I even suspected wheat as the culprit at one point.

Some time ago, after much research, I landed on a 40-30-30 based diet and successfully lost over 65 pounds.  Being such a strict formula, I eventually relaxed the diet and eventually abandoned those principles.  One of the main tenants of a 40-30-30 diet is a controlled reduction in carbohydrates.  More importantly, that diet treats all food as a drug, and administered carefully you could control your glycemic index and achieve a metabolic state conducive to weight loss.

Anyway, my dad asked me if I read the book called “Wheat Belly.”  I replied that I had not, but promised to buy a copy and read it.  And I did.  The information I read was intriguing.  I won’t provide a review just yet, but you can get a general idea of what it is about by reading the summary.

For my summary, Dr. William Davis exposes his findings on the harmful effects of eating wheat products, sometimes manifested as gluten intolerance or as life-threatening celiac disease.  Now to be clear, I have not been diagnosed with gluten sensitivity or celiac markers, but I do exhibit some of the symptoms outlined in this book suggesting mild to moderate wheat intolerance.  My rapid weight gain alone is enough evidence that wheat is at a minimum increasing my caloric intake, throwing my carb-fat-protein ratios off balance and wreaking havoc with my metabolism.   Marrying the concepts I learned from Dr. Barry Sears and his research into proper carb balance, I think I have a pretty fair formula for increased health.

So, as much as I love baking breads, as of today I am eliminating all wheat products from my diet.  Does this mean I won’t ever bake bread again?  Certainly not!  There are alternative ways to bake gluten free breads, and I will experiment with those methods in the coming months.  Unfortunately, wheat gluten is the magic component that makes delicious bread possible.  There are replacement components (xantham gum, guar gum, etc) which can stand in for wheat gluten, and other refined flours…but these must be consumed in moderation if you want to maintain a healthy state.  I won’t be making as many gluten-free replacement bread products, but I do plan to master the art of gluten free baking.

So to those of you who follow my baking blog, I am sorry to inform you that I will no longer blog on my experiments with wheat-flour based breads, at least until I can establish that the wheat-free lifestyle is providing a benefit as advertised.  So I will report back here weekly with statistics on my weight loss/gain in the absence of wheat and other harmful carbohydrates.

Soon, I will post my first recipe and experiment with gluten free buttermilk biscuits.  In the midst of becoming wheat-free, I will also post my findings on alternatives to wheat-based treats, focusing instead on some original,  inspired, more-health-conscious alternatives.  Au revoir, wheat!

Vanilla Flan

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Today I’m going to provide my own recipe for Vanilla Flan.

You will need:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 12 ounce can evaporated milk
  • 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Spray a 9 inch stoneware casserole with non-stick cooking spray.

Overview.  This recipe is all about timing.  While the caramel is making, you boil the water and make the flan mixture.  Once the caramel is done, you immediately add it to the dish and immediately set the dish inside a 9×13 cake pan that is filled halfway with boiling water.  Then you add the flan mixture and bake.  I’ll outline the steps individually…

Make the Caramel.  Add the sugar to a small saucepan and add 1/4 cup water.  Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar becomes translucent.  Increase heat to medium high and do not stir.  Occasionally, brush the sides of the saucepan with a pastry brush dipped in water.  This prevents sugar crystals from forming.  When the sugar begins to caramelize, continue waiting until the caramel is a deep brown-red color.  This will take anywhere from 15-30 minutes.  Be patient and don’t be afraid of dark caramel but don’t get it too dark because it will be bitter / acrid.

Make the Flan.  While the caramel is making, put about 5 cups water to boil.  While the water is coming to a boil, mix together  the evaporated milk, condensed milk, milk, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla extract until well blended.   Add the heavy cream and mix until it is incorporated.  This will be a soupy mix with visible bits of egg yolk.  Using a knife, split open the vanilla bean and scrape out the vanilla seeds.  Add them to the flan mixture, mixing well.

When the water is boiling, pour it into the 9×13 pan.

By now, your caramel should be getting done.  As soon as the caramel reaches the desired color, remove it from the heat and immediately pour it into your greased dish, coating the bottom and about 1″ of the sides.  Set this dish into a 9×13 pan that is halfway filled with boiling water.  The goal here is to not have the boiling water overflow out of the 9×13 pan.  Use caution.

Do a final stir on the flan mixture, then pour it on top of the caramel.  Be sure to use a scraper to get all of the vanilla seeds.  Carefully put the 9×13 pan into the oven.  Cook for about 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle of the flan comes out clean.  It will still be jiggly.

Let the flan cool, then put it in the refrigerator and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.  When you are ready to serve the flan, invert the flan onto a large plate.  Don’t attempt to salvage the caramel that has turned to candy in the bottom…all you want is the liquid caramel.  The resulting flan should look like this after it is cut:

A Warning about Weevils

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Though this will not be an appetizing post, it is necessary for any home baker to be aware of certain things.  Wheat Weevils (Sitophilus granarius) are an unfortunate reality that must be dealt with.

First, I strive for total cleanliness in my kitchen and pantry.  This includes weekly cleaning of my refrigerator.  I typically store my flours at room temperature in air-tight containers.  You store them in the freezer too, but I find this adds unwanted moisture and flavors to the flour.  There is a good reason to store your flour in airtight containers (in the bag).

I picked up some King Arthur AP flour this weekend at my local supermarket.  When I got home, I opened one of the bags and found it teeming with wheat weevils.  My wife calls them “Gorgojos” which translates to “Weevils”.  If you see these things in your kitchen, you have to immediately discard the flour.  In my case, I put it in a zip top bag and took it back to the store for a refund, and to chastise the manager for having conditions in his storeroom that would allow such an infestation.

If you just store your flour on the pantry shelf, you are asking for a weevil infestation.  I don’t know where they come from; I just know that you will get them.  Many discount stores sell containers suitable for storing single 5 lb. bags of flour or even multiple bags.  You need to invest in these if you plan to do any baking at home!  At a minimum, keep your flour sealed in a plastic bag.

Remember this final warning…just because you buy new, fresh flour at the store doesn’t mean it is not infested with weevils.  Always check it.  You may not see any signs, but you will sometimes see an adult weevil when you open a new bag.  If you find them in a new bag, return it to the store and speak to the manager.  And most importantly, never again buy flour from this store!  Chances are…the rest of their flour and wheat products (including wheat based kitty litter) is infested.

 

Pain de Mie

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One of the gifts I received for my birthday was a 13 x 4 x 4 Pain de Mie pan.  While it is certainly a specialty baking item, it is a “nice to have” addition to the home bread baker’s repertoire.   Pain de Mie (roughly pronounced “Pan duh mee”) is a French sandwich-type bread traditionally made in a Pain de Mie pan or a Pullman pan.

The recipe I used for my Pan de Mie is from Sarbeth’s Bakery cookbook.  The only translation necessary from her cookbook was from compressed yeast or active dry to the instant dry yeast I was using.  The typical conversion ratio is 1 oz. compressed = 0.5 oz. active dry = 0.4 oz. instant dry.  So for her recipe I ended up using 0.2 oz. of IDY.

The instructions are very straightforward.  This bread is mixed like any other white bread.

Following an initial mix, flour is gradually incorporated until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You then mix on medium-low (speed 2 or 3) for 6 minutes.  The resulting dough is put in a container and set to rise for 1.25 hours.

Following the rise, the dough is dumped onto a floured surface and gently shaped into a long loaf.

The prepared dough is then added to the greased pullman pan.

With the lid in place, but not fully closed, the dough is left to rise for approximately 1 hour.  I let mine rise for 1 hour and 10 minutes and it still had some room to grow; however, I slightly underproofed it.

After rising, the lid is locked into place and the risen loaf is added to a 350F oven and set to bake for 35 minutes.  After cooking through (mine baked for 40m), the bread cools in the pan for 5m, then it is inverted onto a cooling rack.

The crumb is light, fluffy and flavorful.  This bread is indeed the same size as a supermarket bread loaf but the taste and texture is much more desirable.  I was blown away by the taste of a slice of this bread that had been toasted and buttered.

Lessons Learned:

This is a recipe that requires intuition over precision.  You will need to add enough flour to get the proper consistency but not enough that the bread will end up dry.  I’ve come to believe that less flour (initially) is more desirable than too much flour.  Remember that after its initial rise, the dough will become more manageable, so even if it seems slack at first it will firm up as it rises.

If you want a completely squared off (rectangular) loaf, just let the dough rise higher in the pullman pan.  As it expands during the initial moments of baking, the bread will have nowhere to go, so it will square-off in the pan and develop a more dense crumb.

This bread was a big hit in my household.  Although a loaf of supermarket bread may sit around for a week, this bread was consumed within 12 hours of baking it.

Publix’s Buttermilk Cornbread

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Southern cornbread was a staple in my home when i was growing up.  My family still enjoys a square of hot, moist cornbread when we get together for a family meal.  For us, having cornbread with a southern meal is second nature.  How could anyone eat Hoppin’ John or a bowl of collard greens without cornbread?

Enjoying cornbread is only possible if you have a good cornbread recipe.  I found a good, reliable and consistent cornbread recipe on a bag of Publix brand yellow cornmeal…and I will share it with you here:

  • 1 1/3 C plain enriched yellow corn meal
  • 1 1/3 C all-purpose flower
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 3 eggs (beaten)
  • 6 Tbsp butter, melted

Mix dry ingredients.  Combine buttermilk, eggs and melted butter.  Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.  Pour the cornbread into a greased 9″ square pan and bake at 425F for 25-30 minutes.

What I like to do is put enough oil in the bottom of the pan to coat it and put the pan in the oven as the oven preheats.  Then you pour the cornbread batter into the hot pan.  This sears the outside surface of the batter, leading to a moist cornbread that has a crunchy crust.  Here is an image of the batter after it is poured into a hot pan.  Note the edges of the batter.

After baking the cornbread should be allowed to cool completely.  Then it can be removed from the pan.

Cornbread is typically cut into squares.  Alternately, cornbread can be baked into sticks or muffins.  I also like to bake cornbread in a seasoned cast iron skillet.