How to Make and Maintain a Sourdough Starter (aka Levain)

I'm not entirely sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way I discovered and fixated on baking bread. Specifically, I'm referring to bread made in its purest form using only flour, water, and salt. I've baked 14 loaves to date and am in awe of how three humble ingredients can transform into one of the most delicious and comforting foods. In the interest of being overly dramatic, the fact that I made these with my own two hands is pretty magical.

"Slow bread" requires a sourdough starter (or levain) so that was my first project. Levain is a mixture of water and flour that has been converted into a leavening agent through the process of fermentation. Not only is microbiology+food fun, but you need to "feed" the levain regularly and it's apparently bad luck if you don't name it. So basically your sourdough starter is a food pet. (My starters are named "Moomin II" and "Moomin III" respectively...may "Moomin I" rest in peace.)

When I first began caring for my sourdough starter, I was neurotic about feeding times and measurements. What a sweet and naive child I was in the days of yore (3 months ago). Creating and maintaining a sourdough starter is relatively straightforward. Once you get a feel for how your levain behaves you'll develop a personalized approach.

This post streamlines what I've learned so you can create a fermented food pet to call your own. I'm happy to answer any questions about the process so just leave a comment.

Homemade Roasted Chicken Stock

Ever since posting my Roasted Vegetable Stock, I've been meaning to follow it up with a Roasted Chicken Stock recipe. The ingredients are similar but the chicken stock requires a few more considerations because of the fat and bones. Since Thanksgiving (pumpkin pie!) is only 81 days away, it seemed like a good time to make a bucket of stock for the freezer and share my thoughts on the subject.

I asked The Google quite a few questions before making my first batch of chicken stock last year. Should I leave the skin on the chicken? Does celery really make the stock bitter as Thomas Keller suggests? Does good stock have to be gelatinous? I've included some of the helpful information I found under Recipe Tips.

Sriracha and Red Pepper Refrigerator Pickles

I frequently consumed my weight in pickles as a child, which probably explains why my father's side of the family gave me the nickname "Pickle". My love for vinegary vegetables even extends to our Christmas tree in the form of an adorable tin pickle ornament. I'm just your everyday pickle fangirl.

As much as I enjoy pickles, I haven't had much luck making them over the last couple of years. The recipes always seem relatively simple and yet the results are kind of flat and/or too vinegary. After having the Sriracha Pickles at Plan Check, I realized it was time I get it together and nail down my own version of brined cucumbers.

Blistered Padrón or Shishito Peppers with Chorizo and Smoked Sea Salt

The idea to pair blistered Padrón peppers with chorizo came from Willi's Wine Bar in Santa Rosa. Rob and I stumbled across Willi's about 10 years ago and it has been one of our favorite restaurants ever since. The seasonal menu never disappoints and we always discover great new-to-us wineries on their tasting list. The meal we had at Willi's a few weeks ago was one of the best yet. I've already replicated the macaroni and cheese (yum!) and plan to post that recipe soon.

We were talking with our server, JC, during dinner and discovered that he actually grew the Padrón peppers we were eating. JC and his wife lease a small parcel of land from a larger farm and grow various crops in limited quantities. It makes me love Willi's even more knowing that they support the up and coming local farmers in Sonoma.