Tag Archives: yeast


Our family loves popcorn as a snack. When I was a child, our family made a big batch every Friday evening. When we had our own family, we often made a huge bowl to snack on while we watched a movie on TV. Now all of our children frequently make a batch of popcorn regularly. Our daughter-in-law adds some nutrition to the mix by sprinkling it with yeast powder.

So I was intrigued when Sarah and Evan introduced me to popped sorghum. I had never seen it before.  Sorghum  is a grass that first came from Africa, but is now cultivated world-wide and used as a grain or forage. It is used for flat breads, syrup/molasses, and the production of ethanol. It comes as pepper-corn-sized grains that pop up into little puffs that look just like miniature popped popcorn kernels but have a nuttier taste than regular popcorn. Otherwise, you prepare the two just the same – in hot oil, in a paper bag in the microwave, or with an air popper. Then you can eat plain, salt, add butter, or flavor to your preference.

Sarah and Evan use popped sorghum in creative ways with fresh tomatoes, roasted pecans, pasta, etc., etc. I am not that creative. Besides, I fall back on my childhood ways and just like to eat it with melted butter out of a big bowl.

If you want to give popped sorghum a try, you can order it on the internet from Mini Pops, Inc., Stoughton, Mass.. (Three pounds for $8.49 plus shipping)


Popped Sorghum


  • ¼ cup sorghum grain
  • (3 tablespoons vegetable oil if popping in a saucepan)
  • salt and oil or melted butter to taste


  1. Place sorghum grains in a brown paper lunch bag. Fold the top of the bag and fasten with two staples three inches apart to prevent arcing.
  2. Place the paper bag in a microwave oven (preferably with turntable) set on high for 3 minutes.(It will probably take 2 minutes or less to complete the popping)
  3. Start the microwave and listen carefully to the sound of popping. As soon as it slows down, remove the bag from the microwave. Don’t hesitate or you will wind up with burned kernels.
  4. Transfer to a serving bowl and season with salt and oil or melted butter as desired.
  5. Alternatively, heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil over high heat in a heavy bottomed 4-quart saucepan with tight-fitting lid. Add 5 grains of sorghum.
  6. When the sorghum grains pop, add the remaining sorghum and cover the pan with the lid.
  7. Shake the pan gently over high heat. Listen for popping. When it slows, remove the pan from the burner, and transfer the popped sorghum to a serving bowl and season as desired.


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For some now forgotten reason I decided that I wanted to make croque monsieur and croque madame sandwiches. I realized that I didn’t have the right bread. American white sandwich bread is such a lump of dough that it wouldn’t hold up to the other ingredients. Artisanal breads also didn’t sound right. The only thing that would really work is French sandwich bread – pain de mie (“soft-in-the middle bread”). It also goes by the name of a Pullman loaf in the USA. I grabbed onto that idea, because my pain de mie pan, complete with lid, had been gathering dust. There really is no bread that will substitute for pain de mie: if has a fine crumb, the crust is soft and brown, it cuts so easily that you can turn it into thin Melba toasts,  it toasts beautifully, and it has a delicious flavor not remotely the same as American sandwich bread.

Besides all that, it is a kitchen gadgeteer’s dream because of the special bread pan with a lid. Of course, if you don’t have such an implement, you can fashion your own with a regular bread pan and some sort of lid – a tile or small metal pan that can serve as a lid. You will also need a weight. I used a piece of flagstone from our yard.

If you want to make the investment in the pan, you may have a hard time finding it at your local kitchen store. Fortunately the pans are readily available by mail order or on the internet. I bought mine from King Arthur Flour . They sell two sizes of the pain de mie pans complete with lids. The smaller size measures 9 x 4 x 4 inches and sells for $29.95. The larger pan measures 13 x 4 x 4 inches and sells for $34.95. This recipe is designed for the larger sized pan.


The crumb of this bread is amazingly soft. At the same time, the crust is brown and, well, crusty. All of this is due to the ingredients::

You should use a flour with lower protein content. Don’t use bread flour. All-purpose flour will work, but Southern lower-protein flours like White Lily, Martha White or Gladiola, are even better.

Potato flour, made from ground dried potatoes and also called potato starch, adds moisture.

Powdered milk also adds moisture along with a little sweetness, but it may prevent the dough from rising as fully.

Butter should be unsalted, and it should be softened to room temperature so that it can be readily incorporated into the dough.

Be sure to pre-heat the weight so that baking of the bread is even.



Pain de Mie


  • 2/3 cup milk (110° F, 43°C)
  • 1 cup water (110° F, 43°C)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened at room temperature
  • 2¼ teaspoons salt
  • 1½ tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup dry milk
  • 2 tablespoons potato flour
  • 1 package instant dry yeast
  • 4¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour


  1. In a large bowl, combine the milk, water, butter, salt, and sugar. Then add the dry milk, potato flour, and yeast, stirring with a whisk until well mixed. Add 4 cups of the flour, one cup at a time, stirring until the flour is completely incorporated and the batter pulls away from the side of the bowl.
  2. Turn the dough onto a clean work surface dusted with the remaining ¾ cup of flour. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Then place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1½ to 2 hours.
  3. After it has risen, turn the dough onto a lightly oiled surface, deflating it gently. Let rest for 10 minutes. With the palm of your hand, flatten the dough into a rectangle that is the length of the pan and about twice as wide. Fold in half lengthwise, and pinch the seam closed tightly. Place the dough, seam side down, in the well-greased pan. Also, make sure the under-surface of the lid is well-greased.  The dough should come up to no more than 1/3 of the height of the pan. Place the lid on the pan, leaving it open several inches. Cover the opening with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for the second time until the dough comes to about ¼ inch below the lip of the pan, about 1½ hours.
  4. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven and the lid weight to 375°F
  5. Remove the plastic wrap, carefully close the lid, and let rest for another 10 minutes. Be very careful not to deflate the dough with the lid.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes in the middle of the oven at 375°F with the weight placed on the lid. After 30 minutes, remove the weight and lid, and bake for an additional 15 minutes. The loaf should register 190°F with an instant read thermometer. Remove from the oven, let rest for 10 minutes, and then turn onto a cooling rack. Cover with a clean cloth and let cool completely.


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A few months ago I wrote about Carol’s favorite biscuit recipe, the Southern classic “Touch of Grace Biscuits”.  This post is about sourdough biscuits. When we lived in West Texas, for several years I attended an annual all-male overnight fishing trip held by some rancher friends  on the banks of one of the branches of the Brazos River running through a parcel of one of the legendary West Texas cattle ranches. Menus included classic ranch fare – grilled steaks, beans, fish (if we caught enough), hamburgers,  barbecue of all sorts, and of course lots of beer. The highlight, though, was a chuck wagon breakfast. The cooks would arise before everyone else, stir up the fires that had been stoked for the night, and begin to cook huge slabs of sliced bacon and scrambled eggs in surplus Army ammunition cans set over the open fires. They also stirred up the dough for sourdough biscuits to be baked in old-fashioned spiders (three-legged Dutch ovens with flat lids) that would be buried in the coals of the campfires. This was a feast for a king, or at least some satisfied West Texas cowmen.

Three-legged spider Dutch oven

Sourdough biscuits need to be started the night before you serve them at a cowboy breakfast out on the range, so be sure to get things going before the libations and campfire stories move into full pace. Hopefully you will have a sourdough starter that you have been treasuring and “feeding” for a long time, but don’t despair if you don’t. You can start your own in a week or two before the cookout. Yeast is a fall back, but it is definitely not viewed with favor out on the ranch. Depending upon how many mouths there are to feed, you will need to increase the recipe. Allow for at least three apiece, because even modern cowboys are hungry.  If you want to bake these at home, you don’t need to dig a fire pit, you can just use your oven. However, the instructions change a bit.

A pan full of biscuits about to go into the oven

A pan full of biscuits about to go into the oven

Cowboy Sourdough Biscuits

Sourdough biscuits fresh out of the oven


½ Cup                    sourdough starter

1 Cup                     milk

2 ½ Cups              all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon         salt

1 Tablespoon      sugar

1 teaspoon          baking powder

½ teaspoon         baking soda

                             bacon grease from bacon cooked earlier (or 2 tablespoons of salad oil and 2 tablespoons of melted butter)

  1. The night before, dissolve the starter thoroughly in the milk. Be sure to use a large metal container that can be covered securely to keep out any varmints – human or otherwise – during the night.
  2. Thoroughly stir in one cup of flour, cover securely, and set in a warm place: not too close to the fire, but also not out in the cold night air.
  3. In the morning, combine the remaining 1½ cups of flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and soda.  Then add to the starter mixture from the night before, and using clean hands (!?), combine into a soft dough. Knead in the metal container for a few minutes and let rest.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the fire: quench any active flames and with a hoe or shovel pull the coals to the edge of the fire pit so that your spider or Dutch oven will fit easily into the hole.
  5. On a flat, lightly floured surface, pat the dough into a round about ½ inch thick. Then cut individual biscuits. If this is a high-class cookout use a 2½ inch biscuit cutter. Otherwise use your cleanest knife to cut 2 inch squares.
  6. Dip each biscuit in bacon grease and place it in the bottom of the cast iron pot until the pot is completely full. Put the lid on the pot and lower the whole thing into the prepared cooking pit using the bale attached to the pot and a hook or hoe.
  7. With the hoe or shovel, layer some of the coals on the top of the cast iron pot – enough to evenly cover the lid.
  8. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes.  It is very hard to check the baking, but you can try to remove the coals from the lid to check. Just remember to put them back on top if you bake some more. It is more likely that you will just have to take pot luck (so to speak), but my observation is that the usual crowd is just happy to get something to eat.
  9. If you are baking at home, dip each biscuit in melted bacon grease or a combination of oil and melted butter (bacon grease may be too strong a flavor for a home meal). Arrange the biscuits in a 10 inch cast iron frying pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 375° for 30 to 35 minutes.
  10. Serve immediately. Cold cowboy sourdough biscuits get as hard as a rock.

Yield: About 10 to 15 biscuits

Hot sourdough biscuits ready to eat


Sourdough starter bubbling and ready to use

Sourdough starter can last a long time if it is properly cared for. We got one from a neighbor in Utah nearly forty years ago. That starter subsequently traveled to Texas, back to Utah, on to Louisiana, back to Texas again, and now New Mexico. Starter can be easily kept out-of-the-way in a closed jar in the back of the refrigerator for years. If you haven’t used it for several months it will have to be revived before using it.  If you can’t revive it, never mind. It is easy enough to start a new one. But don’t expect your friends to help.  Years ago we gave a starter to my brother and his wife.  They enjoyed it for some time and even gave some to their friends. Calamity struck and their jar of starter got thrown out when an unknowing individual cleaned out the refrigerator.  When my sister-in-law asked her friend for a new starter batch, the “friend” refused! It’s always better to be independent of others. Sourdough is slower than commercial yeast so breads made with it often do not rise as much. For that reason, breads made with sourdough alone require a long rise or fermentation, but starter can still be used for flavoring.  The most successful recipes are for biscuits, cornbread, pancakes, traditional country loaves, and French bread.



2 Cups   milk

2 Cups   all-purpose flour

  1. Mix the milk and flour together in a large ceramic bowl until smooth. Set uncovered in a warm kitchen for 2 to 5 days, stirring occasionally.  When the mixture is bubbly and has a yeasty, sour smell, the starter is ready.
  2. Store well covered in a glass or ceramic container on the counter or in the middle of the refrigerator.  Keep at least 3 cups on hand.
  3. Replenish by stirring in equal portions of milk and flour




1 Cup                     all-purpose flour

1 Cup                     water

  1. In a 4 cup or larger clear glass jar, mix the flour and water into a smooth paste. Set uncovered in a warm place. The kitchen is usually the best choice.
  2. Every day, check the mixture for bubbles, remove any tough skin that has formed on the top, pour off about half of the mixture, and add an additional ½ cup of flour and ½  cup of water, stirring to form a smooth paste.
  3. Repeat this process each day until the mixture is covered with bubbles and expands to double size or so. You should observe frequently during the day and evening because a good starter will eventually collapse from its own weight and lose volume.
  4. You will probably need to repeat the process for a week or more before you have established a good starter.
  5. After that, you should repeat the replenishment process for at least a couple of days before you plan to bake.
  6. You may store the starter in the refrigerator, but that is not necessary and even encourages less desirable things to grow and discolor the mix. If that happens, pour off the discolored top part, keeping just a few tablespoons of the starter to rejuvenate your stock.




2 Cups                   all-purpose flour

2 Cups                   water or milk

1 Tbsp                   sugar

½ pkg                    dry yeast

  1. Mix the flour, milk and sugar together into a smooth batter. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface and stir in. Allow to stand uncovered in a warm kitchen until the mixture is bubbly and with good aroma. The starter is ready.
  2. Store and replenish as above.
  3. If you have not used the starter for a long time, you may need to add milk and flour in equal amounts with a tablespoon of sugar, and let the mixture stand overnight before using.


Sarah and Evan cooking at one of their popular pop-up dinners

For those of you who have been wondering about Sarah and Evan’s restaurant, it is moving closer to reality. They have signed a lease on space at 199 Gough in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. Now they are waiting on the liquor license before they start renovation and moving in. You can read all about the venture on Kickstarter and at the same time have an opportunity to participate in the project. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1777795794/rich-table

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