Guinness Sourdough (Part Three)

A little more than a week ago I ran a bread-making experiment involving a loaf of sourdough and a can of Guinness stout. The results of that experiment were a less-than-ideal loaf of sourdough with a strong taste that didn’t quite make the repeat list.

I thought a quick follow-up was due.

So, yeah… the family didn’t rush to make that loaf disappear, and sadly the bread went a bit stale as the week wore on.

Yet, the bread did not go to waste. No. Not at all.

In fact, I turned about half the loaf (or what was left after I’d made a couple cheese sandwiches for my lunches) into crunchy, tasty croutons.

Here’s how…

Recipe

1/2 loaf of slightly stale sourdough bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
salt & pepper to taste

I cubed the leftover bread into bite-sized bits and spread them on a baking sheet with a bit of parchment paper. Drizzle the olive oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle the garlic and seasoning and, again, toss to coat. Salt and pepper to taste.

I baked the sheet of bread bits at 275°F for about 25 minutes (testing for dryness along the way) then cranked on the broiler and toasted them for a few more minutes until they were a lovely golden brown colour.

I assume they will store for about a week in a sealed container, but honestly they didn’t last long enough to know for certain. Yum!

Gear: Collapsible Cookware by Sea to Summit

This week in my Thursday Tuck & Tech post (where I’m making an inventory of the gear I use or would like to add to my collection) I’m looking at some of my essentially un-cast iron cookware.

…because apparently cast iron is too heavy to haul up onto a mountain on a four day backpacking trip.

Yet, we still gots-to-cook.

When I was in the Scouts in my youth our troop spent many weekends in the woods. Looking back we ate incredibly simply: oatmeal, sandwiches, hot dogs, and other things that could be boiled or suspended from a stick over a fire.

We had some go-to cookware that was worn and battered by years of use. It was a nesting-doll set of thin steel pots and pans that all wrapped up neatly into a pack a little smaller than a football, tucked into a mesh bag, and rattled around from the backs our packs as we hiked in and out. They were light(ish) and a simple way to get things cooked outdoors.

So, naturally, when I moved out and started buying my own camping gear, decades ago now, one of the first things added to my collection was that identical set of steel pots and pans. You go with what you know. And they followed me up more than one mountain in my twenties.

But they were pretty simple and underwhelming as far as modern backpacking technology.

We’ve since ramped up our adventure gear game and invested in a collection of much lighter, much more compact cooking pot… and matching cups, bowls, plates, and a pretty slick collapsible coffee strainer (which I’ll likely be writing about at a later date!)

This set has followed us up on a couple of long multi-day hikes. The pandemic put a cramp on our plans for 2020, but in the couple years since we built this collection I’ve had enough practice with it to give an honest evaluation.

The silicon design has a weight that is competitive with any metal pan, and while they’re not cheap, they’re not titanium-expensive either.

Our firefly stove was able to boil up a pot of cold filtered stream water in less than ten minutes (good heat retention!) though with the silicon sides not being flame friendly, I couldn’t run the stove at full blast else risk some side flames creeping up past the metal bottom plate.

One of the negatives is that it would have been nice to pick these up as a complete set instead of piece-by-piecing our set together (from three different camping shops.) Now that our set is relatively complete that was really a small thing that I won’t need to do again. I write that only because we opted not to buy the frying pan (which I assume would likely have been part of said set) as our go-to meals on multi-day hikes tend to be rehydrated food. A pot of boiled water and some bowls serve for nearly all our adventure meals. Yet, a reliable frying pan could probably inspire some backpacking-friendly ideas in those meal plans… especially for the cast iron guy.

Overall, this set can’t compare to camping with a cast iron dutch oven, but my back routinely thanks me for the lighter approach to our adventure cooking.

Note: this is a piece of gear that I have purchased privately and that I’ve owned for long enough to offer an opinion about. This post is not an endorsement (at least, it’s not a paid one.)

Honey Brown Sourdough (Part Two)

Yesterday morning I started preparing an experimental loaf of sourdough where I replaced all but a little of the water in the recipe with a honey brown lager.

Today, the loaf has been proofed, baked and sampled.

But let’s back up a step.

I’ve been pondering sourdough mix-ins. In the past year of pandemic lockdown I’ve baked about a hundred and fifty loaves of bread. Ninety-percent of these have been baked purely to answer the “we need bread” call. There are a few reasons I turned to sourdough as a mostly reliable source of food during the pandemic, and some of them are practical. Yet, I’ve long had a curiosity about working towards honing skills in arts and science, and tending a sourdough starter to bake awesome bread checks off a few boxes in that inquisitive mindset approach to life.

Sourdough also overlaps nicely with the Philosophy of the Cast Iron Guy (TM) in that a sourdough starter is simple, down-to-earth, and extremely useful. Flour, water, and cultivated yeasts can be fed and maintained for years (and generations) with some basic care and feeding, and at anytime a little bit of that starter can bring a bit more flour and water to life to create a delicious loaf of bread.

Plus, I cook most of my sourdough in cast iron, so there’s that.

Yet man cannot live on bread alone. Someone said that.

I have often looked for ways to make the bread a bit more interesting. Adding some cheese or herbs makes a delicious loaf. A swirl of cinnamon and sugar in a sweetened bread is amazing if it works out right. And, of course, I’ve collected various varieties of flour to play with the blend that makes up the bread itself.

Yesterday, I tried substituting the water for beer.

Beer is largely water, of course, and the other ingredients in a brew overlap so neatly with sourdough that it has been said that beer making and sourdough baking are cousins in the culinary world.

So, what does beer bring to the blend?

To prepare to answer this question effectively I made sure that before baking with a full can of my beer of choice, a Sleeman’s Honey Brown Lager I had more than one can in the house. Last night, after prepping the dough ball for it’s final rise in the proofing basket, I poured myself one of the other cans and settled into the couch to do some relaxing and a bit of writing.

The honey brown has a sweet and malty taste, and while I’m not a beer expert it would rank somewhere mid-to high on a refreshing scale. It’s not quite one of those gulp down in the heat of summer brews, but it’s closer to that than, say, an IPA which I would usually consider a run-over-your-tongue and savour-it beer. What I was focusing on with the bread, however, was did any of those beer flavours carry over to the final loaf?

First, bread had a lot more air bubbles in it than usual. I’ve made the foundational sourdough recipe so many times now that I’ve got a really good feel for times and temperatures. This can be caused by a lot of things, and usually it’s because too long of a rise, but with the outside temperatures being in the minus thirties it’s been tough keeping the house consistently warm, let alone speedy-bread-rise warm.

Second, the darker colour resembeled a loaf I’d have cooked with a blend that had a lot more full grain flours in it. I cook white bread often, because usually I run out of the smaller bags of multigrain or whole wheat and we always have white bread flour. My white bread has a distinctive shade of pale (though not ever bleached white) and this 100% white flour bread was not it. The amber-hued ale brought a richer colour to the final loaf that I liked.

Finally, the bread did have a stonger flavour than a plain white loaf. I would say that it wasn’t a beer flavour specifically but rather something more nutty or generally richer and deeper. Beer-adjacent, definitely. The best way I can put it is that while normally I eat my bread for breakfast with jams or honey, somehow I would think this loaf would do better with a bit of swiss cheese or as part of a less-sweet sandwhich. The complexity of flavour that the beer gave to the bread was enough that can confidently say dabbing a gob of strawberry jam on this would clash and make it tough to swallow.

Was it worth sacrificing a can of beer (over free tap water) for a richer loaf? Moderate postitive. I’m going to try a stronger, darker stout beer (likely a Guinness) next to see if there is an even richer final result to be had, but while the results with the honey brown lager were subtle I think I would try this again, yes.

Gear: Garmin Fenix 3

I’ve owned and used my current GPS watch for the better part of four years.

But before you read this know that the Fenix 3 is far from the latest model of Garmin’s multisport watch. Also know that I’m not a “latest and greatest” kind of guy, usually sticking with the “tried and true” until I absolutely need an upgrade.

Still, of the three models I’ve used, the Fenix has by far been my favourite.

It’s climbed mountains.

It’s competed triathlon.

It’s logged half and full marathons.

It’s plotted a thousand and more runs, rides, and other sports.

It’s been a couple years since, but I used to get pulled in to our local running clinics and asked to give a talk for new runners about effectively using technology while running.

Watches, apps, software, etc.

When I started this there were only a small number of sport tracking watches on the market and I could easily answer the question of “which one should I buy?” Today there are multiple brands and as many as a dozen current models per brand. That’s a tougher question.

I look for a few simple things, and would want similar features in an upgrade:

Fast start-to-running time. From when I turn on the watch outside to when I can start running needs to be quick. Pre-pandemic, when I still ran with a sizable group, there was a clear difference between the good watches and the cheap watches. Solo, this just means waiting around on your own to start. In a group, it could mean the group is waiting around on you.

Connectivity with my phone. I used to need to plug in my old watches to a dock and upload the tracking files to a computer. This was only something I could do at home. The Fenix has let me upload wirelessly via my phone, which is not only precious ability on those Sunday morning runs sharing our route over coffees, but while traveling the world has let me log hikes and walks and races long before coming home to rest.

Long battery life. The photo in this post was taken while backpacking near Lake Louise, Alberta, on a day hike circumnavigating Mount Skoki. If I recall, this took about six hours with breaks. I had used the watch in the days before on our fourteen hour ascent up the mountain and on another six-plus hour hike. A cheap watch will get you through the four or five hours of a slow marathon. A better watch will take you up an all day mountain climb.

Note: this is a piece of gear that I have purchased privately and that I’ve owned for long enough to offer an opinion about. This post is not an endorsement (at least, it’s not a paid one.)