Kitchen Gadget Recommendation

This past year, our rice cooker died. After researching options and brands for about 3 months (yeah I know but there was a decision matrix involved), Lou and I finally settled on a Sanyo ECJ-HC100S rice and slow cooker. Did seriously consider the Zojirushi cookers but they were all a little more expensive and didn't have the slow cooker feature.

Have to say, it is the coolest rice robot. Throw rice in it with the water, pick the rice type on the little control panel and let the fuzzy logic do its thing. It is a little slow. Take a good 45 minutes to do 5 cups of brown rice but it hasn't been a problem so far. Thou I haven't used it, it does have a delay cook option so you could set it up before going to work and it would be ready when you got back. The hold temp option works really well also. Since the cooker is kinda pressure sealed, keeps the rice nice and moist for hours after cooking.

Today, I finally got around to using it as a slow cooker. I made a double patch of Alton Brown's tapioca pudding in it. Worked great. Threw in the tapioca with the milk for 2 hrs on high. When done, it kept it warm until I came around and finished it off. In theory the rice robot also works as a vegetable steamer and will even make tofu if you are hard core.

So, if you are looking for a rice cooker that is also a multi-tasker, get this one. It does come in 5 1/2 cup model as well but the 10 cup does just fine making 2-3 cups of rice, so I would recommend the bigger one unless you are looking for something for that small apartment in Tokyo.


Fancy Bread

I am a little behind on recording by bread making. For Thanksgiving, I made some fancy bread. For dinner at my in-laws, I made a celebration loaf of challah.

For dinner at by brother and sister-in-law's, I made a braided marble rye.

Schnoodles and Cold

It has been cold and snowy the last few days here in Wisconsin. While the humans in the household grumble and complain, sometimes we forget the hardship this causes the schnoodle. While Daisy doesn't mind the snow, it has to say below here belly. But, she does not like the cold, as the picture demonstrates.


Soft Rye Pretzels

This recipe is a combination from several others that I have found.

Dry Works

4 oz white rye flour
13.6 oz white bread flour
2 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp non-diastatic malt powder

Wet Works

2 tbsp butter (soft or melted)
2/3 cup whole milk (body temp)
2/3 cup water (body temp)

Water Bath

1 oz salt
3 oz baking soda
1 quart (approx) water

Combine the dry works together in a mixing bowl. Using a microwave, warm the milk and water until they are approximately body temperature. Add the warm milk-water mixture and the butter to the dry works. Combine to bring together to form a dough. Adjust with white bread flour or milk as needed.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 8 minutes and then let rest for 5 minutes. Prepare an oiled bowl. After resting, knead for another 2 minutes and form the dough into a ball. Place in oiled bowl and cover with cling wrap. Ferment for 1 hour until the dough roughly doubles in size.

After fermenting, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and divide into 12 pieces. Form each into a small ball and let rest for 5 minutes. After resting, roll each into a 3/8" - 1/2" diameter rope approximately 18" long and then form into a pretzel shape. If the dough is still to elastic, let rest for a few minutes and then continue rolling.

Place pretzel shapes on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper for proofing. Loosely cover with cling wrap while proofing. Proof for 20-30 minutes until the dough expands from 3/8" to approx 3/4" diameter. While the dough is proofing, prepare a water bath by placing the water, salt and baking soda in a large stainless steel pot.

NOTE - Do not us an aluminum pot because the baking soda and will react with aluminum.

Bring water to boil and stir to dissolve salt and baking soda. Reduce the temp so the water is just at a light boil. Before you start processing the pretzels in the water bath, preheat oven to 425 degrees.

After the pretzels have proofed, place them one at a time in the water bath; letting one side in the water for 30 seconds and then flipping them with a large sloted spoon. After the other side has cooked for 30 seconds, remove from water and place on baking sheet again. After all pretzels have been processed, place in oven. Bake for 15 minutes and then rotate the pans for even baking. Continue baking for approximately another 15 minutes until the pretzels take on a dark brown color. Let cool 20 minutes before eating.

Makes 12 - 5" pretzels. Can also make 8 Kaiser style rolls.


Daisy in the sun...

Our dog Daisy is part cat. She really likes to lay in the sun. The other day Lou caught her in some very artsy light...

Baking this weekend

Tis the season for fruitcake. This weekend I made several of them using the blond fruitcake recipe I have. They need to "age" in the fridge for a couple of weeks but should be ready just in time for the holidays.


On Fridays, I take the dog to doggy day-care and then drive up Lincoln Memorial Dr. to work. For those not familiar with Milwaukee, Lincoln Memorial Dr. runs along the shore of Lake Michigan. Anyway, with the time change, I have been catching some very pretty sunrises so this Friday I took my camera with me.


This Weekends Bread

This weekend I did a large bake. I attempted the light honey wheat and the Italian White breads that I had made previously. They turned out OK but I didn't get the rise out of them that I would like. Will need to practice those some more.

I also experimented with what I am going to call "pumpernickel in quotes". The reason I call it that is a true pumpernickel is usually 100 percent rye, take 5 to 30 hours to bake and has a whole bunch of ingredients. I just don't have time for all that. So, what I did was take the transitional rye recipe that I have been successful with and tweeked it with some cocoa powder and coffee to make a reasonable substitute. The recipe is below and takes some prep work the night before you want to bake the bread.

"Pumpernickel in Quotes"

Makes 2 - 1lb loaves


8 oz coarse rye flour
4 oz white rye flour
4 oz whole wheat flour
1 oz cocoa powder (dark is best)
1 tsp salt
13 1/2 oz plain yogurt

Mix all the soaker ingredients together in a bowl until the flour is hydrated and the ingredients come together into a ball. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.


16 oz white bread flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast
10 oz black coffee at room temperature (can also use espresso and water)

Mix the biga ingredients together until they form a ball of dough. With wet hands, knead the dough for about 2 or 3 minutes. The dough should be very tacky. Let rest for 5 minutes. Prepare a large plastic storage container with some spray oil. Knead the dough with wet hands for another minute. Place dough in plastic container and let stand at room temperature for 2 hr until it doubles in size. Degas the dough after 2 hrs and place back in plastic container and refrigerate over night. It will continue to rise overnight and will approximately triple in size.

Before making the final dough, remove the biga from the refrigerator 2 hours in advance to allow it to come to room temperature.

Final Dough

All of the soaker
All of the biga
2 oz coarse rye flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
0.5 oz instant yeast
2 oz molasses
1 oz buckwheat honey
1 oz olive oil
Extra white rye flour for adjustments

Using a pastry scraper, cut the soaker and biga each into about 30 small pieces. Dust the biga with the coarse rye flour to keep the pieces from sticking together. Place pre-doughs in a large bowl with rest of the ingredients. Mix with spoon or wet hands until the dough roughly comes together and then turn out on a well floured counter or cutting board.

Begin to knead the dough. Depending on the amount of mixing in the bowl, knead for 4 to 6 minutes until the dough is uniform. Try to only add as little flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Do not over knead or the rye flour will become gummy. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes while you prepare a clean bowl with spray oil.

After resting, knead for another minute, form into ball and place in the prepared bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 45 - 60 minutes or until it gets to 1 1/2 times its original size.

After the first rise, turn the dough out on a board dusted with rye flour and divide in 2. Form each into a loaf and place in oiled 4" by 8 1/2" bread pan. Mist the top with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise a second time for another 45 to 60 minutes until about 1 1/2 times original size.

When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 425. While the over pre-heats, remove the plastic wrap and slit the top of each loaf with a clean razor blade. When oven is ready, place the pans in the oven and reduce the temperature to 350. Bake for 20 minutes and then rotate the pans. Continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 195 degrees and the top sounds hollow when tapped.

When done baking, remove from pans immediately and set on cooling rack. Cover with dish towel and let cool for at least 1 hour before slicing. The cooling is an important step because the bread needs time for the internal structure to setup before you slice it.


Bread - The other weekend

I have gotten a little behind on my blog posts. A few weeks ago, I dedicated my bread making to knotted dough. Lou was gracious enough to be my photographer so I could capture some of different techniques.

I found a technique for making a 6 strand challah which was not talked about in the Peter Reinhart book. It's basically the pattern over 2, under 1, over 2. Below is some pictures that illustrate it.

And the result...

Then, I tried making the Bohemian style knotted roles that Lou and learned about at the baking class a few weeks ago. The shape I made was a double knot.

Then, I also tried making some pretzels.

Everything turned out pretty well but I want to try again. The Bohemian style dough was not just right so I need to work on the recipe. The pretzels turned out OK but when I boiled them, the fell a little. I think I need to find a slightly stiffer dough. Below are some pictures of the final results.


Project Update

Over the weekend I had a bit of time to work on my workbench project. I glued up the tops. Needless to say, I had to use a "few" of my clamps.

Bohemian cultural weekend

My distant relatives hail from the Prague area of what is now the Czech Republic. This past weekend, my wife Lou and I visited my parents and ended up having a very Bohemian weekend. In the morning, we took a baking class to learn how to make the traditional kolache pastry. The picture below is of me doing the initial forming.

And my wife with a tray of the results...

And after about 3 hours, the results are pictured below. We also made some traditional dinner rolls with the same dough.

My parents make sauerkraut most years. This year, they turned 150 pounds of cabbage into about 100 pounds of kraut. The deal I have with my brother is he does the input (i.e. the slicing) and I do the output which ends up being the packing. So, after about 2 hours Saturday evening, we ended up with about 75 packages of kraut in the freezer.

Before we left the next day, Lou decided Daisy needed to pose with the pumpkins.



The last few weekends I have been helping a college friend named John build a garage. One could say he was cashing in a large stack of IOU's that he had acquired over the years moving me around the country and helping with miscellaneous building projects.

It has been fun constructing something but I have to say, the body doesn't keep up very well. I need to take some stock in the company that makes Ben Gay and Advil.

Project Update

The other day I got to the point on my workbench project where I could assemble things a little.


This Weekends Bread

This weekends bread was some old standbys. On the left is a multi-grain and on the right is some challah.


Prague - Sunday (continued)

After Vysehrad castle, we wandered back toward the city center. On the way Andi took us to a movie theater that had an artwork installation by David Cerny and is a play on the famous statue of St. Wenceslas in the main square.

After wandering around a bit and getting a snack, we walked along the river toward Charles Bridge. Below is a picture of Lou and I looking "coupl'rific" along the river.

And here is the Charles Bridge.

And here is the mass of people on the Charles Bridge.

We walked around a little bit on the other side of the bridge. One thing we noticed is that the leadership of Prague has made the city center very tourist friendly. Below is one of the many signs leading people to the various sights around the city.

After wandering around a little more, we took the Metro (Malostranska station) back to Andi's apartment. When we got to her "hood", we stopped for some produce for dinner. Below, Andi is evaluating the quality of a tomato for the salad.

Andi's apartment is very near Zizkov TV Tower which is a very prominent monument to Communism. During the Communist era, the tower was used to jam western radio and tv broadcasts from Germany. After the liberation, it was finally used to broadcast domestic tv and radio broadcasts. It was also decorated by David Cerny with a bunch of bronze babies crawling up and down the tower.

The following picture is at Andi's appartment. By this time, Andi was getting a little flustered with Lou's picture taking but Lou managed a picture of her urging us in with a smile.

After a dinner with Andi's friends of pesto and pasta ferried from my mother-in-law, we ajourned to the beer garden. There, we had some beer and watched the Olympics on the big screen tv.

Pressure Cooker Chili

I have tried Alton Brown's Pressure Cooker Chili a couple of times but ended up scorching the bottom every time. Well, tonight I experimented with my own version. Partly because I was hungry for chili and partly because my wife was out of town. Lets just say, she is lukewarm about chili. By cooking in two rounds and adding the tomatoes and corn chips in the second round, the scorching was minimized.

1 1/2 lb beef stew meat (1" cubes)
1 1/2 lb pork roast cut into 1" cubes
2 tbs peanut oil

3/4 cup onion, diced
3/4 cup celery, diced
2 chipotle peppers canned in adobo sauce, chopped
2 tbs adobo sauce (from the chipotle pepper)
1 bottle of beer
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp dried cilantro

16 oz of diced canned tomatoes
approx 20 corn chips, crushed

In the pot of a 6qt pressure cooker, heat the oil. When hot, brown the beef and pork in small batches, moving the meat to a resting bowl as each batch is done. Once all the meat is browned, deglaze the pot with the beer. Return the meat to the pot with the onion, celery, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, salt and the spices. Stir and then seal up the pressure cooker. Once the pressure cooker is at pressure, turn the heat down a little so there is just a light rattle and cook for 12 minutes.

After 12 minutes, turn off the heat and vent the pressure following the instructions for your pressure cooker. Once vented, open the pressure cooker and then return it to heat. Add the tomatoes and the crushed corn chips and give it another stir. Seal up the pressure cooker again and once it is at pressure turn the heat down again to the light rattle and cook for another 12 minutes. When done, remove from heat and let cool until pressure reduces (or if you are hungry, vent again following instructions). Serve plain or over rice. Makes about 6 servings. Keeps pretty well when frozen also.



Thought I would share my recipe for meatloaf.

1 1/4 lb ground chuck (80%)
1 cup quick oat meal (approx)
1 cup cracker crumbs (approx)
1/2 cup onion (fine dice)
1/2 cup celery (fine dice)
1/2 cup bell pepper (fine dice)
3 tbs ketchup
3 tbs yellow mustard
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 egg
3 tbs soy sauce
1/2 bottle of beer

In a large bowl, add ground chuck and approximatly a combined equal volume of the oat meal and cracker crumbs. Add aromatics, ketchup, mustard, spices and egg. Using hands, combine well adding oat meal if needed to adjust the texture. Once combined, move mixture to a large baking dish that has a cover. Form into a well packed ring or loaf depending on desired use. Pour soy sauce over the top and cover.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven. After about 20 minutes when the meat is taking on a little color, pour 1/2 of a bottle of beer into the bottom of the baking dish. Drink the rest of the beer. Continue baking for another 30 minutes or so until the interior registers about 170 degrees. Let rest for a few minutes and then server. Leftovers can be refrigerated and used for meatloaf sandwiches on rye bread.

Alternative - Use 2 tbs of barbecue sauce in place for 1 tbs of ketchup and 1 tbs of mustard and add 1/2 tsp of Lawry's seasoning salt.


Prague - Sunday

Well, I haven't done as much posting about Prague as I had hoped but I got inspired tonight. The Sunday after we arrived, Andi took us on a walking tour around the city. The main goal for the day was to visit Vysehrad castle in the southern part of the city.

This picture is Lou and Andi at the door to the chapel on the grounds and the next picture is of Lou and I on the wall with the city in the background.

I took the following picture from the wall looking down at one of the castle gates. We were basically walking along the top of the wall getting excellent pictures of the surrounding area.

like this...

We also wandered around the cemetery and I found some kin...

On the way out of the cemetery, Andi captured Lou and I in front of the church doors, though it looks a little "American Gothic".

Lou also took the opportunity to collect a civil engineering photo of the man hole cover.

Before we left, Andi did some interpretive dance among the statues in the garden.


More work on my workbench

This weekend I had a chance to get back to my woodworking project. I had a chance to make the face frames for the workbench units. The are all mortis and tendoned pine.

This weekends bread

This weekends bread was marble rye and another try at a light honey wheat from the CIA baking book. I tweaked the recipe as follows...


16 oz white bread flour
5 oz whole wheat flour
2 cups scalded milk

Bring the milk to a boil, I used the microwave (3 minutes on high). Cool the milk to slightly above room temp (body temp) and then combine it with the flours in a large mixing bowl. Cover and let stand for 1 hour to hydrate the flour.

Final Dough

4 oz white bread flour
1.7 oz olive oil
4 oz honey
0.5 oz instant yeast
2 tsp salt

Combine ingredients in bowl and then knead for about 9 minutes. Let ferment for 1hr until the dough doubles in size. Divide the dough in two and form 2 loaves and place in 8 1/2" bread pans. Proof for another hour. Preheat oven to 425. Once preheated, place the bread in the oven and reduce the temp to 350. Bake for 20 minutes and then rotate 180 degrees and then bake another 20 minutes until the internal temp is 190 degrees. Let cool 1 hour before cutting.


Look at this...

Under the philosophy that everything is better with Bacon... Bacon Salt! Don't know how it could be kosher but...


This weekends bread

Well, after almost a month, I made bread this weekend. A batch of oat bran flax and some challah.


Prague - The arrangements

In preparation for our trip to Prague, we got a few travel books. We got the Lonely Planet Prague City Guide and Czech Phrase Book. We also got the Top 10 Prague Eyewitness Travel Guide. All three were helpful and I would recommend them. We also got the Pimsleur Basic Czech language disks. The disks were OK for the price but frankly the pronunciation was kinda poor and they spent more time teaching you how to pick up Czech women then giving you the basics of the language. They don't teach you numbers until the last disk and don't go into things like finding services or conducting basic transactions. Fortunately, Prague is a fairly English friendly city as long as you stick to the areas that cater to tourists.

We purchased a package from Expedia.com that included airfare and hotel. We flew on Delta from Milwaukee to Prague with a transfer in Atlanta. The flight out was uneventful. We took off around 3:00pm from Milwaukee and had about a 2hr flight to Atlanta. We took off from Atlanta at 7:30pm Atlanta time and had about a 8 1/2hr flight to Prague. We landed in Prague around 11am Prague time. They served us dinner and a light breakfast on the flight which was a novelty for me. I haven't had real food on a plane in over a decade.

After passing though immigration which consisted of a guy scanning our passport and buzzing us though a gate and customs which consisted of walking out of an exit gate, we looked around for Lou's sister Andi. Since we landed a little earlier than expected because of a 100 knot tailwind over the Atlantic, we waited a bit. In the meantime, Lou purchased a pair of 5 day metro/tram/bus pass for 500 Kc each which worked out to about $35 each. After a bit, Andi appeared and like a bush guide, we started our trek to the hotel, luggage in tow. I exaggerate of course. Our trek consisted of a ride on the 119 bus right outside Terminal 1 to Dejvicka station on the A metro line.

The transit passes work kinda different. Unlike other public transit I have used, in Prague, you don't validate the pass every time. When you buy the pass initially, you validate it at these little yellow boxes at every metro station or on the buses or trams. This stamps the pass with a time stamp. The clock then starts counting down. Once stamped, all you have to do is keep the pass on your person when using the metro/bus/tram system.

Lest you think "well, if they aren't going to check, why bother", be advised that there are metro police doing spot checks. Failure to have a valid pass is a 1000 Kc fine. While we were wandering around on Friday, we saw one fellow standing against the wall while a very large and imposing metro officer was calling something in on a cell phone.

The metro was laid out pretty much like any other metro I have used. The A line runs pretty deep so is serviced by some of the longest escalators I have ever seen. The stations themselves are fairly clean and free of beggars and the like. On the metro and trams, all of the announcements are in Czech but they also have displays that announce the stops. Below are some pictures of the escalator leading to station near Andi's apartment and the wall by the metro platform.

Well, back to our trek. We rode the metro from Dejvicka which is the terminus of the A line to the Muzeum station which is both one of the 3 transfer stations of the metro system and also the station at the southern end of Vaclavske Namesti (aka Wenceslas Square). Below is a picture of Vaclavske Namesti taken from the steps of the National Museum one night later in the week during an ice cream walk. You can sorta see the steps coming from the metro station on the right about where the taxi is rounding the round about.

To get to our hotel, we then had a short walk for about a block down the square and then 3 blocks down a side street called Opeltalova. Our home for the next 8 days was the Hotel Maria Prag which is a member of the Austrian Falkensteiner hotel family. The hotel was well appointed and the staff was polite and spoke English. The room had a queen size bed, bath with shower and cable TV. The picture below is Andi voguing for the camera in the room in a dress that Lou brought for her from the states.

The cable selection was channels mostly in German. Neither Lou nor I are much for night life so many of the nights we would return to the room and watch a little tv before bed. The Olympics were on so we watched that in German. BBC and CNN International have constant coverage of the Russian incursion into Georgia and German MTV had Family Guy and South Park dubbed in German which was kinda trippy.

The hotel also offered a very nice breakfast buffet for an additional charge. We ate there 4 of the days because it was convenient and they had a good selection. It was at the breakfast buffet that I had my first kolach in Prague. Kolach is a little pastry made with a bread like dough and then topped with fruits or poppy seeds. The ones I had were made with a very plain dough almost like white bread dough. My grandmothers both made them only they were a little different. They made them with a richer dough with eggs and sugar. The picture below is a kolach next to a Nutella filled doughnut which Lou felt was one of the most perfect foods.

The days that followed were composed of walking around and some day trips by bus outside of the city. Blog posts will follow with details on those shortly. The picture below was as we were returning to the hotel on the last night.

The return trip the following Saturday was pretty much the reverse of the trip there. It took about 50 minutes to get back to the airport from the hotel. It took over an hour for us to check in. Our flight was delayed due to weather so they had to rebook everyone. We left Prague about 2:30pm and the flight took over 10 hours. Remember that 100 knot tail wind on the way over. Well, it becomes a head wind on the way back. Another difference on the return was it appeared every toddler in Prague was traveling to Atlanta that day. It is cute the first hour but after 10, both Lou and I were in a very Malthusian mood.

Customs in Atlanta was a treat. It is no wonder that tourism to the US is down. After having already been screened by Delta security staff in Prague before we boarded, we had to go through immigration in Atlanta, then wait for our checked baggage. We then needed to lug it over to customs only to have the guy do nothing but take our little customs form and we proceeded to load it back on a baggage carousel. By the time we got back to Milwaukee, it was 11:00pm Milwaukee time. But, we got home in one piece and had Sunday to recover a little before returning to reality on Monday.

More of this travel log to come shortly. The next post will be about beer, dumplings and a potato pancake stuffed with pork.