Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Big Fat Failures

Things have been crazy busy around here lately. That hasn't left a lot of time to be creative in the kitchen, and a few recent failures haven't helped things. First up, I can't get my sourdough starter to actually start. It bubbles away, but never actually rises. I have started and re-started so many times I have lost count. I eventually made my way over the Peter Reinhart's blog (I am using his recipe) and found out that there is a bacteria in flour that masquerades as yeast by producing carbon dioxide. I thought I have finally found the solution, and did what Rienhart suggested to fix the problem. But, alas, it did not work. Here is my starter . . . mocking me. Any suggestions from experienced bakers?

Second, I made a tortilla casserole. Do you need to fry the corn tortillas first? This casserole turned into a big pile of mush.
This one started out as a fabulous stir fry. But then I ruined it by using a pre-made sauce. Lesson learned: take a few minutes to make your own. Or, don't buy pre-made sauce in the first place.

49 comments:

Vegetation said...

Awww we all have problems from time to time! I've created some fantastical horrors in my time :P

Not sure which flour you are using for your sourdough starter. I tried one with whole wheat and it was just scary and wrong so I bought some organic rye flour and within a couple of days it was going wonderfully.

Anonymous said...

About the tortilla casserole -
This may sound a little odd, but let the tortillas get stale before you use them. This way, when they absorb the moisture from the casserole, they won't get mushy.
Let me know how it turns out!
-Claire

Eating Consciously said...

Ugh! I hate cooking failures. Unfortunately, it's all part of being creative in the kitchen and not being afraid to stray from recipes ;)

DJ Karma said...

I feel you- sometimes I feel like my food is mocking me too. Be interested to learn more about the bread- good luck taming that wild beast- if anyone can do it, you can!

HayMarket8 said...

I love the nice bright colors on the stir-fry!

Chantal said...

I'd also love to hear people's feedback on sourdough... I've attempted many many times and have just given up at this point...

Cynthia said...

You gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you find the prince. Hang in there, VD!

speedwell said...

Tortillas? You didn't cook them first? Oh, my. As a newbie Texan, I made the mistake of serving my fiance wheat tortillas fresh out of the package. He laughed and showed me how to bake them briefly on both sides in a dry skillet. I was embarrassed, but kind of glad to know how to make them taste better.

Here in Texas we call it "Frito Pie," and we use Fritos, which are fried tortillas, I guess. Don't bake them. Something about the oil keeps them from getting as soggy in the casserole.

Chaos Mom said...

no idea about the sourdough - that's my husband's area of expertise. i'll ask him tomorrow. as for teh tortilla casserole...my mum makes a version (although hers is loaded with chicken & cheese)...it tastes wonderful, but it too turns into a big pile of mush. i say, who cares if it's mush...does it taste good? finally...i have had very little luck with premade sauces. there was this one sweet & sour sauce i used to buy..was really cheap, but tasted good. i don't even remember what it was called though. i prefer my stir fries with very little sauce on them.

collette said...

Oh, man. I hate kitchen failures. It so throws me off my cooking groove. I am a perfectionist, so when things don't go my way, I just stop trying.

My sister said to me one time, "Everything you cook is good!" I replied, "That's because I never talk about the things that I cook that turn out bad!" It's great that you can make a post talking about your failures.

No advice on the starter front, as I've been too wussy to try a sourdough starter. Hope you can figure it out soon.

DJ said...

Sorry you've recently had some bad experiences! But you know what they say, bad luck comes in threes so you should be clear of it now...

heini said...

I think your starter looks fine. Are you sure you have waited long enough for rising? I have made rye bread couple of times and it takes about three days, because sour dough need much more time to rise than yeas dough.

Catofstripes said...

I've not read Peter's blog but from our own experience of making sourdough starters it's important to use organic flour and chlorine free water. You need to keep it quite warm too.

A starter like this is rarely as strong as commercial yeast, it will rise quite slowly and fall again quite quickly. Maybe you need some time lapse photography to see what it's up to when you're not there.

Anonymous said...

You can buy a sourdough starter from King Arthur flour and I think the company that makes that E-nergy Egg replacer also makes a boxed sourdough. I kept a sourdough for years but was always nervous about making it from scratch like I would get everyone sick. Yours looks a little too watery. The trick is to put it in a ceramic container with a lid, but not a tight lid. At least once a week feed it, let is bubble on the counter overnight and then back in the fridge. Or if you have a friend who keeps a sourdough, perhaps they will give you some! Metal is reactive so don't use a metal spoon in it, or a metal bowl, etc. and no glass either. I have some Alaska sourdough cookbook at home I could look at if you have other questions -and the Bloodroot cookbooks have some great recipes for vegan sourdough pancakes and chocolate devastation cake.

Also, the tortilla caserole is supposed to be mushy I think! I have made it a few times, or enchiladas from sold old tofu cookery cookbook and I always get mush. But I think its yummy anyway.

Best,
Suzanne

happyherbivore.com said...

I had a week of failure last week. :(

Veggie Wedgie said...

Oh I feel you. When things donnt go as you expect in the kitchen its very disturbing! Sadly, I can't help on the sourdough starter, or tortilla casserole. But I know pre-made sauces make beautiful stir fries stink! We all learn from our [painful] mistakes ! Have a good one

Thom said...

For new sourdough starter, you can improve the chance of beneficial yeast growth instead of bacteria by lowering the pH slightly. Try mixing flour with pineapple juice instead of water and sugar. It works like a charm.

Mary Sue said...

*pokes your casserole*

I've never fried the tortillas in a casserole before, it just sounds like too much work for a, you know, CASSEROLE. The problem was probably too much liquid, or too long cooking, or you made the tortilla layers only one tortilla thick (my mom likes to make 'em three tortillas thick, but I think that's too much and I stick with two).

Oh, my credentials? I buy tortillas in the 200 pack, twice a month, and I'm single.

Bianca said...

Sorry for your kitchen flubs! But I'm glad to know that you have them too. Sometimes I think you're like a vegan cooking god or something....everything always looks so amazing! I love it when people post stuff like that because we can all relate.

I'm not an experienced baker, so I can't help you on the bread. But with tortilla casseroles, I've found that mine tend to be a little mushy too. But I like that. Tortillas do tend to soften quite a bit when baked and covered in sauce. I've never fried them first, but I bet that'd be good!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dad
I am not experience baker but I bake twice a week. My starter is rather new ( 6 months old) initially it was doing nothing, few bubbles on top but nothing major, apparently is the weather and conditions in the house ( I am in Toronto, and now is rather cold). I put my starter, which is made of whole grain organic rye flour and water, on the shelf right above the stove. In any case it took my starter 2 weeks to start really working hard. So give it TIME and if your house is not hot give it a lot of time, don’t get discourage it will work, (eventually)
Good luck
Meg

Rena said...

Hey Vegan Dad! Considering all of your past success, failure was inevitable. Regardless, all of these things can be fixed easily.

For the tortilla casserole, you should probably do a quick fry of the corn tortillas (about 10-15 seconds or so). When I make enchiladas, that's usually what I have to do to help them keep their shape. Not healthy, but certainly more tasty.

Good luck in the kitchen!

APLACEFORUS said...

your so brave, my failures get NO camera action!! Thanks for showing us that everything you do isnt always perfect. My seitan looked like a great big "chicken breast shaped" sponge, and tasted like one too. But I am not giving up. the stir fry looked yummy! sprouts and snow peas what is that bok choy too? always inspired when I come here. Thanks!!

aTxVegn said...

Use corn and not flour tortillas for the casserole. I think tortilla chips make the best casserole - already fried for you!

thedalyn said...

I grew up on tortilla casseroles and still make them quite often. While the tortillas should have some identity left, tortilla casseroles tend to not hold their shape well and do get a bit mushy. I've always thought they're better the next day. Once reheated, they're not nearly as mushy.

Kiersten said...

It's okay, kitchen failures happen to all of us. I just try to laugh them off. Gosh, you should have seen some of my earliest cooking experiments. I had some MAJOR disasters.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how bad your casserole actually tasted, but tortillas are supposed to get soft when baked. They are generally supposed to be this way in a casserole, not crispy. Don't be so hard on yourself.

katie said...

I wish I could offer you some advice, but I know nothing about baking bread. Hang in there and keep up the great blog!

Anonymous said...

Just came across your blog in recipe searches on the internet. It's very nice; I will certainly try some recipes. Thanks for posting them.

I was also found it curious that you have so many children. This is not meant to be a criticism, but how do you justify having children while also being vegan? All the vegans I know are adamant about having 0 or at most 1 child (and perhaps adopting). The carbon footprint of just one child in a first world country is so great that many animals are harmed through the environmental impacts that child causes. I was just wondering your opinion/life philosophy on that matter since it's so different from the vegans I know (all are in their 20s, so perhaps this has something to do with it!)

Robin said...

They're still great pictures!

itsonthetable said...

Jenna from Eat, Live, Run (http://www.eatliverun.com) is an awesome baker -- she might be able to help you with the sourdough starter.

My tortilla casserole is always mushy, but sometimes I like it like that. Very strange, I know. I think frying the tortillas might be pretty good, though. I'll have to try it.

Suchini said...

Vegan Dad! I feel very terrible saying this, but I am glad what you cook sometimes does not turn out. I feel just slightly less inadequate than normal after reading your blog!!

Vegan Dad said...

Anonymous,
Sometimes we can't deny the biological and evolutionary imperatives that ensure the survival of the human race. I guess I would rather raise a responsible generation of kids who respect the earth rather than adopt some nihilistic worldview in which the best vegan is a dead vegan.

Anonymous said...

re: the starter
If there's a bakery in your area that uses starter, ask if you can buy a cup of it. Or ask Craig's List if you can have a bit of someone's starter. I've gotten quite a few starters in my day from local bakers (and eventually neglected all of them to death), and have never found a baker who would deny me a cup. Of course, if they knew my track record, they might think twice about entrusting me with their yeasties.

Kristi said...

This comment is to anon above about having so many children. I'll speak for myself. I'm 31 and have four children. Being vegan is definitely a more environmentally friendly diet than one that includes animal products, which already lowers the carbon footprint (we have six people in a household eating a vegan diet). But the environment is not my primary motivator. It's animal welfare. And the fact that I think animals have just as much a right to live a peaceful life free from harm as we do. I know you said your comment isn't meant to be a criticism, but for me, asking someone "how they justify" having so many children seems like a criticism. :shrug:

Kristi said...

Vegan Dad, I also wanted to thank you for your blog. I love it! We had your mac & cheese earlier in the week and it was wonderful. I made the creamy potato and broccoli soup last week. We're having the sweet and sticky wingz tonight. Everything I've tried has been excellent. I'm a mom of four boys and your meals appeal to all of us. My kids get really excited when I tell them I'm making one of Vegan Dad's recipes. :)

Anonymous said...

my wife always fries the tortillas first.

:o) said...

Here's the recipe I use...and it works perfectly!

INGREDIENTS
• 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
• 2 cups warm water
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
DIRECTIONS
1. In large non-metallic bowl, mix together dry yeast, 2 cups warm water, and 2 cups all purpose flour and cover loosely.
2. Leave in a warm place to ferment, 4 to 8 days. Depending on temperature and humidity of kitchen, times may vary. Place on cookie sheet in case of overflow. Check on occasionally.
3. When mixture is bubbly and has a pleasant sour smell, it is ready to use. If mixture has a pink, orange, or any other strange color tinge to it, THROW IT OUT! and start over. Keep it in the refrigerator, covered until ready to bake.
4. When you use starter to bake, always replace with equal amounts of a flour and water mixture with a pinch of sugar. So, if you remove 1 cup starter, replace with 1 cup water and 1 cup flour. Mix well and leave out on the counter until bubbly again, then refrigerate. If a clear to light brown liquid has accumulated on top, don't worry, this is an alcohol base liquid that occurs with fermentation. Just stir this back into the starter, the alcohol bakes off and that wonderful sourdough flavor remains! Sourdough starters improve with age, they used to be passed down generation to generation!

Maureen said...

I make a very plain sour dough starter with yeast and flour and water. After all the bubbling it calms down and then I just feed it once or twice a week with a cup of flour and the same of water, stir it up and leave it in a warm place to get bubbly again. I store it in my fridge and it is really like pancake batter with liquid on the top. When I want to use it I take it out, stir it all up and then measure out the amount I want for the bread (I use a basic recipe I found from Bryanna) and away I go. Have been doing that for years now!

zlamushka said...

:-) I have never met a vegan dad and regret I havent found one earlier. You feature so many lovely homey recipes, i love :-)
a long time ago, I was vegan for 2 years and I know sometimes I would kill for a rich creamy chocolate cake or good ol burger :-) that is probably why my will broke along the way :-( now after two years of crap diet, I am re-living my vegan journey again with my 21-day vegan challenge, as from what I was told, it takes three weeks to change one´s habits....

I ll be back for more inspiration :-)

cage said...

In terms of the starter - thefreshloaf.com might have some help. I also use Peter Reinhart's book as a guide, and i've had a few failures...my current starter also took a lot of time...

Mary said...

Was there something funky with the moon this week? I made a disgusting banana dessert and managed to give myself food poisoning with an edamame salad. Hang in there. I'm going to make your chicken on a stick again soon, it was so great.

Veganthony said...

HEy vegandad. I have just started making the sourdough starter and encountered the same problem. I have just switched over to using white whole wheat flour and it worked beautifully in only 36 hours. ALso, make sure that you are using a glass or plastic jar to feed your starter in, that makes a huge difference. Metal kills yeast, but not bacteria.

helloveggie.org said...

I never fry my tortillas first for my Enchilada Casserole. Perhaps you have more liquid in yours that I do?

Sorry about the week! Keep your head up!

GloryBug said...

I have made enchilada casseroles with both fried/unfried tortillas, as well as corn/flour and corn chips. Obviously using corn chips is the easiest. I do not like the taste or texture of the unfried or flour tortillas. In order to save on fat, I usually use a hot pan and just give the pan one small spray of corn or olive oil for about every 2 tortillas. The oil helps, but heating the tortillas up until crisp is what keeps the baked texture from being too mushy.

I, too, am having a horrible bread-baking week. Sniff.

c

Anonymous said...

Your starter is healthy. High hydration starters such as reinhart's don't really rise. The sign of an active, healthy wet starter is lots and lots of bubbles. Just go ahead with the recipe---

EL said...

About The Tortilla Casserole that turned to mush -- i too had this same problem. I followed a recipe out of vegtarian times last year sometime - and followed it exactly i must say - that turned to mush as well. I used the corn tortillas as the recipe called for and it said nothing about baking or frying them beforehand. Though we loved the flavors, i threw out the recipe. so maybe tortilla casserole is just meant to turn to mush? If so, guess its not for me!

gnarwhal said...

I love kitchen failures they help me improve - some weeks though i just feel like i'm "improving" all week long!

Yesterday i made some bread and some bread rolls. I left the dough to rise before i went out to work and when i came back it had all but escaped my bread pan, so i knocked it back and reshaped it and let it rise again, what i ended up with was quite simply the best loaf of bread i've ever made. Do you think this is chance, or is double rising some kind of clever technique i've stumbled upon like a clumsy clown in the kitchen?

tasteslikeyum said...

I skimmed the comments and didn't find this, so please forgive me if it's a repeat! I agree with using lightly stale tortillas. My experiences in enchilada and enchilada casserole making as an omnivore and as a vegan seem to lean toward yellow holding up a bit better than white.

That being said, I use the technique of pouring a bit of sauce onto a plate and lightly dipping each tortilla in it, using only a bit of sauce on the top and bottom - more or less just enough to cover so it doesn't burn. Sauce is always served on the side in our house, so that's not an issue. As long as the fillings aren't particularly wet you should be okay. Hope that helps!

Jessica said...

My husband uses rye flour to get his starter going and then once the fermentation (or whatever) starts, he just feeds it with regular or whole wheat flour.

Good luck!