Saturday, January 29, 2011

Baking bread... Very simple recipe

If you visited my Picasa Web Albums or my "MorfiChupi" album pictures on Facebook, you probably noticed that I really enjoy cooking. The passion for food and cooking seems to be in our family's genes, my dad is passionate about it, and let me tell you he is an amazing cook, for some time he had a small deli in Buenos Aires. My two brothers are also masters in the kitchen, they both went to culinary schools, and my youngest brother still works at a pasta factory. When I was a bambino my grandma with her cousins owned one of the best and most traditional Italian restaurants in downtown Buenos Aires (Il Napoli, across the Luna Park stadium).

My grandparents were from Italy, and I remember when we all got together every Sunday for the classic Italian family feast. The process started early in the morning since everything was home made from scratch, the breads, antipasto, spaghetti, ravioli, meats, salads, desserts, well you get the picture.

When I get on the kitchen to cook, it is like therapy, it lets me disconnect from the brain intensive geeky programming or electronics design work I do. It also brings back those pleasant memories of my family and those fantastic Sunday meals.

If there is something that I always die for is good bread, better said, artisan breads, in particular Italian and French breads. I won't deny that some of the chain or supermarket bakeries have good products, but there is nothing better and close to an artisan bread that the one home made with your own hands.

To make some basic breads the process is very simple and with few steps, measure, mix, knead, raise, punch, form, proof, bake, cool, eat.

I won't get to much on the details and basic concepts and techniques of bread making but I'll recommend you one of my favorite books:

Ultimate Bread
by Eric Treuille & Ursula Ferrigno
What is interesting is that while the book is printed in Great Britain, Eric was born in France and he started very young working at his uncle's boulangerie (bakery shop), and Ursula was born in Italy and grew up on her father's farm in southern Italy.

The book takes you from the fundamentals of breadmaking and the essentials techniques with plenty of  great pictures and includes over 100 recipes for many different types of breads.

In a future article I'll share some comments about other breadmaking books I've and that are among my favorite cooking books.

Wanna get started ? Nothing better than a simple recipe to make a plain bread, what in France is called Pain Ordinaire or Pane Rustico in Italy.

What do you need:
  • 1 small pack (4oz) or 2tsp of dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 3 1/2 cups of unbleached bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
What to do:

You obviously start by measuring and mixing the ingredients.

On a measuring cup put about 1/8 cup (125ml) of warm water and sprinkle the yeast in. If the ambient temperature is too low you can drop a little pinch of sugar to get the yest fermentation process going, stir until the yeast is dissolved and put away for 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile mix the flour and salt in a bowl, you will get better results if you stiff the flour before.

Make a well like a crater in the center of the flour and pour the dissolved yeast.
With a wooden spoon start mixing slowly some of the flour on the side until you have a creamy gooey paste combining the dissolved yeast with the surrounding flour.
This is called "the sponge method."
Now cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and put away for about 20 minutes.

You will notice that the yeast and flour gooey expanded and became frothy with some holes from bubbles created by the yeast.
Very gradually and mixing with the wooden spoon start incorporating the rest of the water into the center and mix the flour from the side, it will slowly start to form a moist dough.
If you need to add more water to get a firm dough, add one tablespoon at a time. 

Don't worry if the dough is sticky and look very moist, its better to have a moist dough than a dry dough.
Time to put some muscle. Take out the dough from the bowl into a lightly floured surface, go easy with the flour since we are only using it to have a non stick surface so we can knead the dough.

Knead for 10 minutes, if you feel that the dough is too difficult to handle, knead for 5 minutes, let it rest for 5 minutes and knead for another five, until you get a smooth and elastic dough.
When you are done kneading, put the dough ball on a clean bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and put on a warm place (not hot !! we don't want to cook it).

We'll let it rise until it doubles in size, depending on temperature and other conditions it make take about  1 1/2 to 2 hours. 
Magic !! now we have twice or more the original size, but full of bubbles.

Very gently make a fist and with your knuckles slowly punch down the dough to release some of the gas that formed inside.

After you punch it down let it rest for 10 minutes.

Now is time to give our bread some form, in this case we will do a long wide loaf.

Take the dough out of the bowl, gently spread forming sort of a rectangle and fold from the side 1/3 to the center.
Now fold the other side to the center.

Very gently with your palm start pressing to seal the two folds in the middle.

Then with your thumbs create a small indentation in the middle to finish sealing the union.
Turn the loaf over and with your hands keep forming the loaf extending until it gets to about 15" long. Put the shaped loaf on a floured baking pan, cover with a dish towel and let it proof until it doubles in size.

It may take 30 to 45 minutes. Depending on how long it takes your oven to warm up, you can start preheating it to 425 F.

An easy way to determine if the proofing is done, is to push gently with your finger the center of the loaf, if the dough springs back slowly you are golden, if it is too firm bad luck but don't worry it is still edible, but don't over proof it, it is preferred to put it early than late in the oven.

Before you put the loaf in the oven, cut some slashes on the top, it is not just for decoration, it helps the dough to expand without generating cracks on the sides or the bottom. Put it in the oven and let it bake until golden (30-45 minutes).

Don't open the oven every five minutes !!!

When I do this type of rustic breads I like to use a nice trick to create some additional moisture and obtain a more crunchy crust, open the oven and spray the loaf with a mist of salty water.

Let the loaf fully cook. Uncooked bread can give you an indigestion.
An easy trick for this type of breads to find out if they are cooked or not, is to turn them over and knock in the underside, if it sounds like nobody is home (slightly hollow) your bread is done.

When you take it out of the oven let it cool on a wire rack or grill, if you leave it in a flat surface the bottom will become soggy.

WAIT !! until it cooled down to cut.

VoilĂ , you just made your first Pain Ordinaire.

Next recipe ? Jorge's mega-bagels

Enjoy !!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Contacts network visualization via LinkedIn InMaps

When I worked in large scale networking, to have a clear understanding and view of the overall network architecture it was always helpful, and in my opinion a very good practice, to put together high level topology maps, just a simple graph showing how each of the most relevant nodes in the network were physically and/or virtually connected to each other.

Visualization is a very powerful tool when you have to deal with a complex and large number of "relationships", it helps by giving you a graphical representation on how those relationships are interrelated and in which sections of the graph you need to increase or sometimes decrease the number of connections, it also helps to identify single points of failure or choking points, and drives one to make better decisions.

With the advent of the new social and professional contact network online services, such as LinkedIn, managing your contacts and how them become part of your relationships universe became much easier. I often had to dig into my memory to find where I met this person or how we got to know each other, and if by any chance her or him knows somebody else I know or I'm interested to know.

Yesterday LinkedIn posted on their blog How to Visualize your LinkedIn network with InMaps, it sounded pretty interesting and it looked very cool, so I gave it a try .... here is my InMap

Nice !! At first glance it's clear that my contacts at LinkedIn are segmented into groups with a little bit of clustering and some lines between groups.

But if you take a closer look, you will notice on the top a group of contacts in orange which represent very interesting people from the Social Media arena that I met in a recent past. This group of people obviously today rely a lot on Internet applications like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, etc, to build relationships and communicate, but the map shows something very clear, from the ones that I know and are in my contacts list, there are almost no relationships with my contacts in blue (heavy honchos of IT and Telecom) or in pink (Internet development and policy making).

This means that I've a huge potential to serve as a bridge between my Social Media contacts and the other two groups.

By knowing in advance a little bit of what is on each side of the bridge I may now be able to identify common matters that may help to have better representation of Social Media in Internet policy development forums, and have this particular group get to know more about Internet infrastructure.

The power of information it is not just collecting mountains of it, but how you mine, digest, represent,and visualize it, in this case literally "connecting the dots" to help you make more informed and effective decisions.

If you are a LinkedIn user with at least 50 contacts give it a try.

Nice job LinkedIn ... two thumbs up !!


Friday, January 21, 2011

My Bookshelf

Very often while talking with friends and colleagues about a particular subject the standard question about what books you have read or are you reading comes up. I love books, my adorable wife loves books too, and our kids got the gene, so it's not uncommon in hour house to see books almost everywhere.

Add to that that I'm sort of a pack rat about published material but not to the grade to be considered compulsive (please don't ask my wife). Once in a while some of the books that nay be old editions, outdated or that don't have great value for us get donated.

We are not the kind that sometimes hide what they are reading being afraid that we'll know what you know, be sure that with that attitude what we really know is that you are a moron, but anyway, we love to share with anybody the grateful experience when we find a book or any other published material that we enjoy or serve our needs in our profession. We are also outspoken, trying to be diplomatic and polite when some material really sucks.

Lorena short time ago received some books to review, and I just received my first one to review from O'Reilly Media (Building Wireless Sensor Networks: with ZigBee by Robert Faludi), so we'll use our respective blogs to share our reviews and comments.

Then let me share my piece of our bookshelf, and this will also help me in the age of the Internet, Web 2.0 and Social Media to answer the recurrent question of "What are you reading?" with a simple and short URL to this article.

I've been trying to keep an updated reading list in my LinkedIn profile, but the client interface is horrible and I didn't find anywhere how to share, even searched Amazon down to the sewer lines, who is providing the ReadingList Application for LinkedIn.

Then somebody recently invited me to join Shelfari, at first glance I really liked the web interface and the fact that the bookshelf looks like a shelf, even with a small picture of the books covers. Also in case you don't know, this site has been around since 2006 but they got acquired by Amazon in 2008, so I don't expect them to have funding issues and will be constants enhancements and integration with Amazon. I started then the process of putting together the virtual version of my bookshelf.

Be aware, I'm a geek, so bare with me if what you see on the shelf are mostly technical books, but you will also see many titles about cooking (we love to cook), finance (interesting ones but we are not rich yet), and general topics. And like anything else that it is nowadays in cyberspace, this bookshelf is a work in progress and subject to change without notice, I'm still in the process to update the list and obviously new books will be added as they arrive.

Then without further delay let me introduce you to my new Shelfari Bookshelf.

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog
Share a book review on Shelfari, where this reader meets fellow readers.

As you may see on the shelf, there are several books that are listed as Kindle Edition, yes I fell for it and I'll write soon why I love the new gadget and how it is helping in my profession and passion for reading.

Note: I didn't took the time to go and double check for the actual edition of every single book I've on the shelf.

Hope you like it and find it useful ...