Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It's a Bread Eat Bread World

If you've ever wondered what happens if you forget to slash the top of your bread, this is it. Hard to tell if the loaf is eating itself or giving birth to a Brave New Loaf. Either way, it ain't pretty.

But golly GEE, it tastes good! This is the second loaf from the Simple Crispy Bread recipe I made last Thursday, baked after lazing about (I mean, fermenting) in the fridge for three days. The taste was much the same (yeasty and salty--in a good way), but the crumb and texture were very different. In the first loaf, the crumb was pretty tight with a lot of small, evenly distributed holes. In the second loaf, the crumb was looser with some bigger holes here and there, much more like a traditional hearth loaf. The texture was also very chewy and airy--a seeming contradiction in terms, but actually so delicious and adept at holding pockets of melted butter that we ate the entire loaf before I thought to take a picture to show you one of the slices. Oops!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Simple Crispy (No-Knead!) Loaf

This past Thursday, I left my cube to get something at the printer and by the time I walked back (muttering to myself because I'd ALREADY found a typo I'd have to fix), the sky out the window was full of thick, fat flakes. Our offices closed about an hour after that. I was supposed to have class later, but honestly? I just wasn't feelin' it. What I WAS feelin' was going home, curling up on the couch with some knitting and watching the season premiere of "Crowned" taped the night before. And so I sat at my computer in my empty office pressing the refresh button on my internet browser until ("C'mon! C'mon!") the note went up on the school website that classes were canceled. YES!

Three full trains passed through the station before one came with enough space for me to smoosh myself, my two bags of shtuff, and my equipment roll into the crevice between the first step and the door. Two hours later, I finally got off the train and forged the last stretch of the journey on foot because I could walk faster than the traffic. It was cumbersome with the bags, but I actually think they made good ballast to keep me afloat in the snow. And though I managed to keep my footing the whole way, I like to think they would have cushioned my fall. Except for my equipment roll. That would have...yeah, not the equipment roll.

So after I thawed out with a glass of wine and some mother-daughter pageant action, what did I do with my evening off from baking class? Why, I BAKED of course! I mean DUH! What ELSE would I be doing with a night off from school?!


I first saw this recipe for "Simple Crusty Bread" in the New York Times a few weeks ago. It pledged to be an alternative to the No-Knead Bread of recent fame, but even simpler! quicker! and more flavorful! It was this last promise that really caught my eye since, for me, the lackluster flavor of the No-Knead Bread outweighed it's convenience. I was also intrigued by the fact that one recipe made four loaves and the dough would keep in the fridge for up to two weeks, allowing you to lob off a piece whenever the mood struck. In general a slow rise will give you a more complex flavor and better texture, and a 'retarded' or 'delayed fermentation' rise in the fridge will result in a slightly sweet bread, like the slackdough breads I was working on a few summers ago--HERE. I baked off one loaf right away and stored the other three in the fridge for taste-tests over the next few weeks.

Dough just after combining ingredients

My initial reaction to this bread is....(drumroll!)....pleasant surprise. The just-mixed dough was stiff and tacky, and I had very low expectations of being able to shape it into anything resembling loaf. But somewhere over the next two hours of rising, it really pulled itself together. With only a light dusting of flour, I was able to handle it relatively easily and shape it into a nice little ball. I decided to rest my dough on the countertop instead of on the peel as the recipe suggests since I've had a few too many experiences of resting the dough on the peel, going to shuffle it loving into the oven, and having it stick to the peel and turn out looking like THIS despite a generous dusting of cornmeal. I was able to pick the ball up off the counter and plop it onto my peel without too much fuss. It stuck a bit, but then willingly slid out onto the pizza stone. It didn't rise very much in the oven, but it did keep it's nice round shape without deflating at all--an amazing feat for any loaf, if I do say so myself.

The dough after the 2-hour rise

The crust browned very evenly and crackled when I cut into it--thumbs up for that. The crumb was tight and moist with a few larger holes here and there--a second thumbs up. And the taste? Decent! Not as much flavor as a traditionally kneaded bread, but also not too shabby. It's a little salty, but I'm a fan of salt so no complaints here. It even past the second-day-toast-test with flying colors. I also like that it's a smaller loaf, which means that I have a chance of eating it before it goes completely stale or moldy.

I'm really excited to try the other loaves as the dough ages over the next few weeks. Even if there's not much flavor development, I think this is still my new standby Lazy Girl's Loaf!

Shaped loaf

This is what the underside of the loaf looks like after you stretch the top


Lazy Girl's Loaf (a.k.a. Simple Crusty Bread)
Recipe alone: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/21/dining/211brex.html
Full article: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0DEEDB153FF932A15752C1A9619C8B63

Adapted from "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day," by Jeff Hertzberg
and Zoë François (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007)

Time: About 45 minutes plus about 3 hours' resting and rising

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt (If you don't like salty, try cutting this down to 1 Tablespoon)
6 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough

1. In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3
cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until
there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not
with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or
up to 5 hours).

2. Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two
weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut
off a grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands
to lightly stretch surface, creating a rounded top and a lumpy bottom.
Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes.
Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.

3. Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle
rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for
20 minutes.

4. Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife
three times. Slide onto stone. Pour one cup hot water into broiler pan
and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30
minutes. Cool completely.

Yield: 4 loaves.

Variation: If not using stone, stretch rounded dough into oval and
place in a greased, nonstick loaf pan. Let rest 40 minutes if fresh,
an extra hour if refrigerated. Heat oven to 450 degrees for 5 minutes.
Place pan on middle rack.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Photo of the Week: Chocolate Cake...Thing-A-Ma-Jigs

I haven't thought of a good name for these puppies yet. Can't quite figure out a name grand enough, nuanced enough to appropriately describe these layers of chocolate genoise, pomegranate whipped cream, and hazelnut dacquoise. Oh, man, they were tasty!

Hazelnut dacquoise, for those who don't know, is a basic meringue (egg whites beaten with sugar) with ground hazelnuts mixed in. I spread them into little rounds to form the flat 'cookies' sandwiched between the whipped cream. I had...oh...two trays or so of cookies left over and may have (MAY have) personally eaten the majority of them.

Any brilliant names come to mind?!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Photo of the Week: Paupiette of Sole with Parmesan Souffles

These bite-sized souffles have been one of my favorite things that I've made so far in culinary school. The base is a thin fillet of sole coiled into a ring and tied with a thin strip of blanched scallion. Around this, we wrapped a "collar" of aluminum foil and spooned the Parmesan souffle on top of the sole. (The collar is used to support the souffle as it rises and is removed right before serving.)

These little guys are fantastically light. The texture of the flaky sole and the creamy souffle play off each other nicely, and the hint of Parmesan brings out the flavor of the sole. In my humble opinion, of course.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Photo of the Week: Phyllo Napoleons

Chef Louise's first instruction for phyllo pastry: "Open the box."

"Maybe there are folks out there who LOVE to make phyllo pastry, she said, but not me." And so, dutiful students that we are, we all opened our boxes.

These napoleons were a lot of fun to make. I used 8 sheets of phyllo pastry and layered them with melted butter (clarified butter, or else you get brown spots), cinnamon, and sugar. I cut out rounds of dough using a cookie cutter and baked them for about 10 minutes at 350-degrees. Then I melted some chocolate and spread a thin layer on one side of the phyllo "cookies." Done!

The mousse filling was 8 oz of finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate and 8 oz of cream. Scald the cream and pour it over the chocolate while the cream is still piping hot. Don't stir it--cover with plastic wrap and let sit for a few minutes. Then when you stir it, the chocolate is already melted and blends evenly into the cream. I also added some espresso powder and Kahlua because I wanted a coffee flavor, but you couldn't really taste the coffee. Often with chocolate and coffee, the coffee ends up just enhancing the chocolate flavor. Who's complaining?

Let the chocolate-cream mixture chill in the fridge for an hour or so and then whip it up using an electric mixture. Whip just until you get some body to the mousse. If you over-whip it, the mousse gets grainy (which you can correct by adding more cream. Who's complaining?).

Fill a pastry bag with the mousse and pipe it onto one of the phyllo cookies. Top with another cookie and you've got yourself a nice little treat! I melted some white chocolate and piped it onto the tops of the sandwiches for a little artistic flourish.

There ya go! Midnight snack of champions, I say.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Photo of the Week

Hmm....apparently this whole idea of blogging my experience of being in culinary school is....not so much happening. Oh, I mean, I'm experiencing all right. I'm experiencing all kinds of crazy, bizarre, blog-worthy happenings. But somehow, the part where it actually gets, you know, posted to my blog? Hmm, not happening. Or at least not happening quite as frequently as I oh-so enthusiastically imagined back when I still did things like go to bed before midnight and had pass-times other than cooking. Funny, huh? (For purposes of full disclosure, this fantasy of having all sorts of time for blogging was usually followed by a day dream of being 'found' by someone begging me to write a witty-yet-touching book about my harrowing adventures in culinary school.)

Anywho, I might not be writing very much, but I'm certainly taking tons of photos. Yup, a whole backlog of awesome food s
hots and chefs-in-training and things on fire (oh yeah!). So I'm thinking that I'm going to start posting a weekly photo or three, just to keep y'all in the loop. I'll let you know when the talent agent starts begging me to be the next Super Star Food Photo Journalist, kay?

And so, without further ado, here is your photo of the day: Gateaux St. Honore. It's a pretty shmancy little number. The base is pate sucre (a.k.a. sweet pie crust). On top of the pie crust is a hollow ring of puff pastry, with several cream puffs strategically perched for an extra dose of decadence. The center of the ring and the cream puffs are filled with pastry cream--in this particular case, a pistachio pastry cream that was so wonderfully creamy and so
astoundingly pistachio-y that I could have brushed my teeth with it every day, to hell with cavities. The ring is glued to the pie crust with caramelized sugar and then the puffs are glued to the ring the same way. We used the excess sugar to make the cage in the center of the cake and the decorations for the cream puffs.

The cage and decorations are one of those oh la la! things that are actually super easy to make (shhhh....don't tell!) For the cage, we sprayed the und
erside of a soup ladle with non-stick cooking spray, then dipped a spoon in the sugar, and gently shook thin ribbons of the sugar over the ladle. You let the ladle cool and then gently ease off the cage. For the decorations, we shook designs onto parchment paper. When the sugar cools and hardens, you can unpeel the parchment paper and...oh la la! shmancy decorations! Easy peasy!

The key in all of this is working with the sugar when it's still warm, but not too hot and not too cool. If you dip a spoon into the pot and shake ribbons over the sugar, the ribbons should hold for just a second before melting back into the sugar. If you don't get ribbons at all, it's too hot. If the ribbons hold for too long, your sugar is probably almost too cool to work with. Once the sugar cools, it hardens into a big mass of teeth-cracking caramel that doesn't re-heat very well.

Ok, just one more picture:
Oh, pistachio pastry cream. I do love you. [drool drool drool]

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Husk Cherries: A Love Story

Husk cherries stole my heart this summer. They rustle in your hand, weighing nothing and smelling of dust. It seems impossible that inside each paper lantern can hide one single golden berry. They're the humble Cinderella of the farmer's market, for sure.

I walked by them for weeks, achingly curious about what wonderful delight could go for $5 a half
pint, until I finally caught one of the farms offering samples. I hovered nearby, pretending to inspect a box of bean varietals while sneaking covert glances at the farmer's demonstration of the proper way to husk these cherries. He grasped the fruit by the stem and gently pinched the shell until the berry popped out the bottom. Denuded berries were passed and sampled. The reaction from the crowd was mixed. A few "mmm..."s and some "Huh"s. One or two folks paused dramatically before saying "Now that's different" and wandering off. My heart fluttered. Could my summer crush really be a bust? When the group departed, I sidled in and casually picked up one of the remaining samples.

"Ever had a husk cherry before?" The farmer asked.
"Me? Um..." (As a chronic know-it-all, my first instinct is always to feign experience.) "Well, actually no."
"Oh great!" He said with real enthusiasm, "You'll love these!"

And without further ado, he popped a marble-sized berry into my open palm.
I looked at it dubiously. It was yellow-orange (I'd been expecting red). I could see thin veins running just underneath the taut skin. I gingerly lifted my hand, rolled the berry into my mouth, and bit down. The skin broke without any resistance and my mouth was filled with the subtle, caramelized flavor of just-baked cinnamon bread. I kid you not. I thought immediately of bread. And my second thought was, "Omigod, omigod, omigod, what can I DO with this fruit?"

I've seen them called husk cherries, ground cherries, husk tomatoes, and cape gooseberries (though I think the last one is actually a different variety). These guys are indeed cousins to the similar-looking tomatillo, as well as to tomatoes and wild tobacco. The taste is described as vanilla pineapple, which I was able to agree with upon extensive further sampling and a gentle "down, boy" to my baker proclivities. I would also add "honey" to that description. They range in size from pea-sized to plump marbles like the one I first sampled. In my research, I also discovered that this plant is in the "endangered" section of the Slow Food USA Ark--Rock on, Boston-area farmers! I also found evidence that this would make an excellent container plant. I happen to have several containers and a "warm but not too sunny" back porch....see where I'm going with this? (Yup, already planning next summer's garden and it's not even November yet. This is going to be a long winter.)

So what CAN you do with a handful of husk cherries? The flavor is so subtle that it can get easily overwhelmed by other fruits, so they're perhaps best as solo-players in a green salad, thrown into a fruit-mix or paired with a subtle-yet-tart fruit. They're high in pectin, so if you can afford it or steal enough from friends with CSA's, you can make some very lovely jam. One site I found
recommended dipping them in chocolate, which immediately sent my salivary glands into over-production. Personally? I couldn't let go of that first baked-bread taste and have had visions of tartlettes dancing in my head.

Actually, I can't
claim that I actually set out to bake a tart. A few weeks ago I was setting out to bake a plum tart for a friend who had just returned from a jaunt in La Jolie France. I had just admitted to myself that I didn't have as many plums in my fridge as I thought when my friend walked in with a bag of husk cherries to share. I looked at my handful of plums. I looked at the bag of husk cherries. A little niggle in my brain reminded me of some candied ginger I'd been saving for a special occasion. Brilliance ensued. And here is the recette, in honor of my friend the Tart Savior:

Rebekah's Plum and Husk Cherry Tart

Pate Brisee:
1 1/2 c. flour

3/4 tsp salt

9 TBS cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1" p
4-5 TBS ice water

I'll do a longer tutorial on how to make classic pate brisee later on, but here's a basic method:

Combine the flour and salt on your counter top. Use a pastry scraper to cut in the butter
until you get pea-sized chunks of butter (you can use the tips of your fingers to break the butter, too, but be careful that the butter doesn't get too warm). Add the water one tablespoon at a time and use just the tips of your fingers to incorporate it into the dough. When you can squeeze the dough in your hand and it doesn't fall apart, stop adding water. Gather it into a ball pat it into a thick disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Plum and Husk Cherry Filling:
~10 oz of tart golden plums (weighed un-cut with the stone in), cut into slices

1 pint husk cherries, husks removed

1/2 c. candied ginger

1/2 c. sugar

zest of 1/2 lemon

zest of 1 orange

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 TBS flour

Combine all ingredients. Cover and set aside while preparing the dough. (The liqui
d in the plums will dissolve the sugar to make a thick paste. At this point, you can taste a bit and adjust the flavorings to your liking.)

Preheat ov
en to 375-degrees.

Roll the dough out into a rough, 10" circle of even thickness. Lift the dough frequently as you roll and flip it over to make sure it doesn't stick to the co
unter. Use a light dusting of flour if things start to get sticky. This is a rustic tart, so the exact size of the crust doesn't need to be exact. Transfer the crust onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pour the filling into the center of the pie crust and spread it to within 4-5 inches of the edge of the crust.

Looking at the crust as the face of the clock, fold the lip of the dough over the filling at 12:00. Next fold the lip over at roughly 2:00.
Then at 4:00. Then at 6:00. Then at 8:00. At 10:00, fold the lip over but then unfold the 12:00 fold partway to tuck the 10:00 fold under so that all the layers fall in the same direction. Brush the top with egg or milk thinned with a little water.

Bake for about 40-50 minutes, until the crust is a deep golden brown. Let c
ool for about 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle the top of the tart with Demara sugar (or the spiced gold sugar mix from THIS place) just before serving. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Butternut Squash and Pivotal Life Events

Since this is the first time in six years that I'm going back to school in the fall, you'd think I'd be all aglow with nostalgia over little autumnal details that don't get noticed when September is just another month on the calendar. In point of fact, life has been so non-stop these past few weeks that I've barely had time to do much more than scarf down a powerbar while counting my bags to make sure everybody made it off of the bus together--much less notice the geese squawking to each other on their way south or kiddos off to school with new lunchboxes. Actually, now that I think back on it I was ALWAYS too busy to notice these things while I was ensconced in the studious life. It wasn't until I graduated and started working in the Real World that I suddenly found myself looking up and thinking, "Seasons! Oh WOW! Totally forgot about those."

The one thing I HAVE been doing a lot of is laundry. Cooking is a messy business, my friends. Those pearly white uniforms don't leave much to the imagination. I come home looking like I personally took it upon myself to clean the face and hands of every toddler in Boston using only my apron and coat sleeves, and smelling like...well, like an industrial kitchen. Or perhaps several industrial kitchens.

Luckily, what I'm doing is a lot more fun than forcing cleanliness on errant preschoolers. Many of you have expressed disbelief that classes can actually last a whole eight hours and have asked me what we do, fer goodness sake, with all that time? The answer? I really don't know. I get to class with the afternoon sun slanting through the big plate-glass windows and glinting crazily off of every stainless-steel surface (that is to say, all the surfaces) and then I look up and it's almost 11:30. Somewhere in there, I've sat through a lecture, prepped and cooked some sort of food-based concoction, sampled said concoction and those of my classmates, and helped clean the kitchen. Then I stumble home smelling of several industrial kitchens and try to remember to take off at least my apron before burrowing beneath the covers.

And this is so wonderful to me. I had a lot of fears before I started, but I'm feeling more and more that this really is exactly where I'm supposed to be right now. In many ways, this feels more like remembering than learning. "Of COURSE that's how you hold a knife." "Riiiiight, beat the sugar stuff until I get ribboning--got it." (Ok, I admit, I'm still a bit shaky on the on the whole emulsification thing. "Emulsa-whatty?")

I also really struggle with not knowing where I'm going. Very scary. You know me--I like my lists and my 5-year plan and my ducks-in-a-row. As much as being in the kitchen feels like home, it's hard for me to really just stay present and recognize that this, right here, is good for me. And it's good for me all by itself, without needing to make it into something more. "Something more" like...oh...how about Pivotal Life Event On Which My Entire Future Hinges. Yeah, like that. No pressure.Heh heh heh...

Eeeeenyways, I've been meaning to share with you this fantastic dinner I made for my good friend B. a while back. It was only when we sat down to eat that I realized that all the major ingredients going into the dinner had been bought at the farmer's market, harvested from friend's gardens, or snipped from my very own porch garden. It was a really good feeling. Like toes wiggling in warm socks good. And it helped that this dinner happened to fall on one of the first truly crisp autumnal nights of the year. We lit some candles, opened a bottle of wine, and dug in.
Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash--peeled, de-seeded, and cut into cu
8 small potatoes--cut into cubes
1 onion-diced
corn kernels from 4 cobs
3-4 cloves garlic
fresh sage, oregano, and rosemary--chopped fine
2 1/2 c. vegetable broth
1 c. soy/rice/regular milk
1/4 c. white wine

Toss squash and potatoes in a bit of olive oil and roast at 450-degrees for about 45 minutes.

Sautee the onions and garlic until onions are soft. Add white wine and simmer until wine is reduced by half. Add the herbs 3/4 of the roasted squash and potatoes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, and simm
er for 5 minutes.

In a food processor, puree the solids with just enough broth to make the soup pour-able. (Or if you are in possession of a submersion blender, use that!)

Combine the puree, remaining roasted squash and potatoes, and corn in the pot. Add milk. Salt and pepper to taste.

This is awesome served with a few chunks of goat cheese and a few splashes of tobasco sauce.

I heart my food processor

Beet and Apple Salad

4-5 beets--peeled and sliced
2 apples--sliced and tossed with a few teaspoons of lemon juice (to prevent browning)
1/2 c. walnuts
Parmesan Reggiano
A few handfuls of field greens
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
6 Tbsp good olive oil

Sautee the beets in a bit of olive oil until tender--about 20 minutes, if I remember correctly. (Alternatively, before peeling or slicing the beets, you can roast them in a 450-degree oven wrapped in foil or boil them in water.)

While this is happening, measure out the vinegar and mustard in a cup and whisk until combined. Add the olive oil and whisk until combined. (Hey, guess what, guys?! This is an EMULSION! A temporary one, though, so you may have to re-whisk before serving.)

Put a handful of field greens in a purty dish, layer on the beets, apples, and walnuts. Sprinkle with a tablespoon or so of the dressing and shave Parmesan over the top with a vegetable peeler.

Rosemary Flatbread

One recipe of thin-crust pizza dough--recipe HERE.
Several sprigs of rosemary, leaves removed and chopped coarsely
Kosher salt or sea salt
Good olive oil

When preparing the dough, do not separate into two balls of dough. Spread the dough onto a piece of parchment paper into a roughly rectangular shape about 1/2 inch thick. Cover and let rise for at least fifteen minutes and up to an hour.

Pre-heat oven to 500-degrees.

When ready to bake, brush the top of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle on the rosemary and salt. Use the flat of your hand to gently press the salt and rosemary into the dough--GENTLY! You don't want to deflate the dough too much.

Bake on a sheetpan (or baking stone) until the top is golden and dark brown in places--10-15 minutes. The dough will puff a bit and you might get a few big bubbles. Serve warm or room temperature. This will keep for a few days in a tightly sealed container, and you can re-crisp in a 250-degree oven.

Friday, August 17, 2007

BBQ Bacon Pizza

Another quickie post here--I'm on vacation next week and am planning on spending some good quality time with my blog. I think I've got about 10 book reviews to catch up on...

Just had to dish (pun intended, ouch!) about the pizza I made last night, hailed by such fastidious food critics as My Boyfriend the Engineer as "your best pizza yet!" We had some bacon left over from BLTs the other night, so I chopped up a couple strips, added caramelized onions, and put a bit of BBQ sauce in with the crushed tomatoes. So very yum:

Pizza Dough:
1/2 Thin Crust Pizza Dough Recipe (see this previous post)

4-5 hearty spoonfuls of crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons BBQ sauce

4-6 strips bacon, cooked crispy and chopped into chunks (Pancetta would also make a classy substitute)
1/2 onion, cut into strips, sauteed, and caramelized for about 10 minutes
~28-42 grams (a decent handful) of shredded cheese (I used Sargento's Reduced-Fat Mexican Cheese mix)
handful of fresh arugula (optional--I put this on my half; the Engineer wanted "no green stuff")

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Roll pizza dough out onto a piece of parchment paper to desired thickness. Spread crushed tomatoes and BBQ sauce onto dough. Top with bacon and onions.

Bake for 5 minutes. Rotate and bake for another 3 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle on cheese and arugula. Return to oven for another 2-3 minutes until the crust is golden brown and crackly around the edges.

Allow to cool for about 5 minutes, if you can wait that long. Cut into quarters and consume with gusto.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Lazy Day Loaf

It's taken a year of research and experimentation, but I think I've finally discovered my solution to bread baking on hot, humid summer days. This recipe is a step up from the No-Knead Bread of recent fame, and I find that the flavor and crumb of this loaf is a vast improvement over that recipe.

And P.S. the man-hands in the pictures below belong to my dad. I'm thinking he has a possible future in the field of professional hand-modeling.

Baguette-Style Loaf
thanks to James McGuire, as published in The Art of Eating, No. 73 + 74

500 gr all-purpose flour

10 gr (1 1/2 tsp) fine salt (preferably kosher)
2 gr (1/8 tsp, or about a pinch) yeast
400 ml (1 5/8 c) water

Blend flour and salt in a bowl and form a well in the center. Pour the water into the well and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow the yeast to dissolve (about 5 minutes). Using your fingertips, gradually begin to mix the flour into the water until all the flour is incorporated. This should take about two minutes. Cover the bowl and let rest for 10 minutes. When the ten minutes is up, give the dough its first fold. Slip your fingers between the side of the bowl and the dough. Grasp the dough between your fingers and thumb, lift the flap upwards to about the rim of the bowl, and then lay the flap across the top of the dough. Give the bowl a turn and repeat the folding until you have gone a full revolution--about 8 to 10 folds. Cover and let rest for 1 hour. After an hour, give the dough a second set of folds. Cover and let rest 1 hour.After two hours, give the dough a third set of folds. Cover and let rest 1 hour.
After three hours, give the dough a fourth set of folds. Cover and let rest 1 hour.
fter four hours, give the dough a final set of folds. At this point, the dough should largely come away from the sides of the bowl when you're doing this and the dough should hold a roughly spherical shape. Sprinkle a little flour between the dough and the sides of the bowl and turn the dough out onto a floured work surface (so the folds are now underneath). Dust the dough lightly with flour and cover with the inverted bowl. Let rest 20 minutes.

While the dough is resting, prepare a rising bowl or basket. If you have an actual rising bowl or basket, pat a little bit of flour into the sides and use that. If you're improvising, find a circular bowl or basket about the diameter of the dough and line it with a clean, smooth kitchen towel (not terry cloth or anything with a nap).

After 20 minutes, pick the dough up and gently reshape it into a sphere by tucking the ends under. Invert it into the rising basket so the folds are on top. Cover with plastic wrap or a towl and let it rise at room temperature for 45 - 50 minutes. The loaf has sufficiently risen when a fingertip indention disappears completely in 2-3 seconds. If it springs back like a rubber ball, it's not ready; if the indention remains, it's risen for too long and your loaf will still be yummy, but won't rise as much in the oven. After the dough has been rising for a half an hour, place a baking stone in your oven and pre-heat the oven to 450-degrees.*

When the dough is ready, sprinkle a pizza peel with a light layer of cornmeal (or the back of a cookie sheet will do) and tip the dough onto it. Quickly cut a few scores into the surface of the dough--about a half-inch deep--with a razor blade. Slide the dough into the oven onto the baking stone. Using a spray bottle, spritz the inside of the oven (avoiding the light) and the surface of the dough and quickly close the door. Repeat this a few times in the first five minutes of baking.

When the loaf begins to color (after about 15 minutes), turn the oven down to 350-degrees. Also, rotate the loaf every 15 minutes so that it bakes evenly (most oven have 'hot spots' that can cause un-even baking). After 45 minutes, start checking for doneness. If you thump the bottom of the loaf with your thumb, it will sound hollow--like you're knocking on a door. The surface should be a caramelly-color with spots of darker toast color. The internal temperature should be about 210-degrees.

Allow to cool for 20 minutes. Serve with room-temperature butter sprinkled with sea salt and a few dollops of good honey.

*You can also bake this in a dutch oven, a la 'No-Knead Bread.' Just place your dutch oven inside the oven so both pre-heat at the same time. When it comes time to bake, tip the dough into the dutch oven and cover with lid. Let it bake for about 30 minutes with the lid on and finish with the lid off.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer Showers (and Salads)

I'm snug in my apartment listening to the first real thunderstorm of the season. The neighbor's daughter must be having a sleepover because every time the thunder booms, I hear a chorus of screaming followed by giggling and loud protestations of having been the scaredy-cat who initiate the screaming.

The hours at the noodle factory have been long lately this being our annual Busy Bee Season, leaving me too drained and uninspired when I get home to do much more than heat up a twice-baked potato (made en masse a few weekends ago and frozen in anticipation of my post-work zombie state). But the weather has been struggling to be summer lately and I've been craving pasta salad. So today, I decided that come hell or high water, I was going to have my salad tonight. Darnit.

The irony is that it seems pretty hellish and high-watery outside right now (queue girly screaming). But I've got my pasta salad!

Summer-at-Last Pasta Salad

1 bag tortellini--any type, cooked, drained and cooled.
1 yellow onion--coarsely chopped and sauteed (Feel free to leave raw--I just don't like raw onion very much and the slightly caramelized sauteed onion here makes a nice compliment to the flavors)
3-5 cloves garlic--coarsely chopped and sauteed with the onion
1 red pepper--chopped

a few stalks of celery--chopped
a handful of fresh basil--coarsely chopped

half a tube of goat cheese (any kind)--crumbled
3 tablespoons dressing
2 teaspoons sea salt

Combine in bowl. Serve over greens (hopefully yours haven't been sitting in your fridge for two weeks waiting patiently for me to cook this meal and are a little less grumpy than mine). Consume with gusto. Nice. And. Simple.

For the tortellini, I used Trader Joe's artichoke tortellini, and for the goat cheese, I used the recently-discovered Trader Joe's low-fat goat cheese. It's really quite edible! It's distinctly goat cheese and best when used in combination with other things--like this salad or pizza. I don't know that it would stand on its own, unless you mixed in some herbs. Mmm...that's an idea. Oh, P.S. in retrospect, a stronger cheese would do better in this salad--a blue cheese or Roquefort or other stinky cheese.

And for t
he dressing, I used Maple Grove Farm's Lime-Basil Vinaigrette--my mom hooked me on this line of dressing. Most of the flavors are fat-free and really quite good. I tend to not like the oily, greasy dressings in typical offering, and the Maple Grove dressings are somehow both light tasting while still coating all the little bits and pieces in your salad. Score!

This Stella Italia Pinot Grigio is destined to become my Summer 2007 Refreshment of Choice. It's light and floral with a very distinct flavor of honey. But not a cloying honey, just...like the whiff of honey you get while spooning it over your strawberries. The finish is apple-crisp and altogether satisfying. It goes well with any course--salad (obviously), fish, a light dessert. And if that weren't enough, it's $6.99 at Trader Joe's. I'm sold.

Thunder moving off. Salad finished. Sleepover moved on to a movie (hopefully not a scary one). Time for little Emma to think about another helping of salad.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Beverage Review: Jones Soda Takes the Turkey

Oh, Jones Soda, how I miss thee! When the Engineer and I were living in Portland, Oregon, we didn't have the luxury of a washer and dryer in our apartment building like we do now. Every week along with all the other unluckies within a five block radius, we participated in a weekly neighborhood pilgrimage to the friendly neighborhood laundromat. For those of you who haven't had this experience or for whom that experience is but a distant memory, let me tell you that there is absolutely nothing romantic about the laundromat: the cracking faux-wood paneling on the walls, the act of inspecting your unmentionables in front of a handful of pajama-clad strangers, the brittle fly carcasses gathered at the bottom of the light fixtures, the gritty yellow lighting itself, the inevitable fight to secure neighboring washers and then again to secure neighboring dryers--and not just any washers and dryers but the 'good' washers and dryers (you come to know which ones those are). And lets not even discuss the bathroom.

Needless to say, Laundry Day was not something that the Engineer and I looked forward to. There were heated "discussions" over whether or not Laundry Day was actually necessary in a given week, complex systems of barter and trade if one or the other of us wanted to opt out of Laundry Day for whatever reason, and incredibly competitive games of rock-paper-scissors over who's turn it was to scour the apartment for spare change. But Jones Soda changed everything.

Jones Soda Co. (link HERE) is a Seattle-based juice and soft drink company famous for their wacky and unexpected flavors like Berry White, D'Peach Mode, Crushed Melon, and Pineapple Upside Down Cake. They're kind of like the Jelly Belly Jelly Beans of the beverage world. Some of their flavors are incredible and some of them really fall flat (like those I discuss below). The imaginative "family" photographs on their labels, the not-your-average-chinese-fortunes under the cap, and under-the-radar marketing campaign make this the soft drink of choice for Northwest hipsters. (I also want to note that as of January 2007, Jones Soda is switching their juice and soda lines from using high fructose corn syrup to pure cane syrup, an incredibly laudable endeavor. Read about it HERE.)

And one fine spring day, the Engineer and I discovered that the dingy convenience store next to the dingy laundromat was actually a mecca for all our favorite Jones Soda flavors. It became a ritual for us to arrive at the laundromat, stake out claims on washers, get the washers going, stake out claims on one of the folding tables, snag two folding chairs, and then send an emissary next door with our leftover pocket change. We would clink bottles, settle in with books and trashy magazines and knitting, and not speak until the spin-cycle was complete. Laundry Day was still a chore, for certain, but Jones Soda, you certainly took the edge off.

Except for a few national chains like Panera and Target, Jones Soda isn't widely distributed out of the Northwest, so I've been a bit deprived. Perhaps this is what led me to impulsively purchase the Jones Soda 2006 Holiday Pack when I spotted it with the post-Christmas sale items at Target when I was home over Christmas. Yes, I purchased it despite the fact that there were a suspicious number of 2006 Holiday Packs still available, and they were all in the back of the bottom shelf in the deepest hidden corner of the store. And I purchased it despite the fact that the 2006 Holiday Pack was on the "What Not To Buy Me For Christmas" list put out by the Restaurant Guys. I even purchased it despite my own better judgment. Like I said, I had been Jones Soda deprived for several years. And I was rilly buying it for my brother, another Jones Junkie. (Really.) And it was $5. And how awful could turkey flavored soda be, anyways?

My little bro doling out the 'tastings'

Here's the rundown of the sodas in the pack:
Turkey and Gravy Soda
Sweet Potato Soda
Dinner Roll Soda
Pea Soda
Antacid Flavored Soda

There was just something so charmingly Willy Wonka about this whole endeavor. We decided to taste the sodas in the order they are arranged in the box because it seemed to make sense in terms of taste-progression. Up first, Turkey and Gravy Soda!

Verdict: horrible. Apparently turkey and gravy flavored soda can be pretty awful. It really did taste like turkey and gravy. Except carbonated. It was gross. We soldiered through the other flavors, willing to believe that there must be ONE of them that tasted good. The sweet potato had the most potential, but again. It turns out that liquid carbonated sweet potato with a hint of marshmallow is pretty disgusting.

Here's a play-by-play of my mother enjoying her final liquid refreshment "antacid" in this five-course tasting menu:

Hmmm...antacid. It's pink. It's bubbly. Could be good.
She's thinking about it...
She's going for it...
Um, yeah. Again, antacid? Not a good flavor for soda.

The final verdict on these Wacky Fun Holiday Packs? Buy them only when they're on sale...as a gag gift...knowing that you really will be gagging. Fun for the whole family!

On the other hand, if you see any other flavors of Jones Soda, don't let the Holiday Pack deter you. Snap them up and give them a try! (Barry White is my hands down favorite.)