Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holiday Aftermath.



My house is still hung with the aftermath of a really lovely Christmas – the tree is still up, decorated if a bit dry, but no worse for the wear. There are even a few presents still under it glinting in our vintage oversized tree lights. Presents that have not found homes are all over the dining room, making friends with kitchen items that have been displaced thanks to a vacation-enabled cabinetry project. There are glittery pinecones and garlands of antique pink metal beads and a blood red amaryllis about to burst into bloom any moment now. There’s a fire in the fireplace, a milky black tea with honey by my side, and I’m still in PJs at 11:00am.

Our Tree

This aftermath suits me well. There’s nothing more relaxing than the rest of the lame duck year after Christmas blows by and we’re left in its tinsel and cookie crumb dust. It’s a calm space, free of major obligations – the resolutions have not yet been made. So the rest of those treats that are left over are still being enjoyed before we all press ourselves to make life better by eating more veggies, less sugar and gluten, drinking more water and much less alcohol and caffeine, in the new year. Maybe we’ll go to yoga more and do a few pushups. Who knows?

Tree light blur.

But for now, I’m still dreaming about the amazing chocolaty pie I made for Christmas day, the final crumbs of which have recently bid us adieu.  As any frequent readers know, I am not a huge fan of chocolate. I definitely go more for anything buttery or vanilla, with caramel, fruit, etc. But this concoction caught my eye from a Williams-Sonoma baking book I got as a wedding gift in 2005. It’s a light fluffy baked chocolate cheesecake with a dense, buttery, almost savory chocolate wafer cookie crumb crust. You could stop right there, or as suggested make chocolate whipped cream to spread on top just before serving, for another subtle chocolaty layer.

I made some changes to the recipe as it appeared in the book – originally it called for the inclusion of coffee, to create a delicious mocha flavor, but my tween nieces would be enjoying the pie too, and I didn’t think they (or their parents) needed the gift of extra caffeine to wrap up the holiday. So instead of using the coffee/hot cream combo called for, I infused the pie with yet another layer of chocolate, essentially adding heavy cream hot chocolate to the mix. Divine.

Wishing you all a Happy 2012!

Sweet Chocolate Pie
adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Baking Book, 2005

Crust:
1 package (9 oz) chocolate wafer cookies
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Filling:
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons sweet cocoa powder
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 lb cream cheese, at room temperature (make sure it is or you'll have unsightly blobs of undissolved cream cheese throughout your silky chocolate filling)
2 extra large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional:
Chocolate whipped cream - I didn't measure anything when making this really. Pour some chilled heavy cream into a chilled metal bowl then beat it with your hand mixer for about 2 minutes. At that point beat in as much or as little sweet cocoa powder as you like, tasting along the way. Keep chilled until just before serving the pie.

Preheat oven to 425˚F.

To make the crust, combine cookies and sugar in a food processor. Process until crumbs form. Add melted butter and pulse until crumbs start to stick together. Press crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a 10-inch pie plate, creating a crust of even thickness. Poke holes with a fork in the bottom and bake for about 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temp to 325˚F.

In a small saucepan over medium heat gently warm the heavy cream until small bubbles form around the edges - do not boil. Add sweet cocoa powder and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat and set aside.

Melt semi-sweet chocolate (either very carefully in the microwave or in a double boiler over gently simmering water). Stir until smooth and set aside to cool slightly.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the cream cheese, eggs, sugar and vanilla. Beat on low until very smooth. Stir in "hot chocolate cream" mixture, then the cooled melted chocolate. (You'll have to fully incorporate this by hand in the end, for a completely homogenous mix.) Pour the batter into the cooled crust and smooth the top.

Bake until the top is dry to the touch and slightly firm, 35-45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Top with chocolate whipped cream just before serving. This is best at room temperature - if you chill it to have the next day it's still great, but it will get denser in the fridge.

Serves 8-10.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This is what happens to delicious whoopie pies.


resize
image

It's true! They quickly get eaten. Yay animated GIFs! 

When I first met this whoopie pie, I was sad because I thought the filling might be peppermint...which would mean that we would never ever get along. But it wasn't! The cake was malted vanilla, and the filling was cranberry. So very yummy, and the perfect texture too. This practically bite-sized holiday-tastic treat came from the Area 4 bakery/restaurant in Kendall Square. The neighborhood around around MIT is starting to get so much more interesting, with all these lovely new food establishments popping up since the summer. I'm planning to include more of what makes this area so yummy in an upcoming post!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Many Days of Thanksgiving.



For me Thanksgiving starts early, and extends well beyond that time-honored Thursday of near religious gastronomy. There are dinners and brunches well before the date with friends we may not see until the new year. There are relatives and friends abound, in from out of town for the big event, and the inevitable leftover sprawl as we nurse our food comas for another day. Then the weekend comes, we ourselves go out of town to see more loves, come back, and try to relax before the whole flurry of tradition, thanks, amazing people and amazing food subsides.

Somewhere in all that eating and cooking, I get tired of the same flavors and feel the need to diversify. I mean how many times can we really eat pumpkin pie? And cranberry sauce…and golden bird, and mashed potatoes…and stuffing. Honestly I’m drooling just writing about it, but at this time of year I find myself inundated with trendy riffs on the same dishes, from every direction. I know it’s all about tradition – I myself would have a fit if my Mom didn’t prepare “tootalings” each year, a simple but gorgeous Italian soup consisting of homemade pork tortellini in chicken broth with cheese and lots of black pepper. But when delving into the huge amount of cooking I do around this time of year, being that Thanksgiving takes up practically the entire month for me, I am drawn away from the traditional –especially with desserts. I need to work in at least a few non-pumpkin/apple/cranberry treats to keep my palate entertained, and keep me inspired in the kitchen.

This week I celebrated Thanksgiving with one of my dearest friends in the universe - my old college roommate, and her beau. We dined on beef bourguignon, something I was pretty sure none of us would be eating the rest of the week. For dessert I served salted butterscotch pots de crème. What's that you ask? They are scrumptious French custards - something like a crème brulee but without the crackly top. We each got our own dainty serving, topped with homemade caramel sauce and whipped vanilla bean crème fraiche. It was the perfect little dessert, and didn’t ruin our excitement for the traditional treats that will come later this week.

When you’re burnt out on pumpkin pie give this one a whirl – it would actually work any time of year, though running your oven for an hour during the summer probably doesn’t sound that attractive. I halved the recipe for 4 servings, but the one below makes 8. It’s an absolute winner with a divine texture, and just enough salt to make it interesting.

But before we get to the recipe, happy Thanksgiving to you dear reader! I hope it’s wonderful. If you’re feeling more traditional, I made this last year. And this is always a crowd pleaser!

Salted Butterscotch Pots de Crème with Caramel Sauce
from Food and Wine, September 2011

If you're not into salt, I'd suggest going easy on the recommended scant tablespoon. Its prominent and exciting in this dish, but maybe not for everyone. Also, when making the caramel sauce, I'd recommend plain old white sugar. It's really tough to get it right using less processed organic choices. (read: you will quickly end up with a black smoking pot of evil burnt sugar the likes of which would make even Voldemort cringe.)

Pots de Crème

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
5 cups heavy cream
1 scant tablespoon fine sea salt
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
6 large egg yolks
Boiling water

Caramel Sauce

1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Make the Pots de Crème:

Preheat oven to 325˚. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add brown sugar and cook on medium high, whisking constantly until smooth and bubbling, about 5 minutes (this happened more quickly with me, when halving the recipe, so be alert!). Gradually whisk in the cream. Return the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Add salt and vanilla seeds.

In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Gradually whisk in the hot cream mixture. Strain the custard into 8 6-ounce ramekins. Set the ramekins in a small roasting pan and place it in the middle of the oven. Fill the roasting pan with enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the whole thing with foil and bake for 1 hour, until the custard is set but still wobbly in the center. Transfer the ramekins to the fridge and chill about 4 hours.

Make the Caramel Sauce:

In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar with 2 tablespoons of water and cook undisturbed over high heat until a deep amber caramel forms, about 6 minutes (but again, watch it! It can go from fine to really bad very quickly.) Using a wet pastry brush, wash down any crystals that form on the sides of the saucepan. Remove from heat. Add 2/3 cup of water and stir until smooth. Let the sauce cool, then stir in vanilla.

Top the pots de crème with the caramel sauce. I also whipped some extra vanilla bean seeds into crème fraiche and used this on top. The salty sweet custard, super sweet caramel and tangy crème fraiche were an excellent combination!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Quicker than instant ramen!

Just a quick post to share Momofuku founder David Chang's recent fun appearance on Jimmy Fallon! I love that he makes one of my Italian favorites, Cacio e Pepe, out of instant Ramen! You can check out the recipe yourself, as well as other unique recipes and interesting articles in his quarterly Lucky Peach, put out by McSweeny's. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I'm baaa-aaaack...Part 2.

So as I was saying - I'm going to try and diversify my posts here on Effing D so that they're not all just a recipe and my (admittedly clever) thoughts about my experience with said recipe. There will definitely be a lot of those posts...but my goal is to switch it up, and this is my first "other" kind of post.


I wanted to share some splendid things I've eaten over the past few months, both close by and far away. One delicious destination that springs to mind is Chicago. We walked for miles, looked at art and architecture and dinosaur bones until our eyes were bleary, and spent time with great friends, for a few beautiful blustery blue-skied days. 


the bean
Me reflected in Kapoor's 'Bean' - Chicago is a mecca for public sculpture.


One of the great places we dined was Handlebar - it's the kind of place that makes you be able to picture just how it would be if you decided to move to the area. Small and unique with an awesome beer selection - casual but with thoughtful creative food. I especially loved these outstanding fried dill pickles. Exquisite.


fried pickles in chi-town


Another great adventure we had this summer was to Acadia National Park, on Mt. Desert Island in Maine. It is an amazing place - not sure how I went all this time without going there but I'm so glad I finally did! We hiked, biked, swam in the very cold ocean and gazed at some of the most incredible stars I've ever seen, while lying on cliffs listening to the waves crash beneath us.


Acadia


We also did a lot of great camp cooking on our trip - it's true that everything really does taste better outdoors.


hotdoggles


One very notable meal we had while enjoying our exploration of the island on bikes, on an extremely hot day, was at the Jordan Pond Tea House. Yes, there's a tea room in the middle of this wild national park. And it's a good thing too, because I think these decadent popovers and icy cold strawberry lemonades actually saved our lives that day. It was *that* hot. 


popovers to save us from death - Acadia


We also enjoyed some great food closer to home. The annual Island Creek Oyster Fest happened in September in Duxbury, MA, as it always does to help us usher out summer. This year the oysters were as fresh and delectable as ever, and I tried octopus for the first time. Can't believe how much I've been missing all these years! I enjoyed it thoroughly, tentacles and all.


ICOF!


wine


kitchen at o-fest


oysters!




As September progressed we moved from oysters to apples. We tromped through Mack's orchard in New Hampshire collecting Cortland and Macintosh, Honey Crisp and my very favorite tiny perfect Gala apples.




Some apples met this kind of fate...

apple cake

But others that we encountered out in Rutland, MA on a friend's farm became another kind of seasonal delicacy altogether.




cider press


The cider we drank straight from the spigot that day was so completely perfect - like the entirety of autumn in a glass. It made all the hard work on that unseasonably warm day, deflecting interested bees and yellow jackets as we chopped, ground, pressed and poured, so completely worth it.


We didn't just rely on other peoples' farming skills this summer/fall either - we also had a small garden of our own. It wasn't a great yield for us this year, and I'm still unsure why. But one of our successes was these gorgeous carrots. They were amazing both raw and roasted - we pulled them a few at a time and the last once I grabbed a week or so ago were so very sweet from staying in the ground until it got chilly.




This post has taken us all over the place - Chicago, Acadia, Duxbury, Mack's, and even my own back yard. I think that's what I was missing before - there are so many food adventures to get excited about outside my kitchen, and so much more to discover and write about. More coming soon as Thanksgiving rolls around!

Friday, November 11, 2011

I'm baaaa-aaaaack...Part 1.

I bet you thought it wouldn't happen. Honestly somewhere in the relaxing and camping and swimming and frolicking and reading and vacationing and cooking (surprise) and taking photos (mmhmm) and writing (Yes, I still did all three) I came to agree with you. I thought I might never return to Effing Delicious. But then the universe told me in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways not to abandon this one - this project that I poured myself into for a year and a half and then willfully skipped away from six months ago. Friends flat out said "Start your blog again!" Readers kept reading old posts. (Thanks!) And of course I realized, as I said above, that I've still been cooking, taking photos of food, writing, and having food-related adventures. So...it seemed silly not to share all of that. But, I think I needed some distance to get that through my head!


So, I'm back - your truant friend. And it actually has been a fun and delicious six months. I had all these ideas about what my first post should be. But really I've got so much to share that I couldn't settle on just one theme. And I didn't want to get all heavy, tell you I've found myself, that it's my destiny to write this blog, etc. So I took a look back over my photos from the last six months and picked some out to share with you - highlighting some particularly yummy moments. I hope you enjoy this kind of epically long, two-part, photo-filled post. It's nice to see you again.


Here are some delectable things I've kept myself busy making over the last little while...


breakfast pizza!
Breakfast Pizza from Big Sur Bakery


vegan coconut pineapple rice tart
Vegan Coconut Rice Pudding Tart with Caramelized Pineapple from ReadyMade


lime curd italian meringue
Italian Meringue Lime Curd Blackberry Pie from Bon Appetit


peanut butter custard pie!
Peanut Butter Custard Chocolate Honeycomb Pie from Bon Appetit (making that honeycomb candy is the BEST science experiment!!!)


bday cake!
Killer Yellow Birthday Cake from the Flour Bakery Cookbook


banana muffs
Banana Mini Muffins using the Flour Bakery Banana Bread recipe

Oh I also made these Dharma Initiative Polar Bear biscuit cookies for a dear co-worker's birthday!
dharma cookies

But it wasn't all me cooking. And that's going to be the big change to Effing D, I do believe. I'm planning to start writing about other things I eat too - things I grow, forage and pick, things that are local to my area that excite me, and things that I travel far and wide to put in my mouth. (twss!)

And more on that, my dears, will be coming in the next post. Tomorrow! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A new approach.


Lately I've been doing a little bit of creative spring cleaning. I've been thinking about all the projects I've taken on in the last 10 years or so...how they've evolved, where they've gone, how they've helped me, inspired me, frustrated me, destroyed me, and kind of made me who I am. Amidst the online magazines (before there were blogs, kiddies!), t-shirts, shows, lyrics and songs, research papers, journal articles, photos, and recipes, there was one thing I couldn't identify. A break.

I've basically been going full speed for as long as I can remember (maybe since kindergarten?), each next project being born out of the current...sometimes from whatever way the last project wasn't fulfilling me. I hit the ground running with Effing-Delicious a year and a half ago, and (almost) without fail have posted every week, for you kind and lovely people to read.

But I've hit a bit of a wall, writing the same kind of post every week. There's pressure that I never intended would be there when I started this project. I should have realized it was unavoidable - I jump into everything I start with both feet and am relentless about achieving whatever I feel my creative goals should be. I usually don't realize I've worn out a project until I'm past the point of no return, and end it. But I think I stopped in time with Effing-D.

So I'm not abandoning you - I'm just going to spend the summer looking for a new approach. I want to vary the kinds of postings I bring you. Work on my food photography and post a lot of that. As one friend pointed out I live in a place that is far too interesting food-wise to just commit to the style of postings I've adopted. So I'm not going to make any specific promises. But I do know this: I love food and cooking. I won't post every week, but when I do it's going to be inspired. Something I want to show you, that I'm stoked about. Something that's really truly effing delicious. Like the bread in the photo above (with the inspirational light shining through it). Sally Lunn Bread. So good. Recipe here.

So see you soon - it might not look like me, but I promise it is. My "projects" this summer will include reading a lot of fiction, going to the beach, cooking and gardening...and seeing what kind of writing and photography pop up on their own. Sigh. Feels good just thinking about it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pantry Raid!



Spring is always really inspirational for me for cooking – I want to put peas and pea shoots and asparagus and early carrots and lovely baby lettuces in everything. But not so much for baking. No fruit has really hit its stride yet – strawberries still don’t taste like strawberries, I’m bored to tears of citrus…good rhubarb is hard to find and my Mom is the reigning queen of that feisty rhizome, so I’ve yet to really adventure there.

As far as dessert goes in early spring to me it’s a time of pantry-emptying...a yummy way to spring clean I guess. That makes it a perfect time to make some of my favorite cookies…I call on peanut butter, cinnamon, roasted salted peanuts, milk chocolate and a nice dose of salt to come leaping forth from my cabinet to create layers of flavor in this Mexican-inspired cookie. I’ve been making them forever and the recipe has definitely changed a bit from Martha Stewart’s original that I started with years ago. They’re perfect to get you through this brief period of fruit/baking boredom until we explode into summer.

Peanut Chocolate Cinnamon Cookies
slightly adapted from Martha Stewart

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (BUT - I like these a little saltier so I substitute at least a 1/2 a stick of salted butter here instead. They're really fantastic like this.)
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
2/3 cup roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350˚. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Put butter and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on medium speed using the paddle attachment until combined, about 2 minutes. Add sugars, mix 2 minutes. Mix in eggs. Gradually add flour mixture, mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips, peanuts and vanilla with a mixing spoon until well distributed. Refrigerate dough until firm, 30 minutes to 1 hour (or overnight even, just cover tightly!)

Roll into generous 1-2 in balls (I like to go for a bigger cookie.) Space balls 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly. Bake until just golden - more so on the edges, about 12 minutes. Transfer to wire sheets to cool.


One Year Ago: Hollow Easter Eggs

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mole is all about being sauce.



I learned from Chopped judge and acclaimed NYC chef Aaron Sanchez, as he scolded a contestant who had made essentially a spicy chocolate sauce and called it mole, that mole isn’t about chocolate. Most sources would agree that it’s not really about any one flavor, but rather a complex marriage of a host of different flavors, with none being dominant. “Mole” originates from the Aztec (or Nahuatl) word mulli or molli, which means “sauce”.

So it’s really more about being a sauce in general, THE sauce, than being a chocolate sauce. However restaurants in my area of the world would have you think differently, of course. This *is* the US. My palate is trained for a sweet, somewhat thin, chocolaty, cinnamony sauce…and hence trained for disappointment.

But I didn’t really know that when I embarked on my mole adventure this past weekend. (Okay, I did.) I’d been sitting on a simple recipe (as far as mole goes) by food writer Jeanne Thiel Kelley that I found on Epicurious a while back that got great reviews. And maaaaaybe I should have READ those reviews before I started. Because if I had, I would have seen that almost ALL of them recommended going easy on one particular ingredient…much easier than recommended…the culprit?


Orange. Though we still managed to enjoy what we could taste through the somewhat bitter traces of orange in the dish, I can’t wait to make this again and leave that nonsense out! I should have known that pureeing the final mixture of cooked ingredients and not taking the called for orange peel out would yield an overabundance of citrusy flavor to the sauce. I need to start trusting my instincts more…but I felt way out of my usual territory with this one.

So here is my adapted version of Kelley’s recipe – leaving out the orange peel completely. With 2 cups of OJ already included, I think it's overkill. I also used different peppers because even Whole Foods didn’t have the ones called for (pasilla and negro, both dried). Though I clearly did make some substitutions, I would highly recommend using Mexican chocolate, as called for – it has a fantastic warm grainy texture that is completely unique and special.


We had the mole with shredded chicken, in warm flour tortillas with cotija cheese and a sprinkling of chives. Yum. Minus the orange I think they would have been perfect.

Chicken Mole
adapted from Jeanne Thiel Kelley

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
5 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs
3 cups chicken broth or stock
2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
1 1/4 pounds sweet onions, sliced
1/2 cup sliced raw almonds
6 large garlic cloves, sliced
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground coriander
4 ounces dried ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded, torn into 1-inch pieces, rinsed.
1/4 cup raisins
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 3.1 ounce disk Mexican chocolate, chopped 
Warm flour tortillas
Cotija cheese (hard fresh cow's milk cheese from Mexico)
Fresh chives, chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat (preferably a dutch oven). Sprinkle chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and working in batches, saute in pot until lightly browned - about 3 minutes per side. Add more oil as needed. Transfer chicken to a large bowl.

Return chicken and any accumulated juices to pot. Add broth and orange juice, bring to just a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until chicken is tender and just cooked through, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy large saucepan (having 2 dutch ovens helps here!) over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until golden brown, about 18 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add almonds, garlic, cumin and coriander. Saute until nuts and garlic get some color, about 2 minutes. Add chilies and stir until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.

Transfer chicken to large bowl. Pour chicken cooking liquid into saucepan with onion mixture (reserve the pot). Add raisins and oregano to sauce pan. Cover and simmer until chilies are very soft, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and let stand until chocolate melts and mixture cools slightly, about 15 minutes.

Working in small batches, transfer sauce mixture to blender and puree until smooth. Return to reserved pot. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Coarsely shred chicken and return to sauce. Stir to coat. 

This can be made up to 3 days ahead - chill until cold, then cover tightly and keep cold. Rewarm over low heat before serving. Serve with warm tortilla, cotija cheese and chives.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On the subject of bread.



One thing I always say I’m going to do when I have time off is bake bread. And then I don’t do it because a million other things come up. I’m pretty sure the idea of baking bread crosses my mind every single weekend. How I’ll look at the recipe and plan out exactly how much time I’ll need – if I need to make it over two days, if I need to get up early…can I leave it and go run errands? Is it warm enough in the house for a proper rise? Is it okay if I measure rather than weigh my ingredients? Is the yeast alive? Or too frozen? Did my dough pass the windowpane test? Is it the right texture? Did it rise enough? Or too much? Did it proof properly? Is the crust too brown? Burnt even?

You get the idea. Maybe bread stresses me out a little because so much of the science is out of my hands. I can only follow the basic directions and hope that my sense of when it’s right to move onto the next step is correct! The only other bread I’ve posted about here is anadama, and with that I swear I had beginner’s luck. Since then I’ve made a bunch of yeast breads, even donuts, and I feel much more comfortable. With bread it’s definitely true that practice makes perfect. But I still always question…

About to go in the oven...

The easiest bread I’ve come across is Michael Ruhlman’s basic recipe from Ratio (I’ve been on a Ratio kick lately). It’s got four ingredients and doesn’t take much time out of the rest of your life to complete. When I make this super basic bread I like to shape it into a boule, brush it with fruity olive oil and sea salt, and bake it in a dutch oven for a gorgeous crispy crust.
Yeah, you’ll ask yourself a lot of the same questions as above when deciding to bake bread and then actually doing it – but nothing bad will happen if you fail. And if you succeed, which you likely will, you will be handsomely rewarded with the best toast ever.

Basic Bread
my interpretation based on what I learned from Michael Ruhlman's Ratio

4 cups all purpose flour
12 ounces water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon active or instant yeast
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
coarse sea salt

In a large mixing bowl, add flour, then salt, then water. Sprinkle the yeast on the surface of the water - this will allow it to dissolve. Give it about a minute.

Fit the bowl into your electric mixer and using the paddle attachment, mix until a dough is formed. (You should be able to peel the dough off of the paddle in a loose ball.) Replace paddle with dough hook attachment and mix on low for about 10-12 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. You can also do this by hand, and if this is your first time you should. Kneading dough by hand is something everyone should try.

To test to see if your dough is ready for the next step, tear a chunk off and stretch it into a square. If you can stretch it to translucence without it tearing, it's ready for the first rise. (This is the infamous "windowpane test".)

Remove mixing bowl from mixer and cover with plastic wrap. Allow dough to rise to about twice its size. To check for doneness, when you poke the dough with your finger there should be some resistance, but it should not spring back. If it does, it needs to rise longer. (For me, with this particular bread it can take anywhere from 1 hour and 15 mins to 2 hours.)

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few times to expel gas. Cover with a dish towel and let it rest about 10-15 minutes.

After rest, form into a circular boule shape by pushing it around on the counter in a circular motion. Lightly oil the bottom of your dutch oven and place your newly formed boule inside. Cover with a dish towel and let proof for 1 hour. (It will rise and get a bit bigger.)

Preheat oven to 450˚. When dough has risen, coat with olive oil and top with a few grinds of coarse sea salt. Score the dough with an "x", place the lid on top and bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue baking uncovered until done (internal temp will be 200˚- 210˚, will sound hollow when you knock on the bottom of the loaf), about 15-30 minutes.

Mine is usually done after about 15 minutes - I think my oven is a bit on the warm side. If your boule is starting to brown too much, just cover the top with a bit of foil. When you deem yours done, remove it from the dutch oven and let it cool on a wire rack. Then devour! It keeps fine, but after day 1 it will take a good toasting to bring the luscious crisp back to the crust...as with many homemade breads.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Comfort.



Right now our world is in need of some comfort. That is probably a large understatement but knowing so many lovely people from a country experiencing an unimaginable amount of despair, I'm lost for words mostly about the heartbreaking situation in Japan.

So many bloggers have said it this week and I concur - how do we write about something like food, in the indulgent and luxurious way we go about it, without sounding like we have blinders on? I don't have the answer, so the best I can do is use my writing to offer some form of comfort, even if it comes in the trivial form of comfort food.

Comfort calls to mind breakfast, and I think it’s time for another lovely, simple Michael Ruhlman recipe post. Because in case you haven’t noticed, I love breakfast. And brunch. Really any meal that allows me to smear jam and salty butter onto a warm fresh baked good.

Along that line of thought…biscuits. Yes, its true that you can buy them in that notorious terrible tube, arrange them on a tray and pop them in the oven. Minutes later you’ll without fail be treated to little unreasonably delicious nuggets of awesomeness. But – it’s almost as easy to just make them yourself. Seriously. I would not delude you on something as critical as a savory breakfast treat.

If you can do simple things like stir, roll, fold, chill, cut, wait, and bake, you can make biscuits. The fanciest piece of equipment you need is a rolling pin - they require being rolled out and folded over and chilled and rolled out and folded over again to create all their gorgeous layers. You can even start them the day before and chill them overnight – that way you’re not left with much work in the morning and can proceed much more quickly to eating them.

Chicago Biscuits (3-1-2 Biscuits)
from Michael Ruhlman's Ratio, slightly adapted

9 ounces flour (a scant 2 cups)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 ounces chilled butter, diced (3/4 stick)
6 ounces milk

Measure flour (on a scale or in measuring cups) and add to a bowl along with baking powder and salt. Add butter (weigh out if you fancy). Rub and pinch the butter into the flour with your fingers so that it is well distributed and in fragments and small chunks, the largest of which are not bigger than peas. Pour in milk and combine just until a dough if formed (Ruhlman notes that you'll see whole chunks of butter, and that's good). Form dough into a 4x6 inch rectangle, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least one hour.

Unwrap the dough and dust with flour. Roll the dough out to about three times its size on a floured countertop, board, or plastic wrap, maintaining the rectangular shape. Fold it into thirds and roll it out again (it will be springier). Fold it in thirds again, press it down firmly, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or until thoroughly chilled.

*If you are going to do part of this recipe the night before, this is where you would stop and let the dough chill overnight.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator, unwrap and repeat the procedure again (meaning fold it into thirds, roll it out, then fold it into thirds one last time). Roll the dough out this final time until it's about 1/2 inch thick and cut however you wish - you can either stamp out circles or cut it into squares like I did. (Squares have a more rustic look and you don't waste any of the dough.)

Bake at 400˚ until done - 20 to 30 minutes. (Mine were done in 15, so watch them!) Serve warm slathered with butter and jam.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Let's get weird.



Sometimes I like to try a recipe simply because it seems different. Putting olive oil in a cake, for instance. Or whipping cookie batter for 15 minutes on high in the mixer to completely dissolve the sugar. Or making marshmallows…at all.

It was that sentiment that led me to try this fantastic poppy seed lemon cake. I’ve made a zillion cakes…a lot of them with citrus and some even with poppy seeds. But Deb at Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite bloggers, made this one seem crazy by citing its low sugar and flour content, one million egg yolks and a positive drug test’s worth of poppy seeds. I was super intrigued and upon trying it came away with a definite, if unlikely keeper.

One funny thing about this cake is that after I baked it, it shrank a little. I’m not sure if that was supposed to happen, but be prepared in case it happens to you. I followed the directions to the letter, and the cake was still perfectly textured and absolutely lovely when we devoured it...just smaller than we expected. 

Poppy Seed Lemon Cake
from Food & Wine, adapted by Deb from Smitten Kitchen (with my notes)

2/3 cup of sugar
8 large egg yolks
1 large whole egg
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (what!?)
1/2 cup cornstarch
pinch of salt
2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit
1/2 cup poppy seeds (from a 3-ounce spice bottle)

Preheat oven to 325˚. Butter and flour an 8 inch fluted bundt or tube pan *generously*. Butter the dull side of a 10-inch piece of foil.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the sugar and egg yolks and whole egg at med-high sped until the mixture is pale yellow and very fluffy, about 8 minutes. Beat in lemon zest. Sift flour and cornstarch over the egg mixture and fold in along with the salt, with a rubber spatula. At medium speed, beat in the butter, then the poppy seeds.

Pour the batter into the butter pan and cover tightly with buttered foil. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan and a cake tester inserted comes out clean. Remove the foil and let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. (This is when the cake may shrink! It's almost comical.) Invert the cake onto the rack (gently especially if it shrinks!) and let cool completely before serving, at least 30 minutes. Keeps wrapped in plastic and foil at room temperature for 3 days...but it won't last that long!


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Should have tried this years ago.



I have a pretty extensive recipe collection. I’m always hoping to get better at making things up, and I think I’ve come a long way. But the reality is that recipes are where I learn, and where I can flex my creativity within the confines of a formula I’m reasonably sure will work.

The collection is divided into “waiting to try” and “tried and true”, organized by season, bound with giant paper clips and snuggled into an indestructible mailing envelope that will never crumble or disintegrate amidst the slings and arrows of my outrageous cookbook drawer. When it comes time to trade out a fading season’s recipes for a season just dawning, I get ridiculously excited. With the start of March I got out my spring recipes, and it was nice to see them again.

But before I stashed the hearty winter recipes away, I tried one that has been sitting in my collection for 3 YEARS. Crazy. I found this recipe in January 2008 in Bon Appétit, and somehow have been sitting on it all this time. It’s a ridiculously amazing Thai chicken soup with curry, sweet potatoes, snow peas and coconut milk. The curry broth starts out with a gorgeous Asian mirepoix the fragrance of which will knock your socks off. The whole shebang is served over chewy rice noodles and topped with fresh chilies, red onion and lime.

I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to trying this sensational dish – I suppose the one deterrent is that there are 20 ingredients and most of them you won’t likely have on hand unless you have a pretty beefy Asian pantry (sambal oelek, fish sauce, curry paste, curry powder, coconut milk, lemongrass, etc). I think it always sounded like a pain to me. But sometimes those recipes turn out to be the very best.

Spicy Curry Noodle Soup With Chicken and Sweet Potato
adapted from Bon Appetit

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons chopped shallots
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons minced lemongrass (from bottom 4 inches of about 3 stalks, tough outer leaves discarded)
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons Thai curry paste (I used red because I couldn't find yellow, and would use it again)
2 tablespoons curry powder (I used yellow)
1 teaspoon hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
2 14-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk
5 cups chicken broth
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
3 cups snow peas, trimmed
2 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled red-skinned sweet potato
1 pound dried rice stick noodles
3/4 pound chicken breast, thinly sliced (*using my special technique)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
3 red Thai chilies thinly sliced (If you can't find these, red Fresno chilies work just fine)
1 lime, cut into wedges

Heat oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add next 4 ingredients, stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium low. Stir in curry paste, curry powder and chili paste. Add 1/2 cup coconut milk, scooped from the thick liquid at the top of the can. Stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add remaining coconut milk, broth, fish sauce and sugar. Bring broth to a boil. Keep warm. (Or do 1 day ahead and refrigerate.)

Cook snow peas in a large boiling salted pot of water until bright green - about 20 seconds. Using a strainer remove peas from pot and rinse under cold water. Bring water in same pot back to boil, then add sweet potato and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Remove using strainer and rinse under cold water to cool. Bring water in same pot back to boil and cook noodles until just tender but still firm to bite, about 6 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water to cool. Let stand at room temperature. (Can be made 1 hour ahead if desired.)

Bring broth to a simmer. Add thinly sliced chicken, simmer until chicken is cooked through. (If you cut the chicken my way, this will take 1-2 minutes - thicker chicken strips will take up to 10). Add sweet potato and snow peas and stir to heat through, about 1 minute. Heat noodles if they're not already warm and divide among bowls. Divide hot soup among bowls. Scatter red onion, green onion and chilies over soup. Garnish with lime and serve.