Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sacrifice for your bread

The first time I made no-knead bread a month or so ago I didn't have an iron pot or a ceramic La Cloche to bake it in. So I baked it on my pizza stone covered with a pyrex bowl. Of course I have never used this mixing bowl in the oven before so my brain didn't even think that it would be 500 degrees hot when I grabbed it with my bare hands to plop it on top of the bread. I got some nasty burns on my fingers that are only just now about healed. Lesson Learned. I was so happy to get my Le Creuset pot for xmas as this is perfect for making no-knead bread in.

I took some liberties with the steel-cut oats no-knead bread from the breadtopia website. I actually started this bread a couple days ago. I'll first list all the ingredients then I'll tell you how I put it all together.

~0.75 cup sourdough starter
1.5 cups water
0.75 cup whole wheat flour
1.5 cup unbleached all purpose flour
0.5 cup steel cut oats
1.5 tsp salt

At 9:45 pm Friday evening I mixed together the starter, 1 cup water, 0.5 cups each of all purpose flour and whole wheat flour. This was mixed well, covered with plastic, and allowed to sit at room temperature. My starter was directly out of the fridge and had not been refreshed so I wanted to give this bread time for the starter to come alive.

The next day around 1:00 pm I mixed into the wet bubbling starter mixture another 0.5 cups of water, 1 cup of all purpose flour, 0.25 cups whole wheat flour, the steel cut oats and the salt. This was mixed well and allowed to sit out at room temperature for an hour. At that time I slightly kneaded the dough (ok, so maybe not completely no-knead). I simply folded the sticky dough over onto itself a couple dozen times right in the bowl. I didn't want this dough to ferment too fast so I put it in the fridge for a nice overnight slow rise.

This morning at 6:00 am I took the dough out of the fridge and let it warm up. I scraped the dough out onto a lightly floured board, gave it a few turns and shaped it into a ball. This was plopped onto a piece of parchment paper and placed in a bowl. I covered it with a plastic bag and left it to do it's thing. After 3 hours it had risen nicely. I heated up my Le Creuset in a hot 500F oven. Now I had been warned that the phenolic knobs on the Le Creuset are only rated oven proof up to about 350-400 degrees so I took the handle off before heating it. Once heated the bread was baked according to instructions - first 30 minutes with the lid on, then slightly reduce the temp to 450 and bake for another 15 minutes. The bread turned out great.

The handleless Le Creuset lid, however, was a bit unwieldy. As I was wrestling it off the pot at the 30 minute time it slipped and immediately seared a nice brand into the side of my hand. Sacrifice for the bread, I say! Two for two is too much. No more. I immediately went out on the web in search of a replacement knob. I found a Le Creuset stainless steel knob for $10 and promptly placed my order.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Garlic Beef

This evening I opened up a very unusual and interesting French wine from Languedoc. Minvervois to be specific. I thought this vegetative and peppery wine would go great with some Asian influenced beef. So I made a garlic beef dish served with steamed baby bok choy. I thinly sliced some ribeye steak and mixed it up with half an onion, quartered and sliced. I also added a head of garlic chopped, a splash of soy, mirin and a good shake of cornstarch. Oh, and some black pepper. This was simply stir fried in a wok until just under cooked. I added about 1/4 cup of water and covered it to let the sauce form from all the starch. It turned out pretty good. Quick and easy too. The wine matched perfectly.

*edit: I also added a healthy amount of chopped fresh ginger to the mix.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Leftover Sourdough Focaccia

Yesterday was feeding day for my sourdough starter. As usual I hate to throw away perfectly lively babies so I used it to make a focaccia. I didn't really follow a recipe and certainly didn't measure anything. But it turned out pretty good anyway. I took almost a cup of sourdough starter and added about a cup of water to it. To that I added a tsp of salt and about two cups of all purpose flour. This was mixed up well, covered with plastic wrap and allowed to sit for a couple hours. After that I kneaded the wet dough in the bowl by folding it over on itself about 15-20 times. This was allowed to rise for another 3 hours. The very wet dough was poured out onto a sheet pan lined with parchment. I had doused the parchment paper with a liberal tbsp or more of good olive oil. I stretched the dough out thin with oiled fingers. It was a very nice texture - very pliable and relaxed. It stretched beautifully. I splashed the top with more olive oil to liberally coat it and then sprinkled it with coarse salt and a blend of dried basil, oregano and rosemary. This was covered with plastic wrap and allowed to rest for about an hour. I popped it into a 450F oven for about 15 minutes until the top just started to show hints of brown. The bread turned out better than I expected. The texture was nice and chewy and the oil made it slightly crispy. My first try at focaccia and it turned out pretty good.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

To brine or not to brine

That is the question. Well, frankly, I prefer brining my poultry as it makes for a juicier and tastier bird. Here is a simple everyday chicken soaking in a mixture of sugar, salt and spices. For this three pound bird I let it brine for about 3 hours. A very good rinse in lots of fresh water and it was patted down with towels to dry it off. I rubbed the skin with a bit of butter and sprinkled it with salt and pepper. The bird was placed on top of a bed of carrots onions and celery in my favorite Revol chicken roaster. I set the oven to 450F to roast this at a high temperature. Once the internal temperature reached 170F I took it out, covered it with foil and let it rest for about 20 minutes.

This day I also spent a few hours cleaning out my pantry. I have lots of different kinds of dried beans and grains on hand so I thought I would make a medley of healthy grains to serve with the chicken. There's kamut and red beans and mung beans and bulgar wheat and wheat berries and spelt and thai brown rice and yellow somethings and black eyed peas and black beans and lots of other things I had. These were soaked for a few hours before being thrown into my rice cooker and cooked on the "brown rice" setting.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays

I have been quite busy over the holidays and have lots to post in the coming weeks. Santa was good to me as you can see above. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and a terrific 2008.

Thanks for reading. Be back soon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dinner to Decorate By

Last evening we finally got around to decorating our holiday tree so dinner was pretty quick and easy. A simple burger made very flavorful was on the menu last evening. It was served with a butternut squash soup and an acidic red wine from Michigan. Sweet maple syrup was the theme. The meat was seasoned with some maple syrup as well as salt and pepper. This was topped with melted cheddar cheese served on a whole wheat bun with mayonnaise (Helman's, please) and dijon mustard.

The soup started with an oven roasted butternut squash. The sweet flesh was added to a pot of sautéed onions and garlic. About 6 cups of chicken stock was added and it was flavored with some maple syrup.

After this had simmered for a little bit a splash of heavy cream was added and it was all whirled up together. Slightly sweet with just a dusting of fresh grated nutmeg to complement the maple.

Some of our decorations - ceramic doves placed over the lights glow nicely while perched on the branches. A crystal holly and angels also can be found along with many other eclectic pieces from our past.

Betty and Me

We have a very old relationship going back at least 30 years. This belonged to my mother. She became ill with MS when I was quite young so the holiday cookie baking fell upon my shoulders. With Mom's guidance and Betty to tell what to do I was able to put together quite an array of holiday treats. Mom is gone but Betty remains in my kitchen to help me along.

I have had requests for Betty's Cranberry Drop Cookies. They are so easy peasy to make that even a child can do it! Here's the well worn page that still keeps me on track year after year. As I mentioned in the previous entry below, I don't have my mother's 'Chef Moule' hand cranked grater that I always used to perfectly chop the cranberries. The food processor worked but it just isn't quite the same. If you can't read the recipe just click on the picture for a larger version.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cookie Baking Bonanza

I've finally got around to doing some holiday baking. I had a great weekend and the whole family pitched in. DW made snickerdoodles. I haven't had these for years. They turned out crispy and delicious.

Of course a staple around the holiday season are peanut butter Hershey's Kiss cookies. I made these quite large to enjoy the peanutiness in all its glory.

My favorite xmas cookie is this wonderful tangy and sweet cranberry walnut cookie. I got the recipe from my mothers old tattered and torn Betty Crocker Cookie Book. I remember making these by the truckload when I was a kid. So easy to do. A simple drop cookie. The only thing is I don't have my mother's old "Chef Moule" hand cranked grinder to chop the cranberries. It always did a terrific job. The food processor does not get them all even.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

My Muhammara

This evening I'm heading out to a party and I was looking for something to bring as an appetizer. When Clotilde over at the Chocolate & Zucchini blog posted a Middle Eastern roasted red-pepper and walnut dip called muhammara I knew I found my dish. I followed Clotilde's recipe and it came out delicious. I didn't have any pomegranate molasses so I made my own version. I took the seeds of half a pomegranate and cooked them up with a couple tablespoons of sugar. I crushed them up well and strained it off. It had a nice flavor so I think it was ok. No smoked salt either but I added a wonderful smoked paprika that I have from Spain. The roasted red peppers were so sweet and the walnuts and cashews are so rich. The cumin adds a nice spice that mingles with the smoky paprika. I think people will like it.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Salmon Cakes

I was looking for something quick and easy to make on a Sunday evening with a fridge that desperately needs stocking. I started rummaging through my pantry and found a box of Japanese buckwheat noodles and a 15 oz can of salmon. So I threw this together in a jiffy. It came out pretty good. I wish I had something to garnish it with. No fresh herbs or scallions to speak of here.

For the crab cakes I used one large can of salmon, about 1.5 cups of crushed up Ritz crackers (love the buttery flavor), the zest of one whole lemon, two eggs, salt, pepper and about 1/2 teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning. These were mixed up gently and shaped into patties. They were quickly fried in olive oil until brown and crispy.

I served them on a cold soba salad. I cooked the noodles just until tender and cooled them. I also finely shredded some romaine lettuce (that's the only thing green I had in the house). This was flavored with a bit of sesame salad dressing and bit of spicy Korean red chili paste (gochujang).