Friday, August 15, 2008

Um, like, woah

When you've been doing something for a while, you naturally assume you get better at it. I've been baking bread regularly for about 2 years now, and thought that inevitably my technique was getting better. I adjusted things here and there, did little bits of experimentation, always with the aim of making a better loaf.

Well I can now report that things don't always work that way. As I was writing my post about bread baking, I began thinking back to some of the earlier stuff I'd made. In particular, my comment about not being able to achieve a great crust. I mean, it's true that without a commercial oven, it's nearly impossible to get that crunch. But my crusts hadn't always been this lacking had they? Of course Lindsey and I have been moving around a lot over the past couple years, and adapting to different ovens, different yeasts, different flour, etc. can take a little while.

But it turn sout I'd slowly drifted away from a cooking method that makes a much better crust. For whatever reason, I had little by little changed to baking faster at higher heat, and that's really not the way to go. Writing out my method for making my bread really made me think about why I was doing it the way I was, and in so doing I began to wonder about my baking method. So here's the better way to do it:

Heat your over to 450 degrees with dutch oven in it. When hot, put dough in dutch oven with a tablespoon or two of water and immediately put the lid on. Bake for a half -hour with lid on. Take lid off, and cook for another 5 to 15 minutes until deep golden-brown.

This produces a much better crust. Moral of the story: it's worth thinking about your cooking techniques rather than using them reflexively.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Really, it's true

Baking bread is easy. I know, I know, you've probably heard that before and found that the recipe in fact involved 10 steps, many hours, and obscure techniques. But this, I swear, really is easy. Put your ingredients (all 4 of them) together in a bowl, mix it up, let it sit, then bake it. That's it. It doesn't really have an intense crustiness but it does have a great full flavor that's a little sour if you let the dough sit long enough.

My technique is kind of an amalgamation of two recipes that have been printed in the NYT in the past couple of years:

I've taken both those recipes, played with them a little, and come up with a version that suits me just right. The recipe below makes two decent-sized loaves, but quantities are easily adjusted. Basically, you need to have a little more than twice as much flour as water by volume. This recipe also assumes you'll let the bread sit around overnight. If you want it faster, increase the amount of yeast, but I find the flavor just isn't quite the same....

In a big mixing bowl, dissolve 1/2 tablespoon yeast and 1 1/2 tablespoon salt in 3 cups water lukewarm water.

Stir in the flour until fully moistened. The dough should be shaggy and sticky. If dry spots remain add more water a little bit at a time.

Cover with a moist kitchen towel or loosely with plastic wrap, and let sit anywhere from 10 hours to 2 days (or even longer, if you want; just make sure the dough doesn't dry out).

When ready to bake, flour hands and counter well (the dough is pretty sticky). Take half the dough and shape into a boule (it should kind of keep its shape, but don't worry if it's a little flabby) (I usually wrap the other half in plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge until I need another loaf).

Now bread will bake in a hot oven no matter how you go about it exactly. This is just my favorite way of doing it, but it requires a dutch oven or something similar. About 35 minutes at 475 should do the trick whether you have a dutch oven or not.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees with dutch oven in it.

When hot, place dough in dutch oven. Pour a tablespoon of water around the edge onto the hot metal, put cover on immediately, and stick it in the oven.

After 15 minutes, take cover off and bake another 20 minutes or so.

Bread is ready when deep golden brown in color.

See, that wasn't so hard...

Our garden

Here is a picture of our garden at the new house. We are growing Crimson Sweet watermelon, French Round Zucchini, Italian Basil, 4 kinds of tomatoes, Lakota Squash and Musk Melon. This picture is from earlier in th summer, the tomatoes are much bigger now.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Chiogga Beet Salad

When I made this recipe I used Chiogga heirloom beets we grew in the front yard of our townhouse. You could use any kind of beet and it would be tasty, though of course the Chioggas have a very unique visual effect. This recipe is easy and is perfect to make when it is hot out, and here in North Carolina it has been in the 90s or above for weeks!
4 or 5 Beets, cleaned, stems removed and scrubbed (DO NOT PEEL!)
Feta or farmers cheese
Fresh oregano
Olive Oil
Balsamic vinegar.
-Wrap beets in tinfoil in a little packet and bake for an hour or until tender at 375. Set aside to cool.
When cool thinly slice beets horizontally so that bullseye shape comes out in every slice (They should not have bled very much if you have baked them whole, and you should be able to see the stripes if working with Chioggas). Arrange thin slices on a plate or platter in circles with some overlapping (see photo coming soon). Once beets are arranged on plate crumble cheese over top, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (I usually do the olive oil first and then just a few tiny splashes with the vinegar and then garnish with either fresh oregano sprigs or chopped oregano.


I have been in the middle of an epic move and renovation of our new house, therefore my cooking has been on hold, should be posting again in a week or two and using more pictures after the move for the visually inclined.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Casserole love

God I love casserole, I am pretty sure it is one of the best culinary inventions EVER! Casseroles as we know them now were invented during the depression and stayed popular during WWII as a way to stretch tight supplies and create hot filling meals out of very little, guess what? It still works, no canned cream of mushroom soup required! I have been making most of my casseroles from leftover pasta and grain dishes that were a little liquidy when I first made them, all you do to make those is put the leftovers in a casserole dish, cover with grated cheese and bread crumbs and back until browned on top in a 350 degree oven. If it looks too dry, pour some milk or wine on it before baking. I guarantee you this is better than slimy leftover pasta from the microwave. The other kind of casseroles I make are ones that incorporate the cheap (or free if from our yard) seasonal local vegetables from our farmers market in new ways, there are only so many times one can eat sauteed kale. Here is a recipie that can be made any time of year but for us in North Carolina is perfect winter food, mostly because it incorporates about everything we have in the winter.

Southern Winter Casserole
1 large bunch greens (kale or chard)
2 large sweet potatoes or yams
1 block firm tofu
1/2 onion (sweet if you have it)
Garlic (we use 6-8 cloves)
olive oil or butter
sherry or other white cooking wine
Casserole pan (oven safe)
Bread crumbs

For tofu marinade
soy sauce
worstershire sauce
Olive oil
sherry/ beer whatever
Honestly, whatever you like to marinate tofu in)

First, press tofu and mix up marinade to taste, cut tofu into 1/2 inch slices and cover in marinade mixture, let sit.

Roughly chop onion and garlic, cook onion in 1 tblsp butter/ 1 tblsp olive oil until transulcent, add garlic halfway through. Chop sweet potatoes into smallish peices and put in steamer. grease casserole pan and chop greens. When onion is translucent splash with sherry and stir to deglaze. add greens into skillet and cover. sweet potatoes should take 15-20 minutes. Take them out and put in mixing bowl, see if you can mash with fork, add milk until texture is right (smooth and mashable), garlic and salt, mash with fork or empy beer bottle until mashed potatoes, I like to leave the skin on for texture. flatten mashed potatoes into bottom of pan, add steamed greens/ onion/ garlic mixture in 2nd layer. arrange tofu slices on top and cover with bread crumbs, bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, serve when ready, will benefit from rest and stay warm for up to 20 minutes.

Food is not expensive if you don't waste it

In the last weeks the news has been full of reports on how expensive food is, filled with stories of Americans buying packaged crap because they "can't afford" organic or whole foods. The global food crisis is real, no doubt, people are hungry in many parts of the world as well as in the United States. As a graduate student getting by on less than 15,000 a year I know things are hard. That is why I am going to share with you all what we do when we roast a chicken in our house so that none of it gets wasted. We bought 1 all natural happy chicken from whole foods for 7 dollars, it was 1.69 a pound and weighed about 4 pounds. I realize meal 1 is probably not a weeknight meal for most people (unless, like us, you eat at 9 pm) but could be good on sunday and the remaining meals are definitely weeknight friendly.

Meal 1 (chicken recipie taken from Alice Waters simple food)
I brought the chicken home, took out its giblets pack, discarded most exept for the neck, which will return later ( a mistake, they should have become gravy, but I don't like raw chicken organs).
I rubbed the chicken with salt and pepper, filled the cavity with fresh thyme, oregano and rosemary, stuffed rosemary and garlic under the breast and thigh skin, wrapped it back up and wenat about my day.
I took the chicken out of the fridge about an hour before I wanted to cook it, let it get to room temp. while I preheated la oven, cut up some potatoes, sweet potatoes and garlic, threw those in a casserole pan and put the chicken on an improvised rack on top. I roasted it breast side up for 20 minutes while I went to the drug store, came back, flipped it, roasted it breastside dow for 20 minutes, flipped one last time and roasted breast up again for 20 minutes, then I let it rest for 15.
I served it for 3 with the potatoes cooked in the drippings, salad and a pan gravy made with drippings, red wine and garlic reduced in the oven. It was my cousins birthday and a festive and delicious meal.

After dinner, pick the carcass clean and put it in the fridge with the neck, put all the meat in a separate tupperware.

Meal 2 Chicken salad
Take a fork and shred leftover meat into bitesizish peices, add enough mayonnaise to lightly coat, mustard, garlic and paprika to coat and serve in sandwiches

Meal 3 and BEYOND
Place chicken carcass and neck in stock pot with vegetables (we use veggie scraps we save in a bag in the freezer to have on hand, if you can afford it by all means buy veggies just for this, entirely unnessecary) and a " bouquet garnis" (herbs either tied together (if fresh) or tossed in. cover with water. Simmer on medium heat, checking to make sure water does not boil for 4-6 hours. You do not have to look at this or pay attention to it at all during this time, you could check and skim off fat, or do that when you cook with it. strain out chicken and veggies and you have enough homemade chicken broth for ages, we usually take about 3 months to go through ours.

This is all the joy you get out of 1 "fancy" chicken for 7 dollars, we saved about 3 dollars each on storbought chicken salad sandwihiches, also had a straight left overs meal and made enough stock for 9 or 10 soups or recipies that need stock. Considering fancy organic chicken broth goes for about 1.50 a container, this is a considerable benefit.
Anyways, saving food might be a theme for a while, stay tuned for a post on the art of the leftover casserole..

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

by popular demand

Here is a version of the pasta with sauce, I added mushrooms and had about an hour and a half to kill before we ate dinner so it simmered for longer. Served with Capellini

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Roasted tomato and fresh oregeno pasta sauce

(serves 6)
1 sweet onion
Olive oil
1/2 head garlic (or whatever amount)
1 can fire roasted whole tomatoes (we found the organic ones on sale for 1.79)
some crap red wine
Fresh Oregeno
optional: smoked pimenton (I know.)
optional: pepper (our peppergrinder does not really work so I did not use any, but it would be good)

Pour enough olive oil in the skillet to just cover the bottom. chop onion into at least bite sized pieces. Heat oive oil a little and add onion, heat on medium. while onions are cooking, chop and gradually add garlic, stirring a little when you do, garlic changes flavor with every degree heated so I like to add it at varied intervals. cook onions and garlic until onions are translucent. pour a splash of red wine in, enouch so onions and garlic turn purple and their is a tiny bit of liquid simmering, not enough that they are floating. Stir. Open can of tomatoes and pour juice into skillet. I like to take the tomatoes out of the can and crush them into the skillet one by one wih y bre hands because it is fun and I can see exactly how much I am adding, that being said you could pour the whole can into the skillet and mash them up with the spoon if you were n a hurry or did not want to gat your hands dirty. stir everything together and add salt to taste. leave to simmer. I simmered this for about 1/2 hour because I was waiting for Alex to get home, it could go shorter or longer. Start pasta water, cook pasta. While pasta is cooking cut and add fresh oregeno and dried pimenton, stir. drain pasta, return to pot, pour in sauce and serve. This should be enough sauce for 1 pound of pasta, you can use any pasta with this sauce, I used linguine because that is what we had, spagetti would be a classic choice and penne would also be good.

New directions

Last night I was cooking and thinking about the hybrid nature of quasi objects (canned tomatoes, nature or culture? BOTH) when I realized that this blog could actually serve a purpose, and so it shall. The new plan is this, I will use this blog as a place to post recipies Alex and I come up with for my Dad and whoever else feels like reading them. We spend a fair amount of time and energy learning how to make delicious things from scratch and cheaply, because even though food prices are rising, we have not had any extra money in years. In addition, we work on eating down the food chain, making things from scratch and growing what we can in the little tiny garden outside of our town house. These things both make our food cheap for us and cheap for the world. Enjoy!