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Archive for May, 2012

Grain of Salt: Daily Bread

After watching HBO’s Weight of the Nation (which you have to see if you haven’t yet) our entire family has decided to go on a health kick. Mom has made a brave (and miraculously successful!) first attempt at cooking kale (see post Friday or so), Francesca has taken up Irish step dancing, Isabella has been dragging me on these miserable runs, and dad has agreed to keep on eating whatever we put in front of him.

 

Good things are coming your way

 

But as luck would have it, a week into this health kick, mom was scheduled to teach her famous fried chicken class, with lime creamed corn, buttermilk mashed potatoes with crispy (deep fried) shallots and Jack Daniel’s fudge pie. The foodpocalypse was essentially zooming towards us, with nothing we could do to stop it. The only way for us children to keep ourselves in check was to eat a light dinner, and hopefully only be hungry for a drumstick or so when we got home. So as class time approached, the girls and I ventured out for an evening of Panera (which has healthy options), Froyo (which is not healthy, but is healthier than some things) and nerdy cavorting at Barnes and Noble.

 

And this is what we found

 

It was a lovely time, and we actually ended up learning a lot of lessons over the course over the evening. We learned copious amounts about whales, Irish history, graphic design, and not letting the pigeon drive the bus, and we learned how to fail at moderating ourselves at Froyo World (The toppings are just right there for you to take! These people are marketing geniuses!)

 

Froyo isn't froyo without 5 cherries

 

But of all the lessons we learned, the best was certainly how much you can benefit from being an indecisive nut. We spent such a long time trying to figure out which option at Panera would maximize health and yumminess, that I felt a bother correcting the lady when she thought I said I wanted tuna on honey-wheat instead of whole grain and had already put in my order. By some miraculous stroke of luck, honey-wheat bread turned out to be so soft, gently sweet and perfect that it has since become my default bread of choice. And since mom’s last post was about butter, what could I do but write a fresh baked bread post to match.

 

three's a charm

 

This is the first time I’ve made bread on the blog, so this is going to be a tutorial, not just a recipe. Even if you’re an experienced bread maker, there are a lot of steps that a lot of us just dutifully do, which we ought to try and understand. To begin we have a starter, which is some permutation of water, flour and yeast, as you see above. It actually has little to do with making the bread rise, but instead is mostly about making sure the bread actually tastes like something. The starter we’re making  here is called a sponge, and is made with equal parts flour and water, along with a little bit of instant yeast. As it sits at room temperature for about an hour (or up to 4) the yeast ferments and takes your bread from bland to boss.

 

 

First, we add instant yeast to the water, and immediately whisk it in to prevent clumping. Following Rose Levy Beranbaum (the queen of Bread) I advise you to almost always use instant yeast, which is more convenient for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it can be activated in room temperature water, not just the 90-100° required by active dry (although that temperature will work too – it’s very flexible – just don’t use super hot or super cold). It is also called rapid rise, leading to the misconception that it causes your bread to rise faster, which it doesn’t. But it is very easy to use, and serves our purposes in almost every case.

 

It looks icky but trust me it's good

 

We then whisk in the flour, until we get this nice pasty thing. Rose Levy Beranbaum says that she likes her sponge starters to be more liquidy because the yeast makes more bubbles, resulting in a lighter, more even bread. So that’s what we made. To let the bubbles and flavor develop, we let it sit at room temperature for an hour. We could have gone longer, but I’m impatient. Go until your starter looks at least kind of like this:

 

 

See all the bubbles? That means it’s alive! If that doesn’t happen, start over/buy new yeast. Cover it tightly while it’s fermenting. It prevents the dough from drying out, and also you get to see the plastic wrap dome up as the yeast releases carbon dioxide. Also note that some the gas will bubble up and pop on the surface. Which means it’s working and is also fun to see. Meanwhile get everything else together. First off, we have crisco…

 

Don't worry, every fiber of my being is dying right now

 

…which is usually really bad for you – worse even than butter, which we usually advocate above all else. But in baking, butter can make things harder and drier, which only good when when we want a nice crisp cookie. In this case, when what we were looking for was a moist, soft bread above all else, shortening was the only option. Adding a little bit of fat to the bread tenderizes it, making it soft and addictive, just like you want. And since we’re using it in low quantities, this bread is still healthy and low-cal.

 

This is a picture of honey mixed with water

 

Next we have honey. Sometimes sweet things (sugar, honey, etc.) are added so that the yeast has something to eat and makes more bubbles, but here it’s really just a flavor thing. Before you add all the other ingredients, whisk the honey in with the water so that it’s less sticky, and distributes nicely.

 

 

Finally we have the flour, which gets whisked with the salt. This means the salt doesn’t get added all at once, minimizing its contact with the yeast (otherwise a lot of the yeast will die, which would suck).

 

 

We are ready to mix! Whisk the yeast into the honey-water, then add the shortening, flour-salt mixture and your starter. You can begin kneading it by hand, but please consult The Bread Bible for instructions on how to do that. I’ve found that my best results by far come from using a KitchenAid. Using a dough hook, mix the dough on setting #2 for about 1 to 1.5 minutes, until it looks like this:

 

As you can see, there's little bits of shortening and everything. That's fine.

 

Then we let it rest, covered, for 20 minutes. This lets the flour absorb the water better, and means our mixing time will shorten. Meaning, among other things, we won’t get impatient and make the bread mix on too high a setting, breaking all the gluten bonds and essentially killing any chance of our bread being edible.

 

This is a picture of dough about to rise

 

Then turn the mixer back on and let it mix on setting #4 for about 15 minutes, or until it’s pretty stretchy. Then cut the dough in half, and form it into two rounds, and put on wax paper. Cover with a warm, moist towel, and set to rise in a decently warm place for about 40 minutes. When you’re forming it into rounds, pull the sides out a bit, and then fold them around back, and then tuck the ends under, so the top is nice and smooth, like you see above. Otherwise you can end up with a kind of craggy looking top. Like this silly looking thing:

 

This is picture of a very silly looking bread

 

Yours probably won’t look so extreme, because this dough was super dry… but still, lets not take chances. Once the dough has risen, you can either transfer it to a loaf pan, or bake it on its own directly on the baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 350°F convection/375° conventional and let it rise for about another 45 minutes, preferably in a warm area, covering again with a warm, moist towel. You’re ready to bake! A loaf in no pan takes about 25 minutes, while a loaf in a pan can take up to 10 minutes longer. To be on the safe side, insert a baking thermometer into the center. It’s done when it reaches between 190 and 200°F. Let cool for as long as you can stand it (at least 10 minutes), slice, and eat!

 

 

You can find my full recipe on Food52 by clicking here. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions. I highly recommend making this bred, whether you’re very experienced or brand new to the process. I think you’ll agree that a slice of this bread is pretty much the best thing since (wait for it…) itself.

Find Your Inner Gourmet: Butter

 

 

As you have just seen on the video, compound butter is, quite simply made up of a stick of butter combined with some finely minced herbs or vegetables. The combinations are endless. Possible ingredients include herbs and spices, such as basil, thyme, oregeno, saffron, chives, or aromatic vegetables such as shallots, garlic and ginger. You can use compound butters in a million ways. They are great to serve with fresh bread, the obvious choice, but equally great served on top of a sizzling steak, grilled chicken, fish or really any place you use butter in a savory dish. We recently made a whole nourishing meal in five minutes by adding basil butter to a pound of pasta and dumping a pint of cherry tomatoes in the bowl. It was amazing. Just remember one of the key rules to cooking: simple and fresh ingredients, always result in great food.

 

It's like the leaning tower of calories...

 

 

Start with butter. Not this much. About a stick’s worth will do. You’re going to have to cut through it, so you don’t want it to be too frozen, but not too warm because then it will get mushy. Basically just don’t wait too long after taking it out of the fridge to use it.

 

 

It goes without saying that when we say half cup we mean heaping half cup

 

 

Then find yourself a heaping half cup of basil, and finely chop it. Remember that the amount of herbs or vegetables you use will vary greatly depending on the ingredient you choose to use. Here we are using a ½ cup of basil, but you certainly wouldn’t use a ½ cup of ginger or garlic since it would be overwhelming. In the case of garlic or ginger, a couple of tablespoons would do, depending on your taste. You’ll have to play around with it.

 

 

 

 

Using a chefs knife, cut the butter and herbs together until they come together and are well combined.

 

 

 

 

Once the butter and basil are well combined place the butter on a sheet of wax or parchment paper (use wax paper if you have it since it is a lot cheaper and serves the same purpose). Shape the butter into a log.

 

 

 

 

Cover the roll with the sheet of wax or parchment paper. Once covered, gently roll the covered butter back and forth until the log is round and looks like a log.

 

 

It's like candy! Or Christmas crackers!

 

 

Twist the ends of the log to look like a candy wrapper and place in the refrigerator for one hour or longer (you may also put it in the freezer for ½ hour if pressed for time, but don’t forget it!) Unwrap the butter and place it on a pretty plate, cutting thin slices while it is still firm.  Cover any leftovers with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator. The butter will keep for a week or longer.

 

 

So here’s the challenge for you. Make your own compound butter (even combine more than one herb or vegetable), and let us know how you used them. We can’t wait to see your comments!

As Seen on TV: Thai Scented Asparagus Soup

Cooking for a living has begun to take over all of my thoughts. Isabella’s newly sewn pink dress isn’t an article of clothing, but a piece of watermelon. Everywhere I go I think about new dishes and ingredients, and there is no off button to press. Just dials on the stove to let me make more food. I feel like a composer sometimes, only instead of notes, I hear shallots, pancetta and fried chicken. It’s driving me crazy, really it is. I love love love teaching people to cook… but seriously. Enough is enough.

 

Though as problems go, this is probably a good one to have...

 

 

This recipe was born out of one of these fits of inspiration. We often teach a cream of asparagus soup in our spring classes, but I was making a Thai dish one day and the idea to infuse it with coconut, lemongrass and ginger just jumped into my head.  It has quickly become a family favorite and it worked out so well that I used it for my latest appearance on Connecticut Style. Although a video exists on WTNH, it was very fast, and we thought you’d appreciate seeing how to make this lively Asian inspired soup step-by-step, so here it is:

 

 Good things lie in store

 

We start with the freshest ingredients, which includes, lemon juice, lemongrass, ginger, asparagus and coconut milk,  but there are others as well, including yellow onions and chicken or vegetable broth.

 

Visions of coconuts dance in my head

 

First, we need to peel the lemongrass, an ingredient commonly found in Asian food stores and in some supermarkets, especially Whole Foods.

 

This is the reason, by the way, that thai food is so amazing. This is the secret. Right here.

 

Then you have to cut most of the stalk away. We only want the part of the lemongrass that has purple rings.

 

You want it to look like this, otherwise there will be tons of aweful tough bits

 

Then – and really pay attention to this or the lemongrass with be tough and stringy – you have to smash it hard several times with a knife. Until it looks like this

 

Smashingly beautiful :D I would recommend going even farther than this, because it will assure you have very very small pieces.

 

 

Then put the lemongrass in a mini food processor with a teaspoon or two of oil until finely minced and looks like this:

 

 

Finely Chopped Lemongrass

 

 

Then you need to peel the ginger. You can peel it in many different ways by using a melon baller, sturdy spoon or vegetable peeler. Afterwards, finely  mince the ginger in a mini chopper as well. You can, obviously, do that by hand, it will just take much longer.

 

 

 

 

After sautéeing the onions until they are glassy, add the lemongrass and ginger and continue sautéeing until the ginger and lemongrass start to soften, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the asparagus, salt and pepper and cook for another five minutes.

 

Make sure everything is coating everything so the flavors all blend nicely together

 

 

Add the broth (chicken or vegetable – we like to use vegetable when we’re cooking for a crowd, since then we can make this vegan and everyone can eat it!) and give the mixture a good stir in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven. Cook for 15 minutes and then puree the soup either in a blender (after letting the mixture cool) or an immersion blender right inside the pot, our preferred choice.

 

 

 

Add a bit of lemon, give it a good stir, and serve. The great thing about this soup, next to the amazing flavor, is that it tastes great for several days and can certainly be made the day before company. And there you have it! Serve with a garnish of mint, or chives.

 

 

Click here to get the complete recipe written up on Food52!

Grain of Salt: Damage Control

I’ve realized that every time I make a transfer from home to school, I seem to try my absolute hardest to make you guys extra jealous of the food I get to eat at home. When I’m home I wax poetic about foods like boeuf bourguignon, Persian jeweled rice, and plum crumble with vanilla bean. When I’m away, I whine about how much I miss them. I suppose that’s my way of handling my joy/sorrow. To be truthful I’m pretty sure mom just makes all that stuff to keep me around. But I am a very defiant girl, and I will not let her win, which is why I try to make as much of her food as I can at school. It has nothing to do with the fact that I miss home. Nothing at all. So of course, you would imagine my distress when I came home this week to discover that she was taking the recipes I had tried so hard to steal and *dramatic pause* innovating on them. The woman will stop at nothing. All my defiance was for naught because, what’s worse, it was all for the better… almost.

 

something is, indeed, amiss

 

One of the recipes I had stolen was this awesome leek and goat cheese quiche. It’s so popular at school that one of my friends once ate half of it in one sitting. Mom teaches it all the time in her 20 Minute Dinners class, and every time I eat it, it reminds me of home. Because it’s supposed to be quick and easy, and because homemade pie crust is almost never worth the effort, we use good pre-made crust. But last night, mom was teaching 20 Minute Dinners, and she thought it might be a good idea to replace the pie crust with puff pastry pressed into a tart shell. Now granted, it did sound like a pretty good idea, but it sounded like a *bit* more effort than I was going to go into on your typical Wednesday night, and I just knew I was going to end up missing home again and we just can’t have that. But mom insisted, and so she took the puff pastry out of the freezer and let it defrost… forgetting, as we chatted over smoothies, that you have to unfold puff pastry as quickly as possible before defrosting. Lo and behold, we tried to unfold it and ended up with the sticky monster you see above.

 

Preview of things to come

 

I, of course, was thrilled. Not only were there very literal holes in this silly plan, but I had just acquired a whole sheet of puff pastry to play with. I made some cinnamon sugar, got out some Hershey Special Dark Kisses and Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips, and got to immediate work. I wrapped pastry around chocolate, around bunches of peanut butter chips, and sometimes around combinations of the two. Sometimes I dipped these in cinnamon sugar, sometimes not. And then sometimes I just tied pastry in a knot or twisted it up and dipped that in cinnamon sugar – like the cinnamon twists you’re currently overpaying for. It was a lot of fun. I really love puff pastry.

 

Doesn't this look like it was left by the druids or something?

 

I baked them at 375 until they were browned and sugar was caramelized. I removed them from the oven and redipped all of the cinnamon sugar ones, so that they had a layer of caramelized sugar and a layer of fresh (do that while they’re hot so that it sticks). They were heavenly, especially the chocolate-filled cinnamon-dipped ones, which tasted kind of like rugalach. It was quite a success, especially considering this was all happening at 10 am.

 

Would you ever know these took about 30 seconds to make?

 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, mom was still trying to make innovation worthwhile. She took out a new sheet of pastry and pressed it into a tart pan. But somehow, much as we tried to keep it in shape, the sides refused to stay up and we ended up with a beautifully puffy gallette. Having finished my pastry bits, I came to the rescue again, filling it with dried cranberries, apricots and almonds…

well half of it at least, we have to leave something for francesca ;)

 

And topping it with dark chocolate.

 

Disaster makes the best dessert

 

Seriously, how does my family even function without me? Granted this part was kind of her idea… but I did it, and my point makes more sense if I take credit. I then baked it until it was sort of toasty and the chocolate was melted (which doesn’t take long, next time I’m going to bake the puff pastry longer first). I spread it around and topped Francesca and Isabella’s half with some sugar because that makes it taste like a chocolate croissant (did you know that’s why they taste the way they do?). Seriously, I could sell a prettier version of this for so much money at a pastry shop.

 

That piece was never even there. Don't ask.

 

In German tradition there’s a time, around 3 or 4 o’clock, where everyone sits down for Kaffee und Kuchen, or coffee and cake. But since I don’t think my family comes from the fancy part of Germany, we call it yowza (yauße?) (does anyone know anything about this?). So yesterday afternoon, once I’d picked up my sisters from school, we sat down to a lovely yowza of mini pastries and chocolate tart. It was ever so classy, and the puff pastry was all saved from a monstrous end. And of course, my mom was forced to concede that quiche should just be left to the pre-made crust. I guess she’ll just have to find better ways of getting me to come home.

 

The real question is how do these people even function without me?

 

There are several morals to this story, all of equal importance. Moral number one: daughters may need their mothers, but mothers need their daughters just as much. Moral number 2: there is no disaster so big that it can’t be made into pastry. Moral number three: you can try all you want, but you just can’t improve on pre-made pie crust.

Find your Inner Gourmet: Vinegar & Salad Dressing

 

As you can see in the video above, making salad dressing is so easy you can practically do it in your sleep! In the video you can see a demo of what making dressing looks like, and tips on what vinegars to buy – and where to get them for cheap! But here are some quick refresher notes!

 

So many possibilities! Almost all bought at Marshalls ;)

 

The combinations are endless depending on the flavor of vinegar and herbs you choose.  Salad dressing is a simple ratio of 3:1, oil to vinegar. So let’s say you want to use 1/3 cup vinegar, you would need 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil (or another oil if you like, depending on the flavor you want). If you wanted to use ¼ cup of vinegar, you would use ¾ cup of oil.

 

1/3 cup vinegar, 1 cup oil

 

 

But we can’t just combine them and call it a day! That would be an unspeakably, tragically boring… and also they would separate. First we need to add salt and pepper to the vinegar. And you can throw in a teaspoon or two of anyherb you like – see what is in your fridge or garden, especially in the warmer months. It is actually a good way to use herbs that are wilting, or slightly past their peak because they are going to be finely chopped. If the fresh herb cupboard is bare, you can add a ½ a teaspoon or more of most any dried herb

 

 Pepper and Thyme

 

 

If you want a dressing that stays suspended/emulsified, add a teaspoon or two of dijon or whole grain mustard and mix well. It’s the same process we use to make mayonnaise. We are essentially forcing the oil and vinegar to mix against their will… cruel, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

 

Dijon and Whole Grain – either one works. We do not recommend using french's however ;)

 

This is how you add it... it's terribly difficult

 

Now you are ready to whisk in the oil, but do it very gradually or it will not combine properly.

 Gradually pour and whisk

 

You did it! As you can see, the dressing looks a little cloudy. That’s how you know the oil and vinegar are suspended and will remain mixed, at least for a little while. It won’t last forever, so if you aren’t pouring the oil on right away, be sure to give it another good whisk before you pour it on to salad greens.

 

 Pour it in a salad, or store it in a jar.

 

The great thing about dressing is that it lasts for days. Ball canning jars are great for storing and (little known fact) you can get them at Wal-Mart for just $6 for 12! If you store it, just be sure to take it out of the refrigerator about an hour before you use it so the oil has a chance to come to room temperature. Then give it a good whisk/shake, pour it over your salad and enjoy!

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