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!
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
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.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
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.
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 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!
Lazy Girl's Loaf (a.k.a. Simple Crusty Bread)
Recipe alone: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11
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
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
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?!
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
The Engineer and I have declared this to be the Christmas of No Stress, and to this end we have forsworn the following:
1) The Finding of the Perfect Present
2) The Spending of the More Money Than Makes Us Comfortable ("Cringe-making" is our barometer for this)
3) The Buying of a Present for Everyone and Their Little Dog Too
(and a personal one for yours truly)
4) The Spending of Too Much Time (a.k.a. FOREVER) Crafting Presents
To follow through with this commitment, I have decided that I'm going to make the majority of my presents myself, be it with crafts or edibles, and I'm going to give everyone essentially the same thing.
In this era of DIY and craftiness, you'd think it would be easy to find simple-yet-awesome, budget-friendly craft projects, but I've actually been finding it rather difficult. A lot of projects can end up being rather spendy once you add up all the various bits and pieces (some people's definition of 'budget-friendly' being different from my own) Or they take forever to assemble. Or they aren't mass-production-friendly. But it can be done! [Finger jabbed triumphantly skyward]
So, for your holiday crafting enjoyment and entertainment, below is a smattering of projects I've found that appear to be Cool, Cheap, and Stress-Free. Click on the name of the project to link to the original website. Some of them don't have instructions, but seem logical to assemble. If you have questions, feel free to comment or e-mail and I'll cypher it out with you:
*I'll keep adding to this list as I find new things over the next few weeks. Check back in!
Felt wine racks (or HERE)
Rice face masks
Bacon Magnets made with felt
Neck-Warmer--a sexy and simple one-skein knitting project
-->Salted, dipped in chocolate, w/ espresso powder, bourbon, rum...
(P.S. I'm actually trying another recipe this weekend that I got from one of my chefs at school and that looks easier than this one. If it works out, I'll post about it next week.)
*I'm packaging my mixes in Bell canning jars, which I found at a local hardware store for $8 for 12 jars. You can certainly go shmancier--the Container Store has a plethora of interesting vessels.
Beer Bread (or HERE)
Sunday, December 02, 2007
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.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
To folks coming over from Mason-Dixon Knitting--Welcome! Thanks for stopping by! To catch up on the back story on this sassy project, go HERE and HERE and HERE.
Please join me in a moment of silence. The daisy dukes...oh, the DUKES!...they're actually done. It's been a long and season-spanning journey. There were highs and lows, debates over pockets and waistbands, fears of binding off too soon and lily-white thighs. Progress was slow but inevitable and the siren call of knitted glory pushed me ever onward. My friends near and far, I give unto you The Daisy Dukes:
In the beginning, I kept careful notes on construction and method, diligently recorded stitch counts, and photographed the stages. In the end, though, I just started winging it. Willy nilly! Freestyle! Booty or bust! For interested knitting parties out there, the design was based on the Sweetheart Short, a free pattern over at Knitpicks.com, though I used their pattern more for method and construction than actual stitch counts. I did a swatch and worked out my gauge, sizing the dukes to fit yours truly. When I figured out how many stitches I needed to fit around my waist, I divided them in two and worked the front (with pockets) and back separately.
The pockets, oh, the pockets. Without a doubt, these pockets are my single proudest achievement as a knitter, mostly because it involved channeling my inner-nerd and figuring out slope. I debated whether to knit the pockets by hand or cut them out of an old pair of jeans. I really really wanted that look of the pockets hanging out below the hemline, but the idea of knitting all that in sock yarn was a bit...daunting. In the end, I decided that cut-outs from real jeans would add a little je ne sais quoi touch of authenticity and also to reduce bulkiness in the final short. Plus I was already about on pace with the Big Dig in terms of project completion, so it was time to cut a few corners. Just like the Big Dig (oh! OUCH! BURN!).
I traced the contour of the pocket onto graph paper and compared it to my gauge-swatch to figure out number of stitches and where to increase. At this point, I realized that these dukes will be tough to duplicate because there's not a standard pocket size on jeans (or shape, for that matter). To any potential Daisy Dukers out there: It's totally worth it to figure out how to shape those pockets. The rush when you finally get it is unbelievable. My personal Moment of Enlightenment occurred in the Logan International Airport in Boston. I believe I might have stood up with tears in my eyes and pumped my fist in the air a few times. I might have also tried to get my fellow travelers to high-five me, but since I was babbling about "Slope! And see! The pockets! The gauge! See! I used graph paper!" they kind of edged away quietly with excuses of connecting flights. Worth. It.There are some good shots of the pockets-in-progress in an earlier post HERE.
After the pocket shaping was done and I connected the front and the back, the rest of the body was worked in the round. When I got to the legs, I divided the stitches again and worked each leg separately. I did work in a few Raspy-esque rips and tears, but they didn't end up being big enough to be very noticeable. For those interested, I worked the 'rips' by increasing one and then dropping that increased stitch when I was binding off along the hem. The dropped stitch unravels and leaves a nice little rip. I considered bleaching the rips to make them more visible, but in the end I really liked the clean look of the hem.
For the waist band, I picked up stitches along the edge and increased stitches over the space where the pockets would go. I did about an inch and half of ribbing and bound off.
And last but not least, I stitched in those Pockets of Glory using a basic back stitch. All of the detailing--the faux fly and the faux back pockets--were also done in back stitch similar to the Blu pattern over on Knitty.
I feel a profound sense of satisfaction at having finished these--and finished them in time to wear at my Halloween party, none the less! I'm not sure how many occasions I will have in the future to sport these ladies, but you know? It just makes me happy to know that they exist.
Notes for Daisy Dukes: Take 2 (a.k.a Daisy Dukes: Oops I Did It Again) and/or the intrepid knitter:
*Worth it to figure out the gauge.
*Start the raspy rips and tears further up the legs
*Knit just a few more rows on the legs. I knit about an inch and I think I could have gone an inch and a half and still had the bottoms of the pockets showing. Yes, they are Daisy Dukes, but...let's just say there was a bit more of my badonkadonk showing that was strictly necessary.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
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.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
One of the best advantages to working at the Noodle Factory is being in a primo localation for any Happenings of Interest in the downtown area. Point in fact: The Red Sox Rolling Rally! And because of COURSE I'm a die-hard Red Sox fan, of COURSE I HAD to go down to watch the rally of COURSE. I mean, like, duh! We're in Boston, people!
So please pardon my momentary lapse into Red Sox Fan-dom. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled Daisy Dukes and Culinary School updates in a moment.
The Rally View from my office. Crazy fans started lining up at about 8am. ETA of the rally? 11:30am:
And Mr. Terry "El Hombre" Francona hisself, looking quite pensive and reflective on his win:
And I had to include this shot because that VERY NICE AND NOT AT ALL ANNOYING lady in front of me so perfectly masked Francona's face with her enthusiastic thumbs up. How did she do that?:
Josh Beckett and his smirk:
Curt Schilling givin' it up for the crowd while Josh types a text message:
Drop Kick Murphy's:
Manny and Ortiz sharing a special moment:
And last but not least, my boyfriend Mike Lowell:P.S. Mike and I were steady waaaaay before the whole MVP thing. We've definitely been an item since at least mid-season.
Posted by Emma Christensen at 1:17 PM
Friday, October 26, 2007
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 shots 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 underside 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]
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
by Barbara Kingsolver
Yeah, so...um...I didn't get very far with Seven Storey Mountain. Yeah...oops. That's because I was completely swept away by Barbara Kingsolver's latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I have been an avid Kingsolver reader for several years, but was so annoyed by the preachy environmentalism masquerading as fiction in her book Prodigal Summer that I haven't ready anything she's written since. When Animal, Vegetable, Miracle first came out, I rolled my eyes and walked right on by.
And then picked it up off of a friend's coffee table, read the first page, sat down on the couch, read a little more, and couldn't put it down. I think what turned me off about Prodigal Summer was the underhanded way that (I felt) Kingsolver pushed her environmental agenda onto the reader. It felt passive aggressive, overly defensive, and forced. But in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver can be direct and honest with the reader about her views, and the resulting book feels like conversation between the reader and Kingsolver. A conversation that perhaps takes place in her cozy kitchen while canning tomatoes or flipping through poultry catalogs.
Anyways, it's a good read, especially at this time of year when the summer bounty is winding down and hot tea starts to sound like a mighty fine idea.
Speaking of which...
Nutcracker Sweet Tea from Celestial Seasonings
Earlier in the summer, my good friend Dave arrived in my cube all a-flutter and grinning from ear to ear. He held out a box wrapped in Christmas paper: "Open it! Open it!" By this point, he was hopping from foot to foot and giggling a little, so I tore off the paper in about two seconds and revealed....an entire box full of Nutcracker Sweet Tea. That's right, Dave had heard my cry for a dependable supply of Favorite Tea Ever, and went straight to the source: Celestial Seasonings Mecca and got me six whole boxes of Nutcracker Sweet Tea. All for me! To ration or splurge as I please! Oh, Dave, did I ever tell you that you're my hero? Yes, and also the wind beneath my wings.
At the time, I had one lonely box of tea that I'd been slowly rationing out. Then it got hot here in Boston and hot = iced coffee, and for whatever reason, it's only been this last week that I cracked the first box of Favorite Tea Ever. And it's so timely since just this week, fall arrived. Just like that. Sweater time!
Not a sweater, alas. No, it's that time of year when I still believe I can really truly finish all my knitting projects in time for Christmas. Yes, like any true Red Sox fan, I still believe.
And yes, pictures of the Daisy Dukes to come. Sorry it's taken me so long. Sorry sorry sorry! They're done, actually, but just haven't gotten photographed. To come. To come. The best is yet to come.
I need to do a separate post about this asap as this is my new favorite thing ever. It's essentially my recipe for pizza dough (HERE) split into eight pieces and folded into calzone-shape. I spread out the dough into a palm-sized round on a piece of parchment paper, put a few spoonfulls of filling, fold it over into a half-moon and pinch it shut. Leave the parchment paper around it (the paper comes off in the oven) and cut a few steam vents in the size. I bake these on a baking sheet in the oven because the filling tends to ooze out and get all over my oven (which is always perfectly clean. Of course.). That's it! They're about 3.5-4 Weight Watcher points each, depending on the filling and they freeze like a dream. I made a double batch this past weekend--sixteen calzones! I had a whole production-line going there. These are perfect for how crazy my life is these days--I leave a bunch in the freezer at work for lunches and throw one in my bag to scarf down between lecture and lab on class nights. Yum!
What else?....mmm...that's about it. That's about all I have had time for! Well, that and watching America's Next Top Model. (Go, Bianca! So fierce!)
Sunday, October 07, 2007
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 (you know, to practice my pate brisee) 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
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 tsp salt
9 TBS cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1" pieces
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 liquid 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 oven 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 counter. 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 cool 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
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 cubes
8 small potatoes--cut into cubes
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 simmer for 5 minutes.
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.
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
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.
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.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Ouch, where did September go? Has it really been three weeks since that last post? What a busy month it's been: culinary school starting, house-sitting, wedding-going, Ben Harper show attending, autumnal adjusting, America's Next Top Model watching....precious little sleeping, though, I can tell you that. Ah, sleep.
Well, things are in the air, my friends. I've got many stories and recipes and pictures to share with you. This weekend? Maybe? Pretty please, oh elusive Gods of Free Time?
In the meantime, here's a little preview of what I've been up to these past few weeks:
I gotsta practice my pate brisee a little more (super shmancy name for pie crust, don'chya know).
Yes, there was a classier name for this recipe, but they came out looking like...well...classy tots. So there you have it. I felt they deserved a little carnival cone presentation, given their humble appearance.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
because I've had it on my shelf for, oh, four years without reading it, and now I have been given a big poke in the keister by THIS interview with Paul Elie about his book The Life You Save May Be Your Own, which looks into the lives of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy. Because I'm slightly insane, I feel obligated to read at least one work by each person before reading Elie's book. To add another layer of intrigue--at one point or another, I have tried to read at least one book by each person and have failed each time.
Current Escape Reading:
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (Book #3 of the Song of the Lioness Quartet) by Tamora Pierce
Spinach Pesto Pasta with Chicken
Followed by too many:
Crunchie Bars that the Engineer's aunt and uncle brought me from Scotland. Soooo delicious and addictive. P.S. Here's a link to how you can make your VERY OWN Crunchie bars! (Click HERE). I dipped mine in chocolate, and will eventually post pictures, I plomise.
Currently wanting to make:
Fruit and vegetable preserves (a.k.a. Stuffing my squirrel cheeks for winter)--link HERE.
Also thinking about:
Starting a food-only satellite blog to My 3 Loves. Any suggestions for clever creative names that haven't already been taken by some of these clever creative people? A dinner (or goodie care package) courtesy of yours truly if I pick your name for my blog title!
Almost done knitting:
THE DAISY DUKES!!!
Then I'll be on to knitting:
Christmas Presents. For real. I mean it this year. No, I really do!
And that might actually be possible because:
Patriots Season (I mean Football Season) starts on Sunday!
Except I'm probably going to be just a leeetle bit distracted by THIS....
Friday, August 31, 2007
I've been feeling really down this week--I believe "Down in Ye Aulde Mouth" is the proper terminology. (Not to be confused with "Long in Ye Aulde Tooth" which is something entirely different.) No specific reason for this case of the blues, really. Well, ok, a lot of specific reasons, none of which would individually result in low spirits, but with their powers combined leave me feeling....oh, sigh.
The biggest thing is the feeling of restless anticipation. There are so many things in the works these days that my life feels like one of those picture-puzzles where you move the tiles around and try to figure out what the whole picture is supposed to be. I've got a tile with culinary school over there (which starts in A WEEK. When did that sneak up on me?!), a tile with the Engineer over there, new roommates over there, a tile with some money concerns hanging out in the corner up there, one with anxieties about the Noodle Factory in the middle here, and another with possible future jobs/side jobs/freelance jobs/what-have-you edging around the perimeter. Oh and let's just throw in the fact that the seasons are changing and daylight hours fading for good measure--that's always a good one.
I've been trying to get my Inner Buddhist on the scene--working the whole angle about staying present with the feeling, not labeling it as negative or positive but just accepting it for what it is, staying compassionate toward myself, and just being open about the whole experience. Well...yeah. Humph. My Inner Buddhist might have a better time of it if I could focus on anything for more than five minutes without getting distracted and antsy about something else. And before you say it, all you clever sassy people out there, yes, I've been exercising and going for my runs. If I were superstitious, I'd say that writing that post the other day about how wonderful and meditative running is actually jinxed me to a week of less-than-tranquil and annoyance-ridden jogs. But no. My Inner Buddhist prevails. No big deal. This too shall pass.
Today is Friday, which is Farmer's Market Day for those of us who work near Copley Square. This Farmer's Market has a good vibe. Business folk, tourists, stroller-moms, homeless people, and local residents all jostle side-by-side, commenting on the fuzziness of the peaches, the reddness of the tomatoes, the variety of hot peppers. I've been going to this Farmer's Market for a good four years now and feel like it's a familiar happy place. Some days, I smile and talk to everyone--farmers and buyers alike. Some days, I'm feeling quiet and keep my head down, but it's soothing to just be around the fresh smells, the shining produce, the reaching hands, and the lively conversations. I usually head over on my lunch break and stock up on all my produce for the week (or at least until the next Farmer's Market on Tuesday). So I spent this particular Friday morning feeling grumpy, and feeling grumpy about being grumpy, and watching the clock in anticipation of lunch because surely - SURELY - if anything is going to at least temporarily lift this mood of mine it will be a visit to the Farmer's Market.
12:01...VROOOOOM! Off I go!
Grumpy on the way to the elevator. Grumpy press the button to the lobby. Grumpy crossing the lobby and stepping out into the sunshine. (Ah, sunshine! Maybe a little something unclenches inside me? A leetle bit?) Grumpy walking to the corner. Grumpy waiting for the light. Grumpy dodging silly cars with silly people who think it's a good idea to drive downtown. Grumpy waiting at the next corner, gazing over at the market stalls. Grumpy...and then...tap! tap! tap!
I turn around and see this woman beaming, just BEAMING, at me. She looks a little older than me and is wearing comfortable clothes. A gaggle of middle school aged kids surround her. I would have pegged her for a tourist looking for directions except that she wasn't giving me the tourist vibe (you get a sense for this after living in Boston for a few years). I give her a nervous half-smile in return.
"Did you go to the Cambridge Culinary School?"
I must have looked a little surprised at her telepathic abilities because she gestures to my bag. At which point I remember that a few weeks ago, I eagerly switched over to the messanger bag the school gives as part of their equipment kit. Which has the name of the school embroidered on the flap. Duh.
"Uh, no, actually," I reply [sheepish grin], "I start next week."
(Next WEEK! When did THAT sneak up on me?)
"Oh," she says, still beaming, "I just wondered because I work with Create a Cook, and a couple of our instructors graduated from the Cambridge Culinary school. We teach kids to cook."
"Oh! Wow!" I'm starting to warm up to her at this point. It's hard to resist a really good beam, plus kids and cooking makes my heart warm and un-grumpy.
She goes on, "We're out in Newton. You should look us up. I think they're looking for people to help with the weekend workshops."
"Newton, you say?" I fumble in my Cambridge Culinary-issued messanger bag for a pen and paper, "What was that name again?"
She patiently gives me all the information again and then says that I can tell them that she referred me. I stammer my thanks, we chat for a few more minutes, and then we part ways. I watch her walk away, a gaggle of kids orbiting around her. I take a deep breath and find myself smiling. It sunny. I'm off to the Farmer's Market. A complete stranger just gave me a shot of confidence and a great reference to boost. And just like that, I think I can take off my grumpy hat.
Monday, August 27, 2007
When I'm out on a run, there comes this point when everything just...kinda...well...clicks. It usually happens somewhere after the first fifteen minutes--that would be the first fifteen minutes in which I chronicle every ache and pain my body feels, fuss with my headphones until they "feel right," skip back and forth between songs and podcasts, wish fiercely I had downloaded that Other Album before leaving for my run, debate possible justifications for cutting the run short, and worry that I should have gone to the bathroom one last time before deciding to bounce my bladder up and down for however long this goes on for.
Yes, somewhere after that first fifteen minutes, everything clicks. My body settles into the rhythm of running so that I don't have to think about it anymore. My breathing evens out and falls into pace with my stride. I start to notice the way the sunlight glints through the leaves, the changes in the bushes beside the path, the smell of the just-cut grass around the flower beds. I nod at people as we pass each other and grin at children. I don't even notice whatever music I finally settled on--it's become part of the background. I'll come back to it every now and again when a particular phrase or refrain catches my attention. My whole body, my mind, my heart--everything relaxes and focuses in on the one activity of running. And in that single-mindedness, I find that I am thinking of everything and nothing at all. Thoughts surface and then slip away. Moments from my day replay in my mind and then fade. Emotions, worries, all the daily trials and tribulations of being me all cycle through, but don't stay for very long. As soon as I notice myself thinking about something, I end up back in this moment of running and moving and breathing.
It took me a while to realize that this is meditation. This is what we try to do in meditation--this gentle cycling of thinking and coming back to the present. Neither preventing the distractions from surfacing nor actively seeking them. Just allowing them to happen and then letting them slip away. It's being present and engaged with the moment at hand.
I've tried traditional "sitting-down" meditation off and on through my life. I always had this feeling like I wasn't doing it right. I never felt the kind of inner calm that was described by the teacher or the books. Those people with inner calm on their tranquil, radiant faces always made me feel especially irritable. I always felt fidgety and would sneak peaks at the clock. Or if there was no clock, I would get very anxious about how much time had passed (or not passed) and how would I know when to stop and when is the leader going to sound that effing gong? I would get frustrated and grumpy over my lack of inner calm and end up reprimanding myself for not being good enough at meditating. Ha! Oh, the wily mind of the perfectionist.
I've now realized a few things about meditation, two things in particular:
1) There is no 'right' way to meditate. A teacher helps, but only if you trust that teacher and only if that teacher knows their stuff. I think that part of my problem when I was younger was that my teachers didn't really know much more about meditation that I did, however certified they may have said they were. (Note: This was during a time in my life when the label "New Age" was all it took to get my complete and utter devotion.) Yes, I think a teacher can help, but I also really think that the body knows. Deep down, you know. I think that's why meditation is so powerful--because it's intrinsic to you, and on some deep cellular level, you know how to reach that state of mind all on your own. It doesn't require you to call it meditation. I think that meditation can be found whenever you give yourself wholly to a certain activity to the point where thoughts do not hook you. I feel this so strongly when running, but I've also felt it while listening to music, while kneading bread, and while serving coffee as a barista at Starbucks.
2) The other thing I've realized is that it takes practice. It's possible that traditional, sitting-down meditation is not the way for me to go about meditating. It's also possible that I just didn't keep at it long enough to develop the habit and give my body and spirit a chance to really figure it out. I've been running regularly and for gradually longer distances for about two years now. I don't feel like I'm a natural runner. I was never athletic and getting into the habit of running was really hard. For a long time, running even short distances felt like dying. It really did. I kept thinking, "This is the craziest, most sadistic thing a person could do to their bodies. How is this good?" And then some athletic somebody would whisk by me and I would think, "Well...they don't look so crazy. And DAMN look at those CALVES."
Practice practice practice. When I tried traditional meditation, I wanted to be perfect and so I got mad at myself when I got fidgety after a few minutes. When I first started running, I wanted to be perfect, so I got mad at myself whenever I had to stop and walk to catch my breath. I think the real turning point for my running came about a year ago. I don't even remember what motivated the change, but I remember saying to the Engineer, "You know, I think I'm just going to run every day. Even if it's just once around the small pond. I'm just going to do it." The Engineer raised his eyebrows at me--wanting to be supportive, of course, not disbelieving, per se, but also not entirely...sure. But I knew. I knew that there had been a shift inside me.
And somehow, deciding to run every day took the pressure off of being perfect. I no longer felt like I had to be super-awesome those two or three days when I went on BIG BAD RUNS. I mean, if I got really winded today or only made it around the small pond, no big deal. I'll be back again tomorrow. No big deal. When I started running every day, I also really started to feel the rhythm of it, the cycle of my days and my movements. Going running started to feel like returning to center.
Maybe your intention also made a difference. When I started running, I didn't set out to make it my way of meditating. It just happened. I think that if I had set out with intention of meditating, it might not have happened. Or maybe it would have--running is one of those things that you do actually have to concentrate on. If you're distracted with other things (Like clicking through every song on your iPod. Just saying), then you will inevitably trip over your own feet, get yourself slapped in the face with branches, lose your breath, step in goose poop, pull a muscle, and possibly careen into strollers or small energetic children. It's only when you give yourself over to the act of running (or biking or kneading dough or sit-down meditating) that the feeling of transcendence happens. It clicks. Everything clicks. Man, that's hard to describe. I guess that's why it's ineffable.
Monday, August 13, 2007
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.
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.
After 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.
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.