Tag Archives: Cookbooks

chilindron (spanish stew) and a book event with hank shaw

This summer, Hank Shaw of the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook announced he was going on tour to support his new book Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast . Much like the tours organized by many of my friends in fledgling bands over the years, this was a DIY, couch-surfing, cross-country jaunt, with Hank scheduling the events himself sans (at least to my knowledge) the aid of his publisher. Curious to see if there was anything in the works for Detroit, I emailed him and offered to help out. We went back and forth a bit as far as what type of event it should be, and Hank suggested a potluck. Marvin generously offered up his studio in the Russell Industrial building as a gathering place. I had hoped Hank might be able to spend the afternoon prior to the event foraging around the area to bring in examples of things people could find locally, but it didn’t pan out that way- the weather was already getting a bit too cold to find many wild plants, and Hank had other plans for hunting woodcock up north.

I put the word out about the event, and was pretty pleased with the response, given that I’ve worked many, many book signings where only a small handful of people show up and even less actually purchase the book. We had about 20 in attendance and probably would’ve had more if not for the really nasty freezing rain that night. But despite the inclement weather, we had quite a spread: home-cured prosciutto, lardo and lonzino, a few kinds of homemade pickles, jams, and home-brewed spruce beer were some of the contributions, in keeping with the spirit of the evening (Hank covers many curing and preservation methods on his blog in addition to hunting and foraging). Not to mention this beautiful pie that my friend Abigail (one of les culinettes) brought!

I decided to make a recipe I’d recently seen on Hank’s blog- a Spanish stew called chilindron, which I could make ahead and warm in the slow cooker. For side dishes, I put together a garlicky raw kale salad with pecorino, and a plateful of the nuptial ham. Last but not least, I was able to make paw paw ice cream thanks to a gift of some foraged paw paws courtesy of my friend Ian. I was super excited about this since I had never tried paw paw before. I wanted to do a full post just about the ice cream, but I didn’t use a recipe and it turned out a little too icy and hard, although the flavor was good. If you ever get a chance to eat a paw paw, they’re wonderful- the texture is sort of like mango but with none of the stringiness, and the flavor is delicately tropical and custardy. Some people compare it to banana but I didn’t particularly get that. Paw paws do have large seeds that are somewhat obnoxious to work around to get all the fruit off, but the effort is well-rewarded. I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life in Michigan without trying one until now, and I’m definitely going to seek them out next year.

As folks filtered in for the event, the table grew heavy with food; I think I sampled everything at least twice (you know, not wanting anyone to feel slighted!). We decided to eat first, and then Hank talked for a while about what hunting means to him, sharing some stories of hyper-local meals and other hunting-related experiences. Afterward, he stayed signing books and chatting with guests before heading off to Slows for a beer. I’m not sure how he felt about the event- it was a much more modest affair than many of the fine-dining events he’s been a part of- but the attendees were all thanking me profusely for putting it together, so I’m calling it a success. It was cool to be able to share something I’ve been a fan of for a while with a bunch of people who had never heard of it (I think maybe one or two people had been aware of Hank’s blog prior to that night), and have them react so positively.

Not only did I have a fun evening with great food and company, but I now have a new recipe in my repertoire to boot. The original recipe leaves a lot of leeway for different types of meats, but I just used bone-in chicken thighs, not having access to any game meats at the time. It calls for the meat “in serving pieces”, so I’m not sure if that means bone-in or boneless. Because it was a potluck, for ease of serving and eating I took the meat off the bone, but if serving at home you could leave it on. I also went against the “use white wine with chicken” suggestion and stuck with red, as I felt it would go better with the heartier flavors. Besides, I cook dark meat chicken with red wine all the time and it pairs just fine (hello, coq au vin?). I made a few other tweaks, prepping and adding ingredients where it made more sense to me, but the essence of the dish is the same. Hank’s feedback was that it was good, but “needed to be spicier”. I had followed his recipe measurements for the hot paprika, so maybe the brand he uses is just spicier; I would say, taste as you go and add more if you want a bit of a kick.  I had thought about doing rice or polenta as a starchy accompaniment, but due to time constraints wound up making couscous, which was just as suitable. Potatoes or crusty bread would, of course, be a couple more options.

Photos of stew and paw paws are mine; all other photos this post by Marvin Shaouni

Chilindron (Spanish Chicken & Pepper Stew) adapted from Hank Shaw’s blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
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3 ½ pounds chicken thighs (or a combination of thighs and drumsticks), trimmed of excess fat
salt and pepper
5 roasted red bell peppers (see note)
½ oz dried porcini mushrooms (feel free to use up to an ounce if you’re feeling flush)
1 cup boiling water
2 large onions
10 cloves garlic
¼ cup olive oil
2 slices bacon, cut into strips
2 cups red wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
a couple sprigs fresh thyme (optional- not in Hank’s recipe but I had some lying around and it’s a nice addition)
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon hot paprika
4 bay leaves
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
chopped fresh parsley to garnish

Note: To roast peppers, broil or put directly on a gas burner, turning until blackened and blistered all over. Place in a covered bowl or paper bag rolled shut to trap the steam. When cool enough to handle, remove skins, stems and seeds.

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper and set aside at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prep the vegetables: Put dried mushrooms in a small bowl;  pour in 1 cup boiling water and cover. Roast the peppers as indicated above. Slice the onions in half-moons and mince the garlic.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot with a lid over medium high heat. Brown the chicken in two batches, adjusting the heat as needed. Follow Hank’s advice: “Take your time and do this right”. You want the meat to be really nicely browned. As each piece is done, remove it from the pan to a plate covered loosely with foil.

Sometime during this process, you should have time to deal with the mushrooms and peppers. Lift the mushrooms from the liquid and roughly chop, reserving the soaking liquid. Peel the peppers and remove the stems and seeds; cut into strips.

Cook the bacon over medium heat until it begins to render some of its fat; if there is a lot of fat in the pan, you may want to pour a little off. Raise the heat slightly and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook until they begin to soften, stirring well to dislodge the browned bits. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Return the meat to the pan, along with any collected juices. You can either take the skin off first or leave it on, your preference- I don’t care for soggy chicken skin so I remove it and nibble on the crispy parts while I cook. Increase the heat to high and add the wine, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme sprigs (if using) and paprika; boil rapidly until the wine has reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, roasted peppers, stock and reserved mushroom liquid, pouring it slowly and carefully to leave any debris behind. The liquid should come about 2/3 of the way up the meat; if necessary, add more stock or a bit of water. Cover the pot and cook at a very low simmer for about an hour.

If desired, remove the chicken pieces from the pot and allow to cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bones, tearing into bite-sized pieces, and return to the pot. Alternately, you can leave it on the bone, your choice.

Just before serving, taste the stew and season with salt and pepper as needed- it will most likely need at least another 1/2 teaspoon salt. If you want it a little spicier, add more hot paprika to taste. Remove and discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Chop the parsley and serve on the side to be sprinkled on top of each diner’s dish.

achieving wok hay

Ever since reading Fuchsia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper last year, I’ve been hankering to get into more authentic Chinese cooking. I realize “authenticity” is subjective and can be cause for debate, but in the broad sense I mean food that would actually be prepared in a Chinese home, rather than  dishes that were created Stateside and appear on every Chinese take-out menu from Dubuque to Des Moines.

With that in mind, I picked up The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young from the library recently. It focuses in on the techniques of wok cooking as a necessary component of Chinese cookery, as opposed to some Asian cookbooks that reassure the cook that it’s fine to just stir fry in a skillet if need be. The way Young describes the use of a wok, it’s practically an ingredient unto itself. Anyone who’s had a well-prepared stir fry can identify the flavor of wok hay, the essence or “breath” of the wok, as Young translates it. It’s that underlying hint of smokiness that you just don’t get unless you cook at extremely high temperatures, and it is simply not possible to accomplish with a Western skillet.

So vital is the selection, care, technique and culture of the wok that Young spends the first 65 pages of her book discussing these topics before any recipes are given. I read most of those pages, but the other night I was feeling eager to dive in so I thought I’d forge ahead and try my hand at one of the recipes, a scallop & asparagus stir fry. Apart from one misstep at the very beginning (minced garlic that turned black within seconds of being added to the uber-hot wok), the recipe was a breeze. Best of all, when I tasted the dish, there it was- the slight “grilled” flavor of wok hay! It felt like a revelation. I served it with a very non-authentic but delicious variation of my favorite carrot and avocado salad, where I subbed in ginger, hot chili paste, rice vinegar and a touch of soy sauce for the French vinaigrette.

Even if you only make the occasional stir fry, I would highly recommend reading Young’s chapters about wok use and putting her advice into practice. That little bit of knowledge just might have you creating some wok hay of your own, and I’m here to tell you it’s worth whatever small extra effort might be involved. My scallop stir-fry was easily one of the best I’ve made- the scallops seared but juicy; the vegetables crisp-tender; the sauce just a sheer glaze that nicely flavored without drowning the ingredients. I have a feeling the wok is going to be put to use a little more often in our household in the near future.

I can’t summarize Young’s 65 pages for you, of course, but here are a few tips for achieving wok hay in your own kitchen:

  • Use a carbon-steel wok, never nonstick.
  • Have all ingredients close at hand; the process goes lightning fast and there’s no time to realize you forgot a component during cooking.
  • Don’t exceed the amount of ingredients a recipe calls for or add too much to the wok at one time; it brings the temperature down too far and your food will steam instead of sear.

Scallop & Asparagus Stir-Fry (adapted from The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young)
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Notes: The original recipe called for 1 lb of asparagus. I only had about 3/4 lb so I subbed in some snow peas for the remaining 1/4 lb. The important thing is not to go over 1 lb total of vegetables, because it will reduce the wok’s heat too much. The only other change I made was to sprinkle the garlic on top of the scallops when I put them in the wok. When I put the garlic in first, I found that it instantly burned and I had to start over.

1 lb. scallops (if you want to splurge, use fresh dry sea scallops, but I used frozen, thawed bay scallops and they tasted fine)
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed & cut into 2-inch pieces
1 ¼ tsp salt
4 tsp Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
2 ¼ tsp cornstarch
1 ½ tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp ground white pepper
1 Tbs peanut or other  vegetable oil
1 Tbs minced garlic

Put 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan with 1 tsp salt and bring to the boil. Add asparagus. When the water returns to a boil, remove from heat and drain the asparagus; set aside. (If using any snow peas, they do not need to be blanched.)

Rinse the scallops and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. Combine in a bowl with the sesame oil, white pepper, 1 ¼ tsp of the cornstarch, 1 tsp of the rice wine and the remaining ¼ tsp of salt; mix well to combine. In another bowl, combine the remaining 1 tsp cornstarch, rice wine, and the oyster sauce with ¼ cup cold water.

Place scallops, asparagus, sauce and garlic within hands’ reach of the stove. Heat a 14″ flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1-2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the vegetable oil. Add the scallops, carefully spreading them in a single layer. Sprinkle the garlic on top. Cook undisturbed for 30 seconds to allow them to brown; then stir-fry with a metal spatula for 30-60 seconds or until scallops are light brown but not cooked through. Add the asparagus. Stir the sauce mixture and add to the wok. Bring to the boil to thicken the sauce and finish cooking the scallops, about 30 seconds.

Serves 4 as part of a multi-course meal.

why i hate cookbooks.

“Why I hate cookbooks” may seem like an odd blog post title for someone who owns as many cookbooks as I do, and who regularly swoons over them.  But every so often, I have one of those frustrating cooking experiences that make me almost angry at the cookbook author for whatever flaw in their recipe that caused the demise of my dinner.

a half-baked chicken recipe

The primary problem with cookbooks is obviously that they’re not interactive.  Have a question or need something clarified? You’re outta luck.*  Unlike blogs, where you can usually get a question on a recipe answered via the comments or an email, cookbooks are static and unyielding, leaving many home cooks up in the air and having to guess at what was intended.

Part of this has to do with the fact that many cookbooks assume a level of knowledge or background that may or may not be there.  Many foodies probably scoff at cookbook authors such as Nigella Lawson, who is not a “real chef” but just a home cook like (most of) the rest of us.  But that’s exactly the thing I love about Nigella’s cookbooks (and blogs like the Amateur Gourmet)- they bother to describe mishaps or trouble spots they experienced while making the dish, in hopes of sparing you the same problems.  Details like “don’t worry if your dough appears clumpy” can be invaluable when making a recipe for the first time. (I try to include these types of details in the recipes I give here- it makes them longer, but I’d rather give too much info than not enough!)

rillettes rejects

Another pet peeve is cookbook authors who don’t seem to test their recipes with American ingredients, even though the U. S. is the primary market for their book sales (they should take a page from Julia Child- she specifically tested her French recipes in an American kitchen with American ingredients, to make sure they would work).  I frequently encounter this problem when cooking from ethnic cookbooks whose authors live abroad.  There are big differences in ingredients such as flour or even meat, and adjustments need to be made.  The person executing the recipe should not be expected to know to make these modifications.

you deserve to look at something prettier than my failed recipes…

So, what prompted this bout of cookbook disaffection?  Spending an entire afternoon and evening in the kitchen one Sunday, and having two different dishes not turn out as expected. The dishes attempted were pork rillettes (from Charcuterie) and a baked chicken and freekeh dish (from the The New Book of Middle Eastern Food). The rillettes, made with expensive pastured pork, turned out the consistency of chewed tuna fish. Note to self: next time, do NOT use the stand mixer as suggested in the book!  Next time I’ll use a fork to gently break apart the meat.  Another issue was that there was not even a ballpark indication of how much liquid to add, and I think I added too much, which also contributed to the “wet tuna” consistency.

pork that reminds you of tuna is just… wrong.

The baked chicken dish was rescued but turned into something completely different from what was intended.  I thought the instructions were a little wonky- boil the chicken for an hour, then cut it up and bake it for 30 minutes- but forged ahead, trusting the recipe. After 1 hour of simmering, however, my chicken was falling apart and unable to be cut up into pieces. What would the additional 30 minutes of baking have done anyway, besides drying out the meat?!  Bizarre. (Incidentally, this is not the first time I’ve had an issue with a recipe from this book.)  I ended up picking all of the meat from the carcass, putting it back in the broth with the freekeh,  and just calling it soup.  It tasted fine in the end, but what if I hadn’t been experienced enough to shift gears and transform the dish into something else?

I’ll never fully turn away from cookbooks, but right now, I’m more than a little disenchanted.  My resources (both time and money-wise) are limited, and I can’t afford to devote them to recipes that can’t deliver a reliable result.

6/4/10 UPDATE: I had houseguests from France to whom I hesitantly served the rillettes, explaining that it was my first effort, etc.  They both said that the rillettes were “tout à fait correct” (i.e. just fine), and judging by the quantity they consumed, I don’t think they were just being polite! They said rillettes can range from fine to coarse.  I still think I’ll hand-mix them next time, but it was good to know they weren’t the failure I thought they were. I do think a few weeks in the fridge improved the flavor & texture.

*A couple notable exceptions are Rick Bayless and Paula Wolfert, both of whom are great about answering questions via Twitter!

molly stevens’ best braised cabbage

I own a lot of cookbooks, so it takes quite a bit for me to become so enamored with a cookbook that I make several recipes from it within the span of a few months.  But that’s exactly what happened when I purchased All About Braising by Molly Stevens a couple years ago.  The fact that I haven’t written more about it here is partly due to “blogger backlog” and partly because I made some of the recipes before I started blogging.  Please believe me when I say, though, that this cookbook ranks in my top 5 for many reasons, not least of which is this cabbage.  I first made it for a St. Patrick’s Day potluck, partly because cabbage is traditional but also because I was kind of broke and cabbage is really cheap!  To my surprise, the dish went over like gangbusters- who knew?!  I had never heard cabbage described as “amazing” before; I even had a professed cabbage-hater tell me they liked it.  Long braising makes the cabbage melt-in-your-mouth tender, and a blast of heat at the end of cooking caramelizes the dish and brings out all its mellow sweetness.

I’ll go on a little bit of a tangent here to tell you about the other reasons I love All About Braising, since I probably won’t ever get around to giving this book its own separate “review” entry.  First of all, the recipes are solid.  I have made five or six of them and not had any duds or problems whatsoever.  Secondly, it’s very eclectic- there’s a great variety of recipes inspired from all over the world.  I’ve made the Chicken Do-Piaza, Chicken with Star Anise, and Goan Chicken, and all were stellar.  (Yes, I do eat meats other than chicken; I also used Molly’s recipe as a guide when making these oxtails.)  The only recipe I didn’t absolutely love was an Indian-style braised cauliflower (I found it to be a little lean), but that could also have something to do with the fact that cauliflower is not a favorite of mine.

Back to our cabbage- this is one of those dishes that you make and think to yourself “Why have I not been cooking this for years?”  I made a roast chicken the other day and, along with some leftover butternut squash & sage risotto, this was a perfect rustic side dish.  If you’re having a big holiday spread, this would be a great addition since it only takes a few minutes active prep, yields a lot, and works out to about 25¢ per serving (take that, Wal-Mart!).  I wanted to post it before Thanksgiving and didn’t have time, but really it’s a good side dish for any winter meal.

Molly Stevens’ Best Braised Cabbage (from All About Braising)
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The only deviation I have made from Molly’s recipe is that I don’t bother turning the cabbage over halfway through the cooking time like she does.  The first time I made it, I forgot to do it, and found that it made no difference whatsoever; the cabbage was still perfectly cooked throughout.  Seasoning on both sides prior to cooking also eliminates the need to flip.

1 green cabbage, approx. 2 lbs (ok if it’s over)
1 carrot
1 medium to large onion (about 8 oz.)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup chicken stock (use vegetable stock or water for vegan version)
sea salt, pepper, & dried red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 325°.  Core your cabbage; if it weighs over 2 lbs, remove a wedge or two and reserve for another use.  Cut the remainder into 8 wedges.  Peel carrot and cut it into coins.  Peel and slice the onion into ¼-inch-thick rings.

Brush a 9 x 13 baking dish with a little of the olive oil.  Season the cabbage wedges with salt & pepper on both sides and place into the baking dish, overlapping them slightly.  Scatter the carrots and onions over the top.  Sprinkle with red pepper flakes.  Drizzle the remainder of the olive oil over the vegetables, and pour the ¼ cup stock or water into the bottom of the dish, tilting slightly to distribute.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 2 hours.  Check after an hour or so to make sure the pan is not dry; if it is, add a small amount of water or stock.

After 2 hours, remove the foil and increase the heat to 425°.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the cabbage begins to caramelize and brown a little on top.  Sprinkle a little sea salt on top (I like to use the chunky kind) and serve.

book review: “the zuni café cookbook” by judy rodgers

zuni-cafe-cookbookI know many cooks who, like myself,  enjoy reading cookbooks as one would a novel; curling up with them and reading several recipes straight through.  Not many cookbooks out there can qualify, in my opinion, to be worthy of this activity.  The writing must make you eagerly anticipate the work involved in creating a dish, to be sure.  But more than this, the author must give a sense of themselves and their culinary worldview that is compelling enough to make the reader feel a connection, as one would when reading a memoir.

Judi Rodgers’   The Zuni Cafe Cookbook is such a book.  I purchased it a few years back after it had gotten some good press in the New York Times and elsewhere, and quickly became enamored with Rodgers’ down-to-earth tone and earnest passion for tradition and ingredients.  Rodgers is a “graduate” of the Chez Panisse kitchen, but something about her feels more genuine than some of the other chefs whose careers were spawned there.  She went to France as a teenager and just happened to have the extreme good fortune of lodging with the Troisgros family, famous among food lovers for their 3-star Michelin restaurant in Roanne, France.  From this experience, her mind and tastebuds were expanded, and after traveling  and cooking her way through Southern Europe, she headed back to California.  After doing time at Chez Panisse and elsewhere in the ’80s,  she landed at Zuni Café in San Francisco, where she came into her own as a chef and restauranteur.  (I sadly haven’t had the opportunity to eat at Zuni, but here’s a lovely review from Pim of the blog Chez Pim that gives a good idea of the food and ambience.)

So, is this a cookbook full of expensive ingredients, complex preparations, and lofty ambition?  Well, yes and no.  Because of a focus on regional ingredients, some of the recipes would be purely academic to anyone living outside of California, such as a recipe containing glasswort.  Other recipes would require getting online to mail-order certain more exotic items, such as bottarga, a favorite ingredient of hers.  But there are almost an equal number of recipes that are inexpensive, incorporate leftovers, and/or can easily be made with things you would have on hand on a daily basis.  Case in point: one of my favorite recipes, Panade, which consists of stale bread, chicken stock, chard, onions, and cheese.  It gets baked in the oven, becoming a casserole of puffed, browned gooey goodness.  Another example is a recipe for Boiled Kale, Four Ways.  Whether the recipe is simple or complex, however, Rodgers takes pains to give elaborate, detailed instruction.  This does not come off as culinary bossiness, but as proof of her devotion to quality and traditional foodways.

Despite Rodgers’ predeliction for the food of France and Italy, the cookbook does include some typical American bistro-type food, such as hamburgers and Caesar salad.  Again, these recipes are all about the implementation of technique and quality of ingredients to get the best possible result (grinding your own beef for the burgers, for example).  I haven’t made the burgers, but I have made the Caesar Salad and can tell you it was one of the best I’ve had.  Other recipes I’ve made from this book: the Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad (the restaurant’s signature dish and highly recommended), Chard & Onion Panade, Asparagus & Rice Soup with Pancetta & Black Pepper, Pickled Red Onions, House-Cured Salt Cod, Shrimp cooked in Romesco with Wilted Spinach, Sea Bass with Leeks, Potatoes & Thyme, and Orange-Currant Scones. (Like me, Rodgers doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, and the number of dessert recipes reflect this.  In my opinion, however, this was not a shortcoming so much as an example of playing to your strengths.)

What ties together all the ideas in this book is an overriding desire to create “honest, generous” food using the best possible ingredients.  Rodgers presents us not just with a book of recipes, but a philosophy of cooking and eating.  A good percentage of the book is comprised of Rodgers’ careful, thoughtful instructions:  the salting of meat, choosing the best produce, suggestions for putting together a cheese course; advice on weights, measures, cooking vessels and the like.  It is telling that the cover photo, rather than showing a finished recipe, shows an image of carefully selected fruit, nuts and meat.  The book’s tone can best be summed up by a quote that Rodgers took from her mentor, Jean Troisgros:  “Méfie-toi du cinéma dans la cuisine”, or “Beware of theater in the kitchen”.  Elevated but without affectation, Rodgers’ book will inspire anyone wishing to take their cooking to the next level, without having to use culinary trickery or pretention to do so.

experiments in bread (a new year’s resolution fulfilled, sort of)

bread-in-dutch-ovenAs I had mentioned a few weeks ago, one of my goals for this year was to bake more bread. I had looked online at different bread cookbooks and decided that The Bread Baker’s Apprentice looked like a good place to start- it had gotten many good reviews- so I put it on my wish list and received it from my sister for Christmas. Basically the book gives three different recipes for starter doughs, which you have to make the day before, and then lots of “formulas” for different types of bread. I chose a farm bread recipe, and while it wasn’t terrible, it was an awful lot of work for a result that was a little disappointing. The main issue I have with this book is that there is no “troubleshooting” section. If you’re an experienced bread baker, this obviously doesn’t pose much of a problem. But I had thought the book was going to be an “all you’ll ever need to know on bread” sort of thing. What happened in this particular case is that my bread refused to rise during the final “proofing” stage. I went ahead and baked it anyway, and while it wasn’t necessarily bad, it definitely was nothing like the big crusty farm loaves I get from Zingerman’s or Avalon (go here for a debate on the Detroit area’s best bread). After having to practically babysit the damn thing for over 24 hours, you can understand why I felt just as deflated as my dough when the whole thing was over. Didn’t even take any photos.

Another thing I had been wanting to try since I had read about it a couple years ago was the now-famous no-knead bread recipe that Jeffrey Steingarten and Mark Bittman made famous. Although this also requires starting the day before, it’s a much more low-maintenance technique and I got a markedly better result than I had with the two-dough, three-rise bread. You start off with a veryraw-dough wet dough, which you let sit at room temp for 12-18 hours. It gets all bubbly and looks a bit like a science project:

After that, you shape it into a ball- it’s a bit difficult because the dough is pretty wet and sticky, but I managed:

shaped-bread-lightenedThe only slightly weird thing about this bread was that it was oddly moist when I cut into it, despite having let it rest and cool for over an hour. The crust was brown and crisp, and even a teeny bit overdone on the bottom, so I know it wasn’t an issue with not cooking it long enough. The bread had a nice large, open crumb as well. The only thing that could have improved it for me was having a slightly smaller container to cook it in (it calls for baking the bread in a dutch bread-slicedoven). Because of the large oval shape of my Le Creuset, the loaf came out flatter and thinner than I would have liked; I imagine a round (or smaller) dutch oven would produce more of a boule-shaped loaf. The flat thin shape is fine for eating on its own (and I actually like the higher crust-to-crumb ratio), but wouldn’t work so well for sandwiches. Still, overall, this is a great recipe that takes very little effort for a big payoff. And all the ladies at the soup swap gave the thumbs up! I still want to try my hand at making more of the breads in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, but it’s nice to know that I have this one up my sleeve.

holidays 2008


Browsing through other food blogs, I feel like a huge slacker for not having posted any “seasonal” recipes, but what with having to go to three different family get-togethers, two of which were out of town, as well as working and getting my upper flat ready for a new tenant, I didn’t have much extra time for holiday baking. I did make a bread pudding for a friend’s holiday potluck, but it didn’t turn out all that well and was unfortunately not worth blogging about (other than as a cautionary tale, but being short on time, I’d rather write about stuff that DID turn out)! Still, I do have some good food-related memories of the ’08 holiday season…

Christmas Eve, Marvin and I went to his mom’s for dinner. She made a dish of her own creation that can best be described as a “Latin Shepherd’s Pie”: she takes ground beef and cooks it in a skillet with onion, garlic, carrot and tomato sauce, and then spreads a layer of mashed yuca on top and bakes it. This was served with salad and some excellent tamales. It was very tasty and I hope to get more of an actual recipe from her eventually.

noelle-quiche-crop1Christmas morning was lovely… Marvin and I opened our gifts in bed and then had a yummy breakfast of bacon & onion quiche, green salad and a tropical fruit salad. It was nice to be able to relax a little before having to dash home to make my dish to pass for Christmas dinner and make the drive to Lansing.

Our family does holidays potluck-style, with the host providing the meat and the rest of us contributing side dishes, desserts, etc. Our meat dish this year was ham, so my contribution to Christmas dinner was a dish of peppery turnip greens, sautéed with little pieces of bacon and a generous amount of diced onion, and seasoned with a couple pinches brown sugar, a splash of apple cider vinegar and a couple dashes of tabasco. I love the spicy/bitter flavor of turnip or mustard greens, but I realize it’s not for everyone- I had originally planned to do collard greens, but when I went to the store they looked terrible, so the turnip greens had to stand in. (I have since used some of the leftovers as an omelette filling, with a little handful of diced ham thrown in as well. Mmmm.)


For my other family gathering, I made a really simple “cheese log” using a log of fresh goat cheese- I just rolled it in chopped walnuts and cherries, put it on a little platter and drizzled some balsamic vinegar on top. Although I feel like those flavors are a bit cliché at this point, it was a matter of making something easy and quick with what I had on hand. Perhaps I’ll try it again with walnuts, honey and herbes de Provence to switch it up a bit.

I got some great cooking-related holiday gifts, including two cookbooks that were on my wish list: The Flavor Bible, a wonderful reference that was on many foodies’ “Top Books of ’08” lists, and The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (one of my resolutions for the new year: Bake more bread!). I also got a Wusthof chef’s knife and a beautiful French-inspired set of dishes from Marvin (you can see them in the quiche photo above), an ice cream maker from my sister, and a KitchenAid food processor courtesy of a gift card from my dad. Thanks everyone! I feel very fortunate to have such a generous family. Next year I do hope to get organized far enough ahead to give gifts of baked goods to friends… another New Year’s goal to strive for!


 On the subject of New Year’s, Marvin and I decided to take it easy this year and just have a small gathering of friends over. I had to work during the day and the party was a total last-minute decision so I didn’t have any time to make any of the food… Trader Joe’s to the rescue! I feel guilty buying all store-prepared food, but it was either that or no party. Sarah did bring a plate of these cute little appetizers though… hot dogs wrapped in puff pastry, sliced, baked and served with a mustard dip. It reminded me of something Amy Sedaris would come up with. I’m happy to report that the party was a success, especially after we got a rousing game of Taboo underway (girls vs boys; the girls won, of course).

I have a few food-related goals for 2009, in addition to the bread-baking. I have a rather large cookbook collection, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I own several from which I have never cooked a single item. I thought I might set a goal of cooking one new item per week from these books, but I fear that may be a tad ambitious. Still, I definitely want to try to explore and make use of some of the books that have been sitting neglected on my shelf. My other main goal is to do more holiday baking- perhaps I’ll give Valentine’s treats out since I didn’t get to give away any Christmas goodies. I can’t think of many better activities on a cold February day than making batches of cookies or other treats!