Aug 302012

Making guac: we had three ripe avocados!

The Law of Avocado:

You say: “We have three ripe avocados.”

A foodie hears: “Let’s make guacamole!”

Let’s not forget an important relative, The Banana Corollary:

You say: “We have three ripe bananas.”

A foodie hears: “You should bake nanner-bread!

I’m pretty sure The Hubs knows all about The Banana Corollary. He’s gone on banana-eating-strike, hoping to force my hand into quick-bread territory.

Nov 072009

By now, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m very much a make-your-own-ingredients sort of cook. It’s not hard to notice that one of my very favorite homemade ingredients to have on hand is chicken stock – it’s extremely versatile and oh-so-flavorful. A lot of cooks, though, haven’t been properly introduced to the joys and benefits of real chicken stock and so they continue to take a shortcut or two, buying insipid broth in aseptic packaging, not fully realizing what they’re missing. So, in this entry, I’m going to try to rectify that.

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Nov 032009

I love autumn! I’m not gonna lie, one of my favorite things about the season is the food. Fall produce is so awesome – hard squashes, apples, pears, root vegetables, and, of course, pomegranates!

These nutritional powerhouses definitely make you work for your food. Slicing the fruit up and taking out the seeds is laborious to say the least, but luckily, there is a better way!

Slice off the blossom end of the pomegranate.
Step 1: slice the blossom end off
Nikon D50
Score the rind of the fruit lightly into quarters. Make the cut deep enough that you penetrate the rind but not so deep that you damage the seeds. Basically, stop cutting when the resistance to your blade gives way.
Step 2: score the rind into quarters
Nikon D50
Fill a bowl with water and let the pomegranate soak in it for ten minutes. After the ten minutes are up, break the fruit up into quarters along the score lines, putting the pieces back into the bowl.
Step 3: soak the fruit and break it apart underwater
Nikon D50
Separate the white pith from the seeds. The pith will float and the seeds will sink.
Step 4: separate the pith and seeds
Nikon D50
When everything is separated, scoop the pith out of the bowl and discard. Strain the seeds. Enjoy these beauties sprinkled over oatmeal, in salads, or on their own.
Step 5: scoop out the floating pith, strain the seeds, and you're done!
Nikon D50
Oct 032009

Ok, I can’t guarantee that you’ll never shed a tear cutting up an onion. What I can deliver you from is tears of frustration. Trust me, that’s a big deal. After all, what’s the least fun part about cooking? The prep. If you can find tricks to make the process easier and faster, you will enjoy the prep more, and you will be more likely to cook more often. Plus, it appears (from observational evidence, not scientific evidence – that I know of, anyway) that when you cut this way, leaving the root end intact, that you are far less likely to cry from stinging onion-y eyes (unless the onion is too old to be cooking with. I can’t help you then, sorry).

So, without further adieu, I give you the spoke method of chopping onions!

Use a good, sharp chef’s knife. The job will be easier with a knife with a tall blade rather than a short one (like found on a boning knife). Use a thin knife if you have the option – I cut onions with my Henckels Twin Four Star II Santoku knife, which has a thinner blade than my traditional chef’s knife. Don’t worry about cutting yourself – this method is much safer than many others I’ve seen.
Begin by cutting off the sprout end of the onion (i.e. the one without the stringy roots). Slice the onion in half lengthwise, so that you are cutting through both the sprout and the root ends (north-south), instead of avoiding them (east-west). Peel back the skin of the onion. It will still be attached at the root end, so just yank it off.
Cut off the sprout end, slice it in half, and peel back the skin
Nikon D50
Begin by making a straight cut perpendicular to the board. Do not cut all the way to the root. You will want to leave about 1/4-1/2 an inch of onion intact where it terminates at the root.
Make a vertical cut, leaving the root end intact
Nikon D50
Rotate your knife blade to the side a bit and make a similar cut into the onion like a spoke on a bicycle wheel. Repeat, rotating the blade more with each cut, until you can’t feasibly make any more cuts. Repeat the process on the other side of the onion.
Rotate the knife blade and begin making cuts like spokes on a bicycle wheel
Nikon D50
Your onion should now look something like this:
Spoke cuts complete!
Nikon D50
Your root end should still be holding the onion together. Some loose bits of onion may try to escape from the bottom or the sides where your cuts may not have made it all the way to the center of the onion before hitting the board, but that’s ok.
Your root end should still be intact and holding the onion together.
Nikon D50
Rotate the onion ninety degrees and begin slicing vertically. Uniformly-sized onion dice is the result!
Rotate the onion or cutting board and make vertical slices
Nikon D50
The layers will separate on their own, resulting in no need to cut the onion further. This is the result I got just by sweeping the onion dice aside out of its nice pile – I didn’t make another single slice!
Uniform dice - TA-DA!
Nikon D50
May 112008

Artisan French dough is an interesting animal. On one hand you have four – count ’em, four – ingredients. Not so hard, right? The thing is, it’s not the number of ingredients, it’s their proportion to each other. It’s a very hydrated dough compared to the multitude of sandwich loaves I’ve posted here previously, yet many of the requirements are the same.
The tricky requirement here is the kneading. Yes, this dough is a wet, sticky monster. And yes, you have to develop the gluten yourself. You don’t get to rely on a ridiculously long autolyze to do the hard work for you like you do in the famous no-knead bread (but it’s worth it – the pre-ferment makes for a far superior flavor). So how does one get the gluten to develop?

Some of you may quickly point out that KitchenAid stand mixers are proof that a god loves us and wants us to eat good bread. But I’ll point out even more quickly that the French have been making this bread before mixers were a twinkle in a baker’s eye, so there has to be some way to do it. And being the do-it-yourself-er that I am, I’m going to teach you how.

Like I said, you obviously can’t knead in the conventional fashion. Pushing, folding, and rotating translates into smearing, smearing, and smearing in the language of French dough. So instead of using force provided by your body, use the force provided by gravity to stretch, relax, and align those gluten strands and turn that yucky, sticky mess of flour and water into a ball of stretchy, supple, super-soft dough. Here’s an illustrated guide for how to do it:

Lay the heels of your hands on the dough, both thumbs pointing to the left (or the right, if you like. Just be consistent). Be sure your hands are positioned so that your thumbs are close to the edge of the dough and there is plenty of dough visible on the other side of your hand. Get your fingers underneath the dough.

Position your hands on the dough properly
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

Pick up the dough with your thumbs now pointing up instead of to the left. Allow the dough to hang down and let gravity stretch it out.

Pick up the dough and let gravity stretch it out
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

With a little flip (and without letting go of the top half of the dough), put the dough on the counter so that the side of the dough that was facing you when it was suspended in mid-air is now in contact with the counter. The upper half of the dough will still be in your hands.

Flip the dough onto the counter without letting go of it
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

With another flip, fold the dough in half and let go. You’ve just completed one knead. As you become more practiced it will become a more fluid motion. Continue to work the dough until it is smooth, elastic, supple, and less sticky than it was originally.

Fold the dough over and let go of it
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

None of the photos of the fully kneaded dough turned out, but the photo on the right shows it mostly kneaded, becoming smooth on the surface. Notice the huge difference between this and the shaggy unkneaded dough on the left.

Before: a sticky shaggy mess.  After: Smooth, elastic dough
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

During the kneading process, resist the urge to add too much flour to the countertop. The dough will still be a sticky mess and will get all over your hands, but only add more flour a tablespoon at a time if the dough is totally unworkable. Without a very wet dough you can’t get the irregular, beautiful open crumb that is the hallmark of a good artisan bread.

After kneading, the dough will rise several times. This is another time when you don’t handle the dough in the same way as a sandwich bread. Do not punch it down or deflate it. Instead you will stretch the dough out between your two hands. When you see this in pictures or on video it looks impossible, like no dough should be able to do that, but after a properly kneaded dough has risen for a little while it will be incredibly soft and elastic. It’s very easy to stretch the dough out as shown below:

Stretch the dough out - it's easier than it looks
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

Once the dough is stretched, fold it into thirds like a business letter. Rotate the dough packet 90 degrees and stretch and fold as before. Return the dough to the bowl and continue with the recipe. Best of luck to you!

Fold the stretched dough like a business letter
Nikon D50 – photo taken by Trisha Moore

Many thanks to my Mom for taking these photos while I handled the dough. This tutorial wouldn’t have been possible without her help.

For more fantastic information on baking artisan breads, buy the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Forum DVD.

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