Dec 042009
 

Flour. Water. Yeast. Salt. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? In fact, when you’re talking bread, it doesn’t get any simpler (unless you’re in Tuscany, of course).

A couple of slices from the second homey loaf with great shiny holes, drizzled with a bit of olive oil!
Nikon D50

But ingredient lists can be deceiving.
So it was with not fear, but a healthy dose of respect that I approached my seventh Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge bread: ciabatta. This is one of the wettest doughs out there – it has to be because that’s where the beautiful, big shiny holes come from. I know from experience that working with a rustic dough like this is a challenge. I’m not saying it isn’t fun – sticky, wet, messy fun – but it takes a certain amount of patience and an understanding of what you’re getting yourself into. Even then, I’d never worked with a dough quite this wet. I came in with high hopes yet a full understanding that I probably wouldn’t end up with cookbook-worthy holes the first time I tangoed with ciabatta.

Continue reading »

Nov 302009
 

A couple of years ago, several great friends from college came to visit me in Alaska. Back in those days I was always cooking for myself, so whenever I had guests I tended to go a little overboard because I was so excited to a) feed mouths other than my own and b) eat with friends. One of the meals I remember best from their visit was the morning we decided to make French toast. At the time I lived across the street from L’Aroma bakery so Jeremy and I wandered across the street while the other three folks were still asleep. The bakery had challah (pronounced ‘hallah’) that day and as we ordered the loaf one of the other employees ran across the store, raised the roof, and yelled “CHALLAH!”
Ahh, L’Aroma. You just don’t find quality people like that everywhere.

A beautiful golden brown double-decker braid!
Nikon D50

So when all my Thanksgiving baking was done (and really, it was pretty epic), it came time for our sixth bread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge and I was pretty excited. Not only could I make this awesome bread myself, but I could also recreate that scene in my own kitchen without humiliating myself in front of several dozen strangers at the local bakery in Tucson. I was also excited to find out that this bread is nowhere near as bad for you as I thought. I had imagined challah to be a very close cousin of brioche, but in reality this bread uses only about an eighth of the fat (and that fat is vegetable oil instead of butter) and fewer eggs. So what’s not to love?

Continue reading »

Nov 282009
 

Ok, seriously – does anyone actually cook the day after Thanksgiving??? Who isn’t sick of the inside of their kitchen by then? And aren’t the contents of your refrigerator quick to take away any reason for one to turn on the stove (except to reheat leftovers, of course)?
Well, I’ll admit it: I wasn’t as kitchen-adverse this Friday as I have been in the past.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to actually cook anything for lunch. The last thing I wanted was a plain turkey sandwich – I was craving something healthy (no surprise there, given the gluttony that took place the day before) and even though my Thanksgiving table is laden with far more veg than most (without having to resort to green bean casserole! Boo-yah!), I didn’t want to just nosh on leftovers. I’m all about re-inventing last night’s food whenever I get a chance, and when I spied the unused greens in my fridge that didn’t quite get turned into a salad with poached pears, candied nuts, gorgonzola, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, I had my inspiration.

I scooped the spinach into a bowl, tore off chunks of turkey breast, added some leftover roasted butternut squash, topped it off with some juicy pomegranate seeds and toasted pecans, and finished it with a drizzle of shallot-cacao nib vinaigrette that had graced the roasted squash the night before.

Chances are you don’t have those exact ingredients on hand the day after Thanksgiving unless you stole my menu, but no worry, there are plenty of ways to make your own. Try using homemade cranberry sauce instead of pomegranate seeds or perhaps some roasted Brussels sprouts or cauliflower instead of the squash. The point is that you’re only limited by your imagination. Unless you’re like me and you’ve already transformed your turkey leftovers into a steaming pot of delicious soup, chances are you still have plenty of food on hand with which to make your own creation. So go nuts and go fix yourself a salad while you’re waiting for me to get to the really good stuff: the Thanksgiving menu, plenty of food porn, and bread that flowed continually from the oven!

Who would eat a turkey sandwich when this beautiful and delicious gem was an option?
Nikon D50
Nov 122009
 

Continuing in the vein of brioche variations , today’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice bread is casiatello, a sort of savory Italian brioche with meat and cheese stuffed inside.

I’m not gonna lie: I’m kinda overdosing on all of these ridiculously rich white breads. I’m a whole-grain kind of girl and doing these white breads is certainly fun, but it’s not how I like to regularly cook and eat. Add on to that the fact that I’m not a big meat-eater (especially processed meats – I never eat them!), and it’s no surprise that I came into this bread a little under-enthused. Regardless, I decided to just go ahead and do it and get it out of the way because baby, challah and ciabatta are next! Think of casiatello as an investment. I’m sure there are those of you out there who are less Type A and are like “Uhm, Stacey, why don’t you just skip this one if you don’t wanna do it?” Because that’s not how we do it in the BBAC! It’s every bread in the book, in order! Those are the rules and even though there’s no one enforcing them it would really chafe me to break them. I come from a long line of anal retentive people so you can imagine my horror when my Mom told me she’s going to go out of order and she suggested I do the same. I may have to turn her in to the Bread Police.

Continue reading »

Nov 082009
 

This week the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge brings us a concoction that I had really been looking forward to trying out. Brioche has a decadent reputation: it’s known as the butteriest of breads, more similar to pastry than even, say, challah. Be it due to its reputation or its availability, to the best of my knowledge, this bread had never passed my lips.

The book offers three variations: the rich man’s (in which the butter is a whopping 87 percent of the flour’s weight), a poor man’s (the butter is a scant 25% of the flour), and the middle class brioche (where the butter only matches half of the flour’s weight). Having heard about the utter decadence of the rich man’s version – and knowing/fearing my self-control around freshly baked bread – I opted not to go that route. That said, I still wanted a real brioche experience, so treating this as a special occasion, I settled on the middle class bread. Plus, I figured, since I made this on my birthday, if I happened to over-indulge I could just skip dessert after dinner. Awfully fitting, since Marie Antoinette is rumored to have actually said “Let them eat brioche” instead of “let them eat (birthday) cake!” I’d rather have bread than cake any day anyway.

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

Nov 042009
 

One of my favorite things to search for in the land of food is delicious ways to get lots of protein from non-meat sources. I’m not a vegetarian by any means, but I’m a big fan of the motto “Eat a variety of foods – mostly plants.” So when I was in my early twenties and learning about the power of legumes, I was so excited the day the “hummus is chickpeas!” light-bulb came on over my head. It quickly supplanted the nasty deli meat sandwiches that had been my lunch between classes up to that point.

Beautiful Rancho Gordo chickpeas
Nikon D50

Cory loves hummus too, so when we finally got to live together I started stocking it in the refrigerator as a staple. But, predictably, it wasn’t too long before I started looking for recipes to make my own, because even though there are brands of ready-made hummus that have a minimum of ingredients – and all of them are even pronouncable – I could still taste chemicals. Why put up with uninspired hummus when there is a vast variety of this classic dish at my fingertips?

Lots of garlic is the key to happiness!
Nikon D50

Being both a Moore and a Cilia, I’ve got a serious garlic addiction. There’s something about these two families: we just can’t get enough. So long as it ends up cooked, just about all of us routinely triple or quadruple the amount of garlic that’s called for in a recipe. There have been times I have bought seven heads of garlic from the grocery store and it’s all been gone less than 48 hours later.

Lots of garlic is the key to happiness!
Nikon D50

This just goes to show that it’s no surprise whatsoever that my favorite hummus recipe is one of the roasted garlic variety. We’re not talking about a paltry four or five cloves worth, we’re talking about a triple-garlic punch. This recipe uses two heads of garlic, garnishes with fried garlic chips, and incorporates garlic-infused olive oil. I hope you’re not going to be in non-garlic-loving company for a while after sampling some of this stuff!

Lots of garlic is the key to happiness!
Nikon D50

But, really, that’s the beauty of garlic: it packs so much flavor, and it’s so good for you, which yet another reason that I love this stuff so much. You pair this stuff with some amazingly fun-to-make whole grain pitas and you have a fantastic, filling source of lean protein.
Nom!

Pita + hummus = a perfect combination
Nikon D50

Continue reading »

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
Nov 022009
 
tree-hugger

Why do seagulls fly by the sea?

‘Cause if they flew by the bay they’d be bagels!

*Crickets*

Ok, so it’s not funny, but it’s a fitting introduction to this week’s bread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge. When I was younger, I was a huge bagel fanatic: I got introduced to good ones at the Chesapeake Bagel Bakery when I was a teenager living in Yorktown, Virginia, and once I discovered them I ate them all the time: for breakfast, for snacks after swim practice and during meets, and most especially as the outer layer of sandwiches. One of my most potent high school cafeteria memories is the day I brought a green bagel in my lunch on St Paddy’s day – that got quite the reaction, and I think someone even wrote about that event in my yearbook.

Plain bagels, boiled and awaiting their turn in the oven
Nikon D50

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and when I was fifteen we left Virginia for the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t take easily to the uprooting, and one of the items on the list of why Vancouver/Portland Was Far Inferior To The East Coast was the lack of good bagels (I’ve since done a 180 in my opinion of the Pacific Northwest, but I still maintain that the bagels were inferior). So, really, it’s been about 12 years since I’ve been all “yay bagels!” so I wasn’t super excited to try them out this week. But I’m committed to the cause, so I rolled up some sleeves, bought some malt powder, and looked at this as an opportunity to try something that I wouldn’t have made otherwise.

Cinnamon sugar bagels and black sesame and sea salt bagels, boiled and awaiting their turn in the oven
Nikon D50

The recipe was very straightforward: sponge, final dough, resting, shaping, retarding, boiling, baking. There is no critically-timed rise, no fingers to poke into fermenting dough, and perhaps best of all, this bread won’t tie you to your kitchen all day! So I got started in the late afternoon, not really thinking about how I needed to cook dinner too (oops) and as a result, I don’t have any pictures of the first day: nothing of the sponge that I got really attached too, no evidence of the stiff but amazingly smooth and supple dough, not a shred of evidence of the cute little rolls, and nada of me shaping the bagels themselves. And, thankfully, nothing to show of my near temper-tantrums as I attempted to wrap the baking pans in plastic so I could refrigerate them. Me and plastic wrap, we’re not such good friends. I suspect that it knows about my tree-hugger tendencies.

Cinnamon sugar bagels, baked and ready to eat!
Nikon D50

So this morning, I set a stockpot to boil, readied some toppings, and finished up my first batch of bagels. I decided on four plain (really a tragic misnomer, for they were quite delicious!), four sea salt and black sesame seed, and four cinnamon sugar. Aside from their refusal to brown, I’m quite pleased with the result: they’re chewy the way I remember from the CBB (and now I know why the later bagels I tried were inferior: they weren’t boiled!), flavorful thanks to the sponge and malt powder, and fairly tender and open on the inside. Now I’m looking for a New Yorker to test them out on, to see how they compare to those epic bagels, since in my infinite wisdom, I tried to eat healthily during my 36 hours in NYC two months ago and opted for a low-fat buckwheat veggie quiche instead of more stereotypical fare.

Misnomered plain bagels with the other two varieties behind, baked and ready to eat!
Nikon D50

Will I make these again? Probably, especially since there are so many ways that you can dress these up. Aside from the marathon kneading (like I said, this dough was really, really stiff – so stiff it broke my paddle attachment – not the solid metal one, but a third-party scraper paddle that I loved), this recipe was really quite simple and would be great for a brunch party, since all you have to do the day of is boil and bake. Who knows – I might even make some green ones!

Simple black sesame seed and sea salt: delicious!
Nikon D50

See also: Heather’s bagels.
Next up: Let them eat brioche!

Nov 012009
 

Right now I’ve got bagels for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge retarding in the fridge, but I decided that I’m kinda overdosing on all that white flour and it’s high time that I posted a whole-grain bread. This particular bread is one of my favorites for its challenges, its fun, and its textures and I can’t believe that it’s taken me more than two years to get around to sharing it.

Wonderfully textured and flavored bulgar wheat bread
Nikon D50

First, its challenges: this bread contains a lot of chewy, delicious bulgar wheat berries. However, all those grains can really get in the way with the formation of long gluten strands. As a result, I don’t usually achieve the humongous rise that my basic whole wheat and oatmeal loaves have spoiled me with, but really, it’s ok – the flavor more than makes up fr it! Also, this dough is very soft and slippery (more on that later), which means that if you start daydreaming while you’re supposed to be focusing on push, fold, rotate, push, fold, rotate, then it could end up shooting across the room. Now, the last challenge: occasionally the dough will tear, freeing an avalanche of bulgar across the kneading board. Not to worry, you’ll learn soon enough how to poke the grains back into the dough, conceal the tear with a couple of folds, and keep kneading like a pro. Crisis managed!

Wonderfully textured and flavored bulgar wheat bread
Nikon D50

Secondly, this dough is a lot of fun. This was my first truly enriched bread and it uses a novel way to incorporate the butter into the dough: you smear it across the board and let the dough soak it up as you knead! It’s pretty ingenious, and if it wasn’t for the bulgar dotting the surface of the dough it would be the poster child for satiny and supple. It also makes the dough very soft, so if you’re looking for the culprit causing the above challenges, look no further.

Thirdly, the texture of this bread is just out of this world. In addition to the butter doing marvelous things to the taste and texture, the buttermilk acts as a dough conditioner, making it even lighter, more complex, and more delicate tasting. Throughout baking, the bulgar keeps its toothy texture and it even makes me want to nibble at the bread little by little, picking out the grains so I can eat them separately. If you can tear yourself away from eating it plain, it’s pretty devastating on a sandwich piled high with some home-roasted chicken and some fresh produce.

So if you’re in the mood for a whole-grain bread that is still wholesome and delicious but puts a new spin on the old formula, try this recipe on for size. It’s well worth the effort!

Warning: do not toast and butter - you will consume the whole loaf that way!
Nikon D50

Continue reading »

%d bloggers like this: