28 February 2011

Some Easy Meals

Some days, I feel like cooking an epic feast; spending an hour or more in the kitchen, chasing down exotic ingredients, and cleaning a myriad of dishes. Other days, I just want some rice with tasty stuff on it and to play videogames. Friday was one of those lazy days. The request for dinner was "something with crunchy vegetables" and, if you ever get that request and are feeling a bit lazy, have I got the meal for you. Prepares in the time it takes too cook rice plus 5 more minutes, only dirties a pot and a cutting board beyond what you eat with (and if you eat out of the pot, I won't blame you), and is good as leftovers. I present: crunchy vegetables over rice!
The recipe is at the end of this post, but the basic idea I had in my head was "some vegetables that are crunchy and good cold plus some rice plus some seasoning". I managed to find fresh, organic carrots and broccoli plus some fresh (but not organic) snap peas. That plus my go-to asian seasonings of sesame oil, soy sauce, and furikake makes a pretty good meal over cold rice. Some people disagreed and said it should be warmed with more seasoning. It turns out some people were right.
I also tried something new with my tried-and-true vegan pancakes - cornmeal. Lessons I should have learned from previous uses of cornmeal: it does not substitute 1-for-1 with flour. It is something more like 1 cup of flour --> 1.5 cups of cornmeal if you don't adjust the liquid. They came out a little gummy and not very cornmealy; next time I'll up the cornmeal amount (and I've done so in the recipe below). They still managed to be completely delicious if a bit weird on the tooth.

24 February 2011

A Rustic Morning

Rustic is a fun word. I see a lot of products labeled it now; not quite at the level of "healthy" (like hell you are) or "organic" (that one is actually certified), but growing. Dear sir or madam: if your product is produced on a conveyor belt or otherwise done in an assembly line, it probably isn't rustic. It may be done in the style that is rustic, but if five pairs of hands (no less than three of which were robotic) mixed, kneaded, and shaped my dough, I'm going to call bullshit on rustic-osity. And then I'm going to use it myself. For things that are questionably rustic.
This morning brought me another round of those infinitely-yummy rustic baguettes. You should make them. Seriously, its not that hard, they taste better than most bakery bread, they use very few ingredients, and you can use them as your palette for experimenting (much like I do with shortbread). Oh, also, I started making Hario coffee again - I think I'll do a post next week with more details about my method. But the baking process let me: wake up, remove bread from oven, putz around with breakfast, move my car, make drip coffee, drink it while I shaped and cooked the bread, then pack for the day as bread cools.  It is a great way to start a day.
Back to the baguettes - this time I substituted some Scottish Oats one-to-one for some of the bread flour and put some grey salt on top. I was trying for a chewier bread. I couldn't tell if it was chewier than normal when eating it but it had far more gluten than normal in the working. Also the salt was a great touch. I also tried a new preparation method - autolyse. Damn my experimenting-but-changing-two-variables method! It doesn't actually tell me what had the most effect or if the combination of things did it. Anyway, recipe + instructions follow. You owe it to yourself to make this bread - I even put amounts in volume not weight so you can try it!

22 February 2011

Chocolate Marble Shortbread

After the truffle failure, I find myself with a bag full of pure cocoa powder and a deep desire to use it. Should I put it on bread? Try making truffles again? Snort it direct from the source? While I try and find a dinner recipe to use it (cocoa rubbed pork tofu?), I might as well work it into my shortbread experiments. Except, thinking myself skilled at the shortbread, I made a larger-than-experiment batch.
There really is something grand about making shortbread; the many little things to tweak in the recipe, the simplicity of the ingredients, how awesome creamed butter is, and the smell it produces when baking. To keep this an experiment, even though the batch size was large, I only added two ingredients. Wait, that isn't an ingredient - aren't you only supposed to have one variable? Well, I added the aforementioned cocoa powder and a pinch of vanilla extract. You know, to get a chocolate and vanilla combo going on.
The only thing I would change in the process is my marbling/striping procedure. I had split each half (chocolate and plain) into 10 pieces and rolled each. I then alternated them on the work surface and rolled it together; despite this, they still mostly broke apart on the lines between dough types. Rolling both sides and not just the top may have helped; alternatively, I could have simply take the pieces, mashed them together, and rolled that out.

Chocolate Marble Shortbread
Makes ~15 bites, 30 minute prep (including freeze time), 20 minute bake

1/2 cup (8 tbsp) flour
1/4 cup (4 tbsp) butter
1/8 cup (2 tbsp) powdered sugar
1 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter (stir it vigorously until it gets creamy). Add in the sugar, and cream again. Mix in the flour and stir until you are left with a bunch of clumps of flour. Add in the vanilla and stir again - it should now form a ball with the extra moisture. Separate the dough into two equal piles and add the cocoa powder to one. Mix with a spoon a bit, and then finish working the powder in evenly by hand.

Marble the dough as described above and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place, covered, in freezer and preheat oven to 350 degrees. After about 15 minutes in the freezer, remove the dough and indent it with a butter knife along the lines you want it to break. Place it in the oven for ~20 minutes, or a little longer if you want them extra crispy. Let it cool for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight.

18 February 2011

Starter-less Soft Rye Sandwich Bread

I have quite a bit of rye flour lying around, and no real intention of using. This is a problem. Or, at least, was a problem. Based on how good the first batch was, I think this recipe will fix the problem for the foreseeable future. Even though it burst its seam and didn't look anywhere near as pretty as the photos in the book led me to believe. False advertisement, I tell you.
The design on the inside is supposed to be a bulls-eye but... yeah. It isn't. Sorry about that coworkers. Now, there is something a teeny bit wrong about calling this rye bread. Yes, it uses rye flour. No, it doesn't taste a thing like the rye bread you get your pastrami on. It is much lighter (using only light rye flour), less tangy (having no starter), and way fluffier (because it has heavy whipping cream in it). When it came out of the oven, it was nearing the airiness and general unreality of Wonderbread, except with healthier ingredients. Kind of. You did see the mention of heavy whipping cream, yes?
 Above is the burst seam. And below, after the jump, you'll find the recipe, etc.

15 February 2011

A Veritable Cornucopia of Valentine's Edibles (Verily)

The plan for Valentine's Day proper was to partake in some SF Beer Week shenanigans and get a cheap dinner and instead do a big, fancy meal cooked at home the previous day. The Beer Week event was a shit-show and we went elsewhere, but the dinner was a roaring success. We had worked out a decent menu consisting of things we both agreed would be delicious: a candied walnut, cranberry, and feta salad with a cranberry vinaigrette; rosemary and cranberry pork tenderloin with sauce; roasted root vegetables tossed in oil and herbs; hand-made truffles.
You'll notice a theme running through the meal - cranberries. We thought it cute to have a culinary theme, especially a red one (the default color of Valentine's). Spoiler alert: a very sugary theme can be a bit oppressive, especially when you have cranberry juice instead of wine with the meal. Do note that each dish, except the truffles (more on that later), was delicious on its own; having a link between two dishes is nice, and I'm sure a greater chef could have made it work. Also, cranberries turn purple-ish when cooked into things like sauces.
Also I want to re-iterate something: the pork was amazing. Seriously, a delicious testament to porcine perfection. It may not have equaled the levels of NOPA's pork chop (and, if you happen to find something as good, TELL ME) but for home-cooked meat I don't think I've had much better. The recipe was quick, easy, and not intimidating for a non-meat-cooker such as myself. Recipes, photos, and cutesy stuff follows.

Habitat for Origami

This is an art project given as a gift; it consists of a number of origami animals from different habitats, as well as said habitats for the animals to frolic on. Each habitat is a watercolor painting (my first ones since high school) on some heavy paper. Most standing animals are glued to a base which contains a magnet; you can then place a magnet on the back of the habitat to set animals in whichever formation you desire and stick it on the fridge.

11 February 2011

Potato/Walnut "Rustic" Loaf

Still failing in my quest for durum flour (although yet to try Rainbow, which I'm sure stocks it), and finding myself with a decent amount of leftover potatoes, I couldn't wait any longer to do a potato bread. The recipe I wanted to cook with the durum flour is pugliese - a kind of lean/rustic bread with a heavy component of mashed potatoes and a bit of sweet. It is different from most potato-including breads -- it has a lighter profile due to more water, and it doesn't contain any rosemary which is a godsend for someone as rosemary-heavy as myself. I need to get rid of these crutches.
Potato breads, by the way, are delicious. The starch makes the bread a little sweeter to begin with, a little moister/creamier, and, if you pick the right potatoes, it gives it a beautiful internal purple coloring. Due to these factors, the bread works as both a "table bread" to be served with a meal, dipped in olive oil, spread with butter, or soaked in a soup and also as a sandwich bread for something as lowly as peanut butter and jelly. I guess you could make an artisan PBJ sandwich with this loaf, if that is your kind of thing.
For the recipe, I improvised. I kind of mashed the pugliese recipe with the pain a l'ancienne one I cook oh-so-often and felt the dough out as I went. The amounts in the recipe below are approximations or starting points - I added a bit of flour after the first stretch and fold because it was too sticky to do anything with.


Walnut and Potato "Pugliese"
Makes 1 medium loaf
2 1/4 cups (~283 g) flour
1 cup + a little (~235 g) water
3/4 tsp + a little (5 g) salt
3/4 tsp - a little (2 g) instant yeast
1/4 cup (~60 g) fingerling potatoes
1/4 cup loose walnuts, crumbled by hand

In a small pot, bring at least 1 cup of water to boil and place potatoes in. Let boil for 20 minutes, until you can squish a potato with the back of a fork. Remove potatoes from water and mash, with said fork, in a bowl. Add a pinch of salt. Reserve a little more than 1 cup of the water and let cool. Wait for the potatoes and water to cool.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, walnuts, and yeast. Stir together. Add in mashed potatoes and water and stir with a wooden spoon for 2-3 minutes. Let the bread rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Do 4 stretch-and-fold iterations with 10 minutes of rest between each. I like the "lazy" method of stretch and fold - wet your hands with cold water and lift the dough from the bowl. Stretch one side out and fold it back over; stretch the opposite side out and fold back. Rotate 90 degrees and repeat, then place back in the bowl and cover.

Put dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least one night, preferably two. It should double in size during this time.


About 1 hour before you want to cook the dough, remove it from the fridge. Flour a work surface, your hands, and have a reserve bowl of flour available. Sprinkle flour on the dough and lightly transfer it to the work surface, patting it into a square-ish shape. Shape into a boule by folding the corners into the center of the loaf, pinching the seam, and flipping over. Place one hand above and on the left, one hand below and on the right, and pull/push those hands across the dough, spinning it. Repeat this a few times, making sure to keep your hands floured.
Place dough on a parchment-lined, lightly floured, cookie sheet. If you want, prepare your oven for hearth baking now. Otherwise, wait until 20 minutes before the dough goes in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. After 1 hour (or so) of proofing, put dough in oven and reduce heat to 450 degrees. Rotate loaf after 15 minutes, and cook for 15-20 minutes longer until it has the characteristics of finished bread. (For those that don't cook often: hard, brown crust, a hollow-ish sound when thumped, and an internal temperature of 195-205 degrees). Let cool for at least 30 minutes.


09 February 2011

Strawberry Shortbreads

On a recent trip to the grocery store to stock up on necessities, I was surprised to find fresh, California strawberries staring back at me from the organic shelf. I grabbed a box and ran home to devour them; a few strawberries in I realized this wasn't the best idea. Its not that they weren't ripe nor delicious (they were both), but rather that I should savor them. So I stopped my feast, hands painted in red, and went about mixing some bread.
But I still wanted strawberries, and I have poor self control when it comes to these things, so I compromised. One strawberry for a shortbread experiment, and no more until tomorrow. If you remember last time I attempted to make savory ones with baking powder. It worked, but not spectacularly - it was far too dry and didn't plump as much as expected. I know that many moist breads get that way by using butter, buttermilk, or oil. Butter was out because, well, I think these things have enough butter already. Buttermilk was out because I would only be using a teaspoon or less. So, olive oil it is.
The baking powder ration for the bread also seemed wrong the last time: 1 tsp for 8 tbsp of flour was definitely not right. The smallest measuring spoon I have is 1/4 tsp, so that decided it for me: the perfect ratio of baking powder to flour is going to be 1/4 tsp to 2 tbsp, damn the consequences. Turns out it may have been a bit much; I think 1/4 tsp to 4 tbsp might be a more accurate measure. When I put this on the cookie sheet, it was round and about the diameter of my thumb; you can see in the photo how far it spread out and how much it rose. Rolling tighter may be in order next time, to get the shape to keep.
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp powdered sugar (probably could reduce this to 1 tsp and not notice)
1 strawberry, cut into strips, mostly eaten after you realize you only need 5 pieces.
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp olive oil

In very small container (think an espresso cup, or maybe a little larger), whip butter until it gets airy and creamy. Add sugar and blend until mixed. Add flour and baking powder, again stirring until mixed (it should form a crumbly mix). Add olive oil and mix until it forms into a ball. Shape into a log and, with the back of a knife, press gently into the dough at an angle and wiggle the knife to create a depression large enough to fit a strawberry chunk. Place strawberry chunk in said depression.

Place dough in fridge for 20+ minutes, until it hardens. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and cook shortbread for 20 minutes. Let cool for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour. They are much better room temperature after the butter has solidified than fresh out of the oven when it is gooey.

08 February 2011

Kale and Potato Bake With a Honey Soy Glaze

It turns out kale may be my favorite vegetable. I keep having it at lunch - sauteed or baked; cut into strips, leaves, or tiny bits; served by itself, mixed in with a stir fry, even on pizza. Its prevalence could be simply a seasonal thing and my desire for it fleeting, but I eat it whenever I get the chance. One thing I don't eat a lot of are potatoes; I'm usually a rice-for-my-starch kinda guy. But I found myself at Whole Foods, trying to find some exotic flours, staring at fingerling potatoes as I considered dinner. The flour expedition was half a success - I found myself with a modest amount of spelt flour but none of the desired durum, but my bag of fingerlings looked delicious. So it goes.
I also walked out of there with a bunch of mushrooms, a star-shaped yellow squash, a zucchini, and a bag of kale. Can't forget the kale. What to do with these? Bake them! Except the kale, which can be baked to make delicious kale chips as a snack, but should mostly be cooked in a pan. A note to aspiring chefs: different ingredients have different baking times. Mushrooms don't take long, nor does zucchini, but potatoes and squash want quite a while in the oven. Whoops.
My olive oil is running low, a fact I wasn't aware of, so I improvised for the baking sauce. I was thinking Asian-influenced; sesame, cayenne, walnuts, soy sauce. And honey, just because I like it and thought the spice of cayenne could use a little sweetness. And for the kale I was adventurous and went with a very light steam/sautee with no oil instead of the more common heavy-on-the-oil sautee where you turn it to mush.
Kale/Potato Bake with Glaze: (serves ~2 if you have something else on the side, like bread or soup)
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 5 (or more) fingerling potatoes
  • 1 small box of mushrooms
  • 1 small squash
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 handful walnuts, crushed by hand
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup water
  • lemon juice
Preheat oven to 400. Slice mushrooms, potatoes, squash, and zucchini into bite-sized cubes. Put cubes into mixing bowl and throw in the soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, and cayenne pepper. Toss to mix ingredients around. Place on foil-lined baking sheet and stick in oven for 25-30 minutes.

Dice the kale into tiny pieces. About ten minutes before the bake comes out of the oven, heat a frying pan over medium with the kale in it. If the kale is wet, add ~1/4 cup of water; if it is very dry, up it to 1/2 cup. Continue stirring. When the water is mostly sizzled away and the kale shrunk by about half (no more than 10 minutes), squirt in a small amount of lemon juice and toss in the walnuts, cooking for another few minutes. Don't let the kale get too mushy.

Pull out baking sheet and combine baked ingredients with sauteed ingredients; eat.

04 February 2011

Sovrano Grana and Mushroom Shortbread

Mushrooms are a funny food to me. I think I hate them, on the whole, but I find it hard to not try using them every few weeks. I don't quite learn my lesson, or I see a recipe that looks good, or I think "maybe this time they will taste good". I'm not quite fooling myself, either, because I have enjoyed mushrooms and I even know a kind I can reliably enjoy. But I still branch out from there. So, crazy idea, why not stick some dried mushrooms and some strong cheese on shortbread? Don't mind if I do.
I found myself going to the mushroom shop in the ferry terminal surrounded by things that sounded delicious. Candy mushrooms? Sweet mushrooms? Almond mushrooms? How could any of these things be bad? So I picked up some almond mushrooms and took them home. I opened the bag and almost immediately gagged. These things are strong and pungent. They taste nothing like almond and mostly like ass. I persevered, hoping for the best. The amount you see below is how much I thought I would use, but the smell and taste convinced me to only use half as much (for nine shortbreads about the size of two thumbs put side-by-side). Any hint of mushroom flavor baked out in the oven, so I was left with only their texture. Maybe more next time, or maybe just not mushrooms.
I made a slight change to the recipe I've used in the past, adding a tiny bit of baking powder to get more rise out of the shortbreads, figuring it more fitting for a savory dish. The cooking time/process, however, got miffed a little - they cooked a bit too long and got very crispy internally. You can see the browned bottoms below. The amount of baking powder was a complete guess - 1 teaspoon seemed good, as 1 tablespoon was obviously too much.
Sovrana Grana and Mushroom Shortbreads (makes 9 biscuits/half a cookie sheet)

  • 8 tbsp (1/2 c) flour
  • 4 tbsp (1/4 c) butter
  • 2 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • few pinches of grated Sovrana Grana (feel free to use any salty, hard cheese)
  • (optional) few dried almond mushrooms, chopped to bits. Use at least twice what you see in my photos
In mixing bowl, "whip" butter. If it is fresh from the fridge, just stir it with a wooden spoon in a small bowl until it gets creamy. Add sugar, blend, add flour and baking powder, blend again. On cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, form biscuits by pinching off a bit of dough. Roll dough between palms quickly to get a sphere, then rock side-to-side while pressing to make a nice biscuit shape. The quicker the better, so the butter doesn't melt.

Put a some of the mushrooms into each biscuit by pressing them in, then plop grated cheese on top of each biscuit, also pressing it in lightly. Place, covered, in fridge for at least 30 minutes. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees; cook biscuits for 10 minutes, rotate, and cook for 5-10 minutes more (depending on desired crisp).

I'll do an experiment later with baking powder to get a better feel for how to make lighter, more savory shortbreads.

03 February 2011

Lightly Fenneled Rustic Baguettes

Even though I just got a new bread book, I couldn't stop myself from making another batch of rustic baguettes. I can't get over how amazing these things are, and how much you can modify them. I've cooked them plain, with bacon, and completely messed up with too much water and some sage. Each one of these has been delicious; it takes me 45 minutes one night. Then, anytime for the next four days, I can be about an hour and a half from stuffing myself with airy, crispy morsels of perfect bread. This bread is pure in both ingredients (containing only flour, water, salt, and yeast) and deliciousness.
This time I went with a standard half batch (makes 6-10 baguettes, depending on sizing) and a very, very small amount of dried fennel seed. Small amount meaning no more than 10 seeds. I may call them "lightly fenneled" in the title, but the flavor permeated every bit of the bread. I one new thing with this bread - I cooked it on the bottom rack and put the steam pan above the bread. They cooked for maybe 13 minutes (usually 15-18) and had more crisp than I expect from the bread. Moving them up a rack (but steam pan above) is probably in order for the next batch.
A bit on the recipe: this is technically a "no-knead" bread but I've looked around on the internet and a lot of the no-knead breads I see look airless and dense. Fit for a sandwich (the kind you would pack for a lunch at work/school, not the kind you would feed to a connoisseur of sandwiches or the king of Sandwichonia), maybe, but not for eating unadorned. This bread is anything but - take a piece, a single piece, of crispy yet thick bacon, a leaf of lettuce, a few slices of fresh Avocado, and the king of Sandwichonia would grovel at your feet for a bite.

To make that last paragraph have more to do with the before and after photos above, the before is after 1 minute of mixing, 5 minute rest, 1 minute of mixing. The photo on the right was taken after the 4 rounds of stretch-and-fold that followed. To wit: wetting your hand; feeling the wonder of dough between your hands as you pull it four times; a rinsing of the hands (almost ritualistic; an ablution); a ten minute rest for the bread.

01 February 2011

Shortbread, Now Entering Beta Phase

Knowing I had an evening of nerds planned for tonight and only a few hours last night to whip something up, I went with shortbread. The host of the evening is a ginger fanatic, to say the least, so the natural topping seemed to be ginger. Got home too late to go shopping, but I had candied ginger lying around. Doesn't quite match the triple threat of his candied/dried/fresh ginger cookies but it will do the trick.
What you see here are the finished bites - basic shortbread, topped with a small piece of candied ginger and a light sprinkle of crushed black pepper and sea salt. You can't quite make out the salt in this picture; a coarser grind would have been both more delicious and more visually appealing. The salt and pepper form an X, but these are meant to be eaten in one bite so the unequal covering won't matter. You can actually see it clearly in the pre-baked shot which is both better post-processed (thanks Picasa!) and a better angle.
I think my alpha batches have been serviceable, maybe even sometimes delicious, but this new beta phase is miles above the previous batches. It might be the flavoring. it might be the thin-ness, or it might even be the prep method. But because I wasn't experimenting I changed far too many factors to really know. Maybe it was just a combination of all of the things I've done before (350 degree oven, 20 minute cook time, no funny flours, very thin for ultimate crisp).
Ginger and Pepper Shortbreads (makes 15-ish bite-sized shortbreads, feel free to double/quadruple recipe for a "normal" batch)
  • 8 tbsp (1/2 c) flour [unbleached all-purpose or pastry flour]
  • 4 tbsp (1/4 c) butter, frozen
  • 2 tbsp powdered sugar
  • Candied ginger
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
Grate the butter into a mixing bowl (I'm trying this because it worked so well in the biscuits) and add in the sugar. Mix with a fork until it the sugar is incorporated. Add in flour and whisk to distribute the ingredients. Usually, the butter is beaten and everything incorporates easily. However, with frozen butter, that won't happen without either a liquid (currently banned from my shortbreads) or some pressure. So, after ingredients are evenly distributed, get in there with your hands and squeeze the dough until it all forms into a ball.

On a lightly-floured cutting board, roll out the dough into a rectangle or square. It should be very thin - slightly thinner than a #2 pencil. Use a metal spatula to square off the edges. Transfer dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and, with the spatula, cut most of the way through the dough to form a square grid - you can cut all the way through, but half is enough. It will break apart easily after cooking.

In each square, push a piece of candied ginger into the dough so that it forms an indentation. Hopefully this is enough to get it to set. Sprinkle a cross of black pepper from one corner to the other of each square, and a sprinkle of salt perpendicular to that. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees and place the cooking sheet in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

Remove the chilled-again tray and place in oven for 10 minutes, rotate, and cook for 10 minutes more. Let cool. Eat one to make sure they are good, then break the grid apart completely so it isn't obvious you ate one before bringing it over to a friends place.