27 December 2011

Holiday Eats

There should have been a bread recipe last week; I was all ready to start another sourdough loaf when disaster struck. A wet bowl and some carelessness later, I had dropped my starter (in its Pyrex) to the floor, rending the bowl asunder. A new one has begun, but isn't quite ready. Much food was prepared, though almost all of it from a recipe. To wit:
  • Gougères. These were phenomenally easy, smelled like heaven when preparing, and impressed with flavor. I used a strong white cheddar with peppercorns in it and dropped the fennel; my beer was a low percentage (4.5 or so) stout with a strong flavor. Right after baking, they were crispy in all the right ways; the next day, after storage in an airtight container, they had softened.
  • Parsnip Latkes. I honestly didn't read the recipe besides ingredients and basic prep, so was surprised by the taste after making these. They are herby little punches in the mouth, especially with the sauce. We made them much larger than suggested (again, not reading very well) and got 4 latkes from a half recipe (should have been double that). Thinner would be crispier and recommended. Actually, just cook these regardless. Quite good.
  • Coq au Vin (Julia Child). So, that is how restaurants make those delicious glazes/sauces/etc for their meats. Render bacon fat into butter, cook meat in it; light it on fire with cognac, then add wine and stock. Reduce it an amazing amount, add in a bunch of soft things, and thicken with more butter and some flour. Honestly, it wasn't that much butter/bacon for the serving size (we cut down the butter to something like 4 tbsp total, plus 4 pieces of bacon, for ~4 large-ish meals worth of food). Not that unhealthy when viewed as such.
  • Cashew and raisin kale. E made this; it had those three ingredients plus some oil, lemon juice, and salt in a frying pan. It was quite good.
  • Oat-berry-rum rubbed apples. I mashed some raspberries with cinnamon and a splash of rum, plus a helping of rolled oats. Rubbed apple slices in it and baked for... 10 minutes? 20 minutes?... in a... somewhat hot oven? I honestly don't remember much; it was good.
  • Singed brussels. Blanched the brussels until soft to a fork, sliced in half, tossed with oil and salt, threw on a hot pan face-down until the ridges started to char. Turned down heat, tossed them around for a minute, ate. Good and simple.

E got me two cookbooks; Momofuku and The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook. The latter is infinitely practical, intended for home cooking. The former is less so, though much more exciting; these are the actual restaurant recipes and prep steps, which means I can learn a hell of a lot about professional cooking vs. "home" cooking. All of the recipes, except the final "Ko" section, seem reasonable to me in terms of ingredients and time commitment. Hopefully I can try it out during New Years, given the free time I'll have.

14 December 2011

Sourdough: a Revival

I spent the past week with a cold, bookended with bouts of bread baking. Not much other cooking besides; a fair amount of canned soup, scottish oats, sandwiches, and eating out. I did make a comical observation - my weekend dinners consisted of three cultural takes on "round piece of dough as delivery method for meal"; namely Ethiopian, burrito, and gyro. I thought of pizza on Monday to round it out, but decided soup would be more fitting. But, yes, on to the bread. Last year, around this time, I started a sourdough experiment that ended when I got lazy and the sourdough got mold. Sad, really. A chance encounter with the Tartine Bread book in an art museum gift shop told me there was an easier way. Less baby sitting starter, less watching dough rise. Sign me up!
Armed with my partially-remembered sentences from a book and my newly-purchased cheesecloth, I began the starter. I did the following, and it seemed to work, though I'm not sure how proper it is: I put 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup bread flour, and 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp warm water in a bowl (non-reactive, non-metal is a must - use Pyrex or equivalent) and stirred it. Cheesecloth on top, let it rest in my kitchen for 3 days. Made sure it smelled funny - cheesy, almost. Threw out half of it, added in enough flour/water to bring it back up to the same size; stirred. Let sat for 2 days. Made sure it rose a little. Also, smelled funny. Threw away half of it, refreshed back to size. Everytime it rose and then fell, I refreshed; the period is a feeding every 2-3 days right now and I've reduced the size a bit so it is perfectly sized for making a loaf of broad ~160 grams, of which 80 goes into a loaf. The refresh amount is about 2 tbsp of each whole-wheat and normal flour and 2.5 tbsp of water.
I've made two loaves with this; the first (pictured below) was a half-whole wheat bread with ~70% hydration. I skimped on salt accidentally, leaving it with that peculiar taste of bread that doesn't have any salt. The second loaf (both pictures above) was 100% white flour, not counting the starter, with ~80% hydration and black sesame seeds. The second loaf was infinitely better, so I've included the process below. And, for the person who doesn't have a few hours in the morning spare for bread, this recipe is fantastic - straight from the fridge to the oven, easy peasy. Delish.
Rustic Sesame, Naturally Leavened
Makes a single loaf
80g starter (recipe approximately above)
320g bread flour
256g cold water
10g black sesame seeds
5g salt

Take the starter right when it needs refreshing; that is, it has risen recently and begun to fall. Combine with flour, water, and sesame seeds and mix with a wooden spoon until it has come together, then stir for a minute longer. Cover; wait 30 minutes. After that first wait, add the salt to the bowl, lightly wet your hands, and stretch-and-fold the dough until you can no longer feel the grain of the salt. Cover, let rest for 3-4 hours. Stretch-and-fold it every 30 minutes or so, until it feels very difficult to do so or the bread has risen a bit (it will feel fluffier). Refrigerate the dough for a day and a night.

After giving it time in the fridge to complete the rising process, turn your oven up to 500 degrees and prepare, as I did, a bespoke dutch oven consisting of a cast-iron frying pan and a brownie pan, turned upside-down, for the lid. Have this in the oven to warm up. Remove the bread from the fridge, flour a work surface and your hands, and shape it into a round somewhat. After you think the cast iron is hot (30 minutes or so), place the dough on some parchment paper and put the parchment paper in the dutch oven, reducing the oven to 475. Cook for 20 minutes, remove the lid, and cook for 15-20 minutes longer (until the bread is ~200 degrees inside, looks golden brown, and sounds hollow).


06 December 2011

"Country" Walnut Bread

A disclaimer: the recipe for this is in baker's percentage format. This means you need both a scale and, potentially, a calculator. On the plus side, you get a delicious bread with a bit of crunch, a lot of crumb, and a great crust. Until you stick it in your backpack not 10 minutes out of the oven and bike to work, that is. I don't recommend it with this loaf as the enclosed space and lack of cooling will soften the crust a ridiculous amount. This is one of the better loaves I have cooked, up there with the standard rustic mini baguettes (on which the dough is based), struan, and the previous walnut bread (which had mashed potatoes and potato water as the alternate flour). So, yes, do go out and make this bread. Wonderful, really.
"Country" Walnut Bread
Use 300g total flour for ~1 loaf

75% bread flour
20% whole wheat flour
5% coarse-ground cornmeal (polenta)
80% water (cold)
8% coarsely chopped walnuts
<1% yeast
2% salt

At least a night before you want to make the bread, combine some of the water and the cornmeal in a bowl and let soak for 30 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir with a wet wooden spoon for 2-3 minutes until the dough has come together plus a minute more. It should be sticky. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Then stretch and fold 4 times with a 10 minute rest between each; be careful, as the polenta and walnut will make bread likely to rip. Refrigerate over night.

Day-of baking, remove the dough from the fridge 2 hours before you plan to put it in the oven. Dust a work surface with flour, coat your hands with flour, and gently remove the dough from the bowl and shape into a loaf. Note that, due to the incredibly high liquid, if you shape this into anything other than baguettes you may want to coax it back into shape after an hour as it will have spread out; I assume a banneton would fix the issue, but I don't have one nor nor care to improvise one. For a boule, bake at 450 for 25 minutes, turning after 10-15 minutes. Once the time is up, shut off the oven but leave the bread in for an extra 5 minutes to crisp the crust further. Let cool for an hour if you want to preserve your beautiful crust.

02 December 2011

Something Like Bento

I've been trying to cook more, well, defined meals recently. The easiest way to do this is via a recipe, which usually don't make their way to this soapbox. The desire stems from my limited cooking vernacular; E ribs me about cooking "Mikey food" so often yet, without a recipe, that is the extent of my ability. Cook veggies so they are tasty? Sure, saute and season, maybe bake. Cook tofu? Sure, saute and season, maybe bake. So, to fix that. More recipes, more adventurous cooking. And, so, I bring you... Mikey food. Whoops.
While, yes, it is just cooked veggies, each bit was prepared individually, allowing me to play around with a whole four different preps in a single dish. The squash has rice vinegar and cayenne, the apple a mustard seed/sesame oil/rice vinegar dressing, the mushrooms soy sauce, and the rice furikake. I admit, none of that is very inventive, but it was a nice platform for experimenting.

The squash prep was probably the most involved; thinly sliced squash tossed in a bit of olive oil, cooked over medium without flipping or stirring until they became a little translucent. Sprinkle some cayenne over the pan, flip everything, add a dash of rice vinegar, and stir a bit. The mushrooms were equally simple - after the squash was out of the pan, the mushrooms went in until they started to sweat, at which point they were splashed with soy sauce, stirred a few times, and taken off heat.

The apple dressing is approximately 1 tsp coarse mustard, 1 tsp rice vinegar, and 1/2 tsp sesame oil. The proportions were easy but far from perfect; the main flavor was mustard seed. The egg was an attempt at soft boiling; the egg was too fresh, so I mostly destroyed it in removing the shell.