24 July 2012

Homemade Noodles, Take Two

I took a Thursday and Friday off last week and did, roughly, nothing with them. I played some video games  sketched at coffee shops, read a bit, and coded for fun. But, really, I didn't do anything. Not even any culinary adventures with my free time. The closest I got was iterating on handmade pasta. Learning from the previous time, a flour mixture of 50% semolina and 50% white flour was used. The pasta was also rolled for much longer - though sans machinery there is a limit to how thin I can manage. And then the cutting. Lots of cutting.
But it was good - much lot closer to pasta than the doughy previous attempt. The noodles maintained a little bit of the gummy-ness of the previous attempt, but it was rolled and cut thin enough to cook as pasta and not as boiled bread. When topped with a sauce made by E, it was a fantastic dinner.
A project that has just been started is some test baking for a local baker. The first loaf came out rather well as you can see in the photo. It was a very simple loaf, made without a preferment, but with lots of cold fermentation time and a wonderful crust. After cooling, the crust had softened a bit, but everything else was wonderful. Which is something of a shame, as the new coffee shop/toast bar has started serving up toast in addition to the awesome espresso and drip. So I can now, no matter my laziness level, go get a piece of thick-cut toast for breakfast without making it myself.

17 July 2012

Hearty Soups, Scandinavian Dreams

A cold worked its way through the office, eventually finding its way to myself. I don't know if it made its way to me through coworkers or through E, who picked it up the week before. Now, what does two weeks of people with colds mean? Soup. Not as much as one might expect, but not as many as in this post. One was an interesting experiment, but not worthy. But first, look at this baby corn I found at the farmers market. It has a tiny little husk and everything!
Also, a foray into bread from last post. I now have a "dutch" oven cast iron, instead of my jury-rigged cast iron pot and brownie-pan lid. Before I got that, I made one last loaf in the old style. This was a tiny loaf - 90g flour. It was cold-proofed, 20% whole wheat, 70% hydration. It was good stuff - by itself, with jam, with butter, and a la Scandinavian future dream. I haven't quite worked out toasting bread in a cast iron for maximum awesome, but I hope to hit that style soon.
Two soups were worthy of this post. The first is yet another recipe from The Herbal Kitchen for avgolemono. No recipe for this one, but the idea is simple - heat broth, cook some rice in it, whip lemon juice into eggs, and add them to the soup without curdling. That last bit is the hard one - the soup not featured in this post was an egg-thickened broth that went too far. You must ensure the soup temperature is well below simmering, the mixture is stirred constantly, and it is only heated for just long enough to thicken. Ignoring that part, however, its a simple 20 minute soup of incredible depth, especially when herbed, that uses 4 ingredients as a base (broth, egg, rice, lemon).
The other soup, though it really isn't one, was a return to jambalaya. I haven't cooked this in a few years, but it is a favorite dish of mine. The idea is simple - take the trinity of celery, onion, and pepper and sautee them in oil. You can make a roux at this point, but I'm not entirely sure on the tradition. At this point, add all the other ingredients - rice, stock, tomatoes, meats - and let it cook for a while. Seasoning is up to you, though "cajun" should be the name of the game. The meat, bowing to tradition, is most likely a combination of andouille sausage, shrimp, and chicken. I modified that for laziness in this recipe, using just andouille. What you get out of this is anywhere between a stew and a rice dish, depending on taste and hunger level, that hits the spot like none other. You can substitute meat-free sausage in this recipe, but be mindful of flavor. That andouille spice is hard to match.
Mikey's Jambalaya (more suggestion than recipe)
Serves 4 or so
4-6 stocks celery
1 white onion
few cloves garlic
1 green bell pepper
2 cups stock
1 cup rice
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 andouille sausages
crushed red pepper
cajun seasoning
extra cayenne, to taste
olive oil
green onion for garnish

Dice the celery and onion. In a large pot over medium heat, add a tablespoon or more of olive oil, onion, and celery. Season with salt and cajun mix. Mince the garlic, and add it after 5 minutes. Cook for another 5 minutes - the onions should be clearish - then add the pepper, stock, rice, tomatoes, and sausage. The sausage should be sliced and the pepper diced. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 (stew) to 50 (rice-dish) minutes. You may need to replenish the liquid if you cook for too long. Taste intermittently and add more seasoning as desired.
Place in a bowl and top with diced green onion. Optionally, serve with mustard greens like in the above shot - sauteed with a dash of sherry and oil, salted, and topped with fresh-ground ginger and horseradish.

02 July 2012

Cold-Proofing Bread

I have this "ideal" breakfast I've concocted in my head; I think it stems from watching Gary Hustwit documentaries and a few shorts on noma. Plus reading Dwell, on occasion. I'm sitting at a table, probably made of some reclaimed wood. It is a small table - suitable for two - though the room is larger. Everything about the surroundings are rustic; I bet there are even terrariums hanging from the wall. It is in Scandinavia, of course. I'm eating breakfast with my partner before we head to work; a slice of toast cut as thick as a sandwich, a pad of butter with a light sprinkle of sea salt. Some fresh jam on the side. An egg, sunny side up and cooked to perfection.

Well, I can make part of this breakfast no problem. I've done it with E a few times now - I just steal a piece of dough from whatever loaf I'm cooking up and get fresh bread for two without prematurely staling the rest of the loaf. The egg, jam, and butter are all at hand. The crucial thing missing is the texture - the crust should be thick. When you look at a slice head on, you should be see a thick, brown ring around the center like bark on a tree. I'm not there yet, but I'm trying.
I have two angles of attack, which I'm currently pursuing one of. The currently ignored angle is the steam/dutch oven approach. I know this is necessary, but it is also relatively easy to figure out - you get crust from cooking bread in a humid environment. The easiest way to do that is to enclose the bread in a dutch oven for the first part of baking (or to use a steam bath in your oven, which I find difficult). The other angle of approach is in the proofing. Letting the dough dry out slightly can form a darker, deeper crust. Having read the Tartine book, as well as a few brief mentions of "cold proofing" in Reinhart, I've been adapting my usual loaf to the method.
The way I have usually cooked by bread, known to some as "No Knead", is a strech-and-fold followed by overnight cold fermentation and proofing at room temperature. That is, you make the dough and let it sit in the fridge for a night or two, then you shape it, let the dough proof, and cook it. The cold proofing is like that; instead of the rise happening the fridge, its the proof. Mix the dough, let it rise, then shape it and throw it in the fridge. It goes directly, the next day, from the fridge to the oven. The crust is a much deeper color and scoring the loaf more effective.
The only non-obvious part is that, when moving the dough from the fridge, you want to make sure you aren't refrigerating it on the same surface that it bakes on. You want the heat to hit the bread instantly, and a cold baking sheet going in the oven with it will ruin that. I've taken to proofing it on parchment, which is then placed on a plate and covered. I make sure a baking sheet is in the oven when preheating, and then carefully slide the parchment onto the sheet when the oven is hot. This gets a very even crust, instead of a pale and weak bottom.