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Friday, October 23, 2015

The Crust that Shatters

Every now and then, I discover something earth shattering totally by accident. And, I must say, what a wonderful bit of serendipity this discovery was! Over the years, I have made a lot of bread of many different types. I have posted about french baguettes and boules, and most recently about high-hydration artisan loaves. In all that time, I was rarely able to obtain the really shattering crust for which I was looking. Oh, sure, occasionally it happened (with my almost no knead recipe in particular- now I know why!), but it was never consistent. The crust mostly just came out... hard. It might be crisp, but it wasn't shattering.

If you don't know what I mean by shattering, then you are missing out on the best the bread world has to offer. It's a delicate crispness that only lasts while the loaf is fresh, but is one of the best reasons to ignore prudence and jump into that loaf before it's fully cooled. Shatter is truly the world for it because the second you start to bite down on it, the crust breaks into a million flavorful pieces in your mouth. It is divine. It was elusive.

I have been working on a rye boule recipe for some time now. It's just about ready to share with you, but it took a while because there were some issues that had to be dealt with. The biggest issue was that the finished loaf was often gummy. After quite a bit of research, I came to find out that is a particular issue with rye. Apparently, it has more of a certain enzyme that converts starch to sugar, leading to a gummy crumb. The cure? Acidity. And here's where the serendipity came in. The very first time I added citric acid to my loaf, the crust dramatically changed. Not only did that tiny amount of acid fix my gummy crumb, it improved my crust a hundred fold. It was absolutely magical. I have since tried adding a little acid to a variety of artisan type loaves with great success. For a 600 gram flour boule, I use a mere half teaspoon of powdered citric acid. This certainly explains why the almost no knead bread often had that crust - it has vinegar in it, providing some acidity. I suppose you could just add some vinegar to your water when making bread, but I think the consistency the powdered citric acid gives is very nice. In either case, the acid imparts no meaningful flavor to the final product, but, oh, what a difference it makes in the crust!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Lamb Meatballs with Mushroom Gravy

Sometimes I just like to come up with new ways to put fairly normal things together. Meatballs are one of my favorite foods. I've posted about my everyday meatballs, about the Afghani kofta challow I love so much (seasoned meatballs in sauce over rice), meatball soup, and chicken meatballs. Really, in my mind, there is no time when a meatball doesn't seem like a great idea. And, if you've spent any time visiting my blog, you know that I adore gravy, lamb, and spinach. Mushrooms, too. Truly, this recipe is a win-win-win in my book. The flavors go so well together. It's a great one course meal.

Lamb Meatballs with Mushroom Gravy
Serves 4

1 pound ground ground lamb
1/3 cup dried bread crumbs
1 egg
2 TBS ketchup
1 TBS dried minced onion
1/4 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried parsley

Mix all ingredients together and form into balls using a 1/3 cup of mixture per meatball. Refrigerate meatballs for one hour before cooking. Cook in a non-stick saute pan with one teaspoon of oil until nicely browned on all sides and cooked through. Use a meat thermometer to be sure of your internal temperature. When the meatballs are only a few minutes away from being cooked through, turn on the spinach to cook. When the meatballs are done, set them in a heavy bowl and cover with foil while preparing the gravy.

16 oz fresh spinach
1/4 cup chicken or beef broth

Bring broth to a simmer in a large pot. Add the spinach, tossing regularly until it is all wilted through. Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to serve. Can be kept warm in a low oven if desired.

Mushroom Sauce:
1 pint button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tsp minced garlic
3 TBS Madeira (a fortified wine available in many grocery stores)
3 TBS heavy cream
1/4 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste

Drain off all but one tablespoon of fat from the meatball pan. Return to heat and saute the mushrooms, shallots, and garlic until nicely browned and softened. Add the Madeira to deglaze the pan. Add the cream and milk, stirring thoroughly. Cook through, adding the salt and pepper to taste.

To put the dish together, place a nice helping of the wilted spinach in the bottom of a pasta bowl. Spoon a large spoonful of the gravy over the top and then serve out 2-4 meatballs, depending on the individual's appetite. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Peach Crisp

Tap... tap... this thing on? Man, has it been a long time! I always have the best of intentions. I think about what I want to write all the time. I tweak new recipes regularly; I take pictures; I have things to say, dang it! But then I get tired or busy or... well, who the heck knows. But then I come across something that I just can't wait to share with you. In this case, it's that picture that greeted you today. Every now and then I take a picture that from the second I see it, I think, "Now that's a photograph worth looking at over and over and over." Don't get me wrong, this is a great, super easy recipe and totally worth posting with no photo at all, but the photo makes me drool uncontrollably. I've made this dish three times in the last two months (which is a lot since I normally make a cobbler/crisp type thing maybe once or twice a year), but that picture. It's been haunting me. I pull it out to look at multiple times a day. And then I think about making another pan of peach crisp. Living in the middle of peach country makes peaches an easy choice, but you could just as easily make this recipe with any fruit you like. I just happen to be partial to peaches... today, anyway. 

Peach Crisp
Yield: 9x13" pan, 8 servings

1 gallon frozen peach slices OR about 12 medium sized firm, ripe peaches *see note below*
1/4 cup - 1/2 cup sugar (depending on sweetness of the fruit)
2 TBS cornstarch for fresh peaches (3 TBS if using frozen)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
dash nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toss the peaches, sugar, cornstarch, and spices together. *If you are using a fruit other than peaches, simply use enough fruit to fill the pan about two inches deep.* Level the fruit mixture into the bottom of a 9x13"pan.

1 cup flour
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened or melted

Mix the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl. It's easiest to mix it with your hands. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of the fruit. Bake in a 350 degree F oven until the topping is golden (about 40 minutes if using fresh peaches, an hour or more if using frozen peaches). Let cool slightly before serving. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Harvest Loaf

Two years ago, I checked out a book from the library, and it was a watershed moment for me. I have enjoyed bread making for years, but making artisan breads with really wet dough was nothing but endless frustration for me. My ciabatta recipe was the closest I came to having success in this arena, but it was "easy," because you beat the gluten practically to oblivion and the loaves are not exactly known for their lovely shape. I watched bread making tutorials and read book after book on artisan bread making, and never did it quite come together. Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice and follow-up Artisan Breads Everyday are good books and I learned a lot, but even they did not get me over the last hurdle: How the heck do you handle and shape such wet dough?

Enter Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish. For the first time, I found a book that specifically addressed the issues with which I was struggling. While I haven't ended up using many of the specific recipes, I have read and re-read chapters 2 and 4 until I almost have them memorized. Not only does he discuss how to handle the wet dough, but he has great pictures, too! I was so excited to find that once I had this new information, my high-hydration bread making became really fun and successful.

I've been working on a few different recipes since then, and I finally feel like I've got this thing "mastered". I wanted to share my success with you! It's been a while since I had a video as part of a post, but - in this case - I thought it was essential. I've included two videos below that cover the two most challenging dough handling parts for a wet dough.

Today, I'd like to start off with sharing one of Ken Forkish's recipes that I've adapted. It only has 10% whole wheat flour, but it has added germ and bran which give it a lovely hearty, almost nutty edge. The biggest change I've made to the recipe is that I reduced the amount of salt. While a certain amount of salt is helpful in bread baking, I think many recipes call for way more than is needed. Coming from a family that has always been mindful of sodium intake, I always try to reduce the salt to the minimum necessary for flavor and function. The second change was a scaling change. His recipes are for two 500 gram loaves. I rarely need to bake two loaves at time. Additionally, I like the size of a 600 gram loaf better, so I easily scaled the recipe using baker's math.

The first step in making the loaf is to prepare a preferment. That simply means that you mix some of the flour and water and a tiny bit of the yeast together and let them ferment over night. This is a critical flavor building step. When you mix the preferment, it will simply look like a shaggy dough ball, but just 12 hours later, it has developed a life of its own! It's bubbly, fragrant, and moist. I use a 12 quart lidded plastic food service tub to mix and proof my dough. It means I only need to use and dirty one container. (It's also easy to clean: after you empty the tub, let it sit on the counter to dry and all those super sticky, gummy pieces of dough left in there will simply fall off and can be dumped in the trash).

The next morning, use a scale to add the remaining ingredients. I'm not usually a huge proponent of the scale, but I have to admit, it sure makes measuring easy for this type of recipe.

Then, dampen your hand and start mixing. Use a pincer motion to help distribute the new ingredients into the already moist preferment. Dampen your hand as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to you too badly. When the dough is fully mixed, it will be very sticky and not have much elasticity to it. Have no fear. Put the lid on, walk away for 15 minutes or so and prepare to be amazed.

This is where things get interesting. Because the dough has not been kneaded at all, it certainly needs something to help develop that gluten. The special technique here is called folding. It's not really like kneading at all. In fact, when I first started trying it, I was shocked to find that something so simple and easy could change the dough so drastically.

So, to recap the video, after the dough sits for a few minutes, you'll perform your first fold. To do so, dampen your hand and then pull some of the dough away from the edge of the container. Pull on that part until it won't easily pull any more and then fold it back on itself. Dampen your hand again, and turn the tub a bit, and do that motion again. Continue that motion all the way around the tub and you'll see that the dough starts to sit up on its own. Put the lid back on, let it sit another fifteen minutes, and perform this process again. For this recipe, I do this process a third time, but each recipe is different, so you'll want to be sure to note how many times it tells you to perform the fold. Once the folds are all complete, be sure to tightly cover the dough again and let it finish rising, in this case 2-3 hours. This dough should almost triple in size before you move on to the next step.

Once the dough has tripled in volume, you're ready to shape. Be sure to have a piece of parchment laying out on the counter ready to go. This recipe uses a cast iron Dutch oven for baking, and the parchment is used to move the dough from the proofing container (I use a 5 1/2 quart regular Dutch oven) to the preheated cast iron Dutch oven. You'll need flour for the counter and a bowl of water so that you can keep the dough from sticking to you too much.

The only comment I would make, technique wise, about the video, is that I may have had a little more flour than was ideal on the counter when I moved into the actual shaping phase. Notice that it ended up working out OK, but you do want some friction between the dough ball and the counter and too much flour impedes that. My only other comment about the video is... well... a little embarrassing. After making the video, I downloaded it to watch and was horrified to hear myself saying "taunt" instead of "taut" multiple times. Isn't it weird how you can know a word, know its meaning, and know how to say it and still blow it... more than once? I'd like to be able to claim its an artifact of the video, but I don't think it is. Anyway, I just wanted to admit to this blunder and hope you won't laugh too hard. :-)

Once you fold and shape the dough into a boule, place it on the parchment and gently lower it into your proofing container. Put a lid on it and let it rise for about an hour, depending on temperature. The poke test is probably your best bet for knowing when to bake it. Dampen your finger and gently poke the dough, pushing in about half and inch. Remove your finger. If the dough springs back quickly, it needs more time. If the indent sticks around for a bit, then you're ready to bake!

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F with the cast iron Dutch oven in the oven. Once the oven is ready, pull the loaf out of the proofing container and lay it gently on the counter. Dampen a long serrated blade and with a single, firm stroke, score the loaf about half an inch deep. Cutting with the knife at an angle gives you more of a chance of an "ear" developing (those are the flaps that end up curling up and browning so nicely). If you'd rather have a more smooth top to your loaf, cut with your knife completely vertical. Score once more at 90 degrees to the first cut. Then gently lower the parchment held loaf into the preheated cast iron Dutch oven. Put the lid on and reduce the oven temperature to 450. Set the timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the lid. After 15 more minutes, remove the Dutch oven from the oven and carefully remove the loaf from the parchment. Set the loaf onto the bare oven rack to finish baking. How long you take it is a bit of personal preference. Ken Forkish likes his loaves dark. I have learned that - to a certain extent - darker is truly better. I usually leave mine in another 10-15 minutes. Be sure to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting into the loaf!!

After enjoying the loaf the first day, I usually like to pre-slice it and then freeze or refrigerate it. I mostly use it for toast after day one, so refrigerating it extends its life immensely. I've learned that pre-slicing the rest of the loaf is easiest on the second day and that an electric knife is the only tool to use. If you want nice, even slices, this is the only way to go!!

Harvest Loaf
Adapted from Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish
Yield: one large boule

300 grams white AP flour 
300 grams warm water
0.5 grams instant yeast (about 1/8 tsp)

Mix the preferment in the evening. Cover and let sit at room temperature until morning.

all the preferment
240 grams white AP flour
60 grams whole wheat flour
168 grams warm water
6 grams table salt
1.5 grams instant yeast
30 grams wheat germ
12 grams wheat bran

Mix the new ingredients together with the preferment. Mix by hand, dampening the hand to keep the dough from sticking. Use a pincer-like motion to evenly mix the ingredients. Cover and let sit 15 minutes. Complete one full fold (see video) and cover. Wait 15 minutes and repeat. Wait 15 more minutes and repeat one more time. Let rise, covered 2-3 hours until dough is almost tripled in size.

Fold and shape the dough into a boule (see video). Place on ungreased parchment. Gently place in a large bowl or Dutch oven to rise, covered. Let rise about an hour, until doubled. Use the poke test to confirm it is fully proofed (see above). Preheat the oven and a cast iron Dutch oven to 475 degrees F. When the oven is ready, score the loaf in an "x" using a dampened serrated blade. Place the loaf into the preheated Dutch oven using the parchment paper. Reduce heat to 450. Bake covered for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and bake another 15 minutes. Remove loaf from Dutch oven, pull it from the parchment, and place the loaf directly onto the oven rack to bake until dark brown, usually another 10-15 minutes. Let cool at least 30 minutes before cutting.

Here is the baker's formula for this bread:

White flour 90
Wheat flour 10
Water 78
Salt 1
Yeast 0.3
Wheat germ 5
Wheat bran 2

Poolish is 50% of the white flour, 50% of the water, and 1/4 of the total yeast.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Hummus with Spiced Lamb

There was a delicious article in Eating Well this month that focused on chef Michael Solomonov's Israeli street foods. He had two recipes for hummus topped with good stuff, and that got me thinking about what else I could scrounge up to put over hummus. I immediately started imagining crumbles of lamb heavily spiced with Middle Eastern seasoning, onions, and parsley. That got me thinking about the spice mix I use for my Middle Eastern Spiced Kabobs. Just the thought of it got me excited, so I had to try it. I basically used my kabob recipe substituting ground meat for the chunks and sauteing it all in a pan. It was everything I had imagined it to be. While this would be fantastic to serve as a dip for chips, it really is quite delicious and satisfying as a main course. As you might imagine, it is quite filling. Actually, it is darn filling. Surprisingly so. I ended up uncomfortably full because it was so good, I had a second helping without realizing I was already full! Word to the wise. Don't say I didn't warn you!

Hummus with Spiced Lamb
Yield: 4 small main course servings

2-3 cups of hummus (served at room temperature)
1 TBS olive oil
1 lb ground lamb
1/2 cup minced onion
1 TBS minced garlic
4 tsp spice mixture (see below)
1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
1/2 cup minced fresh parsely
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Spice Mixture:
1 TBS ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground all spice
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Mix the spice mixture together in a small bowl. Heat a skillet over medium-high to high heat. Add the oil, lamb, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring often. The dish tastes best if you can get little crispy edges on the ground meat. Once the meat is cooked through and the onion is soft, drain any excess fat. Add the spice mixture, salt, and parsley. Stir to evenly mix. Serve over room temperature hummus. Add a drizzle of olive oil, if desired, and garnish with pine nuts.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Andy's Mints

Last week, I made one hundred goody bags to donate to a women's mini-retreat. I included gingersnaps, toffee butter crunch, and these little mint gems. I'd made these mints once before and thought them wonderful enough to make again. If you like those little green foil wrapped chocolate mints, you'll love these things, too. They're darn easy to make, too, which is never a bad thing in my book.

I based them off a recipe I found in Taste of Home magazine. I just knew, though, that the way the recipe was written, I would find them cloyingly sweet. I am not a big fan of most fudges for that reason. But, I figured there was a way around that. Instead of using semisweet chocolate, I used a 60% bittersweet chocolate. It made them just right. The lack of excess sugar in the chocolate is more than made up for by the sweetness in the condensed milk. It ends up being the perfect balance. Interestingly, I have made these using both real white chocolate and white chips for the middle part and am not sure the flavor difference is worth the very real difference in price between them. It seemed to me they both worked well, so use either.

The first step is to melt the bittersweet chocolate and one cups of the condensed milk. Heat it in a heavy pan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, prepare an 8" square pan (use a 9x13 pan for a double batch) by spraying with a little oil and lining with a sheet of parchment (the oil simply helps keep the parchment from moving around on you as you spread the mixtures into the pan). When the chocolate is smooth, add the vanilla. Spoon half of the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it around. Chill until firm to the touch, about 10 minutes.

Then melt the white chips or white chocolate and the remaining condensed milk in another pan over medium-low heat. Heat until smooth, adding the color and extract as you remove it from the heat. Spread the green mixture on top of the now slightly firm chocolate layer and spread around. Let it firm up in the refrigerator another 10 minutes. Reheat the remaining chocolate mixture until it is smooth again and spread it on the top of the green mixture once it has firmed up.

Let the tray sit in the refrigerator until completely firm, at least one hour, preferably two. Use the edges of the parchment to pull the candy out of the pan. Cut into roughly one inch wide strips. Use a sharp bench scraper or knife to then slice each strip into 1/2 inch wide pieces of candy.

Andy's Mints
Yield: approx 100 mints

2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (~60% cacao)
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk (divided)
2 tsp vanilla extract
6 ounces white chocolate or white chips
2 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
3 drops food coloring

Heat the bittersweet chips and one cup of the milk in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is smooth, Remove from heat and add the vanilla extract. Prepare an 8" square pan with spray oil and a piece of parchment. Pour half of the chocolate mixture into the pan and spread evenly. Let pan chill in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes or until firm to the touch.

Heat the white chocolate or chips with the remaining condensed milk, stirring frequently, until smooth. Remove from the heat, add the extract and coloring, and spread evenly on top of the first chocolate layer. Let chill ten minutes. Rewarm the remaining dark chocolate mixture and then spread over the top of the green layer. Spread evenly and chill until completely firm, at least one hour.

Remove candy from pan using parchment. Cut along the long axis into roughly one inch wide strips. Use a sharp bench scraper to cut each strip into 1/2 inch wide candies. Can be stored at room temperature, but they will keep longer if stored in a refrigerator. Let warm to room temperature before eating.

Note: If you ever find the mixture seems to firm to spread easily, you can always add a dollop of heavy whipping cream to the mixture. This will loosed it up without adversely impacting the final product. If making a double batch, use a 9x13" pan.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Samosa Inspired Cauliflower

I am always looking for new and delicious (and easy to make) side dishes. We love diverse ethnic seasonings from around the world, so I am also always looking for ways to include those favorite flavors in our everyday meals. Here is a perfect example of that attempt being very successful.

I saw a picture in a magazine in the last few months that inspired me. It had cauliflower and peas, and the cauliflower had a gorgeous yellow hue. Its flavor profile was close to one I had in my mind, but it had a whole bunch of ingredients I don't typically have on hand. I knew the flavor I wanted, but I wasn't quite sure how to get there (I had tried a similar dish with much less success once before). I wandered through a handful of cookbooks without really getting any closer to where I wanted to be. Suddenly, it dawned on me that the flavor I was thinking of (I suppose because of the peas and the obvious Indian spice inspiration) was the filling one finds in many samosas! I was off! I have a recipe for potato and pea samosa filling that I love and I simply adapted that here. The result was fantastic! What a delightful change of pace, and so tasty and beautiful, too.

Samosa Inspired Cauliflower
Yield: 4 servings

2 TBS vegetable oil
1 cup diced onion
1 head cauliflower, cut up
2 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp spice mix (see below)
3 TBS water
1 cup frozen peas
salt, to taste

Spice Mix:
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cayenne (or more, if you like spice)

Mix the spices together and set aside. Prepare the onion and cauliflower and then heat a medium skillet or Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add the oil, let it heat, and then cook the onion until soft and gently browned. Add the cauliflower, the ginger, 2 teaspoons of the spice mix, and the water and cook, covered, until the cauliflower is just tender (5-10 minutes). Remove the cover and add the frozen peas. Let heat through. Season with salt to taste. Serve immediately.
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