Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let Us Eat No Knead Bread!

I finally succumbed to trying the New York Times' famous "No Knead" Bread. And they're right, it's perfect, it's simple, it's foolproof. You gotta try it. I may never buy another loaf again....

It is only 4 ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, water. And it simply involves mixing (no yeast proofing) and allowing the batter to rise. It does require that you have a specific type of oven pot (mine is an enamel coated cast iron) with a lid. You can use any non-metal baking dish with a lid - Corning Ware, Cast Iron, Dutch Oven, etc). It's genius!

I've made it with all whole wheat flour, half whole wheat and half white bread flour, and half rye and half white bread flour with caraway seeds. Being a big fan of rye, the last is my favorite and it has such a deliciously chewy texture that I thought was only possible in a store bought bread.

The trick is in the extreme moistness of the dough and the fact that it is cooked in a pot with a lid on in the oven. This seems to simulate the steam injection of commercial ovens which creates a crisp, crunchy crust and moist and tender "crumb" or interior. Hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

No Knead Whole Wheat Bread

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups white bread flour
1/2 teaspoon dry active yeast
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 x 1 5/8 cups water (I couldn't begin to figure out how to double this)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl that will allow dough to double.

It will look too wet; it's not. Just be sure to mix in all of the flour well. Cover with plastic and secure tightly. I use a cut open plastic bag and a rubber band. Allow to sit at room temperature (at least 68 degrees) for 18-24 hours.

Remove plastic and dust counter or cutting board with flour and pour dough until it. It will be very sticky so make sure to have flour nearby for your hands.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and place pot and lid in the oven. The pot needs to heat for at least 30 minutes in 450 degree oven. After the pot has preheated for at least 30 minutes, remove from oven and carefully pour the dough into the pot and place the lid on top. For the whole wheat bread, bake for 45 minutes with the lid on. Check the bread for doneness by slipping a knife in and make sure it comes out clean. If there's a little moistness on the tip, keep it in another 5 minutes, and keep checking. When it's done it will look like this.

The bread will slide easily out of the pan. Set it out on a drying rack for at least 30 minutes before cutting into it, if you can restrain yourself. It's best to allow breads to cool as much as possible since cutting into them drys them out. However, it's really hard to hold back!

Here you can see how lovely the crust is while still providing a moist but dense crumb (as bakers call the inside of the bread.) This is the rye and caraway seed bread and it is soooo good!

Love and hugs!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Roasted Asparagus and Broccolini

Spring has sprung in the East Bay! I know, not so many other places. But here's a preview of what will soon be coming your way, asparagus and broccolini (that's baby broccoli).

I love to roast vegetables, and while most people are probably familiar with roasting root vegetables and potatoes, roasting these tender spring offerings are a very quick and wonderful way to bring out their sweet taste. Also, I have to admit, sometimes I'm seduced by vegetables at the store and then forget about them in the frig! This dish is especially great when that happens since the quick roasting is a perfect way to cook somewhat limp asparagus or broccolini.

This time I just placed them on a sheet pan, spritzed with a little olive oil, and roasted them under the broiler for 4 minutes.

Keep an eye on them, ovens heat differently and you may want a more crisp or blackened look. Then I cut them in thirds and added a simple vinaigrette and Voila!

Traditional French Vinaigrette

1/3 cup red wine vineger
2 teaspoons salt
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon coarse or dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
black pepper to taste

Combine the vinegar, salt, and garlic and mix well until salt is dissolved. Add mustard and olive oil and blend until it emulsifies. Add pepper to taste.

This dressing is great on salads (and a little heavy on the vinegar, add more oil if you prefer it that way.) It can be left out at room temperature which keeps the oil from congealing.

Love and hugs!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shepherd's Pie, "Great Recession" Style

When I was cooking for the deli at Just Food Co-op in Northfield Minnesota, I had to adapt to “Minnesota taste buds” as the staff deemed our local customers. One of the things that people were always clamoring for was Shepherd’s pie. This was not something that I grew up on, and while I had heard the name and knew that it involved a meat and vegetable pie topped with mashed potatoes, I had never eaten it nor made it. I finally did make it – where I lived, it was sautéed ground beef with some tomato paste (or ketchup, which ever was handy) and some frozen mixed vegetables, topped off with mashed potatoes and grated cheese. Baked to make it all blend together, it was pretty tasty.

Over the past Christmas holiday I had an Englishman scold me when I mentioned the Minnesota version of shepherd’s pie. He was quite vehement in stating that the pie was never made with anything but lamb, and that the ground beef versions had some nerve claiming even an affinity with the lamb version. With all that history on my mind, I decided to throw caution to the wind and make my own version of shepherd’s pie, using leftovers and veggies about to wilt beyond use.

As my sister Emily pointed out to me, I love to experiment in cooking, but not all of them turn out well. This one was fantastic, which was why I felt it merited a blog entry!

Of course in some ways the following recipe is cheating since I’m not providing the recipe for the lamb’s stew, but I think either a beef or lamb stew would work well, or even leftover taco meat (chicken, beef, pork) would do. Just don’t let the English know!

Mashed Potatoes
6-8 small to medium boiling potatoes (red, Yukon)
1 tablespoon butter
1-2 tablespoons milk or ½ and ½
1 teaspoons salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place potatoes in pot with water to cover bring to boil and cook until tender. Drain, mash, add butter, milk and salt and set aside.

Vegetable Base
1 onion sliced lengthwise
1 bunch greens (I used beet tops) chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt

As potatoes are boiling, heat olive oil in pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook slowly to carmelize, about 20-25 minutes. When onions are almost uniformly browned and carmelized, add chopped greens and cook enough to wilt. Set aside.

Meat Layer
1 cup meat stew (or browned beef, lamb, pork)

Cheese to top (I used some parmesan, but cheddar would work as well).

In a single pie pan (or little tartlet pans) spread vegetable mixture on bottom and then spoon meat layer over vegetables evenly. Add mashed potatoes and spread evenly. Top with grated cheese and bake for 30-40 minutes until topping is lightly browned and a knife inserted in the middle feels warm on your tongue. Remove from oven and allow to cool 3-5 minutes.

Love and hugs!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Not Your Average Fried Rice

Ta da, Pictures! I'm so excited I remembered to take a picture of my dinner before I ate it all! This was one of those meals where I was thinking, "hmmm, I've got all that cooked barley, what can I do with it before it goes bad?" And then I remembered that I also had some shrimp in the freezer, a green onion, and some broccoli rabe; perfect makings for fried rice or in this case, barley. Either way, this is a quick, easy and super super delicious dinner.

I think this meal would be particularly kid friendly if your wee ones like Chinese flavorings. I used to make this at the co-op and used the traditional vegetables of green onions, carrots, celery and bell peppers, but you can personalize it however you like. It is a great way to use up whatever is in the vegetable drawer. Here's my version, at least for tonight.

A Few Caveats
I cook in a wok since I find it the best pot for Chinese cooking. Use any deep dish skillet otherwise. Also, don't fear the great quantities of garlic and ginger, I fry them first and set them aside so that they both flavor the cooking oil (typical of Chinese cooking) but also serve as added vegetables since I love ginger and garlic so. Don't worry about cutting either one too thinly, since you want them to cook in the oil, not immediately burn. Another thing to note is that it is actually best to make this with cold, already cooked rice or barley, since then it doesn't stick together as newly cooked rice would. And lastly, while you will be tempted to reduce the amount of cooking oil, don't. It's important for there to be enough oil to cook each set of veggies as well as enough to coat the rice. In the larger scheme of things, it's not that fattening, and you're eating all those good grains and vegetables!

Shrimp Fried Rice

6 shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 cups cooked brown rice/barley
8 cloves garlic, sliced lengthwise in 1/4 inch slivers
3 inch piece ginger, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch slivers
1 green onion, white parts sliced thin
1 bunch broccoli rabe, chopped, stalks separated from leaves
1/4 cup high heat cooking oil (safflower, sunflower, etc)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili oil (optional)

Heat wok until it smokes. Add cooking oil and swirl in pan. When oil begins to smoke, add garlic and ginger and toss to cook until nicely browned. Scoop out garlic and ginger and set aside and leave oil in wok. Add shrimp and cook for 1-2 minutes until pink and curled. Scoop out and set aside. Add white parts of green onions and stalks of broccoli rabe and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add leafy portion of broccoli rabe and cook another 1-2 minutes until barely wilted. Add rice/barley and stir fry 2-3 minutes until grains are all coated with oil. Add shrimp, garlic and ginger back into wok and stir another minute. Add soy sauce, sesame oil and chili oil if adding and stir another minute. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Love and hugs!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Branching Out with Fish

Everyone else’s blogs are inspiring me lately, so I'm taking a page from a few of them. I’m cooking with a minimum of ingredients, staying in season and local as much as possible and eating more fish. Here’s something I made last week with some delicious black cod (it’s a meaty fish, similar to halibut and half the cost!)

Black Cod with Avocado Citrus Salsa
(serves 2)

½ lb Black Cod Filet
1 avocado, diced
2 blood oranges, fruit cut out as you would with a grapefruit half
½ cup cilantro, chopped
Zest from 1 lime and ½ blood orange
Juice from ½ a lime
2 quarters whole lime for extra juice
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Combine avocado, orange sections, zest, lime juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Heat skillet and add olive oil to coat bottom of pan. Cook cod over medium heat, skin side down for 5-7 minutes, flip and cook on other side covered for another 8-10 minutes. Check for doneness, the fish will become opaque all the way through. Squeeze lime quarters over fish and serve with salsa.

P.S. Look for pictures soon, my digital camera is now operational!

Love and Hugs!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Indulging My Vinegar Tooth

Salads have always been one of my favorite parts of a meal because I love vinegar. Yup, you read correctly, I love the taste of vinegar. I love the puckery feeling it gives your mouth, how it makes your taste buds all stand and salute when that first forkful of vinaigrette coated salad enters my mouth. But as I’m eating seasonally (and locally because I’m in California) I’ve had to be more creative with producing salads that allow me to indulge my vinegar tooth. Turns out that making a salad with winter produce isn’t as hard as I thought (and not simply because I live in California!) I have to confess that the fennel and celery salad is cribbed from a recipe from Mark Bittman of the New York Times, but they say mimicry is the surest form of flattery!

Celery, Fennel and Parmesan Salad
(Bittman uses a mandolin; without it, I just used a knife and cut carefully)

3 stalks celery, sliced very thinly
1 blub fennel, sliced very thinly
½ apple, cored, sliced very thinly
¼ cup of parmesan cheese, grated on large holes or peeled using peeler
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pepper to taste
Oil cured black olives (optional)

Combine vegetables, apples and cheese. Mix vinegar with salt until dissolved. Add olive oil and blend well. Pour over salad and add pepper.

Confetti Salad
This has been my standard winter salad for eons, and I still love it. I usually toss a homemade vinaigrette made with garlic, balsamic vinegar, coarse mustard, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and it never fails to leave me satisfied.

2 cups red cabbage, shredded
½ bunch parsley, chopped
1 carrot, shredded
1 stalk celery, chopped
(optional, meaning if I have it)
Slices of pink turnips (not purple topped turnips, these are sweeter, almost like an overgrown radish)
Cheese (feta, goat, mozzarella)

Toss all salad ingredients; add vinaigrette and serve.

Cold Beets with Rosemary
Beets are the hidden treasures of winter; gorgeous color, earthy taste, nutritional superstars. I’m sure if that is all you had in the way of vegetables, you would soon tire of them, but so far I haven’t! Using fresh herbs is such a treat, and even more satisfying when you grow them yourself since it's hard to eat up the large bunch you buy at grocery store without creating fresh rosemary fatique.

4-5 beets, tops removed
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped fine
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon orange zest, minced (optional)

Place beets in pot with water covering them by at least 1 inch. Bring to boil and cook for 30-45 minutes, until beets are tender and easily slip off a fork. Drain and cool for 10 minutes. Rub off skins and discard. Chop beets in cubes or slices and add olive oil, rosemary, salt and zest if using. Toss to coat. Enjoy at room temperature or chilled.

Love and hugs!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Simple, Easy and Delicious!

I’ve always enjoyed food challenges, particularly when it comes to making something delicious with a) what’s in the refrigerator and or b) fast. Here’s a quick sauté dish I created that covers both categories. I often eat it for lunch with either some bread or precooked grains (rice, barley). It proves the old adage that a little bit of seasoned meat adds a lot of flavor. While not everyone has pancetta in their refrigerator, it’s worth getting some to try with this dish. It’s so delish!

Sautéed Vegetables with Pancetta
(makes 3-4 servings)

2 tablespoons pancetta, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 fennel blub, sliced thin
½ onion (or 2 green onions) sliced thin
½ apple, cored and sliced thin
1 bunch greens (kale or collards) sliced in ribbons

Sauté pancetta on high heat until it begins to brown. Add olive oil and turn heat down to medium. Add fennel, onion and apple and stir and cook about 4-6 minutes, until vegetables begin to soften. Add greens and toss and cook another 3-4 minutes until greens are all wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste.