Archive for September, 2009

Substance

[Recipe: Whole-Wheat English Muffin Bread]

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I know: It’s not pretty. But pretty was not the point. Thankfully, my goals had more to do with substance than with outside appearance.

I just wanted to bake a loaf of bread. I wanted aroma. I wanted a medium-crisp crust that gave way to a springy and delicate crumb. I wanted something appropriate for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, something that could hold its own equally well with a light slick of chunky peanut butter or a skosh of honey.

Summing it up, then: I was after taste, texture, warmth — all those qualities, yes, but not beauty.

And that’s a good thing, especially since this is often the type of outcome we can expect when we delegate: the results might not exactly meet our unremitting standards. (Take, for example, when you give your kid the job of cleaning the bathroom or making their own bed.)

I delegated the making of this loaf to my bread maker. It’s an appliance that hasn’t seen a lot of action lately, because I’ve been trying to do the bread-baking thing with my own two hands. But today I was in the mood for this specific recipe, and besides, there was definitely something liberating about dumping all the ingredients into the metal bowl and letting something else do the work for once — and then having it taste really, really good.

Even if the result wasn’t much to look at.

Whole-Wheat English Muffin Bread for the Bread Maker

adapted from KingArthurFlour.com

1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter or canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour (I used a combination of white & red whole wheat)
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
cornmeal (optional)

Program your machine for basic white bread, light crust. Midway through the second kneading cycle, check the dough; it should be soft, smooth and slightly sticky. Adjust the dough’s consistency with additional flour or water, if necessary. For a true English muffin effect, remove the dough after either the final kneading or before the final rise and roll it in cornmeal. Place the dough back in the machine to rise and bake.

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Longevity

Like the rest of America, I’ve reigned in my shopping habit — at least when it comes to clothes (and I use the word “clothes” in the broad sense, to include boots and bags and scarves and cosmetics and the occasional have-to-have-it throw pillow discovered on errand for any of the above).

So while my closet has never been lonelier, my pantry has become quite the diverse crowd: I’ve redirected my shopping energy from boutiques to purveyors of food, particularly ethnic. As far as my bank account and far-off retirement is concerned, this is a good thing; rather than dropping $60 on a t-shirt with a jeweled neckline, I’m dropping $2.69 on enough cardamom for a year of Bollywood film fests.

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What’s more, I’ve found that browsing the aisles of Lee-Lee (my local Asian market that also has aisles dedicated to Brazilian, Indian and even Scandinavian specialties), list in hand but open to suggestion, still gives me that shopper’s satisfaction: the heart-thrill of the hunt, the sheer joy that accompanies discovery. For example, today I learned that in other countries, bulgur is sold in grades, from fine (#1, for, say tabbouleh) to coarse (#4, for pilafs, etc.).

But, just as I must when clothes shopping, I’m forced to make hard choices: jumbo green favas or smaller brown ones? I can’t just buy it all; there must be limits. Yes, we need to eat in order to survive, but an entire collection of Vietnamese condiments is to nourishment what a certain supple berry-colored leather hobo is to being clothed.

And so I chose, against my curiosity, not to buy the Long Life Buns* in the freezer section. My sister, via text message, talked me out of it. “Want some Long Life Buns?” I wrote. “They’re hot pink!”

“What is a Long Life Bun?” she shot back. “And what had to die for it to be hot pink?”

*Turns out Long Life Buns, also known as Birthday or Peach Buns, are steamed buns served on someone’s birthday and often peach-shaped, and are supposed to bestow long life upon the eater.

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Fulfilled

[Recipe: Oven-dried Tomatoes]

It came, finally. How long did I wait? About one year — one impatience- and anticipation-fraught year. By means I will forever be oblivious to, Amazon.com secured for me and shipped to me my very own copy of Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.

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And how do I love it? Well, we might as well count the ways.

1. It holds the directions to a juicy, sweet-sour rendition of oven-dried tomatoes (my new favorite way to use up the last of the summer crop; see recipe below).

2. I now know what nigella seeds are and, by definition, what Labneh is, although I haven’t found any locally yet (to wit: it’s an Arab cheese made by straining yogurt so it loses most of its liquid).

3. It’s one cookbook that’s going to keep me guessing, chock-full as it is of curious ingredients (like the aforementioned, but also Camargue red rice, green tahini, purple-sprouted broccoli).

4. It also prominently features a few of my favorite things, like couscous and feta and pistachios, sweet potato and coriander and rocket (that’s arugula, to us statesiders).

5. It’s got delightful uses for the pomegranate molasses sitting in my fridge that I never know what to do with and the rosewater I bought but never opened. Here I come pistachio and rosewater meringues!

6. It takes me (mentally, culinarily, at least) to far-off places, and stokes that fire we sometimes call wanderlust to actually go to far-off places. Sometimes I feel that if it weren’t for cooking, I’d never get anywhere.

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Oven-dried Tomatoes, the Ottolenghi way

(from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)

These are good enough to just drop into your mouth after they cool. They’re even more marvelous in grain salads (like couscous) or on sandwiches.

16 large, ripe plum tomatoes, cut into halves lengthwise

2 tbsp muscovado sugar

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Arrange tomato halves on a baking tray, skin-side down and sprinkle with the sugar, olive oil, vinegar and several grinds of salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake for 2 hours or until tomatoes have lost most of their moisture.

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Layered

[Recipe: Smoked Salmon & Chevre Strata]

Oh, to be a mannequin. They’re the ones outfitted in smart layers right now, in cashmere-blend cardis and scarves that float just so, in tight turtlenecks beneath tailored dresses.

Meanwhile I’m still trundling out the long, hot days in desert classics: shorts and tissue-thin tees and flip flops. It’s too hot to even wear sandals, to have more than that slim arch of plastic across the top of the foot.

If I weren’t so interested in survival, I’d go to autumn-fashion town. But since I’d hate to sweat to death just because I prematurely donned my riding boots, I’ve decided to cook in layers.

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Yes, we did finally get around to food, didn’t we? A fascination with fashion can only get you so far. Eventually you get hungry.

I’m always looking for new ways to use the bounty of eggs available to me, and here’s a new one: strata. A strata — layers of egg custard, cheese, filling and cubes of crusty bread baked in the oven — is easily among the most elegant of savory egg dishes. It’s got the flexibility of an omelet, in terms of filling choices, but it’s got far less pomp and an attractive rusticity. It may look a little thrown together, but in truth it’s a constructed and considered dish — perhaps a little like your favorite fall outfit.

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Smoked Salmon & Chevre Strata

adapted from Gale Gand’s recipe in House Beautiful

5 cups of cubed rustic bread, crust on
1 C grated mozzarella
10 large eggs
1 quart 2 percent or whole milk
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp kosher salt
8 oz smoked salmon
4 oz crumbled chevre
1 tbsp chopped tarragon

Butter or spray a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Spread out the bread cubes in the dish and sprinkle with cheese. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, mustard and salt. Pour egg mixture over the bread and cheese. Layer smoked salmon on top, then dot with chevre and sprinkle tarragon on top. Gently swirl the fillings with a spatula into the rest of the mixture. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours and up to 24.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake strata for 1 hour, until the mixture has puffed a bit, is golden brown and set (shake the pan gently to check for shimmying uncooked custard, Gand says). Tent the dish with foil and continue to cook for a few minutes if the strata isn’t set and is browning too quickly. Let cool for 5 minutes, then cut into squares and serve.

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Out of the blue

Call me determined. Call me stupid. I’m answering to both right now.

I don’t know how it happened, but I ran out of olive oil. I feel like I go through a lot, what with all the vinaigrettes I whip up and the sweet potatoes I roast and the pasta I dress. I often have a couple different bottles on hand to use in different recipes, but somehow, both of my regulars ran out at the exact same time — and at 8:30 in the morning, just as I was in the middle of making a batch of pizzette dough for dinner.

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All I needed was 1/4 of a cup. Not much at all in the grand scheme of globally produced olive oil. I dumped both bottles upside down and let the drips ease into measuring cups, crossing my fingers that, between the two, I’d be able to come up with enough. In one bottle, there was barely a teaspoon. But when I peered into this bottle, I could swear I saw a 1/4 cup in there — it just wasn’t coming out.

I dug out my can opener and tried for several long and determined minutes to cut off the metal top, but between the ridge being a little tall on top and the metal being thicker than the usual can, it wasn’t really cutting through. I did what I could with the can opener and then, stupidly, I stuck my fingers in to pry the metal back.

I had a warning, a split-second rush of knowing: If I used my fingers, I was probably going to slit a finger or two open. But in pathetic desperation I did it anyway. Another split-second later, I had a gash — not a mere cut, but a gash — on the lower part of my left ring finger. This was three days ago, and it still looks nasty and threatens to bleed if I just look at it wrong.

But, I had my olive oil, barely enough.

And the bottle, which came out just better than my finger, was a perfect start to a fun little game that Camille at Croque-Camille tagged me with: Find seven blue things in your house (or thereabouts) and carry out a little show-and-tell.

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So here are my seven: 1) the coasters I bought with my sister the day we drove to Ottawa from Montreal 2) the withholding bottle of Nicolas Alziari extra virgin that is responsible for the fat gauze around my finger 3) the picture on the calendar that came with my shipment of Rancho Gordo heirloom beans 4) a bag of all-purpose flour that gets used once in a blue moon 5) the Van Gogh sunflowers representation by Quinn three years ago in French preschool 6) some shimmering cookies I made last Christmas and 7) the blueberry scones I made for my birthday, courtesy of the Rose Bakery cookbook

I’m tagging Claire, Julianne, Brittney, and Tiffany.

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