Sunday, September 23, 2007

Herbs in Harmony

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bread Weekend

During a cold snap last year, I bought The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. This was the first cookbook I actually read, before diving in. After learning the importance of measuring by weight and proportions and how to administer the “window pane” test, I began the two-day process of making Ciabatta...a crusty, holey bread that’s like heaven dipped in olive oil.

The first day was dedicated to making the starter, Poolish. Simple enough. Three ingredients, stirred in a bowl, left to sit on the counter for four hours and then thown in the fridge, until the next day.

The next morning broke early and cold and I was ready to go. The book’s photo showed Poolish as a bubbly, blob-like dough that you could pour out of the bowl. Mine was like paste....not wallpaper paste, but more like Elmer’s paste. I tried to continue on with the recipe, as if nothing was wrong, but when I added the other ingredients to the starter, my Kitchen Aid threatened to explode as it tried to knead the brick-like chunk of flour.

The mess went in the trash and the book went on the shelf. I found another Ciabatta recipe at that resulted in better luck, but I wasn’t able to get the big holes that Ciabatta is known for.

Last weekend, the weather inspired me, again, and I dusted off The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. Not only would I make Ciabatta, but I also stirred together starters for Anadama and Multigrain loaves. I woke up early Sunday morning and started in. Since I had three breads that baked at different temperatures and required 3 loaf pans, even though I only have two, timing of mixing, rising and baking was critical. It’s also the reason it took me eight hours to finish, but I enjoyed every one of them.

This time the Poolish turned out just like book’s picture and I even got a few holes in the Ciabatta. It still seems like it should be a bit less dense, but it tastes great! I’m going to keep trying, until I get it right...and eat a lot of sandwhiches for lunch, until then.

The multigrain loaf was for J and it turned out pretty well, too. But, I don’t think I’ll bother with the Anadama bread again. It makes a pretty loaf, with the corn meal sprinkled over the top, but it’s got too much molasses for my taste.

I stirred up another batch of Poolish, tonight, and am taking another run at the Ciabatta this weekend. We’re going to a Super Bowl party on Sunday, so I’m going to bring the bread along with some cheese and meat for open-faced sandwhiches. I’m really looking forward to the game. There’s no bigger riot than a gay Super Bowl Party. It’s a completely different event than the parties showcased in the beer commercials....BIG FUN!

Friday, January 12, 2007

When Salt & Pepper Are Left Alone....

Friday, December 29, 2006

French Christmas

Still sick of turkey from Thanksgiving and not in the mood for ham, I decided on something different this year for Christmas. Canard a L'Orange, courtesy of Ms. Julia Child! I know....fabulous, right?! An exotic animal (come ain't chicken) with a fruity gravy...this was a sure thing.

I planned on making Julia proud, too, so I read and re-read the recipe, plotting out a schedule of preparations to be made. The day before, I took the neck, heart, wing-tips, etc. from the duck and carefully prepared the 2 cups of stock needed to make the a L'Orange. Christmas morning I took out the duck so it would be room temperature by the time I was ready to put it in the oven. I then carefully peeled the orange skin from 4 oranges, using a vegetable peeler, and carefully cut them into a fine julienne, just as Julia instructed. I seasoned the duck, trussed the duck and then stabbed it all over it's bottom three quarters to allow for proper drainage of the fat as it cooked. (I had NO idea ducks had that much fat on them. Now I don't feel so bad.)

Here's where things got crazy. I'm roasting the duck, I'm preparing the stock and the other sauce ingredients so that they're ready for the pan drippings (sans fat) as soon as the duck is done, and I'm getting the shoestring potatoes ready for the oven, so they can go in as soon as the duck comes out. There was a lot going on, but it was all clicking, until.....

I took the duck out of the oven and what had once been a 4.5 lb plumped up fowl, was now something more akin to that skinny chicken from Saturday morning cartoons. (You know the one...he was the 90lb weakling next to that big cock, Foghorn Leghorn.) Now, according to Ms. Child, this was supposed to feed 4-5 people and the only side dish was to be sauteed or shoestring potatoes, due to the already intricate pallet of flavors. By the time the second plate had been served, both breasts were gone and we were down to scavenging scraps off the carcass for J and I. (Thank god we served our guests, first.)

I don't know who Julia was trying to kid. I've seen pictures, and she's a big girl. I know she didn't make this recipe and serve 4-5 people, unless three of them were vegetarians.

Anyhoo. The reviews of the meal were good, from those who had the "real" parts of the duck. I, however, will not be traveling down that road again. Still luv ya, Jules!

ps: I was in such shock at the sight of my shrunken bird that I forgot to take a picture to post. Probably better to block out the memory, anyway.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Holidays!!!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Alfredo's Creamy Sauce

According to Stewart Lee Allen's, In The Devils' Garden, St. Clement of Alexandria (somebody from the third century) believed that sauces were Satanic because they glorified eating, which led to gluttony. If Clem had a friend named Alfredo and his sauce was made of butter, cream and cheese, then I can't blame him for making the connection.

My midwest upbringing didn't go a long way in exposing me to a wide array of sauces....unless, of course, it was some kind of meat gravy or had cream-of-something soup as a base. After college, I started working for a multinational food corporation and one of my sales reps, Cathy, was a real, live Italian living in Boston. After I had told her how much I loved fettucini alfredo and that I had no idea how to make it, she insisted on sharing her own recipe with me. I will forever be grateful.

I couldn’t believe it was so easy, and that it was even better than what I had flipped for in restaurants. With this simple success, I began to think of cooking beyond the prepackaged and prepared foods that overwhelm the display space in almost every grocery store. I started to think of cooking in terms of the ingredients and not just the assembly of boxed components.

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 pint half & half
3/4 + 1/4 grated parmesan cheese
pepper to taste

Over medium-low heat, heat the butter, half & half and 3/4 cup parmesan cheese. Stir constantly, until the mixture comes to a slow boil. About 15 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and continue stirring for another 5 minutes. Keep the sauce at a low simmer as it will thicken. Add pepper to taste and pour over prepared pasta. If you’d like to add meat, throw in come cooked shrimp or chicken breast. I also like to add steamed broccoli for a little color.

note: If you’re thinking you’ll have leftovers, I recommend only adding sauce to the amount of pasta that you’re actually going to eat. The cream and butter in the alfredo sauce will separate when the sauce is refrigerated, so if it’s already on your pasta, warming it up doesn’t work out so great. I save any extra sauce in it’s own container and refrigerate it. When I want to use it again, I just throw it in a small sauce pan and bring it to a slow boil, while stirring constantly. It’s just as good as the first time.