Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bread, Part Deux: The Leavening!

It's safe to say that I've caught the breadmaking addiction, so I'm riding this wave while I can. Here's my latest batch:

Same recipe, but this uses aged cheddar and garlic powder rather than grüyere and rosemary. I also opted out of the cheese on top to give it a cleaner look. The taste of cheddar and garlic is a lot more subtle than rosemary and grüyere, but I think the texture improved a bit. This was a double batch, and I divided it up for different loaves. The little loaves were supposed to be boulle, but I kinda mooshed them a bit when setting them on the pan. Next time, I'll ball them up for maximum height. My next plan is to make things I can eat soup out of!

As for this ridiculous bread horde, it's being given out to friends and family. Besides, there's football on tomorrow, and people need nibble food!

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I love bread. Who doesn't? I mean, you'd have to be some kind of North Korean Robot to not like bread, which is why I serve it to all of my house guests, just to be sure. . .

That being said, despite my love for it, I've never made it. It falls into the nebulous world of baking, which for so long has been one of those "Here there be Dragons" territory. To a guy who measures ingredients by eyeball and hardly ever bothers to read a recipe, it's scary stuff. Of course, it's bread, and it's delicious. That's enough for me to get over my fear. Plus, I am too lazy to go down the road to buy bread. I've got flour and...stuff. Sounds like a plan for failure right?


I have no idea how it turned out so well, as I was fully expecting to make something half-crappy the first time. Instead, I rock out a megaloaf of bread that looks as awesome as anything I've bought in a market. Here's how I did it:

Gather these ingredients together:
  • 6 cups all purpose white flour
  • 1 1/2 slightly warm water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 packs of active yeast
  • 1/4 cup rosemary (fresh if you can)
  • 2 1/2 cups Swiss Grüyere cheese, grated finely
And this stuff for the glaze:
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in a bowl and let the yeast go hog wild for about ten minutes. While that's happening, melt the butter down and combine with milk and salt, so that its at room temperature. When the yeast is all foamy and smelling like beery bread, mix with the milk & butter. Add flour a cup at a time, stirring thoroughly in between. By this time you should have a good and firm cantaloupe-sized ball of dough. Find a flat surface to knead on, sprinkle some flour on the surface, and begin to knead. Work the dough for a good fifteen minutes or so, working two cups of the grüyere and the fresh rosemary inside as you knead. Grease up a bowl, drop in the ball of dough, and spread it around until fully greased, and sit the bowl in a warm place with a damp cloth over the top. Let it rest this way for an hour, and expand to a ridiculous size.

When you come back, plop the dough back on the table and punch it down, kneading it down again. From here, you can form the bread however you please, whether it's baguettes, boulles, rolls, etc. I went for braided bread, dividing the bread into three equal pieces, and rolling them out into equal lengths. On a non-stick cookie sheet, I pinched one end together, and braided them up, pinching the other end together and tucking both ends under the rest of the dough. From there, I let the dough rest for another hour in a warm place, covered up in the damp cloth.

After the hour's up, the dough will have puffed up again. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees, then mix the egg, teaspoon of salt, and tablespoon of water, and glaze lightly along the dough's surface. Don't use too much, or you'll just get scrambled egg on your bread. You just want enough to wet it all over. After this, sprinkle the dried rosemary on top, and pop that bad boy in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the crust gets a nice light brown to it. Pull it out quickly and sprinkle the remaining half cup of grüyere on top. Pop it back in the oven between 5 to 10 minutes to let the cheese brown, and then bring it out again. Let it cool for a good 15 or 20 minutes before even thinking about a nibble.

Fifteen to twenty minutes up yet? Get some good olive oil, crack some peppercorns in a dish and add a little inside. Break some bread with friends! Seeing how well this turns out, I'll be making stuff like this at least every week.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ossum Rasam

Dino over at Alternative Vegan has a recent blog posting you should all take a gander at, especially with fall in full tilt. It's a recipe for Rasam, which is a warming South Indian comfort food. I bought his cookbook ages ago and have always wanted to make it. What makes things crazy is that two local restaurants have it on the menu, but I am always disappointed when I ask, because "no we are out of Rasam, so sorry."

Well, I finally managed to get the time set aside to make it:

It's pungent, tart, and really, really WARM. Not a searing pepper heat that hurt, but I mean I had this wonderful toasty feeling from the bottom of my stomach to the tip of my nose and my lips, and all in between. Dino's not kidding, this is comfort food you really need to dabble in when the weather tanks out. Big kudos on a great recipe.

A dud.

Sometimes, you make something good. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you make an abomination. I got a little bit frustrated on this one:

Pay no mind to the soup. It's cream of heirloom tomato and despite being a little on the boring side, it tasted pretty good. No, my rage goes out to the abomination beside it. It was supposed to be pan-seared chicken with a balsamic vinegar reduction, roasted garlic cloves & peppers, with manchego and a garlic flatbread. In other words, it was a big pile of fail. The reduction turned out crap, the chicken dried out, and the peppers were awful. I got too distracted with attempting to make it look interesting and I made something crappy.

Oh well, at least the soup was tasty.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Now that I have plates, I should learn how to plate.

I can't plate, guys. At least, not yet. Sure, I may have aspirations, but so far not a whole lot to show for them. I'm trying to change that around a bit, and I'm taking a more hands-on approach to not only how my food tastes, but what it looks like. I asked people whose opinions I value about some of my past stuff, and their answers were very helpful, but also deservedly harsh. I'm taking those lessons to heart, and I'll be trying to present food that's a bit more pleasing to the eye. My wife will likely roll her eyes at me, as she's going to be happy whether it's a carefully-arranged dish, or its ingredients that are more or less cooked and thrown in a bowl.

This is a variant on that rather-successful mystery meal that I made for my wife a few weeks ago. The chicken stock & cream sauce includes diced portabellas and oregano, which ties into the garnish and the (awesome!) slivers of fried portabella served on top. I have to remember to do this more often, they turned up so tasty and crispy.

At any rate, it's still not super artsy, but I think it's coming along. The garnish isn't a shrubbery set on top of the food because custom demands it. I'm keeping things centered up a bit, and not getting too fancy. I do wish I had used more peas in the penne, because I like the green color. There's always another time.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

He who controls the spice...

My wife surprised me when I got home from work tonight with a little bit of organizational genius:

Using a little bit of modular shelving and a lot of imagination, she built a "spice rack" for me. Now, I think that's funny because look to the right of that behemoth. That is what passes for a spice rack of the sort that you'd find at any random kitchen shop. Mind you, it's got the basics like your cumin, oregano, basil, pepper, bay leaf, blah blah blah. But a 20 spice rack just don't cut the mustard in this joint:

Frontal shot of the awesomeness. This shelving's great because I can keep surplus and random baggies tucked behind and out of my way. If you'll believe it, this whole mess used to be spread helter skelter across the entire table. Guess how frustrating it was to pick through a billion jars? A little bit!

Big happy garlic & onion thing. I married a Sicilian, it's a kitchen necessity! Anyways, my better half done a real good thing, and I'm happy to have a nice and organized pad to go all mise en place with, so you'll be seeing a lot more of this awesomeness!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Feeling a little goaty lately

All double entendres aside, after getting my new dishes and silverware, I have been looking for an excuse to make something nice. Since the remainder of my okra went sideways before I could crank out another round of bindi masala, I convinced my "I don't eat Indian food" wife to eat another round of curry. I had a nice bag of frozen goat I picked up at my local Indian grocer, so I put it to the test with...a mango.

This was a strategy to get my wife on my side, since the only curry she eats that I don't cook is an Afghan dish with chicken in a mango sauce. So, she signs onto the idea, and I find out very quickly that both goat and mango alike are a little frustrating to cut and process! My efforts eventually pay off and I cube out the goat, then slice, peel, dice, and puree the mango into some yogurt with ginger, lime juice, and spices. A few whole spices in raging-hot oil in my cast iron skillet, and in went some onions and peppers. At this point, an absurd amount of red chili flakes hit hot oil, creating the effect of a tear gas grenade in the kitchen. The cats fled and started to retch, and I got yelled at. This is the price I pay for mad science, since everybody knows I have no idea what I'm doing at times!

Eventually, goat was added and browned, then the yogurt sauce was ladled in to give it that nice turmeric-induced patina. I had basmati rice with kala jeera in reserve, and so we all know how this story ends. Garnish with cilantro, and there we go:

Aren't my plates and flatware pretty? ^__^

The curry was great, but I think slightly tart. Not bad for basically BS'ing a dish, but I think I can take the lime out and improve things. My wife doesn't care for whole spices, so next batch is going to take it easier on that sort of thing. I didn't hear her complain about the pepper after she was served, so I am going to consider that a win.