Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Better Late Than Never

I have always labeled myself a late bloomer. My mother tells me I was very slow to start walking, I was slow starting to date and I got married at a statistically old marrying age, took a long time to buy a house, and waited forever to finally make a "man money" salary in my career.

It has all worked out very well though. I walk fairly well, albeit a stumble here and there, I adore The Husband and the house, and my career has been going very well. Where am I going with this you wonder? Well, I am way, way behind the times in trying to make the famous No-Knead Bread that has been all the rage for 4-5 years now. Today was the day to get on that bandwagon and give it a try thanks to my brother-in-law Steve, who recently asked me if I had ever tried to make a loaf.

I went on the Internet to search for the original recipe by Jim Lahey from Sullivan Street Bakery which was published in the New York Times a few years ago. That article really started this whole no knead bread fad. After reading through many food blogs and articles on the subject, I opted to go for the Cook's Illustrated version which is a little more complex, but received a lot of great reviews. I have never failed when using a Cook's Illustrated recipe. I won't be printing the recipe today but you can find it on their website above.

In all of the recipes I read, the one requirement which is a must, is a heavy duty dutch oven with a lid that can take up to 500 degree heat. I am not lucky enough to have an enameled cast iron Le Cruset pan, but I read from many people that the knob on those lids don't endure under that kind of heat anyway. I did have just the thing buried somewhere in my basement though; my old Lodge cast iron dutch oven and lid. I heaved it upstairs (it must weigh 20 lbs!), washed off the dust and I was ready to go. Putting this dough together was a breeze. Throw the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl and give it a few whisks. Add the water, beer and vinegar to the dry mixture and stir together into a shaggy dough with a spatula. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put aside in a warm place (70 deg) for up to 18 hours. Once risen, the dough is kneaded 10-15 times and then formed into a round loaf and left to rise for 2 more hours. It is then placed in the dutch oven which has been heated in a 500 degree oven for 30 minutes and left to bake at 425 degrees for approximately 50 minutes to an hourMay I say that this bread was extraordinary. When I took it out of the oven, I just could hardly believe that I had produced such a masterpiece. And the flavor was delicious. Because of the addition of beer (I used a wheat Hefeweisen), it had a delicious almost sourdough taste to it and the texture was perfect. The crust had a crackly-crunch and the middle was nice and soft. It was delicious with some butter and I can't wait to try it as toast in the morning. I may have to start baking this every weekend, it was that easy!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cornish Pasties

I seem to be on a British cooking kick lately. I just love to cook things knowing I am keeping up the tradition of recipes that were made my grandmother, great grandmothers, and beyond. I am lucky to have the luxury of modern conveniences such as an electric oven, big powerful mixers and food processors. I can't imagine what it must have been like to have to do everything by hand and then try to cook with a wood burning oven.

Cornish pasties were traditionally made for Cornish miners to take with them down into the mines. They were made with a sturdy crust filled with meat and veggies, everything in a nice, tidy package that the men could stick in their pockets and have for lunch. I made mine with a lard/butter crust which is what I found on an English website on the subject. I imagine that suet or bacon fat could also be used or a combination of vegetable shortening and butter. A cardiologist's nightmare. My crust was so easy to handle. It rolled out like a charm and was ever so flaky. A crust success!!

Also, apparently carrots are a no-no in a traditional Cornish pasty. Turnips are the veggie de rigueur. Well, I had no turnips so carrots made their way into my recipe. I think parsnips or perhaps even a little butternut squash cut into small little cubes would be delicious. There was leftover filling which when sauteed, made a great hash for breakfast.

Cornish Pasties
(Makes 7 pasties)
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup cold lard, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 cup ice water

Mix dry ingredients into a bowl. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add ice water a little at a time, tossing with a fork to make a pastry-like dough. Add a bit more water if it seems dry. Dough should hold together when squeezed lightly. Gather into two balls, press firmly, then wrap with plastic wrap and chill while preparing the pasty filling. I made mine the night before so it was well chilled when I was ready to make the pasties.

1 lb. bottom round steak cut into small, bite sized pieces
2 Yukon gold potatoes, cut into a small dice
1 carrot, cut into a small dice
1/2 cup diced onion
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme
3-4 shakes Worcestershire sauceMix all of the filling ingredients together well and let sit for 15 minutes.Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it's approximately 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 6 inch circles. Place circles of dough onto a parchment covered baking sheet. Put approximately 1/3 cup of filling in the middle of the circle. With water, wet 1/2 of the circle's edge with water. Fold the other half of the circle over the filling and press tightly around the edge and then turn the edge over itself to completely seal so no filling leaks out while baking. Brush each pasty with an egg wash (1 beaten egg with a little water or cream), make a 1 inch slit in the top of each pastie to let steam escape while cooking.Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes then turn down oven to 325 degrees and bake for another 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Almost Pie-O-My

What to do with a half a bag of frozen peaches and frozen blueberries in the freezer, I quandaried? A pie would be nice but my irrational fear of fighting to get a bottom and top crust together into a harmonious dessert got the best of me. What I opted for was a free form fruit galette. Almost a pie but so much easier!

I'm very happy with how this impromptu cooking session turned out, as I truly was clueless when I walked into the kitchen to make a dessert. I utilized my go-to pie crust recipe of Martha Stewart's which is pate brissee. I have blogged this recipe in the past. I did cut the recipe in half as I only needed a single crust. The fruit filling consisted of, as I mentioned above, about four cups of frozen sliced peaches with about a cup of frozen blueberries. Into the fruit I added in 2 Tbsp of cinnamon sugar and 2 Tbsp of corn starch to thicken the juices.I made the pastry in the food processor, rolled it out, slapped it onto a parchment lined cookie sheet, mound the fruit in the center and folded the crust up around the fruit. I brushed a little cream around the crust edges and sprinkled on some sugar and baked the galette for 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven. A sliver of this rustic, almost-pie and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream was a perfectly delicious dessert.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Getaway Weekend

No cooking for me this weekend except for putting on pots of coffee at my father-in-law's in Astoria, Oregon where The Husband and I did some housesitting for him. We dined out in yummy restaurants and brought pizza in, watched movies and listened to the rain fall. Delightfully relaxing!Some of the very noisy neighbors a couple of blocks from the house.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Local Cheese Company

There is a local company called Willamette Valley Cheese Company here in Salem, Oregon who make such delicious cheeses. I am a big proponent of supporting local companies and buying local when possible. These cheese products are a great example of what excellent things one can find locally.Today while at the fish market I was inspired by the beautiful Dungeness crab and seeing the Willamette Valley Cheese Company aged cheddar on the shelf right above the crab, I thought of crab melts to serve for dinner tonight. Though it may seem deceptively simple, it turned out to be a rather rich and extravagant supper. I perused the Internet and made up a recipe using components of a number of recipes I found.

I used the aged cheddar cheese in the base of the recipe but in order for the crab melts to have the traditional look, I topped them with a bit of orange cheddar and broiled until melted and bubbling hot. I was able to make these using my toaster oven, another plus. This recipe will be in my "keeper" file!

Crab Melts
(makes 2)

1/3 lb. crab meat
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. chopped chives
2 Tbsp. finely chopped celery
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
A pinch of garlic powder
1/8 tsp salt
A pinch of black pepper
Extra grated cheese for the tops
2 English muffins, split

Mix the first 7 ingredients together well. Divide equally on top of each of the English muffin halves. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 10 minutes until heated completely through. Take out of oven and turn to Broil. Top each muffin with some grated cheddar cheese. Broil until cheese is completely melted and bubbly.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Perfect Appetizer

We are harvesting the last of the beautiful tomatoes and basil from our garden and I wanted to make something different with the tomatoes. I had some puff pastry in the freezer which I have used to make apple tarts and today I made a savory tomato, goat cheese and caramelized onion tart. I remember seeing Ina Garten make something similar to this and I have to say, it's a great, elegant and easy appetizer.

There is some prep work involved like caramelizing the onions. To do this, I just sauteed the onions in olive oil, a splash of white wine and some seasoning until they were perfectly browned and caramelized. You also have to make sure your puff pastry is thawed and rolled out to about 1/8 inch thick. I cut mine into 3 inch circles using a small saucer as a guide. You also have to make a cut around the pastry at 1/4 inch around the outside edge, but be careful not to go all the way through the pastry. This allows a rim to rise above the tart as it bakes.I picked up some goat cheese that was flavored with sun dried tomatoes and basil which was a perfect addition to this tasty dish. Wouldn't this be a sophisticated first course for a sit down dinner?Tomato, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Tart
(Makes 4-5)

1 sheet of puff pastry thawed and cut into 3 inch circles, scored 1/4 inch around each diameter
2 medium size tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 large onion, sliced thin
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. white wine
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp dried Italian herbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
2 Tbsp shredded fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line one baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Saute onions in olive oil and white wine until caramelized, adding salt, pepper and Italian herbs half way through their cooking time. Cut puff pastry into 3 inch circles, score and place on baking sheet. Sprinkle 1 tsp. of Parmesan cheese inside the scored circle of each tart. Add a thin layer of caramelized onions, then a sprinkle of goat cheese, then two tomato slices, then some basil and more Parmesan cheese on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Serve warm.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sticky Toffee Mess

I have a recipe for sticky toffee ice cream sauce that I've been wanting to make. Sticky toffee pudding is an English dessert that consists of a cake with dates and a toffee/caramel sauce over the top. This ice cream sauce sounded wonderful. I made it as one would in England, using treacle (golden syrup), but dark corn syrup could be substituted.

I dutifully got to work and put the four simple ingredients in the pan to cook. My failure was that I was busy doing other things in the kitchen and let it cook way too long. When the time came for our dessert that evening, the sauce was quite congealed and when spooned over the vanilla ice cream it hardened into one big lump of sticky toffee caramel candy. Don't get me wrong, it tasted delicious with a butterscotch-penuche flavor that I adore. It was just impossible to eat with the ice cream. I chopped up a Heath bar to add to the decadence of this sundae.The next morning I looked at the bowl of solid caramel and decided to give up on the sauce idea and spooned it out into globs on wax paper and made individual candy pieces. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Not that I necessarily need candy nor did I invent it!Sticky Toffee Sauce

3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp soft dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp dark corn syrup or treacle
3/4 stick unsalted butter
2/3 cup heavy cream

Put the sugar, syrup and butter in a pan and slowly bring to the boil, allowing the butter to melt and the sugar to dissolve. Let the mixture boil for a couple of minutes before carefully adding the cream. Cook for another 2-3 minutes or until the sauce is thick, sticky and glossy. Serve over ice cream or as a sauce for desserts.