Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Pat's by Lamplight

After Christmas last year, we spent a week at our friends' country house in Pennsylvania. We usually go and stock up on buffalo meat from the buffalo farm about forty-five minutes away. A few times, we decided to stop at an antique store called The Glass Hat, where we found this amazing lamp. It took us a few months to decide whether we wanted to plunk down so much money for it, but even when money is tight, we never regret buying this oil lamp from the 1880s. We don't light it very often, but when we do, it makes any meal feel really special. We lit it for St. Patrick's Day this year.

Our meal only looks like it took a lot of work, but it didn't. The weekend before, we picked up a brined brisket from Trader Joe's (I meant to make my own this year, but . . . well, next year). I stuck that in a crock pot with some Guinness Beer, carrots, and onions this morning and let it cook for 8 hours. Then I boiled cabbage with caraway sees, heated up some aging carrot puree, and baked some sliced baby potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and chopped rosemary.

The most unique thing about this year's meal was the whole wheat soda bread. I found a recipe that claimed to produce little confetti shamrocks when you sliced the bread. And it did! The sunflower seeds react somehow to the dough when it sits and then bakes in such a way that the seeds turn green! Totally fun. And it was very tasty. I will definitely make this bread again next year.

Shamrock Soda Bread

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour or graham flour, plus more for shaping
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup oat bran
1/4 cup untoasted wheat germ
2 tablespoons flaxseed
1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 large egg
About 1 3/4 cups buttermilk

Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 425°F. Coat a heavy baking sheet with vegetable cooking spray or line it with a silicone baking pan liner or aluminum foil.In a large bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the fat particles are very fine. Stir in the baking soda, salt, sugar, wheat bran, oat bran, wheat germ, flaxseed, and sunflower seeds. Beat the egg lightly with a fork in a 2-cup glass measure. Add enough buttermilk to come to the 2-cup line and stir with the fork to combine well. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dough gathers into a thick, wet-looking mass.

Sprinkle your work surface with whole wheat flour and scrape the dough onto it. Dust the dough with a bit more whole wheat flour. Pat the dough into a circular shape about 7 inches across and 2 inches high and transfer it to the prepared baking sheet. Don't be concerned about evenness—the loaf should look rustic. Make a cross-shaped indentation on top of the loaf going right to the edges. I use a plastic bench scraper and press it into the dough very gently; don't actually cut the dough. During baking the indentation expands, giving the top of the loaf an attractive pattern.

Bake the bread for about 40 minutes, until it is well browned and sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf should register 195° to 200°F. Cool the loaf on a wire cooling rack, and serve warm or at room temperature. Cut into quarters and slice each quarter with a sharp serrated knife. Delicious with butter.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An Orgasm of Flavors

"It's wednesday . . . I know what you're trying to say girl. You're trying to say oh yeah, It's business time." --Jemaine, Flight of the Conchords

A couple of years ago, I started cooking really nice meals in celebration of American Idol-watching. That tradition has kind of fallen off with wedding planning, trying to go to the gym more, and just general busy-ness at work, but last night was an exception. I found a recipe I wanted to try from the March 2010 edition of Saveur magazine, and made it this Wednesday night. D said it was "an orgasm of flavors." I think that's a good description.

Moroccan Chicken with Carrot Puree

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
olive oil
2 cups chicken broth
2 lbs carrots
1 large white onion
4 large garlic cloves
1 1/2 cup orange guice
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 peeled and seeded oranges, segmented
3/4 cup harissa*
2 tsp sherry or champagne vinegar
2 cups salad greens
1/2 cup pitted, oil-cured black olives, roughly chopped
2 shallots, thinly sliced

*Harissa is a North African pepper paste. I'm a very lucky person, as my friend S brought a jar of homemade Tunisian harissa over last month. This is the first I've had a chance to use it. (Clicking on "harissa" above will bring you to the Wikipedia page describing it).

Start by boiling roughly chopped carrots until soft in order to make the puree. I started this the night before, and while the carrots were boiling, I placed the chicken breasts in a container with olive oil, salt and pepper to sit overnight. I then sauteed the onions and garlic until carmelized, added the carrots and sauteed until they started to carmelize as well. Then I put the mixture in a food processor and made the puree. I set that aside for the next day.

The next day, I browned the chicken in a pan with olive oil and then placed them in the oven topped with most of the harissa at about 400 degrees F. While the chicken was finishing, I made the orange sauce by reducing 1 1/2 cups of orange juice in a pan, adding 4 tbsp butter, salt and pepper. As the mixture started to thicken, I added the orange segments.

I then tossed the greens with olive oil, vinegar, shallots and chopped olives.

I heated up the carrot puree, and plated the dish by putting a dollop of carrot puree on the side of the plate, and arranging the greens on top. I then placed one chicken breast on the bed of greens and topped the whole thing with orange sauce.

The whole thing was both festive looking and delicious.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Practicing with Sourdough

This past summer, I brought back some sourdough starter from a trip to San Francisco. It sat around for a few months until I had some time over the holidays to see what I could do with it. I've been experimenting with different recipes since Christmas. There is a rich body of literature out there about how to do sourdough, but what I like best about what I've learned so far is that, as I'd suspected, making bread can be less about science and formulas, and more about art.

This is the most simple recipe I've found for sourdough, and the cinnamon-raisin bread that I made pictured here is the best loaf I've made so far. I'll keep practicing, though, and someday I'll make "the perfect loaf."

Basic White Sourdough Bread

1 cup sourdough starter (at room temperature)
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup oil (I use olive oil)
6 cups bread flour
1 tsp yeast
1/4 cup of warm water
2 tbsp whole wheat flour or oat bran
1 tsp honey

Mix sugar, oil, salt, water, and 1 cup of sourdough starter together in a large bowl. Sift the flour and add to the mixture. Grease or oil the dough. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise overnight.

The next day, stir the 2 tbsp of flour or bran and 1 tsp of honey into warm water and sprinkle with 1 tsp of yeast. Let this mixture sit for about 10 minutes. While you are waiting, grease & dust two bread pans with either oat bran, semolina, or corn meal. When the yeast mixture starts to look a little frothy or bubbly, pour the mixture into the bread dough and knead for 10 minutes. Allow the dough to double in size. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 40 to 45 minutes, or until bread is golden brown and taps hollow. Turn out to cool on wire racks.

To adapt to a cinnamon-raisin bread, make a mixture of cinnamon-sugar by mixing 2 tbsp sugar with healthy dashes of cinnamon. Add 1 cup of raisins right before you knead the bread. Divide the bread in half, and roll out each half into a long, narrow rectangle. Sprinkle a mixture of sugar and cinnamon over the rectangle and then roll up into a compact shape to place into your bread pans. Bake as directed above.