28 August 2009
Some time ago, years ago, I received The Calling. Not all chefs are called, but I was. I'm not sure exactly when I heard The Call. It could have been when I became tired of seeing 36 different ingredients on the package of bread that I bought. I tried buying bread from local, top-notch bakeries with varying degrees of success. Mostly, though, their loaves became too stale, too fast. Even then there seemed to be too many ingredients in the loaves. It should be simple, thought I, to make a loaf of bread. I'll need yeast, water, oil, flour, and salt. Thus, my journey into true baking began.
I feel a little like Odysseus, having completed my own ten-year odyssey fraught with the callings of beautiful yeast strains, flours of varying protein contents, starters both ancient and young, and seemingly endless methods. But like all mythic heroes I have come full circle. I have come home. I now make bread of all kinds but my favorites remain the simplest loaves made only with yeast, water, oil, flour, and salt (I add a trivial amount of sugar to feed the yeast as it is proofing).
I have come to favor certain ingredients. My favorite yeast is made by Hodgson Mill. There is slightly more yeast in one of their packages and it leaves a wonderful yeasty flavor to the finished loaf.
My flour is King Arthur; bread flour, all purpose flour, and whole wheat flour. King Arthur flours are higher in gluten than most other flours. For this reason they lend themselves perfectly to bread making. Gluten is the protein that gives bread it's nice, fine crumb. This is why we have bread flours available as they are higher in gluten content.
I typically use coarse sea salt as I like the way the grains don't totally dissolve, leaving you with a nice salty bite now and again. La Baleine is my favorite brand.
As for the oil, I will use various types: EVOO, almond, hazelnut, grape seed, and walnut. Hazelnut is my preference because I like the way that it smells when it bakes and I like the faint nutty taste in the loaf. Try and get your hands on some J. Leblanc nut oils. You will not regret it. I use them exclusively for my breads. For whole wheat loaves that call for an addition of molasses or something strong like that then I will use a more neutral oil as the delicate hazelnut flavor can get lost. You can even use butter if you prefer.
The liquid I most frequently use is water. I do this so that I can keep the bread vegan (I am not vegan or vegetarian but I don't eat a lot of dairy, either). Milk is perfectly acceptable as is buttermilk, cream, and even beer. But my basic loaf calls for only water.
Try this loaf. It is a basic white bread that makes superlative sandwiches, toast, French toast, and bread pudding. Just about anything that calls for a slice of white bread will be made better with this loaf. When you are comfortable with the process of this bread you will find that you don't need to measure the ingredients quite as accurately because you will know the look, feel, smell, and even the sound of this loaf.
The basic white loaf can be kneaded in the standing mixer but I always prefer to take it out and knead it by hand. It becomes a very meditative moment for me. The escape that it provides is really what making bread is all about; Zen through bread. I hope that you are called upon.
White Sandwich Bread
2.5 cups Warm water (100° or so)
1 package Yeast (I use Hodgson Mill)
1 Tbsp. Sugar
4 Tbsp Hazelnut Oil, or EVOO
1 Tbsp Sea Salt
6.5 - 7 cups King Arthur Bread flour
Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the 1/2 cup of the warm water. When it is nice and puffy add the other two cups of warm water, oil, and sea salt. Stir to dissolve the salt.
Add 3 cups of the flour and stir with a fork until the flour is incorporated. Add 3 more cups of flour and stir until the dough starts to come together. You may find it helpful to now switch to a sturdy wooden spoon with which to stir. If the dough still seems wet and is clinging to the sides of the bowl, add a little more flour (1/4 cup) and stir until the dough pulls away from the bowl and comes together in a ball.
Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface (wooden cutting board in my case) and knead for 10-12 minutes. This is my favorite part of making bread. Really work the dough with the heels of your palms while pressing, folding, and turning the dough. Add flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the surface. When the dough is smooth and satin looking drop it into a lightly oiled bowl, top side down. Now turn the ball of dough over, cover the bowl with a warm, damp cloth, and allow the dough to rise (in a warm spot; in a turned-off oven in my case) until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
Gently deflate the risen dough, shape into a smooth ball again and divide in half. Shape each half into a ball so that the outside is smooth and satiny. Press one ball into a rectangle and roll the top of the rectangle down to the bottom (like a jelly roll). Pinch the seams together, pull the ends over and pinch those seams together, too. Drop the loaf, seam side down, into a WELL BUTTERED loaf pan (seriously, grease the shit out of it). Repeat this process with the other ball of dough.
Cover the pans with a warm damp cloth and allow to rise, as before (but not in the oven this time) until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes to an hour. While the loaves are rising preheat the oven to 375°.
Bake the loaves at 375° for 35-45 minutes. Do not open the oven until at least 20 minutes have passed and you need to rotate the loaves. The Bread Gods frown on opening the oven too soon. After 35 minutes test one loaf to see if it is done. Turn the loaf out of the pan and insert and instant read thermometer into the bottom. It should read 200°. If your loaf isn't done just drop it back into the pan and put it back in the oven. When the loaves are done turn them onto a cooling rack and wait about 30 minutes to slice.
Makes two 1lb. loaves
26 August 2009
In Fort Worth, Texas there is a wonderful Italian restaurant run by my good friend Donatella Trotti. Nonna Tata is my official favorite Italian eatery in the state. Once every two or three months I get to work with Donatella at my cooking school as she comes and teaches with us. She is an absolute joy. I love her. As soon as I get the pictures loaded from the last class I will share with you the experience. But for now I will guide you through my last visit to her restaurant (has it already been a year?) with my best friend, Pat Bohn. Pat is a musician and beer drinker.
Donatella treated us like kings. We each ordered a salad and soup, then a bowl of pasta. Pat opted for the lasagne Bolognese while I went for the spaghetti alla puttanesca (if it's good enough for the whores then it's good enough for me). After a nice antipasti platter of cold cuts, cheese, fritatta, and focaccia our salads arrived. They were simple greens with seasonal tomatoes and a light EVOO dressing. When the soup came Donatella just sent out five cups of every soup she had made that night. What a treat. She also sent out an intermezzo of perfectly cooked saffron/pecorino risotto. We were already full.
Then came the pasta. The lasagne was rich but not dense like a bar of soap and seasoned perfectly. The puttanesca had just the right amount of anchovies. The sauce clung to the noodles and didn't pool in the bottom of the bowl. Another surprise comes in the form of pesto pasta stuffed full of calamari and shrimp. By this time Pat and I had given up on who ordered what and were just eating with barbaric abandon.
For dessert I ordered the chocolate bomb, which was their gelato. Pat ordered the pear cake. We were so full but we had to keep eating. The past that Pat and I have shared dictated that we eat until the food was gone. Just before Pat was about to kill the last of the pear cake Donatella sends out some little paninni of Nutella dusted with powdered sugar. She killed us. And that is not easy to do because when Pat and I decide to eat then we mean to eat. Congratulations, Donatella. And thanks for a wonderful evening.
22 August 2009
The first recipe I ever had ever heard of that called for rabbit was, at the young age of 8 or so, hasenpfeffer. This is that famous German stew that Yosemite Sam would demand in those old Warner Brother's cartoons ("Whar's my hasenpfeffer?!). Once, when I was about the same age I was out hunting with my brother and father and I shot a rabbit. When we got home dad field dressed it in the kitchen sink. Mom was pissed. But she made a good stew out of it and we ate it.
The next time I came across a foreign recipe that called for rabbit I was surprised to find it was paella. Most people think of paella as a seafood dish and indeed there are several different versions of it calling for various types of seafood. In Valencia, Spain they make one that calls for chicken, rabbit, and snails. Many natives of Valencia consider this to be the authentic paella of that region. This has been confirmed by a couple of my native Spanish friends so I'm not blowing a bunch of smoke here.
The recipe is pretty easy to make. Just be sure and give yourself plenty of prep time so that all of the ingredients are ready to use when you need them. If you don't like or can't find snails then just omit them. Feel free to substitute or add some nice Spanish chorizo if you like; slice the chorizo, brown it, and discard most of the fat so that the paella is not too greasy.
2 cups EVOO
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut into strips
1 # boneless, skinless Chicken Thighs, cut into pieces (or 1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces)
1 Whole Rabbit, legs, thighs, and saddle removed and cut into pieces (boning optional but preferred)
2 cups Snails, rinsed
1 tsp Spanish Paprika
1 1/2 # Green Beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/2 # Fava Beans, shelled (optional)
1 Tomato, chopped
1 large pinch Saffron
2 cups Carnaroli Rice
Water as needed, about 6 cups
1. Heat 1/2 cup of EVOO in a large, shallow fry pan or paella pan. Add the strips of pepper and fry until they soften and brown in spots. Remove and reserve for garnish. Fry the chicken and rabbit at medium-high heat until they are nicely browned, adding more oil as needed. Add the paprika to color the meat but don't let it burn. Push the meat to the edges of the pan. Add the beans and tomatoes to the center of the pan mixing them well. Add some water and cover, allowing the mixture to simmer for about 10 minutes or so, just to soften the beans and cook the meat through. Add the snails and cook for 5 more minutes.
2. Heat 4 cups of water and add a large pinch of saffron to "bloom" the flavor and aroma out of it. In another sauté pan heat 1/2 cup of EVOO and add the rice, allowing it to fry (stirring constantly) until it is slightly translucent. Distribute the rice over the meat and beans, stirring to let the rice settle in the pan. Add the saffron water to cover the mixture. Allow to cook, uncovered, and let the rice absorb the liquid. Add more water as needed until the rice is cooked. You may need to lightly stir the mixture at this point to ensure even cooking of the rice (but if you don't need to stir, then don't). Season with salt and pepper and lightly stir to blend. At this point don't stir the paella anymore until you serve it.
Just before you serve the paella turn the heat back to medium-high and allow the bottom of the rice to caramelize so that the socarrat begins to form. Be careful not to burn the paella at this point. If you don't feel comfortable forming the socarrat then just skip it and serve the paella without it. Better to have no socarrat than have burned paella.
14 August 2009
I love arugula. It is, perhaps, my favorite green. Some years back I worked in a French restaurant and one of the salads we made was a simple concoction of arugula, walnuts, and asiago cheese tossed together and placed on top of sliced pears. The dressing was nothing more than some very nice EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
I have riffed on that salad ever since my days at that restaurant, changing the fruit with the seasons and playing with different cheeses. I usually don't change the dressing, though, as I really like how the EVOO's sometimes spiciness and grassy flavors can intertwine themselves beautifully with the arugula.
Recently I made a version of this salad using manchego cheese and deeply toasted walnuts. The fruit I chose was figs. The figs this year have been orgasm quality so I use them as much as I can. For the dressing I made a simple vinaigrette with black fig vinegar and Dijon mustard. I topped the salad with a few cuts of grilled saddle of rabbit for would make a wonderful light lunch.
Oh, and a note on the figs. Those little babies you see on the plate are called Sierra Figs. The are a new breed of fig that closely resemble the Calamyrna Fig. They are a little smaller and more durable than the latter but have a similar buttery, caramel-like flavor that just oozes with love. They taste like really good foreplay.
Summer Salad with Grilled Rabbit
2 Rabbit Tenderloins
4 Fresh Figs, quartered
½ # Arugula
½ cup Manchego Cheese, grated
¼ cup Walnuts, chopped and toasted
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
3 Tbsp. Roasted Fig Vinegar
½ cup EVOO
Thyme Leaves for garnish
Mix the mustard and vinegar together and slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat a grill or grill pan and season the rabbit with salt, pepper, and EVOO. Grill the rabbit until it is just tender, about 1 minute per side.
Toss together the arugula, manchego, and walnuts and season with salt and pepper. Add some of the dressing and toss again so that the leaves are nicely coated. Arrange the salad on plates, putting the quartered figs around the edges.
Slice the tenderloin and arrange it around the figs. Drizzle a little more of the dressing on the figs and tenderloins. Sprinkle the thyme leaves around the salad and serve.
Serves 4 – 6
12 August 2009
I have been making this dessert quite a lot this summer. The berries have been nothing short of fabulous this year so I have been taking advantage of that bumper crop.
This pudding is in the British tradition so you can't really think berries in a thick custard like an American pudding. It is made by lining a bowl or pudding basin with thin slices of white bread and then filling them with berries that have been poached in a simple syrup spiked with lemon zest. I usually put two layers of berries, separated by a layer of bread. The whole thing is wrapped and pressed overnight. Just before serving the pudding is unmolded and sliced. It has the most wonderful berry flavor since the berries are not poached into oblivion; just enough to soften them but still retain their flavor.
Summer Berry Pudding
1 ¼ cups Sugar
Juice and Zest of 1 Lemon
1 # Strawberries, hulled and halved
½ # Blackberries
½ # Blueberries
½ # Raspberries
15 - 20 slices White Bread, slice very thin and crusts trimmed
2 cups Freshly Whipped Cream
Cook sugar, lemon juice, zest, and 2 ¼ cups water in a saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves.
Reduce heat to medium and add strawberries, poaching for 2 minutes. Add the blackberries to the same liquid and poach for 30 seconds. Repeat this process with the blueberries and half of the raspberries. After each poaching remove the fruit to a bowl. Poach the last half of the raspberries and mash them with a spoon until they are very soft. Cool the syrup.
Use a pastry brush to lightly coat a deep 1-quart bowl with the syrup. Cut 1 slice of bread to fit the bottom of the pudding basin, dip it into the syrup, and place it in the bowl. Dip additional bread slices and line the sides of the bowl, overlapping the slices just a bit.
Spoon about a third of the mixed berries into the prepared bowl. Cut several more slices of bread to make an even layer over the berries, then dip them into the syrup, arrange them on the berries, and press down lightly. Repeat this process twice, ending with a double layer of bread. Refrigerate the remaining syrup.
Cover the pudding with plastic wrap and place a plate on top. Place two large cans on the plate to weigh the pudding down. Place the bowl on a tray (juice may leak out) and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Invert the pudding onto a platter. If the pudding sticks slide a thin knife around the edge. Serve the pudding cold with reserved syrup and whipped cream.
11 August 2009
This is my favorite dish to make but I only make it once a year so that it is always special. Cassoulet originated in the Languedoc and there are different versions between Toulouse, Carcassone, and Castelnaudary. After exhausting research and a college paper on the dish I have settled on what I believe to be an authentic version that would make Le Grand Confrérie du Cassoulet du Castelnaudary very, very proud. Here is the recipe. Most of my recipes aren't this time consuming. But do try it. Just be sure and read the recipe several times before you start and map out a good time line. And don't forget: it's about the beans and the crust!
1 # Pork Butt, boned and reserving bone for the beans
1 large Yellow Onion, quartered
½ bunch (5- 10 large sprigs) Fresh Thyme
Salt and Pepper
4 cups small White Beans (Great Northern or Flageolet), cleaned and picked through
½ # Fresh Pork Rind, cubed
1 large Yellow Onion
1 Tbsp Duck Fat
1 # ground pork
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh Thyme
1 scant Tbsp. Black Truffle Salt (or plain sea salt)
1 large Yellow Onion, quartered
10-14 cloves Fresh Garlic
Confit of 1 whole duck or 4 whole duck legs
½ tsp ground Nutmeg
For the Pork:
Preheat oven to 200*. Place the pork in an oven proof casserole, dutch oven, or earthenware pot with lid. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and arrange the onion and thyme around the meat. Cover and bake until the meat is fork tender, about 3 hours or more. When the meat is done remove it from the dish and set aside to cool. Once cooled tear the meat apart into bite-sized pieces and reserve.
For the Beans:
In a large pot sauté the pork rind with the onion, stirring frequently, until the fat is rendered and the skin is crispy, about 20 minutes. Add the beans, reserved pork bone, and 4 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cook the beans until they are tender, about 1 ½ hours. Season the beans with salt and let them cool. When the beans are cool remove the bone and as much onion as you can.
For the Sausage:
Mix the pork, thyme, and truffle salt together and form the mixture into small patties.
Put the garlic, onion, and ½ cup water into a blender and purée until a smooth paste forms.
Heat the duck fat in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the sausage patties and brown on both sides. Pour in the onion/garlic paste and simmer for another 10 minutes or so, turning the sausages once or twice.
Preheat oven to 350*. Assemble the cassoulet in layers: Using a slotted spoon transfer about 1/3 of the beans to a Cassole, Dutch oven, or other wide mouth dish. Layer half of the meat over the beans. Top this layer of meat with another layer of beans and repeat, ending with a layer of beans. Season with nutmeg and add just enough of the bean liquid to cover. Bake the cassoulet, uncovered, until it begins to simmer and form a crust, about 1 hour.
Reduce heat to 250* and cook for 3 hours more. Check the cassoulet every hour and break the crust only if it has formed. If the cassoulet appears dry add just enough bean liquid to meet the top of the crust.
Remove the cassoulet from the oven. Allow it to cool, cover it with foil, and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350*. Remove the cassoulet from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature for at least 45 minutes. Bake the cassoulet for 1 hour. When it begins to simmer break the crust and add more bean liquid if necessary. Reduce oven to 250* and bake the cassoulet for 3 more hours, breaking the crust as needed and adding reserved liquid or water as needed to keep the cassoulet moist. After 3 hours remove the cassoulet from the oven and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. Serve the cassoulet from the pot, breaking the crust at the table.
10 August 2009
Then I say to him, "And me, well, I'm a punk, too. And a chef, so that makes me a punk chef, like you."
My son replies, "You're a big chef. And a big punk, too, right?"
"Yep. You nailed it, buddy."
Welcome to Punk Chef. Enjoy the food.