Baking Bread (part two)

•2011.06.18 • Leave a Comment

Before I get back to the bread, there is one piece of hardware that is absolutely required (besides an oven). You need a cast iron pot. For me its a Lodge pot that cost all of $27 from Amazon. You can use a Le Creuset pot, but its only going to get black from the baking so why fight it. Lodge is also much, much cheaper (ding, ding, ding, winner!). The only maintenance this pot requires is the occasional wipe down with a little olive oil.

So its been about 14 hours (anywhere in the 12 to 18 range is good) and what’s pictured above is the result. This ends the first rise.

For the second rise, you must transfer the bread onto a tea towel. Prep the towel by scattering a fair amount of wheat bran, cornmeal (my choice) or additional flour onto the towel.

Using a spoon, scrapper or hands slowly work the dough onto the towel. Don’t beat it up. It will fall onto the towel as you work it out with the spoon.

I must confess I gave it a bit of shape for camera esthetics, but in general this is the result.

Cover with the towel and set it aside for another 60 to 90 minutes.

At the 30 minutes into the 60 to 90, set an oven rack in the lower third position, set the covered cast iron pot on the rack and set your oven to 475°.

This ends part two.


Baking Bread (part one)

•2011.06.17 • 2 Comments

While most of you have a social life, us single folks must find something to do to occupy our time on Friday nights. Since I live in Burlington, there aren’t many alternatives… well… none actually. Therefore, I figure its time to blow the cobwebs off the blog and return to kitchen.

Tonight’s post is part one of four on baking bread. Now I’m not talking about buying Pillsbury pre-packaged dough and popping it in the oven (disgusting). I’m talking about starting with flour, yeast and so on.

Panicking yet?  I figured as much. Well, don’t. This is so simple you’ll wonder why you ever thought it was a big deal.

3 cups bread flour (preferably King Arthur; Whole Foods carries it).
1-1/4 teaspoons of table salt
1/4 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast (store in the freezer)
1-1/3 cups cool water
wheat bran, cornmeal or additional flour for dusting

Okay, let’s begin. In a large mixing bowl add the flour, salt and yeast. Stir those together.

Note: Apologies for the plastic mixing bowl. Its not the most visually appealing bowl, but its all I have. Food TV this isn’t.

Note: I’m using Kosher salt in place of table salt because I never stock table salt. Rocky, who supplied this recipe, the source book and who knows way more about cooking than I every will, said I should a wee bit more salt since Kosher salt has larger granules than table salt.

Add the water. Using a spoon (my choice) or your hands (assuming they are clean) mix everything together until you have a sticky dough. What’s pictured above is not a sticky dough even thought it is the stated amount of water. What both Rocky and myself have found is that it takes more water. What you want to do is add water by the tablespoon until the mixture becomes sticky. For me that is somewhere between 3 to 4 tablespoons.

This is sticky dough (apologies for the whacked out color). By sticky, I mean that when you touch it with your finger and pull your finger away the dough remains in contact with your finger (almost like gum).

The last step of part one is to cover the bowl with a tea towel and place the it in a cool place (no sunlight) for the next 12 to 18 hours.

Hot Cha Cha

•2010.12.25 • Leave a Comment

The creative writing thing is just not happening today (it is Christmas), so I’m going to keep this simple.

Hot Cha Cha. Love.

Four women. As opposed to four men.

Cleveland-based. It can be cold.

Exit Stencil Recordings. Also love and so should you.

Traffic video. Please watch and be entertained.

Fantastic Static EP. Purchase please. It stimulates the economy. It makes Exit Stencil happy. It makes Hot Cha Cha happy. It makes me happy. Let’s all be happy.


•2010.12.19 • Leave a Comment

A smoothie. A quick-n-dirty breakfast. A mid-afternoon snack (today). A saviour in the hell known as airport terminal food choices.

There are dozens of ways to make a smoothie, but the recipe I follow came from Martha Rose Shulman at the New York Times. I choose it because its simple and I like simple.

1 ripe kiwi, peeled, cored and quartered
1/2 cup (3 ounces) fresh or frozen strawberries, hulled
1/2 to 1 banana (to taste), preferably frozen
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
1 tablespoon flax seeds (optional)

Place all of the ingredients in a blender, along with a few ice cubes if the bananas have not been previously frozen, and blend until smooth.

The only “gotcha” of a making smoothie is that you need a blender or a food processor.  In my case, its a food processor (thanks Rocky!).

If you want to skip the measuring cups then go with:

1 kiwi. Slice off each end, peel the skin and cut into five to six chunks.
6-7 frozen strawberries depending on size. If they’re larger go with six; smaller go with seven.
1 banana. That ugly black thing in the top photo is a banana that’s been in the fridge for a while (it’s perfectly fine). Slice off both ends, peel it, then slice into 1/4″ to 1/2″ chunks.
1-2 oranges.  One orange will usually do, but it depends on the amount of juice you can squeeze out of it.
3 spoons of vanilla yogurt (preferably Greek style). This is an eating spoon, not a soup spoon.

I omit the flax seeds (I’m not a bird). I also omit the ice cubes because the strawberries are frozen, the banana was refrigerated and my ice maker is on the fritz.

Don’t worry about being neat because it all goes into the blender/food processor. Run the food processor until there are no large, fruit chunks remaining.  If you measure correctly, it should fill one glass with no leftovers.

Drink up.

Blue Cheese Scallion Biscuits

•2010.10.31 • Leave a Comment

Halloween. Scary times. Baking. Biscuits to be precise. Scarier times.

Baking always feels like a crap shoot. First, there is little room for mistakes. You flub the measurements, you either end up with something that that can be used for spackling compound or something hard enough to be used as a stepping stone. Second, there are many things in baking that are assumed, but not stated. Sift the flour. Let the butter warm to room temperature. These are not absolutes, but they can have a profound affect on the result.

Today’s baking was Blue Cheese Scallion Biscuits care of the wonderful Smitten Kitchen. The recipe is as follows:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick or 3 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups crumbled blue cheese
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450°F. Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, then blend in butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in blue cheese and scallions. Add buttermilk and stir until just combined.

Drop dough in 12 equal mounds about 2 inches apart onto a buttered large baking sheet, or one lined with parchment paper. Bake in middle of oven until golden, 16 to 20 minutes.

There is no tinkering here (baking, remember?) so follow the above as stated.

Sift your flour. You can find one of these pain-in-ass sifters in just about any grocery store. It looks pretty safe, but you’d be surprised the number of times I have cut myself on this contraption. I would not hand it to a child. Load it up with flour and start sifting. No measuring? Correct. You measure what comes OUT of the sifter, not what goes in.

With the flour and other dry ingredients mixed, cut and portion the remaining ingredients.

Time to get your hands dirty. As stated in the recipe blend the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers. What I do is work in the butter until there are no large chunks remaining. The result should resemble the following. Whether this is how “course meal” looks, I do not know.

Combine in the blue cheese and scallions and then finally the buttermilk. You’re not mixing paint here so go easy and stop when the ingredients have come together, like so:

Notice that its not one big wad of dough. Its more like Play-Doh that’s been in-n-out of the can a few times. You’re now ready to make your biscuits, but DON’T forget to grease the cooking sheet (parchment paper works too).

I make my biscuits like snow balls, forming a ball of dough that is larger than a golf ball, but smaller than a tennis ball. Place the ball on the sheet and give it a little mash. They are far from perfect, but the taste will make up for the appearance.

The recipe states 16 to 20 minutes for baking time. The first time I baked these I erred towards 20 and ended up with burnt biscuit bottoms. For subsequent bakings, I’ve pulled them out at 15-16 minutes and they’ve been fine.

If you can only eat one, you have issues. I had four.

Pimento Cheese

•2010.10.24 • 1 Comment

Beaufort Grocery is one of the best restaurants in NC and just might be my favorite place to dine. This past spring they released a wonderful cookbook, Closed on Tuesdays, that features some of their most desired recipes (buy it). Personally, I was after the recipe for Aunt Marion’s Apple and Onion Salad (great salad), but today I’m covering one of their lunch time favorites, pimento cheese.

The recipe, known as BCG Pimento Cheese, is as follows:

4 cups (16 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or spicy mustard
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Combine the cheese, roasted red pepper and garlic in a large mixing bowl. Add the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, salt and pepper and mix well. Store in the refrigerator.

The only deviation I take from the original is I cut the garlic in half.  I love garlic, but the first time I made this it was just a bit too much. It could have been bad measuring on my part, but subsequent preparations have been just fine.

Some of you may notice that pimentos are not listed as an ingredient. Technically, you would be correct. Based on what I read on Wikipedia, there is a difference between a pimento pepper and a red bell pepper — “The flesh of the pimento is sweet, succulent and more aromatic than that of the red bell pepper”.  Traditionalist may scoff, but its hard to dismiss the taste of a roasted red pepper. It has a flavor all its own and I think its an excellent substitution.

As for the preparation, there are a couple of ways to attack the cheese. You can be a slack ass and buy pre-shredded cheese…

Sidenote:  In the last few days I heard on NPR that shredded cheese was originally developed as a way to deal with the scraps from producing block cheese. The cheese companies initially dismissed the idea. So much for what they know. Its turned out to be a big winner and the companies now make more money from the shredded cheese than they do the blocks.

… or you can shred your own, either by food processor or with the Wes Craven hand shredder (my choice). If you get a little blood in the cheese, no big deal. The juice of peppers will hide it.

For those hoping for some gore, sorry to disappoint. This batch turned out to be blood free. Now all that’s needed is to mix in everything else.

I could eat this straight from the bowl, but its best served between two slices of thick bread that has had a sadistic session with Mr. Panini press. You know its ready when the pimento cheese is oozing out the sides.

The only thing missing was a pickle on the side.

Here We Go Magic

•2010.08.09 • Leave a Comment

It’s hard to believe that I went through June and July without attending a single show, but that’s what happens when you strain back muscles.  Sitting was bad, riding in a car was worse and standing for any period was just out of the question.  It cost me a handful of shows and I ate a few tickets, but that’s how life goes.

Anyway, this show… Light Pines, Beach Fossils and Here We Go Magic… was my return. I knew the show would be a winner, but I was still questioning whether I would survive it (I did).

Chapel Hill’s Light Pines opened. I must confess I know squat about local bands, other than a few I can count on one hand. This was definitely one of the better ones.  While everything wasn’t quite to my taste, I was able to latch on to enough to be pleased, especially for an opening band on a three band night.

Moving north to Brooklyn, Beach Fossils was in the middle slot for the night.  They’re a four piece with a sound that… well, this is going to sound silly… buy Joy Division hits the beach. It was the drum beat and the bass that kept that thought popping into my head. If you weren’t bouncing to these songs, then you have issues.

Lastly, another Brooklyn winner in Here We Go Magic.  This is my third HWGM show and each one has taken a step up from the last. You can listen to the records… which are quite good… but you have to see them live to appreciate them. This was a solid set that pulled songs from the new one, Pigeons, and the self-titled prior record. Loved it from start to finish.

I should also give a shout out to the crowd because although this wasn’t a sell out (your loss for not being there), it was one the most active crowds I’ve seen at the Cat’s Cradle in quite a while.

Pictures here.