July 2007


Is there any particular set of dried spices and herbs you find yourself using over and over and over? Bottle it! If you think about it, that’s all Essence is, or even savory or Italian seasonings – someone, somewhere, kept using the same set of 5 spices in the same proportions, until finally they decided to just stick it in a bottle and use it from there.

Even if it’s as simple as keeping 2 parts salt to 1 part pepper in a shaker, or keeping a shaker of Parmesan and Romano in your fridge, it works. Also, if you happen to notice that everyone else likes your spice blend too, you have a great addition to small gifts. Or you could market it. You know, whatever.

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I want to start this post out by saying this bread — you don’t want to give this to the neighbors with butter and jam in a pretty basket. This bread has been engineered differently. If you’re looking for great artisan breads that you want to eat for the sake of eating, check out thefreshloaf.com. He’s a great teacher.

This bread isn’t looking to be soft and to have those big, glorious holes so utterly indicative of delicious artisan bread. It is in fact designed with the opposite idea in mind: to be kind of tough, to soak liquid, and to have NO HOLES. The holes will be very small, very even, very non-randomly distributed. Why would anyone want such a thing?

When the bread isn’t bread, it’s a piece of flatware. This bread, when you’re confident in it, can be held in one hand and can be trusted to hold, without dripping, the warmest, thinnest, and most delicious of soups.

Therefore:

1 c H20
1/2 Tbsp sugar
3 or so cups flour
1 pack yeast

You may want to get a little pot of yeast, too – when you’re first starting, you want to be able to make a lot in small batches until you get the idea. This allows you to shrink the recipe as needed when you’re still unsure of quite how the bread should feel for maximum quality.

Heat the water in your favorite glass bowl until it is comfortably warm, but not hot. Cooler than you’d like a bath, but just a hint warmer than lukewarm. Dissolve the sugar in this water and then drop the yeast in. Stir, let sit for 5 minutes. If it smells like delicious bread and is foaming a bit, your yeast is fine. If it’s not, throw out, get fresh yeast, and start over.

So your yeast is fine. Put 2 cups of flour into your water, and stir. This’ll be kinda liquidy, but starting to hit a dough-like consistency. Add 1/2 a cup of flour at a time until it’s a pretty dry dough. Start kneading. Squish, sqoosh, slam, have a grand ol’ time! It’ll get sticky again as you do this. If it takes less than 4-5 minutes to do so, add a bit more flour and keep going. You want it to be not-sticky at the end of your 4-5 minute kneading period.

When this is done, let raise until double, but no more! Do not let this bread raise for as long as it likes, or you’ll get those big holes. We’ve already done so much to fight them! (putting in too much flour, not enough sugar, no oil, no preferment)

So at the one hour mark, punch down and cut into pieces. You want pieces that are about 3/4 as big as the bowl you’d like to make. However much your dough yields, it yields — freeze what you don’t need now in bowl-sized portions! it thaws great in the freezer and bakes up spectacularly. I like to make lots and freeze so that I can have bread bowls on a busy night.

So whatever you’re using now, raise again until it’s the appropriate size, and put on a very well oiled pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until loaves sounds hollow when tapped. Hack the top out to make it bowl shaped (save that peice for dipping!) and fill with your favorite soup.

This will take practice! Practice is good. Bread is something you can do. Bread is easy, bread is cheap, it just has a learning curve. if you had tons of fun doing this, then you should definitely head over to thefreshloaf and learn to make great bread. Because trust me, those recipes come up with a darn good loaf!

Also I want to point out that this recipe, bread bowls? This is everything you should normally never do with bread! You should do a poolish or preferment, and you should knead for a long time and it should be soft and not stiff, and….etc. Take this to heart, when you come across cooking mistakes. Sometimes, you come across things that really do just deserve to be thrown out. Other times, your mistake has incredible application somewhere you never would have believed. Try to be on the lookout for things you can do with your mistakes!

It’s an interesting food network challenge, today: princess cakes. There’s a little cancer survivor princess walking around judging, and she’s adorable. Seems she won a “Be-a-princess” competition, or some such, and along with her kid-pinion, she’s commenting on the “realistic and the fun” of the five princesses up on the cake block: Belle, Snow White, Jasmine, Ariel, and Cinderella.

15 minutes in, technique is so much more of a discussion than it has been in previous cakes. It seemed to me that rather than a difference in ambition or final result, it seems that in this competition the real differentiation will be in the professionalism of the cake bakers – and that’s not a good thing!

There was, rather than carving, cake smashing: one set of competitors felt that they were too good to carve (wastes cake?) and instead was picking up handfuls of cake and smashing it on. While normally I find Kerri, with her trademark renaissance headpiece, to be a real meanie, here I have to agree. That’s simply not appetizing! There was a missing exacto knife and a race around the kitchen.

The Jasmine Flying High cake – her Jasmine is beautiful, the monkey gave her trouble. The Cinderella cake lacks a real Cinderella, but it’s a beautiful castle! (Not particularly, in my opinion, Disney did the Cinderella Castle cake much better. Though they had more than 7 hours, I’m sure) Snow White– well, she’s nothing but Snow White, and I have to give her that it’s actually a princess – however, she’s got a landscape to make. A lot of it.

I think that the beautiful mermaid cake will take this contest. The cake itself is a beautiful coral reef, and while Ariel doesn’t yet have hair or anything, she’s absolutely lifelike and utterly beautiful. She is everything I remember from watching that movie as a child. In terms of technique, he took shells and pressed them into fondant to make a beautiful fondant reef, which he then airbrushed. Pretty.

Spontaneously, there is a Belle cake – I don’t remember this much from earlier, except that this kitchen was the one missing an Exacto knife earlier in the competition. Now? The cake isn’t going too terribly well. Huge marks off for disorganization – assuming they even finish, which isn’t looking hot for them, right now. In the Cinderella cake, we finally see princesses: all of which were premade. Kerri isn’t going to be too happy with that! I think we have our losers.

The Jasmine cake went from nonexistent to stacked so quickly. Jasmine is to be standing on a bunch of pillows, and there were these colored-sand filled dowels. It was very pretty and I’m excited to see the finished product. News from Belle, she looks awful – but her cake maker knows that and feels guilty. It’s a bad day to have a bad day, but Belle is having one.

Ariel is so beautiful, except her head is falling off. They pipe on a necklace to hide the cracks, but I’m terrified for another Scar incident (his head fell to the floor by the feet of the judges. Whoops!)

Jasmine’s cake reminds me, in its finish, of a Bratz doll. She’s overly tall and skinny, with a very large head. The cake itself is a huge question of balance – the doll was too tall and heavy for the airy pillow cake, and it’ll be a real miracle if there isn’t an accident moving to the final table. Kerri tells the cake artist that to leave the toothpicks that are holding Jasmine in will cost her dearly – possibly Kerri’s way of saying “We think you’d win if they weren’t there.”

Dopey, much to my surprise, actually came out of somewhere, and the Snow White cake is quite beautiful and complete. However, it pales in comparison, both really and technically, to the amazing work of art that is the Ariel cake. I’m sure that if I saw it closer up, I would notice Ariel’s head falling off, but as of the camera pass-over, it was completely beautiful. Everything that Ariel (my personal favorite princess) should be!

Cinderella is a beautiful castle. Cinderella is left in exact proportion to said castle, meaning that Cinderella’s cake feels very much like “Castle cake” and not like princess cake at all. We won’t even mention Belle further.

Wow. So all the cakes made it easily and safely – and of course they save Jasmin’s cake until last. I’ll save you the drama: they all make it safely.

3rd place: Elizabeth Hodes and her Jasmine.
2nd place: Norman and his beautiful Ariel. He got robbed because of some scales (He didn’t imprint any scales into Ariel’s tail. Lame!)
1st Place: Chef Mary Mayer and her Snow White. Her second win (possibly her first, but the second I’ve seen. She also won the Simpsons cake)

and there’s nothing in my fridge to eat! I have a dinner – namely, hawaiian burgers, but right this minute I want breakfast.

What better for making breakfast than a frittata? But I am not up on my frittata recipes, so I search for it quickly and discover that there is no universal truth on what people stick in that egg mixture. Some on the quest required flour and coconut water (weird…) and others just wanted egg (don’t even bother with milk?).

Right. So we’re going to go with my favorite quiche recipe insides – a nice compromise from the various recipes I found, and really, what’s a frittata but a crustless quiche?

Frittata is a spectacular method to use up leftovers. Whatever you happen to have on hand that sounds good, and sounds good with what’s already inside – toss in! Last nights spinach and some fried chicken from earlier in the week? Sounds fine. Peppers and some sausage? Add some cheese and you’re good to go.

My final recipe, for this particular morning’s frittata:

6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon flour (or parmasan cheese, if that’s appropriate for your fillings)
Fillings I chose
1 lb cooked ground sausage
4 oz pepperjack
4 oz colby jack
1 serrano pepper
cilantro
salt
pepper

Stir the eggs, milk, and flour in a bowl together with seasonings. Add cheese and sausage, continue stirring. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, or until set. (My oven is terribly spotty and my oven thermometer easily confusable and suspicious. Your milage may vary, and check often!)

I have discovered a new food obsession: Mediterranean. I have fallen head over heels for Mediterranean food, so long as you hold the olives. Yes, I know, you can’t hold the olives in Mediterranean food – but you shouldn’t hold the oyster sauce in Japanese food, and I know a number of home cooks that do.

Anyway, so the peak of my current obsession with the cold-cooked phenomena is pepperoncinis. They also go by other names: commonly, here in the midwest, people call them banana peppers. Waxed peppers, sweet Italian peppers, and Tuscan peppers are other common names. They are very mild, sweet, and often pickled, which lends the pickled tang. They are often sliced into rings – oh, and they’re a bright, funky yellow, as opposed to green or red.

If you’d like to try one, head over to your nearest subway. Get a sub, and ask for some banana peppers on the side. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be asking for extras to load the sub with ASAP!

Aside from silly fast food like Subway, they are common in southern Italian and greek food. You can find them on antipasti plates and stuffed with feta cheese. Delicious! There’s this recipe for chorizo-stuffed pepperoncinis with chicken and artichoke hearts that I want to try, but I’ll have to wait until I can find both pepperoncinis and artichoke hearts in the local grocer.

What’s your most recent food obsession?

Botulism is on the rise, if you haven’t heard yet. Check out the link, and be careful of your canned goods!

Last night I made Thai burgers – and while the first time didn’t turn out so hot, these were spectacular! I used crunchy peanut butter this time, because Josh was so weirded out by the flavor of peanut butter last time. The crunch definitely helped, but you didn’t want to look at the burgers, as they looked sort of vile.

But! Close your eyes and eat up, because they were so good!

I mixed up 1 lb of hamburger and 3 slices of bread with, oh, about a 1/4 cup of crunchy peanut butter. (2-3 scoops with a normal spoon, until everything looked pretty sticky). Peanut butter is sticky! This will not be pleasant, sorry. Anyway, so I mushed and smushed and added 2 teaspoons of ground ginger and a teaspoon of hot chili powder. Mush and smoosh some more, and then make a little bowl in the meat, to which you add 1/2 cup of coconut milk. Yum! Mush, smoosh, and work into 8 patties. Put these in the refrigerator to think about what they’ve done. 

Anyway, so now you work on the peanut sauce. Saute 2 tablespoons of garlic in 4 tsp of oil. No, that’s not a typo. It’s a lot of garlic. Put every last bit in, or you will regret it! Also add to the oil 1/2 a teaspoon of that chili powder. Now, before you put that on the heat, measure out 1/3 a cup of peanut butter. Kay, now put the oil on the heat. Saute until everything smells good – 45 seconds on high. (Sounds like microwave directions, doesn’t it?) Then quickly add the peanut butter and stir, before the garlic burns. Add 2 tablespoons each vinegar and sugar, and stir the nasty out of it. After a good 2 minutes of stirring and heating, your nasal passages should return to the vicinity (mine always exit whenever I heat vinegar), and then add 2/3 c of water and 1/3 c of coconut milk. If you like coconut more than me, add less water and more milk. Just no more than 1 cup of liquid here, please. Stir this in, and then just leave it to simmer for 10 minutes. Done!

The burgers you gave your griller should be grilled now. Toss them on buns, cover with the peanut sauce (which is also good to dip chicken in, or as salad dressing), and enjoy!

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

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