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BREAD ANYONE CAN MAKE

BREAD ANYONE CAN MAKE

It’s been five months since I last posted here, and I am duly ashamed. It isn’t that I stopped cooking, it’s that I got slovenly about writing about it. I shall strive to do better.

Now, then. My husband found a recipe in The Northcoast Journal for bread that seemed too easy to be true, called Suzie Owsley’s No-Knead Bread. I saved the link. And then I found the same recipe in The New York Times, just called No-Knead Bread. The recipe was developed by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York and has become popular via the internet, and for good reason: this is really good bread with very little effort.

The downside: it takes 12 to 24 hours (or more, if you choose). The upside: you only do about 5 minutes of work. You don’t need to have any bread-making experience. Just follow the directions.

A few notes:

Flour: use all-purpose or unbleached or bread flour. Use all white or part white/part whole wheat.

Yeast: use instant or regular. There is a scant tablespoon of yeast in each packet; this recipe uses about 1/3 to 1/2 of that, so you’ll get 2 or 3 loaves from each packet.

Water: you may need more or less than 2 cups. Bread flour absorbs significantly more water than all-purpose or unbleached.

NO-KNEAD NO-FAIL BREAD

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • heaping 1/4 teaspoon yeast
  • 2 cups room-temperature water, more or less

Dump dry ingredients in a large bowl.

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Add 1 1/2 cups water (or more; see note above) and mix with a wooden spoon to make a pudding-y mix.

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Cover with plastic wrap and let sponge – that’s what this is called, a sponge – sit for 12 to 24 hours. A warmish-but-not-hot place is ideal – the top of the refrigerator or near but not on the stove. If your house is on the cool side, put the sponge in the oven and turn the oven on for 20 seconds every few hours, then turn it OFF again. If the sponge gets too hot, the yeast will die, and once that happens you’re out of luck.

When the sponge is ready, it will have a lot of little bubbles on top. It should smell yeasty and beer-y and sour (the longer it sits, the more sour it will smell).

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Heavily flour a dish towel (not terry-cloth) and scrape the sponge onto it. Turn it over on itself a couple of times (a rubber spatula or metal dough scraper is very useful here), cover with plastic wrap, and let rest about 15 minutes.

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Remove the wrap and sprinkle with more flour, and cover with another not-terry-cloth towel. Put the whole package back in the bowl (which you thoughtfully washed and dried) and let sit another two hours.

After 1 1/2 hours, turn the oven to 450F, and put a 5- to 8- quart covered baking dish in the oven to heat. The dish needs to be able to withstand a shitload of heat, so use cast iron, enamel, ceramic – something like that. Let it heat at least 30 minutes. I know this seems wrong, but do it anyway.

By the end of 2 hours, the dough should be puffed and doubled in size.

Remove the preheated baking dish from the oven and scrape/dump the sponge into it.

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Some of the dough will go willingly and some won’t. Lay the towel down on the counter and use a metal scraper to remove the straggling parts, and dump into the dish. It will look like a hot mess, but have faith.

Cover the dish and put in the oven.

After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the baking dish and bake for 20 more minutes.

Remove dish from oven and turn bread out to cool.

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Let cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.

If all that dish cloth stuff seems like too much work, you can also turn the deflated-and-rested dough into an oiled and heavily floured bowl and let rise the same way. The crust will be a little softer because of the oil. Mine turned out like this:

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A couple of variations:

Add 1/2 cup (or more) chopped Kalamata olives to the dough before the 2-hour rise.

Saute one small onion, finely chopped, and 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary in 2 teaspoons olive oil. Mix into the dough before the 2-hour rise.

Lots of other variations possible:  substitute some light beer for part of the water in the original sponge mixture.  Add garlic, cooked crisp bacon, various herb mixtures, chopped nuts, cheese, green onions…  have fun.

 

 

 

 

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PROVENCAL TOMATO SOUP

PROVENCAL TOMATO SOUP

Jeez.  The last time I posted here was December? How’d that happen?

Well, I know how it happened. I’ve mostly been in a fetal position since the election, emerging only now and then to refill my bottle with bourbon. I don’t see it getting better anytime soon. I just hope we don’t all get blown up.

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It seemed like a tomato soup kind of day, what with the rain, the Orange Dumpster Fire in the White House, the strike some of my friends are participating in, the Orange Nutjob in the White House, the cold, The Tropicana Fascist in the White House… you get my drift.

I made some tomato soup in the style of Provence. It tastes pretty good and it’s easy. It’s good for a cold wet day when you’ve lost hope but still remain optimistic that maybe we will survive. Also, a few stiff drinks don’t hurt.

PROVENCAL TOMATO SOUP

  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 chopped carrots
  • 1 chopped celery stalk
  • 2 fresh tomatoes. chopped
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves
  • olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 large (28-ounces or so) can pureed tomatoes
  • 1 can (16-ounces or so) stewed tomatoes
  • 1 orange, zest plus all the juice
  • 1 tablespoon dry basil (fresh is better if you have it, but it’s winter right now)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • Anise liqueur and/or orange liqueur (optional)

Saute the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat until they start to brown. Add 1 tablespoon fennel seed and let it cook for a few minutes. Then throw in everything else and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for half an hour or thereabouts.

Now either use a stick blender to puree the soup (don’t be too concerned about getting every veggie) or puree in batches in a blender or food processor. Pour soup back into the pot and let simmer another 10 minutes, and taste.

You may want to add more fennel, more orange juice/zest, some wine (I used white vermouth for its herbal taste), some booze (Pernod/anisette or an orange liqueur), more broth, EVOO, whatever.

If so inclined, you could also add some cooked rice and finely chopped spinach or other greens.

When it seems just right, turn the stove off and let sit for an hour or more, then reheat when ready to serve.

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LEFTOVER CRANBERRY SAUCE

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Cranberry sauce is one of those foods at Thanksgiving that is like Charoset at Passover Seder: absolutely essential without which you cannot proceed, but for God’s sake don’t make too much because no one will take a lot. (I found this out the hard way at the one and only Seder I was invited to. How was I, a shiksa, to know this? Maybe that’s why I’ve never been invited to another one.)

Even though cranberry sauce keeps really well in the refrigerator – a good three weeks – it’s probably getting tossed because it’s taking up room. Too bad because it goes with turkey, ham, chicken, duck, pork, and is delicious mixed with all kinds of things like horseradish and applesauce.

But if you have some that you don’t know what to do with: mix it with a spoonful of prepared mustard, pepper, vinegar and a little oil. Toss it with some sturdy greens like Romaine, some sections of Mandarin oranges (in season now), thinly sliced red onion, and maybe a few stray beans if there are any in the fridge (green, black, pinto, garbanzo, whatever).  Maybe sprinkle with some feta cheese. Yes, it’s purple. Dim the lights if that offends you. It’s delicious.

TACO SALAD/TOSTADAS FOR THE FORGETFUL

TACO SALAD/TOSTADAS FOR THE FORGETFUL

I am certain that anyone who likes taco salad already has a favorite recipe for it, so this is not for them. This is for me. I have made this three times this summer when it was too damn hot to cook. The first time was a veggie taco salad. The second time was with some bits of steak thrown in. The third time we made tostadas.

I am sure that by next summer I will have forgotten what I did to make this, hence this post. There are tons of possible variations.

TOSTADAS ON THE GRILL

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • salt and pepper

Stir together and refrigerate.

Salad:

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Top that with

Romaine, iceberg lettuce, shredded cabbage

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Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

On the grill:

Heat refried beans in skillet. Keep diced steak (or chicken, or pork) warm in foil packet.

Place corn tortillas on grill and lightly brush each side with oil.

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Flip tortillas as necessary and let them get crisp.

Toss salad with dressing.

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Smear crisp tortillas with refried beans. Top with a spoonful of Greek yogurt or sour cream, then with salad, bits of steak, and pour green and/or red salsa on top. Pick up to eat. Have lots of napkins available.

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For taco salad, break up some bagged tortilla chips and toss with the salad and dressing. Some avocado would not be amiss with this.

KIMCHI TO THE RESCUE

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KIMCHI TO THE RESCUE

There are people who are frightened by kimchi. It’s too… too much. Too fermented, too cabbage-y, too hot, too salty. It’s like the inside of a subway car in July. It explodes when you open the jar (much like a subway car).

This is not for them.

But if you’re feeling puny, overwrought, in dire straits, in need of restorative potions, this might cure what ails you. I originally found the recipe on Epicurious and of course made some changes, partly because I could not find the gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) required. I made do with what I had. I used King brand kimchi, available in every supermarket here (it would be even better if you get some real kimchi from a Korean store, but it will cost more).

This isn’t for sissies, kittens, Lawrence Welk fans, or the fearful. If you have to have chop suey and sweet & sour pork at Chinese restaurants, if you’re the girl in the horror movie who is running from the monster and sprains her ankle – open a can of Cream of WTF instead.

HOT KIMCHI AND TOFU SOUP

  • 1 16-ounce package soft tofu, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 14-ounce jar cabbage kimchi, drained (reserve the scary orange liquid)
  • 2 tablespoons chile-garlic paste or Sriracha or sambal oelek
  • 4-6 green onions, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon  sesame oil

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, reduce heat, and carefully add the tofu.

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Under the best of circumstances, tofu doesn’t look too exciting.

Let simmer about 4 minutes, then drain and set aside. (The original recipe said to remove the tofu to a “medium” bowl and you can certainly do that if you don’t mind washing an extra “medium” bowl.)

Open the kimchi carefully – it is still fermenting, which is why the jar lid may be bulging.

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Drain the orange liquid off the kimchi and save it.

Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large saucepan and add the drained kimchi plus the 2 tablespoons of whatever hot chile paste you have. If you can get the gochujang, more power to you, but don’t obsess over it if you can’t.

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Saute the kimchi and chili paste over medium-high heat until it starts to brown. (This may smell pungent, in which case open a window.) Then add the kimchi liquid and 6 cups water, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer.

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Let simmer about 35-45 minutes until the kimchi cabbage gets tender.

Then add the green onions, soy sauce, and tofu.

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Let this simmer very gently for 25 minutes to allow the tofu to absorb the flavors.

Stir in the sesame oil; season (if necessary, though I don’t think it will be) with salt and pepper.

You can serve as is.

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Or you can add an egg yolk, to cook very lightly by the heat of the broth, and some toasted sesame seeds. To toast sesame seeds:

Put sesame seeds in a dry frying pan over medium heat. Shake and/or stir the seeds very frequently.

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When the seeds are lightly browned, remove them from the pan right away; otherwise they will continue to brown and burn by residual heat.

If you wanted some more body to this, some rice noodles (the silken type used in pho) would be a good addition, or some shrimp tossed in the last five minutes of simmering. Some fresh basil leaves – especially Thai basil – or mint leaves or cilantro would be nice shredded and used as garnish, though that might just be window dressing and not really required.

 

WALDORF: NOT JUST SALAD

WALDORF: NOT JUST SALAD

Years ago I read a rather sweet story, possibly in one of my old cooking magazines, written by an elderly man about his one experience at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

He was an army private during WWII, on leave at home in New York one Christmas. He wanted to propose in a spectacularly romantic fashion to his girl (this was before flash mobs and YouTube) but was on a limited budget. So he wrote to the maitre d’ at the Waldorf Astoria. He explained that he would like to take his girl there for dinner on New Year’s Eve and propose to her at midnight, and told the maitre d’ his budget. I don’t remember now what the budget was, but it was low. Very low for the Waldorf-Astoria, but he didn’t know that.

Eventually he got a note back from the Waldorf-Astoria saying there was a table reserved for two on New Year’s Eve. He and his girl dressed in their finest and arrived at the hotel and were escorted to their table. They were presented with a hand-watercolored paper menu outlining what they would be served: consomme, breast of chicken, baked potato, vegetables.

The two lovebirds enjoyed their dinner. Afterwords, at a word from the maitre d’, the house band struck up their song, and they stepped onto the dance floor – where the young man proposed.

I don’t remember now what the bill was, or if it was comped by the Waldorf-Astoria, or how that was worked out. She said yes and that was the important part. It was only years later that the young man realized that his budget could not ever have covered the cost of the dinner, and that he had been given a great gift courtesy of the Waldorf-Astoria.

So I told you all that to get around to this.

I’m always a little surprised when people tell me they have never heard of Waldorf Salad. My mother always made it at Christmas and Thanksgiving. We never had it any other time, and I don’t know why not because it’s easy to make and goes with a lot of other foods. And I never think to make it except for a holiday dinner. It is credited to Oscar of the Waldorf  but actually was made elsewhere before he got credit. No matter.

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WALDORF SALAD

  • fresh crisp apples, preferably with pretty peel color
  • fresh crisp celery, preferably not stringy
  • walnuts
  • mayonnaise

This isn’t even a recipe: Chop apples, celery, and walnuts. Mix together with mayonnaise. Refrigerate until serving time. Proportions are up to you.

This can be varied in 58948594 ways. Grapes are a good addition, and so is avocado. Try sour cream instead of mayonnaise. Olives, chopped chicken, capers, oranges, cucumber, a spoonful of horseradish, yogurt, whipped cream….

This keeps well several days in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

 

SWEET POTATO SOUP

SWEET POTATO SOUP

After many years, I finally learned which is a sweet potato and which is a yam. There are a lot of botanical differences that don’t matter much to me, but at least I know now: the orange-y fleshed ones are yams. The pale fleshed ones are sweet potatoes.

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Photo from thekitchn.com

Sweet potatoes and/or yams are wildly nutritious and are at their best in the fall and winter. My husband loves them and I have been looking for good ways to prepare them – I am not a fan of the marshmallow-gunk-topped ones.  Despite what Alton Brown says, roasting is the best way to cook them. It takes time but they turn out wonderfully sweet.

I came across a recipe for Sweet Potato Bisque in Anna Thomas’s Love Soup cookbook.  Her version included a celery root, which I did not have on hand and didn’t feel like driving to buy. I figured some regular old celery would work just fine. I made some other adaptations and simplified her recipe.  I much prefer yams over sweet potatoes but Yam Soup just doesn’t have that certain cachet, so Sweet Potato Soup it is.

SWEET POTATO SOUP

  • 2 large yams
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • broth of your choice (vegetable, chicken, mix of water and white wine, whatever)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • cayenne
  • salt and pepper

Wash the yams, stab them all over with the point of a knife, and put them on a piece of aluminum foil on the rack of the oven. Turn the oven temperature to 350 and cook the yams until they are tender (give them a squeeze with a mitt-protected hand) and oozing caramelized juices (this is why you use foil). Remove from oven and let cool until you can handle them without burning yourself.

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and add the chopped onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until onion is lightly browned and caramelized. After about 20 minutes, add the sage and thyme and let them cook with the onions another 10 minutes or so.

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Peel the yams and cut into slices. Put them in a large-ish pot with about 4 cups water or broth and the chopped celery. Bring to a simmer and let cook slowly about 20-30 minutes.

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Add the onions to the yams and cook them together another 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and let them cool a bit, then puree them in batches in a blender or food processor. You will probably need more broth to puree the yams.

Return pureed soup to soup pot. Add a good sprinkle of cayenne and more broth if needed to make it the consistency you like. Taste for salt and adjust seasoning.

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Serve as is, or stir in some cream/half and half. Garnish with some toasted sliced almonds or some salsa/Sriracha.

This makes about 2 quarts.

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