Sunday, September 27, 2015

Focaccia Bread


This week's recipe is brought to you by...me! I offer up to you my
  FOCACCIA BREAD RECIPE
- super easy and so tasty

Ingredients:
- 30 oz / 7 cups high gluten or bread flour 
- 0.6 oz / 2 teaspoons salt
- 0.1 oz / 1 teaspoon yeast
- 30.7 oz / 4 cups lukewarm water
- 1.6 oz / 4 tablespoons + extra for drizzling, olive oil

I've offered ingredients in both volume and weight measurements. Most bakers use weight because it's a more accurate way to measure an ingredient like flour - which can vary greatly in volume depending on who scoops it!

Love the simplicity of the ingredients in this recipe:



Step 1:  Weigh/measure and mix first four ingredients together in the bowl of an electric mixer or by hand in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl combine the water and olive oil.

Step 2: Using the paddle attachment for the electric mixer or a large wooden spoon begin adding the wet ingredients to dry while the mixer is running on low or while you are stirring. Be sure all the flour is completely hydrated and you break up any clumps that have formed in the dough. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to incorporate all ingredients evenly. Continue mixing until you have a "pancake batter" consistency, except without any lumps. When you are finished mixing the dough should be smooth and elastic.
                                      
     In this photo the dough needs to continu being mixed until all the lumps are removed.

                        

Step 3: Pour the dough (and it should pour because of how "batter-like" it is. If your dough seems stiff or dry, add water until you reach the desired consistency.) onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and generously greased. I prefer to use PAM spray for convenience sake and because it coats the pans evenly. Allow dough to rest for 20 minutes - this helps relax the gluten and will make shaping in the next step much easier.

Step 4: After you've given the dough a "good rest", using damp fingers begin to gently spread the dough out over the entire pan. I have a bowl of water next to me during this process so I can dampen my fingers again when the dough starts sticking to them.

Once you have completely strechted the dough to fit the pan, coat the surface with oil and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Try to avoid the plastic wrap touching the dough as it will stick to it! Allow the dough to rise in a warm place 1-2 hours, until it has doubled its height in the pan.

Step 5: Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Once the dough has risen to the desired height, again using damp fingers, begin to dimple the dough, pressing it down to the bottom of the pan. This is also my favorite step in the recipe, sometimes it's fun to get our hands a little dirty. 

Generously drizzle olive oil all over the surface of the dough, enough to pool in the dimples you created. Now sprinkle with sea salt and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes rotate the pan and bake for another 10 minutes or until the focaccia is a nice golden brown. Remove from oven and allow bread to cool completely (the biggest challenge for me!) before cutting.


     
  
          

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Amateur Kitchen: The Taste of Dissapointment

The Amateur Kitchen: The Taste of Dissapointment: Goo Goo Pie Parfaits: This week's recipe can be found here:  http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/goo-goo-pie-parfaits Peanut...

The Taste of Dissapointment

Goo Goo Pie Parfaits:


This week's recipe can be found here: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/goo-goo-pie-parfaits

Peanut Caramel Sauce:
  • 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1.5 T light corn syrup
  • 1/4 C water
  • 2T whiskey
  • 1 C peanuts


Have you ever come across a recipe that sounded too good to be true, and after making it, found you were correct in your assumption? Well, this was my experience with the Goo goo pies. The recipe hit on so many flavors I adore: chocolate, peanut, caramel, whiskey (whiskey!), yet I was utterly disappointed with the result.
My overall assessment of the recipe was underwhelmed. For any dish that requires multiple steps at different times, the result must be amazing. Otherwise, why bother making it at home?


Sometimes simple is a good thing in cooking 
and sometimes, it's well, too simple

Now that I've thoroughly expressed my disappointment about this dish, I will tell you what I liked about it:

The whiskey caramel sauce was amazing! I highly recommend making this for an ice cream sundae topping, or if you're as obsessed as I am with whiskey and caramel, simply to spoon into your mouth. My only suggestion would be to add the whiskey while the caramel is still cooking to evaporate off some of the alcohol in the sauce.

Milo quietly considers if I will notice one parfait missing.

What I didn't like about the recipe:

When I hear the words "goo goo" (and not from the mouths of babes), I think I'm in for something so delectable that I will need multiple napkins to wipe away the drool as I devour the dish. This was not the case with this dish. It wasn't bad but it wasn't that good and it certainly wasn't goo goo good!

I also found the recipe instructions to be lacking in technique. Many times I will be half way through a recipe before I realize, "I don't know how to do that, wait, I don't even know what that is!" This is why we always read recipes multiple times before trying them, to ensure we know what the heck we're doing. I knew what this recipe implied but I felt a lesser informed cook would have struggled making the chocolate pudding.

In case you've ever wondered what they mean by 
"thick enough to coat a spoon"

Despite my disappointment with the result of this recipe, I do not regret the experience. When we go out to eat, we're only eating the best dishes a chef could create. They leave the goo goo parfaits and other unworthy creations on the back table for the restaurant staff to eat (and they do, they're animals-they'll eat anything!) My point being, we win some, we lose some but we always keep playing.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

QUINOA: LEARN TO LOVE IT

This week's recipe, Quinoa and Avocado Salad with Dried fruit and Lemon-cumin Vinaigrette can be found here: http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/quinoa-avocado-salad-dried-fruit-toasted-almonds-lemon-cumin-vinaigrette.aspx

Ingredients:

  • 3T raisins
  • 2T dried apricots
  • 1C red or white quinoa
  • 1 large lemon
  • 3T olive oil
  • 1/4t coriander
  • 1/4t cumin
  • 1/4t paprika
  • 2 avocados
  • 2 scallions
  • 3T toasted almonds
Quinoa: Love it or Eat it?

I've heard so many debates over this tiny, ancient grain: some people love it, become obsessed and try to force feed the stuff to anyone they come across. Others vehemently abhor the little nuggets, claiming they don't like the taste and they're over the trend. While I might fall into the former category (to know me is to accept I'm a quinoa loving hippy),  I can appreciate that this ingredient has had more than enough attention already. That being said, you have to try this quinoa recipe! Seriously. For all the quinoa haters I challenge you to try this version and tell me if you still think the ingredient is overrated.

What I liked about this recipe:

The dressing is simple yet tasty, a celebration of paprika! I recommend doubling the amount and saving the extra to toss with roasted vegetables or as a marinade.

The flavor profile and textures in this dish are lovely. I think hitting the sweet, salty and sour notes are key to any good salad. In addition to delighting the palate, I think it's important to satisfy the crunchy, smooth and creamy textures that add complexity to the dish.

This salad is filling! I can appreciate a light, simply composed salad for an appetizer of first course but I need substance to fill up on salad as an entree.  The quinoa and almonds provide the protein to satiate the greatest of hungers.

What I didn't like about this recipe:

The avocado wasn't necessary. But aren't avocados always necessary, you might be asking yourself. This might seem to be contrary to the quinoa-lovin-hippy that most of you know me to be but it's true: there is a time and place for avocado and it's not on top of every salad you make. Avocado doesn't add much flavor to this salad and the soft texture gets lost amid the composition. So, save yourself the $2, omit the avocado.

The quinoa cooking instructions indicate to prepare it the way we make most rice: a specific ratio of boiling water to quinoa and cook until all the water is absorbed. While this might work for some of you, I've found a method that I think is superior: cook it like pasta. I can not take credit for this technique, my friend's husband who's from South America (where they're REALLY obsessed with quinoa) taught it to me. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, salt and oil the water, add the quinoa, set a timer. I've found it generally takes 20 minutes this way but time is not the ultimate indication, the tail is:

In this photo the tails are beginning to unfurl

When the quinoa is ready little tails (technically they're called "endosperm") will have unravelled on most of the grains, this is quinoa's queue it's cooked. Thoroughly drain the quinoa in a mesh colander, the drier the better the grain will absorb the salad dressing, and enjoy!


Quinoa let's it's tail down




Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ricotta Pancakes!


The Breslin's Ricotta Pancakes

the perfect pile of pancakes

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup fine white cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, separated 
  • 1/2 cup fresh ricotta

Here's the link to the full recipe:
I opted only to make the pancakes but if you try the orange syrup and ricotta topping, let me know how it turns out!

batter up!



What I liked about this recipe:

The pancakes were amazing! So light, so fluffy with just a hint of sweetness. For me, the ultimate test to a good pancake is if I can eat it alone without the assistance of sweet syrup and creamy butter to amp up the flavors. These pancakes are delicious on their own! So delicious that I ate the first several test rounds before I realized I needed to save some for photos!

Ricotta is my new best friend. I knew how delicious it was but this recipe reminded me of how wonderful the texture is. It's such a versatile flavor that now I'll be adding to all sorts of baked mixtures to add a softer, airier texture. 

Whipped egg whites make everything fluffier! This recipe calls to separate the eggs, adding the yolks into the wet ingredients and folding the whipped whites into the final batter. I wasn't sure about this technique at first but it clearly helped create a light and fluffy batter, the base of any good pancake.

"stiff but not dry"(as the recipe calls for) egg whites


What I learned from this recipe:

Butter is better! The recipe initially calls for a "thin film" of vegetable oil to grease the pan. I instantly questioned this direction because I've read in several other pancake recipes about the importance of using butter to grease the pan. Butter contains sugar which helps in creating the golden brown and crispy crust of the pancake. However, being the diligent lemming that I am, I followed the directions to see what would happen. Just as I suspected, my first round of pancakes lacked the golden color I desired. After the experiment I switched to using butter to grease the pan.

top pancake cooked in butter, bottom in vegetable oil:

And just as when I was eight years old, too many pancakes will give me a stomach ache! 

Overall I really enjoyed this recipe and will now be my standard pancake recipe. Not only did I love the result, I got to use one of my favorite kitchen dishes:

My lodge cast iron griddle!



Monday, April 27, 2015

Barley Bliss!

I found this recipe from the March 2014 edition of Food & Wine Magazine:

David Chang's Pearl Barley Porridge with Ham and Eggs


Ingredients:
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • one 4x6 in piece of kombu
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup cooked smoked ham, chopped
  • 2 cups pearled barley
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 eggs, poached
  • thinly sliced scallions, for garnish

David Chang enjoying his porridge.

What's good about this recipe:

Barley is a delicious, and in my opinion, highly underrated grain. In this recipe David Chang elevates it into a savory and satisfying "porridge" great for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Stock is so important to creating flavorful bean and grain dishes. In this recipe Chang brings the cider, broth and kombu to a boil and then allows the mixture to steep 40 minutes. This sweet, salty and savory combination creates amazing depths of flavor that I'll be sure to use in many dishes to come.

Simplicity. I love how simply and elegantly (yes, barley can be elegant) this dish turned out. With minimal ingredients full of flavor like kombu and soy sauce paired with simple items like onion and barley this dish was surprisingly sophisticated.


Cooked Barley

What I learned from this recipe:

Barley takes a lot more liquid to cook down into a porridge! Generally barley to liquid ratio is 1 cup barley per 3 cups liquid. In this recipe Chang only calls for 2 cups of liquid per 1 cup of barley. As a result I had to continually add water after all the stock had been cooked off. I would recommend doubling the stock amount (it's so good you could quadruple it and freeze the rest for another time) and using at least 3 cups liquid per 1 cup barley when cooking. 

Poached eggs are casually listed as an ingredient. I find this frustrating as it has taken me a lot of time and experimentation to perfect the technique of poaching eggs. Here are the important factors:
1. Shallow Water. You want just enough water in the pot to cover the egg.
2. Proper water temperature. You want to find the perfect balance between a boil and a simmer. If the water is at a rapid boil it will jostle the egg and deform the shape. If the water is not hot enough the egg white will not coagulate effectively.
3. White Vinegar. Vinegar helps set the egg protein in the water.
4. Put a lid on it. Once the egg is in the water, turn the heat down and cover.

Here's a quick video I made to demonstrate the method I find most effective:

video


Overall, I would definitely make this again. It's a wonderful dish to cook on a rainy spring day and makes enough for leftovers!





Sunday, April 19, 2015

RECIPE 1: ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SALAD with LENTILS and DATES

I should've known better, I know better.


One important element to success in the kitchen is honing and then listening to your intuition. In the beginning little is "intuitive". Kitchen intuition is really a knowledge that has been so incorporated into the way we think that we no longer consciously engage in the thought process. For example if a recipe calls for baking broccoli in a 425 degree oven for 2 hours our "intuition/common sense" might light up, questioning what wouldn't burn left in an oven that hot for that long. However, if you're like me, you follow the directions - and end up with burnt broccoli! Luckily the next time you see an error in a recipe like that you will know it's a typo (which may happen more often than you think) and the author most likely meant 20 minutes, not two hours. But I cannot stress the importance of following a recipe exactly when first learning to cook. Your kitchen is a very loose, perhaps messy at times, interpretation of a chemistry lab but don't be intimidated. Only basic math skills and a sliver a of patience may be required for this science course. Just like my experience in chemistry, when a recipe I've tried doesn't turn out, it's usually because I didn't follow the directions! Put simply, follow directions in the beginning, develop a standard knowledge base and then allow your intuition and experience to guide you from there.

Now that I have thoroughly exhausted the importance of following directions, I will examine a recent recipe I tried where I really should have listened to my intuition.

I found this recipe in a Food & Wine Magazine edition from March 2014.




Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Lentils and Dates
Total: 45min Serves:4
  • 1/2 C raw almonds
  • 1 C green lentils, rinsed
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into 1.5" florets
  • 1/4 C plus 1T olive oil
  • 1/4t cumin
  • 1/4t cinnamon
  • 1/4t ground ginger
  • pinch of cayenne
  • salt and pepper
  • 2T tahini
  • 3T lemon juice
  • 1t honey
  • 10 dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, sliced 
  • 4C loosely packed arugula or spinach
I'm not going to list the steps as it is a tedious, and after following them, fruitless endeavor. However, leave a comment or email me and I will happily pass on the directions.


Overall Review:


I was very underwhelmed with this dish. I was also disappointed because there were a few elements of the recipe that concerned me but I followed the directions anyways, hoping to offer an authentic review of the recipe.

Bland Flavor:  One of the things that drew me to this recipe was the flavor profile. I adore cumin, it may smell like stinky feet but it tastes like comfort to me and along with the cinnamon, ginger and dates I liked the Middle Eastern vibe I was getting. The recipe only called to toss the spices with the cauliflower to roast. This element of the salad was delicious but left the rest of the ingredients lacking. In hindsight I would add a pinch of the ginger, cinnamon and cumin to the dressing to enhance the more flavors in the dish.

Poorly Dressed:  My biggest problem with this recipe is the dressing. It’s a salad, proper dressing is essential. I love tahini dressing and make my own variations quite often so when I read these dressing directions I became wary. It's important is to strike a balance of sweet and acidic with the heaviness of the tahini and the recipe called for lemon and honey, which are a great start. The ratio of lemon and honey to the tahini in the recipe though is inadequate in my opinion. I needed more of both. In addition to adding more of these two ingredients I would’ve thinned the dressing out with a bit of water. This was my other complaint with the dressing. It was too thick, too little of it and didn’t evenly coat the ingredients, creating an ultimately “dry” salad (The horror!).

Awkward Composition: I still struggle myself with discerning what I call the “fork factor” of a dish: how well can all the ingredients be delivered in one bite? I found this salad to fall short on the fork factor. Imagine trying to scoop chunky cauliflower florets, little lentils, loose arugula, bits of date and almond all into one bite. It was awkward and this is coming from someone who’s pretty good at spooning portions of food into my mouth. I think if there was more dressing on the salad the date and almond would be better incorporated as well as the lentils but I’ll stop with the dressing already.

Lentil Letdown: I adore all legumes, they are hearty, filling and nutritious. When cooked properly their texture and flavor can really enhance a dish. I was immediately suspect of the lentils in this recipe because it only called to cook them in water. While I love beans, I will freely admit…they can be boring! The hippy inside me just took great offense to that last statement but it’s true. I generally add salt, bay leaf, soy sauce, onion, garlic, molasses and the kitchen sink when I’m cooking legumes. However, it is important to wait until the legumes have come to a full boil before adding any other ingredients otherwise they will take forever to cook.
Needless to say I was not impressed with the lentils in this dish, they came out mushy and bland.




Despite my laundry list of corrections and complaints about this recipe, I'm glad I made it. The cauliflower was terrific and I highly recommend roasting it with equal parts ground ginger, cinnamon and cumin. I also developed more confidence in my intuition after seeing my initial reservations about the recipe evident in the outcome of the dish. 

The trial and error method can lead to disappointing outcomes at times 

but I look forward to my next adventure in the kitchen and I hope you do too!