Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Other No-Knead Bread (That I'm Totally Obsessed With)

By now the Jim Lahey, made famous by Mark Bittman/The New York Times "No-Knead Bread" is relatively well known, at least among those who like to bake.  I ripped the recipe of of a newspaper years ago, when it was reprinted, but had never actually made it until a few weeks ago, at first because it requires a Dutch oven, and I didn't have one, and then because I guess I just forgot about it.  But then for Christmas I received Jim Lahey's book My Bread which contains the now-famous recipe, along with multiple variations.  I've now made it twice, and I've been pretty pleased with the results, although I have to say the crust gets SO CRISPY that it's actually difficult to slice!  The inside is amazing and flavorful and full of those nice big holes that make it look fancy, but man, that crust is brutal.  Plus, I have yet to make it without burning the top and bottom, which is frustrating.  I'm not giving up on it just yet, but I needed to give it a rest...

And then, a NEW (very close to) no-knead bread developed by the geniuses at Cook's Illustrated, was brought to my attention by my friend Brad (formerly of TableVibrations, currently slave to medical residency).  The recipe is excessively easy, and is made even easier because the awesome bread blog Breadtopia, has super videos illustrating each step, so it's virtually foolproof.  And so fast.  Honestly, pulling the flour out of the cupboard is the most time consuming part (along with waiting for my painfully slow oven to preheat...)

With good bread, it's all about the crust, the texture, and the flavor.  So first, the crust: it's beautiful.  Picture perfect. Appealingly golden hue, just crispy and crackly enough to make it feel special without taking the edge off your serrated knife.  The texture:  Moist, chewy, but with a tighter crumb (i.e., none of the big holes) than "artisan bread," but hey, nothing falls through that way, right?  Flavor: excellent.  This sounds weird, but it actually uses beer and vinegar to increase the complexity of the flavor, making it quite similar to sourdough bread in fact, without the hassle of sourdough starter.  And while I was a little skeptical as I added the beer and vinegar, I have to say, it really adds something.  Coming from a non-beer drinking family, my options for this step were Heineken and Smuttynose--we had a couple of bottles of each sitting in the pantry.  I opted for the Smuttynose, because it just seemed weird to add Heineken into real food.  I am happy with how it turned out, but I'm open to experimentation in the future.

In the end what really set this recipe apart for me was the fact that it didn't burn when I baked it, the fact that it retained its shape well, making for slices that are big enough (at least in the middle) for sandwiches, and the nicely balanced crust.  

So, if you don't have a Dutch oven already, borrow one, or buy one (you'll be hooked, then you'll really want to have your own!)  And, while we're talking about Dutch ovens, let me say that they come in a huge price range.  A Le Creuset enameled cast iron Dutch oven could set you back a couple hundred dollars, depending on what size you buy.  However, Martha Stewart's cookware line at Macy's has a nearly identical one for much less, and they go on sale fairly often, so if you time it right, you can snag one for $30 or $40.  Lodge Logic is another brand that makes basic, non-enameled pots that are also right in that lower price range of $30 to $40, and can be found on Amazon or in some cookware stores.  I personally like an enameled pot, because it's non reactive, so it can be used for cooking stews and other things with acidic ingredients that could react to cast iron, but that's a whole other discussion.... In any case, grab a Dutch oven, a food scale if you have one (this is SO FAST with a food scale!), stir, wait, knead a few times, wait some more, bake, and you will have amazing bread that you won't believe you made yourself!

Cook's Illustrated (Nearly) No-Knead Bread
Makes 1 perfect loaf

The white and wheat flour recipes are nearly identical, and the process for both is the same.  To watch an awesome video that shows exactly how easy this bread is, click here.

White Flour Recipe:
* 3 cups (15 ounces) all purpose or bread flour
* 1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
* 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. (7 ounces) water at room temperature
* 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. (3 ounces) mild flavored lager
* 1 Tablespoons white vinegar
* Oil Spray, such as PAM

Whole Wheat Recipe:
* 2 cups (10 ounces) all purpose or bread flour
* 1 cup (5 ounces) whole wheat flour
* 1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
* 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 2 Tablespoons honey or raw sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw
* 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (7 ounces) water at room temperature
* 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (3 ounces) mild flavored lager
* 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
* Oil Spray, such as PAM

1. In a larger mixing bowl, combine the flour(s), yeast, salt, and sugar or honey (if making whole wheat)

2. Add in the water, beer, and vinegar, and stir until combined.  This dough starts out on the dry side, so you might need to use your hand to finish incorporating the ingredients.

3. Put the bowl in a plastic bag or cover with plastic wrap, and put in a warm, draft free place for 8-18 hours.  (If my kitchen is on the cold side, like, under 70 degrees, I put my dough in the oven with a bowl of hot water that I change a few times, just to create a slightly warmer, more humid environment.  Another trick is to leave your oven light on and the door slightly ajar.

4. After 8-18 hours, turn out your dough onto a lightly floured surface.  Roll the dough around gently to coat with flour so it doesn't stick, then knead it lightly about 10-15 times.  If you're like me and actually like kneading dough, it will be hard to stop, but do, because this dough doesn't need (knead, ha!) your love.  Gather the sides of your dough and pull it towards the center and pinch it together--this creates a nice, smooth exterior for your loaf.  

5. Take a large piece of parchment paper and place it on a cookie sheet or in a skillet.  Place the dough, pinched side down, on the parchment.  Spray the top with your oil spray, and then re-cover it with the plastic wrap or plastic bag.  Allow to rise for an additional 2 hours.  

6.  1 1/2 hours into the second rise, preheat your oven to 500 degrees F, with your Dutch oven inside.  

NOTE: If your Dutch oven has a separate handle that's attached with a screw, unscrew it and plug the hole with a bit of aluminum foil--I know that the Martha Stewart Dutch oven handle is only rated to 450 degrees, and Jim Lahey writes in My Bread that when his recipe was published in the NYTimes, cooking stores reported a rash of petty thefts involving Le Creuset handles, presumably to replace those ruined by the high heat required to bake this bread.  Lodge Logic handles are made of metal, so they should be fine.

Right before you're ready to put your bread in the oven, sprinkle the loaf with flour, and using a razor or a sharp serrated knife, cut a slit about 1/2 inch deep across the middle of the loaf.  When your oven reaches 500 degrees (or as hot as it gets), CAREFULLY pull out the Dutch oven.  Make sure you have a potholder or a trivet down so you have somewhere to put your hot pot!  Lower heat to 425 degrees F.  Gently transfer your bread, on the parchment paper, into the Dutch oven.  

Cover the pot, and then bake for 30 minutes with the lid on.  Remove the lid and bake for an additional 10 minutes uncovered.  (If you have an instant read thermometer, the inside of the loaf should be at least 200 degrees F, but if it's beautiful and golden, then you're probably set :) 
Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.  Perfect for toast, sandwiches, and snacking.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Chapter

Let it be known that today I hacked (several) halibut into chunks with a giant cleaver.  Those of you who know me will realize that this is a fairly odd thing for me to be doing, since I don't like fish, and typically avoid it at all costs.  BUT, what some of you might not know is that yesterday I started culinary school.... so I didn't really have a choice! (About the halibut, that is.)  So, I embraced it a la Julia Child/Julie Powell (from Julie and Juila) and said "Don't be afraid!"

So, Culinary School, eh?  I know most informal food bloggers like myself take pride in the fact that they are self taught and all that, which up until now, I have.  But I had sort reached my limit on my old job (gardening), and so I decided to leave Nantucket and enroll in culinary school at Boston University.  I don't really know what I'm going to do with my new skills, but it seemed like a fun thing to do.  

So far we have made stocks:  Beef/veal, chicken, vegetable, and fish (hence the halibut).  I have to say, I have never bothered with making my own stock; I know that every credible chef says you should, and I acknowledge that, but a) I've never had a big enough pot, and b) it seems like a lot of effort and wasted ingredients (since you throw out the veggies used in the stock afterward).  At least when I buy stock in a carton, I don't have to think about the waste.  But, I will say this: our stocks were pretty darn good.  I'd have to taste a carton stock and our stock side by side in order to see exactly HOW much better homemade is, but my initial reaction was that ours were probably better.

But anyway, I don't intend to change the focus of the blog too much, or get too fancy on you, but I do intend to keep you all updated on any new and interesting things that I learn.  My gem for the day is don't handle halibut if you don't have to.  Okay, okay, maybe I'm biased, but my hands still smell fishy, after washing them at least 10 times, and showering!  Although it was kind of satisfying, except for how I ended up spraying myself with little bits of halibut... But for those of you who have told me that I should open my mind for the sake of my education, I will have you know that I even tasted the fish stock (by accident--I thought it was the chicken!)  It was fishy....

And that's all I have to say about that today.  But I didn't want to withhold my exciting news any longer! 

Tomorrow: Soups!  a.k.a., one of my all time favorite-est foods ever, so I think it will be a good day!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Symphony in Green

...a.k.a.: Lima Bean Puree with Pecorino Romano on Crostini, a.k.a., your new favorite thing that you never knew you were missing .

So I think I ripped this recipe out of the Boston Globe Magazine at some point, although I can't be sure, because it doesn't have a date or any other identifying info on it.  But let me say this: it's good.  Very good.  Very very good.  In fact, the reason I was too full to actually eat the delicious Chard and White Bean Stew that I was cooking simultaneously. 

It took me a while to find frozen lima beans (not quite sure why these are better than canned, but that's what the recipe recommends).  But when you find them, buy them, then make this absolutely fantastic puree.  It is great on its own, but slathered on crostini and topped with a shaving of Pecorino Romano seriously elevates it to heavenly.  I don't even like Pecorino Romano that much on its own (a little too salty and sheep-y tasting for me), but on top of this light, fresh, herby, lemony puree...well, the best thing I can say is the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts.  And the parts are pretty darn good.

So the next time you're throwing a shin dig, and you want an easy and different alternative to hummus or some dull store-bought spread, whip this little baby up.  You'll love it, I promise.

Creamy Lima Bean Puree and Pecorino Romano Crostini (From the Boston Globe Magazine, perhaps?)
Makes About 48 Crostini

* 1 Tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1/2 a lemon)
* 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 pound frozen baby lima beans, cooked according to package directions and cooled
* 1 shallot
* 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or about 1 teaspoon dried
* 2 generous Tablespoons of chopped flat leaf parsley
* Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
* About 48 crostini, either freshly made or store-bought
* About 48 pieces of shaved Pecorino Romano

1. In a measuring cup, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, and 3 Tablespoons of hot water, set aside.

2. Peel the skin off the shallot and roughly chop into a Cuisinart bowl, fitted with a sharp blade.  Pulse until the shallot is chopped.  Add lima beans, oregano and parsley, pulse until the ingredients are as blended as possible.

3. With the feed tube open and the motor running, add the lemon-oil mixture in a slow, steady stream.  Continue to process for a full minute, stopping to scrap down sides if necessary.  Taste, and adjust with salt, pepper, and more parsley, if desired.  (I ended up adding a little more parsley to bump up the fresh taste).

4.  Allow mixture to stand for at least 30 minutes to let flavors develop, or store in a covered container in the fridge for up to 2 days.  

5. T-1 hour before your fete, spread about 2 teaspoons of spread on top of each crostini, and top with a shave of Pecorino Romano.  The easiest way to get nice shaves of Pecorino Romano is actually with a veggie peeler.  Just run it over the cheese just like a big root vegetable, and you'll get beautiful shaves of cheese.  

Party ready

Enjoy these!  And tell me what you think--part of me thinks I'm crazy for being in love with lima beans, so please justify my new obsession! 

Bean Stew For A Healthy You

Well, the 12 days of Christmas are officially over, so I figured I had to move on from Christmas cookies.  Tear.  And on to semi-healthy things, since it's January, and that's how people roll in January, right?  Actually, the fact that this next recipe is on the semi-healthy side is purely coincidental.  I saw it on Smitten Kitchen and it looked absolutely amazing, AND I realized that I had nearly everything I needed in the pantry already, and so that's what I did.  

So, the recipe:  Chard and White Bean Stew.  Doesn't that excite you?  It excites me.  Seriously.  It's full all sorts of yummy things that I love, like beans and tomatoes and garlic and shallots and herbs.  The real bonus was, as I said, all of these things are pantry staples for me, other than the chard.  I made a special pilgrimage to Whole Foods just for that, and for 20 whole minutes felt way too uncool to be there.  Cambridge is just too hip for me...  Anyway, I got home, then whipped this up.  It probably takes about an hour to make, if you're actually paying attention, but I was distracted with several other things, so it probably took me a longer.  But it's great because after you've got all your aromatics chopped and sauteing, you don't really need to pay close attention.  Perfect for cleaning up as you go, or doing other projects that I'll tell you about shortly.

Smitten Kitchen says that the chard can be replaced with kale or spinach or another hearty green, if so desired.  As for serving (which I haven't actually done yet, due to too much snacking while cooking), it can be served as is, or with some fresh herbs or grated Parmesan or Romano on top.  To make it an even more filling and delicious meal, try toasting at thick piece of rustic bread, rubbing it with a clove of garlic, then ladling your stew on top of that, then topping it with a poached egg, then some fresh herbs, few drops of sherry vinegar and/or some grated cheese.  Gosh, I wish I could take credit for that, but I cannot.  But I am definitely doing that tomorrow, once I'm hungry again.  Ooh, golly I just can't wait.

Chard and White Bean Stew (Adapted only slightly from
Serves 6 to 8

* 1 pound Swiss chard (or kale, spinach or another green), ribs and stems removed and cleaned
* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 cup (5 1/4 ounces) chopped carrots
* 1 cup (5 ounces) chopped celery
* 1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) chopped shallots, about 4 medium
* 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
* 1 cup dry white wine
* 2 15-ounce cans (or about 3 3/4 cups) white beans (such as Navy Beans or Cannellini beans), drained and rinsed
* 2 cups (or more to taste) vegetable broth
* 1 cup pureed tomatoes (canned is fine; this is less than a 15 ounce can)
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 3 fresh thyme sprigs
* 1 bay leaf
* 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (Red wine vinegar also works in a pinch)
* Garnishes: Toasted bread slices, poached eggs, chopped herbs such as tarragon, parsley or chives or grated Parmesan or Romano, if desired

1. Bring medium pot of salted water to boil. Cook chard (or any heavier green; no need to precook baby spinach) for one minute, then drain and squeeze out as much extra water as possible. Coarsely chop chard.

2. Dry out the medium pot and heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add carrots, celery, shallots and saute for 15 minutes, adding the garlic in the last few minutes.  Light browning is okay, although don't go crazy--you mostly want soft veggies, not crispy ones, and definitely no burnt garlic--bitter city!

3. Add wine (scraping up any bits that may have stuck to the pot) and cook it until it reduced by three-fourths. 

 4. Add beans, broth, tomatoes, a few pinches of salt, freshly ground black pepper, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add chard and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove thyme and bay leaf. Add more broth if you’d like a thinner stew and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

5. Serve as is drizzled with sherry vinegar. Or try the aforementioned toast/stew/egg/cheese/sherry vinegar combo.