February 29, 2008

Break Me Off A Hunk of That

Mary of The Sour Dough and Sara of I Like to Cook hosted this month's Daring Bakers' challenge—Julia Child's French Bread.

Having never made bread before and always an experimenter, I made three different loaves. The first was a plain ol' batard, which was a requirement of the challenge. Then, I took another plain batard and topped it with grated gruyere and garlic before baking. Finally, I threw caution to the wind and busted out my kitchen shears attempted the pain epi. It's supposed to resemble a stalk of wheat. Um ... ya, mine didn't.

There were two versions of this recipe: one for hand kneading and one for stand mixing. I'm no hero, so took the slacker way out and let my Kitchen Aid do its thang. I only posted directions for the stand mixer. For the full recipe—complete with hand-kneading instructions and a bevy of great tips from our lovely hostesses—check out this page.

Household majority ruled the cheese and garlic loaf best in flavor and presentation. I had some serious trouble shaping the loaves; could have been the dough itself or just rookie mistake. But they all tasted great, so I still deem the challenge a success. This experience has opened a whole new level of baking for me, so I plan to give this recipe another go very soon. I have a new appreciation for french bread. It's truly an art form. My hat's off to those who can do this well. Speaking of, check out more beautiful bread from the other Daring Bakers.

Julia Child's French Bread
1 cake (0.6 ounce) (20grams) fresh yeast or 1 package dry active yeast
1/3 cup (75ml) warm water, not over 100 degrees F/38C in a glass measure
3 1/2 cup (about 1 lb) (490 gr) all purpose flour, measured by scoopingdry measure cups into flour and sweeping off excess
2 1/4 tsp (12 gr) salt
1 1/4 cups (280 - 300ml) tepid water @ 70 – 74 degrees/21 - 23C

Step 1: The Dough Mixture – le fraisage (or frasage)
Stir the yeast in the 1/3 cup warm water and let liquefy completely while measuring flour into mixing bowl. When yeast has liquefied, pour it into the flour along with the salt and the rest of the water.

Using the dough hook attachment on the speed the mixer manufacturer recommends for dough hook use or the lowest setting if there is no recommendation, slowly work all the ingredients together until a dough ball is formed, stopping the mixer and scrapping the bits of flour and chunks of dough off the bottom of the bowl and pressing them into the dough ball. Continue to mix the dough on a low speed until all the bits of flour and loose chunks of dough have formed a solid dough ball.

Turn dough out onto kneading surface, scraping bowl clean. Dough will be soft and sticky. Let the dough rest for 2 – 3 minutes while you wash and dry the bowl and the dough hook.

Step 2: Kneading – petrissage
The flour will have absorbed the liquid during this short rest, and the dough will have a little more cohesion for the kneading that is about to begin. Use one hand only for kneading and keep the other clean to hold a pastry scrapper, to dip out extra flour, to answer the telephone, and so forth. Your object in kneading is to render the dough perfectly smooth and to work it sufficiently so that all the gluten molecules are moistened and joined together into an interlocking web. You cannot see this happen, of course, but you can feel it because the dough will become elastic and will retract into shape when you push it out.

Place dough back into the bowl and using the dough hook attachment at the recommended speed (low), knead the dough for about 5 – 7 minutes. At about the 5 minute mark, stop the mixer and push at the dough with your fingertips. If it springs back quickly, you have kneaded the dough enough. If it doesn’t spring back continue to knead, stopping the mixer and retesting every 2 minutes. If the dough sticks to your fingers, toss a sprinkling of flour onto the dough and continue to knead. The dough should be light and springy when it is ready.

Let dough rest for 3 – 4 minutes. Knead by hand for a minute. The surface should now look smooth; the dough will be less sticky but will still remain soft. It is now ready for its first rise.

Step 3: First Rising – pointage premier temps (3-5 hours at around 70 degrees)
You now have approximately 3 cups of dough that is to rise to 3 1/2 times its original volume, or to about 10 1/2 cups. Wash and fill the mixing bowl with 10 1/2 cups of tepid water (70 – 80 degrees) and make a mark to indicate that level on the outside of the bowl. Note, that the bowl should have fairly upright sides; if they are too outward slanting, the dough will have difficulty in rising. Pour out the water, dry the bowl, and place the dough in it.

Slip the bowl into a large plastic bag or cover with plastic, and top with a folded bath towel. Set on a wooden surface, marble or stone are too cold. Or on a folded towel or pillow, and let rise free from drafts anyplace where the temperature is around 70 degrees. If the room is too hot, set bowl in water and keep renewing water to maintain around 70 degrees. Dough should take at least 3 – 4 hours to rise to 10 1/2 cups. If temperature is lower than 70 degrees, it will simply take longer.

When fully risen, the dough will be humped into a slight dome, showing that the yeast is still active; it will be light and spongy when pressed. There will usually be some big bubbly blisters on the surface, and if you are using a glass bowl you will see bubbles through the glass.
Step 4: Deflating and Second Rising – rupture; pointage deuxieme temps (1 1/2 to 2 hours at around 70 degrees)
The dough is now ready to be deflated, which will release the yeast engendered gases and redistribute the yeast cells so that the dough will rise again and continue the fermentation process.

With a rubber spatula, dislodge dough from inside of bowl and turn out onto a lightly floured surface, scraping bowl clean. If dough seems damp and sweaty, sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour.

Lightly flour the palms of your hands and flatten the dough firmly but not too roughly into a circle, deflating any gas bubbles by pinching them.
Lift a corner of the near side and flip it down on the far side.

Do the same with the left side, then the right side. Finally, lift the near side and tuck it just under the edge of the far side. The mass of dough will look like a rounded cushion.

Slip the sides of your hands under the dough and return it to the bowl. Cover and let rise again, this time to not quite triple, but again until it is dome shaped and light and spongy when touched.

Step 5: Cutting and resting dough before forming loaves
Loosen dough all around inside of bowl and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Because of its two long rises, the dough will have much more body. If it seems damp and sweaty, sprinkle lightly with flour.

Making clean, sure cuts with a large knife or a bench scraper, divide the dough into:

  • 3 equal pieces for long loaves (baguettes or batards) or small round loaves (boules only)
  • 5 – 6 equal pieces for long thin loaves (ficelles)
  • 10 – 12 equal pieces for small oval rolls (petits pains, tire-bouchons) or small round rolls (petits pains, champignons)
  • 2 equal pieces for medium round loaves (pain de menage or miche only)
  • If you making one large round loaf (pain de menage, miche, or pain boulot), you will not cut the dough at all and just need to follow the directions below.

After you have cut each piece, lift one end and flip it over onto the opposite end to fold the dough into two; place dough at far side of kneading surface. Cover loosely with a sheet of plastic and let rest for 5 minutes before forming. This relaxes the gluten enough for shaping but not long enough for dough to begin rising again.

While the dough is resting, prepare the rising surface; smooth the canvas or linen towelling on a large tray or baking sheet, and rub flour thoroughly into the entire surface of the cloth to prevent the dough from sticking

Step 6: Forming the loaves – la tourne; la mise en forme des patons
Because French bread stands free in the oven and is not baked in a pan, it has to be formed in such a way that the tension of the coagulated gluten cloak on the surface will hold the dough in shape.

  • For Long Loaves
    The Batard: (Baguettes are typically much too long for home ovens but the shaping method is the same)

    After the 3 pieces of dough have rested 5 minutes, form one piece at a time, keeping the remaining ones covered.

    Working rapidly, turn the dough upside down on a lightly floured kneading surface and pat it firmly but not too roughly into an 8 to 10 inch oval with the lightly floured palms of your hands. Deflate any gas bubbles in the dough by pinching them.

    Fold the dough in half lengthwise by bringing the far edge down over the near edge.

    Being sure that the working surface is always lightly floured so the dough will not stick and tear, which would break the lightly coagulated gluten cloak that is being formed, seal the edges of the dough together, your hands extended, thumbs out at right angles and touching.

    Roll the dough a quarter turn forward so the seal is on top.

    Flatten the dough again into an oval with the palms of your hands.

    Press a trench along the central length of the oval with the side of one hand.

    Fold in half again lengthwise.

    This time seal the edges together with the heel of one hand, and roll the dough a quarter of a turn toward you so the seal is on the bottom.

    Now, by rolling the dough back and forth with the palms of your hands, you will lengthen it into a sausage shape. Start in the middle, placing your right palm on the dough, and your left palm on top of your right hand.

    Roll the dough forward and backward rapidly, gradually sliding your hands towards the two ends as the dough lengthens.

    Deflate any gas blisters on the surface by pinching them. Repeat the rolling movement rapidly several times until the dough is 16 inches long, or whatever length will fit on your baking sheet. During the extension rolls, keep circumference of dough as even as possible and try to start each roll with the sealed side of the dough down, twisting the rope of dough to straighten the line of seal as necessary. If seal disappears, as it sometimes does with all purpose flour, do not worry.

    Place the shaped piece of dough, sealed side up, at one end of the flour rubbed canvas, leaving a free end of canvas 3 to 4 inches wide.

    The top will crust slightly as the dough rises; it is turned over for baking so the soft, smooth underside will be uppermost.

    Pinch a ridge 2 1/2 to 3 inches high in the canvas to make a trough, and a place for the next piece. Cover dough with plastic while you are forming the rest of the loaves.

    After all the pieces of dough are in place, brace the two sides of the canvas with long rolling pins, baking sheets or books, if the dough seems very soft and wants to spread out. Cover the dough loosely with flour rubbed dish towel or canvas, and a sheet of plastic. Proceed immediately to the final rising, next step.
  • For Long Thin Loaves
    Fincelles: Follow the steps above but making thinner sausage shapes about 1/2 inch in diameter. When they have risen, slash as with the Batard.
  • For Oval Rolls
    Petits Pains, Tire-Bouchons: Form like batards, but you will probably not have to lengthen them at all after the two foldings and sealings. Place rolls on a floured canvas about 2 – 4” apart and cover with plastic to rise. When they have risen, make either 2 parallel slashes or a single slash going from one end to the other.
  • For Small, Medium, or Large Round Loaves
    Pain de Menage, Miches, Boules: The object here is to force the cloak of coagulated gluten to hold the ball of dough in shape: the first movement will make cushion; the second will seal and round the ball, establishing surface tension.

    Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.

    Lift the left side of the dough with the side of your left hand and bring it down almost to the right side.

    Scoop up the right side and push it back almost to the left side. Turn the dough a quarter turn clockwise and repeat the movement 8 – 10 times. The movement gradually smooths the bottom of the dough and establishes the necessary surface tension; think of the surface of the dough as if it were a fine sheet of rubber you were stretching in every direction.

    Turn the dough smooth side up and begin rotating it between the palms of your hands, tucking a bit of the dough under the ball as you rotate it. In a dozen turns you should have a neatly shaped ball with a little pucker of dough, le cle, underneath where all the edges have joined together.

    Place the dough pucker side up in a flour-rubbed canvas; seal the pucker by pinching with your fingers. Flour lightly, cover loosely and let rise to almost triple its size. After unmolding upside down on the baking sheet, slash with either a long central slash, two long central slashes that cross at right angles, or a semi-circular slash around half the circumference.
  • For Small Round Rolls
    Petits Pains, Champignons: The principles are the same here as for the preceding round loaves, but make the cushion shape with your fingers rather than the palms of your hands.

    For the second stage, during which the ball of dough is rotated smooth side up, roll it under the palm of one hand, using your thumb and little finger to push the edges of the dough underneath and to form the pucker, where the edges join together

    Place the formed ball of dough pucker side up on the flour rubbed canvas and cover loosely while forming the rest. Space the balls 2 inches apart. When risen to almost triple its size, lift gently with lightly floured fingers and place pucker side down on baking sheet. Rolls are usually too small for a cross so make either one central slash or the semi-circular cut.
  • For Large Oval Loaf
    Pain Boulot: Follow the directions for the round loaves except instead of rotating between the balms of your hands and tucking to form a round loaf, continue to turn the dough from the right to the left, tucking a bit of each end under the oblong loaf. In a dozen turns you should have a neatly shaped oval with tow little puckers of dough, le cles, underneath where all the edges of have joined together.

    Place the dough pucker sides up in a flour-rubbed canvas; seal the puckers by pinching with your fingers. Flour lightly, cover loosely and let rise to almost triple its size. After unmolding upside down on the baking sheet, slash with parallel slashes going diagonally across the top starting from the upper left and going to the lower right.

Step 7: Final Rise – l’appret - 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours at around 70 degrees
The covered dough is now to rise until almost triple in volume; look carefully at its pre-risen size so that you will be able to judge correctly. It will be light and swollen when risen, but will still feel a little springy when pressed.

It is important that the final rise take place where it is dry; if your kitchen is damp, hot, and steamy, let the bread rise in another room or dough will stick to the canvas and you will have difficulty getting it off and onto another baking sheet. It will turn into bread in the oven whatever happens, but you will have an easier time and a better loaf if you aim for ideal conditions.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees about 30 minutes before estimated baking time.

Step 8: Unmolding risen dough onto baking sheet – le demoulage.
The 3 pieces of risen dough are now to be unmolded from the canvas and arranged upside down on the baking sheet. The reason for this reversal is that the present top of the dough has crusted over during its rise; the smooth, soft underside should be uppermost in the oven so that the dough can expand and allow the loaf its final puff of volume. For the unmolding you will need a non-sticking intermediate surface such as a stiff piece of cardboard or plywood sprinkled with cornmeal or pulverized pasta.

Remove rolling pins or braces. Place the long side of the board at one side of the dough; pull the edge of the canvas to flatten it; then raise and flip the dough softly upside down onto the board.

Dough is now lying along one edge of the unmolding board: rest this edge on the right side of a lightly buttered baking sheet. Gently dislodge dough onto baking sheet, keeping same side of the dough uppermost: this is the soft smooth side, which was underneath while dough rose on canvas. If necessary run sides of hands lightly down the length of the dough to straighten it. Unmold the next piece of dough the same way, placing it to the left of the first, leaving a 3 inch space. Unmold the final piece near the left side of the sheet.

Step 9: Slashing top of the dough – la coupe.
The top of each piece of dough is now to be slashed in several places. This opens the covering cloak of gluten and allows a bulge of dough underneath to swell up through the cuts during the first 10 minutes of baking, making decorative patterns in the crust. These are done with a blade that cuts almost horizontally into the dough to a depth of less than half an inch. Start the cut at the middle of the blade, drawing toward you in a swift clean sweep. This is not quite as easy as it sounds, and you will probably make ragged cuts at first; never mind, you will improve with practice. Use an ordinary razor blade and slide one side of it into a cork for safety; or buy a barbers straight razor at a cutlery store.

For a 16 to 18 inch loaf make 3 slashes. Note that those at the two ends go straight down the loaf but are slightly off centre, while the middle slash is at a slight angle between the two. Make the first cut at the far end, then the middle cut, and finally the third. Remember that the blade should lie almost parallel to the surface of the dough.

Step 10: Baking – about 25 minutes; oven preheated to 450 degrees (230 degrees C).
As soon as the dough has been slashed, moisten the surface either by painting with a soft brush dipped in cold water, or with a fine spray atomizer, and slide the baking sheet onto rack in upper third of preheated oven. Rapidly paint or spray dough with cold water after 3 minutes, again in 3 minutes, and a final time 3 minutes later. Moistening the dough at this point helps the crust to brown and allows the yeast action to continue in the dough a little longer. The bread should be done in about 25 minutes; the crust will be crisp, and the bread will make a hollow sound when thumped.

If you want the crust to shine, paint lightly with a brush dipped in cold water as soon as you slide the baking sheet out of oven.

Step 11: Cooling – 2 to 3 hours.
Cool the bread on a rack or set it upright in a basket or large bowl so that air can circulate freely around each piece. Although bread is always exciting to eat fresh from the oven, it will have a much better taste when the inside is thoroughly cool and has composed itself.

Step 12: Storing French bread
Because it contains no fats or preservatives of any kind, French bread is at its best when eaten the day it is baked. It will keep for a day or two longer, wrapped airtight and refrigerated, but it will keep best if you freeze it – let the loaves cool first, then wrap airtight. To thaw, unwrap and place on a baking sheet in a cold oven; heat the oven to 400 degrees. In about 20 minutes the crust will be hot and crisp, and the bread thawed. The French, of course, never heat French bread except possibly on Monday, the baker’s holiday, when the bread is a day old.

Step 13: Canvas housekeeping
After each bread session, if you have used canvas, brush it thoroughly to remove all traces of flour and hang it out to dry before putting away. Otherwise the canvas could become mouldy and ruin your next batch of dough.

February 26, 2008

Forgive, Forget and Stuff Your Face

There are two things I love about Dorie Greenspan's recipes. First, the ingredients she uses are common items I usually already have in my pantry or fridge. Second, her instructions are clear, easy to follow and very forgiving. That last point is the most important in my case.

Another week has passed—eek! where does the time go?—and it's time for another Tuesday with Dorie. This week, Ashley of eat me, delicious chose the menu and she went for Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits. As expected, they were easy-peasy and took little time to get in the oven.

Now, on to the forgiving part. In Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie has written a whole section that talks about how to produce tall, flaky biscuits that are just-so. It's filled with tips and techniques on handling your dough to get the desired results. I have a love-hate relationship with all things that require dough, so my rolling pin rarely sees sunlight. I read (and reread and read again) that section before starting so my dough would yield the coveted tall, flaky biscuits. I had this handled ... or so I thought. Alas, my biscuits were neither tall nor flaky. They were kind of dense and a little scone-like. I didn't mind, though. They were still super delicious and I would definitely make these again. My resident tasters gave them the big thumbs-up as well. The recipe was forgiving, indeed.

Dorie suggests serving these with cold butter. That sounded tasty, but I decided to serve mine with some Earth & Vine Red Bell Pepper & Ancho Chili Jam I had in my fridge. If you've never tried this jam, I suggest you get your hands on some as soon as you can. It is the perfect balance of sweet and tangy, adding yumminess to just about anything.

Head on over to Tuesdays with Dorie to see how all the other bakers fared this week.

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
(Makes about 12 biscuits)

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cake flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/2 cup cold sour cream
1/4 cold whole milk
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, preferably toasted

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Get out a sharp 2-inch-diameter biscuit cutter and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour(s), baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a bow. Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between—and that's just right.

Stir the sour cream and milk together and pour over the dry ingredients. Grab a fork and gently toss and turn the ingredients together until you've got a nice soft dough. Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick gentle kneading—3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together. Toss in the pecans and knead 2 to 3 times to incorporate them.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour, pat the dough out with your hands or toll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don't worry if the dough isn't completely even—a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy.

Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can. Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of the first round. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Gather together the scraps, working with them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet. (The biscuits ca be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting—just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)

Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are tall, puffed and golden brown. Transfer them to a serving basket.

February 18, 2008

Let Them Eat Gâteau

I recently joined a group of baking bloggers called Tuesdays with Dorie. Each week, one member selects a different recipe from Baking: From My Home to Yours for the group to try and everyone posts about their experience on Tuesday. This week's recipe of Almost-Fudge Gâteau was selected by Nikki of Crazy Delicious.

I really liked the simplicity and understated elegance of this dessert. Since the ingredient list is short, it's important to use high-quality chocolate. Chocolate, after all, is the cornerstone of the recipe. I used Scharffen Berger and was glad I did. It was delish!

My one goof with this recipe was I think I overcooked the cake by about five minutes. You can see from some of my pictures that it was a bit crumbly when I cut it. By the very title of the recipe, I would expect a more dense, fudgy outcome. So, next time, I will probably watch the timer less and the cooking cake more.

The glaze was listed as optional. I personally couldn't see serving this any other way, as it added visual appeal and really kicked up the chocolate flavor. I might be biased since I overcooked my cake in the first place, but I still think I would feel the same had I not.

Dorie suggests serving with a dollop of crème fraîche or any flavor of ice cream. To bring out the hint of coffee in the cake and to complement the bittersweet chocolate, I served it with a scoop of Starbucks® Classic Coffee Ice Cream.

All in all, this is a great recipe and is an easy way to impress company or a significant other with little effort.

Visit the TWD member list to check out more gâteaux.

Almost-Fudge Gâteau

5 large eggs
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup of sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons coffee or water
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

For the Glaze (optional)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

Getting Ready:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust the inside of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a mixer bowl or other large bowl and the yolks in a small bowl.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and add the chocolate, sugar butter and coffee. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted; the sugar may still be grainy, and that's fine. Transfer the bowl to the counter and let the mixture sit for 3 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, stir in the yolks one by one, then fold in the flour.

Working with the whisk attachment of the mixer or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they hold firm, but glossy peaks. Using the spatula, stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest. Scrape the butter into the pan and jiggle the pan from side to side a couple of times to even the batter.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the cake has risen evenly (it might rise around the edges and you'll think it's done, but give it a few minutes more, and the center will puff too) and the top has firmed (it will probably be cracked) and doesn't shimmy when tapped; a thin knife inserted into the center should come out just slightly streaked with chocolate. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the cake rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Run a blunt knife gently around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Carefully turn the cake over onto a rack and remove the pan bottom and the parchment paper. Invert the cake onto another rack and cool to room temperature right side up. As the cake cools, it may sink.

To Make the Optional Glaze:

First, turn the cooled cake over onto another rack so you'll be glazing the flat bottom, and place the rack over a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper to catch any drips.

Put the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.

Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave oven – the chocolate should be just melted and only warm, not hot. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil in a small sauce pan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir very gently with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Stir in the corn syrup.

Pour the glaze over the cake and smooth the top with a long metal icing spatula. Don't worry if the glaze drips unevenly down the sides of the cake – it will just add to its charms. Allow the glaze to set at room temperature or, if you're impatient, slip the cake into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. If the glaze dulls in the fridge, just give it a little gentle heat from a hairdryer.

February 12, 2008

Bottle of Red, Bottle of White ... Either Works

Do you ever have those nights when you wish you could just walk in the door with dinner ready and waiting for you? I definitely do. No fishing around the pantry for ingredients or running back out the store for that one crucial piece of the recipe that you mistakenly thought you had.

While there is no promise of a personal chef in my future, there are ways to cook sophisticated, fresh meals with whatever is in the pantry or fridge. I'm not that great at this, but Nigella Lawson does this very well. Tonight I made her version of coq au vin, which actually calls for Riesling instead of the red wine traditionally associated with this dish. I didn't have exactly what the recipe called for, so substituted with items I had onhand.

Coq Au Riesling
slightly adapated from Nigella Lawson's original recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup cubed bacon
1 leek, finely sliced
2 pounds chicken breasts, each cut in half
1 750-ml bottle Riesling wine
4 cups button mushrooms, sliced
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1–2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill

  1. Heat the oil and garlic in a large skillet and fry the bacon until crisp.

  2. Add the sliced leek and soften it with the bacon for a minute or so.

  3. Tip in the chicken, wine, mushrooms and bay leaves.

  4. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil, cover the pan, and simmer gently for 30–40 minutes.

  5. Serve sprinkled with dill on a bed of noodles.

**Updated 3/24/08**
Six servings
Weight Watchers = 9 points per serving

February 7, 2008

Fry It, You'll Like It

For many years during my youth, I remember my dad getting up early on Sunday mornings before anyone else was awake. He would go out and pick up a box of doughnuts and a newspaper. By the time he returned home with the goodies, my brothers and I were usually awake and anxiously waiting for dad's return. Mom would start the coffee and the house would instantly smell like a Sunday (if that's even possible). We would spend the next hour or two reading the paper and savoring our weekly doughnuts. In reality, us kids would fight over who could read the comics first and scarf down as many doughnuts as mom and dad would allow. While such a simple memory, it is one I will never forget. Because for those few moments on a quiet Sunday morning, we not only savored our pastries, but we also spent time together as a family.

Now that I'm an adult, doughnuts aren't really working with the metabolism, if you know what I mean. Consequently, they rarely make it into the meal rotation. However, when the lovelyPeabody and Tartelette recently announced that they were hosting a Time to Make the Doughnuts event, I was hooked. All the memories of the simpler days of my childhood came rushing back. As I have changed over the years, so has my taste. Whereas in my youth I would have chosen a creme-filled chocolate bar, I opted to now make doughnuts that one might consider requiring a more discriminating palate. Spiced Potato Doughnuts. Don't let the name fool you. These are plenty sweet, but also offer plenty of spice as its name implies.

Spiced Potato Doughnuts
from Gourmet

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups mashed cooked baking potatoes, like russets, (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest, if desired
1 teaspoon vanilla
Vegetable oil, for frying

For the coating:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or, to taste

  1. Into a bowl sift the flour, the baking powder, the salt, the cinnamon, and the nutmeg. In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, the butter, the sugar, the potatoes, the milk, the zest, and the vanilla until the mixture is combined well, add the potato mixture to the flour mixture, and stir the dough until it is just combined.

  2. Chill the dough, covered, for 1 hour, or until it is cold and can be handled easily. Roll out half the dough 1/2-inch thick on a well-floured surface and with a 3 to 3 1/2-inch doughnut cutter cut out doughnuts, reserving the center pieces. With the other half of the dough either cut out round doughnuts in the same manner or shape the dough into crullers.

  3. For the crullers, roll the dough into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle about 14 by 5-inches and cut into 5 by 1/2-inch strips. To form each cruller, twist 2 strips of dough together, and pinch the ends to secure them. Fry the round doughnuts, the reserved doughnut centers, and the crullers in batches in 2 inches of 375 degrees F. oil, or until they are golden, transferring them as they are fried to paper towels to drain.

  4. Make the coating: In a shallow bowl stir together the sugar and the cinnamon.

  5. While the doughnuts are still warm, roll them, 1 at a time, in the sugar mixture, coating them well. The doughnuts keep, wrapped in plastic wrap, for 1 day.

February 2, 2008

Don't Cry for Me, Onion-tina!

Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.

~ Carl Sandberg, poet

I absolutely cannot stand cutting onions. It's not so much the process itself, but the byproduct of the act. Big crocodile tears. Whenever I cut an onion, no matter the variety, my eyes start to burn and then uncontrollably start watering. The irony of it all lies in the fact that the very item that literally brings me to tears also gives me more satisfaction and comfort than many other foods. Onion soup is by far one of my favorite meals. The flavors are so simple, yet so bold at the same time. In my world, onion soup is always (and without exception) topped with crispy bread and good-quality cheese that ends up looking like ooey gooey ribbons from the heat of the soup. Whether having a lighthearted dinner with friends or sitting back for a quiet night in, onion soup adds a feel-good vibe to any moment that very few meals can produce. For this month's Monthly Mingle, hosted by Meeta from What's For Lunch Honey?, the theme is comfort foods. I don't really have a go-to recipe for onion soup, so decided to try a new one I found that includes a little bit of port and cooking a parmesan rind in the soup. I must say that this recipe is my new favorite and has pretty much earned itself the go-to position when it comes to onion soup. No crying here now.

Classic Onion Soup with Gruyere
from Robin Miller

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large yellow or Spanish onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup port wine
6 cups reduced-sodium beef broth (I used 6 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon Beef Base combined with 6 cups of tepid water)
1 (2-inch) piece Parmesan rind
Reserved bread from bread bowls or 4 slices sourdough baguette, about 1-inch thick and lightly toasted
8 slices Gruyere cheese

All the ingredients, just add water

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and preheat broiler.
  2. Melt butter and oil together in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions and sugar and cook 10 minutes, until onions are tender and golden brown. Add thyme, bay leaves, salt, and black pepper and stir to coat. Cook 1 minute, until fragrant. Add port and simmer until liquid is absorbed. Add broth and Parmesan rind and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low, partially cover and simmer 20 minutes.

  3. Remove bay leaves and Parmesan rind and ladle soup into oven-proof bowls. Place bowls on a baking sheet. Place reserved bread rounds or a sourdough round into each bowl and top bread with Gruyere cheese. Broil 2 to 3 minutes, until cheese is golden and bubbly.