Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No Knead Bread

So, the toasty chef has tried making bread a few times in the past. A couple of white loaves, a rather smaller couple of wholewheat loaves, a long running attempt to make good wheaten bread etc. Results have generally been ok but not spectacular. The toasty chef knew that in the fabled realm of professional baking steam was involved in making a really great crust, but didn't want to try some Heath Robinson technique to try to get steam into his oven. Allegedly the spray bottles and pans of water don't really work well, anyway.

Anyway, a few months ago the toasty chef's friends in Tacoma passed on the no-knead recipe featured in the New York Times. This uses two tricks. First, the dough has a very high liquid content (read big shaggy moist amoeba) and this allows the gluten to develop on its own and without kneading (hurrah!), although slowly and hence using very little yeast and a slow slow rise. The second trick is baking the bread in a preheated cast iron casserole (the toasty chef is very nervous of burnt fingers in this process). This second trick allows the crust to steam using the moisture in the dough in a confined space. Just like the grown up professional bakers manage!

The toasty chef, the lovely Mr. T and even mottled-grey dog all really love this bread and toasty chef has basically given up trying any other white bread recipes or methods.

Hmm... time for toast!

Monday, December 1, 2008

A trio of Unphotographed Delights

Bless me Father for I have sinned-I have been a bad blogger and have made three recipes without writing a letter about them- or taking any photographs. So, in an attempt to draw a line under this series of regretable events (and to avoid a long bunch of Hail Marys, Father) I have decided to write these three shadowy events up together.

First, late October seemed the perfect time to try out a pot roast, nothing like a big lump in the stomach and a thickening waistline to keep off the autumnal chill. With this idea in mind the "Red Wine Pot Roast" was attempted, with visions of french countryfolk preparing gallic soul food Or something. Anyway, a very American 3 lb chuck roast was first roasted on a bed of carrots and onions 30 minutes, turned and roasted for another hour and a half. Wine and broth were then added, and the dutch oven covered with aluminium foil, hanging down in the center to baste the roast with condensation. This was roasted at lower temperature for another hour and a half, before turning the meat and continuing for another hour ( this is one of those in-the-house-all-day recipes where you stir the pot with a spoon every hour and a half). The meat was then removed and the braising liquid strained and simmered with scum and fat scooped off. One third of this liquid was then poured over the roast which was then returned to a the oven. The roast was then basted with the rest of the braising liquid, and then regularly from the liquid in its own pot. About 30 minutes later a shiny glazed pot roast was ready to eat. A palava but the end result was very nice indeed.

Secondly, an excellent "no knead" bread recipe courtesy of the New York Times (and North-Tacoma) led to trying out Mr. Peterson's basic white bread recipe. Not the first time I have made an ordinary loaf, but it seemed like the place to begin in the bread chapter, being the first recipe and all. To begin, ingredients were mixed in Mr. T's stand mixer- which certainly beats hand kneading in my book. This was followed by giving the dough a very long, slow first rise overnight in the refrigerator, followed (after punching down) by a second rise over several hours at room temperature. Finally, the dough was shaped and baked. The final bread was pretty good, but it was a bit lacking in salt- I have been having difficulties chaning ordinary salt volumes into kosher salt equivalents- looks like times 2.5 may be about right. Learning how to tuck the dough into the "Pullman" shape for the loaf tin was really useful. Sadly, however, comparison with the "no knead" New York Times recipe did Mr. Peterson's loaf no favours at all. Unlikely now to use anything but the NYT recipe. But, hey, now we know!

Lastly, after a delicious meal at the local French Bistrot (reason for the extra "T" is unclear), the usually mild mannered Mr. T. started demanding that we replicate the excellent cauliflower soup that he had had there. To this end, Mr. Peterson was consulted, three leeks, a head of cauliflower, a large quantity of milk and a small pot of heavy cream were acquired, along with one lonely looking Yukon Gold potato. Leeks and potatoes were finely chopped and simmered in the milk before being joined by the cauliflower, broken into tiny flowers. These were cooked until soft. Up to this point all went well but the next stage of pureeing followed by straining was a right Royal pain in the ass. Pureeing worked satisfactorally in small batches in the food processor but straining, using a wooden spoon and a seive, was very very very tiresome. However, the end result had a very nice texture although the flavour was rather coarse and cabbagy. The addition of salt, pepper and importantly a 3/4 cup of cream, really tempered and refined the coarse flavour, resulting in an excellent soup. This will definitely be revisited, at which point I might actually take a picture of it!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

An Interlude-Coconut and Coriander Chicken

Due to an uncotrollable desire for the spicy and creamy (winter colds will do that to a man), I decided to abandon the tome of Mr. Peterson (I will thank the reader not to oppress me with references to the purpose of this blog!) and cook a quick curry. Inspiration (read "recipe") was drawn from my favourite cookbook writer, Nigel Slater, he of "Toast" fame. However, the decision was made at about 6pm with no curry essentials on hand, so a quick trip to Safeway (alas!) ensued. Nothing like having your tummy grumbling to speed up the shopping process!

Anyway, this recipe is from Mr. Slater's "The 30 Minute Cook", which I have sadly negelected up to now, this may change..... First cumin, mustard and coriander seeds are cooked in a dry pan for a minute. I had no whole cumin so had to add preground cumin at the next step (it may be nasty, but remember that no Maharajahs were being cooked for), when the roasted seeds are ground in a mortar and pestle. This (toasty!) powder was then mixed with a chopped chilli, grated ginger, crushed garlic and heavy cream (a meal without bacon and/or cream is hardly a meal worth looking at, in Mr. Slater's book). The resulting marinade was poured over 4 chicken thighs on the bone, in a shallow dish. At this point I think I should have removed the skin (before dunking the chicken) but the instructions weren't clear, and I didn't. I also used WAY too much cream. Hey ho- but see below!

Next, onions were cooked until soft and golden (as is often their way) and then the chicken and marinade were added to the pan. At this point I had a relevation about the likely fate of the skin (ie soggy and slimy and keeping the flavour OFF the chicken) and so I renounced the skin, which somehow found its way into the maw of Mottled-Grey-Dog. Fuzzy Grey Cat was unamused by this development. After a few minutes coconut milk was also added (to the curry, not Mottled-Grey-Dog), because there is no such thing as "too creamy", right?

Finally, dish was simmered gently for 25 minutes, rice was cooked and a curry was devoured. It was tasty, but next time I will either reduce the cream or up the spices a bit as the flavour was a little subtle when the rice entered the equation.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Vanilla Butter Cake

So today's cook was not Toasty, but Toasty's beautiful assistant, Mr. T. This explains why the second thing cooked in this blog about sequentially following a cook book was not in fact second recipe in the book (an appetiser). Instead, it was a cake.

To be precise it was a vanilla butter cake. These are cakes much beloved of Toasty, so sequential-se-schmential.

Basically the recipe just requires beating together an alarmingly large quantity of (expensive Irish) butter with baking powder, eggs, milk flour and sugar and then baking for 35 minutes, or so, at 350 farenheit. Sadly, neither Mr. T nor Toasty thought very clearly about the implications of baking powder in a cake recipe and overfilled their (low sided) pan. Cue disastrous, and very rapidly evolving mess of smoking overflowing cake mix in the oven. It was like a scene from "the Blob". Emergency measures were then adopted, involving a two man cleaning team, a gigantic fan and a disabled smoke alarm. Several cat break-out attempts had also to be foiled. Miraculously however, the batter was pretty much as it had been going into the oven (the disaster was THAT quick) so we were able to put it into two deeper pans and start again.

Even more miraculously the final result was more than satisfactory!

Cleaning the kitchen was a bitch, though....

Friday, August 29, 2008

Cheese straws

Oh dear. First recipe and already in trouble.

This is a simple recipe for an appetiser. Puff pastry baked with paprika and cheese. Mr. Peterson indicates that bought puff pastry is fine- so I unearthed the elderly box of all-butter puff pastry from Trader Joes. I then stared at it for several minutes worrying about butter rancidity after long term freezer storage. Then I shrugged and started anyway.

The puff pastry needed 10 minutes to defrost. I did this leaving it just lying on the granite tiled countertop. It sweated like buggery. Then rolling it out to the correct dimensions was a pain, largely due to its wetness (can I also moan about the tiled surface?). When it looked right-enough to claim I thought it was right (if you follow) I happily scattered my grated Gran Padano and paprika over it, folded it over and miserably failed to roll it out to the same shape, shrugged and put it in the freezer to stiffen for 10 minutes.

After those 10 minutes I realised I had forgotten that the cheese and paprika were meant to go on AFTER an egg glaze. So, tried to fix things by giving an egg wash when the pastry came out of the freezer. This of course mean't it was no longer stiff when I tried to cut it into strips and make those strips into spirals. Anyway, did a few and put them back in the freezer as instructed. this will have to be a "test run" methinks.

You know after 10 minutes in the oven they were not so bad. A little "rustic" looking, but I would say the amount of paprika was about right, if a little more cheese might have been nice. As it was I used about half of what the recipe called for, along with my single sheet of TJ puff pastry (Mr. Peterson was vague about how much puff pastry to use).

I am not so annoyed with this attempt, now. I would like to do it one more time with more care about the glaze step and keeping the pastry cold and stiff.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Getting Started

As we say in Dorkland "A beginning is a most delicate time". On the other hand a paralysis of indecision is not an impressive state either. Bottom line, I have a tonne of cookbooks and have not up to now had the discipline to actually work seriously on either my cooking skills or on my repertoire of recipes. To cut through my perennial "where should I start" and "what is the BEST way to learn" I have found a book that has been well received as a teaching aid to home cooking (this would be "Cooking" by James Peterson), bought it and now I am simply going to start following the recipes and writing up my results here. Maybe this will help my photography skills as well! Now, if we are all sitting comfortably, let us begin......