Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Zucchini and Fennel with Saffron Crumbs

Grilled vegetables with saffron crumbs

Zucchini and fennel may not appeal to everyone. They don’t make the list of your favorite everyday vegetables. But if they are properly prepared, they could be transformed into something most satisfying and aromatic. Ottolenghi did just that with this recipe in Plenty More by bringing out the distinctive anise-like flavor of fennel and making zucchini, which can be very bland, into something distinctive by grilling them.

Twice cooked saffron crumbs made with farro hazelnut bread
Grill zucchini and fennel until lightly charred

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Farro Porridge-Hazelnut Bread

saffron crumbs

Farro is another ancient grain, like quinoa, spelt or kamut berries, that have been around for centuries. A grain of farro looks and tastes somewhat like a lighter brown rice. It has a complex nutty taste, with undertones of oats and barley, and a firm, chewy texture. Farrow is versatile. I like using farro to make soup with beef bones or oxtails, making something similar to a beef barley soup, but with a richer flavor, more elegant than earnest. Farro also works well in salads. Toss it with grilled lettuce or kale brings instant luxury to otherwise simple dishes. I made some saffron crumbs using the farro porridge-hazelnut bread and toss them with grilled zucchini and fennel. (See this recipe in a separate post.) What a phenomenal combination of taste and texture packed in super nutritious food all on a single plate!

To prepare the porridge, combine two-and-a-half to three parts water and one part of whole pearl farro in a saucepan over medium heat. To make approximately 500 grams of cooked porridge, use 500 grams of water to 200 grams of dry grain. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the grains soften and become creamy, about 30 minutes. Season with salt. Spread the cooked porridge in a thin layer on a baking sheet to cool before using it in a bread recipe. This technique comes from Chad Robertson's Tartine Book No.3.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tomato and Pomegranate Salad

I made this salad with soup and bread for dinner. A few hours later, I found my husband putting together and enjoying a glorious dish: a sampling of cheeses and mixed salad greens added to the leftover tomato and pomegranate salad. I sat there and couldn’t stop admiring the mouth-watering and beautifully assembled dish in front of him.

Tomatoes are my everyday's pantry items. I would buy pomegranates when they are in season (now you see them in the markets in all seasons), and add them to fruits with yogurt and sometimes with vegetables like brussels sprouts. The translucent flesh and the sharp sweetness of the pomegranate seeds add sparkles to any dish, visually and textually. But I'd have never thought of adding pomegranate seeds and tomatoes together. Ottolenghi discovered the tomatoes and pomegranate combination in a famous kebab restaurant called Hamdi, right by the Spice Bazaar, in Istanbul. Now this sparkling dish belongs to part of my repertoire of everyday salads.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Vegetable Demi-Baguettes

Bake Baguettes for Free Speech

These are not your typical baguettes. This is not your typical time. The characteristics that make these baguettes standouts are:

• Made from straight dough, no overnight poolish or pre-ferment.

• Used freshly prepared vegetable stock, not water.

• Kneaded in the stand mixer. The interventions by hand involved dividing, pre-shaping and shaping.

• Took only four hours from start to finish, mostly waiting time.

• These are demi-baguettes, shorter than the traditional 24- to 26-inch long baguettes, suitable for home ovens.

The idea that I can get the baguettes baked within a few hours was appealing since we planed to have squash soup for dinner. I needed some simple and good-tasting bread. Vegetable baguettes would undoubtedly pair well with squash soup. This recipe, adapted from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller, starts with homemade vegetable stock. All pros prefer making their own stock, the essential building block for fine dining and, here, in bread-making! Well, the stock did double duty – as the stock base for the squash soup too.  What a convenient and efficient use of time and ingredients.

Vegetable demi-baguette and squash soup

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Pecan Sandies

The morning after I made the Nelly’s cookies for horses in remembrance of Nelly Bly, see the post here, there was a written note on the kitchen table requesting an enhanced version of the cookies for humans. “Enhanced” meaning “enriched with butter” since I explained the night before that Nelly’s cookies were put together in the simplest way by just following the typical 1:2:3 (sugar, fat, flour) ratio for cookie dough and without the fat. The Nelly’s cookie has an unadulterated, earthy, and chewy bite (that your four-legged friends are likely to enjoy), suitable for humans more as a basic breakfast cereal than a dessert cookie.

The pecan sandies came to mind; they are enriched with butter and enhanced with pecans. There are only four ingredients: sugar, butter, flour and pecans. They are made using a similar method as the Nelly’s cookies: mix, combine, roll into balls and bake. The recipe is simple, yet the texture of the cookies so nuanced, delicate and memorable that you won’t easily forget. In Bouchon Bakery, Thomas Kelly presented these pecan sandies as a tribute to his mom. What an eloquent display of how food is a powerful connecter to the indelible memories that are the fabric of our lives!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Cranberry-Pecan Harvest Bread – A Tale of Baking in Two Cities

Perfect size for one round loaf of bread
My favorite easy no-knead bread

Packed with a brand new Dutch oven and my favorite no-knead bread recipe, I set out to visit my sister E. in Bangkok and bake her some crusty wholesome breads. Who could resist the smell and taste of freshly baked bread? Maybe E. would start making some delicious breads on her own. Baking bread feeds not only my hunger for food, but the hunger for intellect and community as well. I am taking my bread-making adventure on the road!

E. and her family have just relocated to Bangkok. She is not a baker, but someone with an open and perceptive mind and a quick study. She has a Miele convection oven with which I am familiar. I can't be more pleased to see the control panel I know well and not having to read the user manual. Getting a few ingredients: flour, yeast, cranberries, raisins and pecans, I had everything under control to start making bread. So I thought.

Passed the dimple test before going into the oven
The first attempt went smoothly, with no major surprises, except the bread had some serious sticking issues. The dough was placed in the Dutch oven, greased with oil, for proofing. After about two hours, it was ready to hit the cold oven for baking. Out of the oven, we found the bread sticking to the bottom and sides of the Dutch oven. Undeterred, we dug our fingers into the heart of the warm bread like a bunch of hungry kids. It was a satisfying scrumptious treat at midnight.

Low rise coming out of the oven
Let’s step back. This is 80% high hydration dough (397 gm of water vs. 503 gm of flour). Duh, no wonder it sticks to every surface it comes into contact with: fingers, countertop, bench knife and Dutch oven. No amount of dusting with flour and greasing with oil could get around the stickiness of the dough. At home, I always use parchment paper as a sling to place the dough in the Dutch oven and leave it in there, no matter how dry (or wet) the dough is. It is a good practice. In fact, it is the best practice. Lesson learned: you'd pay for being lax on best practices.

How much protein is in this whole wheat flour? 
We were all over Bangkok on a mission searching for parchment paper, as we took breaks from sampling Thai cuisine or visiting temples. Went through aisles after aisles in every grocery store we knew of, but to no avail. Finally, we talked to a group of expat volunteers (who put out a beautiful spread of home-baked pastries and cookies) at the National Museum and quickly discovered that we should be looking for baking paper, not parchment paper, in specialty pastry supply store. Halleluiah!

In the second bake, we added whole-wheat flour, called for in the recipe, and used baking paper to prevent sticking. However, there was another problem. I mistakingly used the wrong kind of salt, iodized salt, from the kitchen countertop, instead of sea salt! The bread came out very salty and flat without much of a rise or oven spring. Salt weakens gluten development and the expansion of the loaf. Clearly the wrong dose of salt was responsible for the low rise. The other unknown was the whole-wheat flour. One of these factors or the combination of both got me stumped.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Chocolate-Rye Banana Muffins

One-of-a-kind 100% Rye Muffin, No Sugar Added
Happy New Year, fellow bakers and friends! The first bake of 2015 has to set the tone for the rest of the year: get out of the comfort zone and be foolish.

“When you try hard at everything you do, even if it feels utterly foolish to do so, you're opening up future doors and possibilities that you might not be seeing in the moment,” Ed Helms said in his Cornell’s 2014 convocation speech. I totally buy into his idea that those “foolish diversions” are the real nectar of life.

How foolish or bold can you get with muffins? A lot. First, there were no white flour or sugar to speak of. Second, there was chipotle chile pepper in there to really wake up the senses in your mouth. Third, there was low-fat diary. I reconstituted liquid buttermilk by mixing water with a dry cultured buttermilk blend powder. Muffins don’t have to be boring.

More than a few changes have been made to the double chocolate chips banana muffin recipe from Scientifically Sweet that ABC bakers are supposed to bake for the January's challenge. Please see the cheat sheet below for details. The changes are highlighted in red. Instead of all-purpose flour called for in the recipe, I used 100% rye flour in my bake. (I know I was pushing the limit here.) For those who look for gluten-free alternatives, use buckwheat flour instead. I would have used buckwheat flour but I had a difficult time finding them in the local food stores. For those who desire a conventional lighter texture in their muffins, use 50% pastry flour together with 50% rye flour as outlined in the cheat sheet.

Knock-your-socks-off moist chocolaty spicy bite

Granulated sugar was completely eliminated in this recipe. Honey and dates were used as sweeteners, supplementing the natural sweetness of ripe bananas and 72% cacao dark chocolate used in the muffins. Generally, honey and dates make successful sugar substitutes in baking quick breads.

You'd find a column of weight (in grams) measurements I have converted from and, in addition to, the volume measurements in the cheat sheet. I do not use volume measurements because it is nearly impossible to achieve the accuracy and precision needed in baking, and cooking, when you measure the ingredients by cups and teaspoons. How finely the food is chopped, how firmly it is packed, how rounding is done to get to the nearest common fraction can routinely throw off volume measurements by up to 15%, enough to diminish the quality of the recipes.

Maybe it is foolhardy to be a stickler for precision in the kitchen?

Darkest brown muffins wrapped in brightest red liners