Monday, November 28, 2016

Classic Apple Pie - King Arthur Flour #Bakealong

Baking anything classic can be challenging given all the longstanding expectations of what it should taste like and look like. I'm jumping in with both feet. It's Thanksgiving and there is no better time to serve up an apple pie. There are amazing varieties of apple to choose from. King Arthur Flour (KAF) site offers all the helpful recipes and tips to get me over the hump. I went to work after reading every line of the bakealong step-by-step walkthrough and followed the recipe faithfully.

Honey crisp is our top choice for its sweet taste and crunchy bites

This is my first attempt at a lattice crust. I used honey crisp apples because they are my family's favorite. I used the boiling cider which I purchased at the KAF store some time ago when I took a bread baking class there.

The aroma wafting through the kitchen as the pie was being baked was amazing and very apple forward. The pie crust was sturdy and much easier to work with than I've anticipated. I did not get frustrated or impatient, as I often do, when the dough refuses to cooperate. A good thing.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Brown Butter with Homemade Pasta: A Thanksgiving Special

I am very thankful to all the teachers, chefs and food lovers who have shown me how to become a better cook and have helped expand my perspective on the culture and ecology of food. On a recent visit to Tuscany, I learned to make fresh pasta from Amanda Cohen, owner and chef of Dirt Candy, a vegetable restaurant in Manhattan. I was grateful for the experience to be part of her kitchen crew, affectionately called her "A team," who helped Amanda prepare dinner for 30. I can't get that out of my head. I bought a pasta machine (a popular one made in Italy) as soon as I got home and I made fresh pasta for Thanksgiving, as an appetizer.

We made fettuccine, following the instruction booklet of the new Marcato Atlas pasta machine. (See link below for detail.) Basic recipe for the pasta dough is approximately 100 grams of all-purpose flour to one egg, or 500 grams of flour to 5 eggs, which serves six people. Added some cuttlefish ink, suggested by my daughter, we made a squid ink fettuccine by rolling the dough to the thickness setting no. 5 on the machine. It was much easier than I'd expected. That would be true also for those of you who are familiar with making bread dough. If the dough is too dry, add some water. If it is too soft, add some flour. You aim for a smooth and elastic dough that rolls out effortlessly through the machine. It's a fun project for anyone who likes playing in the kitchen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Rye Porridge Bread (Pain Bouillie) with Pistachio - BBB

A hearty, wholesome and darker shade of rye bread has enormous appeal. When Kelly of A Messy Kitchen, the host of BBB's bake of the month suggested a rye porridge bread, I was all in. Rye is a flavorful grain, but rye bread can turnout to be a dense brick or a door stopper, due to its low gluten content. A look at Kelly's nicely textured finished loaf and the recipe, the fear of another failed baking attempt is quickly laid to rest.

There are many favorable factors working for this rye bread recipe, adapted from The Village Baker by Joe Ortiz. Here are the highlights:

  • Rye porridge - Rye flour and cracked rye grain (or flakes) are soaked in boiling water and rest overnight. It serves as a preferment or a dough conditioner.
  • 50% rye / 50% white bread flour are conducive and accessible to relatively open crumb structure of the finished loaf.
  • Quick version - One teaspoon of active dry yeast sped up the rise. Two hours of bulk fermentation and 30 minutes of proofing were all the time the dough needed. The bread can be baked within a few hours of mixing the dough.
  • Shaping is not essential. Don't be too overly concerned about the sticky dough. Since the dough is risen the second time in a loaf pan and the loaf pan goes directly into the oven, overall hydration level can go as high as 95%. It is manageable. The feel of wet concrete is not unusual for this type of bread. As long as you can get (or pour) the dough in a twice greased pan, it will turn out fine.
  • Flavor and texture - Traditionally, caraway seeds are used. I kept the honey and raisins but skipped the strongly flavored caraway seeds. In fact, I added nearly a cup or 100 grams of raisins, instead of one tablespoon called for in the recipe. A mild flavor and colorful green pistachio nuts are added -- a boat load of them, for its bright visual impact.
  • With all the extra nuts and raisins, this recipe makes one large and one mini loaf. Love the mini loaf and its cute appetizer size.
  • Bake thoroughly until the internal temperature has reached 210°F, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Chocolate Dulce de Leche Tart - Cook the Book Fridays

My most memorable cooking/baking experience is one that helps inspire and expand my skill set and knowledge in the kitchen. It does not hurt if the food happens to taste or look good. This recipe comes from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. (You can see a similar tartlet recipe here.) I found this chocolate dulce de leche tart to be very rich and sweet, from the first to the last bite. There is no relief in bites in between. Not a recipe that I'd pick up and start baking. I eat a piece with some raspberries. That works for me.

What worked even better was how I prepared the dulce de leche, a glossy caramel paste, in my own kitchen, instead of using a store-bought variety. All you need is a can of sweetened condensed milk that you may have around in the pantry.

I've considered several methods in making the dulce de leche. Cooking an unopened can in simmering water. Microwaving. Pressure cooking. Slow cooking. Double boiling. Or doing it sous vide style. I finally decided on the technique of cooking an unopened can of condensed milk in simmering water for over two hours until the milk turns brown and caramelized. An easy-to-follow and uncomplicated approach that I'd surely repeat. Do keep in mind that it won't make the best tasting dulce de leche. This method produces a better version of the condensed milk in the can and cannot go that much further than that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Muesli Pistachio Country Bread: A Breakfast Bread

A bag of Bob's Red Mill muesli, which is a whole grain cereal consisting of rolled oats, wheat, rye, barley, sunflower seeds, almonds and walnuts and raisins, inspired this bread. Unlike granola, no sugar is added in muesli. The same bag of Bob's Red Mill muesli also produced some incredible rolls that are hard to forget. I don't know why I haven't made more frequent use of the muesli.

Muesli was created by Swiss nutritionist Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner at the end of the 19th century. Traditionally, the Swiss soak the dry muesli in milk and leave it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, the grains will have absorbed the liquid, plumping them up and infusing them with flavor.

In preparing both the bread and the rolls, I soaked the muesli for a few hours and let it drain so that I have better control of the hydration level of the doughs.

I added pistachios and sesame seeds in the bread dough to increase the nutrient density and the nutty flavor. These add-ins made up of 38% of the total flour weight. Furthermore, whole grain flours, a combination of buckwheat, kamut and white whole wheat made up 32% of total flour weight. This bread is perfect for breakfast to start the day or on the go whenever high-energy food is needed.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mushroom Shichimi Rice Bowl - IHCC's Buddha Bowl

When you bring this mushroom shichimi rice bowl (from Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks) close to your nose, you'll be seduced by the sweet, fragrant, citrusy, and spicy aroma of something mysterious. Good, in every sense, but not in the realm of familiar flavors, at least not what I'm accustomed to.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Miso-Curry Delicata Squash

This recipe is a model of easy-to-cook and healthy plate of food filled with vegetables, nuts and protein. And it is not a salad. I don't remember seeing a dish that combines the key ingredients of squash, tofu, potatoes, kale and pepitas. Neither have I seen a sauce combining the bold flavors of miso, from Japan, and curry paste, from Thailand.

By the way, what is delicata squash? It is a yellow streaky winter squash with edible skin that requires very brief roasting time in the oven. This vegetable dish can be served as a full meal. It fills you up with the new potatoes, which do not need to be peeled as well. Sounds almost too good to be true to get a nicely composed dish that is quick to prep, flavorful and healthful, in equal measure, until I find this Heidi Swanson's recipe in her book Super Natural Every Day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Caramel Tart: Tuesdays with Dorie

What is your guilty pleasure? Usually I put nuts, fruits and vegetables in my desserts to make the likes of apricot cake, pecan pie, beet chocolate cake, cherry clafoutis or pear tart. Simply a desire to make desserts more healthful and fruitful. To circle around a caramel tart is a bit of a stretch, for my style of baking. It may be hard for me to say no to any desserts that are put in front of me. But it's easier to say no when it comes to making them. It took a while to convince myself that making caramel could be a worthwhile exercise. Eventually, I baked the tart, which is the baking project at Tuesdays with Dorie in November. What I did not expect is how addictive, creamy and velvety this tart is. The caramel tart has now become the object of my guilty pleasure.

The sweet tart dough (page 414 in Baking with Chez Moi) is the same shortbread ccokie dough we used in making the Philadelphia blueberry corn tart this summer. This is a lovely dough and easy to work with. Dorie gives detailed instructions on how to roll out or press in the crust, and how to partially or fully bake it. Honestly, I think I could benefit from practicing to roll the dough out more thinly and evenly.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Scalloped Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Roasted Garlic

This potato gratin is more than the comfort food that David Lebovitz's has suggested in his book My Paris Kitchen. This dish stands out as substantial comfort food. Warming and incredibly satisfying.

Following the recipe, I sliced two and a half pound of russet potatoes. It went quickly with a mandolin. Then I realized that they won't all fit in my stardard gratin pan. I proceeded and pulled out my trusty 12-inch cast iron pan which fulfilled David's specification of a baking dish with sides at least two inches high. As for all manners of baking, the size of the baking pan is a consideration not to be ignored. Or else, there will be uneven baking and, worst, the unwanted messy overflow in the oven.

I love the idea of one-pot cooking in a cast iron pan. I've made bread, rolls, galettes, pot pies, stew, paella, and now a potato gratin in this pan. I own a set of inexpensive Lodge cast-iron pans. Do you know that these cast-iron pans are American classic with Chinese roots?

According to America's Test Kitchen: "For centuries before DuPont invented Teflon in 1938, people cooked in naturally nonstick pans made of cast iron. The cast iron manufacturing process originated in China in the sixth century BCE and has barely changed since.... Because of its great heat retention, cast iron has historically been a favorite material for cookware across a variety of cultures.... In U.S. history, cast iron's adaptability to open-flame cooking made it a natural fit for early American settlers and pioneers...."