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French Bread

22 Nov

In honor of today being my birthday, I am posting my absolute favorite recipe of all time: french bread.  In keeping with both my, and many of my friends’, ongoing efforts to cook from scratch, craft, draft, build, hammer, plant, knit, eat, think and dream for ourselves and with ourselves – with the help of friends and local artisans and experts, of course – I decided this summer that I would make my own bread too.  I started shopping around for a breadmaker but came across Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible first.  I thought, why not give the old elbow grease and oven method a try before spending a minor fortune on a machine that would do it for me.

I haven’t looked back.  There is nothing better than fresh bread from the oven, made from scratch, molded by hand.  And all it takes is a bowl, a whisk, an oven and a little muscle.  Hensperger’s book has changed my entire thinking about cooking; it has really changed my life.  These days, when I’ve had a bad day, all frustration is spewed out and soaked up into the yeasty, welcome embrace of my bread.  I whisk that dough like I’m slashing through thick forest of problems.  And then I kick its ass.  I punch it and toss it and squeeze it until I simply don’t want to anymore.  Because there’s no rules in bread.  It’s done when you say it’s done.  It’s done right when you like it.  My bread and I reconcile during kneading, as my fingers get submerged in its warm and sticky embrace.  And at the end of it all, there’s me, and there’s this springy little ball of purposeful dough standing ready for what may come.

When I’ve had a good day, you may spot me through my 3rd story window, prancing from room to room, whisking away at my bowl while jibberjabbing about my day to Tom or to another friend who’s stopped by.  I’ve been known to dance to some tunes while kneading (it helps, trust me).  Hensperger compares kneading to Tai Chi, but I don’t have the patience for all that.  For me, it’s a goofy looking dance at best, but we all relax in our own ways.

The real joy of making bread is the act of using your hands, getting them dirty, covered in dough balls, physically contributing to the bread’s creation.  You know that bread.  You know what it’s made of and where it came from and how it was molded into what you’re now eating.  It’s a little work and that work makes it so much more rewarding.

And to think, I almost bought the breadmaker…

2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees F)

1 1/2 tablespoons dry active yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon salt

3 cups bread flour

2 – 3 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

Sprinkling of cornmeal

Bubble: Pour water into a large bowl.  Spread yeast and sugar over the surface of the water.  Whisk to combine.  Let this mixture rise and bubble for 10-15 minutes, or until the surface appears foamy and bubbly.

Whisk: Add 2 cups bread flour and whisk until fully combined (3-5 minutes).  Add remaining bread flour and all-purpose 1/2 cup at a time.  Whisk thoroughly until fully combined before adding the next 1/2 cup.  I usually use only 2 cups of the all-purpose flour, but continue adding flour until the dough just pulls away from the edges of the bowl.

Knead: Flip the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead the bread for 5-10 minutes or until a springy ball of dough is formed.  Add flour to hands and surface as required to prevent sticking.

Rise: Lightly oil a large bowl.  Place dough in the oiled bowl, flipping the dough once to lightly cover the entire surface in oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  You can either place the bowl in the fridge overnight or place the dough at room temperature for 1 -2 hours*

Prep: If you have a pizza/bread stone, use it.  If not, any old baking pan will do.**  Preheat the oven to 450 and keep the pizza stone in the oven as it preheats so the stone is nice and hot when you start baking.  This will allow the bottom of the bread to crisp evenly with the rest.  As the oven preheats, flip the dough back out onto a lightly floured surface and break into 3 even pieces.  If the dough seems too sticky, knead in additional flour as needed.  Shape the three portions either into round balls for loaves or long ovals for baguettes.  Cover with the plastic wrap and allow to rise as the oven preheats (approximately 30 minutes).  As the bread rises and the oven preheats, whisk 1 egg into 1-2 tablespoons water in a small bowl.

Bake: Pull the stone from the oven and sprinkle the surface with cornmeal.  This will prevent sticking and add a nice texture to the base of the bread.  Place the 3 loaves/baguettes onto the stone.  Cut a shallow “x” into the top of each loaf or slice 3 shallow lines across the top of the baguette. Glaze the outside of the bread with the egg/water mixture.  This will create a crispy and shiny crust.  Turn the oven down to 400 degrees and spray or flick a little water into the oven.  Again, this will help create a crispy crust.  Then place the stone with bread into the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes (or until the crust reaches the desired crispness and color).

Cool: Pull the bread off the stone as it will remain hot for quite a while.  At this point, most good cooks would suggest allowing the bread to cool, but let’s be serious, the bread is best when it’s hot out of the oven.  I can rarely resist breaking of a piece to try while it is hot enough to melt a little olive oil, cheese or butter.  However, for storage purposes, you will want to let it cool before placing it in a bag on your counter.  The bread usually lasts 2-3 days at room temperature.

Adapted from the French Bread recipe in Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible

* I have found that the bread turns out best if you can allow it to rise for 1-2 hours at room temperature, press the bread back into the bowl, then allow it to rise for another 1 hour after that.  However, since every day can’t be Sunday and seriously, who has a spare 3 hours after work, before night classes and between drinks with friends?  I usually use the overnight method and it still turns out just fine.

**I strongly recommend investing in a stone (or asking for one for your birthday or stealing one from you parents’ gigantic, awesome collection of long-unused kitchen gear, which is clearly what Tom and I have done) because it simply bakes everything better.  Every kind of bread and pizza simply turns out better on a stone.  And it keeps your food warm for quite a while after you’ve pulled it out of the oven.

Haitian Independence Soup

14 Nov

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 yellow onion, small diced

2 carrots, small diced

3 ribs celery, small diced

1 turnip, peeled and diced

1 large potato, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

1 cube vegetable bouillon

SOFTEN: Place cubed butternut squash in large pot.  Cover with water and add sugar.  Bring to a boil.  Simmer until squash is completely softened (15-20 minutes).

PUREE: Using an immersion blender (or blender or food processor) puree water, sugar and butternut squash combination until smooth.  Set aside and keep warm.

SAUTE: Heat 1 spin of olive oil over medium heat in a large pot.  Add carrots, celery and onion.  Saute until softened (5-7 minutes).  Add turnips, potatoes and salt & pepper (as desired).  Stir and cook for another few minutes (3-5 minutes).  Add garlic, stir and cook one additional minute.

SIMMER: Add butternut square puree to the other veggies.  Add water to desired consistency, if needed.  Add bouillon cube, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste.  Stir in cilantro.  Simmer together, the longer the better (at least 15-20 minutes).

Adapted from Chantal Powell in Soup & Bread Cookbook

This is the first recipe in the newly published Soup & Bread Cookbook.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Soup & Bread, be sure to check them out.  S&B was started by Martha Bayne who was bored of spending cold, not-so-busy Wednesday nights tending bar at The Hideout so she invited some friends by to make some soup, share, mingle and eat.  She encourages local professional and amateur chefs to bring crockpots filled with their favorite soup or some tasty loaves of bread to share.  Everyone pitches in a donation which is then given to local charities, particularly the Chicago Food Depository.  She also has plenty of tips for getting similar initiatives started in other cities.   S&B is a great homage to soup itself, which has been building community, stretching foods to help ease hunger and keeping us warm through many winters.   Be sure to come out for the next S&B series in Chicago which starts this January.   The S&B Cookbook is a compilation of favorite soups brought to S&B over the years, with helpful tips and entertaining stories on using soup to foster community building.

This recipe is absolutely delicious.  Adding just a touch of sugar to the butternut squash as it boils adds a subtle sweetness, almost similar to sweet potatoes.  I added a little cayenne pepper which created a nice balance of spicy and sweet.  I love the simplicity, adding only cilantro to spice it up; yet simmering the cilantro into the soup prevented the cilantro from overpowering the it which I’ve found cilantro has a tendency to do.  Great start to an excellent cookbook.  More soup recipes to come..it’s only November.

Blueberry-Peach Focaccia

25 Jul

1-1/3 cups warm water (105 degrees to 115 degrees F)

1 pkg. active dry yeast

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. sugar

3-1/4 to 3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

tsp. kosher or coarse sea salt

peaches

cup fresh blueberries

Tbsp. sugar

tsp. vanilla

to 3 Tbsp. small fresh basil leaves (optional)

1.In a small bowl combine the warm water, yeast, 3 Tbsp. of the olive oil, and 1 tsp. sugar.

Let stand 5 minutes or until bubbly.

In a large bowl combine 3 cups of the flour and 1 tsp. of the salt. Add yeast mixture to flour mixture. Stir until combined. If necessary, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a dough.

Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough that is nearly smooth but still slightly sticky (about 3 minutes).

Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning once.

Cover. Let rise in a warm place until double in size (1 to 1-1/2 hours).

2.Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with parchment paper; lightly oil paper. Turn dough into prepared pan and gently press evenly into the pan. Loosely cover; let stand in a warm place while halving, pitting, and slicing peaches.

3.Arrange peaches and blueberries atop dough in pan. Sprinkle with 3 tbsp. sugar and the remaining 1 tsp. salt. In a small bowl stir together remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil and the vanilla. Drizzle over focaccia.

4.Bake about 30 minutes or until peaches are softened and bread is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with basil just before serving. Makes 24 servings.

Make-ahead: After placing dough in the oiled bowl, cover and chill dough up to 24 hours. Let dough stand at room temperature for 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until the dough is double in size. Continue as directed in step 2.

Better Homes and Gardens, August, 2010

This is one of my favorite sweet snacks and/or desserts to bring to bigger get-togethers.  It’s both salty and sweet, light and fruity, soft and crunchy.   I also think it allows for some fun experimentation – you could substitute strawberries or raspberries for the blueberries, plums or plucots for the peaches.   You can get creative with the fruit arrangements.  And so far I’ve never served this to anyone who didn’t like it.  Perfect for hot summer block parties and cooler evening grill-outs.

Grilled Grape Leaf-Wrapped Goat Cheese

12 Jul

6 to 8 grape leaves (sold in a jar), drained, rinsed and patted dry
1 3/4-to-1-pound round piece goat cheese, such as bucheron, at room temperature (or 2 smaller pieces, stacked)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt
Crusty bread, for serving

Preheat a grill to medium high. Wrap the grape leaves around the cheese to cover it completely; tie with kitchen twine.

Brush the wrapped cheese with olive oil and grill, turning once, until the leaves begin to char and the cheese is soft, 5 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix 1/4 cup olive oil, the rosemary, red pepper flakes and salt to taste in a bowl.

Transfer the warm cheese to a serving plate, pour the oil on top and remove the twine. Serve with bread.

Food Network Magazine, June 2010

This recipe absolutely made my Sunday night.  This is so incredibly simple, but packs enough flavor that you’ll be thinking about those last few bites for days.  Tom and I made this as an appetizer for our Shrimp and Charred Lemon and Zucchini dinner.  There is nothing better than sitting out on a hot summer night, drinking chilled white wine, playing dominoes and eating this.  If you’re free tonight…

My food pyramid already has a solid base of cheese, beer and chocolate.  Slightly melted, warm goat cheese is downright dangerous.  Add a little olive oil, rosemary and crushed red pepper and I’m a goner.  Plus, its always an extra bonus when I find new ways to use my 5+ year-old rosemary plant in new and easy ways (hands-down, the easiest herb to grow).  Goat cheese is the perfect choice for its sweet, tart flavor and it maintains its shape during grilling better than most alternatives might.  The rosemary adds the perfect earthy spice which complements the slight acidity of the brined grape-leaves.  Crushed red pepper for a bit of spice and you have created the perfect starter.  Perfect for date nights or hosting friends.  Serve with sourdough or nice french bread.

Shrimp with Charred Lemon and Zucchini

12 Jul

16 jumbo shrimp, unpeeled, legs removed (about 1 3/4 pounds)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon grated peeled ginger1 teaspoon hot paprika
Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 medium zucchini, cut into 2 1/2-by-1/2-inch sticks
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsleyToasted sourdough bread, for serving.

Preheat the broiler. Use a sharp knife to make a slit through the shell along the back of each shrimp. Remove the vein, leaving the shell intact. Rinse and pat dry, then transfer to a large bowl.

Whisk 1/4 cup olive oil, the ginger, paprika, 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste in a bowl.

Add half of the dressing to the bowl with the shrimp and toss.  Add the lemon and zucchini to the remaining dressing  and toss, then spread on a large foil-lined baking sheet. Broil until the lemon and zucchini begin to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the shrimp and broil until the shells are pink, about 3 minutes. Turn the shrimp, lemon and zucchini and broil 3 to 4 more minutes.

Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, the parsley and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Divide the shrimp, lemon and zucchini among plates and drizzle with the parsley oil. Serve with bread.

Food Network Magazine, July 2010

After stuffing yourself with burgers, brats and loads of potato salad over the 4th of July weekend, this light dish may be just what the doctor ordered.  Rather than broiling, we wrapped the veggies in tin foil and tossed them on the grill so we could enjoy a hot summer night outside (rather than broiling ourselves to heat stroke in our un-air-conditioned apartment).  If you don’t have hot paprika on hand, you can substitute sweet paprika and a little cayenne pepper instead.  After cooking the zucchini/lemon toss for about 5-7 minutes, we added the shrimp to the foil packet and continued grilling until the shrimp turned its tell-tale pink.  We grilled slices of sourdough until lightly browned during the last few minutes of cooking and this was absolutely delicious.  Pairs perfectly with a nice dry white wine.   I also recommend starting with the Grape-Leaf Wrapped Goat Cheese.

Easy Summer Pico de Gallo

4 Jul

3 tomatoes, chopped

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 mangos, peeled, seeded and chopped

1-2 jalapenos (depending on your spice-tolerance/preference), seeded and finely chopped

3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

1 lime

2 avocados

1. Combine chopped tomatoes, red onion, mango, jalapeno and cilantro in a medium-sized bowl.  Add fresh-squeezed juice from 1 lime.  Stir to combine.  Add salt to taste.  Place mixture in the refrigerator until ready to serve, preferably overnight.

2. Before serving, add chopped avocados and stir to combine.  Serve with tortilla chips.

I have to give primary credit for this recipe to Mary McMullin who asked me to come up with a salsa to serve with simple grilled chicken breasts, using her 2 mangos, a few tomatoes and an avocado.  I insisted that we add onion and jalapeno to spice it up and have since added the lime which helps to preserve the ingredients and adds a nice citrusy splash.  I just served this on a camping trip in Michigan.  I divided the batch into two servings, tossed them in the cooler and added 1 avocado per serving to keep it fresh.  Great way to use those farmer’s market tomatoes and serve a big crowd.  You can also mix it up by adding different peppers such as any bell pepper or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

Pepper-Corn Chowder

14 Feb
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup  chopped onion
  • 1 leek, cleaned and chopped
  • 5 cups  loose-pack frozen whole kernel corn
  • 2 14-ounce cans  reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 medium  red sweet pepper, chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon  ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon  cayenne pepper
  • 3 threads  saffron (optional)
  • Snipped fresh chives and/or ground black pepper (optional)

Coat a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. Heat over medium heat about 1 minute. Add onion and leek; cook about 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.

Add corn. Cook about 5 minutes or until corn softens, stirring occasionally. Add 1 can of the chicken broth. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes or until the corn is very tender. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Transfer half the corn mixture to a blender or food processor; cover and blend or process until smooth. Return the pureed corn mixture to mixture in the Dutch oven.

Add the remaining 1 can broth, the sweet pepper, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, cayenne pepper, and, if desired, saffron. Heat through. If desired, garnish with snipped fresh chives and/or additional ground black pepper.

Better Homes & Gardens, February 2010

Overall this chowder has a nice sweet and spicy flavor.  The jalapeño and cayenne add the perfect amount of heat and a hint of smokiness.  The colors make it inviting and springy.  In fact, this is the perfect soup for spring because it’s not too thick or heavy and it culminates some of the best flavors of summer with the corn/pepper combo.

I did make some modifications.  I added half an jalapeno at the same time I added the corn.  I also used an immersion blender rather than blending half in a blender/food processor because I thought it would be easier.  If you use this method, simply blend until you reach the desired consistency.  As usual, I used veggie broth instead of chicken broth to make it vegetarian-friendly and I might recommend adding just a touch of salt if you take this option.

I also recommend adding all of the broth after cooking the corn to allow the flavors more time to meld.  I thought the soup was better left over but adding all of the broth before cooking would have likely had the same effect.

Cheese and Shrimp-Stuffed Poblanos

15 Jan

  • 1  red bell pepper
  • 8  poblano peppers
  • 2  tablespoons  olive oil
  • 1  pound  peeled and deveined medium shrimp, chopped
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt, divided
  • 5  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
  • 1/4  teaspoon  ground red pepper
  • 1/2  cup  half-and-half
  • 3/4  cup  fat-free milk, divided
  • 3/4  cup  (3 ounces) shredded Chihuahua cheese
  • 2  tablespoons  chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2  tablespoons  fresh lime juice

Preparation

1. Preheat broiler.

2. Cut bell pepper in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place bell pepper halves, skin sides up, and whole poblanos on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened, turning poblanos to blacken all sides. Place peppers in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel. Finely chop bell peppers. Cut tops crosswise from poblanos; remove seeds.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle shrimp with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add shrimp to pan; cook 3 minutes or until done. Remove from pan.

4. Add garlic to pan; sauté 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Sprinkle with flour and ground red pepper; cook 1 minute. Slowly add half-and-half, stirring with a whisk. Stir in 1/2 cup milk; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; let stand 2 minutes. Add cheese and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring until smooth. Place 1/3 cup cheese mixture in a large bowl; reserve remaining cheese mixture. Add bell pepper, shrimp mixture, cilantro, and juice to 1/3 cup cheese mixture in bowl; toss to coat. Stir 1/4 cup fat-free milk into reserved cheese mixture. Spoon 3 tablespoons cheese sauce onto each of 4 plates. Spoon 6 tablespoons shrimp mixture into each poblano. Place 2 stuffed poblanos and two tops on each plate.

Cooking Light, January 2010

This is one of my all-time favorites.  It is incredibly spicy, definitely not for the weak in tongue (or stomach).  I recommend serving over a plate of my Spanish Rice recipe.  The grains of the rice combined with the dairy in the shrimp/cheese blend tame the heat a little.  You could also serve as an appetizer for a special occasion (or no occasion at all – the best time for indulging).   This was the first recipe I made since I got back from California and an awesome way to jump back into cooking after a little reprieve.  It combines my favorite spanish flavors, reminding me of chile rellenos and ceviche all rolled up in one.  Note that the roasting and peeling of the peppers takes a little time and effort, but it is worth the wait.  I made it on a weeknight after work and went to a show after so it’s not too bad.  I recommend serving with a lighter ale (such as Floyd’s Gumball Head or Pride and Joy) or a dry white wine.  Great for company!

Ricotta, Gorgonzola and Honey Spread

29 Dec

1 15-oz. carton whole milk ricotta cheese

6 oz. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

1/2 tsp. snipped fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp. dried thyme, crushed

1/4 tsp. snipped fresh rosemary or 1/8 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed

1 Tbsp. honey

36 toasted baguette slices

Sliced apples, fresh thyme, and/or toasted chopped walnuts

Honey

1. Place ricotta in a large mixing bowl.  beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Stir in Gorgonzola, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon rosemary until combined.  Fold in 1 tablespoon honey until just combined.  Spoon mixture into a serving bowl.  Cover and chill 1 to 24 hours.

2. To serve, spread on baguette slice and top with apple slices, thyme and/or walnuts.  Drizzle with honey.

Makes 36 appetizer servings.

Better Homes and Gardens, December 2010

I made this one for Christmas and it was perfect for just such an occasion.  Rosemary and Thyme have both always reminded me of the smell of pine trees and everyone kept saying they tasted just like Christmas.  Perfect!  The honey works to soften up the otherwise coarse cheeses and helped create a creamy finish.  Total genius.

Butternut Squash Bisque

26 Dec

1 2-3 lb butternut square or 3 12-oz pkgs. frozen winter squash, thawed

1/4 cup butter

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped

1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 large Braeburn or Gala apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 48-0z box reduced sodium chicken broth

1 cup apple cider or apple juice

2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup sour cream

3 oz. smoked Gouda or smoked cheddar cheese finely shredded

Crumbled cooked bacon, celery leaves and/or shaved gouda cheese (optional)

1. Peel, seed and cube butternut squash.  In a 6 qt. Dutch oven, melt butter over medium high heat.  Add fresh squash (if using frozen squash add with apples and broth), onion, carrot, celery and garlic.  Cook, stirring frequently, 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Add apples, broth, cider and chipotle peppers.  Bring to boiling; reduce heat.  Cover; simmer 25 minutes or until vegetables and apples are tender.  Remove from heat; cool slightly.

2. When slightly cooled, puree in pot using an immersion blender (or puree in batches in a blend; return soup to sauce-pan.)  Bled in sour cream.  Heat through.  Remove from heat; stir in shredded Gouda until melted.  Top with bacon, celery leaves and/or Gouda cheese.

Servings: 8

Better Homes & Gardens

This is one of my all-time favorites.  The chipotle and Gouda creates a nice smoky flavor and the chipotle also makes the bisque perfectly spicy.  You can use vegetable broth to keep this dish vegetarian-friendly.  I always use fresh squash and apple cider, both of which keep the bisque incredibly flavorful.  Perfect for a fall or winter day.