Ham & Eggs

Friday, August 14th, 2009

sandwich3Since we’ve begun baking our own bread, it is only natural that our sandwiches have begun to involve a little more thought and effort.  Marc produced a glorious loaf of Anadama bread, which I turned into simple Niman Ranch ham sandwiches with dijon, and a side of raw asparagus salad.  That loaf barely lasted a few days, so darkly sweet, even plainly toasted and smeared with butter.


Our baguettes are hit and miss.  When the shape and texture are right, it’s hard not to eat a whole one warm from the oven.  The last good round inspired egg salad sandwiches, which I laced with truffle oil and layered with white anchovies.  Scrumptious. I defy even those who are disinclined to enjoy the egg to resist egg salad made with tart, homemade mayo and truffle oil.

Squished Flat and Crispy on the Outside

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Recently, whenever we have decided to roast a chicken, we have butterflied it.   I don’t know how this started exactly, but at some point, I used some lethal kitchen shears to de-spine a chicken in order to roast it faster, and now it has become habit.   Less time in the oven means less gas usage, the meat cooks more evenly, food is on the table faster;  the only drawback is the aesthetic value of presenting a flattened chicken.

Last week we added a new dimension to  the butterfly cooking method:  squash it even flatter with a brick.  Ostensibly, this brick-method makes it Moroccan, if one is to believe Tyler Florence on the TV, but I’m not sure I do.  Regardless, it did present some twists:

  • the skin was crispier than usual owing to the extra fat being squished out and rendered, coating and crisping the skin,
  • the chicken was, naturalement, way flatter than usual,
  • the cooking time was slightly faster.



In addition to adding the brick to our collection of kitchen tools (stolen from the front garden), we finally lashed out and bought the $15 grinder to be dedicated only to grinding spices.  What took us so long?  It was so much easier to use this then trying to mortar-and-pestle them as we used to.   As it turns out, it would’ve been rough going trying to grind up the sumac berries for the za’atar by hand.    The recipe for the chicken suggested serving it with za’atar grilled bread, which was pizza dough we did on the Foreman.  Za’atar, we could’ve bought it ready-made, but since we had the spice grinder it was going to be more fun to build it on our own.


Add a little couscous spiked with toasted almonds and dried apricots, top with some cool minted yogurt, and we could be in Morocco.


Kitchen of the Future

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Weeks ago, we watched a corny Food Network special on “Kitchens of the Future”.   There was plenty of nonsense gadgetry and expensive ideas, but by far the silliest was the Microsoft Kitchen of the future.   Demo-ed by a Microsoft exec (she was female of course), the kitchen had the voice-response lighting and music controls, the baseline automation that comes with any futuristic home.   And then there were the add-ons, like the canned computer voice-response system, the recipe projection and the inventory management.   All of these “aids” were really annoying, even to watch, but by FAR,  the most aggravating feature was the real-life equivalent to that wretched paper clip;  as the woman started removing flour and yeast from the cupboards, the computer voice screeched “Looks like you are baking bread.  Do you want to see a bread recipe?”    Argh! Even typing that makes me cringe.    So the woman shouts. “YES.” and the computer projects a list of bread recipes onto the kitchen counter, through which she scrolls and then selects “Focaccia”.    “Hal” read the recipe aloud, at a pace too fast for the woman actually baking the bread, and then interrupted part of her on-camera interview as well.   She rolled her eyes and paused to shout at the computer voice to shut up stop.

The only thing that I might possibly concede as useful – though it is far outweighed by the amplification of annoyances in the kitchen – was the projected diameter for the focaccia she was rolling out.   This might make it marginally easier to roll out dough to the required diameter, if one’s head didn’t block the projection.    At any rate, MS has a looooong way to go before being welcome in my kitchen.

img_0038.jpgBut after all this, I was tempted to make focaccia.  Never made it before, and bread is always a little daunting, but what’s the worst that could happen-  over-yeasting?   wasting bread flour?   I went straight for the recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice;  the recipe was not read aloud by any annoying computer voice and no paper clips barged in on my baking.  Without a computer, I was miraculously able to turn out a rather spectacular focaccia, if I do say so myself.  Still warm from the oven, I cut wedges of the loaf in half, slathered them with fig jam, some hot coppa, a little asiago and grilled them melty on the Foreman.   Crisp, chewy perfection.

Pizzeria Domestica

Monday, August 13th, 2007

cimg6986.jpgAfter the failure of the ciabatta recipe I wasn’t psychologically prepared for another failure of loaves, so I tried out the pizza dough recipe instead with toppings from a phyllo pizza recipe we made in our first year of this blog. It was the best pizza crust we’ve ever made, much better than Oprah’s chef’s recipe. Though my gluten development still needs work, it did stretch over my fists without tearing. I wasn’t daring enough to actually toss it into the air. Perhaps next time.

The thin crust baked perfectly on our sheet pan without need for the pizza stone we’ve been eyeing for weeks. The slices were crispy enough to hold without collapsing, yet were still chewy just under the golden brown surface. Perhaps this was due to the cookbook’s directions to cook the pizza at the highest temperature possible for only 5 to 7 minutes.

Now I just need to find some exceptional mozzarella and a recipe for great pizza sauce.


Thursday, August 9th, 2007

cimg7001-320.jpgIf you look carefully, you’ll notice one item on this list is not crossed off; we finally found a food that the magical land of Berkeley could not provide.  Of all things, goat.  I even called around to butchers and halal meat markets, and the artisan butcher at the market;  the best response I got was to “try again around Easter”.    And I’m not sure, but I think that’s because the Muslim holiday of Id-al-Adha, at which much goat feasting occurs, might fall in early April(??).   I could be wrong, maybe that’s just when baby goats are at their most tender.  (Meat is Murder.  Tasty, tasty murder.)

The reason I went to the trouble to find a goat’s shoulder  is because of the annual article in Food & Wine magazine on the Best New Chefs of the year, in America.   The youngest of the 2007 crop is Johnny Monis who makes this Pappardelle with Milk-Roasted Baby Goat Ragù at Komi in Washington, DC, and the description made it irresistible.  cimg6951-320.jpgNevermind that it is the middle of summer and hot as an oven inside our west-facing kitchen in the evenings, I could just imagine the delicate, slightly gamey,  savoury taste of this slow-cooked, oven-braised meat over pasta.  It had to be done.

Upon giving up on the goat, I settled on veal (because something young and innocent had to die in order for me to eat).   But there was a pleasant surprise in store for me at the gourmet grocery because when I went to pick out a can of tomatoes, I was amazed to find Rao’s canned tomatoes.   I hadn’t thought about that place for years but for awhile, I had kind of had an odd fixation on that particular restaurant in New York.  I’ve never been there, never even seen it, but I’ve read enough about its legendary status to be more than a little curious.   I read somewhere that reservations are nearly impossible for mere mortals (i.e. me) to obtain and quite hard to get even for immortals (i.e. celebreties).  What made the place even more curious is that, if one has enough money and clout, one can own a table at the restaurant, which will be made available immediately upon request.  Imagine!  Owning a reserved table at a restaurant!   Anyway, the idea of an eatery taking things to such an outrageous level stuck with me so when I saw their tomatoes on the shelf here in California, I knew that if I bought them, I could eat like an immortal.

I did indeed braise the meat in milk, as per the recipe, and I let the ragù rest overnight so as to allow the flavours to properly meld, but did not go so far as to hand-make pasta without a pasta machine.  I am dedicated to cooking, but not crazy;  we picked up dried, organic papparadelle.

cimg6935-320.jpgDid I mention that I made bread to go with it?  My first ever attempt at bread making:  pain à l’ancienne, a crispy, chewy baguette which, by the way, turn into rock solid pieces of fossilized bread if you leave them out overnight wrapped in  towel.   But I digress.  The resulting meal that we enjoyed the following day was marvelously decadent and the only thing that could possibly have made it better was if it was cold outside.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

cimg6899.jpgI was eyeing a bread baking book at Chapters before leaving on our around the world trip. Now that we’ve returned and I’ve been making bread again, I picked up The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart, to further develop my baking skills and fulfill my craving for artisan bread. My ciabatta recipe from Epicurious wasn’t doing it for me–dense and crumbly, completely lacking ciabatta’s distinctive big, shiny holes.

Before trying the new ciabatta I had to try the sticky bun recipe as I have fond memories of a place at the mall in Fort McMurray selling excellent sticky bun knots. Just the sight of the glaze–1/2 pound of butter, 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of corn syrup– nearly cimg6887.jpggave Janet a heart attack and that was in addition to the 1/2 cup of sugar that was rolled into the buns. Baking the buns was a bit of a challenge because the dough need to cook through to the bottom and the glaze needs to carmelize without turning into rock candy. In the end, most of the glaze was a little too stiff, but still tasty. If I had rotated the pan half way through and took them out five minutes earlier, they would have been perfect bakery-quality buns. Surprisingly, the glaze softened over the next 48 hours.

The ciabatta was a disaster. The book told me exactly what the dough texture was suppose to be and I didn’t have it. The dough was clearly too stiff and not the soft, silky mass they described. It was baked into three edible loaves of dense crumbly bread. Perhaps mixing baking and wine at 11:00 at night is not to be repeated.