Sunday, July 21, 2013

No Place Like Home for the Challah Days

I was in the mood for a good bread today--the whole afternoon lay before me and I imagined it filled with delicious aromas and flour to my elbows.

Ultimately, this panned out (heh, heh, sorry.) Breadmaking takes a bit more time than your average recipe, even if you don't go the cold fermentation route. It can be extremely taxing on the heart to begin a bread recipe one day and be stalled by the directive: "Refrigerate overnight." Oof! I could not do that to myself. Not on a Sunday. So instead I opted for warm proofing.

But I'm getting ahead of myself!

Challah. An eggy bread similar to brioche. The baking process called for lots of waiting periods as the dough inched its way skyward, and I filled with time with pacing and Veronica Mars episodes.

The complications begin after the dough completes its first couple of rises. Then you must perform the braiding, which isn't that difficult once you have the steps down! I've seen a few methods on the internet, but here is the most straightforward and easiest. Thank you so much, fellow baker!

Simply separate the dough into six balls, then form those balls into strands about 12 inches long and 1 - 1 1/2 inches wide.

Place the strands parallel to each other and pinch them at the top to hold together.

Then braid!

Once both loaves are made, I brushed them generously with eggwash (using my brush to paint with the direction of each braid section), then let them rise for another hour before another eggwashing, followed by a sesame-seed-sprinkling.

Finally time to bake!

And enjoy!

Six-Strand Challah (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 2 loaves.

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon, plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing bowl and pan
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon table salt
8 cups flour
Sesame seeds for sprinkling

1. In a large bowl (or bowl to stand mixer if using), dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in water.
2. Whisk in olive oil, then beat in 4 eggs (one at a time) before adding 1/2 cup sugar and salt.
3. Slowly add in flour, whisking as you go along. Once all the flour is added, use dough hook attachment of mixer, operating on the lowest speed, for about three minutes until smooth. Turn dough out onto floured surface and form into ball.
4. Clean out mixing bowl, grease the inside with olive oil, then return dough to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and proof for one hour in a warm area, until dough has doubled in size. (I heated my oven to 150 and then turned it off before placing bowl inside to proof.)
5. Uncover dough, punch down, then rewrap. Return to warm area for thirty minutes.
6. Uncover dough again. Divide dough in half. Starting with first half, form into six balls. Form each ball into a "rope" about 12 inches long and 1 - 1 1/2 inches long. Set strands parallel to one another, then pinch together at the top.
7. Begin to braid the strands. Take the rightmost strand and pull it over two strands, under one strand, then over the last two. Begin again with new rightmost strand. Over two, under one, over two. Continue--using rightmost strand each time--until dough is fully braided. Repeat process with second half of dough.
8. Place both loaves on a greased cookie sheet, at least two inches apart. Beat remaining egg and brush loaves generally with eggwash.
9. Let rise again for another hour. Then brush again with eggwash before sprinkling sesame seeds.
10. Preheat oven to 375. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes, until bread is deeply golden. Let cool on wire rack.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Stuffed Artichokes in a Summer Supper

I'm still getting acquainted with artichokes, but I think I might love them. I might even love them so much that I'll stop saying, "Okey dokey, artichokey!" Because that would be taking the magnificent artichoke's name in vain (not because it is...hokey.)

My previous relationship with these creatures--and when I say creature, I think of when I was in the reptile house at the zoo with my boyfriend and I said, "Oh, what is this creature?!" and it turned out to be a cactus in the terrarium--consisted mainly of spinach and artichoke dip or other inclusions where they weren't quite masked but did not present their full strange beauty.

During the preparation, I didn't actively feel like a gardener, but looking back--I really wish I had been wearing a sunhat and overalls. (I wish this on many occasions.) Lopping off the stem, yanking off the outer leaves, trimming the tips. Next thing you know, I'll be art(ichoke)fully arranging them around my house. Just wait!

The lemon is rubbed on the cut edges of the artichoke to prevent discoloration while cooking. I think my mistake was using a not-so-fresh lemon, as I did not get as much juice out of it. Therefore, the outside browned a bit, but the inside remained lovely! So here's my advice: juicy, juicy lemons.

Stuffing was fairly simple. Once I pulled the 'choke apart with my thumbs, I sprinkled the stuffing mixture (breadcrumbs, freshly grated Parmesan, parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper) inside, shaking it to make sure the sprinkles reached deep.

See? Already with that discoloration. Lesson learned!

While the artichokes--covered in greased foil--baked, I carried on with the rest of dinner: chicken marinated in a lemon thyme and white wine vinaigrette and green beans simmered with tomato and garlic.

And then the artichokes came out!

And--after shutting up the hungrier, more inquisitive cat--we ate!

Stuffed Artichokes
Serves 2.

2 large artichokes
3/4 cup bread crumbs
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1. Chop off the stem from each artichoke so that it will sit flat. Remove tough outer leaves and trim tips from remaining ones. Spread apart the leaves with your thumbs.
2. Preheat the oven to 425. In a medium bowl, combine breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup Parmesan, parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Holding an artichoke over the bowl, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over it, shaking to ensure the mixture reaches deep down into the artichoke.
3. Put the artichokes into a shallow baking dish. Rub a tablespoon of olive oil over the top of each one. Take a sheet of foil and rub the remaining tablespoon of oil on one side. Cover the baking dish with the foil, oil-side down.
4. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove dish from oven, uncover, and sprinkle remaining cheese on top of each artichoke. Switch oven to broiler and return dish to oven for three minutes.
5. Serve!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fish in Crazy Water (Pesce all'Acqua Pazza)

Those Italians. Beautifully vivid with their recipe names. You can almost picture a cartoon mustachioed chef with steam rocketing out of his ears, elevating his quaking leather boots from the ground as he tests out this so-called crazy water.

Truth be told, it is a little zany.

A few lessons learned from this recipe:

1. A little crushed red pepper goes a loooong way. I guess that's effect produced by the long-simmer. The flavors meld and spotlight the spice.
2. My new kitchen smokes up right quickly. Thankfully there's a powerful vent, but the noise and air did detract somewhat from my inhaling of the aromatics.
3. Speaking of aromatics! The Italian term for a bundle of lovely smells sauteed in olive oil (here I used oregano and parsley) is soffritto. I imagine it's somewhat related to the French mirepoix, which refers to the usual suspects (onions, carrots, celery, what have you) used in making a stock.
4. Must work quickly with a gas stove and thinly sliced garlic. When initially sauteeing the garlic, I had to shake the pan a lot to keep the garlic from sticking. Using a wooden spoon would have caused it to clump.
5. The combination of grilled corn and pesto is more of a winner than the Dillon Panthers.

I used pollock for the fish here, mainly because I was looking for something not-too-pricey that didn't bring a strong flavor (here's looking at you, salmon) along with it. Pollock did a great job at absorbing the flavor of the tomato and spices while still bringing along its own pleasant fishiness.

To complement the hydrating psychosis, I chose a couple of other summer standards with a bit of Italian flair. I cannot get enough of tomatoes and corn right now. Grilling them? Even better. The additions of a balsamic-based marinade (for the tomatoes) and a heaping dose of pesto ladled over the ear of corn and I was practically mopping my plate to ensure nothing fell by the wayside.

Fish in Crazy Water (Pesce all'Acqua Pazza) [adapted from Cooks Illustrated]
Serves 2 - 3.

4 fillets pollock (the kind I purchased were very narrow)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 small red onion, halved and sliced thinly
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
4 stems parsley and 2 sprigs fresh oregano, tied together with kitchen twine (soffritto)
1 cup chicken stock (or dry white wine, which I would have preferred to use but forgot to purchase)
2 cups water
Juice from one lemon

2 ears corn
1/4 cup pesto

2 large Creole tomatoes, cored and halved
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano

1. In a 9x13 baking dish, whisk together balsamic, garlic powder, oregano, salt, and pepper. Placed tomatoes face down in dish and let marinate at room-temperature for 15 - 20 minutes.
2. In a 12-inch skillet, heat up olive oil over medium-high. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Shake the pan to keep garlic from sticking. Cook until pale golden.
3. Add in red onion slices, stirring constantly, until onion is translucent and beginning to brown.
4. Pour in chicken stock, water, cherry tomatoes, and the soffritto. Lower heat to medium and let simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Meanwhile heat grill pan to medium-high, drizzling it with a bit more olive oil. Add tomatoes (hollow-side down) and ears of corn. Grill tomatoes for two minutes before flipping. Remove after another five to six minutes, as tomato starts to caramelize. Grill corn, turning frequently and brushing with oil, until browned on all sides.
5. Carefully slide fish fillets into broth mixture. Reduce heat to low, cover pan, and let cook for another 10 minutes.
6. Serve by halving fish fillets, placing them in a bowl, then ladling the broth (along with onions and tomatoes) over the fish. Squeeze lemon juice and sprinkle parsley over each bowl.
7. Ladle pesto over corn.
8. Enjoy!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Strawberry Pecan Bread

It was difficult not to dance and bow before my oven as this baked...that's how delicious the smell was.

I'm still breaking in my new apartment kitchen. It's a tad smaller than my old place, but the gas stove/oven and general non-broken-downedness of the place does do wonders. And this was my first use of the oven, generating heavenly aromas as the loaf pans basked into perfection.

Strawberries  are such a gift. I want to find a way to incorporate them into every recipe, but then I guess they wouldn't be so special.

Folding these darlings into the batter was like swaddling your child in a blanket and dropping him off at daycare. Here, daycare is a bakery. Warm, cozy, your kid probably comes home with a great tan. Just the usual child-tending hullabaloo.

[Side salad: my new kitchen as a skylight and I'm so happy. The old place involved a constant battle with awful, yellow dull light.

At last I was able to combine the senses and enjoy both the smell, look, and taste of this marvelous creation.

Then the struggle became not eating it all before dinner...

Strawberry Pecan Bread (adapted from Farm Fresh Southern Cooking)
Makes 2 loaves.

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cup vegetable (or neutral) oil
2 cups hulled and diced strawberries
1 cup chopped pecans 

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly grease two loaf pans and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Whisk in beaten eggs and oil. Fold in strawberries and pecans.
3. Pour batter into loaf pans. Put in oven and bake for one hour (or until top is golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.)
4. Cool completely, slice, and serve. (I didn't make it through the cool completely part. It still works!)

Note: The bread freezes terrifically. If you're cool with saving it for later!