Monday, January 28, 2008

On another non-food note

If you look over to your right, below the recipe index, you may see that Itadakimasu now has a mailing list. Join, and I will send you an email every time I post a new recipe.

Tell me that's not a tempting offer.

Bread, legitimately

I am a neglectful blogger.

I don't mean to be, and I have a good excuse - several of them, actually. My application for graduate school is going in on Thursday, and I start a new job tomorrow, so I've been somewhat distracted as of late. But while life may conspire to keep me away from my camera and computer, I'm still in the kitchen.

And the bread has been turning out awfully well, lately.

It looks pretty legitimate, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, I can't take much credit. This is the infamous No-Knead Bread of Minimalist and Jim Lahey fame, and I am just one of many bloggers to extoll the method's virtues.

Unfortunately, with a statement of intent awaiting my attentions, I am going to leave you with the recipe and return to my regularly scheduled essay-writing.

No-Knead Bread
Adapted from the New York Times, The Minimalist and Jim Lahey

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups water
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

I promise it won't be so long next time... and there will be doughnuts when I return. (Real, live, home-fried doughnuts - really.) For the moment, though, enjoy your bread.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Further adventures in Creampuffland

I really don't know what's gotten into me with the cream puffs since I started writing Itadakimasu. I had never made them before, but I tried them once, and it was all over. Pate a choux in any form has become my go-to dinner party dessert - and once I found pearl sugar, chouquettes became my new obsession.

But that's for another day. I just stopped in tonight to post a recipe for these:

Pretty, isn't it? I got the original recipe out of Alice Medrich's
Chocolate Holidays (another Christmas present). Her version is for cream puffs filled with chocolate rum custard, stacked into a loose (short) croquembouche and topped with caramel glaze and spun sugar. I simplified it (and substituted a liqueur more to my taste) and ended up with these:

Chocolate Grand Marnier Cream Puffs with Candied Violets
adapted from Alice Medrich

For the cream puffs:
double recipe
pate a choux

For the chocolate Grand Marnier custard:
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier (or rum, or amaretto, or whatever you like)
4 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups milk

Place the chocolate, vanilla and Grand Marnier in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour and cornstarch. Add the egg yolks and whisk until the mixture is pale and thick. Set side.

Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it forms a skin. Pour the hot milk gradually over the yolk mixture, whisking constantly until all of the milk is added. (Go slowly at first! You don't want to scramble the eggs.) Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook on medium heat (err on the side of low), stirring constantly. Alice Medrich suggests a wire whisk - I used a wooden spoon as well, to better reach the corners of the pan. Stir until the custard thickens considerably, then continue to cook and stir for another couple minutes. It should have kind of a runny pudding-like texture. Scrape the custard into the bowl with the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted and completely combined with the custard. Cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. It will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days, though I found it easier to work with (filling-wise) once it had warmed up a tiny bit.

Once your cream puffs have cooled, split them, fill them with the custard. To decorate them, I melted a little chocolate with some cream to make a sort of ganache and drizzled it over the cream puffs before topping them with candied violets.

And yes, the candied violets are utterly unnecessary, but aren't they pretty? I couldn't stand it, I had to use them.

Oh, and nothing to do with cream puffs - I'm attempting the (in)famous no-knead bread recipe tomorrow, so keep an eye out for the results!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Worth the extra work

Well, Portland has certainly welcomed us back in what I understand is true Northwest style: rain everyday since we returned on New Year's Day. We saw the sun for the first time since our vacation today. Not to sound ungrateful - it's lovely to be back. I missed our cats and our tiny, overheated apartment and the low, grey skies - the light in New Mexico is so terribly bright, so very clear. I've gotten used to the mellower richness of colours here, and gotten used to the greenery. I expect trees, now, and am no longer surprised by them. Albuquerque was so much flatter, and so much browner than I remembered it being.

That said, we sure managed to eat well while Matt and I were in town.

We had a host of places to visit, and even managed to fit in an extra visit to our beloved old
Frontier Restaurant (and reminisce about snow days and post-concert late night sweet rolls and breakfast burritos).

But I'm not here to rub green chile in anyone's face. I'm here to talk about some of the food we managed to turn out in my parents' kitchen: specifically New Year's Eve Dinner, here rather dramatically lit:

I'm afraid that the vast majority of our photos turned out this way - I could never be bothered to turn on any lights in the dining room to take proper shots. Now I'm paying for it.

The menu was largely from the
Zuni Cafe Cookbook (a most welcome Christmas present - Judy Rodgers is my new hero), with a dessert inspired by a recipe of Alice Medrich's. Remember those chocolate cookies awhile back? Same creator.

But dinner was as follows:
Mock Porchetta (or Tuscan Roast Pork) with roasted vegetables (fennel, onion, celeriac, parsnip, whathaveyou)
Savoury Apple Charlotte
Cream Puffs with Chocolate Grand Marnier Custard and Candied Violets

Altogether, the meal was three days in the making, and it was so utterly worth it. The pork and vegetables were lovely - delightful, in fact - an excellent roast. But the real scene-stealers were the Apple Charlotte and the Cream Puffs, which was in some ways quite gratifying, as they were, respectively, the most difficult and the easiest components. (Frustrating because now I know I'm going to have to make that Charlotte at least once a year, and god is it a nightmare. Such a tasty nightmare though, and so pretty on the plate.)

It begins, as many things do here at Itadakimasu, with apples.

Specifically, four pounds of braeburn apples, that my mother and I peeled, cored and sliced, draped with slivers of butter and roasted until they were tender and caramelized, and the mashed into a rough apple sauce.

The next day, we cut out templates from pieces of paper, sliced bread into half-width slices and a multitude of shapes to create bread linings in 6-ounce ramekins. Think a jigsaw puzzle, with crumbly cracked-wheat and walnut breads. I was tearing my hair by the end of it.

We then filled them with the apple sauce, buttered them further, and baked them until they were crisp and golden on the outside.

And then we ate them, which was probably a bad idea - because the combination of the crisp, buttery bread and the warm, sweet-but-not-too-sweet applesauce made the entire process seem very worthwhile, and entirely doable.

If you have the time and inclination to try this, you will not be disappointed. Honestly, these could go with a much simpler meat - they somewhat overshadowed the roast. More honestly, I would eat them on their own and be a very happy camper.

Roasted Applesauce & Savoury Apple Charlotte
from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers

For about 3 cups of applesauce:

3 1/2 - 4 pounds apples (use eating apples - Braeburns were fine, I would have preferred Pippins, because they're one of my favourites, but we were working with what we could find)
Pinch of salt
Up to 2 teaspoons sugar, as needed (I didn't use any - the apples were quite sweet on their own)
About 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
A splash of cider vinegar (highly recommended!)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Peel, core and quarter the apples. Toss with a little salt and, unless they are very sweet, a bit of sugar to taste. Spread in a shallow baking dish that crowds the apples in a single layer. Drape with slivers of butter, cover tightly and bake until the apples start to soften, 15 to 30 minutes.

Uncover, raise the heat to 500 degrees, and return the pan to the oven. Leave the apples to dry out and colour slighly, about 10 minutes. (A confession - we neglected to raise the temperature, so our apples got a much longer, slower roast - and were lovely, nonetheless. They were in the oven for nearer an hour, if I remember correctly.)

When the tips of the apples have become golden and the fruit is tender, scrape them into a bowl and stir into a chunky mash. Season with salt and sugar to taste, then consider a splash of apple cider vinegar to brighten the taste. (Yes!)

For the Charlotte, 4 servings:

4 six-ounce ramekins or custard cups

A chunk of day-old, chewy, peasant-style bread (make sure you have plenty of extra to get the right shapes!)
About 2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (err on the side of 3-4 tablespoons)
About 1 1/3 cups Roasted Applesauce (again, err on the side of more)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the bread 1/8 inch thick. Avoiding the crust, cut 8 circles sized to fit the bottom of your ramekins, then cut 4 long rectangles to line the sides.(Judy Rodgers suggested partially freezing it, and I second this! Also, don't worry if you can't get whole pieces to create the shell of the charlotte - they piece together quite nicely.)

Brush the bread evenly, on one side only, with the melted butter. Line the ramekins with the bread, pressing the buttered  faces against the dishes. Set the 4 extra circles aside. Fill each ramekin with the roasted applesauce. Set the remaining bread circles, buttered side up, on top and press down lightly.

Bake until golden brown on top, about 30 minutes. To serve, slide a knife around the edge of each charlotte, then turn out onto warm plates. If the bottom circles stick to the dish, retrieve them by sliding a fork under the edges. (This wasn't an issue at all - yay for butter!)

Eat, and savour, knowing that you probably won't have these again for quite awhile, because you have to forget all about the paper templates and the partially-frozen bread before you could possibly convince yourself to go through it all again.

And don't worry, I won't make you wait too long for those cream puffs.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Saying Goodbye

Zoe ?, 1992 - 5th January, 2008

I heard from my parents today - Zoe, one of our two dogs, passed away today, and they buried her under a cottonwood tree in the back acre.

She was an amazing animal: sweet and beautiful and absurdly charismatic, and she had a way of looking at you as though you were the most important person in the entire world, as long as you were petting her. She was the scourge of the wild chickens and guinea hens that roamed my parents' property, and could leap 5 foot fences without thinking twice. She came to us when she was a year old, with the unfortunate name of "Enya," and was almost mute for the first month. When she found her voice, she had a delightful - and occasionally frustrating - habit of "talking" with an odd, semi-howl whenever you told her something she didn't want to hear. When we adopted Cedar, a few years later, she became her surrogate mother, and never minded Cedar's ineffectual attempts to herd her around the house.

I could reminisce for pages - I won't. None of it really describes her, or how terribly she will be missed. I hope that wherever she is, there are lots of chickens to catch and fences to leap.