Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Bitter Greens Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette #ImprovCookingChallenge


Welcome to the April 2020 Improv Cooking Challenge. Somehow I missed March. Whoops. This group is headed up by Nichole of Cookaholic Wife. And I haven't been very consistent, take last month as an example, but I love the idea of the group, so I will try to be better in the coming months.


The idea behind Improv Cooking Challenge: we are assigned two ingredients and are challenged to create a recipe with those two things. This month's items: lettuce and lemons. Here's what the crew is sharing...
Bitter Greens Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Bitter Greens
  • 2 small heads endive, thinly sliced on the bias
  • 1 small head little gems lettuce, thinly sliced on the bias
  • 2 C loosely packed herb leaves (I used oregano, mint, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon)

Lemon Vinaigrette
  • ½ C freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ⅓ C olive oil
  • ¼ C balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T whole grain mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
  • 2 T organic maple syrup
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper



Lemon Vinaigrette
Place all of the ingredients, except the salt and pepper, into a lidded mason jar. Shake to emulsify. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This will make more than you need for this salad, but it will keep for at least two or three days. Just shake before using each time.

Bitter Greens
Place all of the greens into a mixing bowl. Just before serving, toss in as much of the vinaigrette as you need to completely coat the greens. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, as needed. 

I did NOT Panic-Buy All This Flour #AdventuresofDoughbaFett


Yesterday morning I lamented that I was out of flour. Didn't I just buy ten pounds of flour last week?!? Yes. But I have been doing a lot of baking. I mean a lot.


Just over the past weekend - cornetti, my first, second, and third attempts at a sourdough boule, naan, and pork bao - were all on my table. And that was just the savories.


I also made a carrot cake and jasmine tea cakes. Yes, this shelter-in-place order is great for expanding my baking skills; it is not great for my waistline! But it's given me lots of recipes to post. All of those will be shared soon. Stay tuned.

Within hours of posting the photo of my empty flour bag and asking local friends if they had seen any flour in any stores, I had a friend deliver two gallon bags with flour to my office. Another friend offered me her Tartine Bakery cookbook. When I got home there was a container of bread flour and a 25-pound bag of all-purpose on my doorstep. And, because I didn't know all of this was going to happen, I ordered a 25-pound bag of flour from a friend whose restaurant is currently closed.


I'm set for flour...for a little while anyway. But I feel a little like a flour hoarder. Really, I didn't panic-purchase this. And, really, I will use it. In fact one of those gallon bags is almost gone already since I baked one loaf, fed my starter, and have another loaf on the rise. I did offer flour to anyone in my Secret Sourdough Society because I'm happy to share as we all figure out how to make sourdough.


So, last night, while the boys watched a silly animated movie, I sat down with a glass of Scotch, some cheese curls, and the Tartine Bakery cookbook to try and figure out what I've been doing wrong.

Once I get my sourdough dialed in, folks, bread for everyone who gave me flour! I promise!

You can follow the complete Adventures of Dough-ba Fett here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

An Easter Celebration in the Time of Isolation #EasterinPlace


There are a few times a year that I cook for my parents and their friends - usually Thanksgiving and Easter. So, I was saddened to think that this year I wouldn't be able to plan and execute a menu for Nonna, Nonno, and their ballroom dancing buddies as we all hunker down in our homes and shelter in place to flatten the curve of the coronavirus.


In 2014, we had a Hoppy Easter; 2016 had the Mann Clan on the road for Spring Break, but I created a menu and cooked the dishes ahead of time for Joe and Sally's Easter Brunch.


In 2017 I served a Locally-Inspired Menu; Easter 2018, though, we were just back from a three-day robotics competition, so we went to our favorite restaurant and had La Balena Carmel serve our Easter feast.


Obviously there are a lot of years missing in that line-up. But here are a couple of throw-back photos that I love of the Nonni with the boys at Easter, doing Easter crafts or playing games at the table after the meal.

 

I decided that I wasn't going to let required social distancing keep me from creating an Easter menu. So, on Sunday, I'll be making this and delivering the meal to my parents. We'll wave at them from a safe six-foot distance and wish them a Happy Easter!


Maybe I can still get D to make an Easter centerpiece for them.

Fraternal Twin Loaves for Sourdough Attempt Number Two #AdventureswithDoughbaFett


After Sourdough Round v. 1, I had some random thoughts...

  • I think I kneaded too much and squished out all of the air pockets.
  • This needs more salt.
  • Maybe I should try one of the recipes that the other girls are baking instead of out of a book that no one else is using.
  • If I'm taking the time to bake a loaf, why wouldn't I bake two?
  • I think I need another banneton (proofing basket) so I don't end up with one beautiful twin and one ugly twin!

It was the second to the last thought in the list that inspired the twin loaves that I baked this morning. And, yes, I am specifying in the post title that they are fraternal twins because, it was rightly noted that "they don't look anything like, Mom." Fine.

And it was the last thought that had me hoping online to order another banneton. With the shipping delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, I don't expect to receive it for a few weeks. Until then, fraternal twins it is.

Also, I decided to stick with Clive's Sourdough Loaf recipe for at least a few more tries so I don't change too many variables as I struggle to work out this sourdough baking thing! But I realize that I completely forgot to add the salt. Drat. Next time...


Ingredients makes 1 loaf (double this for the twins)

  • 1/2 C sourdough starter (feed the starter twice about 12 hours apart so it's lively)
  • 1 C lukewarm water
  • 4 C flour + more for dusting
  • 1/2 T fine sea salt (forgot to add this - darn it!)
  • corn meal for baking
  • Also need: banneton or proofing basket or bowl lined with linen, Dutch oven

Procedure

Combine starter with water, flour, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky. Then turn it out onto a floured surface and knead thoroughly for 2 minutes [I tried to cut this time to reduce the chance of squishing out all those good air pockets]. Return to the bowl and let rise at room temperature until the dough is doubled in size. This can take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours. [I gave it 5 hours this time.]

Punch down the dough and form it into a ball. Place the dough ball in a floured banneton or bowl lined with linen. Cover with a kitchen towel Let rise again until it is double in size. This can take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours. [I gave it 6 hours this time.]

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.


Uncover the loaf and invert it into a Dutch oven that has cornmeal spread over the bottom to prevent sticking.


Slash the surface with a knife. This time I made a disjointed asterisk, emanating from the center. Cover on the Dutch oven and place it in the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes, covered, then remove the cover and return it to the oven for an additional 20 minutes.


The bread should be golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped. Let cool on a wire rack. Try not to slice into it for at least an hour.


The verdict: the crumb was still pretty fine. But we were able to see a handful of air pockets this time. Even at just a 2-minute knead I feel as if I kneaded all the bubbles out. The taste was even more sour which I love. Jake noted that it still needed more salt; I didn't tell him that I completely forgot to add any...I just nodded. Yep, more salt. I think I will try Clive's recipe a few more times before I move on to another sourdough recipe and process.


Well, that's a wrap for my second attempt at sourdough. I'm pretty happy with these twins, despite one being less photogenic than the other. Stay tuned for more adventures with Dough-ba Fett.


And my artist husband is working on a surprise for me. He's drawing a Dough-ba Baguette character for me. Ummm...the starter's name is Dough-ba Fett, not Dough-ba Baguette. "Close enough," he says. I guess I will add baguettes to my to-try list.

You can follow the complete Adventures of Dough-ba Fett here.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Sourdough Round v.1 #AdventureswithDoughbaFett


So, I had my starter - nicknamed Dough-ba Fett - and I fed it (read about that here). Now to actually bake something with it. 

While the Secret Sourdough Sisters have been great at sharing videos, I'm a reader first. So, I pulled a book off my shelf that I have never used - Country Breads of the World: Eighty-Eight of the World's Best Recipes for Baking Bread by Linda Collister and Anthony Blake - and flipped through the recipes. I landed on Clive's Sourdough Loaf. This is very slightly adapted from the original recipe.

Ingredients makes 1 loaf

  • 1/2 C sourdough starter (feed the starter twice about 12 hours apart so it's lively)
  • 1 C lukewarm water
  • 4 C flour + more for dusting
  • 1/2 T fine sea salt
  • corn meal for baking
  • Also need: banneton or proofing basket or bowl lined with linen, Dutch oven

Procedure

Combine starter with water, flour, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky. Then turn it out onto a floured surface and knead thoroughly for 10 minutes. Return to the bowl and let rise at room temperature until the dough is doubled in size. This can take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours. [I gave it 2 hours...probably not long enough.]

Punch down the dough and form it into a ball. Place the dough ball in a floured banneton or bowl lined with linen. Cover with a kitchen towel Let rise again until it is double in size. This can take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours. [I gave it 5 hours...again, probably not long enough.]

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.


Uncover the loaf and invert it into a Dutch oven that has cornmeal spread over the bottom to prevent sticking. Slash the surface with a knife. Some bakers make intricate patterns; I made a few abstract cuts. Cover on the Dutch oven and place it in the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes, covered, then remove the cover and return it to the oven for an additional 20 minutes.


The bread should be golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped. Let cool on a wire rack. Try not to slice into it for at least an hour.

The verdict: the crumb was pretty fine. I feel as if I kneaded all the bubbles out...or something like that. The taste was perfectly sour. Jake noted that it needed more salt.  I think I will actually try this again with less kneading and more rising time.

Well, that's a wrap for my first attempt at a sourdough loaf. I'm pretty happy with it. Stay tuned for more adventures with Dough-ba Fett.

You can follow the complete Adventures of Dough-ba Fett here.

Deep Conversations, Farm Fresh Eggs, + Molly's Spaghetti & Meatballs #FoodNFlix


This month Wendy, from A Day in the Life on the Farm, is hosting this month's edition of Food'N'Flix. And she has asked us to post a recipe inspired by The Biggest Little Farm.* Read her invitation: here.

Before she assigned this, the movie wasn't on my radar at all. But, on one rainy afternoon this weekend, I watched it twice. The first time, I snuggled up with D, my Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf and resident gardener. If you follow my blog regularly, you'll probably know that he just finished building his sustainable garden fed by a fog collector and wrote a 50+ page paper about it that took me days to edit! Read my post: From Personal Project Garden to Victory Garden.

Jake could hear the movie while he was working remotely in the living room and came in to ask about it when he was finished. He was intrigued, so I sat down with him to watch it again.

On the Screen

The Biggest Little Farm is a documentary film about John and Molly Chester who leave Los Angeles to create Apricot Lane Farms in the image of their dreams...because they made a promise to their dog Todd. Really. It's a beautiful film; you can tell that pre-farming life John was a documentary filmmaker. And pre-farming, Molly was a personal chef and food blogger who dreamed of owning a farm because she understood that the nutrition of food relies on how it's farmed.

So, after they get evicted from their urban apartment complex (yes, it had to do with Todd's incessant barking), they line up investors, find a farm, and uproot to Moorpark, about an hour north of Los Angeles. They are determined to farm traditionally, that is to say to create an independent ecosystem and habitat that eschews big monoculture farms. They hire a mentor who guides them in creating a farm with over seventy-five varieties of stone fruit, other crops, chickens, ducks, lambs, cows, and a pig named Emma.

But life at Apricot Lane Farms is not completely bucolic. The Chesters have to overcome snail infestations, coyotes slaughtering their ducks and chickens, starlings ruining almost seventy perfect of their stone fruit crops, a pig with mastitis, and so much more. But as the years progress, so does their farm. They successfully build the life of their dreams...and an amazing, working farm where solutions organically present themselves. An example was a shot of an aphid infestation. Right next to the aphids were ladybug eggs, aphids' natural predators. Remember in the movie Jurassic Park when Jeff Goldblum's character says, "Life will find a way." I think this movie is summed up with "Nature will find a way." And it will find a way a lot quicker without our "heroic" meddling.

In the title of this post, I include "Deep Conversations" because, as I mentioned, I sat down with Jake to watch this for the second time. The movie sparked an earnest conversation about what we envision in our retirement years. I know I've talked about running cooking classes, but we started tossing around the idea of owning a farm. Seriously. Maybe it's because I'm getting older. Maybe I'm less tied to staying on California's central coast once the boys are out of the house. But I was actually discussing areas in which I wouldn't mind settling later in life. Jake has always been less of a city person than I am, but before this weekend, I have never thought I'd like to be more than a bike ride away from the beach. We'll see where this goes.

Jake joked, "So, how many more times do you need to watch this movie before you're convinced?!" Funny man. I have to return that DVD today. But I do like when a book or a movie spawns some plans for our future. And I'm happy to keep the conversation going. Don't get me wrong, I know that owning a farm isn't easy - I mean the entire movie underscored that point - but I might not mind the work with a solid team. We'll see.

Farm Fresh Eggs

Since this is a post for #FoodNFlix, I watched the movie and looked for culinary inspiration. They don't show a whole lot of meals besides one with their farm crew that featured big, beautiful salad platters. Jake suggested a stone fruit pie, but those aren't in season.

The first thing I want to write about are farm fresh eggs. Eggs were the first success that John and Molly had, reporting that people lined up at the market and fought over the fifty dozen eggs they had for sale. So, they bought more chickens.


Years ago, I wrote a newsletter for a local farm's CSA (community-supported agriculture) subscription. My family and I had the chance to visit the farm. That was the first time my boys had ever seen an egg-laying operation.


The farm also had meat chickens.


And we helped them plant some seedlings that we would later enjoy in our CSA box.


Farm fresh eggs are such a treat.


Trompe-l'oeuf is not a real phrase. But it pops into my head whenever I crack a farm fresh egg. Trompe l'oeil (trick of the eye) is a technique in art that involves realistic imagery to create an optical illusion that the painted objects exist in three dimensions. Think Pozzo's painting in Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio in Rome. L'oeuf means 'egg'. Trompe-l'oeuf = egg trickery. That's what I was pondering while cooking breakfast this morning.

I asked myself: can I really discern the taste difference of an über-fresh egg from pastured-raised, antibiotic-free, and pesticide-free layers? I think I can.

Are the whites more clear, more taut? I think so. 

Are the yolks more vibrant from the insects and worms that the chickens have in their diets? Yes.

Is my EGG-citement about these beauties justified? I think it is. 

Or is it a trick of the eye...that affects my tastebuds?!?

I suspect that mindset of the the eater definitely affects how a food or drink tastes. Think about how a crisp white wine tastes better if you're sipping it with your toes in the sand on a beach in the Mediterranean. 

There is a gelateria in Rome whose owner once boasted that he had met the cows that gave him milk and the chickens that gave him eggs. Best gelato. Ever. Is that in my head? Maybe. But it was really, really good gelato.

As for the eggs I feed my family, I have to say that I will gladly pay more when I know that  the chickens have a better quality of life and that my money is going directly to the farmer. If I could get my hands on eggs from Apricot Lane Farms, I would!

Molly’s Spaghetti & Meatball Dinner 
very slightly adapted from Molly's Spaghetti and Meatball Dinner

Since fresh stone fruits were out of the question, instead, I looked at their website for some inspiration. I stumbled across Molly's version of spaghetti and meatballs. It was the perfect dinner to end the rainy weekend. She writes: "Don't be scared off by fermented fish sauce, which is a traditional seasoning used in Southeast Asian cuisine and available in most grocery stores.  Worcestershire can be substituted, if preferred."

Ingredients serves 4
  • 1 pound ground grass-fed beef
  • 1/2 C breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 t fish sauce
  • 1 C onion, peeled and diced, divided
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed, divided
  • 2 T chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
  • 1 T chopped fresh oregano, divided
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 C red wine
  • 3 C marinara (one 32 oz. jars)
  • 1 package spaghetti

Procedure

In a mixing bowl, combine beef, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, egg yolk, fish sauce, 1/2 C onion, 2 to 3 pressed garlic cloves, 1 T parsley, 1-1/2 t oregano, salt and pepper. Mix carefully with your fingers, but avoid over mixing as that results in tough meatballs.

Form the mixture into balls. I got 18 to 20 meatballs, about the size of a golf ball. Place meatballs on a clean plate.

Melt butter in a splash of olive oil, in a large pot (I used a Dutch oven) then brown the meatballs in batches. Cook for two minutes per side, rotating with tongs. Remove the meatballs to a plate. 

In the same pot, using the meat dripping as your fat, stir in the remaining onions. Cook until they are softened and translucent, approximately 5 to 6 minutes. Add remaining garlic and cook for an additional minute or two.

Pour in the wine and bring to a boil. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to incorporate everything into the sauce. Add in the marinara, 1 T parsley, 1-1/2 t oregano, and fish sauce. Stir to combine.

Nestle browned meatballs into the sauce. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the meatballs from sticking to the pan.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Once the pasta and the sauce is cooked, place the pasta in a large mixing bowl and scoop in most of the sauce - without the meatballs. Toss to coat and turn the pasta into a serving platter. Top with the meatballs and remaining sauce. Serve immediately.

Thanks to Wendy for suggesting this fantastic film. I'll keep you posted on how many more times I watch it while Jake campaigns for a retirement farm. If you're interested in joining the #FoodNFlix crew, watch the movie and head into the kitchen. Wendy will be taking posts until April 28th. 

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Cornetto Vuoto, Cornetto alla Marmalata e Cornetto al Cioccolato #RecipeTesting #ShelterinPlaceBaking


I've always wanted to make my own cornetti, those pillowy little horns in every Italian corner caffé or bar. I knew they weren't the same as croissants, but I thought I would simply adapt my croissant recipe and see how it went. 

I made three versions: Cornetto Vuoto ('empty' or plain), Cornetto alla Marmalata (with jam, I had some blackberry lemon summer jam from Happy Girl Kitchen Co.),  amd Cornetto al Cioccolato (with chocolate, I used a squeeze of ganache). Needless to say that these disappeared almost as quickly as I took them out of the oven and put them on the table. But they weren't cornetti...at least not the way I remember them from the bar at Corso Trieste, 18 just around the corner from my home in Rome. I'll keep trying.

One good thing about this shelter-in-place order - I have a lot of time for playing in my kitchen! For this batch, I simply substituted milk for water and added an egg. It was still a little too flaky and less yeasty for cornetti. I made three plain, three with jam, and three with chocolate.

Ingredients makes 12
  • 1 C milk, warmed slightly (so that it's comfortable to touch, but not steaming)
  • 1 T active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs, divided - one for the dough, one for the eggwash
  • 2-3/4 C flour, divided + more for sprinkling and rolling
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1 C (2 sticks) cold salted butter
  • jam or jelly for filling
  • chocolate ganache for filling
  • organic granulated sugar for sprinkling
  • Also needed: parchment paper, rolling pin, silicone brush

Procedure

Combine the milk and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Let stand for 15 minutes for the yeast to bloom. Whisk in one egg. Add 2-1/2 C of the flour, keeping 1/4 C for later, and the salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms.


Cover the mixing bowl and let the dough rise until doubled in size, approximately one hour.


Once the dough has doubled, place it in the fridge to chill for at least an hour or as long as overnight. Pound each stick of butter into rectangle. Some people use a ruler and make it very precise. I am less-precise. Wrap the pounded butter in parchment and chill with the dough.

When you're ready, sprinkle a piece of parchment paper with flour and place dough on top. Roll the dough into a rectangle roughly 12"x 20". Remember, I'm less than precise, but it was around that size.

Remove one rectangle of butter from the fridge and lay it in the middle of the dough. Fold the corners of the dough in to form an envelope. It should look like this...


Using the rolling pin, roll it out to 12" x 20" again. Place the second rectangle of butter on the dough and make another envelope. Then roll it out to the 12" x 20" rectangle, but this time, fold one third of the dough over the other third, like folding a letter. 


Now you have to turn the dough. Turning the dough, by rolling and folding, creates very thin layers of butter and dough. This recipe needs to be turned 4 times. If the butter pushes through a layer of dough, rub it with a little flour. If the butter seems to be melting, chill the dough between each turn. Keep the parchment, the rolling pin, and the surface of the pastry well-floured.

To turn: Rotate the package of dough and butter so that the narrower, open end is facing you, like the pages of a book. Roll the dough out to a rectangle and fold the top third down and the bottom third up, again like a letter. Rotate the dough 90 degrees so that the open end is again facing you. Repeat. Roll the dough out to a rectangle and fold the top third down and the bottom third up. That's 2 turns. Repeat two more times.

Place the dough in the fridge and let rest for 30 minutes. 


Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out to approximately 1/4" thick. Then cut a zigzag pattern to create twelve thin triangles.


For the Cornetto Vuoto, sprinkle a bit of sugar on the triangle. For the Cornetto alla Marmalata, smear a scant tablespoon of jam down the center of the triangle.


For the Cornetto  al Cioccolato, pipe a thin line of ganache down the center of the triangle.


Starting at the base of the triangle, roll all the way up and place the cornetti on a baking sheet.


Beat the second egg and brush the egg over the top of the cornetti. Let rise for 30 minutes while the oven preheats.


Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the cornetti in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 350°F. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.


Pastries are finished when the tops are deep golden and the tips look as if they might be just starting to burn.


Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes on the sheet but be sure remove them after that. Transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.


Best served the day they are baked.

Share Buttons