October 31, 2009

Easy Homemade Bread

Water, yeast, salt, flour, cornmeal, a broiler pan, and a pizza stone. If you have these seven things, you can make your own bread. A stand mixer won't hurt, but it's not required. As with most baking recipes, and especially if you're making bread for the first time, it's important to follow the directions exactly. I'll give you a few specifics later of what not to do, learned by my brother's mistakes and my far less significant mistakes. Once you combine all of the ingredients there is very little active cooking time involved, and there's no need to be intimidated by bread-making with this recipe. Or should I say there's no knead to be intimidated. Hi-yo!


3 cups lukewarm water
1-1/2 tbsp yeast
1-1/2 tbsp yeast
6-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Note 1: If you want a little more clarification or more details, click on the Mother Earth News link above.
Note 2: This recipes makes four 1-lb. loaves.

Heat the water to 105-115 degrees. Add the water, the yeast, and the salt to the bowl of a stand mixer or to a large bowl with a lid. Give it a quick stir.

Add the flour 1/2 cup or 1 cup at a time by scooping it up and then leveling it off with a knife. Mix with every addition, with either the dough hook of the mixer or with a wooden spoon. The first time my mom and I made this recipe we just dumped all the flour in at once, and I don't think it made that much of a difference in the end result so do whatever works for you.

Keep adding flour and mixing until all of the flour is incorporated. The dough will be very moist.

Cover the bowl loosely with a towel, and let the dough rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, until the dough rises and then flattens on top. Letting the dough sit out for up to five hours will not hurt it.

Here it is after 3 or 4 hours. You can skip to the baking process at this point, but it will be easier to work with if you refrigerate it for a few hours.

After a few hours of refrigeration, dust the top of the dough with flour.

Since the recipe makes four 1-lb. loaves I think it's easiest to score the dough before cutting off a piece so you end up with uniform loaves.

Dust a pizza peel with cornmeal. Holding the dough in your hands (and adding more flour if it's too sticky), turn the dough over itself, from the top to the bottom. Rotate a quarter turn and repeat so you have four bunched ends on the bottom. If that's confusing just think of a mushroom cap, but instead of having a hollow bottom, the dough that you pull around fills up what would be the hollow space.

Let the dough rest on the peel for 40 minutes before baking. After 20 minutes turn on the oven t0 450, with the pizza stone on the the middle rack and an empty pan for water on another rack. Before going into the oven, liberally dust the top of the loaf with flour and make a few slashes in it.

When the 40 minutes is up, transfer the dough to the pizza stone, pour a cup of hot water into the broiler tray to create steam, and quickly shut the door. This is where my brother totally blew it the first time he tried this recipe. In case you are a ditz like he is, here is a warning: never pour a cup of cold water into a preheated glass pan. Especially if that glass pan is on a rack above your bread. Unless, of course, you enjoy eating crunchy bread which gets its crunch from shards of glass.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the outside is browned and firm.

The remainder of the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for a couple weeks. Store it in a container with a lid, but not one that is airtight. I used a lidded container and just set the lid on top instead of sealing it. The longer the dough hangs out in the fridge, the more it will take on a sourdough flavor. You can also reserve a little of the dough from your last loaf to incorporate into the next batch of dough for a more immediate sourdough flavor.

Repeat the same steps as before with the remaining dough, dusting the top with flour and cutting off a piece of dough.

I decided to make my second loaf slightly larger, using about 2/3 of the remaining dough.

This is where I messed up. I was slightly distracted by putting the final touches on my Margot Tenenbaum costume that I forgot to dust the loaf with flour or make slashes in it before throwing it in the oven.

I still ended up with a nice loaf of bread, but it was a loaf of bread with a tumor shooting out of it. Maybe it was more of a goiter. The mark on the top of the loaf is from my unsuccessful attempt to make a slash after it had been baking for 20 minutes.

This loaf was a little more dense than the last, probably from it's large size and lack of slashes on the top which give it room to grow. It's still delicious, though.

Happy Halloween from my nearly-albino piece of candy corn!

And happy birthday to the cutest cupcake-eyeballing one-year-old I know.

Who is slightly unsure of what to think about dolls that are nearly as tall as he is. Happy Birthday, Nolan!


October 27, 2009

Enchiladas Verdes de Pollo

Don't speak Spanish? Neither does my dad. He would call these "enchiladas verdes de polo." You know, polo. That little bird whose body runs around after its head is cut off. It's always fun going to Mexican restaurants with my dad because you get to listen to his amazing Spanish. Even after traveling to many a Spanish-speaking country, he tells waiters, "I am vegetariano. No carne. No polo..." He is pretty good with "gracias," though. And he always buys, so I guess I shouldn't be making fun of his Spanish skills.

I've been on a big salsa verde kick lately, and I don't see an end in sight. I picked up a jar of tomatillo salsa at Trader Joe's a while back, and I've been waiting for an excuse to use it. After roasting a chicken last week I had a couple large chicken breasts in the fridge, as well as a bag of corn tortillas, so enchiladas were an obvious choice. I must not be the only one experiencing salsa verde cravings, because when I started searching for recipe ideas enchiladas verdes were on the front page of Homesick Texan. Although I didn't end up trying her recipe (yet), I took its popping up on the first page of the first place I looked as a sign. I consulted my Rick Bayless cookbook and quickly got to work on some polo enchiladas.

Enchiladas Verdes de Pollo
Adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday

2 large chicken breasts, cooked (or 2-3 cups of any other part of the chicken)
10oz fresh spinach*
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 cup corn
12oz tomatillo salsa
8-10 corn tortillas
1-1/2 cups mild, white cheese, grated
Pickled jalepenos (optional)
Sour cream, guacamole, and cilantro for serving

These were the leftover chicken parts I had in the fridge. I ending up throwing the wing into the bag of chicken parts I'm going to make stock with rather than trying to pull off the little bit of meat to add to the enchiladas, but I took this picture before I made that decision.

Use a fork to shred the chicken or cut it up into small pieces.

Heat a little oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the spinach and cook until it wilts. Season with a little salt and remove from the heat. I also sprinkled some cumin and cayenne into the mix because I have this little voice in my head that tells me to add cumin to every Mexican meal I make.

I added the chicken to the skillet because the recipe I was kind of following said to add it, but then I realized that the enchiladas don't actually get cooked so the ingredients need to be warm. Since I baked my enchiladas, adding the chicken at this point was completely unnecessary.

Combine the spinach and chicken with the corn.

Then start stuffing tortillas.

Wedge as many enchiladas as you can into an 8x8" dish.

Oops! I stuck the assembled enchiladas in the fridge for a few hours, and the tortillas did not fare well.

Solution: toothpicks.

Pour tomatillo salsa over the tortillas, and throw on some pickled jalepenos if you're into that kind of thing. I would have added more had I been cooking for just myself, but since Matt was going to be enjoying them as well I had to take it easy on the heat. I guess it all worked out since he ended up picking off all the jalepenos and giving them to me.

Top with a generous dose of cheese. I wanted to use queso fresco, but I opted for the less pricey monterey jack. I guess the benefit to monterey jack is that it melts well and creates a nice, cheesy blanket over the enchiladas.

Look, Mom and Judy Haar, I used a full-length oven mitt so I wouldn't burn myself again!

Bake at 350 for 15 or 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

Sour cream is a must for topping these off. Guacamole is tasty, too.

The best part about having to use toothpicks was ending up with the cheesy equivalent of candles on a birthday cake.

I don't remember this from the first night we ate these, but when I was eating leftovers the next couple of days the tortillas had soaked up some of the salsa liquid and became the consistency of tamales. It was awesome.

*One final note: I'm still not sure how I feel about the spinach in these enchiladas. I added it because 1) I had it in the fridge, 2) it made me feel a little better about the large quantities of cheese I was using, and 3) the recipe I was kind of following was for spinach and mushroom enchiladas. The flavor turned out to be a little strong, so next time I might either eliminate it or replace it with beans. Any suggestions?

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October 22, 2009

An Italian Feast with Friends

Last Wednesday night my friend Sarah and I, with plenty of help from our friend Caitlin, had a dinner party that has been four months in the making. It all started in June with an email from Sarah suggesting we cook together sometime, followed by a few months of indecision when it came to setting a date, then being broke and needing to postpone until a new round of student loans came out, and finally cold feet. Most people get cold feet about getting married. I apparently get cold feet about dinner parties. I'm not really sure why. I never thought twice about cooking dinner for my friends in college, and I once went so far as to have a couple of my professors over for brunch. Since college my time in the kitchen has increased considerably, but the number of people I'm regularly cooking for has decreased. I'm usually only cooking for Matt and myself, and cooking for your boyfriend who is content eating Kraft singles and Tuna Helper is a little less intimidating than cooking for a dozen of your friends who read your blog and think that you know what you're doing in the kitchen. I knew I had to break out of my one man audience shell eventually, and that time finally came.

Sarah and I committed to a date for the dinner party a couple weeks ago, although it was a commitment made late at night at a crowded, poorly lit karaoke bar. Or was that a different night? I'm not really sure, but fortunately Sarah had the good sense to follow up with an email the following day, and so a date was set.

The original idea back in June was to use some recipes from an Ina Garten cookbook Sarah had checked out from the library, but in our last minute planning the menu shifted to an Italian theme. I think it had to do with the fact that I got a new pasta making attachment for my KitchenAid when I was in Seattle last week, and I could not wait another day to try it out. Our friend Caitlin heard we were making fresh pasta and understandably wanted to get in on the action, so the three of us donned aprons, sipped on some wine, and cooked up an Italian feast for some of our fellow FLA* members.

*Future Lawyers of America

Il Menu:

Salami, cheese, olives, bread
Spinach + ricotta gnocchi
Fresh pasta
Cheese + rosemary pizza
Chocolate + sea salt truffles

I'll start out with a picture of the cooks: me, Caitlin, Sarah. Geez, I am short.

Have you ever wondered what 2.5 pounds of spinach looks like? Wonder no more, my friends.

After my one class of the day was cancelled I decided I would start getting some things ready ahead of time so it would be less hectic once people came over. Sarah was in charge of the bolognese and I knew she and Caitlin wanted to be around for the pasta making, so the obvious choice was the spinach and ricotta gnocchi. The recipe came from Silver Spoon, and it was one of the first recipes I bookmarked to make when I got the cookbook a couple years ago. It took me two years to make the recipe, and it will probably take another year or two before I work up the nerve to make it again. Keep reading.

Here's about half of the 2.5 pounds of spinach after being cooked and squeezed as much as I could possibly squeeze to get all the liquid out. As much as I could possibly squeeze was apparently not enough, though.

The bowl full of chopped spinach, ricotta, egg yolks, parmesan, salt and pepper made me very hopeful. It made me think of delicious spinach balls, which remind me of Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday, which makes me very happy and hungry. Unfortunately, hope alone does not result in spinach and ricotta gnocchi.

After I formed the mixture into little balls I decided that I should go ahead and do a test run by boiling a few of them. What. A. Disaster. My lovely little bundles that looked like snow dusted evergreens hit the boiling water and instantly morphed into a watery spinach and ricotta soup.

Here's what the book says they'll look like. The only thing I didn't do exactly as it said in the book was to use 2.5 pounds of spinach instead of 2.25 pounds. You wouldn't think that a quarter pound of spinach would ruin the result, though. I did a google search for the recipe, and I think people who had a more liberal interpretation of "dust with flour" had better results. Maybe next time I'll roll the balls in flour instead of dusting them. I hope I can remember this a couple years from now when I work up the nerve to try this recipe again.

In case you're worried about the fate of the gnocchi that weren't involved in the test run, you can relax. I ended up baking them instead of boiling them. I wish I could say they were still great, but I'm not a very good liar. The spinach flavor was overpowering, and to be honest I can't really think of any redeeming qualities. I would have much rather had spinach balls or plain potato gnocchi.

Fortunately, the rest of the food was delicious.

We started out with a meat and cheese tray for people to munch on while the pasta was being made. From the left: brie, sopressata, Dubliner. There were also some olives and sliced baguettes.

I know I said that the rest of the food after the gnocchi was delicious, but that doesn't mean everything went smoothly. Caitlin and I each made a batch of pasta dough from two different cookbooks, and we both had wells of flour that gave way after we tried to squeeze too many eggs into them.

I guess I could blame Sarah for my well collapsing since she was the one to add the final egg, but I was the one who encouraged her to take part and the same thing would have happened had I cracked that egg. After the first well collapsed panic ensued and Caitlin's well gave way, too. This is a photo of the aftermath.

Not to worry, though. In the end we had two balls of pasta dough, which went on to become two large bowls of pasta. Caitlin's dough is pictured above.

Overhead shot of Sarah making the bolognese. Boiling beets on the left.

I was very, very excited that my new KitchenAid attachment was spitting out macaroni(!!).

So were Tom, Ron, and Caitlin.

Caitlin stepped in to make the rest of the pasta while I threw together a pizza.

Fettucini and a pile of uncut macaroni. Pretty good for three girls that don't have Italian grandmothers.

Ron enjoyed his sippy cup of wine while Caitlin enjoyed the food.

Sarah ate. Dan drank. I see a trend here.

Kate ate. Garin watched. Why are only half the people eating?

Here's my plate. The big pile of macaroni kind of weighed itself down, so by the time we tried to cut it into little pieces it was no longer hollow. Instead of hollow little tubes we ended up with rustic slabs. Delicious rustic slabs. The salad was green leaf lettuce, beets, parmesan, balsamic, and a little olive oil. Yum.

Who invited these (matching) dweebs?

Sarah made some awesome chocolate and sea salt truffles. She warned me that they were incredibly rich and a whole one may be too much, so I ate half of one. Ten minutes later I went back for the second half. They were amazing.

Thanks to Sarah and Caitlin for your cooking help and photos!

Thanks to Dan and Ron for your cleaning help!

And sorry, Sarah, but go Hawks!