In which I am in a bit of a quandary…

ricotta cheesecake

I made a ricotta cheesecake a while back and have been a bit torn about sharing it with you because on the one hand, the cake and the pictures are GORGEOUS. On the other, it was only kind of so-so flavor wise. I had really high hopes because the batter was honestly one of the most amazing delicious things I have ever had the pleasure of eating. I was pumped for it to come out of the oven. But the final product was lacking. Not offensive in any way, just not exciting. But I’ll start from the beginning.

It all starts here...

6 eggs, separated.

1 1/2 pounds fresh ricotta...

...pureed

When ricotta is pureed the texture is like a thin yogurt or a creme fraiche, but it tastes like ricotta. It was pretty cool.

The pureed ricotta is mixed with the six egg yolks, sugar, a touch of flour, a pinch of salt and the zest of an orange.

gorgeous.

Whisk it together until smooth. This tastes unbelievably delicious.

Then the egg whites get beaten with sugar until they form very stiff peaks.

stiff and peak-y

Fold the two together.

folding.

This gets baked in a buttered and sugared springform pan at 375 degrees.

ready.

Until it looks like this.

puffy and gorgeous.

The cake came out of the oven puffed up, and then sunk a little bit in the middle. It was really light for a cheesecake, but much denser than a souffle. It was a gorgeous color, I was ecstatic when it came out of the oven. This was the prettiest thing I have ever made. But the taste didn’t live up to the visual appeal. It didn’t taste like much, which was shocking since the batter was unreal. I should have just eaten that with a spoon. But I have a plan. I think I am going to increase the egg whites, add some Grand Marnier and make it an actual souffle. I suspect I will have to reduce the amount of ricotta, but it’s gonna be good. I suspect a souffle will taste more like the batter in its pre-cooked state, but I am not sure why I suspect such a thing. I’ll keep you posted.

slice

So in spite of my indifference to the final outcome, I will share the recipe. Experiment and report back.

Ricotta Cheesecake

From Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pan

3/4 cup sugar, plus more for pan

1 1/2 lbs fresh whole milk ricotta cheese, pureed in food processor until smooth

6 large eggs, separated

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

finely grated zest of 1 orange

1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375. Generously butter and sugar a 9-inch springform pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg yolks, flour, 6 tablespoons sugar, zest and salt until combined, set aside.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on low speed until foamy. With the mixer on high, gradually add the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar, beating until stiff and glossy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, fold a third of the egg-white mixture into the ricotta mixture until combined. Gently fold the remaining egg white mixture until just combined. Pour into pan and bake until center is firm and the top a deep golden brown, about 1 hour.

Transfer to a wire rack and cool ten minutes. Place another wire rack on top and invert cake to rack to remove from pan. Reinvert cake and cool completely, top side up. The cheesecake is best eaten the day it is baked but can be refrigerated, covered loosely with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days. Let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes prior to serving.

post flip...a little incident of stickiness, the crack is more artistic, no?

In which I finally talk about pizza – Thin Crust Pizza Dough…

mushrooms, onions and black olives. heaven.

Hello earthlings.

Bread and Ginger is on the road. I am currently in the supposed-to-be-sunny-and-warm oasis that is the east coast of Florida, visiting family and hanging out with very cute children. It is not exactly the tropical environment that would set my heart aflutter, but I am wearing light pants, short sleeve shirts and the occasional pair of flip flops, so the improvement over the weather at home is vast. I’ll take it. I have been trying to get back into the habit of running, I have played some tennis and eaten some sushi. All good things, but I miss my kitchen BAD. I have not cooked a thing but a grilled cheese since I got here. I am feeling a little lost. That’s all about to change though. I will be making the short ribs from the football gathering by request. I will of course take a picture or two, and I will post about them again, and this time, I will include a recipe.

But in the meantime, since I owe you a new post, I am going to talk about pizza. I have mentioned various tarts and pizzas on here several times, so I thought now was the time to really share.

I love savory tarts and pizzas. They are everything from light, easy to eat appetizers to full, filling meals. I have made deep dish roasted vegetable tarts,

for a shower.

and onion-y custard-y tarts,

for a girls' night

which I will talk about at some point, no doubt, but today, I want to talk about flatbread like tarts. For instance…

for a dinner party.

The base for these delights is the Figs pizza dough recipe, courtesy of Mr. Todd English. It is a great crispy all-purpose dough. Recently I have used it for pizza (red sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, onions and black olives, if you please) a Gorgonzola dolce, red onion, pear and capricola tart, and an asparagus, bacon and fontina cheese tart with sunny side eggs. Whatever the toppings, this gets baked on an pre-heated pizza stone in a 500 degree oven. The bottom gets crispy and brown and the toppings get delicious and all is well in the world.

Figs Pizza Dough (makes 4 9-10″ pizzas – each pizza serves one or two people)

Courtesy of The Figs Table by Todd English

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for rolling

2 tsp (1/4 ounce) fresh yeast

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp olive oil

1 2/3 cups lukewarm water

Place the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour; yeast, salt, and sugar in a mixer fitted with a dough hook. While the mixer is running, gradually add the oil and water. Knead on low speed until the dough is firm and smooth, about 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into four balls, about 7 1/2 ounces each. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place two balls on a sheet and cover with a damp towel. Let them rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. (I have frozen both before and after the rise, either works.) About an hour into the rise time, put a pizza stone on the floor of the oven and pre heat the oven to 500 degrees. If you do not have a pizza stone, get one. They are cheap and you can often find them in the home section of TJ Maxx or Marshalls or Home Goods. If need be, you can turn a cast iron skillet upside down, and use that as your pizza stone. Results are similar.

To roll out the dough: Dab your fingers in flour and then place 1 ball on a generously floured work surface and press down in the center with the tips of your fingers, spreading the dough with your hand. When the dough has doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin and roll out until it is very thin, like flatbread. The outer border should be a little thicker than the inner circle. Pick the dough up with a spatula or the back of a knife, allowing it to fold up almost like an umbrella and transfer it to a paddle. Do not worry that the pizza is not round, you are looking for; an 8- to 10-inch shape, a cross between an oval and a rectangle.

Cover with your favorite toppings, traditional pizza or otherwise.

traditional

fontina cheese, shaved asparagus, crumbled bacon.

That one is a personal fave. To make it even better, add morel mushrooms, or if you don’t have those, add a couple of fried eggs after you pull it out of the oven.

More protein. Delicious.

Gorgonzola dolce, sautéed red onion, sliced asian pear.

I have also added sweet capricola to that combo to great effect. I was not able to capture it on film very well.

So there you go. Be creative. Enjoy, let me know how it goes. I will leave you with a tip. I LOVE LOVE LOVE fresh mozzarella, however, this is a really wet thin dough, and fresh mozz is just too watery for good results, you end up with a soggy mess. I have had much better results with regular whole milk grocery store mozzarella.

I will also leave you with a list of things I am missing terribly…

My current adobe does not have one of these. Also missing? SOY SAUCE. I know, its unfathomable.

my favorite thing. The current kitchen I have to work with is none too shabby, believe you me, but still I miss it.

requires no explanation...

Three Bostonians (missing: one new cousin-in-law)

my current breakfast of choice.

my security blanket.

And lastly…

pasta. Lent is a cruel time.

And now, I am off to Publix to stock up on the required ingredients (or as I like to think of them, pantry staples-I mean really…I need to get SOY SAUCE!) for the braised short ribs redux. I would normally feel silly making such decadent things in tropical climes. But it is 45 degrees down here today, so it is really quite fitting.

In which I make some fried stuff with cheese…

fried stuff with cheese

Do you guys remember the Friends episode where they imagine what it would have been like if Monica and Joey had gotten together in London instead of Monica and Chandler? There is a scene where a very heavy Joey sits at the kitchen table, and Monica said she made him his favorite foods and Joey says “fried stuff with cheese” in that way that Joey says everything. That is what goes through my head every time I think about my recent experiment, arancini. Or as my neighbor Mike calls them, rice balls.

Arancini are in fact, rice balls. In this case, risotto chilled, formed into a ball, coated in bread crumbs and fried in oil. The outside is nice and crispy, and the inside is creamy and melty and full of flavor, and for these, stuffed with a little mozzarella surprise. This is a great way to use leftover risotto if you have it. You can add most anything you want too. Prosciutto, peas, various cheeses, lemon, whatever your little heart desires.

I made a standard risotto – onions, wine, chicken stock – but at the end I added a cup of ricotta cheese and the zest of a lemon. I wanted these to be relatively light. Because, when you are making deep fried rice and cheese, lightness should be top on your list of requirements.

Risotto step one. Onions in oil and butter.

Risotto step two, warmed chicken stock and wine.

Risotto step three, add the rice

Risotto step four through tenish. Add the wine and stock and stir stir stir.

For a bit more in-depth discussion of how risotto is made, see here.

After the risotto was finished, I zested one whole lemon over the pot, and stirred that in along with a cup of ricotta cheese. I tasted for seasoning, and then poured the risotto into a baking pan and stuck it in the fridge to cool.

After the risotto cools and firms up a bit, the fun part begins. I had mozzarella in the fridge, so I cut it into small cubes (about a 1/2 inch or so.) I scooped a spoonful of risotto into my hands, smooshed it a little bit, and added a mozzarella cube or two to the middle.

smooshed and filled

I formed the risotto into a ball around the mozzarella cubes. They were a bit bigger than a golf ball.

risotto golf balls

Then I dredged the rice balls in flour, then egg, then panko crumbs to make a nice crust.

swimming

When they were all coated, I filled my cast iron pan about half way with canola oil and heated it over medium-medium high heat. When the oil was shimmering, I fried the rice balls in two batches.

The oil tester

The first batch

When the arancini were a gorgeous golden brown on all sides, I removed them to a paper towel lined plate, sprinkled some kosher salt over the top, and did the next batch.

bliss.

When the arancini are cooked, they are crispy on the outside, and dense and melty and rich, without being heavy somehow, on the inside. The melted mozzarella is a bonus.

seriously. bliss.

I used about half the risotto the first night, heated up some red sauce I had in the freezer, and brought them over to neighbors Mike and Amanda to watch LOST. Mike, the resident rice ball expert, approved.

With red sauce

The second half of the rice balls, the next day, went into my tomato soup as a substitute for grilled cheese.

fried islands of bliss

These were such a treat. And really not that difficult to make. And I actually reheated some leftover arancini a couple of times (definitely in the oven or toaster oven on a fairly high heat. Not in the microwave…crispy is still the goal.) In fact, I am not even going to include a recipe, because I imagine most of the time these will be done with some leftover risotto. That is the beauty of arancini. These would have been great with the leftover butternut squash risotto, and they would be great with leftover risotto made with peas or asparagus, and you could fill the middle with prosciutto or ham instead of cheese. Or prosciutto or ham and cheese. Be creative. I bet there is a way to do these with like a rice pudding or a sweet risotto too. I will have to ponder that one for awhile. Just make sure you coat them in flour first, then egg, then breadcrumbs (I like panko, but regular or Italian style would also be just fine.) Make sure the oil is hot so they don’t get greasy, and enjoy! If you don’t include risotto making time, these probably take 20 minutes tops. They are a delightful treat on cold day. You will want to make them again for sure.

You can’t argue with fried stuff with cheese.

Chana Masala: In which I owe Indian food an apology…

the beginning of a beautiful thing.

When I was experimenting with law school, which would ultimately become a very expensive mistake, I had FIVE roommates (a word of advice, if you are considering law school, DO NOT try to save money by living with five strangers. Law school is fraught with stress, emotion, lack of sleep and a lot of hard work. More personalities does not make it easier. And I liked my roommates.) One of these lovely ladies had an adoration for those sweet/spicy curries with coconut milk, and I have no idea what else she put in there, but even now, the memory of the smell makes me ill. With that impression burned in my mind, and no historical data to pull from, I wrote off Indian food as one of the few things I wouldn’t eat. It was a broad statement, but I didn’t know enough about it to read an Indian food menu and know what I would like and I couldn’t risk coming face to face with one of those scary curries.

That is, until I heard rumblings of a certain something called Chana Masala. I don’t know where this first came to my attention, perhaps in a dream. It is spicy, vegetarian and contains chickpeas, three things (until the free week chick pea encounter) typically made me run the other way, rather than get stuck in my head and haunt me until I made it, but I couldn’t help myself. I was intrigued. And then I was reading A Homemade Life and Molly did a chapter on a Chana Masala that her future husband made, and included a recipe. I figured it was a sign. I stocked up on the requisite ingredients (including a bunch of gorgeous spices from the Asian grocery store) and awaited the perfect opportunity to make it. A couple of weeks ago, the chance was upon me. That day was January 28th, which happened to also be the day of roasted chicken, and my first attempt at no-knead bread. Thinking back on it, that was a very busy day. So I made myself Chana Masala for lunch, and it was delicious. And I took all sorts of pictures, and then because I am me, I didn’t share it with you right away. And then this happened. My first thought was that great minds thought alike, and my second thought was that if someone read both blogs, and if, god forbid, Deb happened upon my blog, it would appear that I was a big fat copy cat. So I didn’t post, and I kicked myself for procrastinating. And then a serious dose of reality hit and I remembered that I have approximately 6 readers and Deb is a busy and much more established blogger, and probably wouldn’t notice the amateur wannabe that just happened to be posting about the same thing. So here I am, posting away.

One of the crucial ingredients of Chana Masala is garam masala. An Indian spice blend that, like ras al-hanout, has both a devout following and a million variations. Unlike ras al-hanout, garam masala is not terribly difficult to find in the grocery store. Because I am me, I decided to make it myself anyway. I had all my whole spices from the Asian market, and I found a fairly easy straight forward recipe for garam masala online. It said it came from Julie Sahni, a well-known and very well-regarded Indian cooking teacher in NYC. It sounded good to me. The components were black pepper, cardamom, coriander, cloves, a cinnamon stick, cumin, nutmeg and saffron if you like it. I toasted everything but the nutmeg and saffron over low heat in a dry cast iron pan, like so.

toasting

Once they are toasty, I took them off the heat, let them cool, and then ran them through my lovely little grinder that I got for Christmas. I added freshly grated nutmeg and the saffron, and my garam masala was complete. It smelled delightful.

garam masala

Once I had completed the spice blend it was time to get down and dirty. It starts with this.

the requirements.

If you want a rundown, that would be chickpeas, canned whole tomatoes, an onion, garlic, garam masala, coriander, green cardamom pods, red pepper flakes, ground ginger, cumin, cilantro, and anything else you see in that picture that I might have forgotten to mention.

It starts with a very browned and caramelized onion. Like so.

toasty.

Then you add the garlic and all the spices except the red pepper. One being ground coriander, which I broke out the mortar and pestle to take care of. I could have done it in my spice grinder, but it was just a small amount, and I like the way stuff looks in the mortar and pestle.

so artistic

It all goes into the pot with the onions and gets nice and toasty. Then you add just a little bit of water to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

spicy

Once the water has completely evaporated, it’s time for the tomatoes. First you add the juice, and then you crush the tomatoes with your hands as you add them to the pot.

beware the claw.

The whole thing simmers for awhile, and then you add the cilantro and the red pepper flakes (or cayenne.) Usually I avoid cilantro, as you might have heard, but in this case, I figured I would go with it.

delicious, in spite of it.

This simmers for awhile and thickens, and then you add the chickpeas.

the main event.

You are pretty much done at this point. You add a little water a couple of times and let it cook off to concentrate flavor, and then you can choose to serve it either with yogurt stirred in, or with lemon on the side.

with yogurt

My anticipation did not go unrewarded. This was delicious. Filling but not heavy, tomato-y, spicy but not overly so. And great the next day. So there you go. Turns out I like Indian food. What’s next?

Happy Valentine’s Day, and Happy SAD, if you are one of the privileged that celebrates Single’s Awareness Day. Make this for someone you love.

Chana Masala (serves 4)

from Molly at Orangette

Good-quality olive oil

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp ground coriander

¼ tsp ground ginger

1 tsp garam masala

3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes

1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste

1 Tbs cilantro leaves, roughly torn, plus more for garnish

A pinch of cayenne, or to taste

2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

6-8 Tbs plain whole-milk yogurt, optional

A few lemon wedges, optional

Film the bottom of a large saucepan or Dutch oven—preferably not nonstick—with olive oil, and place the pan over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until it is deeply caramelized and even charred in some spots. Be patient. The more color, the more full-flavored the final dish will be.

Reduce the heat to low. Add the garlic, stirring, and add a bit more oil if the pan seems dry. Add the cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, garam masala, and cardamom pods, and fry them, stirring constantly, until fragrant and toasty, about 30 seconds. Add ¼ cup water, and stir to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the water has evaporated away completely. Pour in the juice from can of tomatoes, followed by the tomatoes themselves, using your hands to break them apart as you add them. Add the salt.

Raise the heat to medium, and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, add the cilantro and cayenne, and simmer the sauce gently, stirring occasionally, until it reduces a bit and begins to thicken. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Add the chickpeas, stirring well, and cook over low heat for about five minutes. Add 2 Tbs water, and cook for another five minutes. Add another 2 Tbs water, and cook until the water is absorbed, a few minutes more. This process of adding and cooking off water helps to concentrate the sauce’s flavor and makes the chickpeas more tender and toothsome. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Stir in the yogurt, if you like, or garnish with lemon wedges and cilantro. Serve.

Experimenting with yeast – No Knead Bread…

a success.

So I have been doing quite a bit of bread baking recently. I have been trying in vain to make a perfect loaf of white sandwich bread, the results have been tasty, and have pretty much served their purpose, however, they have not been right. So until I master it, I will keep it under my hat.

My second experiment has been with the famous no-knead bread. I first read about this when Mark Bittman wrote about it in The New York Times. He got the idea, I believe, from Jim Lahey, who has a bakery and a book. I printed out the recipe eons ago, and hadn’t gotten around to giving it a try. Once the sandwich bread started, I was on a tear, and I figured I’d give this one a try as well.

The idea behind no-knead bread is to use very little yeast, and let time do most of the work, which means ideally you need about 24 hours to create your masterpiece, but within that 24 hours, there is only about 15-20 minutes of actual work. You then bake the bread in a covered pot so steam collects and makes the crust beautifully brown and really crispy.

No-knead bread has been done a lot, by a lot of people, and as I was looking to see how it came out for various food bloggers and the like, I came across this article on Culinate that was intriguing. Basically, if you paid a little bit more attention to the dough, you would add about 10 minutes of additional work and lots of delightful holes to the finished crumb. The science behind all this is interesting too, read the article if you get a chance. At any rate, I decided to try it that way.

Really, this bread could not be easier. You start with three cups of flour, I had bread flour so I used it. You add salt, 1/4 teaspoon yeast, and a bit more than 1 1/2 cups of water. Then you stir it up, cover it, and stick it in your bedroom to rise for lots of hours. I suppose you could put it somewhere other than your bedroom, but mine is a sauna, by far the warmest in the house, so I went with it.

prep

Step 1

the dough

Initially the dough is wet and shaggy when you stir it together. It looks like a mess. This is as it should be. I covered it up, and put it away to rise.

in the bedroom, ahh, linoleum.

I just sat that dough right on the floor in front of the radiator and let it do its thing. I put the dough together at about 9 am. Then, every three hours or so I went in to check on it, and fold it over on itself a couple of times, as they said to do in the Culinate article. Here is what transpired.

11:30 am

Not too impressed, still looking a little shaggy.

2:30 pm

By 2:30 it was starting to look like it was doing something. It was puffier at least.

Each of these photos is from before I folded the dough over on itself and punched it down a bit. I also did this at 5:30, but apparently forgot to take a photo, and then totally forgot or ignored the 8:30 shift (it may have been LOST night) so didn’t capture the moment again until 11:30 pm.

11:30 pm - now we're cooking with gas.

That is when I started feeling good about my little experiment. And then I squashed its hopes and dreams by deflating it one more time before bed. The dough and I cohabited in perfect harmony, and I awoke to this:

If I recall, it was about 7:30 am. Day 2.

It was right about this time that I started to think I was going to fail at no-knead bread. It didn’t seem as puffy as it should have been, and the surface wasn’t dotted with bubbles as I had read it would be. There were a few bubbles here and there, but I thought for sure my attempts at a holey crumb had ruined my experiment. But I soldiered forth and punched the air out of the dough with a vengeance, let it sit for a couple of minutes, and then rolled into a loose ball and let it rise for another two hours or so between kitchen towels. Again, I thought this wasn’t going to work out. My dough didn’t really form a ball very well, and after two hours it was supposed to be about double in size, and wasn’t supposed to bounce back if you poked it with a finger. Mine looked like this.

finally ready for the oven.

It didn’t exactly bounce back when I poked it, but it wasn’t exactly doubled. I just decided to go with it and see what happened. We had come so far. Incidentally, this was the second time we had reached this point together, my bread dough and me. The last time I did it, the dough met its untimely end when it was smooshed during an evening of revelry. I would like to blame the offender, but I think the real trouble started when I left it to rise for 2 hours and went to a bar for 8. I think it was pretty well gone before the unfortunate incident. There were celebrations to be had, and sometimes that comes with sacrifices.

This time, I had preheated the oven and my dutch oven for an hour at 450 degrees, and I dumped the dough into the pot. It bakes for a half hour with the top on to collect the steam, and then the top comes off and it bakes for another 20 minutes or so to let the loaf get really brown. And oh my gosh did it. Behold.

Would you look at that.

I practically skipped around the kitchen this was so gorgeous. It was so crusty and such a great color. And it smelled so good. I let it sit on the rack to cool, and I am not sure what was going on, or what the science is behind this, but it sounded like rice krispies as it cooled. It kept crackling. I couldn’t wait for it to cool all the way, so I just went at it. It was unbelievably crusty. Almost too much so. I couldn’t really cut it with my bread knife. I have a crappy bread knife, and I desperately need a new one, but I have never had that experience before. Unbelievable.

the first slice.

Look at the holes! I was so excited (and the light was so lovely, thank you daylight) that I took a lot of photos. Pretty much every time I sliced it. And from every angle.

another slice.

right down the middle.

And then I made a grilled cheese sandwich. And I was happy.

lunch

Now, I think next time I am going to add a bit more salt to punch up the flavor. And maybe some herbs or something else. I would like to try olives. Or rosemary. Or olives and rosemary. And I will report back. But in the meantime, if you have some spare time (meaning you are not going away for the weekend or to a bar for 8 hours) and some yeast lying around, give this a try. You will be glad you did.

“No-Knead” Bread (adapted from The New York Times and Culinate)

3 cups bread flour

1 5/8 cups water

1 1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp yeast

Combine flour, salt and yeast in a bowl. Add the water and stir with a spoon until the ingredients come together in a shaggy dough.

Cover the bowl and put aside in a warm place (approximately 70 degrees) to rise. Every couple of hours (I did about every three) fold the dough over on itself a couple of times. This will deflate it. That is okay. I let the bread rise for a total of about 23 hours, and I folded it over on itself four times (accounting for the missed 8:30 fold over, and the time I was sleeping.)

When dough is risen and bubbly, lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough onto it. Fold it over on itself once or twice again, sprinkle with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Using as little flour as possible on your hands and the work surface, shape the dough into a ball. Coat a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) generously with flour and put the ball of dough, seam side down, on the towel. (My dough was not really firm enough to form a ball, per se. There was definitely not a seam. But I just put the “bottom” as I gathered together onto the towel.) Dust the dough with more flour or cornmeal, and cover it with another kitchen towel and let it rise for 2 hours. When it is ready, the dough will be more than doubled in size (I don’t really think mine was) and will not spring back when poked with a finger (this was pretty much true.)

As the dough is rising – a half hour to an hour before it will be ready – preheat oven to 450 and put a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot in the oven as it heats. I used my cast iron and enamel dutch oven. A ceramic or pyrex pot would work as well. When the dough is ready, remove the pot from the oven. Slide your hand under the dough and turn it over into the pot. It is okay if it looks like a mess. (I had a little stickage, so I pulled the stuck dough off the towel and pressed it onto the loaf in the pot. I thought it would incorporate, it didn’t really, hence the craggy crusty rock like formation on the top of my loaf.) Cover the pot with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, your loaf will be just starting to brown. Cook for another 15-30 minutes (mine took 20) until the loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack. Enjoy!

finished

In which I roast another chicken…

I bet you think I forgot about this, didn’t you? I have been known to make a broad proclamation or two about projects or goals, and then totally forget about them, but in this case since I decided to tackle the search for the perfect roasted chicken I have had a bridal shower, a major holiday, another bridal shower, a bachelorette, a wedding cake to make, another major holiday, a wedding in which I had a prominent (though certainly not the prominent) role and a significant recovery period, so I only now find myself able to embark once again on this epic journey.

This time it was, once more, with America’s Test Kitchen as my guide. Just so happens I was watching about 10 days ago (Saturdays on PBS) and they were tackling the problem of roasted chicken, because Chris Kimball loves good crisp skin. My ears perked up.

Their method was similar to the Zuni Cafe method. They salted it and left it uncovered overnight in the fridge, but they also took the extra steps of adding a teaspoon of baking powder and some black pepper to the mix. They poked holes in the skin over some of the fattier pockets on the bird, so the fat would have a place to escape when it melted. I did as I was told, and then stuck Mr. Cluck in the fridge.

stick it in the fridge, stick it in the fridge, stick it in the fridge...

24 hours later I preheated the oven to 450 and took my friend out of the fridge. He (I guess she, actually) did indeed look dry, as they promised she would. The baking powder did not mess around.

could use an exfoliation...

Since the chicken was being roasted at such a high heat, ATK recommended lining the bottom of the roasting pan with a piece of aluminum foil with slits cut into it, so the fat would melt and drip down through the foil, and wouldn’t spatter and smoke up the inside of the oven or the inside of my apartment because just outside my apartment is the most sensitive smoke alarm in the history of smoke alarms, and if my oven needs to be hotter than 400 degrees and I am having company, I better hope to goodness that the company is already present, because if the front door opens when the oven is that hot, it sets off the outside smoke detector and riles up the building. The foil helped. I will totally be doing that in the future. Easier than moving to a new apartment.

After 25 minutes, my fine formerly feathered friend looked like this.

in progress

Now, please note, compounding the previously noted ill effects of a point and shoot camera and a sub standard photographer, the chicken was in the oven, and I was not, which made both lighting and focus a problem. This photo is the result. I am particularly chagrined, as I am posting this on the very same day that I went with good old Meredith to meet with her potential wedding photographer, and being the fantastic friend that she is, she suggested he check out this little blog. I was flattered until it hit me that this unbelievably talented artist would be checking out this shameful display of photographic documentation. I mean, I do alright with the equipment I have, but it isn’t exactly show quality. Onward.

I flipped the bird over breast side up, and cooked for another 20 minutes or so. I then cranked the heat up to 500 for a final browning, and waited for it to finish cooking.

finito

My first thought was that it didn’t get as brown as I would have liked. I was kind of disappointed in how it looked, and I sort of wrote it off right away as not the best roasted chicken. But honestly, that was much harder to do once I tasted it. The skin was very, very crisp, and it was salty and delicious. The meat was really juicy and well-flavored (I actually stuck a half a lemon and some thyme in the chicken cavity while I roasted it, so there was a lemony tang that I liked. That was an adjustment I made from the ATK version.)

Still though, for some reason, there was something about this that makes me hesitate before I universally praise this method, but I am not sure what that is. There are still more chickens to roast and more comparisons to make, and hopefully I’ll figure it out. I want to try the Zuni method again, I want to roast it like my dad does, with a paste of garlic, herbs, oil and vinegar on the skin. I would like to brine one, even though that probably won’t crisp up the skin the way I want.

But let’s start a tally:

Pros: crisp, salty skin, well-flavored meat, quick roasting, not too much hands on work.

Cons: didn’t brown well, prep needed to happen 24 hours in advance.

So until next time, here is the recipe. Give it a try.

Crisp Roast Chicken from America’s Test Kitchen.

Football Snacks: Cheddar Cheese Dip, Olive Tapenade and Melted Onions…

I should know better. I read a lot of food blogs. A lot. And I have the nerve to get annoyed when they don’t post regularly enough for my taste and I have to wait longer than I feel is appropriate to get my fix. I don’t care if they are having babies, opening restaurants, generally in a funk or anything else. I want to read posts. And then I do exactly the same thing, except worse because I ACTUALLY HAVE NOTHING ELSE GOING ON… So I am going to try my darndest to not get annoyed at these lovely folks for several reasons: one, because I have absolutely no right to. Who do I think I am? Just because I check for updates every day, because I have nothing better to do, doesn’t mean I can expect them to post to my whims; and two: because I am a blog reading junkie and I think I need to tone it down. It might be more detrimental to my life than all of the other terrible habits I have, so I am going to work on it; and third: as I sometimes have to tell colleagues, why don’t we stop worrying about what other people are doing, and just worry about ourselves, ok? And then I curse myself for sounding like a mom, when I am, in fact, no such thing. They totally deserve it, but still. (That makes me sound like I am totally insufferable to work with. I am not. There were extenuating circumstances that required a firm hand. Usually I am a pleasure.)

I will make one excuse for myself and my irregular posting though, and that is that my wireless connection totally stinks and at times will just crap out for zero reason that I can tell, and then my computer gets into the act, and won’t reconnect to the signal without having to restart it, and then I lose a bunch of stuff that I just worked so hard on, which makes me want to throw my computer against the wall. So it is the perfect storm of crapitude that makes posting way more annoying than it should be. I am in the market for a new computer, so I will be able to see if this is a computer issue or a wireless issue, and if it is a wireless issue, watch out Verizon, my patience is wearing thin.

So on with it. Since Superbowl Sunday is soon upon us, I thought I would share some recipes that get A LOT of play around here. They are all dips of sorts, and are great for cocktail parties, football Sundays, or an after work snack. All three are super easy, and if you are anything like me, there is a chance you will have most of what you need on hand at any given time…

The first one I almost hesitate to share, because it might reveal me as a fraud of sorts. People go wild for this, and it is the easiest thing I have ever made in my life. It is embarrassing it is so easy, and when people ask what it is, they rarely believe me when I tell them. I feel like there should be some super secret ingredient or step, but there is not…

This is referred to simply as cheese dip. Because that’s what it is. This has been served in some form at almost every holiday I can remember, as well as every single time all the kids are around my parents’ house, and every time I have people over, and sometimes when I don’t. It is a nice thing to whip up as a bonus snack, especially if there are kids around, because kids don’t like much sometimes, but they like this…

This is how it starts…

whoa. stand back.

I like to use sharp cheddar for the flavor, but you could use a milder one if you would like. And you could use orange cheddar if you would like. It won’t offend my sensibilities. As far as supermarket cheddar goes, I like Cabot. The cheese needs to be grated, and because I am really lazy, I generally run it through the food processor to accomplish this. Then I mince the white and light and medium green parts of three or four scallions, depending on their size. And I loathe to admit this, but I have actually minced the scallions in the food processor, changed the blade, and grated the cheese, and then dumped the whole thing in a bowl, but I felt so lazy after that I have only done it once.

Anyway, the grated cheddar and the minced scallions go into a bowl.

almost finished.

Add a pinch of kosher salt and a couple of grinds of pepper, and then mayo. I am not going to lie, I have never measured the mayo until I decided to make this for the blog, so I was curious myself to find out how much went in there. As it turns out, I used a 1/4 cup. Who would have guessed? Probably plenty of people, but I had never given it much thought.

So add the mayo, and mix with a fork until it is all combined. And that’s it. Finished. You can make this ahead of time-my mom actually prefers to, because she likes the flavor better the next day- but I would take it out of the fridge a bit before you serve it. It is much better at room temperature, like most cheese. I like this best with Stoned Wheat crackers.

Finished.

Dip number two is a bit more civilized, and while is has more ingredients, it is not exactly much more difficult. This is an olive tapenade that I have adapted from this Jacques Pepin cookbook.

Chez Jacques

Jacques and I are tight. I was introduced to this lovely book at a wine lunch that my dad did through the store and a restaurant near my parents’ house. I took the day off, picked up my Gram, and we headed down for a lovely lunch where the chefs adapted some of the recipes from the book, and Jacques was there signing cookbooks and being generally lovely. Like I said, he and I? Tight.

The tapenade starts like this.

Raw materials

Pitted kalamata olives, dried figs, anchovies, garlic, capers, fresh mint, honey and olive oil. More ingredients than the last one, but no harder. Essentially all the ingredients go into the food processor, but I like to quarter the figs first, as they are fairly hard, and then I like to run the figs and garlic through the processor first, to make sure they get chopped finely enough. After that, everything else goes in.

into the processor...

And then I run the processor until the tapenade has the consistency that I want, and voila. That’s it. I like to serve this best with toasted ciabatta or baguette. It is salty and sweet with a hint of mint. It is really quite good. Jacques actually calls for 8 anchovy filets, but I have found that the longer this sits the more pronounced the anchovy flavor gets. And since I often don’t finish this in one sitting, I prefer fewer anchovies.

Olive-y goodness.

This is a slightly more civilized football dip. Your guests will be very impressed.

Lastly, one I like to call melted onions. My dad made this for us once, and I loved it. I will suggest this is the most difficult of the three, but that is a bit misleading, because it is not actually difficult at all, it just requires a bit more time. The ingredients are yellow onions, butter, fresh thyme if you have it lying around, a little bit of chicken stock and a splash of balsamic vinegar. The onions are sliced, put in a sauté pan (with a lid) with A LOT of butter and some thyme, and cooked over really low heat until they are practically liquid. The chicken stock and balsamic get added at the very end, and the results are extra delicious. The key is actually NOT to let the onions brown and caramelize, you just want them to melt (hence “melted onions.”)

looks innocent...

I use two of the really large yellow onions, or four medium ones, but this can be adjusted up or down really easily.

into the frying pan...

Into the frying pan over low heat with SIX tablespoons of butter and a hefty pinch of salt. And just cook and cook and cook. Always on low heat.

After 10 minutes (I forgot to add the thyme from the start.)

After 20 minutes (at this point I put the lid on the pan.)

After 30 minutes...

After 40 minutes...starting to get closer.

50 minutes (plus black pepper and chicken stock)

At this point I taste and taste to determine when they are finished. When the onions are ready they should have absolutely no bite, both in mouthfeel and in onion flavor. It usually takes about an hour.

After about an hour, with the balsamic vinegar...

I like to serve this with toasted ciabatta or baguette as well:

And onions are served.

and the nice thing about this, is that if it is not eaten right away, it keeps for a long time, and can be used for all sorts of things. I came up with an egg dish during free week (post still to follow) that used this, because I had some in the fridge from NYE, and I have eaten said egg dish about 27 times since I came up with it. Including yesterday for breakfast. So there you go.

All of these are delicious. I can’t even pick a favorite. I just wouldn’t be fair. Make them and see.

Here are the recipes.

Cheese Dip

8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese (I like Cabot)

3-4 scallions (depending on size) white and light green parts minced

1/4 cup mayonnaise (I think anything but Hellman’s tastes weird, but that is just me. For the love of all that is holy, do NOT use Miracle Whip. Gross. Also, it’s not mayonnaise.

Salt and pepper to taste

Grate the cheddar cheese, combine with minced scallions, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add mayonnaise and mix with a fork to combine. (There should be enough mayo to just hold it together, but feel free to adjust to your liking.) Serve with crackers (preferably Red Oval Farms Stoned Wheat Thins…but now I am just being bossy.)

Olive  Tapenade (adapted from Chez Jacques)

1/2 lb pitted kalamata olives drained of any liquid (the measurement is approximate, I pick up one of the more full looking deli containers from Whole Foods and it always works out just fine)

2 cloves garlic, peeled

6 dried figs, quartered (I use dried black mission figs, also from Whole Foods. They quite hard when dried, not like raisins. They are about the size of a large marble maybe.)

2 tbl capers, rinsed of any salt or drained of any liquid

4 anchovy filets, rinsed of any oil or salt.

15-20 small mint leaves – I generally twist a fist full off a fresh bunch. This is also to taste, feel free to use less to start and add more to your liking.

black pepper to taste

1 tbl honey

1/4 cup good olive oil

toasted bread or crackers for serving

Put the dried figs and garlic in the food processor with a steel blade and pulse a couple of times until both are chopped fairly small. Add the rest of the ingredients to the processor and pulse until you have the consistency you want. Serve with toasted bread. This recipe is very flexible, so feel free to mess with proportions until you find your perfect combo.

Melted Onions (from Dad)

6 tbl butter

2 large or 4 medium yellow onions (about 1.5 lbs-ish) halved and sliced thin.

2-3 sprigs fresh thyme

1/4 cup chicken stock

salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar to taste

Melt the butter in a heavy frying or sauté pan with a lid over low heat. Add the sliced onions, thyme and a generous pinch of salt. Cook the onions stirring occasionally, over low heat until they start to release their water. Make sure they are not browning and burning. After about 15 or 20 minutes, put the top on the pan, and let the onions continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until they lose all firmness and onion-y bite. Taste the onions to test  for doneness. At about the 45-50 minute mark, add the chicken stock and stir, do not replace the lid, stir a bit more frequently as the chicken stock cooks off. Add black pepper and more salt to taste. Add balsamic vinegar, start with about a tablespoon. It should be enough to darken the onions slightly and add a sweetness and tang. Cook for about five minutes more. Serve with toasted bread.

tapenade redux.

PS WordPress? May we have a word? I would prefer if you didn’t call every word I use that is longer than 6 letters a complex phrase. If I want to use the word detrimental, I want to use it. I don’t want to use harmful. And if I want to say frequently instead of often I will. Seriously, who is programming this function?