Tastings

Easiest Homemade Bread (Frenchman approved)

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When my husband and I first began dating, it did not take him long to request freshly-baked bread. Being French and having grown up there, he had grown accustomed to having a nice hunk next to his plate. In his non-baker mind, there was not that much difference between bread and the peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies with which I had won his heart (an exaggeration, but by how much, really, knowing what we know about hearts and stomachs?) I explained to him that there was an ocean of difference between most baked goods and YEASTED baked goods, the largest being, so I thought, that they must be kneaded for a long time, a task unwieldy without the most coveted of tools, a stand mixer. After a previous attempt at making my Mom’s pizza dough had required so much mixing and kneading by hand and turned out like cardboard anyway, I put all yeast doughs aside.  

The truth is I had been wishing for a shiny and beautiful KitchenAid Stand Mixer since I had been living on my own, roughly eight years. I wanted to make creamy creamy cheesecake and bread dough and pizza, cinnamon rolls, yeasted breakfast cakes, whole grain sandwich loaves, beautiful, crusty white boules, all kinds of deliciousness. But the dog-eared pages in magazines and cookbooks would have to wait until I was able to knead that dough correctly. I should have known that the promise of freshly baked bread would be too much for my husband (then boyfriend) and sure enough, several Christmases ago a shiny red KitchenAid was presented along with an unspoken request for “I can haz bread now?” And now I could indeed make bread! And cheesecake and cinnamon rolls. And lo, it was good. But not quite perfect, because after making dozens of different bread recipes, they all kind of fell flat, none was a keeper. And now, dear reader, the joke is on me, because we have found a winner, a bread that I now make weekly that is delicious and versatile and craggy and crispy, and gets compliments every time! And it does not require a single knead! It is the easiest thing in the world and has 4 ingredients which you almost probably currently have. The only drawback is that you need a bit of foresight, you have to begin the recipe the day before you want to enjoy it. You may have heard of the recipe, by Jim Lahey from the Sullivan Street Bakery and originally published in the New York Times, and then picked up by all blogs everywhere and Pinterest. In the original recipe, the bread is baked in a pre-heated metal casserole with a lid, like a Le Creuset. Not having one of those (it’s next on my coveted list) I use a pre-heated, lidless cast-iron pan, which works perfectly. I have also baked it on a cold sheet pan, and it was still delicious, if not quite as crusty. If you do have a lidded casserole and want to use it, follow the recipe as is, following the direction of when to remove the lid. 

  • 3 cups all purpose flour (can replace with up to 1 cup whole wheat flour)
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast or 1/3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 5/8 cups of water (this is an annoying amount, and I usually fill my pyrex measuring cup to a bit less than 1 2/3 and all is fine)

Rough, craggy dough just after mixing

1. In a large bowl, mix the first three ingredients and then add the water. Mix again, incorporating the ingredients. It will be sticky and not quite fully mixed together, as in the photo above. Don’t worry. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature* for 12-18 hours. I go for the longer side, mixing it up sometime after dinner and continuing the next steps around 1 or 2 the next day. 

Risen, fermenty dough after 18 hours

2. The dough will be now be super wet and bubbly. Flour a silpat or piece of parchment and turn the dough out onto it, using fingers to release the yeasty tentacles. Sprinkle a little more flour, just enough so that it doesn’t stick to everything, and fold it on itself a few times. Cover with plastic wrap (maybe the same that you covered the bowl with) and let it rest for 15 minutes. You can also do this on a floured work surface, but I find putting it on something helps to move it later on.

3. Gently cajole the dough into a roundish shape, placing any seams you might end up with down on the silpat or surface. Dust with flour, cornmeal or wheat bran (I always use flour). Cover with a flour-dusted cotton kitchen towel. Let rise for another 2 hours, or until it has roughly doubled in size and the dough doesn’t spring back when poked.

Turned out and formed

4. Preheat the oven and your 6-8 quart cast-iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic cooking vessel to 450 degrees. Carefully remove the pot or pan. Lift the silpat, parchment or towel and use it to flip the round dough ball into the pot. It doesn’t really matter what it looks like at this point. If you just have a baking sheet, just flip the dough onto that, a little cornmeal would help it not to stick. Cover with a lid if you have one and replace the pot in the oven.

5. Since I don’t have a cover, I create steam in the oven by using a spray bottle filled with water and spraying the bottom of the oven at the beginning and about halfway through cooking. This helps form a nice crust.

6. Bake 30 minutes. Remove the lid, if using, and bake up to 15 more minutes. If not using a lid, I find 5 or 10 extra minutes is perfect for getting a golden brown crust. Bread should also make hollow sound when you knock on it. Cool on a rack before enjoying.

*Lahey recommends 70 degrees, but it is winter and my apartment is significantly not that right now, particularly at night, and the bread is still good! It’s pretty fool-proof.

 

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Challenge:Accepted!

From the French Kitchen- Lavender Truffles

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When I worked at a chocolate shop in Boston, the number two question we would get, after “How do you work here and not eat everything?” was, “Which is your favorite?” And for me the answer was always the lavender truffle. I would always get a quizzical look, or a “really??” but many people trusted me, and I think many people were converted. A creamy ganache made with 67% dark chocolate infused with lavender, covered with a thin shell of chocolate and painted with a shiny purple luster powder for pizazz. So, so delicious, and made all the more wonderful by the fact that it is unusual (not hazelnut or caramel, which are so obvious) and unexpected (floral flavors tend to be very cloying and perfumey, not so here). When I left the chocolate shop to go to France, visions of creating my own lavender truffle were already dancing in my head.

If you are thinking that this recipe is not exactly from the French Kitchen, you are right. I am cheating a bit, but lavender is so french, right? And so is chocolate, so I’m going with it. I’ve made truffles before, notably as holiday gifts in huge batches of many different flavors, and they are really quite simple, if slightly intense and find-chocolate-in-odd-places-for-months messy. At the shop we didn’t make the chocolates, so I had no recipe to go on, but it turns out that a very basic truffle recipe, with quality ingredients and a touch of real lavender, tasted exactly like my favorites.

Lavender Truffles

  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (Good quality, in whatever percentage you prefer. I used Scharffen Berger 70% and found it perfect.)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon dried lavender buds (Grow your own, or purchase in a store or online, just make sure they’re organic and edible! I found mine at a natural foods store in the bulk tea and spice section.)
  • 1-2 tablespoons good cocoa powder for rolling (optional if using chocolate coating)
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate for coating (optional if using cocoa for rolling)
  1. Heat heavy cream in a small, heavy saucepan until boiling. Add lavender. Remove from heat and let steep.
  2. In a double boiler (or a makeshift double boiler: a metal bowl or pot over a larger pot of boiling water) melt 6 ounces of chocolate.
  3. Remove from heat and add 2 more ounces of chocolate. Stir until melted.
  4. Place a strainer over the bowl or pot of chocolate and pour the cream mixture over it, catching the little bits of lavender. Discard lavender.
  5. Stir the cream and chocolate mixture slowly with a whisk, working from center to the edge, being careful not to beat any air in, until it is a smooth, creamy ganache.
  6. Let ganache come to room temperature and then refrigerate for about an hour. Check on it periodically; you want it to be perfectly scoopable but not too firm.
  7. Line a baking sheet, tray or pan with parchment or waxed paper.
  8. Using a spoon, scoop a bit of the ganache and roll in your hands to form a loose shape, like the namesake truffles, and set on the tray. Size them how you like, but I think golf-ball sized makes the perfect bite.
  9. Refrigerate formed truffles for at least 15 minutes.
  10. At this point, the truffles should be coated. You can either coat in melted chocolate, or cocoa powder or both. Some people find the cocoa powder too intense, but the chocolate coating can be annoying to get just right. The chocolate coating is recommended if you don’t plan on eating them in a day or two, as it seals the ganache. It is also possible to roll the coated truffles in any other sprinkly material: more lavender, nuts, cocoa nibs, etc.
  11. If you are coating the truffles with melted chocolate, melt 4 ounces of chocolate in a double boiler.
  12. Set up an assembly line with your tray of truffles, your bowl of melted chocolate if using, a bowl of cocoa powder with a fork and a bowl with a sieve if using cocoa, and another empty tray lined in parchment or waxed paper.
  13. Smear some melted chocolate in your hand and roll a truffle in it, coating lightly, but entirely. Let set for a second.
  14. AND/OR Drop into bowl with cocoa powder and turn with fork to coat. Use fork to drop into sieve to get rid of excess powder. Lay onto tray.
  15. Repeat with all truffles.
  16. Refrigerate for one hour before packaging in an air-tight container or something cute for gifts. Store in refrigerator, but enjoy at room temperature.
Chocolate dipped truffles, which you can also sprinkle with lavender before they dry.

In addition to my gigantic, extremely rustic cocoa-coated ones, these are some chocolate-coated truffles, which you can also sprinkle with lavender before it fully dries.

Because my hosts (my parents) are vegan, and it is so rude to bring chocolate into a house that someone can’t eat, I made a cream-free version as well, using coconut oil. It came out well, although the coconut flavor somewhat overpowered the lavender. I might use closer to 2 tablespoons next time.

Vegan Lavender Truffles

  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (good quality dark chocolate is usually dairy free, some of the other stuff isn’t)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried lavender
  • 1-2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (optional)

Repeat recipe as above, replacing cream with coconut oil and water. Instead of boiling, heat gently to melt and let lavender steep. Continue from step 2.

 

*Recipes created from Bon Appétit, Robert Linxe’s recipe courtesy of Gourmet, Smitten Kitchen, Whole Living, and my previous experience.

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Tastings

Lamb Tajine: A Lesson in Moroccan Cooking

Finished tajine.

Naima, the woman who lives downstairs and who cooks dinner for us most nights is, in addition to being warm, friendly and generous, a wonderful cook. In fact, she tells us she is the main cook in her family, the one who provides meals and pastries for family weddings and events. We asked if she would show us how to make one of her dishes so that we could learn about authentic Moroccan cooking straight from the source. Because she cooks fresh and local, she goes to the market around the corner and buys what looks best to her. On this day, it was lamb, peas, beautiful young purple artichokes, green onions and zucchini, so she showed us how she makes a classic tajine. A tajine (or tagine) is so named because of the cooking vessel in which it’s cooked. The clay pot, with a flat bottom and conical lid, was originally made to go straight into a fire or cooking oven, where the lid protected the dish from ashes and helped funnel all the juicy steam back into the dish. They are now usually cooked on a stovetop. A tajine can be made with pretty much anything: beef, lamb, chicken, kefta (ground meat, or even fish as you saw in a previous dinner) and vegetables. It is really endlessly adaptable and anything that strikes your fancy or is in season would be a perfect addition to the tajine. We noticed when we were up in Northern Morocco, in Tetouan, that tajines were usually either meat, or vegetable, but not both. But Naima says here it’s common to have meat and veg in one tajine, which makes for a perfect one-pot meal. If you don’t have a tajine it is, of course, possible to make it in a pot, in fact, some Moroccans cook it that way.

Three things in particular stood out to me as being unique: the prevalence of lemon, both preserved and fresh. Lemon juice was added to almost everything, even rubbed on some of the vegetables. Acid, any good chef will tell you, gives that all-important pop to other flavors. Second, the various flavoring mixtures, all made separately: the dry mix, the fresh, herby pureed mix, and then the tomato sauce for the top, allowing layers of flavor to develop. And last, I was surprised to see Naima didn’t add any salt. Although arguably the first rule of cooking is “season”, with all the lemon and the three different spice mixtures, (the herby one may have had some salt, although she didn’t mention it), the salt isn’t missed in the final dish.

Lamb and Vegetable Tajine

  • 2-4 pieces of lamb or other meat, bone-in if possible 
  • cumin
  • pepper
  • saffron
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • half an onion
  • olive oil
  • blended fresh herb mix (lima beans, cilantro, lemon)
  • 1 potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • peas (preferably freshly shelled)
  • 4 small artichokes (or 2 large), cleaned, hulled and sliced into 4 pieces each
  • 1 zucchini, cut into large pieces
  • 1 scallion, coarsely chopped
  • handful of parsley
  • chili pepper
  • Tomato mixture: juice of two tomatoes (or 1 tbsp tomato paste), pepper, saffron, lemon juice and water. She also added a bit of cornstarch to thicken the sauce, I think a personal preference.

 

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Tastings

Cranberry Hazelnut Granola

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I began making granola mostly because it is quite expensive to buy and there were periods of my life where yogurt and granola was a daily meal. I do also believe that if I can make something at home, I should at least try it. I like being able to control what goes in my food, I think it’s interesting to know the methods behind making things, and it’s usually fun. After that first time or two, if I decide that it’s not fun anymore, or that my version isn’t as good, well, the store bought options are always there. I draw the line at ketchup, for example, and, although I know it’s worth it, I have not yet made it to the point where making bread does not feel like a huge chore. But anyway, granola. Granola is perfect to make at home because it can be so much cheaper, is super easy, and is one of those things where the little ingredient tweaks are paramount. My dream granola (what, you do not have a dream granola?) is the perfect combination of:

  • not too many ingredients, all easy to find
  • quick, easy clean up
  • healthy enough to eat for breakfast
  • tastes how I wany my granola to taste (maple-y, probably includes coconut)

In particular, I was looking to replicate a granola with hazelnuts and dried cranberries that I used to get from FreshDirect (how do I love thee FreshDirect, let me count the ways). The fact that it is now Thanksgiving month and I have cranberries on the brain is neither here nor there. I wasn’t able to find an exact recipe that fit my parameters: this recipe from Martha Stewart had the right idea with the maple syrup and olive oil, but I think the brown sugar is too unhealthy for my breakfast parameters, although it will make a crispier granola. This recipe for Cherry Nut Granola from Sprouted Kitchen intrigued me, but in the end was a bit too involved, and didn’t have that maple hit. But by sort of combining the things that I liked about each, taking out what I didn’t and adding a bunch of things that I think should find a home in my granola I think I’ve hit on the ultimate. I’ve been making this recipe a lot here in Paris, because they only have muesli (with raw oats, not bad but doesn’t hit the granola parts of my brain), and I’ve found croustillant (crunchy) granola which is like, break your teeth crunchy and has lots of ingredients that I can’t yet understand. Instead, in five minutes (plus 45 of baking) I can have delicious granola to eat with all the different kinds of yogurt, or almond milk.

I encourage you to change it up and add and subtract whatever floats your granola boat. The only parameters are, for this amount of dry ingredients, to use at least 1/2 cup of total liquids (your stickies and wets: brown sugar, maple syrup, agave, honey, olive oil, other oils, or apple sauce which does both sweetening and moistening duty) and up to 1 ½ if you’d like it sweeter, knowing that more oils will make it more “separate”, whereas more sugars will usually make it crunchier/crisper. Also leave out whatever might burn (coconut, fruit, already roasted nuts) until the last 15 minutes or the end.

  • 3 cups oats*
  • 3 tablespoons raw sesame seeds
  • ½ cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup dried unsweetened coconut flakes
  • ½ cup dried unsweetened cranberries

Preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit (which is 163 Celsius in case you, like me, need to know). In a large bowl, mix oats, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts. Add cinnamon and salt and mix well. Add maple syrup, olive oil and vanilla. Mix again. Spread evenly onto a baking pan with sides and bake on the center oven rack for 15 minutes. Gently stir granola and bake for 15 more minutes. Add coconut flakes and bake 15 more minutes. Remove from oven and add cranberries. Cool completely before storing. Store in air-tight container or plastic bag for about two weeks, or in the freezer for a few months.

*Some granola bakers prefer old-fashioned oats, while others prefer quick cooking for a looser, possibly clumpier texture. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what kind of oats I use here in France. With my knowledge of the French language I am lucky I end up with oats. I often feel like the man in the children’s book The Little Old Man Who Could Not Read. In it, a man who can’t read is left to shop for himself when his wife is away. He goes to the supermarket and ends up buying soap flakes instead of oatmeal, saran wrap instead of spaghetti, etc. When I was a child it never failed to make me cry.

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Tastings

Kale Pomegranate Salad

I am lying in bed surrounded by tissues, humidifier on full blast, some food game show half keeping my attention, with a cup of ginger, lemon and honey that keeps getting too cold before I can finish it. I really don’t think this is that sickness (I really hope it is not) but nonetheless all of the things on my to-do list are just languishing there. I made my go-to-when-sick, toast, that is easy to make and comforting but then, just as I was about to try napping, I thought of kale salad. Maybe my body need some anti-oxidants and nutrients stat, but the kale salad with pomegranate and toasted walnuts that I made a few weeks ago at my parent’s house came into my head. The ingredients for which have been waiting behind the scenes in the fridge like actors waiting for me to call “places”. But can I muster the energy to make it? Washing the crevices of kale is a chore at the best of times, and freeing the arils of a pomegranate a task so difficult there are copious tutorials and videos for it online.
The kale salad is somewhat of a foodie joke lately because of its heavy presence on the menus of local-driven restaurants wanting to serve a dressed green and having much more kale than butter lettuce in the winter months. But not going out to eat as much as your average food critic, and living in a city that seems at least 6 years behind New York in terms of food, I’ve been eating my kale cooked. This recipe from Joy the Baker was the thing that got the kale salad idea implanted in my brain, while a Martha Stewart’s Whole Living recipe brought pomegranate seeds to the party. In the end I sort of made a Wuzzle (I apologize if you now can’t get the theme song out of your head) of the recipes, using the ingredients from the Whole Living recipe, and using Joy’s dressing. I made a few changes, including taking out the red onion because onions in the winter tend to be super strong tasting, and I replaced the honey in the dressing with maple syrup which I think was a perfect touch because honey can be overpowering while it sweetens, and I sometimes find it cloying.
I mixed everything except the nuts an hour or so early so that the kale could soften in the dressing and the flavors could marry. The leftovers the next day were really delicious too, with a stronger flavor and the kale softened up some. So you could even leave it overnight if you wanted to give your molars a bit of a break. I like kale, probably more than the average person, but I thought this salad was transcendent. It, to me, felt almost like eating dessert, and then getting to feel a little self-righteous about it. I couldn’t wait to make it again.

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