Saturday, June 21, 2008

Too Hot to Eat

Ah declay-ah, it is hot. Too hot to think about much of anything. I'm not interested in cooking. I'm barely interested in eating! (Now that's hot!!) It reminds me of when I was in Greece a number of years ago. We didn't stay anywhere that had air conditioning, and it was June. Imagine, if you can, being in Greece, surrounded by some of the world's best food, and not being interested in eating. Torture? I think so. The only thing I could eat was Greek salad, and for breakfast yogurt with honey. (The BEST!!) But other than that, it was just too hot.

Well, here in San Diego, I don't have air conditioning, either. I have 2 ceiling fans - one for the bedroom, one for my office. I just came back from buying a third one for the living room. Usually I don't need these fans until August, but then came global warming, and my cat and I pass out on the floor together almost every day. Salads. Cold shrimp. A glass of chilled white wine. It's all I've been able to manage.

Then I remembered that I hadn't posted about the 3rd bread I made, back when I could stand the idea of turning on the oven. I saved this bread for last, because this bread made me stop dead in my tracks. It is from Peter Reinhart's book "The Bread Baker's Apprentice", and it's his "Pain a l'Ancienne". In his first chapter "What Is It About Bread?", he tells of visiting a friend of his who lives in Paris. He informed his friend that he would bring the bread, and his friend replied "That's OK, we have a great boulangerie around the corner." But Reinhart insisted, telling him that his bread was from Poilaine, a master bread baker.

When Reinhart arrived, he noticed that there was already a baguette on the counter, next to the pot of boef bourguignon his friend had made. They all sat down and decided to compare the 2 breads. They started first with the loaf from the local boulangerie, which Reinhart described as "pleasant". Next, they tore into the bread Reinhart brought. The first thing Reinhart noticed was that the holes were larger than the typical baguette. It was also creamier, not as white. I'll let him describe the rest of the scene:

"Michael chewed off a bite, the crackle of crust slightly cracklier than the local bread's. I watched his face as he chewed, the realization that there was another level, never experienced even here in the baguette center of the universe, that was now entering his orbit. He visibly displayed a series of emotions on his face, swinging from smiling sublimity to furrowed anger, than back the other way. He was on a pendulum ride as the room grew silent and all attention focused gravitationally on him, getting weightier by the second. In my memory I see the lights getting dimmer, with a spotlight on Michael's face, but I know this is just a trick of my own mind. But what did happen was this: He slowly picked up his local baguette and looked at it, then looked a the a l'ancienne baguette on the table, then back to the one in his clenched hand. As if in slow motion, he threw the local loaf against the wall, where it smashed and fell to the floor. His wife said sharply, "Michael!"
Michael turned to me and said, 'You've ruined me. Are you happy?'
'Yes, actually. I am happy,' I said.
Then we all smiled and enjoyed dinner."

Until I made this bread, I thought that was a charming, if exaggerated story. Now I know better. I've used this dough to make pizza (sensational!) as well as to make this bread. I have no idea how Reinhart get's his loaves to form baguettes. The best I could do was to make ciabattas - best served with a really good olive oil.

Makes 6 baguettes, 6-8 pizzas, or one 17x12 inch focaccia

6C (27 oz) unbleached bread flour
2 1/4 tsp (.56 oz) salt
1 3/4 tsp (.19 oz) instant yeast
2 1/4C plus 2 TBS to 3 C (19-24 oz) water, ice cold

semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting.

1. Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and 19 oz of water in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix for 2 minutes on low speed. Switch to the dough hook and mix for 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed. The dough should be sticky on the bottom of the bowl but it should release from the sides of the bowl. If not, sprinkle in a small amount of flour until this occurs (or dribble in water if the dough seems to stiff and clears the bottom as well as the sides of the bowl). Lightly oil a large bowl and immediately transfer the dough with a spatula or bowl scraper dipped in water into the bowl. Mist the dop of the dough with spray oil and cover bowl with plastic wrap.

2. Immediately place the bowl in the refrigerator and retard overnight.

3. the next day, check the dough to see if it has risen
in the refrigerator. It will probably be partially risen but not doubled in size (the amount of rise will depend on how cold the refrigerator is and how often the door was opened). Leave the bowl of dough out at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours (or longer if necessary) to allow the dough to wake up, lose its chill and continue fermenting.

4. When the dough has doubled from its original prerefrigerated size, liberally sprinkle the counter with bread flour (about 1/2 cup). Gently transfer the dough to the floured countre with a plastic dough scraper that has been dipped in cold water, dipping your hands as well to keep the dough from sticking to you. Try to degas the dough as little as possible as you transfer it. If the dough is very wet, sprinkle more flour over the top as well as under it. Dry your hands thoroughly and then dip them in flour. Roll the dough gently in the sprinkled flour to coat it thoroughly, simultaneously stretching it into an oblong about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. If it is too sticky to handle, continue sprinkling flour over it. Dip a metal pastry scraper into cool water to keep it from sticking to the dough and cut the dough in half width-wise with the pastry scraper by pressing it down through the dough until it severs it, then dipping it again in the water and repeating this action until you have cut down the full length of the dough. (Do not use the blade as a saw, use it as a pincer, pinching the dough cleanly with each cut). Let the dough relax for 5 minutes.

5. Prepare the oven for hearth baking, making sure to have an empty steam pan in place, and a pizza stone if you have one on a shelf. Preheat the oven to 500 degreesF (or 550 if your oven goes that high). Cover the back of two 17x12" sheet pans with baking parchment and dust with semolina flour or cornmeal.

6. Shape the dough by cutting each half into 3 strips. Flour your hands and carefully lift one of the dough strips and transfer it to the back of the pan, gently pulling it to the width of the pan (or to the length of your baking stone). Score the dough strips, slashing the tops with 3 diagonal cuts. Because the dough is sticky, you might have to dip the razor blade or serrated knife in water between each cut. You may also omit the cuts if the dough is not cooperating.

7. Take 1 pan to the preheated oven and carefully slide the dough, parchment and all, onto the baking stone. Or bake directly on the sheet pan. Make sure the pieces aren't touching. Pour 1 C of hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals. After the final spray, lower the oven setting to 475 degreesF and continue baking. Meanwhile, dust the other pan of strips with flour, mist with spray oil, and slip into a food-grade plastic bag or cover with a towel or plastic wrap. If you don't plan to bake these strips within 1 hour, refrigerate the pan and bake later or the next day. If you'd like to bake them as rustic, ciabatta-style breads, leave them at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours and then bake. As the loaves proof, they will resemble and perform like ciabatta.

8. The bread should begin to turn golden brown within 8 or 9 minutes. If the loaves are baking unevenly at this point, rotate them 180 degrees. Continue baking 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the bread is a rich golden brown and the internal temperature registers at least 205 degrees.

9. Transfer the hot breads to a cooling rack. They should feel very light, almost airy, and will cool in about 20 minutes. While these are cooling, you can bake the remaining loaves, remembering to remove the parchment from the oven and turn the oven up to 500 degrees F or higher before baking the second round.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Eat Dessert First

I keep having the mistaken idea that someday I'll "catch up". Like, catch up on my reading, or catch up on paying off the credit card bill, or catch up on the housework. Now, it doesn't bother me much when it's a pile of laundry that doesn't make it to the wash. After all, it's not going anywhere, and chances are I've got other clothes to wear. But when it comes to paying bills - now that bothers me. I grew up knowing that "debt" was a four letter word, and I can't stand it when I can't pay off the full amount of the credit card. But I'm also someone who was born with a travel gene. They might not have mapped it yet in the human genome, but believe me, it's there. So the credit card bills don't get paid off in full every month. But I AM going to India again this July.

India in July? Why would you do that you ask? Because my nephew has met a wonderful woman from the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India, and they are getting married. That seems like a very legitimate reason, if you ask me. And so I work harder at paying off the credit card bills before I leave, so I will have a fresh slate, as it were.

The other side of me loves to be at home. Especially when it's nice out and I can work in my garden. People ask me, "What have you been doing recently?" The answer is in these photos.
The paths, the stones around the edge, as well as about half the garden space itself has been created in the last 6-7 months. Oh yes, and the plants too. Before I did this, there was an old deck out front. Termite heaven! I kept putting potted plants over the holes in the deck until one day I decided that it would probably be a better idea to get rid of the deck before someone went through it. With the help of a friend, we hauled the mostly rotted boards off to the dump, and when we returned, I was faced with an expanse of dirt with some pretty hefty tree roots snaking their way across the space.

My first task was to create a path from the front gate to the front door. Then from the front door to where I have my little table.Once the paths were created, I enlisted the help of another friend to haul stones off the beach. I had gone off and found about 8 large, somewhat flat-ish rocks which I hefted a couple of hundred yards and made a pile. Then my friend and I drove his truck as close as possible and spent time carrying the stones up the hill and into his truck. We dumped them in my front yard and then it was up to me to decide how to use them.

I'm a very visual person. I need to lay things out and see them, and then I know if I like the idea or not. That's not a bad thing - it just is what it is. But of course, when you're dealing with what essentially amounts to hundreds of pounds of stone....well, you get the idea. But on the bright side, I don't need a gym membership!!

So after the stones were in place, and bags and bags of dirt were thrown in to raise the beds, I got to have some FUN! COLOR, PLEASE!!! Do they have a 12 step program for plant addicts? Perhaps there should be one. As someone once said, "I can resist anything but temptation." So when I saw these lemon drop petunias at home depot, could I resist them?
Yellows, purples and blues began expanding into oranges and reds. The other side of the path is thick with pinks and salmons. And next to my front door, I clustered all my pots of herbs.
Like I said, with all of this lifting, hauling, digging and dragging, I don't need a gym membership. A manicure, perhaps, but not a gym membership. And the upside of it all is that I can eat more sweets. So when I looked in my fridge and noticed I had a bunch of apples in there, I knew I needed a recipe that called for lots of apples. It could have been applesauce, true. But then I saw a photo of an apple tart tatin on the Food Network, and as I mentioned, I'm a very visual person. And besides, apples are easy to lift compared to stones!
1 sheet store-bought puff pastry dough, thawed
6 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, halved, and sliced 1/8-inch thick
1/4 cup sugar
2 ounces (1/2 stick) cold butter, sliced thin
1/2 cup apricot jam, heated and strained
Vanilla ice cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

On a lightly floured surface roll out dough into a 13-inch round and fit it into a 10-inch tart tin with a removable fluted rim, trimming the excess. Arrange the apples decoratively on the pastry shell, overlapping them. Sprinkle the sugar on top of the apples, top with butter slices and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes or until the crust is cooked through and the apples are golden.

Brush with the heated apricot jam while the tart is still hot. Serve each portion with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Kitchen Notes:

I didn't use store bought puff pastry dough. I used the dough that I had used for my Spinach Ricotta Tart that I had made back in April. I've made tarts with puff pastry before and they've been good, but this particular recipe really did it for me.

Other Note:

I've been away for a while, and you, dear readers, have been busily creating sensational dishes. I took off for Memorial Day weekend and went to New Mexico. When I got back my practice was overflowing, with lots of paperwork to catch up on. (There's that catch-up thing again!) And then we had a power outage. In the middle of doing a post, the power went out for a day. I was so busy trying to eat all the food in my fridge, I didn't have time to photograph or write! I'm back for now.........That is, until I go to India...........