December 18, 2012
Meet the new guy I’ve been obsessing over for the last couple of weeks.
He’s a sourdough starter and I raised him myself! Back in the old days, before you could get those packets of yeast at the supermarket, bakers would have to catch and raise their own yeast if they wanted leavened bread. The cool thing is that when you catch wild yeast, some beneficial bacteria get caught too; these are the bacteria that give sourdough that tangy flavor. And the combinations of yeast and bacteria are different in every region, which is part of the reason why a French pain au levain tastes different from San Francisco sourdough.
Raising a starter is as simple as mixing together some flour and water, then letting it sit in a warm spot for a few days. The yeast and bacteria in the air work their way into the flour and water slurry and start eating the carbohydrates in it. Then you “train” the little guy by discarding a bit, then feeding the rest with more flour and water. Eventually the culture grows, eats, and burps little carbon dioxide bubbles in a predictable manner, and that’s when it’s ready to use for baking. It really is very much like having a pet: daily feedings, a little warm corner for him to sleep in, and he has the potential to give you many years of joy.
His name is Jean-Bapyeast. I wanted a really French name, a friend suggested Jean-Baptiste, and Edna punned it into Jean-Bapyeast. Excellent, non?
There are a lot of things you can do with a natural sourdough starter, including, of course, making bread. I’ve tried my hand at a couple of loaves but haven’t quite nailed down my perfect recipe yet. The loaf above was my first, and unfortunately it deflated a bit while I was transferring it to the baking vessel, resulting in a denser loaf than I prefer. We’ll get there, and until then, try raising a sourdough starter for yourself. There’s really nothing cooler than making tasty bread out of nothing but flour, water, salt, and some microorganisms you gathered from the air.
November 5, 2012
You know what I don’t understand? Crustless quiche. First of all, isn’t that just a frittata? Secondly, the crust is clearly the best part of quiche, so why would you want to get rid of it? (I know, I know, it’s because it’s fattening… but seriously people, we need to get over our fear of butter for some things, and quiche is one of those things.)
Perhaps I’m biased because, well, I make some excellent pie crust. It’s the easiest thing, and I like to have a couple of discs of it in my fridge at all times just in case some fruit takes a turn and must immediately be turned into pie, or I have savory leftovers begging to become pot pies.
The only equipment you need is your fingers, a counter, a bowl (though this is optional), and about ten minutes of your time for an outstandingly flaky, buttery, versatile crust. Here’s how I do it.
October 1, 2012
I know we’ve talked about the process for balsamic reduction before, but I thought it was worth its own post. Now that I’ve had a big bottle of it at home for a while, I find myself reaching for it nearly every day — to drizzle on fruit, rub on roasts, or glaze vegetables.
The fact is, you aren’t going to use your best balsamic for everything. The really good balsamic vinegars have that spoon-coating thickness and deep richness from years of aging and slow evaporation in successively smaller barrels, and come with a price tag that matches the love and care put into each tiny bottle. It’s absolutely worth having a bottle of the good stuff around for special occasions, but it’s nice to have a thickened everyday balsamic for, well, everyday uses.
September 14, 2012
“Garlic is divine. Few food items can taste so many distinct ways, handled correctly. Misuse of garlic is a crime. Old garlic, burnt garlic, garlic cut too long ago and garlic that has been tragically smashed through one of those abominations, the garlic press, are all disgusting. Please treat your garlic with respect. Sliver it for pasta, like you saw in Goodfellas; don’t burn it. Smash it, with the flat of your knife blade if you like, but don’t put it through a press. I don’t know what that junk is that squeezes out the end of those things, but it ain’t garlic. And try roasting garlic. It gets mellower and sweeter if you roast it whole, still on the clove, to be squeezed out later when it’s soft and brown. Nothing will permeate your food more irrevocably and irreparably than burnt or rancid garlic. Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screw-top jars. Too lazy to peel fresh? You don’t deserve to eat garlic.”
— Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
Mr. Bourdain has said it perfectly. Garlic is one of those transcendent ingredients that will permeate a dish with its heady flavor and aroma from just a small clove, it’s in nearly everything worth eating, and it should be treated with respect.
September 5, 2012
Okay, hear me out on this one. I know that dehydrating citrus zest isn’t nearly as widely practiced or ballyhooed as, say, making stock, but it should be. Think about all that orange juice we consume. All that fresh-squeezed lemon juice going into your vinaigrettes. The limes you squeeze over guacamole and Thai food.
Now think about how often you need lemon or lime zest for a completely different recipe, and have to go out and buy more citrus which sits in your fridge looking pale and naked after you’ve stripped it of zest.
The best way to get around this scenario is the waste-not-want-not method: just zest your citrus any time you’re going to use it for just its juice or flesh, and let the zest try out before bottling it and saving it. One minute of extra work and no fancy dehydrator necessary; since the bits of zest are so small and oily, they’ll dry out quite well on your counter. It doesn’t have the nose-smacking pungency of the fresh stuff, but it makes up for it by working its way into dishes you’d never think to pull out a whole lemon for — but since you’ve got a bottle of the stuff there on your shelf, well, why not?
Plus, it makes the house smell really good while it dries. Continue Reading
August 17, 2012
When we go to a carte-blanche meal and the server asks me if there’s anything I don’t eat, my answer’s simple: “raw onions.”
I was an extremely picky eater as a kid — being a spoiled only child will do that to you — but I have gotten over most of my food prejudices. After seeing the light about tomatoes, I have been systematically trying the foods I held a prejudice against, trying to present them in a way that would turn my disposition (read: covered in cheese and/or bacon and/or deep fried). Mushrooms are now my friends. Brussels sprouts are addictive when deep-roasted and covered in a sweet-spicy fish sauce dressing. Snails? Slather those bitches in butter and garlic and bring ‘em on. But no matter how many variations I try of raw onions with not a wisp of heat put to them, I always wince and move them to the side of my plate.
It’s better than eating no onions at all, right? I can certainly get down with an onion ring now. I accept that sweated onions are essential for… well… almost everything, but soups certainly. But my favorite way of preparing onions is, unsurprisingly, the least oniony of all: it’s onions taken past mere cooking into candy-land.
August 14, 2012
Spinach, kale, chard, collards, beet greens, etc. etc. etc. We’re supposed to eat lots of them. They’re called “cooking greens” to differentiate them from the tender greens that are more commonly eaten raw.
Greens are not my forte. Carbs and protein are my jams. But hey, hardy leaf matter is necessary for a hardy body, so we’d better make it taste awesome and — this is the important part — more likely to get into all of our meals. That’s where these garlicky greens come in.