Friday, October 24, 2014

The no-knead bread everyone is making really IS the most amazing thing ever.

In our house, bread is king. A lot has happened in our lives since I last posted on here. In the past couple of years, I've gotten married to my photographer and best friend, earned my doctorate degree in Chemistry (heck yes!), bought and subsequently decorated a house, and made a lot of new amazing friends.

Through it all, bread.

Is that weird? Well, I have long taken stress and turned it into food. Cooking is my outlet through which I am able to release my tension, which I'm sure you can imagine I have had TONS of in the past couple of years. I've made curries and stews and pasta and everything else under the sun. But what I really love to make? What I've never stopped making? Bread.

There's something intensely comforting about baking the bread for your household. Not only do you have total control over what goes into your bread, which allows you to skip any preservatives or stabilizers that are found in commercially produced products, but it is immensely satisfying to produce something easily as good in quality and flavor to what you can find in a bakery.

And it's super, mega, incredibly easy. So easy, I'm not even going to post a recipe. Just guidelines. Feel free to play with them, as I have and have almost always come out with amazing results. For our wedding, for example, I baked 6 large loaves of different flavored bread for our cocktail/cheese hour. Huge hits.

So here's how you can make the loaf above.

What you will need :
  • An oven-safe pot or other vessel with a tight-fitting lid. I alternate between a cast iron 6qt pot by Lodge (because lets be honest, the OTHER brand is oppressively expensive) and a covered clay Romertopf. 
  • 4-5C flour (I use bread flour, but really AP will work, anything but pastry due to its low-gluten content)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • Pinch active dry yeast (I keep mine in the freezer in a tupperware and buy it in bulk - it lasts forever as long as you're careful not to thaw it for long)
  • Water
How to make it. Grab a large bowl and add the flour, yeast, and salt. Mix together. Pour in water until the dough reaches a thick oatmeal consistency. Yes, this is rather subjective. But guess what! I've made several different hydration levels of this recipe and...

they all worked great.

So don't sweat it too much. You want a wet dough. It won't ball up well, and it will be sticky as hell. The idea is that you don't have to knead it because kneading allows for the formation of gluten by physically bringing together glutenin molecules and mushing them into fibers. That's one way to make bread, and it works great.

However, what you're going to do today is NOT knead. No-knead bread, you know. Gluten forms because it is in a wetter environment, and thus can move around to form fibers rather than forming by physical squishing via kneading. Science. This is why I got a PhD, amiright? :P

So when you've mixed it all together and made sure there are no dry spots in the bottom of the bowl, cover it in plastic wrap and let it sit in the kitchen. Forget about it for a day or so. Less if you're impatient like become sometimes when I haven't made bread in a week and am totally out. 

What you're looking for is at least a doubling of the dough. It will look like a bubbly slime monster. That's what you want.

When the "dough" is ready, preheat the oven and pot you'll cook your bread in to 500F for one hour. Turn out the dough onto a very floured surface. It will be kinda gross. But take the sides of the blob and fold it back on top until it forms a loose ball. Cover with the bowl and let it rise while the oven preheats.

Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Then remove the cover and bake until well browned, 15-20 minutes. 

Remove from the pot immediately, and slice off the end. Slather with butter, and enjoy.

Bread. Share with others.

Feel free to add in other ingredients once comfortable with the basic bread recipe. My favorite in the world is gruyere cheese and tons of chopped green onions. So. good. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Roast pork with grapefruit vinaigrette - my hubs has some cooking chops too!

You know what's great? Letting your husband cook for you sometimes. You can replace 'husband' with mother, roommate, boy toy, friendly neighborhood ninja, whatever you like. The reality is that sometimes, having someone else prepare dinner for you is the best thing in the universe. Especially when they're quite good at it!

Man Candy has learned a lot about food since we started, you know, hanging out. His dad, along with us, is a scientist, and picked up a laser chiller for us that was being thrown out.

well hello there, gorgeous

Doesn't sound cool? Well it is, and you might know it by its culinary namesake : a sous vide water bath. It's like the Rolls Royce of modern culinary technique, all rolled up into one giant 150 pound package that stays outside so it doesn't take up our whole kitchen counter.

For those of you who haven't heard of a sous vide, the basic idea is that a tub of water (or any other solvent) is held at a constant temperature for long periods of time. If you set that temperature to, say, the final cooking temperature of chicken, and then put a vacuum-sealed chicken breast in the water bath, after a long enough period of time, the breast will be cooked perfectly from edge to edge. The different from cooking in the oven comes in the constant temperature. In the oven, you use a much higher temperature, which cooks from the outside in. This can cause the outside of the meat to be cooked to a much further extent than the meat inside. Not so with a sous vide. The result is perfectly tender meat, cooked to the correct temperature.

When cooking fatty meats in the sous vide, you have to sear them after they are done cooking. This gives them a better texture and renders their fat. Mmm Maillard reaction. Trust me, I'm a scientist.


Sous Vide Pork
You want to get a final internal temperature of roughly 145 degrees F for about an hour. That's a nice medium well. So set your sous vide to 145. Alternatively, you can try this on the stove with the aid of a thermometer. It'll be difficult, but probably worth it. To make a ghetto fabulous vacuum seal, use a ziplock bag, fill with your meat and marinade, and insert a straw. Seal the bag up to the straw, and then suck out the air and in one quick movement, pull out the straw and seal the bag. Almost as good as a real vacuum seal!

After cooking, to sear, heat a pan over high heat until water sizzles wildly when tossed onto it. Place the meat, fat side down, in the pan. This will NOT take long : do not overdo it! You cooked the meat to the perfect temperature and you can overcook it if not careful at this point. A minute will do it.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Almost faster than store bought pasta

I came home last night right after doing a hard workout and immediately plopped myself down on the floor. I do this sometimes. For some reason, the hard floor and industrial carpet in our house feel really good when I'm really tired after a hard workout. Last night, Man Candy started asking me about dinner while I was lying there. I told him to take care of it.

I don't give my husband enough credit, seriously. I do most of the cooking in the house, but that's mostly because I love to do it. Sometimes I forget that Ben watches me cook and is quite a good chef in his own right. Most of the time, he's my willing sous chef and kitchen paparazzi, but every once in a while when I just want to cave and order a pizza, he steps up and makes his own kitchen magic happen.

Now, last night's dinner wasn't pretty. But I am gonna give you a tiny little recipe to make super easy pasta happen. It's almost faster than store bought pasta, and several thousand times better. It also lets you mix things into the dough like we did, with beets from our CSA box.

Look at those puppies. I don't even like beets, but they're stunning. Local, organic, sweet red dirt. I usually use beets as a coloring agent rather than for flavor, so that's what I did last night.

Once I pried myself off the floor, I through together a quick pasta dough and made these little pasta dumplings that are called cavatelli. They are super easy to make and the shape makes them hold sauce really well.

So for all you saucy kids out there, this pasta shape is for you.

Pasta - cavatelli (with or without mix ins)
makes pasta for 4, give or take your appetite

  • 2 cups flour (I usually do 50/50 semolina and all purpose)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • Enough water to bind (probably 2 Tbsp or less)
  • Some kind of mix in if you want, but make it chopped small and pretty dry. We put our beet through a spice grinder to puree it for the pasta
Mix all ingredients, adding water until you form a smooth, not too sticky dough. Add more water (less than 1 tsp at a time please!) if there are oatmealy dry bits. Add more flour if the dough sticks to the surface badly. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic.

Wrap the dough in plastic and rest in the fridge for a few minutes. Lets be honest, mine rested for approximately 5 minutes. I'm impatient. 

At this point, you can form any pasta shape you like, but if you have a gnocchi board around (it's a wooden paddle with ridges down the face), you should try cavatelli!

Cut the dough into 8ths or so, and roll into thin logs (one piece at a time). Cut the log into small pieces. They should be about 1/2 inch long and wide. Any bigger and they end up being gigantic pasta that take forever to cook!

Toss the pieces in a little flour to keep from sticking to the board. One at a time, press the little dough square onto the gnocchi board, pushing it away from you. Lift up your thumb and roll it up lightly until it forms a little shell. 

How about them blue nails? :)

Boil in batches in salted water. You'll have to boil for about 10 minutes, and then try. The center of these can take a few minutes to cook, so be a little patient. Clean the kitchen while you wait! 

Hopefully, by the time they're done you'll have a sauce, and grate some romano cheese on top. Enjoy!

Note : beet pasta does look awful with red sauce. Just a note.

Brioche warning : butter at critical levels

To be honest, I have NO idea why I made brioche in the first place. I have a wonderful book all about how to make bread, but every time I open it, I get turned off by the sheer number of steps required and the days ahead that I need to plan things to actually make any of the breads I really want to make.

Like the one time I tried to make a sourdough starter? And ended up with a gigantic breathing pile of mold and slop that was bubbling in the hallway? Yeah... that's why I stick to easier breads.

But as with all good things, it's time to branch out. So that's where brioche comes I suppose. I don't think I would make it again, simply for health reasons (it's basically a croissant bread but somehow manages not to taste like the least healthy food in the universe, which is SUPER dangerous). But Man Candy, my husband, loved it. As all men love butter and crap like that.

The recipe is from my book, Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers, by Peter Reinhart, which is totally awesome. I'm not going to post the recipe, because I feel like I probably shouldn't, but you should try making brioche at least once. It was an... experience :)

This dough feels like... butter. Surprised?

if I space them, it looks like one complete photo!
I'm rolling the little logs of brioche dough into baby rolls. You make a shape like below, then poke a hole in the large part and pass the small end through it to form a classical brioche roll.

How cute! All risen up.

Brushing the dough with egg wash, love those cute little shapes!

After baking... this is why you don't leave your bread out - cat will bite on it. See the bottom of that roll? Yeah, I kill him. Note to self - don't wait 3 days to take a photo of the finished product because you're too busy eating the brioche to make it go away. It doesn't work out well.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Envelope pillows are easy and super fun to make

Man Candy and I redecorate our house basically once a week. It's only 500 square feet on a good day, so we get creative. Sometimes it turns out good, and sometimes we end up with a hole in our wall that we can see our neighbor through (sorry guy!).

I've been bitten by the sewing bug, which incidentally is absolutely the only bug I will tolerate. I bought a little brother sewing machine recently, and I've been stitching together mostly any fabric that isn't part of clothing, though that's gonna be fair game soon if I don't get to the fabric store again soon.

Anyway, I made some pillows. I had fabric, I had pillows I hated, and that's where these puppies came from. They're INSANELY easy to make, even I didn't screw them up. Try it out!

1. Measure pillow to make the cover for. Mine was 18x18.
2. Cut one piece of fabric 1 inch larger than the pillow in all directions. So mine was 20x20.
3. Cut a second piece of fabric the same width, but 7 inches longer than the first. Mine was 20x27.
4. Cut the longer piece of fabric in half. Mine were now 2x(20x14.5) and 20x20.
5. Hem the edge of the two shorter pieces where you cut it in half. That's all the hemming you'll be doing, yay!
6. Lay the larger square, good side up (the side you want to end up on the outside, that is), on top, lay the two smaller squares, good side down, lined up around the edges. They will overlap by, you got it, 7 inches.
7. Sew all the way around the edge of the square.
8. Turn inside out and marvel at your work. Clever girl.
9. Sew everything else in your house.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Engagement chicken? No thanks, I'm hitched.

I've been married for ALMOST two months now. It's been a fantastic last couple of months, and a definite learning experience for both of us. Ben is learning, again, that I am kind of a kitchen destroyer. I am learning not to trust him to handle getting us car insurance. It's a give and take kinda game :)

Man Candy and I are spending our Friday night relearning how to do food photography. You see, he's a physicist by training, but he's also a professional photographer (lucky me!!) and does all kinds of athletic photography, from artsy "look at how hot I am!!" to races to catalogs. But the problem is this : food isn't... so much mobile. It's not running past while you hurry to get the shot. It's just there. So it's kinda hard to take photos that are dynamic of something that's inherently not.

Unless it's a chicken. Which is where we come to tonight's absolutely ridiculously delicious roast chicken. Friday night in a jewish household typically means roast chicken in some incarnation. Now, we're by no stretch a typical jewish household; we love bacon almost as much as we love our cat, cherish our long Saturday drives, and don't go to temple very often. A good roast chicken can be almost transcendant.

I feel like Ms chicken died for our sins (or consuming, semantics), so we have to do right by her.

I came across the ludicrously titled "engagement chicken" about a year ago. I got engaged soon after but it's completely unrelated. I suppose if you never cooked, and then came out with this recipe, your man might be surprised into... something. I don't know. It's a pretty basic roast chicken with tons of lemon and whatever herbs I found flourishing outside in my garden today. You should try it, not because it will get you engaged, which it won't, but because it's damn tasty.

Engagement Chicken* - adapted from Glamour Magazine.
makes one chicken, of course

Gorgeous, right?? That's a photogenic chicken - and it's not even moving! Props to the Benji - good job baby

Ingredients :

  • 1 whole chicken
  • some lemons, I used 2 large ones
  • 1 large yellow onions
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Liberal applications of ground cumin 
  • Herbs (I used rosemary, sage, some parsley, and some oregano
  • Sliced potatoes, baby carrots, and perhaps other root veg if you have it around
  • 1 tsp arrowroot powder (ultimate thickener for sauce - try it if you haven't!)
Directions :

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and dry chicken well. Salt and pepper liberally inside and out of the chicken. Take one lemon and squish it around on the counter to juice it up inside (it ends up steaming the chicken from inside). Using a knife or a fork, pierce the lemon many times and shove it in the business end of the chicken. Follow the lemon with half an onion and you're done with the inside.

Place the chicken breast side down in the pan.

Chop up your veg and spread around the chicken, give a good spray with cooking spray, and season well. Dice your herbs and rub over the chicken's skin on both sides. Finally, squeeze a second lemon over the chicken and throw the peels in the veg.

before beautification

Toss in the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then remove and reduce temp to 350. Turn the chicken over, so the breasts are up (hehe). Cook until a probe inserted into the thigh reaches 165 degrees.

While your lovely husband is convincing himself he knows how to carve a chicken (though he's really just mutilating the poor girl), heat the pan sauces in a sauce pot with a little bit of the arrowroot powder to thicken. 

Pour the gravy over your chicken to serve. Or directly into your mouth - I won't judge ;)

Happy Friday, everyone!

*results not guaranteed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rustic rosemary olive oil bread, or how I solved my crappy week :)

Do you ever have one of those weeks? You feel a little bit off-kilter, misguided, just not yourself?

Well, I had one of those last week. I finished a piece of a project, and I was SO excited. That is, until I realized I had no idea what to do next. And that's a pretty horrible feeling when all you want is to finish your PhD and get a doggie, like me!

On weeks like these, I self-medicate with carbs. For some reason, carbs help my psyche better than most anything else. I've been known to eat toast for dessert, even.

If I'm eating a lot of bread, you know I'm baking a lot of bread. I made a decision not too long ago to become a master bread maker (yeah - I was SUPER naive about that!), and it's been an uphill battle for me! But I'm glad to say I haven't bought a loaf of bread in... about 6 months now! I even baked all the bread for our wedding :)

I'll say it now and I'll say it again : there is NOTHING better than producing a loaf that looks gorge, and tastes better than your favorite bakery's. Ok, so maybe I'm overstating a bit with the taste, but it's damn close!

So here's my newest bread loaf love. It makes a totally delicious bread, and is super easy to do. No starters or poolish needed (I always end up with moldy starters, so I tend not to use them, but I'm going to try again soon much to my hubby's chagrin!).

Tip : to make a pretty top, after your loaves have risen, spritz with water and sift flour onto the loaf before cutting with a very sharp knife. You'll end up with a stunning bread!

Rosemary olive oil crusty bread
makes two loafs


  ● 2 cups warm tap water, about 110 degrees
  ● 1/4 cup olive oil
  ● 2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
  ● 3 cups all-purpose flour
  ● 2 cups whole wheat flour
  ● 1/3 cup fresh rosemary, chopped 
  ● 2 tsp. salt


To make the dough, sprinkle the yeast onto the warm water and allow to sit for a couple of minutes. Whisk to mix, and add olive oil. Don't worry about mixing that in, it won't work. I tried.

Add flours (reserve 0.5C of the white flour), salt, and rosemary into the bowl of a stand mixer (or just a big bowl if kneading by hand) fitted with dough hook. Start mixer on low. Slowly add in the liquids, and once they are all in, turn off mixer and allow the dough to sit for a few minutes. This allows the flour to absorb the water and become hydrated. It allows you to be able to decide if it needs more water if too dry, or more flour (hence the reserved half cup - but don't add it too quickly! one Tbsp at a time is the best) if too wet.

Turn on the mixer and knead dough for 5 minutes, until smooth and springy. Put in a greased bowl covered with plastic wrap or proofing container (read : large tupperware with vertical sides) and turn to oil the top. Allow to rise at room temperature until doubled.

Turn out dough onto lightly floured, punch down, and cut in half. Form half of the dough into a ball, stretching taut and form a little outie belly button on the bottom. You should have a very smooth ball other than the bump on the bottom. Let sit for 5 minutes to rest while you work on the other half.

Work the ball of dough outward, rolling under hands, until you have formed a loaf. Taper at the ends. Dust top with a little flour and cover with a towel. Rise until doubled again (don't worry - the second time is always quicker!). 

About half an hour after shaping your loaves, preheat your oven to 500 degrees. I use a baking stone, or a set of baking tiles, but this would work well with a baking sheet with parchment paper as well. Just make sure if you use a baking sheet, you have a couple more sheets underneath so your bottom doesn't burn! Allow the oven to heat up for at least half an hour.

Once your beautiful loaves are doubled, spritz with water and sift flour on top before cutting 3-4 slices across the top with a super sharp knife (or a razor you stole from your husband, as is often the case with me!). Carefully lift the loaves, one at a time, and place on preheated surface in the oven. Spray the inside of the oven well with water, and toss in a hand full of ice cubes to aid in crust formation. Turn your heat down to 450 and bake for 20 minutes.

Peak at your beautiful loaves as you add some more ice cubes, and turn heat down to 350 for another 20 minutes, or until the top sounds hollow when you tap it.

People always say to let the loaf cool, because you risk having it collapse when the steam escapes, but I always risk it. There's literally nothing better in the world when you're having a crappy week than topping your steaming hot bread slice with butter.

I say go for it :)