Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

It is hard to believe that it has been five months since I started this blog.  I would like to believe that someone out there is reading my posts and using my recipes, but even if I do not have as big of an audience as I would like, I am still delighted to do it.
To all my readers, Happy New Year! 

May it bring you all that you wish for! 

Happy Cooking, Eating and Drinking!

And I guess I will devote January posts to very healthy eating, as I imagine half the world will be on a diet come January 1st.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rainbow Trout with Brown Butter Sauce and Porchini Risotto

This is the time of the year when each one of us can use a comforting home cooked meal that is at least a little lighter than the standard holiday fair.  Between piles of candy and boxes of cookies at the office and all those celebratory lunches, my pants are not zipping up as well as I would like.  On the other hand it has been so cold in the Northeast lately, that the body craves something a bit more substantial than a carrot stick.  Whenever the fat guilt sets in, I turn to fish and between you and me; a little brown butter does not automatically turn the whole meal un-healthy.  Everything in moderation and you can stay slim and fit through the holidays, and if not, well, that is what the New Year’s resolutions are for.
Pan seared Rainbow Trout with Brown-butter
Rainbow trout filets with skin on
1 tbs olive oil
4 tbs of butter
Juice of one lemon
Handful of dill, parsley and 1 clove of garlic.  All minced together,

Heat the olive oil and 1 tbs of butter in the medium skillet.  Salt and pepper the trout filets on both sides and sear on each side until the edges are crispy but the fish is not over cooked.  About a minute per side, maybe a little less, this fish is very thin and cooks very quickly.  Sear all the filets and set aside.
Turn the heat low and in the same skillet melt all of the remaining butter.  Cook the butter swirling the skillet over low flame until it becomes fragrant and nutty and turns a caramel color.  Turn of the heat, stir in lemon juice, pour over fish and garnish with the herb and garlic mixture.

Porcini Risotto.
2- 3 oz of dried porcini mushrooms
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs butter
¼ cup of grated or very finely chopped shallot
2 cups of Arborio rice
1 cup of dry white wine
4 to 6 cups of chicken stock (simmering)
2 oz of grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbs herbs de Provance
Salt and Pepper to taste.

Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in a cup of hot chicken stock for 30 min.  Drain the mushrooms and reserve the liquid.
In a sauté pan, gently heat the olive oil and butter.  Add the shallot and cook over low heat for a few min.  Add the herbs de Provance and the rice and make sure that the rice is well covered with the butter, oil mixture.  Add the mushrooms.  Cook without adding any liquids for a minute or until the rice begin to smell nutty.
Add the wine and cook stirring periodically until the liquid is absorbed.  Add the reserved mushroom liquid and a few ladles of stock at a time, stir in and cover. Stir periodically and do not add any more liquid until the previous batch is absorbed.  Some recommend cooking the risotto uncovered, stirring constantly, but for me, it works out better if I cover it and just stir periodically.  I cannot say how much stock you will end up using; I just cook it until the rice is al dente.  So try often!
The dish comes out fairly rich so I like to serve it with a nice crisp white wine.  We had a 2008 Stay Sail White from a Frontenac  Point Vineyard in the Finger lakes region.    It is a well balance blend of Vignoles, Vidal, and Chardonnay grapes.  Full bodied, with notes of apricot and peach.  It had a nice crisp finish and was a great compliment to the rich nuttiness of the butter sauce.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Adventures in Dough - Danishes

I just realized that recently my life has been revolving around dough.  Laying awake at night I worry that I did not turn the dough on time or that my bread starter over developed or under developed, or that I have frozen yeasted dough in the freezer that should have been baked weeks ago and was not… “is my yeast dead now?”.  As I am not a professional baker doing this for a living, it is very difficult to schedule a very full and busy life around the timetables and demands of the dough beast.
Although very labor intensive, I was very happy with the way my puff pastry turned out, so I have decided to venture out into the world of yeasted laminated dough.   All those years appreciating someone else’s croissants and Danishes, I wondered, how hard can it be?  I used the Danish dough recipe from the Joe Pastry blog.  I used real Danish butter to re-create the most authentic taste I could master.  It took me about three days to get through the whole process and to make all my dough turns.  I would run home after work, turn the dough a few times and then leave it in the fridge overnight to rest.   I was finally left with two portions of gorgeous looking dough.  Unfortunately it was just not a good time to bake it so I decided to freeze it and bake the following weekend.  Here is when all my worries begun.  I was suddenly swamped at work and pulled in many directions at home.  Family breakfasts were not to be for the next few weeks and I just kept the dough in the freezer.  In the mean time I came across an advice from a very prominent pastry chef, who strongly cautioned against freezing yeasted dough for more than two days, because the combination of fat and frost destroys the yeast.  So here I was awake at night, mourning all the work and $25 worth of Danish butter, until finally, weeks later I got the chance to bake. 
I thawed the dough overnight in the fridge and made 4 kinds of Danishes just to try out the fillings and see if my Danishes will puff at all.  This batch yielded eight bakery size pastries, but next time I will make them a bit smaller.  Could have easily been twelve.
Fortunately, my worries did not come true.  My dough had risen, separated and puffed just as if I baked it the next day.  The Danishes were a big hit with all who tried them and I still have half the dough left over for next time.

Here is the whole laminating process gain.

Cutting in the butter

Oh those turns!!!

Over and over again!

Try folding and rolling this monster.

And this is what you get

Orange Marmalade filled Danish


Pain du Chocolate

Almond cream filled Bareclaw

Cheese and Raspberry filling was delicious but the Danishes did not hold together.  I sealed as pouches and they fell apart, so I did not take any pictures.   

And more to bake later.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rustic Bread

The most comforting and best tasting food in the world is bread.  I don’t care what kind of delicacies you have eaten or how sophisticated your palate is, whether you are child or an adult and where you come from, no one can resist freshly baked bread.  I can honestly say that it is my absolutely favorite food to eat and absolutely the most temperamental, difficult to master and hardest to cook.
Al lot of though and work goes into a properly baked bread.  How many of us, really have a bread baking, stone, fire burning oven?   You need to trick your normal house oven into thinking it is all that.
How much gluten is in each flour kind?  What is in the water?  Do I use commercial or natural yeast?  Do I bother with making and training the starters?
Once I started baking bread a few years ago and begun reading about bread baking and countless recipe books and advise later, I realized that you probably need a lifetime to learn to bake perfect bread, every time.  All of the above questions about flours, water, yeast, temperatures and starters were haunting me and all of the conflicting advice confused me.  I kept on baking, coming up with different results each time, learning from my mistakes each time.  These days, I can produce great bread 2 out of 4 times as long as it is the kind of bread I baked before and as long as I do not violate some of my own rules (which I do often).
Here are a few of my own rules:
1.        Don’t bother with naturally born yeast, feeding and training starters unless you are really ready for very unpredictable results, foul smelling science experiments and middle of the night terrors that you forgot to FEED IT again.
2.       If you do decide to work with starters, stick to store bought bread until you get the hang of it, which may be never.
3.       Invest in a scale, cups are a poor way to measure different types of lours.
4.       Dough does not like to be rushed.. good bread takes time
5.       Dough does not like to be abandoned, if you leave it out to long, it will over-rise and leave you and your bread flat.
6.       Your bread dough likes your hands, not the dough hook of a Cusineart.  You will feel the dough better and get the hang of the proper texture if you mix and knead by hand.
7.       Flour matters, so experiment with as many types and combinations as you can, to find what works best for you.
8.       Never cut hot bread

Here is one of my favorites and the ones that most of the time it turns out well.

3 cups of King Arthur Italian blend bread flour
1 ½ cups of stone ground wheat bread flour
2 cups of King Arthur bread flour
1 ½ tablespoons of instant yeast ( I like SAF Red Instant yeast)
1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
½  tablespoon sugar
3 cups of warm water at 105 or 110F.  ( The water should not be warmer than 115F as it will kill the yeast, but I like to make to start off with hot water, as I keep my yeast in the fridge and I find that very warm water wakes it faster)

Makes 2 medium size loafs or one very large one.

Day 1. 
Mix the yeast and about 1 cup of water in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Let stand for about 10 min.  Add all of the flour, sugar, salt and the rest of the water and mix just to combine.
Turn out into a floured board and knead with your hands until the dough begins to feel warm, about 5 minutes.
Place into a lightly oiled plastic bowl large enough to accommodate rising dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for about 1 ½ hrs or until the dough doubles in size.

After the dough rises, turn it out onto the floured surface and knead very lightly with your hands, be careful not to deflate the dough to much.  It should feel light and stretchy now.
Place back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for a slow rise.

At this point you can keep it in the fridge for up to 1 week without baking. 

Baking Day.
Take out the dough and let it come to room temperature.
On the floured surface, knead the dough until it is very stretchy but still soft and airy.  At this point you can do the windowpane test.  Take a small piece of dough and stretch it like a membrane between your hands.  Look up at the light, of the membrane is thin enough to see the light through and does not tear, you have the right dough consistency.  If not, keep kneading.

Shape the loafs and place them on the parchment paper and cover with a kitchen towel.
In the mean time, prepare the oven.
Line the very bottom rack of your oven with a baking stone or unglazed quarry times (See note).  On the very top rack place an empty baking pan which is at least an inch deep.  Crank up your oven to as high as it will go (mine goes only up to 550F).  Let the oven heat up for 1 hr after it comes up to full temperature.  This gives your loafs just enough time rise.

Score your loafs with a razor or sharp knife in whichever patter you prefer to help them rise in the oven.

With the loafs fully risen and oven pre-heated, place your loafs directly on the tiles.  You can keep them on parchment paper if you prefer they are easier to move this way.
Working quickly, add about ½ inch of very hot water to the hot baking pan.  This will create steam in the first few minutes of baking and will help to create a cracking crust.  You can also spray a few squirts of water on to the oven sides and floor; just don’t get it on the glass door.  Believe me, just don’t… it ruins your whole week.

Bake the bread at 480F for the first 10 min and then lover the temperature to 455F and bake for an additional 15 min of making medium size loafs.  If you are baking one large loaf, bake it for 35- 40 min total.

Take the bread out of the oven and cool it on the cooling rack, to prevent the crust from getting soggy on the bottom.  After a few minutes you may hear your crust start to make cracking sounds as it cools… don’t be alarmed, this is the best sound in the world.  It means you achieved a crackling crust.
Resist the temptation to tear into the hot bread.  Allowing it to cool is part of the cooking process and makes for proper crumb and flavor development.

One thing I can tell you is that no matter what you put in front of your guests at the table, all of the freshly baked bread will be gone first.  It will yield you the most compliments and make for most conversation.  And this makes sense, because nothing  makes us feel more at home than bread.

Note:  Baking stones can be quite expensive and they tend to crack.  I go with unglazed quarry tiles which are about 70 cents apiece at your local hardware store. These are the brick colored, Mexican looking tiles.  Just make sure they have a flat surface, not glazed.   They are easier to replace when crack and certainly cheaper.