Tuesday, November 23, 2010

No Knead to Fear: No Knead Bread

If there was an “Easy Button” bread recipe, this would be it. Bread is not a novice endeavor; there is a reason we buy weekly bread at the grocery. Bread-making can be time consuming, messy and frustrating – even with a bread machine. Before, I had to approach the whole process with an attitude of “whistle while you work”. Making it was reserved for special occasions only. While I still find the extensive kneading, pulverizing, and punching of bread therapeutic, this new recipe requires little more than a mixing bowl and wooden spoon.

The reward of fresh baked bread is well worth the effort. But now they say they’ve cut out the effort. Skeptical at first, I spared the ingredients in the name of experimentation. My faith in this blubbery mass of dough was lukewarm. Without getting my hands dirty, I felt a loss of connection to the dough. But 450 degrees later, my delight in the final product burned through the trepidation. As my knife lay upon the bread dome, I could already hear the crackling of its crust. It began to flake off as I sliced it, revealing a steamy, spongy body. Fresh from the oven, it was an airy, eggy bread – almost like Challah. Every bite was a new crunchy crescendo. Although the crispness wore off as the loaf condensed, it still remains my solid standard for easy bread-making.
Now no one has an excuse for the infrequency of a homemade loaf. Ready? Preheat…BAKE!
No Knead Bread
3 cups bread flour [NOT all-purpose]
¼ tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt [I added a pinch or two more]
1 tsp sugar
1 ½ cups lukewarm water
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add the water, stir. [Should end up looking like a shaggy, goopy mess]
2. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Place somewhere warm for 12-20 hours.
3. Dump onto a floured surface. Wet hands and fold down in towards the middle, forming a smooth, tight surface.
4. Drape a moist towel over the dough; let it rest and rise again for 2 hours in a warm place. It should double in size.
5. 30 min before the dough is done resting/rising, preheat oven to 450˚F. Place a Dutch Oven [cast iron stove, i.e. something that can withstand the heat – no cheap aluminum or plastic] in as oven is preheating. Makes sure that the pot is either well seasoned, greased, or you put some sort of parchment paper down on the bottom so that it does not stick.
6. After preheating, remove the pot, and plop the blimp-like mass into it. Doesn’t matter how it falls, it will end up looking rugged and rustic regardless.
7. Bake covered for 30 min. Then uncover and bake another 15-20 min. To check, tap the bread [should sound like a low, hollow drum].
8. Remove and let cool. Spread a slab of butter on top and enjoy.
**Note: the crust will be best right from the oven. As it sets, the moisture will soften the crust. To re-crispify, place back in the oven for about 10 min at 350˚F.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Carrot Risotto

A challenge taken to the next level may qualify as an obsession, but none have enjoyed the fruits of their labor more than hungry college kids. With Arborio rice rounding out to about $3.25 a pound, we have selected the vegetable additions carefully so we do not waste a morsel. But honestly, how often does a risotto go to waste? This time around we chose carrots, inspired by the most recent episode of Iron Chef, Battle Carrot.
Mushroom Risotto is often the first thing people rattle off when asked about risotto. With a rustic combination of wine and mushrooms, it entices even the staunchest opposition. It always has my mouth watering, although I have been disappointed in the grayish color it takes on the plate. Even a garnish couldn’t rescue it from its storm-cloud appearance. It needed a punch of color.
Teeny, vibrant orange chunks of carrot and a carrot puree gave the entire dish a warm, orange hue; specks of fresh parsley added more than just a contrasting color. Caramelized in a fatty mixture of butter and oil, the carrots melted in your mouth like soft, sweetened snowflakes. Shredded Parmesan cheese tightly hugged each piece of risotto rice, even as the broth swam in between. Every heaping spoonful coated my mouth with a creamy cover, carrots giving me a sweet kiss at the end. In just a few bites, you are full. It’s both the beauty and the cruel joke of risotto. It demands you to save some for lunch tomorrow, even if your eyes tell you to gobble it all up now.
Carrot Risotto
2 T vegetable oil, divide
3 T butter, divided
4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped very finely and evenly [about 2-3 cups]
1 t salt
1 t sugar
1 t pepper
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
¼ cup minced onion
1 ½ cup Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup Parmesan and Asiago Cheeses
2 T butter
3 T fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 T fresh thyme, chopped
1. Heat 1 T and 1 T butter over medium heat in medium sized pot.
2. Add carrots and stir until well coated. Add ½ cup water, ½ t salt, and the sugar. Cover and cook 5 min, or until tender.
3. Uncover and cook, until water evaporates and carrots are just starting to brown, stir occasionally.
4. Reserve half the carrots. In a blender, puree the other half with ¾ c hot water.
5. Heat broth in another pot, keep at a simmer.
6. Heat remaining oil and butter over medium heat in same pot used for the carrots.
7. Add onion, cook until translucent, about 3 min.
8. Add rice, coat with butter and oil. Lightly brown.
9. Add wine and cook until wine evaporates, stirring.
10. Add carrot puree and cook until mixture no longer looks soupy, stir constantly.
11. Add ½ cup hot broth, stirring constantly, until rice absorbs most of the liquid. Repeat until rice is al dente [about 20 min; remaining broth: about 1 cup].
12. Fold in reserved carrots, cheeses, butter, parsley and thyme.
13. Add in broth to loosen the risotto. Season with salt and pepper.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Homemade Tomato Soup

Hungry for tomato soup where you can taste more than canned, milky tomato paste? Try it homemade. Adding broth and allowing fresh herbs to steep in the mix embolden the flavor; flecks of real tomato flesh fill the texture void. Smoothed out by a creamy finish, it ends lightly on the pallet and replenishes an empty growling stomach. Ideal for snow days and chilly nights, homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese side-by-side is a classic childhood meal. Only now, we’ve grown up and grown out of the Campbell’s kind.

Sure, Campbell’s still has the pop-top can. But at the end of the meal that’s a one trick pony headed for retirement. Homemade tomato soup teeters the edge between being a lighter, broth-based soup and a thick and heavy, creamy one. It sure can walk the line. One ‘taste test’ easily becomes a sampling of nearly half the soup before it makes its way into a bowl. Once it did make it to the bowl, the surface shimmered like buttery gold on a red sea. Dunking toasted grilled cheese into the soft red soup struck all the right cords. A creamy tomato soup paired with a grilled cheese oozing gooey American cheese was the climax of the meal, and maybe even the week.
After a bowl I’ll bet the Campbell’s kind will start to taste like ketchup with a faint metallic tin finish.

Tomato Soup
4 T butter
1 whole onion, diced finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans [14.5 oz] diced tomatoes
40+ oz tomato juice [use your discretion]
Salt and pepper
Fresh sprigs of basil, rosemary, thyme
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
½ cup whipping cream
1. In a large pot, melt butter until bubbly over medium high heat.
2. Add finely diced onions and garlic, saut̩ until translucent Рabout 5-7 min.
3. Remove pot from heat; add tomatoes to help onions cool.
4. Put all contents of pot into blender or food processor, blend.
5. Reintroduce mixture back to pot. Add a good amount of tomato juice [**how much you add depends on how thick you want the texture to be**]
6. Season with salt, pepper, and fresh herbs then add chicken broth.
7. Bring this to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Reduce liquids to desired thickness.
8. Add whipping cream and heat until warm.
9. Garnish with fresh sprig of basil if desired.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hot Fudge Mondays

Ever have those days when you have a chocolate meltdown? A chocoholic without her fix is a dangerous beast, indeed. Suffering from the delirium of Monday withdraw, I opened up a stark kitchen cupboard. Behold!! …oh wait, it’s just cocoa powder. Feeling limited by the unsweetened brown dust, I racked my brain for ideas. It landed on hot fudge. I gathered the six ingredients needed for the recipe and the race to stuffing my face was on. In about 10 minutes, I had hot fudge the consistency of molasses and almost the taste of my grandma’s old fashioned chocolate pudding. Still warm, I ate a few spoonfuls. With a gooey chocolate smile, I concluded that Hershey’s would be proud.

Being a babysitter for years taught me that there is no greater 6-year-old bliss than dumping fudge on a mound of ice cream. Being a college student taught me there aren’t too many cheaper ways to go about making something chocolate. Plus, its utility isn’t too shabby either. Put it on ice cream or brownies, use it to make chocolate milk or hot chocolate, eat it plain [what I have commonly been caught doing], make a molten lava cake with it, etc. You can add different flavorings like bourbon or some other extract flavor to add variety. It’s a great alternative if you are in between grocery trips and have a hankering for chocolate.

[Sorry for the lack of pictures. If I end up with something to put the fudge on I will certainly update. But for now, I keep my secret stash hidden in the back of the fridge in a mysterious unmarked jar.]

Hot Fudge


1 cup sugar

2 T flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 cup milk

3 T butter

1 tsp vanilla


1. Whisk together dry ingredients, make sure you get all the clumps out.

2. In a saucepan, heat milk, butter and vanilla over medium heat until butter has melted.

3. Add in dry mix, whisk until bubbling. Constantly stir until thickened, about 5-7 min.

4. Store in cool place.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Taste Tripping: The Miracle Berry Experience

It wasn’t a choice between the red or the blue pill, your only choice was the tiny red berry you were handed upon entering. It was a Miracle Berry! A plant native to the regions of West Africa, it came with ‘sweet’ incentives. Skepticism arose in the crowd as I began explaining the effects of miraculin – it seemed like Unobtainium or Kryptonite. But as my guest’s chewed on the fleshy part of the fruit, the molecule was discreetly binding to their taste buds, and giving them an odd ability to bend the rules of sweet and sour. Sour food, like fresh lemons, became “impregnated with sugar”, remarked one of my guests. This “taste trip” effect lasts 15–60 minutes, depending on the person.
As much as I love for everything to taste like sugar, when I ordered 15 miracle berries I knew that I would not be munching down on lemons and apple cider vinegar for the next 15 days by myself. A casual party was the way to explore a new food, and approach sour foods from their sweeter side. Once people arrived and placed their items on the table, anticipation began to mount. The odd assortment of food sprawled across the table was nothing you would see at any normal dinner party. It made much more sense once you knew what you were in for.
After popping the tiny berry and coating your tongue with its milky white flesh, we each partook in our favorite sour or bitter food. Before there was sound, there was movement of eyebrows. The “Oh wow!” and “Whoa, really?” came quickly after we bit into a juicy lemon without puckering because it tasted like the sweetest, tangiest lemonade. Apple cider vinegar tasted like apple juice with a kick. Oranges were perfectly ripe. Cream cheese “tastes like cheesecake!”, one guest exclaimed while sneaking twelve more chunks on his way around the table. Guinness was like a smooth, very chocolate stout. There were also limes, cups of coffee, hot sauce, salt and vinegar chips, pickles, sour patch kids and sour gummy worms. With everything tasting so delicious, and being young inspired college kids, we remarked on the marketability of these berries as some sort of natural sweetener. We wondered what other foods this berry could compliment. We just couldn’t stop trying the sour things that had previously made our faces contort. Concerns of ulcers came and went – this was one of the most memorable food experiences of my life. Nothing our stomachs could not handle.

I highly recommend this experience. Although there are miracle berry tablets, I enjoyed having the actual berry source, even though it was more expensive. I must also thank the source of these berries, and hope that you use him for your future miracle berry needs. I used to hate online shopping until I discovered that the interwebs sell random food you can’t buy at a grocery store. Ethan’s Garden, http://www.ethansgarden.com/, provided me with perfect miracle berries and excellent service. After ordering online, Ethan personally contacted me, asking me when I wished for these to be delivered and what I could expect. His friendliness and punctuality were enough to make him my only source of miracle berries. I have to thank him for the great success of my Taste Tripping Party.
Remember foodie friends, there are still foods out there that we have yet to try. “Adventure is out there!”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Comfortable Combo: Chicken Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Leeks

Leeks, kin to the garlic and onion family, taste like a mild onion-tinged cucumber. They look like giant green onions. When cooked in butter they melt into a silky texture. Overlooked and undervalued, leeks are seldom appreciated outside of creamy potato soup recipes. Goat cheese is soft white cheese, softer even than even cream cheese, but with a tarter, milkier finish. Tonight, I would combine the smooth buttery quality of leeks with this soft, milky goat cheese as a stuffing for chicken braised in white wine and broth.

My first bite had already relaxed my mouth into a creamy grin, as this rich dish enveloped me senses with a soft blanket of warm, comforting flavor. Each bite entailed a heaping forkful of cheesy stuffing oozing from a juicy, tender chicken breast alongside a velvety mushroom risotto. This meal was cozy. A classy comfort food, it made you slow down, snuggle up, and melt into a couch afterwards. It was the perfect transition into a lazy movie night because I was so full. But I only ate half my chicken breast! Seconds for dinner tomorrow night? It’s better than any frozen dinner us college kids can afford.

Chicken Stuffed with Leeks and Goat Cheese


2 T butter

2 leeks, rinsed and chopped

1 clove garlic

Salt and pepper

1 tsp thyme

½ cup goat cheese

2 large chicken breasts; cut for stuffing

2 T olive oil

½ cup water

¾ cup white wine

1 cup broth


1. In a skillet, melt butter over medium high heat until bubbly.

2. Add in leeks and garlic, cook until soft about 8 min.

3. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme. Let cool.

4. Mix in goat cheese.

5. Stuff with goat cheese and leeks, secure with toothpicks.

6. In a large pot, heat oil over medium high heat.

7. Sear chicken on all sides until lightly browned – about 5 min a side.

8. Add water, white wine and broth. Cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about 15 min or until chicken is cooked.