Brioche for beginners

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Brioche French Toast

Brioche has made an appearance on quite a few the plates of my food forays this summer. Drenched in duck fat then baked to crisp croutons, soaked in cream, eggs and whisky and dotted with sultanas and pecans for bread pudding dessert, classically shaped parisienne baked in a fluted round, and a toasted stack on a plate with a side of farm churned butter and orchard preserves.

I carried those tastes in my mind until the temperature finally dipped below 100 F here in Phoenix. In this part of the world, bread baking is a winter (as in double-digit temperature) sport and brioche was the first batch of bread out of my kitchen for the season. In spite of its appearance and taste, egg rich dough- light and airy crumb- golden toasty crust, brioche is a surprisingly approachable bread even for the beginning baker.

Ingredients

8 and 3/4 oz all purpose flour, unbleached

2 and 3/4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature, soft to the touch

2 eggs, room temperature

1 Tablespoon active dry yeast

2 Tablespoons sugar, sifted

1/3 cup whole milk, warmed to 105 F-115 F

1/4 Teaspoon fine salt

For egg wash:1 egg yolk + 1/2 Teaspoon water + 1/2 Teaspoon sugar, whisked

Step 1: Weigh out the flour.

If you don’t use a scale (you really should!) 1 and 2/3 cups will do.

Step 2: Measure the remaining ingredients.

Cut the softened butter into pieces.

Step 3: Heat the milk to between 105 F and 115 F.

Step 4: Place flour in large mixing bowl or bowl of stand mixer and sprinkle in the yeast.

With a fork, mix the flour and yeast together.

Use the back of a spoon or your fist to make a well shape in the middle of flour-yeast mixture. Slowly add the warm milk to the middle of the well.

By hand: mix gently with your fingertips, sweeping flour in to well as you work.

In stand mixer: slowly add the milk while mixing on low-speed with paddle attachment.

Step 6: Add the sugar and salt to the mixture and combine.

Add the softened butter, one piece at a time, incorporating each piece before adding another.

Step 7: One at a time, add the eggs, throughly combining into flour mixture between each addition.

Step 8: Kneading: begin to knead the dough, at first it will stick to the sides of the work bowl.

By hand: lightly work the dough with floured fingertips. Do not add too much flour, as this will alter the final product.

In stand mixer: use the dough hook on medium speed to knead the dough.

Continue to knead the dough until it no longer sticks, but rather pulls away from the side of the bowl. The dough will be slightly sticky, but workable and easily pull away from dough hook, bowl or fingers.

Step 9: Place the dough in a large bowl. Cover.

Rest the dough in a warm, draft free place. My house is back of cook top, under appliance light.

Allow to rest for 2 hours and double in volume.

Two hours later. Doubled in size.

Step 10: Place the dough on a very lightly floured surface. Knead for 10 additional minutes.

Knead: Use the palm of your hand, with finger tips in the air, push the dough down and away from your body. With your other hand, fold the dough over one time, rotate the dough 1/4 turn, and repeat the push and away with your palm. After a few turns you will have a nice kneading rhythm, turn the music on!

Step 11: Use a bench scraper, knife or roller to divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball.

Step 12: Place in a greased loaf pan. The dough will quickly expand to the shape of the pan. Cover and rest for 1 hour.

Pre-heat oven to 425 F.

Step 13: Egg wash: In a small bowl, whisk 1 egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water and 1/2 teaspoon sugar.

Brush the top of the dough gently with the egg wash.

Step 14: Use a sharp kitchen scissors or knife to gently cut or slash 8 X’s into dough.

Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes at 425 F.

Turn oven temperature down to 350 F and bake for an additional 25 minutes.

Step 15: Remove from oven.

Let rest in pan 5-10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on rack.

Let me know if your brioche makes it to the next day for French toast!

Urban Table Larder

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When I walked in, the slate-colored walls were bathed in Scottsdale’s relentless September sunlight. Burlap drapes hugged the dark wood window frames and a sisal rug cast a honey hue, reflected into the room by streaks of sunlight peeking between the drapes.

I wasn’t sure what to expect walking into Urban Table Larder at Jam. I knew it was the brick and motor realization of a talented food stylist and trained chef who during our acquaintance had been humbly hush-hush about her business plans.

Urban Table, Traci Zitzer’s foray into a niche food business, launched with a specialty food line last season at the Scottsdale Old Town Farmers’ Market. This season Zitzer introduced Urban Table Larder, housed in a cozy front room, originally a bedroom, in the historic Charles Miller House.

I did know I would find small batch artisan food. There was a broad representation of local products like flour from Hayden Mills, Urban Table bread pudding and black pepper spiked cookies, and Muñeca Mexicana Dulce de Leche. What surprised me was the gold rice from Carolina Plantation, Brooklyn’s McClure’s Bloody Mary Mix, and Tin Mustard. The room was filled with vignettes of carefully curated goods, chosen by Traci and partner R.J. Johnson, representing heritage, tradition and small batch production from around the country.

Everywhere I turned there was a discovery to be made as the specialty foods for sale were artfully placed on and under and hanging over a collection of vintage shelving, garden tools, gizmos, and kitchen implements that only a collector with the eye of a food stylist would have, could have put together.

Butcher paper roller draws the eye to an array of condiments.

RED RUSTED TOY TRACTOR! What more can I say?

Inside every cook there is a wanna be gardener.

Traci says: “This pig needs a name”. I am going to call him the Greeting Pig as he holds court front and center in the room.

Old crate + Wooden clothes pins + Berry baskets + Spool of twine + Tin container =Desk

Spinning seed packets.

$ sign of another time.

La cage bleue.

This bread box rocks a wooden door.

Artful and colorful, cards and journals for the kitchen or the garden.

Got the “I wants” for the tin and enamel canning funnels.

Oh snap! Art on art: Linen apron on wire mannequin.

Urban Table says they get to tell the story, about where the products come from, who produced them, and how they were produced. Urban Table = food stylist + chefs + artisan producers = story tellers with a vision.

 
 

Eating New England- Part II

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Bondir, Cambridge, MA

During my days of sidewalk adventure this summer, while on vacation in New England, I reveled over city life. I wandered in and out of shops, took long walks, and explored the Cambridge neighborhoods familiar to me decades ago as a college student. The city I knew is recognizably the same but, like me, a subtle difference is evident brought on by growth, experience and the inevitability of change in circumstance.

Alternatively teary eyed and full of chuckles I thought about my younger self, the girl quickly alternating between excitement and angst depending on what class syllabus she was reading or which romantic involvement she was analyzing, while I walked and walked.

I remembered the pungent smell of The Cambridge Coffee, Tea and Spice House wafting to welcome me each shift of my part-time job, sloppy kisses and groping hands over a spinach pie and Guinness at Grendel’s Den, the sweet smell of lobster steaming and cold sting of saltwater in Rockport harbor on a fall or spring weekend. I remembered midnight munchies only satisfied by hoagies or grinders, greedy bites of cream filled pastry on the street in Boston’s North End and self-conscious singing with my friends while waiting in line for small batch churned ice cream with mix-ins at Steve’s. 

Spices at Christina’s, Cambridge, MA. Spices and speciality food items in one shop. Ice Cream to savor next door.

Like any visit to a place we’ve been before, nostalgic wanderings and reminisces brought on by a familiar sight are punctuated by the experience of something new. With a resident tour guide willing to share his favorite eating places during this visit, I tasted the cornucopia of New England as if for the very first time.

Bondir, Cambridge, MA. Start with the Bread! 9 Grain, The Sea, Barley Flour with Hops and Summer Herbs. Move onto a sustainable and seasonal menu that changes daily.

Bondir: Chilled Scituate Lobster and Radish Salad,
 Pickled Chilies, Anchovy Vinaigrette

Bondir: Buckwheat Rigatoni
Concord Rabbit Leg and Chanterelle Mushrooms with Lavender,
Garlic Scapes, Smoked Scamorza

Bondir: Red Wheat Spaghetti
Basil-Walnut Pesto, Australian Perigord Truffle, Fresh Pecorino

Bondir: Teacup full of birthday wishes

Clover Food Lab, Cambridge, MA-green machine. Popular food truck initiated restaurant, dedicated to green business practices and local food initiatives. Check the rotating class schedule-knive skills a must!

New Deal Fish Market, Cambridge, MA. Fresh, fresh, fresh.

Waiting for the coals to glow. Backyard at Henry’s after shopping at New Deal Fish Market. Also on the menu, oysters and clams.

Good start to the day: The Standard Baking Co., Portland, ME.

The back of the house is the front – Street and Co., Portland, ME. Fish and seafood done the Italian way.

Duck in a Jar -Duckfat, Portland, ME. Charcuterie, Panini, and Poutine. Locally sourced and made in scratch kitchen. Hand Cut Belgian Fries and Beignets-fried in DUCKFAT!

Wagamama: Shrimp Kare Lomen, Cambridge, MA. Cool, fragrant, spicy, comfort food.

Eating New England-Part I

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New Deal Fish Market, Cambridge, MA.

Summer in Phoenix, especially the heat, is infinite-not as in great but as in never-ending. It’s now mid-September, and the heat continues to blast while temperatures continue, during the day, to climb to triple digit fahrenheit.

Love the desert life style? Honestly sometimes I do, but sometimes I don’t and can’t embrace the shock of inferno air as I step outside. My sanity requires a break from relentless sun in the stretch between June and October.

I don’t long for the beach, more sun, more sand. I want to be in a place where I can look up to a leafy green canopy of oaks, maples, and elms, see clouds chasing against the blue or better yet grey of the sky, relish some raindrops, and bite into the edible bounty of summer-the best a season and a region have to offer.

My first break from the onset of this year’s Arizona summer was Eating Oregon and being a bi-coastal mom, one son in the West the other the East, its only natural that my other planned escape from the desert was New England.

Once checked in, I didn’t have to search far for my first taste of a New England summer. I found these bushes with berries ripe for the plucking two blocks from the B and B where I stayed. Forage the sidewalk!

Kick*ass Cupcakes Somerville, MA

Ideal Travel=walking a neighborhood in any city and leisurely popping in and out of shops that shout out “local”. What draws me in? Shoes, jewelry, books, creative signage, artistic or whimsical window display, plain old curiosity, the random novel thing, and always food. Seen plenty of house made doggie treats in my time but never cupcakes baked and decorated with eye appeal for dogs and cats, I mean, their owners.

The Boston Shaker, Somerville, MA.

The window display and the name, The Boston Shaker, drew me in, the artisanal mixology tools and reference material captured an hour of my time to gaze and browse. I had entered a kind of shop I had never encountered before, a room fully devoted to cocktails. The beakers, bottles and books were flushed full of promise, and I know if I lived here this would become a favorite haunt.

Tazo Chocolates

Taza Chocolates

Taza Chocolates sit on display everywhere I look-boutiques, book shops, coffee houses, and specialty food stores. The stone ground, “Mexican style” chocolate maker is a local producer, committed to direct trade for its cacao supply, and ethical and sustainable business practices. Take that Willy Wonka! I discovered too late the tour of the factory in Somerville. Next visit, sigh.

Amsterdam Falafel Shop, Davis Square

I was looking for the quintessentially Italian lunch spot until I spotted the entrance to Amsterdam Falafel Shop. A peek inside brought a change of taste desire: the photo mural of its city namesake, the spread of cold pickled salads, and a choice of six dipping sauces for the fries- dutch mayo, curry ketchup, garlic cream, tahini, peanut sauce, absolutely unadorned ketchup. How was it? The cold salad dishes hit the taste notes I desired, there was flavor, there was crunch, there was diversity. The cone of fries were hard to resist, the plus factor for the fries- curry ketchup dip.

Grape yard Cambridge, MA.

What I loved most about Boston and its satellite cities when I lived there as a student, were the neighborhoods. Yes, gentrification continues and a more eclectic mix of ethnic backgrounds exists -but the mixing of types and the vibrancy they bring, those students, successful career makers, newer and older immigrant populations and the multi-generation family remain. Some one still tends to the grape vines and the summer gardens along walkways, over the red brick drive, covering the asphalt patio, and between the fence lines. Thank you!

Desert Dessert: Prickly Pear Fruit

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Prickly Pear Cactus-Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Whenever I read the word forage the image that pops in my head is of woods and streams, fiddlehead ferns and wild mushrooms. In spite of living surrounded by the desert for over a decade, I am stuck conjuring pastoral images of nature’s bounty.

Yet, I live across the street from a majestically gnarled olive tree. My own yard boasts a messy mesquite filled with usable pods. Prickly Pear cactus dot the neighborhood with their jewel tone fruit attracting birds and insects. What I lack is the know how to put any of the food offered by the desert landscape to use.

A class at Boyce Thompson Arboretum about juicing the “tuna”, the fruit of the Prickly Pear cactus, appeared on my radar of local food news and a day trip to the arboretum later, I am juiced and over flowing with information.

First stop: Opuntia pads, or nopalito, are available at Mexican grocers with thorns and eyes already removed. If you pick your own, they are best harvested in the spring. Choose pads that are 2-4″ in size. Pick pads with a tong-just grab and give it a twist (like twisting the cap off a bottle) at the base or sever with a knife. Remove thorns by scraping sides with a knife, then remove brown “eyes” with a vegetable peeler. Trim edges. Slice lengthwise and chop, air or oven dry to seal the edges. The pads taste a bit like a cross between green beans and okra, crunchy and fresh tasting. They are great for pickling. To add to a soup, stew, or in a relish, prepare by cooking in 4 quarts salted water for 15-20 minutes, then drain. I like them raw and crisp in a salad with a shot of lime juice, olive oil, salt and black pepper or simply grilled.

On the trail for fruit- old school method: First step, grab a desert broom branch (Ha! We all have those handy) to dust loose glochids or filament like spines from the tuna. The tuna is ripe for picking when the birds begin to eat and the color is deep red or magenta. Occurs here, in Arizona, late July through August. Our guides at the arboretum noted the quality of the fruit depends on growing location. Avoid picking near highways with car and truck fumes. Permits can be obtained to pick on National Forest or BIA lands. 50+ tunas yield about 1/2 gallon of juice. Pick using the tong and twist method mentioned above.

This Christmas cactus bloom echos its neighbor the Prickly Pear at the arboretum.

Rake the fruit after picking to remove spines. I read about burning off the spines with a flame or removing them with hot wax. Using a flexible rake, rolling them back and forth on gravel apparently does the trick as well. Avoid any barefoot walks in the yard when you finish! Follow by rinsing fruit under running water.

Insects add value: The waxy white substance often found on the fruit is a secretion deposited by nymphs of cochineal insects. Aztecs and Mayans valued the crimson colored dye from the crushed insect using it for cloth and for tribute payments to rulers. It takes 70,000 insects to make 1 lb. of cochineal. The “tuna blood dye” was highly valued for export by the Spaniards, along with silver, from the Americas to Europe until the mid-1800’s. Currently used as a food coloring, the dye recently stirred up food and beverage news. Apparently, bug juice is not a welcome ingredient for vegans, and those who follow a kosher or halal dietary tradition, in a Starbucks drink.

Cochineal extract is used as a food and cosmetic coloring. Also referred to as carmine, crimson lake, and natural red 4 on package labels.

Raked tuna-spines removed. After raking, place tunas in a plant container or sieve, roll a few more times to remove any left on spines, then wash again to remove any remaining thorns and dust.

Jewel-tone fruit cleaned and ready for next prep step.

Final step: juice prickly pear fruit with water. The fruit has a lot of pulp, so straining through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth after juicing is a good idea. Our guide offered another method: place fruit in pillow case, drop case in boiling water and cook until fruit is soft, hang over a large pan and collect dripping juice. No worries about that stained pillow case, the juice is water soluble. Fresh juice will last in refrigerator about 1 week before it begins to ferment. Freezer is best place to store for later use.

Too much DIY? Forgo the pillow case-Prickly Pear Syrup can be purchased at specialty food grocer.

Prickly Pear products from Foods of the Superstitions co-owner, Jean Groen. Jean is an author, edible desert plant expert and as one of our guides, shared the above tips on harvesting, preparing and utilizing the Prickly Pear tuna and nopales. The juice from the cactus is mild in flavor, like a cross between a melon and a pear. It is used to make jam, jelly, candy, sauces, and relishes. I simply made a simple syrup with prickly pear juice (use in mixed drinks, add to sauces for flavor) instead of water: Heat equal parts prickly pear juice and granulated sugar in sauce pan, stir until sugar dissolves. Add in 1 or more Teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice, depending on sweetness of fruit. Cool and store in refrigerator.

Need some inspiration? Desert dessert at Rancho Pinot GrillDevoted to local food stuff, Chef Chrysa Robertson served Mesquite flour crepes with local peach ice cream and prickly pear honey sauce for a Foraged Dinner with Hank Shaw, author Hunt, Gather, Cook- June 2011.


Inspired by The Africa Café Experience Cookbook: Steamed Tilapia with Spicy Kale

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Steamed tilapia with spicy kale

Excitement comes with a culinary gift, carefully carried home like secret treasure from a distant place, delivered by a traveling friend or family member. Sweet paprika from Hungary, fennel pollen from Italy, coffee beans from Ecuador, or a cookbook from a specific locale, bring home to us a sense of place unlike our own. The unusual wrappers with fancy fonts by themselves evoke a sense of wonder and a cause for wanderlust.

If given a choice, I would rather receive the treasure of food stuff than a cookbook as a gift. Cookbooks are so personal. I choose them like I choose literature or history books. I like to be unanchored and captured by a book, separated from everyday existence, taken to another world, stimulated and challenged by someone else’s thoughts, shown something new.

Which is what happened to me as I searched through Portia de Smidt’s The Africa Café Experience cookbook, gifted to me by my son returning from a trip to South Africa. At first I was simply charmed by the vibrant photos and the narrative about the history of the restaurant, its founding family and supportive community in Cape Town.

Then, the author’s short introduction and description to each recipe, some collected from family and others inspired by her own travels, drew me in. It wasn’t until I had an occasion to cook an African dish for a Dining for Women dinner that I cooked from the book. I was looking for something simple, flavorful and amenable to American taste.

I cooked up de Smidt’s Imifino (Spinach) and Fish, which she introduces as “an old family favorite” and describes as a recipe that “takes on the character of the maker” with each of her “numerous aunties” adding their own “style to the dish.”

My adaptation is a work in progress. As an auntie, I’ll keep working on my version with variations like swiss chard for greens, and a substitution of curry powder and cumin or maybe some fresh chopped ginger for the spices. I’m cooking in Phoenix, with a dollop of Cape Town on my mind.

Prep

Ingredients-serves 4

14 oz fresh kale, remove tough stem ends, rough chop

4 tilapia fillets

2-4 Tablespoons olive oil, just enough to coat bottom of pan

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne (use 1/2 teaspoon for mild spicy result)

4 Tablespoons vegetable stock or 2 Tablespoons white wine

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Lemon, slice for garnish

Step 1. Heat a heavy bottomed sauté pan. Add oil, when oil is hot, not smoking, add onions and sauté until translucent.

Step 2. Add kale, cover pan and cook until kale begins to wilt, about 3 minutes.

Add kale to onions and wilt

Step 3. Sprinkle paprika and cayenne over onions and kale.

Sprinkle and stir in spices

Cover pan and continue to cook until kale is tender, about 3-4 additional minutes.

Step 4. Stir vegetable stock or white wine into pan.

Step 5. Layer fish on top of kale and onion mixture. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover pan and steam fish until opaque, about 7 minutes.

Serve: Remove fish with a rigid spatula. Place kale mixture on a plate, top with fish and a wedge of lemon. Serve with rice or flatbread.

Company’s Coming: A Tale of Two Tarts

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One sweet, one savory-both rustic

Company’s coming!- with fairly short notice and the sole purpose to visit, in an old school way. When I was a child, getting together to just be with family, was an almost every weekend occurrence, with drop in-stop ins by grandparents, aunts, uncles and teasing cousins. A kind of casual gathering that I didn’t appreciate or think about as special until the generations scattered from our hometown, as family members gradually drifted away for school, for jobs, or to an appealing locale for retirement.

Our family no longer takes family get togethers so casually. Each major life-cycle celebration reached brings anticipation of togetherness. We purchase  plane tickets, make hotel reservations, and remind our scattered selves of belonging, connectedness, and for better or for worse, the moments that shaped our family and in our minds continue to influence each of us in a unique way.

Naturally, on a recent visit to see my parents in one Florida city, we made plans with my nonagenarian aunt and the eldest of my cousins, from another Florida city, to drive in for a weekend afternoon, just to be, together.

“Don’t fuss!” said one voice. “You don’t need to cook!” said another. “We are getting together between lunch and dinner, you don’t have to worry about food.” said the third. “Ha!” said I.

Company’s coming. In spite of the good intentioned advise, all I could think of was what dish to make and how to nourish my relatives. Something easy to prepare, something that smells and tastes of comfort for a casual family get together, something with ingredients in season.

My thoughts run savory and sweet and rustic. I think all butter crusts, one filled with caramelized onions topped with greens and goat cheese, the other with seasonal stone fruit and berries.

I shop and prep and cook. Mom, as always, sets an inviting, gracious table. Aunt and cousins arrive. I bask in the “Oohs and Aahs” and “What did you make?” as I bring in the tarts.

And I continue to bask as we spend our afternoon just being, together.

Dough for Rustic Tart (single)

Ingredients

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup ice water + 1 teaspoon apple cider or red wine vinegar

In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar and sea salt.

Add butter and with two dinner knives cut butter into flour, pulling the knives in opposite directions until the butter is pea size.

Gradually drizzle ice water into mixture until dough pulls together. Add just enough water to hold dough together. Note: you may not need the entire measure of water. Lightly knead dough to form a ball. Wrap ball in plastic wrap, flatten with the palm of your hand to form a disc shape. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Lightly flour clean and dry work surface. Roll the dough from the center toward the edge, turning the dough or the pin one-quarter turn as you roll a circle shape. Place dough on a parchment lined cookie sheet.

Fill and bake tart:

Fresh nectarine and blackberry filling

Spoon tart filling evenly on top of the dough, keep a 2 inch border clear of filling.

Crimped-rough edges desirable

Crimp a 2 inch edge of the dough toward the center of the tart, forming a border. Continue crimping and folding dough around the circle. Overlap the folds as you go. Brush the crimped edges with egg wash (mix one egg or egg white + 1 teaspoon cold water).

Bake in 350 F oven until edges of tart are golden brown.

Fresh stone fruit and berry filling:

Nectarines

Wash, pit and slice 1 lb. stone fruit. Toss with 1 Tablespoon flour + 1 Tablespoon sugar* + 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg + 1 cup blackberries.

Choose the ripest seasonal stone fruit in season: nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots, or pluots.

In the fall and winter make the tart with apples or pears and cranberries.

*Taste the fruit for sweet-tart balance. If your preference is for a very sweet filling add up to 1/3 cup sugar.

Experiment with a dash of cardamom, ginger or cinnamon in place of nutmeg.

Caramelized Onion Filling:

Caramelized onions

4 large onions, peeled and sliced into rings

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

kosher salt to taste and generous addition of fresh ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add onions and toss to coat with oil.

Turn heat to low and cook onions until golden and brown and liquid has almost evaporated from pan. Season with kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper and thyme leaves. Cool.

Top: with handful of arugula or micro-greens and goat cheese.

Rolling in the Dough

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“Making dough is a zen sport!” This is my choice phrase, the phrase I use to send the message to students in my culinary classes to relax and “go with the dough”. Whether teaching a one-on-one in a residential kitchen or a group in a commercial cooking class, the same fear of pastry dough grips  all my students. Fear of failure and the inability to execute a tender flaky crust, rolled thinly, in a near perfect circle.

My students tend to cook mostly with their minds, relying solely on recipe directions and ignoring their senses. Zen, like baking, requires focus and a togetherness of body and mind. I ask my students to use their minds and their senses, to pay attention to feel and touch in conquering the perfect crust. I remind them that each failure holds a lesson like a riddle waiting to be solved. I encourage them to learn with their eyes and their hands, for in partnership with the ratio in a recipe, their senses will lead to success.

Tender Pie Dough-enough for double crust or two single crust pies

Ingredients: prep and measure before beginning

2 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces unsalted butter, cold

2 ounces shortening, cold

3/4 cup ice cold water + 1 teaspoon red wine or apple cider vinegar

Step 1: Sift together 2 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour (I prefer unbleached) + 1 teaspoon sugar + 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

Step 2: Place dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. If mixing by hand, use a large bowl. In stand mixer, mix on low speed for 1 minute. By hand, mix and fluff dry ingredients with a fork.

Step 3: Cut 4 ounces of cold unsalted butter + 2 ounces of cold shortening into 3/4 inch pieces. If butter or shortening is soft or warm, return to refrigerator to cool and harden before proceeding.

Step 4: Add cold butter and cold shortening to dry ingredients. Set stand mixer (with paddle attachment) on low speed. Combine mixture until the butter and shortening are well distributed and the butter bits are the size of peas-this will only take a minute or two.

If mixing by hand, use two dinnerware knives and pull them in opposite directions through the mixture, “cutting” the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients. Turn the bowl every few cuts when working by hand.

Note: Do not over mix or form a totally blended dough (this is not cookie dough!)! The desired result is to have small, visible pieces of butter and shortening in the flour mixture.

Step 5: With mixer on lowest speed, slowly drizzle 1/4 of the vinegar-water into the mixture. Continue to add in small increments (I like to add by Tablespoon) until the dough is moist and begins to hold together.

By hand, use a fork to mix, pulling the fork under and over the mixture as well as around.

Note: This step is a challenge for my beginner baking students. As little as 1 Tablespoon of water can change the outcome from just right to over moist dough, creating a stiff v tender crust.

Note: The amount of liquid will vary depending on conditions like the age  and type of the flour and humidity in the environment.

Pick up a hand full of dough and gently squeeze. If the dough holds together it is done.

Note: Dough appears dry and crumbly in the bowl.

Step 6: Dump the contents of the bowl on a clean surface and gently pull together any stray pieces or bits of flour. Knead for one minute just until dough pulls and holds together. A sign of just enough mixing are the visible striations of butter and shortening.

Cut the dough into 2 pieces, weigh for accurate and even division.

 Step 7: Cup your hands on the side of the dough, turn a few times between hands and form the dough into a circle. Flatten the dough with your hands. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes before rolling.
Note: Dough can be refrigerated overnight, if refrigerated longer than 30 minutes, set on counter 10 minutes before attempting to roll. Roll while still chilled. Dough can also be frozen up to 3 months. Defrost frozen dough overnight in refrigerator before using.

Step 8: Sprinkle a clean flat surface with flour in a wide circle. Sprinkle a little flour on the surface of the dough. With a rolling pin, roll the dough from the center to an outer edge. Do not roll down and over the edges as this will “glue” the dough to the counter and create an uneven surface.

Tip: No rolling pin? Use a clean wine bottle!

Move the rolling pin a quarter circle turn each time you roll to create a circle shape. (Rolling back and forth creates a rectangle or square.) Gently lift and turn the dough every few rolls. Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness.

To lift dough from counter: begin with an edge and gently roll dough around pin, lift and place in pie pan.

Trim all but 1 inch border of excess dough from side with a scissors or a knife. Crimp with fork or finger and thumb.

If dough sticks to the counter surface, slide a thin metal spatula between counter and dough to release.

Note: I use a butter and shortening recipe for my pie crust. Butter for flavor and a bit of shortening for tenderness. I also add vinegar to the water, again for tenderness.

Variations: Alter the ratio of butter:shortening depending on recipe, or if confident make an all butter crust. The key is very cold fat, butter or shortening and very cold water.

Use this same method to make a savory crust for quiche or tarts-just omit the sugar.

Pork and Octopus and Lobster! Oh, my!

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Slow- cooked pork belly, fermented black beans, black garlic

Text and photo messages arrived almost weekly from the kitchen of my son’s workplace his last graduate school year. A small pig balanced in the arms of the chef, seafood from the New England coast, a plethora of vegetables fresh from the farm were sent via phone.  A food enthusiast by nature and nurture, his choice to wait tables enabled him to cover his living expenses and perhaps as important, eat like a gourmand.

Naturally, our first dinner together on my visit to Cambridge this summer was his former workplace, a gastropub in Cambridge, MA., Garden at the Cellar, to taste the dishes by Chef Brandon Arms I had viewed via phone. The sensibility of the chef supports seasonal local produce, sustainable purveyors of meat and seafood, and dishes designed with ingredients representing the breadth of possibilities of flavor from a variety of the world’s cuisines. And then there was pork and octopus and lobster? And we ate it all! Oh my!

Slow-cooked pork belly and crackling skin-nose to tail dining

-Veal sweetbreads and chanterelles

Butter poached lobster, duck egg, summer truffle and brioche.

Sweet chili octopus over seaweed salad

Butter basted scallops, celeriac, apples and watercress

Pickle Me This: Garlic Dill Green Beans

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Pickle Me This: Garlic Dill Green Beans and Cocktail Onions-water bath ready

Dilly Beans were my gateway to pickling and preserving. Not having a strong food memory of pickled green beans, unlike Ba-Tampte cucumber pickles, or a jar of Bonne Mamam jam, I wouldn’t be held back by the fear of an outcome not meeting my taste buds’ expectations.

There also was the intimidation factor. I knew nothing about the process for pickling, canning or preserving, and for me they were all lumped together. A single childhood memory of “putting up” was a murky one in my mind which involved my mother, my grandmother, backyard crab apples and an exploding pressure canner.

My natural instinct in any new endeavor is to research and read until I am flooded with so much new information, I am stalled before I take action. Not this time, not for Dilly Beans, I read instructions for Hot Packing and Water Bathing and followed a simple recipe. I have graduated to preserves, my favorite tomato sauce, and chutney, and the simple process of pickling vegetables continues to bring me the same satisfaction as my very first time.

Pickled Carrots with rosemary and Strawberry Jam

Garlic Dill Green Beans

Ingredients for 6-7 pints

4 lb fresh green beans, washed, trimmed to fit length of canning jars-below the canning line-the lowest line on neck of jar

12-14 Habanero peppers-2 per jar (if you don’t want heat, use banana peppers or omit peppers altogether)

12-18 cloves garlic-2-3 per jar (slivered or whole, you choose)

1 bunch fresh dill, rinsed and dried-divide between jars

(Note: Other spices that play well with green beans: whole mustard seed, whole dill seed, whole peppercorn, red chili flakes, cumin seed, coriander seed)

2/3 cup kosher salt

5 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)

5 cups filtered water

1. Wash jars (pint or quart) with lids and all utensils in hot soapy water or run through dishwasher to clean. Air dry.

2. Prepare a pan of salted, boiling water and a bowl with ice and water.

3. Blanch and shock green beans: place in boiling salted water until color changes to vibrant green. Drain and transfer to ice water bath until cool. Drain.

4.  Prepare brine: in a medium non-reactive pan, combine distilled white vinegar, filtered water and kosher salt. Bring mixture to a boil, stir and continue to boil until salt dissolves.

5. Use a deep and wide stock pot (21 quart) with a rack placed on the bottom (or canner with rack) and fill with water to reach the canning line on jars (see tip below).

Tips: Test the height of the jars sitting on the rack in the pot and note the level. Add water to the pot around the jars. Heat water.

Keep clean jars and lids in the hot water until ready to fill.

In place of a canning rack, use a steamer rack, cake rack, or upside down ramekins on the bottom of the pot- jars can not sit directly on heat on bottom of pot.

6. Remove jars from hot water. Place dill, garlic, and peppers in jars. With jar turned on its side, pack beans around and beside other ingredients. Pack very tightly into jar.

7. Fill jars with brine using a ladle or a measuring cup with a spout. Fill only to canning line (about 1/2″ space between top of brine and lid of jar). Wipe jar rim with a clean paper towel. Place sterilized lid on jar and gently screw on band, just tightly enough to seal.

8. Lower jars into pot, use tongs with a silicone grip (Tip: place heat resistant rubber bands around metal tongs to get a better grip),  a canning jar lifter or a canning rack. Allow a 2″ space between sides of each jar. Bring water to just below a boil, not less than 185 F.  Process jars in water bath for 10 minutes.

9. Remove jars from the water bath. Tighten the lid.

10. Place upside down on a clean kitchen towel for 5-10 minutes. Flip jars right side up and cool for 24 hours.

11.Check vacumn seal on jar. Press down on lid, if sealed the lid should stay tight when pressed. If jar has not sealed, store in refrigerator and use within a week.

12. Label and date. Store in a cool dark place for 4 weeks. The longer stored , the stronger the flavor.

Refrigerate after opening.

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