Saturday, January 31, 2009

Moving On Up

We're moving in a few weeks (our new kitchen rules!), and in preparation, I have begun Operation Clean Out the Pantry. Somehow I don't think it's going to be as much fun as Operation Clean Out the Shoe Collection. But anyway. Last night I used up some soba noodles, riffing on that delicious Otsu recipe from last summer. Today's special: blackstrap molasses.

While searching for a recipe in which to use it, I tried to remember what I'd bought it for in the first place. I'm pretty sure it was for Sticky Teff-Kissed Spice Loaves, a deliciously sweet and spicy cake. Turns out that the recipe I decided to make today, a Ginger Cake from Gourmet, is pretty similar. I guess blackstrap molasses have a way of dominating. Which is fine with me, so long as it's cooked, because while stinky and gross out of the bottle, this kind of molasses gets a deep, rich flavor after some time in the oven.

It's a fairly straightforward cake recipe, with flour (I used two cups of regular flour and one cup of sprouted wheat flour--score one more item out of the pantry!), butter, brown sugar, eggs and baking soda. Then, lots of powdered ginger--I grated a dried ginger root I got from a friend who went to India--plus some cinnamon.

After an hour in the oven and some cooling time, this cake was great. Using a springform pan resulted in a perfectly crisp crust, crunchier than the teff loaf. They're definitely similar: both dark, moist and deeply flavored. And as far as I can tell, they're the best way to use blackstrap molasses.--S

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's Bread Time

Between the February issue of Gourmet, with its gorgeous cover image of plump, golden rolls; and the graphic novel I just finished reading, about a Japanese kid who just wants to bake bread (making him an outcast in his family of rice eaters), I've had bread on my mind lately. And when the weather turned nasty last night, with snow, sleet and rain predicted, it was decided: I was baking bread.

I got this recipe from my cousin Kathy, a master breadmaker, and had tried it twice before. The first time was a bust; I used yeast that had expired two weeks earlier, which turned out to be a very poor decision. The dough never rose, and I wound up tossing it, sadly. The second time was quite good, and I'd say this most recent batch was even better. It's a Classic French Bread, but instead of shaping it into baguettes (baby steps!), I make it into a "country French loaf," which is a nicer way of saying "ball." As with most breads (I think?) patience is the primary ingredient; there are two risings with this recipe, each one about an hour and a half. So if you want bread for dinner, you should start making this around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Also, a stand mixer makes things much easier. And no, I don't feel like I'm cheating when I attach the dough hook and flip the switch.

The recipe has you brush the dough with melted butter and salt before you bake it, which is a nice touch that not only spiffs up the finish product with a warm glow, but gives it a gentle salty flavor. If you're wary about baking bread, this is a terrific starter recipe, one that I plan on sticking with for a long time. Thanks, Kath!--S

Classic French Bread

1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 envelope dry yeast
1 T sugar
1 t salt
1/2 t balsamic or red wine vinegar
2 c bread flour
3/4 c (about) all-purpose flour
1/2 stick unsalted butter 1
1/4 t salt

1. Pour 1 cup warm water into bowl of heavy-duty electric mixer. Sprinkle yeast and sugar over; stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
2. Mix salt and vinegar into yeast. Add bread flour; using paddle attachment, mix 5 miutes. Replace paddle with dough hook. Add 1/2 c all-purpose flour and knead until soft and slightly sticky dough forms, adding more all purpose flour if dough is very sticky, about 7 minutes.
3. Coat large bowl with 2 T oil. Add dough, turning to coat entire surface. Cover bowl with plastic-wrap. Let dough rise in warm, draft-free area until tripled in volume, about 1 1/2 hrs. (To test, press 2 fingers into dough; if fully risen, indentations will remain. If indentations fill in, cover with plastic and let dough rise longer.)
4. Melt butter with salt in saucepan. Keep glaze warm.
5. Oil or butter baking sheet. Punch down dough. Form dough into round ball, smoothing top. Place on baking sheet, flattening slightly. Brush with butter glaze and let rise until tripled in volume as above.
6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slash dough in tic-tac-toe pattern or with swirled slashes radiating from center. Bake until loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 35 minutes. Cool on rack.

Recipe courtesy of The Bon Appetit Cookbook

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Since getting home from our honeymoon, I haven't been the most adventurous cook. I've been sticking with things I don't need recipes for: granola, chicken milanese, pesto, roasted peppers. I don't think I've tried a new recipe in weeks. Tonight was no exception. And I'm pretty happy with that, especially since dinner was one of my childhood favorites: Sausage, Peas and Potatoes.

I wish there were a more glamorous or catchy name for it, but the truth is, it's simple food with a simple name. I remember sleepovers at my grandparents' when I was a kid: Lucky Charms for breakfast, snacks consisting of Neopolitan ice cream on cones (mostly strawberry, please) and Tang (?!). We had a few favorite dinners, and one was Sausage, Peas and Potatoes. The recipe is shamelessly simple: you toss wedges of Idaho potatoes and yellow onions with some olive oil, salt and pepper; place them in a roasting pan; add links of Italian sausage; roast (somewhere between 350 and 400 degrees) for about an hour and a half. Stir once, about halfway through, and 15 minutes before the dish done--you'll know when the potatoes are browned, the onions are crisping at the edges, and the sausage is golden--toss in a can of peas. I think everyone in my extended family grew up eating this dish and knows the recipe by heart.

The best part of this dish might be the browned bits that gather in the corner of the pan. Or it might be the way the sweet potatoes (a new-ish addition) get mushy and sweet. Or maybe it's the comfort of throwing together a ridiculously easy meal that's so homey and good.--S

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mexican Granola

After getting married and honeymooning in Mexico, we are finally back in action--with a granola recipe. I know, it's not very exciting. But ever since Fork and I returned from the tropics I have really been missing the breakfast at a lovely little cafe in Tulum called Trecelunas. My favorite item on the menu? Fruit, yogurt and granola, tropical-style. Back in freezing cold New York, I was determined to recreate it.

I started with my basic granola recipe and went from there. Instead of cranberry juice concentrate as the sweetener, I used orange juice concentrate. I ditched the dried cranberries, too, in lieu of dried mango, papaya and pineapple. I doubled the amount of coconut, and stirred in a teaspoon of the Mexican vanilla I brought home. Now, I'm still searching for a nice, liquidy yogurt like they served at Trecelunas--it was almost like a yogurt sauce, drizzled atop fresh melon, kiwi and banana. But aside from that, I think I nailed it. Fork called it my best granola ever!--S