Tag Archives: Bread

A Leite Dinner

20 Jan

I’ve been thinking a lot about my colleague‘s recent conversion to what he calls “mostly veganism.”

Now, before we go quibbling about his choice of terminology I should tell you that this gentleman is an older, highly conservative Republican, red meat-eating, god-fearing capitalist and that he came to this state not out of any sense of environmental obligation but rather through sports physiology.

But, no matter the route, the destination is the same: A diet that is better for him and for the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about vegetables too and how much I miss them and can’t wait to start pulling them out of our garden again.  This is the season that tries my soul.  I want to eat lots of unhealthy things like beef and pork and cheese and Christina’s Mama’s lemon sour cream pie, while I know I should be eating vegetables and grains and fish.  I want to be planting plants and digging around in the dirt but rather I’m stomping through slush and standing by the sink and staring at the fluffy, puffed-up birds while clutching a cup of tea, absorbing every last hint of warmth from it.

It’s a hard season to eat, and despite the insistence by the journalist and author Tom Standage at the AMNH’s recent lecture on curry economics that at some point getting your food from half-way around the world costs less in terms of carbon than raising it locally in a greenhouse, I still find eating at this time of year difficult.

It was all these complex thoughts that were rattling around inside my head as I was thumbing through David Leite‘s excellent cookbook The New Portuguese Table.  It was a Christmas gift from Isaac’s  mom and had sat sadly neglected on the ottoman since its unwrapping.  But on Saturday morning I was finally able to give it a good look.  And boy is it a beauty. So many wonderful recipes for interesting meats and creative ways to cook fish, but I was looking for simple, vegetable-centric ones.

You need to know about two recipes; a bread and a sauce below the jump.

Right Aid

16 Apr

I went to Macy’s on Saturday.

April Flowers

Compared to the last time I was there, and to the tumult in my head, it was an oasis of stillness, a sea of calm.

Things have been a little hectic at work since we’ve been back from Italy. I got one day to re-acclimate, one day to tell my silly stories about getting stuck in the parking garage in Perugia, of nearly being trapped on the Autostrade, of running around Orvieto with my nephew like a pair of headless chickens, and then, *wham* right back into the thick of things.

I have been working on my first really big, really high profile project since getting promoted. You see, The Plan worked! The new gig isn’t that much of a change from the old one. It’s more of a readjustment. And my work on this big thing was my first big test. It’s been stressful, and thankfully, it’s over. The project launched late last night and it’s beautiful. I’m really proud of the work I did on it, but holy cows am I glad that’s over!

Almost Cherry Blossoms

I find the tumult of big, chaotic stores soaked in history and cloaked in shabby gravitas soothing when my mind is full of too many thoughts. I like rambling around Tiffany’s, gawking at all the pretty baubles, staring into the depths of the lofty, dark wood ceilings, marveling at the grace with which the sales girls handle the throngs of tourists with dollars burning holes in their pockets.

I love the shoe floor at Saks. The packs of women, milling and foaming, like lions in the Coliseum, or concubines in a harem, protecting their chosen pair from usurpers. The armies of salesmen hidden behind tall stacks of boxes, like a footman in a Jane Austen novel. The bored men, reclining on silly, uncomfortable grey poufs like a pod of walruses, wishing to God there was a newspaper and that his wife would just be honest and buy the damn shoes she wants, not the ones she thinks he wants, because, seriously, he doesn’t care. Lust, betrayl, elation, boredom; it’s a lot like being at the opera.

Buds, Sunshine

And then there’s the men’s store at Bergdorf’s. Isaac and I stumbled in there on Saturday. There’s not a thing in there we can afford. Okay, maybe we could buy a pocket square, or the very cheapest set of cuff links, or a tie… But that’s not the point. Walking around, staring at all the beautiful craftsmanship is, especially when it happens to be a day that they’re serving free wine and very good Scotch and macarons and brie with caramelized pear and toast points with caviar all accompanied by a jazz quartet. It was so civilized and calming and delightful.

But, what about Macy’s you may be asking? Well, I went to Macy’s because I wanted to buy myself a little present, for being almost done with “the project.” I’m such an only child that way… I was standing in line, when a salesman, with massive dreads and a huge smile, waved me over to his register. I popped my chosen gift up onto the counter, and he leaned in and asked me in a lilting, Caribbean brogue, “Is this your first KitchenAid?”

The Darling Buds Of... March

I nodded, and then he dissolved into a puddle of breathless raptures, “Oh my god, you’re going to love it! I have one. I make roti and all my kids’ birthday cakes and pies for my mother and bread for our dinners! Oh, you’re just going to love it! You’re going to always be asking yourself how you ever lived without it!” I was dying. Never in a million years would I have pegged this man for a baker, and there he was, positively gushing about a kitchen appliance. It was too funny. I turned around to leave, giggling to myself, but found my way blocked. There, directly behind me, was another man.

“Oh! Is that your first KitchenAid?” he asked. I was thinking to myself, “Ohyouhavegottobekiddingme.” Uh-huh I nodded. “Oh my! You’re just going to love it! I’m a baker myself. I make a few loaves of bread a week, all different sorts. What are you going to do with it?” “Uh, bread, mostly,” I stammered. “Oh, you’re just going to love it!” he replied in his gorgeous, proper English accent.

Action Shot

I positively floated out of the store. I had been slightly hesitant about my purchase. Where would it live? Would I bake enough to make it pay for itself? But all my fears had been blithely pushed aside by those two gentleman’s enthusiasms.

I got home, unpacked her, (I got black caviar in case you’re wondering) and made a beeline for Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible. I knew exactly what recipe I wanted to make first. Focaccia. It’s the one bread you absolutely, positively cannot make in this book without a stand mixer, and it is, of course, the one I’ve been most hankering to make since Isaac brought the book home to me as a gift months and months ago.

Garlic/Oil

It’s a very wet dough that should, as she puts it, resemble melted mozzarella when it is done. It requires 20 minutes of “kneading” during which it forms all sorts of mesmerizing patterns as the gluten activates and relaxes, throwing out strings of dough and then gathering them back in. I stood transfixed, staring into the bowl, rocking with the rhythm of the mixer the whole time.

And then it rested. While the dough was rising and relaxing, I made garlic confit to tuck into little pockets of the dough. The garlic was delicious, sweet, piquant and yummy, but it is the oil that remains that is the real prize.

Garlic & Rosemary Focaccia

As the bread was baking, we used the garlic oil to dress a salad with a dash of sherry vinegar and a drizzle of lemon juice. Holy moley is that good! I only wish the oil had still been a little warm. It would make an excellent stand in for bacon grease in a warm spinach salad. Yep, it’s that good. It rivals bacon.

And the bread? Amazing! I don’t think the stand mixer (she really needs a name) has paid for herself yet, but if everything I make with it comes out this well, she will soon. The focaccia was laced with giant, fragrant bubbles amidst the pockets of garlic and spiky, toasted splinters of rosemary. I wish I could eat it for breakfast every morning.

Garlic & Rosemary Focaccia

I’d stink, but I’d be very, very happy.

No recipe for the focaccia as it’s not mine, but head below the jump for instructions for making Garlic Confit.

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The Plan

4 Dec

It’s December. Ack!

Lions

Who let that happen without checking with me first? And how did it happen? Wasn’t it just October? Did November slip past without my noticing?

I mean, yes, I did see them putting up the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I saw it with my own eyes. You’d think that would have been a strong hint that the holiday season was approaching. But no, it didn’t register.

Then there’s the Chrazy Chanukah karaoke-fest that my co-worker Jane has planned. Did that get me to acknowledge the inevitable? Oh heck no.

Perhaps it was the restraint that my neighbors showed in putting up their Christmas decorations. The folk here in Bay Ridge are crazy for holidays. They dress their brownstones in the finery of even the most underrepresented holiday. I had mentally predicted that they would be incapable of not decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving, but I was wrong. In fact it was only this past weekend that many of them started gussying things up, and to gorgeous effect, too, might I add.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

Christmas doesn’t stress me out. I’ve got a small family, no children, don’t entertain often or get invited to many parties and, if I may say so, am a talented gifter. So the actual holiday is a breeze. What does send me into squeaky, unpleasant Ann-mode however is the end of the year at work and hoo boy, is that coming along real quick.

There’ll be meetings, both of the planning and rah! rah! variety, a few cocktail parties and the part that sends me into spirals of depression, the receiving of bonus checks. There’s something so symbolic to that one white envelope with its crinkly pane of translucent paper. It’s the culmination of 12 months of hard, hard work, late nights, weekends spoiled and tears of frustration cried.

But this year I’m not going to let whatever number is printed there bother me because it’s all part of my master plan. And why am I telling you this? Because the ever eloquent, sweet and thoughtful BlogLily asked me (and many others) to tell her about how we plan. It’s a good time of year to think about this, don’t you agree?

Ice Skating, Bryant Park

I’m not a big planner when it comes to the small stuff. On weekends, I’ll write up an agenda of things I’d like to accomplish, but if they don’t happen, it’s no big deal. This is how I cook, too. I’ll put together a recipe in my head with a list of ingredients and if they all make it into the pot, brava! If they don’t, I ask myself, “Did dinner taste good?” If the answer is yes, I’m happy. If the answer is no, I make a mental note and try not to repeat the mistake the next time.

But a few months ago I decided it was time to work on a big plan, the master plan, the path to a better future (that sounds so communist). I decided it was time to get serious about my career and to make other people serious about it too.

What was my plan? It’s rather mundane really. I set myself goals. Revolutionary, no? But what I feel is even more important, I got a haircut and started dressing better. You know that old chestnut, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” well ladies, I do believe it’s an oldie and a goodie for a reason. People take you more seriously when you dress the part. They’re more willing to have you meet important people, delegate responsibility and offer you chances. And to top it all off, it makes me feel better about myself.

Santa & the Shoppers

So, has it worked? I’m not sure yet, but I have hope. All signs point to good things. And if not? Well, I guess it’s on to Plan B. What Plan B might be though, is anyone’s guess.

There’s one thing for sure that I’m planning though, and that’s working on two new tweaks I’ve developed for another old chestnut, Bittman’s no-knead bread. The first tweak was intentional; I substituted whey for water. It’s a good tweak, if you just happen to have cups and cups of whey in your freezer. It enhances aroma, flavor and color rather nicely.

The second tweak was definitely a mistake that turned out to be (possibly) a revolution. I kneaded the no-knead bread.

Kneaded No-Knead Bread

You see, the starter, or poolish, or sponge or whatever-you-want-to-call-it I made was too wet, but I didn’t want to waste it. So after the first rise, I tipped it out onto my heavily flowered board and gently kneaded flour into the amorphous blob of goo until it resembled the most gorgeous, springy, alive feeling dough I’ve ever handled. Then I tucked it into a ball, placed it in a bowl, let it rise two more hours and baked it.

It’s the loaf I’ve been dreaming about. Fragrant. Beautiful. Tasty. Perfect. Without further testing I can’t tell if it was a fluke or if this is a revolution. Might this new step, kneading the kneadless, be the way for the stand mixerless masses to make perfectly structured loaves of European-quality bread?

Kneaded No-Knead Bread

Only time and testing will tell. But I plan to work on it.