Monday, January 31, 2011

No-Knead Bread

I have had this no-knead bread recipe bookmarked for the longest time, but just got around to trying it. (Ironic, since after receiving a stand mixer, I'm so excited to be able to skip the hand-kneading part of recipes.) Maybe something about the awkward timing of the recipe kept me from jumping into it.

If, like me, you've been meaning to make this bread, but haven't gotten around to it, let me give you a push: this bread is worth the (18 hour) wait.

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, see this Minimalist post, where Bittman extols the virtues of Jim Lahey's no-knead bread technique. Instead of relying on kneading to form gluten, this very wet dough is allowed to ferment for up to 18 hours, which creates gluten. The baking technique mimics a high-humidity, hot oven, usually out of the reach of home cooks. And the results are truly bakery quality: soft, chewey interior, with a crispy, crackly crust.

I recommend this project for a weekend- otherwise you'll end up having to get up early and bake it off before you have to go to work, like I did. But no matter when you make it, you'll eat it very quickly and start thinking about when you have the time to make more.

Also, note that the dough needs to rise at warm room temperature- 70 degrees F. Many homes in Maine are not 70 degrees this time of year! I put my dough next to the heater and let it bubble away for 18 hours.

Any Dutch oven or cast iron pot with a lid will work; I used a great cast iron Dutch oven, rescued from the garage at my office.

Cool, right? I'm kind of in awe that a loaf so awesome came from my kitchen with such little effort.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

IHOP Country Fried Steak

How have I never had the wonder that is Country Fried Steak before? Steak... fried... with gravy. Genius. And you know where I had a good one? IHOP, of all places! Cruising around the mall area Sunday morning, I pointed out the two closest brunch spots: IHOP and Friendly's. Groan. But we went with IHOP, because ya know, breakfast is what they do. They should be good at it.

And I was surprised to find that my breakfast was awesome! Perfectly cooked eggs, crunchy, crispy hash browns, and the mammoth Country Fried Steak. Peppery, crispy coating, juicy steak, and loads of not-too-salty sausage gravy. Heaven!

And did you know that IHOP's menu now contains calorie counts? This new practice almost renders it impossible to order anything except the fruit-filled crepe. I took the opposite tack and went with the Country Fried Steak, which had the most calories- a whopping 1650 of em. Wahoo. And it was worth every calorie-laden bite.

I was pretty impressed with the brunch efforts at IHOP. It's an intense eating experience, with all the people watching, children screaming, and the crazy-eyed staff running around bussing tables. But for a 10-minute wait at 10am and $20 bucks, we had our food cooked correctly, our own air pot of coffee, and prompt service. Not too shabby.

IHOP on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cinnamon Monkey Bread: Rave Review!

After some recent mixed (haha, get it??) baking results (Compost Cookies, boo; banana bread, yay!), I was so happy this yeast bread turned out great. It helps that I carefully followed the recipes, Googled things I wasn't sure about, and took all the necessary steps to make sure my yeast bread rose properly. But in the end, this recipe for Monkey Bread was pretty easy too. Great results, crowd-pleaser, and easy? I'm in.

Monkey bread is a treat that is often made with store bought biscuit dough, but a little extra effort (just a little if you have a stand mixer, I swear!), makes this a whole lot better for you- I don't *know* that, I just assume homemade dough is better for you than a can of Pillsbury biscuit dough- while being just as tasty.

I followed the ever-so-helpful illustrated recipe on King Arthur Flour's website, substiuting a stick of melted butter for the water when it comes to the dipping and rolling in cinnamon and sugar step. A trade off on calories, but well worth it.

And next time, I will cut the dough into smaller pieces. You can see the pieces here are pretty big, while smaller dough balls would make more servings (yessss) and create a higher dough to topping ratio.

And because you all liked it so much last time...

But it did feel a bit like a rip-off of Hyperbole and a Half, so be sure to go check out her blog 'cuz it's awesome.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Burgers Around Portland: Becky's Diner

With the end of the Thai-o-rama project, in which a band of bloggers reviewed all the Thai restaurants in Portland, we decided we couldn't get enough of these themed collaborative reviews. So this year, we're mixing it up a bit, but you'll still get several bloggers' opinions about a monthly topic. And to kick the new project and new year off right: burgers. Specifically diner and sandwich shop burgers.

I decided to try Becky's Diner's burger. This place is always recommended to tourists in profiles of Portland as the place to rub elbows with lobstermen while you eat an omelet (never mind that if you're there any time after 5am, you won't see a lobsterman, as they will have gone to work, and there will be an hour-long wait). But no one ever talks about Becky's lunches and dinners. And as a diner, lunch, and diner should also be a forte.

I ordered a bison burger to mix it up a little bit. I also added cheese and subbed cole slaw for my chips. I was slightly alarmed to see my total burger come to $9.25 instead of the listed $6.50 (an extra $2.75 for cheese and slaw, really!?). But anyway, this burger was pretty good- a nice soft bun, which came fully dressed with lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo. The burger actually reminded me a little bit of Five Guys!

My only complaint was that it was overcooked. These burgers are pretty thin (1/3 lb.), so it wasn't the end of the world that it was well done. But bison is pretty susceptible to overcooking, so a lighter hand should have been used on the griddle (since I ordered it medium rare and it came medium-well).

M. ordered the chicken salad club, which was awesome. Nice wheat bread, great crunch to the chicken salad, with great smoky flavor from the bacon. After a pretty lousy dining experience at Ruski's last night (rude, slow service and bad food—ouch), we were happy to have some good diner fare.

While I have ranted against the hype surrounding Becky's brunch, I was impressed by their lunch effort. This place didn't make my go-to burger spot, but with the good prices and the great club sandwich, I'd recommend it for a cheap, classic lunch.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Momofuku Compost Cookie Flop

I have been so excited about trying these Compost Cookies from momofuku milk bar ever since the pastry chef, Christina Tosi was on Regis and Kelly and gave out the recipe. But I never made them because the butter and sugar creaming process takes 10 minutes in a stand mixer. I don't even want to think about doing that by hand (well, I mean with a hand mixer). But since the 'rents gave me a KitchenAid mixer for Christmas (thanks again!), I tackled this recipe right away.

...and was horribly disappointed. I expected some transcendent cookie experience. I mean, I added kettle chips, pretzel sticks, Rolos, chocolate chips, and Oreo's for Chrissake! These are like $30 cookies here! But they turned out to be salty chocolate chip cookies that were hard to bake without overcooking. What gives!? Sadly, there was no discernable benefit to adding the potato chips.

There is so. much. discussion about this recipe in the comments of blogs that have made it. But I dutifully read through it all and decided to follow Amateur Gourmet's recipe. Which I gather is the same as the one on Regis and Kelly's website. It was rumored that the cookies could be too salty, so I halved the salt (one tsp. instead of two). But other than that, I followed the AG's recipe, since he has no mention of finicky cookies. He just mixes the dough, freezes it, and bakes up perfeclty crispy, crackly, puffy cookies. If only I were so lucky.

Someone at the end of the comments suggests that you just make the recipe from the back of the Tollhouse bag and add chips, Oreos, etc. At first, I thought, what the hell is the point in that? Now I kind of agree. At least you would get a good cookie. These cookies aren't anything special, in fact, they are diva cookies, since they were a pain in my ass and demanded their own dressing room.

(Just seeing that you were paying attention.)

So I dunno what to tell you. Don't make this recipe? I'm sure others will disagree, since everyone I fed them to liked them. Oh, I know, buy yourself a bus ticket to New York and just eat Christina Tosi's version. Let her work the magic with the mixer, since it's not happening in my kitchen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Blood Orange Marmalade

Seeing how it's a major snowstorm here in New England, I can't help but think that canning would be a perfect indoor project for today. That is, assuming you have all the ingredients you need to whip up some jam. And who usually does? I'm telling you, I'm not going out there today!

Fortunately, I made this marmalade yesterday, since I'm not one to have 8 blood oranges and 2 Meyer lemons laying around the produce basket. But maybe you are (sicko).

I was most impressed with this marmalade; I thought I didn't like them, due to their tendancy to be bitter and in the end, a little 'meh.' But this one is so sweet and then tart, and of course, a beautiful color. However, there is only one word that truely describes this recipes, and that word is... tedious. So be forewarned.

Low-sugar Blood Orange Marmalade
From Kraft

8 blood oranges
2 Meyer lemons
2 1/2 cups water
1/8 tsp. baking soda
4 cups sugar
1 box No Sugar Needed Sure.Jell pectin

Prepare your canning supplies:

Fill a hot water bath canner half-full of water and bring to a boil. Wash your 8 oz. jars (I washed 8 and used 7) and place in the canner. Boil the jars for 10 minutes to sterilize. Place the flat part of the lids in a small saucepot. Cover with water and bring to a simmer. Wash and set aside the screwbands.

Prepare the fruit:

Wash fruit and remove colored part of peel with a vegetable peeler. Be sure not to get any of the white part, since this is what is responsible for the bitter taste in marmalade. Chop peel into matchstick sized pieces and place in a large stock pot. Add water and baking soda and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.

While the peel is cooking, remove the white part from the fruit and segment the fruit into a bowl (watch this helpful and short video if you need to). Hold the fruit over the bowl while you work to capture the juice. Add fruit to stockpot and cook for another 10 minutes. Measure 5 1/2 cups of prepared fruit into a 6 to 8 qt. stockpot and bring to a boil (Note: I didn't do this- I just used all the fruit, juice and peel I had. It turned out fine!)

Make the jam:

Measure your sugar into a bowl, and remove 1/4 cup of sugar into another small bowl. Mix well with the package of pectin. When your fruit is boiling, add the sugar-pectin mix, stirring well to combine. Bring to a full rolling boil (one that cannot be stirred down), then add the remaining sugar. Bring the jam to a boil again, and boil for one minute. Remove from heat.

Can the jam:

If you'd like a canning primer, read How to Can (dilly beans).

Ladle the hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe rims with a damp paper towel, and apply lids and screw bands until fingertip tight. Place jars in the canner, bring the heat to high, and start a timer for 10 minutes when the water is boiling. Remove jars from canner and let cool for 24 hours, undisturbed, to allow seals form.

Yield: 8 (more like 7 and 1/2 for me) 8-oz. jars

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Second Year in Review

Well, today is my 2nd blog-iversary, and this one crept up on me! I can hardly believe I've been writing this thing for two years. As I've said before, I've met a lot of amazing people through my blog and appreciate the community I've built of writers, readers, eaters, and general partiers.

I'm looking forward to trying new things in the new year (especially in the baking department- thanks to my parents for a new KitchenAid mixer!), and to meeting more people who love Portland and food as much as I do.

So here's my year in blogging review!

In January, I visited my boyfriend in Charleston, South Carolina, had some great eats at FIG and Baked. I also discovered Po'Boys and Pickles here in Portland, and my sister came to visit me! Mark Bittman's Cheddar Biscuits was by far my favorite recipe of the month.

In February, I took a trip down to the Bahamas to visit M. And cheered the Saints to a win in the Super Bowl with some gumbo and king cake.

In March, we continued on our Thai-o-rama project (started in February and lasting until December!). I took a cheese making class with my friend Elizabeth, while she visited from Maryland, and took advantage of the now defunct Evangeline's restaurant week menu with Uke Mochi.

April brought M. back to Maine from his silly sailing trip (yay!!!) and we were off and running in the kitchen with homemade pasta, hipster lemonade, fried donuts, and chicken tagine both with Gryffon Ridge spices.

In June, we saw the beginning of a run of fabulous Maine weather, accompanied by the best gardening season since I've lived here. There was lots of fresh produce to be had and preserved.

In July, I'm surprised I cooked at all, since I was at the beach whenever I was not at work! But my parents came to visit, and when I wasn't visiting with family or sunning at the beach, I was canning! I canned dilly beans, pickles, dill relish, and more jam.

In August, M. and I explored our local fried seafood options, and we ate lots of fresh produce and seafood. I was lucky enough to take time off to spend a week down at the OBX beach with my family.

In September, we traveled to Unity for the Common Ground Fair (mmm... more fried seafood) and, well, from the looks of it, I was busy canning! And my life was forever changed by my first Sicilian Slab from Micucci's.

In October, I celebrated a birthday with an excellent party (thanks, friends!), and then I was really busy with a job! So I ate out (smile!), and worked a lot (frown).

November saw the end of the Thai-o-rama project, but feeling the need to continue themed reviews, Dawn, S. and I reviewed local cupcakes.

December was my lowest number of posts all year! I was so sad and busy, but managed to meet with friends for a holiday cocktail tasting and to make some awesome holiday treats (if I do say so myself).

And then it was the holidays, I had some time off, saw my family, and all was right with the world. In the new year, I hope to have more exciting blogging projects, meet some more bloggers in person, and to make some new recipes to share. Thanks for reading and happy cooking! 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Roasted Beet and Onion Salad

Woah, apparently *not* being super, ridiculously busy doesn't mean that you'll actaully write on your blog (just like how going to the airport doesn't actually mean that you'll get on your plane- not that I know anyone who did that).

But this is a blog worthy salad. I made it from a recipe out of my new cookbook, which is 'Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes' from the Editors of Food & Wine. How have I never heard of this series? I love it (and thanks to my cousin who gave it to me!). This year's cookbook of cookbooks contains recipes from Thomas Keller, Emril, Bobby Flay, the Neelys, and a bunch of other people who don't have shows on the Food Network.

This simple roast beet and red onion salad, served with sour cream and chopped dill is from Pure Simple Recipes by Diana Henry. I won't publish the recipe, but, well, I just told you how to make it. It's so easy and surprisingly delicious. Something happens to elevate it above the sum of its parts. Roasted red onion is now my jam. And who would have thought plain sour cream would make such a great salad dressing?

Now go forth and eat salad.