Loafing on a Saturday

I have really enjoyed the recipe I got during last fall’s T-G cooking show for a yeast-raised flatbread dough which you keep in a bowl in the fridge, using a bit as you need it. It keeps up to two weeks in the fridge, and the yeasty flavor changes and improves during that time. It stirs together in a bowl, with no kneading required.

So, I found this recipe for a loaf bread which works pretty much the same way. It makes enough for three or four loaves. Like the flatbread recipe, you don’t knead it; you stir it together into a sticky dough. You let it sit on the countertop loosely covered for a couple of hours for an initial rise, then cover it tightly and put it into the fridge.

When you get ready to bake a loaf, you sprinkle a little flour on the surface of what’s in the bowl to make it easier to handle, then pull out the desired amount and shape it easily into a little round loaf. You let the round loaf rest on the counter for 40 minutes or an hour before baking. The yeast is still quite active, and the loaf rises well in the oven. You bake it on a pizza stone on the middle rack, with a pan of water on the bottom rack to provide steam, which helps the crust.

When you pull it out of the oven, it looks a little – no, exactly – like this:

bread2

I’m about to go for a walk, and when I get back it will have cooled and I’ll get a slice and taste it. It smells pretty darn wonderful.

As with the flatbread recipe, the dough lasts for two weeks in the fridge. The recipe says that, also like the flatbread, the yeast flavor develops during that time.

Another option for baking the loaf is to use a slow cooker, and I may try that next time. If the crust isn’t brown enough to suit you using the slow cooker method, you just put the bread under the broiler for a few minutes.

The cider press rules

I am taking a day off work today – not because I have to, or because I had any special plans, but just because it’s the holidays and I’ve always envied people who get a lot of days off between Christmas and New Year’s.

I was delighted to see an episode of “Food Jammers” on Cooking Channel this morning. I didn’t realize they were still airing it at all. When Scripps Networks (which also owns Food Network) decided to convert Fine Living Network into Cooking Channel, the channel’s schedule made heavy use of programming imported from Canada (and, to a lesser extent, the U.K.). “Food Jammers” was one of its original shows; Cooking Channel aired the first season, even though by that point the show was on its third season in Canada.

“Food Jammers” is sort of hard to describe, which may be one reason it wasn’t a runaway hit for the network. If you like both “Mythbusters” and some of the culinary contraptions Alton Brown used to build on “Good Eats,” you’d probably like “Food Jammers.” It’s a show about three young men — Micah Donovan, Chris Martin, and Nobu Adilman – who build various food-related contraptions. In the season that Cooking Channel originally ran, some of the projects included:

  • A taco vending machine – totally impractical, but fun, it actually assembled tacos to order;
  • A giant stainless steel hot-dog roller, big brother to the ones you see in convenience stores and concession stands, to warm a homemade, 10-foot-long sausage for a party. The same episode featured a sort of gyroscopic rotisserie which revolved a chicken in every possible direction as it roasted;
  • A sofa-side living room soda dispenser, connected by tubes to a spare refrigerator in the kitchen which housed a CO2 tank and various homemade syrups;
  • A homemade deep-fryer, with a vent hood made from an actual car hood.

You get the idea. The three hosts have an almost stoner-like demeanor, although they are a bit more productive and competent than one might expect stoners to be.

Anyway, the episode that I saw this morning was from the show’s second season in Canada. Maybe Cooking Channel is giving the show a second chance by sticking it in the daytime hours, when the stakes are a little lower. In this morning’s episode, the boys built a homemade cider press so that they could produce their own naturally-fermented hard apple cider.

I’ll have to set the DVR to look for this again.

Tied up in knots

When the Times-Gazette hosted the Relish magazine Cooking Show this fall, the recipe that attracted my attention was easy flatbread. This makes a huge quantity of sticky yeast-raised dough which you keep in a bowl in your refrigerator. Any time you like, you flour your hands, grab a golf-ball-sized hunk of the dough, stretch it out into a little disk and cook it on your George Foreman grill. Seriously. It’s wonderful, and really easy. The dough lasts up to two weeks in the fridge, and actually gets more of a yeast flavor (and beer smell!) as it goes along.

You can also flatten a larger wad of dough into a circle and use it for mini-pizzas.

I’ve made several batches of the flatbread dough, and there’s an experiment I’d been wanting to try. I love soft pretzels. I’ve tried making them at home, but it always required a long rise time. I wondered if you could take some of this easy flatbread dough and use it to make a pretzel.

It turns out, you can.

pretzelsNow, if you see a recipe for homemade pretzels that advises using an egg wash to give the pretzels that distinctive glossy surface, ignore it. That’s not actually how pretzels (or bagels) are made. The glossy surface comes from baking soda – specifically, you take the pretzel and give it a dunk in boiling water to which a handful of baking soda has been added. It will sink to the bottom and then float to the top. Flip it over, give it a few more seconds, and pull it out of the boiling water. Then you salt it (if desired) while it’s still damp, and bake it, at a high temperature, for that glossy brown appearance.

I did not make my little snakes of dough narrow enough, and these aren’t the prettiest examples. But they’re warm, chewy, and I know exactly what’s in them.

Another pretzel recipe I found today suggested brushing them with melted butter right after you pull them from the oven – more for flavor than gloss. That wouldn’t be a bad thing either. If you wanted hard pretzels, you could put them back into the oven at a low temperature to dry them out. But why would you want hard pretzels when soft are available?

Get cracking

Earlier in the week, a former co-worker brought by a couple of thoughtful holiday gifts for the newsroom – a fruit basket and a small basket of mixed nuts, still in the shell.

We’ve been munching on the fruit, but the nuts were just sitting there, with no way to crack. This afternoon, the editor asked me if I wanted to take them home.

For many years, my mother made Chex snack mix – which we know in our family as “nuts and bolts” – each holiday season. This led to a Thanksgiving tradition of everyone, on Thanksgiving Day, cracking nuts as we sat around the living room watching TV. A week or two after Thanksgiving, Mom would hand me a big margarine tub full of nuts and bolts, which I would take to the paper and share with my co-workers.

We kept up that tradition even after Mom’s passing, with Dad making the nuts and bolts. But this year, we had a strange family schedule. We ate out, and we weren’t really hanging out during the day. Dad is still on the mend from nearly losing his thumb.

Anyway, when Sadie offered me the basket of nuts I eagerly accepted. I bought a nutcracker this evening at Kroger.

I also bought a box of Chex; I may try to make a small batch of snack mix. It won’t be like Mom’s or Dad’s. I may season it to suit myself. I need some pretzels; I think I’ll skip the Cheerios, since this will be a small batch anyway.

I’ve already cracked about half the nuts. I’m taking a break and I’ll get back to them later in the evening.

Turning frozen pizza on its axis

I bought a couple of frozen pizzas a couple of weeks ago — the brand is “Ristorante,” with the manufacturer being “Dr. Oetker.” The packaging boasts that “Ristorante is Italy’s #1 Frozen Pizza.” The parent company, Dr. Oetker, is based in Germany. It sounds odd that the number one frozen pizza in Italy would be from a German company, but then again I’m guessing they don’t eat a whole lot of frozen pizza there. The pizza’s not bad — the mushroom, which I had a week ago, had a much more intense mushroomy taste than you normally find in frozen pizza, which can be good or bad depending on your preference. (I liked it.) I’m about to put a pepperoni-and-ham model in the oven.

Bean there, doing that

I have waxed prosaic in this space before about Hurst’s HamBeens 15-bean soup. I make a pot or two of the stuff every winter, dividing it up into batches, and it’s a perfect cold-weather supper.

original_bayou-cajun-red-beanAnyway, when I was at the grocery store yesterday I found a different, slightly-fancier product from the same company, Hurst Family Harvest Bayou Cajun Red Bean Soup. Much like the 15-bean soup product, it’s basically dried beans with a seasoning packet and a recipe – you add onion, garlic, andouille or smoked sausage, a can of diced tomatoes and the juice of a lemon. Although it’s labeled as “soup,” it’s clear from the directions that this is basically the “red beans” part of red beans and rice, and that’s how they suggest you serve it.

I have a pot simmering away on the stove even as we speak. I could not get good authentic andouille; I got some Johnsonville andouille, but it’s basically just Johnsonville smoked sausage with slightly-tweaked seasoning. (The few times a friend of mine has been headed to N’awlins, I’ve asked them to bring me back andouille.) Even so, even the pseudo-anduouille should be good in this. (“Pseudo-Andouille” would make a great name for a rock band, as Dave Barry would say.)

Here’s how things looked as I was sauteeing the onion, garlic and andouille. The soaked and drained beans are standing by waiting to jump into the dutch oven:

red beans

I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

Condiments game

I don’t mind that many fast food places now make you ask for condiments for your to-go orders. I can understand not wanting to waste condiments. If I’m taking my food home, where I have a big bottle of ketchup, there’s no need for me to also have a fistful of ketchup packets. It costs money, and eventually that cost will get passed along in the form of higher prices.

What I mind — what annoys me to no end — is the fact that neither of the Sonic locations in Shelbyville has any idea what its policy is. Sometimes, you have to ask for ketchup; sometimes, they put it in the bag. Sometimes, they have an employee wandering among the drive-in spaces, carrying a tray on a strap around her neck, offering you condiments. You take some, figuring that her very presence means there won’t be any ketchup in your bag when it arrives. And then you get your bag, and it’s full of ketchup packets. So the next time, you turn down the Wandering Ketchup Lady, and of course this time there’s no ketchup in your bag either.

Seriously, Sonic, give us our condiments automatically or make us ask for them; your choice. But make up your mind which one is your policy, and stick to it.

See you around, eye of round

I was grocery shopping after work today when I saw a nice eye of round on expiration-day sale. America’s Test Kitchen had a wonderful recipe for eye of round a few years back. Unfortunately, I can’t link to it, because they only make the recipes for the current season available for free online. Fortunately, I had printed it out and filed it away back then.

The recipe involves completely salting the exterior of the roast and wrapping it up in plastic for 24 hours. It looks like a lot of salt, but it works its way through the roast and tenderizes it. Then, you sear the outside for flavor in a skillet and cook the roast very low and slow to medium-rare in the oven. It’s wonderful, and it will provide enough for me for several days. (Once I start writing on Thursday, I won’t want to waste too much time on elaborate suppers.)

But since the roast has to sit in the fridge for 24 hours, it didn’t solve the problem of what to have for dinner tonight. I ran across the Progresso lasagna kit I blogged about over the summer. Sometimes, box dinners will have suggested add-ins separate from the basic directions, so I looked at the side of the box, and it suggested replacing 1/2 cup of the water in the directions with red wine. It’s been a few months since I’ve picked up a bottle of wine, so I stopped after leaving the grocery store and got some merlot. The lasagna turned out great, and of course I had a glass of the merlot with dinner.

I didn’t have a lot to spend, so I went for the wine that was on sale: “Mad Housewife.” Let me tell you, you have to be pretty secure in your masculinity to stride up to the checkout counter with a bottle of Mad Housewife wine.

I don’t have wine often enough to have a refined palate, but I thought it was fine. Should go well with the roast beef tomorrow night as well.

The best thing since flat bread

Although there are several more ambitious recipes from Tuesday night’s cooking show that I’d like to try, the one I’m currently trying – and fascinated by – is a remarkably-simple one: flatbread.

Chef Steve Petusevsky demonstrated a simple stir-together yeast dough, no kneading necessary, that you can use to make pieces of flatbread (or mini-pizzas, pocket sandwiches, etc.). The fun thing is that you can make up a batch of the dough and keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks, pinching off a little two-inch ball whenever you want to make an individual piece of flatbread. For me, that’s perfect. Steve said the dough actually gets better in the fridge. My last use certainly smells and tastes yeastier than the original use from that batch.

The bread can be cooked on a griddle, on a sheet pan or pizza stone, or – get ready – on a George Foreman grill or panini press. George Foreman grills are one of the sponsors of Relish’s cooking show tour, and so that’s what they used Tuesday night. My old George Foreman grill is showing its age – the nonstick coating is chipping away from the top of the grill ridges – but it works fine for this.

Anyway, what I discovered is that you can make a sort of flatbread grilled cheese pocket on the Foreman grill. Get two balls of the dough. Stretch one out as if you were making a simple piece of flatbread. Put a little pile of shredded cheese in the middle. Cover with the other piece of flatbread, crimp or smash the edges together to seal, and then cook the pocket on the Foreman grill.

Here is the link to the basic flatbread recipe. I divided all of the quantities in half and it worked just fine.

Proceed gingerly

Last night, at the cooking show, Chef Steve Petusevsky used ginger in one of his recipes. I’m not making that recipe tonight – I ate supper at church tonight, actually – but as he threw little knobs of ginger out to the crowd I was reminded that I’d been wanting to make some crystallized ginger (a/k/a candied ginger) again. I’ve made it once before, and it was wonderful.

So when I had to stop at Kroger tonight, I ended up picking up some fresh ginger.

Making candied ginger couldn’t be easier. You peel the ginger and then chop it up. I’m going to use it as a sweet snack, so I cut the finger in half lengthwise and sliced it into little half-moons. If you wanted it for use in cooking or baking, you’d probably want to dice it a little smaller.

You mix equal parts of sugar and water on the stovetop and heat it up until the sugar dissolves, forming a simple syrup. You then cook the ginger in the syrup for about a half an hour until it gets tender. You strain the ginger – but don’t get rid of that now-ginger-flavored syrup, which is wonderful for things like sweetening tea. I have heard of people who mix it with club soda to make a sort of homemade ginger ale, and that sounds delicious.

You dry the ginger until it’s just a tiny bit sticky. Normally, you’d just let it air dry, but since I have a dehydrator it would be a shame not to use it. Then, you toss the ginger in a little bit of plain sugar to give it its crystallized, finger-licking coating.

I need to take this to work tomorrow just so that I won’t eat it all on my own (although, with it sitting on my desk at work, I’ll probably still end up eating the lion’s share).