January 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s about time I bake some bread, wouldn’t you say?
It’s a lazy-dozen days into the Year of Ellen Baking and flour hasn’t yet been sprinkled on the kitchen counter. I rolled out of bed this morning and decided to remedy that. Measuring cups and the mixer were in use within 15 minutes of my alarm going off.
It’s not like I have a lot of time to make bread today. The pile of work on my desktop is pretty steep. Making a poolish (a dough starter) and then going through the hours of rising and deflating and proofing and on and on – the protocols for my most flavorful breads – just isn’t in the day’s agenda.
Luckily, I have a quick, one-rise recipe I keep in my back pocket and pull out when time is tight. I found the recipe at Principia Gastronomica last summer. Easy enough to remember. Easy enough to prepare. Easy enough to adjust.
Here’s the ingredient list:
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tsp fast-acting/instant yeast add straight to the flour (I increase by 1/3 tsp – not sure why but it works!)
- 2 tsp salt (I use kosher)
- About a cup of warm water (your finger should feel comfy when inserted into it)
The thing I like about this recipe is that the blogger had suggested to add whatever proportion of flours you wish – all white, half white/half wheat, some spelt – whatever. Just make it 3 cups flour. Baking isn’t known for it’s flexibility; quite the opposite in fact. I like the freedom to try my own thing.
I vacillate between a strict 50/50 white-whole wheat ratio and one where I use 1.75 cups of whole wheat (King Arthur Flour’s whole wheat, which is on the fine side of wheat flours). Today’s bread is the latter.
Don’t have time to make bread in the morning? Dainty Dot does it this way:
- Mix flour(s), yeast, salt in bowl of Kitchen-Aid mixer. Attach a paddle (oiled with Pam or something like that) and secure bowl to mixer.
- While mixer is on low, add about a cup of warm water. When dough becomes shaggy (less than a minute), stop mixer, take off paddle (clean off dough that sticks and put back in bowl) and attach oiled (with Pam etc) dough hook.
- Why I oil paddle/hook: Makes it easier to clean dough off paddle, and helps prevent dough from creeping up to top of hook. Alton Brown’s suggestion, not my own genius, unfortunately.
- With hook now on, turn mixer of medium low. Let the hook and dough do their thing. IF the dough is looking a tad dry – if it looks like that dryness would hurt if you were a lump of developing dough – I add squigges of warm water ’til it softens up a bit.
- If dough does creep up the hook, stop the mixer and adjust dough downward.
- After about 5 minutes, the dough should look like it’s swollen just a tad and look a bit like a soft baby’s bum. At this point, take out the dough and put into an oiled (or Pammed) bowl. I like to put my in a large (2 quart-sized) plastic measurer with markings. That way you can tell how much the dough has risen. Next, cover the container with plastic wrap. Put in a warm draft-free space.
- Warm? In January? I’m a frugal gal myself. My house is nowhere above 68F at any time between August and June. How the heck do I find a warm space that’ll make my baby snuggly and happy? Here’s the trick: Boil a cup of water in the microwave. Put the dough bowl in the microwave with the just-boiled water. Close door. You’ll have a warmish space for the next hour or so as the water releases heat as it cools down.
- The original recipe says to let the dough rise an hour or so. I take mine a but further – up to two hours. The dough is likely to double in that time.
- Spill the somewhat-puffy dough onto a lightly floured surface. The light pull of your hands on the dough coaxing it out of the container is pretty much enough handling to count toward a light “punch down.” You don’t want to let too much of that air out – this is a one-rise dough, after all.
- Actually, you can even skip the “lightly floured surface.” Why? This is a dry dough – a quick dip of your fingertips in some flour is more than enough to prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers. And, in this next step you actually want the tackiness of your surface to work in your favor.
- Pull in all sides of the dough into the middle of a round ball. Try your best to pinch them all into one spot. Top should be a smooth rounded surface, and the bottom should look like puckered lips.
- Next, put the ball bottom side down. Put both hands on either side of the ball, cupping it from the top, and rotate the ball under your hands – kinda pushing up with your left while pulling down with your right. The tackiness of a flourless work surface pulls the dough taut. And, it helps in drawing in those “puckered lips” and sealing it closed as best as possible. Do the push-me, pull-you thing about 10-20 times. When the “skin” of the ball starts to pull very very tight, STOP!
- Put the dough ball on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper that has been lightly sprinkled with corn meal. Cover with that plastic wrap you used previously (waste not, want not, right?). Let it sit while the oven warms up to about 420F (recipe says 425F but my oven runs a bit hot). In fact, I’ll let it sit for up to 1/2 hour.
- Five minutes before you’re ready to put the dough into the oven, throw in some ice cubes. This creates steam, and a humid, steamy oven helps create a nice crunchy crust.
- Right before inserting the dough into the oven do these two things: 1) slash the top of the dough lightly with a quick movement. This slashing will help prevent the crust from breaking haphazardly elsewhere as the dough expands. The dough is gonna split regardless – pre-slashing is like a controlled split. 2) Spritz the loaf 4-5 times with a water spritzer-thingy. Again, this helps create a crunchy crust. But I don’t go crazy trying to control the crust, not like I would if I were making French bread or a sourdough. This is a quick-and-easy bread recipe – the crust is what it is. I’m good with that.
- The recipe calls for the bread to bake about 40 minutes. Because my oven runs a bit hot, I take it to 35 minutes and then check its status. Check for doneness by thumping your thumb against the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it’s time to set it free from the oven. What’s a hollow loaf of bread sound like? Good question. And I suggest you take a loaf out at 30 minutes, give it a good thump, and remember what that sounds like, and then keep comparing thumps every couple of minutes. Eventually the bread will be done and you’ll note the difference in sound. Well, that’s how I did it, anyway.
- Let it sit on a cooling rack for a while so it can finish cooking completely inside. If you can keep your hands off it, that is.
Using this recipe, I made a loaf of half-whole wheat bread 5.5 inches wide and weighing approximately 1 lb. 6.5 oz. in less than 4 hours. Fresh. Bread. Fast. Yum.
January 9, 2011 § 1 Comment
No, don’t. Worst night’s sleep ever. Room near elevators.
Presentation, still unfinished, to give later today. Bags under
eyes. Not pretty. Coffee. Please.
OMG – worse than I thought. My room is between two banks of elevators!!!
January 8, 2011 § 2 Comments
“I don’t do well with houseplants.”
Really? Is that really your excuse for not adding some living color – literally, living color – to your home? Come on, having houseplants isn’t like doing brain surgery. And, if you do mess up with a houseplant, you can always get another one. Another brain? Not so sure about that.
But specifically, let’s talk paperwhites, aka Narcissus tazetta (I had to google that, don’t be too impressed). Houseplants? Not really. They’re actually bulbs, and the bright, papery-white mini daffodil-shaped flowers will eventually die, the green leaves will fade. Rather than label them houseplants, let’s call them temporary residents, instead.
You see paperwhite bulbs for sale beginning any time after Thanksgiving and into January or so. Why? It’s just the right time of year to force these bulbs into bloom. Forced early in December, the bright white flowers go well with the Christmas holiday decor. Set against the red of a poinsettia, and the white makes the red look even more Christmassy. They make a good pair.
Wait – I think I have to define a word here, “force,” just in case you don’t catch my meaning. You’re not actually using force (or anger or intimidation) to make these bulbs pop their buds. To “force” means to … encourage, yeah, that’s it … you’re encouraging these bulbs to produce leaves and flowers for you at a time when Mother Nature would dictate they sleep for the winter instead.
Okay, back to business.
Begin forcing paperwhites in mid December, and they’ll bring you a whole different experience. At least for me. As you’re dismantling your tree, taking down the decorations and removing all hints of the Christmas holiday round about New Year’s Day, the paperwhites are pushing out their petals. The house is not suddenly stale and cold. There’s life in full flower on the windowsill.
Plant up some paperwhites every weekend from mid December through mid January or whenever your bulb supply runs out, and the narcissus blooms should take you right up until Valentine’s Day, when a color of another sort may appear if you’re lucky.
You don’t have to plant your paperwhites as I do. This technique – potting up the bulbs in water – works for me. And is a lot easier to clean up than potting the bulbs in potting soil.
For one container of paperwhites:
- three paperwhite bulbs – I found mine at Mahoney’s Garden Center in Brighton.
- glass vase big enough to fit said bulbs
- polished stones, glass or similar from a craft store
-I use any sort of clear-glass vessel I can find that has a) an opening big enough for me to squeeze my hand through and b) is at least 6 inches deep. An 11-in. tall vase – the standard kind you get with a nice bouquet delivery – is ideal and I’ll tell you why later. An 8-in. vase is a tad too short. Explanation to come below.
-Place stones/glass/whatever in the bottom of the vessel to create a layer at least 2 or 3 inches deep.
-Place each paperwhite bulb on top of the stones, nudging them in just a bit. Don’t bury the bulbs, just make sure they are securely on the stones. Bulbs can touch, don’t worry. Oh, and place the bulbs GREEN SIDE UP! Your bulbs should have a visible root side and emerging green stemmy-looking side. If you put the green side down, god help you son.
-Place on a windowsill or somewhere they can get some light – they are plants, after all.
-Add water to the vase to just about the bottom of the bulb. The bulbs can sit in a bit of water, but don’t flood them.
-Next, watch them grow.
Got a cat or dog? Adding water to their water bowl? Well, check if your pet paperwhites need water, too. It may take a week or so to see some activity. You’ll see it first in the water – brownish white roots will emerge from the bulb. That’s a good sign. Once that happens, the top will start elongating and long leaves will grow by leaps and bounds each day. And eventually a stalk will pop out of the bulb with a thin membrane-encased bunch of baby flowers. Ah, birth!
So, the explanation for why I prefer an 11-in. vase. Simple. These leaves and flowering stalks get pretty tall. The shorter the vase, the more easily the tall stuff slumps over. My paperwhites in the taller vase don’t even think of slumping. Looks much neater. However, if you like the paperwhites-gone-wild look, go for it.
What Can Go Wrong?
-One BIG bummer I experienced last year was a batch of bad bulbs. Not sure what happened to them, but they didn’t emerge more than an inch or two, and they never did flower.
-You can add too much water and your bulbs will get icky. Icky as in moldy and soft.
-You can have too many bulbs in too shallow a container. And your top-heavy flowers will tip over. Is it apparent I’m speaking from experience?
-Not that this is too horrible of a problem but … check out this photo. The emerging leaves and stems couldn’t quite make it up and around the curve of the vase. They had nowhere to go but where they were. So, I ended up with flowers inside the vase. Actually, it looks pretty interesting to me.
Oh, one thing you may want to be aware of: Paperwhites have that same effect on people as cilantro – you know, where people either like the taste of cilantro or think it tastes like soap. The paperwhite fragrance is kinda/sorta the same way, except it’s not soap it will smell like. But don’t let this dissuade your trying paperwhites. It was my duty to tell you.
January 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
“Fresh garden parsley in January, yo.”
That’s from my “Linguine with Clam Sauce: The Payoff” post. I had bragged about how our homegrown parsley is like Methuselah—it just keeps on keepin’ on even after being in our fridge for nearly two months. What the hell kinda parsley are we using, after all? Plastic?
No, not plastic. In fact, it’s one of those no-named varieties of flat-leafed parsley seedlings we bought from a pop-up garden center back in May. It’s the most gutsy plant we have in our community garden plot, and we couldn’t kill it if we tried. I planted pretty much every seedling that was broadcast-sown in the 4-in. pot we purchased—and every single plant survived.
Here are the growing instructions: Nothing special; water now and then.
I’m not kidding you. Nothing special. And, as a result, the two rows of parsley grew into a small hedge. In fact, it’ll probably come back from the dead when the soil warms this spring.
Just as the living stuff is indestructible, so too is the harvested parsley. Here’s how we prepared and stored the herb:
- Gently wash with cold water.
- Remove stems. Reserve stems for your stash of veggies for making veggie stock.
- Lay leaves flattish on towel to air dry excess water. Best thing about parsley as a plant is that it’s sturdy—it’ll dry before it begins to wilt.
- Once dry, store loosely in zip-lock freezer bag. Put in refrigerator. Since the storage bags are a bit thicker, I think that helps prolong the parsley’s life.
We also stashed six or eight of these zip-locks in the freezer, where it forms frozen sheets. When we run out of the fresh stuff, we’ll break off a corner of the frozen parsley sheet and add it to soups, stews, pasta, and so forth.
More importantly, this is what we DON’T do: Store the parsley wet, wrapped in a moist paper towel in a sealed bag. The humidity just seems to build up along the bag’s sides, eventually making the leaves black and slimy. Sure, we’ll do this if we’re in a hurry or we know we’ll use the whole batch quickly. But it’s not something I’d do for long-term storage.
Will our parsley-storage technique work with the store-bought stuff? I don’t know—we haven’t had to buy the fresh stuff in years. But please do give it a try and let Dainty Dot know the results.
And did I mention, we also have fresh dill from the garden still going strong in the fridge, as well? It’s like a magic tomb, that refrigerator of ours.
January 6, 2011 § Leave a comment
“I really like to bake.”
Those very words can be found in my profile, and I’ve yet to write anything about baking on The Dainty Dot. This is, after all, the Year of Ellen Baking. As a comparison, 2010 was the Year of Ellen Sleeping and 2009 was the Year of Ellen Not Sending Cards. I decided to put a more positive spin on the “Year ofs” during this turn around the sun.
In fact, this blog was originally going to be called “Ellen Bakes.” Imagine when I heard that Martha is premiering a new show later this month called “Martha Bakes.” Coincidence? She must have bugged my house …
Am I baking today? No. This week? Probably not. Blame it on a preparation for a business trip/presentations coming up in a few days. But don’t you fear – I’ll be baking (said with a slight Arnold Schwarzenegger/Terminator affect).
Year of the Pie?
Coincidentally, I heard a buzz that 2011 will be the year of the pie. Sweet pies, savory pies, hand pies, round, square, pan—you put a crust of any sort on it, in it, around it, call it a pie and it’s a rock star this year. And, not to steal Martha’s catch phrase but … that is a good thing. Because Ellen bakes pies. Always have.
Pie crust is an amazing canvas. And really, I’m fixated on perfecting that canvas. I’ve in no way come even half way to making a top-notch crust, but I love the challenge. Fillings? Yeah, ok – it’s the stuff of the pie. But I always remember the crust.
Best pie crust ever is my mom’s crust from my childhood. The flakiest ever, thanks to lard. Rendered from our own pigs. Didn’t mean to skeeve you out but when you grow up on a farm you can expect that sort of thing. Alas, no more lard for mom and dad. Doctors orders.
The loveliest pie combination: Peach-rhubarb, also from fruit grown right on the property. “Peaches? Rhubarb? How are they ever in season at the same time?,” you ask. They aren’t. But as the peaches come on, along with every other fruit and veg roundabout August, and you’re looking for room to store stuff in the chest freezer, you spot the frozen rhubarb. “Hmmmm … let’s make a pie,” is the natural solution.
Flour Bakery + Cafe
Down the block from me is a bakery that is pretty well known – Flour Bakery + Cafe, run by baking’s “It Girl,” Joanne Chang. Awesome place. the line is pretty much always out the door – which is why I don’t really go there too very often. But when I do, it’s oh so good.
Joanne has recently published a cookbook based on recipes she uses at Flour. Bitten with the baking bug, I had to get myself a signed copy, just in time to bake for the holidays. Now, I’m not really a sweets baker – pies are the exception – but the recipes for grown-up oreos and pop-tarts are really spectacular. Every reason to name the book “Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe.”
Okay, folks – I gotta go get a move-on with that presentation. But, let me leave you with a drool-inducing image of my apple cinnamon pop-tarts baked word for word (almost) from the Flour cookbook. Yum ….
January 5, 2011 § 5 Comments
Sunshine in a bottle.
That pretty much describes the essence of lemoncello and orangecello (and limecello and … ), that quintessential citrus aperitif of Italy. (Did I just say “quintessential”? Who am I?)
In Dainty-speak, these ‘cellos rock it. For a bunch of reasons:
- They give alcohol a tasty, refreshingly clean kick in the pants.
- They bring back memories of an awesome tour through the Amalfi Coast. (Never been? It’s a must.)
- And, best yet, they can be made at home – no distillery needed. That’s brilliant!
Not that I’ve made ‘cellos, of course. But they’ve been given to me, as recently as this past holiday. It was a double gift – lemoncello and a blog post in the making. I like that.
During our New Year’s festivities in Provincetown, where 11 compadres
destroyed convened on our friends’ home, Karen gave out a bottle of the liquor – made in her very own kitchen – to everyone in the crowd, with a spare to give New Year’s Eve a celebratory kick start.
- 12 decorative bottles purchased at The Christmas Tree Shops (i.e. inexpensive and cute!)
- 100% proof good-quality vodka, enough to fill said bottles
- oranges and lemons (how many? she didn’t tell me), zested separately
- Soak the zests (one batch orange, one batch lemon) in the alcohol for four to five days
- Strain out zest and discard
- Add simple syrup* to infused alcohol
- Bottle and insert cork!
You’re wondering, “Yo, dude, what’s the ratio of alcohol to simple syrup?” I had the same question. Here’s a direct quote from the ‘cello maker herself:
“The mixture of alcohol and simple syrup is a matter of taste and courage … the more you mix, the sweeter and lower alcohol content you have. The less you mix, the more lethal it becomes!”
Karen made both lemoncello and orangecello. Which bottles contained what? The ribbed bottles were filled with one flavor, the bumpy bottles had another flavor.
*A simple simple syrup recipe: Boil together 1 cup water and 1 cup white sugar until sugar is dissolved. Cool. You’re done. Make more or less depending on how much you need. Keeps for a few days in the fridge.
January 4, 2011 § 1 Comment
This is the best part. This is when the clams go from mollusk-stuffed rocks to dinner in no time at all. This is the kind of 30-minute meal I’m talkin’ about, sista. Step aside, Rach. Ellen’s makin’ dinner.
Actually, Jennifer and Ellen are making dinner. Okay, okay … Jennifer’s making dinner, I’m sous-cheffing.
Here’s the play-by-play:
Large pot, filled with water, add handfuls of kosher salt until it “tastes like the sea,” as Giada would say. High heat. When it boils, throw in a pound of linguine – you know the drill. Keep an eye on doneness while you’re prepping the rest. Cook until nearly done, then just turn off the heat and let it coast in. When clams are nearly done, drain the linguine. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water to add back into the pasta if you wish.
Two or three big fat cloves of garlic, smacked and minced go into a saute pan with EVOO, a tbs or two. Throw in a fresh anchovy fillet (or two for good luck). Medium heat ’til the anchovy melts and it smells like Italian heaven.
Add a half cup-ish dry white wine. Nothing you wouldn’t drink yourself, but I’m not talking a Dog Point sauvignon blanc here. We used a Sevillon/Chardonnay blend that is on the I-wouldn’t-chuck-it-down-the-sink side.
Clam juice – that’s right, we’re adding clam juice to clam sauce. Like adding chicken stock to something. Just a touch of added flavor. Let that come together for a bit. It’ll boil more quickly than you think.
Simmah time. Mmmmm. We’re half-way there, folks.
Now’s the time that some will get squeamish. It’s ok, really – the clams are destined for a greater purpose at this point. We had about 30 clams. Only about 10 at a time fit in the pan. Throw ’em in, cover, and wait for the little guys to give it up. It takes between four to six minutes, depending on size. We had some big clams that took quite a bit of time. And, something I never knew – when the clams open, it’s not like it’s a slow-motion death yawn. There’s a definite rumbling in the dying clam’s vicinity, and then a sudden “pop” – the pearly treasure reveals itself. I’m exaggerating with the pearl comparison, of course.
When they open, take them out of the “juice” and pry out the meat. Reserve shells (for fumé). Add next batch to pan, and so on until they’re all cooked and open.
We’re almost there.
Mince your clams. Add back to the saute pan – which now magically has way more liquid in it from the clams – and let them heat up again. Add in your pasta. Mix until amazing.
Serve up, garnish with fresh chopped flat parsley – never, never the curly stuff. (By the way, we added parsley we harvested from our garden back in November. Man, that stuff keeps when prepared properly. Fresh garden parsley in January, yo.)
Eat. Try not to slop it all over yourself. That may be the hardest part of this whole experience.
January 3, 2011 § 2 Comments
That was the subject line of the email we received from our friend Karen. For $15, she picked up a shellfish license that allows her to walk around in the low-tide sands of Provincetown, clawing for clams and such. She picked up two licenses, actually, so she could share the experience with folks like us. My partner, Jennifer, and I were going to be in Provincetown for New Year’s weekend, and she knew we’d be up for a hunting-gathering experience.
Armed with an official clam rake, purchased new for our first clamming experience, we joined Karen and Robin at low tide on New Year’s Eve afternoon. We picked a spot east of town. For about 30 minutes we raked around the wet sand of the flats. Nothing. Okay, I lied. We found two clams – one of which was less than 1 in. thick and we had to dig back into its home.
Apparently conditions hadn’t been ideal for clams in that spot this summer. Karen knew of another spot about 2 miles further west and we sped off to hopefully richer clamming fields.
The first sign we reached fertile ground was the mass of rake-armed people out on the flats. Second sign: full clam baskets dangling from arms of weary food gatherers. After trudging through a bit of shallow water (note to self: purchase galoshes) we spent all of a minute raking before we hit the jackpot. Robin hit the clam jackpot first, actually. Then Karen. You don’t have to dig deep to find these critters. They’re just below the surface. I’d hit a few miscues – some empty scallop shells, a hunk of asphalt – but when you hit a clam with a tine, you know from the sound and from the bulk you’ve found your treasure.
When I found my first clam – a quahog – I was rewarded with more than one actually. They tend to hang out in batches. My batches tended to have three. Robin found up to six in several spots. All told, the four of us walked off the flats with about 50-60 clams.
Speaking of walking off the flats, we ran into the local shellfish commissioner while calling it a day. An affable guy, he explained the quahogs we found pretty much stay near the surface. The softshell steamers are a bit further down. The longer-tined rakes, like the one we bought, are ideal for harvesting those. Rather than just randomly digging 6-in. holes hoping to hit payload, the commissioner said to look for tear-shaped hole in the sand. Spot those, and you’ll likely find your steamers.
Don’t like clams because of the sand? Karen says there’s a trick to getting the clams to give it up. Throw them into a bucket, fill with water, add a bunch of baking soda and let them sit overnight. Not sure exactly how that works, but if she says it works, that’s enough proof for me.
I’ll let you know if it works. Meanwhile, I’m looking for my best linguine and clam sauce recipe. Harvesting and cooking – it’s so primeval.