0829 Family-Style

I am so very disappointed that my photos from tonight’s dinner didn’t turn out.  Janet, among others, has been on me for months to improve my use of our DSLR, and tonight’s photos illustrate her point – I have a great deal to learn and, perhaps more importantly, remember.

Since I have no usable photos, I’ll have to ask you to close your eyes and imagine the scene.  Nine friends around a mid-century teak table with not one but two leaves added.  Serving dishes crowding every inch of the table not covered in mismatched linens, silverware, dinner plates, or half-empty Tom Collinses.  A pizza-like flatbread with slow roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, green onion, and shaved Parmiagiano-Reggiano.  A second flatbread with sauteed leeks, gorgonzola, and more shaved Parmiagiano.  Two grain salads: quinoa with green beans, and wheat berries with corn and green onion in a delicate dressing.  Pesto potato salad with green beans and toasted pine nuts.  Potato-quinoa croquettes with romesco dipping sauce.  A frittata with a bunch of veg.  Eggplant caviar with toasted pita (and secret roasted tomatoes added for extra oomph).

Chairs pushed back from the table.  Bottles of Sah’tea and Shane’s stout passed around for sampling.   Chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and a discussion of Mad Men.  Speculation about whether the inhalation of quick-setting concrete might result in sore lungs.  Stories about stuffed animals and grade school lunches.  A lot of laughter, and perhaps an Elton John song.

Let’s do this again, and soon.


0828 Sweet Cherry Tomato & Sausage Bake

First, I am officially throwing in the towel on no-knead bread.  If the last attempt was a mess, the loaf I made tonight was an all-out disaster.  The dough stuck to the mixing bowl.  It stuck to the floured silpat mat and did its best to ooze off all sides of the mat, resulting in me propping up the edges with various kitchen implements.  It glued itself to the sides of the pot in which it rose and baked, and it had to be HACKED AND PRIED out with a couple of knives.  I find kneading to be therapeutic, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I find not kneading so exasperating?

The rest of dinner, however, was a resounding success.  We tried this recipe from Jamie at Home last winter and loved it, despite the cherry tomatoes being wildly out of season.  This time around, we have a rogue cherry tomato plant that is remarkably out-yielding nearly everything else in the garden, so we had several cups of fresh and free Sweet 100s to toss in with half a dozen pork sausages.  While you’re meant to use larger and fatter sausages in the bake, we’ve had great success with the wee breakfast links.  Tonight’s were no exception – the sausages were bursting with flavor, as were the tiny cherry tomatoes.  Everything was swimming in a delicious broth which we happily sopped up with hunks of bread.  This recipe is so simple but so rewarding – I’m looking forward to eating leftovers over pasta or polenta this week.

Sweet Cherry Tomato & Sausage Bake from Jamie at Home

0827 Three Kinds of Ice Cream

So last night I was reminded of one thing I really, really hate about the Midwest: the late summer/early fall allergies.  Last night’s allergy attack was the worst I can recall having since high school, when there were mornings where I woke up and had to stumble blindly to the bathroom for a warm washcloth in order to unstick my stuck-shut eyes.  Last night’s plague took the form of sneezing instead of itchy eyes, and resulted in me waking about every 30 minutes to sneeze and blow my nose and change positions.  It was warmish, but I slept with the heating pad on because it was comforting.

You can imagine, then, that I wasn’t particularly with it today at work.  I packed a lunch, and supplemented it with leftover vanilla ice cream from yesterday’s party.  And then a little bit of chocolate ice cream in my coffee mug later.  I was supposed to go to happy hour with a bunch of library people, but I couldn’t face (har) the pollen and sinus pressure, so I came home, had leftover snacks and some mint chocolate chip ice cream, and tried to breathe deeply.  Thank goodness for antihistamines, you guys.

2 days to #12books!

Wow, guys, you’re totally blowing me away with your enthusiasm and also your impressive reading lists!

Shane and I are off to San Francisco for our honeymoon on Wednesday, so look for the sign up round up post towards the end of the week, and for reviews from both of us of our first books when we get home!  For the record, I’ve started with The Winter Queen, while Shane is reading Kitchen Confidential on his new and fancy-pants Kindle.

0826 Cake and Snacks

I’ll be honest with you: it is difficult to remain disciplined in your healthy eating when you encounter something like this:

Wedding Cake #5

That’s a chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, made for us by my boss, and served with chocolate and also vanilla ice cream at a small party in our honor.  I tried to be virtuous.  I really did.  I cut myself a “one-nut piece” and spooned out some vanilla ice cream.  And then a little more of each.  And then maybe I ate one of those curly chocolate bells – just the bell, not the cake underneath it.  And then we went to Dominick’s with a few people.  And then we had a snack dinner.

0825 BBQ Pizza and Corn Snack

We were both starving after work, so while Shane was hassled by a door-to-door salesperson about our choice in internet providers, I popped a BBQ chicken pizza from Trader Joe’s into the freezer and boiled a couple of ears of corn from the market.  I don’t recall when I first learned that you could have a sauce other than a basic marinara on a pizza.  It was probably after college, around the time that I returned to meat-eating, that I discovered the wonder of BBQ chicken pizza.

When you think about it, what’s not to like?  Instead of the sweet-savoriness of marinara, you get the tangy-sweetness of the barbecue sauce.  Sure, it won’t work with all the typical pizza toppings – but that’s not the point, is it?  I suppose if you don’t go for sweet things on your pizza – ripe tomatoes, pineapple, Canadian bacon, caramelized onion – the idea of putting a richly sweet sauce under a layer of mozzarella or smoky gouda might sound gross.  But me?  I love it.  I also love pesto pizza, pizza with alfredo, pizza with black bean sauce, and crispy pizza crusts dipped in ranch dressing.  And to think that I used to not even like the marinara!  How things have changed.

0824 Pasta and a Simple Tomato Sauce

I brought home another five pounds of tomatoes from the garden on Sunday.  The Romas were set aside for roasting and for last night’s goulash, but the rest went into a small but fantastic batch of pasta sauce:

Garden Tomatoes

They simmered and sweat away in our big stock pot until the juice rendered out, then I ran them through the food mill to remove the skins and seeds.  A few more minutes in the pot with a handful of herbs from the front bed, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be freezing this batch of sauce.

It was too good to wait.  I stirred a ladleful into my macaroni Sunday night, and it was fantastic.  Shane’s went out to dinner with a friend, so tonight I had a simple dinner of linguine, a bit of goat cheese, and a generous amount of the beautiful sauce.  There’s half a cup left, and I’m tempted to just sop it up with the rest of the no-knead bread.

0823 Watery Pork Goulash

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I planned my entire day around this meal.  See, I’d planned on making this for dinner on Sunday night – a dish that requires 3 hours in the oven is just not feasible for the average worknight, but is totally doable on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  When Shane texted me mid-day, though, to tell me that he wouldn’t be home in time for dinner, I decided that I would just go into and then leave work a bit early, and we could have a late dinner.

Fast forward to 6:30 or so tonight.  I was using a considerably smaller bone-in pork shoulder, so I pulled it after 2 1/4 hours in the oven, only to discover that there was WAY too much cooking liquid.  WAY too much.  I removed the pork from the pot, cranked up the heat, and reduced the liquid for half an hour before serving.

A brief digression: I like to write in cookbooks.  I find it really helpful to note recipe hacks, total failures, or successful pairings for future cooking.  I also enjoy opening a cookbook and being reminded of that time in 2003 when Dan and Michele came over for dinner and trivia and we drank too much riesling while eating spaghetti with sweet cherry tomatoes.  Or the time in 2004 when I hosted Meat Night and made Lebanese Lemon Chicken and we ate around the low coffee table.  A correct interpretation of my notes could’ve saved a lot of disappointment tonight – however, I read “cover halfway” as referring to the lid and the cook time, not the amount of liquid.  *shakes fist at the sky*

Even with the half-hour of reducing, the broth was insipid, and the pork – lacking the flavor that should’ve been infused by the broth – had already attained that gamey flavor and consistency that I find so off-putting in leftovers.  While Shane adjusted the seasoning on his dish and happily finished it, I ate a few bites and then pushed my plate away.  We left the pot on the burner for another 2 1/2 hours, by which time it started to resemble the photo from the cookbook.  We’ll see if it’s any better in leftovers for dinner tomorrow.

Spicy pork and chilli-pepper goulash from Jamie at Home

  • The recipe specifies to “pour in enough water to just cover the meat”.  Instead, add enough water to cover the meat halfway.  You’re going to be covering the pot, so this will be an adequate amount of cooking liquid for a good, tender braise.
  • The recipe claims to make 4-6 portions, but we’ve halved it both times and easily still made 4-6 portions.
  • You could probably use double the amount of each of the spices, though I’d suggest going easy on doubling the paprika the first time you make this recipe.  And note that it calls for smoked paprika, though I might try a spicier paprika if you have it on hand.

0822 No-Knead Bread

So you know about the No-Knead Bread, right?  You know the one everyone’s been talking about since 2006?  Stephen made itMegan made it and has a whole photo set to prove it.  Laurie made an incredible-looking loafShana said it’s the only bread she makesThe photos of Carrie‘s bread are amazing.  Rex‘s mom made itSonya made and blogged it.

So why has it taken me four years to try it?  Because honestly, I like kneading.  And I’ve never bothered to move on from Jamie’s basic recipe.  So after 10 minutes of kneading the bagels, it seemed like an opportune time to try a bread that required no kneading.

And then it stuck.  To everything.  To the sides of the bowl.  To the cutting board, no matter how well floured.  Definitely to the towel in which the dough was wrapped.  The recipe said it would make a 1 1/2 pound loaf, but mine weighed in at just over a pound – that’s the amount of dough that stuck.

No-Knead Bread

At no point in the rise, lack of kneading, or transferring from bowl to counter to towel to pot did the dough ever resemble a ball – and so, when it came out of the pot, it was still flat – almost as flat as a focaccia.  Hiding inside, though, was a wonderful texture born of a very, very slow rise.  We’re looking forward to eating it with the pork goulash for dinner tomorrow night.

I’m not sure if I’ll make it again, though.  The timing necessitates weekend baking – or a very late weeknight dinner.  And then there’s the stickiness, though there are work-arounds for that.  What I will try next is the Almost No-Knead variation.  But for now I’ll be spreading butter on my flat little loaf.

No-Knead Bread from Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery via Mark Bittman at New York Times – I’m also linking to Smitten Kitchen’s post about this recipe, as the comments are full of useful hacks.

0821 All Girl Bagelfest

Who would’ve thought you could go from this:
How else would you do it?

to this:
Final product!

with really not THAT much effort? OK, it did involve ten minutes of kneading. And also clearing out my fridge so that 2 1/2 dozen bagels could do their thing:
Ready for the pot

2 minutes boiling in the pot, a bit of an egg wash, and some expert decorating before the bagels went into the oven:

And then we tucked in to a gorgeous brunch – prosciutto and Olivia’s tea-cured salmon, thick slices of tomato and thin ones of cucumber and red onion, cream cheese and two kinds of melon. Mimosas with mango or apricot nectar. Good friends and good conversation. And amazing bagels:

Peter Reinhart’s Bagels from Smitten Kitchen