Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pain Rustique

I've been struggling for a couple weeks now with bread class. Crafting the perfect or even acceptable bread is such a subtle art. A few minutes can make the difference between just right and under-proofed, which means the innards of the bread are exploding from a few cracks in the crust (this has been my problem). And the process involves a lot of waiting. We're talking hours, even days. For the pain rustique, I made the pre-ferment, a mixture of flour and yeast and water that adds a lot of flavor and some shelf life, the night before using it, and with the sourdough loaf, I began the sourdough starter two weeks before ever getting to use it. That means I babied some fungus and bacteria for 14 entire days before I popped it in the oven.

Patience is not strength of mine. I'm still weighing whether the payoff was worth it. Don't get me wrong, that sourdough bread is pretty good, and after four days and no preservatives, it's just about as good as is was on day one. Homemade bread making is such an antiquated thing these days. No one really values it. People want their bread soft, sweet and of the Wonder variety. It's consistent, pleasing and costs $2 or less and a short trip to the grocery. Gone are the days of fresh rolls with every meal, and I'll be honest and say I'm mourning that yet. I think about the slice of sourdough I ate toasted this morning. It had something, a very very slight sour (I wish it had more), and crunchy crust and a sweet, wholey center that melted butter tucked into so very nicely. Sprinkled with a little sugar, it was a pleasant morning start. As of week three in artisan breads class, I'm not sure about trading bread from the grocer that isn't bad but isn't super for a two-week process, but maybe my skill is still holding me back. I think that's a real possibility.

Pain Rustique: from Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes
1 pound bread flour
16 fluid ounces water
1/8 teaspoon yeast

1 pound bread flour
6.1 fluid ounces water
2 pounds poolish (all of the above recipe)
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast

Make the poolish the night before by mixing and letting it sit out to ferment for 12 to 16 hours.

Mix all the ingredients, starting with the water and poolish to loosen the pre-ferment, then adding the flour and yeast and finally the salt. Let sit (autolyze) for 15 minutes and then complete the kneading process. Knead until the dough has a smooth texture when stretched. Let ferment for 70 minutes. Stretch the dough by the corners and roll over to form a ball twice during the fermentation process. Divide the dough into three equal pieces. Form into a round loaf by folding the corners in and pressing out the air. Proof for 30 minutes. Score the bread and then bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown at about 450 degrees.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Meat and Potatoes

I've never cooked a pork tenderloin before. I don't even know that I've eaten one before. I don't think my mom ever made it when I was growing up, and it's not the sort of thing I would select off a menu. "Oooh, grilled pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes." It doesn't really get me going. I guess it sounds rather boring, just plain meat and potatoes.

I'm in the process of discovering all that is great about pork. (We already know my fondness for bacon.) But there's something about pork that lends itself to pairing with sweet things, like apples or honey. It's a sultry flavor that isn't quite savory or salty, like a steak or hamburger, but is just loaded with this great fat that lends itself so well to being smoked or cured or ground up into sausage. Except the tenderloin. It's a piece of meat that has no fat in it. There's fat all around it, of course, and some residual flecks make it onto a fabricated piece, but it's just this great soft piece of muscle.

I practiced removing the silverskin on this tenderloin from Wohlner's and didn't mangle the meat as much as I had the first time, though it's by no means an A effort. I followed Ina Garten's instructions for a marinade and then made an integral sauce at the end of the cooking. My sauce class turned out to be fairly handy in the end as I now know some really fancy tricks. Not bad at all for a first effort if I do say so. The green beans and fingerling potatoes are another easy trick I learned from Culinary Foundations. I partially cooked the beans and the potatoes in boiling water and then blanched them with really cold water to halt the cooking process. Then I sliced the potatoes and lightly salted them and sauteed them right before service to get a golden-brown sear on them and to get them all good and hot right before dinner. So simple, but that's what makes it so good.
Herb-marinated Pork Tenderloin: from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
3 pork tenderloins
1/4 cup lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
1/2 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

For sauce:
1/4 cup apple-cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons cold butter

Place all the ingredients in an oven bag or large ziplock and let rest for three hours or overnight. Season the tenderloins with salt and pepper and cook in a very large saute pan with the lid on until the outside is seared and the inside is just cooked and reaches about 140 degrees. Remove the tenderloins and let rest for 10 minutes cover by aluminum foil.

Leaving the good bits of marinade and pork in the pan, deglaze the sucs with the vinegar. Add the mustard, stock and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce in volume until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Mount with pieces of the cold butter and season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Starter

My new set of classes, protein fabrication and artisan breads, have me completely re-energized. The sun came out again, the smell of the earth is seeping up through my open windows and I get to start over just like everything else. Artisan bread is such an interesting course. There's so much I've learned in just one session (and a lot of reading), like how yeast was only just discovered as an organism that can be harvested and sold in the late 1800s by Louis Pasteur. Before that, folks just added water to flour, let it ferment, kept feeding it and using it and feeding and using the exact same starter sometimes for generations. Families would pass the bread starter on as a wedding gift. There's a sourdough starter in San Francisco that is more than 100 years old. This is exactly the sort of thing that completely enthralls me but is also the sort of thing I will absolutely fail at. I am going to kill it at one point or another. I've already had one close call.

One of our assignments for the artisan bread class is to make and maintain a sourdough starter for the entire quarter. We're supposed to show up the day of the final with our starter to make a loaf of sourdough bread. If the starter is dead, so are we. The starter is sitting out on my counter on day seven of the fermentation process. It's starting to get a little bit stinky with a faintly sour aroma. This starter is a tad bit high maintainence. Starting on day three it has to be fed twice everyday, like a pet. In the morning before work, I scrape about one-tenth of the goop into a clean glass bowl, stir in half a cup of water and then two-thirds of a cup of flour. Then I cover it and let the bacteria feast on the fresh flour. When I get home at 5 p.m., I repeat just dumping the leftover starter into the trash. Yesterday, I missed a feeding. I forgot to set my alarm for work. Fortunately, I woke up only 10 minutes late, but I ran out of the house before tending to my fermentation project. I thought for sure that would be the death of the starter, but it was still bubbling when I got home that night, which is probably only going to encourage more neglegent behavior on my part.

The starter won't be ready for the oven for another couple days, although I probably won't be ready to make the bread for another couple of weeks into the class. Apparently patience is key when it comes to delicious bread ... this should be interesting.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Let's Fabricate!

Spring classes started for me this morning with Protein Fabrication, which is (in laymen's terms) butchering meat. It's a bit of a suprise that I signed up to learn about breaking down meat seeing as five to seven years ago I did not eat red meat. It wasn't for ethical or health-related reasons; it just kind of grossed me out in its raw form. So slimy and rubbery. Plus my mom had a tendency to overcook. But these days, things are different. I don't eat much meat truly. I try to always have bacon on hand, but other than that, I only buy meat or poultry when I have something specific I want to make in mind. I've moved far away from being jittery with grease or skin, and I suspect this class will only move me even further.

We started out with pork. Simple stuff really. Although I now have a greater appreciation for the word "butcher" because I butchered my tenderloin, trying to remove the tough, inedible silverskin from it. It was a bit of a juicy mess. Removing the back fat from my pork chops did not go smoothly, but it was only day one, and I have never spent this much time with a piece of raw meat before.

We were assigned to do some readings, look up information on pork and to watch some videos posted on Chef Garvey's Web site. The series of videos on pork follows the piglet from pretty much whole hog (minus the innards) to portion-size cuts. Not going to lie, it was a little shocking at first. There was Drew, the class teacher's aid, with the pig pointing out the kill point in its throat and then, yes, sawing the head off. It ended somewhat dramatically with him snapping its neck. I'm not sure I'm up to that. I'm not even sure I'm up to jabbing a live lobster between the eyes to snuff out its life, but if I'm eating it, shouldn't I be able to kill it? Sebastian and Wilbur deserve a little more respect than what I give them, I think. Trussing a pork tenderloin ... that I can do. I'm already working out a plan involving a dry rub. Now all I need is a guinea pig or two--and not to cook although I have eaten guinea pig (tender dark meat, very tasty).

Monday, March 7, 2011

Amaretto Biscotti

I had three days off in a row last week. Three. It was nice. I slept, kind of a lot actually. I didn't even cook anything on my days off until Sunday evening when I was home alone. I almost drove to Noodles and Company but committed to making two of my favorites, my old standbys. One is a Giada de Laurentiis pasta recipe combining Italian sausage, artichokes, roasted tomatoes and parmesan cheese (so all things delicious). The other is the amaretto biscotti I found in a Gourmet magazine issue several years ago.
Biscotti are like cookies for adults, to be dunked in coffee instead of milk. This version of biscotti isn't too hard at all, not that I mind much the crunch. Dunking still leaves little remnants in the cup, saved for the last slurp. I use amaretto liqueur instead of kirsch because it's cheaper, also it reminds me of my early days of drinking. At 21, amaretto sours were just about all my friends and I could handle. That and midori sour. Those were our "adult" drinks after the too-early days of drinking Smirnof Ice, yikes. Now amaretto's only use in my house is in baked goods. Maybe once I'm in my 30s I'll start using kirsch brandy and drinking whiskey with ice (that seems a long way off).
The recipe is easy with almost no cleanup. And these beauts are addicting.
Amaretto Biscotti: makes 18
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
3 tablespoons amaretto liqueur
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
3 eggs
1 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350. In a bowl, stir together sugar, butter, liqueur and extracts. Add the eggs and stir to combine. Add the almonds. Stir in the remaining dry ingredients until everything just comes together. Turn out on a baking sheet and mold into two logs that are eight to ten inches long, three inches wide and one or so inches thick. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove and let cool a bit. Slice into one-inch thick pieces and bake again for 20 to 25 minutes.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Here's To Breaking Things

The winter quarter ended along with, you know, everything else. The only things left standing are my ability to throw together a kicking meal (albeit on a more restricted budget in the future) and my voice, which does nothing but complain.

I have a tendency for the dramatic (if you haven’t noticed). Every once in a while, the bike I’m riding breaks down (in this case literally; I broke the wheel of my bike) and I just throw it away and start again on a brand new bike and on a brand new trail. I went on a diet five years ago when I was about 20 to 30 pounds heavier (it’s hard to tell because I didn’t weigh myself much). Diets aren’t successful for most people, but for someone with my personality type (ENFJ, if you must know), they are fantastic. It’s invigorating to throw out old habits and start all over again. Of course, I gave it up after a couple months, but that was enough to change my life. New Year’s resolutions are great for me. I’m simultaneously self-analytical (to a fault) and persistent, which means I'm constantly trying to better myself in a one-step process. So when things started to sort of unceremoniously unravel in the past couple weeks, I was ready with a plan. Or perhaps the plan was ready for me.

I got fired. Well, I should (less dramatically) say that the steady contributing editor position I held at a newsweekly was given to somebody else (in the sales department, I might add), but they still want me to write for them. I found out and was a little crushed. I loved parts of that job. A lot. I drove 12 hours round-trip in winter weather for a story about George Paul’s artisanal vinegar, I get to hear about people’s lives and passions told through their food, and it sort of feels like that was shat on. But in the same vein, I understand why, and a week or so away from the let down, I’m a little relieved to go home from eight (or so) hours at work or school and not have to churn out a story or interview someone. But it feels devastating in a way because writing is what I love, it’s what I do, it’s what I want to do, and a door closed feels a little like all doors closed.

My bike broke, I bent a wheel on my car running over a pothole, I let go of a friendship and nearly lost another. Writing about the loss of friends at the end of statement like that makes it seem like no big deal, like they’re as easy to fix as a bent tire rim. I wish it were. With letting go, I hope that means I can come back. I do, I really do. Many times, I want to call or email and say that I take it all back and that I can get through on a bent wheel until the entire thing just breaks or maybe the road we’re on is already bumpy and a friendship with a bunch of dents in it doesn’t matter because it wasn’t going to be a smooth ride anyway. I need more time, time to fix my wheel. And then there’s the other friendship, the one nearly lost, which in the end exposed me to be a complete crazy person. I’m not the only one who acts completely irrational in this world. In fact, I would defend my actions (most of them) and am grateful that my friend was willing to hash everything out.

Then there’s dating. I am complete and total failure at dating. No one aces it, I know. And if you do, keep it to yourself thank you. My mom said it is supposed to be fun (is it?). For me, dating has never been fun. It occurred to me, well it occurred to my mom and sister who then told me, that I’m trying too hard and I should just give it up for a while. So I did. I am doing the cliché thing that everyone says they do right before they meet somone (gag me please all you people with your rose-colored hind-sight): I am giving up dating for something like a Lenten period. Forty days of not worrying about meeting a guy here or flirting with someone there or not making a fool of myself in this or that situation. The first thing I did was to give up Facebook. I have spent an entire week away from Facebook with barely a temptation to return.

On my first day off after the quarter ended, I fixed my car and set to work on fixing myself. Self-help, as far as I can tell—and I am no expert—involves quite a bit of journaling, venting to all your friends and doing the things that you love. One of the things I love is, as you may guess, cooking.

I finally learned something useful from my soup and sauce cookery class, and that is integral sauce made from pan sucs. For this sauce, I seared the outside of a whole chicken (divided into legs, thighs and breasts) to crisp up the skin and baked it at 350 degrees for a little less than an hour, leaving all those beautiful juices in the bottom of the pan. I removed the chicken once cooked and set to work on the sauce by deglazing the pan with a bit of dry white wine. I poured in some hot chicken stock and added beurre manie, which is equal parts flour and butter kneaded to a smooth consistency (about one-fourth a cup will do for one chicken). I brought the sauce to a boil to cook out the flour flavor and then served it sprinkled with fresh tarragon and alongside new potatoes and green beans. Ice cream for dessert and Nebraska Brewing Co. beer. It was a good meal in my almost excellent life.