Saturday, June 30, 2007

Thoughts on rising dough...

This post is only partially about bread. I'm typing it as my third run at Joe Ortiz's Pain de Campagne sur poolish from The Village Baker is having it's final proof in a banneton. This one got similar treatment as the last loaf...all day chill of the poolish in the fridge. I'm using Gold Medal's Harvest King bread flour. The dough behaves much differently than either of the last two times. It's got more body - I also noted greater gas bubbles in this one when I was doing the folding. But enough about this bread dough...

I was thinking last night (another date night for the loving wife and I) about how we sometimes mistake the better or best of simplicity for the good of complicated or un-simple. I had these rather wild imaginings of ratatouille and roast chicken. We wound up with mushroom omelets, grits, and sausage. I don't think the meal could have been more perfect - soul satisfying and conversation stopping. They were also some of the most perfect omelets I've ever made...the egg was not brown on the outside, they were perfectly set, the fold even worked mostly right. I kept the grits simple - butter, salt, and pepper. The sausage were a frozen patty that we like. I continue to find the simple solutions in life and the simple ways are the best. The more work I do in gardening and cooking and baking the better my perspective is on life (though after kneading several pounds of bread dough it's very difficult to have a bad're thoroughly rung want a nap and new arms) and my relationship with my wife. To any new readers - I get philosophical late at night when I'm tired and have a long road still to travel.

The bread is in the oven to follow later.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

IMBB Apron Edition

This post is written as an entry for the Lucullian Delights IMBB Apron event.

This is my favorite apron. I acquired it a few years ago when my grandmother and I went on one of our adventures together. We drove to Greenville, South Carolina to visit Foxfire Kitchens together. It was quite a trip - we got lost along the way stopping at Furman University to call for directions (which turned out to be a stone's thrown from the store). My grandmother was my favorite culinary guinea pig. She was widowed and didn't cook much for herself. She lived vicariously through my cooking (sometimes it was an adventure and some times an experience) and was the greatest sous chef anyone could ever ask for. I bought the apron because it reminded me of the English shopkeepers and the navy blue and white stripe one they wear. I put this on in my kitchen and always remember the fun my grandmother and I shared in her kitchen. She passed a little over a year ago and my loving wife has taken her place as guinea pig - but no one can fill the place for culinary adventurer like my grandmother did.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pain de a loaf pan?!?!?!?!?

My loving wife is not a fan of rustic crusty breads (much to my chagrin). So...I compromised...sort of. I am baking Ortiz's Pain de Campagne sur poolish for the second time. This time I followed the recipe - my first run was minus the rye flour in the poolish which made for an interesting dough - very soft and not enough gluten to hold shape (that might also have been the bakers fault so I cannot be held completely innocent). I made another poolish this morning out of the flour blend (1 cup unbleached all-purpose, 1/2 cup whole wheat, 1/2 cup rye), the water (1 1/2 cups filtered) and one packet of yeast. Last poolish was allowed to sit on the counter overnight. Today was a work day so after one hour I popped the poolish in the fridge for an all day chill. It was more active in the hour than the other was over night. I had to run an errand tonight so I came home, set out the poolish, and ran to Sam's. Back home and off to the mixing. This is a hand mixed bread - it tells me I need to incorporate some form of this activity in my arm was aching. It mixed up beautifully - soft and sticky at first but it absorbed the last cup of flour and was beautiful - slightly tacky to the touch, soft, elastic - the perfect dough. Knocked it down, folded it repeatedly and shaped into a loaf for the wife's enjoyment - note this is the only time this recipe will be put into a loaf - it's designed as a round. I'm sitting typing as it bakes in our George Foreman oven (I wasn't about to light off the big one tonight). The house smells of warm bread and since there is a glass front I get to watch it...I have new understanding of the term "oven spring". It overran the edges some but it's absolutely beautiful...the crust is turning a rich golden color that will progress to a deeper brown. The use of rye made the dough behave much more differently than the first run. The next run using both rye and bread flour. the last run will remove the rye (as in the first baking) and use bread flour in place of the all purpose and wheat (as I did in the first baking) for the rye. I'll be posting results as I bake (normally 2-3 days to a week to devour, I mean test, the loaves).
I've added the pic...maybe he went back to his country roots...the top of the loaf more resembles a batard. Breakfast will be extra lovely in the morning.

Catching up

Saturday night was the big to-do here...things went well. I wanted to clean up and fire up the outdoor grill the house comes with but I decided that since it was 98 degrees outside and I'd be standing over a 500-600 degree heat source I'd pass. We roasted the chickens in the oven instead. I glazed them with an apricot jam and creole mustard mix with about 20 minutes left in their cook time. We also had green beans and crock-pot macaroni and cheese. Simple, solid food. I served up the onion confit and white bean dip I had made earlier as appetizers. They were smash hits.

Sunday was an interesting day. I had made a poolish starter for a Pain de Campagne formula and I got up at 4 to make the dough, proof it out, and bake. The bread turned out great - I had some exceptions to the recipe so it wasn't exatly what it might have been - if a little flat. It was probably the best bread I've made in my baking odyssey so far. I'm trying the same formula again as written - I purchased Rye flour just for this. I'm starting the poolish this morning and I'll proof and bake it off tonight. I'll post the results when they are in. Needless to say Sunday was a long day. Had lunch with my sister and brother-in-law and friends at the sister's new house. She's surprising - gone from not able to cook much to a really good cook.

More later today...hopefully.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Date night

So tonight was date night...

The menu -

Shirred eggs with Canadian Bacon, sauteed mushrooms, and Parmigiano-Reggiano
Sour Cream Cake
Macerated Wild Blueberries and Raspberries

Simple, elegant, and a repeat performance has been requested. Tomorrow is the big day...lots of work...look for a post late tomorrow.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Work night number 2

Tonight was grocery night and prep for Saturday's entertaining. I'm planning two easy appetizers, the main course, and maybe a dessert. I'm working on one appetizer now...three onion confit.

1 medium to large red onion

1 medium to large Spanish onion

1 medium to large sweet onion (Vidalias are in season so that was my choice)

3/4 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1/2 cup reduced chicken stock

1/4 cup cane vinegar

2 sprigs fresh thyme

4 T butter

1/4 cup Extra virgin olive oil

Pinch Quatre-Epices

Begin heating oil and butter over medium heat. Top, halve, and peel onions and slice in 1/4" thick half moons. When butter begins to bubble add half of onions. Sprinkle with half of salt and half of sugar. Add remaining onions, salt and sugar. After 10 minutes cook time add sprigs of thyme. When onions are softened and well browned, remove from oil. Drain oil from pan. Add onions back to pan, add stock, vinegar, and Quatre-Epices. Reduce liquid to syrup consistency. Cover and chill.

One more day till Friday...

Last night I skimmed the stock I had made. It needed more simmer's viscous but not as gelatinous as some. Even cold it smells amazing. I can't wait to use it in something soon. I'll take it up and freeze it tonight. I've added my phone to this to take snaps here and there...I tried one already but it was before cup number two and things didn't turn out quite as I wanted them was a case of user error and gross inexperience. I'll figure it out. We're prepping to entertain this weekend. We've been having friends and neighbors drop by to break bread with us. This weekend is a much larger party...our neighbors next door and their son, our neighbor across the street, and my wife's former roomie. So I'm cooking for seven. The menu is shaping up...grilled chicken, crock pot mac and cheese (which if you've never done it this way you've missed out on what could easily be the greatest macaroni and cheese (or macaroni gratin if you must) known to all mankind), I'm toying with a brunswick stew recipe but that might get dropped, and something green. There'll be bread and an amuse or two. I might pirate the white bean dip from Chocolate...and put my own spin on it. I'll report back with more as the work progresses and I'll post how it all turned out.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

First real work night

Busy night tonight. I'm baching it while the loving wife works a late shift. keep myself occupied I'm making stock - my second try. The first time was vegetable stock...not much to that one really...simmer for a few hours and then rapidly cool and decant into ice cube trays, pop into the freezer, and voila: frozen stock cubes ready for whatever comes along.

  • Tonight is chicken stock...the wife set out the carcasses and bits that had been occupying the freezer for a month or so and I came in, chopped up the mirepoix, added thyme, bay leaves, and a small handful of black peppercorns, covered in cold, filtered water and turn on medium low heat - you want slow bubbles. As Anthony Bourdain made abundantly clear in his Les Halles cookbook: NEVER BOIL YOUR STOCK! Right now the house smells of rich chicken stock and will for several hours to come I must be doing something right...I'm seeing the scum form that I've read and heard so much about...nasty stuff. No wonder it get skimmed off.

  • I'm also poaching some chicken for use in mock barbecue.

  • I've made my own take on Quatre-Epices. I used white pepper, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Yes, that's five spices. I'd have added ginger if I'd had any dry. It has a most unusually musky spicy aroma. I'm looking forward to trying this out soon.

  • I made my not-as-famous-as-I'd-like-it-to-be cheese spread. It's my take on a tip I got from a local chef. He made the most amazing (next to my mother's) pimiento cheese. I was at a tasting dinner one night and had a chance to talk to him. Long story short his secret was Tillamook Sharp Cheddar. I use it in mine and omit the pimiento. I season it up with onion and garlic and hot sauce. I also use goat cheese in place of cream cheese.

  • I was going to roast coffee but it sprinkled rain and the humidity is oppressive right now. Maybe tomorrow night.

The loving wife also signed off on doing some "in-house" food "production". I've got a great wheat bread recipe and all the kit...I just needed the go-ahead to get going. I'll also be making yogurt and in a year or so be cranking out strawberry jam/preserves/conserve. I ordered some Fragaria virginiana (wild strawberries that were the one of the parent cultivars of the berries we know so well today). These aren't big berries but the taste is reported to be amazing. Check in with me in a summer or so and lets see what sort of yield and taste we get. I'll be adding some other little things along...including a garden to grow some stuff. Fresh from my own garden has always tasted better than even the really fresh I've bought from local farmers. Well...back to the kitchen. Add this to my list of favorite aromas - apple pie, coffee, Nueske's bacon, freshly baked bread, and now chicken stock.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Re-entry into this week was like the Space Shuttle hitting the atmosphere at the wrong angle and skipping, hotly, across the surface. This has not been my best day.

There had been some brief discussion between the wife and I to make a mock BBQ chicken - braise/poach the chicken, shred, add sauce and serve. With a zucchini gratinish kind of thing I made the other night - I'll post that one when it works right and not before. This was edible and ok...just not what I had envisioned. I scrapped the plans and we wound up having omelets and cheese grits. Not ordinary omelets - sweet omelets. I warmed two tablespoons (give or take) of
Duerr's lovely strawberry preserves and placed it in the middle of my omelet - standard for me is two eggs and two tablespoons of water, whisked thoroughly, and then cooked in my egg pan. I topped mine with some leftover Feta cheese from the other night...there was a great flavor contrast - the eggy of the egg, the sweet berry from the preserves, and the briny sharpness that only Feta can bring to the party. I could envision this redone with some Maytag bleu - A Bleu Berry Omelet mayhaps? My grits are another matter - I bought some on our honeymoon from Nora Mill Granary in Helen, Georgia. "Georgia Ice Cream" is what they are called. I made them according to their directions - 4 cups of water to 1 cup of dry grits. Bring water to a boil, salt lightly, add grits and stir very well. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until grits have absorbed most of the water. You'll know what it looks like - it goes from corn floating in water to paste really fast. I think we added about 2-3 ounces of supermarket sharp cheddar cheese (please feel free to step out here. I love grits with fresh thyme and fresh chevre, or Montgomery's cheddar, or even "Red Cow" Parmesan and lots of pepper (maybe a drizzle of well aged balsamic for a little something really special). I also added my own creole seasoning (salt free) which I lovingly took from NOLA Cuisine and added my own twist - smoked paprika for regular. It just adds a subtle smoky sweetness. It was good just to sit and talk to my wife and share a meal together. I'm planning something special for Friday night date night...if she reads this (I can honestly say I don't know) I won't reveal doodle until I serve it up.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Saturday wanderings

After a later than needed start I ran the errands I was supposed to. I retrieved some items I'm selling through trusted vendors and then off for a bite to eat and to hit the grocery. I'll say it in type here as I've verbalized to friends: I'm so glad Whole Foods bought Harry's Farmers Market. I'm not always crazy about the lineup in store or the way they continue to rearrange the blessed place (I used to know the market like the back of my hand, now I'm always scrounging for items). Today was one of those just a little less than thrilled days - they had an island theme (which by itself is innocuous) but they had some guy playing steel drum piped through the store. It gets old fast in that much noise. Anyhoo...they had lots of regional organic produce on special so I bought some of this and that (specifically zucchini, squash, and yams). I picked up more's become a pantry staple. I also picked up some cheese to make my cheese spread with (fresh goat and Tillamook cheddar, spiked with onion, garlic, and or shallot). I went looking for two places in Marietta - and found neither of them. I settled for a local chain sandwich shop and had their chicken salad - great stuff that I didn't have to cook. I noted as I went in the door that there was a shop down the walk called "Cajun Specialty Meats". I took a chance and went in. These guys make their own stuff - Tasso, Andouille, and a case full of sausages and meats that are seasoned. They also have refrigerator cases of bits and pieces of Gulf Coast goodies - Savoie sausage, crab meat, and some other bits. The other wall is a micro Cajun/Creole/Italian grocery. Most of the Louisiana Brand products, some Zatarains (large sizes of Crab Boil available), lots of Tony Chachere's stuff, and most important to me: Community Coffee Between Roast stacked up. The gent who helped me said that was all he drank as well. The shop was small but clean - no funky smell and the tops of the tables that weren't being used to process meat were shining. I bought Tasso and Andouille and I'll post my thoughts on them when I try them. My wife should be pleased...I won't be itching to make my own for a while longer. For the diaspora of Cajuns/Creoles/and other folks chased up here by the hurricanes as well as those who like me got bit by the flavors of New Orleans and can't shake them (I married a native) check them out: Cajun Meat Company

Saturday morning coffee

June 16, 2007 - Thoughts on coffee (before the first cup is, honestly, barely begun)

I mentioned my Chemex in last night's post. I'll be honest where I learned about this wonderful device - James Bond novels, specifically From Russia With Love (my favorite book and movie). In the book Fleming paints a picture of Bond's daily life in London. The part about his breakfast captured my attention. I can honestly say that I rather enjoy Cooper's Orange Marmalade, Tiptree "Little Scarlet" Strawberry preserves (when I can find and afford it...we're talking potential fiscal ruin here), and the coffee brewed in an American Chemex. He also mentioned an egg boiled for a precise time (never been a fan of soft or hard boiled eggs but I've had them scrambled and fried in celebration of this ideal), two pieces of wheat toast (I'll eventually post the brown bread recipe I use that brought this to new heights), each with a large pat of Jersey butter (Normandy is better but I take whatever is in the fridge door), and some Norwegian honey (which I've never been able to find here in ATL). Fleming also wrote about the china...Minton...used to serve the breakfast. I work for a living and don't earn thousands of Pounds Sterling from gambling all night at a club. I'll take the Fiestaware we got for the wedding or the restauarant white I had before. Now back to the coffee...the Chemex. This device couldn't be simpler. No plug, buttons, or other nifty devices. We're talking seriously low tech. My only caveat is to buy the Chemex filters. I have heard reports that other filters give way under the weight of water and coffee (since they rest partially unsupported). Put medium fine ground coffee in the filter and pour over 195-205 degree water and when it finishes dripping experience the finest cup of coffee known to man. What makes it even better is to roast your own coffee - yes, I'm a home roaster and proud of it!! and brew that up. For one stop shopping for the Chemex, roaster, and green visit my friends Tom and Maria at Sweetmarias. These folks stock an amazing assortment of green, brewing gear, and more important knowledge and wisdom for the home roaster. They moved to California some time back so shipping take a little longer than it used to when they were in Ohio but the service and selection far exceed the extra few days wait for the goodies. Next on my list for green suppliers is Coffee Bean Corral. Good people, fast service, and amazing selection. Now I don't always have home roasted coffee - I either forget or run out of time - so here's a shameless plug for one brand of coffee that always graces my pantry and brewers - Community Coffee - I used to drink the Dark roast exclusively and then I decided to try the Between roast once. I've never looked back - Between roast is a favorite of the wife and I. Somehow the local markets stopped stocking it - note to aforementioned retailers - you really cheesed me with that one. Her parents were gracious enough to bring four pounds with them on a recent visit and we'll stock up when we go down to New Orleans (her hometown and where her parents reside) in a month - I do plan on blogging that food event. I've included my formula for coffee below:

For every 8 fluid ounces of fresh, cold water - 1 SCAA measure (found at Sweetmarias) ground coffee - I use a medium fine grind that I have adjusted my Zassenhaus manual burr grinder for. I'll post a picture at some point so you can see but it won't give you an accurate idea. You have to tinker with it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Opening Night

Up and running on the internet now...two days, two technicians, too many hours and phone calls, and some unnecessary indigestion...but that's not the purpose. This is a foodie blog - talking about food finds and restaurants here in the Metro Atlanta area.

Tonight - June 15, 2007 - Date Night

The wife and I went out tonight. Dinner at Chris' Pizza in Toco Hills. Chris' is a great hidden place - Greek pizza and food. This is good food, not high end, not low end, just solid cuisine. The service is good and the place is normally quiet - the dinner crowd was arriving as we were on the way out. The wife ordered an individual veggie pizza and a small Greek salad. I had the small Greek pizza. What is it about gyro meat? The blended flavors of lamb and beef, the seasonings, and that slightly crunchy outside. We finished up and then went right around the corner (literally) to Atlanta Coffee Roasters. This is another hidden place. It's a favorite with college students. The espresso is excellent - I'd rate it in my top three in this town. They are retailers of all sorts of coffee, tea, and brewing gear. I'm a big coffee person - my Chemex and I have a potentially unhealthy relationship. This place gets two thumbs up from me.

Last night (marking two months of marriage) was homemade Chickpea Curry - I found a recipe at a vegetarian site and sort of made it my own.

2 c dried chickpeas
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
2 medium onions, diced medium fine
6-7 small cloves of garlic
1 tsp turmeric
1 1/4 tsp cumin seed, toasted and finely ground
1 tsp coriander seed, toasted and finely ground
1 tsp salt
2 cups water
1 tsp Penzey's Maharajah curry powder (this is the ultimate curry powder)
3 T olive oil
1 1/2 inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp garam masala

I always hot-soak my dried beans. I cover them in boiling water for one hour, drain well, and use. Saute the onions, garlic, and ginger in the oil over medium high heat until slightly golden. Remove from heat. Add turmeric, cumin, coriander seed, and curry powder and stir well - the kitchen will be very fragrant now. Put chickpeas, tomatoes, saute mix, 1 cup of the water, and the salt in a Crock-Pot. Cook on low for 6+ hours. I left out (and probably missed out) the garam masala the original called for. You can add this if you'd like (and probably should) in the last half hour of cooking. Check partway through and add additional cup of water if needed. Serve over rice for a tasty meal.