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We’re bringing the rolls this year.  Not store bought doughy things, but rustic, crunchy brown rolls.  I’m afraid this may distress my young cousin who seems to have an affinity for soft, white foods, but I saw the rolls in this month’s Cook’s Illustrated and kind of had to make them.

I cheated a little and didn’t use exactly what Cook’s calls for – which is not my usual MO with them as they almost always have a good reason for doing what they do.  But really, we didn’t need 5 lbs of whole wheat flour just to use 3 tablespoons and I also didn’t want to send the husband on the mission of visiting the 15 different stores necessary to actually locate bread flour in Los Angeles.  So these may not be quite up to snuff, flavor-wise.  Even if they are a little vapid, you have to admit, they’re not bad looking!

dinner-rolls-0

And really, with all the food that we’ll be stuffing in our pie holes today as we give thanks for our blessing of abundance, looks do count as muchs as taste.  If they didn’t, would cranberry relish in a can come anywhere near anyone’s home?  These are not the sweet, fluffy white dinner rolls your grandmother burnt every year (oh, wait, I’m getting your grandmother confused with mine), but they are pretty, and crunchy and over-all, quite nice.  If you make them, just don’t skip the whole wheat flour.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Cheers.

Rustic Dinner Rolls from Cook’s Illustrated

Makes 16 rolls.

Because this dough is sticky, keep your hands well floured when handling it. Use a spray bottle to mist the rolls with water. The rolls will keep for up to 2 days at room temperature stored in a zipper-lock bag. To re-crisp the crust, place the rolls in a 450-degree oven 6 to 8 minutes. The rolls will keep frozen for several months wrapped in foil and placed in a large zipper-lock bag. Thaw the rolls at room temperature and re-crisp using the instructions above.

Instructions

  1. 1. Whisk water, yeast, and honey in bowl of stand mixer until well combined, making sure no honey sticks to bottom of bowl. Add flours and mix on low speed with dough hook until cohesive dough is formed, about 3 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes.
  2. 2. Remove plastic wrap and evenly sprinkle salt over dough. Knead on low speed (speed 2 on KitchenAid) 5 minutes. (If dough creeps up attachment, stop mixer and scrape down using well-floured hands or greased spatula.) Increase speed to medium and continue to knead until dough is smooth and slightly tacky, about 1 minute. If dough is very sticky, add 1 to 2 tablespoons flour and continue mixing 1 minute. Lightly spray 2-quart bowl with nonstick cooking spray; transfer dough to bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  3. 3. Fold dough over itself; rotate bowl quarter turn and fold again. Rotate bowl again and fold once more. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes. Repeat folding, replace plastic wrap, and let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
  4. 4. Transfer dough to floured work surface, sprinkle top with more flour. Using bench scraper, cut dough in half and gently stretch each half into 16-inch cylinders. Divide each cylinder into quarters, then each quarter into 2 pieces (you should have 16 pieces total), and dust top of each piece with more flour. With floured hands, gently pick up each piece and roll in palms to coat with flour, shaking off excess, and place in prepared cake pan. Arrange 8 dough pieces in each cake pan, placing one piece in middle and others around it, with long side of each piece running from center of pan to edge and making sure cut-side faces up. Loosely cover cake pans with plastic wrap and let rolls rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes (dough is ready when it springs back slowly when pressed lightly with finger). Thirty minutes before baking, adjust rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees.
  5. 5. Remove plastic wrap from cake pans, spray rolls lightly with water, and place in oven. Bake 10 minutes until tops of rolls are brown; remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees; using kitchen towels or oven mitts, invert rolls from both cake pans onto rimmed baking sheet. When rolls are cool enough to handle, turn right-side up, pull apart, and space evenly on baking sheet. Continue to bake until rolls develop deep golden brown crust and sound hollow when tapped on bottom, 10 to 15 minutes; rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Transfer rolls to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

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The Daring Bakers, that illustrious and intrepid group of folks world-’round that takes on a monthly challenge de four and posts the results together on the same day is two years old this month.  In honor of this great group (which happens to be the reason I started blogging), I spent part of this afternoon making the very first challenge, homemade pretzels.  Ah, who am I kidding?  The husband wanted them.  But happily his craving for East Coast street food coincides with the anniversary of that great day that Ivonne and Lis started baking together in public…

Without further ado, my sincere and humble nod to the first Daring Bakers

dsc00826

Seriously, Santa, please bring me a decent camera!

But you get the idea.  We chowed down on these with some fine organic yellow mustard from Trader Joe’s and I have to say, they were pretty yummy.  Far better than those things you get at the movies.  Probably no match for the authentic NYC sidewalk stand, but hey, I’ll take “almost as good as sidewalk bought.”  Plus they were fun.  And I’ve never made them before.  And there was beer.

This is a very easy recipe.  Because I’m not going step by step through the recipe like I normally do, I’m going to make my comments up front here.

1. My pretzels were mostly too fat (pictured specimen excepted).  They don’t need to go on a diet, but they do need to rolled thinner.  Also, it took me so long to roll all eight of them, the first four had re-risen by the time the last four were ready for the oven.  My suggestion – either haul ass and roll a lot faster than I do, or bake them in batches.

2. As directed in the recipe, we ate one warm, right out of the oven.  It was very bready, kind of fluffy, definitely not pretzely and rather disappointing.  Thinking I (or possibly my weirdo oven) had flubbed it, we abandoned the pretzels and figured we’d just go for a walk and pick up some beer and nacho cheese to drown our sorrowful pretzels.  They didn’t have any fakin queso at the local liquor store, so we settled for the beer and figured we’d just use extra mustard.  Turns out, the waiting is the hardest part, but it’s also the most helpful part.  Waiting about an hour made the pretzels…more like pretzels.  I don’t know how exactly to explain it, but letting them sit around definitely improved the little guys.  And that’s not just the beer talkin.

3. Last but certainly not least, thank you to Lis and Ivonne for starting this fantastic group.  You ladies are wonderful and have done all of us crazy folks who think spun sugar, kitchen scales and pizza stones are more fun than a trip to Disneyland a huge service by making a place to do our thing together, no matter how far apart.  Happy birthday to you and thanks for letting me play.

Cheers.

Hot Buttered Pretzels

Adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.

For the dough:

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 package (2-1/4 tsp.) instant yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (you may need a little more)

For the pretzel topping:

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • kosher salt
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  1. Combine all the dough ingredients in a large bowl with your hands. Work the ingredients together until you can form a ball. If the dough is very dry, add a bit more warm water until it comes together. The dough will look messy, but don’t worry about it.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and begin kneading by pushing the dough away with the heel of your hand, and then folding it back in onto itself. Push the dough away again and then fold back in. Continue this motion, working the dough until it’s smooth. This should take anywhere from 8 to 10 minutes. (Alternatively, you can knead the dough in a mixer with your dough hook for 5 to 6 minutes).
  3. Once the dough is done, sprinkle some flour on the dough and put it in a large, oiled bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 30 minutes to an hour. It will rise considerably.
  4. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Dissolve the sugar in the warm water and set aside.
  6. Divide your dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a long rope that’s roughly 24 inches in length. (Don’t make it too long or your pretzels will be too thin.)
  7. Taking hold of the ends of the rope, cross the rope over itself to form a circle with about 4 to 5 inches on each end that are sticking out. Twist the ends over themselves and secure each end on either side of the pretzel.
  8. Carefully dip the pretzel in the water and then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the other pieces of dough.
  9. Sprinkle the pretzels with the kosher salt and let them rest for about 15 minutes.
  10. Put the pretzels in the oven for 6 minutes, then rotate the trays and bake for an additional 6 minutes. Keep an eye on the pretzels so that they don’t burn.
  11. Remove the pretzels from the oven and immediately brush them with the butter. Keep brushing them with butter until you’ve used it all.
  12. Serve the pretzels warm with plenty of mustard or another condiment of your choice.

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Not a real post

I promise I’ll have a real live, legitimate post soon.  Really.  It’s just that I’ve been looking for a job and, you know, the economy is going down the toilet and I’m really easily distracted by articles that promise I can monetize my blog* and posts about what I should be doing with my resume, but not so distracted that I don’t still feel compelled to at least make an attempt to find a job, so the blog and baking have fallen by the wayside.  Which is sad and for two reasons.  One because both are my favorite things to do and two because I have both a Daring Bakers challenge and two Tuesdays with Dorie due (yes, I am a hopeless joiner).  Really, I’m so far behind I don’t know if I’ll ever catch up.  Maybe there’s something on the Internet I can read about panic attacks…

Anyway, I was checking my email compulsively (like you do) and I had a bit of spam.  I’m always curious what Gmail comes up with for ads in the spam folder and here you’ll have to forgive me.  I’m not an “early adopter.”  I just started blogging, I just started using Gmail – you’d think I’d just discovered that there was a magical way to talk to other people on your computer a few weeks ago.  So when I was cleaning out my “spam” and saw an ad for

SPAM SWISS PIE

I had to click on it.  Spam Swiss Pie?  Do the Swiss know what Spam is?  Maybe everyone does and I’m just clueless.  Anyway, because I don’t have anything else to post, here is the recipe I was treated to for my index finger full of effort.

*  Exported from  MasterCook  *

                               SPAM SWISS PIE

 Recipe By     :
 Serving Size  : 6    Preparation Time :0:00
 Categories    : Pies                             Main dish

   Amount  Measure       Ingredient -- Preparation Method
 --------  ------------  --------------------------------
    1                    Deep dish pie shell (9")
    6                    Eggs
    1       c            Whipping cream
    1/8     t            Pepper
    1       cn           SPAM Luncheon Meat, cubed
                         -(12 oz)
    1/4     c            Chopped onion
    2       c            Shredded Swiss cheese,
                         -divided

   Heat oven to 425'F. Bake pie shell 6-8 minutes. Reduce oven
   temperature to 350'F. In bowl, beat together eggs, whipping cream,
   and pepper. Stir in SPAM and onion. Sprinkle 1 cup cheese in pie
   shell. Pour egg mixture over cheese. Sprinkle remaining cheese over
   egg. Bake 45-55 minutes or until eggs are set.

I’m a little mortified that I’m about to say this, but it might be really good.  Especially if you’ve had a glass or two of box wine, which I’m certainly down with.  If you make…Spam Swiss Pie, will you please be sure to let me know how it turned out?

Cheers.

*Uh, how come WordPress’s spell checker doesn’t know the word “blog?”

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Did someone say “pizza”…again?

I love pizza.  Who doesn’t?  Weird kids maybe.  Anyway, I love it because it’s really tasty and easy to make and cheap.  In fact, I love it so much that I already posted about it and not too long ago.  Which might make you think “well, I can skip this post” but you’d miss out because our illustrious host Rosa from Rosa’s Yummy Yums* gave us a dough recipe far superior to the one I posted previously.  And as we were required to make two pizzas for this challenge, the creativity of limitation pressed me to find possibly the cheapest ingredient ever to top a pizza.  Curious?  Read on…

The recipe for this pizza dough comes from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart and is a bit more fussy than what I’d normally do – here at BLAN (wow, not the best acronym – should have been more thoughtful about the blog name) we’re all about simplicity, but will bend to fussiness when it serves the outcome.  This pizza is most definitely worth the extra bit of work that it requires.

Enough!  Let’s get to it.

I used plain old unbleached flour (I’ve never used high-gluten flour – I can’t even find it at our over-priced fancy-pants grocery Gelson’s) and it worked quite fantastically.  I also used dry-active yeast instead of instant (which I’ve also never used) and increased the amount by 25% (which seems to work every time).

Everyone into the pool!

Almost the ingredients went into a mixing bowl and got the paddle treatment.  You could also use an electric stand mixer for this – which would in some ways be easier (“easier = better,” one of the core BLAN mottoes).  But our apartment is small, and so am I; the stand mixer sits on top of the fridge and weighs at least five hundred pounds – without the husband here to take it down, it’s not likely to get used.

Since I was a lazy-ass and didn’t get the stand mixer down, I was also obliged to knead the dough for five hundred years (5-7 minutes).

Maybe the kneading will make me strong enough to handle the mixer.  At any rate, once that was done, jelly pans were lined with parchment paper, dough dividing happened, rolling piece into balls ensued and the end result

little balls of future pizza!  Gorgeous.

The balls were floured and misted with oil and wrapped in a ridiculous plastic wrap cocoon (note to self – don’t ever think it’s a good idea to buy the cheap plastic wrap).  The tray was then put into the fridge overnight.

Okay – a couple of things here.

1. Normally I would have a lot more pictures – almost too many.  But I got this idea in my head that this challenge would be a great opportunity for me to add some video to the blog (part of the challenge was to have a video or picture of yourself throwing the pizza, so it made sense, right?).  Oh how I underestimate the effort of things.  I am still planning on adding video to the blog, but when that does happen, it will be for a much less ambitious project and will be of something that I already forking know how to do!  Sometimes I just have no sense.  Anyway, the video took up so much time that I didn’t get very many photos.

2. As I just mentioned, there should be a video or photo of me tossing my pizzas.  And I tried.  I really did.  The pizzas turned out great but both of them immediately thinned out so much in the middle that tossing them was out of the question.  It was a miracle that they could be arranged on the peel at all and hold sauce.  But oh what a miracle they were…

The dough had a sleep overnight in the fridge.  It was removed two hours before baking and I set to work on the toppings.  For pizza one, red sauce, artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes with Parmesan cheese.

This one is a bit of a cheat, since we’ve done it before and knew it would be delicious.  But with the untested dough, I wanted to be sure we could rely on at least one of the pizzas to be edible (a girl does have to eat).

For pizza two…well, I was at a bit of a loss.  We’re pretty cheap around here and I’m a bit lazy, so I didn’t want to go to the store again and spend more money.  Besides, we had a half bag of potatoes threatening to go off so…

Heck yeah I did!  I made potato pizza – and it was amazing.  I mean really amazing.  The potatoes need to be sliced super duper thin (I used a mandoline and you could see through the slices).  The upside is that the whole pizza only required one small potato (although I have no idea what I’m going to do with the rest of them) and a small amount of salt, chopped rosemary and a bit of olive oil.  That’s cheap!

This challenge was so much fun.  This dough recipe will be our new staple for pizza – the crust was so thin it was unbelievable, and that’s how we like it.  I’ll be playing with it in the coming weeks (we eat pizza at least every other week) and doing what damage I can by adding wild yeast.  Heck, I might even go out and get some high gluten flour…if I ever run out of potatoes.

For more info on The Daring Bakers, visit www.thedaringbakers.com.

Basic Pizza Dough

Original recipe taken from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crust (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter)

Ingredients:
4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (14%) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant Yeast
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/420g or 420 ml) Olive oil or Vegetable Oil (optional but better with!)
1 3/4 Cups (14ounces/420 g or 420 ml) Water, ice cold (40F/4.5C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

DAY ONE

Method:
1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough.  On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed.  If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much!) and if it is too dry, add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.  NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50-55F/10-13C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter.  Line a jelly pan with baking/parchment paper.  Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough.  Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball.  NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil.  Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.  NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for future baking.  In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completly covered in oil.  Then put each ball into a separate bag.  Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months.  The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

8. On the day you plan to eat the pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator.  Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil.  Place the dough balls on floured surface and sprinkle them with flour.  Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter.  Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil.  Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest fr 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500F/260C).  NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, use the back of a jelly pan.  Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan (or your pizza peel) with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal.  Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles).  Take one piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper.  Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce.  Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.  NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.  During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue tossing and shaping.  If tossing is impossible, you can let it relax for 5-20 minutes.  You can also use a rolling pin but it is not as effective (or as fun!) as tossing.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 in diameter for a 6 ounce/180 g piece of dough) place it on the back of the jelly pan (or peel), making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with the sweet or savory toppings of your choice.  NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously.  No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan.  Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.  NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek.  For even baking, rotate 180 degrees.  If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pan to a lower shelf before the next round.  If the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate.  In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

NOTE ON SAUCE: Your sauce should not be too thick as it will thicken in the hot oven.  Less is more but make the less truly more by using quality ingredients.

Cheers.

*Rosa’s co-hosts for this challenge were to have been Sherry Cermak from What Did You Eat? and Glenna Muse at A Fridge Full Of Food.  Sadly, Sher (as she was fondly known) passed away suddenly a few of months ago.  I never knew her but have been fortunate enough to visit her blog and she was clearly loved and clearly is missed.  Rosa’s other partner in hosting, Glenna, has decided to bow out of DB for now.  I wanted to mention that Rosa did an amazing job of hosting unexpectedly by herself and love the fact that she decided to honor Sher by keeping the original challenge they had discussed.  Many thanks Rosa – well done!

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Last night’s dinner

This is one of my all-time favorite things to make.  It’s also one the husband’s all-time favorite things to eat.  When you add in the fact that this tart really isn’t that expensive (and if it’s done in steps, it’s not too fussy either), there’s a win-win…win, I guess.

You’re going to have to make puff pastry to make this tart.  Please don’t be afraid.  It’s not that hard.  The recipe included here isn’t even “real” puff pastry.  The main thing to remember is that all pastry likes to be cold.  The goal is to make lots of really thin layers of flour and butter by rolling the pastry out and then folding it on itself, and then rolling it out again.  The reason the fat (butter) needs to be cold is so it will keep together as a layer of fat, rather than just mixing into the flour (which is what it will do when it’s soft).  When you think about it, it makes perfect sense – if you have cold butter, it’s a mailable solid that you can flatten.  If you have warm butter, then it’s time for lobster and artichokes or maybe some nice toast.

Anchovies are not everyone’s thing.  We love them.  If you don’t, that’s ok.  Make this anyway.  Skip the anchovies (it’ll be cheaper).  Or just use a couple.  It doesn’t matter.  The main reason to eat this tart is the onions and the pastry.

To encourage the pastry-timid, here are some photos of the tart.

Side note: If someone would please write a nice letter to Santa and put in a good word about me and mention that I need a decent SLR camera, that would be really grand.

tart before baking

tart before baking

lone last piece

lone last piece*

And now, the recipes…

Fakeout Puff Pastry

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water

Sift together flour and salt into a chilled large metal bowl (or a plastic one if you don’t have a metal one – it’s not that big of a deal). Set a grater in flour mixture and coarsely grate frozen butter into flour, gently lifting flour and tossing to coat butter (grate all the butter into the bowl, then toss it together).

Drizzle 5 tablespoons ice water evenly over flour mixture and gently stir with a fork until it’s mixed in.

Test the dough by gently squeezing a small handful – it should hold together without crumbling apart. If necessary, add another tablespoon water, stirring until just incorporated and testing again. (If you overwork mixture or add too much water, pastry will be tough.)

Put the dough on a cutting board (or your counter if it’s smooth and clean) and smoosh and pat it together to form a 5-inch square (roughly, no rulers!), then pull some plastic wrap around it tightly (to help it hold together) and chill, about 30 minutes. The dough will be lumpy and streaky and won’t really hold together all that well.

Roll out dough on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 15- by- 8-inch rectangle (roughly).  This is not going to look pretty and it’s totally ok to need to push some of the little lumpy bits back into the pastry.  I have a pastry scraper and during the first two rollouts, I use it a lot to sweep everything that tries to escape and push it into the side of the dough.  You can also use a scraper (or heck, you could use a ruler I suppose, so maybe nix the no ruler rule) to help shore everything up and make it into a pretty rectangle because, let’s face it, those years in therapy didn’t help you get over your ridiculous need to be perfect. Arrange dough with a short side nearest you, then fold dough into thirds like a letter: bottom third up and top third down over dough. Rewrap dough and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.  It’s still going to be pretty lumpy and streaky.

Arrange dough with a short side nearest you on a floured surface and repeat rolling out, folding, and chilling 2 more times. You need to let the dough chill at least 30 minutes each time!  If you don’t, you will end up with a lot of roux, which is good stuff, but much better for white sauce.  Brush off any excess flour, then wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour.  Now the dough should be fairly smooth and uniform, not lumpy and streaky.

At this point you can either use the pastry within three days (if you don’t, you will have gray pastry, which is probably still delicious but looks disgusting) or you can store in the freezer, probably indefinitely, as long as you put it in a freezer bag.  If you do decide to freeze it, take it out of the freezer about an hour before you want to make whatever and let it start thawing.  When it gets soft enough to unfold the flaps (it will still be quite frozen and you’ll need to wedge something like a dinner knife between the flaps to get them apart), do that and let it get get more thawed out (this will speed thawing).  Once it’s soft enough to roll (but still very very cold), fold it back up and roll it out once more, to the thickness you want (usually about 1/4 inch).  No matter what you do, DO NOT LET IT GET TO BE ROOM TEMPERATURE OR YOU WILL CRY WHEN IT’S BAKED AND THERE’S NO CRYING IN BAKING!

Onion and Anchovy Tart So Good The Husband Ate Three Pieces

This is also more or less, Julia Child’s recipe from “The Way To Cook,” page 393**

Are you ready for this?

4 cups of thinly sliced onions
3 Tablespoons of oil (or use butter if you really feel like you need some more)
A bit of salt
A bit of white wine for deglazing
Gruyere (fancy pants, expensive but very yummy Swiss cheese) or Parmesan cheese – about 4 Tablespoons
A tin of anchovies

Cook the onions in the oil in a large frying pan with a lid over med-high heat until soft and sweet, about 25 minutes.  Stir them a every couple of minutes at first, then cover them almost all the way (leave a little gap for some of the steam to come out) and let them really cook.  When you have dark brown stuff on the bottom of the pan, you know you’re doing it right.  Every few minutes, scrape all that stuff into the onions.  Right before you’ve finished cooking them, pour some white wine (maybe a quarter cup) and use that to get up all the good brown stuff.  You’ll know the onions are done when they are caramel colored and kind of taste like candy (for onions – it’s not going to taste like an actual caramel).

Crap!  I forgot the salt.  I always do that.  Sprinkle the onions with salt at the beginning.

Let the onions cool before using in the tart (or you’ll melt the pastry and remember what we said about crying?).

To put the whole thing together:

Roll out the pastry to make a disk about 8 or 9 inches across (I take a dinner plate and turn it upside down on the pastry and then cut around with a small sharp knife).  At this point, it’s a good idea to put the disk back into the freezer for a few minutes, just to get the butter hard again.  Grate enough cheese to cover the disk (about 3 or 4 tablespoons – I just use a hand grater and do it until it’s covered), leaving maybe 1/4 inch around the edge (it doesn’t need to be perfect, so don’t fuss about it – you’ll see why you do this in a minute).  Cover the cheese with the onions.  Decoratively arrange the anchovies on top (spell out your sweet thang’s name if you want) – we are crazy for anchovies, so I use more or less a whole tin.  Use however many you want, or ditch them and don’t, or use something else.  The anchovies aren’t the point (unless you’re us).  Use a fork to crimp the edges up (see the photo above).  Basically, you sort of push the edge up and then smash the “bend” down with a fork to make the edge stay up.  Photo explains it.

Bake this thing at 425 for about 30 minutes in the middle of the oven.  If you have a pizza stone, bake directly on that.  If not, put the tart on a cookie sheet (heavy duty if you have one, if not, don’t worry about it).  Be careful and check on it – you don’t want to burn the onions.  Also, the last time I made this, it puffed up a lot in the middle, but it goes down once you take it out and it cools a bit.  If it doesn’t, just stab it – it’ll be fine.

Let cool to room temperature and cut it up!  We like to eat this with a green salad and a lot of red wine.

That’s it – it’s really not hard at all.  If you make the pastry disks in advance and freeze those (instead of the “letter” of pastry), you can have this thing done in no time and you can do it on auto-pilot while you’re doing other things, like enjoying the company of your favorite person in the world or listening to Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me.  Or both at the same time.

Cheers.

*I managed to get this shot off just moments before the piece of tart was devoured.
**When you get all brave and comfy with pastry, you can try Julia’s recipe for the real deal, puff pastry.  It’s also not that hard, but a bit more finicky and time consuming.  But when you do make it, you’ll bake it and you will not believe that you made anything that can do what it does or taste like it does.  It’s extremely cool.

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A few days ago, in an effort to share the little I know about cooking cheap (I’m still learning here), I posted a recipe for Easy Lentil Dal made with pink (or red) lentils.  Ever the experimenter (remember, we’re cheap around here), I tried the same recipe this morning with brown lentils (I had a half cup that’s been sitting around forever) and I am surprised to report that I like them even more than the red lentils.  They are meatier (sorry vegan* friends) and a little less like…ok, this is a bit gross, but a lot of Indian cuisine reminds me of (extremely delicious) baby food.  The brown lentils definitely lessen that quality.  And best of all – they’re cheaper.  Go brown!

The only thing that’s different between using the brown lentils and the red is the cooking time, which should be increased to about 40 minutes total.  I definitely recommend the mashing with a spoon bit from the other recipe with the brown lentils.  Makes much more of a difference.  In fact, if you like it thicker, add another 1/2 cup of lentils to the mashing bowl than the recipe calls for.

Onward.

Trying to keep this short (right) – I’ve had two major cooking disappointments since moving to the glorious sprawl that is LA Metropolitan.  One was a fresh pasta that I labored over for hours.  Long story short, I slid all the pieces into the cooking water and they all stuck.  The only thing that’s caused me to actually throw food, aside from this pasta, is gnocchi.  In restaurants, I love it.  At home, it drives me batty.  It’s just potatoes and flour, how hard could that be?  Plus, it’s just potatoes and flour, which means it’s FREAKING CHEAP.  The last time I tried to make it, I used Julia Child’s recipe, absolutely certain that it would turn out.  Julia had never failed me.  Never say never.  To call the little lumps of hell that took me hours to roll out “mush when cooked” is an understatement.  So when we had some potatoes in the kitchen that were about to go off and I said “oh I’ll make gnocchi!’ the husband and I looked at each other like “really?”

Happy to say, I found a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated online yesterday afternoon and ended up with this:

The photos a bit crap, but you can see little gnocchis in there, covered in pesto and cheese.  Amazing!

I swear I’m not a secret blogger for Cook’s Illustrated (although I’m looking for a job, so if someone wants to hook me up with that gig, I’m there) – I just can’t seem to screw up one of their recipes.  This one was so simple and I have no idea why it worked while the others didn’t (one of the downsides of the online Cook’s is no 1,000 words on the trial and error used to get to the technique).

Last note – I fried these.  That’s how I like my gnocchi.  I think they would have been a bit gooey if I hadn’t, but that could be due to having used a lot of flour.  My recommend for this recipe is to do what it says and test the gnocchi in a small pan to make sure you’ve got the flour/potato ratio right.  I think the less flour, the better.

(No More Tears**) Gnocchi from Cook’s Illustrated online

To insure that gnocchi are the right texture, bring a small saucepan of water to simmer while mixing the dough. Roll a small piece of the dough into the rope shape. Cut off a small piece or two from the rope, shape them into gnocchi, then drop them into the simmering water. If the gnocchi are too mushy, put the dough rope back into the potato mixture and add in another tablespoon or two of flour. It’s better to take the time to test one or two gnocchi than to ruin the whole batch. Also, be careful not to overwork or overknead the dough; you simply want to incorporate the flour into the potatoes. Avoid cooking the gnocchi at a rolling boil since violently churning water makes it difficult to determine when the gnocchi are floating. Even gently boiling gnocchi may bob temporarily to the surface, but don’t lift them out until they float.

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds russet potatoes (or other baking potatoes), washed
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour , plus more as needed
1 teaspoon table salt , plus more for cooking liquid

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake potatoes until a metal skewer slides easily through them, 45 minutes to 1
hour, depending on size.

Hold potato with a pot holder or kitchen towel and peel it with a vegetable peeler or paring knife; rice peeled potato into a large bowl. Peel and rice remaining potatoes. Cool until potatoes are no longer hot, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle 1 1/4 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt over warm potatoes. Using your hands, work mixture into a soft, smooth dough. If dough is sticky (which is often the case), add more flour as needed, up to 1 1/2 cups total.

Roll about one-quarter of dough into a long 3/4-inch-thick rope. If rope won’t hold together, return it to bowl with remaining dough and work in more flour as needed. Repeat until all dough is rolled.

Cut rope of dough into 3/4-inch lengths. Holding butter paddle or fork in one hand, press each piece of cut
dough against ridged surface with index finger to make an indentation in center. Roll dough down and off ridges and allow it to drop to work surface (or don’t). (Gnocchi can be placed in a single layer on a baking sheet and refrigerated for several hours. Or, baking sheet can be placed in freezer for about 1 hour. Partially frozen gnocchi can be transferred to plastic bag or container, sealed, and frozen for up to 1 month.)***

Bring 4 quarts of water to low boil in large pot. Add 2 teaspoons salt or to taste. Add about one-third of the gnocchi and cook until they float, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (about 3 minutes for frozen gnocchi). Retrieve gnocchi with slotted spoon and transfer to warm, shallow serving bowl or platter. Repeat cooking process with remaining gnocchi. Gently toss gnocchi with sauce (pesto, butter and sage, tomato, etc.) and serve immediately.

Cheers.

*And vegitarian friends too – it’s just more fun to say “vegans.”
**From me anyway.
***I actually skipped the refrigeration step, but I won’t in the future.  For freezing, I cooked half of my gnocchi in the boiling water, drained, and put them on a cookie sheet in the freezer.  When they were frozen, I put them in a zip lock (freezing this way prevents them from freezing into one big clump).  I’ve done it this way before and should be able to take them right out of the freezer and fry them up.  I’ll report back.

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Oatmeal Snack Cake|Recipe

Yay for Oatmeal Snack Cake!

I’m very excited for two reasons – one, because after the husband pleading with me for ages to make him an Oatmeal Snack Cake from the May/June issue of Cook’s Illustrated (yeah, that’s right, I’m on it), I finally did and it is fantisimo!  Really good.  And it’s also cheap like us!  As long as you don’t mind eating a lot of Oatmeal Snack Cake to use all the ingredients (trust me, you won’t.  This is a damn fine piece of cake).  The second reason I’m over the moon is because, being lazy, I didn’t feel like typing the recipe, so I found it online at the fabulous Bitten Word (It’s actually The Bitten Word, but that didn’t make sense).  These guys subscribe to all the food p–n (do I really need to do that??) the husband and I used to get before we realized how cheap (and kinda lazy) we are and canceled the subscriptions.  The guys generously make recipes from the mags and share both their thoughts and the recipes.  That is cool.

So, with only minimal amounts of further blathering, here it is:

Oatmeal Snack Cake from Cook’s Illustrated (May/June 2008) via The Bitten Word (modified even more by me)

For the Cake
1 cup (3 ounces) quick cooking oats
3/4 cup water, room temperature
3/4 cup (3.75 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces)* light brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Broiled Icing
1/4 cup (1.75 ounces) packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 tablespoons milk
3/4 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional**)

Preheat oven 350 degrees, with rack in the middle position.  Spray an 8×8 inch baking sheet (I used a small rectangular pan and it worked just fine) with nonstick cooking spray and line the pan with two pieces of foil, each of which has been folded in half lengthwise.   The bottom of the pan should be covered with overlapping pieces and the foil should hang over two opposing sides of the pan***.  Spray the foil with cooking spray.

Combine the oats with the water in a small bowl until the water is absorbed.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.  In a third bowl (if using a standing mixer, use your mixer bowl), combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and butter and beat until combined, about 4 minutes.  Add vanilla and sugar and mix until combined, about 2 minutes.  Add the flour mixture and beat the ingredients together briefly, just about a minute.  Finally, add the oats and mix until the ingredients are combined, another 15-30 seconds. If using a stand mixer, fold a few times with a rubber spatula to make sure everything is combined.

Pour this batter into the foil lined pan.  Using a spatula, smooth the batter until it is even across.  Tap the pan bottom on the counter a few times to make sure the bubbles are out.  Bake 30 to 35 minutes.  The cake can be tested by inserting a toothpick into the center.  If the toothpick comes out clean, it’s ready to come out of the oven.

While letting the cake cool, turn on the broiler of your oven and move the oven rack down so that 8-10 inches are between the element and the rack (my broiler is not very adjustable and was closer to the cake – worked fine, just keep an eye on it!).  Whisk together the icing ingredients in a bowl.  Once the cake has cooled slightly, pour the mixture onto the cake (I found that it takes a bit of work to get the icing spread all over the cake).  Broil the cake for up to 5 minutes, until the top is golden.

Let the cake cool completely.  Once the cake has cooled, using the foil overhanging the pan to remove the cake and place it on a serving platter.  Using a knife or wooden spoon, push the cake off of each piece of foil.  Cut and serve!

Cheers.

*I know I won’t shut up about the scale, but one of the reasons it’s so amazing and awesome is that you can just measure brown sugar and don’t have to try to pack it into your tiny 1/4 cup measurer with a freaking spoon.  I hate when I don’t know if I have enough brown sugar for something, and pack it all in there only to find out that I don’t.  Lame.
** Optional????
***I used one piece of foil and it worked just fine, but then, the cake didn’t last long enough for us to be concerned about getting it on to a serving plate.  The main thing is to have the foil hanging over edge of the pan so that it can be lifted out of the pan.

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