About Me

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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My Affair w/ Bernard or How I Learned to Bake Bread

NSSP has been on a rampage. The only bread that doesn’t go moldy in 2 days is the kind-of, sort-of, processed stuff. This morning was no different. Salivating about Sunday breakfast of sunny side up eggs, bacon and toast; he hit his carbohydrate wall.

“Look at this!” He exploded, “I’m tired of paying $4 for a loaf of bread to have it go moldy in a day! I don’t know why bread is so expensive it’s ridiculous!! ” He rummaged around in our bread basket and found some 3 week old pumpernickel. “See, this is good bread! Look at this! There’s nothing wrong with it!” He gloated and shoved some bread into the toaster oven.

I buried my head in the newspaper and took a swig of coffee. I found several things wrong with his rant. So I became the NSSP and had an inner dialogue. “There he goes again. As usual he doesn’t know that I pay $3 for the loaves or less. He never buys the bread. This is a prime example of why I keep him away from grocery stores. And anyway the artisanal bread is 3 days old and I’m working on my own reason for its hasty moldem. Is it from the starter? If I use bags that previously held moldy bread does it transfer to a new loaf? How can he possibly think 3 week old bread is good for you when it has calcium propionate as a preservative? Note to self nix the packaged stuff.”

I looked outside and noticed yet another grey day. “You’re in luck NSSP, Garrison Keillor and I will make bread today.” (Go play golf and you can quit whining!)

Truth be told, I like making bread. When we moved to The Edge I found the winter and spring months perfect for bread baking. Our triangular family would go through a loaf a week (unless NSSP was on a bread-gasm) so I could experiment.

Grabbing my 1973 edition of The Complete Book of Breads by Bernard Clayton Jr., I slowly worked my way through the book and learned his baking logic. Our Brittany Buzz gave me The Village Baker by Joe Ortiz his note to me inside said “Zees reminded me of my home country, Brittany.” This book was tougher going with various times to add the poolish, refreshments, and finally a dough to bake. I played with the book, and did master Ciabatta. I learned how the texture changed when adding old dough to new. I felt artisanal and lusted after a wood burning oven.

What about the world of Flatbreads? Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid came to the rescue w/ 1995, Flatbread & Flavors. I toured the world w/ Jeffrey and Naomi we shared Bulgur Bread with three Kurdish men; we skipped to India, Egypt, Norway, and beloved Italy. I had a great time! We crouched over fires w/ flat pans and bare feet. We gladly burned our fingers when we flipped the bread.

Rose Levy Beranbaum came knocking at my kitchen with another one of her epically researched cookbooks, The Bread Bible. This one was tough to wrap my bread head around. Up until now it was fun. The kneading was nurturing and I was getting wow ratings from the other 2/3rds. Rose brought Ed Nye the Science Guy into my kitchen. I told myself I should get more serious about my quest for the holy loaf but she deflated my dough. She wrote about weights and liquid percentages that Bernard breezily mentioned. I felt daunted and depressed. Kissing Rose goodbye I renewed my affair w/Bernard.

Lovers are fickle and affairs are meant to ebb and flow. I wanted to add a healthier note to family bread and embraced Tiffany Haugen with The Power of Flour-Cooking w/ Non-Traditional Flour. She bounced into the kitchen w/ rosy cheeks and blond hair the color of wheat. Not only did she use Amaranth, Coconut, and Green Pea Flour she did it with a tasty flourish. I was smitten and sure weight would fall, blood pressure drop and cholesterol would be a thing of the past. I also fantasized about being 10 years younger. None of that happened, silly me.

In the end I took up with Bernard once again and we made-

~Sister Virginia’s Daily Loaf~ with adaptations-
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Makes 2 loaves

2 1/2t dry yeast (1 package)
1/4C warm water (105°-115°)
1 pinch sugar
1C milk, scalded
1/8C sugar
2t kosher salt
4T unsalted butter
3C bread flour
3C all purpose flour
When ready to bake, pre-heat oven 400°

In a small bowl mix the yeast, water, and pinch of sugar. Let stand to proof.

In a small sauce pan add milk, sugar, salt, and butter heat until you see small bubbles. Remove from heat and let cool to 115°.

Add 3 cups of flour to a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Slowly add the cooled milk. Add the yeast and 1-2more cups of flour. Knead for 2-3 minutes. The dough will be very tight and hardly sticky.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a floured work surface. Knead for about 5 minutes. It will be very stiff. When you poke the dough the impression will quickly bounce back. This means you have developed a lot of gluten.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl large enough for it to double in size. Cover w/ saran wrap and put in a warm spot until it doubles in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove the dough from the bowl back on your floured work surface and deflate and knead for 1 minute.

Place back in the oiled bowl and let rise for another 45 minutes.

Oil 2 bread pans. Put the dough on the counter knead briefly to deflate any big bubbles.

Cut it in ½ with a sharp knife. Shape into balls and let rest 5 minutes.
Form one ball into a flat oval roughly the length of the baking pan. Fold in half and pinch the edges together. Turn the loaf seam side down and fit into the pan. Repeat w/ second ball.

Cover and let rise until the bread has risen ½-1” above the pans. This should take about 50 minutes.

Bake the bread until they are crusty and brown. Tip onto a cooling rack. Test for doneness by tapping the bottom crust with your fingers if you hear a hollow sound it is done. If not put it back in the pan and bake a few more minutes.

When done remove the bread from its pans onto a metal cooling rack and let them cool on their sides.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What I Learned from the Soup Sloth

The last time I went to the Farmer’s Market I bought 3 huge bunches of asparagus. One thick and the other two pencil thin. My imaginary eye saw NSSP grilling the fat ones to go with steak and I making a rich creamy chilled asparagus soup to be eaten al fresco with pollo tonnato and pinot grigio.

It’s been cold and rainy. We did eat the grilled steak and asparagus. But al fresco was in my dreams. Still the asparagus lurked in the fridge. Last night was soup night. I stared at the ingredients wishing they could conjure up a summer’s night.

Enough, it would be hot asparagus soup and pinot noir. As I cut the ingredients I thought of my soup evolution. Growing up, my mother made a mean beef and barley soup. This was augmented with Campbell’s best on school days.

Newly married to NSSP#1 I discovered turkey soup. Making stock from the Thanksgiving bones the soup took on huge proportions with the addition of barley. Who knew those little nuggets grew to three times their size? It was like a Lucy and Vivian moment. Every time I turned to the pot I had to grab a larger one dumping the contents and adding more water. We slurped, ate, drank, and froze the stuff. Finally we threw out the last remnants before we moved.

Soup took on bigger proportions when I worked as a prep cook in my first restaurant. 4AM found me in the kitchen bowels drinking coffee, listening to rock and roll, and slicing 50# of onions for French Onion Soup. Handfuls of seasoning went into the vats that I left for the night crew to finish and serve.

Each restaurant I moved through had different soup requirements but none with the volume of my first job. It was the era of Vichyssoise, Gazpacho, and Le Puys Lentil Soups. I was mesmerized by the variety.

Then I met the Soup Sloth. I landed a job in a French restaurant I had been lusting after (more the chef than the restaurant). The lusted chef was going to the Cape and I was to co-chef w/The Sloth. I had several restaurants under my belt, had built up line speed, and was ready to do the demi-dance and nap my plates w/beurre blanc.

Dupes came in and I was ready. Except- The Sloth had installed himself near the stove leaving me in cold station Antarctica. I was not happy especially when I watched his line dance. For a thin guy he moved like a lumbering well, Sloth. Sub-consciously he would nod with every sauce addition until his dish was finished. My salad plates had gone out, come back empty and he was still laboring over his emulsion. I realized it was going to be a long and ugly summer.

The next day with my happy face in place I came into the kitchen to prep for dinner. The Sloth was standing over a cauldron of that night’s soup. Sipping, nodding, sipping, nodding he inched along. I stood next to him and stuck a finger in the soup. Then after a few more additions I did it again. He was subtly changing the profile of the soup. This process took forever and obviously used all of his brain cells, but once complete, I hated to admit it, but the soup was perfect.

My tour of duty was short lived thank God and I too went to spend the summer cooking my brains out at a hotel. I did learn how to season a soup from The Sloth.

What’s the secret you ask? When I start a soup I have a flavor goal. Matzo ball soup is all about the best chicken broth, always from scratch and not rushed. Lentil soup? The balance between a piece of salty pork and sweetness of carrots and lentils. You need to focus on what is the standout flavor in your soup. If making a stock add a few pinches of salt. You don’t want it to taste like the finished product, just a nudge in the right direction. As the soup cooks and you add other ingredients another pinch or grind of pepper. Never be shy of salt, pepper,or lemon.

When the soup is done it is now time to gather the final ingredients. Perhaps some fresh cut herbs to be stirred in at the last moment, cheese or cream. White pepper for heat, black pepper for flavor, salt, and lemon juice are my arsenal. I guess you could say I go into Sloth mode… I empty my tongue of any flavors and focus on the taste. I think about what I want the end product to taste like and how I’m going to nail it. Taste and think, taste and think, I reach a point where salt isn’t bringing out the flavor I want and I squeeze lemon juice into the pot. The lemon opens up the flavor and gives brightness to the soup. Now for some pepper and another pinch of salt. I come back to the land of the living with a perfect offering for my family.

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A Small Batch of Cream of Asparagus Soup

1bu Asparagus, trim ends & cut into 1" pieces- save tips
1huge Russet Potato, peeled and chopped
2 Leeks, chopped and well rinsed
2ribs Celery, peeled and chopped
1/2 lg Onion, chopped
1T Olive Oil
1qt Chicken Broth, nothing fancy
2T Roasted Garlic (very optional, found hiding in the fridge)
Heavy Cream (another shy and optional ingredient)
Kosher Salt, White Pepper, Fresh Lemon

Blanch asparagus tips in salted water until crisp tender save for garnish.

Saute asparagus,potato,leeks, celery, and onion in olive oil until soft but not brown. Add broth and roasted garlic. Cook until the potatoes are soft. Puree w/ blender,food processor, or emulsion blender. Adjust seasonings with cream, salt, pepper and lemon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

This Week's Slap Down~Chef vs. Critic

Tweets,rants,and opinions were fast and furious this week from a journal entry by Ron Lieber in the NYT Dining Journal www.TinyURL.com/2fszs3z

In a nut graph- he went to a posh restaurant, heard the chef screaming at one of his staff, Lieber went into the kitchen and countered the chef only to be thrown out of the restaurant with his friends. Of course when you read the article it is more fleshed out, more pros and cons, with Lieber on the side of the right.

Then there is the Marc Forgione rebuttal in Grub Street www.TinyURL.com/2dn95j9 .For you oldsters Marc is the son of Larry Forgione chef of An American Place Restaurant fame. Marc plays the put upon chef trying to turn out decent meals only to be thwarted by a testosterone fueled culinary knucklehead who fires the apps before the amuse bouche and has the nerve to lip off to the chef; hence the raised voices over the soothing Muzak.

Bad boy Gordon Ramsey and his colorful vocabulary were alluded to as perhaps Marc’s idol. And an ├╝ber chef’s ego suggested for kicking out said wienie critic.

So what’s all the rants and hoopla? Where was the GM when this was playing out? His job was to smooth the feathers both front and back. Both sides made major faux pas. Marc should not have yelled loud enough for the front of the house to hear. Ron should not have entered the kitchen to voice his 2 cents. Period. Shake hands and walk away.

But no this is the Age of Opinions! Both sides were equally represented on the internet in a verbal slugfest.

I was heartened to learn that things hadn’t changed in back of the house shenanigans from when I was a budding cheflette. Part of your kitchen scars are from verbal abuse. It’s not for the thin skinned. A kitchen is not a touchy feely good place. Heat, moisture, sharp knives, and dupes can make or break you.

A slap here or there is part kitchen life. Ron, stay out of the kitchen Marc yank the jerk into the walk in and scream to high heaven.

Bon Appetit!