Thursday, October 28, 2010

A French Bread

A brown book cover with a 70's vibe splashed all over has a triangle shaped tear on the cover and a worn spine from being furiously rubbed over the counters of a kitchen.  These are all the signs of a well loved and stand-by cookbook.  Never before have a recommended a cookbook so highly.  But you ask what is this ethereal creature a speak of?  It's a book, no it's a cookbook… no no, it's a bible.  A bread bible - The Tassajara Bread Book.  I had written about my whimsical tale with said aforementioned book in a much earlier post, but credit should be given where it is due.

I was a horrible (well, not "burnt to a crisp" bad) bread baker before I got this book.  As a frame of reference, this was my sophomore year of college and this was my first time with my "own" stove.  I'm probably being a little hard on myself (in the kitchen, I'm only mildly a perfectionist), but my bread never turned out how I wanted it to… or how well my friend Brendan Carson's did.  Or how well my ex-boyfriends dad's did.  Brendan's bread was always so rustic; freeform shapes, thick swirling crust and the perfect amount of air holes.  His bread doesn't even compare to Mr. Seidel's Sourdough, I loved it to it's very crumb.  I would marry it if I could.  These were my bread baking hero's… and what I instantly wanted my bread to taste like.  As you can probably guess, mine wasn't like theirs.  It always seemed to have too strong of a flour taste, the crust was weak and the loaves never rose how I wanted them to.  Being the good boyfriend that he was, Alex sense my frustrations and had the perfect solution.

One day after class I was sitting in his bed, hiding away from the creeping cold that is Michigan winters, and he walked in with a little present for me in his hands.  He said his dad used it and it should help me. Being that I'm a girl and that anything that is wrapped, even mildly shiny and (for me at least) is in the shape of a book, I instantly knew he was about to get some major bonus points.  Tearing off the secular holiday paper I started the best relationship I ever had… with a cookbook.  Looking at the shelves now, I have my fair share of cookbooks.  Some get used a few times a year and other are used so frequently they are never are the shelf.  Some are big and have glossy sleeves to their hard covers while others are floppy paperbacks.  But The Tassajara Bread Book is no doubt the smallest yet probably the one that has the most amount of notes written in the margins, tears and dog ears littering the pages.

P.S. Alex, you still, to this day, get so many points and I think of you every time I use this book.  I am so grateful you gave this to me - I made me the (if I don't say so myself) pretty spiffy bread baker that I am today.

Moral: Get this book.

If anything, you'll have more recipes like "A French Bread" that I made for the 437th time a few weeks ago.  Every Tuesday night I truck over to West Seattle to watch Glee with Julie and Katrina at her parent's house.  Usually we don't do much before hand, but this time we decided to have a traditional sit-down-with-parents dinner.  We all brought a different element of a meal - as you can probably assume, I brought the bread.  I choose to make this loaf mainly because I just love this bread.  I love how the crumb swirls within the loaf, how it toasts perfectly, how it makes the greatest french toast ever and … well… HOW QUICKLY it rises.  I mean seriously, two loaves of bread that is perfect for sandwiches but also impresses dinner guests that can feasibly be made in a afternoon?  Do you KNOW how rare that is?  As you can tell by how I'm spazzing out, it's pretty rare and pretty awesome.  Don't believe me?  Try it yourself!!

A French Bread
Adapted from the Tassajara Bread Book

Ingredients I:
  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 3 packages dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 cups unbleached white and 1 cup whole wheat flour
Ingredients II:
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups unbleached white flour
  • flour for kneading
  1. Dissolve the yeast if the water until bubbly, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the honey until well combined.  Stir in the initial batch of flour one cup at a time and beat for 100 strokes with a spoon (this is according to Tassajara, I stick it on my stand mixer with a dough hook & knead it for a little bit).  Let rise for 45 minutes, or until doubles in size.
  2. Fold in the salt, making sure not to tear the dough.  Fold in (again, I knead in using my stand mixer, but don't think I haven't made this completely by hand before) the second batch of flour one cup at a time until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
  3. Knead, using additional flour as needed, until the dough no longer sticks to the board and is smooth (this will take about 10 minutes).
  4. Let rise until doubled in size, about 50 minutes.  Punch down.  Let rise again until doubled in size, about 40 minutes.  Shape into two loaves by flattening them out into a large rectangle then rolling them up tight like a rug.  Pinch the seam into the loaf and place seam side down.
  5. Place the the loaves on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal.  Let them rest for about 20 minutes.  Brush with water.
  6. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes and then spray the loaves with water.  Continue baking at 375 until well browned, about 35-45 minutes.  As soon as the loaves are removed from the oven, brush the tops with garlic butter.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Vietnamese Tree Rolls

I have officially found a new favorite thing to make that don't involve me turning on my oven or stove top.  Even better - this dish is really nice to make with a group of people... I get to be sociable and do less work!  Katherine 1 - Effort 0.  And to think, I have fallen in love with a variation of this dish since my first week in Seattle but I never knew how easy it was to replicate at home!

One of the first restaurants I went to after moving to Seattle is this wonderful Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown called Tamarind Tree.  Oddly enough, it's surrounded by some not so wonderful looking buildings.  But really, would you expect anything else?  I've found that Seattle is a city of hidden gems and being that Chinatown's typically are hidden gems, this find's a real kicker.  It's tucked way back in a corner next to a nail salon and not too far away from a dumpster - not something I would find if I was just wandering around for a place to eat.  Nevertheless, once you step inside... oh baby.  The jewel toned walls add warmth to the entire space, the tables are close enough that casually awkward conversation can happen between diners and the bamboo dividers allow you to forget (and to a certain extent remember) that you are tucked away in a corner of Chinatown.

But the ambiance of the dining area is not the only thing that keeps me coming back, it's the Tamarind Tree Rolls, i.e. the healthiest sinful thing that I have ever eaten.  There's the crunch of some sort of rice stick and carrots, the smooth texture of the rice paper and the heat of the dipping sauce as it hits the back of your tongue.  And even though I despise Rachel Ray, I'd be with her saying "Yum-O!" when it comes to eating the Tree Rolls.  Sadly, I thought I would never be able to replicate these delights at home (foreshadowing!!)

Let's jump in the time machine shall we and cut to Mid-September.  I was invited to attend a TweetUp at the office in downtown Seattle.  The conversation and food would focus of foods that are both healthy, easy to prepare and can be frozen (or refrigerated for long periods of time).  Smoothies, soups and dips were made, but I think what excited me to most were the Vietnamese Salad rolls we made.  I could not stop eating them.  I swear I'm not exaggerating when I say that I ate my entire body weight of them, all one hundred and... oh wait, I'm not going to tell you how much I weigh.  Like our age, a lady never revels anything truthful about herself.  Ahem, moral of that story is that I learned how to make Tree Rolls!  And made them I have - twice!  However, I changed a fair number of things from the recipe and almost all fresh ingredients instead of pre-packaged ones.  I even successfully taught a boy how to make these - they are that easy to make!

Vietnamese Tree Rolls

  • Package of rice wrappers
  • Approx 5 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 small to medium head of cabbage, cut into very thin strips
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil
  • Warm water
  • Dipping Sauce (I used a combination of chili sauce with my homemade hot sauce)
  1. Fill a large bowl with warm water.  Dip one rice paper in water for approximately 10 seconds to soften.
  2. Lay wrapper flat on work surface (I recommend a plastic cutting board) and arrange a layer of basil leaves and desired amount of carrots and cabbage.  Roll the wrapper like you would a burrito (if you are not an experienced burrito roller - fold one edge over some of the ingredients, then roll up at the bottom, then fold over the other edge and continue rolling up tightly).  Repeat with remaining ingredients.
  3. Serve the rolls with dipping sauce.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sourdough Pizza Crust

I know, it's been a while.  And I think of some really good reason why my posting has become more infrequent than thunderstorms in Seattle (more on that sad fact later). This time I have a really really good reason, I mean, really good, as to why I am once again allowing myself to be backlogged.  I was sickest I've been since my bout of Swine Flu (pardon me, H1N1) last year.  What began on Saturday as a sore throat and a stomach full of angst transformed into a full-blown "can't get out of bed" sickness.  On Monday, I couldn't lift my head off my pillow.  When I made phone calls to my mom and work, I had to gingerly set the phone on my ear and squeak as loud as I could to try and make my little voice heard.  Hopefully I pulled at your heart-strings enough and you'll forgive me for my slip-up.

The original date of this photo is so prehistoric, I think dinosaurs pondered over the artistic value of it.  That's right - I took this photo in early September... of this year!  I made this pizza dough the second time I was going to hang out with who I am now happy to call my group of friends.  Friends, consider this your official shout out.  I had met Matt though Nick (who I know from U of Michigan).  While I met technically Julie and Christine at the same place I met Matt, I barely did, so it doesn't count.  Matt introduced me to Julie, Christine, Aaron and David when we went out one night to Barca in Capitol Hill.  We all realized (except for Julie and kind of Matt) we were all new to Seattle, we liked each other and make a very good decision to be friends and hang out that coming Sunday.  At said Sunday pizza making/game playing night I was introduced to Gabe, Christine's boyfriend.  Phew, get all those 6 degrees of separation from Mr. Bacon?

Anyways, I made some pizza dough to use for the pizza decorating part of the gathering.  This photo does not do it justice.  While it doesn't have the stereotypical tang of sourdough, it did have a depth of flavor that most doughs don't have.  It also had a wonderful texture.  I was able to stretch one batch of dough into two large thin crusts pizza's - and even the thin crust had a nice crunchy chew to it.  The best part of this recipe?  It uses the discarded cup of starter from feeding the sourdough starter!  That's a win in my book!

Sourdough Pizza Crust
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

  • 1 cup sourdough starter, unfed (straight from the fridge)
  • 1/2 cup hot tap water
  • 2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  1. Stir any liquid into the sourdough starter, and spoon 1 cup starter into a mixing bowl.
  2. Add the hot water, flour, salt, yeast, and Pizza Dough Flavor. Mix to combine, then knead till smooth and slightly sticky, about 7 minutes at medium speed using a stand mixer with dough hook. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased container, and allow it to rise till it's just about doubled in bulk. This might take 2 to 4 hours; it might take more. A lot depends on how vigorous your starter is. For a faster rise, place the dough somewhere warm (or increase the yeast). To slow it down, put it somewhere cool.
  3. Drizzle two 12" round pizza pans with olive oil, tilting the pans to coat the bottom. Place half the dough in each pan. Cover, and let rest for 15 minutes. Gently press the dough towards the edges of the pans; when it starts to shrink back, cover it, and let it rest again, for about 15 minutes. Finish pressing the dough to the edges of the pans.Cover the pan, and let the dough rise till it's as thick as you like. For thin-crust pizza made from fairly fresh starter, this may only be an hour or so. For thick-crust, using an old, little-used starter, this may take most of the day. There are no hard-and-fast rules here; it all depends on the vigor of your starter, and how you like your crust. Once you make it a couple of times, you'll figure out what time frame works for you.
  4. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F.
  5. For a thicker crust, pre-bake the crust for about 8 minutes before topping. Top, then bake till toppings are hot and cheese is melted and bubbly, about 10 minutes. For thin crusts, bake for 4 to 5 minutes, then top and bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes, or till toppings are as done as you like.
  6. Remove from the oven, and loosen the edges of the pizza with a table knife or heatproof spatula. Carefully lift it onto a cooling rack; you can serve it right from the pan, if desired, but a cooling rack helps keep its bottom crisp. Serve hot.


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