Thursday, January 28, 2010

Attention Big Lebowski fans- behold "The Dude"

Eric and I were in Houston last week so we stopped at Little Bigs for some of those precious little burgers called sliders. I think it's hysterical that foodies have taken to sliders like truffles to tree roots. The South is way ahead of the curve on this food trend- we've been eating mini burgers for years, only we call them Krystals. So, the sliders were pretty good but the star attraction was "The Dude," a White Russian milkshake. Jeff Bridges may win his first Academy Award for Crazy Heart but, to me, he was never better than in the Big Lebowski.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I love cooking with wine... sometimes I even put in in the food!

I had to share my coworker's quote of the week- he posts quotes on a white board outside of his "office" (i.e. cubicle). Gotta love it when someone has an even hokier, lamer sense of humor than you. No offense, Mike, I love the quotes- keep 'em coming!
So my latest obsession is an old obsession repacked into a new, fancy cookbook. I just picked up My Bread from Jim Lahey, of the famed no knead bread recipe I've written about previously. This bread became a sensation after Mark Bittman wrote about it in the New York Times- he actually called it the "best thing since sliced bread". Mr. Bittman is a man after my own heart - a lover of food and cheesy puns!

I was responsible for bringing bread over for dinner with friends so I decided to try Lahey's recipe for Stecca ("stick" in Italian) which makes four nice sized, small baguettes. I added green olives and garlic to the loaves per his recommended variations. I was so excited when I pulled them from the oven that I immediately tore into one of a garlic baguettes. I obviously have no future in food styling since I have no self-control!

Stecca All'olive and Stecca Al'aglio
by Jim Lahey
3 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cool 55-65F water
additional flour for dusting
20 pieces of whole garlic cloves and whole olives
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, table salt, sugar and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.
2.  When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Fold the dough over itself two or three times and gently shape it into a somewhat flattened ball. Brush the surface of the dough with some of the olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the coarse salt (which will gradually dissolve on the surface).
3.  Gently place the dough, seam side down onto a floured work surface. Cover loosely with a lightly floured kitchen towel. Place in a warm draft free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, pre-heat the oven to 500F, with a rack in the center of the oven. Oil a 13″ x 18″ x 1″ baking sheet.
5.  Cut the dough into quarters. Gently stretch each piece evenly into a long, thin, baguette shape approximately the length of the pan. Place on the pan, leaving about 1 inch between the loaves. Embed the garlic cloves and olives into the loaves, about five pieces per loaf. Drizzle or brush olive oil on each loaf. Sprinkle sea salt or kosher salt over the garlic loaves but not the olive loaf since the olives are already salty.
6. Bake For 15 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Cool on a pan for five minutes, then use a spatula to transfer the baguette to a rack to cool thoroughly.

Note: The baguettes may become a bit soggy in just a few hours because of the salt on the surface. If that happens, reheat the loaves in a hot oven until crisp.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Will Work for Food: Puff Pastry

I never thought I would love another grocery store like I love Trader Joe's. When we left CA, I had serious TJ withdrawal. Whenever we traveled within a 50 mile radius of a store, I would stop in and stock up on olive oil. I was so excited to move to Austin because Whole Foods started out in Austin and I couldn't wait to get back to a decent grocery store. The Whole Foods flagship store is a wonder to behold... so much so that it's probably one of Austin's most popular tourist attractions, right behind the state capitol building and the bats under Congress Street Bridge.  Which makes it a big pain in the a** if you actually want to shop and not gawk.

At Whole Foods, I seem to always have the bad luck of being stuck behind some out-of-towner moseying slowly up the aisles ogling the free-range, biodynamic, organic, virgin granola selection (or some such). Not conducive to those who enjoy a quick but relaxing jaunt through the store. Thank god for Central Market! Not only can I find any food or ingredient I ever needed (and more than I need usually- damn those sample stations) but it's like an oasis - a calm, organized temple to food.

One of my favorite things about Central Market is the Cooking School. Central Market brings in visiting chefs from all over the world in addition to staff that teach classes. The school allows volunteers to work as assistants for the classes and, as payment, they feed you the dish du jour and serve you wine while you clean up after the class. For every two classes that you work you get a $45 gift certificate to use toward a class of your choice. The Cooking School staff are great and really appreciate the volunteers. 80% of the work is doing dishes and serving but they do let volunteers help prep the food for the class. I've made some interesting dishes in my tenure as a volunteer- thanks to an Italian chef who cooked classical French food, I can make some awesome savory crepes. Making 50 crepes in a row was great practice!

I've been volunteering at the cooking school for over a year now and try to make it in every couple of months. Last Friday night I worked with a member of the staff, Christina Lee, in her class, "Puff Pastry Demystified". That's Christina above, holding the tray, and a fellow volunteer named Jenn. We learned to make feuilletage (puff pastry) at LCB but I haven't attempted to make it since I've been back so I was excited to work the class. With the cold snap we've had in Austin lately, it was perfect weather to work with the dough.  Christina teaches a slightly different, less complicated fold and turn method than LCB.  The results aren't quite as flaky but are delicious nevertheless. Her pain au chocolat was so worth all the dishes I did! You can check out the "fruits" of my labor and Christina's recipe below...

Christina Lee's Puff Pastry

Yields 2 pounds

13 ounces all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 ounces unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
1 cup cold water
10 ounces unsalted butter, cold

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Cut the 3 ounces of butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. Form a well in the bowl and pour in water. Pull the flour mixture into the water until incorporated.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough. Shape into a rectangle. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least 3 hours.

Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 8" x 5". Brush excess flour off the surface of the dough.

Flatten the 10 ounces of butter into a rectangle approximately the same size of your dough and then place on top of dough.

Gently fold the dough into thirds. Turn by a quarter and roll out dough into 8" x 5" rectangle again. Brush excess flour off the surface of the dough and fold into thirds again. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

Repeat the folding process 2 more times.

To make pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants) using the puff pastry:

2 pounds puff pastry dough
2 1/2 pounds bittersweet chocolate
egg wash

Roll the dough into a 12" x 20" rectangle and then cut in half lengthwise. You'll have two equal size pieces of 6" x 20" dough. Now cut each strip into 5 equal pieces to make 10 pieces of 6" x 4" dough. Put the rectangles on a baking sheet. Wrap in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Place some chocolate on the shorter end of a rectangle of dough and roll towards you. Make sure the seam is on the bottom. Repeat with rest of dough pieces.

Place the pain au chocolat on a baking sheet and let proof until doubled in size. Brush with egg wash and bake at 440 degrees Fahrenheit until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. Let cool.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Better Late Than Never: (Matzhoh Crack) Chocolate Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch

Happy New Year! (I'm a little behind lately.)

Eric and I went home for Christmas- back to Pensacola, FL to be with our families. We stopped by New Orleans for a couple of days on our way in. It's good to see New Orleans coming back- finally! So I pretty much overdosed on seafood while back on the coast. I don't really eat seafood while living inland and I didn't realize how much I missed it until I arrived somewhere that has as many preparations of oysters on their menu as there are days in a week.

Even though I had already filled up while in NO on oysters, mussels, and the best shrimp po' boy (thanks Lucie!) I've had since the beloved Big Easy closed in Pensacola, there is always room for more. So on cold, cloudy Christmas Eve day, Eric and I headed out to Pensacola Beach to Peg Leg Pete's for their awesome Oysters Casino.
Right before the rain came in, I ran out to catch a few pics of the beach. Our beaches are so amazingly beautiful. I haven't even been down to the coast in Texas. When you grow up on the world's whitest beaches, you get a little spoiled and prone to making unfair comparisons. So in that spirit, the only beach that I've ever seen that even compares to the beaches in Northwest Florida would be in Nerja, Spain. Full disclosure: I'm not really a beachy, tropical locale vacationer so I probably haven't visited enough beaches to make an unbiased comparison. Not that I would be unbiased anyways because there's no place like home!

Did Christmas not come sooo early this year? At least it seemed like it to me. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. So I was a little late in making holiday baked goods this year. I didn't bake for my co-workers' holidays gifts until after Christmas. Judging by their feedback, I think I'm forgiven. At Jan's suggestion, I made David Lebovitz's Chocolate-covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch. The chocolate covering over the caramelized matzoh is sprinkled with roasted cacao nibs and sea salt. The sweet/salty/rich combo of flavors is really a knockout. This stuff is so good I didn't want to give it away. I call it matzoh crack because I cannot stop eating it.