Friday, January 30, 2009

Love has a hem to her garment
that reaches the very dust.
It sweeps the stains from the streets and lanes,
and because it can,
it must.

- Mother Teresa

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bread making begins

My friend Lisa has promised to teach me how to bake bread. It's an intimidating notion, this prospect of baking with living yeasty organisms, shaking your spatula at them and asking them to grow. I decided to take the task in parts, starting with less of a bully, parmesan pull-aparts. They sound so playful, don't they? Their picture in Gourmet magazine shows them as stately, golden, gazing up at the camera with a look of obstinate professionalism. For some reason I neglected to take after photos. So you'll just have to believe me that they are quite gorgeous and glazed.

I was ecstatic when I mixed the warm milk with both the honey and the yeast, and in just a couple of minutes the yeast decided to break into action, foaming and frothing and proving to be alive. I always fear these tasks in a cold home, but if you give it just what it needs, like the right temperature of milk and maybe even heat your mixing bowl, it'll feel the love and rise up to your every request. Probably a close second though, to seeing the yeast and then the dough rise is the satisfaction of punching that dough down and feeling the air poof and collapse the entire thing.

I made a double batch of these, mostly because I had lots of everything they needed, and took one portion to work. They disappeared, leaving traces of golden crumbs throughout the office desks and floor. They gave an extra sort of reason to persevere on a below zero winter day. Hm. These rolls are actually very similar to the rolls I grew with my mom making. The parmesan definitely is very evident and a good savory punch to accompany a nice winter bowl of soup.

Next, before my lessons with Lisa begin, I want to make salt-speckled cracked-wheat topknots.

Parmesan Pull-Aparts
From Gourmet, February 2009 edition

2 tsp active dry yeast (from a 1/4-oz package)
1 tsp mild honey or sugar
2/3 cup warm milk (105-115 F), divided
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 TB for sprinkling
1 1/4 cups grated (with a rasp) Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 1/3 oz)
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs
5 TB unsalted butter, cut into TB pieces and softened
1 TB water

Stir together yeast, honey, and 1/3 cup warm milk in mixer bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. If mixture doesn't form, start over with new yeast. Whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour, cheese, and salt, then mix into yeast mixture along with remaining 1/3 cup warm milk at low speed. Increase speed to medium and beat in 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, until a very soft dough forms, about 3 minutes. Beat in butter, 1 TB at a time, until dough is elastic, about 2 minutes. Dough will be very sticky.)

Scrape dough into center of bowl and sprinkle with remaining 2 TB flour. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down dough (do not knead) and turn out onto a floured surface. Cut dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball by cupping your hand and pushing dough against work surface as you roll in a circular motion. Arrange rolls 1 inch apart in a buttered 9x2" round cake pan and cover with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth). Let dough rise in a draft-free place at room temperature until doubled and dough fills plan, 1- 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in middle.

Whisk together remaining egg with water and brush on tops of rolls. (You will have leftover egg wash.) Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Loosen edges of rolls from pan with a sharp knife and invert rolls onto a rack, then reinvert and cool at least 20 minutes.

NOTES: We keep our house quite cold, so I usually turn the oven on low, open it to release some of the heat, turn oven off and oven light on, then place rolls to rise in the oven. Also, if you make a double batch of these, you will only need five eggs, not six. They freeze fine, but are best fresh. Thaw them completely if you freeze a batch, then reheat on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes.
In retrospect, I would have cooked the rolls closer to 20 minute then 25. They continue to bake a little when they are removed from oven, and I love my bread a little less dry.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Savory & Sweet

One of the Ann Arbor establishments that will stay forever in our iconic memory as an icon is Morgan & York, previously known as the Big Ten Party Store. Classic, huh? Big Ten refers to Ann Arbor's obsession with football, and "Party Store" is used to designate liquor and junk food spots, the drunk person's oasis. This store, though, is far from junk. It's filled with delicacies and specialties from near and far. While the atmosphere could be perceived as elitist, I think of it as just being a phenomenal food and drink resource with an interesting and kooky persona. The clerks in the store are extremely knowledgeable and wear long and literal blue collared garments. They offer samples, engage you in pairing your foods and drinks, teach you more than you want to know about fondue cheeses, and arguably make the best cappuccino in the county. I love going in there, almost as much as my wallet loves the freedom of its weighty contents once we've gone.

Being in the poorhouse as of recent, we probably should not continue to think that it's reasonable for us to shop there, regardless of the desire to comply with our expensive tongues. But I can't help but believe everyday is a beatific celebration in food and substance, worth tastes that bring satisfaction and comfort. It's really a solace, like a massage for my palate and brain. This most recent trip we came home with a delicious bottle of French red wine, pastrami from Sal Ginsberg in Detroit, Comte cheese sliced for sandwiches, and a soft cheese called Pave Sauvage. Oh my, my, my... it was so delectable.

We had a nice loaf of farm bread that was ready to be used at home and a croak of fermenting sauerkraut that recently reached it adulthood. With great rumbling tummies, we cut thin slices of bread, toasted each piece, and then layered the sandwiches with the Comte cheese (crusty rind still attached), perfect peppery pastrami, forkfuls of sour homemade sauerkraut, and dijon mustard. The sandwiches ended up being about $2 a piece, which isn't necessarily cheap when they are made at home, but oh so worth it and so much cheaper than if we had bought them at the party store or zingerman's.

With the soft, spreadable tarragon and pepper crusted Pave Sauvage we made a pear salad. Earlier in the week I bought a bag of organic red pears and had tired of eating them by the fistful. To rejuvenate the fruit we diced the pears, tossed them with fresh crushed pepper, very flavorful and syrupy balsamic vinegar, walnut oil, sliced almonds (I wish we had pecans), some dried herbs, bacon (Yes! Bacon!), and this three pepper and tarragon crusted cheese, smooshy and tangy. I could eat a bag of pears a day in this style. I had been inspired by a co-worker who saw my weary afternoon face on Friday and offered me a bite of her pears with bleu cheese. My thoughts just brewed as I chewed that delicious quick bit of sweet and savory.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Beef, potato horseradish cake, endives!

I always feel a little jumpy blogging about meat dishes, as though spirits of the beef will rise in my dreams and haunt me through my vegetarian friends (and I have a lot of those.) But I haven't blogged in forever, and Josh made a really assuaging dinner so this just needs to happen. You need to hear about this over and again fabulous book, the marinade that you can use twice, and the absolutely brainy potato and horseradish cake. Josh swears the secret is in the rosemary we have bunched and hanging daintily on our kitchen wall, pounded with three cloves of garlic in a positively heavy and murderous cast iron mortar and pestle. I'm always a fan of a good recipe that incorporates red wine. This inevitably means that you buy one bottle for cooking with and one bottle to drink as your cooking and eating. Perhaps by the end of the meal you are a bit more smashed than you otherwise would be because you had two bottles of wine open; a true recipe for unabashed sleep and cozy moments around an otherwise imperfect day. This recipe comes yet again from a library borrowed cookbook, Jamie Oliver's: Jamie's Kitchen. The recipe is somewhat adapted and abbreviated.

I have no idea how big our roast was, but I do know that it was a rib roast not too hefty or huge. This should be generously seasoned and patted and prodded with salt & pepper (this would be the husband's part, if not the whole meal, in my meager opinion.) Then with that mortar and pestle, don't be shy, pound and press the rosemary and garlic together (1-3 cloves). Loosen this with some olive oil, more than you might think (up to 5TB) and rub into the beef (call for the husband or male counterpoint again.)

Preheat oven to 450. Parboil (which means blanche) six or so medium waxy potatoes in boiling and salted water for about 5 minutes. Drain, transfer to bowl and coat with olive oil. Season well. Using a non-stick and greased cake pan or a nonstick metal frying pan, layer half the potatoes and then smother with 3TB (more or less depending on your tastebuds) of creamed horseradish. Then finish layering with other half of potatoes. Put aside for now.

Brown the beef on all sides in a snug-fitting roasting pan. Add garlic to pan and place beef on top. Place in oven with the pan of potatoes below. Cook for 20 minutes, then turn beef over, baste, and add 1/2 bottle of red wine and 1/4 cup butter. Remove the potato dish, place a clean towel carefully over the potatoes and apply pressure to compact potatoes into a tight cake. Replace in oven and cook for 15-20 more minutes.

After this time, remove and test roast. Cook to your desired temp, then allow roast to rest. Brown potatoes in oven about 5 more minutes if needed. Serve juice as an au jus, or cook to a gravy. We chose the au jus, and had plenty left to use for another dinner tonight.

In addition to this we had wild rice, a simple roasted squash, and endives we dipped into an equally simple and homemade vinagrette adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast, Food to Celebrate Life:
Use 1 tsp grainy mustard, 1 TB tahini, 3 TB extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp sherry vinegar, few drops of honey, salt & pepper. Whir all these together and toss with the endives or just dip like we did, the wild and civilized pair we are. It was refreshingly raw and crunchy and bitter. Yum.

These little endives look like soldiers preparing for the feast here.

A note on the separated role of male as rubber, believe me, I am a fairly independent woman. All friends who knew me prior to Josh would probably say this was my most endearing and irritating quality. But I know my limitations, and rubbing, seducing, or pulverizing meat is one of them. Forgive me, ladies, for assuming you partake in a similar process of thought.

And just to mention tonight's experiment, I roasted the other half of the roast we had bought, salt, pepper, thyme, savory, and oregano sprinkled and tossed on (Josh was in class and unavailable to assist in the rub down). This roast was cut in half length wise, and then half a large onion situated in between the two halves. Two pears were chopped, cores removed, and tossed in, and the remaining au jus of dinner past poured on the whole concoction. Another simple roasted squash and some short grain brown rice on the side made for a very balanced dinner. I was terrified when Josh came home and thought the pears to be potatoes. I realized that he was about to be shocked, and I felt terrible that he would be disappointed with finding that his chewing would result in fruit, not potato. Potatoes are, afterall, really all he needs in life. And these were pears. He was anything but disappointed. He loved them. They were beautifully tainted purple, as were the onions, from roasting in the red wine au jus.

I guess the idea of this second dinner could easily be transposed to tofu, pork, chicken, or potato cakes. But one reason the au jus was so good the second time around is that there were meaty juices that resulted from the original roasting. Pretty hard to make vegetarian. And not an ounce of disappointment to report.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Mad Farmer

You know those moments when you are slapped around by the jolting movements of time, your neck aching with heaviness of its own weight and measure? These moments can be so revitalizing when you back against the wall, breathe into the empty pipes of your body, and curl into a good book of words and thoughts. Last night with a quiet spirit for New Year's Day, I sat mesmerized by the words of Wendell Berry, farmer, poet, and novelist. After such rushing through the holidays, a day to sleep until 3pm and then think of nothing but beautiful words put into thoughts was sanctifying to say the least...

From Wendell Berry's The Mad Farmer Poems

Don't worry and fret about the crops. After you have done all you can for them, let them stand in the weather on their own.

If the crop of any one year was all, a man would have to cut his throat every time it hailed.

But the
real products of any year's work are the farmer's mind & the crop land itself.

If he raises a good crop at the cost of belittling himself & diminishing the ground, he has gained nothing. He will have to begin over again the next spring, worse off than before.

Let him receive the season's increment into his mind. Let him work it into the soil.

The finest growth that farmland can produce is a careful farmer.

Make the human race a better head. Make the world a better piece of ground.