Saturday, February 24, 2007

Beatles Redux by the Smithereens

Just checked out the Smithereens official website and found out they released a Beatles tribute album "Meet The Beatles" doing every song in order. What, you say, why that's unheard of, blasphemy! Well, check it out for yourself. They have captured the spirit and energy of the first Beatles album released in the USA, and it is brilliant! It may be the best tribute album ever. Although I love Frank Sinatra, his vocals on Beatles songs were corny and cringe-worthy. The same for all the other artists, and they only seemed to get cheesier. The one exception was Dionne Farris' "Blackbird" on her "Wild Seed Wild Flower" album. But now this new Smithereens take on a classic album of mostly forgotten tunes, (except for "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand") is astonishingly fresh and vibrant. Too bad for me, missed them last week in Hollywood, and the concert was only $20 bucks! Darn it, I'll be sure to catch them next time around. Yes, I know, this has nothing to do with cuisine or pastry, but anything about the Beatles is so much a part of the person I am, the news of this new album had to be announced here. Funny, there was a metal button in my jewelry box that said "Viva Los Beatles" --- wish I knew where it went.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Harvest King Foccacia

Rose Levy Beranbaum is one of my culinary heroes. Not only is she the author of "The Bread Bible" and "The Cake Bible" but she is also a wonderful teacher. Her PBS show "Baking Magic" is one of the best for learning baking techniques. The blog site "Real Baking with Rose Levy Beranbaum" is one of the best. Lots of recipes, photos, product info. Check out her archive posts. If you have a question that has not been previously addressed, write to her. She actually will respond to your baking questions. I especially like that she gives the measurements of her recipes in volume and weights, in both ounces and grams.

This weekend we are baking her "Harvest King Foccacia" using the new flour from Gold Medal, and adding in a bit of sun-dried tomato from Trader Joe's, chopped pepperoncini from Costco, and a sprinkling of Bel Gioso grated parmesan from Ralphs to finish after it is done (we don't like that burnt cheese taste you sometimes get from topping the parmesan at the beginning of baking). A glass of wine, a big salad, and that makes a meal. Tutti mangia!

adapted from "Real Baking with Rose Levy Beranbaum"
(Also makes great pizza!)
Almost 2 pounds/876 grams of dough

3 cups/1 pound/454 grams Harvest King flour
1/4 cup/1.25 ounces/35 grams whole wheat flour
1-1/4 teaspoons rapid rise, bread machine or other instant yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1-1/2 cups/12.5 ounces/354 grams room temperature water
1 teaspoon mild honey, such as clover
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil plus 4 teaspoons for oiling the pan and top of bread
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary needles
fleur de sel or kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
4 oz. sun-dried tomatoes rehydrated in olive oil
2 oz. chopped pepperoncini
4 oz. grated parmesan
A baking sheet or half size sheet pan

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the bread flour, whole wheat flour and yeast. Then whisk in the salt. Stir in the water, honey, and oil. Using a mixer with a dough hook or by hand with a wooden spoon, knead (if by hand stir vigorously) for about 3 minutes or until the dough begins to come away form the sides of the bowl. It will not come away completely and should be very sticky to the touch.
Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and lightly spray or oil the top of the dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot. Allow the dough to rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. After the first 30 minutes, scrape the dough onto an oiled counter and with oiled hands stretch it and give it a business letter fold. Repeat this a second time. The dough will no longer stick to your fingers.
Set the dough back in the bowl and let it finish rising. (Stick a finger into the center of the dough and if it keeps the indentation it’s ready.) If baking it the following day, press down the dough and set it in a large oiled zipper type storage bag, leaving a tiny bit unzipped for the forming gas to escape, and refrigerate it. Remove it to room temperature 1 hour before shaping.
When ready to shape the dough, spread 2 teaspoons of oil onto the baking sheet and set the dough on top. Flatten the dough gently with your fingertips to about 12 inches by 5 inches and 1/2 inch high. Try to keep as much air in the dough as possible. Oil the top of the dough with 2 teaspoons of oil. Cover with a large container or oiled plastic wrap and allow it to rise until doubled to 1 inch high--about 1 hour.

While the dough is rising, set the oven rack toward the bottom and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it. Set a cast iron skillet or heavy baking pan on the floor of the oven or on the lowest shelf.
Preheat the oven to 475F. for 45 minutes or longer.
With your finger tips, deeply dimple the dough all over. Sprinkle with the rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes, pepperoncini, salt, and pepper. Quickly but gently set the baking sheet on the hot stone or hot baking sheet, and toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes into the pan beneath. Immediately shut the door and bake 5 minutes. Turn the sheet half way around and continue baking 10 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. (An instant read thermometer inserted into the center will read about 210°F.).
Remove the bread to a wire rack and immediately sprinkle on grated parmesan. Allow to cool completely or until just warm.

Monday, February 19, 2007

All Da Kine

The daughter and her husband have been visiting with us. It happens to be right in the middle of changes in schedules, work on the house, birfcakes, and a whole assortment of family adventures. We have spent some relaxing time together, enjoyed some delicious meals, and visited local museum exhibits. But no matter how long the trip it is never enough time, because it went by so quickly, and now they have to return to their island paradise home. Take me along with you! Next time for sure. Thanks guys, and a special thank you for my Lewis Black autographed poster and for all da kine.

Friday, February 16, 2007

"Chef, where do they keep the elbow grease?"

New kitchen, new surroundings, new faces. Lo siento mucho, I have been so blog-deficient lately. Even missed the "Poulet Surprise" deadline on Peanut Butter Etouffee, darn it. However, time spent sleeping over-rules the time for blogging. Yes, 4:00 a.m. comes around real quick, no more Conan O'Brien, no more David Letterman for me. The reality is that while most of you are fast asleep in a warm bed, and maybe lucky enough to share it with a warm someone, I am already at work, firing up the ovens, unlocking the walk-ins, starting up that first pot of coffee, proofing the doughs. And I love every moment of it!

As soon as I get into a groove, and things settle down a bit, I will be able to devote proper time to be posting on a regular basis. For now, please keep those good thoughts coming, I need all I can get! Muchas gracias a todos.

Overheard once in the zen kitchen:
"Chef, how long do I cook it?" the student asks.
"Till it's done!" replies the chef.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Groundhog's Day Culinary Style

Comedy Central is running this movie all day today. It had me thinking about what day would I choose to live over and over again, like the Bill Murray character. Of course, my choices were related to a favorite meal, restaurant experiences, or the days spent in culinary school. It was hard to narrow it down, there are so many.

That one experience would have to be the day I spent making fresh pasta with my kids. Fetuccine was everywhere, all over the house! We opened all the cupboard doors and hung the freshly made noodles over the top. Flour all over our faces and the pasta bubbling, ready to eat in just moments. I made a meat sauce and we ate all of it, all that pasta, no leftovers. Probably one of the best days of my life.

So, I ask you, what culinary moment in your life would you like to re-live, and do it over and over again? Maybe you have a few, that's fine. Let me know, and if your Groundhog's Day moment includes a recipe, so please post that as well.

They will all be out here next week, so look for our pasta post coming up soon!
"You're the best!"