Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Trip to Italy, in my kitchen.

This week, it has been sunny.

Sunny but cold, so it is still winter. I have been carb-ing it up lately, comfort food style…root veggies, bread and more bread.

And then, there is my new favorite hobby.


I inherited a pasta machine from work, so I brought it home and I went to work on my first homemade pasta. Of course, this doesn’t count the time that I tried to make lasagna noodles completely by hand, sans machine, and they ended up being about an inch thick….which is about an inch too thick. I think this was one of those dinners that T might have smiled and told me that ‘honey, it is delicious’, as he chewed through his lasagna noodles…and he chewed….and he chewed.

So, I went to Italy, in my mind, and I transformed my kitchen into the house of pasta.

I had so much fun, that I made a second batch, with some spinach I have been dying to use up!

Spinach Pasta

2 c flour
5 oz spinach, blanched and squeezed dry
2 eggs
1 teaspoon olive oil

Puree spinach in cuisinart with olive oil and eggs until smooth.
With the flour, mix in the salt. On a flat surface, pour the flour into a mound, and make a well in the center. Pour in the spinach mixture and mix it slowly into the flour, pulling the flour nearest the well, and mixing it in circles with your hand. Incorporate all the flour and knead until the dough is smooth. Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes. When ready to roll out, dust lightly with flour, if needed, and roll as thinly as possibly before using the pasta machine on the widest setting. Roll it through the machine, until the desired thickness. (I used the 6 lowest setting) When it is sheeted, let dry slightly, then cut through the machine and toss to separate. Dry slightly before cooking.
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Monday, January 22, 2007

Channeling Argolis.

Now that it has been a year since I boarded a plane for Zurich with a pencil and Sodoku book in hand, I have to admit that I am feeling a bit nostalgic.

Nostalgia for the trains, nostalgia for the culture, nostalgia for the food.

I think it is hard this time of year, especially. It is still winter here and it is gray. The thermostat has climbed above the freezing mark, which is in some ways depressing; I welcome the excitement of a snow day to mix it up a bit, to throw in some variety during a winter of dark and drizzle.

Lately, I have been thinking of Greece.

When we were in the Peloponnese, some of my favorite food memories were of the yogurt and the marmalade. I never thought that I was much of a marmalade person before. I never understood the allure of a jam that included pieces of peel and all the bitter parts…This was before I traveled to the Argolis region, where the fields were filled with groves and groves of oranges. We stayed in a Pension where breakfast consisted of the Greek style, thick and so-creamy yogurt and this so-good-marmalade. Grandma’s recipe, of course.

I remember how the thought of eating breakfast made me smile every morning, and every morning, I would exclaim to my husband across the table…damn, that marmalade is good.

Yesterday, I opened my fridge and noticed a sad looking neglected pile of citrus. We can’t quite keep up with our produce delivery at times, so I decided that I had to make a move quickly, before the mold took over.

In the grayness of the day and of my mood, I needed a little sunshine. I needed a little Greece, a little something to make me smile. So, I made some marmalade, and then I got out the Greek yogurt, mixed it up, and I took a bite.

I closed my eyes.

Even if just for a moment, I was back there, beneath the orange groves again....

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

All Roads lead to Chili.

It is Sunday morning. Currently in Seattle, it is 19 degrees. The forecast calls for freezing fog. Just exactly what is freezing fog anyway? With a cold snap still in the area, the roads and houses are dusted with snow, not something normally seen in this area, but we have welcomed some strange weather with the start of winter this year. I believe this is the result of El Nino and Global Warming, in coexistence. Today also marks the start to my weekend, which usually means that while away from my work kitchen, I enter my own kitchen and strangely enough, I cook and I bake.

Lately, I have been thinking of my crock pot.

And, I was reminded of how lovely a crock pot meal can be. While visiting the Bay Area recently, I was lucky enough to arrive on the day my dad was ‘slow cooking’ a pot roast. Of course, his famous ribs are hard to beat, but this meal definitely rivaled.

Back when C&T hosted their annual Chili Cook Off, I remember entering a ‘6 alarm chili,’ which was accented by chipotle, coffee and chocolate. It was good, but it was definitely freaking HOT and NOT like Abby’s crowd pleaser chili that took home the ‘First Prize’ Jalapeno Apron. I believe that I took third that year. The couple votes caste in my direction, I believe, were those of my loving husband and another friend, who liked his chili like he liked his men…

Damn Hot.

SO, today, I thought that I would revisit Chili. I loved the complexity that adding coffee and chocolate gave to my third place chili, but I am thinking, if I just toned down the spice, maybe I too, can take home that ‘First Prize’ Jalapeno Apron someday.

3 Alarm Hoo-Hah Chili

4 oz sliced Maple bacon
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder ( I ended up getting something called ‘pork shoulder butt’…not quite sure what that means..), cubed
1 T olive oil
1 small onion chopped
1 chipotle chili, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons chili powder (not pure, but the kind mixed with other spices)
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
Pinch of Cayenne powder
7 oz beef broth
½ c brewed coffee
½ c Guinness stout
14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes with puree
15 oz kidney beans, canned
15 oz cannellini beans, canned
¼ cup dark chocolate. (Valrhona 70%)
Salt, to taste

Cook bacon, drain and set aside. Reserve a Tablespoon from fat in pan. Add 1 T olive oil and brown the pork. Transfer to crock pot when finished. Deglaze pan with hot coffee and scrape mixture into crock pot too. Saute onion until softened, then add garlic and spices and cook 1 minute. Add this to the crock pot. At this point, add the stock, coffee, Guinness and tomatoes to the crock pot. Cook on low for 6 hours. Then, add the chocolate and beans, stir, and cook for 1 hour more.
Top with Sour Cream and other fixins’….

Should make around 6 servings…

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Reflections on Crusty Loaf's...

I have many good memories from the now defunct bakery where I slaved for a good few years, early in my baking life. I don’t think that I have since worked in an environment where it was clear that we all loved what we were doing and we had such a good time doing it. I think that we were all bonded by the fact that we had a boss who didn’t give a shit about the business, who tried to keep the reigns tight on us from many miles away in Minneapolis. We all loved the place and wanted to see it do well. I think that we even plotted to one day try and pool our funds together to buy the place. I often wonder what would have become if we had indeed pulled that off. I miss it sometimes. I miss all the doughs, all 12 of them, rising in the buckets scattered throughout the kitchen and hall. The Honey Wheat, Rosy Sour, Pumpernickel, Walnut Scallion…all with their yeasty, bready savory and sweet smells. I miss the huge bucket of Sourdough starter, that needed constant nourishment, maybe even some talking to..and in return he provided us that tang and rise to our breads…then, there was the Rye Starter, whom I introduced to the bakery when we changed the way we did our Rye Bread. He was smaller, but much more pungent with the flavor of onions in his blood. Man, he made a good bread…that Rye, it always sold out.

I miss those mammoth mixers and that godly Bongard 3 deck oven, too. I think that the actual baking of the breads was my favorite part of the process, although I did love the feel of shaping each bread in my hands. Every dough had its own personality, its own quirks. The oven was definitely the heart of the bakery though. It lay at the very center of the store, in plain view from every angle, especially from the front door, where people walking by would be drawn in by the smell, walk through the front door and see the loaves baking through the oven windows…I loved tending the oven. First, loading the loaves onto the gurney, scoring and garnishing them with salt, or seeds..then, lifting the gurney to the deck where the breads would be magically transferred, with a quick push, and a pull. Voila, the loaves were now perfectly placed onto the baking stone, steamed with a quick push of a button, and left to bake until they needed some rotation. Probably the most dramatic part of the process was when the loaves were set to come out of the oven. Using the 10 ft long peel, I would thrust it into the oven, grab 5 or 6 or 7 loaves of crackling and crusty bread, delicately balance them on the flat end, pull them out of the oven and oh-so dramatically, flip them onto the cooling racks. There was always a crowd to watch this, and I always remember feeling this great sense of pride in my craft when I would hear the sighs and people exclaiming, “look, there she goes…such beautiful bread..” I think that this was such a great selling point, walking into a bakery filled with the most wonderful smell ever, baking bread…seeing fresh bread being pulled out of the oven and deposited onto the cooling racks before your very eyes…then, actually being able to walk up to the counter, point to that very steaming loaf, buy it, and walk out with it, still crackling in the paper bag, under your arm.

People loved this place.

It became clockwork at one point. We had it down to a science, when each type of bread would crackle and steam its way onto the cooling racks. We would actually write these times on a chalk board sign that stood on the sidewalk outside, and then, our regulars would arrive, like clockwork too.

11:30 am….Multigrain…11:45 am Sesame Tuscan…12:00 pm French Rolls…

We even had names for them. The Rye Bread guy. Crazy Sweater guy. Chocolate Roll girl.

It is funny, every so often now, I see a familiar face and think..oh yeah, there is that ‘Sliced Honey Wheat’ guy..

We had so many kinds of bread, but we definitely had the favorites among them. The breads that always sold out. The Apple bread was one of these. This was the lagger in the group, always the very last to come out of the oven. I think this was because we often forgot to prep the apples ahead of time
….ah crap…damn apples.

So, often times, we would have all the breads out of the oven, and we would have people coming in at the ‘usual’ Apple Bread ready time of 2pm.. “Is the Apple Bread ready yet??” So we rushed…peeling the apples at warp speed, chopping the apples into the dough, portioning the dough into the pans and tossing them into the ovens. Then, the people would continue coming in, while the bread was in the oven. So often, I would pull the bread out just as it was perfectly ready, and rush to frost it while impatient customers drooled up front. “Is the apple bread ready?”
I too, loved the Apple Bread, but I sometimes felt like it was the bane of my existence. It was a little more work than some of the other less fussy loaves, and the people always wanted it when it wasn’t ready.

A few years have passed since those days, and every so often I find myself with a craving for some of those breads again. So I scale down the recipes from their 50 pound batches and I make me a loaf.

Even the Apple Bread.

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