Parties, Picnics, and Pubs

This my fiftieth post! What better way to celebrate than with foods you can take to a gathering, be it a party or a picnic or a potluck. I’m afraid you you you won’t find any pub food here (I couldn’t resist the alliteration!), although a plate of tatsuta age would be a welcome accompaniment to a nice cold bottle of Sapporo beer!

You know those recipes that call for “poultry seasoning,” or “taco spice blend.” You never know what’s in those spice mixes, and if you buy the prepared ones, you’re apt to get a lot of salt in with the herbs and spices. Plus, those premixed things aren’t tailored to your taste. What if you want more garlic, or less (which is more problematic), or you find a flavor that’s just disagreeable to you?

I’ve added a page to help you out. You’ll see it in the right sidebar of every post. Click on it, or tap, and you will find a comprehensive list of spice mixes and their ingredients. Just for kicks, I added some very exotic blends, too. Maybe they’ll inspire you! If you don’t see one of your favorites, let me know and I’ll research it and add it to the list. In other words, contact me!

Today’s Menu

Tatsuta Age: Fried Chicken Bites

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The Japanese have many varieties of fried chicken. The most well known is probably chicken katsu, chicken cutlets breaded with panko and pan fried, served over rice with katsu sauce, or curry, and sometimes a fried egg.

Tatsuta age is probably my favorite Japanese fried chicken. “Age” means “fried” in Japanese. The meaning of “tatsuta” seems to be less clear. It can refer to the autumn colors to be seen along the Tastuya River, and it seems there was a Princess Tatsuya who was also associated with autumn and its colors. A long marinade in soy sauce does color the chicken slightly red. More importantly, it flavors the chicken beautifully, and the potato starch coating is oh so light and crispy. It doesn’t absorb much oil, and it stays crispy even after it cools, making it the perfect fried chicken for a picnic.

You could use white meat for this recipe. It will cook faster than the thigh meat and will dry out very quickly if you’re not careful. You can also sub corn starch for potato starch. Do not confuse potato “starch” with potato “flour.” You might find the results, well, disagreeable!

Ingredients (feel free to double or even triple these!)

  • 2 large boneless skinless chicken thighs, 1 boneless skinless chicken breast, or a combination, fat trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces. To ensure even cooking, keep the bites as uniform in size as possible. Don’t obsess and start weighing the pieces though!
  • Equal parts:
    • Soy sauce
    • Sake or dry sherry
    • Mirin
  • Optional:
    • Grated garlic
    • Grated ginger
    • Grated onion
    • Spicy “oriental” mustard
    • Sriracha or other hot sauce
  • Potato starch or corn starch for dredging. I recommend potato starch.
  • Peanut, canola, or other neutral, high smoke-point oil for frying.

Method

Drying the marinated chicken pieces well, and waiting to dredge them until you’re ready to drop them in the oil is crucial! Dredging the chicken and letting it sit will cause the potato starch to clump and get gummy. Not yummy!

  • In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, the sake or sherry, the mirin, and any of the optional additions you choose to use.
  • Place the chicken pieces in a plastic zipper bag. Pour the marinade into the bag over the chicken. Press the air out of the bag and seal.
  • Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 24 hours.
  • Drain the chicken, discard the marinade, and arrange the pieces on two layers of paper towel. Cover with two more sheets and lightly press to dry well. Place the chicken in the fridge until ready to fry.
  • Place a cooling rack in a rimmed baking sheet and line with paper towels.
  • Heat 2” of oil in a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven to 350°F.
  • Put the chicken pieces in a small bowl and sprinkle with potato starch. Lightly mix with hands until all pieces are coated.
  • One piece at a time, remove the chicken from the starch, shake off the excess and place in the hot oil. Do not crowd. Depending on the size of your pan and the amount of chicken you’re frying, you may need to do this in batches.
  • Fry, turning the pieces often with a spider or pair of tongs, until the pieces are golden and the internal temp is 185°F for the thigh meat and 165°F for the breast meat.
  • Remove the chicken pieces to the paper towel-lined cooling rack

To serve, arrange the chicken bites on a platter over lettuce. Garnish with chopped hot peppers and a squirt of Japanese Kewpie mayo. I like to slice pickled hot chilis, dredge them in the potato starch and give ‘em a quick fry. Or serve with dipping sauces; spicy mayo mix, Thai sweet chili sauce, ranch or bleu cheese dressing and a small shallow dish filled with a salt/pepper mixture. That’s actually my favorite; I love salt and the black pepper really adds some zing and brings out the flavors of the marinade. Or drizzle the pieces with salsa, cover with shredded cheese, and place in the oven until the cheese is melted. The sky’s the limit, folks! You could even make these part of a taco bar!

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Pizza Monkey Bread

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Something always seems to go wrong when I make these! It usually has to do with the pan I bake them in, the oven temp, or my portioning the dough into balls. This time it was the pan. I thought I knew exactly where my bundt pan was. It has apparently been moved. I only discovered this at the moment I was set to arrange my little garlic blobs in it. I know, mise-en-place fail! I had to jury-rig a pie plate with an upside ramekin in the center. The overflow was almost alarming! But they tasted great!

These are great additions to a party table. If you’re bringing them to someone else’s party though, keep in mind that these are best served right out of the oven. If your hostess is okay with it, you could take the assembled but unbaked bread to the party and bake it there; not counting preheating the oven, the baking time is fairly short – twenty to thirty minutes. Alternately, par-bake them, about 10 minutes, and finish them up quickly at the party.

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe pizza dough. Or store bought, or pick up some from your local pizzeria, about a pound.
  • 1/4 cup or more of olive oil, plus olive oil for brushing
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan/Romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling.
  • 1/4 cup pepperoni, finely diced, or cooked sweet (or hot; up to you) Italian sausage, very finely crumbled. Dice if necessary.
  • 1 cup cubed (about 1″) Monterey Jack cheese
  • Flour for dusting the cheese.
  • 1 tsp each dried oregano, dried thyme, and dried basil
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • pinch of red pepper optional
  • Marinara sauce, pizza sauce, or pesto dip for dipping

 Method

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F
  • Put the cheese cubes into the freezer. You don’t want the cheese frozen, just cold, so it’ll melt a bit more slowly during baking.
  • Whisk the herbs, the garlic powder, and the onion powder, and the 1/4 cup olive oil until thoroughly combined. When you assembly the monkey bread, you’ll need to stir the mixture frequently to make sure the bites get coated with all the flavors.
  • Lightly grease a tube pan or a bundt pan or a cake pan with an oven-safe lightly oiled ramekin placed upside down in the center. But we know how that turned out
  • Turn the pizza dough out onto a lightly floured surface.
  • Press down lightly to degas. Divide the dough into two equal-ish pieces. Cover one piece with a damp lint-free dish cloth, and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to shape it.
  • Roll the first piece out until it’s a large rectangle, about 13” x 9”.
  • Lightly brush or spray the surface of the dough with olive oil.
  • Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the dough. Then spread the pepperoni. Using your rolling pin, gently press the cheese and pepperoni into the dough.
  • Starting at the top, roll the dough into a long log and pinch the seams and ends closed.
  • Repeat with the remaining piece of dough.
  • Cut the dough rolls into roughly 1 1/2″ pieces. Don’t worry about exact uniformity.
  • With your hands, form each piece into a ball by pulling the top of the dough to the bottom, and tucking it into the center until you a have a smooth little orb. Twist the bottom closed.
  • Take the jack cheese cubes out of the freezer. Dredge them lightly in some flour. Press a cheese bite into the center of each ball and pinch it to seal the cheese inside. Some of your balls will leak. That’s okay, it adds to the appearance.
  • Dip each little bite in the oil and herb mixture. Arrange the balls randomly into tube or cake pan. After each layer is arranged sprinkle with the cheese mix.
  • Cover the dough with a damp dish cloth and set aside for 30 minutes or so. The monkey bread should have gotten puffy, but may not have doubled in size.
  • Brush the dough one more time with the garlicky olive oil and sprinkle very lightly with coarse sea salt, if desired.
  • Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown. The internal temp should be between 190° and 200°F. I strongly recommend using an instant read thermometer to check your bread. A browned crust may turn out to be “fake news” if the top browned too quickly, and that “tap the loaf to see if it sounds hollow” thingthat I just never got! If you think the crust is browning too quickly, lightly tent the loaf with aluminum foil.Remove the bread from the oven to a cooling rack set in a baking sheet. Brush it one more time with olive oil.
  • When the bread has cooled enough to touch comfortably, turn it out of the pan onto the serving plate. Start tearing! Serve immediately, with a bowl of your favorite marinara sauce, pizza sauce, or pesto sauce (or all three!) for dipping.

These don’t keep very well, and should be eaten on the same day they’re baked. If you do need to reheat them, brush them with a little oil, wrap them up on some foil, and heat them in a 300°F oven for five to ten minutes.

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Sweet Potato Burritos

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This hardly qualifies as a “recipe.” Besides the sweet potato, your choices are limited only by your own imagination. These are pretty large. They’re not really finger food as presented, but I think they’re quirky and tasty enough to find their way onto a party’s grazing table.

I really have to apologize for the photo of this dish. I wasn’t paying much attention when I was halving the sweet potato; it was too late when I realized I was cutting on the wrong vector (the wide side instead of the narrow). So my skins were split, and didn’t make that nice little boat shape. They were quite delicious, though!

Ingredients (for two, as a light meal)

  • 1 medium sweet potato, halved lengthwise
  • Olive oil for brushing
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar, or other cheese or cheeses of your choice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 can beans. I like black beans. They add contrast to the dish.
  • A handful of cilantro, chopped. Reserve a tablespoon for garnish
  • Lime, avocado and sour cream for garnishing

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Brush the cut sides of the potato with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Place the potatoes, cut side down, on a foil covered baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the flesh is very, very soft.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool until you’re able to handle the potato halves comfortably.
  • Preheat the broiler.
  • Carefully scoop the flesh from the potato halves, taking care not to rip the skins. Place the flesh in a bowl.
  • Broil the potato skins 6″ from the heat until crispy and just beginning to char. Remove from oven and let cool.
  • Add the cheese, the spices, and the cilantro to the bowl with the flesh and fold to combine.
  • Spoon the filling into the crispy skins, top with extra cheese if desired.
  • Place the skins back into the oven and broil until cheese on top starts to bubble.
  • Serve hot with a salad and some good Mexican bread.

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Canned Tuna Ceviche

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Recipe adapted from SkinnyTaste.com

I was going to present you with a great ceviche recipe, raw fish and all. Then I had two epiphanies: I live in the middle of the desert, nearly 300 miles from the nearest coast. This makes sourcing fresh, sashimi grade fish tough. And being so tough to source, it can be prohibitively expensive, even in small amounts. And while it’s said that lime juice “cooks” the fish, there’s a reason for those quote marks! Lime juice changes the texture of the fish so it resembles cooked fish, but it’s not really cooked! Shelf life is not too long, even in the fridge.

Then I came across this recipe, which I tried with both canned tuna and canned salmon (also surprisingly not cheap, if you buy quality, but not as dear as fresh fish) with very satisfying results and none of the raw fish worries! So, with no feelings of guilt or failure whatsoever, I present you with the “ceviche for the masses!”

Ingredients

  • 1 good quality can of tuna or salmon, drained. Pacific Wild is my favorite brand. It’s a little pricey, but the fish are all “pole-and-line” caught, packed immediately into the cans with some sea salt, no added water or oil, and then quickly heated just once (most canned fish is cooked twice) and canned. The species of fish and where it’s from are listed on the can. Albacore is higher in mercury than skipjack, but it’s flavor is cleaner. If you use salmon, it’s best to get Pacific salmon, which is usually wild caught.
  • Optional add ins
  • Par-cooked shrimp, octopus, or squid, or if you’re feeling generous, lobster or crab. If you’re Bill Gates, both! Dice any additional seafood into very small pieces
  • About a quarter cup of each:
    • Diced red or yellow onion
    • diced green or red bell pepper
    • seeded and diced Roma tomato
    • seeded and diced cucumber
  • 1 pepper of your choice, finely diced. If you like a bit of a kick, jalapeño or Serrano, seeded with ribs removed, em>are good choices. If you like, you can leave out the pepper altogether and just hit it with a dash of hot sauce to taste.
  • The juice of about 5 limes. Invest in one of those yellow citrus pressers, really!
  • A handful of cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Method

  • In a medium bowl, mix the drained fish gently with about a tbsp of the lime juice. If you’re using additional seafood, increase the lime juice to 2, or even 3 tbsp. Refrigerate while you prep the veggies.
  • Add the diced veggies to the marinating fish and mix well. Taste, and add salt and pepper if needed.
  • Toss in the cilantro and mix to combine, being oh so careful not to break up the fish too much.
  • Add the remaining lime juice.
  • Chill for at least an hour to let the flavors meld

Use a slotted spoon to plate this, as ceviche sitting out, soaking in its own juices, is unappealing. If your creation will be sitting out for a while, do present it on ice! It’s not raw, but it’s still fish! As for how to serve it? The world is your can of tuna, baby! Use it as a filling for little hollowed out cuke boats. Fill endive or radicchio leaves with the ceviche as a rather elegant “wrap.” Any ceviche would be welcome at a taco bar, too. Bake some wonton skins in muffin tins til just crisp, and fill the cups to brimming with citrusy seafood! Ceviche also lends itself well to Japan, or at least American Japanese restaurants; it’s delicious in an unorthodox sushi roll.

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Skillet Upside-down Cake

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Every party needs a dessert, right? Upside-down cake is so retro, and so easy! And you can use any type of fruit; no need to confine yourself to the cliche of pineapple rounds perfectly arranged concentrically with a perfect little maraschino cherry nestled in each. Make yours an explosion of berries, or use stone fruits; peaches, nectarines or plums. A warm cinnamon apple upside down cake is the perfect finish for a Sunday brunch, or a coffee go with after a sit down dinner. Or a sweet nosh with the bridge game, if you want real retro. (Note to self: learn how to play bridge, teach Mark, find another couple that knows how to play and set up a date. Then bake a Bananas Foster upside down cake. Whew that was a long note to self!)

Ingredients

Batter

  • 1 1/2cups AP flour
  • Baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk

Topping

  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter or light brown sugar. You can use dark brown sugar, but the molasses flavor will be more pronounced.
  • 2 to 3 cups sliced or chopped fruit. If using frozen fruit, do not thaw; the fruit will keep its shape and consistency better.
  • 3 – 4 tbsp chopped fresh herbs optional

Method

  • Whisk the flower, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
  • In another bowl, using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together on low speed, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs and continue beating until the eggs are incorporated ant the mixture is smooth.
  • Add 1/3 of the flour mix, and stir with a wooden or nylon spoon to combine. Add 1/2 cup of the milk, continuing to stir. Repeat with the remaining flour and milk. Flour should be the last ingredient you add.
  • If all of this feels like too much work, make the batter in your food processor. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl and set aside. Process the butter and the cream until pale yellow and smooth. Scrape the sides of the bowl down as necessary. Add the eggs and process on low until combined. Add the milk and flour in the order indicated above, and process briefly, until just smooth.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F
  • Heat a 10″ oven-safe skillet, preferably well-seasoned cast iron, over low heat. You can use a 9″ skillet, but you may find you have extra batter.
  • Add the sugar to the melted butter in the pan and stir briefly to distribute.
  • Arrange the fruit tightly in a single layer on top of the sugar layer.
  • Spoon the batter on top of the fruit. Spread and smooth with a spatula.
  • Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the “top” of the cake is golden and toothpick or wooden skewer inserted comes out clean. “Clean” means no wet dough sticking to the toothpick; a few sticking crumbs is okay.
  • Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a cooling rack very briefly, just a minute or two. If you wait much longer, the cake will be very difficult to un-pan.
  • Run a sharp, thin knife around the perimeter of the cake to loosen.
  • Invert your cake plate over the skillet, then in an dramatic sweeping gesture, flip it over. Remember, the skillet is still very hot; use pot holders or kitchen towels! And make sure you do it in front of an audience, if you’re quite confident the cake will come out in one piece.
  • Carefully remove the cake from the skillet, and scrape up any fruit bits that are stuck to the bottom; add them to the top of the cake.
  • Serve the cake slightly warm or at room temperature. Store wrapped in plastic wrap or an airtight container. The cake will keep for several days. Or more likely not. It will more likely disappear!

My Fiftieth Post!

My thanks to all of you, dear readers, for stopping by and taking a look at my latest obsessions. Can you tell which of the above recipes is my current fad? Ah, I smell a contest! Unfortunately, I currently have nothing of value to offer as a prize (no, you may not have my Le Creuset cast iron enameled Dutch oven!). I get my inspiration for cooking from many sources. You all are my inspiration for writing, though.

Please take note of the two different ways you can contact me; click or tap the “contact me” link in the right margin, or leave a public comment in the space below. I would so love to hear from you. About anything at all! And of course I’d like to know if you’ve tried any of my recipes, and how they came out for you, or how you tweaked them. I’d particularly like to know if your dish didn’t come out as expected. I’ll work with you to figure out what went wrong, and fix it for next time.

So, my friends, until next time, say it with me:

Dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening, but cook like everyone’s eating. Bon appétit!

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Ohayo Gozaimasu! Breakfast in Osaka

You may have noticed that I’ve changed the title of my blog. I hadn’t raved or ranted in quite a while (not on my blog, anyway), Little Kitchen Miracles not only reflects the content of this blog better, it is the “brand” that I’ve finally decided upon. Let me know what you think of it, if you even noticed.

Today’s Recipes

This post started out to be a quickie about dashi, Japan’s ubiquitous all-purpose broth. Then I thought “what is dashi used for, mostly?” The answer that comes to mind, of course, is miso soup, although dashi is used in so many more recipes. And while miso soup is usually present at every Japanese meal, I’ve come to find it very satisfying as a hot breakfast liquid, light and refreshing. So there you go. Instead of a short, sweet post on dashi, you’re getting a long, involved, many times edited post about asa gohan, literally “morning rice.” I hope it inspires you to try a Japanese breakfast yourself!

I really couldn’t speak to what they’re eating for breakfast in Japan these days; I left in ’98. And people don’t generally go out for breakfast, unless they’re busy “salary men” who stop at a coffee shop for some butter jam toast and a cup of coffee. The really best place to get breakfast in Japan though, is at the high end hotels. Most of them serve a spread that Caesar’s Palace would envy, and the buffet is usually split; one side is everything you need for a Japanese breakfast. You’ll find the sausages, bacon scrambles, and breads and cheeses on the European side.

It took me a while to get used to dejeuner aux japonais. I think the salt fish was the most off-putting at first, even though I’m quite used to bagels with cream cheese and lox in the morning. And I missed bread; rice was somehow just lacking (it took a while for me to realize the rice was meant to be eaten with something). Soup in the morning was a bit odd, too, especially salty miso soup. But I found myself coming to enjoy it more and more, and one day, I was at one of those high end hotels and found myself going more to the Japanese side than the European side!

The sparsest breakfast in Japan will consist of white rice, with perhaps a cherry red, very tart pickled plum (they say it’s good for digestion). Pickles to go with the rice, and a bowl of miso soup. That’s the bare minimum. There’s usually a piece of shiosake, grilled or broiled salt fish. More elaborate breakfasts might include a little baby salad with lettuce and thinly sliced onions dressed with a simple rice wine vinaigrette, or Japanese macaroni salad, and if you’re feeling extravagant, a few pieces of seasonal fruit. Tamagoyaki, a rolled omelette, is a nice addition too, but I was never able to master the skill, so I settle for a soft boiled egg.

Finally, a cup of Japanese tea, ocha, to round out the meal. Coffee seems a bit heavy-handed for such a light breakfast, and fruit juices don’t enjoy the same popularity in Japan as they do in the States and Europe. We’ll investigate tea a bit at the end of breakfast, er, the post.

So, are you ready? Let’s make another small kitchen miracle, and start the day off right!

Dashi is Japanese soup base, like a stock or a broth, but it’s more delicate in flavor, and makes a clear, subtly nuanced broth that’s gets its earth flavors from dried shiitake mushrooms, and the ocean accents come from kombu, dried kelp, and katsuobushi, dried and shaved bonito flakes. When I say “ocean accents,” I mean ocean, not fishy. When I smell a good dashi, I’m transported to the seaside, not the fish market. Dashi is the perfect foil for miso soup and Japanese egg drop soup, or mix a bit onto your scrambled eggs, and top them with a bit of nori. It can be used in okonomiyaki, for a really authentic potato pancake. And it’s a great poaching liquid for seafood.

Dashi

Ingredients

  • 4 cups filtered or spring water, plus more as needed.
  • 1 3 – 5″ square of kombu.
  • 1/4 ounce katsuobushi (omit for vegan version)
  • 1 leek, dry outer leaves removed. Remove the root tip, and cut about 2″ from the stem.
  • 4 or 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, whole is best, but sliced is fine.

You can add to this list. Or delete from it. You can even either omit the katsuobushi or the kombu, but not both! Shiitake is not a traditional ingredient in dashi, but not unheard of. Sometimes, I like to add lemon rind, a slice of ginger, a halved garlic clove, maybe a few Szechuan peppercorns, any or all of the above. Lemongrass is very nice, sometimes. In some regions in Japan, they’ll add a bit of meat to the broth. And if you’d like to enhance the ocean-like aroma and flavor, throw in some shrimp shells if you have any saved. (You don’t? Tsk tsk.) Traditionalists may frown on you; NO SOUP FOR THEM!

Method

  • Add all of the ingredients except the katsuobushi a medium sauce pan
  • Bring to a gentle simmer over medium low heat.
  • Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for thirty minutes. Add more water at intervals if necessary.
  • Remove the broth from the heat and add the katsuobushi. Stir, re- cover, and allow to steep for 5 minutes.
  • Strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth, pressing on the solids to get all the liquid, and discard the solids. I use a cheap white men’s handkerchief. I get ’em two for a dollar at the drugstore dollar aisle. Then Mark throws them in the garbage, thinking they’re paper towels!
  • Store in the fridge for up to a week in an airtight container, or freeze for up to three months. Freeze it in ice cube trays, transfer to freezer zip bag, and any time you need some, pop out a few cubes…
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Soup

  • 2/3 to 1 cup dashi per person
  • 2 to 3 tsp white or yellow miso paste per serving

Additions

  • sliced green onions optional
  • Nori strips optional
  • Firm silken tofu, pressed and cubed optional
  • Agedofu, fried tofu strips optional
  • Small steamed clams optional

Place the miso paste in the bottom of a soup bowl. Bring the dashi to a simmer over medium low heat. Do not boil. Stirring, slowly add the dashi to the soup bowl. Add your choice of toppings. Unused dashi can be kept warm on the lowest heat setting for seconds.
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I mentioned above that I found rice for breakfast to be be odd. That’s because rice is basically tasteless. You’re supposed to eat the rice with something; a bite of pickles, a sliver of fish. You can top your rice with furikake too. It comes in little shaker jars in a variety of flavors. And I sometimes like to mix in a bit of krill marinated in soy. Krill are tiny little fish packed with calcium. I get them frozen at the Asian market.

You’ll need Japanese short-grain rice, the kind they use to make sushi. And water. That’s all. I use a small amount of rice, as I’m only cooking for two.

  • 3/4 cup short-grain rice
  • 1 cup spring or filtered water

Wash the rice several times with tap water until the water runs clear. You can do this right in your saucepan. Fill the saucepan with water and let the rice soak until the grains are opaque white, 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse. Add the filtered water to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand covered for an additional 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.
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Pickles complete the triumvirate of a Japanese breakfast. Breakfast is not complete without the three. Even prisoners, who may only get dashi as a soup, will get pickles with their rice!If you’re lucky enough to live near an Asian supermarket, you have access to a nearly limitless variety of pickles. Buy the smallest bags of the ones that look the most interesting to you, and mix and match them. If you like a little heat in your breakfast, a bit of chopped kimchi, which has become widely available in national supermarkets.

Quick Pickled Cucumbers and Onions

These “pickles” are easy and fast, ready to eat in about a half hour. They’re not really pickled, but they’ll keep in the fridge for up to a week. These pickles also make a great addition to a ham and Swiss sandwich with Kewpie mayo! On rye, please!

Veggies

  • 1 English cucumber, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, halved again and thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 3″ piece of dried kombu optional
  • 1 or 2 dried red chili pepper optional

Marinade

  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar, unseasoned
  • 1/2 cup filtered or spring water
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp sake optional
  • 3 tsp grated ginger optional
  • 5 or 6 Szechuan peppercorns optional

Place the sliced cucumber and onion in a colander over a bowl to catch the water. Sprinkle with about a tsp of the salt. Toss gently with your hands. Repeat 2 more times, and then set aside for 1/2 hour. Rinse under running water and empty the mix onto a clean dish towel or several layers of paper towel. Gently wring the excess water from the veggie mix, then spread the cucumber mix, the kombu, and chili pepper in a flat, shallow non reactive dish, like a glass cake pan. Place all the ingredients for the marinade in a 2 cup microwave safe bowl, and microwave at full power for 1 minute. Pour the hot liquid over the veggies. Let cool for 10 minutes, then cover with a clean towel or three layers of heavy duty paper towel. Place a dish on top to keep the veggies submerged. Let rest for 10 or 15 minutes, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready for use. If you let these sit overnight, they’ll be delicious, but very different in flavor and texture from the freshly made product.
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This is by no means difficult, but it is a bit time consuming, as the fish needs to cure at least overnight, and is much better after thirty six to forty eight hours.You really don’t need the best salmon for this, although really good salmon is always a treat. I buy a pound of frozen, wild-caught skin on Pacific fillets, usually two to a package, and thaw them in the fridge.

  • 1 lb salmon fillets with skins on.
  • 2 tsp Japanese sake.
  • Salt equal to 5% of the weight of the salmon (550g x 5% = 27.5g).

Blot the fillets dry. Brush or sprinkle the sake on the flesh side of the fish and let stand for 10 minutes. Starting on the skin side, start spreading the salt. Turn and liberally salt the flesh side, and repeat on the skin side. Wrap the fillets tightly in 2 or 3 layers of paper towel and place flat in a covered container with a strainer on the bottom, to let the liquid drain (those refrigerator freshers are perfect). Place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, and no more than 48. Keep in mind that the longer the salmon cures, the saltier it’ll be. I like it salty!

At this point, it’s up to you how to cook it. Basically bake, broil, or grill. Don’t use much oil, if any. I prefer the broiler. Cook using your preferred method until the meat is solid pink and solid to the touch, about 135°F (after you take it out, there should be enough residual heat to finish the cooking). Whichever method you use, start cooking the salmon with the skin side facing the heat, to get it nice and crispy. Turn the fillets carefully when the skin begins to crisp.

For those of you with an aversion to seafood in the morning (especially salted seafood), feel free to sub a small piece of teriyaki chicken breast.
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As I mentioned, I’m no good at making tamagoyaki. Kind of embarrassing! So if I serve egg, I’ll fall on a soft-cooked egg, all runny in the center, scrambled eggs, or a one egg plain omelet. I sure I don’t need to give you any directions on how to cook the latter two, but a lot of people struggle with soft cooked eggs. I have a foolproof way to cook them, every time!

Soft cooked eggs

In saucepan big enough to hold as many eggs as you’d like to make (up to 4. If you make more, I’d suggest cooking them in batches) with 3/4″ of water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Using a slotted spoon, place each egg carefully in the pan; the water won’t cover the eggs. Cover the pan and cook for exactly 6 1/2 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain, and cool under running cold water or with a quick ice bath. Peel carefully and slice lengthwise into quarters when ready to serve (if you want to keep them warm, place them, unpeeled, into a bath of warm water.

A sliced hard cooked egg works well, too. Add a drop or two of Tabasco or other hot sauce, or a light sprinkle of Japanese shichimi togarashi, a piquant and spicy blend of seven spices and herbs.
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I really debated on whether to suggest a simple salad with lettuce and sliced onions, dressed with a simple rice vinegar vinaigrette. But that seemed too similar in its flavor profile to the quick pickled cukes and onions. So I opted for the less traditional “mac” salad, of which there are two varieties: the Japanese mac salad and the Hawaiian mac salad. The difference is that the latter contains milk and vinegar, and is a bit more flavorful than the Japanese version. This is not like your mom’s picnic mac salad. It’s creamy, almost unctuous, even served cold, and the vinegar gives it a pleasant tang. The allspice will give your salad a savory touch that no one will be able to guess at. Since Japanese breakfasts are typically very low fat, a little scoop of this rich salad is a nice contrast. Just don’t pile it on!

Hawaiian “Mac” Salad

  • 1 cup elbow macaroni
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise I like Kewpie, the Japanese mayonnaise, for its complex flavors. Best Foods or Hellman is fine though. Hawaiians are about evenly divided, but they all agree that Miracle Whip has no place near a Hawaiian mac salad!
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 tbsp grated yellow onion
  • 2 scallions, white and light green parts thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup diced cooked ham substitute seafood, if you like
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 rib celery, diced

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni, reduce heat slightly and cook for 15 minutes, or until very soft. Hawaiians call it “fat.” Drain the pasta, return it to the pan, add the vinegar and toss . Let rest while you make the dressing. Mix together the mayo, milk, sugar, salt, allspice, and grated onion, and whisk to combine. Pour half the dressing over the pasta and mix well. When the salad has cooled, add the rest of the dressing, the ham, carrots, and celery, and stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
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There are as many varieties of tea in the Far East as there are coffee in the West. Maybe more. Tea is consumed at every meal, and in between. The Japanese tea ceremony is known worldwide as a delicate and refined ritual that people study years to master, although frankly, I never got the whole tea ceremony thing, and matcha, the neon green, thick, frothy tea that’s served reminds me of something a Klingon might take as a potion during a cleansing ritual for battle. The stuff tastes bitter and awful!If you’re gonna go for Japanese tea for your breakfast, I’d suggest one of these four varieties: My favorite is genmai cha, it’s got toasted rice and popcorn in it. Yes, popcorn. Hoji cha is darker and nutty. Sencha is pretty much the Earl Grey of Japan, and exactly what you’d expect to taste if offered a cup of green tea. There are many different grades of sencha. The king of Japanese teas is gyokuro cha. Chinese teas are tasty for breakfast, too. Try oolong or jasmine, one of my favorites! Several of these teas come in handy teabags, and many are available at national grocery stores. I’d also like to introduce you to a great website, should you like to purchase your teas online. The website is very well-designed, and the pricing is very reasonable. Visit The Tea Spot for a wide variety of teas, both Oriental and Occidental.
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Gochisousama deshita!

That basically means “thanks for the meal.” I don’t usually write about food with a “healthy” theme, although I do write about healthy food. I’m of the mindset that healthy eating is all in the portion control. “Enough is as good as a feast,” as Mary Poppins would say. But a Japanese breakfast is very healthy. Lean protein, a bit of veggies and a little starch. The variations are endless. And delicious.

All of the Japanese ingredients in these little recipes can be found in Asian markets, or on the Internet. Amazon has got it all! Many of them can also be found at your local supermarket.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by, dear readers. I’d truly like this to be a “live” blog, so if you have comments, questions, corrections, or even critiques (keep ’em civil), I not only welcome them, I encourage them! Let’s talk about food! Please do contact me, or leave a comment on the site!

So until our next kitchen adventure, I bid you adieu. Stop in anytime! And remember, dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening, but cook like everyone’s eating!

Bon apètít!

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Broth, Stock, or Soup? Tonkotsu Ramen Soup

I’ve neglected you for far too long, dear readers, and I apologize profoundly. I’ve been dealing with health issues. And, this is exciting (for me, anyway) – I’m writing a book! A cookbook of course. Actually, it’s a series of cook booklets, each one dealing with a single subject. Flat breads and pizza will be the first published. I had an idea of how time-consuming writing a cookbook is, but I underestimated the effort and amount of time. And now I really know what writers’ block is. Stay tuned! Since I’m self-publishing I can choose the price of my booklets, and I can also offer promotions (like a free e-copy) to whomever I please. And that means you!

I’m sure you all know what ramen is. It’s thin noodles in a savory broth, accompanied by (usually) a slice of meat, some veggies, and a soft, or hard boiled egg (the egg is usually soft boiled then marinated, but that’s for another blog). Sometimes, the egg is added raw and allowed to poach in the hot liquid. The soup is most often flavored with either soy sauce, miso, or just salt. Oh, did I mention it’s usually accompanied by an ice cold Japanese beer. Yea!

The island of Kyushu has its own take on ramen, though. Famous throughout Japan, but not nearly as well-known here in the States, tonkotsu ramen uses a soup base made with pork bones, chicken bones, fatback, and seasoned with garlic, ginger, green onions, and shiitake mushrooms. It’s boiled, covered, for hours. Not simmered, boiled. The action of the rapid boiling emulsifies the pork fat into the soup, making it creamy and silky. Whenever I have tonkotsu ramen, I barely notice the noodles or toppings.

Which brings me to a literary conundrum. Is this a stock, a broth, or just soup? In Western cooking, stock is made with bones and no flavoring; broth is made with meat (but can include bones) and it’s flavored. I found this quote in Food and Wine magazine:

According to Heddings, “Broth is something you sip and stock is something you cook with.” Stock is used as a base in sauces and soups, but its role is to provide body rather than flavor. Broth, on the other hand, is designed to be flavorful and tasty enough to simply drink by itself, which is why the additional salt is so important.

So is this a stock, a broth, or a stand-alone soup? Honestly, I have no clue! My version doesn’t use just bones, the bones are attached to ham hocks. There’s no mirepoix, which both stocks and broths traditionally have, but it is seasoned with garlic, ginger, and green onions. It can be used in a recipe, or it can just be “sipped.” I’m thinking that, since it incorporates elements of both stock and broth, and can be eaten on its own, it’s probably actually a soup.

I researched several tonkotsu recipes, and they’re all pretty similar. Some are more labor-intensive than others. All take hours to make. Pork bones, chicken bones, and pork fatback are the standard ingredients. It’s usually seasoned with garlic, ginger, and onions or green onions (or both). Other ingredients vary among the recipes; tonkotsu recipes in Fukuoka are guarded as if they were state secrets, like gumbo in Louisiana.

I made this on a whim, though. The local supermarket didn’t have pork soup bones. They did have smoked ham hocks, though. I wasn’t about to cook a chicken just to get the bones. And there wasn’t any fatback, but they had very fatty salt pork; the fat is what makes the soup creamy. So I bought the ham hocks and the salt pork, and to make up for not having chicken bones, I used boxed chicken broth. Oh, and the ham hocks were smoked, something that is apparently verboten in the “haute ramen” world. So I really can’t call this “authentic” ramen soup. That said, put a couple of days aside, days where you’d just like to binge-watch reruns of Law and Order, finish that book you started last summer, or rearrange your closet and drawers, and let’s make some ersatz tonkotsu soup!

Tonkotsu Ramen Soup

Equipment

  • A large, heavy, lidded Dutch oven, preferably cast iron, or a stockpot with a tight-fitting lid. I’d recommend no less than a seven quart Dutch oven.
  • Good potholders. The Dutch oven gets screaming hot, and it’s very heavy, so you’ll need one for each hand if you plan on moving the pot during cooking.
  • Your preferred utensil for skimming scum.
  • A fine mesh strainer and some cheese cloth. Kitchen tip: go to your local drugstore and look in the dollar aisle. They usually have packs of two men’s cheap, thin handkerchiefs. Unlike cheesecloth, the hankies are reusable and their weave is smaller than cheesecloth. And they’re only a buck!
  • A bowl, large measuring measuring, empty bottle, or a pitcher. You don’t actually need this, but it saves you from having to transfer the heavy pot from the stove to the sink and back again

 

Ingredients

  • 2 to 4 pounds ham hocks. Frozen is fine, and the smoked ham hocks I used added a unique flavor, but you don’t have to use smoked
  • 1/2 pound fatback or salt pork, cut into roughly 3″ squares
  • 1 bunch of green onions, sliced into two inch lengths
  • 10 or so large shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves separated and smashed
  • 1 3″ finger of ginger, sliced into rounds
  • 2 cups less-sodium chicken broth or stock. If you have a chicken carcass, don’t use any broth or stock, just the carcass. You may want to opt for the stock, which is not as flavored as the broth. Homemade would be great, but store-bought is just fine. If you’re using salt pork, reduced sodium is important!
  • 1 cup of sake or Chinese rice wine
  • Water. About enough to fill a swimming pool!

 

Method

This is easy. It’s barely worth the effort of writing a recipe! But it takes sixteen hours, and you’ve got to babysit it, to make sure the liquid doesn’t get too low.

  • Place the ham hocks in the Dutch oven and cover with cold water. Not ice water, just cold water from the tap is fine.
  • Bring the water to a boil over medium high heat. Continue to boil for 5 minutes. The bones and/or hocks need to be blanched to remove remaining blood, which can give the broth an unsettling color.
  • Remove the hocks to a bowl or strainer, and drain the pot. Give it a quick wipe.
  • Clean the hocks under cold running water, making sure to rid them of the remnants of blood and marrow.
  • Return the pot to the stove and add all of the ingredients. Add enough water to completely submerge the hocks.
  • Bring the soup to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot as tightly as you can, and reduce the heat to medium low. The soup must remain at near-constant vigorous boil to emulsify the fat.
  • Check the soup for the water level every 45 minutes to an hour. Add hot water as needed. Continue for 12 to 16 hours. If you start in the evening and want to go to bed, heat your oven to 300°F and put the pot, covered into the oven. When you wake up, return the pot to the stove, bring it back to a boil, and resume the previous night’s check-the-water routine.
  • After 12 to 16 hours, remove the pot from the heat. Let it cool a bit so you’re not messing with boiling hot liquid.
  • Remove the hocks with tongs and discard.
  • Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer lined with a double layer of cheese cloth, and dispose of the solids. If you want to remove the fat that didn’t emulsify, chill the broth and skim the congealed fat from the surface. This isn’t strictly necessary if you’re actually making tonkotsu ramen; the fat will re-incorporate into the soup when you boil it for the ramen, and produce lovely little flavor beads of fat in the soup.
  • Store the soup in the refrigerator for up to three days, or in the freezer for up to three months.

 

If you used either smoked ham hocks, salt pork, or both, your final soup will be a bit salty. You can concentrate the soup, and then add a few tablespoons to a saucepan with water for your ramen to dilute the salt. And traditional tonkotsu is much lighter in color, almost milky, but that doesn’t affect the taste at all. Me? I’m going to add some gelatin to it so it’s solid at room temperature, and use it with a bit of seasoned ground pork to make Shanghai soup dumplings. But I haven’t made them yet, so I’ll share the recipe with you later; I’m sure you’re a bit tired of all my bread recipes!

As always, thank you reading! Comments, suggestion, tweaks, corrections and critiques are not only welcome, I encourage them! The wonderful thing about blogging is that you can communicate with your readers and they can communicate right back. I wonder how differently Mark Twain’s works might have been different had he had access to the internet! You can also contact me here I hope you’ll drop me a line! (Little Kitchen Miracles is the main title of my series of cook booklets.)

In the meantime, enjoy your soup, and remember:

Sing like no one’s listening, dance like no one’s watching, but cook like everyone’s eating!

 

Bon apetítit!

Look! In the Oven! Is it Pita? Is it Naan?

No! It’s flatbread! The term “flatbread” is an umbrella term for many different kinds of bread, from all over the world. The main subdivisions are leavened and unleavened. Leavened flatbreads include naan, pita, and of course, pizza! Unleavened flatbreads are more cracker than bread, as they contain no yeast, although some might use a chemical leavening agent like baking powder. Think matzoh or chapati. Note to self; is bread leavened chemically pareve? Can they be consumed on Passover? Do I care?

I love leavened flatbreads. Naan, in particular, and pizza eternally. Naan is a pain to cook, though, because of the high heat it demands. I’d suggest just buying it. Stonefire makes regular, garlic, and whole wheat naan, and it’s becoming widely available at supermarket chains. Brush a little ghee (clarified butter), or olive oil on, throw it in a warm oven for a couple of minutes, and voila! The perfect accompaniment to nearly anything. Or, use it to make pizza! A flat bread by any other name, right?

The problem with homemade naan is that as it cools, it gets stiff and brittle. It doesn’t keep well at all as far as staling is concerned. Much as I love it, because of the nuisance quotient, I’ll relegate naan to Indian restaurants and supermarket packages.

Today, I offer an alternative to naan. It’s very similar to naan, but it’s thicker, puffier, and more pliant, even after it’s cooled, as long you don’t stretch it too thin when you knead it. It makes a great sandwich, a quick pizza, or just for dipping in hummus or tzaziki. Feel free to add a half teaspoon of garlic powder to the dough for extra flavor, but not more, as garlic affects the action of the yeast. And it’s pillowy soft, which gives my poor, aging dentition a break. My favorite thing about this bread, though, is that its so easy! Mixing the dough takes twenty minutes at most, with only a one-hour rise time! You do have to cook each round separately, unless you have a skillet or griddle the size of a small state, but the cook time is so short for each round, that you’ll have a nice batch of flatbread ready for lunch in no time. No preferments, no rising in the fridge for hours or overnight. You can literally make this bread on a whim (as long as you have the ingredients on hand, of course).

I still don’t have access to my stand mixer. We moved back here nearly two years ago, and my beautiful beater is still in a box in the garage somewhere. So I’ve adapted this recipe for Hubert, my trusty bread machine. But, if you’re using a bread machine, the only cycle you’ll use is “mix,” or whatever the corresponding cycle is.

In about two hours, you can have pillowy soft bread rounds sitting hot on the counter, ready for your dressings, toppings, fillings or dip. Let’s get to it!

Skillet Flat Bread

I adapted this recipe for Hubert (my bread machine). If youre using a stand mixer, or your hands, its not hard to reverse-engineer it. And I don’t do volume measurements any more, and I won’t apologize!
 As you can see from the formula, this dough is really wet. If it got any wetter, it’d be batter. But otherwise, its not much different from any other standard bread formula. The difference is in the order of ingredients, and there’s only one rise (and a rest at the end).
  • Combine the water and milk and warm briefly in the microwave. You’re looking for 90°F to 100°F. Add it to the bread pan with the sugar, the yeast, and about a third of the flour. Set the machine to “mix” and engage.
  • After about two minutes, add another third of the flour and the salt. Continue mixing for another 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Add the rest of the flour and continue mixing until the dough comes together. Add milk a teaspoon at a time if the dough is too dry, or a pinch of flour if the dough is sticking to the sides. But you knew that, right?
  • Restart the “mix” cycle if you knead to (pun intended), and start adding the oil in small amounts, a teaspoon at a time, waiting until each teaspoon is incorporated.
  • Turn the dough out onto an oiled surface, give it a few turns and form it into a ball. Put it into a lightly oiled bowl. Turn it in the bowl to make sure the whole ball is coated, cover with plastic wrap and, (shall we say it all together?) place it in a warm draft-free place until doubled in size, about an hour. (Amen.)
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and knead a few times. Separate the dough into twelve equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Spray or brush the balls with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let them rest for thirty to forty minutes. The dough will be very sticky. Instead of adding flour, lightly oil your hands.
  • One ball at a time, press each ball into a flat disc, then roll out to about 1/8” thick, 6” diameter circle, don’t make it too thin, it wont stay soft and pillowy. I really suggest partially rolling it, then finishing the shaping as you would a pizza. Place each round on a piece of paper towel and keep covered while working the rest of the pieces.
 
  • Heat a skillet, cast iron is best, on medium high heat, turn on your kitchen fan, open the doors and windows, and if you can, disable your smoke alarms! Spray the pan with a neutral flavored, high smoke-point oil. I like coconut oil.
  • Place a round in the skillet. When it starts to bubble, wait a moment more, then flip it with a spatula or tongs. It will bubble again. Remove the round to a paper towel lined plate and cover it with another paper towel. Or use fancy linen napkins that you kyped from an expensive French restaurant! I get cheap, flimsy handkerchiefs from the local dollar store. They take the place of cheesecloth too, when I’m straining soups or broth.
  • Repeat for each round, spraying the pan with oil for each round. You may find it necessary to remove the pan from the heat occasionally, to avoid excessive scorching. A few charred spots are actually desirable, though.
My husband and I devour this bread; we use it for dip (super for hummus or tzaziki!), sandwiches (think pulled pork ot chicken), last-minute pizzas, or just as a side for dinner or a salad. Conceivably, you could roll the dough very vey thin, and use it for a thin crust pizza!
Let me know if you have any questions, suggestions, tweaks, or corrections. If you make this lovely bread, let me know how it turned out! Or just say “hey!”
I’ve been very “bread-centic” lately. Again, no apologies, I think I’ve found my passion! But I do promise a non-flour, non-yeast recipe in my next post!
Thank you for reading! And remember: Dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening,  but cook like everyone’s eating!

Thanks again! Bon appetít!

Game Day Noshes

I’m no sports fan, I’ll admit. I was a dancer for twenty five years, and an amateur Ballroom Dance competitor for three years. That’s another story; it just illustrates my lack of interest in competitive sport. The Super Bowl is a bit different, though. It affords me a chance to cook! And of course, I watch for the commercials and half-time.

This year, though, I’m not cooking for anyone. But I did come across a couple of things that might help you out! One’s more of a tip than a recipe. The other is an actual recipe, but a quick and easy one. And very adaptable too!

I’m working on another post, but I wanted to get this out to you all before Game Day! Play ball! Oh, wait, that’s that other game. I think.

Stuffed Mushrooms

This pic didn’t come out very well, I’m afraid. I was too hungry to pay much attention to photography!

Stuffed mushrooms at any kind of gathering is so classic that it’s become cliche. They don’t appear very often on buffet tables and party spreads any more. I can only guess at some of the reasons; “that’s sooo last century,” or “nah, it’s been way overdone” could be two. But I think the main reason is that stuffed mushrooms invariably turn out either mushy or leathery. But there’s also a reason they persist on appetizer menus. They’re delicious when they’re made right. And thanks to America’s Test Kitchen, I’ve discovered the secret! I won’t print the recipe here, and I would never presume to tell you how or with what to stuff them. (I stuff mine with crab or shrimp, Parmesan and mozzarella, panko bread crumbs that I season myself, a bit of sour cream and an egg to bind, and topped with more panko moistened with butter.)

Here’s the secret. I can almost guarantee you’ll think to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Roast the mushrooms before you cook them! Stem your mushrooms, toss them with a bit of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and your favorite seasonings, then put them, gill side up, into a preheated oven. Let them roast until the caps are filled with liquid. Then turn them over on the baking sheet (I like to empty the accumulated liquid from the caps as I turn them and save it. It makes a great addition to soups and sauces) and continue roasting until they’re beautiful brown. Let them cool a bit on a rack and proceed to stuff. Back into the oven until the panko topping is golden and crunchy. No matter what stuffing you use, you can’t miss!

Cheesy CrackersI didn’t poke any holes in this bunch. I like ’em a little puffy and pillowy!

These crackers approximate the most popular brand of cheese crackers in the U.S. (I didn’t actually research that, but the moment you read “cheese crackers,” you knew what brand I was talking about, right? These are great for cuddling up on the sofa with a good book or movie or your S.O., or for making a few batches for your party. Or your friend’s party. Or you can make the crackers and add them to your favorite Chex Mix recipe. They’re very easy, and unleavened, so there’s no waiting for rise times and proofing. And they keep well, if you can hold on to them! These are fun to make, too, and you can involve kids in the prep; it’s kinda like playing with Play-Doh or clay. One caveat: with the exception of a good, sharp cheddar, I wouldn’t use strong cheeses, like bleu or Gorgonzola, or soft cheeses, like Brie or Camembert. The strong cheeses give the crackers an off taste, and they’re kind of stinky. And the soft cheeses make the crackers too soft and moist.

Ingredients

Sorry. In the interest of brevity, something I’m not known for, generally. Don’t worry about the formula, unless you want adjust the recipe amounts. Just make sure the dough isn’t too dry, and have fun! Make sure you’re using baking powder, not baking soda. In addition to the above ingredients, prepare an egg wash by lightly whisking an egg white and a few teaspoons of water. You’ll also need a bit of coarse sea salt or other topping for sprinkling.

Prepare the dough

If you’ve got children, then by all means, let them mix the dough by hand! It’ll be fun for them. Otherwise, a stand mixer, bread machine or food processor will work equally well, although it pays to be a little careful with a food processor. The sharp blades and rapid action can bruise the dough.

This is so simple, it’s really unnecessary to list the steps. Gently whisk the flour, the baking powder and salt, and transfer the mixture to the bread pan of a bread machine or stand mixer (or give it to your kids). Add the butter and cheese and process on the “mix” cycle until the dough starts coming together. Slowly add the water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough is just wet enough to squeeze like Play-Doh. Stop the cycle and remove the dough to your work surface. If you that find the dough is too wet, knead in a few pinches of flour.

Separate the dough into 2 equal parts and mold each piece into a flat rectangular brick, tightly wrap each brick in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. If you have one, place a baking stone on the bottom shelf in the oven. Preheat to 350°F

Odd color, isn’t it. This was my attempt at making a bleu cheese version. The bleu turned the dough green! An unseemly color, and the odor was a bit off putting, too. But these bricks are just the right size and shape.

After the dough has chilled, take one brick and roll it into a large rectangle, as thin as you can make it. Try for about 1/8 of an inch. Cut off the superfluous edges (they’ll burn in the oven anyway) and, using a pastry cutter, a pizza cutter, or a very sharp knife to cut even squares. You’re not working for Nabisco, so don’t worry too much about uniformity! I like to roll out the dough on a piece of parchment paper, cut it, and transfer the whole kit and kaboodle (when was the last time you heard that phrase?) into the oven. If you’re using a baking pan, either butter it or move your parchment paper with the goodies on it to the baking sheet (I just got myself a SilPat, one of those silicone baking sheets. It’s wonderful!).

At this point, if you don’t like your crackers too puffy, use the dull end of wooden skewer to poke a hole in the center of the each cracker. Make an egg wash with the white of one egg and a teaspoon or so of water. Brush the cut crackers with the egg wash, then sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt. Bake the crackers for 14 to 16 minutes, and cool them on a rack. Touch down! Store the cooled crackers in airtight container for up to two weeks, if they last that long!

If your oven’s big enough to accommodate two baking sheets, make both batches at the same time, or store one brick in the fridge for up to three days. Or freeze any remaining dough for up to three months. Thaw the bricks in the fridge overnight and they’ll be ready to roll out and bake in the morning.

So who are you and your family rooting for? New England or Minnesota. I must confess that I don’t even know the difference between the two, except geographically, but I’m compelled to root for the Vikings because I lived in Minneapolis for a few years. On the other hand, I love lobster. Maybe if I root for the Patriots, and they win, they’ll send me a case of Maine lobsters!?! Now that would make Super Sunday special!

Enjoy the game. And remember until the next time, dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening, but cook like everyone’s eating!

Thank you very much for reading. I welcome comments, suggestions, corrections, or just a friendly note. Bon appétit!

Congratulations! It’s a… Pizza!

I can say, with a fair amount of confidence, that most every culture in the world, and throughout history, has had some kind of bread. Feel free to correct me. And every society that has bread, has a version of it that’s topped and baked. Even if you don’t call it pizza, the basic concept is the same. In Japan, they have have a “pizza” that’s really a stuffed pancake, for which you choose your own toppings.

Pizza in America used to be a very specific thing, although there were different types. See “deep dish,” “Sicilian,” “New York style,” “thin crust, ” or any other style. Lately, perhaps from 15 years or so ago, someone decided to give it a posh name. Flatbread. Even better, artisanal flatbread. That singular term can cost you anywhere from five to twenty dollars on top of the pizza’s price, and if Wolfgang Puck’s name is involved, you can get a pizza that costs more than your best pair of shoes.

I guess I would categorize pizza as a leavened flatbread, usually topped with a sauce, cheese, and two or three toppings. But there are now so many “pizzas” these days that don’t fit into that definition. Apparently, pizzas no longer need sauce. Or cheese. Or pepperoni, or any other ingredient that we commonly associate with pizza. The modern pizza crust can be thick or thin, a perfect circle or a ragged, rustic crust, and toppings that make you go hmmmmmm… And purchasing options! Frozen pizza? Thick or thin, self-rising, gluten free, “French bread” pizza; there’s an entire aisle in the supermarket dedicated solely to frozen pizza. I personally don’t like frozen pizza, in spite of its convenience. The edges always seem to get too brown before the middle is cooked.

Then there’s the “take and bake” pizza. Most supermarkets have them, and I know of at least one national chain that does nothing but. They’re prepared on-site but not baked; you do that yourself. Better than frozen, but still a stop-gap, and you have no control over the ingredients or the freshness.

Then there’s delivery. With all of its inherent problems. Will it arrive hot? Will it reach your dining room with the melted cheese and toppings slid to one side, or worse yet, on the pizza box lid? Is your delivery person Charles Manson? And there’s the BIG THREE. You know who I’m talking about. Convenient, cheap, usually prompt, and generally their pizzas taste like cardboard slathered in ketchup and topped with “cheese food” and frozen veggies. I’m lucky, I live in a very large city that has local pizzerias on nearly every corner. They are much higher in quality, but the delivery’s inherent problems persist with mom-and-pop pizza joints, and their pies can be expensive, relatively speaking.

So, what’s left? You could go out for pizza. The pizza’s piping hot, and you can usually get a cold beer or a glass of (cheap) wine, some salad, and you can watch the game while you’re eating. Or even indulge your techie self; a lot of these joints have video arcades. And there’s no clean-up. But ugh! Getting dressed up (or just getting dressed), parking, tipping, and high prices can dull your enthusiasm for a piece of hot bread with some sauce and meat on it.

The best convenient option is to get pre-cooked crust from the supermarket. Pop in your cart as you’re shopping for the ingredients, top the dough and bake. You don’t have to use pizza, either. My favorite is naan, which has become widely available, tortillas for a “thin crust” pizza, or even pita. All convenient, fast, tasty enough for a quick bite, and relatively inexpensive. It’s nothing, nothing like homemade!

But pizza isn’t hard to make at home. It’s time consuming, yes, but most of that time is passive. And there are so many choices available! The world is your oyster (yeah, you can even top your pie with oysters)! And pizza dough freezes really well, so you can make a ton of dough that will be ready for you whenever you want it. Thaw, top, and bake, and you’ve got a snack for one, or a feast for ten. You control the ingredients, the heat, and who gets the first slice. (Spoiler alert: the pizza chef gets it, often before the pizza makes it to the table. After all, ya gotta taste before you serve!)

There was an Italian restaurant in, of all places, Osaka. Japan. They had the best pizza. It was an airy crust, and topped simply with olives, garlic, and anchovy (not everyone hates ’em. Otherwise, why does every pizzeria offer them as a topping?). I’ve spent many hours trying to find a similar ‘za here, but nothing came close. So, into the kitchen, armed with cookbooks, and pantry and fridge stocked with all the right stuff, I decided I’d try it. I only failed miserably a few times. Most every other pie I created was edible, even tasty, but nothing came close to my Japanese pizza.

It turns out that using a preferment is key to a delicious pizza. So I offer you the following. You’ve gotta plan ahead, though. A pizza made with a preferment can take up to a whole 24 hours. Some pro bakers even suggest forty eight to to seventy two hours to rise! Of course, you could just throw the basic ingredients into a bread mixer, shape the pie and top it. But that will take you at least three hours, anyway, and the crust will be “good’ at best. And using a preferment cuts down on the amount of yeast you’ll use, so the crust, not the yeast, will be the star taste.

This is a basic pizza dough recipe. All it has are five ingredients: Flour, water, yeast, salt, and olive oil. You can add a tablespoon of sugar if you’d like, but it’s not necessary. You can sub flat beer for some of the water (not all of it). You can add cheese to the dough, or your favorite blend of spices (easy on the garlic, though. It can impede the yeast). You can even experiment with different flours and flour mixtures. The possibilities are, as they say, infinite. Here is the formula, and the recipe that followed:

BASIC PIZZA DOUGH WITH BIGA

This chart shows the formula that recipe comes from. You can bake directly from the formula, and making adjustments to amounts or ingredients is easy!

Recommended Equipment

  • Bread machine or stand mixer
  • Baking stone
  • Parchment paper
  • Pizza peel

Ingredients

  • All purpose flour 250g (8.8oz) plus more to adjust the dough, and for dusting your work surface.
  • “00” or bread flour 100g (3.5oz)
  • Water 245g (8.6oz) plus a bit more for adjusting the dough’s consistency, if necessary.
  • Bread machine or instant yeast 7g (.2oz). A pinch of this amount will be used in the biga, about 1g.
  • Salt 10g (.35oz)
  • Olive oil 28g (1oz)

Making the biga

Here’s my biga just before I use it in the dough. The mottled and bubbly surface means that the yeast has been diligently working all night!

 

  1. Combine the two flours well with a whisk or fork.
  2. Measure 105g (3.7oz) of the four mixture into a medium glass or clear plastic bowl. Reserve the rest of the flour mix in a sealed container or ziplock bag. Add a pinch of yeast, and whisk again lightly to combine.
  3. Measure 95g (3.4oz) of water and microwave it for just about ten seconds. The water should be warmer than room temperature, but not hot, between 90° and 100°F.
  4. Pour the warm water into the flour and yeast mixture and stir well to combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm place. The oven, if you’re not using it for other things, is perfect. Just don’t forget that it’s in there!
  5. Pour a glass of wine and binge watch your favorite series, or go to bed. This puppy’s gonna be fermenting for 6 to 8 hours, up to 12!

Prepping the Dough

I use a bread machine to knead and raise the dough. The order in which they are added to the machine is recommended by the manufacturer. If you use a stand mixer or your hands, adjust the order of the ingredients as necessary. My bread machine dough cycle includes a 12 minute initial mix, followed by a 5 minute rest, an 8 minute knead, a twenty five minute rise, a brief stir down and a final rise of 40 minutes.

  1. The biga should have risen to about double the size and have a bubbly surface. Scrape the biga gently into the bread pan. Don’t forget to secure the paddle in the bread pan before you add the biga. Learning from other people’s mistakes (mine, in this case) is the best lesson!
  2. Heat the remaining water (150g, 5.3oz) to about 90°F and add it to the bread pan. Add the remaining flour mix, and make two little valleys. Add the salt to one and the yeast to other. Keeping the yeast and salt separate ensures that the salt doesn’t impede the yeast’s action. Set the machine to the “dough” cycle and engage the cycle. Check the dough towards the end of the first mix. If the dough is dry and not coming together, add water, a few drops at a time. If the dough seems too wet, add a few pinches of flour at a time until it firms. The dough will be wet and sticky. Only add flour if the dough is sticking too much to the sides of the pan.
  3. At the start of the second knead, very slowly add the olive oil, waiting before each addition to let the oil incorporate fully into the dough. It will look like a greasy mess. That’s okay. Resist the urge to add more flour, unless the dough is absolutely soupy. The wetter the dough, the crisper the crust! Well, usually. I highly recommend prepping your toppings well ahead of proofing the dough. You want them to be ready when the dough is. Mise en place, people!

Proofing and Baking

  1. Place a baking stone on the second lowest rack in the oven. Most recipes I researched recommend the bottom rack, but at some point, you’re gonna need to pull the rack out, and my oven doesn’t leave enough room to get ahold of the rack without getting third degree burns! With the stone in place, pre-heat the oven to 500°F, or as hot as it will go. Professional pizza ovens can reach temperatures of up to a whopping 1,000°F. I’m betting that yours doesn’t, right? Ideally the oven should be heated for at least an hour before baking, to ensure that stone is evenly heated and screaming hot.
  2. Lightly oil a large glass bowl, and dust your surface lightly with flour.
  3. Turn the proofed dough onto your work surface. Give a few good kneads to degas it, then form it into a ball, tucking the dough under and pinching it into seam. At this point you can wrap the dough, or any portion of it, tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze it. Refrigerated, it’ll keep for up to three days, and frozen dough will keep for up to 3 months. Bring the dough to room temp and proof it before baking.
  4. Place the ball in the oiled bowl, turn it once to coat the dough with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to proof. This final proofing can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending upon a variety of factors, so rely on your senses, not a kitchen timer, to determine when it’s ready. It should be doubled in bulk and shiny. When you poke it, the dent should remain for a few moments before slowly rebounding, and the dough should feel moist and a bit sticky.

The rest is kind of up to you, dear readers! You can make a traditional pizza, or form the dough into buns, or make calzones, or pizza bites stuffed with cheese, or… As you can see, the possibilities go far beyond a ‘za with double cheese and pepperoni! I won’t even offer any suggestions. A few tips, however.

Tips

Use extreme caution when placing the dough in the oven, and when removing it. I like to brush my pie’s outer crust with olive about halfway through baking, and it’s a bit scary! And I’m not even a thrill seeker.

The high heat of the oven demands a short baking time, ten to fifteen minutes. Watch carefully (without opening the oven too much), because the crust can go from golden brown to scorched in very little time.

If you find that cheese is bubbling before the crust is even brown, next time, try freezing the cheese for thirty minutes. Cold cheese will allow the dough to catch up.

If you’re using meat or poultry as a topping, it’s important to pre-cook it, as the high heat of the oven won’t give either a chance to cook properly. Shrimp, clams, crab, and white flesh fish will benefit by par-cooking them, but the high heat will cook them, so it’s not necessary. And yes, friends, seafood pizza is common all over, except here. I love shrimp pizza!

I highly recommend building your pizza on a piece of parchment paper dusted with flour or cornmeal, and then transferring it to the oven, parchment and all, using a pizza peel. It’s takes a bit of risk out of the whole drama!

Give the pizza a couple of minutes to cool before slicing and serving. It allows the cheese to set, and also prevents you from getting the roof of your mouth scorched!

If you don’t have a baking stone, a.k.a. pizza stone, you can use a large cast iron griddle or a baking tray turned upside down to allow the pizza to slide off easily. Just make sure your baking tray can withstand high heat.

I didn’t have any sauce on hand for this puppy, so I used sliced tomatoes seasoned with oregano, thyme, basil, and salt. I added a thin layer of cheese under the tomatoes to protect the pie from getting soggy

Finally…

If I had to choose only one food to eat for the rest of my life, it would probably be the magnificent pizza. It’s a meal in itself, and I could fudge the “only one thing” by topping each pizza differently. No matter what you put on it, it’s still pizza, right?

Leave a comment if you try this recipe! Let me know how you tweaked it, how it tasted, or if I’ve made any egregious mistakes in my recipe. Enjoy your ‘za, dudes, and in the meantime; dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening, but cook like EVERYONE’S eating!

Bon appetít! And thanks for reading!

Kitchen Miracles; God is in the Details¡

I had an epiphany this last weekend, a small one, and probably not original, but I thought I’d share it with you anyway. And I’ll try not to wax religious. You folks all worship who want, when you want and where you want, or don’t worship at all. Whatever brings you peace in times of chaos, comfort when you’re grieving, and the simple joy of belonging to a community.

I was raised Jewish, nominally. My parents both grew up in orthodox households. When they married, I think they both just said “why do we have to do this?” and just kind of gave it up. Not God; just all the rituals. My dad and mom both identified strongly as Jewish, and at the core of their lives were the basic tenets that make up Judaism; charity, education, and hard work. I trained for my bar- Mitzvah, from age ten to thirteen, and I think that was the only time my family attended services regularly.

So, aside from the attendant Hebrew school and Sunday school, I was never really indoctrinated into religion. I consequently had a very vague idea of who, or what, God was. Most of my friends were Catholic, and that probably didn’t help.

And then I discovered cooking. And canning. And baking. And this last weekend I realized God wasn’t somewhere in the heavens. God’s in the details! God didn’t create the earth, but S/he did create a universe in which the earth is possible! And God didn’t create bread, either, just a universe in which bread is possible. And that’s the miracle! When you mix flour and water, salt and yeast together, and heat it, you get bread! Every time! Flour and butter, 1:1, stirred in a saucepan never fails to make roux (unless you burn it), and cold meat in a screaming hot skillet will give you a char, guaranteed. God didn’t create humankind; that is, to me, an absurd notion, but God did create a universe where humanity is possible. When you or I make a loaf of bread, we’re paying attention to those details, lovingly coaxing out a wondrous loaf from four humble ingredients. So, when you bake bread, you’re worshipping (you atheists are more than welcome to just call it “baking.” That’s fine.) God left a long long time ago. Maybe to create another universe. Or maybe just to get a nice piece of homemade, hot buttered bread and some coffee!

Wow, that was one long-winded epiphany for being such a small one. Let’s get to the miracle, shall we?

About Dutch Oven Bread

Bread baked in a Dutch oven is often called ” no knead bread,” because there is very little handling of the bread. The dough is extremely moist, even wet, but you won’t be handling it much, and the moisture is the most crucial ingredient in a Dutch oven bread; it steams the bread, keeping the crust hydrated and slightly cooler, and creates those lovely holes that are characteristic of a rustic loaf. You get a very thin, crackly crust, but the interior is moist and soft, like the best bakery French bread.

Dutch oven bread is not a bread one makes on an impulse. Although it’s not on the ingredient list, patience is going to be the most critical addition to this recipe (and love, of course). The rise is slow, very slow; and so is the proof. And then there’s the cooling time (which, as tempting as it is to cut into a hot, crackling, aromatic loaf) is necessary to let the loaf set; cut into it too soon and you’ll be releasing gasses and moisture that the loaf needs to set properly.

Professional baker and author Jim Lahey claims to have invented Dutch oven bread. I think that’s a bit of a stretch, because humans have been baking bread in covered pots since before recorded history. But it’s an excellent book, with a lot of “aha” moments, especially for novice bakers like me. The book is My Bread; The Revolutionary No-Knead, No-work Method. It’s available on Amazon, new or used, and a friend of mine said she found a copy at the library. It’s well worth the dough (groan) if you’re looking for something to study, rather than a mere bundle of recipes. In fact, the recipes for Dutch oven bread are rather redundant (the last half of the book is about shaped loaves baked on a tray), but the info is strong and the photographs are a lesson in themselves. The other cookbooks I found were written for campers. They dealt a lot with the proper amount of coals and their placement, minutiae I have no patience with or need for, as my idea of camping is staying at a Motel 6!

Aside from the usual baking equipment, you will need a Dutch oven. If you don’t have one yet, and this method of bread baking appeals to you, you will have the best results with a cast iron Dutch oven, or an enameled cast iron oven, and it should be at least 4 1/2 quarts. If it doesn’t have a lid, you can seal the oven with heavy duty aluminum foil (and risk third degree burns as you try to affix the foil to a screaming hot pot), but if you’re going to purchase one, get one with a lid! The enameled ovens are more expensive than the cast iron ovens by magnitudes. I got the above 7 quart Lodge Dutch oven, apparently a very respectable brand, for less than $50. Go to Amazon or Walmart, there’s a myriad of choices. I’ve had several people tell me to shop around on weekends at garage and yard sales, or flea markets – you can sometimes find an heirloom pot for a song!

Basic Dutch Oven Bread

Formula and Ingredients

I won’t belabor this, but baking using weight measurements is far more accurate than measuring by volume. Kitchen scales are widely available and inexpensive. It’s very frustrating to me when professional bakers rave about the importance of weighing as opposed to measuring, then publish their recipes without weights or bakers’ percentages. I’ve added the volume measurements here for your convenience, but I do encourage you to use the weights and formula. Once you’ve done it once or twice, you’ll wonder why you ever did it the “other” way!

Using the above table, decide what size loaf you’d like. As you can see, I decided on a 1 1/2 to 2 pound loaf. Once you’ve decided the amount of flour you want to use, the rest is easy math. Flour is always 100%. The rest of the ingredients are a percentage of the total flour. The above table gives us the following recipe. Of course, if you have a kitchen scale, you can do away with volume measurements altogether. (Unless you have a wicked accurate and sensitive kitchen scale, the volume measurement for tiny amounts serves just as well as the weight measurement.)

  • 3 cups Bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups Water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Instant or bread machine yeast

As you can see, a formula allows you to size the recipe, change or modify the ingredients, or even tweak the formula, depending on the time of year, or the temperature and humidity of your kitchen.

How to Bake it

  1. In a large glass bowl, add the dry ingredients and lightly mix them with a whisk or fork until combined.
  2. Add the water to the combined dry ingredients slowly, and mix together until combined. The raw dough should be wetter than a standard bread dough. Don’t worry. If the dough seems too dry, add a teaspoon of water at a time, until the mixture is almost (but not quite) a batter.
  3. Scrape the sides of the bowl down with a spatula, cover tightly with plastic wrap. Put the bowl in a warm place, and let it rise for at least 12 hours and up to 18 hours. That’s right, folks! At least 12 hours! Binge watch your favorite show, read a book, take a nap, or clean up the kitchen. The sloth-like rise develops flavor and structure.
  4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and give it a few turns. The dough will be sticky and wet. Flour your hands, or lightly oil them.
  5. Shape the dough into a ball and place, seam side up, into a new, slightly oiled glass bowl, lightly spritz the top of the dough with olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until it is doubled in bulk. Find another book or magazine, dear readers, or a good movie. This’ll take up to two hours.
  6. About 30 minutes before the dough has fully proofed, set the oven rack to the lowest position, put your Dutch oven, covered, into the oven, and pre-heat the oven to 450°F.
  7. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper, and score the dough with a sharp knife. The pattern is up to you, but don’t forget to do it! The scoring lets steam escape during the initial baking.
  8. Carefully remove the Dutch oven from the oven. It will be extremely hot. Remove the lid. Grab the parchment paper by its corners and transfer the dough to the Dutch oven. Replace the lid, and put it in the oven.
  9. After about 20 minutes, remove the lid from the Dutch oven. The loaf should look like one of those “bake-at-home” breads you buy at the grocery store. Continue to bake, uncovered, until the crust is anywhere from golden brown to a dark, rich ochre color. The internal temperature should be between 200°F and 210°F. A meat thermometer will eliminate the guesswork.
  10. Remove the Dutch oven and place it on a heatproof surface and allow to cool slightly. Again, very carefully, turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool until you can rest a clean hand on the loaf without discomfort, or until the internal temperature of the loaf is under 140°F. Again, this cooling step is essential to develop the bread)s structure.
  11. DIG IN!!!!

I’ve gotta make a full disclosure here. I over- hydrated this dough. The loaf consequently came out bigger and more flat than I envisioned, and the bottom crust was a bit dense and tough. This only illustrates what a forgiving technique this is for making bread, because despite my errors, the bread is not only edible, it’s nearly gone! My blog was never meant to be a textbook, or a cookbook (maybe that’ll happen one day…), but a chronicle of my culinary journey. And who likes to travel alone, right?

Speaking of not traveling alone, I’d like to introduce you to a few websites that I’ve discovered in the course of my self-directed studies. All three of these websites are forum style, like the old “bulletin boards” of the 80s, and all three are very active. I’ve gotten a lot of help and gleaned a lot of info from the friendly members, many of whom are professional chefs. And they’re all free to join!

  • The Fresh Loaf is an excellent source is great for any baking questions you might have, or to share your baking recipes.
  • Discuss Cooking is a lively site that has subjects to anything cooking related, and sometimes not related, to cooking.
  • Chef Talk is a general cooking forum as well. If you are looking to join the culinary world professionally, or are considering formal culinary training, several of the forums can address your questions. This is the most likely place to get your cooking questions answered by a professional chef or baker, if you’re lucky that is!

If you do surf on over, leave a message for me! I’m registered on all three sites as justjoel59.

So please continue with me on my journey, and don’t hesitate to make comments along the way!

In the meantime, dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening, but cook like everyone’s eating!

Bon appétit my friends!