Tuesday, November 23, 2010

To Brine or not to Brine

I like to imagine Shakespeare all done up in a frilly little apron with a chef's toque balanced on his head trying to decide
whether 'tis nobler for the bird to suffer overnight
The salt and herbs of outrageous fortune (particularly when purchased from Whole Foods)

Or to baste, thrice, upon a skin rubbed with butter 

And, by opposing the brine, end one step of prep. To baste, to brine--

No more--and by basting to hope we end

The dry bird, and the thousand natural gacks

That dried out flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To baste, to brine--

To baste--perchance to forget to baste: ay, there's the rub,

For in that dearth of basting what chalkiness may come

When we do shuffle out the mortal fowl,

Must give us pause. 

Tonight, I cook the brine:

my pretty brine

I am using a brine for chicken I found in Ad Hoc At Home - by French Laundry dude Thomas Keller - I haven't changed it at all - so I probably can't just reprint it without getting sued (not that so many in the world read this blog - In reality I'm probably quite safe).  However, the important thing to know is that you should use 10 oz of kosher salt - (I use Davids because it doesn't have any anti-caking agents in it, it's just pure salt), one quart of water and 1/2 a cup of honey.  Then throw in whatever herbs or other flavor agents you choose. (garlic, lemons, parsley for example...)  All this is for a 10 - 12 lb bird.

You have to cook your brine the day before you brine your bird because it has to cool thoroughly before you dunk your bird in it.  Then don't let the bird sit in the brine more than 12 hours or your turkey will taste like a plate of table salt.  

I'm also planning on cooking a 10lb turkey the regular way (I have 20 people coming, and, perhaps more alarming, 4 of them are teenaged boys) - although I'm going to butterfly that bird, and cook it upside down for an hour before flipping it. 

I'll let you know which turns out better - perhaps Hamlet's poultry ponderings will be answered anon...

From The Shameless Self-Promotion Department:

This is my flash fiction just published on Melusine! (click on shameless self-promotion above for the link)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Bucket of Bread (dough)

Check it out:


I bought this great book Artisan Bread In Five Minutes a Day - and while it does take a bit more than 5 minutes - I have been baking bread just about every other day with the recipes there-in.  This is what one recent loaf looked like: 

wow.  this is one blurry picture.  sorry.

Beautiful, right?  And I have, almost single-handedly been eating a loaf of bread a day.  With Irish Butter.  Oh. My. God.  I have to stop.  My double chin is going to develop its own double chin.

So, what you do, is mix up a big batch of bread dough in a big tub, like the one pictured above.  I got that one from the King Arthur website.  It's pretty easy -  in a big tub or bowl, stir together 3 cups of warm water, 2TBLSP of yeast, 1 TBSLP kosher salt and I add 1TBLSP of brown sugar.  Let that sit for a while, then add 5 cups of flour and squish it all together with both hands like it's wet clay and you're six.  Let all that sit at room temperature for 2 hours - or so - then refrigerate it over night.  In the morning hack off a 1lb portion (about two large handfuls) - form it into a ball or a football shape - let it sit out for 2 hours, or all day if need be - there's nothing in it to spoil - and then when you are on your way home from teaching, call your daughter and ask her to preheat the oven to 450.  After she's finished arguing with you about it (E:"but mom, I'm watching HOUSE!" K: "On the DVR!  Which you can PAUSE for 3 minutes to punch three numbers on the controls!"), and with a huge I-do-so-much-for-YOU-what-have-you-done-for-ME-lately-sigh gets up and does it, you can be smug the rest of the way home that tonight you and your family will feast on fresh baked bread even if you accompany it with canned soup and frozen veggies.  

When you get home, dust the dough with flour, make a couple of slashes in the top and slide it in the oven.  I don't have a pizza stone (which is what the book recommends*) so I've been baking it on my massive cast iron skillet which you should throw in the oven to preheat about 10 minutes before throwing the bread on top of it.  The book suggests pouring a cup of water into a pan on the rack above the bread - which I've done a few times, but which, I have to say, has not created the desired extra crispy crust that was promised.  So I don't do it because I'm lazy.  Bake the bread for 30- 45 min - you want the crust to be fairly dark - darker than you'd think - because the dough is so wet.  Resist, resist, resist cutting into the bread for an hour or so after you take it out because it really does your bread a disservice - releasing all the steam before it's done, and causing it to be soggy.  Sometimes I can actually wait.

Buy this book, or get it from the library, because there's all this science behind the baking of this bread which you will want to read.  Or, if you live in my neighborhood, be extra nice to me and I might just give you a loaf of bread for free.  Before my double chin's double chin develops yet another double chin.

* I bought a pizza stone from I-don't-remember-where and every time I used it, it made the house smell like Elizabeth New Jersey, which is to say, chemicals.  I thew it out.  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Nine to Five

Ok, more like noon to five, but whatever.  I'm a working girl now, and even though I'm only teaching two days a week, it is amazing to me how much that has cut into my cooking time.  (I do have essays to set, and articles to read and papers to grade... so there!) My wonderful mother, bless her heart, has brought us dinner about once a week from this amazing Italian deli somewhere near her.  My family is addicted to the chicken marsala - (Smith and I recently got into a brief but intense tiff over who would get the leftovers for lunch the next day) - but I still have to make dinner 5-6 nights a week and lunch for the kids & husband the next day.  (I know, they should all be making their own lunches, and sometimes they do, but I also admit to feeling so thoroughly OUT of their lives at school and work, I actually kind of enjoy it.)  And then there are those last minute things your children like to spring on you.

For instance, last Wednesday.   A good friend's son was in town to visit colleges in the area, I had student conferences starting at noon, my class to teach and another student conference directly after class.  Then I had to drive down to Center City to pick up my friend's son.  (I know I'm being particularly parenthetical in this post, but I just want to say, that though I do have friends who have college-aged children, those friends had their kids when they were 12.  12, I tell you.  We are all still very young.  That's all I'm going to say on this matter right now.)

As I'm driving home, Em calls to tell me she volunteered that I'd bring muffins or cupcakes to school the next day for a bake sale.

It's 5:30pm.  We have a guest for the night.  I'VE ALREADY GOT DINNER MADE (you read that right - yes I was that organized.)  All I need to do when I get home is warm it up and cook some pasta.  I even have fresh bread waiting to be baked (more on this in my next post).  Halloween candy for dessert.

And, of course, I haven't been to the grocery story in quite some time, because, if I don't have time to cook (something I like to do), I most certainly don't have time to get to the store (something I HATE).

But because I'm the kind of mom who says how high when her children say jump, I spent the whole car ride home thinking about ingredients I may or may not have in the pantry.  Flour?  Only cake flour.  Canola oil?  Not likely, there's unsalted butter though... Chocolate chips?  Nope.  Turns out several grubby little hands had demolished those by the fistful over the past few weeks.  Lots of apples.  Lots and lots of apples.  So, apple muffins.

I got home, and put dinner together, and had fun talking with my friend's son (who, unlike my own children, helped me tidy the kitchen) (although if my kids were at someone else's house they'd probably help there) and made apple muffins.  I started with a recipe from Nigella Lawson's cookbook, Nigella Express for bananna butterscotch muffins.  And then I used what I had.

I have no idea whether the muffins sold well because Em got a stomach ache and came home early the next day.

As Alanis Morrisette would say, isn't that ironic. *

These are not the Applesauce muffins.  These are chocolate chip muffins I made a different day.  I sent the apple ones to school before photographing them.  However, this post was looking so sad and blank, I decided to post this picture hoping it the chocolate chips wouldn't be noticeable.  They are.  I'm just going to keep it up anyway.

Applesauce Muffins

1 cup of cake flour
2/3 cup of all purpose, or white whole wheat flour (which is what I used)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp of cinnamon - or apple pie spice
1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup melted butter
2 eggs beaten up with a fork
1 1/4 cups applesauce
1 cup of diced skinned apples

1tsp cinnamon
1TBLSP granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 400 and line a 12 cup muffin tin with liners.  (You will hate yourself if you don't use a liner.  No matter how much you butter or oil your tin, the muffins will stick - if you don't have liners use parchment cut into little squares. If you haven't got parchment then aluminum foil will do,  if you haven't got foil, well then God bless you.) (Holidays are around the corner, but my family will not allow me to play anything from my vast collection of Holiday music until Thanksgiving.  Sigh.) (moving on.)

Dump all the dry ingredients into a big bowl and stir them around a bit.  Add the eggs and melted butter. Stir.  Fold the applesauce and diced apples into this mixture.

Divide equal quantities into the muffin tin (I use an ice cream scooper) and bake for 20 minutes - or so.  Mix the cinnamon with the sugar and sprinkle on the muffins the moment they come out of the oven so it has a chance to melt in a bit.

* I know full well many believe Alanis Morrissette used "ironic" incorrectly.  However dictionary.com does allow this definition of irony:  an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might havebeen, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/irony

In my case, I believe this use of "ironic" holds up...