No Knead for Shortcuts

December 31, 2007


A little over a year ago, The New York Times published an article that set off a virtual wildfire in the blog-o-sphere. From the attention and fervor the article generated, you might think it contained a recipe for making a nuclear bomb, or perhaps a cool million. Not exactly. The recipe was for no-knead bread.


I read the food blogs’ reviews and salivated over their photos like all good food blog readers. And, I of course vowed to make the bread. It would have been the perfect training wheels for the bread making novice that I was. And I still might give the recipe a go. Really, I might. But in the year since the recipe was published, it’s languished on my recipe to do list. Every time I see it, I wonder why I haven’t gotten around to it.


Instead of using it to ease my way into the world of bread making, I chose a more complicated and much less reviewed recipe to launch my bread making career. And, still, the no-knead recipe languishes. The recipe came to mind again when I read about it in the February 2008 issue of Cooks Illustrated. In standard Cooks form, the magazine had set out to de-construct the original recipe and build it back up, making it even better.


Cooks generally sticks to extremely classic, well-known recipes for this kind of extreme-make-over treatment: French onion soup, Sunday pot roast and breaded pork chops in this recent issue. So the fact that Cooks was trying to perfect the no-knead recipe is only further evidence of the cult-like following this bread has garnered.


So, the question remains: why have I resisted? It might be that I’m just that stubborn. Why take the short cut when I can take the more arduous route, right? In fact, I think that’s just it. I like to knead bread. I like the tangibility and the physicality of it. Even more, I love to see the transformation from a tacky, lumpy mass of dough to a smooth, elastic ball—before my very eyes. So that’s probably why I chose this recipe for my second foray into bread making rather than trying the Times‘ original or the Cooks‘ revamped no-knead version. And there’s also the fact that these rolls—Cooking Light‘s Oatmeal Knots—allowed me to shape my kneaded dough into irresistible knots and then sprinkle them with a scrumptious mixture of oats and poppy and sesame seeds. Oh, and they’re healthy. Not to mention delicious—slightly sweet, nutty and light and airy.


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Slaying Kitchen Fears

December 17, 2007


I consider myself pretty intrepid in the kitchen (exhibit A here; exhibit B here).  But certain kitchen topics strike terror in the heart of this cook.  Some are fear of physical pain: mandoline; flambé.  Others are a pure fear of failure: soufflé.


Last weekend, I had the occasion to conquer my soufflé phobia.  Kevin requested a dessert that was chocolaty and, knowing that we were about to leave for almost a week in Minnesota, I looked for something that wouldn’t yield 10-plus servings.  I came across a recipe for individual chocolate soufflés and made the mistake of mentioning it to Kevin before fully considering whether I was up for the challenge.


His eyes went wide with excitement and I knew I had to make it for him.  After all, he did drive me around Chicago to no fewer than five potential purveyors of potato ricers this weekend—all in the midst of a blizzard.  He deserved an individual chocolate soufflé.


Once our ramekins were scraped clean, I couldn’t figure out what I was so scared of.  But then, I think that’s the case with a lot of kitchen milestones: all it takes to demystify an intimidating dish is to try it once.  And these soufflés were pretty painless.  The worst thing that could happen kind of did happen.  Instead of gorgeously puffed up chocolate soufflés, we had slightly deflated chocolate soufflés (I was concerned about that when I chose a Cooking Light recipe, but being just the two of us, I wasn’t too concerned about the “wow” factor.  If I were making these for guests, I’d go with a more decadent recipe, I think.)  But find me someone who will turn away a slightly deflated chocolate soufflé (especially one disguised  with a scoop of vanilla ice cream).  I know we sure didn’t.


I really wanted to add a little ground espresso or coffee to this recipe, but given my soufflé apprehension, I figured it’d be best to stick to the recipe.  Next time, I’ll give it a try.  Yes, that’s right, next time.  These were so painless and delicious I’m certain they’ll be back.  So take that, soufflé.

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Take Me Out to the Ballgame

December 14, 2007


On the day after the big baseball brou-ha-ha, it’s entirely appropriate that I share the recipe for these garlic fries. Let me explain.  When Kevin and I lived in D.C., we made a very concerted effort to visit every ball park possible.   Kevin, a huge Cubs fan, would propose a trip up or down the East Coast evertime the Northsiders entered the time zone.  In two summers, we did pretty well: Shea Stadium, PNC Park in Pittsburgh (a really pretty park, I’ll have you know), Citizens Bank Park in Philly, Camden Yards in Baltimore and, once the Nats came to town, RFK Stadium in D.C. (nothing to write home about).


While all those trips were really fun, none of them were noteworthy for ballpark eats.  Sure, we had shameful amounts of hot dogs and peanuts, but nothing out of the usual.  And nothing as good as a Hebrew National dog  in the Bleachers at Wrigley (topped as a Chicago-style dog should be, of course).  In the midst of this East Coast ballpark blitz, my job took me to San Francisco and I took Kevin with me.  As luck would have it, the Cubs were in town playing the Giants!  So, naturally, we headed to the park there (frankly, it’s changed names so many times I don’t remember what it was called then).


And that, my friends, brings me to the garlic fries.  At the Cubs-Giants game (where we saw Greg Maddux pitch his 300th victory), we had the most delicious ballpark food I’ve ever encountered.  The garlic fries.  Even roasting under an unusually hot (for San Francisco) sun, Kevin and I fought over every last garlicky fry.  Since then, I’ve been trying to recreate or at least approximate this treat—preferably without engaging in deep frying.  And, with this recipe, I did. 

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Black Bean & Turkey Chili

December 9, 2007


To me, Sunday and chili are meant for each other.  When else do you have an hour to leisurely chop onions, mince garlic and slice jalapenos?  What other day is there a football game on the background, halftime looming and calling for a bowl of stomething steamy?  (Actually, suddenly there is an NFL game on every day.  Every year, I am surprised by this turn of events.  Not in a good way.)  And this Sunday, I am facing down two weeks of law school final exams.  Naturally, I need chili.


Chili is a pretty contentious thing.  In fact, you might have taken one look at the photo of my chili above and declared it entirely unsuitable.  For one thing, there are beans it in, which some find blasphemous.  And, tomatoes?  How dare I.  And then there will be the awfully strange Cincinnati folks who will be outraged not to find any spaghetti in the photo.  I tend to be more accepting of the chilis of the world: I like ’em all.  My only small requests are that it be very spicy, please, and that I be afforded a very wide range of toppings. 


The last Sunday we made chili, we created a rather meager topping selection: Greek yogurt (trust me, Fage is so good, you’ll end up preferring it over sour cream and possibly even creme fraiche), diced cheddar, sliced scallions and lime wedges.  But I’m certainly not opposed to avocados, minced red onion, crushed blue tortilla chips, cilantro. Or my baked tortilla strips: those would be good.  Um, apparently if I had my way, I’d be turning chili into nachos.  Just realized that.  Good thing I don’t give myself my way very often. 

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Blog-Bound After All

December 8, 2007


When we chose my beef & broccoli stir fry for last week’s family dinner, I had serious doubts about whether the recipe and photos would be blog-bound.  Even though the flavors (Asian) and ingredients (broccoli, beef — duh) are some of our favorites (hence the family dinner pick), it’s not always the most–how shall I put this?–photogenic dish.  But it’s just too good not to share. 


Like many stir frys, after the prep (mincing jalapenos, ginger and garlic, see above, and slicing onions and flank steak), this dinner comes together before you know it.  In fact, your down time (while the wok is sizzling away) is barely long enough to put together my favorite part: the fixings (usually lime wedges, sesame seeds, chili flakes and scallions; see below).


I’ve adapted the recipe from a number of Cooking Light stir frys.  I use flank steak because it’s one of my favorite cuts of beef—lean, relatively inexpensive and really versatile.  And I like my stir fries a little on the fiery side (as you can probably tell from the jalapenos and chili flakes that go in the dish — photo #2 above — and then the extra chili flakes I like on top of the dish — photo #3 above).  So, feel free to scale back on the flakes and/or jalapeno if you prefer a milder dish.

I might not be objectively judging these photos (because of how much I really love this meal), but I don’t think they look too bad.  But, trust me, I spared you some doozies.  Read the rest of this entry »