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I made this.

Last Sunday, I spent four hours in the kitchen of Kendall College, attempting to master the ancient art of bread baking. In a modern way, of course. There was an industrial mixer at each work station, giant multitiered commercial ovens, and the most fascinating device of all: a proofer, a sort of anti-refrigerator with controlled humidity and warmth for more rapid bread rising. I got to wear a chef’s hat.

Hardly ancient was our technique, but we were making one of the oldest and most fundamental food stuffs, dating back to at least the Neolithic period. As soon as humans figured out how to use things as tools, we must have been experimenting with things to smash, mix, and throw in the fire. The word we use comes from Old English, but it’s slang now for the thing most generally life-sustaining in the modern world. That is, money. Clearly our relationship to bread hasn’t changed much over time.

and this.

For something that’s been so fundamental to society, I knew hardly anything about making it before taking this class. I’d never even attempted it before, unless you count pizza dough (more on that experiment, still underway, in another post), which I don’t.

As we speak, I’m smearing goat cheese and avocado on a fluffy hunk of sourdough that I made myself. I’m not sure why this is so amazing to me, but there definitely is something about being able to make our most basic sustenance that makes me feel both very masterful, and completely humbled. As one of the very first food products in existence, it is still simple, delicious, perfect. Why aren’t we all making our own bread? If you’re going to cook, really, don’t you need to know how to master the foundations that cuisines–and cultures–have been built on for millennia? And what are the basic elements of cooking if not dough, sauce, protein, vegetable?

So, yeah, breadbaking class got me pretty excited.

3 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks for the challah

adding sugar to the challah

my partner in challah

mine's the longer one.

We made four different kinds of bread, but I’ll start today with the challah.

4 to 4 1/2 c. bread flour, plus more for dusting
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 c. room temperature water
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 c. olive oil, plus more for greasing
1/4 c. sugar
2 1/2 tsp. salt
Egg wash (1 egg whisked with 2 tbsp. cold milk)
poppy seeds are optional

Combine the flour and yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer with a a dough hook. Add water, eggs, egg yolks, oil, sugar, and salt, and mix on low for 4 minutes. Increase to medium speed and knead for 4 minutes. Dough should be soft but not sticky. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl, turn it over to coat with oil, cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

Place dough onto a lightly floured work surface and fold gently, cover, and let rest until relaxed (20 minutes). Divide dough into 3 equal pieces, cover and let rest for 20 minutes (we skipped this step in class).

Working with one piece at a time, gently stretch the dough to a 6 x 10 inch piece using only enough flour to keep dough from sticking (not too much). Fold dough into thirds (like an accordian) making a 2 x 10 inch piece.

Seal edges with the force of your palm, and repeat with all three pieces.

Roll each piece into a tapered cylinder that is 12 inches long. Lay the three ropes parallel to one another. Begin braiding in the center and work toward the outside. Pinch the ends together and tuck under. Place braid on a parchment-lined sheet pan.

Brush the braid lightly with egg wash and let rise, uncovered for one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Gently brush with egg wash again (and sprinkle poppy seeds if desired). Bake until a deep, golden brown color appears and it is shiny and lightweight, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool before serving. If you can wait that long.

My Love Letter to Cheese

Melissa is often my partner in crime when it comes to food. So when Maya sent me the link to this cheese warehouse website, I knew instantly that A) I had to go, and that B) Melissa had to go with me. (All of these pictures are Melissa’s by the way.)

With Google map in hand, we finally made the trek to the nether regions of the Southside a few weeks ago. I’ve been meaning to write about it since. Given that this is Valentine’s Day, I thought it appropriate and sit down today and write this post about my most favorite foodstuff on earth. Cheese. I love the moldy, I love the nutty, I love the stinky, I love the creamy. I love it when it’s aged and hard and sharp. I love it when it’s young and smooth and tastes like you’ve dipped your tongue in a bath of cream. I mean, it’s easy to get rhapsodic about cheese. It’s the most versatile food I can think of, and there has to be–if you try hard enough–a cheese for every preference. It’s remarkable how many avenues a cheese maker can walk down, how many different flavor sensations can be produced from an animal’s milk. It seems such a primal phenomenon–the desire to preserve milk, the basic food that we all start with.

On the Saturday morning of our trek, we pulled up to an unassuming warehouse with a collapsible sign out front. We walked down a ramp in a loading zone toward another sign promising cheese.

When we walked in, we were greeted by the intense nutty, funky smell that is unmistakably cheese. We were surrounded by it, in it. A man with a belly and a beret was standing before a folding table with likely 50 different hunks of cheese, each flying a flag with its name and origin. A few other couples were standing around, and beret man was slicing off tastings of any and all of the cheeses.

We were a bit overwhelmed at first, but definitely impressed by the selection (I use the royal we speaking for Melissa because I’m sure she will concur). All the cheeses that he sells are American, and the range on display was pretty vast. Blues, cows, goats, sheeps, smoked, raw.

This Kelle Blue was one of the most intense cheeses I’ve ever tasted. It was actually kind of a palate-buster, making milder cheeses I tasted afterward seem pretty milquetoast. But when it was in my mouth, it was all I could think of. It seemed to hit every single taste bud with its briny, sharp cream.

Before we really got down to the business of picking cheeses, we explored a bit. We entered the gigantic fridge/cheese cave, with shelves and shelves of packaged cheeses.

We came upon a few doozies of the moldy/stinky varietal.

What we finally walked away with was a blue from Louisiana, a Vermont sheep’s cheese, and a hard goat cheese, and a few slices of aged asiago. They all got consumed as soon as we put them out at a dinner party that night, so I’d say we chose well.

One of the very best things I’ve ever read about cheese is an article by Eric LeMay called “Illegal Cheese.” You can download it from the Gastronomica website, and I highly suggest you do.

So, happy Valentine’s Day, Cheese! Here’s to many, many more.

Wang Off 2010

I was honored to be asked to judge Melissa’s first-annual wing–excuse me, wang–off on Superbowl Sunday. I am not a fan of football, so I was happy to be busied with the food end of the festivities. We ended up with five amazing competitors (Adam Fung is not listed on the flier), and five very different wings. None was classic buffalo-style; each competitor really pushed creativity to its outermost boundaries. And, by the end, I was one happy, though thoroughly challenged, judge (the decision making was brutal).

This is what I had to choose from. Beautiful, right? It was a bit overwhelming at first, but soon, I dug in, armed with my palate cleanser (lemon sorbet) and five score cards.

The first had an amazing crust and savory-sweet sauce. The second also had a wonderful crust, but with a spicy dry rub. Number 3 was the spiciest, no crust, and had a cilantro mayonnaise dipping sauce to go with it. Number four had a sesame twist, with very flavorful meat. Number five had great Indian flavors and a raita to go with it. All were moist. There was no clear one to knock out first. So I had to keep eating.

I had to take many, many bites to be sure.

I looked to the pooches for advice (who were looking at me for some handouts).

Finally, after much deliberation, I chose number 4, the Sesame Stallion. In the end, I felt that the meat itself was the most flavorful in this one. This belonged to Joanna, a first-time wing maker and winner of this (made by Sean):

And here’s the winning recipe:

Sticky Sesame Chicken Wings
From Gourmet magazine, May 2006

  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mild honey
  • 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 3 lb chicken wingettes or chicken wings (see cooks’ note, below)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds, lightly toasted
  • 1 scallion (green part only), finely chopped

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 425°F. Line a large shallow baking pan (17 by 12 inches) with foil and lightly oil foil.

Mince garlic and mash to a paste with salt using a large heavy knife. Transfer garlic paste to a large bowl and stir in soy sauce, hoisin, honey, oil, and cayenne. Add wingettes to sauce, stirring to coat.

Arrange wingettes in 1 layer in baking pan and roast, turning over once, until cooked through, about 35 minutes. Transfer wingettes to a large serving bowl and toss with sesame seeds and scallion.

Cooks’ note: If using chicken wings instead of wingettes, cut off and discard tips from chicken wings with kitchen shears or a large heavy knife, then halve wings at joint.

Here's Joanna, the winner, celebrating her victory by eating Doritos.

Close runner up was Char’s entry, which was the first contender with the nice crust and the sweet sauce. Here’s her recipe.

Sweet Japanese Fried Chicken

3 tbsp of Soy Sauce
3 tbsp water
1 Cup Sugar
1/2 cup of White Vinegar
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp of Flour (in sauce)
1. pre heat oven to 350
2. dip chicken in egg and flour mixture
3. fry until brown on both sides
4. coat wings w/ sauce in pan, extra sauce can be put in pan as well.
5. place in oven, cook for 40-50 minutes

There's Char to the right, proud of her runner-up status (I'm assuming)

And here are the other two recipes (Adam didn’t send me his), which truly are nothing to shake a stick at.

Melissa’s Spicy Wings with Creamy Cilantro Dipping Sauce
40 chicken wing pieces or 20 whole chicken wings
2 tablespoons Chinese five- spice powder
3 teaspoons cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Creamy Cilantro Dipping Sauce, recipe follows
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F.

If you have whole chicken wings, cut off wingtips and cut the wings in half at the joint. Discard wingtips or freeze to make stock at a later time.

Place the wings in a large bowl. Sprinkle five-spice powder and cayenne on the wings, add a few pinches of salt and about 15 grinds of black pepper. Rub the mixture into all the wings until no more loose rub remains. Wash your hands.

Line the wing pieces up on a baking sheet so the side of the wing that has the most skin is facing up. Roast until cooked through, browned and crispy, about 25 minutes. Serve hot with Creamy Cilantro Dipping Sauce.

Creamy Cilantro Dipping Sauce:
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup light sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup yogurt
1/2 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine ingredients in mixing bowl. Whisk ingredients to incorporate them fully and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Scott’s Crisp Curry Chicken Wings with Coriander Cucumber Sauce

  • 2 pounds chicken wings (about 10)
  • 4 tablespoons curry powder
  • 4 tablespoons Major Grey’s chutney, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • a 5-inch length of seedless cucumber, seeded and chopped fine (about 1 cup)
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh coriander plus coriander sprigs for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

Cut off the wing tips, reserving them for another use such as stock if desired, and halve the wings at the joint. In a bowl stir together the curry powder, 2 tablespoons of the chutney, the lemon juice, the salt, and the cayenne, add the wings, and toss them to coat them well. Let the wings marinate, covered and chilled for at least 4 hours or overnight. In a small bowl stir together the remaining 2 tablespoons chutney and the soy sauce. Arrange the wings, marinade discarded, skin side up, on the oil rack of a broiler pan and bake them in a preheated 475°F. oven for 25 minutes. Brush the wings with the soy-sauce mixture and broil them under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until they are crisp.

Make the sauce:
In a small bowl stir together the yogurt, the cucumber, the minced coriander, the juice, and salt to taste.

Transfer the wings to a platter, garnish them with the coriander sprigs, and serve them warm or at room temperature with the sauce.

Yay, wings!