Chicago is deep into an epic heat wave, so I’m guessing none of you wants to turn on your oven. I haven’t wanted to either, which is why, I suppose, I have a whole stable of salads and slaws to post here. Are you sick of them yet?
I’ll start with this updated green bean panzanella that I made for a beach trip last week to the Indiana Dunes. Kasia came to visit me, and, being the Bay Area softy (sorry, tootsie pop!!) that she is, the heat was hard for her to bear. What choice did I have but to pack a cooler and whisk her away to the water? Brandon joined us, we piled in the car, and crossed state lines.
The Indiana Dunes are a beautiful stretch of sandy beach nestled amongst dunes and hiking trails on Lake Michigan. After growing up near the Pacific, the experience of swimming in a large, saltless body of water is still surreal to me. It looks as endless as an ocean, so I keep expecting the back and forth pull of waves. It’s strange to have nothing to fight against. And it’s most especially strange that it is quiet. The noise of the water is the most defining characteristic of being on a California beach. When Jen asked me the other day to choose a body of water that described me (she was giving me some sort of personality test), I chose the Pacific. But, the endless placid lake has grown on me, and I was supremely happy to be there on a beautiful, sunny day.
Of course, it wasn’t entirely placid when we were there–hundreds were splashing around in it. Hoards of people had flocked to the shoreline, with radios and umbrellas and picnics of their own. As I lay in the sun, I let the voices ripple over me, catching a few stray words here and there, but mostly just torrents of human noise. Not quite the ocean, but still, it was soothing. Full tummies, good company: we had a marvelous day.
Green Bean Pomegranate Salad
1 lb. green beans or haricot verts, rinsed and ends snapped off
2 medium beets, roasted and peeled
1 pomegranate worth of seeds
5 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 day-old baguette, sliced
approx. 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450 and roast beets, skin on, for 1/2 an hour until they are soft and cooked through. Let them cool and then remove the skins (or cheat and buy the pre-boiled beets from Trader Joe’s, which is what I did here). Chop them into 1/2-inch-sized chunks and add them to a large bowl.
Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet on high and warm grapeseed oil until it is hot (grapeseed oil has a higher smoke point and is better for cooking over high heat than olive oil). Toast the bread slices. Add to the large bowl with the beets.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath in a separate bowl. Parboil the green beans for a minute or two, then, with a slotted spoon, move them immediately to the ice bath. Let them cool down, then drain. Add to the large bowl with the beets and bread.
Halve the pomegranate and squeeze out the seeds into the bowl. Crumble the goat cheese.
To make the vinaigrette: start with vinegar, mustard, garlic, and salt & pepper in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in until the liquids emulsify. Mustard contains pectin and, when you add it to a vinaigrette, you get a lovely, creamy emulsification. You can continue adding olive oil until you reach your desired consistency.
Toss the salad with the vinaigrette and set aside in your fridge or cooler. By the time you get to the beach, the bread will have absorbed all the flavor from the vinaigrette and the whole thing will be divine.
I thought the weather and I had come to a tacit understanding: I toughen up, make it through the gunk of winter; it gives me a few months of summer during which I can live relatively unmolested by it. But after a freak hailstorm that caused EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS worth of damage to my car last week, all bets are off. You hear me, weather? I don’t think you’re so cool anymore! I’m gonna complain my eyes out if I feel like it.
It happens to be a nice day today, so I’ll spare you any further grumbling. The humidity is low, the sun is high. I’m in an office, but dreaming of sponging up some sunshine soon. Here’s a recipe that’s perfect for a picnic, and’ll get you out of the kitchen quickly. Tristan showed me this a few months ago. You can eat the slaw on its own, in a salad, over brown rice, or stuffed in sandwiches. It’s tangy, sweet, fantastic. Beets are in the same family as spinach, chard, and quinoa, and are jam-packed with phytonutrients–their health benefits are matched only by their deliciousness.
3 small beets (or equivalent), peeled and shredded
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tbsp. dijon mustard
2 tbsp. orange-champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar with a little orange juice)
salt and pepper
In a bowl, whisk the garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper together. Drizzle in the olive oil until all the liquids emulsify. Pour over the shredded beets. Will keep for about a week in the fridge.
I realized the other day when talking to an old friend that I essentially have a philosophy on life: Try new things and eat vegetables. That’s it folks. If I had to sum up all the wisdom I’ve learned in my 29plus years on this planet, it would be that. Be adventurous, and find pleasure in the things that are good for you.
Yesterday, I spent a really lovely day with sunshine and good friends and a grill. We then spent some time at the Andersonville street fair, crammed full with people and craft booths and food. Pleasure, I think, is good for you. It’s a vegetable. It makes you feel attached to the world, participating in it. Friends are good for you.
Focaccia is good for you, especially if you top it with vegetables.
I made this the other day when it was thunderstorming and ridiculous outside.
I took out my aggression on the dough.
With the help of this book I picked up at Myopic:
adapted from the Good Housekeeping Baking Cookbook
1 1/2 c. warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
3 3/4 c. bread flour
5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. table salt
1 tsp. kosher or course sea salt
1 package of cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
1 head of green garlic, rinsed, peeled, and diced
3 to 4 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
1/2 c. parmesan
salt and pepper
In a large bowl, combine 1/2 c. warm water, yeast, and sugar; stir to dissolve. Let stand 5 minutes, or until foamy. Add remaining 1 c. warm water, flour, 2 tbsp. oil, and table salt; stir to combine.
Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead 7 minutes, or until smooth and elastic (dough will be soft; do not add more flour). Shape dough into ball; place in greased large bowl, turning dough over to coat. Cover bowl and let stand in warm place (80 to 85 degrees) until doubled, about 1 hour.
Make the toppings: Over medium heat in a pan, saute the green garlic (with a bit of salt and pepper) until soft. Set aside to cool.
Lightly oil a cookie sheet with a lip (not one that talks back; I mean one that has about an inch-long border around all sides). Punchdown dough and pat into prepared pan. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes. With fingertips, make deep indentations, i inch apart, over entire surface of dough, almost to bottom of pan. Drizzle with remaining 3 tbsp. oil; sprinkle with kosher salt. Cover looselty and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450.
Sprinkle the garlic evenly over the dough. Spread the tomato halves over the dough. Sprinkle the thyme, then salt and pepper. Grate the cheese and sprinkle over everything.
Bake focaccia on lowest rack about 18 minutes, or until bottom is crusty and top is lightly browned. Transfer to wire rack to cool.
Gilt church domes and brick three-flats and water towers. The 90/94 and Ozinga trucks. The sounds of buses announcing stops. Wooden decks. Telephone wires. The skyline in the distance beyond rooftops. Dead prairie grass pushing up through snow. The smell of brownies on Des Plaines. Frozen lake. Frozen face. El platforms. Alleyways. A city I never wanted, never thought I’d love so well. A city that, for years, made me feel trapped indoors for six-month stretches at a time and made me cling to my kitchen for something to control. A city that made me a cook. While the city and the winter and circumstances were overpowering me, I was making pot pies. Roasting chickens. I’ve always loved to cook, but this is the first place that’s made me need it.
When I moved here, I knew no one. Had no job, no money. But, during my very first week, I met Siggy. She was Celeste’s friend, had also moved here from New York and wasn’t sold on the Midwest yet either. Through Siggy, I met Sara. And the three of us (and often Patty, Sara’s sister) very shortly started a ritual of cooking and Project Runway every Wednesday night. Many weeks, it was the only thing that I had to do outside of my apartment. Siggy and Sara and our meals got me through that hard winter, when I was so cold and so depressed.
I guess this is just to say that cooking means a lot to me–taking care of myself; but also friendship, a way that people take care of each other.
It is also to say: Is there anything that butter can not do? Sure, it’s a stretch to say it’ll save your life, but it’ll no doubt make it a hell of a lot better. These biscuits taste like baked butter, and there’s an extreme satisfaction in the act of rolling them out, frosting them with melted butter and sea salt, and letting your whole apartment swell with the smell of them while they’re in the oven.
1/2 c. unsalted butter, cold, plus 1 tbsp.
1 1/2 c. cake flour
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for work surface
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt, divided
2 tbsp. shortening, cold
1 c. buttermilk
Cut 1/2 c. of butter into 1/2-inch pieces and refrigerate it along with the shortening. In the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the steel blade, pulse together the cake flour, 3/4 c. of the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1 tsp. salt. Add the butter and shortening and pulse to combine, until small crumbles are present, 6 to 8 times. Add the buttermilk and pulse until a dough ball forms, about 5 to 6 times.
Dust a dry work surface with flour and have the remaining 1 c. ready for kneading. Turn the dough out onto the floured work surface. With floured hands, gently press the dough out into an 11-by-8-inch rectangle, about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Dust lightly with flour and gently fold it over in thirds, like a letter. Roll or press out to a 6-by-6-inch rectangle again about 2-inches thick. Cut the dough into 9 squares (2-by-2-inches each) with a pizza cutter. Transfer the biscuits to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet about 1/2-inch apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let them rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Melt the remaining tbsp. butter and brush tops with melted butter, then sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 tsp. of sea salt.
Place baking sheet in the middle of the oven and immediately turn oven down to 450 degrees. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes until they are golden brown. Remove biscuits to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes.
Here are Rachel’s recipes for the yummy chutney and raita. Enjoy!
Cilantro Mint Chutney
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey
Time: 5 minutes
6 tbsp. plain yogurt
2 tbsp. mint leaves
¼ c. cilantro leaves and stems
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. sugar
2 dashes cayenne pepper, or more to taste
¼ tsp. salt, or more to taste
Combine ingredients in a blender or a small food processor and process until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice. Taste for salt and cayenne, adding more as needed. Refrigerate up to 2 days. Taste for salt and cayenne before serving.
Gujarati Cucumber Raita
from Madhur Jaffrey’s The World Vegetarian
1 c. plain yogurt
1/2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 medium cucumber, peeled and grated
1 tbsp. peanut or canola oil
½ tsp. brown mustard seeds
¼ tsp. cumin seeds
Put yogurt in bowl and beat lightly with a fork.
Add salt, sugar, cayenne and mix. Add grated cumcumber and mix again.
Set oil over medium-high heat in frying pan. When hot add mustard and cumin seeds. As soon as the seeds begin to pop pour mixture into yogurt mixture, then stir. Serve chilled.
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.
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.
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
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.
Halloween has passed and that means it’s officially time to start talking turkey. Mmmmmmmmmm turkey. The Baketrix here presents you with an idea for a lovely turkey side dish–a tangy, savory twist on traditional cornbread.
Also, I hope you have voted or will vote today!
Oh Corn, sweet corn…
I have a love/hate relationship with corn–or, rather, the manufacturers of corn by-products. As a testament to a shocking article in National Geographic that found that Americans have more corn genes in their blood stream than those living in Mexico where corn is the main staple, I am drawn to corn. Especially when I’m sick, I need me some comfort food, and all I want is a bowl of chicken matzo ball soup and a huge hunk of cornbread. I used to be fan of Marie Callendar’s cornbread for it’s cake-like texture, smothered in their famous honey butter. However, I have evolved in my cornbread repertoire and have found this amazing recipe for a sweet and full-flavored cornbread.
I found it one turkey holiday celebration when I was assigned with the gigantic task of supplying the cornbread. Now, this was a huge responsibility, and if I didn’t get it right, well–it meant the ruining of a time-honored tradition of cornbread and turkey (growing up the cornbread was replaced by Japanese short grain rice = yummy). I decided to cover my bases and baked a savory and sweet bread. Here’s the recipe I found and is now a favorite.
Corn Bread with Fennel Seeds, Dried Cranberries, and Golden Raisins
Adapted from Gourmet November 2001–I made slight changes in the mixing, so for unaltered recipe look for it online.
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (substitute white whole wheat for healthier choice)
2/3 c. yellow cornmeal (not coarse)
1/3 c. sugar (substitute evaporated cane sugar for healthier choice)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 c.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. well-shaken buttermilk (for the lactose intolerant, substitute with almond milk and add vinegar – for every 1/2 c. of buttermilk, use 1 1/2 tsp. distilled white vinegar)
1/2 c. golden raisins, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp. fennel seeds, coarsely crushed with mortar and pestle or pulsed in an electric coffee/spice grinder (I ran out and tried substituting with caraway seeds, which gave it a more savory and less sweet flavor)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grease a square baking pan with butter and lightly coat with flour or cornmeal.
Whisk together butter, eggs and buttermilk in large bowl. Using a strainer, sift and stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking power, baking soda, and salt. Add dry mix to the wet ingredients. Stir until just combined. Stir in raisins, cranberries and fennel seeds.
Pour into pan, bake until top is pale golden and tester comes out clean–I find 25-30 minutes to be the right amount in my oven. Cool on rack for 10 minutes then invert to cool completely…I usually can’t wait and just take a piping hot piece at that point! Someone’s got to test it to make sure it’s edible and can be shared with friends, right?!