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Posts Tagged ‘slow-cooking’

Writers more qualified than I will do a better job describing homemade bread.  The way it tastes, the way it smells, the way it takes more time and thought and anticipation than anything else you’ll make.  And of course they are right to laud because there is nothing that tastes and smells and teases quite like it.

The misconception is that baking bread is hard or too labor intensive to make it worthwhile.  The Kitchen Aid and the food processor have made the labor irrelevant but even kneading by hand isn’t quite so bad when you are in the bread mentality.  Which is to say, trusting in a process whose final product may not be finished until tomorrow and certainly a few meals from now and the waiting and watching as your dough rises and gently gets pushed down and turned and dusted until eventually you have a warm crusty ball or torpedo that you’ve shaped all along the way.  Just about any step in the process is improved by a little more patience.

The other misconception is that baking bread is a science.  It might be, but my experience is that as long as you do a few things right, the rest of the process is pretty forgiving.   Letting the dough rest or rise for a little longer can compensate for any deficiency in method or style.

The basic recipe we’re going to work from is for a standard European hearth bread.  The ingredients are:
Flour: 3 cups total for all kinds
Water: 1.3-1.5 cups, depending on the flour composition
Salt: 1.5 tsp
Sugar: 1.5-2 tsp (or something else sweet)
Yeast: 2 tsp active yeast

This will be the first post in a yet-to-be-determined-how-long series on bread making.  So for now, we’ll just talk about ingredients.

Bread can be simply made with all purpose flour and not much else.  What makes bread chewy and crusty and what allows it to rise (to be discussed at length later) is the gluten proteins in the flour.  For that reason, bread flour, which has a high protein content, is your “best” choice — if you couldn’t tell from the name.  Avoid cake or pastry flour because the low protein content of those flours is best for light and tender desserts, not bread.

That said, I think the protein content of the flour is not going to be the main determinant of how your bread turns out (but you probably should still stay away from cake flour).  Having used bread flour and all purpose and whole-wheat flour, I’ve found that what matters more is how wet is the dough, how long you knead, and how long you let it rise.  A long knead and a long rise will do much more for a crusty, squishy, chewy loaf than a higher protein count.

So feel free to start with cheap, regular flour and you can experiment later with fancier and more expensive stuff.  White flour alone is not very flavorful but it is good for a soft loaf.  Whole-wheat adds much more flavor but produces a slightly grainy loaf, which is not necessarily worse, either.  We typically will do half whole-wheat flour, but you shouldn’t do more than that except for flat breads. Whole-wheat flour absorbs more moisture, so the more whole-wheat you use, the more water you’ll need to keep the dough moist.  In either case you absolutely must use salt, which will bring out the flavor of the wheat in whatever flour you use.  And for extra flavor add literally anything else you want to the dough — herbs, spices, nuts, dried fruit, caramelized onions.

Finally, you also have flexibility with the yeast, though different yeasts will be “ready” sooner while others require “proofing” (we’ll discuss yeast later).  The sugar in the recipe is just enough to give the yeast something to start nibbling on and so it is my opinion that there is no reason to use anything besides what is most convenient for you.

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Inspired by the wonderful Lebanese food we had in Ottawa, we decided to be a little adventurous with our July 2nd grill-out.  Grilled Lebanese-style flat bread, shawarma-style barbecued chicken, a vinegary chile sauce, and a tahini-yogurt sauce.  Yep, a middle-eastern barbecue for Fourth of July weekend.

Well, at least the combination is.  The flatbread is the same grilled flatbread we’ve been making (i.e. nothing distinctly Lebanese about it).  The vinegar-chile sauce is rice wine vinegar and sriracha (more south-east Asian than middle-eastern Asian).  The tahini-yogurt–well, that one’s pretty Mediterranean.  The chicken–I think I’ll give that one credit for being a true fusion.  Barbecued chicken done exactly the way we’d do it any other time, with the trick being the marinade: a combination of acidity and spices for a distinctly new taste.

The individual parts of our take on shawarma were eclectic and far from authentic, but the flavor couldn’t be beat, and the combination was sure reminiscent of the real thing.  So we guess our subversive celebration of American Independence actually hit the mark.

Marinade for chicken
everything is approximate and suits ~8 chicken thighs

1/2 cup vinegar (we used apple cider, but white vinegar or rice wine vinegar would probably be fine as well)
1 T lemon juice
salt
pepper
1 t nutmeg
1 t ground cardamom
2-3 cloves chopped garlic

Place all ingredients and chicken in a large Ziploc bag or a bowl. Mix well so that chicken is thoroughly coated.  Marinate for an hour and longer if you desire.

Spicy Sauce

sriracha (or hot sauce of your choice)
rice vinegar (or alternative)

Add vinegar to sriracha and mix vigorously until you get the consistency and taste you desire. We added enough so that the end product had very little viscosity but wasn’t overly runny.

Tahini Yogurt Sauce

1 T tahini (this is typically sold in a jar in the ethnic foods aisle of your grocery store, though you can also get it “fresh” at natural foods stores like Edge of the Woods)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
splash lemon juice (don’t overdo it; there is already a lot of acidity in the yogurt)
1 scallion, chopped
salt and sugar to taste
nutmeg, cumin, optional

Mix all the ingredients, balancing the sugar and salt to get the flavor you desire. The acidity in the yogurt and lemon may require quite a bit more sugar than you may expect. When the tahini mixes with other ingredients, it has the tendency to thicken up quite a bit, but a bit of warm water or broth will loosen it back to the consistency you want. The end product should be scoop-able and spread-able, thick but not sticky.

Cucumber-Tomato Salad

2 cucumbers, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 T sugar
1 t salt
2 T rice wine vinegar
1 T sesame oil

 Combine all ingredients. Let sit for at least one hour before serving.

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Lamb is a really fine meat.  I mean, it’s got a lot of things going in its favor.  It’s a young animal, which means it’s tender and flavorful, and it’s not industrially produced, which means that every lamb is free-range grass-fed blah blah delicious.  And with the exception of rack of lamb, it’s a very affordable quality meat (it is still meat though, so it’s not as cheap as carrots).  Lamb has a lot going for it, and so it would be my go-to meal for special occasions, except that my mom doesn’t like it. 😦

As for this stew–decadent, and probably of French origin.  It’s for sure the tastiest way to make lentils.  Lamb braised in red wine, add tomatoes, carrots, lentils, simmer forever.  The lamb is exceedingly tender, and the delicious lamby flavor infuses the lentils.  Good dinner, and great lunch the next day!  Like braised short ribs, this is a very sensual dish.

Braised lamb and lentil stew

3-4 lamb shanks, each approx 1 pound
12-16 oz dried lentils
aromatic vegetables, such as carrots, onion, garlic, tomatoes
herbs: thyme or rosemary to taste, 2 bay leaves
1 bottle red wine
salt and pepper

Optional first step (worth it): brown lamb on all sides in dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add lamb, vegetables, herbs, and wine, bring to a boil, cover.  Continue simmering either over low heat on the stove top or in the oven at 350F.  After an hour add lentils, salt, and pepper, and cook for about another hour.  Don’t worry about overcooking the lentils, but be sure the pot doesn’t dry out (don’t be afraid to add more liquid–water is fine).

*The ideal cut for this dish is lamb shank, which with more connective tissue is perfect for braising.  Ferraro’s was out of lamb shank when we went, so we got half a leg instead.

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Nice (pork) butt

We had our monthly…not sure what to call these gatherings, actually–Monthly New Haven dinner? Get together with the Sharps, Hendricksons, Marcella, Andy, and the Phelans, and sometimes the Goehrkes? Maybe the point is we don’t have a name for the dinners we do monthly where the aforementioned people get together.  This month we hosted dinner at our place, and this month our vegan participants couldn’t make it, which meant we were having meat. (Actually, it’s been quite a challenge making food that everybody here can eat.  Among everybody we have two vegans and people with the following allergies: soy, gluten, nuts, dairy.  There’s been a lot of rice, needless to say.)

Well, I decided that if I’m going to feed over 12 people, and I finally have the chance to serve meat, I was going to go all out and roast a huge piece of pork all day.  I thought that I’d do a shoulder, but then I realized that shoulders don’t come much bigger than 6.5 pounds, and rather than get two small shoulders I opted instead for a 12.5 pound butt.  We rubbed it the night before (same recipe as for the ribs) and let it sit overnight and threw it into a 250 degree oven at 8am.  The plan: to cook it for 10 hours and serve at 7 or so.

But then I remembered that every time I’ve thought about doing this exact procedure I had planned on using a pork shoulder–a much smaller cut of meat–which also meant THIS BUTT IS GOING TO TAKE A LOT LONGER!!!  I frantically check the internet and my two trusted cookbooks for recommendations on roasting pork.  The verdict: at a temperature of 250, 1.5-2 hours per pound; at 280, an hour.  Well, I knew I wasn’t going to achieve my dream of super-tender, falling-off-the-bone pulled pork and also have dinner ready by 7, so I turned up the heat and hoped and hoped and hoped.

Sure enough, it was done by 6, and we served it with our savory, spicy cranberry sauce.  Everybody assures me the pork was great.  As luck would have it, I got sick that day and couldn’t fully appreciate the meal I slaved over.  Oh well.  I’m pretty sure we’re going to try this again next week, with a shoulder (or two) for Christmas dinner at our place.

Cooking instructions:

Cut cross-hatches into the skin/fat and cover pork generously with rub (see ribs recipe), which generally consists of cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, red pepper (or cayenne), herbs, etc.  I think almost anything goes, really.

Place butt (or shoulder better yet), fat-side up, in roasting pan on roasting rack so it doesn’t sit in drippings in hot oven (450?) and immediately turn down to desired cooking time.  Pour some water in the bottom of the pan for moisture.  You’ll have to replenish every hour or so.  Some people suggested flipping the butt periodically, but I’m against it.  You want the fat on the top the whole time to drip down and through the butt to “baste” it and keep it moist and delicious.

With about two hours to go drain drippings from pan (it will be about 2/3 juice and 1/3 fat–I skimmed off the fat).  Add chopped potatoes, carrots, whatever you want, to the pan under the pork, and pour the juice back in.  These will be very yummy.  Maybe you should salt them just a little.

When pork is done (depends on temperature and on size of cut) remove and wrap in foil and let sit for at least half an hour.  Then carve, pull, serve however you like.  You don’t need cranberry sauce, but it doesn’t hurt.  Just don’t make something cloyingly sweet.

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While at Costco this past Saturday, my wife asked me, “Why don’t we ever buy ribs?” and I answered, “Because we never cook ribs.”  “But I love ribs!” she exclaimed.  I had no idea!  I always thought that we didn’t cook ribs because she didn’t like ribs.  And I realized my error.  And repented.  So we bought a Costco sized portion of two racks of pork spareribs.

Few things in life are as good as barbecued spareribs, slow-cooked for hours to smokey goodness.  But we’re still sans grill, and I always figured there was no cooking method that could do ribs justice so I never even bothered (plus, I thought she didn’t like ribs, remember?).  Well, I was wrong for so long about so many things.  We decided to give oven-roasting a shot.

I’ve realized that one of my favorite things to do is to slow cook a piece of meat for hours on end (beef short ribs have been the favorite for some time now).  Maybe it’s the satisfaction of knowing that the best things in life are not rushed and that trying to speed up success can often ruin it–these ribs were no different.  We let them “marinate” dry-rubbed for two hours and then cooked them for just over three hours.  And I’m worried the barbecue gods are going to strike me down when I say this: I honestly don’t know that they would have been that much better done properly over a smoldering log of hickory.  Well, maybe just a little better.

Dry rub:  I’ve got a chili powder spice mix with just about everything I use in a rub (paprika, salt, coriander, oregano, garlic, cayenne, cumin) to which I added more cumin and red chili pepper flakes.  I used about 1/2 a cup of rub for a rack of ribs, with more than 2/3 of that going toward the meaty side.  Let sit for at least an hour, but more is better.  Some people will also add sugar (brown or white) to their rubs, but since sugar can burn (a low risk cooking in a low-temperature oven, of course) and since we were going to slather them with a sweet and tangy sauce at the end, I left it out (I always leave it out).

Heat oven to 300 F.  Place ribs on a roasting rack in a roasting pan (so that there is room below the ribs for the drippings–we’re roasting, not frying) and slide in the oven.  They’ll be done about 3 hours later.  There’s no rush; at that temperature it’s hard to dry them out and the longer you wait, the more fat that will render and the more tender they’ll be.  When they’re done, remove from the oven, cover generously with sauce (forthcoming) and put under the broiler for 5-10 minutes but do not overcook or the sauce will burn!  Let the ribs rest before you cut them apart. Eat with your hands.

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