The best baguette EVER

About six years ago I discovered what I believe is the most extraordinary bread recipe in existence. It comes from Peter Reinhart's cookbook called "The Bread Baker's Apprentice". I don't make the recipe exactly the way he says anymore; after 6 years I have made various modifications to suit my taste preferences and have altered certain procedures of technique, so the following recipe is sort of "my own", but the underlying principle, the one that makes the end result so amazingly great, is 100% creditable to Peter Reinhart. The idea is that the slow action of yeast on the dough as it rests in a cold environment allows more sugars to develop in the fermenting dough. Then, as the dough is baked at a very high temperature, these sugars caramelize to produce a gorgeously colored and complexly flavored loaf of bread.

To make this bread, first assemble your ingredients:

27 oz. of bread flour
5 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
20 oz. very cold water

Combine the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer to mix with the bread hook.

You may also use a hand mixer with bread hooks if you do not have a stand mixer.

Mix for 8-10 minutes.

The dough should be just wet enough that it cleans the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom of the bowl as you are mixing. If it does not stick to the bottom, add more water a tiny bit at a time until it does stick.

Turn the dough out into a bowl greased with a little oil - I use olive oil but vegetable oil is probably fine as well. Immediately cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest in the refrigerator over 2 nights. Through trial and error I have noticed that with just 1 night refrigeration, the flavor is not as developed, but with 3 nights the dough begins to turn sour.

After 2 nights, remove the dough from the refrigerator 3 hours before you wish to bake it, and let it sit at room temperature for those 3 hours.

Look at the wonderful changes that have occurred in your dough!

Once the dough has fully risen, preheat the oven to 500 degrees fahrenheit.

Then, Prepare a work surface by dusting it generously with flour. Remove the dough from the bowl gently and place it on the work surface. Any time you are handling this dough take care to release the gasses inside as little as possible. I took this photo - in a different bowl, I made 2 batches this time - to again show the fabulous changes in the dough while it fermented.

Gently cover the surface of the dough with a light dusting of flour. Then allow the dough to rest for just a moment while you line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using a long, very sharp knife, gently cut along the dough to separate the first of 4/5 baguettes that you will make from this batch of dough. Gently stretch the portion of dough holding it by the ends to form a baguette shape and place it on your parchment-lined baking sheet.

Use a lame (shown below - essentially a razor blade on a stick), or a very sharp knife, or even kitchen shears to create shallow slits on an angle down the length of the bread. These will allow steam to escape during baking, preventing large bubbles from forming on the bread.

Here is the cut bread, ready to bake.

Now slide the parchment off of the baking sheet and onto a baking stone. If you don't have a baking stone, and are serious about baking this bread, get one. You can custom size it to exactly fit your oven, and you can leave it in all the time.

After 20-25 minutes, or when your baguettes look like this, remove them from the oven and cool them on a cooling rack.

Look up close to see the fabulous color and texture.

Make enough to share with your friends and family. Overestimate the amount you need. They will all want a loaf for themselves at the end of the night. Any leftovers can be toasted and spread with jam to make a perfect breakfast the next morning.


Bulgur and Vegetable Stuffed Peppers

I love exploring new ways to prepare vegetables, especially as a main course. I also enjoy exploring new grains.

Bulgur, or burghul, is made by cooking whole grains in water, then drying them, then pounding or milling them to remove the bran and germ. Basically, it's the wheat version of parboiled rice and it's quick and easy to prepare in it's pre-made form, which is readily available in most grocery stores. It's also a great source of fiber and micronutrients!

To make bulgur and vegetable stuffed peppers, Preheat oven to 375 degrees, then...

Bring 2/3 cup bulgar to a boil in 1 cup vegetable broth, stirring constantly. Then reduce to simmer and cover for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and place in a large bowl.

Prep the following:
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup diced zucchini
1/2 cup peeled, shredded carrots
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cut the tops off the bell peppers and remove the core and seeds. Cut a very thin slice off the bottom so they will stand upright.

Cook the peppers in a large pot of boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove and drain, inverted, on paper towels.

Lightly coat an 8-by-8 inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Combine the prepped vegetables and bulgar. Add 1 tsp fresh thyme and fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp dried), 1/2 tsp salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Divide the mixture among the peppers. Place the peppers upright in the baking dish and bake 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve with a salad or other side item of choice and Enjoy!

NY Times article - Brooklyn's New Culinary Movement

Published: February 25, 2009
The borough has become an incubator for a culinary-minded generation whose idea of fun is learning how to make something delicious and finding a way to sell it.


Swedish Meatballs

Traditional Swedish meatballs, or köttbullar, are a tasty blend of meat, onions, and breadcrumbs, and are normally served with Lingonberry preserves, potatoes and pickled cucumbers. This makes a delicious meal, especially on a cold winter night. It also has the advantage that it can be made ahead of time, making it a perfect dish for a dinner party or for a busy family!

The recipe I use for Swedish meatballs is taken from the Aquavit cookbook by Marcus Samuelsson.

At least several hours and up to five days before serving, prepare the quick pickled cucumbers in the following manner:

Slice an unpeeled cucumber as thinly as humanly possible, preferably with a mandoline as seen below. Watch those fingers :)

Assemble your other ingredients: kosher salt, 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1 c sugar, 1 bay leaf and 2 allspice berries.

Toss the cucumber slices with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and let them sit in a colander for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the water, vinegar, sugar, bay leaf and allspice in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Then let it cool. At the end of the 30 minutes, rinse the salt off of the cucumbers and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Combine the cucumbers with the brining solution in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 3-6 hours before serving.

Now, assemble your ingredients for the meatballs. You will need:

1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1/2 lb. ground chuck or sirloin
1/2 lb. ground veal
1/2 lb. ground pork
2 tablespoons honey
1 large egg
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
First, combine the cream with the breadcrumbs in a small bowl

Next, heat a skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil, and saute the red onions for 5 minutes.

Now combine the ground beef, veal, pork, onion, honey and egg, mixing well with your hands. Season with salt and pepper. Add the bread crumb/cream mixture and mix well. With wet hands, shape the mixture into about 24 golf-ball sized meatballs.

Melt the butter in a pan over medium-high heat.

Add the meatballs in batches if necessary, and fry them for about 7 minutes, turning frequently, until browned on all sides and cooked through.

Transfer the meatballs to a plate and discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan.

To make the sauce you will need:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup lingonberry preserves
2 tablespoons juice from the quick pickled cucumbers
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Return the pan to the heat, adding the stock, cream, preserves and pickle juice. Bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the meatballs to the sauce, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly and the meatballs are heated through.

Serve the meatballs hot accompanied with mashed potatoes, lingonberry preserves and pickled cucumbers.


Chicken Stock

Making your own chicken stock is easy and very economical, and best of all, it tastes so much better than shelf products. The process is as follows: quarter the chicken to remove the breast, thigh and leg meat, and reserve any desired organ meat found inside the carcass. Place the carcass inside of a stock pot, add aromatics (herbs, etc) and enough water to cover, and simmer for approximately 90 minutes.

I used 3 carcasses for my stock, so in the process obtained 6 boneless breasts, 6 tenderloins (found on the underside of the breast), 6 legs, 6 thighs, 3 livers, 7 1/2 quarts of stock, and cooked meat scraps picked from the carcass upon completion. Some people also save the gizzards for making gravy, but I'm not much of a gravy person. Ditto on the wings... save them and cook them if you want, but mine go in the stock pot.

A little economic incentive to purchase a whole chicken to quarter yourself and prepare your own stock:

The whole chicken cost me $1.89/lb.

The same brand of chicken is priced at:

$2.19/lb for legs and thighs
$4.99/lb for boneless breasts
$5.99/lb for tenderloins
$1.39/lb for livers (OK, so this is less per pound, but considering many people just toss them in the garbage, consider them sort of thrown in for free.)

Chicken Stock retails in the supermarket for upwards of $3/quart.

The vegetables used have some monetary value, however many of the parts used are parts that we do not otherwise use in cooking, for example the innermost ribs of celery, the tough tops of leeks, and the stems of parsley.

It's a win-win all around; you save money and end up with a superior product.

To start, locate the breastbone in the center of the breasts. Using a boning knife, make an incision along one side of the breastbone, and work your way down along the rib cage until you have completely separated one breast from the carcass. The skin can be effortlessly pulled off. Turn the breast around to locate the tenderloin which can also be removed by hand with ease; it is barely even attached. Repeat for the other side.
You end up with this: 2 boneless breasts and 2 tenderloins.

Next, turn the chicken around so that the back is facing up. With one hand pressing down on the back, pull one leg up until you hear the joints snap. Using your knife, cut around the thigh bones to remove the meat from the carcass. You will now have the thigh and leg all in one piece. You can leave them attached if desired, or cut them apart by severing the joint. Again, repeat for the other side.

Here is the liver meat that was removed from inside the carcass. I use chicken livers in certain Italian sauces as well as Spanish style rice.

Repeat the de-boning process with as many chickens as you would like to use for your stock; just make sure they will all fit in your pot! :)

Wrap up the breasts, thighs, legs, livers, etc. and refrigerate or freeze for future use.

Next, chop up your aromatic vegetables. I use yellow onions, leaving the skins on to color the stock, the innermost ribs of celery, the dark green tops of leeks, sprigs of thyme, parsley (normally I use only stems but had depleted my supply making stock last week and had only leaves left, so in they go...) . I also add bay leaves, whole black peppercorns, and a little salt (not too much, you will want to save most of your seasoning for later).
Add the aromatics to the pot along with the carcasses, and fill with enough water to just cover everything. Simmer for 90 minutes.

Once I have finished, I strain the stock into quart containers. If I don't need it right away, I refrigerate it so that I can easily skim the fat off the top before using. I always make extra and freeze it so that I always have some on hand.

Oh yes, one more bonus! I picked all of this meat off of the carcasses once the stock was finished. It can be used in chicken soup, chicken salad, or casseroles, etc.


Spiced Lentil-Coconut Stew

This is the delicious dinner that Bill and I enjoyed tonight. It was so good, I decided to share the recipe with all of you...

The dish is great served over basmati rice...

Spiced Lentil-Coconut Stew

1 Tbspn olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 small carrot, thinly sliced on a diagonal
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small hot chile, seeded and minced
1 tsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp turmeric
3 cups vegetable stock or water
1 1/2 cup dried brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 large waxy white potato, peeled and diced
2 cups well-washed spinach
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
salt & freshly ground black pepper

1) Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, garlic, chile, and ginger, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cardamom, mustard, allspice, and turmeric and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
2) Pour in the stock, add the lentils and potato, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the lentils and vegetables are soft, about 45 minutes. About 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time, stir in the spinach, coconut milk, and salt and pepper to taste; add more stock if the stew is too dry. Serve hot.


Sole à la Meunière with Beets and Baby Bok Choy

Sole à la Meunière is a method of preparing sole "in the manner of the miller's wife", that is to say, coated in flour and fried. The fish is then served with a simple and subtle sauce of butter, lemon, and parsley. Since the miller would live near a water source used to power his mill, his wife also had access to the freshest fish, and therefore did not need to disguise its taste by using an elaborate sauce.

Here I am presenting a meal I made with sole à la meunière accompanied by roasted beets and a salad of baby bok choy.

Since the beets take the longest to cook, the first step is to preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash the beets, but leave the skin on. Wrap them well in aluminum foil. Roast in the oven on a baking sheet for about 35-40 minutes. You should finish this before starting the fish, as you will need your oven at 325 degrees for the fish. You could even do this a day ahead and reheat the beets, or even serve them cold.

Meanwhile, prepare your baby bok choy. Baby bok choy is a tender green that does not need to be cooked. It makes a wonderful salad. It has a really fresh taste. My children absolutely love it, and so do I!

Chop the bok choy for your salad, wash it, and dry it. I like to use my salad spinner to quickly and easily dry my salad greens.

Then prepare a salad dressing by whisking together a bit of dijon mustard with some sherry vinegar, grapeseed oil, olive oil and salt and pepper. I don't measure this out, I just do it by taste and quantity desired. You should have only a spoonful of mustard, and a little less vinegar than oil.

Next, wash your fish and pat it dry.

Dredge the fish in flour

Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan, and fry the fish, undisturbed for about 4 minutes.

Flip the fish to brown the other side, again about 3-4 minutes.

Transfer the fish to a baking sheet, and place in a 325 degree oven to keep the fish warm while the sauce is being made.

Melt a stick of butter in the same frying pan that you cooked the fish in.

Cook the butter until it becomes a nice medium brown color.

Squeeze the juice of one lemon...

and add it to the butter.

Add a couple of tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley.

Now, if your beets are still warm from the oven, peel them and slice into serving portions.

Remove the fish from the oven, drizzle some sauce over the top. Arrange some beets and salad on the plate, and dress your salad with a spoonful of dressing.

P.S. Another great option is to substitute cooked beet greens for the baby bok choy. You should always purchase your beets with greens attached, as it indicates freshness. The beet greens should be washed, and then sauteed in some olive oil with some chopped onion, salt and pepper. They are delicious and very healthy. In this case I saved my beet greens and used them the next day with a different meal.

P.P.S. Many of the photo credits on this post go to my 8-year-old daughter, who snapped me in action slicing the beets, squeezing and pouring the lemon juice, and preparing the salad dressing. She also took some photos for the gnocchi post below. I think she did a great job!