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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Redneck Wine Pairing

Dellatorri Chianti, 2005 ($8.88 at Kroger this week, with a Plus card). Everyone knows ants on a log just cries out for Sauv Blanc, but I'm a rebel like that. And besides, the tannins really cut through the cream cheese in the ham roll-ups.

Sometimes I make weird suppers like this (chicken salad and sliced apples not pictured). I don't know why, but they make me happy.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Cheating at Sourdough

I've yet to get a sourdough culture going that is strong enough to rise a regular bread dough, so in the loaves I've made in the last week or so I've added 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast to the dough (per 4 1/2 and in one case about 7 cups flour) in the middle of the process—at about day two of three.

These loaves are mostly white flour, with 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour for flavor. The bug was impatient, so I cut into the funny-looking one before it had cooled, and it got a little gummy.

In the Reinhart book, many of the recipes have you mixing the flour and salt together and adding them to the wetter ingredients (a starter or barm plus water, for example). I've found that technique problematic, because often it results in a stiffer dough than I think is right—and adding more water at the end is extremely annoying and difficult. In future, I'll go back to the usual way of adding the salt with the first cup or so of flour, and adding more flour gradually until it just feels right to me.

The ugly loaves in front, variations on Reinhart's version of Poilâne bread, are 100% whole wheat (and they sure tasted like it). Good and sour, but very heavy and dense. I forgot about the baguettes in the oven, and they burnt a bit.

The whole wheat loaf crumb.

The baguette's crumb. This loaf was baked on a sheet pan because I have only one French bread pan (I was making four loaves at a time)—hence the flat bottom. Very chewy and sour, but I prefer the lighter texture of my normal, nonsourdough French loaf.

The baguettes made excellent bread crumbs, incidentally, which I put on top of the most ridiculously complicated tuna noodle casserole ever. Look at this recipe! It's a tuna noodle casserole, for crying out loud! Yes, it was good, and maybe slightly more healthful than the canned-soup variety, but really not worth the kitchen mess and effort.

This is the cinnamon crumb nut apple surprise quickbread from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible. Not a bread bread, but I was craving a slice of it to go with my afternoon Earl Grey. I took the remaining slices to Mr. Chalmers's office kitchen.

The apples are the surprise part, I guess.

I think my breads were better before I started reading the Beranbaum and Reinhart books and trying to learn how to make better bread, but I think I'll get to a point where the extra knowledge starts to pay off. A few factors might delay this: I'm no good at following directions, I'm forgetful, and I'm no good at keeping track of what I've done for future reference.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Good Food in Georgia

The Chalmerses and a friend made the about-three-hour drive to Marietta yesterday to have lunch at Tasty China (585 Franklin Rd. SE, Marietta, 770-419-9849—though they've never answered the phone when I've called), the Sichuan restaurant that's been much discussed on the South board on Chowhound for the last year and a half or so. The bug slept all the way there, and was brilliantly behaved throughout our extended meal, thoroughly charming the servers and trying lots of different foods.

We ordered more food than could fit on our table, and they had to take plates away and pack up to-go containers as we were eating. A singularly unhelpful and vague report on our meal is here, on Chowhound; scroll up for much more detailed descriptions of dishes by people who know what they're talking about. Locals with any interest in Chinese food should try to get over there. It's worth the drive, says Mr. Chalmers, who actually did the drive and who isn't normally a fan of Chinese. (He was won over by, among other things, the interesting use of cumin in several of the dishes.)

Afterwards we checked out the international grocery in the same strip shopping center (no purchases, but they do carry Bulgarian feta, I was happy to see: look for the green-and-white-striped tins in the refrigerated case). If you're at Tasty China for dinner on a weekend, you might go to one of the two Latino dance clubs next door afterwards—just a suggestion. Since we were there on a Sunday afternoon and were packing a toddler, we instead went into downtown Marietta and had coffee at a surprisingly attractive and well-patronized coffee house just off the square (the name of it escapes me, but it's opposite a blue-and-white-facaded Greek restaurant). It was a very cold but very good Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Progress Reports

Yesterday afternoon I noticed five bubbles in my first "real" sourdough starter made with only flour and water, which means I've captured some wild yeast from either the flour or the sweet Madison County air. You might be able to pick them out:

There may be sourdough bread in our near future, who knows? I'm not entirely sure what comes next. If only for my own future reference, here's what I did. This starts out close to BBA, but then veers off on day 4 as I worry it's not working (and as I reach my "viewing limit").
Possible sourdough starter

Day 1: Combine 1 cup whole organic rye flour and 3/4 cup lukewarm water; press the mixture (it was like a paste) into the bottom of a tall plastic container. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2: Scrape the mixture into a bowl and mix in 1 cup King Arthur unbleached bread flour and 1/2 cup lukewarm water; press the dough (now a stiff ball) back into the container. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 3: Discard half of the dough ball. To the remaining, add 1 cup bread flour and 1/2 cup lukewarm water; press into the container. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 4: Add 1/2 cup bread flour and 1/2 cup lukewarm water directly to the container and mix it in with a rubber spatula. (It's runnier now, and easier to mix.) Put a piece of tape on the outside of the container to mark the level of the mixture. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
It's about 5 a.m. right now on day 5, the stuff has risen about 3/4 inch above the tape, and that's all I know about this sourdough thing for now.

Last night I made my first attempt at kung pao chicken. I should say that I don't cook a lot of Chinese food, at least not Americanized Chinese (although once at about 3 a.m. after a big night out with my now husband I made us my mom's moo goo gai pan, and I do have a few Chinese Chinese dishes in my regular rotation—ugh, "rotation": this is why I want to try more new foods). I don't know much about stir-frying, and I don't own a wok. So I was pretty much at the mercy of actual recipes this time. I couldn't find any that seemed just like West Side Cottage II's: the "authentic"-looking ones didn't have the vegetables (I like it with crisp carrots, celery, and water chestnuts), and the ones that had the vegetables seemed lame on the sauce front. In the end, I kind of winged it, and the results were wonderful. I won't post a recipe yet, because what I came up with was close to what I wanted but not quite right (the marinade and sauce were based on Fuchsia Dunlop's gong bao ji ding). I know that the elements of most takeout versions are fried in tons of oil, and of course I didn't do that—the only real problem was that the sauce was too sweet and had too much soy flavor. I think I can fix the latter by using Chinese light soy sauce next time.

I'm all out of black vinegar or I'd make a second attempt right now and post a recipe. Soon, folks.

Sorry for the crappy lighting. It looked better than this.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


This week I've found myself trying to use up ten pounds of jagerwurst we stuffed and smoked over the weekend. We gave away as much as we could without being obnoxious sausage-pushers, and I managed to fit a half dozen links or so in the (now) completely full freezer. It can be eaten out of hand, perhaps on a plate with crackers and cheese and pickles, but I can handle only a few slices at a time. Here's what I made last night; it was really good with French bread and cheap red wine on a wintry-mix sort of evening.
White beans with kale and jagerwurst
Serves 4.

2 cups dried white beans, rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary
Chicken stock
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large white onion, diced
About 1 pound kale, trimmed and chopped (I used blanched kale that I'd frozen a few months ago)
About 3/4 pound jagerwurst or other smoked pork sausage, sliced 1/2 inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a pot, cover the beans with water by 2 inches and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and let soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans and return them to the pot. Add the bay leaf, rosemary sprig, and stock to cover the beans by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the beans are just tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours, adding more stock or water to keep the beans just covered. Remove and discard the bay leaf and rosemary.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and add the onion. Sauté until the onion is soft and just starting to brown. Remove from the heat. When the beans are almost done, add the onion to the pot and stir in the kale.

Return the pan to medium heat and add the sausage. Cook until well browned on one side, then add the sausage to the pot and simmer until the kale is tender and the beans are soft. Season with salt and pepper to taste and spoon into shallow soup bowls.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

List in Progress

It's been a hell of a year so far, but I'm still here, still thinking crazy thoughts about food.

I'm not one for lists—or, rather, for following lists; I love making them!—but here are a few things I'd like to learn how to do well this year (or whenever):
  1. Sourdough bread. I've ordered The Bread Baker's Apprentice, which should arrive next week. But I was too excited, and went ahead and began a starter this morning, following the BBA page I could read in Google Books. Apparently, though, I've reached my "viewing limit," which means I only know what to do through day three. Can anybody tell me what is on pages 230ff?
  2. Kung pao chicken like they have at West Side Cottage II, which was our local delivery/takeout Chinese in New York. All the elements are perfectly cooked, and the sauce is dark and spicy. Have I mentioned here that in Gainesville, Florida, where we lived for a year between New York and Georgia, the kung pao chicken had zucchini in it? I've still never forgiven Gainesville for that.
  3. Summer sausage. I love even mediocre summer sausage, and I think it'd be fun to make my own.
  4. Bagels, and again I mean New York bagels, good ones, the kind you just cannot get anywhere near Athens. I have a good start: my first attempt, a couple weeks ago, worked really well. I added vital wheat gluten to high-gluten flour, and used barley malt syrup in the (very stiff) dough and the poaching water. Next time there will be pictures, because next time they'll look more like bagels and less like softballs.
  5. Lox. Which means building that smokehouse, and also: learning how to cut a straight line with my Skilsaw. Can one make cream cheese at home?
  6. Kouign amann. I can't pronounce it and I've never eaten it, but it sure sounds like something I'd like. My mom's made it a few times and has given me some tips to augment this recipe.
  7. Gnocchi, light and fluffy, now that I have a potato ricer.
  8. Iranian cheese, the stuff that's like Bulgarian feta, which I haven't come across outside New York. It has the consistency and saltiness of feta, but is very, very sour—not to everyone's taste, but I think it's wonderful. The bug was found yesterday sitting in a corner of the kitchen, on top of a heating register, with a fistful of Bulgarian feta we'd brought back from the city. She likes it too.
  9. Beef with long hot peppers. This will be easy. I've given up on my pork with sour long beans dish from Grand Sichuan International: the Ninth Avenue restaurant is no longer extant, I learned, which I think is a sign that I should just let it go.
  10. Lovage. This year I will try harder to grow it, and if the seeds don't sprout, as happened last year, I'll look harder for potted lovage. My mom planted some for me in my yard this fall, but the drought might have killed it off.
Also, I want to try to use more unfamiliar ingredients—unfamiliar to me, anyway—in everyday cooking. Once recently I bought a turnip, and I don't think I'd ever eaten one before, but it was a revelation. I love turnips! (I sautéed thin slices in duck fat. I love duck fat!) I'm looking for more of that this year.

And now for some random pictures that might represent how the holidays went for the Chalmerses.

There was a cookie-baking day with Athens friends.

There was a long drive to New York, and reading to Cooper.

There was a trip to drizzly Mount Vernon, New York, for pizza at Johnny's (30 W. Lincoln Ave., near Gramatan Ave.)—mentioned on Jeff Varasano's pizza page.

It was probably the bug's best restaurant outing ever. She was fascinated, as were we, by the place and the people there (all of them men: she probably appreciated the low, deep hum of the conversations?), and she seemed to like the pizza, too. It was very good: thin, charred, bubbly, flavorful crust, simple sauce, not too much cheese, that's it.

There was the bug's first time on a beach, near Rye Playland: subfreezing temperatures and below-zero windchill.

There were two nights in Atlantic City, oddly.

There was coming home and cozying up in the big chair.