Qu’ils mangent du pain–let them eat bread!

I credit almost everything I know about bread to Peter Reinhart’s  excellent book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.This is my favorite of his recipes, Pain à l’Ancienne.

A nutty, crusty bread, Pain à l'Ancienne is one of the easiest and most delicious recipes from Peter Rhienhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice

Jim Lahey, the author of Mark Bitman’s no-knead bread has theorized that when bread was indeed the staple food in Europe, bakers must have depended on a slow rise rather than kneading to produce bread. Kneading enough bread to feed a medieval village would use up a large fraction of the calories contained in the bread, and would have occupied a huge percentage of the labor force, leaving few hands to actually harvest and grind wheat.

Dough for Pain à l'Ancienne is wet and needs to be kneaded with a spoon or a stand mixer.

Bread made from a slow rise rather than kneading is delicious and easy, though time consuming. The dough has to rest over-night, or longer.

The secret to all great bread is to do the opposite of most bakeries: cook the bread until its internal temperature reaches 205. Not 200, 205. Do you hear me American Bread Company and Starbucks? Soft wet bread, while appealing to children and the toothless, never tastes as well as fully baked bread.

A good crust is formed by pouring boiling water into a hot pan, creating lots and lots of steam. I pour boiling water into a cast iron pan, which I heat on the bottom rack of my oven, just below my baking stone.

You can try your hand at this recipe, which was published with permission of the author at the Fresh Loaf.

You can also buy the Bread Baker’s Apprentice from Peter Reinhart’s blog.

A date with a salad

Here’s an impressive little winter/spring salad that we can’t get enough of, courtesy of Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques.

Toast a generous handful of blanched, skinned, unseasoned almonds in a medium-hot pan or a 350 degree oven, until they are fragrant and very lightly golden-browned and mottled.

Quarter a dozen dried dates, removing the seed (duh).

Using a sharp knife, carefully cut away the peel, pith and outer membrane of 2 blood oranges, and cut each into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Be careful to reserve any juice.

On four individual plates, layer the salad thusly:

A third of a serving of baby arugula leaves
A drizzle of roasted almond or walnut oil
A couple of pieces of date
A couple of wheels of blood orange
A drizzle of reserved blood orange juice (If your oranges are reluctant to yield any extra juice, you can supplement with a tiny bit of freshly squeezed orange juice.)
Repeat x3, and top with a few shavings of parmigiano reggiano

This salad is especially welcome before or after roast chicken or mild, white-fleshed fish. Because it is not dressed with a strong vinaigrette, it also holds well; this makes it a nice choice for a bring-to-work salad.

I Feel Like Chicken Tonight

Chicken à la Zuni

Just because you've had chicken before does not mean that a chicken is just a chicken

I’m not one for chicken. I like to think my tastes have matured. For one, I’m horrified by the treatment of chicken. They are often abused, tarted up, and treated like cheap meat. Even dressed (and over dressed) chicken can be bland.

But I’ve also heard that great chefs show off by taking something common-place and elemental, and raising it to the sublime through superior technique and care. Roast chicken, delicious when done well and utterly meh when done poorly, is a favourite. I’d often despaired at this until Bluebarry brought home the The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant.

Little did I realize that the impossibly glossy crisp skin we see in food advertisements can be made at home easily and without the help of a food stylist. It’s delicious. A small chicken, a fryer, is the most reliable. It needs to be dried in a refrigerator with a good sprinkling of salt for 1-3 days, and then cooked in a hot pan in a hot oven. It’s counter-inuitive, but worked brilliantly three times in a row, each time giving us impossibly moist, tender meat.

We served a delicious bread salad alongside, which we augmented with lots of pine nuts and barberries. You can read the original recipe here [NSFW if you don’t want your colleagues to think you’re watching the Today Show], but the book is so good I’d recommend buying it.

We finished the meal with cinnamon chocolate cupcakes with mascarpone icing. They were slightly medicinal tasting, but not quite ripe for ridicule. Thus they were left out of the blog.

Hint: In order for the skin to be crisp and not stick to the pan, the chicken must be impeccably dried and the pan must be very hot.

Duck Sticks, Five Times Fast

Lol.

We’ve been cooking from Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s (hereafter: JGV) Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges. It’s cool in that it stretches us just a bit beyond the usual Euro-cuisine that dominates our cooking, without moving into full-on Asian cookery.

One of the highlights so far has been Duck Sticks: spring rolls filled with a duck-confit-based mixture.

Yes, I KNOW... but it tastes good, okay?

To my shame, I didn’t have time to confit duck. So, we bought some good quality prepared confit and mixed it with daikon, garlic, carrots and scallions that had been sauteed in 5-spice powder. It was a good compromise.

You make bath-time so much fun!

Oddly, JGV does not serve this with his duck mustard, the recipe for which is in the same book. We did. As adapted by us, the duck mustard went a little something like this:

1 cup Apricot jam
2 Tbsp sweet horseradish jam (optional – we had it on hand)
2 Tbsp dry mustard
5 inch section of fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp nam pla
1 Tbsp Japanese rice wine vinegar

Reconstitute the mustard in 1 Tbsp of warm water for 10 minutes. Add it to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopper blade. Process until smooth. You’re done.

We accidentally improved the duck stick recipe by forgetting to include the pickled ginger in the filling, serving it alongside instead. All diners were confident that this was a better way to go.