Thursday, August 27, 2009

Snapshots from a traveler #11

Though it won't be in a Southwest plane, this afternoon Mom and I will take off over the familiar shoreline of Lake Erie and leave Cleveland bound for Sydney. I'm still not packed, but words nevertheless fail to convey how excited I am.

(This photo here is from 2007, when Husband and I traveled to Wyoming and South Dakota to celebrate our second anniversary.)

I will be absent from this space for a few weeks whilst I gallivant around the Great Southern Land. I'll try to check in every so often, maybe with a photo or a brief, thrilling paragraph about a delicious meal. Other than that, however, A Stove With A House Around It will be a lonely place until mid-September.

But the continent of Australia will be a little more crowded. Mom and I are boisterous like that.

See you soon!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bread Baker's Apprentice 12/43: English muffins

For those of you out there keeping score, let me put it to you plainly: Peter Reinhart's English muffins do not deserve the treatment I am about to give them. They have not earned the insult of just a few cursory paragraphs devoted to their glory. They deserve to be sung about; they ought to inspire the writing of a sort of 21st-century epic poem. The Faerie Queen of yeast breads, if you will.

But as it is, I have a date with a Qantas airplane in less than 48 hours, and my half-assed attempts at packing simply must take precedence over the magnificence of Reinhart's English muffins. Which is a travesty. But there it is.

However, were I not about to fly about as far as one can fly without starting back the other way, I'll tell you what I'd be doing: I'd be baking more English muffins. Because Reinhart's recipe is e-asy. Easy! And the resulting muffins -- especially if fork-split, toasted and slathered with a teaspoon of homemade blueberry jam -- are so much more delicious than anything anyone named Thomas ever baked. Reinhart's English muffins have a yeasty, vaguely sweet, roasted flavor and a dynamite aroma. And they even look professional!

When I return from Australia with a mind full of funny stories and a belly full of delicious food (not Vegemite, ahem) and a heart full of fond memories and a camera full of pictures, the first thing I'm going to do is whip up a batch of English muffins to welcome myself home. I might even do it before the jetlag subsides.

These English muffins are that good.


The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge asks that we do not share Reinhart's recipes. If you are going to be in the country for the foreseeable future, turn your copy of the book to page 157 and get to work. You will be really, really happy with yourself.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Snapshots from a traveler #10

A week from today, Mom and I will be on a Qantas jet bound for Sydney. I'm not going to lie to you: I am excited. Very excited.

So in honor of our upcoming trip, today I present this cool bird/Opera House photo, which I took when I was there for a friend's wedding in 2004. Gorgeous glittering harbour, I cannot wait to see you again.

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, April 2004.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Of garden and grill

Before I begin rambling about grills, please allow me to apologize for my absence this past week. I leave soon to go on vacation in Australia, and my to-do list of late includes items such as "test film in Nikon," "hiking boots" and "international driver's license." It does not, quite obviously, include items such as "update blog." Something always has to give.

But I haven't been too busy to cook and eat, that's for sure. So I do have a dish to share with you today, in between canning as many garden tomatoes as possible before I leave and attempting to determine how many pairs of shoes to take. It's a dish that has everything to do with the summer luxuries of garden and grill.

You see, Husband and I have been sort of grill-spoiled by the marvelous people in our lives. Husband's groomsmen got together and bought us a nice gas grill as a wedding gift. It wasn't even on our registry. But Husband's groomsmen, knowing Husband, looked beyond the registry and picked the perfect gift for their friend. It graces our back porch and gets a good deal of use in the summer months. Even so, I am still just slightly afraid of propane; therefore, in the back of my head I still wanted to get a charcoal grill. Sometime. Not a huge priority, but someday.

Then, as luck would have it, Sister and Brother-in-Law got a new gas grill and planned on disposing of their Weber. I heard mention of this plan and suggested that, you know, we would be happy to unload it for you. So a few weeks ago when they were away on vacation and I was caring for their ridiculous-but-adorable cats (hi, Zippy and Tyrone!) I loaded up the Weber in the back of my car and transported it to its new home on our brick patio. I was a little concerned that Sister's neighbors might think I was a thief, as I lifted the grill parts, one by one, over her back yard fence and absconded with them in my vehicle. I quickly decided I didn't care; I will risk my reputation for a charcoal-grilled meal.

Husband and I fired up our "new" Weber for the first time a few nights ago. And though this might seem a travesty to all you meat-loving grillers out there, the first thing I cooked on it was tofu. And green beans from the garden. I know, I know. Embarrassing. But delicious. (When I was done grilling soybean curd, Husband did blacken a few brats, salvaging the manhood and dignity of the Weber.) It is worth mentioning, however, that even Husband ate some of the tofu and green beans.

Cooking this way is one of the most satisfying acts of summer: walk a few steps over there, pick some green beans, wash them off with a garden hose, mix them in a bowl with a little olive oil and pepper, then walk back over and place them on the grill. It's a meal from your own soil and toil, one that simply cannot be replicated at any other time of the year. It's so fresh and perfect that even people who don't like green beans and tofu will reach for a serving
(proof: Husband). And it's quick and easy to make, once the charcoal is glowing.

Which leaves ample time to confirm flights and research places to horseback ride in the Blue Mountains.



The tofu needs time to press and marinate, so begin preparing it a few hours before you plan on grilling.

14 oz. extra-firm tofu
1 T. fresh oregano, chopped
1 t. fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 c. soy sauce
2 T. plus 2 t., olive oil, divided
1 t. coriander
A few pinches of freshly-cracked black pepper
10 oz. green beans, stem end removed
1/4 c. fresh peas, from the garden if you have them
1/4 c. roasted corn kernels, cut off the cob
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 t. lemon zest

Line a baking sheet with a clean tea towel. Cut the tofu into long pieces. Arrange tofu in a single layer on the paper towel, then cover with another clean towel. Place another baking sheet on top, then weigh down with something heavy, such as a cast iron skillet or some large cans of tomatoes. Press the tofu for at least 15-30 minutes.

Place the tofu in a medium bowl then add the oregano, thyme, soy sauce, 1 T. of the olive oil, coriander and a pinch of black pepper. Using a spoon, carefully stir the ingredients to coat the tofu with the other ingredients. Be gentle here; the goal is to keep the tofu pieces intact. Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours.

When you are ready to grill, toss the green beans with 1 T. of the olive oil and a pinch of black pepper. Rub the grill grate with some vegetable oil. Place the tofu and beans on the grill. Cook the beans for 3-5 minutes without turning, then remove to a large mixing bowl (you want them to get a little color, but they should still be bright and crunchy).

Cook the tofu for 10-15 minutes, turning to brown on all sides.

Remove the tofu and add it to the bowl with the green beans. Add the peas, roasted corn kernels, lemon juice and zest and the remaining 2 t. olive oil. Toss to combine, and serve warm.

Makes 4-6 servings as a side dish.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Snapshots from a traveler #9

Last year some friends got married in the barn behind this historic house. It was pretty awesome.

The Silas Deane House, Old Wethersfield, Connecticut, USA, September 2008.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Had my fling

I am clearly not to be trusted. Peter Reinhart turns his back for one moment and I am off, sneaking clandestine relations with another cookbook. A pretty green one with drawings and clever stories, a slim volume that beckons with its warm prose and inviting recipes. Some of them are even bread recipes.

As you may know, starting this past May I took a bread-vow to bake my way through Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Our vows did not specifically state that I would forsake all other bread recipes, but it was sort of implied. After all, baking one bread per week from scratch is rather time consuming, plus there is the pesky result of lots and lots of leftover bread, cluttering the counter and freezer like I was afraid I'd get lost and need a crumbly trail back to the kitchen. So to throw a non-Reinhart bread into the mix, just for the heck of it, seemed a tad excessive. But honestly, I can't remember the last time I wasn't excessive.

So. Not far from my home is the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a real live national park, right here, in Ohio, with rangers and everything. It's a lovely valley, connecting Cleveland to Akron along the crooked Cuyahoga River with miles and miles of walking trails, bridle trails, small family farms and beautiful landscape features. There's even a waterfall.

And next to that waterfall is a quaint little bed and breakfast called, naturally, The Inn at Brandywine Falls. Several years ago the innkeepers, George and Katie Hoy, published a cookbook of the recipes they cook and share with their guests at their inn. It is a wonderful volume, filled with the stories, charm and color that one would expect from an inn that, at the time of publication, had hosted more than 7,500 guests. You're bound to get some good tales out of that many travelers. Then there is the small but significant matter that the Hoys thank, among other beings, their dogs, cats, horses and goats in the opening pages of the book. How could you not love a book dedicated in part to our four-footed friends? Seriously. How could you not love that?

So the other night, while I was delivering Mom's puggle Rosie home to her after a week of quality dog-sitting, I was thumbing through Inn Good Taste while sitting in her kitchen. I only had to get to page seven before I found a recipe that I had to try immediately. The conversation went something like this:

Di: "Hi. Welcome home! Here is your crazy puggle. I am borrowing this cookbook."

Mom: "She doesn't seem as happy to see me as I thought she would. Did you feed her broccoli? Did she sleep in your bed? What are you cooking now?"

The answers to Mom's questions: yes, but it was raw even though she prefers cooked; yes, and she carefully placed her rear end on my pillow each night; French bread with olives and sage. You see, French bread with olives and sage, to me at least, sounds too amazing to languish on a page, unbaked. Plus, Husband recently brought me a stash of Calabrian green olives from NYC, and my sage plant is large, leafy and overtaking its corner of the back porch. I put Reinhart on the shelf, for just a few days, and had my fling with another bread.

I could say something here like, "It was good. Don't tell Reinhart." But in truth, the reason this bread was so good was because of Reinhart. I brought the lessons of 11 (so far) Reinhart breads to bear on my baking of the olive-sage bread, and I'm convinced this excellent bread was the result of my knowing things I simply did not know before. Things like the windowpane. How to shape a boule. The difference between sticky and tacky. And when I make this bread again, I'm going to experiment with baking it under hearth conditions, meaning, on a stone with high and variable temperature and the addition of steam.

So, yes, I suppose it is cliche. My olive-sage fling -- while amazing and memorable and wonderful in every way -- made me appreciate my Reinhart commitment even more.

Until some other hot-to-trot bread comes along.


Adapted from Inn Good Taste, by George and Katie Hoy

The original recipe is written very simply and humorously. It includes directions such as, "When smooth and elastic, cover the dough with a cloth and do something else for awhile." Predictably, in the course of Reinharting this recipe, I added a little more fussy quantitative detail. But feel free to run fast and loose with rising times, etc. The Hoys certainly do.

In the book, the recipe is written to yield six loaves of bread. That seems a little excessive, even to me, so I cut the recipe in half. If you are feeding a small army, feel free to double what you see below.

3 c. lukewarm water (part of this liquid can be juice from the olives -- about 1/4 c. of my 3 c. of water was olive brine)
1 T. yeast
2 T. sugar, divided
About 7 c. bread flour, divided
1 T. kosher salt
1/2 c. fresh sage leaves, "hacked into quarter-inch pieces"
1/2 c. pitted green olives, roughly chopped
Coarse corn meal, for sprinkling
1 egg white

The night before you wish to have bread, place the water, olive brine (if using) and yeast in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add 1 T. of the sugar and whisk to combine. Add 2 1/3 c. of the flour; switch to a wooden spoon or a dough whisk if you have one and stir 100 times, until the mixture is well-combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let the sponge sit at room temperature overnight.

The next day, when the sponge is bubbly, add the remaining 1 T. of sugar, salt, sage and olives. Stir this mixture 100 times, then cover again and let rest for about 20 minutes.

When the mixture has rested, add 3 2/3 c. flour, reserving the remaining 1 c. of flour. Stir to begin to incorporate the flour, then turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface to bring the dough together. Knead the dough for 12-15 minutes, adding the remaining 1 c. of flour if the dough is too sticky. (I ended up using all of this 1 c. of flour, plus a little more.) You want the dough to be tacky, but not sticky; this means that the dough will feel sticky but you will be able to pull your hand away without dough residue on your fingers. You will know you are done kneading when the dough has formed a smooth, elastic ball and passes the windowpane test.

(Window pane test, in front of a windowpane. Ha!)

Cover the dough with a cloth and let it rise for about 1 hour.

Punch down the risen dough and, using a bench scraper or a serrated knife, divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Shape the pieces into loaves -- I chose to make a boule, which is a round loaf. You can make a boule by working the dough into a ball, then pulling down the "sides" of the ball and pinching them together underneath. This increases the surface tension of the dough and creates a tight sphere. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle the paper with cornmeal. Place one loaf on each sheet, then cover the loaves with a cloth and let rise for about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat the egg white until frothy, then brush over the bread. Bake the loaves, one at a time, for 38 minutes, turning the loaf halfway through the baking. When done, the loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove the loaves from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Allow the dough to cool for at least one hour before slicing and serving.

Makes 3 loaves. I kept one and gave one to Mom and one to Sister. They were grateful ladies.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Pickled things

I am totally that person to whom people who don't like pickles give their pickles.

In restaurants, when Husband orders a sandwich, moments after his plate arrives he removes the pickle spear and steers it toward my plate like an incoming torpedo. In some cases I have ordered pasta, or another dish similarly unsuited to a pickle accompaniment. But his unwanted pickle lands welcomed on my plate nevertheless, and I eat and enjoy it, confident that pickles go with anything. Indeed, last night, at home, I snacked on some pickles while sipping a glass of red wine. Which I'm sure would not be kosher to a sommelier. But it's OK, the pickles weren't kosher either.

I suppose I have inherited this pickle-love from Dad, who has been known to eat a jar of pickles for dinner. (This normally only happens when Mom isn't home and he can't be bothered to cook for himself.) In fact, there have been many a four-letter word exchanged between Mom and Dad over pickles, the former scolding the latter to try and control himself and leave a few pickles for her. One recent evening I was sitting on their back porch relaxing when Dad sadly moped, "You know, we have pickles in the refrigerator, but your mother won't let me eat them." Then, from a distant place inside the house, comes a snappy retort: "That's right. The bastard needs to leave the pickles alone." I don't even know how she heard him.

The summer's garden bounty is giving me many, many great excuses to make a lot of homemade pickles, which will satisfy everyone's briny cravings except, I suppose, for Husband's. Seeing as how he doesn't have briny cravings. His loss! Anyway. My garden is yielding a nice crop of cucumbers and more fresh green beans than I could possibly eat.
Luckily, both cucumbers and green beans make easy, excellent pickles.

Just put yours on my plate, please, and move on. Nothing to see here.


Adapted from Everyday Food

Please note: these pickles are not shelf-stable. Keep refrigerated and use within 2 weeks.

4-6 Kirby cucumbers (about 1 lb.), quartered lengthwise
1 c. white wine vinegar
1/4 c. sugar
3 T. pickling salt
1 t. dill seed
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 c. water

Place the cucumbers in a medium bowl.

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, dill seed, garlic and water. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pour over the cucumbers.

Use a small plate the submerge the cucumbers in the liquid. Refrigerate until cool, at least 2 hours.

Transfer the pickles and brine into an airtight container (a Ball jar works well). Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 1 quart.


From the most excellent Food in Jars

An important safety message from Marisa, the knowledgeable author of Food in Jars:
"One thing to note about string beans. They are perfectly safe to can in a boiling water bath when you’re making pickles out of them. They are NOT safe to can without the brine unless you’re using a pressure canner. One of the few documented cases of botulism that occurred last year was because a family ate some poorly preserved green beans. So if you want to preserve your beans but you don’t want to pickle them, either get yourself a pressure canner or blanch and freeze them."

Also, be sure to spend some time at Food in Jars; Marisa has a plethora of delicious canning recipes as well as informative resources. Her site is the first place I go when I have a canning question or am looking to do something new and yummy with produce and a Ball jar.

One other note: the night I made these, I harvested only 1 lb. of beans from my garden. This recipe works well halved, just FYI.

2 lbs. green beans, trimmed to fit your jars
2 1/2 c. white vinegar (5%)
2 1/2 c. water
1/4 c. pickling salt
1 t. cayenne, divided
4 t. dill seed, divided
4 cloves garlic, peeled

Prep your canning pot by inserting a rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot (I use a cooling rack for this). Place 4 wide-mouth pint jars in the pot and fill it with water. Bring the water to a boil to sterilize the jars.

Place the lids in a small saucepan of water. Bring the water to a simmer and allow the lids to sit in the simmering water for about 10 minutes, which will soften the sealing compound.

Wash and trim the beans so that they fit in your jars.

Remove the sterilized jars from the canning pot. In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, water and salt and bring to a boil. While this brine is heating, pack the beans into the sterilized jars, being sure to leave about 1/2-inch head space (the distance between the tops of the beans and the rim of the jar). To each jar, add 1/4 t. cayenne, 1 t. dill seed and 1 clove garlic.

(Pay no attention to this photo; I had to go back later and trim the beans for the required 1/2-inch head space. But still, I liked the look of this photo.)

Pour the boiling brine over the beans, making sure to leave that 1/2-inch head space. Wipe the rims of the jar with a paper towel or a clean tea towel, then apply the lids and rings.

Process the jars for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath in the canning pot (don't start timing until the water has come to a rolling boil). After 5 minutes, remove from the water and place on a tea towel on the counter. Allow the jars to cool. When they are cool, check to make sure that the lids have sealed (if they are sealed properly, the lids will not "pop" when pressed down). If you get a rogue non-sealing jar, don't worry. Just store it in the refrigerator and eat the beans within 2 weeks.

If you can manage to wait, allow the properly-sealed jars to hang out at room temperature for 2 weeks, to allow all the flavors to mingle. Then, bust open your dilly beans and enjoy!

Makes 4 pints.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Snapshots from a traveler #8

The back of this photo says, "Daddy drinking beer at Heidelberg Castle," in the handwriting of a nine-year-old. (That nine-year-old was me.)

Heidelberg, Germany, June 1984.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Bread Baker's Apprentice 11/43: cranberry- (or strawberry-) walnut celebration bread

Oh, Peter Reinhart. You are so very excellent -- and I expect so much from you -- that I am just shocked when I'm not over-the-moon in love with one of your bread recipes. Yet I know that not everyone is perfect, so The Bread Baker's Apprentice must, by the law of averages, contain a few recipes that aren't so fabulous. I know this rationally, but still, I am nonetheless surprised when one of your recipes falls flat.

And by "falls flat," I mean, quite literally, "falls flat." As in, this week's bread -- cranberry-walnut celebration bread -- did not rise nicely, even considering the seemingly excessive 3 1/2 teaspoons of yeast in the recipe.

(We are dog-sitting Mom's puggle, Rosie, this week. She had fun scrounging around for strawberries and walnuts that fell out of the dough during kneading.)

According to the recipe's narrative, Reinhart really enjoys his cranberries, especially in the context of Thanksgiving dinner. Thus, he states that this celebratory loaf fits in gorgeously with that holiday meal. I'm sure it does, for people who like cranberries. However, the only cranberry I like is one that has been transformed into juice and then shaken with citrus vodka and Cointreau, then served up in a frosty martini glass. I couldn't bear to make a double-braided loaf of bread from scratch and then ruin it with that tart fruit I so dislike. I had exactly 9 oz. of dried strawberries in the pantry, so I subbed them for the 9 oz. of cranberries called for in the recipe. Mmmmm. Now, dried strawberries I can do.

The dough is replete with chopped fruit and walnuts, so much so that Reinhart mentions that it will require patience to knead in all the extra bits. Given the high ratio of fruit and nuts in the mixture, then, I found it very difficult to roll the dough into the six smooth "ropes" necessary to create a double-braid. Strawberries and walnuts were falling out all over the place, and the resulting ropes were chunky and uneven. During the second proof, when the braids are supposed to swell and puff and generally take on their perfect outward appearance, my bread, well, just kinda sat there. I blame all the heavy fruit and nuts, which surely weighed down the lemon-scented enriched dough, preventing its rise.

(See what I mean? This bread is delicious, and does not deserve to look like this.)

Or maybe it's just me. Actually, it probably is me. The strawberries and walnuts seem a convenient target, but certainly something I did as the baker stunted the dough's rise. Oh well. So it didn't look smooth and braid-y and perfect. But damn, it did taste good. It is a damn fine-tasting bread. I will say it again: it is a damn fine-tasting bread. Especially toasted and covered with a hearty smear of salted butter. And through your guests might love the bread's flavor, if you were to make this loaf for a celebration of any sort -- depending on your skill -- it might not look as grand as you'd like.

But all I was celebrating yesterday was my ability not to fall off an ornery bucking Percheron-thoroughbred cross. My strawberry-walnut celebration bread was just perfect for that.


The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge asks that we do not share the recipes from Reinhart's book. But I know you have a copy. So go figure out what dried fruit is in your pantry, turn to page 154 and get to braiding.

PS. Here is a secret: You don't have to braid the bread. You can bake it in a loaf pan or as a stand-alone boule. As a matter of fact, the next time I make it, I'm going the loaf pan route. But I figured I had to attempt the double-braid, at least once.

Also be sure to check out some of my fellow Bread Bakers' takes on the cranberry-walnut celebration bread:
  • Jeff of Culinary Disasters thinks this bread is kind of boring. I'm totally mopping up what he's spilling.
  • Kelly at Something Shiny made cute little cranberry-walnut braids.
  • Over at Ährelich Gesagt, Daniel's smaller braid fell off the back of the bigger braid. But the crumb inside looks amazing.