Today’s plat du jour on my table is ratatouille, a classic French vegetable stew that is a specialty of cooks in Provence and Nice. Apparently, a lot of other Mediterranean countries claim some version of this dish, too, so you may have encountered ratatouille under […]
This tart is so super rich I suspect it got a big tax cut! (OK. I am bitter.) It’s easy, too! And, it makes a pretty impressive presentation. (Who among your guests needs to know that it was a cinch to make?) The richness […]
Quick! Hand me a jar of my neighbor Sarah’s etherial tangerine marmalade.
I have two warm-from-the-oven loaves of sourdough bread sitting on my kitchen counter. Warm sourdough bread. Bitter-ish marmalade. It doesn’t get better than that.
As you may know if you regularly read this blog, one of my cooking goals in life is to make the ultimate sourdough loaf in my own oven.
Why am I so fixated on perfecting my baking game with a sourdough loaf?
Maybe it’s the history teacher in me. (I taught high school history for 33 years.) People have, after all, been enjoying sourdough bread for a very long time. Who in the world wouldn’t be interested in knowing the backstory of that? (Don’t snicker. I know I’m a history geek.)
Historically, there is evidence of bread making in neolithic times. (For those of you who dozed through history classes, that period began about 10,000 B.C.) Researchers also have identified a sourdough loaf found during a Switzerland dig that dates back to 3500 B.C. Bread is old.
Historians also have pretty substantial evidence of sourdough bread-making in Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians were big into beer making and they used the natural yeast from that project to make leavened breads. For Egyptians, it was, apparently, always time to party–beer or bread, it didn’t matter. Even young King Tut must have been affected by the leavened bread and yeasty beer craze. Speaking of King Tut…for those who are reading this and who might have missed it on other venues, Steve Martin’s vintage and inspried funky King Tut portrayal is absolute genius: Steve Martin’s King Tut. Just watch it!)
As the centuries passed, bread making became a part of the culinary traditions of the Greeks, the Romans and the Medieval Europeans with sourdough starter being the chief leavening agent for bakers.
Then….bam!…the development of commercially-produced yeast in the 19th century damaged the sourdough market and ushered in the modern bread era that has produced such culinary disasters as Wonder Bread. Julia Child deplored the decline in the quality of bread with her infamous remark: “How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like kleenex?” How, indeed?
But…back to a really good bread…This loaf is my adaptation of a recipe from King Arthur Flour.
This bread has a a nice sour flavor enhanced by the use of not only a “fed” starter (my “Kellyanne” from a previous post here) but also with a couple of tablespoons of King Arthur Flour’s sourdough flavoring here.
Try it. I think you will enjoy it.
Here is the recipe:
- 8 ounces "fed" sourdough starter
- 12 ounces lukewarm water
- 2 t. instant yeast
- 2 T. King Arthur Flour Sourdough powder
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 21 1/4 ounces King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- Combine all ingredients. Knead to form a smooth dough.
- Set your dough aside to rise for about 90 minutes in a greased and covered bowl. You want the dough to double in size.
- Once your dough has doubled in size, divide it (gently) into two parts.
- Shape the dough into two oval loaves and place them on a piece of parchment paper. Cover the loaves and let them rise for about an hour. The dough should be puffy after the rise.
- While your dough is rising preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
- Spray the surface of the loaves with lukewarm water. Make two diagonal slashes on each loaf using a bread lame or a serrated bread knife.
- Bake the bread for 25 o 30 minutes. When it is done it should be a very deep golden brown color. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.
Here is the link to the original King Arthur Flour recipe from which this recipe was adapted: Rustic Sourdough Bread.
This healthy Middle Eastern soup is wonderful. It’s spicy–flavored with a robust harissa paste. It’s full of flavorful and protein-rich Rancho Gordo Marcella white beans. It’s filled with good-for-you greens. It’s just what you need to warm your soul–whether you are caught in […]
I ate my first B’stilla years ago in Casablanca. I fell in love. (Cue the music: As time Goes By.) We had travelled to Spain to visit Jim Shelton, a teacher friend who had moved to Alicante. Then, on a romantic whim, we booked […]
I’m late to the party. (What’s new? I know.)
To be honest, I didn’t even know I liked soft polenta, but it is pretty wonderful, particularly mixed with generous amounts of butter and grated asiago (or parmesan) cheese.
In this dish, the polenta is topped with a savory fennel, garlic and tomato-sauced bean stew spiced with just enough red pepper flakes to keep things interesting.
Enjoy! This is true comfort food, and, believe me, you do need tidings of comfort and joy during these last days of the holiday season.
Why? It’s tense-tense-tense out there, people.
You need to keep your strength (and spirits) up for all the sharp elbows you are sure to encounter during your last-minute holiday shopping sprees not to mention the mortal combat of vying for scarce parking spots at the mall.
Holiday “spirit,” after all, means different things to different people.
My favorite story of holiday “good will’ this season comes from my neighbors Sarah and Gene who recently were the victims of road rage.
Not on PCH or the 405.
No. No. No.
They were victims while in line to pick up a prescription refill at the drive-up window at the Walgreens. (Real story. You can’t make this stuff up.)
In their case, the impatient guy behind them in the Walgreens’ line blasted them with his horn because he didn’t think they were collecting their prescription fast enough and then, to add insult to injury, gave them a rude hand gesture as they exited the drive-up lane. Sleigh bells ring…
Hope he was picking up a way-big supply of Xanax.
- Tomato Sauce
- 3 T. unsalted butter
- 1/2 medium yellow onion (chopped)
- 1 medium fennel bulb (trimmed and chopped)
- 3 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
- 4 t. chopped fresh oregano
- 1/4 t. red pepper flakes
- 1 small carrot (peeled and shredded)
- One 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes (or plum tomatoes)
- Freshly-ground pepper
- 2 C. drained cooked cranberry (or borlotti beans--I used Rancho Gordo cranberry beans)
- 1/3 C. fresh flat-leaf parsley (chopped)
- 4 C. water
- 1 t. salt
- 1 C. polenta
- 2 T. unsalted butter
- 1/2 C. freshly-grated Asiago cheese (plus more for garnishing)
- Freshly-ground pepper
- Chopped parsley and additional shredded cheese for garnish (and maybe a pinch of cayenne pepper)
- Prepare the sauce in a heavy pot. Melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the onion, fennel, garlic, 2 t. oregano, red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt in the melted butter for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and fragrant. Add the shredded carrot and continue sautéing the mixture for two more minutes. Add the tomatoes (I broke the tomatoes up with my hands before mixing them into the stew. You can chop the tomatoes if you aren't feeling particularly like a hands-on experience.) Add a pinch more salt and simmer the mixture over a low- low heat (uncovered) for 2-3 hours. You will want the tomatoes to begin separating from the oil.
- When the tomato mixture is cooked, add the remaining chopped oregano and additional salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooked beans.
- While the tomato/bean mixture is cooking, make the polenta. Bring water to a boil. Add the salt to the water. Whisk the polenta into the water in a steady stream. (You don't want lumps! Yuck.) Reduce the heat and cook over a low heat until the polenta mixture thickens and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. This will take 40-45 minutes. Stir in the butter and the Asiago. Season with pepper. Cover to keep warm until you are ready to serve the polenta topped with the bean stew.
- Garnish with grated cheese and chopped parsley and a pinch of cayenne if you are feeling wild.
This is an adaptation of a recipe that appeared on the Kitchn site. Here is the link: Borlotti Beans in Tomato Sauce with Creamy Polenta
“When I was born I was so ugly the doctor slapped my mother.” –Rodney Dangerfield Close your eyes and this soup is absolutely delicious. Stare at it in your bowl…not so much. How do you write about (let alone photograph) a […]
Here I sit on a blustery December day in Southern California enjoying a hot cup of my favorite Darjeeling tea and a slice of this spice cake. Sweet Juliet is curled up at my feet enjoying a quiet nap. Mmmm. Life is good. I think […]
Raise your hands if you don’t like baked beans. Nobody? I thought so.
This baked bean recipe has it all. It shines with the best beans you can buy but it is also great with plain Jane canned beans. (I used Rancho Gordo ayocote dry beans. Rancho Gordo Beans Site)It can be as sweet as you want it to be. Piquant savory flavors (tomato, garlic, onion) complement the sweet ingredients (molasses, apples, maple syrup). Did I mention that it incorporates two generous pours of bourbon whiskey–one pour for the beans and one for the cook?
As a testimony to the sheer goodness of baked beans, just about everyone claims a part in the creation of the dish. French cooks say American baked beans take their inspiration from French cassoulet. The Canadians say the dish is a Quebecois specialty. Historians say the Penebscot Indians, who baked their beans buried in hot ash in large holes in the ground, probably introduced baked beans to loggers working in the forests of Maine. Boston says the beans are theirs. Heinz started putting them in cans in 1901 and created a wildly-successful product.
Baked beans have infiltrated the cuisines of some pretty exotic places, too. I remember ordering a breakfast of baked beans on toast at the ground floor cafe in Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel. It turns out the beans were the hotel’s culinary nod to Britain’s colonial role in the country. Baked beans were, after all, a part of the full English breakfast tradition–eggs, grilled tomato, hash browns, bacon, sausages, black pudding and baked beans. At the Taj, though, they were served with a side of mango chutney.
Whatever their provenance, baked beans, properly prepared, are a delicious addition to any menu.
This recipe is a meal in a bowl to be savoured on a cold winter evening, but the opportunities to pair it with other dishes are endless. (I served mine with a simple mayonnaise coleslaw spiced with caraway seeds.)
- 1 T. vegetable oil
- 2 large onions ( 1 sliced and 1 quartered)
- 1 to 2 large apples (peeled and quartered)
- 1/4 C. bourbon Whiskey (plus a tot for the cook)
- 2 garlic cloves (minced)
- 1/3 C. tomato paste
- 2 T. Worcestershire sauce (vegetarian brand if you are veg)
- 2 T. blackstrap molasses
- 2 T apple cider vinegar
- 2 T. soy sauce
- 1 T. prepared mustard
- 1 t. smoked paprika
- 1 t. liquid smoke (optional--I used it)
- 1/4 to 1/2 C. maple syrup
- 28 oz. great northern beans (drained and rinsed or equivalent amount of freshly cooked dried beans)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Garnish with chopped cilantro and or red onion
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Saute one sliced onion in oil in a skillet set over medium-low heat for 30 to 40 minutes (until caramelized). Watch the skillet carefully and stir often. You want the onions to caramelize not burn. Stop the cooking as soon as your onions are the color you want them to be. When onions are caramelized, add minced garlic and sauté for about one minute. Add the whiskey and cook for about 4 minutes (until most of the liquid has cooked off). Remove from heat.
- In a medium bowl, combine tomato paste, Worchestershire sauce, molasses, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, prepared mustard, paprika and liquid smoke. Stir until all ingredients are well-mixed. Stir in maple syrup and taste. Add more maple syrup if you prefer a sweeter taste.
- Put the onion mixture into an oven-safe Dutch oven. Add the canned beans and the maple-syrup mixture. Stir to combine. (If you are using dry beans --as I did-- prepare your beans in an Instant Pot following Instant Pot directions for dried beans before adding them to the pot.)Add the quartered onion and the quartered apples to the bean pot. Stir to mix ingredients. Season generously with salt and pepper to taste.
- Cover and bake. Check the beans occasionally, stir and add additional water if the beans are getting too dry. Bake for about an hour. Then uncover the pan and cook for 10 more minutes. The beans only get better the longer you cook them. I cooked my baked beans for several hours, checking them regularly and adding extra water as necessary.
- Remove beans from oven and let them sit for a few minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped cilantro or red onion.
Here is a link to the original recipe from which this recipe was adapted: Best Ever Vegan Baked Beans.