Monday, December 29, 2008

I've been away, but now I'm back.

Hi, friends! Sorry I was away for so long and didn't mention it beforehand. I've been in A LOT of airports, and also spent some quality time in Oklahoma. And Kansas. And Missouri, I guess. Anyway, I'll be back with real posting soon, and I hope you all had lovely holidays!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Making Cassoulet With Regina

Oh, hi! I'm so glad you're still here, and I'm sorry I've been a bit of a slacker lately. It's just that So! Many! Exciting! Things! have been going on and I've been pretty busy. One of the exciting things was the visit of my good friend Regina aaaaall the way from Istanbul, Turkey. She had been planning a trip to the US and emailed me to ask if we could "hang out and cook something for the blog," so that is precisely what we did last Wednesday night. Before I tell you about it, here's Regina:
Isn't she cute? She's making garlic crumbs! Oh yes, delicious garlicky bread crumbs [Aside: I like how the word garlic gets a "k" when you turn it into an adjective.] And here we are waiting patiently for the deliciousness to come out of the oven:

But what deliciousness? A tasty, beany, sausagey, garlicky (!) cassoulet, which I adapted from four or five different cassoulet recipes I found on the interwebs. Traditionally cassoulet has duck breast AND sausage with the beans and vegetables, but just the sausage was puh-lenty of meat for me. Here's the basic process:

Cook the beans (do this the day before if you can, it'll save you HOURS, skip it if you're using canned).
Cook the bacon until fat is rendered thoroughly, remove from pot.
Cook the sausage in the bacon fat until browned, remove from pot.
Cook the vegetables in the remaining fat.
Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and beans, stir.
Crumble bacon, slice sausage, add to pot, simmer.
Add HALF the breadcrumbs, bake 10 minutes.
Squash breadcrumbs into the stew, sacrificing them to sogginess.
Top with the rest of the breadcrumbs. Bake 10 minutes, broil until browned.

Ok, so that summary didn't turn out quite as succinct as I thought, but you get the idea. The best part about this is that it's just one pot which makes clean up pretty straightforward. If you've got a stock of delicious dried beans, they really shine here - I used Rancho Gordo runner cannellinis which are just HUGE and delicious. And you definitely want to use fresh bread crumbs rather than boxed. Just save stale bread in the freezer and when you have a bag full, zip it through a food processor. The crumbs will keep fine in the freezer too, and I think coarse crumbs are important here.

Cassoulet with Beans and Sausage

1 lb hot Italian sausage links (use sweet sausage if you don't like spicy food)
2 strips bacon (optional)
3 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces, washed and dried (use a salad spinner)
4 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
4 thyme sprigs
2 parsley sprigs
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
4 1/2 cups cooked dried beans (or 3 cans cannellini or Great Northern
beans, rinsed and drained)
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice3 tablespoons tomato paste1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
salt & pepper

For crumb top:
4 cups fresh bread crumbs
1-3 cloves garlic, chopped (or to taste)
small handful parsley, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil

In a medium dutch oven (I think mine is in the 4-6 quart range), cook the bacon to desired crispiness to render out the fat. Remove and set aside, leaving fat in the pan. If you don't want to use bacon, just heat a little olive oil on medium - add the sausage (still in casing) and brown on all sides over medium heat. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add the leeks, carrots, garlic and celery to the fat remaining in the pan, stir to coat. Add 1/2 a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and add the herb sprigs. Sauté until vegetables are becoming tender, 10-15 minutes. Stir in beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and stock, and simmer, partially covered, about 20 minutes (make sure the carrots are tender).

Combine the crumbs, chopped garlic, chopped parsley and olive oil in a bowl and stir to coat crumbs.

Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the sausage links on the diagonal into 1/2 inch slices. Add the bacon and sausage back into the stew and simmer another 5-10 minutes until the sausage is heated through. Add 1/3 to 1/2 the crumb mixture to the top of the stew, bake for 10 minutes uncovered. Remove from the oven and use a spatula to squish the crumbs into the stew - this creates a soggy layer of crumbs on which to build your crispy top. Add the rest of the bread crumbs, and bake for another 10-15 minutes, uncovered until the crumbs are golden brown. If not browned to your liking, switch on the broiler for a couple of minutes, but stand near the stove and watch it carefully - you don't want your cassoulet spoiled by a burnt top!

Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4-6, or 8 if you like small servings.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Citizen Bean

Do you guys know about Citizen Bean? I think it would make a pretty cool gift for the coffee-snob in your life (no, I'm not talking about me). I just think it's a neat idea. Has anybody out there ever used them? How was your experience?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dude, I made bagels.

Remember how I said you should check out Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day? Yeah, you still should. I made these bagels from the classic boule dough a couple of weekends ago, guided by this post on their website, Not the traditional New York Style bagel, but I'm not sure you can beat a fresh-from-the-oven bagel no matter WHO makes it. So. Delicious.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pizza, Pizza!

Oh man. Do you guys have Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day yet? PLEASE go buy it. Or ask Santa. Or get it from the library. I bought it a few weeks ago, and so far I've made their classic boule, pain d'epi which I brought to Thanksgiving dinner and now PIZZA. And I'm not even really a bread person!*

Megan and I usually try to figure out a couple of meals we'll make this week when we're on the way to the grocery store, though we're not often home for dinner together more than twice a week. I never did make the soup I intended to make on Wednesday because we got an invite to dinner from some friends who recently moved into the neighborhood. Maybe Sunday?

Last night, however, I was not to be deterred. I had whipped up a batch of AB5MD's olive oil dough on Sunday afternoon and it's been lurking in the fridge all week. A batch makes about four pounds of dough, which is enough for four pizzas. So naturally, I made four pizzas.

Megan took the Hawaiian with her to watch the Rangers game, which left Adam and I to tackle the Mushroom & Potato Pizza Provencale (a recipe from the book), the classic Tomato Sauce & Mozzarella, and (this is for you dad!) the black olive and anchovy. Oof. We had to take a quick jaunt up the North End to get a cell phone charger from Becca, so we brought some to her, and there was still enough left over for two breakfasts, two lunches and probably a pre-dinner snack. Heh. The dough is tasty, not tooooo crispy (though crispier when reheated in the toaster oven) and easy to work with. Did I mention you should go buy this book?

Olive Oil Dough
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day

Makes 4 pounds of dough, enough for 4 pizzas (easily halved)

2 3/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 Tablespoons salt
6 1/2 cups unbleached AP flour

Mix the water, olive oil, yeast and salt in a large bowl or food storage container (I use a 6 quart square plastic food storage container). With a sturdy wooden spoon, mix in the flour until moistened; do not knead. Allow to rise at room temperature for about two hours, then stick it in the fridge and use it over the next week to ten days. The dough is much easier to work with after a few hours of chilling, as it's a very wet dough.

For pizzas, make sure you have your toppings ready before you roll the dough. I used a favorite tomato sauce recipe that only takes 5 minutes, pre-shredded cheese, canned pineapple chunks (in juice not syrup, please!), and I cut up the ham, olives, anchovies beforehand. You'll also need cornmeal for your peel (i.e. overturned cookie sheet) so the pizza slides off into the oven.
Preheat the oven to 500, or 550 if you can, with a pizza stone or overturned cookie sheet in the middle rack for at least 20 minutes. High heat and hot stone is the best way to get good pizza!

When your toppings are assembled, dust a large work surface with flour. Dust the surface of the dough with flour, then pull and cut off a 1 lb chunk (about the size of a grapefruit). With floured hands, form the dough into a ball, pulling the edges to the bottom and rotating the ball as you go. Pat the ball flat with your hands and use a rolling pin to stretch it out to about 1/8 inch thick. If you're feeling fancy, bounce it on your knuckles and toss it in the air a few times.

Lay the dough on a cornmeal dusted peel or cookie sheet and working quickly, top it lightly with your choice of toppings. Don't go crazy - using too much or too many toppings will sog down your pizza in a big way. Carefully slide the pizza from the peel to the hot stone/cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes until the edges are golden brown and the cheese is toasty. Remove (again, carefully!) from the hot box and let the pizza cool a few minutes on a rack to give the cheese opportunity to set. Cut and enjoy!

*A "bread person" is one of those people who wants bread with every meal or finds extraordinary pleasure in eating bread. I think I'm a "baking person;" I like eating bread, but I love baking it. Which one are you?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Savory Squash Pasta

Did you have a nice Thanksgiving? I hope so. Mine was very very nice: quality time with the extended fam in Connecticut, tasty food, games. Aaaand a four day weekend doesn't hurt.

If you're back at work for a FULL FIVE DAYS AARGH, like me, may I suggest you take out some of that latent holiday aggression on an acorn squash?Weeks ago I had bought a couple of winter squashes (this acorn, an already eaten butternut, and a sugar baby pumpkin which has yet to be consumed) and decorated the mantle with them, but since December 1st marks the start of the transition time from decorating with squash and corn to decorating with pine cones and berries, I ate the acorn squash last week.

I was bad at taking photos in the middle of the process, so you'll just have to guess at how I got from here to there.

Just kidding! I've adapted a recipe from The Kitchn. Hope you enjoy it!

Savory Squash and Sage Pasta with Pine Nuts

1 medium acorn squash, peeled, seeded and chopped to a half inch dice (approximately)
1 small onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/3-1/2 cup fresh sage leaves
1/2-3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
olive oil
salt & pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 pound short cut pasta such as penne

1. Heat oven to 375. Toss the cubes of squash, onion, and half the sage leaves, minced, in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and spread in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes, until the squash is tender when pierced with the tip of a knife.

2. As the squash is roasting, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta to al dente, drain, and set aside. A few minutes before the squash is done, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan and fry the remaining sage leaves (whole) until they shrivel, about a minute. Remove to paper towel to drain and salt lightly.

3. Add the cooked pasta to the pan along with the squash mixture, and crumble in the fried sage. Saute for about five minutes until the pasta is getting slightly crispy. Add the pine nuts and saute another minute. Stir in the Parmesan and serve.

Serves 2-4