Friday, July 18, 2008

No, this is not a doughnut.

It's a 1.5-pound ring of bread, and my, is it delicious!

First, let me say that I know we sound like a broken record, here. But we can't stop expounding on the virtues of The Bread Bible. It's the most spectacular baking book either of us has ever come upon. Sometime, we'll pick up other books (and we have our eyes on a few), but until then: Bread Bible!

So, we've both been itching to make this for a while: a simple bread, straight dough method, only one rise, cute shape. And best of all? Three ounces of chopped prosciutto baked right in. Oh, and the top? Glazed with bacon fat.

It turned out beautifully and tasted amazing. We took it over to a small gathering and, between the five of us, polished off the entire thing. We hope to make this bread again soon, perhaps for a cocktail party. Next time, we're going to try making a braid instead of a ring.

Happily, Rose has published the recipe on her web site, so you all can go out and try it right away. Let us know what you think!

The Need to Knead

We made this almost no-knead bread using the Cook's Illustrated method. When the now-famous Minimalist column with Lahey's bread was first published, we scurried to the kitchen and excitedly tried it out—and made a rather unsuccessful loaf. Since then, we've been baking the occasional loaf of bread the old-fashioned way, and have hit with success every time. But the other day, Jen got the urge to try again. So much hype! What were we missing out on? We have heard high praise for the CI method and gave their recipe a whirl. And it turned out a decent loaf of bread, yes. But, in the end, it's not that much less effort than just making traditional bread. We have a Kitchen Aid, so kneading is a snap. Otherwise, even the biggest bread projects are mostly inactive time (rising/proofing/resting). And the taste of this bread does not quite measure up, I'd say. This recipe will likely stick around, but the search continues for a good everyday bread.

Operation: Zero Meals Out update

The first half of the month has been great to us. We are really taking the opportunity, with this new program, to be more creative in the kitchen. We've wasted very little—missed two pieces of stone fruit, but otherwise all has been eaten. We're trying to repurpose foods (leftovers, scraps) as much as possible, but have also taken time to test a couple of new recipes. This week, we even skipped the bread aisle and made our own. After all, we have plenty of water, flour, yeast and time.

Highlights this round included the soba noodle lunch you see here (soba noodles, tofu, carrots and zucchini, lightly dressed with rice vinegar, mirin, soy sauce, miso and sriracha); salmon cakes with herb potatoes and homemade tartar sauce (mayo, mustard, chopped dill pickles and some lemon zest) and more of Lee's yummy potato soup.

The doc complimented me yesterday on keeping my pregnancy weight gain in check and we have saved lots of money (which we can now gleefully turn around and spend on cute baby clothes).

Truthfully: I feel a little foolish that two people who love cooking (and cooking together) as much as Lee and me had such inconsistent cooking and eating habits. This experiment—even just a couple weeks in—has been eye-opening for us both. We're planning to stick closer to home for meals, even after the month is through.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The first week of Operation: Zero Meals Out

Our first week got off to a great start. Lee kicked off the week by grilling a heritage chicken from Whole Foods. For a while, I had a real aversion to chicken, but luckily that time has passed. The chicken with potatoes and veggies made for a great meal and yielded plenty of leftovers. We used part of leftovers for chicken quesadillas. I also made this chicken and rice dish: 
I used a pretty standard risotto method - rice sauteed in a little fat (I used bacon drippings, because it was handy), a splash of white wine and then slow additions of chicken stock. When the rice was almost there, I threw in a generous amount of chicken and some frozen peas. I finished the dish with some amazing Italian hard cheese (a cousin of parmigiano) we picked up from our favorite cheese shop during a recent visit to Chicago and a touch of heavy cream. It came out well. The flavor was helped along quite a bit by the heritage bird and bacon drippings. If I weren't pregnant, I'd have started the risotto with some aromatics, but garlic and onion are bothering my stomach these days.We spent July 4 at a barbecue organized by some local Obama supporters. It was potluck; I made some sweet tea and Lee made tandoori chicken. Our guideline for the chicken was Madhur Jaffrey's excellent book, Indian Cooking, but the recipe was modified a bit for my dietary needs (and because we decided to grill instead of bake). Here's how we did it:
Tandoori-Style Chicken
serves 15 or so
3 whole chickens, cut into ten pieces each (cut each breast in half)
1 lemon
1.5 family-size cartons of plain, whole-milk yogurt
1/2 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled
2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
6 tsp garam masala
First, cut up your chickens and remove the skin from all but the wings (not worth the hassle). Sprinkle the pieces with salt and squeeze a lemon over them. Let the chicken hang out while you combine all of the other ingredients in a food processor; you'll probably have to do it in batches. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer and into a large bowl (we used one with a 4-qt. capacity). Add the chicken pieces to the bowl, making sure all pieces are covered by the sauce, and refrigerate for at least 6 and up to 24 hours (the longer the better). 
Grill the chicken over direct high heat for about six minutes per side, basting with the leftover sauce as needed. You'll get a nice char and the chicken inside will be cooked through, yet moist. It's absolutely heavenly--my favorite thing we've ever made on the grill.
Lee made stock with the chicken scraps and used the rest of the onion and a couple pounds of potatoes to make potato soup. We made a simple dinner of that one night (a green salad and some zucchini fritters on the side) and lunch the next day was vichyssoise. The soup he made (adapted from a recipe by Julia Child) is the base of many other interesting soups, and we're thinking of making a weekly habit of barbecuing a whole chicken and making soup with the scraps (more on that, perhaps, next week).
Our breakfasts have been pretty standard (we usually ate breakfast at the house, anyway): cold cereal, steel oats, fruit/yogurt, etc. But one morning I was in the mood to bake blueberry muffins. I used a new recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible. I truly cannot recommend this book highly enough. The muffins were the best Lee and I had ever tasted. They were moist without being cakey, delicate rather than heavy, and not too sweet. A sprinkling of salt and lemon zest upped the sophistication. Best of all, they were still delicious the next day. I have definitely found my new muffin recipe (sorry, Bittman).
I also made a simple frittata using Trader Joe's Potato Medley. I simply sauteed two cups of the veggies (along with some more zucchini; we have a ton right now) in a cast iron skillet with a tablespoon of butter. When the potatoes were soft, I added six whipped eggs and popped the whole thing in the oven at 350 for ten minutes or so. That provided two light meals for each of us. 
There were a few veggies burgers, bean and cheese burritos, and sandwiches in the mix, to be sure, but that's not terribly unusual for us, especially in the summer. And overall, I've been happy to see how much we've prepared from scratch--especially considering we both spend the whole day at home (I'm a student and Lee telecommutes) and it's dead hot in Tucson right now!

Our July Experiment.

A recent conversation at Serious Eats got us thinking about how often we eat restaurant meals. Thanks to our budget-tracking software, I was able to analyze our dining habits, both by frequency and cost. Taking the average from January through June, we found that we ate out about 20 times per month. Let's just say we weren't exactly thrilled with the report, even though the results weren't surprising. With the pregnancy, I've had a tough time figuring out meals. My cravings change on a whim, and I'm constantly navigating the maze of dietary advice (aside from the usual restrictions, there are all sorts of little things: I'm advised not to eat any acidic foods to counteract my third trimester heartburn, but should eat lots of acidic foods to counteract this horrible metallic taste in my mouth. Etc.). 
Now that I'm in T3, the cravings have started to subside and the other physical challenges are making the prospect of dining out more difficult. Also, my stomach has gotten smaller to make room for baby, so I'm not eating full-sized meals these days anyway. So, Lee and I decided not to eat any meals out for the entire month of July. As in, zero.
So far, it's going well. We have not cheated at all; we have not thrown out any wasted produce or leftovers; and we have saved 66% on food expenses compared to the first half of last month. Lee and I figure it takes about a month to make a new habit, and we're hoping this one sticks.
We won't post on everything we make this month, but I'll hit a few of the highlights and share our strategies for making the most of what we've got.