Friday, April 13, 2012

Beef: Go big or go home

I know! I know! I can hear it now.  What about Forks over Knives?!  What about eating less meat?   What about... ?   Let me just say this: SHUT UP!   Is that not a gorgeous, sexy hunk of beef?  Did I eat beef that night? Listen, you are not the boss of me. I savored every bite. I savored every moment of a beautiful evening in the lap of luxury cooking like a very wealthy caveman. 

My friends have an outdoor fireplace (situated right next to their outdoor wood-fired pizza oven) it all just  makes me want to camp. Those who know me know my motto is "I love NOT camping". So, that gives you an inkling of how wonderful that outdoor fireplace is. Or maybe it's the great company that is always around that fireplace. I always feel rich in the company of friends there.

When I think of packing it all in and getting out of rainy Dodge and heading somewhere the sun isn't afraid to show its face everyday, I think of the gatherings of friends. Oh, it's not so easy to let go of this embarrassment of riches called friends. It's not just my friends, and the food, and the landscape of this great Pacific Northwest. It's the idea of being landlocked. I don't want to be landlocked. 

I ponder the thought of making new friends somewhere sunny and warm. (not for long mind you). I have some pretty amazing friends right here. But even then, I cannot imagine replacing the beautiful waters and dramatic, constantly evolving skies of Puget Sound. Plus, I'd have to make a new friend with a boat and suddenly, I wake up from the dream and realize it's just all too much to think about today Scarlet. Besides, as I type this, the sun is out and suddenly I fall prey to that condition known as Seattle Amnesia. 
"What rain?", I say. 

And it's time to plan the next gathering. Just like that! I'm off on another subject. Since I'm sort of alluding to food for a crowd today let me tell you about that half a cow in the picture at the top of this post. 9.4 pounds of Prime Rib. It's turning and turning with the help of a kitschy piece of machinery shipped here from Italy. It's a manual (spring loaded) Rotisserie and on this particular night it was the Italian Stallion of cooking equipment. The apparatus in the fire that allows the wood to be stacked high for optimum heat was designed and constructed by my friend who owns the whole shebang. He's no slouch.  When we couldn't get near the meat to check its temperature we decided to check that beast of a fire with a laser thermometer. 
Holy fires of Hell Batman! 900 degrees!  
That roast was done in about an hour and a half. 
 I've shown pictures of the wood-fired pizza oven here before. But who can grow tired of this?

This, this is the Hemi engine of heat-producing structures. This innocent looking little cove leaves 900 degrees in its dust.  I tried baking bread in it one time (after the pizzas were done and the fire began to die down). I was not successful. It's all a part of that rules-are-guidelines philosophy. I just jumped right in and promptly fell on my ass. I would attempt it again. Different day, different dough and a new, 
shiny pair of shoes. 

Same home, different spot for cooking with fire. This place is amazing I tell you. This was dinner for a crowd of artists. What provocative conversations erupted around this pot of seafood. There were mussels, clams, shrimp, butter, wine and herbs.  

The finished product, along with oysters, fresh off the grill and a variety of grilled vegetables, met up with some hot sourdough rolls and I don't know how to say this delicately... It was pigs to trough after that. . This is the stuff that dreams are made of.  Friends around the table, the campfire, the elegant outdoor fireplace, breaking bread and sharing stories or songs... Oh, and there SHOULD be wine. 


Thursday, March 22, 2012

For Starters....

I’m wondering if I’ve ever started one of my posts here with the line “Now why don’t she write?”…
It is a line from Dances with Wolves. The wagon carrying Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) to his post has stopped on the prairie where the skeleton of an earlier traveler is discovered. The unsavory wagon driver leans over the bones and chortles “Someone back east is sayin’, “Now why don’t she write?”..
That line stuck with me.

Why DON’T I write? Certainly, it’s not for the same reason as the unfortunate westward traveler. Though, I don’t have any clever reason either.

So, let’s just get on with this..

While I am working at a fever pitch (not at all) to perfect the techniques and recipes for gluten free wonders in preparation for teaching others. While I’m in the midst of that religious experience (and if you’ve worked with gluten free products you will appreciate the SARCASM with which I refer to the GF dough and concoctions) .I am also having a love affair with my sourdough starter. Not gluten free.

I tried making a starter a few months ago and it failed. What?! Yes! I used the pineapple juice method someone referred from someone who got it from someone and it was linked to a link to another link on the internet. I’m sure it was something I did or did not do. After a week or so, I unceremoniously poured the failed “glue” down the garbage disposal, shook the flour off my feet and moved on. I gave up.

Until, about a week or two passed and I arose shaking my fist at the flour in my pantry and tried another recipe. This one, from my own library: Macrina Bakery and Café Cookbook. I found a link here on the internet where someone else went to all the work to tell you how to make the starter with organic grapes. I followed this recipe and method and I am the proud, proud parent of a bubbly baby that lives uncovered in my refrigerator part time and now and then comes out for a feeding and a little warming up.

Since I’ve had a successful starter I’ve been up to all sorts of shenanigans. I discovered the lazy baker’s method of no-knead Dutch-oven sourdough. I’m bringing sexy back. Too much?

Well, let me tell you right now that I have not suddenly become the recipe toting responsible, chefie that I should be. If you’re like me at all, you’ll LOVE that about this sourdough bread recipe. If you’re not like me then you can spit in my general direction. In the words of Popeye “I yam what I yam”…

This no-knead dough is made somewhere between your last cup of coffee and after you do your lunch dishes. Or whenever the hell you feel like making it. But you won’t be baking it until after your first cup of tea the next morning. If you HAVE to go to work, toss this dough into the refrigerator and bake it when you get home from work the next day. Easy enough?

Amounts here are sort of general and that’s just how I roll. There are thousands of exacting recipes out there in recipe hell.

Sourdough Bread

1 cup of your most awesome starter
2 cups of room temperature (filtered) water
¼ tsp yeast
2 tsp. salt
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
3 cups All-Purpose Flour (maybe a little more)

Start with 1 cup of room temperature water. Sprinkle ¼ tsp of yeast over and give it a little stir. To this, stir in 1 cup of room temperature starter. Your starter likes to be stirred. I don’t know how I know this but I do. You are making your starter happy when you stir it. Now stir in the next cup of water, stir, stir, stir until you have a happy mixture.. this should not even be as thick as a batter.. it’s very liquid.
Add 1 cup of whole wheat flour. More if you like. I have found I like the texture of the bread when I use just about a cup of whole wheat. Stir, stir, stir. Add the salt now and then start adding the all-purpose flour a cup at a time. This dough is nothing you could ever begin to knead and/or shape into a loaf. It’s a thick and sticky glob of goo. Sexy goo! But goo.

When everything is combined (this process might take 10 minutes from beginning to end) cover the bowl with plastic wrap and just walk away. For a long time. Maybe 6 hours. That bubbly mass will grow and grow. I like to stir it down one more time and re-cover and then I usually go to bed or watch a movie or something that takes quite a few more hours. If I were going to be leaving in the morning and didn’t have time to bake the bread I would stir it down and re-cover it and put it in the refrigerator until I got home. Then I’d bring it back to room temperature before baking.

Heat oven to 450 degrees and put your Dutch oven (with the lid on) into the preheating oven. Leave it there for about 20 minutes and then take it out and sprinkle a little cornmeal in the Dutch oven to prevent the bread from sticking. Pour in the dough as though you could care less what the outcome will be. Do not fuss over this. Put the lid on, put it in the oven and set your timer for 30 minutes. Go put on something sexy like mascara and a bib for the melting butter that drips when you’re eating a hot slice of sourdough.

After 30 minutes remove the lid to the Dutch oven and return it to the oven for an addition 15 minutes to finish browning.

After 15 minutes turn the bread out onto a cooling rack and resist the urge to rip it open and start eating.

The bread will be moist and dense and yes, sexy.

I recently found a cheese at Trader Joe's that is a blend of Gruyere and White Cheddar, please, please, please rescue me from this cheese! It just begged to be paired with this bread for a grown-up grilled cheese and some roasted red pepper and tomato soup. Go ahead Spring, act as though you're winter. I've got my game on here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When you have too much Saffron

This is what I’m talking about! This is the thing that Sunday Dinners are made of.
Not that Sunday Dinners have been infrequent. In fact they have been more and more frequent. I just haven’t been living in the present and viewing our gatherings with an eye to share them with you.

The last few weeks I have felt like I’ve emerged from a deep sleep or a heavy fog. I’m getting back on track and holy laugh-until-it-hurts Batman; I’ve got some funny friends!

I threw a big post-holiday bash and was amazed at what a great blend of friends I have. Most all of them are foodies in one way or another, even if being a foodie just means appreciating great food. So many of them are just carrying around a pent up chef waiting for the right occasion to wow their friends and a post-holiday bash was just the thing to scratch that itch.

I went to a pirate party with my best friend, who was festooned as a wench.

She took to the stage (yes, there was a stage) and belted out a Buffet song like she was born to wear a corset and sing while doing so. I was kissed on the lips by a very OLD pirate. And I picked up a few pirate tips and lyrics that will find their way onto Spill the Wine, the love of my life, when we sail again soon.

There were nine of us this night as we converged on Chris and Nancy’s house for a meal that we once again deemed, “The BEST dinner ever”… We say that every time. But it doesn’t matter!! At that moment it is the BEST dinner ever. It does get loud and raucous and there is a lot of wine consumed. Wait, and this is a problem?

Chris roasted chickens on his big green egg. Perfect! Beautiful! I dare you to not want to take a bite! Moist and tender and perfectly cooked. He has quite the geek system with computer and probes and fans and … well, if I didn’t know him as well as I do I’d consider him the nutty professor of grilling. Whatever he makes is always the star of the show and these girls were no exception. Dressed to the nines in nothing but bronze they made you want to stand up and sing.

I had to refer back to my own post in 2009 when I made Saffron Pappardelle. I wanted to make it again for this dinner. I learned that not only do I not like to use recipes but when I do I don’t record important information like yields and amounts. Anyway, it all worked out and it was fun making the pasta. Nancy had just purchased some mushroom base for me at Big John’s PFI (Pacific Food Importers) in Seattle. I used that along with a hefty amount of crimini mushrooms, sherry, shallots, garlic and a little kiss of cream to make a sauce for the pasta. Unfortunately, my intention had been to reduce the sauce
down but the saltiness of the base forbid me to do so. I made a slurry and kept my fingers crossed that the saltiness would balance out when combined with the pasta. I personally couldn’t get past the saltiness but no one complained. A lesson learned. If you’re going to go to the trouble of making pasta by hand you might want to use a stock for the sauce that you’ve also made from scratch. If you want great results you MUST use great products. Sigh.

We tossed some cauliflower in olive oil that had been infused with saffron and dusted it with kosher salt and pepper. That roasted about 20 minutes at 425 degrees and what emerged were golden nuggets of sweetness. So yummy.

Finally, Peter made a wonderful salad of spinach, candied bacon, red onions and hard cooked eggs. It was simply delightful tossed with a slightly warm vinaigrette that he had also made. We moaned, we laughed and laughed and laughed some more.