Roasted Rosemary Potatoes

Someday, when my garden has rows of only intentional plants, I will take pictures of the enormous rosemary bush that takes residence in the back.  It is almost as tall as I am, and provides such an endless supply of rosemary that I am always surprised I don’t put it in everything.  Well, actually, I can tell you exactly why I don’t put rosemary in everything: it takes a very brave person to jump through the thistle bushes between the habitable zone and the rosemary bush.  Such a daring excursion was necessary in order to roast these potatoes, and yes, they are worth it.  But really, other than burning them, how could roast potatoes go wrong?  We were lucky enough last year to have a couple jars of Karen’s home-made ketchup to go along with most any potato dish, but now that it’s gone, I think I’ll have an excuse to learn how to make it myself.

Roasted Rosemary Potatoes
5-6 medium potatoes (or really any size, as long as you have enough to feed everyone)
1 onion
Fresh rosemary (a few springs worth)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease (I use olive oil) a baking sheet with sides or other baking vessel that will leave enough room for the cut-up potatoes to lie in a single layer.  Cut potatoes into spears or cubes (both work well, although spears make something closer to french fries) and cut onion into large chunks.  Pull rosemary leaves off their stalks and mix with potatoes and onion.  Pour a little olive oil over the potato-onion mixture and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix the potato-onion mixture to coat all pieces with the oil; I’m always surprised by how little olive oil I can get away with, although I do like to add a lot of salt.  Spread the potato-onion mixture on the baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake for 20 minute intervals, turning over the potatoes and onion in between; it usually takes 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the potato size.  They are done when they can be easily pierced with a fork and are crispy golden brown.

Pain a l’Ancienne Rustic Bread

Hey folks, guest post by Peter here. Anna wants me to describe how I go about making bread, so that’s what I’ll try to do. No promises, though.

This bread comes from Peter Reinhard’s Artisan Breads Every Day, the main thesis of which is that if you put a boatload of water in the dough and let it sit in the fridge at least overnight, your bread will be better. (This also has the effect of making your dough extremely messy, which is always a plus for me.) This particular recipe typifies this philosophy the most out of any of the non-sourdough-starter ones in the book, so I’ll put it here, somewhat modified, so y’all can get an idea of the style. Though this bread doesn’t involve a whole lot of action time, you do have to plan it out a bit: nominally up to 45 minutes on the night before and up to 3 hours the day of baking, but you can certainly reduce these.

One last bit before we get down and dirty: for non-enriched breads like this, there are really only four ingredients: flour, salt, water, and yeast. All of the variation, therefore, has to come from the relative amounts of these and the production process. Unfortunately, conditions like the humidity of your kitchen and the liveliness of your yeast make any attempt at absolute reproduction somewhat iffy at best, so you have to just dive in and do what feels right, repeatedly. Fortunately, this agrees with my loose-cannon-nothing-to-lose nature, and I’ll encourage you to play it fast and loose as well. OK, here we go.

(makes 2 medium-to-large ciabatta-style loaves or “6 to 8 mini-baguettes” ; quantities in parentheses indicate the original amount in the book–where absent, I’ve remained true to the original)
4.5 cups flour
2 tsp salt (1.75 tsp)
2 tsp instant yeast (1.25 tsp)
2.5 cups water (2 cups, chilled)

Commentary on the ingredients

I’ve found that King Arthur brand flour works well for me. For a while I did half all-purpose white flour and half “white whole wheat flour”, but 100% bread flour or 100% all-purpose flour also work just fine. The closer to whole-wheat-town you get with the mixture, the more water you’re going to need; I consider white whole wheat to be halfway from white-ville to whole-wheat-town, but I’m not sure why. The book has a variation for 50% whole wheat and even 100% whole wheat, which add oil and honey (in addition to more water).

Don’t forget the salt. You can change the amount as you like; I use 2 tsp instead of 1.75 because it’s annoying to get out another measuring spoon.

Same goes with the yeast. If you use active dry yeast I’m told you’re supposed to use 33% more or something, and if your yeast is old it’s also supposed to be weaker. I’m not even sure how critical it is; I read somewhere (so it must be true) that most of the rising in many baked good comes from the water in the dough expanding into steam as it is baked. I certainly believe it for this bread.

As I mentioned earlier, the thesis of this bread is that your dough should be really freakin’ wet. I’m not sure where Peter Reinhart bakes his bread, but I’m pretty sure that our kitchen here in socal it’s a good bit drier, because in order to get my dough to look like his pictures I need to add a lot more water. I think you should, too: on your first couple tries go for broke with the amount of water.

This is usually about what it looks like after all the ingredients are mixed

What to do ahead of time

I start by putting the water in a large mixing bowl and adding the yeast to let it hydrate. You don’t have to do this (at least with instant yeast), it’s just a superstition I have. Add the flour and salt and then mix for minute or so. The dough should mostly come together into a sticky and/or shaggy mass; if there’s unincorporated flour don’t worry about it, but with 2.5-to-4.5 water-to-flour you probably won’t. Give it a rest for five minutes to let the water hydrate the dough (I first thought the idea of letting the water hydrate the dough was baloney, but I now think it actually helps). Mix for another minute or so, and the dough should be wet and sticky. All the flour should be incorporated at this point; if it’s not, the dough isn’t wet and sticky (you can add more water at this point)! Wait for ten minutes for the dough to, I don’t know, mature or something.

The first stretch and fold. What a sticky, gooey mess.

Now comes the “stretch and fold”. Peter Reinhart is pretty proud of this technique, and to his credit it works pretty well. He wants you to put the dough on an oiled work surface, but I just do it in the same bowl. Grab a hold of the bread somewhere under the front of it and pull it up. The goal is to stretch out the dough as much as possible without it ripping. Then pull the stretched part around over the top of the original part. Depending on how much you’ve stretched it, you may just need to roll it up. Now pick another part of the dough and do the same thing, with the goal being to stretch another part of the dough you haven’t yet. Do it twice more for a total of four times. Then wait ten minutes, do it again, wait another ten minutes, do it a third time, and wait ten minutes more and finally perform a fourth stretch and fold. If the dough is really wet, the first (and quite possibly second and maybe even third) stretch and fold(s) can be quite tricky. Don’t worry about it, just do your best. By the fourth the dough should “come together”, which means, as far as I can tell, that it’s less of a sticky glop and more of a coherent whole. It will still be pretty wet (and sticky), though.

The second stretch and fold. It's starting to look better.

Now put the dough into a clean, oiled bowl and stick it in the fridge. I have tried to use the same bowl I did all the mixing in, but I really recommend oiling a new one so you can more easily get the dough out without handling (and degassing) it too much. If you’re going to bake the dough on separate days I’d also recommend splitting it now and using separate bowls if you have them and the room in your fridge, again because if you have to rip the dough apart later you’ll lose some of the trapped gas.

It's about to go in the fridge. You can see it's come together somewhat.

Shaping and Baking
My man Peter says to take the dough out 3 hours before baking for ciabatta or 1 hour for baguettes. I generally agree, but if you’re rushed, so be it. It will still taste good. When handling the dough henceforth, try to do it gingerly so you don’t degas the dough: the small bits of gas in the dough will expand greatly when heated during baking, so they give the large and irregular holes that a certain resident of my apartment demands (or maybe it’s the steam, as I mentioned above, or some combination). For the first few times I was unable to do this, but lately I’ve gotten better. It still tastes good no matter what; the main modifier to the taste is the amount of fermentation time in the fridge (more = better, at least up to 4 days or so).

For ciabatta, let it sit out for an hour (skip this hour if rushed) and then put it on a very well floured pizza peel; pat the dough with flour to coat it. Shape it into a 9×9 inch (approx) square, then cut it in half (make a 4.5 x 9 rectangle if only making one loaf). Fold it in thirds like a letter (gently!), and rub it again with flour. Flip it so it sits seam-side down, and put some plastic wrap/cling wrap stuff on it so it doesn’t dry out as you let it sit for another hour. If you have spray oil (we don’t) feel free to spray the dough with it for some additional anti-drying-out power. After that hour is up, flip it over, cover it again, and give it another hour. (Again, if you’re short time, just reduce these proofing durations.)

The shaped ciabatta-style dough. It's pretty flat.

To make mini-baguettes, after the dough has been out for an hour make it into a 9×9 square (again, or 4.5 x 9) on your pizza peel. Slice it into 6 (or 3, or whatever number looks right) 1.5 inch wide pieces and gently cradle them to stretch them out by another inch or two, whatever feels right. You can put them in the oven right now or give them another few minutes (maybe up to half an hour) to proof. Note that if you’re making 6 of them you may need to bake them in batches, depending on the size of your oven/baking stone setup.

Put a baking stone in your oven and preheat it so that it’s at 550 F when the last proofing time finishes (remember that the baking stone makes it take longer to preheat!). Also, if you have an oven-safe pan or bowl or something you don’t really care that much about, put it on a rack underneath the stone to use for water. Get the dough unstuck from the peel (if it is) by shaking the peel until the dough detaches itself and then shake it right off onto the stone. Put a cup or so of (hot) water in the water pan (be careful doing this), close the oven, turn the heat down to 450 F, and bake for 25-30 minutes (12-18 minutes for baguettes) until golden brown (it’s always golden brown, isn’t it?). Let cool on a wire rack for as long as you can stand to wait.

You can also see it's pretty irregular, and doesn't hold its form too well. That's okay.

Further commentary

That’s the overview for how I make this bread. If you can’t follow it exactly, don’t worry about it; remember that people have been making bread since before writing was invented so it can’t be that hard. The baking stone helps keep the heat constant and even, but a regular pan works fine (you can put the shaped dough on the pan to proof, for example). Steam in the oven helps make the crust all deliciously crusty, but if you don’t have a water pan just throw some water on the sides of your oven (don’t get any on the glass window) or put an ice cube on the bottom or don’t use any water at all. And so on: do whatever it takes and whatever seems right to you.

A few more bits of commentary: this dough is (again) really wet, and you generally don’t want to handle it so much, so it doesn’t lend itself to all that elaborate shaping rigmarole (boules vs. batard vs. baguette, etc). As I mentioned at the beginning, different kitchen conditions are going to alter how much flour to water you’re going to want to use, so go by feel (or guess) and don’t bother measuring too closely. I really, really hate it when I read recipes that say that you have to measure the flour precisely with some kind of scoop-and-sweep crap or something. Just go jump in a lake or something, all right? It’s my damn bread. That said, I understand it can be even more difficult to figure out what exactly a given recipe author means by dough that is “tacky but not sticky” and so on, so sticking close to the numbers can get you in the right ballpark. The final word is that you will come up with your own preference for how wet you like your dough, and that, of course, is how it should be.

The finished product.

I suppose I should also give the book another plug. I’ve made most of the non-enriched non-starter breads and they’re all pretty good, basically just differing in the amount of water (though he’s got some crazy ones with brown rice and stuff like that, too). I’ve made a cheese bread that came out pretty well (but cheese makes everything come out well). I haven’t ventured too far into the enriched bread section for fear that I may never return, largely due to the truly terrifying-looking dessert breads. (I did, though, win a battle with the sweet rolls recipe: the battle being that I’ve managed to refrain from making them every time that I’ve opened the book.) I think there will be many more good things to come, and I do recommend the book; since we don’t have one of those Amazon affiliate thinigies where we get a commission if you purchase the book through our link, you can even trust me.

In breadiness,

And yes, we do put chocolate on our bread.

Tomato Salad with Orange & Mint Meatball Pasta

I was not a fan of touching raw meat before I lived with Peter.  Raw meat was so scary that I cooked almost exclusively vegetarian meals, but as you might be thinking, meat is Peter’s fourth favorite thing, and while he ate mostly vegetarian while living with JI, he didn’t relish surviving graduate school without the occasional roast, steak, or burger.  I started out slow: already prepared chicken breasts.  Then there was the epic first WHOLE roasted chicken.  And for some reason I agreed to try making a pot roast sometime after that.  Let’s just say things have gotten so out of control that I finally made my first ground meat dish tonight: meatballs with orange and mint.  And this involved squeezing and mixing the raw meat with my bare fingers… uck.  I must admit, however, that the finished product was well-worth any trauma the ground beef may have caused.

Pasta with Orange & Mint Meatballs — From In Late Winter We Ate Pears
(serves 2 with many meatballs left over)

Orange and Mint Meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup orange zest
2 eggs
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1/8-1/4 cup minced fresh mint
Salt and pepper
Juice of 1-2 oranges
Olive oil for cooking meatballs
Mix beef, bread crumbs, orange zest, eggs, parsley, mint, salt, and pepper in a bowl until well-combined.  This is best done with bare hands so that you can tell when everything is mixed uniformly into the ground beef.  Shape the meatball mixture into small meatballs (the diameter of a dime or quarter, but I found it hard to shape them as small as a dime) and put them on a plate in preparation for cooking.  Brown the meatballs on both sides in a lightly oiled skillet; they should be cooked through at this point.  Transfer the meatballs to a stainless steel or glass pot with as little of their oil as possible and cook them with the orange juice just to produce a nice glaze.  Once the orange juice has thickened and been almost completely reduced, transfer the meatballs to a plate to drain or just cool.  Wipe out the skillet and pot before cooking the next batch.

2 portions spaghetti (one portion is a bundle about the thickness of a nickel)
Parmesan cheese
Minced parsley and orange slices for garnish
Cook pasta in heavily salted water until cooked al dente.  Mix pasta with the meatballs and Parmesan cheese.  Add a drizzle of olive oil if the pasta seems too dry.  Garnish plates of pasta with parsley and orange slices.

Tomato Salad with Spring Hill Goat White Cheddar Cheese
(serves half a person, so double or triple accordingly)
1 heirloom tomato (or any delicious tomato)
Slices of Spring Hill Goat White Cheddar Cheese or other very strong flavored cheese
Basil leaves
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Slice tomato in large slices.  Drizzle olive oil over tomato slices and then season tomato with salt and pepper.  Top with cheese and basil leaves.

The possibilities for tomato salads are endless.  They work with almost any kind of cheese, basil, vinegar, olive oil, onion, or avocado combination.  I only include a recipe for one version here to remind you that it exists, and also to encourage you to try the goat white cheddar.

Guinness Chocolate Cake with Grand Marnier Frostings

With great sadness we must celebrate our friend G as she leaves for graduate school in Australia.  She has been one of our intrepid dinner party crew, and to celebrate her time with us, we have planned a surprise dessert and wine party.  I made her two of my favorite kind of dessert, but I must ask: how on Earth is a person supposed to bake two perfectly scrumptious smelling Guinness chocolate cakes plus whip up multiple icing-like cake toppings and not eat even a teensy tiny slice???  I don’t have a very good answer, other than accidentally leaving a generous tablespoon of frosting in the bowl after transfer to the pastry bag.

I discovered Nigella Lawson’s Guinness chocolate cake recipe when one of very best friends in college, Anna, created a chocolate cake so delicious that I found it impossible not to snatch the print out of the recipe off the cabinet door when we moved out of our apartment at the end of the school year.  She’s not an idiot by any stretch of the imagination, so she probably noticed.  What she may not know is that since we graduated, I have had numerous people swoon over this relatively simple cake.  This cake has such a decadent texture that it can be served simply with a dusting of powdered sugar.  My preference is to add whipped cream on the side as well.  However, sometimes simple is not the point.  Celebrating G is not simple, and the icings for the two Guinness chocolate cakes that I made in her honor incorporate another stick of butter, a pint of heavy whipping cream, at least a couple more tablespoons of Grand Marnier, and one of my second favorite things: strawberries.

Nigella Lawson’s Guinness Chocolate Cake
(makes 1 9-inch cake)
1 cup Guinness Stout
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (the original recipe calls for vanilla extract)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 9-inch spring form pan with buttered parchment paper.  Whisk sour cream, eggs, salt, and vanilla in a bowl and set aside.  Slowly heat butter in a pot until melted (keep stirring so that it doesn’t boil).  Add Guinness to butter and heat until slightly warmed (this helps the sugar and cocoa to dissolve faster).  Add cocoa and sugar to butter-Guinness pot and whisk until combined.  Add sour cream mixture to pot and whisk until well-combined.  Add flour and baking soda to pot (I usually pour the flour into the pot first and then try to mix the baking soda in with the flour before combining them with the wet ingredients below) and whisk until no clumps remain.  You can also use electric beaters to get the job done faster, and I have never had a problem over-mixing the batter.  Pour the batter into the parchment paper-lined spring form pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool cake in the pan or on a wire rack.  The cake will sink in the middle as it cools, and may split slightly as well.  I only recently tried to refrigerate this cake overnight before serving, and I couldn’t tell the difference.  The cake is better at room temperature though, so don’t forget to think ahead and take the cake out of the fridge.

Here are some of my favorite frostings for this cake.  The cake is not too sweet, but decadently dense, without the heaviness of being too buttery, so it is delicious with pretty much every topping I’ve ever tried.  Please let me know if you try a different topping and leave the recipe in a comment below.

From Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes:
Chocolate Ganache
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips are very good here)
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1-2 teaspoons vanilla, liquor, or whiskey
Place finely chopped chocolate (or just use chocolate chips) in a heat-proof bowl.  Heat the heavy cream to a simmer and then pour over the chocolate.  Let the chocolate and cream sit for a minute so that the chocolate can melt.  Mix the chocolate and cream until you get a silky chocolate cream and then add in the butter and vanilla.  Mix every once and a while as the ganache cools. It should be fairly thick once it reaches room temperature, and will be the texture of thick and delicious fudge if stored in the refrigerator.

Grand Marnier Whipped Cream
1 pint heavy cream
2-4 tablespoons of granulated sugar, or to taste
1+ tablespoons of Grand Marnier
Add sugar and Grand Marnier to heavy cream and beat until soft or stiff peaks.  This can be placed in a plastic bag with a hole cut in one corner to pipe onto the cake, or served on the side to be spooned on each slice.

Grand Marnier Frosting (from Cooking Light: Cooking Through the Seasons)
1/3 cup cream cheese (3 ounces)
1/3 cup butter
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
3 cups powdered sugar
Cream together butter, cream cheese, and Grand Marnier.  Slowly beat in the powdered sugar.  I actually substituted some very thick sour cream for the cream cheese and used 1/2 cup butter, but I think the results would have been better with cream cheese (the flavor was still amazing!).

Michel Guerard’s French Chocolate Sauce.  Once refrigerated, this sauce has the texture of a thick glaze and is perfect for the top of this cake.  Or the top of anything.


Peaches in chocolate (+ a batard of Lean Bread)

In good style, I’d like to start with a dessert.  Sunday was farmer’s market day, and peaches are just coming into season.  I am always a bit skeptical about the first peaches, mostly because there are few things more disappointing than a peach that is not ripe.  But our purchases on Sunday were anything but disappointing, at least if one considers the yellow peaches.  Every one of them has been perfectly ripe, a combination of extreme sweetness with a complement of sour.  The white peaches have been less spectacular, and I have to consider that perhaps they are just less flavorful in nature.  We have eaten two peaches for dessert every day this week, and to celebrate the last two peaches (undoubtedly we will just buy more at the Thursday farmer’s market, but that seems so far away) I wanted to try making a chocolate sauce recipe that has been on my mind for a while.  Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts is by far my favorite dessert cookbook, and Michel Guerard’s French Chocolate Sauce is one of thirteen chocolate sauce recipes if one includes variations.  The French chocolate sauce recipe was recommended to me by Peter’s mother, and is surprisingly easy.  It requires only basic pantry items, no cream, chocolate bars, or coffee flavor needed.  I often forget how easy and delicious the combination of fresh fruit and chocolate is, but now that most of the chocolate sauce is safely stored away in the fridge (it would have lasted another hour sitting on the counter before we devoured it by the spoonful) it may be the makings of desserts all week.  If it lasts that long.

Michel Guerard’s French Chocolate Sauce
(~2 cups of delicious chocolate sauce)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
Mix cocoa, sugar, and salt in saucepan.  Whisk in water until sauce is smooth.  The sauce will have a watery consistency.  Bring to a low boil and simmer for 3 minutes.  Add the butter to the sauce and simmer for another 3 minutes, stirring to melt the butter. Sauce should thicken considerably in this process, although not to the point of being like hot fudge.  Serve warm and keep leftovers in the fridge, if you’re lucky enough to have any.

Peter has embarked on a bread adventure.  He has been baking his way through Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day.  We started the week with Pain a l’Ancienne Rustic Bread as a loaf of ciabatta and four little baby baguettes, both unbelievably delicious.  I adore large holes in my bread so that breakfast can be as messy as possible.  We devoured the baby baguettes as a before-bed snack; they smelled so good in the oven and had the most pleasing puffed-up shape.  This is my fault for suggesting that we bake bread after dinner.  Then yesterday we tried a boule of Lean Bread, which has smaller holes than the Rustic Bread, presumably because the dough isn’t nearly as wet.  Tonight we baked the second half of the dough into a torpedo or batard, and lucky for our future selves we were so distracted by the peaches in chocolate that we haven’t even cut into it.