Good day! I am back in America and back in my normal life after a three-year break. So I am also returning to my tendency to buy expensive ingredients and cook difficult things out of boredom and a vague, undefined, unimportant loneliness. And because I only just want to write, but I am not settled enough–feeling in my apartment to write, but this is almost like writing. Also, I do not have a cat, because certain parents who will remain unnamed did not want to give me their cat, even though I gave them my cat (HAHA I just tried to write a closing italics tag in HTML but actually wrote < /cat> which is very funny and also what happened to Fitzpatrick) so there’s only going to be bad food pictures in this post.
This is a three-day weekend and I forgot that you have to make three days’ worth of plans for such things, so I made like maybe 1.5 days’ worth of plans, which would be fine if you were in Russia because you could go to your Russian single-combat private lessons or watch propaganda and learn about “the Ukraine” or just daydream about being in Russia. But here I haven’t figured out what to do with myself yet, so I am returning to old habits. And bread takes forever to make (and at the end you get bread). Continue reading →
Here commences the Great Soviet Experiment (or perhaps, that is, the second Great Soviet Experiment). I will be cooking something from each former republic, in order, because I am back in America and have nothing to do and miss the Soviet Union (historically and geographically).1 (That is, I will do this one and then probably forget about the whole thing.) I’m starting with Azerbaijan because it comes first in the Russian alphabet, and I’m doing this from a Russian cookbook.
It’s called Cuisines of the Caucasus and Central Asia, by William (or Vil’yam) Pokhlyobkin (Вильям Похлёбкин)—he’s also done cookbooks on the Slavic countries and the entire Soviet Union, which I thought was what I bought, but I guess it was too heavy so I got this one instead. It was a while ago in Bishkek, I don’t remember anything. (Important note about Pokhlyobkin, whose name is impossible to spell in English: it seems like he’s an expert on Russian cuisine, and just sort of decided to branch out into Central Asian and other former Soviet, so we should maybe not trust him too heavily. But it is nice to use the Russian-language cookbooks that one has bought. Also, apparently he once got into trouble for writing a book about tea.)
Anyway. For Azerbaijan, we are doing a chicken plov (#plov), because most of the other dishes were much meatier (mostly lamb), and no. Plov is basically a dish of rice and meat from Uzbekistan/Turkey/many other places that they eat all over the former Soviet Union because, at least in Russia, they are obsessed with the food of their culinarily better neighbors/take-over-ees. There are literally entire books about plov, which is something I would like to own, so I will not go into more detail on it here. It is very complicated.
It’s not hard to deduce from my few posts that much of my initial cooking experience is owed to the blog smittenkitchen. Deb Perelman’s anyone-can-do-this adaptations of recipes from well-known sources eased me into the idea of producing real, edible meals in my very own home. Successes from those recipes gave me enough of an ego boost to host my own seder (gasp!). The only real victim here is my boyfriend (you may know him as my handy kitchen assistant) who was perfectly happy ordering in 6 nights a week, reserving the 7th night for Trader Joe’s amazing 99-cent macaroni and cheese. You know, the one from the box with the little packet of orange powder. Okay also maybe my wallet.
The finished product is spectacularly beautiful, with an orange hue you don’t often get with sticky buns.
To get to the point – I serendipitously happened upon the BAKED shop in Red Hook, Brooklyn around the same time this pumpkin cinnamon roll recipe popped up on smittenkitchen. It felt a little bit (a lot a bit) like fate, and it was probably less than 24 hours later that I ordered the BAKED: Elements cookbook from that site I sometimes refer to. Of course, having the recipe (and two versions at that) is only the beginning. Months went by without any legitimate reason to actually make these buns. I hardly ever kept my pantry full of specialty goods like pumpkin, bread flour, or whole milk (I suppose nobody keeps milk in the pantry, unless it’s that new-fangled ultra pasteurized stuff, which I am skeptical of). I can’t even believe I used to consider those “specialty.” I mean, really, I get anxious now when there isn’t pumpkin in my pantry, right alongside shelf-stable cartons of cream. Regardless, it wasn’t until life got a bit more interesting (if you want to put it that way) that I decided to finally spend a good few hours learning some new techniques and making something I’d be able to indulge in as days upon days continue to unfold. A true comfort food emerges. As a side note, I also made ice cream (technically malted frozen custard with chopped hazelnuts. Yes, you want some.). Next week calls for chocolate cake (so stay tuned).
I’m not sure why I make biscuits so often. (Once here and once before the blog, but I can’t remember much about that experience.) I’m not really a biscuit person (insofar as that’s possible while you’re still a human). I’m not from the South or anything. I love bread products, though, and hate kneading and long wait times. I also have a fear of white flour, possibly pathological, instilled in me by a psychopathic nutritionist I once consulted about my hypoglycemia. All of this led to whole-wheat biscuits.
I did extensive research and settled on this recipe, because you could use yogurt and I didn’t have any milk. It used a full cup more flour than the other recipes I found, relative to the baking powder and butter, but I decided to risk it; it sounds like she’s tested a lot of recipes, and her biscuits were very fluffy.
This is where things went south. While I was making these biscuits I was thinking, “This will either be a post about how my experimentation and idiocy make me a terrible cook… or how they make me a GREAT COOK.”
So anyway, the first part of this week’s cooking is stuffed focaccia, courtesy of The Iron You, which I found through The Kitchn. (I LOVE the title of The Iron You—I haven’t read much of it but basically they use food and exercise to make themselves into superheroes. That’s my goal in life, too.) You may notice that I am procrastinating from cooking by adding tons of links to this post.
Back to business. I first made the dough so I could leave it to rise while I did other things (i.e. started dinner and the next post(s)). I proofed the yeast (combined it with warm water, sugar, and salt) and then added 600 g of w.w. flour, measured in my lovely kitchen scale, and the olive oil. I mixed it with a wooden spoon and was very worried about the fact that it wasn’t sticky—whole-wheat flour just seems to drink up any moisture. (My friend who is in pastry school says this is normal—whole-wheat flour is just really dry—but since the recipe was written for whole-wheat flour it was worrisome.)
Pre-kneading, but still. What IS this?
I kneaded for a while, on tip-toes, whole-bodily, for maybe five or seven minutes, until I decided to stop. I have no idea if it was smooth and elastic. It was easy to knead, though, because of the relative dryness. Now it’s sitting in a bowl, covered in more olive oil, rising away. Possibly.
There comes a time when a young lady needs to graduate from cakes and cookies and move on to more exciting endeavors, like pastries and breads (or a convenient combination of the two, as this post demonstrates). I’ve always wanted to make Martha Stewart’s Babka recipe, but jumping right into one of the most complicated (and expensive!) yeast cakes just didn’t fit my rational personality. The solution- a brioche recipe from Joanne Chang’s FLOUR cookbook. This recipe is in no way quick. I started it on a Friday and didn’t totally finish the dealings until the following Sunday– as in, over a week later. The entire experience brought immense joy and satisfaction into my kitchen, and according to this blog’s owner, the brioche aux chocolate that came out of the big mess was “the best thing [she] ever tasted.” This blog post is meant to offer some beginner warnings for those of you thinking of trying this out. I have absolutely no natural baking skills- so every success of mine is a true wonder and thanks to a detailed recipe. Hopefully, other amateurs can learn from my mistakes.
Everything should start with your basic butter foundation.
As you may know, because I allude to it bizarrely frequently, I am Jewish. EW, wow, I just ate something nasty. More on that later. Shit. OK, so this week is Passover, and I’ve been following it religiously (HA) (oh dear) and not eating either chametz or kitniyot. So basically nothing I normally eat on a regular basis.
I have been eating a giant amount of matzah (the other day my boss came over, looked at me, and said, “You’ve really been putting away a lot of matzah this week”; note to everyone—never, ever say this to anyone) and have encountered a number of challenges. You may think this is a joke. It is NOT. Buttering matzah is one of the most difficult things Jews face, cooking-wise. Brisket? Pah.
The first step is to not use butter that has been in the freezer for a long time, improperly wrapped. (See paragraph one of this post. Throw out any such butter you possess.)
The second step is to take your butter out of the fridge to soften it. You cannot use hard butter; the pressure needed to butter will cause the matzah to break everywhere, and matzah will fly all over your apartment. The ideal way to butter matzah would probably be telekinetically, or maybe with one of those olive-oil vaporizers. Or nonstick spray. It would not affect the taste.
Then, take a piece of matzah out of the box. I have been using Yehuda Matzos because that is what my parents gave me.
The entire Internet was full of Irish soda bread this week (well, and corned beef, but I ignored that), and I’d been wanting to make some, in my ever-continuing pursuit of bread that does not involve waiting 3 years to eat it. Though simultaneously I am planning to make a sourdough starter soon, which is the opposite. Anyway. There were a million recipes, and I chose this one because it wasn’t sweet and had some whole wheat flour.
I took some butter out of the fridge to soften (I was very excited—usually I try to use butter straight from the freezer and it is disastrous) while I weighed my flours in my new scale.
Storytime: When I got the scale a few days ago, the first thing I did was try to weigh Fitzpatrick. He bit me really hard when I picked him up, but I held on valiantly. Then I couldn’t get him to stay on the scale. So I don’t know how much he weighs. But the scale only goes up to twelve pounds, which he is probably more than. Then I weighed a grapefruit, and it was 263 grams. Then I weighed some generic Robitussin, and it was also 263 grams. I found this freaky and really funny, but I have told this to like six people already and no one else thought it was funny. Alas.
Back to the baking. Flours, baking soda, salt. I squashed the butter into the flour with my fingers. (It never looked like breadcrumbs, as the recipe says, but I wasn’t aspiring for that because my cutting-butter-into-flour never goes like it’s supposed to. I am comfortable with this now and it seems OK.) Then I remembered I hadn’t made my buttermilk yet, so I did. Then I wrote a post about buttermilk. Continue reading →
On my way home I was contemplating what to make for dinner, and I was like, haha, I should go get a rutabaga and finish that stupid experiment. Then I was like, well … I guess I will go get a rutabaga. I procrastinated for a while at home because I desperately wanted something warm and bready immediately, so I looked up whole-wheat and/or rye biscuit recipes, and then ended up finding the recipe for Swedish rye bread when I googled quick rye bread. It’s a quick bread (no yeast), but not sweet. I also pretty much picked the first rutabaga recipe I found on Epicurious because I wanted something edible, i.e. not just roasted vegetables (which were good the first night but unappetizing subsequently). The quinoa was just to round things out. The bread wasn’t really part of dinner, it just happened.
So. I went to the wax turnip area of the supermarket, and discovered that the wax turnips all weighed like 2.52 pounds. But then I dug around a bit and discovered some much smaller, different-looking wax turnips beneath the giant ones. These weighed less. Obviously. So I put two in my basket and went about the rest of my shopping. (Things got dicey when I spotted a jar of almond butter for $11.99. And there were no regular almonds in the rest of the store. But I didn’t buy them. And now I want almond butter desperately again.)
I am four or five years late on this one, I think. Oh, wow, no, seven! (In 2006 Mark Bittman made no-knead bread with Jim Lahey and revolutionized everything that went on in the universe forever after.) I’ve been meaning to make it since I got my Dutch oven, but then never did, until a few days ago. I wanted to make it whole-wheat but also didn’t want it to turn out horrible, since whole-wheat flour doesn’t act the same way white flour does; so I just did one-third whole-wheat and the rest bread flour. (I need to make a style guide for this blog. I need to make a decision about the hyphenation of whole-wheat. AAGH.)
I mixed the ingredients together…
It was supposed to be extremely sticky, but was actually almost knead-able. I was worried.
…then covered it with my dough towel and let it rise overnight and the entire day. It rose. Continue reading →