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Archive for the ‘breads’ Category

At the start of the pandemic, I was baking up a storm. Big loaves of bread, foccacia, cinnamon rolls; the whole thing. I had no problem cranking the oven up to 500°F for a crusty sourdough or a blistered pizza. Then April moved into June and July and the heat came. There was no way I was going to turn the oven that high for that long. Not happening. So I struck upon a nice alternative: pita cooked on the stove top.

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It seems I am incapable of cooking for one person. I try, I do, but this fact has become abundantly clear during this quarantine and I am overrun with leftovers. Browning bananas, pieces of half used vegetables, staling loaves of bread, and plastic deli containers of semi-identifiable ingredients are taking over my kitchen. I don’t like leftovers so I’ve taken on the challenge of turning them into something new. Last night’s pasta, beans and greens became today’s lunchtime soup. Dinner leftovers were chopped up, encased in pie dough and reinvented as lovely turnovers. Last week’s excess cinnamon rolls became the weekend’s bread pudding. It’s been working out pretty well. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. The other day I found a plastic wrapped chunk of cornbread, hidden behind an enormous bowl of oranges. Wonderful. Forgot about that. It was fine, but stale. I thought about making stuffing to go alongside a roast chicken but bread pudding has been on my mind. What if I turned this stale hunk into a strada, a savory pudding with whatever I could wrangle up in the fridge? I could use those little bits of whatnot tucked in plastic wrap and Ziploc baggies and make something delicious. This was how a cornbread pudding was born.

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I am baking like crazy these days, fortunate that I’m well stocked with flour, sugar and yeast. I’ve been filling my days with complicated baking projects, enjoying the feel of a rising dough between my fingers, delighting in a beautiful sourdough loaf as it emerges from the oven, making small persnickety little turnovers and pasta things that take time and concentration. It’s keeping me busy, my mind active, provides a great sense of accomplishment and delivers a steady stream of delicious, comforting things. The only problem is … it’s just so much. I’ve given some away but that gets tricky in these days of social distancing and my freezer is beyond capacity. So I’ve turned to another method – small batch baking.

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It seems we’re all giving sourdough a whirl during these strange times, myself included. The first thing you have to do is get a starter going. It’s relatively simple, just flour and water, flour and water, flour and water for several days until the wild yeasts take over and really get going. Inevitably you will run into a puzzling situation … what to do with the discard. Once you have a lively starter, you pour off half before you feed it – either to bake with or to do something else. This bit is known as the discard or cast off. If you bake every day it isn’t a really a problem but I suspect the majority of us don’t. Here’s where the challenge comes in as dealing with the discard can be a whole project unto itself.

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This is it: Day 12 of The 12 Days of Crackers and the final in the olive oil cracker series. When I was coming up with ideas for flavoring all these crackers, I took stock of my spice selection. To put it bluntly, it is a vast assortment; the accumulations of multiple development projects, travel adventures and an irresistible urge to buy interesting things. Digging through a cabinet, I noticed I had 4 or 6 different bottles of Japanese seasonings, the majority in the togarashi family. I should probably use them.

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Got the hang of an olive oil cracker? Good. Because now we’re getting interesting. This one has za’atar, that cornerstone seasoning of Levantine cooking. If you’ve cooked from any of Yotam Ottolenghi’s books, chances are good you’ve got a jar sitting on your spice shelf. (Probably some sumac too, right?) So let’s use it, shall we?

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It’s March which means its time to gather up those St. Patrick’s Day ideas. For some reason, some people inexplicably thinks this means green things flavored with mint. Yeah, I don’t really understand what mint has to do with the holiday but I don’t understand green beer either. Rather, I tend to think beer, real beer, specifically Guinness Stout. Good stuff, that beer but it’s a bit tricky to cook with. Reduce it and the bitter notes become more pronounced and unpleasant. It’s much better added to batters right from the can or used to deglaze a pan for a wonderful sauce. I’ve added it to cakes, breads and candies with great success and have made a rather fine chicken boxty dish with it. Today, I add it to biscuits and it’s a great decision.

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My mother and I went out for dim sum last week, probably one of our very favorite things to do. We both are huge dumpling fans and while ordering off a menu is just fine, there’s something so much more fun about dim sum places that wheel the carts around, allowing you to pick and choose from what cruises by. In typical form, we ended up with far too many little plates and steamer baskets on the table and loved every minute of it. As the carts made their rounds, the one typically filled with the more dessert-y options stopped at our table. I don’t particularly enjoy the sweet options but the woman maneuvering this cart was pretty adamant that we should get the coconut buns, puffy hot dog shaped rolls filled with coconut. I was indifferent but damn she was persistent. I took the plate mainly to make her go away. But she was right. Warm, soft, tender and filled with a sweet coconut filling, these things were delicious. Dang it.

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I love the idea of a cookbook cooking club, where several friends pick a book and everyone makes a recipe for a group potluck. I would love to be a part of one. The challenge is, my friends who cook actually do cook for a living and have no free evenings or even an interest in doing this and my friends who have the time and free evenings, don’t really cook and also have no interest in doing this. They’d rather I cook and they come over to eat, which we do frequently anyway. It’s a cookbook club of one cook and a bunch of eaters. Not quite what I had in mind. About a year ago I discovered cookbook clubs on Facebook which has filled this void in a weird way. Sort of. I’m a part of the Facebook Saveur Cookbook Club and Tasting Table Cookbook Club. Each month the moderators pick one or two cookbooks and members post their results. I’ve long been lurking from afar but have yet to actually participate. Until now. When the Saveur group posted their January selection – The Dooky Chase Cookbook – I knew it was time to show my hand.

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What’s the difference between a biscuit and a scone? I’ve always thought of scones more on the sweeter side, and a biscuit as more savory but then there’s savory scones and sweet biscuits so what the hell? They have basically the same ingredients – flour, leavening, fat, dairy – but the difference lies in texture. Scones can be a bit heavier and crumbly whereas biscuits tend to be lighter and flaky. But then … not all biscuits are flaky and yes, scones can sometimes be a bit flaky too. Back and forth, back and forth. Ugh. This author has rather strong opinions about it and I must say, I agree.

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