October 28, 2011

enchilada pizza

Sometimes it's the simplest details that make the biggest difference. This is especially true in the kitchen. It's the little details that result in the delicious dish you intended or the slight disaster you didn't quite expect. Sometimes you do everything perfectly, and other times, well, you might accidentally misread the recipe. Like weighing the amount of poblano peppers called for in a recipe before you roast, peel, and seed them, not after. This small detail can be the difference between a slightly spicy or an inedibly fiery final dish. Such was the story for a promising soup recipe.

Last week I finally made chicken stock from the chicken bones and onion scraps that I'd been storing in the freezer, adding fresh chopped carrots, leeks, celery, parsley and thyme to complete the flavor. It produced some of the richest stock I've made yet. Then I pulled my copy of Love Soup by Anna Thomas off the shelf, looked up her recipe for "Roasted Poblano Soup," and retrieved the recently harvested and roasted poblano peppers from the refrigerator. Of course, if you read the introduction above, you know the rest of the short story. After a couple of test sips of the finished soup, it was clear to me that we wouldn't be able to eat it as it was. I added another six cups of stock and the other half of the package of goat cheese, hoping it would tame the heat, but even then it was still too spicy to eat as a soup.

The long story is that the still slightly nuclear soup became a very tasty sauce for enchiladas, mellowed by the presence of chicken, corn tortillas, and lots of monterey jack cheese. The even longer story is a familiar one, and if you've been following this blog, you know that probably means pizza. It's reminiscent of the tortilla soup pizza, but this time it's an enchilada pizza with a poblano sauce and all the ingredients of the enchiladas served on a pizza crust.

If you remember to weigh the amount of poblanos before you roast them for the sauce, you'll have several good food stories to tell. It might be about a roasted and lightly creamy soup, or cheesy chicken enchiladas, or a new spin on pizza. Sometimes it turns out the story isn't finished until you write the final details, and in the end, that's really what makes all the difference.

October 21, 2011

white whole wheat ciabatta

I love the creative act of baking bread, and I'm on a mission to achieve the perfect artisan-style, 100% whole wheat hearth bread. In his book Tartine Bread, author and chef Chad Robertson refers to this hearth bread type as "integral," meaning it is made from 100% whole-grain flour. To gain experience in making breads with that distinctive open crumb, silken inner texture and chewy outer crust, Robertson suggests starting first with his basic country loaf, made from 90% white flour and 10% whole wheat flour. Making the bread also requires developing your own wild yeast culture, which then becomes your starter, and eventually is used as the leaven for the bread. I've made two attempts at creating my own wild yeast starter. So far I've not succeeded, but I'm not giving up. As Robertson says in his book, "it's absolutely worth the trouble to get there."

October 14, 2011

rich chocolate brownies with rosemary, sea salt, and olive oil

It might be safe to say that I've eaten more box mix Ghirardelli brownies than most people I know. I've made those brownies with such persistent regularity that it's possible it could be diagnosed as a mild obsessive compulsive disorder. So when I began the shift from pre-mixed store bought to made from scratch, I reluctantly gave up that box mix brownie, conceding I was better off without all those additives. Then, one day, oh happy day, I found a from-scratch recipe for Ghirardelli-like brownies in Cook's Illustrated magazine.

Andrea Geary, the dedicated test cook behind this recipe, must be as addicted to those brownies as I am, because it took her an admitted two months and several hundred tests to reach perfection. But what a sweet two months that must have been! I've adapted a few things for my version of the brownies, and reduced the recipe amount by half. In addition to adding rosemary, grey sea salt, and substituting a fruity extra-virgin olive oil for the vegetable oil, I used a white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour to complement the more unusual ingredients. For the extra-virgin olive oil to work well with the chocolate, it's important to use a brand that has more fruity and buttery notes than grassy and peppery ones. When it comes to the chocolate, use a high-quality brand that has at least a 60% cacao content so it holds up well to the other flavors.

Here's the thing-I'll admit that this is a brownie recipe for the chocolate brownie obsessive. It might not be as quick as some basic recipes, but it's intensely good to eat when it's finished. There are a couple of techniques I use to blend the flavors and make the cooking process easy. First I use a mortar and pestle to create a smooth mixture of the minced rosemary and coarse kosher salt, and then I let the mixture soak in the olive oil. After that I pre-measure and organize the rest of the ingredients while the olive oil mixture rests. Melding the olive oil and rosemary balances those flavors in the final brownie, and prepping the other ingredients helps things move quicker as you cook. It also keeps you from forgetting to add an ingredient. As strange as combining rosemary and olive oil in a brownie sounds, it's a combination that works. If you like brownies with just about everything all the time, this recipe might just be a blessing and a curse.

October 7, 2011

wintering herbs

About a month ago, just before the start of Fall, I began the process of transitioning our herbs from the raised bed garden outside to smaller containers inside. While I waited for the herb cuttings to root, I harvested loads of sweet and hot peppers and picked sweet, ripe cantaloupe. I also picked at least forty cucumbers. Then I decided to remove the cucumber plant. Though we still have a few weeks before the first frost occurs, the cucumber plant's leaves and vines had become progressively more diseased and shriveled, and frankly, I'd had more than enough cucumber. In fact, after growing it, I realized I don't like cucumber nearly as much as I thought I did. So, to deal with the remaining pile of cucumbers, I'll be pickling some to eat and freezing some for smoothies for my husband.

To transition the existing herbs for indoor use during the winter, I used small 3.5-inch starter containers, a seed-starting potting mix, liquid seaweed fertilizer, a toothpick, sharp kitchen scissors, a large watering can, and a liquid measuring cup with a pouring spout. To save money I re-used the 3.5-inch containers that originally held the young herb plants when we first bought them at the farmers' market last spring. I filled each container with seed starter potting mix and thoroughly moistened it with a dilution of liquid seaweed and water. I carefully put three tender cuttings from each herb into their own 4-inch container, watered a little more, and placed each container on the sunny ledge of the kitchen window seat. I watered twice a week and waited.