Tag Archives: Sea salt

A Recipe Hall of Mirrors

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Sometimes recipe blogging is a little absurd. Take this recipe I’ve just poached, I mean posted.

Somewhere, many years ago, someone nicknamed Gran perfected a recipe for Easy Little Bread. Her granddaughter Natalie Oldfield published the recipe in a cookbook, which was then purchased by food blogger Heidi Swanson, who made it, photographed it, and rewrote the recipe for publication on her blog. Then I read the recipe on Heidi’s blog, and in turn, made, photographed and rewrote it yet again for publication on my blog.

Maybe the fact that I’m posting this recipe makes me unoriginal or even a thief, but the truth is, I love this bread. I’ve probably made it 20 times since I first saw the recipe in 2011. It tastes like something I probably ate growing up. It’s easy to make, and it is delicious plain or smeared with butter and raspberry jam.

I guess that’s where the absurdity of blogging and reblogging old recipes gets overshadowed by the beauty of sharing. For Gran, it was as simple as making this bread for her family. For Natalie, it was a desire to preserve that lovely family recipe (and many others) in a cookbook. For Heidi, it was a love of collecting interesting cookbooks like Natalie’s and sharing that find with her loyal followers–which no doubt helped sales of the book in turn.

And for me, it’s a love–nay, a compulsion–for sharing the stories behind the recipes I find, because food is a huge part of who I am.

Whether you create a recipe yourself, watch your grandmother make it a hundred times first, or find it online and fall in love with it–it evolves a little each time you make it as you inject more of your own preferences and little flourishes. Eventually, it becomes part of who you are, until you pass it on to someone else, and allow them the chance to make it until it becomes their own. And so on.

I’m not sure who the very first person to make Easy Little Bread was, but I’m sure glad it came into my life. And now I can’t help myself but to share it with you.

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Easy little bread ³
originally adapted from Gran’s Kitchen

    1 1/4 cups warm water
    2 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
    1 tablespoon honey
    1 cup unbleached AP flour
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
    1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
    2 tablespoons melted butter

Method: In a medium bowl, sprinkle the yeast onto the warm water and stir until the yeast dissolves. Whisk in the honey and set aside for a few minutes, until the yeast blooms and swells a bit, about 10 minutes.

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In a large bowl, mix the flours, oats, and salt in a large bowl. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir very well.

Brush an 8-cup loaf pan or 8-by-8-inch baking dish with the melted butter. Turn the dough into the dish (spreading into an even layer if necessary), and cover with a clean, slightly damp cloth. Set in a warm place to rise for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle.

Bake the bread for 35-40 minutes, until golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Finish briefly under the broiler for a golden brown finish on top.

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Remove from the oven, and turn the bread out of the pan quickly. Let it cool on a rack so it doesn’t steam in the pan. Serve warm, smeared with butter and your favorite jam.

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Filed under Baked items, Vegetarian

Lemony roasted asparagus

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When I was in culinary school, my persnickety old French chef-instructor said cooking asparagus in any other way besides steaming it was heresy. “I don’t want to taste fire, only zee beautiful flavor of zee asparagus,” he said, in an almost scolding tone. Being the lowly, non-French culinary student that I was, I quickly agreed and dutifully steamed the spears at my cooking station. But since that day, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve steamed asparagus. I love the flavor of it roasted far too much. The tips brown the quickest, turning into crunchy, toasty little bites that I often snack on when I’m supposed to be plating up dinner.

The lemon zest and juice perfume the asparagus with citrus and a hint of acidity to balance their deep, roasty flavor.

Note: If you prefer your roasted asparagus a little more singed, opt for the skinny spears instead. You might have to adjust the roasting time down slightly–just keep an eye on them.

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Lemony roasted asparagus
serves 2-3 as a side dish

    1 bunch asparagus
    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
    1 teaspoon lemon zest
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    Good-quality extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
    Sea salt, for finishing

Method: Preheat the oven to 425F and arrange a rack in the middle. Wash the asparagus and cut the woody ends off the bottom of each spear. Place them on a sheet pan in a single layer, as you don’t want them to steam in the oven.

Drizzle them with the olive oil and season generously with salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Toss to coat and place them in the oven. Roast for about 15 minutes, tossing once or twice during the roasting process, until they’re browned on the outside and cooked through without getting mushy.

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Pull them out of the oven, and immediately sprinkle them with the lemon zest, juice and a thin drizzle of the finishing olive oil. Sprinkle them with a little sea salt, and toss once more with tongs. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: For a positively ethereal breakfast or lunch, fry a couple of eggs using the basting method I describe here. Arrange five or six roasted asparagus spears on a plate and slide the fried eggs over top. Break the yolks over the asparagus to create your own gorgeous sauce. Serve with buttered toast for sopping.

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Filed under Side Dishes, Vegetarian

Spiced chicken thighs

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No matter how long I’ve been cooking, I still get hung up on what to make for dinner. My email archive has hundreds of self-addressed emails bearing the subject line “dinner,” with portions of recipes pasted inside like ripped virtual pages. I am admittedly pretty old-school when it comes to searching for recipes. I’ll pore through the indexes of my favorite cookbooks or I’ll conduct a blind internet search starting with a single ingredient or technique, like “chicken thighs” or “cooking with cast iron.” But sometimes searches begin because I bought something like ancho chile powder on a whim and then had no idea what to do with the whole jar.

This dish was inspired by a recipe I found on Epicurious.com for cumin- and ancho-crusted chicken thighs. I decided to add some ground coriander to the spice blend because it brings a nutty, curry-like note to the earthy spice of the cumin and chile powder. I rubbed the boneless, skinless thighs with the spices and some kosher salt, then marinated them in the fridge for 2 hours before cooking them in a super hot cast iron pan. The spices formed a gorgeous, toasty crust on the outside of the chicken, which was moist and very tender all the way through. I finished the chicken with a little sea salt for extra crunch and delicate saltiness.

I love cooking chicken thighs. The meat is very succulent–and forgiving if you leave it on the stove a minute or two too long. They also reheat nicely if you have leftovers.

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Spiced chicken thighs

    1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
    1 tablespoon ground cumin
    1 1/2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
    1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
    1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
    Vegetable oil
    Maldon sea salt, for sprinkling

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Method: Mix the spices and salt together in a small bowl. Toss the chicken in the spice mixture, rubbing the meat all over to ensure it’s evenly coated in the spices. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

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Heat a large cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, and coat it with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Place the chicken in the pan in a single layer (working in batches if necessary so as to not overcrowd the pan). Cover with foil and cook until a crust forms, about 5 minutes. Turn; cook until the meat is cooked through, about 4 more minutes. Transfer to a plate, cover and let rest for 5 minutes.

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Sprinkle lightly with sea salt just before serving. Serves 2 to 3 people. Note: I served this chicken with Cuban-style black beans and white rice.

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Filed under Chicken, Dinner ideas, Weeknight cooking

Salty caramel

Awhile back, I promised the recipe for my salted caramel apple pie. Since my slightly crippling defeat at the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest, I’ve taken a bit of a break from dessert pies. But as promised, here is the recipe for salty caramel. I’ll post the rest of the pie recipe soon.

If you have a wooden spoon (I like these beechwood spoons), a Dutch oven, sugar, cream and butter, you can make caramel from scratch. It is really nice to have around for drizzling on ice cream or in coffee. And, of course, it’s great for salty caramel apple pies. This recipe makes about 2 cups.

Sea salty caramel

    2 cups sugar
    1 2/3 cups heavy cream
    2 tablespoons salted butter
    1/3 teaspoon fleur de sel or coarse sea salt (you might want a bit more once you taste it)

Method: Spread the sugar in an even layer in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottom pot. Turn the heat up to medium and cook without stirring, until the sugar just starts to melt around the edges of the pan.

With a wooden spoon, start gently stirring the melted sugar toward the middle of the pot. It will start to clump together into little sugar pebbles, but keep going…

..until it melts completely and achieves an almost rusty brown color and starts to smoke a little.

Now comes the exhilarating part. Remove the pot from the heat and immediately stir in about half the cream. It will bubble up furiously for a minute or two, which is why it’s so important to use a large pot.

Whisking constantly, stir in the remaining cream until the mixture is smooth. Add the butter and salt and stir to combine.

Taste and add more salt if desired. After it cools, put the caramel in an airtight container and store it in the fridge. It should keep for about 2 months.

Note: If you want foolproof tips on how to make perfect caramel, see the following post on David Lebovitz’s website: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/01/how-to-make-the/.

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Filed under Dessert, Kitchen basics

Focaccia with cracked salt and rosemary

In honor of my upcoming cookbook, I am reposting this 2011 entry on rosemary and salt focaccia, a recipe you’ll definitely find in the book when it comes out. But more importantly, I wanted to share my experience of learning to make bread, which turned out to be a huge turning point in the life of this young cook and baker (read below). Now go and make some bread!

Learning to make yeast bread from a professional baker is one of those experiences that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. What surprised me most was the emphasis on feel, rather than science and exact measurements.

Yeast, like human beings, likes warm temperatures and needs food and water to live. Pressing dough with your finger will tell you whether it has been mixed enough or whether it’s rested long enough to be handled again. The tell of a great loaf of bread is its weight, feel and sound when squeezed. It’s these sorts of descriptions that resonate best with me because they can be acted out, and once you have the hang of them, they’re always the same. This takes the intimidation factor out of making yeast bread.

One complaint my husband and close friends have gotten tired of hearing is how much I hate baking bread in my home oven. Not only do home ovens not get nearly as hot as professional ones, but they also lack a system for injecting steam inside the oven during the first few minutes of baking, which makes for better browning of the crust and helps the dough rise.

Professional bakers swear by placing a soaked brick in the bottom of the oven to add moisture. Others recommend spritzing the inside walls of the oven with water just before sliding in the bread. I haven’t yet invested in a clean brick for bread endeavors–Sean frowned on my plan to take one from the demolished warehouse next door. And I forgot to buy a spray bottle at the grocery store when I was picking up bread flour, so I settled for spritzing the inside of the oven with an unplugged iron. It worked quite well in a pinch.

Regardless of whether you are using a lowly home oven spritzed with water from the iron, stone hearth or professional-grade convection oven, I think the best way to create delicious focaccia is to add a preferment to your dough. A preferment (also called a starter, sponge or biga) is a fully formed dough–made ahead of time from flour, yeast and water–that is added to bread dough just before kneading.

I promise, taking the time for this this small extra step will give your bread a much more complex flavor and that slightly tangy quality that is a signature of great artisan yeast breads.

Salt and rosemary speckled focaccia

I’ve done this recipe–as I do all my baked items–by weight because it’s much more accurate and a lot easier. If you haven’t already, invest $20 in a digital scale. It is a wonderful kitchen tool that will help you tackle those oh-so-exact baking recipes without fear.

    Sponge:
    6 ounces warm water
    0.06 ounces active dry yeast
    8 ounces bread flour
    Dough:
    1 pound 4 ounces bread flour, plus a handful more for kneading
    14 ounces warm water
    0.06 ounces active dry yeast
    0.5 oz. salt
    1 ounce good quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
    4 sprigs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
    4 tablespoons cracked sea salt or other coarse salt

Sponge: Mix together the ingredients for the sponge. Allow to ferment, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place for 8 to 16 hours.

Dough: Blend together the flour, warm water and yeast in a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment. Mix for a minute on medium speed. Then add the salt and preferment, and mix on medium speed until the dough becomes very elastic, about 7 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a counter sprinkled with flour, and knead for a few more minutes (the dough will be quite sticky at first). Press your finger lightly into the side of the dough, if it springs back, the dough is ready. If not, keep kneading until you’ve reached this point. Brush the inside of a large bowl with olive oil, place the dough inside and cover it with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Ferment in a warm place for about 1 hour (or until roughly double in size). Punch the dough down with your fist to de-gas it, turn it out onto the counter and cut it into 2 equal pieces.

Meanwhile, oil 2 sheet pans generously with olive oil. Stretch each piece of dough into the pans. Be patient; you might have to work a bit to get the dough spread out.

Allow the dough to ferment for another 30-45 minutes, covered with a clean damp cloth, until it has doubled in thickness once again. While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 400°F. using a pastry brush, spread the top generously with olive oil, and poke holes at even intervals all over the top with your fingers.

Sprinkle all over with salt and chopped rosemary.

Just before you’re ready to bake, spritz the interior walls of your oven with water. Slide in the pans, and bake for 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Place on a rack to cool completely.

Note: If you want to store the bread longer than a day or two after cooling, cut it into the desired portion sizes, wrap each one tightly in plastic wrap then foil, and place in the freezer. The bread should maintain its quality up to 10 days or so. Thaw portions on the counter as you need them.

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Filed under Baked items