Monday, January 23, 2012

Boy Chef's Sweet Taters

Fellow Blogger: You've heard when selling a home, one should take all family photos off the walls. The potential buyer should be able to visualize his/her own family in the house, not the seller's.

I strongly believes blogs are much the same. Just like movie images ruin novels and family photos repel sold signs, personal photos on blogs seem to drive my mouse to top-corner red "x". The better the writing, the more I don't want to see you. I think it's cause I want to be you. Pictures of your slobbery toddler or cat destroy my illusions.

I have a when you post the special picture you don't really see the photo for what it is -

a bad photo.

I get it. You love the subject. Love crowds out subjective appraisal. However, I don't know your cat or your kid and I wish you hadn't ruin the blog post for me by putting a pasty face on my computer screen.

You don't have to tell me that these comments are cold and unfeeling. I know that. I have no feelings . . . save that which are kiddled my own kind.

With that said, you might interpret the following post to be completely self indulgent, smattered with personal photos of my own beautiful child.

You are wrong.

My child is an exception of course. How could he not be? Have you looked at this picture?

I am able to see through my feelings clearly to the bones of the subject. And my sweetheart, I mean the subject, is breathtaking, rule-breaking, universally appealing.

Now that we agree, I must say . . .

It is important to get kids connected with the food they eat. Whether they shop for it, grow it, cook it, whatever, people should know what nutrition is about. Children are people on learning steriods, like fresh yellow sponges soaking up new ideas. By the time my children leave this home, my goal is to have saturated them with real food experiences rather than  cleverly manipulated chemicals passed to me through a car window or purchased in box made to look and taste like something edible.

Every child should cook. If your child is a western outlaw, he should be cooking something like this. 

Just don't show me the picture and expect me to be impressed. Have you seen my son?

Scrub and stab some sweet potatoes. I (Bjorn) find the roundest, most symetrical ones I can for even bakin'. Figure about 1 for every two people. Stab 'em to death like they just robbed the bank and yer gonna show 'em what fer.

Switch genre's real quick and wrap the tormented taters up like spaceships in foil, placin' on a foil lined pan. These are the kind of dishes any dude can do. Slide the pan into the oven at 400 F for at least an hour or longer. They're kinda hard to over cook.

Take a quick break with your pony.

Have your kitchen hand line a bakin' sheet with foil and place metal cooling racks on the sheets.


Line up the meat. Bjorn figures 2 strips per person, always trackin' down the thick cut, nitrate/nitrite free variety. This cow poke likes his pig pure.

Slip bacon into the oven for the last 30 - 40 minutes of cooking time. You may need to reduce the oven heat to 350 F if your fire alarm starts screamin'. Have your kitchen-hand tend the oven, flippin' the bacon at about 15 - 20 minutes. Your job is to fight off mutant ninjas out to theive themselves some grub.

If you loose interest at this point, let your cook know to fry up some eggs after the bacon is done just the way you like it.

Split the orange tater, top with a fried egg, throw some bacon on the plate, sprinkle on some course salt - my kitchen-hand calls it Kosher - and dig in before the ninjas come back.

Equally good with coffee or beer . . . so I hear.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Remember December

Are you eating salads yet? Are you buttoning your pants or did you switch to elastic waistebands?

I just visited the Target clearance rack to look for anything with a cotton/spandex blend. 100% denim can be unforgiving.

Scant Pantry Pseudo Sweets . . .
On hungry, early January afternoons while trying to resist raiding the pantry looking for delicious things before dinner, I find myself sucking on sugar cubes or baking chocolate and sugar cubes. I purposefully keep my house sweet free due to lack of resolve come 3:00 pm.

While my tummy turns from too many crumbly cubes of chemically tormented crystalized sugar cane, I close my eyes and continue craving something wonderful . . .the memory of Orange Bow Knots on Christmas morning haunts me.

Each childhood Christmas, after stockings but before presents, my mom served up a soft, pillowy knot of white flour, yeast, and butter goodness.

Not to light, not to heavy, not too sweet. Not to blah. Buttery and flecked with orange zest.

Over the crown, a sweet flow of orange peel glaze dripped from the still warm bun providing the perfect balance of tangy citrus sweet over the rich, warm, orange freckled bow.

Then I became the mom and went sour on the citrus wad. Did my mom really get up 3 hours earlier than the crack-of-dawn to mix, knead, rise, knead, form, rise, and bake while mice slept and sugar plums danced? Are you kidding me?!
I dropped this tradition for many years opting for the frozen bag of Rhoades cinnamon rolls or Pilsbury tube of pastry. Easy. Pathetic. Not quite what I yearn for on Christmas morning, which should smell like evergreen and oranges rather than cinnamon scented compromise.

Then came Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Hertzberg and Francois. Measure, mix, let sit for 1 - 2 hours, and stuff in the fridge. Whenever you want fresh bread, simply grab a wad of cool dough, form into a loaf, roll, knot, or braid, let sit for 1 - 2 hours, and bake. Don't worry about over or under rising. Don't knead! Don't hassle. Just enjoy . . . and yearn for more . . . for a whole year.

With a variety of different doughs, I choose Brioche. Loaded with butter and eggs, it's my go to whenever I'm making treats like cinnamon rolls, buns, bow knots, and loaves for breakfast toast with peanut butter. You absolutly can not go wrong with this fabulous dough. Due to the high fat content, it stays soft and delicious longer than the kneaded sandwich white version my mom makes. I could bake them up the night before and glaze them in the morning if I had to. But I won't. The melt in your mouth quality of fresh baked and glazed is what memories are made of.

And can you believe Hertzberg and Francois have a pretzel recipe? If I don't rip the pretzel page out and throw it away, I may never fit into last years' pants again.

The page is still intact.

I live close to Target and the clearance racks right now are well stocked.

 -starting with a modified version of Hertzberg and Francois' Brioche dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

Before you scroll down and freak out at the length of the recipe, commit to trying this just once. It is easier than you think and will forever change your attitude toward yeast bread. Sooooo easy and delicious!

A traditional kneaded dough becomes smooth by the time you roll-out and cut the dough. However, the no-knead method can be sticky. I find that making sure the dough is in the fridge at least overnight and working with plenty of flour on my board keeps the brioche from sticking. Bake and eat the same day if you can. However, if you have no other option, make sure you don't glaze the bow-knots until the day of the big eat.
This is a HUGE recipe that is easily halved or doubled if you want to have lots of dough left over in the fridge for another morning.

1 1/2 cups luke warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons grandulated yeast (1 1/2 packets, although if you can, buy yeast in bulk and store in an air tight container in the fridge - it will save you all kinds of cash)
 1 1/2 tablespoons slat
8 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup brown sugar - the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup honey, however, I can't bring myself to dump that much golden goodness into a dough
1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, and cooled
7 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour - plus extra flour for dusting the board
2 oranges
1 lemon
3 cups powdered sugar

1. Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, sugar, and butter with water in a LARGE bowl or loosely lidded container.

2. Mix in the flour just until ingredients are incorporated. The dough will be loose but will firm in the fridge. Don't worry about lumps - the yeast will work them out as the dough sits.

3. Cover, not airtight, and let sit at room temperature until dough rises and collapes/flattens, about 2 hours. However, I've found that the result is the same if I let it sit 2 or 4 hours. Don't stress about it.

4. Put it the dough into the fridge. You can use it as soon as it's chilled. However, the longer you leave it in the fridge, the stiffer it becomes. I have the best results after one to two days. You can leave it up to 5 days. At that point, bake it for freeze it in an airtight container. Let it thaw in the fridge for 24 hours before using.

5. On baking day, grease a 4 standard baking sheets. Set aside. Generously flour a surface you don't mind cutting on. I use a large wooden cutting board. Zest one orange into the flour and spread it around. The dough will pick up the orange zest as you work.

6. Half the dough, dropping one half onto your floured surface and returning the other half to the fridge for another day. Roll dough in the flour forming a ball. Working quickly, flatten the dough using your hands to start with, promptly switching to a rolling pin to keep the heat from your hands from warming the dough and making it sticky. If the dough cracks around the edges, just flip it over and keep working. It will become pliable as you roll it out. Always start rolling from the midlle pushing the dough out rather that rolling back and forth. After several rolls, pick up the dough, flip it, and rotate a quarter turn. Try to roll the dough into a square about 2'x2'. Don't measure. It doesn't matter that much.

7. Cut the dough horizontally through the middle with a pizza-cutter. Begin cutting the dough into strips vertically. I try to get 20 strips (9 vertical cuts). Tie strips into loose knots. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover with a greased peice of plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise (about 2 hours). You can tell if they've risen enough if they puff up to almost double in size.

8. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 12 - 15 minutes or until knot begin to brown. If you have any question about doneness, ere on the side of light baking.

9. While the knots bake, make your glaze! Mix powdered sugar with zest and juice of oranges and lemon. Make sure you reserve some powdered sugar just in case your fruit is super juice and the powdered sugar mixture is too thin. You want it to be the consistence of peanut butter.

10. When knots are out of the oven, cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then dip knot into the glaze, face down, up to half-way. Toward the end of the glaze, you can spoon it over the last few knots and spread with the back of the spoon.

Serve fresh with hot chocolate!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Solid Oak

I have a table!

It's oak. That's right. I didn't say it looks like oak. It IS oak. Solid wood. It makes me feel like a grown-up.

Before my new oak table there was a chrome edged vintage diner table. I bought for $25 at a garage sale. Love it. Doesn't seat my whole family.

Before that, some nondescript Goodwill table that I gave back to Goodwill when I realized I'd rather eat dinner off my lap and have the extra space than dedicate precious square footage to an ugly blonde table. And so we did.

Before that was my first table, inherited from my husband's bachelor days, inherited from his Grandmother who either had it for decades before or inherited it from someone else who'd had it for decades.

That was the table I first served dinner on when Ryan and I were dating - cheese sauce over broccoli. The sauce was so rubbery I tried to improve on it by deep frying spoonfuls of the gloop. The minute the cheddar concoction hit the rippling oil it burst into a rank cloud of black smoke. Not good! Still, I tried it again. And again. Ryan and his roommate had to find somewhere else to sleep for the next few nights due to culinary catastrophe induced atmospheric pollution.

When we played rummy on that table, the cards would get stuck in the cracks between the myriad leaves. There were more leaves than actual table and not one surface lined up with another. So many good memories stood on in its wobbly legs. Still, I was thrilled to see it go.

Growing up, we weren't allowed to touch my mom's table. We had a house sitter while we were on vacation. When we got home, the house and the table looked exactly the same as before we'd gone, However, Mom is still convinced that the mohawked, introvert, slacker, son-of-a-friend housesitter set something(s) on her table. Oh yeah. She saw invisible scratches all over that dining room. After all, that's what table disrespecting kids from the 80's were like - turds!

History repeating: my kids can't sit at the oak table unless it's covered by a thick table cloth covered with many absorbent place mats. Hopefully I get over that . . . but only after my children get over youth. I love my new table.

On the other hand, it makes my house look like grown-ups live here. My 30th birthday is coming up. I've been doing a lot of reflecting lately . . . while I sit at my old, grown-up, oak table. Hmmm. . . .

Comfort food seems appropriate when you're thinking about entering into a new decade - thick and creamy yet nutritious so you don't end up hating your new grown-up table.

This is the sort of thing that goes on a oak table. A warm, hardy, healthy meal on a heavy, oaky, hunk 'o wood that has earned the title, furniture.

Butternut squash. Sweet and savory.
Penne. Sturdy, starchy, chewy, and delicious.

Butternut Squash Penne
1 Butternut squash
2 packages penne
1 large white onion - diced
2 cloves garlic - crush to peel, then crush some more
2-3 tbsp canola oil
1-2 tbsp better than bouillon (chicken base)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
Grated pepper jack cheese (optional garnish)

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel, half, and scoop seeds out of the squash. Cube to about 1/2 inch pieces. Toss cubed squash, diced onion, and garlic with a couple tbsp canola oil and lay out in one layer on a tinfoil lined baking sheet  (to expedite clean up). Roast for about 30 - 40 minutes or until squash is tender.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When you take veggies out of the oven, throw the pasta in.

3. Work roasted vegetables in batches through a blender or food processor thinning with water. Add dabs of Better than Bouillon as you go. Process just until saucy rather than completely pureed like baby food (yuck!).

4. Once pasta is tender but not limp (aka al dente), drain, return to pot, pour butternut sauce over the top. Gently turn the squash mixture into the noodles. Season with salt to taste. SERVE! I like to add a little grated pepper jack cheese to the top, french bread on the side to schmear around the empty bowl at the end, and glass of chilled Pinot Grigio - but that's me! My kid like it with water, mostly cause I'm that kind of a mom. They'd take it just as easily with root beer if I made it available. It hasn't happened yet.

Thanks Jack and Faye for finding the oak table at a yard sale, putting it in your garage, getting fed up with the space it sapped, mentioning to my parents that you want to get rid of round oak table, listening to my mother when she chirped I would probably want it, tracking me down, fixing it up, bringing it to my house, setting it up, cleaning it up, and helping me christen. Your caring and my lack of it makes me feel less than grown-up. And that's a good feeling once in a while.