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Mpls, MN, United States

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

In the Kitchen

The 'Kitchen has been comparatively disaster-free of late, although I can't say the eating has been particularly interesting, either: rising food costs, the necessity of shopping on my bicycle, and Winter Grocery Malaise have meant less fresh, colorful, inspired meals. Instead, I've been making old standbys like rice peanut butter carrot loaf,* a variety of soups, and assorted baked goods. I tried Melinda's Moroccan Tomato Soup (more or less), and although it was much better pureed, I was over it pretty fast. Friday night I made some soup, and for some reason thought it would be a good idea to use all of my green lentils--probably two cups--in addition to the carrots and potatoes I already had going. It's pretty tasty, thankfully, but at this rate I could be eating it for weeks. I think I'll take Leah's tactic and freeze some individual servings of it.

I have had a couple of bread disasters recently, though. Yesterday, I made my usual whole-wheat flax bread, but instead of making two puny loves, I decided to make one full-sized one. Unfortunately, I didn't bake it long enough, and although it's beautiful on the outside and the ends of the loaf taste good, there's a gummy sinkhole in the middle that's probably not salvageable.

The bigger disaster, though, was when I tried Leah's no-knead bread, of which she had given a glowing report. Although I've been baking my own bread for nearly two years now, the full-on kneading kind, I apparently lack the skills of your average 4- (to 8-) year old when it comes to making this bread. The very first time I tried, preoccupied with my Brita pitcher, I distractedly added way too much water and had to pour the resulting sludge down the sink. The second time (just after cleaning up that mess), I let the dough rise for nearly 20 hours, but instead of "turning" it out thereafter, I unfortunately poured it all over my counter; it was rather... liquid.

Still undaunted, however, yesterday I tried again, this time with all bread flour (measured by shaking, rather than leveling off, the cup), and with quick-rise yeast--the closest thing I could find to "instant." The results, which I baked up today, are not quite the perfection attained by Leah, but they are striking: the crust is indeed very crispy and the crumb** very tender. This bread reminds me of the bread they used to serve us at Villa Aurora with every meal (though because bread was only delivered once or maybe twice a week--in big plastic tubs--it was approaching crouton status by late in the week). My loaf was a bit flat and ugly; the dough was too soft to form into a nice ball, probably since I only let it rise about 13 hours this time instead of 18 or so. Still, I think I'll make up another batch of French onion soup and enjoy this bread, toasted, on top, and will definitely try the recipe again. Finding and watching this video, which I'd somehow missed, was even more encouraging.

Oh, and Leah, my French onion soup recipe is pretty standard (though I do mine vegetarian, and so used G. Washington broth and McKay's "beef" seasoning); I sauteed the onions in butter and stirred in the flour, but at that point I transferred them to my crockpot, added the hot water and bouillon, and left the covered crockpot on low for the next 18 hours or so. I didn't mean to leave it quite that long, but the soup survived and did end up awfully tasty.

*I took this to school last week, and was embarrassed when people asked me what it was, but I shared bites of it and my friends actually thought it was rather delicious. Or said they did.
**I feel so pretentious even writing that.


strovska said...

once again i forgot to get a snack before reading this.

i think i'm going to try that mfk-reminiscent loaf. i like the looks of the odd mixture of ingredients.

Angela said...

Your cooking and baking sounds fabulous. I admire that you make your own bread. I tried a couple times and it turned out all right. I think it's something that takes patience and practice though.

Curly Sue said...

Good work, Ceri! It looks like your second (third?) came out fine. Try once again and you'll have it perfectly!

CëRïSë said...

Strovska, the loaf really is pretty good--nutritious, and mad cheap. It reheats well for a work lunch, too.

Angela, I think it may be about a good recipe and a willingness to keep messing up--my loaves are still far from perfect! Having your first tries turn out all right sounds like a pretty awesome start...

And Leah, thanks again for the recipe and the encouragement! Try three (four?) is rising in the oven as I type.

Ern said...

Aren't you a grad student? How do you find time to cook? The last time I made something I cooked myself was last week. As in, 8 days ago.

Still, I'm adding your blog to my motivation to cook again, which has been gradually growing. (I go in multi-month phases of cooking or not.)