Yeast #4: Cuban Bread

043Nothing like the last minute.

I’ve had a resolution this year to get over my phobia of working with yeast.  My goal was to make one thing with yeast each month.  I had planned to make this recipe last weekend but talked myself out of it in favor of other tasks.   Today is the last day of April so today was the day.

Unlike my other projects, this one was super fast.  This recipe took about 2 hours from start to finish.  The nice thing about that is you can have the idea and the actual bread on the same day.

My quest started with several “no knead” recipes.  I picked them, not because I am against kneading.  I like kneading.  I picked them because they used small amounts of yeast and cold water and then rose over a very slow period of time (24 or so hours).  Because you started with cold water, there was no way to kill the yeast which has been my problem before.  The down side is you start on one day and have bread the next so there’s no instant gratification.

In January, it was pizza dough.  In February and March, it was lovely artisan loaves of plain bread and olive bread.  I was getting ready to make a transition toward recipes where liquid temperature would be an issue.  My friend Carri had a recipe she thought I should try:  Cuban Bread.

010Actually, truth be told, Carri thought I had gone about the whole process all wrong and I should just call off the challenge after 3 months.  Her theory was that the recipes I had chosen were harder to do than the recipe she had in mind.  She thought I should have started with her recipe.  Instead of the small amounts of yeast in the other recipes (.5 grams to 3/4 t. at most), her recipe called for TWO FULL PACKETS OF YEAST.

Two!  I think this is about 1 1/2 tablespoons of yeast.

Carri’s theory was that a recipe with this much yeast was foolproof and should have been where I started.  Maybe.  I will say that I felt better trying this recipe given my other bread experiences over the last couple of months.

I won’t provide lengthy instructions since the original site is SUPER helpful with easy instructions and pictures to help.

She is right that the recipe is easy.  Even so, I still made two mistakes that could have been bad.  Ironically they weren’t about the liquid temperature which is where I had worried.

016Both mistakes boiled down to one problem:  not reading the full recipe before starting.  To my credit, I had read it all the way through, but it was last weekend when I first had the idea to make it.  A week later, I had a general memory of the recipe.

First error from not reading:  The recipe says it takes 5-6 cups of flour, BUT the direction say to mix only 4 cups with the other ingredients at first.  The rest of the flour is incorporated — but only as much as is needed — during the kneading process.  I remembered that not all of the flour went into the bowl initially, but my brain just jumped to 5 cups.  I had all 5 cups of flour and everything else in the bowl before I read the next step that said to only put in 4 cups of flour.  I blame the way I printed out the website recipe.

026Unlike the directions, I couldn’t mix my bread for 15 minutes.  Because I had 5 cups of flour in my bowl, I had a shaggy dough in about a minute.  Now what?  I decided that maybe the time was important more than the stirring so I set a timer, walked away, and let my dough rest for 15 minutes while I checked my email.

When I came back to knead the dough, I measured out one more cup of flour to make sure I didn’t go over 6 cups total of flour.  I put just a little down on my kneading surface and got to kneading.  I needed very little flour.  By the time I was done kneading, I would guess I had mixed in 2 tablespoons at most.  If I had made the recipe correctly, I’m guessing the dough would have been quite wet and the kneading would have added in a cup or so of flour to get to exactly the same place I ended up.  I’m not sure from a chemistry standpoint if I just got lucky or if my technique, though not expected, was also ok.  I suppose a lot has to do with climate and humidity in the air and how much flour the dough can absorb.  I think I got lucky.025

My second error from not reading:  The recipe says to start the bread in a cold oven with a dish of hot water under the baking pans.  As the oven preheats to 400 degrees with the loaves inside, the loaves continue to rise and the water keeps the environment steamy and humid.  My oven was not cold.  I had been thinking my bread would rise better on top of my stove if my oven was on.  Also, I was trying to make bread when I should have been making lunch.  I decided to put a frozen pot pie into the oven thinking that in the hour it took to bake, I’d have my dough mixed together, kneaded, and resting to rise on top of the hot oven.

That all went well until I turned the page of my recipe and saw the note about the cold oven.  What to do?  I turned off my oven, opened the door wide, and let out the hot air for about 3-4 minutes.  I had boiled water so I filled my container and slid it in the oven.  When my loaves went in, the heat hadn’t totally dissipated so my compromise was to reduce the baking time a bit just to be safe.  Instead of the 45-50 minutes of the recipe, I set my timer for 40 minutes to give it a check.  At 40 minutes, I was good and my loaves were done.

So, in spite of myself, I managed to make two decent loaves of bread.  Here’s how I’d rewrite the ingredients from the original:

  • 700-840g (5-6 cups) all-purpose flour — start with only 4 cups and use remainder for kneading for a maximum of 6 cups
  • 18g (2 packages or 1 1/2 T) dry yeast — I used instant yeast
  • 15g (1 T) salt — I used regular table salt
  • 25g (2 T) sugar — I used “sugar in the raw” sugar
  • 450g (500 ml/ 2 cups) hot water
  • sesame or poppy seeds for sprinkling (optional)

Here’s what I did right:  the water temperature.  I  heard the voice of my friend Natalia in my head saying it’s always better to be too cool than too hot.  Since it had two cups of water, I made sure the first cup was just slightly off cool from the tap.  The second cup was just starting to feel warm from the tap.  I figured it was really too cool overall, but I knew there would be no way I was killing the yeast.  I think Carri would say that even if I did kill some yeast, there’s so much yeast in the recipe that something has to survive.

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At any rate, the dough looked good after kneading and it did raise well on my hot stove top above my cooking pot pie.   The recipe makes two loaves and I had my risen dough cut in half, placed on two small baking sheets, and ready to go.  That’s when I realized my hot oven was a problem.  So I did my best to cool things down.

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Before going into the oven, the recipe said to slash the tops.  I’m sure there’s a better way to do that but I used my sharpest knife.  I thought the loaves looked kind of ridiculous but both looked better after being baked.  I didn’t have sesame or poppy seeds, but I did have nigella seeds which I’d purchased for some Indian cooking I wanted to try.  I decided to put nigella seeds on one of the loaves.

041Once out of the oven, the idea is you let it rest for at least an hour before eating.  I was consumed by the lovely smell of baking bread so I hacked off a corner of the plain loaf.  I slathered it with butter and a bit of apricot jam.  DELICIOUS!!

It’s different than the slow-rise recipes which have a flavor that develops over a long time of slow rising.  This bread is yeasty from the large amounts of yeast but the texture is more bread-y with small crumbs and without any large holes.  The slow-rise breads have larger air holes and a more sourdough-like flavor.  This is classic, yummy 047bread.  It’s still shaped like the lovely artisan loaves (two rounds instead of a loaf in a bread pan), so it’s a bit “artisan” in feel and crusty flavor.  If you like crust, this is a bread recipe for you.  If you prefer the inner part of bread the best, then this might not be it.  I am guessing this is going to make a lovely piece of toast.  I can’t wait!

I am eager to try the nigella seed version.  The recipe does say (THIS I remember!) that it doesn’t keep long so if you can’t eat both loaves quickly, freeze the second loaf.   I’ll be eating the nigella loaf later and digging into more of the plain one tonight and this weekend.

Happy April.  Happy yeast.  Onward.

Cauliflower Kuku

036We had a lot of cauliflower during this most recent delivery from our CSA.  Two really huge, huge, huge heads that over-wintered here in the mild Oregon climate have become these wonderful gifts of spring.  When I got mine, I knew at least part of the head that came to me was going to become cauliflower kuku.

Similar to a frittata, I found the recipe a while ago on the Splendid Table website.  The first time I made it, I did it exactly as the recipe was written.  It turned out to be a bit too salty to my taste, but otherwise it was delicious.  Flavored with spices I love like cumin and colored a lovely color from the addition of tumeric and parsley, it was a delicious new way to enjoy a vegetable I love.  Unlike a traditional frittata, it uses fewer eggs which get a little lift and some body by the addition of some baking powder and a bit of flour.  It was good hot out of the oven and delicious heated up in the microwave (gently and briefly) for leftovers.  Accompanied by a buttered piece of grainy toast?  Nothing better!

If you’re making the recipe for the first time, I’d probably suggest following the Splendid Table instructions but reduce the salt — maybe 1/2 teaspoon instead of the 1 and 1/2 teaspoons.  The original recipe uses a combination of stove-top and oven cooking.  It keeps things simple — eggs, cauliflower, spices, and parsley.  It will let you know if this is a recipe for you.

Like most things, however, once I make a recipe I start thinking how I can use the base and go from there.  For example, I didn’t have parsley but I did have a huge bag of lovely spinach.  I figured spinach would add a lovely herbacious quality in the absence of the parsley and the delicate texture when cooked wouldn’t compete with the cauliflower.

I also cooked my cauliflower, most of the way, in the microwave.  Rather than waiting to boil water and blanch it, I decided it’d be faster and retain more flavor if I steamed it in the microwave.  I didn’t cook it all the way but most of the way.  My microwave is pretty old and weak so it took about 6 minutes but it might be half that in a newer, more powerful model.  I then sauteed it the rest of the way in olive oil in the pan.

031I stuck to the original recipe with the spices (cumin, turmeric, cayenne, a reduced amount of salt), but instead of using the recipe’s amounts, I used a nub of onion I had left from another recipe, a small clove of garlic, and chopped up leek scapes which we also got from the CSA.  They give a mild onion flavor to the dish and they kind of look like discs of asparagus in the final result.

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Beyond that, the technique is pretty simple:  Saute the onion/garlic/leek scape mixture in a bit of olive oil until tender and then add in the salt and spices.  In the original recipe, they use 1/4 cup oil.  I used maybe a tablespoon (half) this second time of making the kuku.  After letting them heat a bit in the fat, add in the cauliflower and cook until the cauliflower is tender (unless you did the blanching method and it’s already tender).

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Add in the spinach (or parsley if following the original recipe) and saute until wilted.  Mere minutes.  In a bowl nearby, whisk the 4 eggs, the baking powder and the flour (I use regular all-purpose flour since I didn’t have the types listed in the original recipe).  Once the spinach is cooked, you add in the egg mixture.  I didn’t have goat cheese so I just used some parmesan/romano cheese I had in the fridge.  It wasn’t as creamy as the first time I made the kuku but it was salty in a good way, especially since I had cut down on the salt overall — less than half of what the original recipe called for to be added.

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In the original recipe at that point you add in more oil and cook on top of the stove and then put into the oven to finish.  I skipped the extra oil and the top of the stove in favor of a little longer in the oven at 350 degrees — 12-14 minutes, depending on your oven.  You want it to be set so the eggs still stay tender and don’t get rubbery.

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Voila.  Kuku!  I could see this working and being delicious with other vegetables beyond cauliflower, but I am especially taken with the flavor of the vegetable and these spices.  Not masked but enhanced.  For any vegetarians or veggie-leaning foodies, this one is a keeper.051

The key is the ratio for the egg mixture:  4 eggs, 1/4 t. baking powder and 1 T. flour.  If one could remember only the ratio for the eggs, you could make endless variations on this dish using other herbs and or spices.  It’s a good basic ratio and cooking technique (350 degree oven, 12-14 minutes) to have in one’s back pocket for future cooking.



The secret sauce

069A few weeks ago I wrote about a simple stir-fry sauce.  At that time, I had used a mixture of onion and leek, red cabbage,  a mixture of yellow and orange carrots, some pink radishes and some lovely greens (probably kale, but who remembers?). And ground turkey because I had it.

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Last night I needed an easy dinner that would produce nice leftovers for lunch for a couple of days.  I picked up a package of extra lean ground beef on the way home and then decided to use my “secret sauce” again with whatever veggies I had at home in my bins.  It really is the most versatile Asian flavoring sauce.

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While my ground beef and some onion was browning, I chopped up what I had:  arugula, bok choy (stems and leaves), and chard (stems and leaves).  Once the beef was browned — drain if you need to but I didn’t need to based on the leanness of the beef I bought — add in the stems and saute for a while.  Once a bit cooked, add in the sauce [SO EASY:  4 T. sake, 2T soy, 1 T. water, and 1 T. sugar — last night I added in 1 T teriyaki and left out the sugar since teriyaki is sweet].  On top of that I put in the arugula and the leaves of the bok choy and chard.  It only takes minutes to finish.

I served mine with brown rice.  Delish!068

Simple spring cooking — soup

255It always feels a little like kismet when you read a blog of someone you like and they express an idea very close to your own.  This happened to me recently with a local person’s blog, Cook with What you Have.

In our last couple of deliveries from the farm, we’ve been starting to get less and less of the winter stuff (the hard squashes, the root vegetables, potatoes) and more of the tender foods of spring — overwintering things like broccoli, the rapini or fresh shoots of overwintered plants like kale, cabbage, etc.  Soft herbs like cilantro.

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Once these things start showing up, I find my cooking becomes less elaborate.  Instead of soups with lots of ingredients and heft, I’m more apt to be in the kitchen putting a light saute on a tender vegetable.  Flavoring with salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Maybe chili flakes.  Still, keeping it simple.

Reading Katherine’s blog, I noticed she was also feeling the same kind of impulse with spring.  The return of the sun makes us think about gardens and it puts into our minds the growing season and simple things.  She had an idea for a simple spring soup that had me intrigued because it was so simple and clean for this time of spring eating.

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I recently bought some farro and I was eager to try making something with it.  In the soup recipe from Katherine, she used something else but noted that any grain could work.  I didn’t have any leftover grain but decided to make some and then keep it in the fridge for making soup one night this week.

I used the “pasta” method which works well with grains of all sorts (except Japanese sticky rice):  Bring a pot of water to a boil, add your grain, cook for the normal amount of time minus 10 minutes, drain off the water, let the grains steam for 10 minutes covered off the heat.

This makes great brown rice.  Boil 30 minutes or so, drain and let steam 10 minutes.    For emmer farro, I boiled for 20 minutes, drained, and let steam 10 minutes.  It was perfect — chewy but tender.  I added a bit of salt and some bay leaves to the water while it boiled to give it a little head start on flavor.  It then went into the fridge to wait for the night of soup making.

Yesterday was a crazy day from a food standpoint.  I had a late day appointment but needed to go back to work to finish a project which I thought would take an hour but ended up being closer to two hours.  Between the daylight and the sunshine, my body felt like it was much earlier than it was.  I had a plan to bake some blondies for friends who would gather the next day, so I decided to get that going before starting the soup.  By the time I got to soup, it was already nearly 8:30 p.m.  Thankfully, soup was just minutes away.

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Katherine’s recipe intrigued me because of the coriander seed.  I’ve been recently quite taken by coriander and I was excited to see what it might add to the soup:

  • 2 stalks green garlic, trimmed and minced (greens and all) — I didn’t have it so I just pressed a couple of cloves of regular garlic through my press
  • 1/2 small onion, finely diced — we had a small cipollini onion from the CSA so I grated it to make sure it’d cook quickly and fade away in the soup but it could have just been minced finely
  • 3 cups broth/stock/water — I had a jar of frozen turkey stock I made at Thanksgiving but I’m sure it was less than 3 cups.  I used what I had.
  • A little toasted cracked coriander (optional) — I just threw a bit into a hot pan to toast and then ground it in my Japanese grinding bowl
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked grains (see headnote), frikeh in this case — I cooked 1 c. of dry farro so I had whatever amount that turns into when cooked
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs like parsley, chives, chervil — I had a bunch of cilantro (maybe about 1/2 of the average store size bundle) which I chopped up, stems and all!
  • Squeeze of lemon juice — I used half a lemon
  • Salt — I also added in plenty of black pepper
  • Olive oil

Because I had it, I added in some tender overwintered broccoli which I just chopped finely.   I knew it would add good flavor and texture to everything else.  This recipe is one of those wonderful basic ideas which you can take in any direction depending on what you have or what you like.  I would think fennel would be nice or even a Japanese radish.

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The technique is very simple.

  • Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil just to get it going.
  • Add the broth, grains, and any other veggies you’re cooking (my broccoli)
  • Add the cracked coriander or other seasoning you like
  • Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer long enough to bring things to warmth (or to cook a bit like my broccoli)
  • Stir in the cilantro and lemon, off heat
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Serve with flavorful olive oil drizzled on the top

243It was a 10 minute soup at the most.  It took me longer to rinse the herbs and broccoli and to toast the coriander than it took for the soup to come together.

Given the late hour, it was perfect.  Anything heavier would have been terrible given the time I went to bed.  This was light — the grain provided enough sustenance to fend off hunger but the clean flavors of the herbs and the broth made it feel light and easy for the system to process.  With a piece of toast, I was in heaven.251

Happy spring.

A stir-fry sauce for many occasions

Years ago I found a recipe for something called three colored rice (three color gohan).  The concept was pretty simple.  Over rice, you would have three colors of food laid out in strips. One section would be steamed green beans or snap peas.  One would be scrambled egg that was cut into thin strips.  One section would be ground beef flavored with a mixture of soy sauce, sake, and sugar.  The person eating it could then mix it together but the presentation would be lovely because each section was contained and a lovely color of green, yellow, or brown.035

I’ve made it a number of times but unless I’m trying to impress someone, I rarely do the three sections.  I also vary the vegetables depending on what I have.  Sometimes I do the egg, sometimes I don’t.

The one constant is the sauce.  I really liked the sauce and added a bit of teriyaki to it to make my own variation.

  • 3 T soy sauce
  • 2 T teriyaki sauce
  • 4 T sake
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 T water

Most of the time I just saute my meat and vegetables together, add in the sauce, and then serve over rice.  Sometimes I’ll fry up an egg and cut it into strips to serve on top.  If I’m making a lot, I might make a double batch of the sauce, but I usually keep the proportions the same.

Recently we had a bounty of vegetables so I decided to use the sauce and some ground turkey to make a big batch of this to eat over several days.   I had onion and leek, red cabbage, and a mixture of yellow and orange carrots and some pink radishes.  Add to that, some lovely greens.  I figured it could all benefit from an asian stir-fry preparation. 007014016025026031

After chopping everything, it was simply a matter of sauteing the turkey (removing from the pan), sauteing the vegetables, adding back the turkey and the greens, and then coating everything in the sauce.

032Once done, it was delicious over rice and served up as fantastic leftovers as well!