Given the season, I wasn’t too surprised to see “Something Orange” blow away all the other colors for dishes in the poll last week. I ended up making two orange dishes in an effort to get something really orange. Turns out Mother Nature is a bit of a trickster and what appears to be orange is sometimes more of a light yellow.
Case in point: Pumpkin. Pumpkin was such an obvious choice for this and I’m assuming it’s what everyone wanted me to make! I mean, come one, look how orange it is!
Over the long weekend I went over to a friend’s house to grill and brought along this beauty of a gourd. I had very high ambitions! I was going to slice it up, peel off that rough rind, grill it, and glaze it with a sweet-heat glaze I came up with.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that No Knead Bread has been my biggest cooking revolution in the last two years or so. I make a loaf a week and thanks to Jim Lahey’s new book, “My Bread“, I have a bunch of variations to try out now. (ex. Olive Bread)
I was lucky enough to get a few minutes of Mr. Lahey’s eTime last week and I asked him a few questions.
You get into this a bit in your latest book, but when did you decide to devote your life to baking bread?
Jim: It happened spontaneously. The idea to make a career of baking came to me in the early 1990’s when living in Williamsburg.
Why is it important to you that people hear and learn that bread can be simple to make and delicious? What is it about bread?
Bread is part of our cultural and social fabric. For better or worse it has been part of western civilization for over 4,000 years. I was hoping to jump start a new kind of period of interest and perhaps create a serious bread culture in our country.
Note: I think he’s doing a pretty solid job of this…
I get occasional emails asking if the bread you write about requires a large heavy (cast iron or enamel) pot (Also a less expensive one with great great ratings here). I’ve experimented, but what do you recommend the home baker use if they don’t have one of the heavy-duty pots? Is it even worth the time?
You could use a glass deep casserole dish although I would suggest baking with ceramic as it retains and transfers the heat better.
Note: I’ve tried a few alternatives also. Nothing really works quite as well as the cast iron pot, but it’s all better than store bought bread.
What’s your current favorite loaf of bread from “My Bread“?
The banana leaf bread. It can be eaten for breakfast as well as with dinner. I also like the whole wheat.
There are still thousands of home bakers and professionals who are kneading and mixing away every day. Do you ever knead any bread you make? Are there any recipes/situations where kneading is necessary?
Kneading is simply a different approach which creates results that are in some ways more reliable however without understanding fermentation, kneading or not kneading makes no difference. Without understanding fermentation you will never be able to control the end result. That being said, what the no-knead method introduces to people is a long slow fermentation and that is what most people seem to miss when it comes to understanding why bread is the way it is.
Any aspirations for opening a bakery in DC? Please?
I love DC. It is one of America’s most beautiful cities. But of course I have a preference for New York. If I receive enough fan mail, I would be honored to bake bread in our nation’s capital.
Note: You can contact his bakery here. There’s no Sullivan St. that I know of in DC, but I see no reason why we shouldn’t have a bakery called that…
Are you working on any secret projects to simplify other complicated things? No-knead pasta?
Note: Short and secretive! My mind is swimming with ideas. No-stir stir fry?! No-mash mashed potatoes? Ok. I’ll stop.
Thanks for taking the time answer some these questions Jim!
If you have any interest in baking your own bread, Jim’s new book is a great place to start.
I’ve written before about the time it can take to cook and why I think it’s really important to make time for it, but at the end of the day, there are only so many hours in the darn day. In fact, I probably get the most emails and have the most discussions about time. These days, people just have a hard time finding the time to cook everyday.
So I thought I would brainstorm a few ways that everyone can save a few minutes (or in some cases a few hours) in the kitchen. Hopefully they are helpful!
1) Use leftovers in today’s dinner. Leftovers can sometimes be better if you use them in a new dish rather than just nuke them in the microwave. Try to think about a few ways to make a quick new meal out of leftovers instead of heating up an old meal. Leftover rice can go in a fried rice or stir fry. Leftover pasta can be baked with some cheese on top to make a great dinner.
I used to live in a group house with 4 other 20-somethings. One of the housemates (Hi Carolyn!) would make this great lentil stew in the fall that was filled with tons of veggies. It was spicy and fragrant and she would make enough to feed a small army. After a few times making the dish, we basically started having small cooking competitions between us to see who could come up with the perfect lentil stew.
One of my favorites was a version that uses chorizo sausage to give lots of flavor and spiciness to the dish. I don’t skimp on the veggies either!
Healthy and spicy!
There’s a few great things about this dish. First, it is very customizable. You can throw in almost any veggie under the sun. Potatoes, parsnips, tomatoes, leeks, carrots, and celery are just a few that I’ve added in the past. Feel free to experiment. It’s hard to go wrong. Just remember to keep the veggies pretty whole so they don’t get too mushy as they cook.
Every other weekend, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it’s incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.
If there is one cuisine that I’m probably most unfamiliar with it’s the Southeast Asian cuisine. Every time I see a recipe that comes from that region, there are probably more ingredients that I don’t recognize than ingredients I do recognize.
It’s not that I don’t try. I really am starting to learn some basics, but I think it’s kind of hard unless you’ve actually been to the region in question. Luckily, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, the authors of “Hot Sour Salty Sweet” spent enough time there to become regional experts. Even if you’ve never been there, if you have any interest in learning about some of the magical dishes and culture of Southeast Asia, this is the book for you.
The River Road
When the authors decided to set out on the journey that became this book, they were searching for some unifying trait that could link the cuisines of all of the Southeastern regions. Much like countries in the Mediterranean area have distinct elements to them, they found something similar.
As they got more into their trip though, they realized that the journey wasn’t exactly what they thought it would be. They kept coming back to one centralized thing: The Mekong River.
“So, our initial goal of eating our way through Southeast Asia evolved into the somewhat specific goal of exploring the food of the Mekong region by eating our way along the river, from Yunnan to Vietnam. Like students in a life drawing course, instead of drawing the entire model, we found ourselves drawing only an arm, an elbow, a hand.”
Journey through Photos
One thing I loved about this book before even really getting into the recipes, was the photos. As the two authors traveled along the river they took stunning photos of the people and the geography. Of course, there are photos of the food, but the photos of the region were more interesting I thought.
As someone who has never been to this area of the world, I found myself just leafing through the book looking at all the great photos. Rice fields, street vendors, lush river deltas and near-third world streets give the entire book a very unique feel. Even if you never cook a recipe out of this book, it would be a fantastic coffee book and is really fun to page through.
Hot Sour Salty Sweet
You figure out how the book got its name very early on. Those are the flavor profiles that each dish will balance. Even beyond each individual recipe, each menu will try to balance those flavors. Once you start to identify which ingredients in Southeastern cooking give each of these traits, it becomes easier to adjust a recipe to your liking. Fish sauce, for example, will add a salty background to any dish. So by adding a few drops of fish sauce to something, you can bring out a salty element.
The authors do a good job of walking you through different recipes and how those recipes balance these four tastes.
Sauces, Chiles, and Salsas
The chapters in this book are organized by food. I love that they start the book with these items because they seem so integral to that cuisine. I don’t think I’ve ever had Southeast food without some sort of dipping sauce or chile paste or something to enhance the flavors of the food. It’s fun and flavorful and one of my favorite parts of the meal.
Some of these sauces are incredibly simple (like the fresh chile-garlic paste which has 4 very standard ingredients) and some will require a bit more effort. What shocked me though was that all seemed fairly doable. None of the sauces or pastes required days of cooking and I think the most ingredients one had was around 10, but most were in the 4-6 ingredient range.
It was demystifying and encouraging to see the recipes laid out in such a straight forward manner. It made me want to make some of them right away!
As a note, each recipe is also classified by the region where the authors found it. They also provide the original names for all of the dishes so you’ll see something like:
Thai Fish Sauce with Hot Chiles [ prik nam pla - Thailand, Laos]
This is probably helpful for some people, but since I’ve never been to any of these places the extra classifications were a bit lost on me. You do come away from it though with a feeling that towns hundreds of miles from each other have a lot of cuisine elements in common.
After this chapter there are two fantastic chapters covering soups and salads, each chapter having about a dozen recipes.
Rice and Noodles
The next two chapters really embody what I think of when I think of these dishes. As the authors say, if rice is the bread of the Southeast then noodles are the potatoes. They are basically a part of every meal, even breakfast and dessert in some cases. One recipe that I definitely earmarked was a fairly elaborate, but traditional Pad Thai – one of my personal favorites. At 22 ingredients, it’s a substantial dish and some of the ingredients may be hard to find, but nevertheless, you may see it on Macheesmo in the future.
Meats and Veggies
There are entire chapters that follow the rice and noodles chapters on vegetables, seafood, poultry, beef and pork. This is when you start to really get the impression of how thorough this book is.
The authors leave no recipe unwritten it seems. You have to love that!
Maybe the best chapter in the book, in my opinion, is one of the last ones which discusses all of the interesting street foods available in a typical Southeastern village. The recipe that I must make immediately is the pork dumpling recipe. The authors finally shed some light on the dough that’s used to get that great texture (Asian tapioca!). Again, I’m not sure where to find that, but I can probably hunt it down.
This book is a work of art in my opinion. It’s visually stunning, very well-written, and includes hundreds of recipes. Coming in at around 350 pages, the authors really take the time to take you along with them as they traveled along the river in search of great food.
If you are at all interested in Southeast Asian cuisine, this is one of the best books I’ve seen on the area. “Hot Sour Salty Sweet” would be a great addition to your cooking library if you want to start experimenting with Asian food and can’t afford the plane ticket and decades it would to replicate their experiences.
Well, color me shocked. Thanks to all of you awesome readers who took the time to nominate me for a Foodbuzz Award! Over 3500 people filled out the nomination form, so I was pretty thrilled to see my name down. I was picked as a finalist for the category of “Blogger you would most like to cook a meal for you.” And when it comes down to it, I think that is the most flattering category that was available!
So if you can spare a moment, go check out all other nominations and vote! Voting for me is, of course, encouraged.
And now for some links!
Gourmet to All That – A great op-ed from the creator of Cook’s Illustrated about the closing of Gourmet mag and what it means for the publication industry. I must say that I was a bit worried when I read this that I’m “part of the problem” because I’m not a trained chef, but I decided that I’m not part of the problem because my site isn’t the first thing that comes up when you google broccoli casserole. And if it was the first thing that came up, my recipe would rock. And I subscribed to Cook’s Illustrated today. So there. (@ NY Times)
Rosemary Lemon Cookies – Ok. So I was going through mild withdrawals. Not a big deal. I would just occasionally scream at my cat about how Pete has fallen off the blogosphere. He’s back though. With a very good explanation and a solid cookie recipe. So my RSS Feed is right again. (@ Pete Bakes)
Brown Butter Pound Cake – There are some recipes that seem almost evil. They look too good to be actually Good. With a capital G. I feel like I could be lured to do very bad things if this cake was dangled in front of me. That’s all I’m saying about that. (@ Sassy Radish)
Sticky Salty Sweet Granola – I made granola last week, but I must say that this stuff looks very good. And the second photo in this post is a fantastic food photo. I stared at it for longer than I’d like to admit. But really all the photos are inspiring and the recipe looks great. (@ Local Lemons)
I was excited and worried when Porter Braised Brisket won last week’s poll. I was excited because I would get to eat Porter braised brisket. I was worried because I wasn’t sure that I would actually have enough time to make it and post it by today.
I was right to be excited. I was wrong to be worried.
As far as briskets go, I haven’t had too many braised ones actually. I usually eat them smoked, but that might change. Slow cooking a brisket for many hours in a rich Porter sauce makes for a really amazing fall dish.
No need for a knife!
It should go without saying that this lovely dish is not a weeknight afterthought meal. This is a meal you need to plan for, but don’t worry. It will pay back dividends for your planning.