Bake Some Bread, Dammit!

January 18, 2011

Photo courtesy of Carri Thurman by way of Michael Ruhlman

Michael Ruhlman is running a series on bread baking over on his blog, trying to get folks to bake bread.  Of course, I’m a sucker for bread, having baked for nearly 20 years (including my mad scientist days when I was in law school and had multiple types of sourdough starter sitting in my kitchen).  When I saw one guest blogger post a story and recipe about ciabatta, I knew I had to make it.  First, I love ciabatta, with its rustic shape and straight-forward flavors.  Second, this recipe  comes from a bakery — Two Sisters —  in one of my favorite places in the world, Homer, Alaska (also home to the best pizza in Alaska, Finn’s).  This recipe is of the “no knead” variety, which I typically like because of its simplicity, but which I usually don’t love, because the full flavors you desire aren’t usually completely developed.  This recipe was a bit different — it was a two-stage process, where a dense starter with a minimal amount of yeast sits on the counter for at least 12 hours.  Then warm water is added, and you break up the starter into small clumps before adding more flour and yeast.  It’s a very wet dough, but it’s perfect for the rectangular “slipper” shape of a ciabatta.

And, quite frankly, it was the best bread I’ve ever made.  I’m already craving this bread and hope to make it again very soon.  Thanks to Carri Thurman of Two Sisters Bakery and to Michael Ruhlman for publishing her recipe (and allowing me to reprint it).  I’ve made a couple of minor changes, based on what I had in the house on Saturday.

Recipe by Carri Thurman

To make the starter:

  • 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon rye flour
  • 3 cups/14 ounces/400 grams bread flour (I used King Arthur, but unbleached all purpose flour is OK)
  • 1 cup/8 ounces/240 grams tepid water
  • ¼ teaspoon/1 gram active dry yeast dissolved in 1 cup warm water (set aside)
  1. Combine the flours and tepid water in a medium sized mixing bowl.
  2. Add 1 teaspoon of the yeasted water (that’s correct, just 1 teaspoon — discard the rest)
  3. Mix it into a firm ball, kneading it  just a bit.
  4. Cover the bowl and let it rest at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours

To make the dough:

  • 1 teaspoon/4 grams active dry yeast
  • 3 1/4 cups/15.5 ounces/430 bread flour (or unbleached all purpose flour)
  • 1 tablespoon/.4 ounces/11 grams salt
  1. Cut the dense starter dough into 6 or 8 pieces and put them in a large mixing bowl. Pour 2 cups/450 grams warm water over it and let sit a few minutes to soften. Break it up more with your hands.  Don’t worry about small-sized chunks.
  2. Add the additional flour, salt and yeast,  and using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture together well. It will resemble a stiff pancake batter and appear quite rough, but still don’t worry about those chunks of  starter dough. Let the dough sit, covered lightly, in a warm spot.
  3. Come back to it every 20 minutes or so and pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl and into the center using a rubber spatula or dough scraper. Do this four times. After the last turn you will be able to see that the dough has become smoother and more uniform, now cover and let it finish rising for another hour and a half. Total rising time for this period should be 2 ½ to 3 hours.
  4. Scrape the dough out onto a well floured surface and fold together lightly. It will be fairly wet. Divide into two equal loaves and either pull apart into a flat focaccia style or fold the two ends into the center, like folding a letter, to form rectangular mound.
  5. Place loaves on parchment paper lined sheet pan side by side for final rise, 30 to 45 minutes.
  6. Prep your oven by preheating to 450 degrees F/230 degree C and putting a baking stone or a cast iron griddle on the middle rack.  If no stones/griddles, just back on the sheet pan.
  7. When ready to bake, lightly flour the tips of your fingers and deflate some of the bubbles; don’t worry, it’ll bounce back in the oven.
  8. Cut the parchment paper between the loaves to separate, and slide each loaf right onto to the stone or griddle. Or keep it on the pan.  Whatever.  Spray the loaves and oven with some water from a spray bottle to create some steam.  Bake until dark-ish golden brown and internal temp reaches 200 degrees F, approximately 25 minutes.

Makes two 1-3/4 pound ciabattas


Adult Gingerbread for the Holidays

December 24, 2010

I love gingerbread.  It’s always been one of my favorite flavors, particularly when served warm with some soft cream.  It represents the essence of winter comfort food, not too sweet, with depths of flavor beyond most other desserts.  But that depth was sometimes illusory, as it was just a smack of molasses paired with a touch of ground ginger.  This holiday season, I wanted more flavor.  I wanted more complexity.  I wanted a goddamned adult version of gingerbread.

Thank goodness for Karen Barker.

Barker, the co-owner and Beard Award winning pastry chef of Durham’s Magnolia Grill, has the hand’s-down-bet-the-farm-you-can-take-it-to-the-bank-absolute-best gingerbread you’ll ever taste.  This isn’t one of those pale cakes that you whip together in 2 minutes that will still taste just fine.  This is a dark, foreboding-looking gingerbread, with three types of ginger, coffee, black pepper, and dry mustard in it.  It’s a gingerbread that has some kick, without being piquant.  It’s not a dense cake, but it’s really rich.  And when paired with something somewhat sweet, like Barker’s Hot Buttered Rum Raisin Sauce and some vanilla-nutmeg ice cream — oh, my.

And that’s what my guests were saying last week when I concluded a 6 course dinner party last weekend.  This dish is a winner.  This gingerbread means business.  And hell, yeah, I made three of those cakes, so there was plenty for breakfast the rest of the week.

Not-Afraid-of-Flavor Gingerbread

  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp peeled, very finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup brewed coffee
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9X9X2 square pan or a 10X2 round pan. Line bottom with parchment paper, and butter the paper.

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, ground ginger, dry mustard and salt.

With a mixer, cream butter with the sugar and the fresh and crystallized ginger. Add eggs one at a time to blend.

Slowly add the oil and then the molasses. Mix to blend.

Gradually add the flour and spice mix until just barely blended, scraping bowl as needed.

Heat up the coffee in a small saucepan to a simmer, add the baking soda, stir, and add to the mix. Add the orange juice until fully combined. The batter will be thinner than what you would expect.

Pour batter into the pan and bake at 350F for about an hour and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan. Invert onto parchment paper, and then flip back over onto serving platter. Eat. And then eat some more.

From “Sweet stuff: Karen Barker’s American Desserts” by Karen Barker, University of North Carolina Press

Creamed Corn: Simplest Recipe in the World

December 7, 2010

Damn iPhone images stink!

One of the favorite dishes in the McCord residence is creamed corn.  No, not that crap from a can — freshly made creamed corn, with kernels freshly cut from the cob.  It’s a dish I make fairly frequently, and it’s good in the summer with local corn and in the winter with Florida corn.  The corn infuses the cream with its sweetness, and the cream holds it all together.  It goes well with just about anything.

And the best part of all is that  it’s so damn simple!  It’s so easy that I’m not going to give you a real recipe; I’m just going to tell you what to do.

  1. Shuck the corn and cut kernels from cob.  Scrape cobs with back of knife into corn dish.  (TIP: Put a clean kitchen towel over your cutting board.  The kernels won’t bounce away as much with a naked cutting board.)
  2. Melt some unsalted butter in a skillet.
  3. Add corn and the goodness scraped.
  4. Cook over medium heat until it starts to brown.
  5. Add some cream to bring it together.  You want enough cream so the corn cooks in the cream, rather than the cream just evaporating away.
  6. Cook until somewhat thick.  There will still be some residual cream, but it’s all good.
  7. Salt and pepper to taste.  Some freshly ground nutmeg is killer.
  8. Devour.

Really, that’s a lot of steps for something that’s as simple as this:  Brown corn in melted butter.  Add cream, cook, season.

You’ll thank me for this dish, and you can even add it to your Christmas dinner.  And for you lazy folks out there, Whole Foods often sells corn that has been freshly cut from the cob.  It’s not as good, as you don’t get the cob scrapings, but it’s still pretty damn tasty.  Regardless, you’ll put thoughts of the Del Monte Creamed Corn far behind you — just where it belongs.

Pressure Cooker Risotto

January 27, 2010

Ever since I bought my cheap pressure cooker, I’ve been exploring ways to use it in getting dinner to the table more quickly. This is important to me, as I often don’t get home from work until 7 or so, and I don’t want to spend an hour or two putting together a nice meal. I’m trying to eat more high fiber foods, such as brown rice, so the pressure cooker allows me to cook that rice in 20 minutes, rather than an hour.

Last night, I tried making risotto in the pressure cooker.  That’s right, risotto, which traditionally takes 20 to 30 minutes of constant attention.  But not in a pressure cooker.  You cook it for 8 minutes, without stirring.  And damn it, if it didn’t come out perfect!

Now you still have to cut up your vegetables for the soffritto.  Last night I used shallots, fennel, garlic and carrot.  I browned some boneless chicken thighs in the cooker, removed them, added the soffritto, and cooked for a couple of minutes.  Add the rice, stir to coat, some wine, chicken stock, and then the chicken.  Seal the cooker and cook for 8 minutes.  Release the steam, stir in grated cheese and butter, and serve.

This risotto was absolutely perfect.  Creamy and rich.  The starches from the arborio rice released into the broth, which surprised me.  I thought that the dish would be overly watery, but it wasn’t at all.  And the chicken was nicely cooked, too.

I may never make traditional risotto again.

Pressure Cooker Rissotto

  • 1-1/2 cups aborio rice
  • 2-1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 pound boneless chicken thighs
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp butter

Heat oil in pressure cooker without lid over high heat.  Salt and pepper chicken thighs and brown in hot oil.  Remove chicken from cooker and add shallot, carrots and garlic.  Stir for 1-2 minutes.  Add rice and stir for another minute.  Add wine, stir, and then add stock.  Add browned chicken thighs (including any exuded juices), bring to a simmer, and seal pressure cooker.  Reduce heat to low and cook for 8 minutes.

Release pressure, remove lid, and stir in cheese and butter.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 3-4.

The Best Recipe Site

April 23, 2009


A Twitter update from Mark Bittman led me to what is likely to be the best website for recipes on the internet:  Why is this so great?  Because it is an independent search engine that can search all of the main recipe sites, such as Epicurious, the Food Network, CHOW, and Recipezaar.  Because each result can be filtered by source, cuisine, time and more.  Because they have a toolbar that you can add to your browser.  Because you can examine the entire list of ingredients on the results page without leaving the page. is a creation of Food Network’s parent company, Scripps, and it has many of the features of another freestanding search site, Project Foodie.  But the interface of is far more user friendly, and the ability to easily examine ingredient lists makes it a lot easier to sort through recipes.

I love, but I’d like to hear your feedback, too.

Would You Like to Taste My Nuts? Candied Vanilla-Spiced Pecans, That Is

December 15, 2008


One of the things I like to do most Christmases is to make candied nuts.  They’re so easy to do and everyone in my family loves them, I don’t know why I don’t make them more often.  Hell, it’s gotten to the point where we always talk about “Dad’s Nuts,” and, well, the headline above clearly demonstrates where this can sink.  My 14 year old son started actually walked into the dining room yesterday, carrying a bowl of nuts, asking his grandmother — HIS GRANDMOTHER, for chrissake, whether she wanted to taste his nuts.  I think he’s still blushing over it, but it’s  pretty damn funny.  Almost as funny as the Schwetty Balls skit from SNL. Read the rest of this entry »

My Favorite Summer Pasta

August 29, 2008

It’s the end of summer, when tomatoes are everywhere.  This is the time to make fresh pasta.  Yeah, I know that it can be a royal pain in the bohunkus to make pasta, so you can buy some decent fresh stuff, but the reason for it is to make an uncooked tomato sauce to go with it.  This is such a simple dish, but oh, so tasty!

Here’s what you do.  Find the freshest tomatoes you can.  You need about one medium-sized tomato per person, and make sure that sucker is ripe.  It’s OK if it’s a bit over-ripe.  Then chop it up to a medium dice — skin, seeds and all those lovely juices.  Frankly, if the tomato is really ripe, you won’t really be able to dice it at all — it’ll just smush up.  So, put all that tomato glory in a bowl, add some salt, a tablespoon or two of fruity extra virgin olive oil, one clove of freshly minced garlic, stir it up, and let sit for at least 15 minutes.

Cook the pasta that you’ve made.  And no, I’m not going to tell you how to do that.  Just cut it into a linguine style strand.  You want it somewhat thin, but you don’t want angel hair, either.

While the pasta is cooking, which shouldn’t take much more than 2 or 3 minutes, chop up some fresh basil — several large leaves’ worth for each tomato.  Stir those into the tomatoes.

Drain the pasta just when it’s done and dump the tomato mixture into the still hot pasta pot.  Stir it around for a few seconds to warm it up a bit, then add the cooked pasta back to the pot.  Stir it all up so the pasta is fully coated with the tomato juices and serve.  You’ll want to get the pasta out first, and then spoon some tomato and juices on top.

All you need is a baguette to soak up the liquid heaven.  A glass of wine works, too.  After a few bites, you’ll be in a state of revery, which is what summer is all about.