Wednesday, April 29, 2009

CHEESE & TOMATO PESTO SWIRL BREAD

A LOAF OF BREAD, A BOTTLE OF WINE AND THOU

AND DON’T FORGET THE CHEESE, PLEASE! (et n'en fais pas tout un fromage!)

What is more French than bread and cheese? Excepting, of course, bread, wine and cheese.


Bread and cheese is a Frenchman’s way of life; a crusty baguette or two paired with a nutty, earthy aged Comté or a creamy, sharp Camembert with a bottle of red makes the perfect impromptu picnic meal, sitting along the Seine in the sun, head resting on a lover’s lap; a “plateau de fromage” served at the end of a dinner party, sandwiched in between the main course and the dessert, or wheeled over to your table in a fine restaurant, often replacing dessert completely, the white-cloth draped chariot offering a selection of cheese from almost every region of the country, eaten formally with knife and fork, a basket of tangy, almost sour, deep brown pain Poilâne or a slices of dense, creamy pain de compagne passed around the table; gooey smooth Brie smeared on a fougasse aux olives accompanied by a hearty Bordeaux or lively chèvre, either fresh and tart, perfect with a chunk of sweet brioche or delectable, spicy pain d’épices or the more subtle, nuttier crottin placed lovingly on a slice of pain de mie and broiled until all melty inside and served with a cool Sancerre. Bread, cheese and wine is breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack, pairing the bread and cheese and choosing the perfect glass of wine an art learned at an early age, a ritual never to be taken lightly, a part of every meal, every day.

Ah, oui, c'est la vie!

Now married to a Frenchman, and my Frenchman no different in this one respect from the all the others, I stand in line dutifully at the local cheese shop, breathing in the heady odor of earthy, nutty, sharp and tangy all rolled into one, or at the cheese counter at the market Sunday morning before elbowing my way through the hungry crowd to the boulanger, choosing among the stacks of loaves piled high on the counter, the long baguettes, flûtes, bâtards and ficelles lined up like soldiers in cases along the back wall.

Growing up, cheese for me and my siblings was a slice of plastic-wrapped processed cheese oozing out from between the slices of butter-slathered grilled bread or creamy, tangy, white and smooth smeared (or schmeared) on a fresh warm bagel on Sunday mornings, topped with a gorgeous orangey-pink slice of nova, or a perfectly rectangular block of deep yellow or egg-shell white cheddar, the sharper the better, cheese that had wended its way from upstate New York to find itself on the shelf of our local Publix, turned painstakingly into lunch, layered between slices of white or rye, piled high with lettuce and tomato. Cheese was rarely eaten, but when it was it was absolutely the main attraction, giving the flavor to a simple brown-bag lunch or a Sunday morning treat.


Yummy! I'll have another "pasteurized prepared cheese product", please!

Over the years, JP and I have discovered new worlds of both cheeses and breads, sharing and exploring, from the French Maroilles to English Stilton to Italian Scamorza Affumicata; French gâche and miche to Italian focaccia and ciabatta to English scones and crumpets. But no matter the cheese, no matter the bread, they always find their way, hand in hand, to the table, to the plate, whatever the meal.

And here I am, the baker, scouring cookbooks looking for new and interesting recipes to try my hand at, loving the sensual feel of bread dough between my fingers, the scent of fresh-baked bread filling my home. We are surrounded by boulangeries on all sides selling fresh bread, bread with olives or cheese, multi-grain or sourdough, plain or sweet, yet I can’t keep away from the flour and yeast. Once bitten, never shy, or so it should be told! Once I learned the secret, once I mastered the technique, every time I pull something puffed and golden from the oven, every time I bite into a warm, soft, dense yet light loaf that I fashioned myself, I yearn for more and more.

So with the desire to make my own bread, knead, roll, bake and enjoy, and having a fridge full of cheese, I have settled on a wonderful cheese bread, based on a recipe I found in my King Arthur’s Baker’s Companion, just fiddled with and elaborated on enough to make it a bit tastier and maybe a bit prettier to look at before savoring. I do think that my husband is going to love having his bread…. and cheese… and eating it, too, all at the same time.

All the participants in Yeastspotting are so proud of their bread!

I have also chosen this bread as my entry for this week’s YEASTSPOTTING event, a wonderful weekly showcase of yeast baking and baked goods hosted by Baker Extraordinaire Susan of Wild Yeast. She really has got me baking! Love it and thanks, Susan!


CHEESE BREAD
Adapted from the recipe in my wonderful The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion

2 ¼ tsps fast-acting or instant yeast
¼ cup (60 – 65 ml warm water)
1 cup (250 ml) warm milk
1 ¼ tsps salt
1 Tbs sugar
3 ½ cups (440 g) flour
2 Tbs (30 g) softened butter or 2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 cup (4 oz, 120 g) finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup (2 oz, 60 g) finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
1 tsp dried rosemary
2 Tbs sun-dried tomato paste/purée/pesto
1 egg, beaten + finely grated Parmesan for topping


Place the yeast and the sugar in a small bowl with the warm water and allow the yeast to activate and froth up, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Rub in the butter until completely incorporated. If the butter is softened, this will take barely a minute for expert hands.

Stir the two cheeses and the dried rosemary into the flour mixture; I rubbed it together with my fingers in order to break up the clumps of cheddar cheese.


Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the yeast mixture and the milk. Stir with a wooden spoon until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and it starts to pull together into a loose dough. Add a little more water if the dough is too dry.


Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until you have a soft, smooth dough, soft but not sticky. Knead in more flour as needed. Knead for about 5 minutes, let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead for an additional 3 minutes.


Place the dough in a large, lightly greased (I used olive oil) bowl; cover the bowl with plastic wrap then with a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise for 1 hour until puffy, though not necessarily doubled in bulk.


Lightly grease either an 8 ½ x 4 1/2 –inch or a 9 x 5 –inch loaf pan (I used vegetable oil).

Transfer the dough to the lightly floured work surface and pat down then roll out into a rectangle, the width no larger than the length of your loaf pan.


Using a flat spatula, spread a tablespoon or so of the sun-dried tomato paste/caviar/pesto evenly over the surface of the dough. Roll up the dough tightly, starting at a short end.


Place the loaf, seam side down, into the prepared loaf pan. Cover once again with the plastic wrap and the kitchen towel and allow to rise for 45 minutes until doubled in bulk. The top should just rise above the level of the pan.


Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

When the dough has risen a second time, remove the plastic wrap and the towel. Brush the surface with beaten egg then dust generously with more grated Parmesan.


Bake for 35 – 40 minutes until puffed and golden brown. Tent the bread with aluminum foil for the last 5 or 10 minutes if you think it is browning too quickly. Remove the pan to an cooling rack.


When the pan is just cool enough to handle, loosen the bread around the sides with a spatula and carefully tip it out of the loaf pan and allow it to cool on the cooling rack.


The bread came out light and delicate, yet moist and flavorful like an egg bread. The cheese flavor was rich and fabulous, yet the delicate flavor of the rosemary came through as I chewed. The tomatoes added a rich, deep tomato flavor; each of the different flavors came through clearly and individually, but combined so beautifully together to make one perfect, cheese bread. This fabulous cheese bread was such a success and so very simple to put together, that I know it will be a regular for me!

Monday, April 27, 2009

BLOOD ORANGE YOGURT LOAF CAKE

FLORIDA CITRUS

“Lives there one with taste so dead, who never to ‘hisself’ hath said, I can’t bear to suck an orange?” and answered, “Guess not!”
- February 18, 1854 Chicago Daily Democratic Press (Waverly Roots’ Eating in America)

Florida’s natural flora, wild, harsh and savage, thick-leaved, spiky plants, prickly scrub, thick, itchy lawns hiding stickers that bit into your feet, brown, burning sand in a survival-of-the-fittest battle with whatever green desires to stake a claim and usually coming out on top, salty ocean water spitting up jellyfish, mosquitos swirling around your head all summer long, all played with your mind, tricking you into believing there was nothing sweet and luscious hidden beneath all the anger. Yet, growing up in this hot, humid, sandy state, we learned of the gifts that came from the water, that lined up along the water’s edge or that nestled in her underbrush like jewels.


Farmer’s markets and plywood stands erected haphazardly in every gas station parking lot were piled high with enormous watermelons, jade green and heavy; we learned at a very young age the secret of rapping sharply on their sides, expertly listening for that hollow thud that told us they were ripe, then standing on the front lawn biting into their cold, red flesh while the Florida sun beat down on us, juice running down our chins, spitting the black seeds as far as we could, almost like a summer ritual. Saturday trips in the station wagon every chill Florida winter to the citrus groves on the other side of the river, and coming home every weekday afternoon from school to the brown paper grocery bags lined up on the work bench in the garage overflowing with what we had gathered; sunny yellow grapefruits, softball-sized navels and, my favorite, delectable, sweet tangerines that I would eat one, two, three, four in a row. Fields of bright red strawberries in February, ours for the picking for less than a buck the quart box, knowing all along that these yearly family outings were more all-you-can-eat affairs.


That occasional trip to Miami to visit Uncle Eli and Aunt Nancy meant not only lunch at Wolfie’s, that bustling, fascinating monument to Old European Jewish cuisine, the deli restaurant where Uncle Eli worked, but coconut hunting, scavenging up and down the street they lived on hoping that one of the tall palms lined majestically along the sidewalks had dropped just one of her magnificent babies, brown and curiously hairy, rough and bumpy. Bringing it home, we would jam a screwdriver into its hard shell, then throw it onto the concrete driveway as hard as we could until it cracked and popped open, releasing the gift of a beautiful, fragrant coconut. We would open it up to screams of joy, split it into pieces and scrape our teeth across the white, juicy, delicious meat.

Bathing beauties in the Florida sun and sand, basking in the lush landscape

But citrus was king, our all time favorite. We waited impatiently all hot, lazy summer, through the equally hot but busy fall until winter when the citrus ritual began all over again.

We did indeed grow up in a culture of oranges, lemons and grapefruits, but never did one of these luscious, juicy gems find it’s way into the kitchen other than onto a plate, peeled or sliced or sectioned; lemons existed in our world only to be squeezed over freshly fried shrimp or thick, chewy lobster meat. All other citrus was eaten as is, teeth greedily scraping, spoons scooping or fingers pulling off sections and popping each into an open mouth. No one living surrounded by bags of fresh-picked fruit would consider cooking or baking with an orange or lemon, there just wasn’t the time between bag and mouth, we didn’t have the patience to wait or the desire to taste anything but the pure, unadulterated fruit.

Desserts were almost always cake or pudding, strictly chocolate or vanilla. Pies, when made, were indeed made with fruit, but the blueberries or cherries came straight from the can, unctuous and flavorful or bananas sliced and hidden under boxed vanilla pudding. Even Kool Aid, Sno Cones, popsicles and pop tarts were unfailingly cherry or grape. At restaurants, mud pie, chocolaty, rich and gooey would never be replaced by Key Lime Pie, no matter how long I lived in Florida. The only orange dessert that I ever deigned to try was a Creamsicle which I immediately shoved into the category of “disgusting”, along with those lemon-lime soft drinks that my younger brother glugged down. Yech!

I had my first taste of lemons as a Tarte au Citron when I moved to France and I fell in love; smooth and creamy, a luxurious tangy-sweet mouthful of flavor in every bite. Many years later, I was making my own, an easy recipe that tastes as if it was harder, so simple yet so elegant, beautifully paired with a delicate, subtly sweet, flaky pie crust and served with a Lemon Tart’s best friend, barely sweetened, gently whipped fresh cream and a dusting of powdered sugar.

But oranges? I truly never could see it. Orange and chocolate I have come across in candy, and I must admit that I do love a really good chocolate-dipped sliver of candied orange peel, but it isn’t on my top five list of faves. And then I came across the photo of this Blood Orange Yogurt Cake on Muneeba’s wonderful blog A Edible Symphony. Clever, funny Muneeba and her fabulous cooking and here I was staring at the most incredible cake I have come across on a food blog in a long time! And it was made with blood oranges.


I discovered blood oranges in France as well, along with the most intriguing pêches des vignes, a deep purple-fleshed peach with a very adult flavor, like a juicy peach that has been soaked in a deep, ruby red glass of wine. Blood oranges, so named for their skin streaked with red the color of blood, the deep purple glow of the flesh like a good French wine with an equally adult flavor, sweet, yet not, a hint of something earthier left on the tongue.

My blood oranges weren't as deep red as either Muneeba's or Kristin's

Remember those chain letters that used to get passed around at school way back when? Copy the letter, send it to the top person on the list, remove that name, add your name to the bottom and mail. Well, I feel like I am living the chain letter age all over again with this beautiful recipe. This Blood Orange Yogurt Cake was first made and posted by Kristen of Picky Cook. Muneeba made it next, and now it’s my turn to be “It”. It is truly a rich, densely moist cake, flecked with bright orange peel and sun-drenched in that orangey flavor and citrus scent. Glazed with more of the juice swirled into powdered sugar, giving you a sweet crunch before sinking your teeth into the gorgeous cake.

So I leave you with the recipe, sending it over to you like a chain letter, make it, post it and send it along, and the promise of something wonderful coming your way if you do will be sitting on your countertop in all of its orange glory!

BLOOD ORANGE YOGURT CAKE
Thanks to Kristen and Muneeba

1 ½ cups flour
2 tsps baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (I actually used, as usual, 0% fat fromage frais)
1 cup + 1 Tbs sugar, separated
3 large or extra-large eggs
zest of 3 blood oranges
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly-squeezed blood orange juice

Glaze :
1 cup powdered/confectioner’s sugar
2 Tbs freshly-squeezed blood orange juice


Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease an average-sized loaf pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, grease and flour the pan.

Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1cup sugar, the eggs, the zest and the vanilla until smooth. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined and smooth.


Using a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter a little at a time until well blended (make sure that it is all combined and not hovering around the edges).


Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.


Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup blood orange juice with the tablespoon of sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved and the juice seems clear. Set aside to cool.


When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before carefully tipping it out of the pan and placing it on a cooling rack.

While the cake is still warm and sitting on the cooling rack, place it over a large baking sheet lined with foil and pour the cooled blood orange-sugar mixture slowly over the top of the cake, allowing it to seep and soak in. Allow the cake to cool completely.


For the glaze :
Once the cake has cooled, stir the confectioner’s sugar and the 2 tablespoons blood orange juice together to make a smooth glaze and spoon over the top of the cake. It will drizzle down the sides all by itself. It will form a slightly crunchy, thin luscious glaze over the top of the cake.


Carefully lift the cake off the rack and place it on a serving platter and enjoy!



The combination of the orange juice soaked into the cake and the vegetable oil used instead of butter produced a dense, moist, almost chewy cake, so very satisfying to eat, with a wonderful orange flavor, rather delicate around the sides, growing more intense as you work your way up towards the top of the cake where most of the juice soaked in and stayed and then to the glaze. I make a similar cake with lemon, but I really enjoyed the more delicate, less tangy-more sweet flavor of this cake, just orangey enough, just sweet enough. JP declared in very delicious and a great cake for dunking!

Friday, April 24, 2009

PASTA SALAD WITH CREAMY PARMESAN DRESSING

THE WAY TO A MAN'S HEART & GOOD MOOD

Mr. Grumpy rolled out of the wrong side of the bed this morning (which means that he squished me in the process). He has been in a relatively exuberant mood lately, coming home every evening singing, joking around every morning as he is getting dressed, chasing a rambunctious Marty around the bedroom. Nice! But just one really horrible day at work followed hotly on its heels by one wrong word from a son and * zing * Mr. Crabby is back in town. What’s a girl to do?

He really does wear this t-shirt sometimes!

Well, obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is cook. He is off in Paris for a day of meetings, so I have the time to prepare ahead without him popping in unexpectedly for lunch and crabbing about. Maybe I can give the countertops a couple of swipes in order to give the appearance of clean, iron the laundry and actually fold up and put away the ironing board, maybe, just maybe, have the computer off before he walks in the door (or maybe not). And have something tasty and heart-warming waiting on the table when he walks in the door.


And gotta make the man happy before the weekend, or he’ll spend Saturday and Sunday stomping around the house grumbling, throwing things away in one of his I’m-in-a-bad-mood cleaning frenzies, yelling crazy madman type things about his sons (some of which are actually true) and just being downright cranky and gruff. Jamie no like!

"To the moon, Alice, to the moon!"

Truth be told, I would rather spend my weekend strolling with him hand-in-hand to the market, coming home and cooking with him, watching the strange and funny people scurry down the street below our front windows, chuckling to ourselves as we spot silly walks, look alikes or some of our favorite characters, picnicking with Marty in the vineyards Sunday morning, and ending the short respite from the rat race snuggling happily in front of a silly movie or an interesting documentary. I assume that any woman in her right mind would prefer the second scenario over spending the weekend with Sir Grumpiness of Crabby Kingdom.

So I turned to the old adage, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” and hoped that it also worked with his sense of humor and overall happiness as well. Now don’t get me wrong; throughout the years, on our long slog together through time that we call marriage, he has proven himself to be the most loving, romantic, fun husband that ever existed, caring, sharing and all those things that we sing about. But every good man has his bad day, bringing home trouble from the office, a bad night’s sleep due to the college kids upstairs, letting worries weigh him down and, as most men do, he goes ballistic! It’s every woman for herself and dive for cover! And my only defense is food. So out come the cookbooks and I start planning my military strategy.

What's a girl to do? Think!

I wanted to make a meal, not too heavy, not too complicated, that I could prepare ahead of time and leave in the fridge as I am not sure what time he gets back tonight. I settled on a big pasta salad with some cubed smoked chicken (smoked for extra flavor) and lots of vegis thrown in, all tossed with this fabulous Parmesan dressing, the tangy fusion of a vinaigrette and a smooth, creamy mayonnaise. Summery in its mixture of grilled Mediterranean vegetables and Parmesan goodness, this salad is made with the ease of a throw-everything-in-except-the-kitchen-sink meal, whatever is left over, in the fridge, on the counter, whatever your mood, or simply follow the season. Oh, and no dessert; that he could take personally (“I told you that I needed to lose a few pounds, so stop all this baking!”).


Whew! A woman’s work is truly never done!

CREAMY PARMESAN DRESSING

1 egg
½ cup (125 ml) olive oil
½ cup (125 ml) vegetable oil
½ tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper (or to taste) – I give a generous grinding
1/8 tsp Tabasco sauce (or to taste)
2 cloves garlic (about 1 ½ tsps) minced garlic
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup (85 ml) red wine vinegar


Whiz the egg in a blender, food processor or whisk by hand until light-colored and frothy, just starting to thicken.


Gradually add the oils, drizzling into the egg as you continue to whisk or blend, gradually creating a thick mayonnaise.

Yay! Did you know that you just made a mayonnaise?

Add the salt and pepper, Tabasco, minced garlic and whisk together. Add the red wine vinegar and stir and, finally, whisk in the grated Parmesan cheese.


Pour the dressing, a bit at a time, over your salad and toss, adding just the right amount for your quantity of salad.

This Dressing is also perfect served with steamed artichokes; it is our favorite dipping sauce!

PASTA SALAD TO CHEER ANYONE UP
For 4 – 6 people

½ lb (250 g) dried pasta (fusilli, orecchiette, penne, pennette, maccheroni or similar)
2 leg-thigh sections smoked or roasted chicken
2 zucchini
2 red peppers
1 small can corn
1 small jar artichoke hearts
4 ripe tomatoes or 1 pint cherry tomatoes
Rocket

Or add any ingredients you please.

Cook the pasta until tender. Drain, run under cool water to stop the cooking process and drain again.


Roast, peel and slice the red peppers (once they are out of the oven, slip them hot into small plastic sandwich bags for a minute or two. The steam condenses and slips between the skin and the flesh, allowing you to lift the skin right off with the help of a small sharp knife).


Wash the zucchini, cut off the two ends and discard, then cut each zucchini in half. Slice each zucchini in slices, not too thick, not too thin, and spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush each with a bit of olive oil and grill under the burner until starting to brown and bubble.


Drain the can of corn. Drain the jar of artichoke hearts and slice into bite-sized chunks. Cut the chicken away from the bone, peel off and discard skin and cut the meat into chunks. Slice and cube the tomatoes or slice cherry tomatoes in halves.


Toss the pasta, chicken and all the vegetables together in a large serving bowl. Very large! Toss in a handful or two of the rocket.


Pour about half the Creamy Parmesan Dressing over the salad and toss well. Continue to add the dressing and tossing until you have the perfectly dressed salad.



Serve with bread and a nice glass of wine. And a wifely smile!


Whatever your sitcom, after a meal like this, there is always a happy ending!

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