Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bread update

As requested by a few commenters, the other day I baked the Moro bread (left) substituting whole-wheat for some of the white flour. For comparison, I also made a loaf of Jim Lahey's no-knead wheat bread (right).  (As many of you know, Lahey is the New York City baker behind the "no-knead" bread popularized by Mark Bittman a few years ago. )

Lahey uses a 3:1 ratio of white to wheat flour, a proportion he came up with after much experimentation. To make his bread, you mix the dough roughly then let it sit for 18 hours. After this you shape it into a round, let it rise for 2 hours, and bake in a Dutch oven. I wish I'd photographed the bread when it emerged from the oven, as it was a dark and noble loaf.
Because the 3:1 ratio worked for Lahey, I used a 3:1 ratio of white to wheat flour in the Moro bread. It took longer to rise than usual -- maybe 6 hours -- but otherwise worked beautifully. And it was better than the Lahey bread -- chewier, crustier, tastier. I don't understand how this can be, as they contain the same ingredients and it goes against all logic that the "quick" bread would be better than the long-risen. But it was better. The vote among four tasters was unanimous.  

Speaking of voting, Isabel and her friend Juliet have taken to playing Top Chef, and today I got to judge. The ingredient was flour tortillas, and here's one of the more appetizing dishes they presented: plain boiled macaroni on tortilla strips garnished with cold tomato paste. 
 Yum. Especially the unwashed lettuce.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Moro yogurt vs. Brown Cow

On the left is homemade yogurt with strawberry jam. What's on the right was marked down at Whole Foods this week.

Although I make yogurt all the time, I've hesitated to send a child to school with homemade yogurt in a canning jar because I worried it might be embarrassing, like going to school in a dress made from a flour sack. But Owen, who is a 9-year-old ecofreak, loved the idea. I questioned whether, for all his scruples, he would find strawberry jam an acceptable substitute for "fruit-at-the-bottom." He did. Amazing. It has really bugged me to make great yogurt and then feed the kids expensive and mediocre single-serving cartons of Dannon/Yoplait/Brown Cow just because they're pre-sweetened and portable. Non-serious problem now solved.

As for the yogurt itself, I used the Moro recipe, which is much fussier than my go-to recipe in Anne Mendelson's Milk. 
Mendelson's recipe involves heating milk and cooling it, adding a few spoonfuls of "starter" yogurt then putting the mixture somewhere warm to sit overnight.  In the morning, you strain the yogurt for a few hours to thicken. It's like Greek yogurt, and it's fabulous. (This is virtually identical to Mendelson's formula, and if you've never made yogurt, you should try it.)

The Moro recipe calls for boiling milk until it reduces by a third, which takes a while, then adding cream. You cool this decadent mixture, stir in your starter, and put it somewhere warm to sit overnight. It is also fabulous, perhaps slightly more fabulous than Mendelson's yogurt, if not fabulous enough to merit the extra effort. It is also extremely fattening.
Still, I count this yogurt as one more reason to love the Moro cookbook.

In other news, I finally got around to reading Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Not for everyone, this best-selling mystery, as it is lurid, grisly, intricately (some might say "implausibly") plotted, and overpopulated with sadistic Swedish sex maniacs. I never wanted it to end. Have now embarked on the sequel instead of taking down the Christmas tree. There are times when serial killers are better companions than sentimental Christmas ornaments, though I really do need to take down that tree. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This soup is good food

I bought dried fava beans a few weeks ago to make Moro's fava bean, potato, and cucumber soup, but last night could not find them in the chaos of the pantry. Used lentils instead, with no ill effects. This soup could not be much easier. You cook the lentils (or favas) in one pot, while you saute onions, potatoes, and some fresh dill in another. Add lentils and their liquid to the softened vegetables, puree, reheat, add a big heap of grated cucumber, and serve. 

It was the idea of cool, grated cucumber added to thick, hot soup that drew me to this recipe. It's supposed to make the robust soup more refreshing, and it absolutely did. Recipes like this one -- simple, delicious, and novel -- make me love the Moro cookbook.

Obviously, it is not an exquisite broth you would serve in demitasse cups, but it made a hearty, healthy dinner enjoyed by everyone, even Owen, who puts soup -- "except clam chowder" -- on his list of loathed foods. 

Meanwhile, my mother has been in the hospital for 5 days and might go home tomorrow, though they say that every day. Her appetite is not the heartiest and she eats about three bites of every meal and then we scrape the leftovers into a bag and I take it home for the chickens. I am oddly uncomfortable feeding the chickens pasty hospital oatmeal and revolting overboiled vegetables. It's sad that a person feels creepy providing birds with "food" that is routinely brought on carts to ailing, demoralized human beings. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

Blood sausage is better than it sounds

The other day, I bought morcilla -- the polite Spanish name for blood sausage -- at the Spanish Table to make the intriguing Moro recipe for migas, which the authors describe as a thrifty and traditional way to use up stale bread.

You fry onions, green peppers, and pancetta in olive oil and 100 grams of lard, which, if you can't visualize it, is a hunk the size of a man's fist. That's a lot of lard. When the onions and peppers are soft and caramelized, you pour this fatty melange over chunks of bread and add the morcilla.
Bake. Top each serving with one or two poached eggs.

Looks like hash.

Morcilla, which is made from beef blood and onions, could be perceived as gross. It isn't gross, it's rich and satisfying. Like stuffing, the whole migas ensemble was crispy in places, and delectably soggy and melty in others, delicious and greasy, or delicious BUT greasy, I haven't figured out which. The first night I was unequivocally enthusiastic; we had the leftovers for dinner the next night and afterwards I felt like I needed to drink a big glass of ice cold vinegar.

I also served chard, blanched and dressed in oil and lemon juice, per the basic Moro recipe.
Pretty. Not so pretty in the finished dish, but tasty and healthy.
In other news, I reviewed P.D. James's new book about detective fiction here. It's an impressive and fascinating book, but will probably only appeal to fans of detective fiction. I interviewed James for a story many years ago. She was patient with my endless questions, forthcoming, intelligent, and an altogether lovely person. I was starstruck.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I am consumed with guilt over my pastor's dried out veal

It's surprising how nervous I felt posting that Moro bread recipe, and then my iffy conversions from metric. What if I made a typo or mistake? People might take the time and effort to bake the bread and it would be bad and it would be all my fault.  I don't know how cookbook writers sleep at night.

Apparently, they don't. I just read this in supereditor Judith Jones's sweet, smart blog, which I discovered via Bookslut. I convinced my father to buy Jones's Pleasures of Cooking for One after reading a warm review, also in Bookslut. Dad, make note of Jones's "errata" before you attempt the blanquette de veau or Sauce Gribiche

I want that book for myself, but this really isn't the time. 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A rambling post about a really happy Thursday

Here's a sentimental little story about a day that started badly and ended well. There's a lesson in here, one I manage to repeatedly unlearn.
My sister-in-law Amy is visiting from Connecticut, along with her 8-year-old son J. It was just J and me the other day, after everyone else went off to job, conference, or school, and I figured we'd hang around the house, he'd play with Legos, I'd do some work, do some cleaning, and wallow in sadness and anxiety over my mother. It's become one of my favorite pastimes.

Right after breakfast, J came into the room and said brightly, "Do you think we can maybe leave the house sometime?"
Tipsy: Sure. What would you like to do?

J: Maybe we could take a walk to, like, an ice cream store?

Child after my own heart. Suddenly the lack of a decent plan for J's day seemed unforgivably lame. His special trip to California and the mopey aunt can't change out of her robe?

So I took him to Chinatown. We went to the live poultry market, the Clarion Music Center, old St. Mary's Cathedral,  and the Golden Gate Bakery, where they sell the best warm egg custard tarts.  
J did not care for the tart. I always make people try these custard tarts, but they never love them as much as I do. 
We rode a cable car, which I have not done in 30 years. I couldn't tell if J thought it was super-cool, or boring, because he was so grave and watchful. I thought it was super-cool. The City has a completely different aspect when you observe it from a side-facing position in an open vehicle. Everyone looks at you like you're a clueless tourist, but jaded San Franciscans who go 30 years without riding the cable car are the clueless ones.

Then we walked to Hang Ah Alley to have lunch at the Hang Ah Tea Room, where my father used to take me when I was a child. 
There's something about the feng shui of Hang Ah Alley that's very special. You enter from the middle of a extremely steep and busy Chinatown street, but the alley itself is always calm and quiet. It adjoins a playground, and right next door to the tea room is a mysterious club where elderly Chinese people sit around all day playing mah-jongg. (I thought it was dominoes, but did some research and it seems more likely that they are playing mah-jongg.) If you stand silently you can hear the tiles softly clicking and kids shouting and cars going up and down the hill and it's really nice. That's the best I can do by way of explaining the magic of Hang Ah Alley.  
Since the tea room was closed, we found another dim sum restaurant and did some serious over-ordering. My children are delicate, nervous eaters, but J is neither and ate the way I used to eat when presented with exotic fried and steamed tidbits involving shrimp, pork, and garishly colored sauces. It was fun to watch.
Those look like an alien life form, but were extremely tasty.

After lunch we tried to buy gifts for everyone we could think of at the cheap trinket shops. J took great care with his selections, and we examined many small green buddhas, swords, and tacky paper fans. He got a license plate with his name on it for himself, a black satin jewelry box for his sister, a pink jewelry box for Isabel, a dragon pendant for Owen, and a tiny creamer shaped like a cow for Amy. At one point he picked out a cute little bronze chicken and held it up with a triumphant expression on his face. I said, "You want to get that for Owen?"

He said, "Maybe for you?"

I almost burst into tears. Love my chicken.
Then we collected Owen from school and finally made it to the ice cream store. 
An unexpectedly lovely day.

Bread recipe conversions

Enough people have mentioned that they wished I'd posted conversions for the bread recipe that I'm going to do it. Most graduated cup measures have metric conversions, so you probably don't need mine.  I measured a kilogram of flour and it was roughly 8 cups. I've read so much about the imprecision of measuring by volume that I didn't want to mess with the perfect kilogram, but it will probably work fine. Just remember, the dough is supposed to be damp. 

1 kg flour -- about 8 cups
125 ml water -- slightly more than 1/2 cup (4.4 ounces.)
700 ml -- about 3 cups

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bread & soup & failed ice cream

I want someone else to bake this Moro bread so we can discuss. It's stunningly easy if you have a mixer. This is the third batch, and it's better than almost any bread I've ever baked, and I've baked a lot of bread. 

The recipe below is true to the book, but I've added slightly more salt. I've left the metric measurements in because I fear conversions might jinx the excellent results, so you'll need a scale. I hope someone tries it and tells me what they think.

1. Dissolve 1 teaspoon yeast in 125 ml. tepid water.
2. In the bowl of a mixer, combine 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, 700 ml. tepid water, 1 kg. bread flour (or plain), and the yeasty water. Mix until smooth and elastic. It will be too wet to handle.
3. Oil 2 bread pans and sprinkle with flour. Pour in the dough. You'll need a rubber spatula to ease it into the pans.
4. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for 3-5 hours or until doubled.
5. Heat oven to 450. Bake loaves for 30 minutes, then remove from the pans and bake on the oven rack for 15 minutes more.

The crust on this bread is hard and crackly, and when you slice there are biggish bubble holes. 
The flavor and chewy texture are, in my opinion, perfect, like the best artisanal bread but in sandwich-friendly loaf form. And it's simpler than  Mark Bittman/Jim Lahey no-knead bread because you don't have to think a day ahead. In future, I might increase the salt even more, and try to omit the flouring of the pans. I also wonder if you really need a separate step for dissolving the yeast.

My sister-in-law, Amy, is visiting and we have spent a lot of time talking about food, though we come at it from very different perspectives. She's writing her dissertation on food in women's prisons, but she is not, herself, a cook. She said, "I feel about cooking like I do about skiing. I don't care if I can ski, and I really don't care if I can cook." She goes to Stop & Shop and buys the same reliably tasty things every week-- chicken, veggie burgers, pre-made pesto, pre-crumbled goat cheese, and then comes home and assembles it. I, on the other hand, spend untold hours obsessing about what I'm going to cook and then cooking it. Is this perhaps the reason that I, unlike Amy, will never have a PhD?

For dinner, I served the Moro's version of harira, a classic North African soup that includes a lamb shank, lots of vegetables, turmeric, chickpeas and lentils. Moro: "We always imagine the name of this soup being spoken with a guttural Islamic tongue, and being eaten without ceremony at the edge of a busy bus stations somewhere in Morocco. The flavours of the spices and coriander are very evocative, and only the bus fumes are missing. "


Malaga raisin ice cream was a fiasco. I had frozen some heavy cream a while back, defrosted it for the ice cream, thought it looked a bit grainy but since it tasted okay went ahead and used it. Lesson: don't ever do this. When churned, this ice cream contained little flecks of hard butter. "You shouldn't have told me!" said Amy. "I thought those were tiny white chocolate chips."
In other news, my mother is very sick. I don't know how to weave this into my goofy food blog, and the idea of trying to do so makes me way too sad. But if I'm going to keep writing a blog that is any way honest, I can't pretend it's not happening.  I'll just leave it at that for now.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A few good things on a dreary January weekend

1. Made marshmallows with agave nectar, just to see how it works. It works and they were lovely, big and sticky. I don't understand how brown agave nectar yields a snow-white marshmallow,  but it does. I also don't understand agave nectar. I was under the impression it was healthier than corn syrup, but then I read this

2. Since we had a surplus of marshmallows, Isabel and I made Rice Krispie treats with homemade marshmallows. They tasted just like Rice Krispie treats made with store-bought marshmallows, which is to say, delicious.

3. I had dismissed Matt Damon as uncrushworthy following Mr. Ripley and The Departed, but it turns out his lack of appeal in both those movies was just ACTING. I have reassessed after watching the first two Bourne movies this weekend with Owen and might need a picture of Matt to tape inside my locker. Jokes aside, what excellent movies! I like Franka Potente too, especially when she's got the red hair. Highly recommend.  

4. Though it's no Soviet Kitsch, Regina Spektor's new album, Far, is fantastic. This is probably the only thought about music I will have in 2010 and possibly 2011. 

5. Finally, my friend Mary P. came over last night and we baked a dobos torte, which is a multilayered Hungarian cake of extreme fussiness and decadence that her mother used to make and curse over.
The luscious filling calls for 6 eggs, a quarter pound of chocolate, and a cup of butter, and the whole thing is topped with hard caramel. It was a culinary feat and not at all unpleasant to eat, though ours was a bit sloppy looking. Mary also helped take care of our superabundance of Meyer lemons by preserving them with salt, Moroccan-style.  
So pretty. It was an unusually fun and productive Sunday night. The bad news is, I drank 3% of my 2010 alcohol allotment.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Blondes are more fun, but . . .

Walnut, lemon and cardamom cake is the first recipe I've made from Moro that was truly unpopular. Not bad, exactly, just not popular. I don't know why I have to lead with the negative, since I've been loving this book so ardently over the last few weeks, but I'll get to the good news soon.

The cake was flourless and gained substance from chopped walnuts, almonds, and polenta. My father and I decided that if this were served in a thin slice at a restaurant with a scoop of fancy ice cream, everyone would find it delicious and elegant, its extreme graininess exotic. But at home, with no ice cream, it was severe to the point of punishing. The recipe calls for 3 to 4 tablespoons of freshly ground cardamom and much though I love cardamom, even I was put off. It was like eating cardamom-scented grit. Just a spoonful of whipped cream would have worked miracles.
Buen provecho, chickens.

 I've fallen so behind in my food reporting that this will be a long, listy Moro roundup. 

Some highlights:

-A mushroom and almond soup was designed for people who love the flavors of sherry and dried porcini mushroom, which I don't, but I still enjoyed the soup. The pounded almonds went in at the end and while I'm not sure what they contributed, they certainly did not detract.

-A chicken stuffed with garlic and coriander made us all happy. 
There was a lot of salt and pepper on the skin, which explains the dark blisters. Looks obscene, like all roasted chickens.

-Hummus with lamb was substantial and tasty. The meat turned one of my favorite snacks into a meal.
It floors me that anyone can object to hummus, but neither of my children will touch it and ate only the Moro flatbread I'd made to go alongside. The breads of Moro are so spectacular they get their own post.

-A saffron pilaf called for almost a stick of butter, which pretty much guaranteed triumph. The recipe suggests the optional addition of "barberries" which I had never seen until a few days ago, when I was in my favorite imported foods store and happened to come across a little baggie of them. So exciting. They are very tiny and taste like sharp, exceedingly sour raisins. Unfortunately, eating them wasn't as much fun as finding them.

-Finally, back in December I mail-ordered mojama, a "wind-dried" tuna from Spain, the recipe for which dates to the Phoenicians. Or so says Moro. Do you think they really dry it in the wind? 
The mojama arrived in the form of a rock-hard, burgundy-colored brick
which you are supposed to shave it into the thinnest of slivers and use as an accent in salads and starters.  
It is chewy, super-salty, fishy and very delicious. Rich. A little goes a long way. If you can imagine tuna prosciutto, you can imagine mojama.  
On Christmas Day, I served mojama with spinach oregano and lemon
which was a hit, though I did not slice the mojama thinly enough, as you can see.

Last night I made mojama with piquillo peppers and caperberries which was basically just a clumsy salad.
I am not fond of capberberries unless they are chopped up, and didn't like the salad. (This is by far the best recipe I've ever made with caperberries. If you like delicious food, you should try it.) 

We have a large slab of mojama left and you can eat it like you would beef jerky, though that seems like a waste of a delicacy. I keep thinking it would be excellent on a pizza with manchego cheese and pumpkin seeds. Many months ago, I saw a picture on Facebook of such a pizza (minus mojama) and can't get the image out of my head. It's on the 2010 to-cook list. 

Speaking of 2010 goals, my only New Year's resolution is to drink less. Back when I merrily started and named this blog, I was a much heavier drinker than I am now. Last year I cut back drastically, and this year I'm cutting back even further. I have a deep terror of a certain disease, not unreasonable given my family history, and alcohol consumption is one of the few controllable risk factors. So I'm trying to control. The goal is no more than 100 drinks in 2010, which sounds like a lot until you do the math. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Yes, she's blonde. So what?

"Late one cold November night, in the suburbs of New York, a thirty-one-year-old blonde was sobbing on her bathroom floor." 

That's the first sentence of Ariel Levy's New Yorker review of Committed, the new memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert. At the time of the sobbing incident Levy describes, Gilbert was the author of a book of short stories, Pilgrims, and a novel, Stern Men. But she's not introduced as a "thirty-one-year-old writer." She is introduced as a thirty-one-year-old blonde.

I might refer to Gilbert as "a blonde" when chatting with my sister because Gilbert is indeed very blonde. But Levy is not chatting with her sister.  A staff writer at the New Yorker, Levy has written a thought-provoking book called Female Chauvinist Pigs, and this memorable 2005 profile of a 57-year-old redhead. If I were writing in the New Yorker about Levy I would not describe her in the opening lines of my piece as "a 35-year-old brunette." To do so would be patronizing, irrelevant, and sexist. Has anyone ever described Dave Eggers as a 39-year-old brunet? 

But there's another, more mundane reason I wouldn't do it. Let's play with Levy's opening sentence:
"Late one cold November night, in the suburbs of New York, a thirty-one-year-old brunette was sobbing on her bathroom floor."

Doesn't that sound stupid? David Remnick, a 51-year-old brunet, would never let such a lame lead sentence into his magazine. Why does blonde, however sexist, sort of work, while brunette falls flat? 

We all know the answer to that: Blonde has implications. Levy is signaling something when she refers to Gilbert's hair color. You could argue that her radiant blondness figured in the success of Eat, Pray, Love, which it probably did. Looks help and hurt people every day, in ways large and small, tangible and not. This isn't news. But Levy isn't making this or any other argument; she's just implying something intellectually belittling and not quite nice, and doing it in what strikes me as an underhanded, not quite nice way. I'm sure others read it differently, and others will skip right over it, and others will think I'm making far too much of it. Of course I am! But I'm a 43-year-old brunette and this is the kind of snottiness that gets on our nerves.  

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I'd wager there are 3 points in that big old glass, Mr. Beard

The chalkboard outside our local kitchenware shop bore these words of dubious wisdom yesterday: "A gourmet who thinks about calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." -- James Beard.

YUCK. But why? Because I think he's wrong? Because it's a weird analogy? Is it the word "tart?" Or just the word "tart" spoken by him? Because I am a humorless bluestocking?  

No need to reply.

I was planning to cook for my husband's birthday last night, but my sister invited us to go out and we're trying to be more spontaneous and so we did not eat the scheduled Moro hummus and lamb and churros  and chocolate, but instead went to the new and much hyped 54 Mint. What a sweet restaurant! Small and airy and overseen by a guy with an Italian accent who told us when we were ordering foolishly and gently steered us back on course without making us feel stupid or patronized. Most the food struck the right balance between comfortable and challenging. The best thing we ordered was a squid ink arancina that was the size and shape of a small paperback book, rather than the usual orb. We cut it into four squares, and under the crumbly fried crust was molten black rice of extreme lusciousness. I could never make that at home. The salt cod fritters with aioli: I take back all the mean things I've said about salt cod.

Many, many calories. I was looking at my watch.