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Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread

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I imagine many people's weekends were spent like mine - with a bowl of flour, instant yeast and water fermenting in a warm corner of the kitchen as they went about their business, courtesy of Jim Lahey and that kitchen imp, Mark Bittman.

Yes, you all know how I feel about the Minimalist. I usually downright ignore his column when Wednesdays roll around. But this time, I simply could not. I've spent too many Saturdays lingering around Sullivan Street Bakery, gnawing on a slice of the best pizza bianca to be found in New York or walking back home with a crinkly bag of filone to ignore Jim Lahey's spectacular recipe for bread that is the easiest I've ever tried, with among the best results.

Yes! A fantastic recipe! Something to rave about! Finally. What a relief. If you all aren't running home to buy instant yeast (not that stuff that comes in little packets, that's not instant) and throw together your loaf of supremely gratifying, holey, tasty bread, well, then I can't help you either. Do it! You'll be so happy you did. And then you can laminate this recipe and add it to the hall of fame.

It's so easy - you mix together some instant yeast, flour (I used a mix of bread flour and AP flour, half and half) salt and some water to form a "shaggy" dough. You cover this tightly and let it sit undisturbed for 12 to 18 hours. Then you sort of manhandle the dough around for a bit, let it rise a little longer while you preheat an oven and a cast-iron pot (I used a round one, but next time might try the smaller oval pot), and then dump your wobbly dough into the hot pot and let it bake in the oven (first covered, then uncovered) until you have a golden, hollow-when-thumped, crackling loaf of bread (it crackles! As it cools!).

You have to let it cool before slicing, but when you do, beware. A taste of those slices of bread - plain, spread with honey, whatever - will make the people around you become singularly fixated and before you know it the entire loaf will be gone. Gone! It's okay. You can make another loaf and barely even dirty your hands.

Go! Bake! NOW!

No-Knead Bread
Yields one 1 1/2 pound loaf

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.


In My Kitchen

Me

1. A rainbow collection of cast-iron cookware collected over the years: the green one given to me by my father in college along with my first (and still, best) kitchen knife, the orange one a birthday present from a friend last year (thanks, Kirsten!), the blue one scored for 75% off at Broadway Panhandler when I first moved to New York.

2. My plates from Clignancourt. I have an entire box of mismatched plates and bols from my year in Paris sitting in my mother's basement and quite possibly driving her mad.

3. An Urbino poster that might be older than me. This thing has followed me my entire life - from Italy to Berlin to Boston to New York. I feel like it's part of my visual-psychological history.

4. Additional attachments for the mighty RobotCoupe, which I've been neglecting lately. But no more! I feel the urge for scones coming on. Pastry in the food processor, oh yes.

5. Me, caught off guard. (Pissed? Surprised? Probably just hungry. Stand up straight, for Chrissakes.) Oh, and that sweater is a thirty-year old, thin cable-knit, Tse thing that my mother has been wearing my whole life. Well, until I nicked it from her. I'm such a lucky daughter.

6. The glass door to the backyard patio where leaves form a carpet and my roommate recently found (and disposed of, because she is a much braver and better person than I) a dead pigeon. DEAD CARRION ON THE BACK PATIO, people. But it's also rather nice for drinking beers in the summer months. Besides, for outdoor space in NYC? You take what you can get.

7. A perfectly situated drying rack, which drives Ben nuts because he has managed to single-handedly throw that thing - laden with my lovely Parisian plates, by the way - to the ground on at least five separate occasions and instead of taking responsibility for his klutziness he blames these mishaps on its "precarious" location. Whatever, sweetie. It's a good thing you're so cute.


Chloe Doutre-Roussel's Spicy Hot Chocolate

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My photography skills are quite limited when it comes to brownish liquids in white mugs, it seems. Trust me when I tell you that this tasted much, much better than it looks. Well, duh. Could a vanilla bean and chopped bittersweet chocolate and milk and cream and spunky spices and two spoonfuls of sugar all melted together into a warm, frothy drink really taste bad?

Of course not. But the real question here is, can I actually devote an entire post to a mug of hot chocolate? Has NaBloPoMo gotten me to sink this low?

Chloe Doutre-Roussel, the chocolate buyer for Fortnum & Mason and author of The Chocolate Connoisseur, was profiled in the New York Times Magazine last year as a choco-dependente (sadly, as hard as I try, moi aussi). Alongside her profile was a recipe for spiced hot chocolate (ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, and... licorice powder? Optional, thank God).

Last weekend, as a soothing cap to the Sunday evening blues, I made Doutre-Roussel's recipe (well, actually, it's her friend Ingrid's, but whatever). The recipe is a bit puzzling, what with the addition of two spoonfuls of filtered water and the 45-minute steepage time and the fact that a pinch of black pepper diluted in all that liquid does not for spicy hot chocolate make (spiced, maybe. Spicy? No).

But still, like I said before, melt all those tasty things together and you're likely to end up with something you wouldn't kick out of bed. (Which, incidentally, is where we drank our hot chocolate. Too much information?) The verdict, however, is that this really wasn't worth the trouble. Just go to City Bakery or to Paris for hot chocolate that will knock your socks off.

And now that I have entirely outdone myself with ravishing eloquence and (not so) rhetorical questioning, I leave you. Oh right, until tomorrow. Sob. Are you sick of me yet?

Spiced Hot Chocolate

Serves 4

1/2 vanilla bean
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons mineral or filtered water
1 pinch ground ginger
1 pinch cinnamon
1 pinch black pepper
1 pinch licorice powder (optional)
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 teaspoons natural cocoa powder
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream

1. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and place the seeds and pod in a medium saucepan. Add the milk, water and spices and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Whisk in the chocolate and cocoa powder until melted. Add the sugar to taste and then the cream. Let cool for 45 minutes.

2. To serve, remove the vanilla bean, return to the stove, and whisk over low heat until frothy and warm. 


Nigel Slater's Chicken and Rice Salad

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I'm not going to be beat around the bush here. Gentle readers, I have to tell you, this NaBloPoMo thing? Is exhausting me. It's been such a great week, what with those elections and the first female Speaker of the House and healing my great heartbreak from 2004 (and, frankly, 2000, but let's not even get into that because the rage heartbreak there is unhealable) and all, but mostly I just want to lie down and take a nap. Daily posting is wearing me out, friends.

But because I am nothing if not committed, I am forging on. Onward ho!

Last weekend, while pouncing upon clams and chorizo for dinner, I grabbed a rotisserie chicken as well. It was too late in the day to roast our own, and I knew Ben needed more than a soupy bowl of clams with crusty bread for dinner. I boiled and mashed some potatoes and thought about dressing a salad (sometimes that's enough), and there we had it, our fine little dinner. But we barely made a dent in the chicken (I was too concerned with finishing every last drop in the bowl of clams) and I found myself contemplating the remains of it the next day.

In The Kitchen Diaries, Slater has quite a few thoughts on leftovers, sometimes with full recipes and sometimes just written out as thoughts. But then he'll get moody and leftovers will be declared a waste of time. Soon after that, though, he'll go back to concocting delicious meals out of cold, sliced meat and day-old noodles and whatever else you've got lying around the house. They clearly inspire him.

I freely admit that leftovers rarely inspire me. There's something about day-old food that usually leaves me feeling nauseated (though I'd like to point out here that for the sake of frugality and the plight of starving people around the world, I usually do choke down whatever's sitting in my fridge for lunch the next day - aren't I a martyr, I know). But if I can create a fresh, new meal using older ingredients, then that makes the whole process a little bit more pleasant.

And so it went with this leftover chicken carcass. While I carefully picked every last scrap of meat off of it, I soaked and rinsed some basmati rice, and then boiled it in barely salted water until it was tender. The chicken strips were tossed in a dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, olive oil and chopped red chilis (I left the mint out because I didn't have any - but I added chopped scallions. So there.). The cooled rice was added to the dressed chicken and the whole thing was tossed for good measure.

The result? A pungent, spicy, interesting take on that most pedestrian of leftovers: roast chicken. The lime juice tamed the funk of the fish sauce, and though I would usually say to keep fish sauce far away from chicken (especially after this), that similar gaminess didn't come out here. We didn't let ours sit for 20 minutes, as he instructs you to, and I'm actually quite glad I didn't. I liked the hurried freshness of the salad, and the fact that I could still taste the herb rub on the cold chicken separately from the spicy dressing.

Regular old roast chicken turned into a cooling, faintly Asian, main-course salad and we ate up the entire bowl. Isn't it great when you discover a whole new approach to something you only ever thought of a certain way?

Chicken and Rice Salad
Serves 2

1 cup basmati rice
1 3/4 cups sprouts (mung bean, lentil, etc)
2 fresh, red chili peppers
6 sprigs mint
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
several handfuls of leftover chicken

1. Wash the rice, put it in a small pot and cover it with the same volume of water. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and let the rice simmer, covered, until the water has evaporated and deep holes have appeared in the surface of the rice. Turn off the heat and let the rice sit, covered, in its pot for 10 minutes. Fluff up the rice and let it cool.

2. Rinse the sprouts in cold running water and drain. Make the dressing by chopping and seeding the chilis, chopping the mint leaves (throw away the stems), and mixing them together in a serving dish with the fish sauce, lime juice and olive oil.

3. Cut the chicken into thin strips. Toss the chicken with the dressing, then add the cooled rice. Mix gently and check the seasoning.


Nigel Slater's Clams with Ham and Sherry

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I actually don't know what to call this post. Because I took inspiration, yes, from Nigel Slater's recipe for Clams with Ham and Sherry, but then, so inspired by his slapdash manner, I found myself improvising everything. I ended up with a succulent, savory bowlful of New Zealand cockles and chorizo. So, here's my compromise. You go and buy The Kitchen Diaries so you have Slater's original recipe, and below you'll find my interpretation of it. Deal?

I made this dish on Saturday night, after I had bulldozed my way through Slater's book and found myself overcome with a craving for shellfish and pork. To be totally honest, I had meant to make Russ Parsons' Monkfish and Clams with Chorizo for dinner, but Whole Foods had no monkfish and I was left to improvise. Also, I received a distinctly lukewarm message from Ben on the subject of fish stews, so it was probably just as well.

I hunted down chorizo in the meat department, but the only thing I could find was a fresh sausage, and I'm thinking that this recipe was perhaps meant to be made using the dried, Spanish version. But it didn't matter. This is one of those liberating recipes that really leaves everything up to your whimsy. The fresh chorizo is Mexican (right?), so there are some faint cumin notes in there, too.

The best part is that this thing is all about instant gratification. I guarantee that there are few other recipes that cook up so quickly and deliver so potently on flavor and rustic elegance. I dumped my cockles and chorizo into one bowl and served it at the table with a crusty Tom Cat baguette (for dipping in the pot liquor).

With a nice, lightly dressed salad for afterwards, this could actually be a fantastic little dinner for two. The cockles were tender and sweet, and the crumbled chorizo gave each sweet bite a pleasant kick of flavor. The parsley smoothed out the edges. It was, in two words, completely satisfying. And the kind of thing you can make once and keep in your memorized repertoire forever after. And for that alone, the book is worth buying.

And now I leave you to bite my nails over Montana and Virginia. I can barely stand it, people.

Cockles with Chorizo
Serves 4 as an appetizer

1 pound of New Zealand cockles or small clams
1 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 chorizo sausage
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used the remains of a Muscadet)
1 handful of chopped flatleaf parsley

1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, then add in the garlic and the sliced and diced chorizo. Cook the chorizo until the fat has rendered and the sausage is browned.

2. When everything is sizzling, add the white wine and the washed clams. Cover with a lid and let it cook for two to three minutes, until the clams have opened. Top with the chopped parsley and check for seasoning (it might need black pepper, but will need no salt).

3. Serve, in one big bowl, or in several individual ones, with lots of fresh, crusty bread for dipping.


Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries

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In the interest of full disclosure, I'll tell you right away that I was sent a copy of Nigel Slater's latest book by his US publisher last week to review here. But I'll also tell you that I would have happily paid full price for this book, because ever since discovering the Observer Food Monthly online and then reading Toast, I am convinced that Nigel Slater is my kitchen hero.

The Kitchen Diaries is the best cookbook I've read or cooked from in a long time. Slater kept a diary of everything he had for dinner over the course of one year. Most of the time, he cooked his meals, freely admitting, however, to evenings of ordered-in bento boxes or a plate of canned baked beans with frozen french fries. But whatever Slater had to eat, his lyricism casts all of his meals in a golden light and makes each sound irresistible, whether it's a thin slice of brown bread plastered thickly with cold, sweet butter, or a four-course Christmas Day supper.

I started reading, from the beginning, on Friday night, and by Saturday I'd plowed through the entire thing. The structure of the book, and Slater's easy tone, makes the book read like the archives of a blog. Each day, you uncover a little bit more about the reader. It's enticing and funny and even bittersweet. There's a lemon ice dedicated to a dead friend here, and a strange encounter with an anonymous fan and a bag of frozen peas there. And more than anything, there is Slater's firm and unerring taste, and his literary talent.

Can I read you the entry from August 13? Actually, I'll just retype it here. And tell me if it doesn't have you clicking straight over to Amazon to buy this book. "I break my glasses, lose my watch at the gym and realize that the ripe tomatoes I intended to pick for supper have been sucked to a pulp by the snails. The day ends with me slicing a ball of mozzarella into four, trickling olive oil over it and adding some small thyme leaves in lieu of basil. Ciabatta soaks up the milky, olive-oily juices from the plate. A delight, but it does not quite soak up the whole bottle of wine."

Or how about something taken from May 30?  "Two of us ate the beets and their greens with slices of crumbly goat cheese, hacking off bits of cheese and pushing them on to the still-warm beets with ruby-stained fingers. After the fudgy, chalk-white cheese and sweet, claret roots, we filled up on slices of thickly buttered white bread cut from a cottage loaf. Oh, and I bought pinks too, a fat bunch of them, and sat them in a creamware jug on the kitchen table."

And June 23 (I promise I'll stop after this). "Five people turn up for a meeting that ends up dragging on later than anyone expected. They keep looking longingly at the oven, hoping I will suddenly produce a meal out of nothing. In truth, I'm tired and I cannot wait for them to go, and so offer them the only thing I have around - sardines on toast. We end up eating round after round with bottles of beer, till every crumb of bread is finished and my larder is looking distinctly depleted."

Slater's sure hand with ingredients, his inspired take on leftovers, his deep understanding of those days when you simply cannot cook but still need something to nourish you, his disdain for long ingredient lists, his uncanny way of turning simply everything he describes into the very thing you must have for dinner, right now, no doubt about it - these are all reasons to buy this book. I may not have 101 cookbooks, but my collection comes close and I can tell you honestly that not a single one of my cookbooks has me as inspired as this one does.

You will, I think, want to cook everything in this book. I've already started to.


Russ Parsons' Caramelized Winter Squash

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You all know how I feel about Russ. Russ of Mushroom Hash and Radicchio Bruschetta and Braised Cauliflower fame. So, at this point, when I choose to make one of his recipes, I know I don't have to worry about the outcome. I know the food will taste delicious and the method will work exactly as he says it will. There's nothing to worry about at all.

So it went with this latest recipe of his, a panful of sauteed squash tossed with a garlicky gremolata. The recipe was easy as pie, the flavors so simple and yet nuanced (the zing of fresh garlic, the low hum of rosemary, the flash of lemon peel all coaxed out by a hot toss in the pan). And even the presentation - a bowl of orange chunks edged with caramelization, flecked with greens and yellows, and topped with toasty pine nuts - satisfied my soul.

Except that as I chewed my first forkful, I suddenly discovered that I apparently find the texture of squash to be distinctly, for lack of a better word, squicky. I don't know how and I don't know why. I love squash in soups (pureed) and pies and mashed, but in chunks the squash sort of gets stuck in my throat and gives me goose bumps (not the good kind).

I finished the spoonful I had on my plate (because I am a good and dutiful eater - and because it tasted so darn good), but I had to put the rest away. And think about my predicament.

Luckily, the answer was just around the corner. At dinner the next day, I sauteed a small glass of diced tomatoes, leftover from a previously opened can, with some olive oil until the juice reduced a bit, then folded the squash leftovers gently into the pan. I cooked the tomato-squash mixture for a little while longer, the tossed it with freshly cooked whole-wheat spaghetti and grated an ample amount of Parmigiano on top.

The results? Fantastic and inspired. The squash had melted slightly into the brassy tomato sauce and the herbs really came alive in the warmth again. The bold flavors of the garlic and the cheese were well-balanced against the milder flavors of the pasta, sauce and squash. Ben ate several helpings eagerly, which always signals success, and I found myself quite proud of the improvised dinner.

And also so relieved. I knew Russ couldn't let me down.

Caramelized Winter Squash
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 teaspoons minced rosemary
2 teaspoons minced lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds peeled winter squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (5 cups diced)
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Toast the pine nuts in a small skillet over low heat until lightly browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

2. Combine the rosemary, lemon zest and garlic in a small bowl and add just enough lemon juice to moisten. Stir together with a spoon, crushing and smearing to make a thick herb paste. The garlic and rosemary should be extremely fine because they will need to cook in a flash.

3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When it is very hot, add the squash. Sprinkle with salt and toss to combine, so the squash cubes are evenly coated with hot oil and seasoned with salt.

4. Cover tightly and cook without stirring for 2 minutes. Remove the lid and stir the squash. The cooked sides should be starting to caramelize. Cover and cook 2 minutes.

5. Remove the lid and toss the squash. Reduce heat to medium, stirring occasionally, until the squash cubes are just tender enough to pierce with a small sharp knife, about 5 minutes. The squash should appear somewhat glazed and browned on much of the surface but should not be so cooked that it falls apart.

6. When the squash is cooked, sprinkle with the herb mixture and the remaining lemon juice. Toss to coat the squash, letting the herb mixture sizzle briefly and become aromatic. Taste and adjust the seasoning for salt, lemon juice and black pepper. Scatter the pine nuts over the squash and transfer to a bowl.