Calzone at Home

30 05 2008

On the heels of the bread-baking success, I wondered if I could apply this Dutch oven baking technique to other doughs.  I’ve been feeling the urge to make my own pizza lately, but lacking a baking stone, I had pretty much given up on it.  With my new found confidence, I thought “why couldn’t the same technique be used to reproduce a pizza oven?”  Unsure of what such a technique would do to pizza toppings, I decided to try my hand at calzone.  I pieced together a dough recipe using eggs on sunday and Cook’s Illustrated as references.

The cat was distracting me as I was carefully converting the amounts, and somehow I accidentally put in too much water, had to double all the flour, and ended up with twice as much dough as I had intended to make.  But no big deal, I divided it into thirds and froze the two extra balls of dough for later use.  The hard part was doing all the kneading by hand – try kneading for 15 minutes straight sometime, it’s tiring!  Anyway, once the dough was mixed, kneaded, divided, and rested, I rolled it out into a circle about the diameter of my Dutch oven.  I spread half of it with the last of the leftover Bolognaise sauce, sprinkled on some shredded Mozzarella (which Nick was shocked to see came from Germany, as German products are somewhat scarce around here – some unpleasantness in the ’40’s, I understand), Grana Padano, smoked ham, oregano, chili flakes, and topped it all off with more cheese.

 A pile of meat and cheese - yum!

Then I folded the other half of the dough over the filling and crimped the edges.  To finish it off, I brushed the calzone with olive oil, sprinkled it with sea salt, and cut a few shallow slashes in the top.

Mmmm... meat pie

Obviously, I’d been preheating the oven this whole time, with the Dutch oven inside, so both were nice and hot.  Using parchment paper this time (not a towel!)  I transferred the calzone to the Dutch oven, put the lid on, and placed it in the oven.  Half an hour later, when it came out, I was treated to this:

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Fun with Search Engine Terms

29 05 2008

Today, I am playing a favorite game among bloggers: Make Fun of Ridiculous Searches.  While I should probably just be happy that I’m getting some traffic, I can’t help but laugh at some of these.  They are all actual, unedited, search terms that have resulted in someone viewing my blog.  If you wrote one of these, don’t take it personally, it’s all in good fun.

1. where is polenta in the grocery store

A: Yes.

2. what can you use if you don’t have a sha

A: Don’t you hate it when you run out of sha?  I mean, when the search engine cuts off your query?  For the sake of argument, I have come up with some possible endings to this question, and some answers to the resulting questions.

…shaker?  Well, James Bond aside, I always went with Auntie Mame on this one anyway.  “Stirred, never shaken, bruises the gin.”

…shark?  Easy, just get one at the market.

I would have bought this today, but I didn\'t want it to get dirty on the Metro

…sham?  I find pillowcases to be more than adequate.

…sharp knife?  Um, your teeth?  Or just sharpen it.

…sharpener?  With a whetstone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, whetstone!

3. is oatmeal cookies good for hearth

A: You mean like open hearth baking?  I’ve never tried that.  However, I’m afraid that what you need is some help conjugating verbs.  Not my area of expertise.

4. how to draw a croque

A: From my French-English dictionary: croquer (verb): 1. to crunch; 2. to sketch.  Not sure how you would go about drawing that.  A croquis is a sketch, but as far as I can tell, there is no tangible object that goes by the name “croque.”  And “how to draw a sketch” is a bit redundant, is it not?

5. finding bugs in soup

A: Ok, so this isn’t exactly a question, but it is my favorite search term so far.  I laughed out loud when I saw it, because I know exactly why this person was directed to my site, and yet they couldn’t possibly have found what they were looking for.  If you’re out there, I have a question for you: why are you Googling this?  (Or Ask-ing, or Yahoo!-ing, or whatever it is you kids do these days.)  Are you looking for bugs in your soup?  Do you want them there?  Are you one of those litigious types trying to find a restaurant to sue?  Are you an entomologist who studies the rare soup-dwelling onion beetle?

Well, that was fun.  See you next time!

How to Roast a Chicken (alternate version)

28 05 2008

Yes, roasting a chicken is very easy.  But do you know what’s even easier?  Buying a fresh rotisserie chicken hot from the oven.  And some potatoes from the bottom of the rotisserie, where they’ve been soaking up chickeny goodness most of the day.

The ubiquitous parisian rotisserie

This picture was taken at the butcher that is closest to my apartment, but almost every butcher in town has one of these outside his shop.  I do not recommend walking down the street hungry in Paris, as you will be assaulted at least every 3 minutes with the delicious aroma of roasting chickens.  I believe I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:  the chickens here in France are just plain tastier than their American brethren.  Chalk it up to farming practices or whatever, all I know is that I won’t touch a pre-roasted chicken in the States, and here I eat them at least twice a month.  (Apologies to my American readers.)

Note the price (if you can decipher that crazy French handwriting, that is): 5 euros.  The sign says 2 euros for potatoes, but sometimes they’ll just throw a handful into the bag with the chicken for free.  Throw together a salad and you’ve got dinner for 2-3 people in no time, for pocket change.

Vive la France!

La Boulangerie par Véronique Mauclerc

27 05 2008

And now, the long-awaited Véronique Mauclerc post!  I won’t be putting up any pictures of her breads, because they’d just make mine look bad. Well, that, and I don’t have any decent pictures of them.  But they are something special, I will tell you that.  The first one I tried was a hazelnut, almond, and pistachio bread that was to die for, especially toasted and buttered with jam on top.  Apparently, Véronique Mauclerc has one of only four wood-burning ovens in Paris!  In it she and her team bake large loaves of bread using organic flours and natural yeast (levain).  What was interesting to me in her shop, the first time I went, was that the breads are not necessarily sold whole.  Many of them are too large for a family to eat in a couple of days, so they are sold by weight.  You tell the woman at the counter how big of a piece you want, and she cuts the bread and weighs it.  If you want it sliced, she’ll do that, too.  I have since learned that this is the way bread is sold by many artisan bakers, but I still find the concept kind of novel.

Of course, no boulangerie is complete without at least a small selection of pastries.  The pastries are usually of a more rustic style than you would find at a pâtisserie, but that doesn’t mean that they’re any less tasty.

Tarte au Citron

Take, for example, this lemon tart.  The tart shell itself was filled with a buttery cookie-like substance, rendering what was essentially a thick shortbread cookie for the base.  And then there’s that gorgeous slab of bruléed lemon curd perched on top.  Not too sweet, not too tart, with a firm yet creamy texture.

Or this rhubarb crumble tart:

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Une Boulangerie Chez Moi?

26 05 2008

I realize that I am about a year and a half late to be posting on the topic of the no-knead bread, but I’m excited about it, so I’m writing about it anyway.  Cook’s Illustrated recently put their noses to the grindstone to attempt to improve the sometimes unpredictable results.  I combined some of their findings with Clotilde’s legworkin the American-to-French kitchen conversion department to come up with a workable recipe for my own Parisian apartment kitchen.

The major question (and a valid one) is: why bother baking bread when you live in Paris and can walk to half a dozen bakeries in 3 minutes?  Well, because I enjoy it, for one.  I love the magic of bread making.  You start with flour, salt, yeast, and water, and end up with something that is much greater than the sum of its parts.  There is something immensely satisfying about pulling a fresh loaf of bread from your oven.  Yes, it takes time, but doesn’t that then justify cutting an extra slice or two, slathering them with salted butter and devouring them with abandon?  Hey, you’ve earned it.

So the no-knead bread appealed to me, not only because of the lack of physical effort/Kitchen Aid ownership required, but because I actually have all the necessary equipment in my kitchen!  Bowl, wooden spoon, scale, Dutch oven.  That’s about it.  I suppose you could get away without using a scale, but it really is a more accurate way to measure things like flour and salt.

Anyway, the day before you want to eat the bread, make the dough.  I used 320 grams of organic T65 flour (unbleached all-purpose is probably the closest American equivalent), 150 grams of whole wheat flour, 10 grams of sea salt, and 1/4 teaspoon (eyeballed) of instant yeast.  I moistened this mixture with 350 grams of room-temperature bottled water (yes, I weighed that too).  The dough seemed a little dry, so I added a bit more.  I was looking for a shaggy ball of dough to form, which it did.  I left it in the bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and a dishtowel, and placed it in the coolest part of the apartment.  I let it sit for about 18 hours while the yeast did its thing.

No-knead bread dough, day 2

Here it has approximately doubled in size, and you can see many small bubbles on the surface.  The dough was quite wet, but not unlike other bread doughs I’ve worked with in the past.  I heavily floured a cutting board and dumped out the dough.

Close up of the poolish clinging to the bowl

I’m tempted to refer to this as a poolish*, although technically a poolish would not be a complete bread dough, as this is.  Of course, what I don’t know about the intricacies of bread making could fill many books, I’m sure.

Wet dough = lots of flour on the board

At any rate, with well-floured hands I formed this dough into a rough rectangle and folded it in thirds.  I rotated it 90 degrees and folded it in thirds again.  I returned the dough to the bowl, replaced the plastic wrap and dishtowel, and waited another hour.  The folding process was repeated and another half-hour rest period ensued.  One more set of folds and this time I lined the bowl with a clean towel** and placed my lackadaisically shaped loaf inside to proof.

The loaf, pre-proof

At this point I began to heat the oven to 230 C with my Dutch oven inside.  Half an hour later, the oven and pot were hot and the bread was proofed.  I used the towel** to transport the dough into the pot and attempted to cut a few decorative slashes into the top of the bread.  So right before going into the oven, it looked like this…

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California Green Curry

23 05 2008

Last January, before we left the U.S. for France, Nick and I did a “Farewell Tour” of the West coast, visiting friends and family in what was essentially a month-long road trip.  (Nothing like spending a month in a car with someone and then moving into a tiny Parisian apartment!)  On our night in San Diego, our friends took us to a little hole-in-the-wall Thai place in Pacific Beach.  The food was great, but one dish stood out: the green curry with avocado.  Now, I highly doubt that avocado is a traditional Thai ingredient (correct me if I’m wrong), but given the avocado’s popularity in Southern California, they incorporated it into their menu.  And with excellent results.  The creaminess of the avocado worked really well with the heat of the chilies and the sweetness of the coconut milk.  The idea stuck with me, so when I found some Thai green curry paste a few weeks ago, I vowed to give it a shot.  (For some reason, avocados are exceptionally cheap here.  I don’t know why.  But when I can buy 6 avocados for 2 euros, I don’t ask questions.)

At any rate, the other day I realized that I had both avocados and green curry paste in my kitchen.  It’s go time.  I procured chicken, coconut milk, mint, and cilantro, and while I was at the Asian market I found these awesome long beans.

Thai long beans

They were labeled “Thai long beans.”  How, or if, they are different from Chinese long beans I don’t know.  The one time I have tasted Chinese long beans, I found them to be slightly bitter in flavor.  These had a pleasant vegetal aroma and a flavor that bordered on grassy.  Close enough to regular green beans so as to be accessible, but different enough to feel mildly exotic.  Anyway, I wanted them in the curry too, so I cut them into bite-size lengths and sautéed them in peanut oil over high heat.  When they had formed a few brown spots, I removed them to a bowl and added coconut milk and green curry paste to the hot pan.  I whisked these together and seasoned the mixture with fish sauce and sugar.

Not-so-long beans

Once the mixture had thickened a bit, I stirred in thinly sliced chicken breast.  I let this simmer until the chicken was done, then I returned the beans to the pan along with thick slices of avocado.  When everything was warmed through I turned off the heat and added copious amounts of cilantro and mint leaves.  I adjusted the seasoning with lime juice, and served my California curry over brown rice.  Just the way the hippies like it!

Green Curry with Chicken, Long Beans, and Avocado

Cheating on my Chocolate Cake

22 05 2008

I’ve been bad.  I cheated on my favorite chocolate cake recipe.

Here’s the story.  I found this recipe on Cooking the Hard Way, and my first thought was “I haven’t had a hunk of chocolate cake in a long time.”  Like since December.  This may not sound strange, but I used to eat chocolate cake almost every day.  (Hey, I worked in a bakery.  There were scraps.)  Anyway, I was struck by a powerful craving.  A closer examination of the ingredients revealed nothing exotic (i.e. buttermilk – the hallmark of a good devil’s food cake).  I had most of the ingredients already, just sitting in my cupboard or fridge.  So, for the first time in more than three years, I found myself making a different chocolate cake.

Combining ingredients in a bain-marie

The first step says to melt unsweetened chocolate, butter, sugar, and water together.  I was skeptical.  I know what chocolate and water can do to each other, and it’s not pretty.  Resisting the urge to rewrite the recipe, I followed the directions, figuring that if it was a total disaster I would have the smug satisfaction of knowing I was right.  Well, the chocolate/sugar/butter/water mixture did indeed turn out to be grainy and broken, but I guess if it’s just going into a batter it’s not that important.

I whisked in the combination of milk and cider vinegar (a buttermilk substitute if I ever heard one), followed by the egg and vanilla.  Last came the dry ingredients and my batter was ready.  It was really thin, but that didn’t worry me.  My old standby has a fairly liquid batter as well.

Soon-to-be chocolate cake

The recipe called for a bundt pan, which I don’t have, so I just poured the batter into the only baking vessel I own.  (If you read this blog even semi-regularly, you’ve probably seen many pictures of my beloved Emile Henry stoneware baking dish.  It was one of the very first purchases I made upon arriving in Paris, and I use it for everything from roasting chicken to breakfast strata.) 

All the English-to-metric converting makes me nervous, and as a result I check baking progress every 10 minutes.  After 30 minutes (which is what the recipe said), the cake had risen and it smelled terrific.

The other chocolate cake

The toothpick test told me it was done, so I took it out and let it cool.  This was a challenge, as I am a total warm-cake junkie.  But I didn’t want to spoil my dinner, so I gritted my teeth and waited.

In lieu of frosting, I simply served square slices of cake with mint-chocolate chip ice cream.  I noticed that the chips were made of actual chocolate, and not that godawful “chocolatey” stuff that is becoming so prevalent in American ice creams.  But back to the cake.  It was good, nice and moist with a decent amount of chocolate flavor.  It’s no boutique chocolate cake, but it’ll do.

Aubergines Farcies à la Bolognaise

21 05 2008

What to do with leftover Bolognaise sauce?  This is what I found myself wondering after Nick pulled the remaining Bolognaise out of the freezer earlier this week.  I wasn’t in the mood for pasta.  But wait!  I just bought an eggplant at the épicerie across the street.  I had no plans for it, but it was so beautiful and perfect that I just had to buy it.  What if I were to stuff this eggplant with the Bolognaise?  That sounds pretty tasty… with a little green salad, maybe some goat cheese… I’m doing it.  I’ll just make it into a filling with some breadcrumbs, Grana Padano, and an egg.  Piece of cake.  Except I don’t have any breadcrumbs.  Nor do I have a food processor.  Or even a half-eaten baguette to grate.  Hmm.  I’ll just get a cheap baguette, tear it up, dry it out in the oven, and smash it with a rolling pin.


This plan actually worked pretty well.  It would have worked beautifully if the plastic bag I put the bread in to contain the crumbs wasn’t so darn flimsy.  After cleaning up the mess I made, I still had plenty of breadcrumbs to make my filling.

First, however, there was the matter of the eggplant.  I cut it in half, then scored around the edge of each cut side to create about a 1/2 inch-thick shell.  I scored the centers into cubes and cut/pulled them out and placed them in a colander.  I salted the shells and placed them face-down on a paper towel.  I salted the extra flesh as well, and left it all to drain for about half an hour.

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Glazed Pork Roast

20 05 2008

In case you were wondering, no, I did not make an entire meal out of carrot soup.  It made a great appetizer, though.  I followed it with a glazed pork loin roast.  When I picked up the meat at the butcher, I asked for a half-kilo, or whatever serves two people.  After some light ribbing (pour monsieur et madame, honh honh honh) the butcher handed me a lovely, pre-tied, pork loin roast, perfectly sized for two.  I’ve actually found that this is a pretty good way to buy things around here, instead of stumbling over the numbers in French, I just ask for enough for x number of people.  “Deux personnes” comes out a lot easier than “trois cent cinquante grammes.”

Apricot-Citrus Glazed Pork Roast

Anyway, the dish was incredibly easy to make.  First I mixed the glaze ingredients together in a measuring jug.  This included 1/4 cup each apricot jam, orange-grapefruit juice, and chicken stock.  I punched up the flavor with the juice of 1/2 a lemon, a pinch of white pepper, and a little glug of white wine.

Next I seasoned the roast on all sides with salt and pepper, and Nick seared it beautifully in a little olive oil on the stove.  We then transfered the roast to a baking dish and spooned some of the glaze over it.  It went into the oven to finish cooking while I deglazed the pan with the rest of the glaze mixture.  I let it reduce a bit, to a nice, thick consistency.

Twenty or thirty minutes later I pulled the roast out and let it rest another few minutes before Nick carved it.  I poured the reduced glaze over the slices right in the roasting pan.  The pork, meanwhile, had accumulated some tasty pan juices which combined with the glaze to form an absolutely delicious sauce! 

We came to the conclusion that French pork is less lean than its American counterpart, resulting in juicier, more flavorful meat.  No complaints here.  I served it with a big green salad on the side, so we still felt healthy.  This one is going into the repertoire of quick weeknight meals for sure.

A Soup Fit for Bugs

19 05 2008

Bunny, that is.

Carrots simmering in chicken stock

Inspired by Mark Bittman’s blog entry from a couple of weeks ago, and the lovely Spring carrots in the fridge, and the spanking-new immersion blender on my shelf, I decided to make some carrot-ginger soup.  Something bright, fresh, and tasty to celebrate the glorious Spring weather we’d been having.  (Although lately it’s been a little temperamental.)

I kept it simple in order to let the flavor of the carrots shine through.  I started with a sliced shallot, which I sautéed in a little butter.  To this I added a sliced clove of garlic and about a tablespoon of diced ginger.  Next came salt, pepper, and chicken stock.  Then I chopped 8 carrots and added them to the pot.  I let the whole thing simmer about 15 minutes until the carrots were tender.  Finally, I puréed the whole mess right in the pot with the immersion blender.  (I know I have waxed rhapsodic about this gadget before, but it makes things like this ridiculously easy to do.)  I stirred in a little milk to round out the flavors and tasted for seasoning.  Soup’s on!

Carrot-Ginger Soup

A little cilantro would have made a nice garnish and cool contrast to the warmth of the ginger, but, alas, the cilantro in my fridge was well past its prime.  Next time, I’ll plan ahead.

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