Summertime gratin

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The week is not complete unless I visit the farmers market on Saturday.  My favorite vendors are now used to seeing me early, in my running outfit.   Indeed, “as early as possible” is the only way to exercise this time of the year, but, the farmers market is my first priority:  how else would I get the best possible zucchini? Or ANY eight-ball zucchini, or the cinnamon rolls?  All those disappear quickly.  At the farmers’ market  the early bird definitely gets the worm (no need to remind me that only the late mouse grabs the cheese…)  😉

I usually buy  more than I should, anything that looks great goes into my bag,  as part of the fun is getting home and deciding what to make with the beauties.  Last week both the golden and magda zucchini were spectacular.   I considered many different options, but settled on an “oldie but goodie” from Fine Cooking magazine, June 1999.  I remember making it for the first time just after the issue arrived in the mail (hard to believe it’s been 10 years!). You can use any summer squash in the recipe, Japanese eggplant also works quite well.

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ZUCCHINI AND SUMMER SQUASH GRATIN
(recipe adapted from Fine Cooking, originally written by Susie Middleton)

For caramelized onions:
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
salt to taste
For gratin:
1 + 1/4 lb ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 small zucchini cut into 1/4 inch slices on the bias
2 small golden zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices on the bias
3 T olive oil
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves (I used lemon thyme from our garden)
1 tsp coarse salt
1/2 cup grated cheese (I used a Mexican fresh cheese)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
lemon juice

First, caramelize the onions: heat olive oil in a skillet, add the onions, salt, and saute’, stirring often, until golden. Don’t let it burn: use medium-heat and pay attention to it.  The difference between caramelized and burned is small in time, but huge in taste. You can do this step in advance, as it will take you at least 20 minutes (see my comments after the jump).

Heat the oven to 375F. Put the tomato slices to drain if they are too juicy, discard the juices. In a small bowl, toss the zucchini with 1.5T olive oil, some of the thyme, salt, and black pepper. Layer  the cold caramelized onions inside a gratin dish.  Now distribute the tomato slices and two colors of zucchini on top, sprinkling some cheese and thyme as you go (see my photo after the jump).  Arrange all the slices until the dish is full.  Season the ingredients with salt and pepper, add cheese on top, the remaining thyme, and drizzle the dish with 1.5T olive oil and a little lemon juice.  Cook uncovered until well-browned, with the juices well reduced. It will take between 50 and 60 minutes. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Bon Appetit!

BBA#11: Cranberry-Walnut Celebration Loaf

Eleven breads down, thirty-two more to go!

A reminder to readers: recipes for all the breads from “the BBA challenge,” are found in Peter Reinhart’s book.
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My hopes were not high for this one.   It’s a bit too festive for my taste, and I had trouble with a previous braided loaf (Challah), which made me a little worried.  However, much to my own amazement, this loaf was not difficult and turned out very well. My only remark is that the water  called for in the recipe (1/4 to 1/2 cup) seems excessive. I did not add any water, and the dough was already almost in need of a little flour.  Be careful if you make it, and hold back on the liquid  (thanks, Susie! If it wasn’t for your heads up, I would’ve probably ended up with trouble in my hands… :-))

The dough contains eggs, milk, cranberries and walnuts;  it is leavened by commercial, instant yeast.   After rising for 2 hours it is cut in 6 pieces (3 large, 3 small), that are shaped into logs, and braided. The small braid is placed on top of the big one, forming a double-braided loaf, quite impressive!

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… a final shot of the crumb….

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We both loved the bread!  It’s rich, but not overly sweet due to the tartness of  the cranberries, and great toasted.   The orange extract complements the cranberries, but if I made it again I’d use orange zest instead.

THE BREAD WE LOVE

Two food items that I can’t survive without are bread and cheese.  When I lived in Paris I had a permanent smile on my face because it seemed like every street corner had a fantastic boulangerie, with wonderful fresh bread.  Often, not far away was a strategically placed  fromagerie wafting the intoxicating smells of cheese through the neighborhood, the best possible form of advertisement.
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My favorite bread is a sourdough loaf with delicate flavor, a hardy crust, and a creamy crumb with open, uneven holes. Simple to say, but a little harder to accomplish.   After more than a year of experimenting with different recipes I’m ready to share one of my favorites, not only because it delivers on all these counts, but because it’s excellent when prepared in the evening and baked the next morning.  To me, it’s the perfect way to make bread during the hot Summer months.

The recipe comes from a book that should be part of any bread baker’s library, called quite simply: “BREAD: A baker’s book of techniques and recipes,”  by Jeffrey Hamelman. You can find it here. This post will be my first submission to Yeastspotting.

VERMONT SOURDOUGH WITH WHOLE WHEAT
(adapted from Hamelman’s “Bread”)

Liquid Levain
2.4 oz bread flour
3 oz water
1 oz mature liquid levain (see comments at the end of the post)

Final dough
12 oz bread flour
1.6 oz whole-wheat flour
7.4 oz water
5.4 oz Liquid levain
0.6 oz salt (1/2 T)

Make the liquid starter (levain) 12 to 16 hours before preparing the dough, and let stand uncovered at room temperature. If you don’t have a sourdough starter, follow this link for a great lesson on how to make it.

Add all the ingredients for the dough (except the salt) in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on first speed (or by hand) just until they are combined into a shaggy mass. Cover the bowl and let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes to 1 hour (this is called autolyse). At the end of autolyse, sprinkle salt all over and mix with the dough hook on second speed for 1 to 2 minutes (or knead by hand about 4 minutes).

Let it rise (ferment) at room temperature for 2.5 hours, folding the dough at 50 and 100 minutes (see my photos after the jump).

Shape the dough into a ball ( “boule”; great youtube video for shaping all kinds of bread can be found here), place it with the seam up  in a round container (banettons are your best option) lined with a fine cloth and transfer to the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours. Remove from the fridge a couple of hours before baking (Hamelman says it is not necessary, that you can bake it straight from the fridge).

If using a clay baker (my favorite way), place the baker in the cold oven and turn it on to 440F. Allow the oven to warm to that temperature for at least 10 minutes. Using mittens, open the lid and quickly transfer the dough to the baker, so that the seam is now down, then slash the surface according to your liking, and close the lid.

Bake covered for 30 minutes, open the lid (don’t forget the mittens), and allow it to bake for at least 15 more minutes. You want a dark crust and internal temperature of at least 200F. Allow it to completely cool on a rack before cutting the bread (2 hours should be enough).

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SNICKERDOODLES WITH A TWIST

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For the record, I don’t have a sweet tooth. I can go for months without dessert, and my sweet cravings are satisfied by some yogurt with a little agave nectar and by bits of bittersweet chocolate every now and then. So, if I tell you that when I made these cookies I ate one and went back for three more…. trust me, you should fire up your oven!

I chose these cookies because I was mesmerized by their picture in this wonderful blog.  I am so glad I did, even though my photos don”t come close in terms of quality, the flavor of these babies is great: snickerdoodles with a twist…

For Brazilians and other foreign readers who may not know about them, snickerdoodles are a classic, probably of German origin, that have been around since the beginning of last century. They are very simple cookies, that get rolled in cinnamon and sugar right before going into the oven. The crinkled look is their trademark.

In this rendition, a little coffee powder is added to the dough. Normally, I don’t like changes in a classic recipe, but in this case, the results were awesome. Even if you’re not fond of coffee, give these cookies a try. The coffee flavor is subtle, and it’s wonderful with the cinnamon, making these cookies simply irresistible.

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CINNAMON CAPPUCCINO COOKIES
(recipe adapted  from “A Kiss and a Cupcake“)

1 cup butter (two sticks), softened
1 + 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 + 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 + 1/2 tablespoons powdered coffee (see comments)
granulated sugar + cinnamon (3:1)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cream together sugar and butter whipping them with an electric mixer for about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth.  Add powdered coffee and beat until incorporated.

Combine remaining dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add to butter mixture in three batches. Chill resulting dough for 20-30 minutes. Scoop out 1-inch balls of dough and roll them in sugar/cinnamon mixture; place on chilled cookie sheets 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until centers are set.

Yield: 2 1/2 dozen.

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PASTA WITH FRESH TOMATO SAUCE

If you cannot stand the heat…

… no need to stay out of the kitchen.

Try this dish instead, and you’ll be glad you did…

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There are only a few ingredients: tomatoes, olive oil and herbs, so they need to be good quality. I repeat this mantra quite a bit, but it makes all the difference in the world. We had several  tomatoes from the farmer’s market laying around the kitchen, ripe and juicy.  And this weekend we’ll bring home lots more, so I wanted to use them.  After biking from work at 105 F, we needed something fresh and light, but substantial enough to replenish our energies.  Pasta with fresh tomato sauce was it!

You’ll find recipes for uncooked tomato sauce in  every Italian cookbook, and on countless websites.   I’ll  show you how I made it, following a basic method that can be adjusted to your taste and the fresh herbs you have handy.  I go through the trouble of peeling the tomatoes, but you can skip this step if you don’t like doing it. It won’t be as luscious, though… 😉

PASTA WITH UNCOOKED TOMATO SAUCE

(receita em portugues ao final do texto!)

tomatoes (ripe and gorgeous)
olive oil (the best you can find)
fresh basil leaves
fresh mint leaves
fresh thyme
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes (optional)

Peel the tomatoes (click here if you want a quick lesson), remove most of the seeds. Cut them in large chunks and place in the bowl of a food processor or blender.  Add a bunch of basil and mint leaves, some thyme, drizzle olive oil all over, season with salt and pepper.

Process by pulsing the machine on a few times.  You want to retain the tomato in pieces (see my photo after the jump).   Add red pepper flakes to taste.   Allow the tomato/herb mixture to sit in a bowl while you cook the pasta.   I like fettuccine or spaghetti.

Once the pasta cooks, drain it quickly, add to a serving bowl and mix in the cold tomato sauce.  Serve immediately.  The contrast of the hot pasta with the cold sauce is a great gastronomic experience!

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A PERFECT SUNDAY DINNER

Weekends are busy, but it is often possible to indulge in preparing meals that demand a little extra time, especially if it means hands-off cooking. This recipe by Jamie Oliver is perfect for Summer evenings, when there is absolutely no shortage of wonderful grape tomatoes and basil. He suggests variations such as adding cannellini beans or potatoes to turn it into a one-dish meal. I haven’t tried those yet, but this basic  recipe already showed up at our table a few times, served over pasta on the first day, and incorporated in sandwiches, quesadillas or salads later.

I’ve tried many methods to roast chicken parts, but in my experience, nothing beats a low oven, eventually running the dish under the broiler to crisp up the skin before serving. The meat gets tender and juicy, the herbs and spices come through nicely, as they have more time to infuse the dish with their flavors.

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CHICKEN LEGS WITH CHERRY TOMATOES AND BASIL
(adapted from Jamie Oliver)

4 chicken legs, preferably organic, free-range
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large bunch basil, leaves picked, stalks finely chopped
1.5 cups cherry tomatoes (yellow, red) or plum tomatoes quartered
a few cloves of garlic, no need to peel
Olive oil
drizzle of lemon juice

Heat the oven to 350F.

Season your chicken pieces all over and put them into a snug-fitting pan in one layer (see my photo after the jump). Scatter the basil leaves and stalks all over, then add the tomatoes and the garlic cloves. Drizzle some olive oil and lemon juice. Push some of the tomatoes in, allowing them to go under the chicken.

Place in the oven for one and a half hours (uncovered), moving the tomatoes around halfway through, until the chicken skin is crisp and the meat falls off the bone. If the skin is not as crisp as you like, run the dish under the broiler for a couple of minutes, watching it carefully. Guests can squeeze the garlic out of their skins, or you can do it before serving.

Bom apetite!

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BBA#10: CORNBREAD

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With this bread, almost 25% of the challenge is completed. Ten breads down, thirty-three more to go…

Reinhart tells us that cornbread normally would not fit into a bread book, as it is not leavened by yeast. However he had to include this one because, according to him, “it is the best cornbread you will ever taste”. Since taste is such a personal thing, I tend to take statements like that with a grain of salt, but needless to say, I had high expectations for it.

The recipe is very straightforward, but you must remember to soak the cornmeal with buttermilk the day before. Which, of course, I almost forgot. Spent Friday evening with a strange feeling of something left undone. Shortly after 10pm you could see me dashing to the kitchen, screaming “cornbread! cornbread!”.   My beloved by now is used to this sort of stuff.

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