Thursday, September 30, 2010

King Arthur Flour Part 2

We arrived at the King Arthur Baking Education center to a big, sun-filled room.  There was a large table at the front, and three benches with stools in a row.  The setup reminded me of being back in science class in high school.

We each took a stool.  On our benches in front of us were aprons, measuring utensils, a bowl, and a folder containing all of our recipes for the day.

We were introduced to Susan Miller - who would be our chef-instructor for the day.  She was a good sport letting us take a million pictures of her.  We are the food paparazzi.

We started with pizza dough.  Susan instructed us to come up to the front of the room to watch her prepare the dough.  She measured the flour, salt, oil and yeast in the big metal bowl.

Susan gave us a great tip to use when baking....measuring ingredients and placing them in different spots in the bowl helps you to keep track of your place in a recipe. That way if you get distracted you can very easily visually determine what ingredient you left off on.

She instructed us to get in the habit of adding water slowly, because depending on the day, the flour, and the humidity in the air, the dough may need a little more or a little less water.

The water was mixed in slowly.  Once the dough just came together, Susan had us feel it.  It was very soft and shaggy.

One of the great things that Susan taught us was not just to follow a recipe for a yeast dough, but understand how it should look and feel at every step of the process to create a great result.  
This definitely helped me a lot.  I've tried making yeast doughs in the past, and they just come out as big old bricks. More like giant croutons than loaves of bread. 

All this time, I realize that I just needed a little more water, and a LOT less bench flour.

One of the biggest mistakes home bakers make is using too much bench flour to prevent the dough from sticking while kneading.  Adding too much flour will result in a tough dough, so it is important to use as little as possible.  Very poetically, Susan instructed us to use a whisper of flour...

I love that.

I always though kneading had to be an aggressive process.  But Susan instructed us to be gentle. We all touched the dough after the kneading.  It was incredibly soft and smooth. 

We went back to our benches and repeated the steps shown to us by Susan.  Once she had inspected our product to confirm that we were done kneading, we were instructed to add our dough back to our bowl with a little oil, cover it with plastic, and leave it alone to rest and rise.

After the dough had doubled in size, we slid it out of the bowl and back onto our bench.  We then folded it like a letter, with 3 folds.  Next, we turned the dough 1/4 of a turn and folded it again....
Then put it back in the bowl for a second rise.

After the second rise/rest we slid the dough back out from the bowl, and again applied a whisper of flour to our hands. (I love saying that).

 It was time to shape the dough.  

First, we shaped the dough against our bench to create a small disk.  This would help the dough to remain round as we stretched it.  However, since this was the first time many of us shaped a pizza, Susan playfully informed us that if we couldn't get it round and it was more oblong or square it was fine.  She suggested that we merely call it artisan pizza.

She rules.

Using the fingers of one hand, we stretched the dough over the thumb of the opposite hand, working in a circular motion along the edge of the dough.  When stretching the dough, you really only need to concentrate on the edges.  Gravity will do the work on the middle for you.

Once she was done, Susan placed the dough on a wooden board coated with semolina.  This prevents the pizza from sticking while it cooks.  Look how round her pie is!

Mine was round in some places, but definitely artisan.

We topped our pie lightly with sauce and cheese.  Susan reminded us that when doing this at home - less is more when it comes to toppings. Too many, and the pizza will be soggy and the crust won't be good.

(Rafe will now chide me for the time I added mushrooms to our pizza and got a soggy pie from our favorite pizza joint.   I'll admit it - I was wrong.  You win this one)

(photos above courtesy of Kristen)

Our pizzas were baked outside in the bakery's wood fired grill.  
I'm still trying to figure out the logistics of getting one of these into my apartment....I would have to get rid of my bed, and sleep on my couch....and somehow finance purchasing this expensive oven from France...but I assure you, the final product will be worth all this work.

After leaving VT I knew I would be traveling directly to Vegas, so I put all of my KAF items in the freezer.  I didn't want to miss out on eating my delicious creations.  

I'm enjoying my leftover pizza for dinner tonight.  YUM.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blogger Brunch: Lord Hobo

I interrupt the King Arthur posts to bring you a blogger brunch.  Back at our dinner at Villa Francesca, the crowd of us decided that we all loved brunch, and we should start a brunch club in the fall.

Renee from Eat Live Blog took the helm and organized our first event at Lord Hobo in Cambridge. 

Brunch is my favorite meal, but since I generally only eat it when I'm too tired and lazy to cook for myself, I tend to stay pretty close to my apartment so I can hurry home for a nap with a belly full of goodness.  I rarely get to Cambridge for brunch, which is a shame - because there are a LOT of good brunch places on the other side of the river.

I really liked the atmosphere of Lord Hobo.  It was much more relaxed than my usual back bay brunch haunts.  I loved the relaxed bar environment, the funky design, and the colorful & modern art on the walls.

The menu included more choices than were featured online, so I perused it one more time to decide what I wanted. In the meantime, Rafe and I ordered a couple breakfast cocktails.  

A mimosa for me, a greyhound for him. And two large cups of coffee.

 (from Megan at Delicious Dishings)

Almost any time I go to brunch, I order the eggs benedict.  I think it’s a good litmus test for a brunch joint.
It worked at Lord Hobo too - There were some things they did well, like the hollandaise sauce.  It was bright, lemony, but not thick or mayonnaise-like....and the addition of spinach and speck instead of the usual Canadian bacon just made me happy.  One of my eggs was PERFECT-ly poached, while the other was hard in the middle. Normally I'd let this slide as an outlier, but a few of the other diners had the same complaint about their yolks.  Potatoes needed a little work, but I will say, nice try Lord Hobo.  Go a little lighter on the spice, a little smaller on the dice - and you've got yourself a winner.

Rafe and I had eggs on Saturday for breakfast...He's got these weird food rules and doesn't like to eat eggs more than once in a weekend.  But I told him if he ordered the fruit and yogurt I would make fun of him.  So he ordered the egg sandwich with ham on a croissant.  And he let me take a bite....for research.

Pretty much your standard egg sandwich - it was pretty good, but nothing revolutionary. I don't know if I was just needing carbs or something though, but that croissant was delightful and flakey.

We were sitting next to Megan and she let me score a bit of her hash.  The pork belly was yummy, but I agree that the mixture should have been a little more uniform in size.  And the egg poaching was a little less than stellar on this Sunday morning.

All in all, I had myself a grand old time.  It was great to catch up with the foodie gang after my trip....and they were pretty excited to finally meet Rafe.  I think he was happy to find out that I've made such lovely friends through blogging....and that we aren't some group of weirdo food chatroom people.

Thanks Renee for organizing!! Can't wait for the next blogger brunch!!

Lord Hobo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

King Arthur Part 1

From now on, Saturday September 18th will be known as one of the most fun days I've had in a long time.  Saturday morning I grabbed my overnight bag, picked up Elina, and headed to Central Square to meet up with Megan, Michelle, Kristen, Kerstin, and Meghan for a beautiful drive up to Vermont.

Our destination: King Arthur Flour.

Once we arrived we met up with Jen, Katie and Bridget.

The baker's store was bustling with activity...and the smells!  Oh the smells were amazing....

Allison, a representative from King Arthur, ushered us into the baker's store, and upstairs to an office and conference room where we were served lunch.  Sandwiches and delicious fruit salad for the weary travelers.

I fixed myself a plate with half a sandwich and some fruit salad. The sandwich was a roasted mushroom and arugula on olive loaf.  I wondered if I should get a second helping, but I am so glad that I did not.  There would be much eating that day.

Megan did an amazing job planning the whole day, and her birthday was just a few days before our trip.  I wanted to make sure she knew how appreciative we all were for her efforts, so I called King Arthur a few days before to let them in on the fact that she was celebrating a birthday.  I figured they might do a little something to commemorate the day - but I never imagined this!

They baked a HUGE and DELICIOUS birthday cake in their bakery.  Pictured here with a bite taken out, because I just cannot control myself with baked goods!

Over lunch and cake we talked with Allison from King Arthur.  She shared some information about the King Arthur company that was very interesting:
First of all - I know I'm probably not the only one who didn't realize this, so I'll take one for the team and own up to it.  I honestly did not realize that they were an American company.  I think it must have been the King in the name....? I don't know.  But the company is American, based in Norwich, VT and is the country's oldest flour company to boot, founded in 1790. They are an independent company, owned by the people who work for them.  Everyone that I met from King Arthur takes a lot of pride in their company, their work, and their brand.   And it comes through in the quality of their products. 

After our lunch, it was off to the kitchen in the baking education center......

Monday, September 27, 2010

Confessions of a Food Blogger: Bistro 5

Confession #1 - I have a new chef crush - move over Eric Ripert.
Confession #2 - I never imagined that I would have a really amazing meal in MEDFORD of all places.

To be perfectly honest, I had never actually been to Medford before...But if Bistro 5 is indicative of the dining in that fair city, then I might just have to leave the Back Bay for greener pastures.

Bistro 5 invited several area bloggers to sample their heirloom tomato tasting menu. Our meal was complete with complimentary wine pairings. Although the meal was complimentary, the opinions are all my own!

Since the restaurant is outside my usual green line wanderings, I carpooled with MeganMichelle and Rachel for the drive to Bistro 5. The restaurant is situated on a quiet street near the train. Parking is abundant on the street (compared to downtown). The interior of Bistro 5 is warm and cozy, with a few private and secluded areas for more intimate dining. There is also an open kitchen and a wine room.

Upon arriving we greeted our dining companions and settled in for our meal

The dinner began with an introduction of the chef/owner: Vittorio Ettore.  Chef Ettore spent a few minutes discussing the menu and his philosophies of cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients.  While he reviewed the special heirloom tomato tasting dinner we realized that it was slightly modified from the original menu presented on the invitation to the dinner.  He explained that his seasonal menus change weekly based on what is fresh and in the market.  I believe that is when I first felt a little bit in love.

Each course would feature a different tomato and basil pairing - as well as a wine pairing.

Before our first course we were given some bread with a delicious white bean spread. This was smooth and garlicky, and just a little fruity from the drizzle of olive oil.

Our first course was one that I was VERY excited for.  It was a lobster bisque.  The bisque was made with lobster stock, pineapple, tomato and lemon basil.  Topping the soup was a tender piece of lobster and some saffron foam.  I never would have thought of this pairing, but as I sipped the broth I realized that the creamy bisque and the tomato were a perfect compliment and mimicked the same sweet and rich notes.

Our second course was a fried green tomato en carozza with an Opal basil pesto.  I loved this dish.  The tomato crust was crispy but not greasy.  And the pesto was the perfect accompaniment.  I could have eaten this all night.

The next course actually elicited squeals of glee from one of the diners in attendance.  This was the heirloom tomato risotto with Red Brandywine tomatoes, goat cheese, crispy prosciutto (cue squeal), and lime basil.

I don't know much about wine, but this course was my favorite wine pairing.  We had a 2008 Lancon, Domaine de la Solitude Cotes du Rhone Rose.  The wine and the risotto elevated the flavor of one another and made for a really well paired course.

This next course really blew me away in terms of creativity.  I also questioned whether I was really in Medford.  I've never had this inventive a dish in Boston, let alone the suburbs!

The pastry bite to the right is a duck confit strudel, under the strudel is the sweet and sour kuri squash, the dish toward the back is a smoked tomato creme brulee - and on top of the brulee is a port poached seckle pear.

This course was so inventive, and pushed the culinary limits so much more than any meal I've had in Boston.  I loved the idea of a savory brulee.  The duck confit was a little bit salty, and the brulee was just a smidge too smoky.  But when I took a bite with the two together, the flavor was outstanding.  The saltiness of the duck could really stand up to the smokiness of the brulee.  I really think this meal would have benefited from slightly different plating - like putting the strudel directly on top of the brulee to encourage them to be eaten together.  This was a great dish, and with a little tweaking would have been phenomenal.  I would love to see it become a regular part of the Bistro 5 menu.

Even though these were small portions, and they were very well paced courses, I was pretty full by the end.  I only had a few bites of the organic peach tomato napoleon.  It had cinnamon basil yogurt gelato, vanilla creme anglaise, and pistachio estevia pesto. 

It was fun to experience another variation of tomato ice cream.  This was good, but I think it would have tasted even better if I had not just had the tomato and olive oil desert at Upstairs on the Square.  A cool dessert was a great choice however, and I was happy that we ended the meal on a lighter note.

Following dinner, the entire party mingled and chatted.  I took the opportunity to thank Chef Ettore for a wonderful meal, and share my thoughts on the brulee/strudel course.  He was warm, welcoming, and very open to feedback.

After speaking directly with the chef, I was even more enamored with the restaurant.  He is so passionate about his food.  We saw him chatting with other tables in the restaurant.  It was important for him to be present to all diners, not just the food bloggers, which I appreciated.  Eating in his restaurant, you feel like you are in his home, sitting at his kitchen table.  He wants everyone to be comfortable and happy and he strives to make dining fun, inventive, but still approachable.

Take a drive out to Medford and try this restaurant. Bistro 5 does seasonal tasting menus often, so call and check availability.  I would love to check them out for a fall menu, and visit my new chef crush: Chef Ettore.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jet Lagged

OH BOY....what a week I've had.  This time last week I was just settling in for my cooking class at King Arthur Flour after a drive up to Vermont with Megan, Michelle, Kristen, Kersten, Meghan, Elina, Jen, Katie and Bridget.....

After an AMAZING class, a wonderful dinner, and a cozy breakfast at a Vermont bed and breakfast, I drove Meghan, Elina, and myself back to Boston.  From there I packed another bag and headed to the airport.

Sunday night a coworker and I headed to Las Vegas for a conference.  Another slew of delicious meals, a few slot machines, and a couple cocktails later and we were on the red eye back to Boston.  We arrived back in the city early Thursday morning....and I'm still acclimating to east coast time, argghhhh!

While I was in Vegas I had some wonderful meals like Frosted Flake French Toast:

pictured here with an apple and chicken sausage.

or the egg white fritatta with goat cheese, mushrooms and asparagus:
And an amazing po'boy at Emeril's restaurant, Table 10.  This portion looks small because it's only 1/2 a sandwich.  I was lucky enough to dine here with some friends and colleagues who love food and were happy to order a bunch of appetizers and entrees to share.

In addition, I had some delicious Kobe beef meatballs, osso bucco, and penne vodka.  And the star of the show?  Oreo zeppoli.

Suffice it to say, I'm a little behind with my posting, cooking, and general food adventures (also, exercise - all that eating in the past week and very little moving makes for a sluggish Cici).
  I apologize in advance that you will shortly see some posts from me covering events that you may have read on other blogs - but I will catch up soon. 

Though I only landed on Thursday morning, I've already been cooking up some new stuff in my kitchen.
Stay tuned!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Next Food Blog Star - Ready, Set, Blog!

Are you a member of the clean plate club?  I am...but I wasn't always.

When I was a little girl I was very petite and tiny for my age.  I was downright scrawny.  And like good Portuguese grandmothers, mine were horrified.  They were concerned that my growth was stunted, or that something was wrong with me.  And like most first time parents faced with the thought that something was wrong with their child, mine panicked.

They begged me to eat.

They told me I couldn't leave the table until I had finished.

Nothing worked.

So they instituted a rule at dinnertime: If you clean your plate, you get a dollar.  

Normally, I didn't make that kind of money unless the tooth fairy made a visit.  It was a pretty good deal, and I started to enjoy dinnertime a little more.  I still didn't finish my dinner all the time, but I certainly began to stick around the table a little longer.

I'm so glad I did.

Family time was built around that kitchen table.  We shared dinner, we shared our days, and we shared our struggles at work and school.  When mom or dad worked late, when I had sports practice or dance class, we still ate together.

My food blog has become the catalyst to extend this experience for me.  Now mealtimes bring me together with others, whether I'm eating alone at my apartment, dining with friends, or meeting new people through blogger events.  The comments on my blog give me the same sense of connection of sharing a meal across a table.  I want my blog to be part of the conversation, and part of the experience of enjoying food.

I think I should be the next food blog star because I enjoy and value mealtime as an experience.  I believe that it is an experience that should be relished and enjoyed and I love to share my restaurant reviews and recipes with readers.  No matter what I write, the focus is on food.

Whether part of a 10 course degustation menu with wine pairings, a sausage and pepper sandwich outside the ballpark or mom's lasagna - it is all important because it brings us all together.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Leftover Chicken

Although I am a food blogger and love to cook I don't go home every night with the desire to mess up my kitchen and make a delicious batch of ricotta gnocchi...though, if YOU want to, I'd be more than happy to eat it...(I'll be over at 7 and I'll bring wine.)

Truth is, I prefer not to eat late at night, and after a full day at work and an attempt at a work-out I prefer to have something quick to reheat.  But I'm very particular about what I like to eat.  I'm not down with TV dinners, and I rarely do takeout unless the BF is visiting.

Monday night's dinner may not have been my prettiest, but damn it if it wasn't tasty and filling.  Remember those chickens I made this weekend?  Well, my leftovers have been coming in handy, and Monday's dinner was no exception.

When I roasted the chickens, I also I baked a sweet potato.  Hey, if I'm gonna turn the oven on, I might as well take full advantage!

Monday after yoga and a shower, I put half of the sweet potato in a bowl, mashed it....added a little salt and pepper.  Then I topped it with some shredded white meat, and a little barbeque sauce....a quick zap in the microwave.  Then I quickly sauteed some kale and topped it off.

It was delicious, filling, and relatively healthy.  I had the same thing for lunch the next day....Hmm, I still have a ton of meat - how long until I get sick of chicken?

What's your favorite quick dinner?  I'm a huge fan of leftovers, or eggs!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Weekend Cooking: Twin chickens

As part of my resolution to eat healthier, I'm cooking a lot more at home.  My favorite time to cook is during the weekend, when I can have a couple big projects going in the kitchen.  Friday night or Saturday morning (especially when I am in CT and have a HUGE kitchen at my disposal) I will peruse the sale circular for the local grocery chain....When I don't have a specific recipe in mind to make, the sales can usually help me to make a decision.
This week roasting chickens were .99/lb!  I decided to roast one for myself and one for Rafe.
This Sunday was perfectly cool, with just enough fall in the air to turn on the oven for an extended period of time.

I'm sharing a recipe for 1 below, but I encourage you to make two if you have room in your oven.  Obviously the chicken makes a great dinner - but the possibilities for leftovers are endless: sandwiches, salads, quesadillas, soups, enchiladas.....
This week I plan to use the chicken for a couple of dinners, and also in sandwiches and salads as well as my lunches for work.  Monday I made a salad similar to last week's....subbing in chicken and some diced apples.

For Wednesday I'm thinking I'll make a sandwich with some of the shredded chicken and some BBQ sauce, and some leftover roasted sweet potato....or maybe some spicy honey mustard, brie cheese, and apples!

Roast Chicken
1 5-6 lb roaster
1/2 medium onion
1/2 lemon (any citrus works, I've used mandarin oranges to produce great flavor)
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fresh parsley (chopped)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (chopped)
A few additional unchopped sprigs of thyme and parsley

Set the oven to 350.
I start by removing the chicken from its plastic, and pull all of the bags out of the cavity (neck, etc).  I give the little bird a rinse, pat him dry and sit him comfortably in the rack of a large roasting pan.  I salt and pepper the entire bird (inside and out).  Then I get to work stuffing delicious aromatics into the cavity: the onion, lemon, cloves of garlic and sprigs of parsley and thyme.

I finish the chicken off with a sprinkle of paprika (all over the chicken), and the chopped herbs.  Then I bend the wing-tips underneath the chicken breasts so they don't burn, and tie the legs together with some twine to promote even cooking.

Now the bird goes into the oven.....350 degrees, 20 mins per pound of chicken.    I like to add another 10 minutes at the end, at 450 degrees to get a nice, brown crispy skin.  Use a meat thermometer to check the doneness of your meat - it should be at 180 degrees to be completely done.  If you don't have a thermometer use a knife and poke the chicken at its thickest point.  I usually do this on the thigh, right under the drumstick.  If the juices run out clear, and the drumsticks feel loose when you jiggle them, then you're good to go...if they're still tight and the juice is pink, put it back in the oven for a little longer.  Depending on how done it is I usually peek in on it in 10 minute increments beyond the cooking time just to make sure I don't overcook it.  Nobody likes dry chicken!

Let the meat rest 20 minutes before carving up your bird.  I served my chicken dinner with some simple roasted vegetables....