Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 2nd annual Kneading Conference West, which happened to be right here in Mount Vernon at the WSU Research and Extension Center. I was thrilled to get a press pass for it, as the conference sold out some time ago. This is an amazing event!
The remarkable thing about this conference was how happy everyone was. It was more like a music festival than a professional conference. Everyone there was equally obsessed with bread and grains and ready to talk with everyone else about it.
I’ve been craving a cheese sandwich. Not a fancy one. A sandwich like the ones I used to get at the student union snack counter in college, on cheap white bread with cheap cheese and a few slices of tomato squashed in the middle, blazing hot from the grill. I didn’t eat white bread much when I was growing up, so cheese sandwiches of this sort had a real glamour for me (as did Lucky Charms cereal, I’m embarrassed to admit), and I only bought myself one once in a while, if I wanted a treat. Twenty years later, I’m finding myself craving that sandwich. Maybe I’m really just missing that experience, of being on my own for the first time and not having to ask anyone if I wanted to eat something bad for me. I certainly made up for a lot of childhood healthy eating in just a couple of years…maybe this is why I ended up in a Vegan-themed house my junior year. Anyway…
Unfortunately for my recent cravings, I couldn’t bring myself to actually buy a loaf of cheap white bread, as if the Junk Food Police would come by later that night. But I really wanted a cheese sandwich, so I circumvented my inhibitions by baking myself a loaf of suitable bread. It’s not bad for you if you made it from scratch, right?
One loaf, mostly white bread flour with just a little whole wheat, sweetened with honey and enriched with milk and egg. I baked it the evening before and let the loaf rest. It sliced easily, and the crust was tender and perfect. It toasted nicely in the pan without needing a vast amount of butter, and held onto the melted cheddar in just the right gooey way.
It was a perfect cheese sandwich, with nothing but bread, medium cheddar, and butter. I didn’t have tomato for it, so I heated up some Pacific boxed tomato-red pepper soup to dunk into. It made me happy.
What’s your ideal grilled cheese sandwich?
Speaking of 660 Curries (I never seem to shut up about it, do I), I recently tried a recipe from the back of the book, where he puts the curry accompaniments. It was a basic chapati, or roti, recipe, but with the addition of fenugreek leaves. These are one of those specialty items that we bought some time ago but then seldom used, so I was thrilled to find something new to do with them. And I was startled at how good it was – the leaves perfume the chapatis with a fresh green scent, and also seem to make the dough softer and better to eat. Amazing. I make chapatis all the time, but this variation is going to become part of the regular rotation.
I don’t measure too carefully when I make chapati. To make breads for the two of us (about 6 small chapati) I generally use about a half cup of whole wheat flour, a half cup of all-purpose, a pinch of salt, and maybe half a cup of warm water, then adjust with more flour or water as necessary to make a smooth dough. For the fenugreek breads, I added 1/4 cup of dried fenugreek leaves, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes then drained before mixing into the dough. If I had fresh or frozen leaves (which I’ve never seen anywhere), then it would have been half a cup of chopped leaves. I kneaded the dough for a bit, rolled it into a ball and let it rest about half an hour under its mixing bowl.
When the rest of the dinner was ready, I cut the dough into six pieces, rolled them out into thin circles, plopped them onto a hot griddle, turning once, then put them directly onto a gas flame to poof them up. We usually just cook them entirely on the griddle, but since I had a spare burner available I thought I’d try the direct-on-flame approach, and it worked really well. So often when we cook Indian food, though, every burner is in use, so this may not happen again soon.
The breads rested in a basket lined with a clean dishtowel while we set the table, and were perfectly soft and chewy. It was difficult not to overeat. Plus the house smelled wonderfully of fenugreek all evening.
We recently made hot and sour soup for the first time, and I can’t imagine why I waited this long. It was prompted by the annual advent of scallion-chive flatbreads, since the chives are shooting up in the garden and we happened to have a bag of cilantro in the fridge, and nothing goes better with these breads than soup. We just picked up a used copy of The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young, and I pulled this recipe out more or less at random. It looked simple and fast, useful features when you’re also making involved flatbreads.
I followed it pretty closely, while leaving out the lily buds, adding a bit of extra pork, and using the pre-shredded black fungus that we’ve become addicted to instead of whole cloud ears. The soup is heated with white pepper and soured with cider vinegar, and the main complaints we had were the lack of salt (fixed with a dab of soy sauce after serving) and the dullness of the vinegar flavor, apparently due to adding it early in the cooking process. When we ate the leftovers I added a bit of fresh vinegar and it was much peppier. But other than that it was really good – soothing and very textural, and the breads (which I made with hot chile oil and plenty of salt) were fantastic dipped into it.
I think we’ll try a variation on the recipe soon – maybe Barbara Tropp’s version which uses rice vinegar and soy. Does anyone have a recipe for hot and sour soup they really like? I think this could become part of our regular rotation.
Every year or two we try making injera bread, and are usually crushed by disappointment when it sticks to the pan, tastes weird and is just generally unsuccessful. This time it actually sort of worked.
Injera is a traditional Ethiopian flatbread made by souring a batter made of teff flour for several days, then cooking it like a large pancake to produce a stretchy, spongy sour bread which is perfect for mopping up spicy stews and is also used as a plate. Many cookbooks assume that you can’t get teff flour in the United States, and so suggest a blend of wheat flours. However, that adds gluten, and doesn’t really have the right flavor – teff is easier to find now that gluten-free baking is more popular, so I strongly suggest seeking it out. I also don’t recommend “quick” injera recipes that use baking soda instead of a slow yeast rise or sourdough starter. It’s not just supposed to be bubbly, you want it sour. Plan ahead!
After trying various recipes over the years, I decided to go back to the one really traditional version that I’ve found, from Flatbreads & Flavors. When I first made it years ago, we had so much trouble cooking it there was barely any worth eating. But I had no complaints about the batter this time, it behaved perfectly and tasted just right. The cooking…was a learning experience.
This is ridiculous. Just as I was beginning to feel somewhat recovered (apart from what I consider normal – if irritating – seasonal allergies), Jon’s back went out in a spectacular manner. He’s beginning to feel functional again, but I’ve been keeping busy trying to cook interesting and comforting things that can be eaten while propped up with pillows.
I made braised lemon-olive chicken with couscous, which made a wonderful soup the next day, and baked cookies (my grandmother’s sugar pecan cookies with white chocolate added in), and made an enormous quantity of minestrone, and baked hamburger buns from scratch, which made for some truly fabulous burgers. I also ordered a pizza one night, but I rather felt like I’d earned it.
We have been braising fiends this year, and we’ve begun to make inroads on some of our larger roasts, which means leftovers. Of course, the great thing about braised meat is that it’s better the next day, after the flavors have had a chance to really meld and settle in. Last weekend we pulled out a pork arm roast and braised it on a bed of cabbage, onion, and sauerkraut flavored with paprika, caraway and beer. It was pleasant enough the first night, but lunch the next day was when it really shone.
I had made a batch of buttermilk-caraway dinner rolls (from our go-to baking book for such things, Mary’s Bread Basket and Soup Kettle), which were wonderful eaten hot out of the pan with butter, but were also delightful split, toasted, spread with mustard, and turned into little pork-and-cabbage sliders. A pile of cornichons and a glass of Pacific Rim Riesling completed a rather dreamy lunch.
And because we made a truly enormous amount, I had those sliders again yesterday (maybe today, too). And for dinner last night, I threw together this interesting noodle dish. Some fresh shredded cabbage, sauteed in olive oil until well browned, tossed with some of the leftover braised pork, and mixed with cooked gemelli pasta and doused with Frank’s hot sauce. It came out well, with a sort of spicy Asian-fusiony sort of effect. I liked it.
I don’t normally have the attention span to eat the same thing every day, but I ate this sandwich for lunch three days running and was still not tired of it. I kept trying to decide whether to change it up a bit, add a different condiment…and then made it exactly the same way. Again.
This all came about because we thought a particular day was going to be cold and rainy, so we planned a pot roast. As it turned out, the weather all week was ridiculously warm and springlike, but once the beef was defrosted it was too late to back out. We based the braise on the Yankee Pot Roast Redux recipe in Molly Stevens’ All About Braising, using a rolled and tied cross-rib roast from our freezer and cooking it in Strongbow cider, chicken broth and onions, with carrots and potatoes going in near the end. It was fabulous, and we ate it two nights running with polenta and shredded Brussels sprouts, but there were still many leftovers.
Having thought ahead to this predicament, I had picked up a bag of rosemary potato rolls at the co-op, made by the Breadfarm, a wonderful bakery in Edison. These rolls, like so much the Breadfarm does, are spectacular – sour and chewy, with coarse salt on top and plenty of fresh rosemary scattered throughout. When it came time to make my sandwich, I cut a roll in half, toasted it lightly, spread it with mayonnaise (Best Foods), and fit a slice of pot roast onto it. I also remembered that we had a bag of cilantro in the fridge, so I pulled out a few sprigs to add. Squished down well, the ingredients melded together, and positively sang.
I ate that first sandwich and immediately made another.
Having recently rediscovered the joys of challah, I’ve decided that one of my missions for the next year is to find my favorite challah recipe. I’ve only tasted a few so far, so I’m not sure what my ideal is yet. There’s really only one way to find out, especially since there isn’t a single Jewish bakery in our vicinity. Time to get baking!
For my first attempt, I picked a recipe out of my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, partly because it made just one loaf – a much more manageable amount than some, especially considering that challah does not keep. Another time I’ll try Jon’s aunt’s recipe, but I’ll need to either scale it down or be prepared to feed an army. It makes a lot.
This wasn’t an unqualified success, but it was fun. I had never, ever made sloppy joes before, so it was a total experiment. Both of us being products of the public school system, we were each traumatized by the high school cafeteria version of this dish (there’s a reason I ate peanut butter sandwiches all through school). As I recall, it’s basically a cheap hamburger bun topped with bad spaghetti sauce – anyone else remember more details? Anyway, we had some sweet potato rolls left over and I thought it would be fun to top them with a sort of piquant ground beef sauce and let them get all soggy. And it was!
For the sauce, I sauteed an onion, mixed in a pound of ground beef from our previous cow (the new cow is in the freezer, but there’s still a bit left of the old one) and added a bit of Pendleton’s barbecue sauce. That tasted a little odd to me, so I added half a can of diced tomatoes, some fresh garlic and quite a bit of salt, and it came together pretty well (I think the garlic really did the trick). I cut the rolls in half, toasted them lightly, and dumped the sauce all over, with a bit of fresh sauteed spinach on the side. We opened a rich toasty Zinfandel. It was not at all like high school.