Friday, December 29, 2006

Chocolate Scandal!

From Scott at comes this tale of Noka, a high-end chocolatier headquarted in Plano, TX and named "#1 luxury chocolate in the world" by some British food show. I'm familiar with many chocolatiers (Richart and Kee's being among my favorites), but this was one I hadn't heard of before the article.

It's a long article, but well worth the read. It peels away the layers of deception the proprietors of Noka have set up around themselves. Reading their press, or even hearing them in interviews, you'd think that they are chocolate makers - taking carefully sourced cacao beans and turning them into their own couverture. But in fact, they're doing just what the rest of us are doing - buying a pre-made couverture and turning it into truffles and bon-bons.

But the rest of us aren't getting paid their prices! A 2-piece "encore" box of truffles is $17.50 - a princely $8.75 per truffle! A 4-piece box from the Vintages collection (tastings squares of single origin chocolates) is $16.00. Think that's extravagant, but not outrageous? Each tasting square weighs only seventy-five one thousandths of an ounce, meaning the price for the chocolate is $853/lb. And all Noka has done is temper the couverture they've bought and formed it into squares. I just tempered chocolate twice in the last 2 hours, and I can tell you it's not worthy of that kind of money! The truffles work out to $666/lb. Even names like La Maison du Chocolat and Michael Recchiuti - among the the most well known and expensive chocolatiers - top out at a mere $85/lb for their chocolates, which have carefully conceived fillings and actually required some thought!

Through some careful detective work, Scott actually manages to figure out what couverture the people at Noka are using, and reveals just how outrageous that markup really is. I won't spoil the surprise for you, because the story is very entertainingly told. It was like watching a soap opera - I kept gasping, shaking my head and saying "I can't believe it!"

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Scalloped Potatoes

Made an excellent batch of cheesy scalloped potatoes tonight. Scalloped potatoes are very much something I make by feel - I don't usually use a recipe. Sometimes they turn out really well, sometimes I use too much milk and they're too watery. Since tonight's were a winner, I thought I should try to transcribe the recipe while I could still remember the rough quantities.

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes (serves 4-6)

2 onions
2.5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
3 tbsp flour
2 oz sharp cheddar, grated
1.5 cups milk, warmed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the onions and saute in butter with a pinch of salt until lightly caramelized. Meanwhile, peel and slice the potatoes about 1/4 inch thick. When the onions are ready, place a layer of potatoes (about 1/4 of the total amount) in the bottom of a casserole dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, 1 tbsp flour, 1/3 of the onions and 1/4 of the cheese. Repeat twice - you will have used up all the onions and all the flour. Top with the remaining potatoes, sprinkle with salt, pepper, the remaining cheese and a few dots of butter. Pour the milk over it all.

Cover and bake at 350 for 3o minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake until potatoes are soft - at least another 30 minutes. If you like a crusty top, increase the heat to 400 degrees for the last 15 minutes or so. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving to allow it to cool and set a little bit.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Since I can't actually give you truffles for Christmas, I can at least give you some recipes. These are from my holiday truffle sale, featuring four seasonal flavors. I ended up making over 400 hand-rolled, hand-dipped truffles. Kinda crazy!

I expect you don't want to make quite that many, but fortunately the recipes scale down easily. For all these recipes, you should let the ganache set up at room temperature for about 12 hours, then scoop them into balls. If you are dipping in tempered chocolate, it's especially important to let the balls set for 24 hours to dry out a bit and develop a crust. This will help limit cracking and leaking. But if you just want to coat with melted chocolate and cocoa powder, you don't have to wait that long.

Chestnut Truffles (about 90)
12 oz dark chocolate
24 oz chestnut spread (sweetened chestnut puree, basically)
6 oz unsalted butter
1 tbsp brandy

These turned out to be my favorite. Rich and decadent. Easy to make because I went with a commercial chestnut spread. To make, melt the chocolate and let it cool to near room temperature. Mix with softened butter, then stir in chestnut puree and brandy.

Cranberry Truffles (about 90)
18 oz dark chocolate
12 oz cream
2 tbsp unsweetened cranberry concentrate

This concentrate is really potent stuff. You can find it in health food stores. It's liquid, in a bottle - mine was in the juice aisle. Use any standard ganache method: pour hot cream over finely chopped chocolate and let stand for a couple minutes before stirring to emulsify, or melt the chocolate and combine it with the warm cream. Add the cranberry concentrate after the ganache is fully emulsified.

Egg Nog Truffles (about 70)
24 oz white chocolate
4 oz egg nog
1 vanilla bean
3/8 tsp nutmeg
2 oz rum

Steep the vanilla bean and nutmeg in the egg nog. Reheat and strain, and combine with white chocolate using your favorite ganache method. Add the rum. If you're dipping in tempered chocolate, garnish with some white choco

Gingerbread Truffles (about 80)
21 oz milk chocolate
7 oz cream
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger powder
2 tsp cinnamon
4 tsp molasses
1.5 tbsp ginger juice

Black pepper was the magic ingredient to make these actually taste like what I was looking for. And the combination of powdered ginger and juice from fresh works really well. Bring the cream to a boil and combine with spices. Let steep for about 10 minutes. Reheat, then remove from heat and stir in molasses. Combine with chocolate in whatever ganache method you prefer. Add ginger juice when fully emulsified. (To make ginger juice, finely grate fresh ginger, then squeeze it through cheesecloth or a towel.)

Wine Club - Sparklers

Every December, we like to taste some sparkling wines so we can find interesting things to serve at New Year's. Here's what we tasted this year.

Jean Laurent Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut $45.00
Faded sunflower color. Nose of melon, citrus and straw - noticeable chardonnay aromas. On the palate, it opens with a hint of sweetness but resolves dry, with flint/mineral flavors and a long tart finish. Score: 4.0 Range: 3/4.5

2000 Rotari Riserva Brut, Trento, IT $13.99
Nose of vanilla and melon. "Smells just like pinot grigio." Fairly one-dimensional, with some butterscotch and cherry flavors in a light bodied wine with moderate acidity. Short finish. Score: 3.2 Range: 2/5

Henri Maire Vin Fou Blanc de Blancs Cuvee du Centenaire $11.99
Our original bottle was bad - low fizz, nose and palate of banana candy, bitter and waxy. "This can't be right!" A replacement bottles was better, with just a hint of banana that some found pleasant, but it wasn't anything to write home about either - one-dimension and fairly uninteresting, but good enough given the value price.

Jaillance Cremant de Bordeaux Cuvee de L'Abbaye Brut $18.99
Immediate perception of spice and nutmeg, followed by some lily of the valley and lavender. Big and bright on the palate, with those spicy flowery aromas coming through in the flavor as well, and a minerally finish that hints at salt. Nice balance of sweet and acid. (Generally quite well liked, with one outlier who said it "smelled like the bottom of a Maneschevitz bottle left in the sun.") Score: 3.6 Range: 1/5

As usual, we had a couple of nice cheeses as well.

On the left, Ailine de Vigne, an 8-month aged French goat cheese. And on the right, Green Hill, a soft cow's milk cheese made in Georgia by Sweet Grass Dairy. Both were excellent. And that's a piece of my no-knead bread behind them.

We tasted the wines blind, and without anyone but me knowing about the price range beforehand. When we were about to reveal, I said "If I told you one of these bottles cost $45, which one would you say it was?" And everyone chose the Jean Laurent - it was clearly a superior wine. But not that much better than the Jaillance Cremant de Bordeaux, which would have scored nearly as high if not for that one person. So for $19 vs $45, I know what I'll be buying for New Year's Eve. Don't get me wrong - I absolutely loved the Jean Laurent - it had everything I love most about wine (rocks and acid) - but I just find it really hard to pay that kind of money on my budget!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

My cheese and wine dessert

Here's what I put together in response to my eGullet Baking and Pastry Challenge.

On the left, red grapes on the stem, covered in Stilton and rolled in chopped port-glazed walnuts. You can see some of the whole walnuts scattered around the sauce. The sauce is the reduction of the glazing liquid, and has port, sugar, black pepper and bay leaf. On the right, a Seckel pear, which was roasted in a baking dish with a mixture of Carlos VII and sugar at the bottom (recipe adapted from here). That was used as a basting liquid, and later reduced to the caramel sauce. Lying jauntily against the pear is a crisp of 5-year Boerenkaas aged gouda. And a few toasted hazelnuts for good measure.

I invited a few friends over to kibbitz and taste. Here are their comments, so you'll have some idea of the flavors as well as the looks!

Dave: There is great synergy in the pear-sherry-hazelnut-cheese combination. Not only is the pear taste accentuated, but you get an added taste of fig, and a nutty flavor that comes not just from the nuts, but from the cheese wafer, that finishes with a smoky, almost a charcoal taste.

The combination of Stilton cheese and grapes did not work as well, not because of any discordance in the tastes, but I believe because of texture. The grapes are too watery to be paired with this cheese. I recommend chilling the grapes first to firm them up.

Beth: you can never go wrong with Stilton in my book, and the combination of Stilton and 'ported' walnuts was a fantastic combination of sweet and shocking-salty. however the taste of the grape itself was lost. i found that drizzling further with the port reduction added back a nice, fruity flavor.

the pear-gouda had a nice nutty taste as well - i've never had an aged gouda, and the process intensified the nutty flavor that worked well with the pear.

Hope: the stilton-grape-ported walnut combination was absolutely delightful - the delicacy of the grape wasn't overwhelmed by the stilton, and the walnuts gave a wonderful contrasty texture. There could've been a little more of the port reduction sauce, which had a wonderful flavor. The pear-gouda-sherry reduction combo was a little too sweet for my tastes, but the gouda laces set off the sweetness very nicely, and were very tasty all on their own. There were some delightful Montgomery cheddar 'eclairs' that were wonderful, but sadly didn't work with the red wine gelato - though both were very good on their own. All in all, a wonderful evening - it's so much fun being one of Tammy's 'guinea pigs'!
My comments: I over-reduced both sauces, which made it easy to make them stay where I wanted on the plate, but made them too sticky and sweet for good eating - I'd correct that in the future. The pear-gouda-sherry combo worked as well in reality as it did in my head, so that was cool. I'm with Dave and Beth on the issue of the grapes - the Stilton did overwhelm the grape. I think because the amount of Stilton needed to wrap the grape made it too much. I probably should have done what most recipes suggest and cut the Stilton with cream cheese. If I make these for a party sometime (and I might - they are tasty and unusual), I will do that. And chill them - these ones warmed up while I was getting everything else ready. Oh, and the plate needed more of the port sauce for that amount of grapes/cheese.

The two parts of the plate didn't really go together, but neither did they clash. If I was serving the pear on it's own, I would do it in a little bowl, because then I could use the unreduced sauce, and that would be very tasty. And while the crisp was fun and made for a nice presentation, I think some of the sweet butterscotchy flavor of the aged gouda was lost, so I'd just do shavings of the cheese.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

eGullet Pastry and Baking Challenge

This week, I've been tagged as the challenger in the Supreme eGullet Pastry and Baking Challenge. Noting my interest in pairing food and wine, last week's challenger set this task for me:

So, my challenge to Tammy is to sweeten up the cheese course! Create a dessert with at least 2 different wines and 2 different cheeses. At least one of the cheeses has to be a savoury rather a 'sweet' cheese (so no ricotta, mascarpone etc.)
What a great challenge! There are a million possible ideas of course, and people are chiming in with all kinds of them in the comments. I have three main ideas so far:

1. Grapes coated in blue cheese and rolled in chopped port-glazed walnuts

2. A sharp cheddar pate choux (aka cream puff) filled with red wine sorbet

3. An aged gouda crisp (like a parmesan crisp) with caramel ice cream and a sherry reduction

1 and 2 could be served together, as a duo on the same plate. 3 wouldn't work with either of the first two, I don't think, so I'd need to find something else to pair it with. Or expand it out somehow into something that incorporated another wine and cheese.

Or perhaps I need to go back to the drawing board all together. Anybody have any ideas?

I'm eager to begin experimenting, but I haven't had time yet to do anything but conceptualize.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Robert is Here

I first read about this farm stand in Issue 70 of The Art of Eating. When I found out I was going to be in Homestead, FL for work, I had this vague inkling of having heard of that area before. Eventually I discovered the Fruit and Spice Park, which had been featured in the same article as Robert is Here, and slowly but surely I started to remember why all of this seemed so familiar.

Once I put all the pieces together, it was an easy decision to scrap my plans to hit South Beach and check out art-deco hotels, and instead take myself on a culinary tour of this south Florida farming community.

Robert is Here is certainly a strange name for a farm stand. Here's the story, according to the Art of Eating article:

[Robert's] father was a farmer who used brokers to sell his produce. One day a broker said he'd been unable to find a buyer for a large supply of cucumbers. Robert's father asked for them back, so he'd at least be able to reuse the crates. But what to do with the cucumbers? He decided to put his six-year-old son to work.

He dropped the boy off at a nearby crossroads on a Saturday morning, along with a table, the cucumbers and some change in a coffee can. Robert sat all day. When he was picked up at dusk, he hadn't sold a single cucumber. No one had even stopped.

That can't be, thought the father. Perhaps people hadn't even noticed the small boy? He retrieved two hurricane shutters from the barn, spray-pained "Robert is Here" on each, and sent the boy back out on Saturday morning.
Okay, today this story would end up in child neglect charges, but this was 1961. Robert sold all the cucumbers, and a business was born. He started taking donations of extra produce from neighboring farmers, although when they found out how much money he was making, he had to start paying them. During the school year, he'd set up his stand with a can labeled "honor system" during the day, and get dropped off by the school bus to work the afternoon shift. By the time he was age 8, things were too busy during the day to leave the stand alone, so Robert hired his first employee.

Robert is Here continues to be a family affair. When Robert was helping me pick out fruit for my Taste of the Tropics party, he pointed out all of his kids to me, working at various tasks around the stand. It's a friendly, family kind of place, just like you'd expect. Robert himself was a great host, cutting a perfectly ripe passionfruit in half for us to share, and helping me select guavas and papayas that would be perfectly ripe in exactly 2 days time (and they were).

I didn't try one of his famous Key Lime milkshakes - something I sorely regretted when my dinner plans got pushed back a couple of hours. In addition to fruits and vegetables, both ordinary and exotic, the stand also features a huge variety of sauces, jams, jellies and honeys, most of which are available on their website. They also ship citrus, and perhaps other fruit as well.

Robert is Here
19200 SW 344th St (aka Palm Dr)
Homestead, FL

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More Chef Talk

What one dish is always on Charlie Trotter's holiday table? Beluga caviar and Krug champagne.

Who would Michelle Bernstein want as her personal chef? Mario Batali.

What snack would Jason Wilson leave for Santa? Valrhona chocolates, stuffed with salted caramel and bacon.

When did Tom Collicchio know he wanted to be a chef? When he was 15 years old and his father suggested it - one of the few times he actually listened.

Questions and answers taken from the current issue of American Way, the in-flight magazine of American Airlines. The issue will only be available on planes for a few more days, but the article is online here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Taste of the Tropics

I came back from Florida with a suitcase full of fruit. Not oranges and grapefruits, as might be expected this time of year. My selections were a little more unusual. Spiraling clockwise to the center from bottom left: kumquats, black sapote, papaya, guava, dragonfruit, passionfruit, atemoya and carambola. I'd tried some of these before, but others were completely new. I'd always rather share a new discovery than keep it to myself, so I invited a bunch of friends over for a Taste of the Tropics.

The black sapote was the most unusual fruit we tried, I think. It's ripe when the outside is green black and extremely soft. The inside contains several large seeds and a very soft, chocolate pudding colored pulp. In fact, the texture is a lot like chocolate pudding too - very creamy and custardy. Flavorwise, it's hard to describe. It's very mild and slightly sweet, but somehow also suprisingly addictive - we just keep going back to it until the skin was scooped clean!

This is the inside of the Atemoya. It contains several dark black and poisonous seeds, which I'd removed before taking this picture. It's a hybrid of two slightly better known tropical fruits, the sugar apple and the cherimoya. The rollinia pictured in my Fruit and Spice Park post is also in the same family. The flesh is cool and moist and smells a little bit like mango and pineapple. The flavors are in the same vein but mostly sweet with a mild tanginess. This one was many people's favorite.

I forgot to take pictures of our next two fruits. After the Atemoya we moved on to Carambola. You've probably seen it before - when cut across the fruit, it looks like a star (thus it's more common name of star fruit) and is commonly used to decorate fruit trays. They come in several varieties. This one was among the sweetest, and even then it wasn't very. It was a deep yellow color and smelled like green peppers. It was very juicy and mild, slightly sweet and slightly tangy.

The contrast with our next entry was certainly pronounced! Kumquats are very intense. The pith is not as powerfully bitter as oranges and lemons and the like, but it does impart a bitter aftertaste. The pulp is sour, but there's some sweetness in there too. We found that it was much better to pop one in your mouth whole and eat it all at once than to take bites of a single kumquat. Eaten all together, the flavors meld into a very harmonious whole.

Dragonfruit is the fruit of a cactus. It's more pretty than tasty - you can understand its importance as a desert fruit because the flesh is just bursting with water. It smells kind of melony and floral. With the crunchy seeds, it's very reminiscent of kiwi fruit, but without the acid tang of kiwi. Instead there's sort of a mild watery flowery sweetness. Coming after the pungent kumquat, this made for a nice palate cleanser, but I'd probably change the order were I to do this again.

Most of us weren't very fond of the papaya. It looks and smells very much like cantaloupe. It tastes like... well... papaya. There's a hint of something odd about it. We think it's the latex - green papaya is a prolific source of latex, from which the meat-tenderizing enzyme papaian is produced - and that flavor seems to stick around even in the ripe fruit. It was much better sprinkled with a little lime juice. We also tasted the seeds, which have a distinct peppery bite. It was easy to see see why in some countries dried papaya seeds are used to adulterate more expensive black peppercorns.

We had to move the guava off the table while we were tasting the earlier fruits, because its lovely fruity muskiness was overwhelming our attempts to smell the milder fruits. But upon cutting, what was a pleasant aroma in the whole fruit became quite acrid and sharp. Once we could get past the smell, however, the flavor was really nice. Something like a cross between an apple and pear with a hint of musky mystery. This was definitely one to eat cut into wedges, so everyone could experience the variety of flavors and textures. It went from a a pear like skin to a really creamy smooth bit right in the center.

Passionfruit is one of my favorite flavors. When I made some passionfruit chocolate truffles for a sale earlier in the year, I was surprised to hear that many of my customers were not familiar with passionfruit. People were really skeptical that this was going to be good - a passionfruit is ripe and ready to eat when the outside starts to get wrinkly and dessicated. They're very light, so it's easy to think that it's going to be all dried up. But instead, they're filled with a tart and tangy pulp that surrounds a bunch of seeds (which you can eat or not as you so desire). Mmm.

I bought all these fruits at a Homestead, FL fruit stand called Robert is Here. More details on this mecca for fruit lovers is still to come.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Future of Zingerman's

Zingerman's lays out its vision for 2020. It includes:

  • Zingerman's will stay in and around Ann Arbor.
  • Zingerman's will grow to include 12 to 18 different businesses. A Mexican restaurant, bed and breakfast, candy company, Asian noodle restaurant, conference center and publishing company are among some of the ideas being tossed around.
  • Zingerman's will remain an open-book business for its employees, meaning all workers have access to - and are expected to know and understand - the company's financial records.
  • Zingerman's will establish its own nonprofit foundation.
  • Zingerman's will expand its educational opportunities to have international exchange programs for employees, an internship program and a scholarship program for people in the community who want a food career.
The article is a good quick overview of how the company developed from a deli to something resembling a foodie empire.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fruit and Spice Park

Carambola (aka Star Fruit)

This week, I had the opportunity to visit a really fascinating place - the Fruit and Spice Park in Homestead, FL. This 35 acre botanical garden has over 500 varieties of exotic fruits, herbs, spices and nuts from around the world. The park was mostly flattened by Hurricane Andrew, and they are still rebuilding. But there's plenty to see. Tours by tractor-driven tram are offered three times a day, and I highly recommended timing your visit to start with one. The biggest problem with the park is that the signage is nearly non-existent, so a tour is almost a necessity to know what you're looking at. And what you're tasting - visitors are invited to eat any fruit that's on the ground. Picking off of trees is forbidden to all except the tour guides, who will provide you with plenty of tasty snacks as they take you around the park.

The park is open year round, and because of Florida's climate and the diversity of plant species, there's always something new coming into season. Most of the fruits that are ripe that day are available for tasting at the gift shop/park entrance building. Fruit can't be taken out of the park, and none are available for sale. But fortunately, there's an excellent fruit stand just a few miles away called Robert is Here that carries many exotics. (Stay tuned for more about Robert is Here in a near future post.) Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the tour - check out my web album to see the rest and take a virtual tour with descriptions.

The stunningly beautiful flowers of the Guiana Chestnut.

Yellow coconut palm

Balsam Pear - considered a weed, but the prettiest I've ever seen!

Eating Rollinia (aka "snot fruit") fresh from the tree. Yum!

If you're a foodie in Florida, I highly recommend making a stop here. It's just 35 miles south of Miami, and right on the way to the Florida Keys.

Fruit & Spice Park
24801 S.W. 187th Avenue
Homestead, Florida 33031

Thursday, December 07, 2006

No-knead bread in action

Like practically every other foodblogger in the blogosphere, I've been playing around with the no-knead bread recipe that I linked to earlier. The gist of the recipe, for anyone's managed to avoid it, is that you make a very wet dough that you don't need to knead. You let it rise for 12-18 hours, do a few folds to form it into a ball, let it rise for 2 more hours, then bake in a preheated heavy pan, with the lid on for the first 30 minutes. The high liquid content evaporates lots of steam into the closed pan, which helps produce a perfect artisanal crust.

My first loaf didn't turn out very well - it overproofed, so I got zero oven spring. Plus it stuck to the floured towel, so was decidedly unphotogenic. Crust was great, but the interior was overly moist and just not very flavorful. I vowed to try again.

Thanks to a voluminous thread on eGullet and Rose Levy Berenbaum's blog, I was able to benefit from the experience of dozens of other no-knead bread bakers. The enameled cast iron pot I was using is pretty wide, so my bread had a tendency to spread out. I decided to try making a larger loaf so that the bread could get an assist in rising from the sides of the pan. And I added some semolina flour and upped the salt content to boost the flavor.

This time I watched the dough rather than the clock, and decided to stop the first rise at 15 hours rather than going all the way to 18. I used rice flour on my cotton towel for the second rise, and had no sticking. Based on other's reports, I knew that leaving the lid on for the whole 30 minutes would produce a thicker crust than I'd like, so I checked after 20 minutes, and took the lid off at 25 minutes. Another 25 minutes, and the internal temperature of the bread measured 209.5, so out it came (the target temperature is 210 - close enough!). The result is the perfect (if I do say so myself) loaf you see up above! Great crust and an nicely flavored crumb. Here's the recipe I settled on:

No-Knead Bread (large loaf)

20 oz King Arthur AP flour
4 oz semolina flour
3/8 tsp rapid rise yeast
4 tsp Morton kosher salt[1]
2 1/2 cups water

Combine flours, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add water and mix to blend - dough will be quite sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 12-18 hours at room temperature.

When the surface of the dough is covered with bubbles the dough is ready. Generously flour your counter and turn the dough out on it. Sprinkle the dough with some more flour, and flour your hands. Fold the dough into thirds (like a letter) in one direction, then in the other direction, to form a ball.

Place the ball seam side down on a generously floured cotton towel - rice flour seems to work the best (you can make your own by grinding rice finely in a blender or spice grinder). Cover loosely with the towel and let rise for 2 more hours - dough should double in size and stay indented slightly when poked with a finger.

At least 30 minutes for the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, placing your heavy cast iron, enameled or other pot and lid in the oven as it heats. When dough is ready, remove the hot pan from the oven and carefully invert the dough into the pot. It will now be seem side up. Shake the pan if necessary to even out the dough.

Cover and bake for 20-25 minutes, removing the lid just when the crust begins to brown. Remove the lid and turn the temperature down to 425 and then bake for another 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches about 210 degrees.

Cool completely on a rack before cutting. (Hard, I know, but you'll be rewarded with superior flavor and texture.)
Here's a link to Mark Bittman's new NYT article summarizing the learnings of the legions of no-knead bread bakers - "No Kneading, but Some Fine-Tuning." He includes many of the same suggestions that I've incorporated above, and there's a link to the original recipe from that article.

I'll certainly be making this again. It's too easy not to! In fact, it's nearly effortless, although you do need to plan in advance because of the long rise time. If you haven't tried it yet, what are you waiting for? Now is the time!

[1] Note - If you use Diamond Crystal kosher salt, you'll only need 3 1/2 tsp. If you use table salt, it's more like 2 1/4 tsp. This is because there are big differences in crystal size between brands of salt, and between kosher and non-kosher salt.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Wishlist: Easy-Bake Oven Gourmet

I don't have an easy-bake oven any more, but I have fond memories of baking itty-bitty cakes in my childhood. So I really MUST have this cookbook. It features 32 recipes from 26 chefs, all specially formulate for the Easy-Bake Oven! It includes recipes from such noteables as Rick Bayless, Mark Bittman, Bobby Flay, Gale Gand, and Mollie Katzen. Plus:

--Rare Easy-Bake Oven memorabilia, an illustrated timeline of the toy's first forty years, plus never-before-seen anecdotes and personal photos from the recipe contributors!
--Six removable recipe cards with fabulous, full-color photos of delicious dishes such as Queso Fundido with Roasted Poblano Vinaigrette, Warm Kumquat and Date Sticky Toffee Pudding, and Roasted Quail Breast with Wild Mushrooms and Pomme Anna.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Wish List: Stemmarkers

I found these in the Imbibe magazine holiday shopping guide, and I've been coveting them ever since. I like the idea of wine markers, but on all the ones I've seen, the charms are really dorky.

These foam rings have the advantage of being useable for those oh-so-trendy stemless wine glasses as well as the traditional kind.

And at $9.95 for a set of 10 ($8.95 if you order two or more), they're a great stocking stuffer! (I expect them to move from my "wish list" to my 'bought list" real soon now.) Made especially for the MoMA store by designer Eric Janssen.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Foodmomiac's Gift Guide for Food Lovers

Foodmomiac, one of my favorite foodbloggers, has created an amazing gift guide, just in time for the holidays. Whoever the foodie in your life is, you'll find a great gift idea for them there!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Eating El Paso

Last week my travels took me to the city of El Paso. I had a couple days of great meetings, and my contact there, José, was an excellent tour guide who was totally willing to indulge my foodblogging idiosyncrasies.

After a very long day of meetings on Wednesday, we wanted to go out to dinner. I showed him the list of restaurants that I'd assembled from my pre-trip research, and he picked out GeoGeskes. We actually ended up at Geskes Fire Grill, which is the sister restaurant to GeoGeskes and was much closer to where we were.

Despite the five TVs surrounding the bar, this would be a good restaurant to go to with a date, as there are a lot booths that really encourage sitting next to the person you're with. In fact, it was a little difficult in one of those booths to find a seating configuration that worked for a business meeting sort of dinner. But we managed.

My initial impression of the menu was fairly "eh." Burgers and other sandwiches, some not very exciting sounding entrees (although if I was a lobster fan I definitely would have been enticed by "The 'L' Pasta - Linguine, lobster, lemon, leeks.") I was also still recovering from the giant burrito I'd grabbed in the airport for lunch, so I think food just wasn't very appealing, and the idea of ordering an entree was overwhelming. So instead I ordered the sashimi appetizer and a house salad. José ordered a bacon cheeseburger with margarita fries.

As you can see in the pic, what they call sashimi isn't - it's a seared but still very rare piece of nice tuna. This happens to be just how I like my tuna, and the menu did state that it was seared, so I knew what I was getting myself into. It was drizzled with a sweet tamari glaze and sprinkled with sesame seeds and was all in all a delightful appetizer. The house salad was similarly well executed. Despite being an awfully busy salad - blue cheese, cashew bits, parmesan crackers, dried cranberries - it actually worked really well. It was perfectly dressed - a nice light coating of balsalmic vinaigrette on every leaf and not at all soggy.

José raved at length about his burger, but I didn't taste it so can't comment. I can, however, give huge raves to the margarita fries. This huge mound of shoestring fries with citrus salt would have fed at least two more people, and they were perfectly hot and crispy with a salty-sweet-sour tang. Excellent.

Service was not so good as the food, and at times it was actually overbearing. And my mojito was perhaps a little watery. Still, the food was much better than I expected from the menu, and I suspect those margarita french fries could be downright addictive.

Geske's Fire Grill
1506 Lee Treviño, Suite C
El Paso, TX

When I told José that I wanted to go to H&H Car Wash for lunch the next day, he was a little croggled. "No, really," I told him, "it's supposed to have really great food!" Later, as we walked past the people handwashing and detailing cars and into this divey little lunch counter, he made sure to remind me that he was doing this for me.

This was the first place I'd come across when I was searching for places to eat in El Paso. It seemed to be pretty high up on the lists of all the food cognoscenti. Here's a sample review from Chowhound. I knew I'd want to try some good Mexican food while I was in El Paso, so I decided to go for it. Lunch in a car wash - that would be a first!

As you'd expect, it's not much to look at. 3 tables and a bunch of stools at the counter. A stove covered in pots of this and that, which get moved out of the way to make room for other things. Menu posted on the wall.

We opted to try the chile rellenos and huevos rancheros. Both were good, although the chile rellenos were my favorite. José said they were almost as good as his mom's - high praise, indeed. He especially praised the beans, and when I asked him why, he told me that Mexican food is meant to be simple, and should taste like itself. Beans, cooked simply, mashed, and topped with just a little bit of cheese are the perfect example.

A pitcher full of potent salsa verdé added an extra kick to anything that needed it, and by the time we finished lunch, my face was bright red. A basket of fresh flour and corn tortillas on the side was the perfect accompaniment, and provided me with a fabulous revelation. Trying to tame the burn in my mouth, I finished up my lunch with a plain corn tortilla. It was amazing. I've had corn tortillas before, but they've been nothing to write home about. This one - just a locally made commercial one, not even handmade - tasted like pure, fresh sweet corn. A lovely finish to a lovely lunch.

H & H Car Wash and Coffee Shop
701 East Yandell Drive
El Paso, TX 79902