In 2006, Mark Bittman wrote a short New York Times article about Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe. The recipe immediately insinuated itself into the food blogosphere. Over the following two years it propagated virally, infecting what seemed to be every last foodie blogger–every blogger, that is, except for me. It’s not that I wasn’t exposed. Although I don’t read many blogs, I do read the New York Times food section regularly. I was certainly not immune. I’m a lazy cook, and a lover of bread, so I should have been an early casualty. I managed to evade the recipe using one simple tactic: I avoided acquiring a 6- to 8-quart heavy, covered pot. Recently, however, I bought a 6-quart enameled cast-iron dutch oven, and immediately thereafter I caught the no-knead bug. Luckily, however, it was only a 24-hour bug.
I’m not sure whether the yeast I bought in Germany was instant yeast, but I hoped for the best. I left the dough sitting in front of the radiator, where it was probably slightly warmer than 70 degrees.
After the dough had risen for about 20 hours, I floured my work surface, and tried to pick up the dough and fold it over itself, but the dough was extremely sticky and stuck to everything. The same thing happened when I tried to shape the dough into a ball. I guess I should have used more flour? I coated a cotton towel with cornmeal, and I used a lot because I was afraid the dough would stick. I think I used too much, however, because the bread turned out with an unpleasantly thick layer of cornmeal over the top.
I let the dough rise in the cotton towels for 2 hours, but even though my kitchen was over 70 degrees, the dough hadn’t doubled in size.
I preheated my oven and left my dutch oven (but not the lid) inside for the specified amount of time, but my oven is finicky and the temperature may not have remained at 450 degrees the whole time.
The bread turned out really small and flat; it was kind of shaped like ciabatta, but the crust was tough rather than crisp, and the inside was very moist. It wasn’t doughy exactly–just kind of grey and more gluey than it should have been. Derek said it had a really weird, off flavor, but my sister Hanaleah said she liked it. I didn’t think the bread was good exactly, but unlike Derek I thought it was edible with something on it.
There are a number of steps that I could have gotten wrong, and I’d be tempted to try again, except for the fact that the recipe really made a mess. First I had to clean a dough-covered metal bowl. Then I had to clean the flour and dough from my cutting board, as well as my hands. Then I had a cornmeal covered towel to clean, as well as a large (and heavy) cast iron dutch oven to rinse out. I thought this no-knead recipe would also be no-clean and a no-brainer, but clearly I was mistaken. I may do some reading on other people’s experiences (and failures) with this recipe, and try it again, but I’ll be annoyed if I make so much mess a second time, without the stellar results that everyone else is getting.
On my sister’s final night in Saarbruecken I made dosas and an Indian dish with okra and onions. Hanaleah claimed not to like dosas (too spicy) or okra, but she really liked both my dishes. To go along with the dosas, Hanaleah decided to make raita. She started out with this Epicurious recipe for traditional cucumber raita, substituted red onions for the scallions, and added lemon juice and salt. Her raita was excellent, and although the recipe is quite simple, I wanted to remember it, so decided to post it here.
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 cup finely chopped cucumber (unpeeled)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 Tablespoon finely chopped red onions
- 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1? Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/4? tsp. salt
Here’s a raita recipe from the cookbook “Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking” by Julie Sahni:
- 1.5 cups plain yogurt, whisked til smooth
- 1 cup peeled, grated cucumber
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 1/2 tsp. ground roasted cumin for garnish
- 1/4 tsp. paprika for garnish
- cilantro or mint for garnish
She says it can be made 5-6 hours in advance, and makes 4 servings.
I went over to my friend Anusha’s for dinner and she made a really tasty raita. It didn’t have cucumber in it, but it had lots of onions. She gave me her recipe:
- 3 onions, chopped
- 1 pinch black salt
- 1-3 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1.5 cups yogurt [depends on how thick you want it to be]
- 1/2 tomato, chopped
- 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
Whenever I ask Derek what veggies he wants me to get at the store he invariably asks for the same thing: broccoli and cauliflower. I have a few recipes that are my regular weeknight standbys for these vegetables (sesame noodles, pan-fried broccoli, stuffed hashbrowns, and cauliflower curry), but I’d like a few more recipes to add to the rotation. I found this recipe for Sicilian broccoli and cauliflower pasta on 101 cookbooks, and it looked like something Derek would love. Heidi warns that it is a large recipe, but I decided to make the whole thing nonetheless. Because it’s such a big recipe, the instructions say to saute the broccoli, cauliflower, and onions in separate batches. Between all the chopping and sauteing, this was a pretty time consuming recipe. It’s definitely not a quick week night meal, which is what I was looking for. The recipe, however, is competently done—the final pasta came out just as I imagine it was supposed to. The vegetables were well cooked, the onions and garlic created a nice flavor base, I could taste the saffron and a touch of sweet from the raisins, the olive oil and pine nuts added a nice mouth-feel without the dish tasting heavy, and the fresh parsley added a final touch of freshness. My only complaint is that I couldn’t taste the rosemary, and I think the saffron should be soaked in warm water before adding it to the dish. But otherwise the recipe is fine as is.
Although the recipe is correct, and doesn’t really need many changes, I’m not sure I would make this recipe again. It was a lot of work and the final dish was just not that exciting to me. I’ve tried this sort of recipe before (an Italian-inspired dish with cauliflower, pine nuts, raisins, and saffron), but every time I’ve made it I’ve been a bit bored by the dish. It’s has plenty of flavor, just not my preferred flavors. I might be more inclined to make this dish again if I could make it into a quick, weeknight meal, perhaps by cutting the recipe in half and boiling the broccoli and cauliflower in the pasta water.
Derek seemed to like the dish more than me. I asked him which he preferred, this recipe or my variant of Heidi’s harissa pasta with chard. To my surprise, he said he liked this one! But then later when I went to write up this post and asked him to give me his rating he seemed unexcited about the dish, and denied that he ever said he preferred it over the Harissa pasta.
I’ve never been a big fan of eggs, but for some reason I was tempted by Heidi Swanson’s egg salad sandwich recipe. She says it’s the only egg salad she likes, which seemed like a good sign. I followed her instructions for boiling the eggs, but when I tried to peel them I couldn’t get the peel off without taking off some of the egg white as well. I’m not sure what I did wrong. The yolks seemed cooked, so I don’t think I undercooked the eggs.
The one change I made to the recipe was using yogurt instead of mayo. Heidi has another recipe for curried egg salad that calls for yogurt, so I figured it was a reasonable substitute.
The egg salad looked pretty, and it tasted okay, if a bit bland, but it kind of grossed me out. Something about all those eggs… Derek didn’t like it much either. He ate it when I gave it to him, but he didn’t really like it. He says he never really liked egg salad.
My friend Katrina, a kind hearted soul, sent me a care package containing Trader Joe’s thai lime and chili cashews, and a package of vital wheat gluten. I searched around for a while before deciding how to use the much-pined-after flour, and ended up choosing a recipe for steamed seitan from Kittee’s blog Cake Maker to the Stars, a recipe based on a steaming technique developed by Julie Hasson. The recipe calls for 3 cups of gluten, but I had just under 2 cups, so I cut the recipe by one third, even though Kittee explicitly says not to. Also, I added in a spoonful of peanut butter because I was trying to finish off a jar and peanut butter makes everything better. Kittee says the recipe should yield a 3 pound loaf, but I only ended up with 1 pound 12 ounces of seitan, slightly less than the 2 pounds I was expecting. I didn’t have any creole seasoning, so I read recipes for creole seasoning and created my own blend:
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1/2 tsp. onion powder
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp. white pepper
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne (more if you want the seitan to be spicy)
- 1/4 tsp. oregano
- 1/4 tsp. thyme
- 1/4 tsp. basil
The spice blend makes just over the 1 Tbs. of creole seasoning that the recipe calls for.
The recipe was a bit more work than I expected, because caramelizing the onions took forever, and I only have a mini food processor so I had to process the onions in batches. On the other hand, it did make a lot of seitan, and Kittee says it can be frozen. The other difficulty I had with this recipe is that I used a folding steamer basket in my largest pot, but the basket’s legs are only about 1 inch tall, so I couldn’t add that much water without boiling the seitan. I added water after 20 minutes but still ended up running out of water towards the end and burning my pan before I noticed that all the water was gone. Next time I’ll make sure there’s a good 3 inches of water in my pan at the beginning, even if I have to construct a make-shift steamer.
The flavor of this seitan was okay, but a bit too strong for me. I would prefer a more neutral seitan that could be used in many different types of dishes. The texture was better than the flavor. It wasn’t anything like boiled seitan–it was not spongy at all but denser and fattier tasting. The texture actually reminded me a lot of the White Mountain Foods “wheat roast” we used to buy in Austin when I was a kid, which was made with only gluten, peanut butter, and nutritional yeast, but had a perfect texture and rich, nutty flavor. I tried my seitan by itself, and it was okay but not exciting. I also tried it on a sandwich, but I didn’t care for the flavoring that much.
Derek liked this seitan more than me. He was so inspired that he even invented the “Seitanosaurus rex,” a dinosaur that resembles the velociraptor in Jurassic Park, but only eats (as Derek calls it) wheat meat. Every morning he would transform himself into the Seitanosaurus rex, and rove excitedly around the kitchen searching for “wheat meat”. Once he found it he would cut himself 4 slices (about 4 ounces) of seitan and sit down to a plate of “wheat meat and ketchup.” I thought it looked pretty gross, but Derek obviously liked it, as he singlehandedly finished almost the entire pound and a half of seitan. I asked Derek if the seitan tasted like meat, or tasted like creole anything, and he said no, not at all. Then he ate another slice of seitan.
July 27, 2009, 2nd try:
This time I got my hands on enough gluten flour to make the full recipe. I still made my own creole seasoning, but I didn’t add any peanut butter. The log was huge, and didn’t really fit into the steaming pot I was planning on cooking it in, but I kind of folded it in to make it fit. It grew as it steamed, however, and by the end had pushed the lid of the pot off. Nonetheless, the texture seemed fine and the seitan seemed well cooked. The texture is actually quite similar to the White Mountain wheat roast, and the flavor isn’t that different either. It’s a little less fatty tasting, and it doesn’t have the darker crust since it’s steamed not baked, but it has that same string-cheese like texture without being spongy like seitan often is. Derek said it wasn’t quite as good as the last time, because the flavor is more mild, but still he likes it a lot.
May 2010, 3rd try:
I made the full recipe and added a little peanut butter for flavoring. This time I forgot to mix the onion/tomato/seasoning mixture with the water before mixing in the gluten flour. I had the seasoning mixture in the bottom of a big bowl, I poured the dry ingredients on top, then poured on the water. I totally forgot that as soon as you add the water the gluten flour goes from flour to long, tight strands of gluten. It’s very difficult to work the seasoning into the gluten mass. I tried kneading it together and got the seasoning paste distributed somewhat, but there were still lots of spots without any seasoning. I shaped the dough into a fatter, squatter shape so it would fit in my steaming basket, and I steamed it for the full time. The seitan around the edges was a little hard and dry. Perhaps I should have steamed it for a slightly shorter time? The result of my fiasco was actually pretty interesting. The seitan was “marbled”. The places where the seasoning paste were worked in were dark and a little fatty, and the places that hadn’t gotten any seasoning paste were paler and less fatty. It gave the seitan a bit of a meaty look too it. Derek said “Ah, you made me a pot roast!” I don’t know about the meatiness, but I quite enjoyed it. The flavors are more mild than the first time I made it, and more to my taste.
Derek really liked the last red lentil dish I made from the Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, and I love Ethiopian food, so I thought I’d try SusanV’s Ethiopian inspired red lentil soup.
The recipe calls for a non-stick pan, but I used my stainless steel 3 quart saucepan, and added a tsp. of olive oil to saute the onion. My choice of pan was a mistake however, as this recipe makes about 4 quarts of stew! I wish SusanV had mentioned this when specifying a pan. Once the lentils were done cooking and I had to add in all the vegetables I had to move the stew into my 6 quart casserole pan. I used frozen green beans and frozen spinach and canned tomatoes, but even so making the stew took longer than I had expected. I didn’t want to mix up a large batch of berbere, so I thought I’d just add each spice directly to the pot. SusanV says to add 1/8 tsp. of each spice, but that would only add up to about 1/2 Tablespoon of berbere, whereas the recipe calls for 2 to 3 Tablespoons. I’m not sure why her numbers are off, but I added about 1/2 tsp. of each spice. I added less than a quarter teaspoon of cloves and allspice, as these spices are much stronger than the others. I was surprised that the recipe calls for them in the same quantities as the other spices.
The final dish is more like a thick, creamy vegetable stew than a red lentil soup. The stew tastes very healthy and is pretty filling, and the flavor is fine, but the dish is a tad boring. I served the dish with dosas and raita, and Derek said it was okay as a dosa filling, but not tasty enough to serve for company. It’s possible that if I had made the berbere mix and put in the full amount of all the spices the flavor would have been better, but I doubt it. It was actually pretty strongly seasoned, just not a terribly interesting seasoning.
In October, Derek and I took a belated honeymoon to Tuscany, and lucked into a succession of nine perfect Autumn days: sunny blue skies, warm (but not hot) afternoons, and cool (but not cold) nights. The weather was more consistently fabulous than the food, but in the course of our holiday we did have a number of memorable food experiences. Here are my top ten food memories from our ten day trip to Tuscany. Read the rest of this entry »