Saturday, July 24, 2010

sweet potato mac & cheese

i have a few food obsessions--raspberry lemon scones, oatmeal walnut chocolate chip cookies, spiced carrot muffins, purple potato frittatas, watercress sandwiches, tempeh bacon, aaaaand cheese. macaroni and cheese to wit. and this, my dears, is no ordinary variation on the classic casserole. this is IT. the macaroni and cheese i'd walk down the aisle with. it's smoky, it's sweet, crunchy and creamy, indulgent but healthy (not that it's bathing suit season or anything).

i should point out to my vegan friends that the key ingredient here is the sweet potato, not the cheese. you can substitute and modify any of the cheeses, but i really wouldn't lose the sweet potato (maybe butternut squash, but i'm not a big fan). i have been known in the past to jokingly describe my cooking as "50% vegan", which is ridiculous i know. but part of why i've been hesitant to post this recipe is precisely because it's a non-vegan dish inspired by the vegan version that calls for squash, sweet potato, or carrot to sweeten (and color) the cheese sauce. this sauce is healthy in the same way (no butter and plenty of veggies) and most of the cheese ends up on the top (slightly brown and crispy).

sweet potato mac & cheese

1-2 white-flesh sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup vegetable broth
1.5 cups plain (unsweetened) soymilk
1/2 tsp nutmeg
pinch of ground cayenne or chipotle pepper
1 lb. macaroni noodles
about 4 oz. grated smoked gouda
about 1 oz. finely grated parmesan
about 2 oz. grated sharp white cheddar
handful of arugula, coarsely chopped
1 slice of bread, coarsely chopped (for breadcrumbs)
1 tsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Bring milk and broth to a boil; add potatoes. Simmer about 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and add the macaroni. Cook according to package directions (about 8 min). Puree sauce with stick blender until smooth. Add nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper. Stir in all of the gouda cheese and half of the parmesan. Then toss macaroni and arugula with the sauce before added to greased baking dish. Top with the cheddar and remaining parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until cheese is slightly browned. Add breadcrumbs immediately before serving. To prepare breadcrumbs, broil the pieces of bread with olive oil and salt/pepper for 1-2 minutes.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

5 pounds of flour

Given access to Kristen's family's giant kitchen, a digital thermometer, chlorine-free water, and their Bread Bible, I went a little nuts last week ...

Olive bread
As I was reading the recipe, I KNEW this was going to taste like Charlie's olive bread and I was so right! Thin crust, chewy, almost doughy interior. I think this was my favorite of the four

This was Kristen's favorite and definitely the best texture-wise, perfect crust and pretty big holes. Instead of the durum flour that was suggested I used 1/4 cup of whole wheat pastry flour; I have no idea whether that was a reasonable substitute but it definitely tasted good.

Tuscan Low-Salt Bread
This one was a lot like the pugliese except drier and with (duh) less salt. I liked it on its own, but I think everyone else felt that it lacked... drumroll... salt. It was pretty perfect for sopping up Kris's excellent homemade pesto (that's about a pound of fresh pasta that we made there too!)

Bread Baker's Apprentice and a pound of instant yeast are en route from Amazon, and day 1 of a sourdough starter on the counter. Man I hope I never try heroin.

EDIT: I remembered that we also made banana bread from America's Test Kitchen, chocolate chip cookies, and two pizzas. So yeah, if you were wondering what happened to the gigantic jar of AP flour...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Basic hearth bread

Uh oh, I can already feel my addictive brain taking over. Kneading the stretchy soft dough, the crackling as it cools and the crust starts to contract on itself, the oddly holistic appeal of making so many different things from the same three ingredients...

This is my first time making bread from a sponge (or any kind of) starter. The sponge is a very wet mixture of flour, water, and yeast, with the consistency of thick pancake batter. I always thought that the point of fermenting was just for the bread to rise, but apparently giving the yeast more time to ferment changes the flavor dramatically too -- I am kind of in love with the Bread Bible.

So baking this thing was no small task, the sponge takes 4 hours, then you knead and/or shape and let it rise 3 times for about an hour each. It was unmistakably a (country?) white bread, not really sour like sourdough or super chewy like French or Italian bread, but it was crusty and tasty (unlike some previous attempts which have tasted sort of like raw flour) and very very good for plain ol' white bread... if I do say so myself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer time in my mind

It's been comically cloudy and cool in San Diego for the past couple weeks; while our friends in the north, east, northeast, northwest, south, and whatever Texas is are "enjoying" the full force of summer, we've been wearing jeans and debating light sweater or coat.

Now to be clear I am not complaining -- we do not lack sunny days, and today I count myself among the lucky few in the US who could survive preheating the oven to 500 so we could give the pizza stone K got for her birthday a test run. I'm really sorry I'm posting so much pizza but this one was too good to pass up. Yet another secret about yeast that I did not know -- it doesn't like chlorine (surprise surprise). In addition to sunny days, the other thing we have plenty of is chlorine in our tap water... So this time I heated up a cup of filtered water in the microwave for the bloom and it made a huge difference (also didn't hurt that I let it rise for two hours instead of my usual impatient one)

Made a quick red sauce (half an onion sauteed, a 15-oz can of roasted tomatoes, 1/3 cup of sugar, 1 tsp of cornstarch, salted to taste, and pulsed a few times in the blender), a few halfway-to-caramelized red onions, goat cheese, baked for about 8-9 minutes, and then topped with a handful of arugula (walnuts would be really good on this too, but I forgot). Holy macaroni it was good, and what a difference the pizza stone makes (if you don't have one, a 12" cast iron pan still works pretty great)

Here is a little Vietnamee-ish BĂșn salad with peanuts and a tamari-honey sauce that Kris made a couple days ago. Also I was psyched that these came out of the camera white balanced pretty much perfectly (tried the "PRE" setting for the first time -- awesome)

Bonus hardly bartending! From 4th of July weekend, I present the Mint Julep, a.k.a. Whiskey Snowcone (wouldn't that be a great band name? much better than Whiskeytown) Typically these are served in metal cups, I used the bottom half of my cocktail shaker which quickly became too cold to hold for more than a few seconds, which I have to imagine is part of the allure of the drink. Real southerners I'd love to hear if this is right or wrong:

Mint Julep

Muddle 10 mint leaves with 1/2 tsp simple syrup
Fill cup with shaved ice -- about 3/4 of an ice try pulsed a few times in the blender
Pour 2 1/2 oz (2 shots) of bourbon over the ice (I used Bulleit which I love and is pretty cheap at TJ's)
Stir and garnish with a few mint leaves and maybe a dash of powdered sugar sadly, I wasn't really aware of liquor when I lived in Georgia. I remember a SoCo with Lime poster at Rocky Mountain Pizza and Jaegermeister at every bar, but I'm guessing Coke's presence kind of killed the chances for any cocktails that weren't Beam and Coke or Bacardi and Diet, Which in retrospect really seems like a shame so close to Tennessee and Kentucky

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rosemary foccacia

I reeeeaaally don't know if I'm cut out for making bread ... the waiting is terrible! I managed a 2+1 hour rise rise for this, but overnight? I don't think I could stand it. Kristen, in a brilliant stroke of empty-refrigerator-as-mother-of-invention, put together some excellent (and photogenic) edamame hummus for sandwiches this afternoon.

All and all the bread was fun and turned out decent enough, but I'm sure it'll take a few more tries before I make something I'm really happy with. The recipe I used was basically a pizza dough recipe with a little bit more oil (I also tried subbing 1/2 cup of flour for cornmeal, but I wouldn't recommend that). The dough was certainly wetter than french bread, but I have a feeling it's supposed to be even wetter (and that feeling's name is Peter Reinhardt)

I won't post a recipe, but I did want to put up a couple pictures, mostly so the blog doesn't think I forgot about it.