Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Loaf Of Bread, A Pot Of Soup, And Thou….(and, please God, let’s not forget the wine !!)

Last week, we had a blessed (but lamentably brief) blast of actual Fall weather here in SoCal.  It was LOVELY.  It was chilly.  It rained, one day in just a short, fierce, burst, which faded into a real chill in the air, and the next in a sustained, day-long, gentle shower that made that lovely sound of rain falling from the eaves.  I loved it.  It made me feel as though I actually lived in a place that has *SEASONS* (well, other than smog, fire, flood and urban unrest…..).  I actually put on a pair of sweat pants.  I actually toyed with the idea of turning on the heater (which usually doesn’t happen until around Thanksgiving).  I actually toyed with the idea of building a fire in the fireplace.

Sadly, it didn’t last long.  Today was 102° in my little burg.  A new record for October 12 !  Yay us.  Or not.  My kitchen is still unbearable at 9:30 at night.  Luckily, I *DIDN’T* make the pot roast I’d planned for today…..

But last week, last week was lovely.  Knowing early on in the week that rain was forecast, and feeling the change in the weather, I had the bright idea to make soup and bread on that rainy Wednesday.  I had gotten that adorable little butternut squash in my CSA share the week before, (the one in the “décor photo” for the blog this month) and when I saw it, hoped it would soon be cool enough for me to make this delightful red chile and winter squash soup I’d discovered last year.  And really, what could be better with homemade soup than homemade bread.  Just the thing to warm the heart (and the soul), not to mention the kitchen, on a drizzly, coolish (OK, full disclosure….when I say there was a chill, it was like 65°, for SoCal, that’s a chill) autumnal Wednesday.

Sadly, I also attempted to make a fig tart with what I suspect was the last of this season’s figs.  I say sadly because, well, it was a mess.  You won’t be seeing pictures or a description of that.  I had high hopes for it, I’d made it last year and it was pretty spectacular.  It’s a brown-butter custard poured over halved fresh figs, which are layered in a “deep-dish” tart pan.  For what ever reason this time out, the custard never wanted to set.  Maybe because I did two layers of figs.  Maybe because I put the tart pan (actually my spring-form cake pan) on another baking sheet to contain any leaks (which I didn’t do last year).  Maybe it was the Kitchen Karma biting me in the butt.  Who knows?  But after cooking the damnable thing THREE TIMES longer than the recipe called for, when I stuck a knife in the middle, it was still liquid.

Damn.  I hate when that happens….

I did eat one slice (small), and while it was not gag-inducing (now there’s a ringing endorsement, isn’t it?), it was also not what I’d call good.  So the rest of the miserable mess sleeps at the bottom of the trash can, after languishing in the fridge for three or four days until I killed my guilt over tossing it.

As I said, we won’t be seeing that, nor discussing it any longer.  Move along people, nuthin’ more to talk about here.

Let’s move onto a beautifully successful soup and a flavorful, hearty loaf of hearth bread, shall we?  Works for me….

Bread first, because its the easiest.

Well, *FIRST* first, here’s a gratuitous fig-porn shot, because IF the tart had worked, that would’ve been the lead photo because, well, I don’t think there’s anything more gorgeous than these little gems.

*SNIFFFFFF* Until next Summer my little pretties….until next Summer.  I won’t forget you.

OK, now onto the bread.

No lineup of characters, that gig’s getting old, and you all know by now what goes into bread.  You gots your flour (this used both bread flour and whole wheat), your salt, your yeast, your water and your honey.  I also threw in some chopped chives I had that were slowly rotting in the fridge.  Only down-side was I used much too light of a hand.  It smelled delightfully “chivey” while it was baking, but the flavor was muted when the bread was done.

Here’s the loaf after 2 rises and shaping, and about to be slashed.  Looking good.

And after baking.

I actually did a pretty decent job of slashing this loaf !  I’m impressed with me.  Not that I expect that talent to last very long.

And again, the crumb.  A pretty decent loaf.  Made good toast, and I really liked it in a tomato sammie a couple of days later.  The full recipe will be down below.

So, the soup.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I fell into having a cookbook called The Greens Cook Book.  Now, “Greens” is a well-known restaurant in San Francisco that is, well….vegetarian.  The founder of Greens, Deborah Madison, cooked at Chez Panisse.  She’s the author of the book.  I can only imagine I received the book as a gift, because, well, *I* most certainly am not vegetarian.  Not even close.  I loves me my red meat.  My FATTY red meat, especially…..

But I digress, as usual.  The book sat, totally unused, on my cookbook rack in the kitchen for probably twenty years.  Never even so much as cracked after the initial perusal.  I mean….it’s ewwwww, vegetarian !

About a year ago, I found a wonderful website called Eat Your Books.  These fabulous folks have taken it upon themselves to index cookbooks (and food magazines, and food blogs), and create a searchable database of recipe titles, the books/magazines/blogs they appear in and the ingredients needed.  They don’t give you the actual recipe, but they give you the reference.  You enter the publisher’s information about your cookbooks, and create a personal library.  When you hit that inevitable wall of “I have XXXX, what can I make with it?” you go to Eat Your Books, type in the ingredient, et voila, you get a list of recipes that call for that ingredient, IN BOOKS THAT ARE ALREADY IN YOUR COLLECTION !  Brilliant, simply brilliant.

So, when faced with winter squash earlier this year from The Growing Experience (which, as we’ve already discussed, I have a dubious relationship with, the squash, not the CSA), I found, through Eat Your Books, this delightful soup recipe in a book I had but never used.  Why……that would be The Greens Cook Book.

And a love affair was born.

This soup was, I believe, completely responsible for my conversion to appreciating winter squash.  It’s so rich, and so deep, and the flavors are so complex and blend so well, that my little mind was well and truly blown, and I counted the days until I could make it again.  That day was that chilly, rainy, dreary Wednesday last week.

So, the first thing you do is split your squash (and you can use any type of hard, winter squash), and pull out the seeds and the stringy gunk from the middle.  But…but….here’s part of the genius !  DON’T THROW THEM AWAY !  Don’t even compost them.  Plop them into a pan with some aromatics and cover with water.  Peel the squash and toss the peelings into the pot.  Then simmer that down for about half an hour to make a stock.

Drain the solids out

and save the stock.  Press on the solids to make sure you extract all the goodness from the debris.  NOW you can discard the solids.  They've done their duty, they've given their all and should be appreciated for their sacrifice.  For a brief moment, before you dump the strainer.  But they left good things, really good things, behind.

Then, you want to roast a bell pepper and some tomatoes, if you’re using fresh.  Remember how we roasted those poblanos back when we did the corn recipes?  That’s what you want to do with the bell and the tomatoes.  Or go under the broiler.  When the skins have blackened and charred, toss the pepper into a plastic bag to steam, and when cool, scrape off the skin.  Same deal-io with the tomatoes, although they won’t need to be steamed.

If you’re using fresh tomatoes (as I was), then you’ll need to scrape off the charred peel, and seed them, but save the juice.  What I did was split the peeled tomato across the equator (the center, crosswise) and pull out the seeds and jelly into a strainer set over a bowl.  Then I diced up the flesh and set it aside, while letting the seeds drain out.  I periodically pressed down on them, too, to extract as much juice as I could.

In the back left corner (in the dark…….lighting in the little kitchen is becoming an issue), is the strainer with the tomato seeds/jelly draining the juice.  On the cutting board in front of it is the diced tomato flesh.  In the middle is the cubed, peeled butternut squash and the diced, peeled red pepper, and then there’s the draining rig for the stock.

If you're using canned tomatoes, skip the whole roasting, peeling bit (and the dicing if you use pre-diced 'maters), and just dump the can into a strainer and drain them.  If you have a choice, use canned tomatoes that are fire-roasted.  They're pretty easy to find at most MegaMarts.

You’re going to want some heat in this, so we’ll use either a dried ancho chile that you reconstitute with hot water and purée, or some ancho or chipotle chile powder.  This time through, I used the chile powder.   Last time I used the dried ancho and puréed it.  It was better with the purée.  I wouldn’t use the powder again.

Heat up some butter in a soup pot, and sauté some onion and garlic.  Dump in the chopped tomatoes (reserve any juice on the board), some of the chile purée and salt and let stew a bit.  Then add the squash cubes, the red pepper the tomato juice and the stock.

Before stock:

Pretty colors, no?  Looks like Autumn to me.

Let that simmer until the squash starts to fall apart.  At that point, you can either mash the squash with a potato masher or a large spoon, or blitz it with a stick blender.  This time around, I mashed.

I didn’t love the texture so much as when I blitzed last time.  I’d recommend blitzing, either with a stick blender or carefully in a jar blender or food processor.  Taste, and add more stock or water if you don’t like the texture.  Add more of the chile purée if you want more spice, and adjust salt and pepper.

Now, take some fresh mint and fresh parsley

and mince the hell out of them.

Stir those into the soup right, and I mean RIGHT before you serve it.  You want those to POP and be fresh and bright.  I might even mix them together after chopping, plunk them into a little serving dish and offer them on the side for diners to add right as they start to eat.  Don’t be tempted to skip the herbs.  They totally MAKE the dish.  Totally.  The mint, especially, just brings all the flavors together.


Love in a bowl.  Sure will make you all warm and cozy on the inside (unless it’s 102° in your kitchen, and then, well, we just won’t talk about it, will we?).

Here’s both recipes.  Bread first.

Rose’s Hearth Bread With Chives
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe on the back of the Gold Medal bread flour bag
Makes 1 loaf (12 slices)

3&1/3 cups bread flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1&1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1&1/4 teaspoons yeast
1&1/3 cups warm (95-105°) water
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

In medium bowl, stir together flours, salt and yeast.  Stir in water, honey and chives.  Knead with stand mixer until smooth and springy, but still slightly sticky.  For me, with my KA, in my kitchen, on that day, it took about 12 minutes, but I literally checked every 5 minutes to make sure I didn’t overknead the dough.  As always, adjust with minute amounts of water and/or flour to make the dough the correct consistency.   Form dough into a round, and place in an oiled large bowl or dough doubler, turning dough to cover all sides with oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place for about one hour, or until doubled.

Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal or line with parchment.  Alternatively, sprinkle a baker’s peel with cornmeal.  Gently deflate dough, and again shape into a round ball.  Place on prepared sheet or peel, cover with an oiled piece of plastic wrap.  Set aside to rise for about 45 minutes, or until doubled in size again.  Place baking stone on lowest oven rack.  Heat oven to 475°F.  Place a shallow, empty baking pan on the other rack of the oven.

When the dough has doubled, carefully slash an “X” in the top of the round.  Mist the top of the dough with cool water.  Either place the baking sheet on the hot stone, or transfer the loaf from the peel to the hot stone.  CAREFULLY pour hot water into the empty baking pan, and close the oven door.

Bake 10 minutes, reduce temperature to 425°F and bake an additional 20 minutes.  Cool completely on wire rack.  Serve.

Other add-ins:  Up to 1/4 cup of 1 or 2 of the following—chopped Kalamata olives, roasted garlic cloves, diced sun-dried tomatoes, shelled sunflower seeds, or 1 teaspoon fresh (1/2 teaspoon dried) herbs such as time, basil or rosemary.

Winter Squash Soup with Red Chile and Mint
Adapted from The Greens Cook Book by Deborah Madison
Serves 4-6

For the Stock
Seeds, inner fibers and peelings of 2&1/2 pounds winter squash
2 celery stalks, diced
1 onion, roughly chopped or diced
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried sage leaves
1 teaspoon salt
8 cups cold water

Halve the squash and scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff with a spoon.  Place in a pot with the rest of the ingredients, including the squash peelings.  Cover with water.  Bring to a boil, turn the heat down, and simmer for 25 to 35 minutes, then strain, pressing on solids to extract all the liquid.  Discard solids.

For the Soup
2&1/2 pounds winter squash (butternut, Perfection, Sugar pumpkin, or other)
1 red bell pepper (or an equivalent amount of jarred, roasted red peppers….piquillos are aweSOME !)
1 pound fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, juice reserved
1 dried ancho chile for chile purée
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
6-7 cups squash stock (from above, extend with water or chicken broth if not worried about veggie-only issues)
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon mint, chopped

Cut the peeled squash into about 1/2-inch square pieces.  Roast the red pepper over a flame or under the broiler until the skin is charred then set it aside in a covered bowl or plastic baggie to steam until cool enough to handle.  Then scrape off the blackened skin, remove the seeds and pith, and dice.  If using fresh tomatoes, roast them as well, but there’s no need to steam.  Just remove skin, then cut in half, scoop out the seeds and jelly and drain, and dice.

Take ancho chile and remove stems, seeds and veins.  Cover with boiling water and soak for 20 minutes.  Blend until smooth (with an immersion or regular, jar blender).

Heat butter and oil in a soup pot.  Add the onion and garlic, and sauté over medium-low heat until soft, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes, half of the chile purée and salt, and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Add the cubed squash, the roasted pepper, reserved tomato juice and 6 cups of the squash stock.  Simmer until the squash starts to dissolve into a purée, about 25 to 40 minutes.  Blend with an immersion blender, or process carefully in a jar blender or food processor.  Adjust consistency with additional stock/water/broth to desired thickness.  Adjust seasonings with additional chile purée as desired and with salt and pepper.  Add chopped herbs at the last moment and serve.

If it's bread (or made with yeast), the cool place to be is Yeastspotting ! 

(PS—10/13/16 Happy Birthday Momma !)

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