Sunday, May 30, 2010

Grilled Halibut with Indian Spices and Yellow Tomatoes

I did not grill the halibut.

David Tanis, in his (recently mentioned) exquisite cookbook, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, says this is okay. Feel free to bake it, broil it, or pan-cook it. I threw it in the oven, but look forward to throwing it on the barbeque next time.

For some reason, I have a bit of grill-phobia. I don't know why, but I have trouble summoning up the strength to barbeque. Must be a mental block. I need to wrestle this problem to the ground, because I know I am missing out. Big time.

I've noticed a theme weaving through many of my cooking posts... simplicity. This surprises me a bit. I like more complicated cooking, and used to do a good deal more of it, but these days Fe is taking up even more of my time and energy. I tend to seek out recipes and dishes that don't require quite as much effort. I'm sure that in time this too will begin to change.

In the meantime, this halibut is fantastic. These are spices that I don't typically use when I cook fish. Cumin, coriander, fennel seed, cloves, turmeric, and cayenne. I'm more of a tarragon, chervil, lemon zest, and chives kind of girl when it comes to fish.

I'm thrilled for the change. The subtle heat of the spices is brilliant with the thick, moist flesh of the halibut.

Just be sure that your halibut is very fresh and purchased from a reputable fish monger or grocery store. I gave the new fish wholesaler near our home a shot, and I was very disappointed with the quality of the halibut. That being said, this recipe still managed to shine.

The slivered mint that you scatter over the fish gives a fresh contrast to the fish, as does the yogurt sauce.

The raita-like sauce also carries contrasts within itself. Cool, thick, whole-milk yogurt is refreshing against the warmth of the fish and its spices, but don't let it fool you. It has its own punch from the mustard seeds, garlic, ginger and serrano chile.

I love the sauce. I can't stop spooning it over the fish. Tanis recommends using it as a dressing for cucumber salad. I will certainly try this in the near future. Perfect summer fare.

I halved the recipe, because A. and I were dining alone. We still have enough for another meal. I served the fish with roasted yellow potatoes tossed with green garlic and thyme picked from the garden that Fe and I have been tending, along with steamed brussels sprouts and butter.

(And holy mackerel! I've learned something new. It's brussels not brussel. Yet another embarrassing confession!)

Most of the recipes in A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes serve eight, so I am anxious to use this cookbook to kick-start our summer entertaining. We have fallen far far behind.

Grilled Halibut with Indian Spices and Yellow Tomatoes

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
6 cloves
1 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
8 halibut fillets or steaks, about 6 ounces each
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 yellow tomatoes, cut into small wedges
yogurt sauce (recipe follows)
a handful of mint leaves

In a dry cast-iron pan (or other heavy skillet), toast the cumin, coriander, fennel, and cloves over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and grind fine (Note to self: Get another grinder! Cleaning out coffee to make dinner or cleaning out spices to make coffee is a pain in the arse!). Put the ground spices in a small bowl and add the turmeric and cayenne.

Place the halibut on a baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the fish, then massage it in. Cover and refrigerate for up to several hours. Bring the fish to room temperature before cooking.

Prepare a fire in a charcoal grill. Grill the halibut over medium coals for 3 minutes per side, until just opaque throughout (the fish can also be cooked under the broiler, baked in a hot oven, or pan-cooked).

Arrange the halibut on a large platter and surround with the yellow tomatoes. Sprinkle the tomatoes lightly with salt. Spoon a little yogurt sauce onto each portion and pass the rest at the table. Sliver the mint leaves with a sharp knife and scatter over the platter.

Yogurt Sauce

3 cups whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 serrano chile, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Put the yogurt in a bowl. In a small frying pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the mustard and cumin seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add the garlic and let it sizzle, without browning, about 10 seconds or so.

Scrape the contents of the pan into the yogurt. Stir in the ginger and chile. Season with salt and pepper. The sauce will keep in the fridge for a day or two.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Carrot and Coriander Salad

For Mother's Day my sister Mo gave me A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis.

Tanis works for six months out of the year as head chef at Chez Panisse. He spends the rest of the year in Paris, where he hosts a private dining club.

Lucky dog! He's living at least part of my fantasy life.

The book is gorgeous, and immediately I want to try every recipe. They all seem to be my kind of cooking: seasonal, family-style, simple, and stunningly beautiful.

These are the kind of recipes that will impress your friends and family, but won't keep you away from your friends and family for too long. What pleases me is that I already have all the ingredients I need to make at least a couple of them.

I dive into the recipe for "Carrot and Coriander Salad" straightaway. Tanis is correct when he advises you to use a mandoline or a Benriner to julienne your carrots.

Turns out my Benriner is dull, and thus far too dangerous to use. I make a half-recipe and, given my knife skills are not what they ought to be, it takes me almost 30 minutes to julienne one pound of smallish carrots.

(Ssh. Don't tell anyone. I'm embarrassed!)

After the carrots have been tackled, everything else is a cinch.

You add lots of citrus, plus toasted cumin, coriander, garlic and shallots. Combine that with chopped fresh cilantro and a small blast of heat, and you have a bracing Moroccan salad that is actually good for you. (Figured it was time for something like this, after the carbonara and pot roast!)

Tanis garnishes the salad with green olives. I think this is fine, but not strictly necessary. He sprinkles the cilantro on top, and I mixed mine in. I think you can go either way. I do like and will definitely try his suggestion for a spicier version, adding slivered red onions and jalapeño chiles.

David Tanis' halibut with Indian spices and chilled pink borscht coming soon!

Carrot and Coriander Salad

2 pounds carrots, peeled
salt and pepper
1 large shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground (You can toast and grind the spices together.)
red pepper flakes or cayenne (I used red pepper flakes.)
juice of 1 to 2 lemons
olive oil
good green olives, such Picholine or Lucques (not pitted)
1 bunch cilantro

Julienne the carrots into long slivers, put them in a large bowl, sprinkle lightly with salt, and toss. Add the shallot, garlic, cumin, coriander, red pepper flakes, and lemon juice. Toss well, and let soften a bit.

Add olive oil to coat, then adjust the seasoning with lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and red pepper. Cover and set aside at cool room temperature for up to several hours, or refrigerate and then return to room temperature to serve.

Toss the salad again to distribute the seasoning, and heap on a large platter.

Squeeze a little fresh lime juice over, and garish with green olives. Roughly chop some cilantro and scatter it over the salad. Strew sprigs of cilantro and lime wedges around the salad, if you like.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Summer's Aperitif

The weather is slowly starting to warm up, with summer just around the corner. Why wait to cool your heels? Here's a refreshing way to toast in the new season!

Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry Blanc.

We drink quite a bit of vermouth in our house. Mostly a mix of the red and dry Italians (Cinzano or Martini & Rossi). Half and half is about right with just a splash more red.

It's great with a lemon twist, either on or off the rocks. But just try ordering it in a bar -- Huh?! The bartender will shrug, puzzled.

You'll have to trust me on that.

Lately, I've been fooling around with the French. Dolin makes red, dry, and white ("Blanc" -- also famously known in Italy as Bianco). They have been in production since the 1820's and are the only maker of Vermouth to have earned the Appelation d'Origine for Vermouth.

I've been drinking the Blanc on the rocks with a lemon twist. It is not too sweet, herbaceous, and dry. Apparently made with some fifty-four herbs and plants, Dolin's Blanc has a gorgeous nose.

At 16% alcohol, it's good to have a new drink that is lighter than my usual Jameson Irish Whiskey or my summertime G&Ts.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Bistro Blues Pt. 2: BOOOO-chon

A. took me to dinner at Bouchon Bistro a few weekends ago.

Good news, right? How exciting to finally check out Thomas Keller's Los Angeles venture! S. Irene Virbila of the L.A. Times was all raves.

No doubt I am a huge Thomas Keller fan -- the French Laundry blew my mind back in '99. And I know that Bouchon is not supposed be a French Laundry or a Per Se. But still, I had high hopes.

When I think of Keller, I think excellence. I have read the books about him. And I have read the books by him. He is a perfectionist. So sure, I had high hopes.

So. Well. Hmm...

Not so great.

To begin with the small stuff, the entrance is difficult to find. We needed the kitchen staff to point us in the right direction. The entry is not inviting. There is a lobby with no one in it. And it is not obvious that you are in the right place at all. Where is everyone?

Once you make your way up the stairs, there is a smidgen of life, but it still isn't clear that you have arrived anywhere in particular. The cookbooks on the table are a clue, but when the lady behind the counter has your reservation, frankly you feel relieved.

This is it!

We sat and waited a bit. Then a little bit more. I mentioned to A. that if I didn't have so much confidence in Keller, I would be having reservations myself about the start to our evening.

We were escorted to our seats. Right off the bat, we have the high point of the evening! We were seated at the corner table next to our former governor, Gray Davis. Thin man, looking every bit like a network anchor, but more, well, gray. Now folks, let's face it... that is a rather low high point, indeed.

We were still filled with nervous jitters and anticipation. All the excitement was still ahead of us! The potential to be delighted was all there, and we were ready to be delighted.

So we order cocktails, and when they are slow to come, our lovely server crouches discreetly into the table, says that Bouchon does not operate like this and conveys that they are very sorry. The drinks are on the house.

How thoughtful. She's sweet. And the drinks are fine, though not the stuff of memory, and unfortunately the rest of the evening proceeds in the same vein.

We start with brandade fritters, salmon rillettes, and the special octopus salad.

The fritters are tasty, but sit strangely upon an oven-dried tomato. It's not clear what the relationship between the two is. Compared to the scrumptious and light brandade fritters that we have had twice recently at Lazy Ox, these are bulky and too dense. Perhaps something bright to dip them in or a little herb salad with an acid kick would help.

The salmon rillettes tucked in a little mason jar are delicious. Recalling the evening, this was the standout dish. Using both smoked and fresh salmon is a nice touch. Very rich, but so very good on the crisp toasts.

Appetizer number three, the octopus salad, is forgettable. The octopus is prepared sous-vide. I guess this is innovation, but if so, so what? I find the octopus appetizers at both Osteria Mozza and Lazy Ox to be far superior and the octopus is simply grilled in both. Again, a little more acid would have helped perk up the bean salad. The flavors are too basic, even after running the octopus through the rouille.

What really kills the night though is the interminable wait for the entrees. At least forty-five minutes passes before we catch a glimpse of my duck breast and A.'s leg of lamb.

The server completely forgets that A. has ordered wine. So he starts to eat without the benefit of something to wash down the mealy, almost leathery leg. So disappointing. He makes a crack about Cormac McCarthy's The Road and eating pressed meats out of tins. This lamb really is not good! We would have liked to mention this to our server, but she has vanished. And remains so for a long time.

The duck breast on the other hand is very good. It's cooked to a perfect medium rare, the skin crisp and salty. The tangy citrus and crunchy fennel and radish are a terrific counterpoint to the soft fatty meat.

But we still can't get past the lamb. Or our server's disappearance. By the time she reappears carrying dessert menus -- well after our plates have been cleared, our sighs have been aired, and our email has been checked, several times over -- we just don't care anymore.

Nope, we didn't want dessert. We wanted to leave.

We paid and walked out. No one even noticed us leaving. No good-byes. No thank yous. It was as if we had stopped respirating in this high-ceilinged hotspot at some point mid-appetizers.

A. and I were depressed. The whole drive across town was spent mourning the loss of our evening, our money, and our time. We were shocked. How could Thomas Keller have let us down so badly? How could it have gone so wrong? A. was practicing his curses.

I woke up the next morning in a funk. I could not shake the feelings of regret and disappointment.

I did feel determined to do something. Thomas Keller would want to know about this failure! The good perfectionist would insist on knowing how terribly wrong our evening had gone. I was resolved to tell someone.

I called Bouchon a few days later and attempted to speak to Greg Rowen, the general manager. Away from his desk, I was given his email address. Fool's errand or not, I spent Fe's whole three hour nap one afternoon composing my email to Rowen. And sent it.

That was two weeks ago, and I've heard absolutely nothing from Rowen or Bouchon. Maybe it's the vain expectation of the sort of person who writes letters to the editor -- like a Greenberg writing to Starbucks or something. I had hoped for some kind of acknowledgement or apology. I just assume a certain level of professionalism in a good restaurant. Any level of concern would have been better than to be completely ignored.

Three days ago, I forwarded the email to what I guessed might be Thomas Keller's address at Bouchon. It has not bounced back, but I cannot be sure that Keller will receive it.

Am I crazy? Ah well, there it is.

Please don't rush to Bouchon, just because it might be your hero's restaurant. You may feel gipped. And horribly discouraged.

Bouchon Bistro
235 N. Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Friday, May 21, 2010

Italian Pot Roast

If you're looking to be comforted, I may have just the recipe for you.

It's the perfect recipe for those of you who are looking to satisfy your slow-cooked beef and pasta craving. For those of you who do not want to put in much effort -- just the time for a long slow simmer -- this goes out to you too.

And lucky us, it is yet another recipe stolen from my mother's repertoire!

We have been eating this Italian pot roast with rigatoni forever. Little wonder: it warms you up when cold, it soothes you when you're down. It can feed a large group if you double it.

A great make-ahead recipe for casual entertaining, it's delicious the first night, and even better the second and third. Very handy indeed.

I love having this dish in my back pocket when I don't know what to cook. The list of ingredients is short. I know it by heart. If I am wandering around the aisles of the market uninspired and lost, I can always turn to this Italian pot roast.

The soft, slow-cooked chuck roast falls apart in a bath of tomatoes and mushrooms. The scent of garlic and rosemary will waft through the house and out the window, watering the mouths of all of your neighbors.

I tend to always serve it with rigatoni. I love the ridges and I love the way the sauce laps into the tubes. That said, I may actually be forced to use penne to finish off the leftovers. Things could be worse.

You are supposed to serve the sauce with the rigatoni as a first course, and then slice the meat and serve it with vegetables as the main course. I never do this. I prefer to eat the meat with the pasta in a soup plate (that's for you, dad!) and to have a garlicky green salad on the side.

For me, freshly grated parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes are a must. For others, maybe just the parm.

Italian Pot Roast

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, smashed
salt and pepper
3 pound boneless chuck roast
1 large can whole tomatoes, preferably san marzano
1 bay leaf
2 branches fresh rosemary
1 cup red wine
10 or so mushrooms, sliced
1 pound rigatoni

Heat oil in a large heavy pot. Add garlic, cook until golden, and then remove. Do not let it get too dark, or everything will taste bitter.

Generously salt and pepper the beef all over. Sear on all sides until dark brown.

Lower the flame. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, rosemary, and wine. Cook for 2-3 hours, until very tender. If it is not tender, keep cooking.

Remove the meat. Add the sliced mushrooms and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the rigatoni in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente.

Either serve the rigatoni with the mushroom and tomato sauce as a first course and the sliced meat as a main, or do as I do and serve both the sliced meat and sauce over the rigatoni.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pasta Carbonara

Pasta Carbonara is very likely my favorite pasta dish. With just a little bit of practice, it is a snap to make and the payoff is huge. A great dish to impress a date! Although best when it is chilly, I don't know anyone who would turn it down in the middle of summer.

It pops up on a lot of menus, but so many versions are inauthentic. Who uses cream in Pasta Carbonara?!? Sacrilege.

Traditionally the ingredients include pecorino, guanciale, and raw eggs. There seems to be significant debate about this. Some people even use white wine! Ack!

I do think there is flexibility when it comes to the pork and the cheese. I routinely use parmesan. I have never used guanciale. Sinner!

I'll use pancetta, but am completely satisfied with bacon. And I'll also confess that I like to add red pepper flakes (from Penzey's, preferably) and chopped parsley.

Hilariously, I have just read this quotation in Giuliano Bugialli's Bugialli on Pasta: "Of course, smoked bacon should never be substituted in this dish, since pancetta itself must dominate." See what I mean?

Damani Thomas taught me how to make this dish back at Oswald in Santa Cruz. It has been in my repertoire for about fifteen years. Thank god.

The idea is to combine the hot fat from the olive oil and bacon with the raw eggs to make a creamy emulsion. The hot fat cooks the eggs.

There is a luscious quality to this dish. It is creamy and rich thanks to the eggs, the cheese and the fat. But there is also the garlic kick and the salt of the pork and the heat of the chili that satisfy your most constant cravings. Or mine, anyway.

Pasta Carbonara

1/2 pound or a bit more spaghetti (or linguine if you have recently discovered that this is your favorite pasta, like me)
2 eggs (I figure an egg per person.)
8 or so slices of bacon, chopped into lardons or approximately 1/2 cup pancetta, chopped into lardons (This could vary depending on your love of pork.)
4 or so tablespoons olive oil
1 cup or more grated parmesan
2 or 3 plump cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
red pepper flakes, to taste
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it. Cook the spaghetti until al dente.

Cook bacon in a large sauté pan in olive oil, until browning but not too crisp. Add garlic and stir. Do not let the garlic brown. If necessary remove from heat until pasta is ready.

Meanwhile whisk eggs in a large metal bowl. Mix in cheese, parsley, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Drain spaghetti and add to the pan of bacon. Stir until combined and the spaghetti and oil are hot.

Add the ingredients in the pan to the egg mixture, stirring immediately until well combined and you have arrived upon a creamy sauce. If necessary, stir while holding metal bowl over heat for a minute.

Taste for salt and pepper.

Serve immediately. This cools far too quickly, so hurry up!

Serves 2.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Umami Burger - How Fun, Indeed!

Wednesday is the one day that I have a few hours to myself. I try to use the time wisely, balancing things that must be done with things that might make me feel good. A good companion for the fun portion of Wednesday is my sister, Mo.

And how fun indeed! This Wednesday, we remembered that Umami Burger is in my neck of the woods. To lunch we went.

Shame-faced, I admit that I still had not tried Umami Burger. Everyone has been, and most really love it. For me, it hasn't been for lack of desire, just lack of opportunity. Fe takes up a lot of time!

Mo ordered the Manly Burger, which comes with "smoked salt onion strings" (huh?), bacon lardons and beer-cheddar cheese. She threw in french fries to round it out.

Since Mo is a cheese-hater, I didn't get to sample the beer-cheddar. Too bad. Although on second thought, I'd go back and order it exactly the same way. She nailed it. I think cheese would have added an unnecessary mushiness.

The buns at Umami are very soft and the insides are toasted until they are buttery crisp. You don't want to mess with this virtue. It is a great contrast between the softness of the meat and the bun.

I ordered the Kombu #3, which combines The Hatch Burger and onion rings with a pint of Poleeko Gold Ale. Total cost for the Kombu: $16. That is a brilliant deal.

The Hatch Burger -- with its four kinds of green chiles and house cheese -- was delicious. The cheese and aioli were soft and did cancel out a bit of bun crispness. But really, what a tremendously juicy, all-round excellent burger! I was thrilled.

Even more moving were the onion rings. Amazingly crisp. They are fried in a tempura batter using seltzer, I would guess. The result is a ring that shatters between your teeth. These are so decadent, there is no way you could finish a batch on your own.

I also really loved the ketchup. The recipe is a big time secret. I guessed truffle oil. Apparently that's what everyone says -- incorrectly. There has to be some very slow roasted tomato in it, because the flavor is big and round and rich and not too sweet. I also wonder about mushroom. Very umami intensive, actually.

I'm impressed. I cannot wait to take A.

Umami Burger
4655 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90027

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bistro Blues Pt 1: Church & State

Our server wants to be a real estate agent.

Fair enough. Everyone has a calling!

My mother-in-law, Dolly, who happens to be in town on this particular weekend, was a hard-working real estate agent for twenty years, and is free with advice. Now an aspiring weaver in Washington State, the real estate industry offered her an occupation, but not a calling.

Our waiter is more conflicted -- he's in a service industry but has no appetite for service.

Dolly and I had stolen away from toddler-tending for a trip Downtown that was to include fabric shopping and lunch. I had wanted a lovely place for us to relax with a glass of wine, and Church & State fit the bill.

Now I hear that there has been a, well, separation at Church & State. Walter Manzke, the original and highly-touted chef, has left as of a few months ago. C0-owner Steve Arroyo was bought out last September.

Maybe this is why I haven't quite understood all the hype around Church & State. We went for dinner with friends to celebrate A's birthday as recently as January. The food was tasty, but the bill racked up quickly, and in the end C&S seemed like just another solid French bistro.

On the one hand, it is a beautifully designed restaurant. I am a sucker for a big open space with exposed brick and wood beams and giant windows. Everyone loves the antique replica Edison light bulbs, seemingly ubiquitous these days, which are strung playfully overhead. And I covet the butcher block where the baguettes make their home. It would look perfect in my kitchen.

But on the other hand, decor alone can't make a restaurant.

It's not just the food either. A marriage of ambiance, cuisine and service are what make a dining experience, and nothing can ruin a perfectly decent meal faster than lousy service.

On this afternoon, our little waiter from Toulouse is a snooty, disinterested grump. He can barely make time for us. He scoffs when I inquire if the steak tartare is big enough for lunch. (Seeing it listed under hors d'oeuvres made me uncertain.) "Well, it comes with a salad and frites!" he snaps.

He does manage to take Dolly's order for the salade au poulet before promptly marching off and leaving me hanging. Over five minutes later he returns for my lunch order and Dolly's wine order. Again, however, I am left with my mouth hanging open mid-sentence waiting to order the Picpoul.

Another five minutes passes before I'm able to capture his attention long enough to order this crisp white. Not surprisingly, my tomato and bacon soup is half-finished before I can ask that he actually serve the wine before my soup is gone.

Almost nothing annoys me more than being served the food before the wine. Disagreeable and grouchy service, though, is one exception.

I freely admit that I'm unforgiving in this regard. I don't care what's going on in the server's life -- I've done crap restaurant work, and we're all on the clock at some point in the day. But when we're off the clock and paying to dine, we are paying for the experience, and hopefully an altogether delightful one.

It is the server's job to facilitate this. And a sourpuss will ruin the affair every time.

At least there's food, right?

The good news is that the food in this case is tasty. Again, not mind-blowing, but as before, it's solid. The tomato and bacon soup announces the smoky flavor of the bacon without drowning out the round richness of the tomato.

The steak tartare, a bistro classic, is a competent rendition. The egg yolk is folded into the chopped hanger steak with a bit of cornichon and shallot. Here I can't help myself, as I am still partial to the steak tartare from my restaurant days -- the egg yolk resting on top and the companion garnishes lined up in tiny hills alongside the beef.

The accompanying crostini are crunchy and convey the meat to your mouth effectively.

To my mind, the aioli is unnecessary, as are the frites. Too much richness.

In the end, we are unable to resist dessert.

Perhaps as a result of Dolly's chitchats with him about his next career moves, our server seems to perk up a touch at this point. He heartily recommends the citrus mousse and the apple crumble. We take his advice.

The mousse is served with a berry granita on top. I dislike the frozen scrabble that infiltrates my creamy citrus mousse.

The vanilla ice cream on top of the crumble suffers from a slight case of freezer burn, but the crumble itself has lots of crunch and the apples manage to hold their bite. Ultimately, though, this dessert is almost cloyingly sweet.

By the time we're finished, our lunch experience, though lacking the same sweetness, has been too much like these desserts: unchecked and uneven, with too much iciness in-between.

I still may return to Church & State if I have other business to attend to in this outlying and industrial neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles. That's rare enough, though, and I certainly won't rush back. I'd hate to be stuck in that snoozer's section again.

Could it be that quality and attention to service are in decline at Church & State, and I simply missed it in its heyday? Can we get revival?

Church & State
1850 Industrial Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No-Knead Bread

You may have no need for any other bread recipe, once you have tried this one.


The recipe for No-Knead Bread has been making the rounds of the cuisanet and blogosphere since 2006 or so. If you're a big time foodie (BTF) or a lover of loaves, you have probably read many an overjoyed blogger, or even Mark Bittman himself, extoll the virtues of this bread.

I'd read all about it, and still somehow managed to wait almost four years to try it out. Foolish girl.

My friend Kress and I were recently lamenting the lack of truly great bread in Los Angeles. Predictably, we got to fantasizing about opening our own bakery. To avoid completely putting the cart before the horse, we decided we ought to try our own hands at baking bread. Perhaps we could spur each other on.

This is when I remembered the No-Knead Bread. How perfect! Something approachable and not too daunting to begin with.

You do not need any special ingredients – just flour, yeast, salt, and water. The secret ingredient is time. It takes almost 24 hours to bring this bread to fruition. You do not need any fancy equipment, just a 6 quart heavy pot -- ceramic, cast iron or enameled cast iron. I use my Le Creuset Dutch ovens.

This recipe could not be any more simple or straightforward, and your success will be énorme. I feel like an invincible bread baker! A genius!

The genius is actually Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. He realized that the slow (18 hour) rise would produce the same results as kneading, and that baking the very wet dough in a preheated pot would emulate the steam-injected ovens of professionals. Hence the fabulous crust.

His cleverness should be obvious once you try this recipe. You will be shocked by the results. I wanted to climb up on the roof and shout out to the world: "I have made bread!"

I snapped photos with my iPhone and immediately forwarded them to my friends and family. You cannot help but share. Your chest is swollen with pride.

The crust is crisp. It shatters. The crumb is moist with lovely air pockets. This is the bread you remember buying at your favorite bakeries in Europe.

I have made this bread twice. Both times were thrilling.

The first time around, I used an 8 quart or larger dutch oven. The bread was wider and flatter, yet quite excellent.

The second time, I used a 5 1/2 quart dutch oven and 1/4 teaspoon more salt. This bread was taller and rounder, a real boule. I prefer this. The salt content for me was perfect this time. I will consistently use 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt.

I am looking forward to trying whole wheat flour.

No-Knead Bread

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more for dusting (I used all-purpose.)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (I used rapid-rise.)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt (I used 1 1/2 teaspoons.)
cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky (very). Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18 at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. generously coat a cotten towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal (I used cornmeal the first time and flour the second. I prefer the flour.); put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towl and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.