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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Clawing My Way Out of That Rut

We were all getting sick of the winter rut (Mavis actually told me after I last served it that he was pretty much done with pearl couscous with sausage and butternut squash), so I am now entering what I sort of hope will be a significant period of experimentation and adding new things to our regular repertoire. I say "sort of" because as much as I love cooking and putting together wonderful meals for my family, trying new recipes takes more time than throwing together familiar ones, and I get even more behind in my other projects and responsibilities. So we'll see how long I am able to keep it up before the burgeoning chaos (read: piles of random stuff) completely swamps the computer.

I have read in several places lately (okay, probably over the last year or so) several different versions of no- or low-knead bread. Tonight I tried the first of these collected recipes. As with the chicken, this one seems so easy that I may never get to all the others (although watch this space for the third and last roast chicken trial, coming in about a week). I got this from the Oregonian FOODay, but I can't find the recipe online.
Simple Crusty Bread
makes 4 loaves

1 1/2 T yeast (regular, not instant or rapid-rise)
1 1/2 T kosher salt
6 1/2 C unbleached all-purpose, plus more for dusting dough
3 C water
cornmeal for dusting pizza peel

In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 C lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose [not really]. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours [what I did]).

Here is the dough after mixing and before rising (after five hours it was up to the rim of the bowl; actually, it was there after 2, but didn't get any bigger after that):



Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece [or, since this is supposed to make four loaves, 1/4 of the dough] with a serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a mounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it, loosely covered.

Here is the shaped loaf, sitting on the pizza peel to rest.



Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.

Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour 1 C hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.



Tonight's other trial came from the latest Cook's Illustrated. It seemed like something we would all like, and I already had some of the ingredients. The original recipe called for using 4 8-oz chicken breasts cut into 8 cutlets to serve 4 people. Heavens, that's a lot of meat. I halved it (or close to it--the two breasts I bought were just over a pound total) for the four of us, and it was perfect. Here's how I made it:
Chicken Saltimbocca

1/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour
freshly ground black pepper
2 chicken breasts
1 1/2 t minced fresh sage leaves, plus 4 whole large leaves
thinly-sliced prosciutto to cover one side of each cutlet (for me, 2 slices of Prosciutto di Parma were enough)
2 T olive oil
5 oz dry vermouth
1 t freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 T cold unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1 1/2 t minced fresh parsley
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 200. Combine flour and 1/2 t pepper in shallow dish. Trim chicken, removing tender from underside, and carefully cut parallel to cutting board into 1/4 to 1/2-inch-thick cutlets.

If chicken seems wet (mine didn't), pat dry with paper towels, then dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Sprinkle one side of cutlets evenly with chopped sage, then top with prosciutto, trimmed to fit (Cook's says to press lightly to adhere, but when I did this it only made it stick to my hand).

With familiar recipes I'm cooking from memory, I don't usually do a mise en place, but it's a really good idea when you're trying something new to have everything ready to go before beginning, especially if it's a pretty fast-moving recipe and/or you're trying to prepare (as I was tonight) other parts of dinner at the same time.



Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add sage leaves and cook until leaves are uniform in color, 30 seconds maximum. Carefully lift out with tongs and put on paper towels. Carefully put half the cutlets in the pan, prosciutto side down (tricky because it doesn't really stick to the chicken), and cook until light golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Flip carefully (I used tongs) and cook on the second side until also golden, another 2 minutes or so. Transfer to warm plate in the oven, and repeat with the second batch.

Pour off excess fat from skillet, and pour vermouth into the pan, scraping up brown bits if necessary (I found that the pan was hot enough that the boiling action of the vermouth lifted it all up without any scraping on my part). Simmer until reduced to just a few tablespoons, 5 minutes or so. Stir in lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and stir in butter, one lump at a time. Remove from heat and stir in parsley and season with a little salt and pepper.

The finished sauce:



Remove chicken from oven, pour sauce over it, and top each cutlet with a sage leaf.



I served it with the bread (just a tad dense; I'll make more/deeper slashes for the next loaf) and cheesy polenta with zucchini. Argh! I just realized I forgot the fruit dish I had planned to serve, incorporating some of those beautiful canned pears I put up last fall! Oh well.



This meal was a big hit with everyone except Number Two, who was too tired to be overtly enthusiastic about anything other than the bread, but who nevertheless ate almost all of what we served him.

Speaking of Number Two, I've decided to come up with better blog names for my kids. Suggestions are welcome.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Swizzies said...

I don't understand the no/low knead thing...how does it work? How is it different from regular kneaded bread?

I'm ignernt.

Chicken sounds yummy, esp. the sauce.

How about just One, Two and Three. Or B1, B2, and G. Or call them what you used to call them in utero -- Knut I think was one of them? I can't remember now...

March 2, 2008 at 4:39 AM  
Blogger Tamsen said...

I agree with this other comment. You should use the same names for your kids that you used before they were born: Knut, Ingeborg, and whatever the other name was
(can't seem to remember).

March 2, 2008 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger Jana said...

I think you ought to call One "Math Man" --you know the super hero who does math. The bebe should be Cindy-Lou (isn't that the name of the Who in the book?), and No. Two should be (The) Hammer.

March 3, 2008 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger janeannechovy said...

Number Two's in utero name was Odin.

Another name I've sometimes called him is Vanilla Boy, since his hair and his skin look like so much vanilla ice cream to me. When he was tiny, I used to dress him in cream, too, so he was all vanilla except for his lovely blue eyes.

Mavis regularly calls the bebe "Who."

Di, as far as I can tell the no/low knead breads differ from regular breads only (besides the knead factor) in their longer rise and rest times. It's really weird, after always hearing about how important kneading is (how to tell when you've kneaded enough, etc.) to have bread come out looking and tasting like bread when you haven't done it. I have about three other recipes, including one from Cook's that I will probably try next (after I bake the other three loaves--it's raining today so warm bread sounds good, even if it doesn't really go with tonight's dinner, slated to be pad thai).

March 3, 2008 at 11:44 AM  

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