Our food landscape is looking rather different now. A casual trip to the grocery store or a bop by your local bakery isn’t so much an option. And while NYC-ers can still give patronage to what restaurants and cafés remain open, back here in NH the options are even fewer. So any food exploration is happening in the kitchen. While I am not necessarily finding myself with empty hours in need of filling, always one with a project or activity on the docket, I have been devoting some time to try some new things in the kitchen. Here are some of the food experiments and thoughts of late.
I’ve been working on my bread baking skills for some time now. Beginning with the acquisition of a bread machine from my aunt years ago that has been since let go, brought up again during an arduous series of trials and errors with ciabatta, I have tried to understand the wide variety of yeasty possibilities in the bread-verse. And with all this time at home, now is a great time to continue the work! I can mix the dough in the morning, leave it for however many hours it needs to rise while doing something else, punch it down and form for the second rise, go off for a while, and bake to have with dinner, or save for the next morning. A nice long project that gives the hands something active to do but not all-consuming.
Such was the wonderfully simple process of my first focaccia. While some recipes call for many hours of proving that make it a two-day long process, I worked with the recent Bon Appetite recipethat let me make it a one-dayer. As the recipe says, there was no kneading necessary, just a quick mix until shaggy with bowl and spoon. And while it gave a good handful of hours for even an out-of-fridge prove, both proving sessions gave me a dough doubled in size in half the projected time. And with very little work at all I got a thick, bubbly slab of focaccia perfect for soaking up the sauce from that night’s tomato braised chicken thighs, or cutting in half the next day for an egg sandwich. The porous sponge absorbs every bit of tangy tomato left on the plate, and the slight runny yolk that other breads might let slide away. Focaccia is a beautiful, beautiful thing, made even more so by its incredibly easy bake.
Gadgets: The Dutch Oven
From frying chicken, to long braises, to creamy tikka masala, our Dutch oven has been working hard these past couple of weeks. The high, heat-holding enameled cast-iron walls of the Le Creusetare perfect for dishes on the saucier side or ones calling for large quantities of oil as they prevent (at least some) of the hot liquid contents from jumping out from the pot onto your shirt just where the apron doesn’t cover. I used it to make the tomato braised chicken thighs as mentioned above in all their perfect Sunday comfort goodness, letting the San Marzanos and herbs simmer and meld and combine with the chicken. And a few days later I filled it with oil and gently laid some chicken breasts down in batches of two for some crispy chicken sandwiches. And just the other day it met with tomatoes again, but this time with the addition of some yogurt, scores of spices, and a lotof garlic for a tikka masala full of perfectly cooked chicken and one of my taste buds’s new favorite comfort foods. Its next use? I’m thinking of taking it on the bread journey with me to make a crusty, dare I sayartisanal, loaf perhaps filed with some nuts, seeds, or perhaps some dried fruit.
Drink: A Toasted Almond
A couple weeks ago while still roaming free in NYC, I was at a bar with a friend and they asked me what I wanted to drink. In a moment akin to previously mentioned whipped cream anxiety, I ordered an amaretto sour. I had likely meant to say whiskey sour, the common and dependable go-to I had favored since the summer. I had never had anything with amaretto in it before, and did not even know what was in an amaretto sour. I could only assume it was akin to a whiskey sour but with amaretto. Which I had never had. While it may often prove to be an inhibiter, anxiety can sometimes force new experiences in unexpected ways as well! And in this case, I’m glad it did. Because if ya don’t know, amaretto is tasty. Where had it been all winter?! It’s sweet, almond goodness brightened up with a little lemon and simple syrup, topped with a cherry and an orange slice was a well-balanced respite from the cold.
It was this drink that I intended to make when my father suggested something similar to go with that night’s dessert of butterscotch banana pie in the form of a toasted almond. A toasted almond is like a white Russian (of which I am also fond), but better. 1.5 ounces of amaretto, 1.5 ounces of kalua, and 1 or 2 ounces of milk or cream. I subbed in almond milk for mine, a purely coincidental perfect pairing, which suspended above the liquor so starkly I didn’t want to have to break it with a stir. But drinks are meant to be drunk! So after a stir for incorporation I took a sip of the best winter drink (besides eggnog). Where is this at the bars? Why don’t I see this at holiday parties? You have your milk making it perfect to pair with cookies or pie, the coffee liquor making it like a dessert coffee, and the almond liquor giving it a toasty nutty note. And in this time when we’re looking for comforting food and bev, this hits all the spots. It feels like the adult version of a warm glass of milk (which I have heard is a thing parents give kids, but I never had and frankly doesn’t sound good as one who does not enjoy drinking unadulterated milk) but with better flavor. I will be making this next holiday season. And probably tonight.
It’s no secret that I love a savory hand pie. And while a large shepherd’s pieor boiled dinneris standard for St. Patty’s Day celebration, this year I opted to take those same ingredients and hand pie-ifythem. Now that my crust game is significantly stronger and more dependable, and cranked out a home-made dough in the morning and let it chill in the fridge until I was ready to roll it out and fill in the evening (with store-bought crusts laying in wait in case of disaster or an excess of filling, which ended up occurring). I threw together an easy filling of ground beef, red potatoes, tomato paste, onions and cabbage all in one skillet seasoned with Worcestershire sauce, coriander, thyme, salt and pepper folded it up (my formation technique could admittedly use some finesse) and popped it in the oven. About 15 minutes later they emerged. Not as golden brown and idyllic as I would have liked, but perfectly cooked flavor bombs of savory goodness. The beautiful thing about a hand pie is that you are never struggling to get a perfect bite. If made well, everything is in every bite. And the addition of a quick gravy made from the pan drippings was the perfect finishing touch to coat the flaky crust. With the right seasoning and packaging the simple, standard St. Patty’s fair was made a little more special. And the best thing is, this can be done with a whole world of ingredient combinations! Sub in some mushrooms for meat! Throw in some sweet potato! Try kale instead of cabbage! Just stuff your favorite meal in pie crust and I assure you, it will be good.
Dessert: Alton Brownies
New York City disappoints on one dessert across the board: I have not gotten a worthy brownie anywhere in the city. Of course, this may be because my family’s go-to brownie recipe courtesy of Alton Brownsets the bar so high. I gave this recipe a try many years ago, and the pure decadence of the results continues to satisfy and stupefy us to this day. These bars are t h i c k and c h o c o l a t e y. You’re not having one of these for a casual afternoon snack. It’s not even a dessert for an everyday post-dinner treat. I have other brownie recipes for that. But Alton Brownies are a rich, special treat. This is the perfect brownie to warm up in the microwave and top with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce. Which is exactly what we did. Whether you’re looking for a bake this week that’ll give you something to eat while wrapped in a blanket making your way through the many streaming suggestions coming forth, or to be meticulously plated and eaten dressed up, seated at a table to retain some sense of stability and normalcy, Alton Brownies will serve you well. They are the Swonger Family old reliable and the standard to which I hold all brownies, as all others should.
So that’s been what’s happening in my own food world these past couple weeks. I might try this format sometimes. I might do some that are single subject focused. It’s all up for grabs!
But what have you been making? Is there anything you’d recommend giving a try? What ingredients are you leaning on in this time of limited shopping and constant cooking? Let me know what your own food thoughts and journeys you’ve been having in your own kitchen!