Simple, Perfect Bread

Simple Peasant Boule

I made cheese soup for Sunday Dinner this week, and baked a nice peasant boule to go with it.

The cheese soup recipe is one my sister gave me many years ago. It was one of the specialty dishes of a restaurant in the town where we grew up (The Brown Jug in Decatur, Illinois). It’s one of my favorites, especially during the autumn and winter, with cooler weather.

The bread is the master recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Claudia had requested the book for Christmas many years ago, but didn’t really get into it. At some point I became interested in trying to rely less on “manufactured food” and picked up the book, thinking that I would bake bread for us every day.

I haven’t picked up that habit yet, but I do love the way these loaves turn out, and nothing could be much simpler to make, once you get your hands on a Danish Dough Whisk, a wooden peel and a baking stone (which are all pretty necessary to the process).

I used 5 1/2 cups of all purpose flour and 1 cup of whole wheat. That gets stirred together with 3 cups of lukewarm water, and 1 1/2 tablespoons each of kosher salt and yeast. Once it rises overnight, I’m ready to bake, and the dough that’s left will keep in the refrigerator for a week or two. I usually get three or four nice sized boules per batch.

One of these days, I’d like to try my hand at sourdough. Claudia gave me a copy of the Tartine Bakery’s book, and I may delve deeper into it one of these days. But it is honestly hard to beat the AB5 bread for ease of preparation, time invested, and the simple, delicious beauty of the finished product. It has the combination of chewy crumb and crunchy crust that I adore, and the addition of some whole wheat flour, or whole wheat and a little rye, gives it just enough funk for my taste.

The bread board was my mother’s, and I believe that it had originally been her grandma’s, so it is likely over 100 years old. It’s something else that I love for its simple beauty.

Yogi Tea

Good for grounding, energy, digestion and detox, “Yogi Tea” is one of our favorite beverages.

Our friend (and Kundalini Yoga teacher) Warren Armstrong introduced us to this marvelous tea. It was popularized in America by followers of Yogi Bhajan. Warren serves it after Gong Healing sessions to help restore balance and equilibrium. It is also excellent for reducing inflammation. I sometimes drink it to help with joint pain or muscle soreness.

I researched recipes online and brewed several batches before arriving at our variation on the process. We brew two quarts at a time, and keep it in the refrigerator to drink either cold (diluted with a little water) or hot (warmed in the microwave with almond milk and honey or raw sugar).

  • 15 whole cloves
  • 20 black peppercorns
  • 3 sticks of cinnamon
  • 20 green cardamom pods
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, chopped
  • 2 bags black tea

Get two quarts of water boiling while preparing the ingredients.

Crack open the cardamom pods with the flat of a chef’s knife, and cube up a five or six inch piece of ginger. There’s no need to peel the ginger first.

Once the water is boiling, add the cloves and let them boil for a minute or so before adding the other ingredients. Add everything else except the black tea, return to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for thirty minutes. Remove from heat, add the tea bags, and cover to steep overnight (or at least six hours). Strain into a container, and add water to replace what has evaporated to make two quarts.

If serving cold, I dilute about half and half with water. For hot tea, the ratio is 2/3rds tea and 1/3rd milk. You may sweeten either, if you’d like. I prefer it without sweetener when cold, but with just a taste of honey or raw sugar when hot.

Fourth of July Cookout

We had an old fashioned cookout for Independence Day this year.

Casking at Home

Cask

In July of 2012, I was visiting San Francisco for work. I had long wanted to meet a podcasting pal of mine, Tim Morrison (a.k.a. “Mr. Martini”) from Behind the Bar Show, and he was living there at the time. So we got together on a Wednesday evening at Heaven’s Dog (which, sadly, is now closed) for a couple of cocktails, and then walked back up to the Tenderloin (I was staying at hotel just north of Market) for one more. Tim took me into a joint with walls that were filled with small casks from floor to ceiling. He explained that because of the differences in surface area, a few months in a small barrel imparts the same aging characteristics to spirits as years in a large one.

As we sipped some dark rum that had been aged in a cask made from bourbon barrel staves, Tim explained that he casks Manhattans for his annual holiday gatherings. I was intrigued.

Mrs. Noe took note when I mentioned the conversation back home, and bought me a two liter uncharred oak cask for Fathers’ Day of 2015. By October, I decanted the first delicious batch of barrel aged Manhattans.

The staves eventually started to pull apart on that first cask, so I emptied it for the last time earlier this year. I’d intended to just keep it for decoration, and began to research bottle aging oak strips, but while at Amazon added a cask from Golden Oak Barrel to my wishlist on a whim. Lo and behold, it was one of my Fathers’ Day gifts this year.

After rinsing the new cask, adding the spigot and curing it with water, I added nearly two fifths of Old Overholt Rye, 400 ml of Sweet Vermouth, and 200 ml of Orange Curaçao. This final ingredient helps to transform the Manhattan into a very tasty variant called the Fourth Regiment. I wait until tapping to add Angostura Bitters, Orange Bitters and Celery Bitters to the cocktail.

Since the new cask has a medium char, I’m anxious to find out how this batch will taste. According to the Golden Oak website, this barrel ought to last decades instead of years. Fingers crossed on that count.

If you’re interested in learning more about home casking, the folks at Golden Oak have put together a wonderful guide, complete with some recipes, that you can download here. They also have an informative series of videos on their YouTube Channel. Cheers!

Old School Supper Club Drinks

As long as I’ve known my father-in-law, he has occasionally asked “got anything for an after dinner drink?” I thought he meant Cognac, or something.

It turns out that there is an American Supper Club tradition of drinks made with sweet spirits and heavy cream, that people used to call “after dinner drinks.” They are sometimes made with ice cream as well. I learned about these, and the “before dinner” abomination known as the “Brandy Old Fashioned, Sweet” on a documentary called Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club.

This sent me down a rabbit hole. This week I’ve been researching, buying odd ingredients, and mixing up something new every night.

So far, I still prefer my Old Fashioned with Rye, and neither Mrs. Noe nor I were fond of the Brandy Alexander. But she liked the Grasshopper, fondly calling to mind the Crème de Menthe and ice cream creations from her parents’ kitchen. And both of us liked the Pink Squirrel. Who’d have ever thunk it?

Here’s the final concoction we tried, the Golden Cadillac. Both of us liked it better than the Brandy Alexander, but not as well as the other two drinks.

Recipes

For the Old Fashioned, just substitute Korbel brandy for the whiskey in your favorite Old Fashioned recipe, and top with 7 Up instead of soda water.

Here are the recipes for the creamy drinks. Use equal parts of the three ingredients for each of these, shake with ice and serve strained and up.

If making with ice cream instead of heavy cream, use 2 parts of ice cream to 1 part each of the two other ingredients and blend.

Grasshopper

Green Crème de Menthe
White Crème de Cacao
Heavy Cream

Brandy Alexander

Korbel Brandy
Dark Crème de Cacao
Heavy Cream
Garnish: Grated Nutmeg

Pink Squirrel

Crème de Noyaux
White Crème de Cacao
Heavy Cream
Garnish: Maraschino Cherry

If you have trouble finding the Crème de Noyaux, substitute Amaretto and put in a little cherry juice.

Golden Cadillac

Galliano
White Crème de Cacao
Heavy Cream
Garnish: Chocolate shavings

Cheers!

Cedar Planked Salmon

sunday-dinner-salmon-potatoes-asparagus

This week for Sunday Dinner we made the most of some beautiful CSA produce from Gray Farms.

I roasted some white and purple potatoes, and Mrs. Noe made a lovely vinaigrette with lots of incredibly delicious and pungent fresh basil. She made a nice green salad and I roasted asparagus and cooked salmon on cedar planks.

My process for potatoes on the grill is to cut them into relatively even sized pieces and soak them in water for awhile. After draining, into a bowl they go with a drizzle of olive oil plus some salt and pepper, and then into the microwave for about five minutes. At that point they’re ready for the heated plancha on the Genesis. This consistently turns out lovely potatoes – crunchy on the surface and creamy on the inside.

The asparagus simply roasted on a grill pan with oil and seasoning for twenty minutes or so.

I’d soaked two cedar planks for several hours, then got them starting right over the burners while the asparagus was cooking. When the planks started smoking and popping, they were turned over and the salmon placed on the scorched surface. We seasoned with dill, salt and pepper. They were done in under fifteen minutes.

cedar-planked-salmon-on-the-grill

We don’t have this meal often enough.

Quiche!

quiche-florentine

For a simple and delicious dish it’s hard to beat the classic French custard tart. Last weekend’s Wall Street Journal had an article about Quiche, and I didn’t wait long to make one.

Since this was a quick meal on a Tuesday evening, I used a frozen pie crust, and cooked it in the oven, but I hope to make my own pastry dough and bake one in the Weber Genesis soon.

We opted for Quiche Florentine instead of the more standard Quiche Lorraine, thinking that the spinach would be a bit more healthy than bacon. I chopped up a couple cups of fresh spinach and put them in the bottom of the crust, shredded a cup of Emmental Swiss on top, and then poured the custard mixture over it. Since I didn’t have whole milk, I used three eggs and 1 1/4 cups of skim, plus a little salt, pepper, Herbs de Provence and fresh grated nutmeg. It baked at 375 F for about 40 minutes. It turned out a little watery from the skim milk, so I’d definitely use whole next time and adjust the proportions to 2 eggs and 1 1/2 cup of the milk, which is how Julia Child’s recipe goes.

It was tasty, none the less. We served it with a mixed spring greens salad and a nice glass of Spanish Rosé, the perfect rustic and elemental meal for a summer weeknight.

Calling a dish “Florentine” or “à la Florentine” dates back to 16th Century France, by the way. Catherine de Médicis, from Florence, married the French Dauphine (heir to the throne), Henri. She brought her own cooks with her, and they brought spinach seeds, which had not been grown in France prior to their arrival. So “in the style of Florence” means “with spinach.”

The folks at WSJ Off Duty also made this podcast episode about Quiche which I thought was fun.

Make America quiche again.

Jack Daniels Pork Chops With Apples

jack-daniels-pork-chops-apples

This week for Sunday Dinner I cooked Jamie Purviance’s recipe for pork chops and apples with whiskey and mustard glaze. I increased the glaze recipe by half, since we were serving five instead of four.

The tarragon added to finish the apples is something I would not have thought to do, and it was delicious.

I also made Hasselback Potatoes at my wife’s request, which is one of our favorite sides.

hasselback-potatoes

Farsi Chicken and Balal Corn

plated-sunday-dinner-farsi-chicken-corn-rice

Once upon a time, many years ago, I met a crazy man who gave me a great chicken recipe.

Richard had a Master’s Degree in English Literature, but had gone to work as an insurance agent. He was assigned to my employer’s accounts, so he sold me a life policy. He seemed perfectly normal. When we met for lunch so I could sign some papers, I casually mentioned that I was camping on the coming weekend, and foolishly mentioned the name of the campground.

That Friday evening, we were just lighting the campfire when he pulled into camp on a little Kawasaki 400, which he referred to as “the road iron.” He proceeded to drink heavily, eventually passing out in a lawn chair near the fire, but not before reciting long passages out of The Canterbury Tales from memory. Friends who arrived during the recitation were initially terrified, thinking that glossolalia had taken hold of him.

In any case, at some point he described this chicken recipe that became one of my favorites for the grill. First, the chicken pieces marinate in lemon juice for an hour or so, then they go into plain yoghurt overnight. When it’s time to cook, you wipe of the yoghurt, season simply with salt and pepper, and then grill as usual. This method produces tender, juicy chicken like no other I’ve ever tasted. It was my foolproof, go-to recipe for a decade or so, and everyone always loved it.

When my wife and I were first dating, I was so confident in the recipe that I bragged almost incessantly about it. “Some time I’ll have to grill the Farsi Chicken for you. It’s incredible. You’ll love it.” Unfortunately, after building up her expectations for weeks or months, when I finally cooked it for her I burned the chicken so badly that we may as well have just eaten the charcoal. I didn’t grill chicken of any sort for a long time afterwards, thinking that I was under some sort of jinx. The jinx was mysteriously broken when I learned to use a timer.

So for Sunday Dinner this week I made the Farsi Chicken again. Initially I looked for other Persian recipes as sides, settling on Balal corn and Tahdig rice. As it turned out, I decided that the rice was too much too attempt without a test run, and opted for another (non-Persian) rice recipe with savory mushrooms.

We also had some fennel from the CSA, and Claudia made an incredible salad with it and some mandarin oranges.

I still want to try the Tahdig at some point, and also the Persian method of dipping the roasting ears in salt water after grilling. We’d love to learn more about Persian cuisine in general too.

Before the meal I tipped my glass to Richard. I lost track of him long ago, but still imagine him burning up the backroads on the road iron, regaling and terrifying friends and strangers with recitations in Middle English and recipes from far off lands.

Ribs for Fathers Day 2016

plated-ribs-fathers-day-2016For Fathers Day this year I did another long cook. Our Jewel store had St. Louis Cut Spareribs on sale two racks for the price of one, so ribs it was.

I started the Weber Kettle early in the day, setting it up with ten unlit coals on each side of a foil pan filled about halfway with water. I added four or five lit coals to each side, along with some apple and hickory chunks. One bottom vent was wide open, one completely closed and one open about halfway. Top vent was wide open as well.

Once the temperature stabilized at around 250 F, I put the slabs on a rib rack over the drip pan. I’d seasoned them the night before with my usual rub recipe. From then on it was a matter of monitoring the temperature and spraying the ribs each hour with a mist of apple juice, cider vinegar and coffee. After three hours, I wrapped them in foil and moved them to the Genesis to finish.

kettle-smokingThere’s something magical and Zen-like about a long cook. The smell of the smoke and the sight of it wafting over the patio is an experience unto itself. It’s satisfying to know that you’ve acquired the skill necessary to maintain an even temperature over several hours of cooking, and the other fairly specific skills needed to turn out a perfect plate of ribs. The pace of the cook affords time for relaxation and proper anticipation of the delicious meal to come.

We’re in the Gray Farms CSA this year, and one of the cool things about it is that we get a lot of produce that we likely wouldn’t think to try otherwise. It’s like this lovely surprise package every week. This week, we had both turnips and collards, which neither of us had ever cooked before. We diced the turnips and roasted them on the plancha, and the collards we cooked in a Lodge cast iron Dutch Oven on the Genesis. I cooked up some onions and garlic in the pot for starters, then added the collards, a dried cayenne, some stock and a couple of smoked ham hocks and let them simmer for a long time.

These turned out really delicious and they’re something we’d definitely make again.

I also melted some Brie on a cedar plank with a little blackberry jam drizzled over the top for an appetizer.

It’s always a pleasure to cook for the folks on Sunday, but it was especially fun to do a full day of cooking for my wife’s dad on Fathers Day. Since my own father passed away when I was very young, I feel especially grateful to have a wonderful father-in-law in my life, and appreciate every chance we have to spend time with him.