Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ad Hoc Grilled Flat Bread

I didn't wake up this morning with the intention of posting an entry, it just happened. Being my day off, I decided that I just had to bake something, but I didn't want to be at it all day. After ruminating on the thought a while, I remembered my previous experiments with Giada De Laurentiis' pizza dough recipe from March's Bon Appétit. It was easy, simple, and delicious, as good pizza dough should be.

I followed the recipe as I had previously; yeast, flour, sugar, salt, knead, rise, punch, and know the drill. However, because of the hot weather, I didn't really want to heat up the kitchen with a 450°F oven, so I looked, as many of us do in the Summer, to the grill. I just set the burners to a medium heat and let it warm up. Going back to the dough, I brushed it with some extra virgin olive oil ans sprinkled it with some Asian seasoning blend, sesame seeds, kosher salt, and fresh ground black pepper. I threw it onto the grill until the bottom was brown and had nice grill marks, then flipped it over and let it go until done.

The results...

( ^ That's my favorite picture ^ )

Right off the grill, the crust is hard and crunchy while the inside is soft and a word, perfect! And those charred bits, the bets part, if you ask me.

Just cut it up and dip into some duck sauce and you got a nice appetizer or snack.

Grilled Flat Bread
3/4 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups (or more) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Pour 3/4 cup warm water into small bowl; stir in yeast. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Brush large bowl lightly with olive oil. Mix 2 cups flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add yeast mixture and 3 tablespoons oil; process until dough forms a sticky ball. Transfer to lightly floured surface. Knead dough until smooth, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is very sticky, about 1 minute. Transfer to prepared bowl; turn dough in bowl to coat with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch down dough. Roll out dough into desired shape (mine was rectangular) and brush with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with Asian seasoning (I had some Emeril's Asian Essence on hand), kosher salt, sesame seeds, and coarsely ground black pepper, all to taste.

Set grill to medium-ish heat and all it warm up, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough to grill, close top, and grill until the bottom is golden brown and delicious. Flip bread over and repeat on other side, until it looks done to you.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chocolate Stout Cake, Modification and Gift Thereof.

When my dad's birthday began to near, I decided that the best gift I could give him was not an impersonal DVD or some other mass produced thingamajig or gadget. When I think about gifts, my mind often goes back to Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Essay V: Gifts." In the essay, Emerson reflects on the nature and purpose of gift giving. In the second paragraph, Emerson explains it perfectly...
"Next to things of necessity, the rule for a gift, which one of my friends prescribed, is, that we might convey to some person that which properly belonged to his character, and was easily associated with him in thought. But our tokens of compliment and love are for the most part barbarous. Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing. This is right and pleasing, for it restores society in so far to its primary basis, when a man's biography is conveyed in his gift, and every man's wealth is an index of his merit. But it is a cold, lifeless business when you go to the shops to buy me something, which does not represent your life and talent, but a goldsmith's. This is fit for kings, and rich men who represent kings, and a false state of property, to make presents of gold and silver stuffs, as a kind of symbolical sin-offering, or payment of black-mail."

Following this thought, I decided that the best gift I could give my dad was a birthday cake, baked from scratch, in the spirit of his birthday. After much looking, I finally happened upon a cake that I thought he would truly appreciate, and enjoy, a Chocolate Stout Cake. I decided on this cake for a number of reason, including the fact that my dad does love beer, and stout, like Guinness, is one of my favorite styles of beer. Instead of using the ubiquitous Guinness, though, I decided to use my favorite American stout, Sierra Nevada Stout. It's a lot like Guinness, but with more chutzpah.

This recipe has been floating about the internet since after its original publication Bon Appétit Magazine, September 2002, and according to every review I read (and input at the BakeSpace forums) this recipe was to make a monster of a cake. Three 8-inch layers, with batter to spare. There was only one problem with this, and that is that I don't own a single 8-inch cake pan, nor could I really afford to go and buy three. I do however own a couple of 9-inch pans as well as a 9-inch springform that has produced good cake results in the past. So I decided to make a two layer 9-inch cake using a cake pan and my springform.

My thoughts then turned to the apparent large quantity of batter. I felt pretty certain that the two pans would not be able to accommodate so much batter, and not wanting to either guess too much about temperature and time alterations or throw away perfectly good batter, I instead decided to take the hard route and reduce the recipe by 1/4, which wasn't really that hard, and I ended up with some pretty reasonable measurements. I also went and replaced the sour cream with low-fat yogurt, just to make it a little less bad for you. (The recipe is at the end.) So I set forth hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. By that I mean making sure I had enough money to run to Harmon's and buy a cake, if all else failed.

Here are the results after baking the two layers.

Looking very good, so far. Actually, these look better than most round cakes I've attempted lately. Nice and flat without any sink holes.

The frosting is a bit on the odd side. I suppose that you would classify it as a ganache, though it's texture before completely set is more like a pudding. It is good though, deep, dark, rich chocolate flavor without being too sweet. A frosting for grown-ups, I suppose. I found it easiest to spread it on the cake before it had completely set up. It made for easier spreading and a cleaner appearance.

Et voilà!

Beautiful, and one of my better frosting jobs, to boot!

Oops, almost forgot the recipe.

Chocolate Stout Cake à la Tom


1 1/2 cups stout (such as Sierra Nevada Stout or Guinness)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/8 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)

3 cups all purpose flour
3 cups sugar
3/4 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/8 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
1 cup natural, plain low-fat yogurt

1 1/2 cups whipping cream
3/4 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line with parchment paper. Butter paper. Bring 1 1/2 cups stout and 1 1/2 cups butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/8 teaspoons salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely.

For icing:
Bring cream to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours.

Place 1 cake layer on plate. Spread 2/3-ish cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake.

Culinary Epilogue (6:41 AM, 7/20/2007): The cake was delicious. It's pretty dense and rich, like a devil's food cake, and not too sweet. The stout, though not overt, adds a noticeable richness to the cake and a hoppiness that is especially tasted in the first few bites. When you sink your teeth in for the first bite, the beer announces its presence with gusto and ushers your taste buds into the chocolaty party, then steps aside and allows you to enjoy the cake, while itself staying off to the side, but keeping things interesting.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Opening day of the Ogden City Farmer's and Art Market

(Before I go into the article, let me tell you that I had a real scare after I got home and put my photos on my computers. After dropping them into my photo folder, I opened Picasa to upload them to my web album and noticed that there was two copies of the folder listed, so I went to delete one, but instead of just removing it from Picasa, I accidentally deleted the photos all together. Luckily, though , I was able to retrieve them from the depths of my hard drive's temporary files directory. Heh, got lucky that time. Now, on to the story!)

Finally, after weeks of waiting (months actually, as I've been waiting since October), the farmer's market on Ogden's Historic 25th Street has officially opened, and of course I had to be there on the first day of festivities!

The market is held every Saturday morning, from 8am - 1pm starting July 14th through September 29th. I have always loved going to check out the freshest produce, artisan breads, and a plethora of food, art, crafts, and other stuff.

One of the first things you notice on the approach to 25th St. is the many wonderful, savory aromas of bratwurst, Korean cooking, and dutch oven cooking. All of which is very tempting, and often quite good, too. I decided to pass on the Korean barbecue, though, as 9:30am is a bit too early for me to want to eat barbecue.

My first stop of the morning was Volker's Bakery table. This table is always one of the most popular at the market. The bakery itself is up in Kamas, so the market is really the only place to get the great bread down here in Ogden. Here you can buy a couple dozen different types of breads ranging from Jewish Rye, Ciabatta, Cottage Cheese and Dill, and Rosmarino, to sweet breads like Cranberry-Orange, Lemon Sage, Stollen, and Apple Strudel. The average price is about $5 per loaf. Not too bad a price, really.

One of the main reasons for me to go to the market is to find the freshest, locally grown produce. I had hoped to find some fresh roma tomatoes, however I guess it's still a bit early for tomatoes. I guess my Pizza Margherita will have to wait a little longer. However, what produce I did see was not disappointing, in the least. Potatoes fresh from the ground, fresh picked basil, sweet corn, zucchini, cucumber, yellow squash, it all looked so very delicious. In the end though , I just went with a half-dozen ears of corn. I haven't had fresh corn for weeks!

Beyond the food and produce, one can also find a lot of hand-made jewelry, pottery, paintings, fashions, and other crafts. I won't try and hide the fact that I've never spent a whole lot of time shopping for these items. I guess I'm usually caught up in the farm-fresh goods and talking with the growers. I did buy a bracelet last year, as gift for a dear friend, but other than that I've usually come to the market for the food. There are always bits and pieces of things that catch my eye, though. Like today there was a table by Escape Design, a small mask and costume company. I was pretty impressed with their stuff. There is also the usual assortment of vendors and crafters selling polished rock necklaces, walking sticks, and knitted accessories.

Aside from the foods and arts, there are also cooking demos and live music at the market. This week featured the cowboy/folk/western music of the Blue Sage Trio. They were pretty good and I enjoyed listening to them, though I don't think it's the kind of music I'd go out of my way to hear. But here at the market, surrounded by all types of people, in a carnival-like atmosphere...I enjoyed it.

In the end I definitely say I had a good time and will certainly be going to the market more often this summer, especially seeing as how my new job will make it easier. At my last job I worked every Saturday from 8am - 1pm...the exact time of the Farmer's Market. Convenient.[/sarcasm] I even got out of the market with a few bucks in change left in my wallet, a rarity, I'll tell you. My haul included a loaf of Volker's Rosmarino bread (a loaf with rasins, rosemary, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds), a burlap Volker's market bag, six ears of sweet corn, and a bottle of grape juice from Winder Dairy. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Graphic Poetry and Farmer's Market Anticipation

Time for another non-food related post (well, mostly).

I StumbledUpon a few weeks ago and fell in love with the site. It features short verses written by the site creator, W.C. Pelon, imposed over small triptics of images. I really like not only the concept, but the execution of the concept. Relating verse to images without it becoming cliché or simplistic is a challenge. I really respect Mr. Pelon's work.

Here are a few samples of his stuff.

Going back to the food scene, I'm happy to announce that the Ogden Farmer's Market will finally be opening its doors, street barricades, uh...doors this Saturday! I've been waiting and waiting for this all summer, as it is one of the few things that makes the heat, sun, and burns from said sun, bearable to any extent. The fresh, locally raised produce, the great music by locals bands, the arts, the crafts, the dutch oven cooking, the fresh baked bread...Heaven on Earth. I'm going up for opening day and will post about the morning's happenings. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Lavender Pie and Cookies for Consideration

If you look back to my very first post, I went over how I created my own, delicious, lavender honey which was to be for a pie. Well hold your breath no more as I made and we ate said pie yesterday.

May I present...*ta da!*

The Lavender Honey and Yogurt Pie. Beautiful, isn't it? *sniffle*
(The picture isn't very good, I know, but I had to snap it quickly then go to the barbecue)

Everyone at the barbecue seemed to be a little confused as to what lavender honey was. Some even seemed a little reluctant to try it, but once they did no one questioned my pie any further. The flavor is, of course, sweet but it doesn't punch you in the face. The lavender added a delicious, floral, freshness to the pie which when taken with the tangyness of the yogurt made this a wonderful dessert for a Summer evening. And the peaches added a fresh brightness to the pie.

I definitely will be trying the recipe again, but I'm thinking of what other flavors I could infuse with the honey to change the pie.

I also took a dozen on the Dark Chocolate Chipotle Cookies, too. Everyone was skeptical about them and hesitated to try them. But with a little push from me almost everyone tried at least a piece of a cookie. In general the cookies got a positive review. No one there had even tried the chocolate/pepper combo before, but they went over well. One reaction that I had not anticipated was that the spiciness of the cookies cause everyone to really stop and consider the cookie. They didn't just eat it and call it good. They would take a bite, chew it slowly, look at the cookie, inspect it, experience it, and continue. I enjoy it when my family and friends like what I cook, but I really love it when they actually stop and think about what they're eating. It's refreshing for me.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The kinetic sculptures of Theo Jansen

Time for a short, non-food related entry, I think.

I know it's not entirely current, seeing as how this was originally posted online almost a year ago, but I still think it's amazing. I am referring to the kinetic sculptures of Theo Jansen.

His works are wind-driven and very organic. They're like alien creatures, with wings that instead of manipulating the wind to move, are instead manipulated by the wind. Mr. Jansen is a modern DaVinci.

Since about ten years Theo Jansen is occupied with the making of a new nature. Not pollen or seeds but plastic yellow tubes are used as the basic material of this new nature. He makes skeletons which are able to walk on the wind. Eventually he wants to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.

- (Theo's website)