Friday, March 30, 2012

Soft White Loaf

When I first joined Facebook, it was because of peer pressure.  I resisted and resisted every overture and then, finally, I got an invitation from a friend who is creative, artistic, a super adaptable expat and mother-extraordinaire, but she is not what I would have called technologically adept.  Perfectly competent, but no whiz.  Well, unless that technology is her fancy all-knowing, embroidering, fancy-stitching computerized Bernina sewing machine!  She has that baby down pat.  Anyway, I figured if she could do it, I could too. 

In the 2009 format, Facebook had the ability to create discussion forums under Groups.  Almost immediately, I saw the potential of that and created a Recipe Exchange group and asked my few friends to join.  We posted favorite recipes or things we were making for dinner, divided into discussion topics like Soups, Sweet Things, Poultry and Vegetables.  It was great fun to see what friends were up to in their kitchens around the world and share ideas and recipes. 

One item under discussion was fresh yeast vs. dried yeast.  I had never tried fresh yeast, and this same friend was expounding its virtues.  (She is also a very good cook and baker!)  Ever since, I have looked for it at bakery supply shops and have even asked at bakeries (because I was told they will sometimes give you a piece if you ask.)  No luck.  Until yesterday.   Here in Providence, the day before I am flying back to Cairo, and should be packing.  Right at the local grocery store mere minutes from the place I am housesitting.  Well, I had to bake bread, didn’t I?  This was the lightest, most delicate crumb loaf I’ve ever made.  It disappeared in record time, served only sliced with a light spread of butter.  Now I will pine for fresh yeast because I know what I am missing.  Ah, to lose a new love so soon.  Tragic.

4 cups or 500g all purpose flour, plus extra flour for kneading and dusting
1 1/3 cups or 320ml warm water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Olive oil

Put your flour in a large mixing bowl.  Make a well in the center and pop in your yeast cake, sugar and salt.  

Yay!  Little fresh yeast cake.  How long I have longed for you. 

Pour in half the water and mix with a fork by incorporating flour from the edges of the well little by little.  

When you have a very thick batter, add in the rest of the water and mix the whole lot.  

When you have one thick dough ball, knead it on a lightly floured surface until it is stretchy and supple.

  Put the tiniest amount of olive oil in the bottom of the bowl, spread it around a little, and put the dough ball in.  Sprinkle the top with flour, cover with a teacloth and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes. 

After half an hour, punch the dough down and knead it a little bit more, for just a minute or two.  

After half an hour - the first rising.

Shape into the form you want to bake it and put it in a greased baking pan.  Here in my housesitting house, a round springform pan was the only one I could find.  Use whatever shape you like.

With a very sharp knife, cut three shallow slits in the top of the dough and sprinkle again with flour. 

Cover the pan with your teacloth and put it back in the warm place for 30 minutes to one hour for the final rising.  I set my timer for 30 minutes and then started preheating my oven to 400°F or 200°C, putting the bread in when the oven was hot, after 45 minutes rising time.

After 45 minutes of rising in a warm place - over the radiator vent.  
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the loaf is golden on the outside and sounds hollow when tapped with a knife.  (Just open the oven door and give it a couple of gentle raps before removing it.)


Hey, see that little green Facebook symbol up in the right hand column?  If you click on it and then hit LIKE when Facebook opens, you will never miss a post because they are automatically updated to my Facebook page.  I mean, just if you want to.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hearty Vegetable Bean Soup

Full of vegetables of every kind plus pasta and beans, this hearty soup will warm you and fill you up, no matter how cold it is outside!

Every time I sit on an airplane waiting for it to take off, I marvel at the miracle of flight. Yes, I know it’s not really a miracle and is all about physics, but it seems incredible to me that we have managed to discern and harness those mysteries of science and get something that weighs 766,800 lbs or 347,800 kg (in my recent instance, a Boeing 777 or 64 average size elephants) to lift and fly in the air, transporting people and their belongings around the world. (Including me and my I-kick-when-I-am-dreaming, drooling seatmate who also snored to beat the band. The WHOLE flight. Eleven hours, people!)

If there is ever a nomination or prize for single most valuable invention for expats who live the nomadic life away from home countries, friends and family, air travel would get my vote, way before telephones and internet. Sure, telephones and internet make the day to day life easier to handle but, there is no joy greater than getting on a plane in one country and walking off 12 or 24 or 32 hours later, right into the arms of a loved one. As few as 60 years ago, those same trips could have taken weeks or even months by boat. And a week-long trip to visit my daughters would not have even been a remote possibility. But here I am in Providence, cooking for elder daughter and two of her friends and younger daughter and three of her friends and life in 2012 is GOOD.

We were rocking the fake sausage meat but you can use actual sausage, if you eat such things. Also these vegetable amounts are completely flexible. If you don’t like something, substitute something else. You really like something? Add more of that.

1 bag Hurst’s 15-Bean Soup mix (with completely kosher and vegetarian friendly, “ham” seasoning packet - say, what?!) or 20 oz or 570g of your favorite dried bean combination
2 medium onions
1 egg
14 oz or 400g of Gimme Lean or sausage meat. (Italian would work really well here.)
Olive oil
1 28 oz or 790g can crushed tomatoes
2-3 sticks of celery
2 carrots
2 zucchini or courgettes
About a third of a medium sized head of cauliflower
1 14 oz or 396g can of hominy or sweet corn, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper – more or less to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
2 bay leaves
6 oz or 170g short pasta of your choice
Sea salt
1 or more vegetable stock cubes, to taste

Cover the beans plus another three inches or 7.5cm with boiling water. Put a lid on the pot or bowl and allow to soak for one hour. This takes the place for an overnight soak and works for any hard dried beans that usually require soaking.

Aren't they just gorgeous?! 

Meanwhile, chop your onions and celery and mix half of one onion (or 1/4 of your pile) with the Gimme Lean and the egg. Form into little balls.

Pan-fry these in a little olive oil until they are nicely browned and set aside.

Sauté the remaining onions and the celery with a little olive oil, in the same skillet or a pot big enough to hold all the other ingredients.

Your beans are probably still in soak mode, so go ahead and get the rest of your vegetables prepped.

Cut the zucchini in quarters lengthwise.  Remove the soft middle bit with a knife.
This squishy part can be put directly in the pot, if you'd like. Save the green outside for nearer the end of cooking.

Once the soaking hour is up, drain and rinse the beans and pop them into the pot with the sauteed onions and celery.

Cover them with water. It doesn’t have to be hot. Add in the can of crushed tomatoes, the “ham” seasoning packet (if you are using the Hurst bean mix,) the stock cube/s (add one at a time and taste for saltiness before adding any more), the two bay leaves, the tablespoon of sugar.

Cook over a slow to medium heat for about 30-40 minutes, checking the water level occasionally and adding more, if necessary. Stir to make sure the beans aren't sticking on the bottom of the pot. About halfway through, add in the hominy.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, boil your pasta in salted water, according to package instructions. Rinse and set aside to cool. We don’t throw the pasta right in the bean pot because it will soak up all of your liquid quite quickly and the starch from the pasta will make the soup too starchy. This soup is thick enough!

When your beans are tender, you can add in the fresh vegetables and the meatless (or meat) balls. Season with the crushed red pepper. Cook until the carrots, zucchini and cauliflower are done to your liking.

Right before serving, add in the cooked pasta and make sure it is heated through. This pot of hearty vegetable bean soup will feed 10-12 people quite easily.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Don’t Be Missing Lemon Chicken

The internet has let me down.  Or maybe it’s not really the internet but human failure to upload what I want to find.  Because, boy, did I search and search to no avail.  No matter whom I blame, the fact of the matter is that I cannot find the video I really wanted to post with this recipe. 

Back story:  Eldest daughter graduated from Singapore American School in 2009.  Some time just before graduation, a handful of students put together a video of the senior class each saying what they would miss about SAS and Singapore.  There were various answers, some touching, some funny, but the one that was repeated over and over and over again, was lemon chicken.  Lemon chicken, lemon chicken, lemon chicken.

I did manage to find this.  The lunch offerings of the SAS caterer, Mr. Hoe.

See, right there, in the right column, every day: lemon chicken.  But the best part is, if you are missing it, lemon chicken is simple to make.  This recipe is from the venerable Ken Hom, but I doubled the sauce and tweaked it a bit.  There can never be too much sauce, am I right?

For the chicken:
1lb or 450g boneless skinless chicken breasts (2 large breasts were almost exactly the right amount)
1 egg white
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch

For the sauce:
150ml chicken stock
3 oz or a little less than 90ml fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry  
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 cloves garlic
2 fresh red chilies
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil

Cut the chicken into thin strips.  Combine them with the egg white, salt, sesame oil and cornstarch in a bowl, mix well.   Put the bowl into the fridge for at least 20 minutes or until you are ready to cook.

Add a liter or about a quart of water to your wok or frying pan and heat until boiling.  

Remove from the heat and immediately add the chicken, stirring vigorously to keep it from sticking and to separate the strips.   (Traditionally this step is done with cooking oil replacing the water.  Mr. Hom suggested boiling water instead to lower the calorie count.  If you want to do oil, you need only 10 oz or 300ml of canola or peanut oil.  I guess oil gets hotter to start with and retains the heat longer for cooking so a small amount will do the trick.)

After about two minutes, when the chicken pieces turn white, remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and discard the water.

Meanwhile, dissolve your sauce cornstarch in two teaspoons of water and split your red chilies up the middle to let the heat out.  This cooks for such a short time that the spiciness will not transfer to the sauce if you don’t.

Wipe the wok or pan clean and re-heat it.  Add the stock, lemon juice, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine, garlic and chilies and bring the mixture to the boil over a high heat.

You don't need a wok because any pan will do.  I just happen to have one. 

Add the cornstarch mixture and turn the heat down immediately.  Simmer for one minute, stirring constantly.   If you are not ready to serve yet, stop here.  

When you are ready to serve, reheat the sauce and put in the chicken strips.  Cook them long enough to warm through and coat with the sauce.  

Stir in the sesame oil and mix once again.  Serve with white rice and perhaps a green vegetable. 

Mr. Hom suggests a garnish of chopped green onions, but I forgot to add them since we were celebrating our 26th anniversary eve with cocktails.  Fair trade: a vodka tonic with lime for green onions.  Any day.


P.S. If anyone out there knows where I can find that video, please let me know!  I'd love to see it again.