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Snowmageddon 2010 (Beer Bread)

February 11, 2010

Some people suffered during the storm having to suffice on canned or boxed food or leftovers or somethin’. Not here, no sir. ‘The Uncommon Woman’ and I packed it in with great food knowing good and well we were in for it. We ate well… Several homemade pizzas, homemade soups, charcuterie, etc., etc. It was OK (well… to us) that our local grocers ran out of meat and veggies because we were prepared…

But there was one that stood out of course, the Irish Brown Loaf. Again, Jim Lahey taught me this one and I have to share because it’s perfect for these snowy winter days… (BUY HIS BOOK, IT’S AMAZING!!) And it’s really just an alteration of this recipe, but brought to the next level.

Why is it Irish? Well, I think Lahey calls it such because he uses Guinness, but I decided to go with the Peak Organic’s Nut Brown Ale instead. It was incredible, smelling just like the beer, but the raisins gave it a nice tart/sweetness to balance the yeasty beer flavors. Incredible. I highly recommend.

Irish No-Knead Brown Loaf

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Equipment:

* One medium mixing bowl
* 6-8 qt. pot (Pyrex glass, Lodge cast iron, Le Creuset cast iron, or ceramic)
* Wooden spoon or spatula (optional)
* Plastic wrap
* Cotton dish towels (not terrycloth), 2 or 3

Ingredients:

*2 1/4 c. Bread Flour (300 grams)
*3/4 c. Whole Wheat Flour (100 grams)
*1 t. Kosher Salt (6 grams)
*1 T. Wheat Bran (5 grams)
*1/4 t. Instant Dry Yeast (1 gram)
*1 c. Peak Organic’s Nut Brown Ale (175 grams)
(or any Porter/Stout you love)
*1 c. Buttermilk (175 grams)
*1 1/4 c. mixed raisins (150 grams)
*additional wheat bran for dusting

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast, salt, wheat bran, and raisins. Add the beer and buttermilk, and stir until blended; dough will be quite sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. If your place is chilly leave it for up to 24 hours. Be patient.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles, and it went from to a liquidy look. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. This loaf is quite wet so you may need more than usual. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth, leaves fuzzy pills in the dough) with wheat bran; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more bran. Fold the towel over the dough and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (I use either my Lodge cast iron, or my ceramic-covered cast iron pictured) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Be careful putting it in ’cause the pot is HOT.

Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 10 to 15 minutes max, until loaf is beautifully browned. Carefully pull it out with a wooden spoon and a towel, and leave it on a rack to cool for almost an hour. You’ll hear the dough “sing” as the crust shrinks.

Dig into it after it’s cool to the touch. The inside will be nice and warm and smell amazing. Let me know if you try it. Good luck, it’s really amazing and provides great breakfast bread for several days… Especially when you’re snowed in this weekend while the mess melts.

March DC Food Blogger Happy Hour

February 11, 2010

Here it is, the next installment of the DC Food Blogger booze fests. Coming to Vinoteca this time (wicked cheap yummy wine). Hope to see y’all there. Please, please, please RSVP here on Facebook, and become a fan while you’re at it. Cheers!

Scouting Report: Scottish Beef

February 3, 2010

‘The Common Man’ dropped into Againn (pronounced A-Gwen, a Gallic term, $$), a well-conceptualized and sophisticated Gastropub, tonight for a burger and beer to scout it out for future visits. Loved the large space with huge windows looking into the urban environment of 10th and New York Ave, NW. The bar was jammed so they accommodated me with the bar menu in the restaurant, thank you to the chef for going outside his comfort zone.

The burger tasted extremely fresh and is made from the Scottish Highland breed which has remained mostly unchanged as a breed for hundreds of years, which adds value to the already bloated burger scene here in DC, and also indicates the meat is not from disaster/gigantic cattle feed yards. The meat was great, but perhaps a tiny-bit under seasoned harming the caramelized onions as the beef didn’t meld together as well as it would’ve with a better salt balance.

However, everything on my plate (except I imagine the farmstead cheddar cheese) was house-made: the bun, the pickle, the fries, the ketchup, and the aioli which is such a simple yet amazing concept that escalates the meal by ten-fold. And I could taste it, absolutely made the meal.

Bottom-line: Go check it out. I’ll be back for the charcuterie as they offer a board with more house-made treats, and the wine list was extensive. I’ll probably avoid the bar menu this time even though there are other interesting selections, seeking out the more refined menu to see truly what the chef has in his repertoire.

Wine and Cheese

January 31, 2010

Sometimes I make culinary treks…. Usually to find wine and cheese. I don’t know what it is. I grew up on government cheese and when I first started to enjoy booze I was happy with Mad Dog 20/20. Now I will actually plan a trip around finding incredible cheeses to enjoy and incredible wine to wash it down with. Especially if a charcuterie board is involved.

‘The Uncommon Woman’ looks at me funny when I shout “Let’s go get charcuterie!!”. Mostly because I say it all of the time. I once seriously proposed that for dinner every night we just eat charcuterie, bread, cheese, and a bottle of wine. Needless to say, it didn’t fly.

But I still get my way sometimes because I am a lucky man, and we get out to sweet locales that feature charcuterie whenever she notices that look in my eyes.

But last weekend I didn’t have to convince her. We were in Old Town, Alexandria with a couple of good friends and carrying a couple of afternoon glasses of wine in us already and “stumbled” upon the Grape + Bean ($$). This simple and comfortable place kinda’ blew my mind…

Grape + Bean at first glance is a wine shop with a coffee bar, but we picked up the menu and it was a charcuterie Valhalla. It was well-priced too. We paid $24 for a collection of five meats and cheeses. ‘The Uncommon Woman’ was the master at picking these while I belabored the wine selection because while the wine list is interesting, yet small, you are allowed to pick any bottle in the store and they add “corking fee” to it (more on that later)! I took my time going through each shelf, as they have the shelves ordered from lightest reds to heaviest (a nice method for any wine drinker, beginner or expert).

Finally I found it! A Kermit Lynch import (they have a ton of them) from Burgundy. A 2005 Pierre Guillemot, Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Sepentières. We popped that baby and it was gorgeous. Nice fruit, but balanced with acid and a slight earthiness. As it sat it developed. Would have been even better after an hour, but we didn’t have the luxury of such time. By the way, $30 if you pop in and buy it. Could use another 5+ years I’d say for peak drinking. Yum.

Anyway, their selection of cheeses was great. Highlight was a Tuscon cheese that had the texture of ice cream, and the rosemary manchego to pair with the jamón ibérico.

The server was great… This kick-back red headed kid that was very talkative and knew more about wine than what one would perceive from his college-kid demeanor. We talked about many things including football, photography, and his love of the cheese. He was cool.

Because he was so cool I didn’t react to the fact that he kinda’ wasn’t clear when he told me they’d only add a “corking fee” to the bottle I picked out. The $30 bottle I thought might wind up being $35-40 wound up being $47. This isn’t a “corking fee”, they just adjust it to wine list prices I think. Still a great bottle, but we were going for afternoon prices.

So overall the Grape + Bean is a great hideaway off of King St in Alexandria worthy of the trek outta’ the city for a comfortable setting… and charcuterie. I recommend it for great cheese and an excellent wine selection. There are many choices in Alexandria, but I will always have the Grape + Bean in mind for afternoon bottles.

No-Waste Veggie Stock

January 18, 2010

Stock is probably the easiest thing you can make with the most payoff. ‘The Uncommon Woman’ and I have been doing this for a long time now… Every piece of veggie end that we have when we chop up veggies for our dishes throughout the week goes into a bag in the freezer until the weekend when it’s time to stock up. Every shallot, onion, and garlic end; every skin from a carrot; every dark green top from leeks and onions; every woody mushroom stem; every celery crown; so on and so on.

We don’t even buy stock anymore, and if we’re forced to for a last minute recipe we’re never as impressed as when we use our own. This is great too when you have too many veggies in the fridge and won’t have a chance to use them before they go bad. We just chop ours up and throw them in the bag for the stock (‘The Uncommon Woman’ always reminds me to make sure the scraps are rinsed before going in the bag).

Our key too is our pressure cooker (highly recommended). Instead of several hours (4-8) on low heat the pressure cooker does it in 35-45 minutes. But of course you can still do it in a stock pot if you’ve got the day to waste away; it warms the house and makes it smell nice (if you do this make sure the veggies are covered by about 2-3 inches throughout the process, keep adding water if necessary). We usually make several quarts and throw ‘em in the freezer.

Another key, browning the veggies. I throw them in the cast iron skillet on medium-high until the veggies are lightly browned before I drop them into the pot. I don’t brown them in the stock pot because I don’t want the stock to be too toasty.

We throw in white wine and tomato paste at the end to add a little umami to the party.

Homemade Veggie Stock

Big Ziploc bag full of veggie scraps: Obviously the key is to have aromatics. We always have plenty of carrot, onion, and garlic scraps.
2 cloves roughly chopped garlic
2-4 thyme sprigs
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (keep the salt light so you can control it in the recipe you use the stock in later down the line)
2-3 bay leaves
2 1/4 quarts of water
1/4 cup white wine
2 Tablespoons of tomato paste

It all depends on how much you’re going to make of course, this recipe yields about 4 quarts. We throw it all together (minus the wine and tomato paste), cover it with the water, bring to a boil then cover and seal. Once the valve starts exhausting the steam in a steady fashion we bring the heat down to medium-high and let it go for about 35-45 minutes. At the end when you take off the cover add the wine and tomato and let it continue to simmer for about 5 more minutes.

When done, strain the veggies out with a metal strainer lined with cheese cloth right into quart containers and either freeze or pop in the fridge for that recipe during the week.

NOTE: If you want to make chicken stock, just add the chicken bones or whatever you use, but keep the chicken to veggie ratio to about 3:1. Same thing. Also, we don’t usually put greens in there. The most we’ll do is swiss chard stems or something, but bitter greens will overpower it and also the green color greens produce makes the stock appear unappetizing because of the chloroform.

Easy and Fresh No-Knead Bread: The Best Bread You’ll Ever Make

December 21, 2009

I haven’t had a snow day in ages. Now how better to enjoy it, and prolong the cozy DC-area snowfall mood, then to bake fresh bread and nosh on some charcuterie?

I’ve been doing it a bunch lately. I plan ahead by 12-18 hours, mix up the dough, and let it sit ’til the yeast has activated and it’s time to get it ready to bake. It is extremely crispy on the outside, and bouncy and airy inside. The key is to cut a piece and take a whiff as if you were smelling a good wine. The malty, yeasty aroma will make your mouth water… It reminds me of an incredible beer flavor.

I learned to bake bread from Jim Lahey of the Sullivan St Bakery in Manhattan. Here’s the original recipe from the NY Times.

And if you really enjoy it, BUY HIS COOKBOOK.

The recipe is so simple. I’ve added my additional comments and I’ve altered his instructions a tiny bit.

No-Knead Bread

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Equipment:

* Two medium mixing bowls
* 6-8 qt. pot (Pyrex glass, Lodge cast iron, Le Creuset cast iron, or ceramic)
* Wooden spoon or spatula (optional)
* Plastic wrap
* Cotton dish towels (not terrycloth), 2 or 3

Ingredients:

* 3 cups bread flour, more for dusting
* ¼ teaspoon instant yeast, or whatever yeast you have, doesn’t matter
* 1¼ teaspoons plain-ole table salt
* Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed for dusting.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 1/3 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. If your place is chilly leave it for up to 24 hours. Be patient.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles, and it went from a dry to a wet look. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth, leaves fuzzy pills in the dough) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Fold the towel over the dough and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (I use either my Lodge cast iron, or my ceramic-covered cast iron) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.

Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Carefully pull it out with a wooden spoon and a towel, and leave it on a rack to cool for almost an hour. You’ll hear the dough “sing” as the crust shrinks. That is the sound of success.

Next step, carve that bad boy up and eat it. Again, take your time with the first bite, smell it deep. It’s amazing with the sweet/malty contrast if you spread some fresh jam onto it. Or I’ll be using it for charcuterie tonight.

I tend to eat it in a day or so, but it should last in a brown bag on your counter for about 3 days or so. If it goes stale make bread crumbs with it by just throwing it in a food processor.

Buen provecho.

The South Has Risen…. In The North?

November 30, 2009

The Common Man ventured out of DC last week and encountered a southern culinary treat deep in the Yankee North

Cambridge, Massachusetts … it isn’t exactly the first place you’d expect to find wonderfully cooked and prepared southern food, is it? Until last week, I would have agreed with you. I myself hail from Boston, and when I go home I usually gravitate towards Tremont 647 or take a stroll down Hanover St. So what the hell was I doing eating southern food here?

Well, it’s no secret in Cambridge, but a little place called Hungry Mother, just off of a side street just over the river in Boston has found a niche and hit it big — and not just with the locals. In fact, Hungry Mother’s reputation has reached down to the south, and such writers as John T. Edge and the Southern Foodways Alliance have recognized and indulged.

But what’s drawing them beyond the fact that it’s probably one of the only southern joints in the area is Chef Barry Maiden’s dedication to classically inspired dishes, done with his French technique. Some southern purists might complain that his food isn’t quite “down home” enough. This is not exactly the southern food you would find at a typical Southern Baptist Sunday supper or in diners on roadsides winding through the bible belt. But it’s still food with roots. Roots in southern homestyle cooking.

When you walk in to wait for your table and see a list of snacks “to hold you over…” including boiled Virgina-grown peanuts, or Allen Benton’s Tennessee ham on homemade biscuits with a black pepper jam, you know you’ve momentarily stepped outside the Northeast. There’s something to spying the little bar welcoming you and looking up at the old-man bourbons on the top shelf and ordering a real cocktail made fresh by a bartender in an apron and a bow-tie. If you’re from the Boston you’re thinking, where am I? This is special… it’s comfort mixed with elegance, class mixed with irreverence, expertise mixed with simplicity. You feel somehow part of the southern aristocracy, even as you shucking peanuts, and you realize how lucky you are to have been lead to Hungry Mother.

But what’s the secret? The chef says it’s all about making food that he loves, just making every component of it perfectly. Starting from the bare bones. Of course lots of chefs pay lip service to the same ideals, but Barry actually ‘walks the walk’. When you’re crunching on a fresh baked crostini with corned beef and spicy mustard on it, you’re eating something that has been brined and cooked in-house, served with spicy mustard that was mixed with house-made spices right in the tiny downstairs prep-kitchen. There’s a reason Chef Barry Maiden was one of the Best New Chefs in the country, according to Food & Wine Magazine this year. All the way from Saltville, Virginia. I envy you, Boston/Cambridge.

So the southern connoisseur (which I certainly do not claim to be) is driven to test the chef, of course. “Bring on the grits!” he may shout. But he’ll not taste a creamier and more perfectly balanced cup of grits this side of the low-country. These grits are made with fresh, craft-made cheddar cheese and topped with tasso ham. The corn is ground by a very special producer down in North Carolina who still uses his old, porous stone grinder, giving the grits that homestyle texture any old-school southern traditionalist would absolutely crave in his grits.

Amidst all this food, it’s hard to even look up, but when you do, you see that Hungry Mother has a warm decor that gives you the feeling that you’re in a cozy southern bead and breakfast, but without a hint of kitsch. I delighted in having Thomas Jefferson watch over my meal and in perusing the pages torn from Virginia Housewife cookbook that covered the bathroom walls.

But you can’t help forgetting about the space when you’re enveloped in the food and conversation. It has a communal loudness, without being oppressive, and being comfortable in one’s decibel is wholly southern, as far as I know.

The Black Eyed Pea Fritters with a house-made buttermilk ranch and pickled kohlrabi says, ‘Hey, I’m fried, but not heavy’. Good frying is an art, and when you are eating southern, but don’t feel weighed down, something is being done right.

As you might expect, there is a northern element to Hungry Mother, because Chef Maiden seeks out fresh, local ingredients. His Deviled Main Crab skillet is made with bread crumbs and house-smoked paprika. The cheddar cheeses are from Vermont, and the house-cured meats and chutneys are all made in-house from local produce.

You taste it in the Berskhire Pork Loin too. Imagine a perfectly cooked loin, draped with a dry-rubbed, smoked rib to top it off. The cider reduction felt so comfortable, along with the smoked and cured bacon. I haven’t found pork like this in a long time.

Never have I tasted a New England bouillabaisse so craftily southern, yet obviously from Maine and the fisheries of the North East. It features local diver scallops, squid, oysters, and house-made Old Bay aioli (yes, he makes his own Old Bay) in a delicate broth as succulent as it is unique.

You see, while Barry is from the South and is inspired by the foods his family cooked, he has been adopted by New England, going to culinary school there, training at Lumiere and L’Espalier under two of New England’s finest French-trained chefs, marrying his wife there, and even having his first child in his Somerville locale. This is no fancy “fusion” though. It’s a solid tree, with southern roots, a classically French base, and a tall New England trunk, with branches even directing towards Brazil (exquisite cow tongues smothered in gravy on toast, ZOMG!), if you can believe it.

If I had to muster up one complaint, it’s that their wine list doesn’t feature any of the best southern wines you can find, from Virginia. Of course this is the fault of the state of Massachusetts because there is no distribution yet — a truly sad state. Fortunately, they’ve got plenty of French and California varietals, combined with some great creative options.

Save room to indulge more with an old fashioned chocolate layer cake (the twist? a light sprinkling of sea salt) or a big ole creamy slice of pecan pie with bourbon (!) ice cream. Wash the sweets down with a champagne-bottle of Brooklyn Local Number 2, Belgian-style dark ale, that is creamy, chocolaty, and caramely.

Another famous figure born and bred in Saltville, the confederate general ‘Jeb’ Stuart, was known for his cavalry skills, exercised under the great General Lee, and for his hardworking image that inspired southern morale. Jeb met his end at the Battle of Yellow Tavern. Well maybe Barry is not so far from his this famous native after all. He has a truly southern conscious that has been stricken by the north, and we’re happy to visit his tavern any old time.

Go North to taste the South. Your just rewards await you.

All Pics from Hungry Mother website

Full disclosure: I’m lucky to count Chef Maiden as one of my close friends, but our friendship doesn’t detract from my ability to objectively identify him as one of the top young chefs on my radar

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