March, 2007 Archive

Friday, March 16, 2007

skillet irish soda bread

skillet irish soda bread

I was incapable of resisting. Despite the fact that the last New York Times recipe that burned such a hole in my monitor that I had to try it ASAP was a caustic disaster, I hold no grudges against the Gray Lady. Not when she, or more specifically Melissa Clark, graces the pages with what she considers the ultimate soda bread, “baked in a heavy iron skillet so that the top and bottom crusts become crunchy and browned while the center stays tender and pale, studded with treacly bits of raisins.”

I’ve never made Irish soda bread before and eaten it almost as rarely, so I can’t offer a review with any authority, but what I loved about this article is neither could Clark. She was told by a friend married to an Irishman and living in his country that though her version was rich and lovely, it neither looked nor tasted like the real deal. Apparently, nobody in Ireland serves real soda bread anymore, she said, and even if they did, it would have no raisins, eggs, butter or caraway seeds. After trying a version faithful to the original and finding it delicious when warm, but hard, dry and bland when cold, Clark decided being authentic was overrated, and went back to her old formula.

this is good, this is very good

Continued after the jump »

Thursday, March 15, 2007

mediterranean eggplant and barley salad

mediterranean eggplant and barley salad

I don’t know if the name for this affliction is procrastination–hey, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least, she says, eyeing the sinkful of last night’s dishes–but when I need to get things done, I have this bad habit of doing them either right-that-very-moment or pretty much never. When I return from a vacation, I either get every single thing out of that suitcase and into its proper closet or hamper within twenty minutes, or it sits on the floor of the bedroom for weeks, as it has since we’ve returned from Charleston. I return a garment I’ve changed my mind about the very next day, or it sits in a bag, as has a certain Banana Republic blouse, for six (cough, eight) months, my husband looking pointedly at it and then back at me often enough that I just downright ignore that too. Once something leaves my short-term memory, it may as well be lost for good, but in recipes at least, today I am on a rescue mission.

mediterranean eggplant and barley salad

You know, I’ve never been one to malign vegetables or healthy food, but I think that’s exactly what’s happened here. I don’t dive into posts about them the way I do with cakes, frosted, sprinkled, rolled, yeasted, basted, braised and pressed things; the more everyday stuff always ends up backlogged, and then accidentally forgotten. And it’s a shame, because if I had more of this Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad right now, I’d eat it for lunch and then dinner again.

Continued after the jump »

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

mighty russian morsels

russian black bread

Bored of tapas? Over at NPR, I have a guided tour of Russian hors d’oeuvres, called zakuski, each as unsubtle, garlicky and brined as you should expect from my husband’s pickled-crazed people. It includes recipes for my mother-in-law’s famous eggplant caviar, Georgian kidney bean salad, salted mushrooms and the most complex, flavorful best black bread I have ever eaten. I hope you love it as much as we do.

Elsewhere: Mighty Russian Morsels

Monday, March 12, 2007

italian bread

peter reinhart's italian bread

A few weeks ago, in my ninth entry into my bread category, I expressed my desire to take this whole yeast/flour/water/tada! thing a step further, and begged for some cookbook guidance. At the end of it, with almost equal votes for Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Bread Bible and Peter Reinhart’s Bread Maker’s Apprentice, I was still torn, changing my mind back and forth until the final seconds of my order, eventually settling on the latter. On the day it arrived, I tore into it, certain that something would jump right off the page, and I’d be up to my elbows in flour, once again, that night. Instead, the opposite happened—I froze with terror. Bigas and poolishes and oh my god, all of these steps and seriously, are there any breads you can make in just a few hours and really, it was very humbling. And just like that, my fairy godmother of cookbooks found a way to deposit Berenbaum’s tome on my front step, equally intimidating. I was certain that I was completely over my head, silly to think that taking something one step further wouldn’t be such an involved process. What did I think it would be? One, two, three and then you’re Poilane?

italian bread, a wee unsealed

Fast forward to this past Saturday night, when my husband had to go into work for just a half-hour for some emergency testing, blah blah (yes, I asked what “her” name was), before we went out but of course something went wrong, he was stuck there for hours and there I was, on the sofa watching a two-hour E! True Hollywood Story about Jessica and Ashley Simpson. It was utterly fascinating, I have no shame admitting, and I learned a lot. (Fine, a little shame, but not as much as I should.) Yet, on a table across the room, my 1,000 bound pages of bread instruction sat sneering at me, and I knew they had my number. I have time to stuff my head with minutiae as the fact that Ashley is a trained ballerina and Jessica was originally a Christian singer but not time to try a pre-ferment? Busted, indeed.

Continued after the jump »

Saturday, March 10, 2007

strawberry rhubarb pecan loaf

strawberry rhubarb pecan cake

I should apologize for the lewdness of this title—or perhaps you should, for that gutter mind—but I’ve always been endlessly amused by the “put some South in your mouth” logo painted on the wall of the Carolina BBQ joint and frat-boys-living-out-their-glory-days haven, Brother Jimmy’s. Really, it’s just about the only thing I enjoyed about the place the innumerable times a certain ex-boyfriend of mine with a ACC basketball bent dragged me there under duress or pleading. The bar’s menu consists things like fried pickles, green tomatoes and corn fritters and something frightening called a “flaming pig pick,” and while I am not one to argue that these are indeed Southeastern flavors, my associations have always been in sweeter, homier places: berry pies, cobblers and pretty much anything that has known, been adjacent to or looked at a pecan in it’s life.

strawberry rhubarb pecan cake

Last week, so eager for the Spring weather, a getaway, and yes, some South in our mouths, I made a strawberry rhubarb pecan cake, in hopes to get our palates into gear. It was delicious, and demolished by my coworkers in no time, but always the nit-picker, I wasn’t overwhelmed with it. It didn’t rise enough, I wanted more fruit, more grit, and more adherence: slices would crumble into smaller pieces when you picked them up and the sprinkled-on topping fell of as soon as I flipped it out of the pan, much to the disappointment of my husband, who had just swept the kitchen floor. I know I should have let it go—hell, it was plenty tasty—but I couldn’t in good conscience tell you to make something that I knew had structural issues. See how earnest I can be? It’s nauseating, really.

Continued after the jump »


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