MOVING DAY!

If you’ve been wondering where we’ve been, the answer is–spreading our wings!  Please follow Blue Jean Gourmet on over to its new home & update your links accordingly.

BURGERS & FRIES

Remember last week’s guest posts from Jessie about baking bread?  And remember when I told you that half of my batch of challah found its destiny in the form of some tasty, tasty hamburger buns?

Now I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life, but there are few better ways to enjoy the changing season than home-cooked burgers and fries.  Burgers and fries, burgers and fries.  Have two things ever gone so well together?  Even their names have a kind of lulling rhythmic rightness: burgers and fries, burgers and fries.

There are approximately three zillion recipes out there for “the perfect burger,” “the diet burger,” “the California burger,” “the ultimate burger,” etc.  I’m not claiming this burger is any of the above, but it did make for a very satisfying Saturday night dinner.

BURGERS & FRIES

I will also say that I believe the quality of the ground beef I used had everything to do with how good these burgers tasted.  Jill and I purchase a meat share from a local farm here in Texas, and not only do we feel ethically good about supporting a small operation with well-treated animals, the meat just plain tastes better.  Like, light-years better.

And so if you haven’t, I urge you to check into and support small farms in your area.  You can search here or stop by your local Farmers Market.

for the burgers:

2 lb. ground beef
1 red onion
1 cup cheese of your choice (we used double Gloucester)
½ cup flat-leaf parsley
juice from half a lemon
salt & pepper (more of the latter than the former)

Peel & dice the onion, then sauté in a little olive oil until soft & translucent.  Set the onion aside to cool and in the meantime, grate the cheese & chop the parsley.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mixing well with your fingers.  Form into patties of your desired size, keeping in mind that burgers shrink significantly when cooked.  I usually make my patties very round & tall so that they’ll even out by the time they arrive on a bun.

Grill outside or indoors on a grill pan/stovetop grill.  (You can also refrigerate pre-made patties ahead of time or flash-freeze on a cookie sheet first, transferring them to a freezer bag for future use.)

For an especially tasty burger, brush your buns with a little melted butter & add them to the grill for the last few minutes of cooking.  Garnish burgers with desired condiments: grilled onion, avocado, tomato, lettuce, pickle, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, etc.

for the fries (adapted from Gourmet):

2 lb. sweet potatoes
1 tsp. whole coriander
½ tsp. fennel seeds
½ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
salt
vegetable oil

oven: 425°

Cut the sweet potatoes into wedges—peeling them is not necessary.  Grind the spices together with a mortar & pestle or spice grinder (the latter will, of course, result in a much finer grind).  Place the potatoes in a large roasting pan; use two if need be, you don’t want to crowd the slices because they won’t crisp up.

Toss the potatoes with a few tablespoons of oil to coat, then add the spices, distributing evenly.  Roast for 40-45 minutes, turning the wedges halfway through and rotating the pans if you used two.

Sprinkle generously with salt before serving.  They are delicious plain, with ketchup, Sriacha, or this tamarind chutney.

THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: SEV PURI

Perhaps it is a generational symptom, or hazard, to experience times in one’s life that are later identified as having felt “like a movie.”  If serendipity, luck, or chance has played a large part, making one’s day unusually perfect or delightfully surprising, then “it was like a movie.”  If terrible things have taken place, things no one could have foreseen, things one feels one might not make it through, then “it was like a movie,” also.

Nearly everything about the summer of 2006 occurs, for me, like a movie.  This may well be the case because all of it is showcased, projected up on the screen of my mind, as if it happened to someone else.  As if it had been written, the frighteningly complete alignment of feeling and form, sure to please even the most exacting director.  Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for whatever hand laid out the minutiae of our lives that summer.  But living life like a movie will throw you off balance after a while.  “So let it be written, so let it be done.”

From one morning in Mumbai, a particularly cinematic recollection.  My father and I went out for a walk, just the two of us, traveling down the rickety elevator of his sister’s flat and out into the street.  We worked across a few busy streets to the Five Gardens, where paths are reserved for pedestrians.  The gardens are really more like well-shaded parks gated off from traffic.  Of course, everywhere you turn in Mumbai is a veritable garden; given the hothouse climate, all manner of flowers and greenery grow.

Each of the five gardens contains a different buzz of activity—a rousing game of cricket underway on one dusty circle, some quiet games of chess between old men under the shade of palm trees. At that point in my life, I aspired to be one of those people who can eat street food.  I had read Bourdain, I bought into the romance of late nights, authenticity, and machismo.  I believed him when he says that you don’t really know a place until you eat what everyone who lives there is lining up to eat on some random street corner.  And I was willing to sacrifice some nights of peaceful sleep for a stomach of iron and some really good noodle bowls—I just hadn’t had much of a chance.

In between trips to India, I only made one trip outside of the States—a college jaunt to Amsterdam, where the bragging rights for eating street food are not nearly as high as, say, Thailand or Japan.  I did, however, take the liberty of consuming several cones of warm European frites with spicy mayonnaise in the wee hours of the morning, which I still crave when I am up very late and have been drinking.

I also remember, very distinctly, watching my father stand in the middle of an open market in Mexico and risk his life (and my mother’s wrath) to eat fish tacos.  I was dying to take a bite myself, but I was only ten and, at that point in my life, unable to defy her.  More than a decade later, on that morning walk, I jumped at the chance to eat recklessly with my dad, to eat away from my mother’s watchful eye, to join my father in a little subversive act,  just one moment of defiance to make up for all of those years I placed myself unabashedly on my mother’s “side.”

With the paper rupees in my father’s wallet, we feasted on watermelon, mango, coconut milk straight from the fruit, and shared a crunchy helping of sev puri.  The Indian food smorgasborg, sev puri is a classic street food, a weird, delicious concoction of spicy cooked potatoes, raw onions, the option of boiled moong beans (they taste like mild peas but are a little more toothsome), and drizzles of dhania (cilantro) and imli (tamarind, my favorite) chutnies atop a bed of salty, crunchy chips and twigs made from chickpea flour.  Served in a big, Styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon, our snack was well worth the risk of intestinal distress, as well as my mother’s dismay, though we managed to keep the secret together, and I am spilling it now.

Sev Puri falls under the large umbrella of Chat, or snacks, along with its cousins bhel puri and pani puri.  As with most iconic food, there is much variety in the method and lively debate about just what constitutes true sev puri and what does not.  This version has been honed to my tastes, of course, but also to the ease and convenience of a lazy but satisfying pantry meal or an answer to the question “what should I feed all of these people who have suddenly appeared at my house?”  Stored properly, the dry ingredients will keep in your pantry for months, the chutneys freeze well, onions & cilantro are cheap, and if you’re like me, you always have a random handful of potatoes hanging out somewhere, waiting to be cooked.  Am I right?


SEV PURI

You can (and should feel free to) add tomatoes, a drizzle of yogurt, roasted chickpeas, sprouted mung beans, chopped Serrano or other peppers, even diced mango to your sev puri.

For the bottom/crunchy layer of this snack, you’ll need to acquire a bag of packaged sev (fried bits of chickpea flour) and one of flat puris (small flatbreads, also fried).  Your local Indian grocery may have a bagged “sev puri mix” with these two pre-combined—just ask.  If you don’t use these up the first time, they’ll keep in the pantry if well-sealed in plastic bags.

for the potatoes:

2 lb. red new potatoes
1 T ground cumin
1 T ground coriander
2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. Indian red pepper (lal mirch)
squeeze of lemon

Boil the potatoes whole until soft and easily pierced with a fork.  Cool, then peel and chop into half-inch chunks.  Toss with the spices and mix well.  Check for salt & taste but keep in mind that you’ll be adding many layers of flavor so you don’t want the potatoes to be overbearing.  Set aside until ready to serve.

for the dhania (cilantro) chutney:

2 bunches cilantro
2-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled
1/3 cup of peanuts, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds (if salted, decrease the amount of salt you add to the chutney)
1 jalapeño, seeded if you like
¼ cup fresh lemon or lime juice
1 T ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
water

To prep the cilantro, wash it thoroughly and chop off the bottom portion of the stems.  If you like, you can pick off the leaves and discard all stem pieces, but I honestly don’t find this is necessary—just cut off the tough ends.

Process all ingredients in the blender, adding water until you reach your desired texture; I like mine just shy of smooth.

for the imli (tamarind) chutney:

Many people make imli chutney with dates or jaggery (palm sugar), but I learned from my mom to use apple butter instead and I think it’s way delicious-er.

1 cup apple butter*
½ cup tamarind paste
1 T ground cumin
1 T ground coriander
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. Indian red pepper (lal mirch)
water

Combine all ingredients except water in a small saucepan.  Heat on low, adding water to thin the chutney.  Cook until the ingredients are incorporated, checking to be sure the flavors are balance.  The chutney should be sweet, with a hint of fire and strong “pucker” from the tamarind.  If you want more of any one flavor, add the corresponding ingredient.

Cool before storing in the fridge and freezer.  Be mindful that the chutney will thicken, so you may need to thin it again before serving.

* If you can get your hands on homemade apple butter, do.  Otherwise, it’s easy to find in the “peanut butter & jelly” aisle of your supermarket.

for the assembly:

I like to arrange the components along a counter or table so each person can assemble his/her own.  In the bottom of a bowl, add a heap of sev and a few puris, breaking up the latter with a spoon or fork.  Throw on some potatoes, then onions if you like, then cilantro if you like, and generous drizzles of one or both chutneys.

GUEST POST: CHALLAH

Jessie’s back!  And today she’s sharing a recipe for challah, a bread I had wanted to make from scratch ever since starting my Jewish day school job over three years ago.  Of course, I was hella-intimidated and never attempted my own until last weekend.  Though my challah did not turn out as beautiful as I’m sure Jessie’s professional loaves do, it still tasted incredible slathered with butter and/or jam.  And man, was I proud.  Earning that HinJew status!


Instead of making two loaves, I made one loaf plus a set of wee hamburger buns.  Not to be too self-congratulatory, but *that* was a very good idea (burger recipe coming next week).  Should you wish to make two loaves, Jessie has kindly provided a killer dessert recipe to use up your leftover bread; challah that’s a few days old also makes for great French toast.

I’d like to thank Jessie again for the time and energy she devoted to make baking bread seem less intimidating.  If you plan to spend some time at home this weekend, might I suggest tackling one of these recipes & then basking in the satisfaction/carbohydrate aftermath?

CHALLAH
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Baking 2008 issue.

Challah is an enriched bread, which means that in addition to the usual ingredients, it’s made with eggs, butter, and honey (my first chance to use the little jar of Norwegian honey that Jill brought me from her Scandinavian travels!).

Challah is a traditional Jewish bread and is most easily recognized by its braided form–Jessie includes instructions here for the proper braiding technique, but I have to admit that I copped out and did a three-strand braid, which worked just fine.  If you are a badass and manage a four-strander, I salute you.

ingredients:

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water (105°F-115°F)
¼ cup honey
1 package active dry yeast
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup butter, melted and cooled
½ tablespoon salt
4-4 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water

In a large bowl, combine the ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water, honey, and yeast.  Let stand about 10 minutes or until the yeast is dissolved and foamy.  *If you do not see foam or bubbles, the yeast is dead and the process must be repeated.*

Using a wooden spoon, stir in the 2 eggs, melted butter, and salt.  Gradually stir in as much of the flour as you can.Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (5 to 7 minutes total).

Shape the dough into a ball.  Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease the entire surface.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size, 1 to 1 ½ hours.Punch the dough down (literally).  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes.

To shape the loaves, divide dough in half.  Working with one half a time and keeping the other half under the towel, divide the dough into 4 equal portions.  Roll each piece into a rope about 12-15 inches long.   Attach the ends of two pieces together to make one long rope.  Attach the ends of the other two pieces together to make another long rope.  Forming a cross, fuse all of the attached ends together.  Be sure there is one piece pointing towards you and one pointing away from you, one piece pointing to your right, and one pointing to your left.

The mantra of this folding technique is left over right….left over right….left over right.  Repeat that to yourself a few times before starting.  During the braiding process, if the ends at the top of the braid start to come undone, pinch those together tightly.

Step 1:  Hold the two horizontal pieces in your hands, the right piece in your right hand and the left piece in your left.  Moving the two horizontal pieces to the opposite sides that they are currently on, cross the two pieces you are holding over the strand pointing towards you, being sure the piece in your left hand crosses OVER the piece in your right.  Your left hand should literally cross over your right hand.  Lay the two folded pieces horizontally.

Step 2:  Now for the vertical pieces–Grasp the top piece in your right hand and the bottom piece in your left hand.  Moving these two vertical pieces to the opposite sides that they are currently on, cross these two pieces over the piece pointing to your right (it should cross naturally this way), moving the piece in your left hand OVER the piece in your right.  The piece that was pointing away from you should now be pointing towards you, and the piece that was pointing towards you should now be pointing away from you.

Repeat step 1, followed by step 2, until the ends are too small to be braided.  Pinch the remaining ends together and remove off a small chunk from both ends to make them less pointy.  Braid the other portion of dough.

Place the braided loaves diagonally onto lightly greased or parchment lined sheet trays.  Cover and let rest in a warm place until nearly double in size (about 30 minutes).  Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining lightly beaten egg and 1 tablespoon of water to make an egg wash.  Using a pastry brush or spoon, brush each loaf evenly and completely with the egg wash.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when lightly tapped and are a shiny, deep golden brown.  Immediately transfer the loaves from the sheet trays to wire racks to cool.

CREME BRULEE BREAD PUDDING
adapted from Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs by Gale Gand

ingredients:

½ a loaf of day old challah bread
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
Sugar in the raw (for caramelizing the top)

oven:  350°
pan: 6 ramekins or a deep baking dish, well buttered

Cut the crust off the bread and dice into one inch cubes.  You should have about 3 ½ cups of bread.

Heat the half-and-half, heavy cream, salt, and vanilla in a saucepot over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  When the mixture starts to come to a simmer (do not boil), turn off the heat and allow to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl.  Whisking constantly, slowly pour the hot cream mixture into the eggs.  Do not pour too fast, otherwise the eggs will scramble.  Strain into a large bowl to remove any cooked egg and the vanilla bean.

At this point, feel free to include any desired add-ins to the custard: dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, coconut, etc. Then add the bread cubes to the bowl, toss well, and let them soak in the egg-milk mixture until it’s all absorbed.  Fold the mixture occasionally to ensure even soaking (it’s okay if there’s custard left in the bowl).

Divide the cubes among the ramekins or dump it all into the baking dish and pour any remaining custard over the top.  Arrange the ramekins or baking dish in a roasting pan & create a water bath by pouring boiling water into the pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the custard cups or baking dish.  (I like to do this while the pan is on the rack in the oven, which I’ve pulled out slightly).

Bake until set and golden brown on top, about 30 minutes for individual puddings and 40 to 45 minutes for one big pudding.  Allow to cool before serving.  You can make this dish ahead of time, cover & chill in the refrigerator.

Right before you serve the pudding, sprinkle the top evenly with the sugar in the raw.  If you happen to have a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar on top.  Otherwise, set the broiler to high and put the pudding(s) on a rack as close to the heating element as you can.  Keep a close eye on the pudding(s) and rotate them as necessary as certain parts will caramelize more quickly than others.  Remove from the oven and serve.

For a quick sauce, combine confectioners’ sugar with any liquid.  I use anything from milk to fruit juice to alcohol or even coffee syrups.  Start with a cup of confectioners’ sugar and slowly add my liquid of choice until the sauce is to the desired consistency.  If you make it too soupy, add more sugar.  Ladle over slices of the bread pudding; you can also garnish with fresh fruit or nuts.

Share/Save/Bookmark

GUEST POST: CIABATTA

Hey folks…it’s bread week here at Blue Jean Gourmet!  I’m lucky enough to know the beautiful & talented Jessie Fila, a friend from high school who now works as a pastry chef at The Schoolhouse at Cannondale in Wilton, Connecticut (full bio at the end of this post).  She generously agreed to guest blog for me, sharing her bread expertise & recipes.  Today she brings us ciabatta–which, wow, I’m still dreaming about–and later in the week, challah!

I don’t know about ya’ll, but baking bread has always intimidated me, so I decided Jessie’s guest posts  would be the perfect opportunity for me to learn.  I tested each of the recipes that Jessie sent, and let me just tell you–there was a lot of gratuitous moaning over fresh bread in my house each time.  Are these recipes simple?  No.  They do require time and attention.  But the thing is, they aren’t rocket science, either.  Just make sure you aren’t in a rush and enjoy the process, it’s very gratifying.  Big thanks to Jessie for being our bread evangelist!


I love bread.  I love everything about bread.  And I don’t think I’m the only one, considering the idiom, “the best thing since sliced bread,” is one of the most popular comparative phrases out there.  Truly, bread is by far and away one of my favorite things in the world.  I could never get into the no-carb or low-carb diets because then I couldn’t eat bread! And who doesn’t want to eat bread?

As much as I love to eat bread, I like to make bread from scratch by hand even more.  There’s something therapeutic, meditative, and sometimes hypnotic about kneading dough that helps me focus and reflect just as effectively as any good yoga class.  It’s also great exercise, building upper body strength, as well as working the core muscles.  Indeed, making bread is one of my more favored pastimes. There’s nothing more rewarding than slicing into a freshly baked, warm loaf of bread, knowing you crafted it by hand.  True, it is a labor of love, but it is well worth the effort.

The key to making delicious bread is understanding the ingredients and the process.  For most basic sandwich or rustic breads, such as white bread, a baguette, or ciabatta, the ingredients are simple:  flour, water, yeast, and salt.  Other breads, called egg breads, like challah or brioche,  call for eggs, butter, sugar, and milk in addition to the basic ingredients to help enrich the dough and make it less chewy, more dense, and flavorful.  There are, of course, many other types of breads, but for this week I’m going to stick to these two main types.

Most ingredients are straightforward in their purpose.  Flour is used to give the bread structure and stability.  When mixed with water, the proteins gelatinize; vigorous agitation and stretching help to develop these proteins into gluten.  This agitation and stretching is exactly what you’re doing when you knead dough.  In developing the gluten, you’re creating the unique dense and chewy structure of bread.  Most bread bakers use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour because it has a higher protein content and will therefore create more gluten, resulting in chewier bread.  Salt is used mostly for its definitive ability to flavor foods without adding its own flavor component.  Salt is unique in the food world in that it doesn’t have a distinct flavor, yet it manages to enhance the flavors of everything in the dish it is added to.  This is why even cookie and dessert recipes will call for a small amount of salt added to the dough or batter.

Yeast is the one ingredient in my list that can be most difficult to work with.  It comes in many forms these days, the most well-known being active dry.  Yeast is a fungi, and is therefore a living organism.  It is easily killed and is very finicky.   It likes two main things:  to exist in warm, wet environments and to eat.  The water we use in bread is warm, between 105 and 115° F.  If it is any hotter or colder, the fungi will not be able to survive and the bread will not rise.  This brings us to what yeast likes to eat:  the natural sugars found in flour.  When the yeast eats the sugars, it processes the food like any other living organism.  The yeast extracts what it needs from the sugars to survive and expels the rest as waste.  Yeast’s form of waste is carbon dioxide.  When the yeast gives off the gas, the CO2 gets trapped in the gelatinous structure the flour and water have created, otherwise known as gluten, pushing the dough upward, causing it to rise.  This is the reason we let the bread rise a couple of times before baking, to allow the yeast to do its thing and give off the gas that contributes a strong amount of flavoring to the bread.

The process for making bread is not as simple as making a cookie dough or a cake batter and is far more time-consuming.  To start off, the yeast must be activated, allowing it to give off the much-coveted CO2 gas, and once all of the flour has been added, the dough must be kneaded.  The kneading process is very rhythmic and is easy once you get the hang of it.  Once you have your dough with all of the flour incorporated, turn it out onto a well-floured work surface, such as a counter.  Shape it gently into a disk.  Grasp the dough with both hands at the top and fold the dough into the center of the dough.  Press down on the dough as if you were trying to fuse the top and bottom parts together.  While pressing, use the heels of your palms to push the dough down and away from you. Give the dough a quarter turn clockwise and repeat the process until the dough is smooth.

Once you’ve kneaded the dough, it needs to rest and to rise.  The rising process can be repeated at least two times before the dough is shaped and baked.  After all the time and hard work, though, what we’re left with is a delicious creation is delectable on its own or with a small swipe of butter, but also serves as a key ingredient in many other dishes.  So, for each bread recipe, I’ve also included a few ideas for how you can use the leftovers (if there are any!)

CIABATTA
Recipe from Williams-Sonoma Bread

All bread takes time and effort to make, but ciabatta requires a little extra love and effort.  This recipe makes use of a starter, which is used to feed the yeast and serves to add more flavor to the finished product (sourdough is another bread that calls for a starter).

When timing the ciabatta, be prepared to make the starter at least 8-12 hours ahead of time so it has enough time to “proof” or ferment.

ingredients:

for the starter:
1 1/3 cups water, at room temperature
2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon active dry yeast

In the bowl of stand-mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the water, 1 cup of the all-purpose flour, and the yeast.  Mix on low speed for 1 minute.  Add the remaining flour and mix until smooth and soft, 1 minute more.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until almost tripled in bulk, 4-6 hours.  It will smell yeasty.  Refrigerate for 8-12 hours or for up to 3 days.

for the bread:
3 T warm water (105°F – 115°F)
¾ cup warm milk (same temp as the water)
2 tsp. active dry yeast
2-2 1/3 cups bread flour, plus extra as needed
1 ½ tsp salt
2 T olive oil, plus extra for greasing

When ready to make the dough, remove the starter from the refrigerator and let it stand for 1-2 hours. To make the dough, fit the mixer again with the paddle attachment.  Add the warm water and milk and the yeast to the starter and mix on low speed.   The mixture will be soupy.

Add 1 ½ cups of the bread flour, the salt, and the oil.  Mix on low speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Add only as much of the remaining bread flour as needed to form a very soft and moist dough, and mix on low speed for about 5 minutes, occasionally scraping the dough off the sides of the bowl and the paddle.  The dough should be very soft and sticky, pulling away from the sides, but still sticking to the bottom.

Cover the bowl with the oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled or tripled in bulk, about 2 hours.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and sprinkle generously with bread flour.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface (it will deflate), sprinkle lightly with flour, and pat with your fingers into a 14 by 5 inch rectangle.  Fold the rectangle like a letter, overlapping the 2 short sides in the middle to make 3 layers.

Cut crosswise into 2 equal rectangles and place each half on the prepared sheet pan.  Cover loosely with plastic and let rest for 20 minutes.  Remove the plastic and sprinkle generously with flour.  Splay your fingers apart and press, push, and stretch each rectangle to make it irregular and about 11 inches long and about the width of your hand.  You want the dimples in the top; this is traditional.  Cover again loosely with plastic and let rest until tripled in bulk, about 1 ½ hours.  Repeat the dimpling process again 2 more times during this rise.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.  Sprinkle the tops of the loaves with flour.  Bake until deep golden brown, 20-25 minutes.  Let cool on the baking sheet.  Serve warm with olive oil for dipping.  Yields two large loaves.

What to do with leftover ciabatta, besides just eating it?  Here are two ideas:

TUSCAN BREAD SALAD

ingredients:
½ a loaf of day-old ciabatta, cubed
2 or 3 ripe medium-sized tomatoes, chopped
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cubed
Generous handful of fresh basil, chopped
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine.This is my favorite combination for this salad, but you can increase or decrease any and all of the ingredients to suit your fancy.

You can also try this with any veggies and any Italian cured meats, such as Proscuitto, .  Any oil and vinegar combination works well with this recipe, too, and it is also excellent with citrus juice.

ITALIAN BREAD SOUP (RIBOLLITA)

ingredients:
2 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can great northern white beans, drained (small cannellini beans work, too)
1-8 ounce can of tomato sauce
3-4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
½ a loaf of day old ciabatta
1 bag baby spinach
Parmesan cheese

In a heavy bottomed saucepot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, and bay leaf and sauté until the veggies are softened and the onions are translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the garlic.  Cook the garlic for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the sharp aroma has subsided.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add the white beans, the tomato sauce, and the desired amount of stock.  I would start with the lesser amount; more can be added later if the finished product is too thick.  Allow to come to a gentle simmer.  Once the stock is bubbling, tear off the ciabatta, crust and all, into big chunks and submerge into the stock.  Once all of the bread is in the liquid, break it down and mash it around with a wooden spoon.  If the soup is too thick for your liking, add more stock.  I like mine stew-like and so thick a spoon can almost stand upright in it.

Once the desired consistency has been achieved, add the spinach in batches, allowing to wilt in between additions.  Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and serve.  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and drizzle with the olive oil.


Jessie Fila
fell in love with baking the summer after high school graduation when boredom led to a discovery that she is very good at pastry!  After attending college in Florida, she traveled to New York to complete her Associates Degree in Baking and Pastry Arts from The Culinary Institute of America.  She loves dessert because it’s often the most memorable part of any meal, and can easily make or break a diner’s experience.  At home on days off, she cooks to relax and to feed her lucky husband Ken.

Share/Save/Bookmark//

GUEST POST: THE WEDDING REGISTRY

so, we’re on vacation.  and it’s pretty freaking awesome.  I am very brown & very relaxed & very pleased to offer you today’s guest post from my friend Lauren, who is beautiful and talented and funny and with whom I went to school for twelve years (she was a fellow Christmas pageant Mary).

I know that you’ll appreciate her sense of aesthetics and clever voice as much as I do.  you can find her regularly on her blog, Gathering Moss.

Given that many of my cohorts are getting engaged and planning weddings, I asked Lauren to offer her advice on the kitchen-related part of The Infamous Wedding Registry—an arena in which I have zero expertise!

hi hello, Lauren here. thanks for having me, Blue Jean Gourmet! it’s fairly hilarious that Nishta asked me to guest post, because I’m not that much of a cook. the cooking at chez stone is generally relegated to my husband, affectionately known in blogland as “captain fantastic.” because he is. except not at cleaning up after cooking. but that’s a-whole-nother blog post. I do make a mean vegetarian lasagna (thanks to my dad, who is also one of those fantastic cooking husbands) and a pretty sweet baked gouda (thanks to my mom, queen of the hors d’ oeuvres), so I suppose I qualify as a Blue Jean Gourmet. maybe more like a Tattered Overall Gourmet, but whatev.


something that I am better at than cooking is shopping. that’s really why I’m here. c-fan and I were married last June, so without (much) further ado, my wedding registry suggestions for foodies, wanna-be foodies and all to-be-weds who want a well-stocked kitchen:
I would be remiss to not mention that ubiquitous wedding registry staple, the Kitchen Aid mixer. it comes in a gajillion delicious colors to match any decor, makes many types of food prep gloriously easy, and, if you have generous wedding guests, can be yours for free (well, ok minus the cost of the wedding…). even the non-cooking-inclined may find themselves regularly making brownies from scratch in the middle of the night with this beauty. I speak from experience. highly recommended.

another helpful appliance is the food processor. but beware – all I wanted in life (after my kitchenaid mixer, of course) was a shiny new food processor. which I may or may not have mentioned several dozen times. and I ended up being gifted four. 3 cup, 4 cup, 7 cup, 12 cup…one in every size. The size you’ll actually want depends on how you’ll be using it; for a couple or small family, 4 cups is probably good. If you regularly host large dinner parties or plan on joining the Quiverfull movement, 12 cups may be the way to go.

dishes. you’ll need those. here in the south, we register for both “everyday” dishes and fine china; sometimes even Christmas china, y’all. the patterns you register for are a personal choice – we decided to go with a neutral everyday set, which we can accent with festive linens and accessories. for fine china, we chose a pattern that’s the modern incarnation of my mother’s pattern, because we’ll be inheriting her silver and love sappy stuff with meaning like that (isn’t it sweet how I said “we,” like captain fantastic gave a hoot about dishes?)

the number of dishes you request is also a matter of your lifestyle – if you live in an apartment in the city and rarely eat at home, you may only want 6 or 8 place settings, whereas big entertainers and family types will want 12. if you get extra plates (which can happen if you register for the same item at multiple stores), go ahead and keep them; things break.

other registry staples that you’ll be sure to use often:

a nice set of knives (Blue Jean Gourmet would like to suggest Wusthof as a go-to brand)

a pattern of stainless place settings for everyday use; a pattern of silver if you’re feeling fancy (we registered for a few extra place settings of the family silver that will be passed down to us)

upgrade your pot and pan collection (hard to go wrong with Calphalon)

fill out your assortment of cooking and serving utensils by registering for that slotted spoon/silicone spatula/tongs/pizza cutter/other implement you’re always wishing you had but never remembering to procure.

get some fancy wine glasses. Riedel are a perennial favorite. it’s a good idea to get both red and white wine glasses. if you’re always swilling martinis or sipping champagne, you may want to register for a set of specialty glasses. again, the number you request will depend on the number of people you anticipate needing to serve.

some general registry advice and etiquette:

your registry information does not belong on your wedding invitation; it can spread by word of mouth (traditionally through your mom), on shower invitations and/or on a wedding website if you have one.

it’s advisable to register with at least one national big box store with an online component, like Macy’s, Williams Sonoma or Target; this way, out of town guests can easily choose a gift and have it shipped straight to you.

remember to choose a variety of gifts in a wide price range so that all of your guests will be able to give a gift that’s comfortable for them.

any veteran married folk out there who’d like to share a particular registry item that’s gotten lots of use? anyone in the registry process right now and have a specific question? comment away!


Lauren Stone is an undercover decorator with a day job in communications (much like Clark     Kent, but with a more stylish wardrobe). She never met a topiary she didn’t like. or a piece of chocolate. lauren got into blogging while planning her june 2009 wedding, when she realized that there was a whole community of people out there who would rather be DIYing. Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, she currently resides there with new hubby, Captain Fantastic, and their giant mutthounds, Marley and Sterling. team stone is on a tireless crusade to turn their little house into a home, one ridiculous project at a time.

Share/Save/Bookmark

MATZO TOFFEE

Last year, I was asked to be in charge of desserts for a renegade Seder.  Such is the path by which I discovered Matzo Toffee, which is what baby matzo hopes it will grow up to be someday and what you, once you make it, will be unable to stop eating.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the combination of all good flavors—the richness of bittersweet chocolate, the butteriness of toffee, the earthy snap of almonds, the crunch of matzo, & the edge and texture of quality sea salt—but if you are Jewish and observing Passover next week*, it might be exciting to discover that matzo can actually be delicious.

What is a renegade Seder, you might ask?  Well, consider that our hostess was a Jewess whose Twitter bio claims she is a “kosher pork authority.”  Her sweetheart is a Muslim and for Halloween, they dressed up as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (she taped settlements to his shirt as the night wore on).  For the reading of the Haggadah, we had gift bags full of “plagues” represented by various craft-store-acquisitions, including red foam cut-out boils.  There were Red Sea cocktails with drowned Egyptian ninja figurines.  (Please note: we love Egyptians.  We do not wish them any violence.  We were just going along with the Bible story).

And I, the Hindu, was unable to eat the desserts I had made for the Seder because I had given up desserts for Lent.  Heh.  But the toffee went over so well with the rest of the evening’s guests that they convinced me to save a bag for Easter Sunday, upon which occasion I promptly devoured what was left.

Before we dash off on vacation, I’ll be making up a batch of this good stuff in solidarity with my Jewish friends and students.  Now that I’m back from the 8th grade Washington, D.C. trip—a whirlwind, exhausting and unbelievably fun four days—I’m relishing the spring break life but already kinda miss my students.  Just don’t tell them that!

*To make this recipe kosher-for-Passover, ensure that all the ingredients are certified kosher-for-Passover and that the kitchen you’re cooking in and utensils you’re cooking with are as well.  Since this recipe contains a large amount of butter, serve it with a meatless meal or make it with kosher margarine.  You may need to omit the vanilla.

MATZO TOFFEE
Adapted slightly from David Lebovitz

You can also make this recipe with Saltines or another plain cracker, omitting the sea salt.  You might want to double the recipe, while you’re at it—it’s incredibly simple to make and very, very satisfying.

6 sheets unsalted matzo

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1

½ cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped or in chips

½ tsp. vanilla extract

a pinch of salt

optional toppings:

1 cup almonds or another nut, toasted & chopped

a few generous sprinklings of coarse sea salt

oven: 350˚
pan: Baking sheet(s) lined very well with foil, then top the foil with parchment paper.  Yes, this is necessary.  Toffee is messy business, you know.  Delicious, but messy.

Place the matzo along the bottom of the baking pan, breaking it up to cover the whole bottom.

In a big, thick saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together over medium heat.  Bring up to a boil, stirring regularly, for about three minutes, as the mixture thickens.  Remove from heat and stir in the salt & vanilla.  Pour over the matzo, distributing the caramel mixture evenly and quickly.

Move the baking sheet(s) to the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, watching to make sure that the caramel doesn’t burn.  (If it begins to get too dark, remove from the oven & turn down the heat to 325˚.)  Once everything is nice and golden brown, remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle the matzo with the chocolate.  Wait a few minutes, then smooth out the now-melted chocolate with a spatula.  See how you just made the recipe work for you?  Love that.

As the chocolate is cooling, sprinkle with the toppings of your choice—in my case, some almonds & good sea salt.  Let the matzo toffee cool completely before breaking into pieces and devouring it.  If there’s any leftover, it will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.

Share/Save/Bookmark