Thursday, November 16, 2017

Swing Low, Sweet Sun

On this cloudless day, the sun sits heavily in the sky, that is, when I am gardening behind the house. That's not the case in the front garden as the house blocks it out making working there a chilly endeavour. But in the larger back area, it is all warmly and softly coloured, suffused with mellow sunlight.

The mahogany sepals of the abelia in front, with golden foliage of edible asparagus in background

Asparagus is not only worth growing because those brave spears breaking through stark soil in late winter have such sublime flavour but also because the unpicked stalks grow into a graceful tangle of gold festooned with red berries (just on the females plants).

Pillars of the pergola are well covered in ivy

The ivy growing along a perimeter fence is being formed into what I hope to become a rectangle-shaped opening framing the distant golf course and public forest. Once ivy reaches the end of vertical support (in this case, fence posts), it becomes a robust bush about 1.2 meters (4 feet) tall and wide. There are now two bushes, left and right being clipped to encourage fullness. Once the right one catches up in height, I will let them meet at the top, creating a window with a view.

In the foreground, raspberry foliage colouring before leaf drop

My peeking around the atelier (studio) of our neighbour seems to reveal a precocious Sapin de Noël (Christmas tree) all gussied up in gold garlands.


Stepping back a bit, we get the true picture. Gorgeous in any case.


In the front garden, all is cool, shady, and restful.

Gold-speckled aucuba and ivy growing up a cherry plum tree

Green plants are essential to keep a wintry garden lush and inviting.

Calla lily, Italian arum, and sweet violet foliage.

Tulipmania reigns supreme chez nous. After getting acquainted with using a small amount of tulips as annual bedding plants last season, this time around I got way more, about 250 bulbs! Learning from my previous experience, I purchased them much sooner so as to get the ones I want before they sold out. An earlier purchase however meant storage as temperatures are cold enough just now for actual planting. So the babies began sprouting while waiting in the garage. Because such perkiness disrupts their normal cycle, into the small, cold, stone-floored cellier they went to keep the dusty bottles of wine company until . . .


. . . their home in the soil is ready for them.

Earth is spaded, compost forked in, and let settled for a few days.

Ernie the Sous-Sol Cat enjoys moulding himself into a pliable shape defined by one of the patio lounge chairs. It's been a year now since he first sauntered into the back of our garden; he was patient to wait for food, but skittish bordering on abject fear if I came too close. Nowadays, his facial expression is one of calm trust. Brushing him, and does he ever need grooming, remains challenging. I am allowed to do his back, but when I ease the brush along his flanks closer to his belly, forget about it. Being an older cat, most likely with arthritis, cleaning himself is not easy, not to mention he was besmirched by a constant deluge of dirt when he roamed wild. But as the months progress, he gets cleaner and cleaner, with less areas of matted fur. He also is grooming himself more as he now has help, is better fed, less stressed, and he wants to make a good impression with us. He's a lovely boy.


À la prochaine!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Bialy That Wanted To Be A Topknot Roll

Most of us wish at one time or another to be somebody else. Who would have thought that a bialy, normally known for its adorable, deliciously filled pocket, would attempt such desirous heights of the imagination by trying to pass itself off as a topknot roll.

Though it didn't fool me, it still gets A+ for effort

I, armed with a spoon, gently but firmly put an end to this ardent masquerade by levelling their exuberant expansion while whispering, you are softly chewy but also airy, blessed throughout your floury sublimity with the kiss of kosher salt, anointed with poppy seed, onion, olive oil, and bread crumbs, and possessing the thinnest, crackly crust of all crusts, I say, strut your stuff and let the world know you are a bialy, the best one this native New Yorker ever tasted.

My, what big pockets you have. Better to hold delicious filling, my dear

Dough
makes twelve 13 cm/5 inch bialys
taken from Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook

  • Water, lukewarm, 320 g (1 1/3 cups)
  • Bread flour, (I use French type 65), 465 g/3.5 cups, plus more for kneading/shaping
  • Pâte fermentée, 150 g (1/2 cup plus 2 T, deflating it first), cut into walnut size pieces (see below for ingredients and instructions)
  • Yeast, active dry, 3/4
  • Salt, kosher, 1 T*
  • Cornmeal for the parchment paper to prevent sticking
Filling
  • Olive oil, extra-virgin, 3 T
  • Onions, yellow, medium, finely diced
  • Bread crumbs, dried, fine, 8 T
  • Poppy seeds, 1.5 T
  • Salt, kosher, 1/2 tsp

I prefer to make bread by hand (how to knead vid), but if you like using a machine, just substitute that for manual labour. The night before, make the pâte fermentée:  put 8 T plus 1 tsp of lukewarm water and 2/3 tsp of active dry yeast in a bowl.  Add 180 g (1 1/3 cups + 1 T) of bread flour. Mix with a wooden spoon for several minutes to get a shaggy dough. Cover the bowl and let stand for 30 minutes. Refrigerate it at least overnight. When ready to start making bialys, put the water and flour in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon for about five minutes. Let rest for 20 minutes. Add the pâte fermentée, yeast, and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until the dry ingredients are completely combined. Turn out the dough onto a steady, floured surface like a glass/wooden board/silicone mat/smooth counter top (tuck a teacloth under the board to keep it from sliding around). Knead until smooth which took me about ten minutes. Add flour to keep your hands and dough from sticking. Scrape off any dried bits from the board and wash your hands of any dried dough as you knead. Getting it smooth is the goal here. To ensure that enough elasticity (development of gluten) has developed, do the windowpane test by breaking off a piece the size of a golf ball. Flour it if sticky. Using your hands, stretch it on all sides. Hold the thinned patch up to the light; it needs to show some transparency without tearing, like a windowpane. If not, knead some more. If so, then it is ready to be risen.


Dust a bowl lightly with flour. Place the dough in the bowl and cover.

I used a large ziplock plastic bag, but a moistened teacloth or a plate would work also

Let stand at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.


Meanwhile make the filling. Finely mince the onions and saute in the olive oil over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes or until moderately browned. Stir occasionally. Put them in a bowl. Add bread crumbs, poppy seeds, and salt. Cool.


Put the dough on a lightly floured surface. Divide it into 12 mostly equal pieces. To form into buns with excellent surface tension so as to effect a good oven rise, flatten the pieces into rough rectangles. Bring each of the four corners to the centre, pinching them.


Then bring the remaining four corners to the centre, pinching them also.


Place them with the pinched side down. Let rest for five minutes. Flatten out each ball with the heel of your hand to get 10 cm/4 inches diameter discs. Line the backs of rimmed baking sheets or in my case lay out two sheets of parchment to be later slid onto baking sheets preheating in the oven via a glass cutting board. Sprinkle cornmeal on the paper. Transfer the rolls. Loosely cover (I used moist, wrung-out dish towels). Let rise until the rolls are very soft and hold an indentation when touched lightly, about 1 hour to 1.5 hours. While the bialys are rising, preheat the oven to 260 degrees C/500 degrees F, a very hot oven indeed so be careful when handling the trays. If you have a baking stone, or in my case, baking sheets, make sure that it (them) is (are) in the oven. Uncover the bialys, and with the pads of your index and middle fingers, make a fairly wide and deep depression in each roll. 

Per Deb Perelman from Smitten Kitchen, insufficiently risen dough is the reason why I got the topknot response even though I did check its state by lightly indenting the dough with a finger. Since the indentation held then the dough should have been ready. She suggests to be on the safe side a hole can be made in the crater before placing the filling. You could also do a test bake for just one bialy since they bake quickly. Put about 2 T of filling in each crater, spreading it out to cover the depression. (Any surplus filling along with Parmesan can be mixed into pasta.) Pull out an oven shelf and hold the parchment paper with the bialys placed on a glass board or on the back of a rimmed sheet pan directly over the heated baking pan/stone. Gradually slide off the parchment paper along with the bialys by pulling the emptying board/sheet closer and closer to you while giving it a few shakes. Bake until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack for a few minutes, sans the paper.


I love, love, love these. In fact, my love is so encompassing, my constant desire for Kaiser rolls (when living and working in  Manhattan decades ago, my go-to, take-out breakfast was a buttered Kaiser carefully wrapped in butcher paper and accompanied with a coffee in an Anthora cup) is gone. Though if a later edition of Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook has a recipe for the real McCoy, that is, a crust so thin, it shatters, with insides sufficiently fluffy it just has to be buttered to have substance, and encrusted with poppy seeds, I would make them. I just would have to.


If you want to savour a bialy in all its wonderful crustiness, they are best served after a few minutes of cooling.

That glorious crumb, that superb crust, that tremendous flavour!

Hot Bread Kitchen cookbook advises keeping leftovers in a sealed plastic bag at room temperature for two days which I did. They lost that fantastic crust, but they were still so good, nicely chewy all-over their scrumptious selves. They also freeze well.

À la prochaine!

* Kosher salt is not in itself kosher, but instead, is what is used to make meat kosher by leaching (koshering) out blood. Any coarse salt (excluding fleur de sel whose taste punch would be lost in baking) would substitute.

RELATED POSTS

My book review for Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Book Review / Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal Baking From Around The World by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez with Julia Turshen

The word hot in the book's title says it all: hot inspiration, hot empathy, hot toughness, hot intellect, and hot skills. All these fantastic aspects came together through concentrated effort just like a loaf of bread comes out of the hot oven, ready to take on the world. Ms Rodriguez took on the world by successfully combining her quest for societal equity and her love of baking into a non-profit social enterprise for low-income, immigrant women so they could transform their baking talents into careers.

How did she pace herself for such success? The steps went like this: identify the passion uniting baking and social justice; learn how to make bread by taking classes at The New School and being apprenticed to the head baker at Daniel Boulud's eponymous Michelin three-star restaurant; start out in your own walk-up apartment kitchen; hire staff/make contacts; sell product; when your kitchen counter can't keep up with demand, rent overnight commercial kitchen space and then office space; when demand still outstrips supply, bring life back to a rundown East Harlem market by setting up a thriving bakery; finally, pass it on via a baking business incubator. Each phase was characterised by connecting with others who related to this passionate focus. A full-throttle open system was embraced all the way.

Recipes not just for flat, leavened, filled, left-over, and sweet breads are offered but also for fabulous accompaniments including main dishes. The international influence, reflecting the cultural diversity of New York City, is on full display here: African, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Hispanic, European, American (Parker House rolls and hotdog/hamburger buns, baby!), and Jewish. The book is worth getting just for the carnitas recipe. But that could be said for the kale, onion, and cheddar m'smen (buttery, flakey Moroccan flatbread) recipe too.  Oh, also the Albanian cheese triangles. And for many others.

Come for the recipes, stay for the stories. One of my favourites is the one about Ms Rodriguez's own great-grandfather replete with picture. Though Laibush Perlmutterwe see him, bespectacled, mustached, and working ever so hard in front of what was considered at that time to be the top-of-the-line baking oven—closed down his Toronto shop way before the author's birth, the shape of his rye bread inspired the one for Hot Bread Kitchen's New Yorker Rye.

My advice? Buy this lovely book which contains many gorgeous photos for yourself and/or for those in your life who bake. The only problem is which recipe do you do first. I am vacillating between monkey bread (rich, sweet, eggy, yeasted loaf smothered with brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon) and traditional onion bialys (appreciated by Mimi Sheraton the author of The Bialy Eaters).

À la prochaine!

RELATED POST

Making bialys a la Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook

RELATED LINKS

Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook at Amazon
Hot Bread Kitchen Website: Handmade Authentic Multi-Ethnic Breads, Preserving Tradition, Rising Expectations

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fall Frenzy

Our garden is a busy place in autumn. A spell of dry, warm weather is being cooperative allowing my speeding about trying to do this and that at the same time. Les grues (cranes) have not yet started their directly overhead, honking migration to North Africa. Once they do that, then there's about a two week grace period before the cold arrives. One of many tasks is spading the nine annual beds so as to prepare for the sowing of engrais vert (green manure). This horticultural practice was started for the first time last autumn. The results have been nothing short of amazing. Though compost and leaf mould have been incorporated into the soil since our moving here eight years ago, it was only after just one seasonal planting of white mustard that the earth finally reached the holy grail status of friable texture. It is the extensive root system of this fast-growing group of plants which works like a hidden plough, finely breaking up the soil as they grow.

Centre bed is planted with left-over mustard seed and hose is kept nearby for the necessary sprinkling; the bed behind is in process of being spaded

This season, blue tansy (Phacelia tanacetifolia) will be the dominant crop cover since it belongs to a family that contains no plants that are used in agriculture so it makes rotation (prevents plant disease) easier in our potager. Since it needs darkness to germinate, the soil is shallowly turned over once the seed is scattered. A light hammering with the back side of a spade over the bed then follows. The finishing touch is a gentle watering.

Their flowers are loved by bees, but when used as a green manure, it's best to cut down the plants before blooming because of pronounced re-seeding

The raking and piling-up of fallen leaves have begun in earnest. There's still some crunchy drifts in a few corners of our garden, but that task mostly is done. However the major amassing will occur in a couple weeks as the leaves in a nearby oak copse have started falling. The Calm One and I will be scooting down there several times weekly in our Zoe (Renault electric car) whose surprisingly roomy boot accommodates two sizeable leaf bags. As the heap grows, more bird netting is rolled out to prevent scattering by the wind; the netting edges are secured by surplus terracotta roofing tiles. Oak leaves break down fast enough that by early spring there will be plenty of mulch for the veggie beds. That mulch will decompose completely into moisture-retentive leaf mould as the summer unfolds.

The bird baths will be maintained throughout the winter

Ivy climbing up pillars, fences, and walls have gotten their last haircut as has the laurel hedge before the winter. Not to mention the lawn.


To elongate the existing laurel hedge, a number of cuttings were taken this past spring. They were trimmed (stem shortened, leaves reduced in number then cut in half), the bottom of their stems dusted with rooting hormone, potted up, and tucked into small, tabletop greenhouses. Only a small percentage are showing new leaves so they will stay in their little plastic homes throughout the winter. Once they all show new growth, they will be planted in a nursery bed. Eventually they will join the mature ones in the hedge.  The snipped-off runners of the strawberry plants were planted in small pots about six weeks ago and are now ready to be transplanted in a bed.

See the pale, small, new laurel leaf in the bottom centre? Too cute!

My love for tulips is a recent and very guilty pleasure. My flower preference is for perennials like daylilies, dahlias, asters, etc., and inexpensive, grown-from-seed annuals like zinnias and cosmos. Tulips unfortunately except for the botanical species, often do not put on a good repeat show. And they are like potato chips. How, you may ask? You can't just eat one chip, and you can't just plant one tulip. You must have dozens and dozens and dozen to get that punch of colour that only many glowing tulips of different types can provide throughout spring.

Dirac the Cat has assured me that this avalanche of tulip bulbs is a necessity and not an indulgence

Autumn is not only the time to buy and plant flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips, but also to pop into a nursery bed, some young, easily shipped, and therefore inexpensive, evergreens like these two adorable Lawson's cypress 'Ellwoodii'.

They will be planted in their permanent location next fall so they can grow into their tall selves

These zinnias are still going strong but when they do succumb to the cold, a major part of the tulips will be planted in their place.


Eight years ago, this same pot of mums brightened up our Grenoble balcony overlooking the foothills of the Alps for ten years. Yup, that's right, this perennial in a pot has been going for eighteen years. I do give it liquid fertiliser faithfully a couple of times each year. But still. What a champ!

I am very attached to this baby

A large pot of echeveria and heather adorns our entrance steps.


À la prochaine!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Parsnip & Apple Soup

I love parsnips. There I said it. Parsnips may be earthy like their more colourful relatives, carrots, but they also have a touch of finesse bordering on the elegant.

Go all Jackson Pollock with the garnishing of cream & thyme!

Our small crop was harvested after being exposed to two weeks of cold, nightly temperature to tease out their sweetness even more.


Parsnips were sowed this past March so they take time to mature. The seed needs to be very fresh so it makes sense to buy just what is required for a season's sowing.

Look at that friable soil! So glad after we moved here eight years ago I focused on 'growing' the soil and not just plants thanks to incorporation of compost & leaf mould and using cover crops

I chose Reinette Grise apples because they have smooth, full-bodied flavour when cooked.


After throwing out the umpteenth pot of fail-to-thrive Thymus vulgaris (common thyme), I planted Thymus serpyllum. It took a while to cover the ground, but now it is flourishing. It having a milder taste means I use a bit more than I did with the common variety.


Ingredients
makes 4 ample servings

  • Butter, sweet, 30 g/1 dry oz
  • Olive oil, extra virgin, 1 T
  • Onions, yellow, medium, 2, finely chopped
  • Parsnips, 600 g/1 lb 5 oz, scrubbed, chopped (remove any woody bits & peel if they are old)
  • Garlic cloves, 2, finely minced
  • Thyme, dried, 2 large pinches
  • Apples, cooking (I used reinette grise du Canada, other choices would be granny smith, golden delicious, belle de boskoop, gala, bramley), 600 g/1 lb 5 oz)
  • Stock, veggie/chicken or high quality stock cubes (I used chicken), 1 L/34 fluid oz)
  • Milk, 400 ml/13.5 fluid oz
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Garnishes: cream, splash of cognac, and fresh thyme

Though the soup tastes wonderful if made fresh, making it the day before will deepen the flavour. Gently heat the butter and oil over moderate low heat. Toss in the onions, parsnips, and thyme. Stir occasionally and saute for around fifteen minutes. The veggies need to be softened, translucent, and fragrant. Add the apples and garlic and cook for another minute or two.


Add the liquid stock or if using stock cubes, add the same amount of water as you would the stock along with the stock cubes (my brand called specified two cubes for a litre of water). Cover and simmer for around thirty minutes or until the veggies are very soft.


Puree either with a stick mixer or in a blender. Thin with milk (you may need more than the recommended amount especially if you let the soup sit in the fridge overnight). Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with squiggles of cream and fresh thyme. This luscious soup for some reason tasted cheesy, mostly Parmesan, a bit of Brie, which made it so goooooood. (It could have been due to the hefty amount of turmeric in the stock cubes I used.) The balance between savoury and sweet was perfect. Splash some cognac in your serving if you wish.


Cream and cognac made it almost too gorgeous. A garnish of Parma ham would work a treat too. If a less rich soup would be preferred, then use more stock and less milk. Omit the cream and cognac. It still will taste wonderful.


Now that the parsnips have been harvested, the only veggies remaining in the potager are the sweet red peppers which are snugly cocooned in their tent of triple-thickness horticultural fleece so as to protect them from the cool night temps.

Our three cats adore playing hide and seek with each other inside the tent

À la prochaine!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

More Seasonal Fresh Fig Recipes!

We, along with the starlings, continue to eat ripe figs supplied generously by our tree. The birds descend onto the figuier and we to the table; they peck noisily and we guzzle the luscious, juicy fruit just as noisily. Can we say lip-smacking good? Grain bowls are excellent for using up any left-over grains. Top with what you have in the fridge and larder to get a wholesome, hearty supper.


Bulgur is delicious and cooks up quickly. You probably have encountered it in the form of tabbouleh. Put one volume of it in 2 volumes of boiling, salted water, lower heat, and simmer uncovered for ten minutes. Take off heat, cover, and let steep for about five minutes until it is fluffy and any excess moisture has been absorbed. I tend to make more than is needed so either the left-overs are used for the next couple of days or it's frozen for future meals.

Bulgur boasts of a nutty flavour with a satisfying texture

Figs are halved, their centre crevices filled with a bit of sweet butter, and placed close under a preheated broiler for several minutes until their edges are browned.


Using a veggie peeler or a paring knife, scrape off several slivers of Parmesan.


Slice deli ham into strips. Arrange figs, ham, and Parmesan slivers on top. Season with freshly ground black pepper.


Hot open-faced sandwiches are fun to do and are nicely warming on an autumn day. Again use what you have on hand. For us, it was moist dark rye speckled with flax seeds, figs, apples, Cantal, and walnuts. Preheat oven to 410 degrees F/210 degrees C.


Place bread slices in an oven dish. Top with thinly sliced, cored apples, Cantal, halved figs with a bit of butter inserted in their crevices, and chopped walnuts.


Heat in the oven for around five minutes until cheese is melted and the figs are soft and glistening.


Don't hesitate to cut the figs into smaller pieces.


This way, your fork can pierce more easily into the whole stack of bread, cheese, figs, and nuts in one, bite-sized go.


À la prochaine!

RELATED POSTS

French cheeses: Cantal Apple Clafoutis
Do Give a Fig!