Saturday, March 24, 2012

my favorite breakfast

my favorite breakfast, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
Sometimes things get a little crazy in life and there's little time to be spent in the little kitchen. The great thing is that in these times, what I've learned over the last year and a half of this cooking and journaling is the joy and satisfaction I've found by having a few go-to recipes that, through the course of repetition, have become non-recipes.  Nothing makes me happier than being able to whip up a great meal grounded in pantry staples. A little planning to the market will round out the ingredients and usually just involves picking up 2 or 3 items at most.
One of my favorite little kitchen productions, thanks to Melissa Clark's inspiring cookbook In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite  has been the big red pot of polenta I seem to always have going. This is not the first time I've written about polenta and I doubt it'll be the last, because it's probably the best representation, next to the roasted chicken, of how my little kitchen repertoire has been enhanced.
I always have polenta and "fake" chicken seasoning (this is a powder that I buy in bulk from Rainbow or Whole Foods) in the pantry and butter and parmesan in the fridge, so this one's a no brainer.
Get 4 1/2 cups of water boiling, then using a large heat-proof spatula, I stir in the seasoning (4T), then stir in the polenta (1 1/2 cups). Let it come to a bubble, reduce the heat, season with salt and pepper and keep the polenta moving around the pot every couple of minutes,  until it's all thick and creamy. Stir in a bunch of little butter (about 4T), a little more salt and pepper if you need it and then some parmesan (about 1/2 c.) and you're good to go. If you want to, top it off with a poached egg:
Heat up a small pot of water until it's barely simmering. Smitten Kitchen has the best egg poaching method right here.  Crack your egg into a small ramekin and then slide it into the water and swirl the handle of a wooden spoon around the outer edge of the pot to sort of contain your egg into the center  of the swirling vortex and poach it a few minutes until the white stops jiggling, then scoop it outta the water with a slotted spoon and drain it on a paper towel for a few seconds, then plop it onto your bowl of steaming hot polenta, add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, then finish it with some shredded parmesan.
I usually store the remaining polenta in a wide square container so that it sets into some kind of loaf shape which I can slice off and reheat in a skillet, or bake into "fries", or reheat in the microwave with a few splashes of water for the next mornings breakfast bowl. Coincidentally, whilst I was still pondering and editing this post, Smitten Kitchen posted this gorgeous breakfast this morning. So of course, I shall be making it tomorrow, and wouldn't this be a great accompaniment to polenta fries!?!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

penne with creamy herby tomato sauce

Sometimes I get distracted from cooking...usually by work. It really saddens me when I can't spend entire days in the little kitchen. When I am there it seems that all I do is wash  dishes and clean up messes. That perplexes me when I see a pile of dishes in the sink and I truly have to wonder how they got there. I've been too busy to cook! What the heyyyylllll?!? Yet, I still gotta eat and truly prefer my own half-baked attempts in the kitchen over anything else.
This is a really quick and easy meal to throw together. The moment I walk in the door, I put on a big pot of salted water to boil, then I go looking for pasta throw in there. Ziti and spaghetti are always in my pantry. I start with my favorite  go-to sauce from 101cookbooks. While the water is heating up I get this going:

Two tablespoons of olive oil, 3 cloves of minced garlic, 2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes and some kosher salt. Cook it on a medium heat for a few minutes until the garlic starts to color a little, then add a 28oz. can of crushed tomatoes like this:

While that's heating up I pull out whatever fresh herbs I've got.

...which happened to be tarragon, thyme and basil today. I chopped 'em all up and into the pot they went.
along with some shredded parmesan and sour cream. That's it. Stir it all up and dump it over your cooked and drained spaghetti. One side note via the geniuses at Americas Test Kitchen and Cooks Illustrated: before you drain your pasta reserve about a half cup of your pasta water to add back into your pasta and sauce in case you may want to thin the sauce out a little. Drain your pasta quickly. Don't let it sit in the strainer and put it immediately back into to pot. You want to leave it pretty wet. Then stir in your sauce and add back a little of that pasta water to thin it out if you feel like it and you're done.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

bread in my basket

bread in my basket, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
So in case you haven't noticed I'm currently OCDing on bread. It started when the last dutch oven boule I made emerged from the oven looking picture perfect as usual, but when I rolled it out of the pot it was scorched on the bottom. It made me a little weepy, thinking about all the time spent kneading and waiting, only to produce a loaf that was heavy (I gave up on the kneading too soon) and burnt. On the upside, the bread still tasted pretty darned good and the black bottom shaved off with a cheese grater (brilliant Cooks Illustrated tip), my faith in bread was restored.
In my basket, fresh out of the oven, is the coveted Tartine Bakery country loaf I picked up last week. As I pedaled on home, I actually feared someone would know the bounty of my beat up basket and 'nap it whilst I was law-abidingly stopped at a stop sign. Yeah...crazy. I know.
My last few postings have referred to  my temporary aquisition of this...

...holding all the secrets to the bread I aspire to make one of these days. I think I have finally wrapped my brain around the fact that bread baking is about the journey more than the destination. My journey begins with the attempt to make my own wild yeast starter.

This little bowl of bubbly stuff is the wild yeast I started about 2 weeks ago, achieved by daily feeding, mixing, observing, dumping, feeding, mixing, waiting, watching, smelling, tasting, observing over and over again until a consistency in behavior emerges. My problem is that I'm never home long enough to observe it for four hours at a stretch to watch how it's supposed to rise then fall and flavor from sweet to sour. I don't always feed it 24 hours later like I'm supposed to either, but somehow it always seems to bounce back.
My journey involves many detours. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

my ultimate breakfast sandwich

breakfast sandwich, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
This is a little something I whipped up the other morning after my visit to Tartine Bakery, where I finally managed to snag a loaf of their country bread fresh out of the oven. This bread is what I can only aspire to make. Super crunchy exterior and an airy, slightly sour interior. It's also enormous. After paying 8.75 for that loaf (ouch) I was determined to plan every subsequent meal around it. My first meal was just the fresh from the bakery slices topped with a little butter. That was my dinner. Bread and butter:-) I had planned to make a tomato soup inspired by Heidi over at 101cookbooks, to go with my lovely loaf but by the time I managed to take my face out of the still warm loaf, I was so satisfied I didn't feel the least bit compelled to deal with the morning kitchen sink mess which was a necessary prerequisite to any cooking. So I just turned out the lights and went to bed.
This sandwich was inspired by this recent post from Smitten Kitchen. So day 2 of my country loaf saw me building this little bit of breakfast magic. Slices were toasted, then slathered with some dijon. The layers commence with a couple of slices of bacon, a scrambled egg, a sprinkle of grated cheese, salsa and slivered basil. This will be the greater purpose of any and all artisan breads that make their way into my kitchen.
The end of my loaf, only slightly teetering on the edge of stale, ended up in yesterdays bento. I cut up the heel into bite sized pieces to slather with roasted pepper hummus.