Saturday, May 30, 2009

No Knead Bread

At this point, I am sure almost everyone has heard of the no knead bread phenomena. After I finally got around to purchasing a dutch oven a few years ago, this recipe was one of the first I tried. The ingredients couldn't be more basic -- just flour, salt, instant yeast, and water. The hardest part of the recipe is the timing as it requires a lot of resting time to allow the yeast to do its work. Usually, an overnight rest is the way to go so starting the recipe the day before you intend to bake is a good technique. Once it has risen, the dough has a wonderful yeast-y smell. The dutch oven is invaluable because it can take and evenly distribute very high heat, as called for in this recipe.

When the bread finally comes out of the oven, it is beautifully golden and crusty. You have to let it rest for a few minutes, during which you will hear the bread crackle and settle. The final
product has a beautiful crust that isn't too hard and a springy interior with plenty of air pockets. This bread is probably as good, if not better, than most boules you may get at a bakery and you have the satisfaction of having baked it yourself! While this bread with butter is plenty good, I often make open faced sandwiches with it. The picture on the left is of an open faced sandwich consisting of goat cheese and grilled zuchinni and red onion, although the variations are endless. These make a great, light weekday dinner.

The recipe below is from Steamy Kitchen, which is slightly modified from the original recipe Mark Bittman got from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. I have also tried Bittman's speedier version of the recipe and find it to be almost as good.

No Knead Bread


3 cups bread flour (such as Harvest King bread flour)
1/4 tsp instant yeast
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups warm water


1. Mix the dough: The night before, combine all the ingredients with a wooden spoon in a large bowl until a shaggy dough forms. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and allow it to sit on a countertop for 12 to 20 hours.

2. Shape and preheat: The dough will rise and become wet, sticky, and bubbly. With a wet spatula, dump the on a floured surface. Fold ends of dough over a few times with the spatula and nudge it into a ball shape. You can use your hands if you like, just keep your hands wet so that the dough does not stick. Generously dust a cotton towel (not terrycloth) with flour. Set dough seam side down on top of towel. Fold towel over the dough. Let it nap for 2 hours. When you’ve got about a half hour left, slip your covered pot into the oven and preheat to 450F.

3. Bake: Your dough should have doubled in size. Remove pot from oven. Holding towel, dump wobbly dough into pot. Doesn’t matter which way it lands. Shake to even dough out. Cover. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover, bake another 15-20 minutes or until the crust is beautifully golden and middle of loaf is 210F. Remove and let cool on wired rack.

Yields 1 loaf.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

I love peanut butter and have gotten somewhat addicted to the fresh honey roasted peanut butter you can grind yourself on the nifty machines at Whole Foods. So, when I saw these cookies on Joy the Baker, I just had to try them. This recipe doesn't use any flour and results in the most peanut-buttery peanut butter cookies I have ever eaten. The original recipe calls for a full cup of sugar, half granulated/half brown sugar. I made two batches of these cookies. For the first batch, I used half granulated/half light brown pourable sugar. While still delicious, I thought the cookies were a little too sweet and the sugar masked the peanut butter flavor. For the second batch, I used the same sugars but cut the total amount by one-third cup. This resulted in a little less batter but much better cookies. The edited version of the recipe appears below. Joy the Baker recommends using natural peanut butter as it results in dough that holds itself together a little bit better and that is what I did. These cookies are definitely rich and when I brought them over in a gift box for my mother and mother-in-law for Mother's Day, the boxes were soaked with oil. However, both mothers absolutely loved the cookies.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies


1 cup natural chunky or smooth peanut butter
2/3 cup sugar, half granulated/half light brown pourable sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Mix peanut butter and sugar until well-mixed. Add egg, baking soda, and vanilla extract and mix well.

3. Roll into walnut size balls and create a criss-cross pattern with a fork.

4. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. The cookies will be delicate so allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring from baking sheet.

Makes 14 - 18 cookies.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Los Angeles

I didn't get to travel too much when I was growing up. My parents, outside of the odd road trip, would save most of their money to take my sister and me to India to stay for months with our relatives in Kolkata, which was certainly a valuable experience. However, I always longed to travel to other parts of the world (or even other parts of India) and romanticized the backpacker lifestyle. While I never quite got to do the backpacker thing, I did start travelling fairly regularly as soon as I started working. Unfortunately, this blog was not in existence when I had my adventures (food-related and otherwise) on my trips and recently, my husband and I have curtailed our travelling for various reasons. However, I was fortunate enough to be sent to Los Angeles for work a few weeks ago and we decided to make a mini-vacation out of the trip.

The first day was filled with work for me but my husband walked around downtown LA during that time. He chose Philippe for his lunch, an old-timey restaurant that claims to have invented the french dip sandwich. Despite the long lines, he thought the sandwich was completely worth it. He was even thoughtful enough to get me a jar of Philippe's famous hot mustard, which I have yet to try.

The trip started to feel like a vacation for me only when we ran into the cutest bakery called Vanilla Bake Shop right near our hotel in Santa Monica. We loved it so much that we went back there a second time. On the first visit, I tried the most decadent bite-size peanut butter chocolate tart. But, the shop seems to be best known for its cupcakes and the best way to try several flavors is to take advantage of the 3 mini-cupcakes for $5 deal. We tried a red velvet, a black & white, and a vanilla cupcake. All three were mouthwateringly good and super moist and 3 mini-cupcakes were plenty for an afternoon snack with a cup of coffee.

Our first real dinner in LA was at Joe's, a restaurant in Venice Beach that specializes in farm-fresh, seasonal fare. I would describe the menu as New American. Although I don't remember the exact descriptions of each of everything we ate, I remember the stand out dishes were a rich mushroom ravioli appetizer and a seared duck breast with lentils main course.

We finally were able to enjoy a leisurely brunch on our second full day, when we headed to Blue Plate in Santa Monica. It was a small, bright restaurant that was packed for brunch even on a Friday morning. The food was very fresh and served in extremely generous portions. Both my husband and I got variations on the scramble, which was essentially scrambled eggs with a choice of 4 add-ins. The dinner menu, which was scrawled on a blackboard on the wall, also seemed to include some interesting choices using seasonal ingredients.

Of course, no trip to California is complete without some burgers. On our quest to try the best California burgers, we first hit In-n-Out burger at the Westwood location. Having done our research beforehand, we knew to order our burgers and fries "animal style," which sounds frightening but just really means that your burger and fries will be smothered in a mix of cheese, sauce, and sauteed onions. While the burger was certainly good, it was nowhere near as good as I thought it would be from having heard all the hype. Much more satisfying were the burgers at Fatburger, which also has several locations including one conveniently located on Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade. The Fatburger was juicy and full of beefy flavor. Both burgers were California-style in that they were relatively flat patties and not the bigger and more loosely packed burgers one usually finds in New York.

Our second sit-down dinner was a point of much discussion and we finally settled on Jar, a chophouse in West Hollywood. The restaurant was decorated, I believe, to invoke a chophouse from the 1940's. I found the decor to be, frankly, a little oppressive as the walls were all dark wood and the furniture struck me as a little heavy and stuffy. The food, also, was only ok in my opinion. My husband got what was essentially a modern twist on Salisbury steak, which was very good. However, my coq au vin was seriously oversalted, which I think is a fatal mistake for a kitchen in a pricey restaurant to make.

Because we did not feel like having another heavy brunch on our last day in LA, we decided to graze at the Farmer's Market in West Hollywood. The market is year-round and the emphasis seems to be on prepared foods rather than vegetables and fruits as in the Union Square market in New York. While I munched on a perfectly good chocolate chip scone from one of the bakeries in the market, my husband hit the jackpot with a chicken taco and potatoes mashed with poblanos at Loteria Grill, a Mexican foodstand. It was our first taste of California Mexican food on this trip, which we loved so much that we decided to hit Border Grill in Santa Monica for our last dinner. Border Grill was a huge, bustling restaurant that had just the festive mood we needed to cap off our trip. Everything we tried, from the traditional tamale assortment and Chile Relleno to the less traditional gaucho steak, was fantastic. We knew we had made the right choice as soon as we were served with an assortment of fresh salsas served with fresh tortilla chips. I find California Mexican food to be more authentic than what you normally find in New York, but somehow more tasty than what I had when I actually went to Mexico!

While I had some mixed feelings about LA as a whole -- great weather, quirky characters, but a serious lack of architecture and a troublesome car culture -- the food was certainly a highlight.