Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Himalayan Salt, Chamomile Sours & Chocolate, Too

This is my grown-up version of kids' reports on what they learned on the latest field trip. In my case, the excursion was to the International Association of Culinary Professionals annual conference in Portland, Oregon. I learned a lot of really neat stuff.

For example, see those gorgeous stone bowls and blocks? Well, they're not stone at all, but salt quarried from a mine in the Himalayas. Really! Both the blocks and bowls can function as serving or food presentation pieces and I promise they'll be the talk of your next gourmet event. (I took the pic during a visit to a charming Portland specialty shop called The Meadow. It also sells dozens of sea salts and gourmet chocolates, plus fresh  flowers.)

At a party hosted at the home of The Meadow's owner, Mark Bitterman, he displayed various chocolates for guests to sample on some of his salt blocks. The dark, glossy chocolates were stunning perched on the smooth, luminous salmon-pink surfaces; I'd have sworn the slabs were pink marble or maybe Vancouver rhodonite if I hadn't known better. Although Mark didn't offer any salted nuts or chips, it occurred to me that it would be amusing to serve salty snacks in the salt bowls. For more info on these beauties as well as The Meadow's other products, click here.

At a separate event thrown by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, I discovered  yet another chi-chi gourmet item--a new cocktail called a chamomile sour. I never fancied myself a fan of chamomile, but I'm always ready for a new cocktail, so I had to try this one. It was terrific--light and refreshing, with a unique herb-citrus flavor and aroma that made me want to ask for seconds (even though I didn't!).

Turns out the chamomile flavor comes from an Italian grappa liqueur called Marolo. It's infused with the herb while aging in oak barrels. The sour was created by bartender Kelley Swenson of Portland's Ten01 Restaurant (named for its location at 1001 NW Couch St.), and contains gin, Marolo, fresh lemon juice and local honey. If you've got $10 bucks and are in Portland, you can sample it, too.

Since I'm rarely in Portland, I'm going to order Marolo on-line and make my own chamomile cocktails. I know they're going to wow my East coast crowd. Cheers!
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More Q and A's on Baking No-Knead Breads

In a few days I'll be heading to Portland, Oregon, for an exciting culinary conference. While I'm there, master baker Peter Reinhart and I will be presenting a workshop on slow-rise and no-knead bread techniques. Attendees will get to watch and also ask all the questions they like. (They'll also get to try sample breads!)

Some of the questions I know will come up are ones that fans of Kneadlessly Simple have already asked  in e-mails to me. I thought you might be interested in the questions and, hopefully, learn from the answers I sent them.

The first two questions below deal with suitable pots for baking breads. I answered a number of  "bread pot" questions in two earlier posts, so if the details below don't cover what you need, check out some basics here and some follow-up info here. Just in case you're interested, the snapshot on the left shows my garlic parmesan--a very fragrant and tasty loaf!  For some good, crusty no-knead bread recipes click here or go to my home page.

 Q: I know you have suggested various pots for baking breads before, but you have never mentioned lightwight pots to use. I don't like heavy pots because they are very hard for me to lift. Can I use lighter ones or will they just not work with your recipes?

A: I was a bit skeptical as to whether lightweight pots, especially stainless steel, would work because this metal doesn’t conduct, hold, or distribute heat nearly as well as cast iron or enamel-coated aluminum or carbon steel. But after testing several sturdy, but still inexpensive and lightweight stainless pots, I can definitely say they will work just fine. (As you can see from the pic, my Kneadessly Simple San Francisco-style sourdough loaf came out very well.) You may need to bake a little longer than the recipe calls for, and will likely not get a deeply browned loaf.

I have found that the doughs tend to stick in stainless pots, so be sure to spritz the interior with non-stick spray just before adding the dough to the pot. Also, be sure to check that the handles and lid of the pot can be heated to 450 degrees. One bargain pot I purchased had a glass lid that was not oven-safe beyond 350 degrees F. (I tested the pot by covering the top with aluminum foil, which worked okay but wasn’t ideal.)

Q: I have the 5-qt cast iron pot, but would actually prefer to also be able to make bread of different shapes. I also have a 9x5 stoneware loaf pan which says it is safe for up to 500 degrees. As I make my way through your book, are your recipes specifically tailored for use with either a closed "steamy" environment like my cast iron pot or my open loaf pan,or can I use the doughs interchangeably? I.e., if I take my dough from the oat bread recipe (loaf recipe), would it work for me to bake it at slightly higher temp (and for shorter time) in an enclosed clay or cast iron pot? Vice versa, if I take dough from a pot recipe, can I also just bake it at lower temp (and for longer) in an open loaf pan?

Also, again with your Oatmeal bread recipe, if I'd like to obtain the crust of the cast iron enclosed pot method but in a log shape, can I just put it into my stoneware loaf pan with a cover (what would you recommend?) and try to recreate the enclosed method?

A: I have found the 5- or 6-quart pots too large--the dough spreads too much, yielding a flat loaf; a 3 1/2 qt pot works much better. (See the links suggested.) I don't really suggest using stoneware--I'm afraid that the shock of room temperature dough in a really hot pot could cause shattering. Also, the chance of the dough sticking is much greater in stoneware and ceramic pots.

As for the question about baking in a different pot/pan than I call for: Yes, feel free to do this. You will have to experiment with the baking times and temps just as you suggested. If you choose to bake a bread in a covered pot, it is going to have a much harder/crisper crust than otherwise. If a crusty sort of loaf is not baked in a covered pot when that is called for, it's crust may be less crusty than you want. I've heard of some who wanted to bake in loaf pans but wanted crusty tops putting the loaf pans into a covered roaster or large oval Dutch oven to get results similar to baking directly in a covered pot; it will work. BTW, if the loaf comes out with a harder crust than you like, this can always be fixed by draping a clean tea towel over the warm loaf a little while--the trapped moisture will soften the crust a bit. Also it doesn't work terribly well to cover a loaf pan with foil to trap the steam--the most important changes in the crust come during the first few minutes of baking, but you can't usually cover the dough in the beginning because it is soft and the foil will stick to it.

 Q: My grandson is almost 4 ½ years old, and is allergic to eggs (among other things.) I have been making challah for him, which we eat weekly and he takes to school to participate with the rest of his class. I use an egg replacer (not substitute) which is a powder made of tapioca powder (and other things) combined with water. The basic rule: never replace more than 2 eggs in a recipe, so my challah recipe does work. But it involves mixing, a rise, a shaping and another rise. (my whole Sunday, essentially).
My question: will this egg replacer work for Kneadlessly Simple? It would make my life, of so much simple. Any suggestions? Could I make the dough at night, and then bake it at 4 PM the next day?

A: I don't see any reason why the KS recipe wouldn't work--although I've learned that the only way to be sure is to actually try something! (The pic shows the recipe made with real eggs, not replacer!) The plan to make the dough at night, then bake the next afternoon seems just fine. If the replacer works in other doughs, I don't see why it woudn't work here too. I would just incorporate it in place of the eggs as the recipe directs.
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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Strawberry-Rhubarb Freezer Jam--Spring in Every Jar

Yes, fresh garden strawberries taste sweet, succulent and completely irresistible on their own. And rhubarb has a refreshing zing, old-fashioned charm and simple goodness.

But strawberries and rhubarb cooked in concert--that's a miraculous match. The berries contribute fragrance, complex fruity flavor, and bright color to balance the rhubarb's greeness. The stalks lend astringence, plus body and boldness to amplify the sweet. Together the two sing a lusty song of spring.

I'd often eaten strawberries and rhubarb solo, but first tried them together in a compote during a visit to my cousins' old farmhouse when I was about five. I still vividly remember how wonderful the combination tasted, and have loved it ever since.

My relatives had a big garden and strawberries and rhubarb were major spring crops, so they prepared the two often and in many different, memorable, ways. I ate my first slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie sitting at their huge dining room table, and my first peanut butter and strawberry and rhubarb jam sandwich in their kitchen. In fact the early pie and jam experiences were the inspiration for my easier cobbler recipe here and the quick, luscious "freezer" jam recipe below. It has been a huge hit, especially with those who like their jams fresh-tasting and not too sweet. (Another fave rhubarb and strawberry combo, in easy brunch parfaits, is here.)  And a fab strawberry-rhubarb cobbler is here--yum!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Freezer Jam

This is one of the best jams I've ever tasted--the fresh fruit flavor is just spectacular. And the color is stunning, too.

If you're not familiar with "freezer" jams, they are kept several weeks in the refrigerator (or up to a year in the freezer), so don't require processing in a boiling water bath. (Do sterilize the jars in boiling water before using them though.) Since the fruit is not cooked enough to be sterilized all the way through, it must be refrigerated, not stored on pantry shelves. The jars (right in photo) were cooling so they could be put in the refrigerator.

This jam not only requires very little cooking, but because it calls for the new "low-sugar needed" pectin, it is less sweet, more natural tasting, and more healthful than old-fashioned jams. It's easy to make, even if you've never prepared jam before. Just be sure to check the label and buy a pectin specifically formulated for use in "reduced sugar or no-sugar" cooked jam recipes. Don't buy a pectin designed for no-cook recipes; this is not the same and won't work well.

TIP: Note that the jam may be fairly thick when first prepared, but may thin out a bit during storage, especially if frozen. Also, though the photo shows the jam in larger jars, it is actually extremely convenient to use the smaller jars shown on the left. Then, the jam mini-jars can be transferred from the freezer as needed and provide about the right amont to last a week.

2 1/2 cups well washed, chopped fresh strawberries
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
2 1/2 cups diced (1/3-inch pieces) rhubarb
1 box Sure Jell reduced- or no-sugar-needed pectin or 1 box Ball Fruit Jell no-sugar-needed pectin

Place several metal tablespoons in the refrigerator to use in checking the jell of the jam. Combine the strawberries, lemon juice and 3/4 cup sugar in a large non-reactive bowl. Let stand about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the berry juices begin to flow.

Meanwhile, thoroughly stir together the remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar and pectin in a large non-reactive saucepan or large, deep-sided non-reactive skillet until well blended and no lumps remain. Stir in 1/2 cup cold water and rhubarb. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. When the mixture comes to a full, foamy boil, cook, stirring, until the rhubarb pieces are tender, but still hold some shape, about 3-4 minutes. If the mixture still appears runny, drop about a teaspoon of it onto a chilled spoon and let it cool for 15 seconds. If it immediately runs off instead of jelling lightly and clinging to the spoon, continue cooking about 1 minute longer, then check using another chilled spoon. As soon as the mixture jells just enough to cling to the spoon and thicken slightly, it is done. (It will continue to jell further upon standing.)

Immediately remove the cooked mixture from the heat; stir the strawberry mixture into the rhubarb mixture. Continue stirring for 2 minutes, scraping the pan bottom until very well blended. The mixture will thicken somewhat and will thicken further as it cools. Skim off and discard any foam from the jam surface. Ladle the jam into jars, leaving 3/4-inch headroom to allow for expansion during freezing. Wipe any drips from jar rim and threads, and screw on lids. Let stand until cooled to barely warm. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Check the lids and tighten, if necessary. Then, freeze for up to 1 year, or refrigerate for up to a week. Makes about 4 cups jam.

If you're interested in a fabulous crumb-crust strawberry-rhubarb cobbler (below right) go here.

Or, if you're in the mood for other berry treats, an enticing raspberry cobbler is here or blackberry sorbet, here.
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