Buoyed up by faith in the vaccine. Dipping our toes in the sea of normal. Indoor restaurant meals. Weekend away to spend long anticipated time with family. Hugs held more closely. Walks along familiar trails long out of our home-bound reach. Eyes wide with wonder at the newness of all that was once routine.
I’m musing rather than documenting here. It occurs to me that I rarely follow a recipe as written. Baking is different. That’s science and needs to be followed, but a meat or seafood dish, soup or salads are often open to individual technique or substitution.
Case in point. I recently came across a recipe for a dish that included roasted vegetables and Israeli (pearl) couscous. I was reminded of Yotam Ottolenghi’s dictum that dishes that include roasted vegetables and grains were most flavorful served at room temperature, so it seemed like something that would be good as part of a cookout or a buffet.
The directions for the original recipe were fairly complicated. I have a tendency to zero in on the essence of a recipe and simplify the process whenever possible. In this case, I broke it down to the following steps: 1. Follow the directions on the package for a cup of couscous, substituting chicken broth for water. Set aside when done. 2. While the couscous is cooking, slice the top off of a head of garlic, drizzle a bit of olive oil on the exposed cloves and wrap tightly in foil. Put in a 375 degree oven while making the dish. Softening the garlic takes about an hour. 3. Slice a medium to large onion. Sautés it in olive oil until it is caramelized. Set aside. 4. Cut about 8 ounces of cherry tomatoes in halves. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast them in the same oven that already houses the garlic. They should soften and start to caramelize in about a half hour. By then, the garlic should also be soft. If not, leave it in a bit longer. 5. Once all ingredients have been prepped and have cooled somewhat, combine the couscous, onions, and tomatoes. Squeeze the softened garlic from the bulb into the dish. You might not want to use the whole bulb if it’s really large, but sweet roasted garlic has lots of uses, so it won’t go to waste. 6. Stir ingredients. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle with fresh parsley. Let flavors meld for at least an hour. Serve at room temperature. 7. Will keep well in the fridge for a couple of days, but bring back to room temperature before serving.
The doors to the library are open today. Really open. Not a call ahead and pick up your books at the front door kind of day, but a climb the stairs and peruse the new books collection and lose oneself in the stacks poised to find a old friendly treasure kind of day. Sheer delight after a year away. Still masked and socially distanced, but most of all grateful and keenly aware of the simple things we once took for granted.
First day of Spring. A time of promise. Yes, it’s about traditional signs. Flowers responding to the warming sun. But this year, it’s all about the vaccine. Hopes pinned to science that will allow us to shed not only winter coats and hats, but also isolation and fear of contact.
Basic need. Creative outlet. Perhaps both. Ability to conjure magic. Some flour. Water. Yeast. Salt. A sprinkle of fairy dust. With time and warmth, inert ingredients take on new life. From little comes much.
Sometimes an old friendly recipe turns out to be the best after all. Beard on Bread was once my bible back in the 1970’s when I first started baking bread. Still in print, it’s now considered a classic. Guess that makes me a classic too, or maybe just old.
In any case, on a whim, I revisited some of the recipes yesterday. And I found a treasure. This is a simple bread made with flour, water, salt, and yeast. It has a chewy crumb, a crisp crust, and makes the world’s best toast. The recipe makes one large loaf or two smaller ones.
Beard called it “Basic White Bread.” I’ll list the ingredients here with the caution that bread baking is often more art than science. Humidity and temperature play a big role in the amounts of flour and water necessary for the dough, and the time for rising.
I package (scant TBS) active dry yeast (I used instant yeast) 1 1/2 – 2 cups warm water 2 tsp. sugar 3 3/4 – 4 cups all-purpose flour 1 TBS salt (sea salt or Kosher salt) If using table salt, use less than a tablespoon. Softened butter for bowl and pan.
Original directions called for hand kneading. I used a Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook.
Stir the yeast and sugar in 1 1/2 cups warm water. Add 3 3/4 cups flour and the salt to the bowl. Combine all ingredients on low. Increase the speed somewhat and knead for about 7 minutes. You may need to add some flour to make the dough form a ball. Grease a large bowl with butter. Place the ball of dough in the bowl, turning it to coat all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a shower cap. Let rise until doubled. Punch down the dough and form into a loaf. Place into a buttered 9×5 inch loaf pan. Cover loosely and let rise again until it crowns somewhat over the edges of the pan. Spray or brush the top with warm water. Make about three slashes with a sharp knife. Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for approximately 35 minutes until temperature registers 200-205, or sounds hollow when tapped on bottom. Cool on a rack before cutting.
An article in Real Simple magazine posed the following question:
“What object in your home have you been surprised to love more and more over the years?”
For me, it would definitely be our treadmill. It’s an old model that traveled with us from our former home over twenty years ago. It has issues to be sure. Like those of us who walk its path, it requires a bit of coaxing before it gets up to speed.
It lacks the bells and whistles of newer models. No heart monitors or built in video options. The belt is much narrower than current designs. Its chrome is dull and years of use have taken their toll. Like aging bones, the belt creaks and the motor moans.
It holds fort in a basement room. Ready and willing to take us on a daily walk. No inclement weather excuse accepted here.
We both rely on our trusty old treadmill for daily exercise. We have no desire for a newer model for the sake of advanced features, but when our old guy’s motor grinds to a halt, we will celebrate his importance in our lives by buying a replacement.
Frank has elevated Friday night pizza to an art form. New Haven style thin crust. A two day cold fermentation provides the groundwork for the dough. Homemade sauce with garlic, basil, and oregano. Sliced mozzarella. The proper tools. Wooden peel to slide into the oven. Metal peel for removal. Pizza steel prepped for an hour in a 500 degree oven. Twelve minutes to perfection.