Sunday, January 29, 2012

Buns in the Oven

Even though I like to cook on the weekends, it doesn't always mean I want to make something complicated. Sometimes I just want to do something fun, something I don't have time to do the other 5 days of the week.

Also, I was working on the end piece of my thesis and having a terrible case of writer's block. I needed a distraction.

My mom has raved about the King Arthur Flour hamburger recipe for a long time (she got to visit the flour... uh, floury? in Vermont last fall and she's converted me to their fantastic baking recipe collection), and when I was trying to figure out something to cook, homemade hamburgers had instant appeal. Since summer is a distant memory I'm not sure will ever come back at this point, I haven't been burnt out on burgers. More like a little sick of heavy casseroles and braises. I know, I know! In six months I'll be yearning for them again. But I am a fickle creature.

Anyway, these weren't going to be your basic come home from the office, start the grill and throw a few Bocas on the grates. I was going to make some SERIOUS hamburgerage. Home-baked buns, home-canned pickles, home-caramelized-onions and home-pressed patties... but I didn't go down to the coast and take part in the cheddaring process with Tillamook Cheese. My deep un-hardcore apologies there.

The recipe for buns is so easy, it's a little unsettling. You put all the dough ingredients (except for the melted butter brushed on during the baking process to create a perfect golden sheen) in your Kitchen Aid bowl, set the dough hook and let it go for a few minutes. Go check your Pinterest page or something. Then it's just a matter of time and patience. I let the initial mix rise for probably 3 hours (I went to test-drive a Rav 4 and have this amazing Pear Cosmo at Oswego Grill with my friend Lisa), but the recipe calls for 2. Either way, it takes some time. Afterward they're formed by hand into little buns and allowed to fluff up a bit for another hour. Before they went in the oven I topped them with King Arthur Flour's Everything Bread and Bagel Topping, which is a hodgepodge of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and the very necessary dried onions. Essential? No. Awesome? Absolutely.

I caramelized the onion using a trick I read in Martha Stewart Food a while ago. Lots of butter, some vegetable oil, salt and pepper... and a pinch of sugar. It helps to draw out some of the natural sweetness of the onions and caramelize in the pan. As soon as the sliced onions hit the fat-laden pan, the smell brought me back to the Puyallup Fair. I haven't done the Puyallup in about a decade, but we used to go sometimes when I was in elementary school and they handed out free tickets to us (mostly in a cruel ploy to drive our parents into shelling out tons of money on ride tickets, cotton candy and other garbage non-associated with that initial getting through the door). There was a stand called Earthquake's that made simple, gigantic burgers made to induce stomach-grumblings from its delicious smell stretching all the way to Tacoma. Half-pound patties, American cheese, pickles, and a mountain of soft fried onions. I don't know if I ever got one of my very own; maybe I had some of Dad's or something. Even reminiscing on those few illicit bites probably adds a couple ounces to my frame.

The buns rose up just as I hoped they would (an outcome not always guaranteed in baking), and offered a crunch and buttery exterior coupled with a dense, chewy center. Perfect to soak up all the buttery, meaty juices from the burger patties and onions. Super goddamn good.

According to my Googling, Earthquake's brick and mortar location on South Hill in Puyallup has ceased to be. You have to get into that overpriced fair to get one, and I doubt they're handing out free tickets to the kiddlins anymore. Luckily you can recreate delicious dream burgers at home, even in the wintertime. And when you have a few extra hours on a Saturday to let yeast work its magic, you're in even better shape.

Beautiful Burger Buns (from King Arthur Flour)

  • 3/4 to 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • *For best results (a smooth, slightly soft dough), use the smaller amount of water in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate); and something in between the rest of the time.


  • 3 tablespoons melted butter

1) Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a soft, smooth dough.
2) Cover the dough, and let it rise for 1 to 2 hours, or until it's nearly doubled in bulk.
3) Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a round ball; flatten to about 3" across. Place the buns on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, cover, and let rise for about an hour, until noticeably puffy.
4) Brush the buns with about half of the melted butter.
5) Bake the buns in a preheated 375°F oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden. Remove them from the oven, and brush with the remaining melted butter. This will give the buns a satiny, buttery crust.
6) Cool the buns on a rack.
Yield: 8 large buns.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January's Adventure: Cassoulet

I kicked off my "resolution" to make one new adventurous new recipe per month this year with Cassoulet, a traditional French dish. Though the name suggests casserole, it leans toward the stew end of the spectrum. I thought, with all the haute-y aura surrounding the dish, that it would be extremely complicated and expensive to make. When I started shopping for the ingredients I was reminded of that lovely scene in Ratatouille, where the snooty food critic is propelled back to his childhood by tasting the humble peasant dish--zucchini, eggplant, peppers, love and time. The ingredients cost me very little; bulk beans and small amounts of inexpensive meats made for long braises.
But I got to buy salt pork! I've never seen it in real life, after stocking my virtual wagons full of the stuff for many trips across the Oregon Trail on our family PC. It's pretty much what I thought it would be: pieces of pork studded with salt. Not something you want to cook up for breakfast, but perfect for imparting a bunch of flavor in something that's cooking for 10 hours.

The traditional recipes call for a special French sausage (the Tolouse sausage), but I didn't have the inclination to call all over Portland for rare sausages and the recipe I had (courtesy of Brynne and Dan) substituted Italian sausages. I browned these and the other meats (except for the salt pork; I didn't want the salt to go away) before they cooked to give them a little bit of crust before the long, slow finish.

I was a little sad that the recommended method of cooking was Crock-Potting, which meant no picking out a beautiful baking dish to cook my adventure in. Nope, just Ol' Purple Potty. Everything did look gorgeous, all freshly mixed together. To help make up for the sophisticated deficit, I decided to break out our best china to serve it on. Why wait for company to come over, after all?

The cassoulet was aromatic and fully cooked in about 9 hours, and thickened up as it cooled and overnight. The leftovers were more casserole-y, while the night-of was, as Matt insisted "stew." The flavors were simple: beefy and scented by the wine, with fresh notes from the tomato and herbs lightening the heavy dish up. I served it with crusty French bread and the good butter, the kind that comes wrapped in gold foil in a little basket and tastes more like some fantastic cheese than mere butter. And a Pinot Noir from Anne Amie Vineyards, where we spent our anniversary last year.

What is amazing about a dish like cassoulet is seeing how people elevated simple, limited ingredients into dishes that were so nourishing and elegant. And crowd-pleasing as well: Matt took leftovers for lunch. That is a new culinary adventure success.

Cassoulet (Sent by Brynne and Dan, from Tom of Napa's Crushpad)


1 pound dried great Northern beans, rinsed
2 cups chopped onions
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 glove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/4 pound salt pork, diced
1/2 pound  boneless lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound  boneless chicken, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound hot or mild Italian sausage
2 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
3 cups beef broth or bouillion
1 cup dry red wine


This recipe can be done either in a slow cooker (preferred) or in a large pan, such as a Dutch oven, over the stove on low heat. In slow-cooker, combine beans, onions, pepper, garlic and parsley. Wrap cloves, bay leaf and thyme in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine to seal.  Add to pot. Add salt pork, lamb, chicken, sausage and tomatoes. Pour beef broth or bouillon and wine over all.

Cover; cook on low 9-10 hours until beans and meat are tender. Remove and discard spice bag. Serve hot.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Inspiration from Anne

Make cupcakes, not war.

I am so sick of the garbage on Food Network. It seems the day of Ina Garten demanding good vanilla on Barefoot Contessa, Alton Brown making dry smokers out of pie tins and dowels on Good Eats, and Mario Batali dishing out heartbreaking pasta to celeb pals on Molto Mario are over. These masters have been unceremoniously usurped by the hack parade of Guy Ferry (yep, that's right, he "Italianized" his name once he started fame whoring), queen of the mediocre Rachael Ray and the unspeakable horror who is Sandra Lee. Even worse are the reality shows like Cupcake Wars and Worst Cooks in America that have nothing to do with becoming a better cook, but rather gawking at the same dregs of humanity every other lowest-common-denominator network is signing on.

It makes me sad, because watching Food Network was a huge part of how I learned to cook. After watching the proper way to cook pasta or barbecue chicken enough times, you start to pick up some good techniques. Combined with good recipes from chefs with decent talent, there's a lot to play around with. You're not going to learn a damn thing you can apply in the kitchen by watching jerks try and put together a cake in homage to The Smurphs or make-over a dirty, crappy restaurant.

Luckily, actual food fans have been thrown a small bone: Cooking Channel, which (for now) plays a legit amount of cooking shows. One of the chefs keeping the food instruction tradition alive is Anne Burrell, the wild-haired former sous chef of Mario Batali. A couple weeks ago she was putting together a one-dish dinner with Israeli couscous, veggies and chicken. I didn't make exact notes on the ingredients, but I watched her technique carefully. Cook the couscous to al dente, add extra stock in the baking dish, sear the chicken and nestle happily atop the pilaf. Bake covered. With these basics, I was able to reconstruct the recipe to suit my own tastes.

For the foundation of couscous I used Trader Joe's Harvest Grains blend. It contains five kinds of grains including the Israeli couscous, colored orzo, dried garbanzo beans and quinoa. The beans and quinoa are great because they add a little extra crunch and texture; Israeli couscous is very chewy. Alone it can be a bit cloying. I tossed the cooked couscous with roasted zucchini, sundried tomatoes and the always-wonderful combination of onions and garlic sweated in olive oil. Spread evenly along a baking dish, it's colorful enough to make your eyeballs grumble in hunger.

I seasoned the chicken with a vaguely Mediterranean mix of paprika, oregano and garlic salt. After placing the pieces atop the couscous, I let it cool and refrigerated overnight to bake in the morning. I didn't feel like worrying about dinner tonight, heading back to work after 10 days away at residency and all.

Dinner tonight was warm, comforting and effortless. To anyone else making this, I'd recommend a liberal squeeze of lemon over the whole thing (though ya'll should know why I can't do that). I don't know how it compared to Anne's dish, but she inspired something satisfying for me. That's the best thing about learning to cook--you can just cook without waiting around for the perfect recipe. And unless you're trying to concoct a meal out of melba toast, Taleggio cheese, Vienna sausages and Cheetos, it's a lesson Chopped can never teach.

Anne Burrell-esque Chicken and Couscous Bake
1 package of Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend, cooked with chicken broth
1/3 cup sundried tomatoes, diced
1 large zucchini, cooked and sliced
1/2 onion and 4 garlic cloves, cooked in olive oil until transluscent
1 1/2 tsp Penzey's Mural of Flavor spice
Salt and pepper to taste
8 pieces chicken (legs and thighs), skins removed (if you're trying to be healthy, at least).
Olive oil
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp garlic salt

Toss cooked couscous, sundried tomatoes, zucchini, onion, garlic and Mural of Flavor together. Spread evenly along the bottom of a baking dish. Add about 1/2 cup of additional chicken broth to keep the couscous moist throughout the cooking process.

In a large mixing bowl, toss chicken, paprika, oregano and garlic salt with 1-2 tbsp olive oil. Mix until well-coated. Heat an additional 1-2 tsp of olive oil on a grill or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and sear until crispy on all sides. Top couscous in dish with chicken, and cover the dish tightly in foil. Bake at 350 for one hour, until chicken is cooked through. Can be refrigerated and cooked the next day.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year(k) Cheesecake

Festive desserts. Dessert in itself implies fanfare. Maybe I'm a minority, but I don't eat treats after dinner on a regular basis. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, and I'd rather have an extra dollop of sour cream on my tacos or whatever at dinnertime than ice cream afterwards. To create, tend and serve a dessert in our house means something fabulous is going on. Between Christmas and New Year's weekends this (I'm sorry, LAST) year, I made two different cheesecakes. For Christmas there was a Gingerbread Cheesecake that I had to make at my mom's house, since I didn't have a springform pan. I'd pinned the recipe on my Pinterest page back in October from Martha Stewart, and vowed to recreate it in all its holiday whimsy. The thought of not being able to make a recipe for lack of equipment, however, totally freaked me out. How can I possibly be missing anything?! I have more cooking supplies than shoes. But guess what was under the tree for me! A springformy pan of my very own from my little sister. Cheesecake possibilities of my very own!

New Year's Eve Matt's parents were coming over for late-Christmas, and I decided to test out my new pan on a classic New York cheesecake. I've been apprehensive to make cheesecake after having one fail to set a few years ago. Huge waste of ingredients (you need a cartload of cream cheese, about half a dozen eggs, plus whatever delicious goodies you use to make the crust, mix-in marblings and what have you). But the gingerbread cake turned out well, which was a promising sign. The springform pan detaches, allowing you to simply slip the cake out and onto a pedestal. Very important for a fickle, delicate "cake" like this, which is basically a fancy custard.

The other vital piece of equipment is a big pan, like a Pyrex, which you can place the cake in and fill halfway with water. This helps to properly set the cake without overcooking it. My mom's pan fit perfectly into my biggest Pyrex, but my new pan is a smidge too big. I could have dug out the biggest pan I own, my All-Clad roaster, but I didn't feel like it. It's in the garage! And it's cold in there! And I have to move the lawn mower! Boo. So I decided to just go with it instead. And what happened? I got a crack. Just like this. Which is what the water helps you to avoid. Luckily I was going to be covering the top with cherries, but if you can avoid making unslightly cracks in the cake you look like way less of a hack than I did.

The recipe I used was from King Arthur Flour, which writes recipes like a friendly version of Alton Brown. They explain the rationale and science behind the steps you're taking without berating or belittling you. Plus they don't ask you to make a multi-tiered smoker out of disposable pie pans and wooden skewers. The whole "wait until the cake is still jiggly and turn off the oven, then crack the door and let it set" deal fully freaked me out, but despite my intense fears it worked. I still would have stuck it in the water bath, though, were I (or when I was) to do it again.

But hey, once you top it with the lovely, delicious fruit of your fancy, you have a giant platter of cheesecake. And I don't think anyone is going to complain about life too much around that. Here is the link to the King Arthur Flour recipe, and here's to many delicious returns as Eats of Eden enters its second year of tasty chronicles.