Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bringin’ Out the Hellman’s And the Sunday Best

Sandwich 101
Sandwiches. They range from humble to ridiculously grandiose.  Now that the weather is letting up a bit, some of us are rolling out our best breads, meats, cheeses and condiments and building the best sandwiches we can mustard. Whoops. You know what I mean. The art of sandwich building is not to be taken lightly, and while I’ve packed my share of picnic lunches that leaned on my favorite staples (Hellman’s and Grey Poupon) I heartily encourage experimenting with vinaigrettes, pestos, BBQ sauces, chutneys, and salsas—this enthusiasm basically furnished the entire fourth chapter of my new book that’s being tested (and hopefully enjoyed!) right now.

This post is all about dispensing sandwich secrets—not just how to make a superior sandwich, but how to understand its origins, so that the love for what you’re doings shines through in taste—soon, every one you know will want to go on a picnic with you! And if that “everyone you know” is in South Florida, you should definitely sandwich shop at Doris’ Italian Market. Pleas bear with me on the condiment puns. Doris’ peppers Broward County with 5 locations, and each one is just delightful. There’s really no other word to describe it with its 2 big clocks hanging on the wall; one that gives the time here in Florida, and the other that tells you it’s lunchtime in Rome.      

You can pick some amazing sandwich breads in their bakery: mufalleta, seesed, Cuban, braided…etc on into carb heaven infinity. Go for dry, dense bread if it’s going to be a particularly moist Sammy. And…when you’re picking out the veggies that are going on the sandwich, think outside the obvious choices of lettuce and tomato. Why? These are mostly water and can waterlog your masterpiece. I suggest roasted peppers, sliced fennel and spinach, shredded cabbage, or some diagonally cut cucumber.

When you spread your condiment of choice, cover the entire piece of bread, crust to crust—it’ll act as a moisture seal and lock in your flavors. I do this with my Hellman’s, which I love so much I don’t try to embellish too much. Its creators have known what they’re doing, no intervention necessary, since 1912. Telling the Hellman’s story is a great reminder to folks how important Sunday Excursions to new delis and cafes are—that’s how Hellman’s was discovered, you know: in a little German deli in NYC at the turn of the 20th century. The deli owner’s wife made such incredible mayo that it literally sold by the gravy boat—or rather, the wooden boats the deli used to weigh their butter. Two versions of the mayo were popular, and the one the customers liked best had a blue ribbon tied around the boat.   

Now for my mustard…I’m a grey poupon fan because their Pinterest board took the words right out of my mouth:  Since 1777, it has been synonymous with all that is refined, exquisite and delicious.” Pairing white wine with a strong French regional mustard was genius—and it’s brushed across my special recipe for an Italian BLT Panini in a way that makes that capicola ham do a little dance and make a little love. 

So tell me what your favorite sandwich is, and where you’d take it for the most perfect picnic on earth. In my case, that ended up being a porch glider. When the weather gets fair, keep this mantra in mind: Whatever the setting, whatever the time of year, a lunch is not a lunch unless you take it outdoors.

So happy picnicking!

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Wee Bit of Work Yields This Amazing Daily Bread

Top o’ the mornin’! Could we be coming up on St. Patrick’s Day weekend already?! While some are headed for pubs with green beer, I’m thinking of staying in and waiting for the crowds to lighten up, and I gotta tell you that it helped me rediscover the joys of being alone in my kitchen. This spring morning seemed perfect for baking; shafts of lemony sun played across the counter tops, so that I knew natural lighting would be more than enough for photos: It's called “plate and shoot”—a process I’ve been doing for months getting my new book ready.

I gathered the ingredients to make Irish Soda Bread and had them whipped up before the oven preheated. Then I wandered into the office to work. Once that bread started baking, I wandered right back out! I worked in the kitchen with my laptop, just to sit and revel in the aroma. I got out the nice dessert plates, boiled and steeped my blackest most Irish tea, and cut up pats of chilled Kerry Gold butter that would soon melt over the golden, crunchy peaks of the bread. I arranged some daisies, dyed green…yeah, we food bloggers take the holidays pretty seriously!

My work this morning has consisted of pouring over friends’ thoughts on bread machines. Certainly, I advocate their use in lots of SUNDAY BEST bread recipes, but my love of actual hands-on, old-fashioned baking just won’t go away. Working with dough, is the most cathartic thing ever; in fact, with Irish soda bread you can work your biceps by hand mixing and forgoing the electric mixer altogether. The butter in the bowl is chilled and doesn’t yield immediately, but, eventually it does disperse its buttery goodness through the entire mound of dough.

The only trick you need to know going in, is that if you want your currents, raisins—or, in my case, dried cranberries—to bake in evenly, you’ve got to toss the berries in a tablespoon of flour first. I love the note every baker who makes this bread says about knowing when it’s done: “Tap the loaf when it’s fresh from the oven, and you should hear a “hollow” sound. Friends, I can tell you that this is one of the truest things in life.

But wasn’t I supposed to be telling you the merits of bread machines? I talked to several home cooks who prefer them over the “kneading, rising and watching” process that is baking from scratch. One fellow food blogger admitted that the Oster brand she’s loved for 15 years, once walked itself right off the counter during the kneading process. Long story short: she put it back together and carried on just fine. Her advice for those who wish to buy a bread machine? You’re better off with a horizontal shaped pan, so that the shape of the loaf doesn’t look weird, and cuts up better for sandwiches.

The bread machine I link to in Sunday Best Meals (buy the book this summer to get the gadgets!) can be programmed in the evening, for fresh baked bread in the morning, and the only beef with it, is that it takes up some real estate in kitchen space—but for a bread lover, it is, as the name of my catering biz connotes: Worth It!

Anyway, happy St. Pat’s everyone. May the road rise to meet you and the wind be always at your back. I’m going to make some shepherd’s pie the way my Irish grannie used to, so just keep trying me if you can’t get me on the phone!

Love and all things Irish--XXOO!! 

Irish Soda Bread

Yield:  1 loaf
Preparation Time:  15 minutes plus 30 minutes baking

3 ½ cups all purpose flour

¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon orange zest
4 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into pieces (1/2 stick)
1 to 1 ¼ cups buttermilk
1 large egg
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and orange zest.

Whisk together 1 cup buttermilk and the egg.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture in three additions, mixing the dough with a fork after each  addition.  The dough should be moist and sticky.  You can do this in a mixer, using the dough hook if you prefer.  U
se additional buttermilk if the dough is too dry. 

Toss the cranberries in a tablespoon of flour, and mix them into the dough.  
Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface.

Shape the dough into a round, about 2-inches thick.  Place the round onto a Silpat lined baking sheet.  Use a sharp knife to cut a 1-inch deep cross into the top of the bread.

Bake until golden, about 35 to 40 minutes.  The bread will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Let’s Give ‘Em Somethin’ to Blog About

Didn’t Bonnie Rait have a song by that name? It must have been playing in a TGIF Restaurant somewhere in America; the place I’ve often thought to myself: what’s the bigger treat for an American? Going out to eat or staying home to cook something special? I posed this question to a few people, who did more than think deeply on the matter. They actually did a compare/contrast exercise that explored having breakfast, lunch and dinner at their own table, vs. a favorite franchise. In the end there was no clear winner, but I’d like to think cooking at home won.
Here’s why. While everyone loves a break from kitchen detail, the big tabs at restaurants seem to run up in minutes, and often times we leave these establishments feeling overstuffed, overcharged and underserved. So ladies and gentleman, I give you:

The 3 Types of People Who End Up Loving Their Cookbooks
These are the folks who buy the most cookbooks, and I love them for it. Do you see yourself in any of these descriptions?

·         The Prideful, “Everyone Ought to Know Their Way Around the Kitchen” Type: On any given Sunday, these souls can be found ooing and awing at their local Williams & Sonoma. Ask any one of these guys how they feel about restaurants, and they’re likely to say they avoid them as a point of pride. There’s no one better to grill that steak, blanch those greens or fry that omelet than, well, YOU. Everyone should have the basic knowledge and skills to feed themselves a decent meal.

·         The “Oh My God, I Spent What in Restaurants this Year?!” Type: One of the foodie friends I consulted for this piece fits squarely into this category. She and her spouse are combing through credit card statements right now in attempt to itemize at tax time. “Out of all the monthly charges, trips to restaurants are the biggest,” claim the pair. “Whether we bring the whole family, or it’s just the two of us, dining out starts at 40 bucks and can climb as high as 100—it was good, but not worth THAT. I can turn right around and put the cost of ONE dinner out into sacks of high end groceries and eat like a King!” So true, my friends. So true.

·         The “I want to Live Forever and Have a Small Waistline in the Meantime” Type: Being overweight can cause a plethora of health problems. Turning that around is, if you’ll pardon the pun, heavily influenced by cooking light. And IT IS TRUE that when you cook for yourself, rather than let a chef behind the scenes do it, you can absolutely control how much butter, how much sugar, how much salt, etc. And if you are splurging at home with fattening ingredients, at least you know exactly how much, and what kind of penance is required!

Okay, so I’m Type…..

Oh, #1 on the list for sure! If I’d titled it A-C, I’d be “Type A”, which is pretty funny. I do believe that it’s empowering to know how to wield a boning knife, roast a chicken, shake up a mean vinaigrette. I’d also cry into my pillow every night if I didn’t know the indescribable joy of baking my own bread and birthday cakes. Cooking without additives, preservatives, trans fats and artificial flavorings may be harder than tearing into store packaging, or giving the hostess at The Cheesecake Factory your name, but it’s worth it. Am I right??
Which type are YOU and what cookbooks are you gonna buy this year?

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