Before I Forget

Did everyone have a thoroughly enjoyable weekend? Did you have an easter egg scavenger hunt? Or eat a lot of chocolate bunnies? Cadbury creme eggs (man, I could tear one of those down right now, never mind the fact that I just shoved a piece of cake into my face…)? Did you wear really lame-looking pastel-colored outfits with bow ties and Mary Janes? Or did you force those sort of cute things on your kids, instead?!

Get this: I didn’t do any of those things. Except, of course, I did have an enjoyable weekend. Duh.

We spent all day Saturday at Tomales Bay Oyster Farm again, because going this long without an oyster retreat was just silly. The weather was brilliantly sunny, speckled with a  few appearances by the clouds and the wind, and we had plenty of awesome food to choose from, which meant we pretty much ate from 11 AM to 5 PM, and there was nothing wrong with that in the slightest. We finished up the day with some Walking Dead episodes, since Judy and Jared can’t seem to get their act together to watch the rest of this season on their own. Dang non-cable-havers.

Sunday started off with an hour and a half of constant sweating at Bikram yoga (I’m still not sure why I’m torturing myself in these classes, but I think I sorta like them…) and a nice lunch with friends followed by a few hours of pinning, blogging, photo-editing, and grocery-planning. Jealous? I get that all the time :). What won’t make you jealous, I’m sure, is that doing laundry was also part of the fun.

So before I forget, I wanted to slip in the recipe I mentioned a few weeks back – the fennel & manchego shortbread cookies that were part of the co-winning Iron Chef dish at the last battle. I’m not sure why shortbread cookies are named as they are – they are neither short nor bready, but what they are is extremely tasty. Butter-laden, they are always perfect cookies to have around tea, or coffee, or in this case, ice cream. And caramel. But I ate a few by themselves and they were just fine too.

Now don’t let these cookies surprise you – they are a touch sweet, and they definitely live up to the definition of shortbread, which essentially requires that they are loaded with fat, ahem, butter, and that they are crumby and biscuit-ish, but what they also do is this – they also lean more to the savory side of things, which some people find weird for cookies. For one, they have a healthy amount of cheese baked into them, which once out of the oven they possess a gorgeous orangey-brown speck here and there, like the cheese in a cheddar biscuit, perhaps (and yes, now I am dying to demolish a biscuit. with or without cheddar. preferably with.).

For two, they are showered in fennel seeds, which I promise you only makes them better. You could nix the fennel if you wanted to, and add say, sesame seeds or lavender or orange zest or whatever, but I swear to you the fennel and Manchego cheese are meant to be in this cookie. I promise you, your mouth will thank you.

 

Manchego Shortbread with Fennel & Sea Salt
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2012; makes ~24

printable version

time commitment: 3 hours (1 hour active; 2 hours chilling dough)

ingredients
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 t freshly ground black pepper
3/4 t kosher salt
2 c all-purpose flour plus a little more for rolling out the dough
1 c finely grated Manchego cheese (about 2 ounces)
1 T fennel seeds
1 t sea salt
2 T extra-virgin olive oil

instructions
Using an electric mixer, beat butter in a medium bowl on low speed until smooth, 1–2 minutes. Add powdered sugar, pepper, and kosher salt. Reduce speed to medium and beat, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until light and fluffy, 4–5 minutes. Add flour and cheese. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat mixture just until dough comes together.

Wrap dough in plastic and flatten into a rectangle. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours. You can do this up to a few days in advance if you want. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before continuing.

Pulse fennel seeds in a spice grinder (aka coffee grinder) until coarsely crushed (or close them up in a Ziploc bag and crush with something like a rolling pin). Transfer to a small bowl; stir in sea salt. Set fennel salt aside.

Arrange a rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove plastic wrap from dough. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 10×8-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Cut in thirds crosswise, then cut each third crosswise into 6 rectangles. Arrange cookies on prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Brush cookies generously with oil, then sprinkle with fennel salt. If you have extra dough, you can always roll that out and re-cut. I did this with my dough to make even more cookies, just make sure the dough doesn’t get to warm or else the cookies will flatten when they’re baking.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until cookies are golden brown (flecks of cheese will be slightly darker), ~20 minutes. Let cool on sheets for at least 10 minutes. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days.

Naan Better

It seems that all the different parts of the world have their own kinda bread. There’s the Irish soda bread – of which I’ve seen about 10-thousand different variations, the eggy, perfect-in-French-toast Jewish challah bread in its pretty twists and braids, the ones that come in loaves at the steakhouses – the so-called Russian black bread, and even sourdough, born and bred (pun intended) in the Bay area (well, not really, but synonymous with SF in the least).

You’ve got your French baguettes, your Italian panettones, and a favorite of mine, cornbread – which to me is from the South, though apparently Northerners try to make it too.

Of course, the lesser knowns include Ethiopian injera which is pancake/crepe-like and a favorite of mine, Indian naan. Some people liken naan to Middle Eastern pita bread, but those people are what I’d call “the crazies”; naan is by far better than any pita bread I’ve ever had.

Plus, I hadn’t made any bread in a while, and as a result I’ve been wondering what sort of yeasted product I might try my hand at next. I’d been planning on making some homemade burger buns, but those wouldn’t go nearly as well with the Indian-spiced short ribs braising away in the oven as a few pieces of naan would, wouldn’t you agree? (More on those later, promise.)

As a bonus, I’ve really taken a liking to freezing half of any bread recipe I make, so the thought of having some of this lovliness hanging around in my freezer was a temptation I couldn’t resist.

The key to perfect naan is rolling the little pieces of dough out as thinly as possible. And seriously – fatty naan won’t be nasty, but you won’t get those bubbles that are so characteristic of the naan you see in restaurants, and the texture will be a bit off, a bit spongy, and maybe at that point a little bit like pita bread.

And contrary to what I told Brook when he and Katherine were over for dinner, you really can eat piece of naan after piece of naan with salads, by themselves, or quite frankly, however you damn well please. Although, truthfully, there is nothing better than dipping warm, sea-salt-sprinkled naan into a reduced Indian-spiced braising sauce. It’s worth the wait for dinner, no doubt.

Got a favorite bread? I’m feeling an urge to make more ….

Also, a vacay post will be right around the corner – I hope!

Garlic Naan
Adapted from allrecipes.com; makes 14-16 pieces

printable version

ingredients
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 c warm water
1/4 c white sugar
3 T skim milk
1 egg, beaten
2 t kosher salt
4- 4.5 c bread flour
1 T minced garlic
1/4 c butter, melted
sea salt

instructions
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until frothy. Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a bowl sprayed with cooking spray or oiled, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise. Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.

Punch down dough, and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls, and place on a tray. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

During the second rising, preheat grill to high heat.

Roll one ball of dough out into a thin circle (the thinner, the better and more bubbly your naan will be). Lightly spray/oil grill. Place dough on grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with butter, and turn over. Brush cooked side with butter, and cook until browned, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from grill, sprinkle with sea salt and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.

you can also freeze your naan dough. after the garlice has been added, place dough in a plastic bag sprayed with oil and freeze. when ready to use again, remove and let thaw in the fridge. continue as directed above.