Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Good Food: Irish Tea Bread

Okay, I’m a bit late for St. Patty’s day, but I wanted to get my St. Patty’s themed recipe out there, late or not.  While the Internet seems to be dripping with Guinness infused everything for St. Patty’s day, along with all manner of morsels tainted with green food coloring, I thought I might take this opportunity to present a slightly different Irish recipe – Irish Tea Bread.

First let me start by saying this was a bit of a departure from the norm for me.  While I do like my tea, I’ve not made much of an effort to do anything with it other than to drink it.  But then I spotted this recipe and decided it would be a nice way to test the murky brown waters, as it were.

The recipe itself is really quite simple.  Brew up a batch of strong tea, soak some golden raisins for a day or so, then mix up your bread.

What you’re left with is a dense, moist and somewhat sweet bread, similar in texture to a banana bread, but with a darker, almost pungent flavor of tea and raisins.  To be sure, this is a heavy bread.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Good Food: Bleu Cheese Bread

I like to bake.  My favorite things to bake are usually pies, cookies, cakes, muffins, cinnamon rolls, things of that nature.  Homemade bread, well I’ve kind of ignored that in the past.  I did attempt a homemade cinnamon bread that actually turned out pretty good.  But since then, I had left bread making to the bakeries.   Bread making is a bit of a challenge.  If the conditions aren’t just right, your measurements aren’t accurate or if your ingredients aren’t fresh enough, you can end up with a big loaf of disappointment.

There are times, though, when I get the bug to whip out the yeasty beasties and give it a go again.  In this particular case, I had the opportunity (several times) to try a wonderful sandwich called the Blue Babe at The Baldwin Saloon in the Dalles, OR.  It’s a fairly simple and very delicious sandwich with tender sliced prime rib and melted Swiss cheese.  But for me, the bread is what really makes this sandwich.  Out of their kitchen, these folks bake up some of the tastiest sandwich bread I’ve had the pleasure of trying.  A Bleu Cheese bread.  This bread is light and tender, with the wonderful aroma of bleu cheese and green onion.

I approached the owner about the recipe.  He was willing to share some of his information, but noted that the recipe was scaled for a large batch and wouldn’t likely scale well for the home cook.  So, I asked if he would share what he could.  He indicated I should start with an enriched bread dough, but nothing so sweet or dense as brioche.  Next, he simply indicated that I could knead in some bleu cheese and minced green onion just before forming my loaf.  I thanked him for his time, jotted down a few quick notes and went on my way.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Good Food: C'est Magnifique! French Chicken in a Pot

Consider the humble chicken.  Perhaps not the brightest bulb in the animal kingdom, this little fowl is responsible for providing us the eggs that are so important in cooking and baking as well as being the point of reference when someone eats something odd (rattlesnake, for example) and they don’t know how to describe it – ‘tastes like chicken!’. 

Perusing the meat aisle at any supermarket, you’ll find mammoth packages of drumsticks, thighs, breasts and wings.  Breasts with the bone, breasts without the bone, breasts with skin, breasts without.  Thanks to the marvel that is the butcher, we usually have to do nothing more than pop a package open, throw on a little seasoning and pop it in the oven for the perfect meal.  Well, at least that’s what we always hope will happen.

Unfortunately, I find that cooking the typical boneless, skinless chicken breast, while quite healthy, leaves me all too often with a flavorless lump of meat.  It’s really better suited to be drowned in a salty broth for soup, drenched in creamy gravy and mixed in with some noodles, or mixed with a big dollop of mayo for a chicken sandwich.  Think about the best chicken dishes you’ve had, Fried Chicken, Chicken Ala King,  Chicken Cordon Bleu, Chicken Kiev, Chicken Fajitas, Kung Pao Chicken, General Tso’s Chicken.  They all taste great, but have something in common in that they take some considerably heavy cover to make the bird just a bit more tantalizing.  The chicken becomes just a bit player, just a vehicle to transport the tastier components of the dish.

But what if the chicken could be the star of the show, requiring little preparation and only a bare minimum of supporting cast members.  What if the chicken could be so flavorful, so tender, so juicy, that you could just about make a meal of the chicken alone, nothing else.

Remember all those chicken parts scattered around the butcher case?  Next time you’re there; look down at the bottom shelf.  Somewhere next to the massive family value packs, you will likely notice whole chickens sitting there, usually untouched.  As Americans, we typically can’t be bothered with butchering our own chickens.  Maybe it’s because we haven’t been trained to do it properly (there are some tricks to it), or we don’t like touching them too much, or perhaps it would just take too much time.  And honestly, what the heck do you do with those giblets?  Well, America, if you knew that you could get the best chicken to your table at a mere $1 per pound (what I often find whole chickens on sale for) and you could accomplish this feat on a weeknight, would you be interested?  Of course you would!

Then allow me to introduce you to the simple delight that is Poulet en Cocotte, or Chicken in a Pot.   The wonderful flavor and texture of this recipe are the result of a very simple, yet underutilized method of cooking.  A small number of flavorful ingredients are locked tightly away inside a cast iron pot and left to themselves for a relatively short time.  The end result is one of the best tasting chickens you’ll ever put to your lips.