Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Work in Progress

The Setting: Waiting for Hoosband to get home from work, debating going out or staying in for dinner.

The Soundtrack: Laundry whipping and whishing around in the dryer.

Steaming up the Oven: Nothing now, but the sweet, yeasty aroma of homemade cinnamon rolls lingers in the apartment and tempts me to polish off the pan.

The Scenario: I've been trying to nail down my cinnamon roll recipe since high school.

But every time I think I've got a winner, I forget to write down an all-important detail, or I mess something up along the way, or I throw in a new twist that changes up the recipe.

Last night would be no different.

I pulled up my most recent recorded effort on my computer and hit Print.

I was going to follow this road map to the last bend in the driveway.

But why had I not made these with whole wheat flour? I wondered.

And why not brown sugar instead of white? Granted, there's no significant health difference, but the brown sugar would add a touch of moisture, and darnit, I just love the flavor.

This time I'd use yummy Irish butter instead of a mixture of butter and shortening, I'd throw some Cypress flake salt into the filling, and I'd swap the milk and vanilla in the icing for vanilla almond milk (Hoosband said the gallon of the bovine variety in the fridge had taken on a hint of a smell, and I figured I'd take his word on it).

Simple changes, right? No big deal.

I like to make my cinnamon rolls out of a preferment dough so they have a hint of a sourdough quality. So I mixed together yeast, whole-wheat pastry flour, and warm water and let it brew and bubble for an hour.

Then I realized I'd left out the sugar.

No worries, I'd just throw it in there now with the remaining ingredients. I'd switch to regular whole-wheat flour, as I had run out of the pastry version, and on with the show!

But my dough was abnormally wet. Like batter. So I reached for the all-purpose flour--no good reason for the switch this time--and added 1/4 cup. And then 4 more. The dough was still pretty sticky, but I come from the school of add only as much flour as absolutely necessary, and enough was enough.

Handling the dough after the first rise, I smiled to think how patient, accepting, and almost motherly I had become with my baking. Working with doughs like this as a child and teen frustrated me to no end. The recipes always made it sound so easy, like any diva from the street could just flop her dough onto the counter and effortlessly have her way with it, her flawless French manicure no worse for the wear, whereas I looked more like a pitiful preschooler, elbow-deep in paste, eyes brimming with tears at my inadequacy. Several times I washed more dough down the sink than I put into the pan.

Looking back, I'm actually surprised I kept at it.

But now, I see the dough for the tender or crusty beauty that will be born from the potential sticky mess in my hands, and I handle it with care.

Maybe my maternal instincts really are kicking in...which is good with a baby on the way.

I just hope my kid likes cinnamon rolls.

Brown-Sugar Whole-Wheat Cinnamon Rolls
This is not a very finely tuned recipe, it's a work in progress. Using three different flours, for instance, might not make the most sense, but I say why ask why when you could just ask for seconds? The results were pretty darn fantastic.

For the Dough:
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 T active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup brown sugar
2 2/3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (you may need less in low-humidity)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 T pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter, cut into small pieces, room temperature
1 tsp salt

For the Filling:
1/4 cup cold butter, chopped into pieces
1 T cinnamon
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp Cypress flake salt

For the Icing:
1 cup powdered sugar
3 T unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, gently combine the whole wheat pastry flour, yeast, and warm water. Cover and let rest at room temp for 60 minutes.

2. The yeast mixture should be bubbly and somewhat increased in volume. Add the brown sugar, egg, vanilla, whole wheat flour, and salt. Mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until a wet dough forms. With mixer on, add butter a few pieces at a time till just incorporated. Add all-purpose flour 1/4 cup at a time, continuing to beat on low till blended. Switch to dough hook attachment and knead on medium speed for 5 minutes.

3. Transfer dough to a large, well greased bowl, cover, and let rest at room temperature for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

4. Gently lift up sides of dough and fold under to release the gas that has been trapped during fermentation ). Cover and set aside.

5. Using a pastry cutter or two forks, combine filling ingredients till crumbly and evenly distributed.

6. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Divide dough in half. With floured hands and working over a silicone mat or lightly floured surface, shape each half into a rectangle, about 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle filling mixture evenly over the two rectangles. Gently roll each rectangle into a log.

7. Using about 12 inches of unflavored dental floss, cut each log into 9 wheels by sliding the floss under the log, criss-crossing the floss over the top of the log, and pulling to cut quickly and evenly. Arrange wheels in the prepared cake pans. Cover and let rise at room temp for 45 minutes or till doubled in sized.


Cover and refrigerate over night, remove from fridge an hour before you are ready to bake, and let come to room temperature.

I baked one pan right away to stash in the freezer for another time, and let the other rise slowly in the fridge overnight so I could surprise Hoosband with homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

8. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place rolls in oven, reduce heat to 375, and bake for 20 minutes or till just golden brown.

9. Combine icing ingredients till smooth and lump-free. Drizzle over hot rolls, and enjoy!

Makes 18 yummy cinnamon rolls.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bacony Brisket Bourguignon

The Setting: At the apt. Just got back from the gym. Wishing my day off could last forever.

The Soundtrack: Brad Paisley radio on Pandora.

On the Stove-top: New Potatoes. Peas and young carrots.

Steaming up the Oven: Brisket Bourguinon.

The Scenario: A while back Hoosband and I made an incredible discovery when we veered off I-595 and ventured into a Hollywood, FL, neighborhood treasure, Penn Dutch Food Center.

This tightly merchandised, family-owned and operated supermarket, in business since 1975, processes the entire half-a-million pounds of meat they receive each week in-house, which translates to beef so affordable my ideals of traceability, sustainability, organics, and superior animal treatment--all things I theoretically strive to consider when contemplating a meat purchase--have no choice but to bow down to the price tag. Judge me if you must.

We left Penn Dutch that day with a 7.5-lb beef brisket and a plan.

Back home, Hoosband flopped that beautiful brisket on the cutting board, gripped his manly, Jacques Pepin-esque cleaver, and expertly and excitedly divvied the meat into fifths. Each fifth was fitted snugly into a quart-sized zip-top bag and stashed in the freezer for one of five future feasts: corned beef and cabbage, pastrami melts on homemade rye, BBQ-brisket tamales, beef (or boeuf, if you wanna get French about it) bourguignon, and beef carnitas.

With the first three dishes down to delicious memories, today we dive into the fourth:

Bacony Brisket Bourguignon

1.5 lbs beef brisket, room temperature, cut into roughly 1.5-inch cubes
2 T flour
Kosher salt, for continuous use
Freshly cracked black pepper, for continuous use
3 slices fatty bacon, roughly chopped or cut into strips (don't be a turkey, use the good stuff)
1 small white onion, finely diced
1 medium-sized carrot, finely diced
2 tsp minced garlic
1 T tomato paste
1 crushed bay leaf
several sprigs fresh thyme (let's call it 5)
2 whole allspice berries
2 cups red wine (preferably a Burgundy, but any decent pinot noir is a good bet)
2 cups beef stock, unsalted or very low sodium (homemade is even better!)
1 8-oz package frozen (peeled) pearl or cippolini onions, thawed (if using fresh, score, blanch, then peel)
1 T butter
8 oz baby portabella (crimini) mushrooms (or white button mushrooms, if you prefer), sliced

For serving:
Prepare while stew is in oven, if desired.
8-10 new potatoes (the small, red ones), rinsed, quartered, and boiled in salted water till fork-tender
8 oz young carrots, stems trimmed, parboiled and sauteed in butter till just tender 
8-oz bag frozen peas, added to carrots in last few minutes of cooking, sprinkled with salt and pepper
fresh parsley, very finely minced

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Sprinkle beef cubes with a pinch of salt and pepper, and toss with flour to lightly coat. Set aside.

3. In a large, oven-safe pot or dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until it's nice and crispy and its fat has been rendered. Using a spider or slotted metal spoon, carefully remove bacon from the pot, cover and set aside, retaining the fat in the pan. I don't blanch the bacon because I have never in my life eaten something and thought, "You know what this needs? Less Bacon-y-ness." You can taste my Southern roots in this stew.

4. Shaking off any excess flour, add the beef cubes to the pot and brown on all sides, making sure not to over-crowd the pot. Do this is batches if necessary. Carefully remove beef from the pot, cover and set aside. If there are browned bits on the bottom of the pot, yippee! Browned bits are your friend.

5. Add diced carrot and onion to the pot, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook, covered, over med-low heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and carrot is softened, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste and cook about 1 minute. I believe seasoning as I go helps to develop the best flavors. Just be careful not to over-salt as you go. Remember: you can always add more, but you can never subtract what you've already put in.

6. Add thyme, bay leaf, allspice berries wine and stock, using a wooden spoon or heatproof rubber spatula to scrape up any browned bits and incorporate them into the sauce. Increase heat to med-high and bring just to a boil.

7. Return the beef and any delicious beef juices that have trickled out to the pot and add half the crisped bacon. Remove from heat. Cover and place on the middle rack in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 1/2 hours, or until beef can be pulled apart easily with a fork.

8. Melt butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and saute till they are beautifully browned and have begun to relinquish their liquid. Add pearl onions, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until onions brown slightly and begin to soften.

9. Carefully strain the stew over the saute pan so that the sauce marries with the mushrooms and onions. Remove beef from strainer and set aside. Discard remaining solids left in the strainer. Add reserved bacon to the sauce and cook sauce an additional 10 minutes to thicken slightly. Taste sauce and adjust seasonings if necessary. Stir beef back into sauce and remove from heat.

10. To serve, ladle stew over strained boiled potatoes, top with peas and young carrots, sprinkle with parsley, and enjoy!

Note: Start with a small serving. The inherent richness of the brisket makes this bourguinon extra filling, meaning more tasty leftovers!!