Wow…it’s been a while, hasn’t it? To be fair to me (and this isn’t much of an excuse), a lot has been going on. I’m currently dealing with the whole “moving halfway across the country” thing (for the next 3 months), so I’d say that’s a decent enough excuse, right? Sure. Regardless, I’m thrilled to be back on my home coast and out of the painfully slow Midwest. The alcohol prices, though, are sorely missed.
ANYWAYS, that’s beside the point. I’ve been putting off writing the final part of my Ethiopian food extravaganza, mainly because I knew this last post would be pretty massive. We have four recipes for this one and, despite the fact that the finished product looks like a cross between vomit and baby food, I can assure you that it all came out delicious. So, having said that–click below for the entire post!
Well, as usual, I’ve been behind on keeping this blog up-to-date. Personally, I blame finals and the three ungodly papers I have due. One left to go! Anyways, I’m here to talk about one thing:
Back in New Jersey, there isn’t too much authentic Mexican food. Sure, there are pockets here and there, but in comparison with what we can get in Madison? Well, it’s not even close. My friend and I have been traveling around Madison in search of the cheapest, most delicious, and the most authentic tacos. We’ve had a lot. Some places have been visited more than once. The quest, of course, still continues. However, we’ve found one place that really seems to stand above the rest (more on that later). So, without further ado, here are my Madison Tacos Rankings:
Ethnic foods. I love cooking them, but Ethiopian always seemed to be the one that managed to escape me. Going to an Ethiopian restaurant is a blast–the food is fantastic, they use a bevvy of spices, and most importantly–you get to eat with your hands! One of the hallmarks of Ethiopian food is injera, a spongy, sourdough flatbread that you use to pick up the food with. Personally, I find it delicious, and it absorbs the flavors of the various dishes.
So, anyways–injera. Injera is made mostly out of teff, a grass-like grain that is highly nutritious. This bag? Well, it was only $8 at Whole Foods! I know, madness. After doing a massive amount of research, one thing became clear–this would not be an easy undertaking. The “quick” version of injera takes five days to make. Normally, it takes at least a week. Those of you who know me know that I have the patience of a five year old…so the decision to go for five-day injera was an easy one.
Recipe after the break!
Last week, I posted about an awesome no-knead bread recipe that was incredibly easy and produced amazing results. Like I usually do, I posted it to one of my favorite websites on the internet–reddit. Specifically, I posted it to “r/cooking“, a portion of the site dedicated, not surprisingly, to cooking. Well, to say the least, my post did well. Very well. It received a ton of “upvotes” from reddit users, and then caught fire on some website called Pinterest. My website had barely been breaking double-digits in hits…until this post. Actually, I’ll just let the statistics do the talking:
On the day of my bread post, I received 3,008 hits. Now, for someone with a tiny blog that barely updates it, that’s an incredible number of visitors. As a sidenote, I hope everyone enjoyed making the bread!
Anyways, I digress–to show my gratitude to reddit for all of the hits, I decided that I’d make something. No, let me rephrase that: I decide that they could tell me what I should make. So, naturally, I posted again. The result? Well, the top comment suggested something from an underrepresented country. I asked, “What about Ethiopian food?” The response was positive.
So, where am I going with this? Next Wednesday, I’ll embark on Part 2 of this bizarre mini-series–my quest to make Ethiopian food, as requested by reddit. I’ll start by making the sourdough starter for injera, the excellent Ethiopian flatbread that accompanies most dishes. Then, for part 3, I’ll make the main course. Hell, maybe I’ll make two main courses. The only way to find out will be to check out the site!
See that right there? That’s bread. Delicious, delicious bread. Every few months, I pick up a new kitchen/cooking/baking hobby. This past month, it’s been baking bread. In the previous post, I talked about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. If you don’t own this book, you need to buy it. Now.
You still haven’t bought it, have you? BUY IT, DAMMIT.
Anyways, back to the bread. What’s so incredible about the book (to me) is that there’s no kneading involved. It’s as simple as mixing in the ingredients, letting it rise for a couple of hours, and storing the dough in the fridge. Whenever you want to make bread, you simply pull it out of the refrigerator, rip off a piece, form the loaf, and let it sit for an hour. When you’re done, pop it in the oven and bake it (preferably on a stone). Easy, right?
Without further ado, here’s the recipe (enough for two one-pound loaves):
- 1.5 cups warm water
- 2 1/4 tsp yeast (one packet)
- 2 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
- 3 1/4 cups unbleached flour (bread flour works best here)
- Mix the water, salt and yeast
- Add in the flour and mix well, but not too vigorously. You should end up with a pretty wet dough.
- Transfer the dough to a container and let it rise for two hours, or until it’s flattens off on top.
- Store in the refrigerator until ready for use.
- Spread cornmeal on a wooden peel.
- Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour and rip off about half.
- Form a ball with the dough by pushing outward on top, inward on the bottom, and rotating about a quarter turn each time.
- Once the ball is done, let it rest on the peel for 60 minutes or so.
- After 40 minutes, turn the oven on to 450. Place a roasting pan below the baking stone and let it heat up as well.
- Let the oven heat for a total of 20 minutes–it won’t make it to the full 450.
- Liberally dust the top of the dough with flour, and make a few cuts into it using a serrated knife (this method is called “dust and slash”)
- Slide the dough from the peel onto the baking stone
- Pour one cup of very hot water into the pan.
- Let the bread bake for 30-35 minutes, or until fully (and dark) browned.
- Remove from oven and let cool. Nom away!
Wow, it sure has been a while–an entire month! Lately, I’ve been really getting into baking bread. Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois’ excellent Artisan Baking in Five Minutes a Day (buy from the link in this post!) is a book I can’t get enough of–they use an incredible, no-knead technique that produces absolutely amazing bread. It requires you to mix a batch of dough, let it rise, and then you can store it in the fridge for the next two weeks, grabbing and baking whenever you like, and with minimal effort.
Now, using a variation on their recipe, I thought it would be a great idea to try making pizza. Margherita is usually my go-to gourmet pizza style when it comes to freshness and quality. On it’s face, it’s a pretty basic pizza–tomatoes, sauce, fresh mozzarella, garlic and basil–but it’s also one of the most delicious things you can make and is sure to impress anyone who tries it. Click for the flatbread recipe and tips after the break (oh, and buy this book)!
British food is typically something I stay away from. It’s heavy, dense, and often bland. However, as an avid watcher of Hell’s Kitchen (the only reality show I watch), one particular dish has always managed to pique my curiosity–Beef Wellington. There’s something about watching Gordon Ramsay scream at chefs for their under (or over)-cooked Wellingtons that made me have an insatiable desire for this dish.
My roommate spent the past 4 months in England, and I felt that it was my duty to defer to him for this dish. We went to the grocery store and purchased the fillet tenderloin, which came in at a whopping $18/lb. I’ve never spent nearly that much on a steak, except in a restaurant, so my expectations for the dish were very high, to say the least.
The result? Well, the picture should give you a good indication–it was spectacular. This was arguably the best steak I’ve ever had that wasn’t from a restaurant, and it was cooked perfectly. If you’re willing to put in the work, I highly recommend making it! The recipe (and Gordon Ramsay yelling) is after the break–
First of all, to stay on point: Happy New Year’s, everyone! Here’s to a gratifying, healthy 2012. Too bad it won’t last all the way through…you know, with those damn Mayans’ predictions and whatnot. My resolution remains unchanged from last year: get on a running regimen and keep it up until it’s nice enough outside to hop back on the bike. It worked last year, and I hope it works this year, too!
Now, the food–I’ve never made poached pears before. In fact, the only thing I’ve ever even attempted to poach was chicken. However, at this year’s Christmas Eve dinner, all the desserts were chocolate and cake, so I figured it would be worth a shot to throw some fruit into the occasion. The result? Well, these spectacular poached pears. The only terrifying thing for me was working with saffron–I’d never tried it before, and the spice is so insanely expensive that I was worried I would somehow waste it. Well, good news: I didn’t. The pears came out great, and it’s easy to call this recipe another winner from Bon Appetit!
Poached Pears with Cardamom and Saffron (from Bon Appetit)
- 1/2 tablespoon cardamom pods
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 4 firm pears, peeled, stems intact
Gently crush cardamom with a rolling pin or the bottom of a skillet to slightly crack open pods without releasing seeds. Combine cardamom, wine, sugar, lemon juice, saffron, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer. Add pears; add water if needed to completely submerge pears. Cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer, turning occasionally, until pears are tender but not mushy, about 30 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer pears to a plate. Increase heat and boil poaching liquid until reduced to 1 cup, 10–15 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate pears. Let syrup stand at room temperature. Rewarm syrup before continuing.
Spoon some of syrup over cold or room-temperature pears. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche; pass remaining syrup.
I know, I know…I’ve been pretty negligent with updating this blog. I attribute it to finals, which required ungodly amounts of outlining, reading, and studying. Thankfully, though, I’m done with the semester! Most of my classmates can’t say the same, and in that sense, I am better than them. Much better. Anyways, I’ll have a number of posts in the upcoming weeks that I’ve backlogged, so I can let everyone catch up!
I digress. PIZZA. It’s one of those things that those of us who grew up in the New York City area pride ourselves on. We have a predefined idea as to what it is, what a good pizza tastes like, and that you can only get “real” pizza in the the area around the city. That pile of slop and dough that they serve in Chicago? That’s not pizza, just a dough bowl of fat.
Well, my conception of fantastic pizza is now gone, and was totally thrown out the window after our trip to Cafe Porta Alba, located right in Madison’s Hilldale Mall complex. Cafe Porta Alba is one of only a handful of pizza places in the US recognized by the prestigious Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, which certifies pizza places as producing authentic Neapolitan pizza. Pizza made in this style is baked in a brick oven at extraordinarily high temperatures, with the pizza fully cooking in about 90 seconds.
Naturally, when we heard about this place, we had to go check it out. We ordered three separate pizzas and split them all–they’re about 12″ in diameter and designed for one person each. We got a basic margarita pizza, another with fontina, spinach, and sausage, and then the one you see pictured above–olive oil, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and arugula.
True to their word, the pizzas each came out very quickly. The ingredients were fresh, high quality, and delicious. These pizzas have a very unique crust–thin and chewy, but absolutely superb. My personal favorite was the margarita pizza, with its incredible homemade sauce and fresh mozzarella…it’s simply indescribable. It’s always nice when a restaurant really puts the time and effort into their food to ensure that the quality of their product is exceptional–in this situation, that was absolutely the case.
The total for all three of us, with tip, was $42, or $14 each. Pricey for pizza? Sure, but with this kind of quality, it’s more than worth it. I would go back in a heartbeat, and certainly plan on doing so in the future. Cafe Porta Bella gets an A in my book–anything less would be selling them short.