Kelly the Culinarian: February 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Media meal: Top Secret Recipes

Now that I've started working in earnest, I'm paying far more attention to what I'm spending cash on. Funny how that works.

While I love treating myself to a restaurant meal, I knew paying $12 for a pile of pasta was ridiculous. Luckily, I've found this series of books that I highly recommend to help you recreate your favorite meals at home.

Both these books by Todd Wilbur give pointers on American classics. I checked out Top Secret Recipes from the library and it's quite a concise little book for recreating fast food and junk food favorites, such as Carl Jr.'s Star burger or the Taco Bell encherito, which they no longer have on the menu anyhow. Another great aspect of this first book is that he outlines the history of the eatery and the item, like the fact that the first Dairy Queen was right in Joliet, Ill.

The second book my family purchased a while back and we have gotten our money's worth. Top Secret Restaurant Recipe's Two gives pointers to creating favorites like Red Lobster's cheddar bay biscuits or the Olive Garden's fettuccine Alfredo. I've already tried a few of the recipes and they're pretty close to the classic, except much cheaper.

Wilbur does outline the costs extensively in the first book, pointing out that it may initially costs more to make a Big Mac at home, but once you have the basic materials at home, you can make it for about the same cost as eating at McDonalds, but you know where your burger came from.

These are great books worth checking out for some great copy cat recipes.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Food find: Sushi Para's second look

Sometimes a place is so good, it deserves a second look. And I love my sushi. So what could be better than all you can eat sushi? That's right, nothing.

So let's talk more about Sushi Para in Palatine, which I reviewed once before I lived in Washington, D.C. This establishment offers all you can eat sushi for $15 during lunch and $17 for dinner. Here's the catch -- order all you want but eat all that you order, or be prepared to pay the big bucks. Also, they charge you for soda refills and let me tell you, that's a scam. You can get 1,500 sodas for $50, but they charge me twice for a refill? Crap, I tell you.
This place reminds me of that Seinfeld episode about the soup Nazi. People don't particularly like the guy, but the soup is just so good you must go and adhere to whatever rules they put forth.

The staff is rude. Don't expect anything -- a hello, prompt seating, asking you how the food is ... you know, the stuff that you expect at IHOP. But you get what you pay for.
And what you pay for is delicious, incredibly cheap fresh sushi. I got two rolls and three pieces -- salmon roe, crab and red snapper. The rolls were called the Palatine and the American dream and they were quite similar, it turned out.

Tim also got a few rolls and a few sushi pieces. Again, they were impeccably prepared with tender sushi rice and fresh fish pieces. The rolls that were marked as spicy were just the right level of heat so as to not overwhelm the fish. My pieces also had tempura shrimp inside and I was impressed that the pieces were universally crunchy with tender meat inside and that they were also cooled before assembling. I'm always suspicious of sushi that's warm. Ick.

Anyhow, another great visit. If you can, stop by for lunch, it's much less crowded. But even then, the staff won't pay any attention to you. If I could only find out how to tip only the sushi chef ...

Stand Mixer Sunday: Soft pretzels

I tried soft pretzels once before I had the stand mixer with a little bit of success. However, the dough was hard to shape because the machine I had was unable to knead it appropriately. I'm happy to report more success with my stand mixer.

This time around, I used the stand mixer to create a smooth, non-sticky dough. A tip that I have this time around is not to store the pretzels in a plastic bags because the moisture will accumulate and make the pretzels really too chewy to eat the next day. Also, only finish the pretzels with salt shortly before serving, otherwise it will eat away at the bread and look very unattractive.

Here's the recipe taken from my previous post that I repeated with more success:

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active yeast
22 ounces flour (a little less than 4 1/2 cups)
2 ounces unsalted butter (half of a stick)
10 cups water
2/3 cups baking soda
1 egg beaten with about 1 tablespoon of water
Pretzel salt

First, put water, sugar and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer, then sprinkle the yeast on top and allow to sit until it foams. It will take three to five minutes, depending on how warm or drafty your kitchen is.

Then add the butter followed by the flour a half-cup at a time. Make sure you're using a bread hook attachment and mix on low until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Then kick it up to medium speed for a couple of minutes until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the bowl.
Then place in a greased bowl, cover it with cling wrap and allow to sit in a corner of your kitchen for about an hour, or until the dough doubles in size.

Heat your oven to 450 and prepare a couple of baking sheets lined with parchment or foil that you lightly oiled or sprayed with cooking oil. Mix the water and baking soda in a pan and place on the stove so you have a little assembly line going.

Take the dough out of the bowl and onto a floured surface (I just threw flour on my parents' lovely counter tops). Divide the dough into 16 pieces. Working with one section, form the dough into a rope about two feet long.

Make it into a "U" shape and pinch the opposite ends to form a classic pretzel shape.
Next, bring the water/soda combination to a boil on the stove and place each pretzels in one at a time for 30 seconds each, flipping halfway through so both sides get boiled. This isn't meant to cook the pretzels, just to change the surface chemistry so it will brown evenly. Brush with egg wash, which will help the salt stick and aid in browning.

After that, place four pretzels on each cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: Red wine risotto

My vacation is definitely over. Not only is it back to work and no napping, I now have to cook again. Sigh. I really enjoyed when the meals just came to me with no dishes.

Another unfortunate aspect about not being in the Bahamas is the small detail that it's absolutely freezing out there. No joke, I was so cold at one point this week I could have cried, but the tears would have froze to my face.

So I'm into hardier meals these days. While I've never tried risotto, when I watched a Food Network program featuring the elegant rice, I had to give it a try. I created my own take on this red wine risotto and it was pretty tasty, but to make it a whole meal, I should have stirred in some rotisserie chicken pieces at the end.

Here's how it goes:

3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup finely chopped onion

2 large garlic cloves finely diced

1 cup arborio rice

1/2 cup red wine

1/3 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup heavy cream

Pepper and salt

Now, it's pretty easy, just time consuming. First, warm up the broth in a separate pan and keep at a simmer. Warm the oil and throw in the onion and let it cook until softened, about three minutes. Then add the garlic and do the same for about a minute. Next, toast the rice in the oil for about five minutes before before adding the wine. Allow it to absorb, stirring constantly, before adding the broth 3/4 of a cup at a time. Stir and let it almost absorb before adding the next portion until you're all the way through the broth. In the last portion of broth, throw in the peas and when the broth is almost absorbed, add the Parmesan and cream to finish it off as well as salt and pepper to taste (I used kosher salt and freshly ground pepper royale, but that's up to you).

This makes four large portions of delicious, stick-to-you-ribs risotto. It's so nice on a blustery winter day. And since that arborio rice was so expensive ($5 for one little can!), I'll certainly be experimenting with it again.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cruising with Kelly: Grand Turk

The first stop on our lovely cruise was Grand Turk and it was quite the destination. After getting off the boat, you enter a corporate-created outdoor mall area with a man-made beach and a Margaritaville featuring the largest pool in the carribean. I'm not sure if I completely believe this, but whatever.

A cab to downtown costs $10 for two people. Don't expect a bustling urban area -- only 4,300 people live on this island anyhow. There's very little to see in the way of historical sites and there's really no shopping outside of the mall area except for souveniers.

After wandering around for a while, Tim and I found Smitty's Cafe, a little bungalo serving up lunch, sodas and conch fritters. That's right, like the shell.

Now I don't know much about Bahamanian treat, other than it was rather tasty. For $2, we received six nuggets of conch fritters. If you're interested in making these at home, I'm not sure where you can get conch meat, but good luck to you.

The meat was delicate and tasty and the breading rather spicy. Maybe it was all the pepper, but I swear my stomach was burning a bit when we were done. Either way, if you ever make it to Grand Turk, this dish can't be missed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Crusing with Kelly: Favorite foods

Geez, where do I start? There was so much food that there's no way I could have eaten it all. So let's start with my favorites:

Hands down, the best thing on the cruise was the melting chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. Baked in a ramekin, the chocolate cake was molten and dusted with powdered sugar. It was just the right amount of sweetness and made with very rich chocolate. I had it three times on the cruise; the other desserts such as Grand Marnier souffle couldn't hold up. Here's the best estimation of the recipe I can come up with:

Unsweetened cocoa powder
2 (8-oz.) packages semisweet chocolate squares, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup butter - do not use margarine
5 large eggs, separated1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
Grease a 9-inch springform pan, and dust with unsweetened cocoa powder. Melt chopped chocolate and butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth. Whisk together egg yolks and vanilla in a large bowl. Gradually stir in warm chocolate mixture, whisking until well blended.Beat egg whites at high speed with electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until sugar dissolves and stiff peaks form. Fold one-third beaten egg white mixture into chocolate mixture; gently fold in remaining egg white mixture just until blended. Spoon batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. (Do not overbake!) Let stand in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes before removing sides of pan.

Another winner on the ship was the lobster tail served on the formal evening alongside with grilled jumbo shrimp. It was served alongside a butter sauce, brocoli and rice. The lobster meat was savory and the smokey flavor from the grilled shrimp were a welcomed accompanment. Another item I really liked was the veal parmesan, a breaded veal chop topped with cheese and marinara sauce served over angelhair pasta. Tasty.

I wouldn't mind a little cruise sunshine today ...

Tomorrow: Grand Turk food finds

Monday, February 18, 2008

Crusing with Kelly: General tips

Oh my goodness, all we did on our Bahamas cruise was eat! They feed you every 20 minutes, so the first tip that I have to offer is pace yourself. They say the average guest will gain 10 pounds during the course of a five-day cruise. I couldn't tell you if it's true, I'm boycotting my scale until further notice.

There is food available 24 hours per day, no joke. There's ice cream and pizza as well as room service around the clock. There's a seated and buffet option for every meal and sushi most evenings. Breakfast is the same every day, but there are myriad options for lunch -- there's always a themed buffet such as French, American or Mexican along with another general buffet, Thai stir fry made to order, burgers and a rotisserie station.

As for dinner, it's an event. There's a seated dinner that's business casual most nights and formal one night, so bring nice clothing. Otherwise, pack less clothing than you would suspect you need. You'll be lounging in the sun most of the time anyhow and these are small rooms. There's a menu with starters, salads, entrees and desserts. Order what you like according to your appetite -- it's all included. If you really hate it, try again, but I never had that problem.

Everything is included except for drinks. And the cheapest drink is $4, so plan accordingly. The only complimentary cocktails you'll find are at the captain's reception, a painfully short engagement featuring awesome live jazz, tasty snacks and small cocktails. It's a must attend for the music alone -- it's the only time on the cruise you'll hear the band unaccompanied by dancers and singers.

The best deal as far as adult beverages are concerned is purchasing a bottle of wine to enjoy at dinner. They'll store it for you between meals and it will be waiting for you when you get there. If you're a big fan of caffeine, my advice is avoid the soda. Juices, water, coffee and milk are included, but if you're looking for anything bubbly, it's going to cost you. Sodas cost $1.75 each or you can buy a fountain pass that entitles you to as many Coca Cola products as you can handle, but it's $5 per day for adults and $4 for kids. You'd have to drink at least 20 sodas per day to get your money's worth. Have a lemonade instead.

My only issue with our Carnival cruise was the room. We got an upgrade to a room with portholes, which was pretty cool to have a view and such. However, our room was at the very front of the boat and every time we docked, I might as well have pulled up a cot to the engine room. We also needed motion sickness bracelets in a big way because we felt every single wave. On this particular ship, the smaller the room number, the closer you are to the front. If you have a choice, pick the cheapest room in the middle of the boat. Every room is going to the same place and eating the same food, so in my mind, an executive penthouse suite just isn't worth it. Those suites run up to $4,000 on my particular boat and I would suspect that if you have that kind of cash, there are more exclusive ships. Or, you can choose to invest in Kelly the Culinarian ...

Tomorrow: The first on cruise food highlights

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Rosemary focaccia with chipotle mayo

Hello ladies and gentlemen! I hope you had a wonderful week. I tried to bring some sunshine back with me from my cruise, but customs intercepted it. Sorry!

I can't wait to share the food and attractions this week, but let's get back to routine with this week's stand mixer recipe. I've tried this focaccia a few times and it was a hit -- nice a chewy as well as salty. It's perfect for sandwiches, so perfect that Panera uses it and charges $7 for their bistro sandwiches. Never fear, I've cracked the code.

First, the focaccia:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/8 teaspoon instant yeast
2 cups minus 2 Tablespoons warm, filtered water
3/4 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon table salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary needles
2 tablespoons sea or kosher salt

To start the dough, mix the flour, yeast, sugar and water with a dough hook on the lowest setting. Add the water gradually and mix on the No. 2 setting until incorporated, about three minutes. The dough will be a bit thin. Then turn it up to setting No. 4 and let it rip for 20 minutes or so, until the dough is a shiny ball like fresh mozarella. It's really important to allow it to mix for quite some time in order to develop the glutens and such.
Put the ball in a greased bowl and allow to rise until doubled, about four hours. Take out a half-sheet baking pan and use one Tablespoon of the oil to coat the surface. Pour out the dough and try to stretch it to fill the pan without breaking it. Let it rest for 10 minutes, then try again to get it to fill the whole sheet without tearing or crushing the bubbles in the dough.
Let it rise for another hour, until it's about doubled. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees with a rack on the lowest level. Put a baking sheet on that too to preheat.
Use your fingertips to create little dimples in the dough. Top the focaccia with the remaining olive oil and dust with the salt (I like my focaccia salty). Don't sprinkle the rosemary on top or it will just fall off -- stick the needles into the dough.
Place the sheet pan on top of the baking pan. Also, place another metal dish with ice cubes in the oven. This helps keep the bread moist and develops a crust. But don't use a glass dish or you'll be using garden gloves to clean a million little shards of glass out of your semi-hot oven ... I've been there.
Bake for 12 to 13 minutes or until it's golden brown.

If you'd like to make a sandwich out of the tasty results, try this chipotle mayo, which is similar to what you'd get at Panera.
1/2 cup mayonaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin
2 chopped chipotle chilies in adobo sauce

Mix all the ingredients together and refridgerate overnight to let the flavors combine.

Happy eating!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

See you next week!

Illinois weather is horrible. Fourteen inches of snow in one week should be illegal. I'll be spending the week out of the country taking refuge from the Midwest. But just wait until I return, the food on my trip will be fabulous. You can check out the menu here. Have a great week!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Media meal: Service Included

People have been talking about this book for quite some time and championed Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter The book's author somehow landed a gig working at Per Se, Thomas Keller's New York eatery with a menu as famous as his clientele.

After working at a few places and going to school part time to major in English, the author applied for a job at Per Se and started something of an MBA in food. The waitstaff learned everything from what kind of olive oil was used in the main course and what the difference is between various types of caviar.

I found the book to be to the food world what Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities was to greek life. While I worked at a restaurant whose star classification I was oblivious to, Service Included is a window into fine dining that the average eater doesn't get. For example, the waitstaff is prohibited from changing their haircuts and cannot wear any toiletries with a discernable scent.

I had hoped for some juicy gossip on celebrity eating habits, but no such luck. While there are some great anecdotes about diners, there's very little in the way of culinary trade secrets or four-star cooking insights. This is more a novel about the interaction of Per Se's staff, the opening of the eatery and how the author finds love in a sommelier whose cooking career started out at a Texas McDonald's. Oh how far he came, I suppose.

While this is worth reading, especially when getting shut inside during this horrible weather, it's not a book I would buy. It's interesting, but just one person's perspective.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Food find: Las Palmas

Maybe it's the horrible weather, but my palate would like to go south of the border. Along with the rest of me. Over the weekend, Tim and I spent some time trying to get ready for our vacation, which included thinking about food from warmer climates. We tried out Las Palmas, a Mexican food chain in the Chicagoland area with locations in Mundelein, Evanston and Westmont.

This place is a bit of a staple around here. I've been going there for years. The chips are a crunchy, thick corn mixture and the salsa a bit watery with bits of tomato, onion and cilantro. Yum. We also ordered some guacamole, which wasn't quite as spicy as the menu promised, but it was still tasty.

As for the main course, Tim and I both went with combos. I went for the taquito combo, which was topped with guac, sour cream, shredded lettuce and tomato along with a side of Mexican rice and beans. The rice is cooked in a combination of smoky spices and the beans are a bit smooth in consistentcy. As for the taquitos, I got shredded chicken, which was moist and flavorful. The outside was crunchy. They were great to dip in the toppings and beans. Yum!

Tim got the chimichanga meal. It came with two shredded chicken chimichangas that he said were delicious as well as the same toppings and sides. All in all, a real tasty favorite. At least my tastebuds are hot ...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What to do with snow?

Now that we've received a ridiculous amount of snow that undoubtably prevents me from leaving the house until tomorrow afternoon, I'm taking all baking and kitchen-related activity suggestions. The photo on the left is from Friday's snow storm in which I chilled some adult beverages in the snow ... this is called using one's resources.

I might misplace my mind at this point because I don't recall this many poor weather days in one week in recent history.

I heard at work that the last time it snowed like this was in 1979 and dump trucks loaded with snow were instructed to drive out onto frozen bodies of water around here and dump the snow in the middle. I don't think things are that dire yet, but who knows. The sound of snow blower in my neighborhood is just a steady, buzzing din.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Media meal: Every Day with Rachael Ray, March

Did Rachael Ray suddenly start publishing every other week? I've barely finished savoring my last Everyday and now I have the March issue in my mailbox. But I love the recipes inside, so here's to March. Here's what you can expect inside:

  • Beauty products made with sushi ingredients

  • A garden centerpiece made by Vern Yip

  • A history of Chinese food in America

  • Court show hosts' favorite dishes (I had no idea there were so many of them. Yet Judge Judy isn't included. She's probably too big of a deal to do that.)

  • The best of frozen pizzas

  • A day in the food life of Vanessa Williams

  • Delicious pasta dishes, such as roasted potato penne

  • Dressed up take out recipes, such as Chinese five-spice chicken

  • A round up of the best toasters (my singing Winnie the Pooh model didn't make the cut)

  • Seafood gumbo made with canned tuna (sounds fishy ... I'm so punny)

  • One-pot recipes that sound amazing

  • A cute, no recipe twist on alphabet soup

  • Children's birthday party recipes

  • A recipe book for a chili-themed party

  • A travel log of Bermuda

  • The fridge of Susie Essman

And with that and the impending snow warning, you know what I'll be doing for the rest of the night -- settling in with my cookbooks and Every Day in head to toe fleece. I can't wait to go on vacation.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: Baked rigatoni

Sometimes things that are really tasty aren't particularly attractive. Like most entrees at a Mexican restaurant or your favorite blue-plate special. It might not be pretty, but it sure makes up for it.

That's how I'm pitching my baked rigatoni. This Kelly original got high marks from my taste testers, but didn't photograph well. Sometimes you just can get that perfect score, but read on, I have tips to make it more pretty.

Here's what you need:
16 ounces rigatoni pasta
1 Tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 28-ounce can of diced or whole tomatoes with juices
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning, crushed to release the spices
1 box thawed and drained spinach
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded mozzarella, divided
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Start a large pot of water to boil and then in a separate sauce pan, start heating the oil, then add the garlic and cook for about one minute to release flavors. Add the canned tomatoes with the juices or you could use four fresh tomatoes, if you're not in the middle of a snowy Midwest winter ... but I'm not bitter.

Anyhoo, add the chili powder, salt, sugar and Italian seasoning. Cook until it starts to thicken, about 20 minutes. During this time, the water should be up to a boil, so add salt liberally to the boiling water and then add the pasta and cook as directed.

Once the sauce has thickened and reduced, add the spinach. Then add the heavy cream and half of the cheeses. Mix the pasta with the sauce and then transfer to a casserole dish. Top with the remaining cheese and put in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

I baked mine a day after I put together the casserole and still had success. It produced a rich, colorful sauce that stood up to the large pasta and offered a few veggies in the process. You could even add some shredded chicken or chopped prosciutto or ham, whatever protein you have on hand, to make a one-dish meal. A great serving companion would be a mixed green salad and focaccia, a recipe that will be featured on Stand Mixer Sunday shortly.

To make this a more attractive dish suited for company, here are a few changes:

- Use a smaller pasta, such as a penne rigate. A whole-wheat pasta would make this healthier too.
- Go about the recipe as normal, but instead of using a casserole dish, opt for ramekins or mini-casserole dishes that you would use for individual mac and cheese or something similar.
- Add breadcrumbs to the cheese mixture and top the individual casseroles. Bake for 15 minutes or until the top is golden.

Serve individually on a nice platter or trivet as it will be very hot. Garnish with julienned basil, a sprig of parsley or chopped chives.

Delicious! Happy eating.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Homemade sourdough

Man, I love a great sourdough. Really, there's nothing better than the slightly bitter taste of a well-developed, airy sourdough loaf. And let me tell you, it's a labor of love.

It all started with developing a starter. Then you have to feed it everyday for a week like a pet of some sort.

Here's how you get the party going:

Get a glass or plastic jar or bowl. Don't use anything metallic, it will give the starter a weird flavor or prevent it from developing all together. Start with one cup of all-purpose flour and one cup of bottled spring water at room temperature. Mix together well with a wooden or plastic spoon or some type of silicone whisk in order to infuse the mixture with air. Place in a warm, draft-free place. Every day, feed the starter by removing half of the mixture and adding a half cup more of both water and flour and mixing vigorously. That's it. It's really very simple. It will start to smell like beer and get frothy and bubbly. That's how you know the natural yeast is growing. Ta-da!

Before you can make a loaf, you have to make a sponge. Weird term for it, but I don't make the rules. Essentially, take your starter and add one cup flour and one cup filtered spring water at room temp and wait for it to foam up. It will probably take a couple of hours, so it's best to start this the night before. I put my spong thing in the microwave with some warm water to foam overnight. Next, remove two cups of the sponge for the bread. Take the rest and put it in a glass or plastic container and keep it in the fridge. Take it out once a week and allow it to warm to room temperature for one hour, feed it as you would a starter and then put it back in the fridge after an hour. There's a bakery in France that claims it's been using the same starter since the age of Napolean, so keep that starter healthy!

For the actually loaf, now about one week in the making:

2 cups of the sponge you set aside

2 Tablespoons softened butter

4 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

3 cups flour (I used all purpose)

Put the sponge, butter, sugar and salt in your stand mixer with the whisk attachment and blend on a low setting for about a minute or until all the ingredients are incorporated. Switch over to the dough hook attachment and then add the flour one half cup at a time. I found that I had to add a bit of filtered water to the mix to keep it going, but it all depends on the liquidity of your sponge.

The dough will be sticky but shouldn't be wet or stiff. Put it in a greased bowl and allow it to rise until doubled. Again, I put it in the microwave with some warm water and let it sit for about two hours. Turn the dough out and knead it for a minute or two and then form it into a loaf. I went with a single round loaf, but I should have gone with two.

To form a round loaf, knead out the bread into a flat circle. Turn the edges into the center, then flip the loaf over. Roll the loaf between your hands until the surface is smooth and taught like this.

Put this form on a greased baking sheet and allow it to rise until doubled again, for about an hour. Next, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, then put slits in the top of the loaf with a serrated knife to allow the bread to properly rise. You can do little X's, a square or a circle pattern like a little starfish, whatever suits your fancy. Cook the bread for 20ish minutes, then take it off the cookie sheet and place it directly on the oven rack so the bottom doesn't get gummy. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the whole thing is golden brown.

This may seem like a lot of work, but most of the process is passive. The taste of real sourdough, fresh from your own oven, is really magnificent. It's very satisfying too. Give it a try, it's tasty and fun! Plus, now that I have the starter going, I can keep baking all sorts of sourdough items with the same starter -- pretzels, pancakes, rolls, crackers, who knows.

Next week: Rosemary foccacia

Friday, February 1, 2008

Snow day!

I'm snowed in. Send chocolate! My dad used the snow blower this morning and spent 20 minutes clearing off my car and it still looks like this. Gotta love Illinois in February.

In case you're in the same boat as me, here's an interesting recipe for what to do with snow. Make a snow slushie, of course! I don't know if we have any Kool-Aid

and there's no leaving in this weather. Katie is off of school, my dad's cafeteria is closed at work and Mandy's college classes were canceled. We got 10 inches of snow overnight! At least we're warm and the pantry is well-stocked.