Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Before you is a picture of my birthday steak. I don't really have much to say about it; It was a majestic Ribeye that stood 2 inches tall and weighed 2 pounds. It was really more of a novelty item than a practical piece of meat. However I view it as a demonstration of love, unfortunately he was not of the ideal gender, so I just shook his hand when it was unveiled before me. The Budweiser can is present for scale. Most foodies are likely thinking that Budweiser is a trashy beer. They would be wrong! Eventually I will write a blog about why Budweiser is the the highest quality beer available from the standpoint of a fermentation scientist. Budweiser is the beverage of choice while standing around a hot grill pointing at meat and making grunting noises at it, but I enjoyed eating this Ribeye with a fine Cab.

Treatise on the current state of culinary affairs in Davis

During the past few weeks I have had a long string of bad eating experiences in Davis. I haven’t written about them before now because I don’t want to just trash restaurants and I don’t want to be the author of a whole string of negative blogs. I have no problem being brutally honest; I just like to avoid being a negative person in general. After my dining experience on Saturday night, I can no longer contain myself. It seems that there has been a conspiracy against me lately. Therefore I will attempt to purge myself of all of my negativity, climaxing with the worst.

It all started at Kabul, not the city which that Dumbo-eared fool George W. decided to bomb into the stone age, it’s also an Afghan restaurant in Davis. The reception was great. We were promptly seated in the area where you get to take off your shoes and sit on pillows on the floor. This is where I met the first beer that I didn’t like (I can usually find at least one good quality of a beer). Its name was “Karma.” I am an experienced fermentation scientist and I still have no idea how they made this beer. After pondering where the “liquid smoke” flavor might have come from, Kristen had an epiphany; it tasted exactly like cold carbonated miso soup! I like miso soup, but this was the most unrefreshing beer I have ever had. I actually needed another beer to quench my thirst after every sip of Karma. Needless to say, I still drank the whole beer. I don’t waste beer, I consider that alcohol abuse.

At this point we were graced by the presence of a bellydancer named Mychelle. I generally don’t enjoy being confronted by bellydancers when I am trying to eat. I just find that it is an uncomfortable situation to deal with while trying to eat and chat. Mychelle is a great dancer though. Now for the food…. I ordered Mantoo – “Steamed dumplings filled with seasoned ground beef and onions topped with homemade yogurt and special beans-pea sauce.” When this plate appeared in front of me the first thing that I noticed was the offensive odor of dried mint. I love fresh mint, so much so, that I try to make my mouth smell like it all day long. For some reason I have a particularly strong aversion to the smell of dried mint, and it was blanketing the surface of my food. I recognize the aversion to dried mint may be particular to me, but why are they using dried herbs anyway? Besides the mint, the rest of the dish was pretty ordinary, not terrible, but “blah.” I was able to force three out of seven of the dumplings down my throat. Kristen tried them and commented “there is a reason why dumplings start with “dump.” Another one of Kristen’s epiphanies. Unfortunately I could only wash it down with my cold sparkling miso beverage. I also noted that the “special” beans and pea sauce was clearly made with canned green beans, peas, and carrots drowning in some sort of light orange matrix. Maybe I am just ignorant and the Afghani word for “canned” is “special.” Why are they using canned vegetables??? I really hate to cheapen our blog with the juvenile dialogue that you are about to behold, but the special sauce and vegetables looked like initially fresh beans, peas, and carrots that had been eaten and subsequently vomited directly onto my plate. I apologize, I just don’t know how else to describe it. I took a picture on my friend Sean's cell phone to document it, but he is a Chico grad and can’t figure out how to send it to me. I emailed him again, pleading him to figure out how to send me the picture and I just received the following reply only minutes ago: “DUDE…..WTF, Barf and take a picture of it... it will look the same.” Sean's colorful reply negates any need for photographic evidence. Kristen and Sean's food was unremarkable so I won’t describe it further

The second bad experience was at Bistro 33 in Davis. I have been to “Bistro” many times and will happily return many more in the future, but only for the drinks and atmosphere. I love the ambiance of bistro; they are located in a beautiful historical building and have a spacious patio complete with owls and a gas bonfire (the fire contributes to the ambiance but you have to be rotated on a spit above the flames to actually feel any heat) I could write volumes about my numerous dining experiences, but the food is generally unremarkable. There are a few dishes that I can count on when I do dine at Bistro. On Wednesday, Kristen and I dropped by Bistro for a late afternoon beer and appetizer on the patio before we prepared the chicken adobo. We ordered calamari and a couple brews and sat on the patio. The beer was great, as beer has a tendency to be. When the calamari arrived our attention was immediately drawn to the accompanying aioli type sauces. Judging by the gelatinous skin that had formed on the surface, they had likely been sitting in the serving vessels since lunch. Maybe we are too persnickety, but we don’t like off-color oxidized skins on our sauces. As for the calamari, I don’t know what they use to make the breading, but I am sure it would be an incredibly useful material for cleaning up a beach after an oil spill. The breading was soggy and completely saturated with oil. Kristen has ordered calamari at Bistro several times in the past and it has been great. The inferior quality this time may have been due to poor attention to complete breading, not frying at a high enough temperature, or not shaking enough oil off when it came out of the fryer. The odd thing about fried food is that one feels compelled to eat it even if it isn’t good, (like Pringles, I hate Pringles, but once I “pop” I can’t stop because MSG is powerfully addictive) so we kept eating. We returned to my place to experiment with the chicken adobo, but our grease-laden stomachs quenched any motivation to prepare a fatty chicken dish. I’m confident that the chicken adobo might have turned out better had we not been ambivalent about our cooking after apps at Bistro.

The third and most egregious dining experience took place Saturday night at Little Prague in Davis. I wanted to go to Little Prague because they have a great outdoor patio area and breakfast has been good in the past. We were seated promptly outside and ordered beers (Hoegaarden), apps, and entrees. Upon tasting the appetizer we believed that we were surely in for a treat with this meal. The appetizer was breaded deep fried duck. We didn’t have particularly high expectations, but it was surprisingly good. The breading was very crisp and dry (impractical for oil spill clean up) and the duck contained within was moist and flavorful. It was served with a light fresh tasting homemade BBQ sauce. Though we were pleasantly surprised with the duck, the experience spiraled precipitously downhill from there. For my entrée I ordered venison with strawberry/blackberry reduction (If only I had listened to the little voice in my head that was suspicious of this sauce….) and some sort of fried potato-spinach croquettes. Kristen ordered a Smoked Grilled Pork Chop with Czech Potato Pancake (with several other items but they were irrelevant and inedible so they won’t be mentioned). We don’t have much to say about the actual flavor of Kristen’s dish as only 5% of the dish was consumed. This was the saltiest dish I have ever encountered. All of the components of this dish burnt our taste buds. The pork was the worst, Kristen said it was really salty but I had no idea until I tasted it. I was speechless after tasting the pork, mostly because the salt wiped all of the moisture out of my mouth and instantly crystallized, obstructing the ducts of my salivary glands. I had to drink half of a beer just to re-dissolve the salt crystals and get my saliva flowing again. Between the two of us we could only eat one cubic inch of the pork. The potato pancakes were as salty as the other elements and were like disks of rubber. It is uncanny how tough they were. Kristen gave up and pushed the plate to the middle of the table after five minutes. Kristen’s food may have been good with less salt but mine was just plain bad. I actually added salt to mine in a vain attempt to make it taste better. I don’t know what the Croquettes were specifically, but I was more interested in knowing how they managed to extract every last bit of flavor before serving. They were tough, had no flavor, and an unpleasant texture. How does one make something fried taste bad? I thought that frying usually improves texture and flavor. The venison had an off flavor (not gamey) and the texture was soft and mushy. I wish I had asked what animal this “venison” came from since this term can refer to any animal of the Cervidae family. I’ll have to see if Opossum is part of this family because this “venison” tasted like something that folks in the Ozarks named Cletus eat. As for the strawberry-blackberry reduction: I don’t know what to say because Kristen suggests that I refrain from saying what I really want to say.

The manager finally came to the table and inquired as to the problem and Kristen replied that everything was over salted. The manager proceeded to defend his restaurant, retorting that they get the pork like this from the store and they don’t add any extra salt. A restaurant should be responsible for what ends up in front of the customer; after all they are charging you for it. I understand if their supplier of brined pork had over-brined it, but in that case I would expect to be thanked for bringing it to their attention. I also think its odd that they don’t brine the pork in-house, but to each their own. At least own up to the food you’re serving. I was dying to ask him why he is serving us some poor thirsty pig that had obviously died of dehydration, but I got the feeling that the manager had the sense of humor of a brick. He did however say that the dish would be removed from the bill. As he was removing the plate of Sodium from the table he turned to me and asked if I would like to take it home to which I replied with a laugh: “No…. the salt actually burned my mouth.” Needless to say, I was definitely more amused with myself than was the manager.

Finally the bill came. I was happy to see that the salt disguised as pork had been removed from the ticket, but my jaw dropped when I saw a charge for Kristen’s salad. Though they removed the pork entrée from the bill, they felt the need to nickel and dime us for the cost of the ordinary salad that was included with the meal. I guess the fact that the “soup or salad” question was even asked should have been a red herring to the “classiness” of this joint. As my eyes scan down the bill I see something that causes my other jaw to drop; my inedible Ozark meat cost $29.99! Venison may be expensive but the portion size, presentation, and flavor did not warrant that price. This is not fine dining in San Francisco, this is down-home peasant food in Yolo County! In my opinion, the only restaurant in Davis that might be justified in commanding $30 for an entrée is Tuco’s, and that is even a stretch. We begrudgingly paid the bill and left a moderate tip since the service, though slow, was acceptable (they are Europeans so I don’t expect the same speediness). The servers were friendly and promptly moved us inside when we decided that it was too cold to sit outside. As we ambled out of the restaurant the manager says, “come again!” Sure thing…. I’ll be back to eat you pork-encrusted salt if I ever start developing a goiter.

I feel much better after that purge and I sincerely hope that I don’t have to do this again. Now that my rant is over, it just occurred to me that these three meals were all accompanied by beer, which is rare for us. I think I will focus on eating “wine food” in the future and see if my luck changes. The last agreeable dining experience that I can remember was at Woodstock’s pizza. It was great, but that’s rather sad. I just want to eat good food. Davis, why hath you forsaken me?

Friday, May 25, 2007

The cure for Brooks' chicken phobia?

"But I don't LIKE chicken." This is what Brooks said when I suggested we make filipino adobo with chicken. Why, you ask? Because he was emotionally scarred as a child when his mom forced him to consume "Lemon Yogurt Chicken" at least twice a week. I've known this almost the entire time I've known Brooks, but I thought it was time he got over his fear. The following is a paragraph describing Brooks' aversion to the offending chicken:

"I think it's pretty self-explanatory, but I'll break it down for you. It's a dried chicken breast with my favorite part removed (the skin) slathered with gelatinous lemon yogurt, the kind with sugar and artificial yellow food coloring. It was coated with some kind of bread crumb crap that made me pray for shake-n-bake. Biting into it was deceiving; my teeth hit the false surface and sank down to gum level in yogurt before I hit chicken. After my teeth cleared the yogurt and I got an actual bite of chicken, I masticated it like a cow preparing it for the rumen. My face must have looked like George W. after someone asked him the definition of sovereignty. I slyly wiped my mouth with a napkin and deposited a bollus of lemon yogurt chicken, then stashed it in a secret compartment under the table to be taken care of by Alex or Gordo, the family dogs. I think this was a period in my mom's life when she was tired of cooking every night and wanted to f*** with us. This was particularly vexing because my mom is actually a very good cook. This meal worked out well for my high school wrestling weight loss regime. It pretty much tasted like ass with lemon squeezed over it, and enlightened me as to why chicken is referred to as 'fowl'."

Brooks grudgingly decided to go along with the chicken adventure, and as you can see from the pic, I don't think he's quite sure what to make of it. He told me he actually got confused with the chicken anatomy at the supermarket! He's still not sure where chicken thighs come from, even though it seems obvious. All in all he said he's not completely opposed to eating chicken any longer, however he much prefers the "small, juicy pieces like drumettes", which happen to be the meaty part of the wing butchered so it looks like a small drumstick.

As far as the adobo goes, it was pretty good, but I have to go with a "mid-brow" on this one. The method was three fold: marinating, braising, and finally frying. The reason we chose to make adobo is because Brooks just made a mexican adobo that turned out great, and this filipino version peaked our interest because it has completely different ingredients. It seems like the french equivalent to brining, but it's also braised in it's brine. The vinegar and seasonings keep the meat very moist, tangy and flavorful. I found this recipe in Martin Yan's Asia, and I was drawn to it because of it's simplicity. I don't usually use recipes when I prepare savory food (ALWAYS with baking), but I've never made adobo before, so I thought it prudent to do it right the first time...I can mess with it later. We took a little liberty and added ginger to the marinade, but we did everything else by the book:

Chicken Adobo, Martin Yan's Asia
3/4 cup palm or rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 T. minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 each chicken legs and thighs
3/4 cup water
2 T. cooking oil
2 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1 T. water

Marinate: Mix vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaf, sugar, salt and pepper and marinate chicken for 30 minutes in 3 quart pan.

Braise: Add 3/4 cup water to the marinade and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. Remove chicken from sauce and pat dry with paper towels. Strain remaining sauce into another pan, add the cornstarch mixture and simmer until thickened.

Fry: Heat a clean, dry pan over medium heat. Add oil, let it come up to temp, then place the chicken skin side down. Fry for 5ish minutes until crispy on all sides. *Brooks and I had problems with this step and our chicken didn't turn out crispy at all, I'm sure due to something we screwed up...maybe our chicken wasn't dry enough, our oil not hot enough, not sure but it was still yummy. Add the chicken back into the sauce to coat, and serve with extra sauce for dipping.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Kabob-e Barg

Recently I decided to venture into the world of Persian cuisine and learned how to make a dish recommended by a friend called Kabob e Barg. Kabob e Barg falls into the larger category of Chelow Kabob, the national dish of Iran, which consists of rice, kabob, and grilled tomato. Apparently the men of Iran pride themselves on preparing this dish, so the challenge was on! I know what Kabob is, but I still don’t know what an “e” or a “Barg” is. Barg is pronounced more like “bag” except there is a very slight R sound. Kabob e Barg is beef tenderloin or lamb that is basically marinated in grated onion. There are a few other flavors like saffron and garlic but the onion flavor is pervasive. I tasted the marinade after preparation and it was awful! Needless to say, it took great courage to drop $25 of fillet mignon (from the Meat Science Lab) into the bag of foul tasting marinade. Obviously I am not doing a good job of selling this dish, but something mysterious that could only be explained by Agent Mulder happened during the marinating process and it turned out great! The kabob is served with Basmati rice sprinkled with Tah-digh. Tah-digh is rice that has been fried in butter to form a golden rice crust at the bottom of the pot. From what I understand, Tah-digh literally means “bottom of the pot” and bread as well as other items can be used to make Tah-digh. I also served this dish with a Barbequed tomato that had been brushed with the marinade. Here is how I did it:

½ cup olive oil
3 Onions, grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp saffron
Tenderloin cut into strips about 1cm thick

Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade and place into a large zip-lock bag. Slice the tenderloin 1cm thick and marinate 6-24 at 4°C. Thread the meat onto a skewer, folding the longer slices of meat on themselves to form a compact kabob and cook over a hot grill. The outside should be somewhat blackened but the inside must still be pink. As you can tell from the picture, my grill wasn’t hot enough; I would have liked to blacken the tomato a bit as well.

Rice with Tah-Digh
2 quarts water
1½ cups Jasmine or Basmati rice
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp salt

Bring water and salt to a boil. Add rice and boil for 10 minutes. Drain rice in a fine colander and rinse with warm water. The rice will not be completely cooked but it will be cooked in it’s own steam during the next step. Next make the Tah-digh rice; melt the butter in a saucepan, and spoon the rice over the melted butter. Place a cotton dishtowel over the top of the saucepan, place the lid over the dishtowel, and fold the edges of the dishtowel up over the lid. This keeps the moisture in the rice rather than allowing escape or condensation of steam. Cook the rice over low heat for 30-40 minutes until a golden crust is formed on the bottom. Spoon out the loose white rice first, then you can remove the Tah-digh rice and sprinkle this on top of the white rice upon serving.
According to my Persian friend my first attempt was very successful and I could put some Persian men to shame. Her main suggestions were to marinade the meat for a shorter time (I marinated for 24 hours), and use a hotter grill to blacken the outside a bit more. I have made plenty of Kabobs in my day, but they were merely chunks of steak cooked with vegetables. I always wondered why I would cut steaks into chunks and BBQ them on a stick when I could just BBQ a steak and cut it as I eat. This Kabob is truly different and opened my eyes, now I have a much deeper personal understanding of the Kabob. Though I still can't articulate the meaning of Barg, I now know.....

Monday, May 14, 2007

Cutting Edge Science With Bologna Proves The Efficacy of "The 5 Second Rule"

We have all done it. You are cooking something, maybe a steak, or something else that you can’t bear to part with, it slips off of the spatula and splat……hits the ground. You are confronted with 3 options: Be a civilized human and throw it away, be a Cro-Magnon and put it back on the plate and reserve it for yourself, or be a Neanderthal and pick it up and serve it to one of your unwitting guests (for the record, my nickname when I was on the wresting team in high school was Cro-Mag. They were almost right.) I am usually thinking “As long as I pick it up within five seconds, I can serve it to Kristen and she will never be the wiser." But ask yourself; do you really believe in the five second rule? Do you honestly believe that if the food in question is picked up within 5 seconds, somehow, the transfer of bacteria to food will be substantially less than if it were left on the ground for longer than 5 seconds? I for one, have always followed the five second rule, though I didn't really believe that it made a difference how long the food was left on the ground. Cutting edge science had now actually demonstrated that abiding by the five second rule can substantially diminish the risk of contracting a food borne illness. I came across an article in The New York Times written by Harold McGee, the author of the must-read food science book On Food and Cooking, where he addresses this question. Harold McGee’s article is based on a scientific research paper published in The Journal of Applied Microbiology. To make a long story short, adhering to the five second rule can substantially minimize the transfer of bacteria to that tasty morsel that you drop on the floor. The authors of the study apply a controlled amount of Salmonella to tile, wood, and carpet and quantify the transfer of Salmonella to bologna and sliced bread. The interpretation of the data is not strait forward though, it is dependent on how long the bacteria has been present on the surface of question.
To make a long story short, as the bacterial residence time on a wood surface approaches 24 hours, ten times more salmonella was transferred from wood to bologna when they were left in contact for 30 sec. or 60 sec. as compared to 5 sec. The results are similar to bologna dropped on carpet except that the 10 fold difference in contamination level is observed as little as 8 hours after inoculating the carpet with Salmonella. Eight hours after inoculation of ceramic tile with Salmonella, the transfer of bacteria to white bread (not that any of us would own white bread….) is approximately five fold less if in contact for 5 sec. as compared to 30-60 sec. After a residence time of 8 hours on tile, salmonella transfer to bologna after 30 sec. and 60 sec. is increased 5 to 10 fold respectively, as compared to 5 sec.
The bottom line is that the five second rule is now backed by hard scientific evidence demonstrating that adherence to this rule can minimize bacterial contamination two fold. Now my guilty conscience will not drive me to call Kristen and casually ask how she is feeling the day after serving her dropped food.

Dawson, P., I. Han, M. Cox, C. Black, and L. Simmons. 2007. Residence time and food contact time effects on transfer of Salmonella Typhimurium from tile, wood and carpet: testing the five second rule. J. Appl. Micro. 102: 945-953.

Monday, May 7, 2007

If I had only known I could be a Meat Scientist.......

One of the little known gems of UC Davis is the Meat Sciences Laboratory on campus. This facility is used for teaching and research activities, and since they process 600-800 animals per year, they have a lot of extra meat to sell to you and I! As you walk through the door of the non-descript “Cole C Facility” you are blasted with a powerful overhead fan to blow all of the bugs off of you (mainly for people that live with a pride of cats). Look around the small room that is accessible to the public and you will notice a large rack of meat hooks, a small table with a cash register (cash and check only), two doors leading to the guts of the facility (no pun intended), and a lone refrigerator. I imagine it looks very similar to the room in Abu Ghraib where the extraordinary renditions take place that our fearless leader denied knowledge of. You might even witness someone walk through wearing a bloody shirt and rubber boots. Its called ambiance…..Its a far cry from shopping at the Nugget or Whole Foods, the facility itself is not very appetizing, but the high quality meat sure is. The refrigerator contains a random selection of vacuum packed steaks, but most of the meat comes from behind one of the doors. They have a “menu” of what cuts are available and there is someone there to go back and personally see what they have for you. The meat may be fresh or frozen depending on how recently it was harvested. So far I have purchased Hanger Steaks (again, no pun intended) and Ribeyes and they were both excellent quality. I was particularly pleased to find hanger steaks there since they are hard to come by elsewhere. The ribeyes are beautiful, everything I look for in a steak. You can also special order almost anything. I placed an order this week for the very tip of the tenderloin, something else that I can’t find in most stores. Next week I am also picking up some filet to experiment with the French tacos that I may soon be writing about. The only way that the meat lab has let me down is by refusing to sell me blood. Apparently it isn’t fit for human consumption because they cannot harvest it sterily. Acquisition of fresh blood is the only thing that is holding me back from wowing you all with an experimental blood pudding blog. I already blew my cover, but if you want to buy blood try telling them that you are a mosquito or leach researcher
Although I have only been eating their steaks, I hear that they make great sausage as well, I may get around to trying the sausage after my first heart attack.
So why would you buy meat from a shady building on campus rather than a grocery store or butcher? Because like a taco truck, its good quality and quite inexpensive. For instance, ribeyes are $10/lb and tenderloin is $13/lb. This may not sound like an incredible deal, but it is actually a bargain considering the high quality of steaks. They are open Thursday and Friday 1:30-5:30 so you can get your meat fresh for the weekend.

I have to mention that I like my animals more than I like most people but, If God didn't want us to eat animals then why did she make them out of meat?

Friday, May 4, 2007

The best bread EVER

I grew up eating this bread toasted with butter every morning for breakfast as long as I can remember. My mom doesn't like to cook much, but she's passionate about this bread, for which she created the recipe. It has a lot of what my grandpa calls "garbage" in it: grains, healthy stuff, lots of fiber, etc. It doesn't stick together too well for sandwiches, so it's pretty much exclusively for toast.

I've always been disinterested and even intimidated by baking for one main reason: I don't like measuring, and I know when it's crucial I'll probably screw it up. It always seemed to me that baking didn't allow much wiggle room for creativity because it relies so much on chemical reactions for leavening, creaming, and lots of other things I'm ignorant about. I was especially intimidated by THIS bread because my mom always made it, it was always there, and it seemed like magic...I thought nobody could make it except my mom. Until now. Why, you ask? There was no bread, and I wanted some. Necessity is the mother of....motivation? I definitely didn't invent this, but I was hungry enough to take a stab at it, so I called my mom for the recipe. It turns out that this bread didn't involve as much measuring as I thought, which was initially even more daunting as I don't trust my baking instincts, but this venture was ultimately successful. My mom has never written this down, it was all in her head and her hands. Here, for the first time ever written down, is my mom's bread may find some of the instructions and descriptions a bit odd, but I'm taking no creative liberties putting this down, it's exactly as she instructed. She also mentioned it's a little different every time, and the ingredients are dynamic: modify all you want.

1 Loaf of the best bread EVER:
*essential tools: big bread bowl, wooden spoon, bench scraper, loaf pan, tea towel

the liquid mixture:
2 cups warm water (bathwater temp)
1 T. active dry yeast (instant)
1/4 cup brown sugar (can sub molasses)
2 T. canola oil
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup quick oats
1/3 cup cracked wheat
1/3 cup wheat bran
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
*at this point taste the liquid for seasoning (salt and sugar)

Here's where the measuring ends. Once you have this liquid mixture and you're comfortable with the seasoning, add whole wheat flour until you cannot stir the dough anymore with a wooden spoon. Really try hard to stir, because this determines how "wheat" your bread will be. Once you can't stir anymore, turn the dough out onto a clean, dry surface. At this point my mom is very particular about method: soak your bread bowl in warm'll see why in a moment.

Knead white flour into the dough until you cannot get anymore into it. This should take about 10 minutes, and it's a great upper body workout. If you're lucky enough to have a 4 or 5 quart mixer, use the dough hook for 10 minutes. You can't fit a double batch into a 4 quart mixer, I found that out the hard way. Back to the recipe: once you're finished kneading the bread, go back to your bread bowl soaking in the sink. Rub the dough off the inside of the bowl with your hands, if you use a sponge you'll have to throw it away, dough sticks to it.

Once your bowl is clean and rinsed, use a dry tea towel to dry it, and hang on to the towel. Lightly oil the dry bowl, coat your dough ball in the oil and set in the bowl. Cover it with the damp, warm tea towel and let it rise for an hour and a half.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down with your fist and turn it back out onto the cutting board.

Press it out flat and roll it up tight into a loaf, then place in a loaf pan greased with shortening...apparently shortening works better than other non-stick methods.

Place the pan in your oven and cover again with the tea towel to let it proof (2nd rise) for 20 not turn the oven on yet.

Once the time's up, take the tea towel off, turn your oven to 375 (yes, I know it's not pre-heated, that's part of the magic), and bake for 50 minutes. Ovens vary a lot from house to house, so if you know your oven runs hot or cool, make the necessary adjustments.

Ta-da, that's it! You now have the best bread EVER! Well, of course that's subjective, but give it a try:-) The method makes it sound complicated and time-consuming, but it really isn't...there's just a lot of waiting to rise, etc., perfect for if you're hanging around the house anyway doing chores. This bread is extra delicious when you cut a thick slice with a sharp serrated knife while it's still warm (even though that's not usually allowed) with a pat of cold butter that melts as you eat it. I've also gotten a recent serving suggestion from a friend: sub avocado for butter, he says the earthy flavors compliment each other. mmmm. -K

SF pastry tasting: Miette Patisserie

Some friends and I picked up some desserts at a high-brow San Francisco patisserie, Miette, to indulge a little...actually, a lot. These desserts were among the best I've encountered, and each one was beautiful, obviously created with lots of love and attention to detail! They skillfully packaged the pastries to preserve their flawless appearance, which obviously had us drooling to taste. We had macaroons (both chocolate and hazelnut), a fancy chocolate cupcake, chocolate pot de creme and a lime tart.

The macaroons surprised me-- I'm used to them being dry, airy and unsatisfying, but these were the polar opposite. The meringue was soft, glazed for extra yumminess, then glued to another meringue with buttercream. The chocolate macaroon was so rich and soft, I actually couldn't resist eating it before I took the picture *sorry:-)*

I was curious how the pot de creme would be packaged, as it needs to be in a container. It was in a small glass jar, allowing the customer to view the chocolaty goodness they are about to experience. The cream on top was only slightly sweetened, so I was anticipating a super-sweet dense chocolate goo underneath...not so! The pot de creme was also only slightly sweetened, which was perfect because the sugar didn't overpower the chocolate. The thick, creamy texture was still so rich, as intended, that the small portion went a long way!

We were given instructions to only consume the cupcake at room temperature...these people are serious about dessert! The cupcake was so pretty I was a little afraid to touch it with it's pretty little red candied peanut on top. Though the cake was moist and chocolatey, and the icing soft and creamy, I found this cupcake to be rather ordinary. I think a more apt word is probably "classic". I also must confess that I'm not the biggest fan of cake products.

The lime tart was the piece de resistance. I usually don't even consider non-chocolate desserts, but I knew I had to diversify a little...OMG this was by far my favorite! The lime curd was tangy but not too sweet, the housemade marshmallow cream on top was heavenly, and the graham cracker crust paired perfectly with the acid in the lime...I was expecting the standard pate sucrée, but this crust was definitely a better match for this dessert.

If you're ever in the city and craving sugar, this place should definitely be on your list! Their pastries are very reasonably priced, and they use organic and sustainably produced ingredients whenever possible. Miette definitely goes on my high-brow list! -K

Miette Patisserie

Ferry Building Marketplace, Shop 10
San Francisco, CA 94111