How to make Challah Bread

I am no baker, that’s for sure. However, I have made my fair share of bread in the past and I continue to bake bread occasionally all while trying to understand the magical chemistry that occurs between yeast, water, flour, etc.

Challah bread is a beautiful way to start making bread, and it’s fun to make! It’s rich texture along with a very slight hint of sweetness can be noticed when trying it for the first time. It’s recipe is straightforward and the end result is almost always impressive to look at. I particularly like making challah bread on occasion because I can never seem to get it just right. My braids always open up on top but the end result still looks fantastic and most importantly the taste is great.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Ingredients: 1 loaf
  • 1 cup water – best if lukewarm or room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons of dry yeast – you can use active dry but I tend to use the instant yeast
  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons of salt (regular salt, not sea salt)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-2 large egg yolks separated – (Save the egg white in a small bowl, set to the side)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil such as Canola oil – (Do not use olive oil here!)

How to:

The first step you need to do is to dissolve your yeast. Place your yeast in a small bowl with the water, adding a little pinch of sugar. Mix well until all is incorporated. At this point you want to let your bowl stand for 5-10 minutes. The yeast should be doing its magic and you should see a cloudy or frothy layer form across the top of the water. If you do not see this your yeast has most likely expired and you will need to start over.

Mix your dry ingredients: Place your 4 cups of flour, your sugar and salt into your stand mixer bowl. Make a well in the middle of your flour and add the oil, eggs and egg yolk. Pour the yeast mixture into the mix and stir together with a wooden spoon until you get a messy dough.

*You can add sprinkles of dry flour as you go – that will help with the wetness of the mix and will assist in it all coming together. (Don’t go overboard however with adding more dry flour at this step – use it sparingly to assist with the dough coming together).

With a stand mixer, fix the dough hook and knead the dough on low speed for roughly 6-8 minutes.  If you do not have a stand mixer you can knead by hand for 10 minutes.  If the dough feels sticky or wet you can sprinkle dry flour into the mix as you continue to knead. The goal is to get a silky smooth texture that easily forms a ball.

Once the dough is kneaded and form nicely, place the ball of dough into an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for roughly 1-2 hours. The dough needs to double in size – use this visual measure of the indication it is risen enough.

Divide the dough into 3 equal parts. Stretch each part to roughly 14-16 inches in length creating ‘ropes’. Many times while doing this you will notice the ropes tend to shrink up. If this happens let them rest for 5 minutes or so giving the gluten more time to relax.

For a 3-stranded challah you want to gather the ropes at the top, pinching together. Braid the 3 ropes together (as if braiding hair) making sure your braid is relatively tight.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place your braided challah on top and sprinkle with a little dry flour. Place a kitchen towel over top and let rest for roughly 1 hour in a warm and dry place.

While your braided challah is still resting (roughly 20 minutes before you put it in the oven), add a little water to your egg whites that you set aside from earlier. Whisk the mixture gently. Brush and coat the challah bread with the egg wash making sure you get into all the crevices and especially on top.

Pre-Heat your oven to 350 F.

Bake for roughly 30-35 minutes, checking every so often to ensure the top is evenly being baked.  The challah should be browned thoroughly on top.

Let the Challah cool on a baking rack until just warm.  Serve & enjoy!

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*You can add caraway seeds to the top before baking to add a little spicier flavor if desired.

 

 

 

 

Verdure Gratinate

Baked vegetables with bread crumbs is one of the easiest side dishes you can prepare. I love this dish because it sets up perfectly for new cooks. It allows for a newbie in the kitchen to practice their knife skills and prepare an incredibly easy and flavorful dish almost every time within minutes.

The other beautiful aspect of this dish is you can use virtually any vegetables you like. You’re not bound by only a few certain vegetables. So, that said – pick your favorites and get started! I’ll show you how …

Common veggies I like to use:

  • Eggplant
  • Peppers (Green, Red & Yellow)
  • Zuchinni
  • Onions
  • Tomato
  • Fresh herbs of your choice. Parsley, Oregano & Marjoram work wonderfully.
  • Salt & Pepper (Try to use high quality salt, not iodized store bought salt. Good salt such as Maldon Sea Salt or other sea salts make a huge difference in cooking. Freshly ground black pepper should also be a staple in your kitchen)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil. (Don’t skimp on quality here either. Get the good stuff)
  • Bread Crumbs – roughly about 1-1/2 cups

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How to:

Take your fresh herbs and put your knife skills to the test, getting them fully chopped finely.  Once you have a lovely mix of herbs (finely chopped) add them to your bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl – stirring well to make sure the herbs are fully incorporated with the the bread crumbs.

Cut your veggies roughly 1/4″ in thickness, or a bit thinner depending on your preference. This is another good exercise for your knife skills because you will have a few different vegetables to cut. Make your cuts even focusing on even lengths for all your veggies. This will make your dish look even better when its plated. (see photos)

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Place your cut vegetables on a baking sheet that has been drizzled with a little EVOO, spreading them out evenly. Don’t overcrowd them on the baking sheet. Sprinkle your breadcrumb mix on top of the veggies but don’t go crazy here putting more than is needed. This is a common mistake, one I committed the first time I made this side dish. If you put too many bread crumbs on top you’ll be left with burnt vegetables and a mushy breadcrumb pile on top. Less is more in this situation.

Drizzle some EVOO over top of the vegetables to finish.  Bake for roughly 45 minutes at 375 F until breadcrumbs are browned on top.

Sprinkle a little high quality sea salt on top and serve!

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Smoked Duck with Fresh Herbs

Last week I finally managed to get my garden all taken care of. I planted a plethora of fresh herbs, tomatoes, beans, peppers, and even threw in a couple sunflower plants for good measure. With the weather on the east coast lately I came out to my garden yesterday and had fresh rosemary, basil and cilantro already ready for the picking!

I’ve had a frozen duck in my freezer for a while now, just waiting for the right time to cook it. I figured it was time to de-thaw it and give it a whirl. I decided to smoke it on my bbq using indirect heat (setting the duck on the opposite side of where the coals are) and let it cook on low for a few hours outside.

This recipe is open to interpretation because essentially you can prepare this duck any way you prefer. A lot of frozen ducks come with a traditional orange glaze you can use for flavor. I used the orange glaze along with some extra soy sauce and a bit of honey to combine for a homemade glaze.  I utilized my herbs from the garden and put fresh cilantro, basil and rosemary atop the duck.

I got the charcoals going pretty well, until they were glowing while I set two small foil tins next to them on the lower level of my grill. I filled the tins with apple juice.

I set the duck on the opposite side of the charcoals, on top of the foil tins as shown in the photos. I checked the duck approximately every 45 minutes or so, making sure the temperature stayed below 200 degrees. The total cooking time on this duck was around 3 hours with a couple glazings in between. I removed the now glowing duck from the grill after a nice char formed and I wrapped it in tin foil for roughly another hour to continue cooking.

And there you have it – a nice and easy Sunday dinner prepared and ready to go!

*If you’re adventurous you can smoke the neck, liver and any innards left in a small tin foil pouch alongside the duck. *pictured

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Funfetti Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Baking doesn’t have to be difficult. Many times it is. Many times I’ve stared thru the little glass door to the oven, nervously hoping I didn’t overfill the cake pan with batter. Inevitably when the batter pours over the edge of the pan I reconsider why I even attempted baking a cake in the first place (again).

But it doesn’t have to be difficult or nerve-wracking. After a few attempts and failures at making a layer cake I’ve managed to figure out some easy steps you can use also to bake your next cake.

Today I decided to give the all to popular ‘Funfetti’ cake a try. It’s all the rage on the foodie shows, and perhaps the funnest cake one can bake without too much hassle.

Here are a few easy steps to follow:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Buy 3 boxes of cake mix from the store. (You can make your own but remember – this is the easy recipe option!)

Follow the easy instructions on the cake mix box which usually is 1 cup water, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, cake batter and 3 eggs. If you have a stand mixer use that option, as it’s easier to mix together with a stand mixer rather than try to mix it together old school style by hand.

Once the batter is mixed thoroughly add up to 1/2 cup of sprinkles into the batter, allowing the mixer to get them well incorporated within the mix.

Take three 8″ cake pans and coat them liberally with either PAM cooking spray or Crisco.

Pour the batter into the cake pan being sure not to overfill the pan – a common mistake!

(Note: if you overfill the batter into the cake pan you will quickly have a mess in your oven and unfortunately might need to start over after cleaning up the mess)

Bake all (3) filled cake pans in the oven at 350 degrees for 18-23 minutes depending on your oven. (I check the center of the cake with a dry knife every 5 minutes or so after the first 10 minutes in the oven)

The next step is the frosting. Personally I am not a huge fan of over frosting. For this recipe I decided to make a Vanilla Buttercream Frosting – just enough to fill the layers of the cake.

In your clean mixer add 3 cups of confectioners sugar, 3 tbsp of Vanilla extract, 1/3 unsalted butter that is room temperature. Start the mixer allowing the ingredients to incorporate fully. Slowly add a tablespoon of whole milk as your mixture comes together until the texture is creamy and soft. (see photo below).  Put the frosting mix in the fridge while your cakes finish off in the oven.

Finally, remove your cakes allowing them to cool for at least 30 minutes before you remove them from their pans. I like to cut the the dome tops off the cakes so everything is nice and even. Take your frosting out of the fridge allowing it to return to room temp. It needs to be room temp to spread on the cake – if it’s too cold or stiff you will tear the cake very easily.

Liberally spread the buttercream frosting on the first layer, add the second layer, and if you choose to the top layer. For me, as mentioned earlier, I only like a little frosting so I decided to only incorporate frosting to layer the cakes but not to top the cake or for the sides. Plus I like the open top showing off the sprinkles!

And just like that – you have Funfetti cake. Enjoy!

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Pasta – The importance of tradition

This isn’t a post about how to make homemade pasta. It’s not a post about how much flour or water to add to make the perfect ball of dough. This post is about the importance of tradition when it comes to making things from scratch – in particular fresh pasta learned from those that have made it in their kitchens for decades before me or you ever came along.

So why is making pasta so important? Why not just buy dried pasta from the store? Why not just go out to eat? I think as a cook, at least a home cook, sometimes we ask ourselves “why do things the hard way?” When in reality the hard way is many times the correct way – especially when it comes to making and crafting a dish from scratch.

Bill Buford wrote so eloquently in his book HEAT about the art of making pasta. The art of learning how to make pasta from masters of the craft.  The art of basically fucking it up 1000 times before getting it right. Making food from scratch is indeed an art, probably more true with crafting pasta than any other food in my opinion.

With it carries responsibility. Tradition. The ownership of passing along the knowledge to those younger, those willing to listen and learn, those willing to fail time and time again in hopes one day they will get it just right. The cycle continues.

So I leave you today with not a recipe for perfectly made homemade pasta – mostly because I am still fucking it up myself. But instead a few images of the craft itself so beautifully displayed as pappardelle and garganelli.

Everything you see I owe to spaghetti – Sophia Loren

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Basted Sea Bass with Himalayan Pink Sea Salt

Spring is finally here and Summer seems just a few weeks away. With the warmer weather I always start to think about fresh fish and the adventures to be had at the local farmer’s market. Luckily I have access to a number of incredible farmer’s markets, authentic food stores and smaller grocery stores near me. I avoid shopping for ingredients at larger food chains at all costs if I can avoid it.

Last summer I was playing around with Sea Bass, in particular basting it with clarified butter to infuse the fish with a sweet and salty taste.

The result: Basted Sea Bass with Himalayan Pink Salt

Here’s what I did:

  1. Choose a fresh fish from your local farmer’s market or fish monger. It does not have to be Sea Bass. Go with a fish you like but choose a fish that will hold its integrity while cooking. Choosing a fish that becomes super flaky will be difficult with this recipe.
  2. Clarify half a stick of  unsalted butter in a small sauce pan.
  3. Cut your fish into chunks, large enough to hold their integrity.
  4. In your pan place the chunks of fish in the butter. Make sure the temperature is on low. High heat will ruin this dish quickly.
  5. Have patience. Slowly baste the fish with the butter until color begins to form on the top side. Flip and repeat.
  6. Plate atop a garnish of fresh spinach leaves or whatever you prefer.
  7. I made a homemade pesto sauce to accompany the dish but utilize any sauce that fits your flavor.
  8. After plating, sprinkle just a tiny bit of Himalayan Pink Sea Salt on top of the fish. Don’t use too much, just a touch to add a salty taste to accompany the sweetness of the butter taste.
  9. Enjoy.

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Lemon Lime Shell Pudding

If you’re looking to make a good impression on some dinner guests or simply test your culinary fortitude when it comes to presentation – this dessert might be for you!

A while back I started to play around in the kitchen with different presentations of desserts with the goal of making the aesthetics of the dish fun and new.  After many failed attempts with cakes, pies, cookies and an unfortunate incident with a creme brulee, I managed to come up with this little gem below.

This is a super easy (for the most part) way to impress your friends.

First: Make the lemon pudding. Here comes possibly your must crucial decision in this whole recipe – instant pudding or fresh made.

The answer to that of course is fresh made lemon pudding!  Here’s a quick recipe:

Food Network Lemon Pudding Recipe

After you’ve got the pudding made and it’s chilling in the fridge, start on your creme fraiche. I like this one:

Creme Fraiche Recipe

Next really comes the pain in the ass. When I first attempted to do this it did not turn out well. I wanted to present the lemon pudding in a hollowed out lime. Turns out hollowing out a lime is not the easiest of tasks. Word to the wise – be careful! I basically used a spoon to hollow out a lime, leaving a little bit of the pulp in the bottom.

Place a dollop of your Creme Fraiche on a 8″ circle plate, placing the hollowed out lime in the middle. Carefully spoon the fresh lemon pudding (which should be cold enough to hold its form) into the lime. Adorn with fresh raspberries and perhaps a sprinkle of crushed graham crackers.

And that’s it. A relatively easy and impressive take on lemon pudding.

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