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Saturday, July 08, 2006

oregano or no?

so lately i've been re-reading a classic tome of southern italian cooking by carlo middione, a book best known perhaps for its wonderful regional wine advice as well as its recipes. he devotes much space to overlooked and interesting cuisine of sardinia, as well as giving one of the few home recipes for carta di musica bread.

in his book he discusses an eternal question: does authentic neapolitan pizza sauce contain basil alone? or does it include oregano?

as i was enjoying an intelligentsia black cat cappuccino and comparing its tastes to my usual batdorf dancing goat cappa -- they are very different coffees in roast level alone -- and pondering signore middione's disquisition, i realized it was nearly time for yoga.

this month my regular saturday yoga class is being subbed by a student of dharma mittra's from greece, one yiannis. usually i fear subs, but yiannis is a good teacher who gives nice adjustments, which i think is largely due to the high quality of dharma's strict teacher training program.

some people find yiannis' accent a bit tough at first, but after just a few minutes, it's not a problem. and he is really quite a strong teacher.

all dharma classes seem to feature a lot of backbending -- i think that's just dharma's style. in hot summer weather like this, it's not ususally a problem, altho' in the stiffness of winter i sometimes want to say, ok, enough!

and yiannis' class is no exception. on the plus side, yiannis has found a nice balance between encouraging people to try poses that they fear are difficult without pressuring students into them.

most importantly, yiannis is not afraid to say something i think teachers should repeat nearly every single class: "you are the only judge of your own yoga, but you shouldn't let your preconceptions limit you too much. be playful and try the preparation."

see what i mean? yiannis is inspiring, but not bullying or prescriptive.

i do look forward to his classes, no doubt! (and on the oregano, carlo argues yes. so i added some to my sauce today.)

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posted by fortune | 3:09 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Friday, July 07, 2006

surprise from andrew b!

and what arrived this morning but an unannounced surprise from andrew b. of ecco:

  • roast dated the 3rd, one of his lovely c.o.e. brazils. in a rush, it seems he didn't write the estate on it like he usually does, but i thought it smelled like his santa terezinha. and calling to confirm, i find i was correct. hooray me!
  • also dated the 3rd, his ever-so-enjoyable northern-italian-style reserve espresso, which is definitely one of my top 5 fave espressi. what do you mean, you haven't tried this yet?

thanks muchly, andrew!

and i think i should also thank dogmilque for coining a word i love a lot and will henceforth always use: "chemexi," that is, "to brew in a chemex." actually dogmilque's first use of this may have actually been as a plural form, along the lines of italian -- "i matti," the mad.

but it makes a great verb too! this is an excellent and much needed word, similar to the now-common nyc "subulate," that is, "to take the subway."

subulate charmingly captures the snaking feeling of the sinuous train sliding beneath the city, while chemexi has a great industrial sound, so perfect for the origins of the brewer itself.

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posted by fortune | 8:26 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

for you radio junkies

tune in during the afternoon on the 15th to wild salmon at wlib to hear long-time bccy pal oren talk about specialty coffee. yay oren!

you go! best of luck to you and knock 'em dead!

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posted by fortune | 7:47 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Thursday, July 06, 2006

the shimmering lavender

woke up this morning, jumped outta bed, dragged a cafetiére across my head. . .anyway, i plunged up a small pot of jessica marshall's batdorf "shimmering lavender," her new fair-trade, organic gedeo-zone yrg.

i love grinding this coffee: it really does smell like lavender as it fall from the burr into the hopper. the coffee's about 9 days old now, and i still love to open the bag just to smell the beans.

there's a clearly "stone fruit" smell when you do -- jessica says peach, i say apricot nectar -- we all agree it's somewhere in that range. the stone fruit also comes thru clearly when the water hits the coffee and it blooms.

as you'd expect from a good yrg, there's a pleasant winey taste. not only does the shimmering lavender have a medium-heavy, almost velvety body, it also offers a wonderful milk chocolate aftertaste.

i loved this coffee with just a litte raw sugar, too, altho' those for whom the winey taste takes getting used to might try a dash a milk to mute that until they develop a better appreciation for it.

this reminds me of something oren once told me, that when some customers were new to his amazing finchwa, they would at first wonder if the milk had turned in their coffee!

well, i shouldn't make fun of them -- after all, there's always a first time for experiencing winey in coffee! as the coffee cools, the winey-ness becomes stronger and a delicate lemon curd feeling emerges.

if you're a big yrg fan, as i certainly am, this is just a lovely example. thanks, jessica!

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posted by fortune | 7:55 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

il matterello, or the pasta pin

"some gestures enacted an entire social role, such as the hand held edgewise and palm up, rocking back and forth at shoulder height, pretending to threaten a blow. to understand this one, you had to remember that the classic italian grandmother had two prime insignia, the matterello, or rolling pin, and the spianatoia, or pasta board. the hand held edgewise stood for the matterello."

these charming observations aside -- altho' i too love the gambrinus, as long-time readers know -- and i must say that from my travels in naples, nonna is much more likely to spoil you with treats and gelati than to brutalize you! -- i exhaustedly report that as of this evening i will complete the entire pasta pin process.

however, i have to say it was worth it: try as i might, i could not find a single place -- even mrs. bridge -- who sold a pre-made pin that fits marcella's requirements. 32 inches is apparently much longer than any commercial pin readily available, which is why i suppose marcella tosses off her instructions for making one in the first place.

in this frightfully humid, full-august weather, it will be interesting to find low-cook, even no-cook, sauces suitable for hand-rolled pasta. . .then i suppose i can move onto the chitarra. . .which, thank my lucky fava beans, i can easily purchase.

with the raviolatrice.

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posted by fortune | 8:09 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 2 comments | leave a voicemail

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

pluma & ciabatta

My BCCY Podcast long-time readers know i'm always trying to encourage people to bake bread at home. it's so easy even for first-timers!

a very popular bread is ciabatta, but many people believe it's difficult. this is 1 - because of the baker's percentage and 2 - because it's a wet, that is, "high-hydration" loaf.

pish-tosh. it's the easiest bread in the world, esp. in the summer when the weather cooperates. the first thing you have to do is conquer the percentage.

if you have a calculator (or even google -- you know google does math, don't you?), just decide how much bread you want to make. which often means "how much flour is in that stupid jar, anyway?" everything flows from that.

all you have to know is that ciabatta is about 75% hydration, with a 33% or so biga. it's a lean dough, no oil or fat.

let's say you have a couple of pounds of all-purpose flour around the house. just dump it in a big bowl and weigh it on your little kitchen scale.

ok, no problem! 32 oz for ciabatta!

since you need some to sprinkle about, dust on your hands, put on the bread pan, etc. you probably shouldn't use more than 27-28 oz. for the actual bread. there we are; we're now done, and our recipe has fixed itself in stone.

27 oz. flour total will go into our dough, and everything else is based on that amount. since ciabatta is 74-75% water (compared to the flour), we know right away that we'll be using 20 oz. water (by weight) total.

the combined final weight of my dough will thus be 47 oz., plus some salt and yeast. the salt and yeast weigh so little for this amount of bread, i won't worry about 'em.

ciabatta is much better if you make a biga the night before, and i suggest you do it. biga for ciabatta usually contains about a third of the total flour, which in this case means about 9 oz.

i like to make my bigas really wet, because then they're easy to stir. no effort. big lazy me!

so i made a biga of 9 oz. flour and 8 oz. water in a large bowl. i dropped in 1/2 teaspoon s.a.f. yeast, and mixed all this up with a few sly strokes of a wooden spoon just until everything's somewhat smooth, which took about 25 counts with the spoon.

then i covered the bowl with some plastic wrap, stuck it in my oven and forgot about it. the next morning i woke up, made cappucini with batdorf's dancing goat, and peeked at the biga.

yup, it had grown to a big yeast monster. all good. i stuck it in the fridge until i felt like starting the rest of the dough.

about 45 mins. before i decided to start, i took the biga out to warm up. i already know the rest of my recipe, right?

of a total 20 oz. water, i've already used 8 in the biga. this means i have 12 oz. to use in the dough; since i like to dissolve my salt in this water, i'll stir in 2 teaspoons salt into it. (salt should weigh about 2% of the total flour weight).

and of my total 27 oz. flour, i've used 9 in the biga, leaving me 18 for the dough.

see how easy it is? my recipe is 47 oz. total, and my biga is 17 oz. total (9 oz. flour + 8 oz. water), which is just a bit over a third (36%), so my proportion remains all good.

so i plop my biga in its big bowl on my little kitchen scale and pour in my 12 oz. water (which contains the dissolved salt).

then i idly stir the biga and the water together with said wooden spoon for less than a minute. the biga will melt into the water, leaving you with something that looks like watery pancake batter.

then dump in the remaining flour and some more yeast (i like to use 1-1/2 teaspoons here). in truth yeast for ciabatta should weigh about 1% of the total flour weight, but as i knew it was hot, steamy weather, and the yeast would go bonkers, i cut back a bit.

again, i stir this indolently with my wooden spoon until i have what looks like thick soupy biscuit batter, as if for drop biscuits. if i spend 2 mins. doing this, it's too much.

then i go away and forget about it for an hour and 45 mins. at least once during that time -- say at minute 60 -- i pour this soup out onto the plastic wrap that covers the bowl. then i dampen my hands, pick up an edge of the dough, gently stretch it out a bit, and fold it into the center, like a letter.

then i take the opposite edge and do the same thing. i repeat this letter-folding for the 2 other edges, trying to keep the dough as plump as possible. no squishing flat, please.

and then plop the goop back into the bowl. if i feel ambitious, i can do this a couple of more times during the remaining 45 mins.

when that last bit of time passes, i pre-heat my oven to 500 f. i take my favorite big cookie sheet or baking pan and sprinkle it liberally with flour.

i pour my dough out on this in a big, wide ribbon. ok, maybe more like "huge tongue."

remember, ciabatta means old shoe or old slipper: it's a mis-shapen, uneven, rough-n-battered looking thing. so resist any cooking-show impulse to tidy it up.

dampen your hands again and gently pat it into a vaguely oval shape. sprinkle the top liberally with more flour.

let your ciabatta rest for 30-45 mins., until it nearly doubles in height. then oh so gingerly roll the ciabatta over, upside down. really. gently coax it over if you can.

however, you might not be able to do so; it might stick to the pan too much. pity.

but since we don't want to deflate the ciabatta at all, don't sweat it too much if you feel like you can't flop it without harming it. the bread will still look and taste great.

then just carefully slide the baking pan with its risen, quivering mass into the hot oven.

close the door carefully. no slamming.

after 15 mins., reduce the heat to 450, and rotate the pan in the oven. bake for another 10-15 mins.

the ciabatta is done if it sounds hollow on the bottom when rapped, or when an instant-read thermometer stuck into the bottom says 200 f.

i used to always conclude recipes with a warning to let the bread cool completely before slicing it. but no one ever listens.

your friends and family will tear into this hot loaf like locusts discovering a field. you can feel better about this if you cut the entire loaf open horizontally, liberally douse one side with your best olive oil, a lot of freshly ground black pepper, many slices of fresh garden tomatoes, and some salt.

sprinkle with more oil, press the remaining side back on top very firmly, and slice it into large snacky pieces.

this is called pan i ogghiu. enjoy.

that's what i did, along with a cup of the counterculture pluma.

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posted by fortune | 12:21 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 5 comments | leave a voicemail

Monday, July 03, 2006

pluma time

must check out peter g's counterculture pluma today if at all possible! but i began this morning making doug zell's intelligentsia hacienda la esmeralda jaramillo panama geisha in the cafetiére (that's a french press to you).

it's fantastic, obviously, but loses some of its delicate sweet, bright lemony thing. personally, i believe the vac pot is the best method for discovering all the nuances in this marvelous coffee.

i would normally attend pilates today, but my local yoga studio has cancelled that class in the most ridiculous fashion. devoted readers know my issues with centers that don't offer adequate classes on holidays -- look, most of us really want to do yoga on a regular basis!

holidays, esp. those with a lot of family and in-law interaction, are when we need yoga the most! holidays can be very stressful.

i'm hoping to make crab cakes for the national holiday tomorrow, and maybe also some ciabatta. . .time! i need more time in a day!

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posted by fortune | 8:20 AM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 0 comments | leave a voicemail

Sunday, July 02, 2006

spontaneous combustion remains possible

note: rags soaked with salad bowl finish may spontaneously catch fire if improperly discarded. immediately after each use place rags in a sealed water-filled metal container.

well, dear readers, a bon maman jam jar was all i had to hand. but reading this warning made me wonder what it is about my character that all my favorite pursuits involve playing with fire?

bread, coffee, pizza, baking. . .and even making my own marcella-specified pasta pin.

marcella makes it seems so easy; in just 2 sentences she suggests you run down to your local hardware store, buy a hardwood pole, have them cut it, sand it, and then you finish it at home with salad bowl oil. oh, stick a quick eyehook into it so it hangs neatly and attractively with your batterie de cuisine.

sounds simple, hmm? it's not until you've got the salad bowl oil that you realize you're into a 72-hour event with 3 kinds of sandpaper, serious hand-drilling (the oak actually smokes!) and the real possibility of uncontrollable fire.

on the other hand, by wednesday i'll have made a kick-butt pasta pin all by myself (actually, with help from mr. right, who fortunately took shop before he went to art school). so tomorrow i give the thing a second coat, meaning i will have 2 jam jars of extremely dangerous -- but somehow food-safe! -- waste.

now i understand why more people don't do this at home. . .

posted by fortune | 2:43 PM | top | link to this | links to this post | email this:   | 2 comments | leave a voicemail

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