Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I've been staying up past my bedtime baking bread.

I know, I know -- it's pretty edgy. (That was what you were thinking, right??) But seriously, folks, I've been thinking about learning a new skill or two, and now with all this free time on my hands, I can finally get started! While I'm pretty adept in the kitchen and can pull together a decent meal on most days,  I want to delve deeper and get really good at something. Bread-baking seems like a sensible idea since the product is a kitchen staple and is easily gift-able (friends, get ready!). Plus, after dabbling in it in the past, I would like to have it be closer to second-nature instead of something I have a 50% success rate at.

Despite simplicity of the ingredients, baking bread seems rather like voodoo. Not even going into specific recipes, the number of ways to go about it (knead or no knead? Starter or no?) is totally mind-boggling. And even after settling on a basic recipe, understanding how all the variables interact just seems to take experience and practice.

My first loaf was a Joy of Cooking basic white bread, which didn't use a starter but needed plenty of kneading. But despite my heavy-handedness, I had a tender loaf with a fine crumb. I finished the entire loaf in two days, eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- it was that good!

The only downside to making bread in house is the time it takes. Many of the recipes I've seen requires checking on the dough every few hours, making baking bread a commitment. But almost always, the results are worth it -- there really is nothing like the smell of bread baking in the oven or the satisfaction of smearing butter and honey on a still-warm loaf. I'm so excited about my new journey to becoming a bread baker!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mushroom and kale risotto

Risotto is a labor of love, which I guess makes it fitting for this time of year. It usually involves standing over a stove and stirring the pot's contents for a good half hour. As someone who makes rice by sticking everything in a rice cooker without a second thought, I've always been a bit baffled by the effort involved in making rice the Italian way. But the results are always worth it -- having a creamy, rich, and flavorful pot of rice instantly soothes my tired stirring arm.

I made a butternut squash risotto last winter, but it was so rich that it was hard to eat for multiple meals during the week. This mushroom and kale risotto is the exact opposite. It derives its flavor from the mushroom broth and is lightened by all the vegetables, which offer a nice contrast in texture to the rice. There is also less cheese involved -- just enough to contribute to the dish's creaminess. And for garnish, I used a bit of fresh thyme, which added a hint its fresh, citrous-y flavor to tie the mushrooms' earthiness and the savory Parmesean together.