Thursday, July 20, 2006

Cooking with the Gringo

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tips to better tasting bread

The aroma of homemade fresh-baked bread wafts through the house and pulls everyone away from what they are doing — some stretch to the tips of their toes to reach high enough into the air to suck in all of its delightful delicious vapors.

Stomachs almost ache at the thought of what a warm soft morsel cut from a fresh golden loaf will taste like. Even the sound of the serated bread knife piercing the crust, the hollowness of the bread changing pitch as the blade makes its way down the loaf, and then the hard knock of the knife against the bread board freeing the first piece, all heightens anticipation.

The sharp edges of the crust push into the fingers’ flesh. Steam rolls from the billowy-soft core as the first piece warms the lips and begins to melt on the tongue before it is ever chewed.

There’s nothing that can compare to the experience of bread from the oven if the flavor matches the sensual anticipation of the smell. But if the bread lacks the flavor that all your senses signal, that first taste begins to diminish the excitement. So how can you get full-flavored bread and make the experience all it can be?

No one answer can guarantee perfect bread every time. But in my 30 years of bread making I’ve discovered some things that will help increase your odds.

Optimum flavor develops overnight. Start what is called a sponge the night before. Place one cup of water, one cup of flour, yeast and a tablespoon of sugar or honey in a bowl. Cover it and put it aside until morning. Some like to put this in the refrigerator. I’ve done it both ways and the flavor ends up rich by either method.

Many recipes call for the dough to have two rises — one in a bowl and the other in loaf form or in a pan. Look for the recipes that call for three rises, two in a bowl and one in loaf form. These tend to give more flavor as the yeast multiplies and spreads throughout the dough.

And don’t go by the time the recipe calls for the dough to rise; make sure it doubles in size. That’s the only true measure. Put the dough in a straight-sided container and put a rubber band around the container at the point where the dough must rise to be doubled. Then at a glance you can tell if the rise is complete.

If it doubles in less than an hour, the temperature was too high and the flavor will be weakened. I’ve found I can put it in the oven and turn on the oven lamp on, and that gives me an hour and a half to two hours for each rise.

Lastly, when I started using a thermometer, I started getting perfectly moist bread every time. The thumping method to check for hollowness just isn’t reliable. If the interior temperature of the bread reaches 212 degrees or more, all the moisture boils out of the bread. With a thermometer you can pull the bread from the oven at 205 degrees and retain the moisture you and your family love. I’m going to save kneading for a later column. Kneading is an art in itself.

Doing what little I’ve suggested here will put you one step closer to that ultimate experience, getting the taste to match, the feel and aroma of the hot steaming bread fresh from the oven.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Chipotle adds smoky flavor to shrimp

You first feel the familiarity of the soft warm-undulated body of the cooked shrimp curled on your tongue. But then, the unexpected flavors of tomato, garlic and cloves subtly builds to a crescendo of something new, exciting and different.

Pulling on the shrimp’s tail, your lips envelop it wholly just before the moist morsel breaks free. You breathe in and the smoky roasted ingredients burst, full bodied and tantalizingly teasing their way throughout your mouth. Seconds later, the fresh spicy heat of the chipotle pepper puree hits you making you flush slightly at the experience.

This easy chipotle shrimp creates an overwhelming alternative to the usual shrimp with a tomato-horseradish cocktail sauce — and oh so easy since you roast the ingredients on the stove top in dry pans and then throw all but the shrimp into the blender.You do have to have three burners going and the broiler. But deveining the shrimp takes longer than any other part of this Mexican favorite.

And if you want, make the sauce a day or two in advance and set it aside to cook the shrimp in the next day when guests arrive. Within minutes you have something marvelous. Adjust the heat you desire by adding less or more of the chipotle puree. Use it as an appetizer or as a main course. The first time I made this was for my wife and one of her weekly gathering of Latino friends. Colombian born, she was not a fan of other chipotle dishes I've made, but this one converted her.

Buen provecho!

Chipotle ShrimpPuree
3-4 chipotle peppers out of a can of chipotle in adobo sauce
2 pounds shrimp, shell on
4-6 garlic cloves
1 small onion sliced thick
1 medium tomato
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup water
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt

Preparation: Remove the shrimp shell, leaving the tail and cut along the back of the shrimp and remove the dark vein. Set the shrimp aside in the refrigerator. Puree the chipotle peppers. Chipotle in adobo sauce is available at any Latino grocery. Place the garlic cloves in a small skillet and cook until soft and blackened.

In another skillet cook the onion slices. Cut the tomato in half, core, and place in a pan close to the broiler and cook until the skin blackens in spots. Then remove the skin. Place all the roasted ingredients in a blender, add the water, pepper and clove, and puree.Heat the oil in a large skillet, add the tomato puree. Heat on medium high until sauce thickens, reduce the heat and add a tablespoon of chipotle puree to the mixture until you get the desired heat. Add salt to taste. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the shrimp, stirring until the shrimp turn pink. Serve hot.