Monday, June 6, 2011

The Tandoor Project

Okay, I've gotta say one thing right up front here: I stole this idea, and the execution of it (nearly down to the detail), from Alton Brown. This is not my tandoor project, but rather my attempt to recreate Alton's tandoor project...

Alton Brown is, it's no exaggeration to say, the patron saint of my kitchen. I've learned as much from Good Eats as I've learned from any cookbook, any cooking class, or any nitpicky deconstruction of any meal or any menu I've ever encountered. The man is, simply, a gift to people such as myself who like to cook and want to work out how to do it better, more effectively and more creatively. I can't really compare him to the likes of Julia Child, Auguste Escoffier, Thomas Keller, et al, as he's not a chef per se (pun intended). I do, however, consider him to be in roughly the same league as Harold McGee, Shirley Corriher and Michael Ruhlman. A bit less academic than McGee and Corriher, and a bit less cultivated than Ruhlman, he shakes out as more or less the Bill Nye of food, i.e. very solid technique, with just enough whimsy to keep it interesting. Unfortunately, Alton Brown recently brought Good Eats to its conclusion, after fourteen seasons. I was really hoping his show would go on forever, but like all good things, it had its beginning, its middle, and now its end. Still, two hundred and forty some odd episodes leaves us with an awful lot of material to sift through. Thank you for your efforts, Alton, I am forever indebted.

So, because this Alton's thing and not mine, I'm not going to get into the details of what I did. If you're curious about that, you'll have to refer to his Curry episode, which can be found on YouTube, first half here, second half here. I will give you a pictorial run-through of the project, though:

First, I grabbed myself a large unglazed terra cotta flower pot. This one's 17.5" across at the top...

And then turned it over and drew a line 1 inch down from the bottom.

I took the bottom off with a hacksaw (you'll want a masonry blade for that hacksaw, btw, which doesn't look like a blade at all, but rather like a thick metal string embedded with bits of carbide; yes, you could use an angle grinder like Brown did on the show, but Brown is Cornelius Van Moneybags and I'm not, so I used a hacksaw)...

Hang onto that bottom section, btw. You can put it in the bottom of your oven to even out the temperature, or even use it as a baking stone...

I then soaked the pot in water for about 18 hours, let it dry for two, and set it on the bottom grate of my Weber grill. The standard 22 inch Weber kettle is perfect for this, btw. The Bottom grate is almost exactly the same diameter as the pot I used...

Next, I fired up some charcoal in a couple of chimney starters. I like lump charcoal for its lack of binders and other weird chemicals. It's a good idea for this project, btw, to have two of these, as you'll need a lot of charcoal to achieve the insane temperatures that characterize a tandoor (don't worry, the Weber can handle it).

I dumped a total of five chimneys' worth of charcoal into the pot, two at a time. This is about four or five pounds of charcoal. It got pretty hot, but I probably could've used a couple extra chimneys' worth...

Next, I made my friends wait around for dinner...

Then I made them wait around some more (Risa, by this time, had decided she wasn't hungry, and headed upstairs; everyone else stayed put)...

Despite the 18 hours of soaking, the pot cracked nonetheless. This is probably not such a bad thing, actually. In the future, the crack will allow it to expand as necessary (the crack closed up, btw, once this was all over and the pot cooled down). Sure, some heat will be lost through the crack, but a little extra charcoal will make up for that. As long as the thing stays in one piece, it should work just fine.

Here we see the first round of skewers, half of them lamb, the other half chicken (thigh meat), cooking away. These don't take long to cook, btw. Five minutes, tops, before they begin to char. The cooking time will become longer as the coals begin to die out (lump charcoal burns much faster than briquettes, so for extended lump grilling projects, you'll need to add more as time goes on)...

And here's an admittedly unflattering shot of the final product, over rice, with a very simple (and very tasty) tikka masala sauce...

While the cooking technique itself is interesting, even more interesting, by far, was the tikka masala sauce. I've thrown together a lot of curries over the past few years, including Saag Aloo Murghi and an Indo-Fijian curry famous among night shift workers at OHSU, as well as numerous improvisations, both successful and not so successful, and this one is up there with the best of them. Refer to the second YouTube clip for the tikka sauce. Definitely worth it for that alone.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Whole Wheat, Oat Bran, Rye and Barley "Broom" Bread

This bread will be traveling with me to work this week, where it will be sliced, toasted and topped with watercress/walnut/tomato pesto, nova lox and sliced avocado.

I adapted this recipe from Peter Reinhart's Oat Bran Broom Bread, from his book, Whole Grain Breads. This is a great book, one I highly recommend to anybody interested in baking with whole grains. The focus of most of the recipes is on developing flavor through a multiple-day fermenting process. I made the addition of whole grain rye and barley flours, substituted sunflower seeds for flax seeds (the Omega 3 benefit of flax seeds, by the way, is highly overstated. You'll get much more bio-available Omega 3 fatty acids from fatty fish or fish oil capsules; if you want to really nerd out on why this is, check out Susan Allport's The Queen of Fats) and multiplied the recipe by 1.5 to fit my loaf pan. I like to go by weight on everything, specifically by gram for maximum accuracy and control. If you don't have a good electronic scale that measures in grams, well... Pick one up.

275g Whole wheat flour
42g Oat bran, finely ground (I pulverize mine in a coffee grinder)
40g Sunflower seeds
1 tsp Salt
300g Water

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl with a wooden spoon or your fingers, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for 18-24 hrs.

200g Whole wheat flour
70g Rye flour
70g Barley flour
1/2 tsp Instant/rapid rise yeast
250g Water

Knead all of the ingredients together in a bowl with wet hands until incorporated, about 2 or 3 minutes. Let rest for five minutes, then knead again for 1 or 2 minutes. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 18-24 hours.

Remove the pre-ferment from refrigerator 2 hours prior to assembling final dough.

Final Dough:
Soaker, chopped into small pieces
Pre-Ferment, chopped into small pieces
85g Whole wheat flour
1 tsp Salt
3 1/2 tsp Instant/rapid rise yeast
4 Tbsp Honey
1 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
Extra whole wheat flour for adjustment

Combine chopped soaker, pre-ferment and the rest of the ingredients (except for extra flour) in a bowl and knead together with wet hands until incorporated, 2 or 3 minutes. Dust a work surface with flour, toss out the dough and roll to coat with flour. Knead for 5 minutes, then allow to rest for 5 minutes while you oil a clean bowl. Knead the dough for another minute or two, incorporating extra flour until dough is soft and smooth, but still a bit tacky. Place in oiled bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise for an hour, to about one and a half to two times its size.

Punch down the dough (this involves not actual punching, but rather folding folding the dough in thirds to reduce it to more or less the original volume), shape the dough to roughly the shape and size of a 5.5" X 10.5" X 3" loaf pan, transfer into pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise for another 30-60 minutes, until dough has risen about an inch above the top of the pan, about one and a half times its size.

While dough is going through its second rise, preheat your oven to 425F. Place a medium sized oven proof bowl filled with hot water on the oven's top rack. Once the dough has risen, reduce the oven temperature to 360F and place the loaf pan into the oven, on a middle or lower rack or directly onto a baking stone. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn 180 degrees and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until an instant read thermometer inserted into the bread reads 195-200F.

Remove bread from oven, cool for at least an hour (I like to use fan, as you can see in the photo, to speed the cooling process up a bit), then eat it!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Virginia's latest political limerick

Osama Bin Laden is dead,
by firing squad executed.
The US, with pride,
proves he’ll no longer hide,
from the evils he damnably bred!

Nice work, Aunt Jinj!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I just smiled, and made me a Vegemite sandwich...

This is my take on an Australian kid-food tradition, the "Cheesymite." It's roughly analogous to the classic American grilled cheese sandwich, only the Antipodeans like to spread some Vegemite on the bread before slapping on the cheese. Now around these parts, we're famously afraid of Vegemite, and while you might not want to eat the stuff straight out of the jar with a spoon, it's not as scary as you might think. I was feeling a bit brave the other day at Freddy's and picked up a jar, and oh man, am I glad I did! Here's what I did with it...

First, I toasted a slice of some multigrain bread I baked a couple days ago. I rubbed the toasted bread with some garlic, and applied a very thin layer of the Vegemite (trust me, a little of this stuff goes a long way). To that I added a layer of Applegate Farms Black Forest ham, sprinkled on some shredded Beecher's Flagship cheese from Seattle, and set it under the broiler for a few minutes to melt the cheese. Then I sprinkled on some chiffonaded watercress, and had myself one hell of a sammy! The Vegemite made itself known, but did not overpower the rest of the players. Its malty flavor paired nicely with the rye and barley in the bread, and added a salty foil to the cheese. You wouldn't necessarily detect it if you didn't know it was there, but it would definitely be noticeable in its absence if you did... Overall, a very successful addition to an otherwise merely fancy grilled cheese sandwich...