19 January 2012

Pizza Times Are Now

There are some giant changes ahead for Michelle Meals. As such, I have created a Facebook fan page ( ← there's a link over there to the left) to keep you guys in the loop when those changes happen, so that NO MICHELLE MEALS FAN SHALL BE LEFT BEHIND.

In the meantime however, I've deactivated my personal Facebook account to devote the next while to wrapping my head around computer programming, rather than clicking through photos of strangers on vacation in my spare time. In these busy times, I turn to pizza. (Some things do not change.) A few recent pizzas I have made friends with:

Fantastic fabulous Panagopolis pizza, when I am feeling indulgent and rich -- a Friday night pizza. Recent favourites: Butter Chicken and Veggie Korma pizzas. (That's the latter pictured.) Both amazing.

Uncle Fatih's.
Not-so-fresh-but-everyone-else-seems-to-love-it Uncle Fatih's pizza. For when I am ON THE GO.

Pizza Alternatives
A pizza alternative: Toast, with tomato sauce, two kinds of cheese and basil. For when I am feeling poor yet just happen to have all these ingredients in the fridge. Pizza sauce made by Jay, using tomato paste and a secret blend of spices.

Frozen pizza.
So many frozen pizzas because they were on sale at No Frills, and then I just ate them all at once -- these are a mid-week pizza, and sometimes I'll buy one with pepperoni which sadly means Jay can't have any and I have to eat it all; pizza all night and then more for breakfast. Sigh.

11 January 2012


Hello, best bread I have ever made. Just look at your charming crumb! I like you, especially slathered in spinach dip.

Way way back in March last year I went through a brief bread-baking phase, at which time I discovered this YouTube video. Watch it, and I guarantee you will want to bake bread too:

I bought the Tartine Bread book and then was frightened by the chapter-long Basic Country Bread recipe (28 pages!), and that was that.

Ten months later, I finally succeeded in wrapping my brain around this recipe, and my dutch oven gave birth to a beautiful round crusty loaf.

I used the starter that Grace gave me back in the day. Happily, you can ignore the starter at the back of your fridge for months at a time, and it will still refresh if you feed it a few times, and especially if you actually follow the directions that the book tells you (which is: discard all but a tablespoon of starter, and add 200 g warm water and 200 g flour. [You absolutely need a metric scale for this.]).

How do you know if your starter is ready? Drop a spoonful into a bowl of water. If it floats, it's good to go.

Here's one more picture of my bread. He looks like he's wearing a crown. He MAY AS WELL BE, that's how good he is.

I also made some Quick and Buttery Dinner Rolls this week, because of Twitter. I followed a tweet about easy bread recipes and the result was buns for dinner. Amazing how Twitter can change your fate like that. Internet!

I don't necessarily recommend this recipe. I'm not a bread expert, actually I know very little about bread, but I'm going to guess that adding baking powder to bread dough is not the coolest thing to do. But the recipe promised to take ONLY 30 MINUTES so I went with it. (P.S. It lied. Factoring in rising time and extra oven time, it took closer to an hour.) Anyway I wasn't a huge fan of these, but I suppose they were redeemed by the step in the recipe where you pour an entire stick of melted butter on them. Also I have lived off of them for the last two days. That is the problem with baking bread; you end up eating a lot of bread.

04 January 2012

The 2012 Menu

I've set a bunch of food goals for myself this year. One is to make macarons! One is to put a dent in the manuscript for my family cookbook (which is proving to take a million years longer than originally planned). And one is to develop a menu for my home, a collection of dishes that are easy to make, that use fairly simple ingredients, and taste really really delicious.

I often find myself throwing together random leftover ingredients (mmm tofu and beans and . . . canned tomatoes and whatever else!) just in order to fuel my way through another weekday night; the results are often edible and just FINE, but. Why not put in a little more effort, memorize a few really good recipes and keep their ingredients on hand to increase overall deliciousness in my life?

I spent a good chunk of last month caramelizing onions for multiple French Onion Soups and Alsatian Onion Tarts; I believe both of these will be making it onto the menu. Another will be this vegetarian curry, and this dish also just made the cut:

Macaroni & Cheese.

Based on a recipe from my cooking class, this starts with:

• butter (about 1 1/2 Tbsp)
• 2 Tbsp chopped onion
• 1/2 rib celery, chopped
• 1/4 cup chopped red pepper
• 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

Sweat the above ingredients. If you don't have them all, you can substitute other veggies. (This time, I used onion, zucchini and jalapeño pepper.) Oh and start boiling some macaroni. (1 cup? 1 1/2 cups? Somewhere around there.)

Add the seasoning!
• salt
• pepper
• smoked paprika
• cayenne pepper

And then: make the roux.
• 2 Tbsp flour

Make sure the flour is completely mixed in and that the flour flavours get cooked out of it before proceeding with the liquid. Which is:

• 1/4 cup of some kind of alcohol
• 1 1/4 cups milk

Note: the alcohol can be any kind of beer, red or white wine, or vermouth. I used vermouth, since I just keep a bottle of it in the fridge for cooking. (If you have vermouth it keeps better in the fridge; the alcohol content isn't high enough to let it sit around on the counter for months and months)

Note #2: I like to add just a bit of the alcohol at first and mix well as I add more and more, to watch the roux gradually develop. It's because I recently read an essay about sauce in Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking and it got me really excited about the sauce process. Sauce! Also, let the alcohol cook off a bit before tempering in the milk.

(P.S. Another new year's food resolution: to start paying double the price for creamy organic Avalon Dairy milk, and never look back.)

Also add this:
• pinch of thyme

So, let it simmer a bit, and then temper in the CHEEEEEEEESSSSEEEEE! Cheese.
• 3/4 cups shredded cheese

This can be a mix of any number of flavourful cheeses, depending on how rich you are at the moment. I just used 2 different brands of extra old cheddar this time.

So, once you're happy with the consistency of the sauce and its seasoning (you likely needed to add more salt at some point), pour the macaroni, which by now has been cooked and drained, into a casserole dish, pour in the cheese sauce, mix it around, and sprinkle overtop with panko crumbs and more shredded cheese.

You can now turn on the light in the oven and watch with glee as the panko crust broils to a golden brown.

Food time! Pair with a glass of the beer or wine you used to make it. You should probably eat a salad along with it too. But you probably won't. Wine is made of fruit. And remember those veggies you put in at the beginning. Everything is FINE.

01 January 2012

See You Next Year, Delicious Christmas Cookies

Well, it's a New Year, but we're not leaving this holiday behind before we meditate on the Pracinky, a faintly chocolatey, faintly clovey Czech Christmas cookie that looks like a rolling brown mountaintop dusted with snow.

They are a Furbacher classic, and after a series of family emails and recipes tossed back and forth in December (and because my mom gave me her molds), I decided to give them a go this year.

My dad translated his aunt's recipe for this -- ingredients including flour, butter, icing sugar, ground nuts, cocoa, cinnamon and ground cloves.

I thought it was weird to use only icing sugar in the recipe instead of granulated sugar... Some notes from my dad on that subject:

Icing sugar by virtue of its name is over there [in North America] thought about mainly for icings or sprinkling on top of things -- however here [here being the Czech Republic], it is the sugar used for the baking of all fine cookies and pastry. All mothers and grandmothers used it and all recipes call for it. Some bakers even sift it to get the finest powder sugar. I think it blends with flour better. Since there is no liquid, the dough for these cookies is quite tough and it would probably take major effort in kneading to dissolve the rough-textured sugar.

Finally I got a classic family recipe right -- well, almost right. While the cookies tasted great, the raw dough was quite crumbly and hard to work with. It may be a simple matter of using pastry flour instead of all-purpose, or adding a Tbsp more butter to the mix. Once I've perfected it, I'll post it in time for Christmas next year.

Ok, one more special treat: Candy Cane Bark! Bark featuring white chocolate seems to be an easy favourite among my test subjects. My plan this year is to make white chocolate bark for every holiday and special occasion. (Remember this?)

Here is the recipe I used. It consists of: 12 oz white chocolate, 12 oz dark chocolate and 48 mini candy canes. I was concerned about hurting my food processor with the candy canes, so I tried breaking them up with a rolling pin in a plastic bag.

But that soon proved to be taking forever. Plus bits of plastic were starting to break off and candy cane dust was getting everywhere. So I poured it all in the food processor and pulsed it to pieces. No food processors were harmed in the making of this candy cane dust.

So once you have your candy cane dust ready, you melt the dark chocolate in a metal bowl on top of a simmering pot of water.

Pour it onto a wax paper-lined baking sheet and spread it out. Let it solidify in the fridge. Then melt the white chocolate like you did the dark, and mix in 3/4 of the candy cane dust.

Spread the white chocolate mixture over the dark chocolate, and then sprinkle the rest of the candy canes on top. Back in the fridge with the whole lot, and once hardened, break it into small pieces of deliciousness.
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