Archive for November, 2011

OMG – so exciting.  Ok, so almost two years ago, I retrieved Mark Bittman’s story in The New York Times about Jim Leahy’s no-knead bread recipe.  Jim Leahy is owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City and he makes a mean loaf of bread.  And yesterday, I finally made it (or rather, I started it on Friday; this bread needs no kneading, but it does need plenty of time; more to come on that) and it was AMAZING!  Hands-down, it was the best bread I’ve ever made: a super-crisp, hearty crust and the inside … so tender, so flavorful of pure yeast and flour, so chewy, so DELICIOUS!   My first slice was slathered in some good, unsalted European-style butter and savored over the kitchen counter … sighs of happiness. 

 Oooh, look at it – a few airy pockets inside, perfect for catching melting butter or warm jam. 

So, as I mentioned, the key to this bread is time.  From start to finished loaf, you need about 20-22 hours.  Uh huh.  But it’s worth it.  So if you work five days a week like I do, you can start this, at, say, 1 p.m. on Saturday and bake it on Sunday morning.

Want to make it?  Yes, you do.  Let’s roll!


One cast-iron pot with a lid (such as Le Creuset or similar)

2 clean cotton dish towels, but not terry cloth

3 C. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1/4 tsp instant yeast (which is one packet)

1 1/4 salt

1 cup, 5 ounces of water (lukewarm)


1. In a big bowl, mix the flour, salt and yeast. Whisk it about to combine. Add the water and stir until everything is blended.  It’s going to look wet, sticky and kind of shaggy. Perfect.

Now cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and stow it for at least 12 hours; ideally 18 hours.  I started this at 2 p.m. on a Friday, and let ‘er rise til 8 a.m. Saturday morning.  And I stowed it in the oven (not on).

2) Ok, 12 to 18 hours later, remove the plastic wrap.  The dough is ready when you see it dotted with tiny bubbles like this:

Put some flour on your work surface, and your hands (the dough is sticky), and plop the dough onto your floured work surface, folding it over on itself two or three times.  Cover the dough with plastic again and let it take a little nap for 15 minutes to relax. 

3) Okay, now flour your hands again and gently get that dough into a ball or circle shape and gently plop it onto a very generously floured cotton kitchen towel (not terry cloth!).  Dust with some more flour and put another towel on top of it.  Walk away, have some coffee, read the paper, whatever, for two more hours.   Dough will have magically doubled in size and won’t readily spring back if you poke it with your finger. 

4) At least 30 minutes before the dough is ready, fire up your oven to “screaming hot” — 450 degrees — and put your cast-iron pot into the oven with the lid on to pre-heat.   Ok, ready?  Get that freaking hot pot out of the oven, set it on a wooden board so you don’t set your counter on fire and take off the lid.  Now it’s time to wake up your dough from its cozy floured-towel bed.  Remove the top towel and slide your hand under the bottom towel and turn that dough, gently into the pot.  It might look a mess – mine did – and that’s okay; it’ll straighten itself out in the oven.  Put the hat on your pot and shove it into the oven for 30 minutes.  Then take its hat off and bake uncovered for 15 more minutes.  Get your  butter and jam ready!

5) Remove pot from oven, gasp in delight and excitement at your golden brown loaf and remove it from the pot, to a cooling rack (with oven mitts).  Resist the urge to cut into it immediately – let it cool for 15 minutes, minimum.  Inhale the scent of fresh-baked bread.  Take a picture of it for Facebook.  Then slice into one end, slather it with butter, maybe a few grains of Maldon sea salt and enjoy!

Note on Storing: Alas, the crust will not stay forever crispy.  But it will collapse on you entirely if you put the bread in a sealed zip-bag, so don’t do that.  I left mine, cut-side-down, on a board overnight and ate some this morning (I just warmed it up, resting it on top of the toaster slots for a few minutes) and it was delish.  I’ll probably cut my beauty in half and freeze half of it, and try to eat the other half within a few days.  Remember, home-baked bread has no preservatives (hurray!), which means mold can grow kind of quickly (boo), so break bread with your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and then plan your next bread-venture!  And give thanks to Mr. Jim Leahy for this amazing recipe. Good luck and let me know how yours comes out.

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Hi, food friends! As we Americans head into our own family food festivals this Thanksgiving – maybe with a holiday film or two — I am sharing a few amazing food and film experiences from the 2nd annual Chicago Food Film Festival that took place this past weekend, at Kendall College, Chicago’s preeminent culinary arts school.  The Festival has been going on in New York since 2008, and this was its second year in Chicago.  Here’s what goes down:  they show films about food and you eat the actual food featured in the films while you’re watching them!  Yes!  It is so cool!  Right off the bat, I have to share this picture of a turtle burger – featured in the film, “How to Make a Turtle Burger,” by Jason Lam.Come on! How hilarious is this?  It’s a hamburger, with hotdog pieces stuck into it and snipped to look like turtle feet, a tail and head, and then it’s wrapped in bacon and baked.  It’s crazy!  (And crazy delicious.)

The Festival kicked off on Friday night with a “Farm to Film to Table” theme, featuring films about, well, just that — farmers and chefs and cooks who make food straight from the farm.


We tasted fresh churned buttermilk from Cruze Family Dairy Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee during “Buttermilk: It Can Help” and Colleen Cruze, the proverbial farmer’s daughter, drove that buttermilk straight up to Chicago from the farm, and it was – well, for me, an acquired taste, I think – but her buttermilk ice cream was deeeelish!  There was also sorghum molasses from a small Texas farm, and a ton of delicious, savory British-inspired baked delights from Chef Art Jackson’s Pleasant House Bakery in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, like pasties (pronounced paaa-stees) filled with curried chicken and Scotch eggs (hard-cooked eggs wrapped in ground sausage and then deep-fried – shut up).  He grows much of his own ingredients in his own garden.  And the night ended with an after party at which Chicago meat master Rob Leavitt from The Butcher & Larder roasted a 240-pound pig.

On Saturday, the Festival shifted to Intelligentsia Roasting Works for coffee and Doughnut Vault doughnuts.  People stand in line, in the rain, the wind, the heat, the freezing cold, whatever, for these things, and it killed me that I had to miss this event, but I had to pick up my fiddle and jam with my Bob Dylan peeps at Old Town School, so my thighs might thank me, but one day I will try a Doughnut Vault doughnut, so help me God.

And that brings us to Saturday night, which was mad fun.  The food films were fantastic.  One of my faves was “Zergut,” which took two years to make and featured extremely cool film-making techniques to tell a dramatic story of conflict between fresh and not-so-fresh foods in your fridge.  The finale was Festival founder and executive director George Motz’s film trailer, “The Mud & the Blood,” about oystering in Bull’s Bay, South Carolina.  As I was performing my role as official greeter and “traffic cop” downstairs before the festivities, I made friends with the guys who were tending four roaring fires for the Great Chicago Shuck ‘n Suck – which I didn’t really understand until I saw George’s film trailer.  These guys had driven 26 bushels of fresh Bull’s Bay oysters up to Chicago from South Carolina and were fixin’ to roast ’em and shovel ’em onto big plywood tables with a hole cut in the center to chuck your shucked shells after you’d sucked ’em clean.   It was more fun than a barrel of, well, oysters!

 I mean: I don’t like oysters!  No, they’re squishy and wet and slithery and slimy – ick!  But put me at one of these tables, with a chef from Kendall who shows you how to shuck ’em and suck ’em – and put a couple beers in me – and add some killer country pickin’ on the guitar and the fiddle – and I’m IN!  It was so much fun!  Everyone’s standing around these tables, with these kinda muddy oysters, and big shuck knives, slurping oysters and sipping beer and these guys are coming in with more shovels full of oysters off the fire – strangers made friends and friends got strange and it was a complete riot of fun.  Well-done, George, South Carolina boys and eveyone at the Food Film Festival!

So everyone stayed up pretty late, drinking some pretty good beer from Chicago’s Two Brothers Brewing and Chicago’s newest microbrewery, Argyle, so Sunday called for, yes, turtle burgers.  And some chocolate milk from Cruze Dairy Farm.  The perfect hangover cure if you ask me. 

The Festival benefitted and was hosted by The Good Food Project, my friend Susan Taylor’s brainchild, which brings fresh food tastings to kids in public schools (brilliant).  Kids from Chicago’s Sullivan High School passed apple “slinkies” to guests!

Festival Director George Motz with Susan Taylor and a teacher and kids from Chicago's Sullivan School

Big shout-outs and hugs to Festival producer Seth Unger, event organizer Amy Kantrowitz and intern Olivia Accardo (my roommate for four days!) and chef Fletcher Chenn and so many others!   Stay tuned for next year!  And here’s to your own Thanksgiving food festival – I hope it is as delicious and fun as the Food Film Festival!

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Hi, Food Friends.  I was recently invited to be a guest at ZED451, a Chicago restaurant I’d never been to, and while I don’t normally do restaurant reviews (unless something utterly blows my mind), I accepted the invitation because I was really interested in the concept of it – and sometimes restaurants can be great cooking inspiration.  ZED (we’re on a first-name basis now) is smack in the lively River North neighborhood of Chicago (the corner of Clark & Superior, to be exact).  The design is contemporary, yet somehow very warm and cozy at the same time – despite its hugeness (full capacity is 800 people – so if you’re having a big — really big — party, it’s perfect!  Plus they have lovely private dining rooms for up to 40 people). 

Here’s the concept: for $48 per person, you get to sample the twenty-something dishes from a serve-yourself area chock full of salads, cheeses and charcuterie. It’s amazing.  Seriously.

And after you’ve tried everything you want to, you set a little stone on the table, which is the signal to “bring on the meat!”  I’ve (unbelievably) never been to a Brazilian-style steak house, but I think ZED took a cue.  Chefs come out with big skewers of grilled beef, pork belly (to die for; very lean and flavorful), venison and plates of fish and Portuguese Linguica sausage (with an amzing Dijon-horseradish dipping sauce).  You just let them know how much you want of each offering, and if you’re me, you return to the Harvest Table for a few more house-made bread-and-butter pickles (shut up – I could’ve eaten the entire platter of these) and some grilled veg to accompany your meat adventure. 

My two favorites from the meat-stravanganza: the Wagyu rump roast (never tasted anything that good – pure beef deliciousness and perfectly cooked) and the pork belly (which can often be greasy and fatty; this was, again, perfectly cooked and very lean).

 You know what else is cool?  ZED hires culinary students and other aspiring chefs, and they cook the meat like they own it.  They’re all really excited about serving you what they cooked, and I like that.  A lot.

Now, aside from the Harvest Table (where the bajillion salad, cheese and charcuterie options are) and the meat service, you can also order side items and small plates in the Liquid Lounge.  My friend Emily and I particularly enjoyed the Rosemary Cooler cocktail, which was El Tesoro tequila and I’m sorry I can’t remember what else, garnished with the most fragrant rosemary sprig.  Completely delightul.

And, yes we also had dessert (we were in it to win it, people!).  So here comes the S’mores plate.  Behold the before and after shots:

Yes, it was huge.  And it came with peanut-butter and jelly ice cream!  And yes, they gifted us with a sample of their salted caramel ice cream (amazing), on top of it all.  It was all delish. 

So we were full.  But very excited about what we’d eaten!   Below are my top five inspirations:

1) Cumin sour cream.  This was served on top of a shotglass of red pepper-jalapeno soup, and I wonder why I’ve never spiced up sour cream before?  With chili?  With Mexican food?  With spuds?  I’m doin’ it.

2) Candied fruit with cheese.  ZED has idelicious candied apricots with mustard seeds – divine — especially with some of their locally sourced cheeses.  I always do honey with cheese, even marmalade, but why not whole apricots or figs, stewed a little bit, with some sugar and water? I’m doin’ it.

3) Roasted cauliflower with grapes. One of my favorite salads. First, roasted cauliflower is delicious.  But ZED adds some roasted (and I think salted) grapes to the whole shebang, and the flavor and texture are a delight.  I’m doin’ it.

4) Bread and butter pickles. Yes, they’re an old-fashioned relish-tray staple, but pickles are having their moment in restaurants these days.  The executive sous chef Paul Morrison makes these in-house, and if he can make ’em, so can I.  Plus which, he freely shares recipes with anyone who wants ’em.  God, they’re good. I’m doin’ it.

5) Peanut butter and jelly ice cream.  How fun is this?  The pastry chef, Liz Finley, makes amazing ice creams, and this was a peanut butter ice cream, with jelly swirled in.  How good would this be served on some grilled white-bread for dessert?  Like a new-wave PB&J sandwich!  I’m doin’ it.

So – thank you very much, ZED 451, for a fun and delicious and inspirational evening.  If you find yourself in Chicago, you are sure to have a great meal at ZED.

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