Author Archives: amybisson

About amybisson

I taught second, third and fourth graders. Teaching was my passion and joy for 30 years. And it didn't hurt that they called me "mom" sometimes.

27 May 2018: French Baguettes

2018-May-27_FourNightsAWeek_Baguette_2393I’ve been a baguette fan for a long time, and even though I’ve discovered there are just too many variables/barriers preventing me from baking a truly French baguette, I keep trying. Baking a French traditional baguette is my quixotic challenge in baking.

French bread flour is definitely different – it is a harder type of wheat I think – and our ovens here in the US don’t always reach the temperatures required  for crusty French-style breads.  However, I have found a recipe from King Arthur Flour that comes darn close to the real thing, or at least I think so. CNV00000023

When we visit France, one of the things I look forward to is a stop for baguette. No matter how small the town, there is always a boulangerie turning out the most delectable, crusty loaves. Now that I think of it, we just may be overdue for an in-person taste test.

French Baguette from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients for the Starter

  • 1/2 cup cool water
  • 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached AP Flour (don’t substitute)
  • 1/8 tsp instant yeast

Ingredients for the Dough

  • All of the starter
  • 3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached AP Flour (I substituted 1 cup KA Bread flour because I had it in the pantry)
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast

Method:

  1. Mix the starter ingredients until smooth, cover, and let rest at room temperature overnight. Don’t skip this step!
  2. The next day, mix the starter with the remaining ingredients, kneading until the dough is nice and springy but not totally smooth (or if you are like me, use your bread hook and heavy-duty mixer). Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 3 hours, gently deflating it and turning it over after 1 hour and again after 2 hours.
  3. Divide the dough in half (in our two-person household, I divide the dough into quarters). Shape each half into a rough oval. Wait 15 minutes and then fold each oval lengthwise, sealing the edge, and use cupped fingers to gently roll each piece into a long log.  Place the loaves onto a lightly greased or parchment lined (my choice) pan, cover, and let them rise* until they are puffy, but not doubled – this takes about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Towards the end of the rise, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Very gently use a sharp knife or razor to slash 3 diagonal 1/3-inch deep slashes in each loaf. Mist the loaves heavily with warm water (do not skip this).
  4. Bake baguettes for 22 to 28 minutes, til they’re golden brown. Take the baguettes of the pan and place them right back on the oven rack. Turn off the oven, crack the door open about 2 inches and let the baguettes cool completely in the oven.
  • *For extra-crisp baguettes, King Arthur bakers suggest covering the shaped loves and let them rise for 30 minutes. Then refrigerate them overnight. The next day (Day 3!) take them out of the refrigerator and let them rest at room temperature, covered for about 3 hours or until they are nice and puffy. Then bake as in Step 4.

 

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22 May 2018: Kripalu Green Soup

2018-May-18_food_2343I was lucky enough to spend a weekend at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts a few years ago and, to say it was life-changing is mildly descriptive to say to least.  Since then, although I don’t always cook or eat as healthy as I should, I do like browsing through Kripalu’s kitchen recipes for ways to counteract some more unhealthy habits.

This green soup seemed a winner from the first read. Packet with veggie power, it is filling and cleansing – a great way to get back on the path toward making healthier eating choices.  And should you find yourself near Western Massachusetts, be sure to treat yourself to some time a Kripalu Center.

Clean Green Soup

From Ellen Casperson (School of Ayurveda) 

Ingredients

(Take Ellen Casperson’s advice: feel free to use whatever proportion and variety of green vegetables you prefer)

  • 2 cups water or homemade vegetable stock
  • 4 cups broccoli crowns and stalks, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 stalks fresh celery, chopped in 1 inch pieces
  • 4 cups fresh spinach or other greens
  • 2 cups water or homemade vegetable stock (added to get a consistency you like)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground tumeric
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh lemon

Method

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine water, vegetables, black pepper, and tumeric. Bring to a boil.
  2. Turn heat down to medium and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft (but not mushy). Take pan off heat and blend mixture until smooth using an immersion blender.
  3. You can add more water here to achieve a thick but not gloppy consistency. Add salt to taste.
  4. Top with a squeeze of fresh lemon

 


20 May 2018: Sweet Pea Dip

2018-May-18_food_2333When the weekend rolls around, we like to slow things down and start our evening meal off with Cinq à Sept, our version of the French cocktail hour. And that means a little something to eat before dinner.  I discovered this refreshing Spring dip from Michael Symon on Food Network’s website recently and it has quickly become a favorite before dinner treat. 

Sweet Pea Dip

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen peas (frozen peas, way easier and usually in my freezer anyway)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup fresh sheep’s milk ricotta (okay, cheated – bought low-fat store-brand ricotta)
  • Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (don’t even think about that canned stuff!)
  • 2 TBSP chopped fresh (yes, use the fresh) mint
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
  • Grilled bread for serving (whatever you substitute, make it crusty)

Method:

  1. Add the peas to a large pot of well-salted boiling water and boil the pease for about 30 seconds (here’s where I use my microwave). Remove peas to an ice bath.
  2. In a food processor, combine the ricotta, lemon zest, parmesan and mint. Drain the peas and add them to the food processor. Pulse just until the mixture comes together; you want to keep a little texture and not make it totally smooth. Season with salt.
  3. Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl, crack some pepper over the top and drizzle with olive oil. Serve the pea dip with grilled bread.

18 May 2018: Not a Birthday Cake

2018-May-18_food_2362Today is Adrien’s birthday and, I will be cooking tonight’s celebratory meal. While I am a big fan of birthday cake, he is not. So we are having a very un-birthday like dessert: chocolate mousse.

The absolute best chocolate mousse we have ever eaten was served at a lovely Paris restaurant in the Marais just a few blocks from Places de Vosges, Chez Janou.  There is nothing quite so delightful as ending a wonderful meal with a giant copper bowl of chocolate mousse, trust me. This recipe from Martha Stewart comes pretty close to perfection, however, and it is fairly uncomplicated. Chocolately and light, forget counting calories. This is an indulgently rich dessert worthy of someone’s birthday.

Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients

  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 4 TBSP sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (I substituted vanilla paste here)

Method

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, 2 TBSP sugar, and 3/4 cup heavy cream. Cover over medium-low heat, stirring until mixture coats back of a spoon (3-4 minutes). Do not allow to boil. Remove from heat, whisk in melted chocolate and vanilla. Strain into a bowl. Chill until cool.
  2. With an electric mixer (I used my trusty stand mixer with the whisk attachment), beat remaining 1 1/4 cups heavy cream with remaining 2 TBSP sugar until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whipped cream into the cooled custard mixture, then GENTLY FOLD (!) in the rest of the whipped cream with a spatula.
  3. Spoon into serving dishes, chill covered at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving. Or if you are dreaming of Chez Janou, put the mousse in a big serving bowl and enjoy the memories!

 


8 April 2018: Easy Italian Pear Cake

2018-Apr-07_FourNightsAWeek_2048I discovered two pears in the ‘fridge the other day and sought to use them before, you know, they become part of a compost heap. Also, had a partially consumed container of mascarpone, so this recipe seemed meant to be

My only criticism of this particular pear cake was that it baked up very dry. Maybe I overbaked. It just didn’t seem right to toss the cake that I made with the purpose of eliminating wasted fruit, so I needed to figure out a fix.  

I had a half-bottle of Ipsus Passito di Pantelleria Dessert Wine waiting to be finished. Using a skewer, I poured the dessert wine onto the cake which not only moistened it, but gave it a great flavor as well.  Cutting down on food waste is a personal goal in this house, and if dessert helps us cut out the waste, well, that’s a good thing, right? 

Easy Italian Pear Cake from An Italian in My Kitchen

Ingredients2018-Apr-07_FourNightsAWeek_2028_edited-1

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup + 1-1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 34 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup mascarpone
  • 2-1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil (coconut or olive oil are my choices here)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 pears

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 340 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour and 9-inch cake pan (author used a springform pan).
  2. Clean and peel the pears, chop one pear into medium-sized cubes and the other pear into thin slices. Set aside.
  3. In medium bowl (I used my stand mixer), at medium speed beat eggs and sugar until creamy; add mascarpone and continue beating until smooth.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
  5. STIR the flour into the egg mixture by hand (wood spoon) to combine gnetly, then add oil and stir to combine.
  6. Fold in the pear cubes, spoon into prepared cake pan.
  7. Top the batter with sliced pears and sprinkle 2 TBS sugar on top.
  8. Bake approximately 45-60 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

 


13 March 2018: Mall-Style Vegetable Stir Fry

2018-Mar-13_Fournightsaweek_1837When we were both working full-time, Adrien and I would plan a stir-fry meal which used one of those bottled Asian-style sauces as a starting point. Now that was certainly quick and tasty, but I’m not exactly sure how many ingredients in the bottled product would be considered “healthy”. So, when I spotted this recipe in the New York Times Food section, I was intrigued: could a stir-fry sauce be created to satisfy the need for a pick-up home-cooked meal and still be without some of those preservatives and flavor enhancers that end up in prepared foods. I think my answer is a resounding YES! But you don’t have to take my word for it. Try this one for yourself.

Mall-Style Vegetable Stir-Fry

Adapted from Jenne Claiborne By Kim Severson as found in the New York Times Cooking

Ingredients – For the Sauce

  • 1 tsp neutral oil (suggestion was to use grapeseed; I used coconut oil)
  • 1 1/2 TBSP minced ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 3 TBSP rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 6 Medjool or other dried dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1 TBSP arrowroot powder or cornstarch

Ingredients – For the Stir Fry

  • 1 TBSP grapeseed or coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion (or 2 shallots, thinly sliced)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped or julienned
  • 1 head broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets and pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (a 15 oz. can drained and rinsed will do it)
  • Freshly cooked rice
  • 1 TBSP sesame seeds (I used toasted)
  • 1-2 fresh limes quartered
  • Garnish: chopped cilantro

Method

  1. Make the sauce: in a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add ginger and garlic, and cook, stirring just until garlic starts to turn golden (about 1 minute). Stir in soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and dates. Let simmer 3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk arrowroot or cornstarch with 1/3 cup water until smooth. Slowly stir the mixture into the simmering sauce. When the sauce begins to thicken (quick!), remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  3. When the sauce is cool enough to handle, transfer sauce to a blender, and blend until smooth. Set aside.
  4. Make the stir fry: In a wok or skillet with a lid, heat oil over medium heat. When hot, add onions. Stir-fry for about 1 minute until softened. Add red pepper and carrots, cover and cook 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Stir in broccoli, chickpeas, and sauce, and cook, covered stirring occasionally, until vegetables are cooked to your liking (about 10 minutes).
  5. Serve over the cook rice, garnish with sesame seeds, fresh cilantro and lime wedges.

17 February 2018: Montreal Bagels

2018-Feb-21_fournightsaweek_bagel_1826With all due respect, Montreal has the best bagels that I’ve ever eaten. Ever. Hands-down. No contest.  We always leave Montreal with at least a dozen ready for the freezer as well as a few for the ride home.

Basically, bagel worshippers fall into two very loyal schools regarding which of two Montreal bagel bakers makes the best.  My personal favorite is from St. Viateur on the Plateau; however the “other” bagel bakery, Fairmount Bagels, also makes a great Montreal-style bagel.

There is a subtle sweetness to Montreal bagels which comes from malt or other sweeteners in both the dough and the water.  The bagels themselves are much less dough-dense than the supermarket or bakery bagels one finds here in New England, and for me, that makes them enjoyable. For purists looking for malt, King Arthur Flour and/or a local beer making supplier should be able to help out.

Since, for the moment, a trip to Montreal is not in our future, I set out to find an authentic Montreal bagel recipe, and thanks to the MTL Blog, found this one on a great Montreal food blog called “My Second Breakfast“. Sami Berger, who write a regular food blog here, suggests at the outset that one can either make the bagels large (yield 12) or smaller (yield 15), but I would suggest that dividing the dough into 18 knobs (yield 18) is just about right for a Montreal sized bagel.  The process – start to finish is about 90 minutes. 

My Second Breakfast’s Montreal Bagels

Adapted from bigoven.com

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups warm water
  • 5 TBSP granulated sugar
  • 3 TBSP canola oil (I substituted coconut oil, melted)
  • 8 grams active dry yeast
  • 2 large eggs, divided (1 for the dough, 1 for the egg wash)
  • 1 TBSP maple syrup
  • 4 to 4-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup poppy seeds OR sesame seeds
  • 16 cups water
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • (for chocolate bagels, add 1/2 cup of chopped dark chocolate or chips) – I love chocolate, but wouldn’t think of doing this to a bagel!

Method

  1. In a large bowl (I used my mixer and a whisk for steps 1 and 2), whisk together the
    warm water, sugar, oil,yeast, egg and syrup Combine until the yeast dissolves.
  2. Stir in salt and 1 cup of the flour.
  3. (Now using the mixer’s bread dough hook), add enough flour to make a shaggy, soft dough – about another 3 cups.2018-Feb-21_fournightsaweek_bagel_1834
  4. Knead the dough (yes, on the machine!) for about 12 minutes, adding flour as you go (I ended up needing an additional cup of flour, but baking day was a high-humidity day). If you are adding chocolate or raisins, knead in the chunks at the last minute (don’t do that with a machine!).
  5. Once the dough is smooth and firm, flour the countertop and cover the dough with an inverted bowl. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Divide the dough into (12/15/18) pieces. Roll each piece into an 8-10 inch rope, then curve each on pressing together the ends to make a bagel shape. Make SURE the ends are firmly stuck together at this point or they will come apart in the boiling process. Note that the bagels will look pretty deformed and the holes will be very big – not to worry!
  7. Let the shaped dough rest for 30 minutes. About 5 minutes before the dough has finished rising, fill a large pot with water (16 cups) and stir in the honey. Bring that to a boil.
  8. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  9. Boil the bagels by placing them in the pot, 3 or 4 at a time – you don’t want the bagels to be over crowded. Boil for 45 seconds on each side (90 seconds total). Remove and let the water drain off onto a clean towel or paper towel.
  10. Whisk the egg in a small bowl and set the seeds on a small plate.
  11. Dip the boiled bagels first in egg wash and then coat both sides in seeds. Note that the bagels will tend to get very dark in the areas without seeds so if you plan to leave any “plain” you’ll need to watch them carefully.
  12. Bake at 425 for 8-10 minutes (they should be starting to get golden brown on the side touching the baking tray), then flip and bake another 6-8 minutes until completely lightly golden brown.
  13. Cool the bagels on a cooling rack.
  14. Once complete cool, store in a freezer bag for a few days.

 

 


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