Posts Tagged ‘Bread’

The Christmas Dream

Pan d'oro

Pan d’oro

I don’t know if it is because of my propensity towards eating sardines before bedtime (a long story / another time), but I have noticed of late that I have been having some rather odd and perplexing dreams.

I am still pondering one that repeated a few nights ago wherein my subconscious spun a tale of spending Christmas with Mary, Mary Quite Contrary of nursery rhyme fame.

As fashioned by the festering chemical swirl of my cerebral cortex, Ms. Contrary was an exceedingly tedious young woman who made me long for a good, old-fashioned “Chinese food and movies” Christmas.

I bade her a Merry Christmas, only to be greeted by a bloated face held in a sour grimace as she informed me with a tap-tap-tap of her Rolex that we were still experiencing Christmas Eve; to whit, Christmas was nigh.

“Tut, tut” said I before remonstrating, “Be of good cheer else Father Christmas will not wriggle down your chimney to leave you gifts good and plain this holiday.”

Ms. Contrary would have none of it. “I’m a little old for Father Christmas don’t you think?” I could scarcely answer this apparently rhetorical question without suppressing a titter at the thought of the poor red and white velour-costumed, part-time Macy’s employee whose knees might be subjected to bearing the considerable heft of Ms. Contrary’s person should she choose that source to declare her holiday wishes.

In the hopes that a sympathetic soul might rescue me from this angry, vanilla-scented hillock in yoga pants, I stood on my tippy toes to try and catch a glimpse of other guests over her balustrade-like shoulder; alas, even fashionably late, I came to the suffocating realization that I was the first to arrive.

“Something smells delicious” I beamed, summoning every bit of sunshine I could muster.

“I made dinner” she glared. “When one invites people for dinner that usually means one serves dinner” she sassed with a twist of her head, spitting the last words at me.

“Ah!” I exclaimed, “I’ve brought dessert” and handed her my paper-wrapped, beribboned creation like a sacrifice being thrown into a roiling, steaming volcano.

With a drop of her shoulder she gave my creation a look similar to that which one would give a newly discovered rash.

“Ugh” she grunted. “You’re such a tool. I told you not to bring anything except wine.”

“Well you know I’m kind of a light weight when it comes to alcohol, and I do like to bake…” I started, before realizing that I had released the kraken.

“Are you saying I have a drinking problem? That I’m an alcoholic?”

“Oh not at all!” I squealed, attempting to back away from a cliff over which I had unwittingly placed one foot.

“Tell me you didn’t make those frosted cookies with the red and green sprinkles! Those are so grandma!”

“No, this isn’t cookies…”

“I knew it!” she boomed, stamping her large, but delicately shod foot. “A cake.”

“Actually it’s a Christmas bread.”

“You mean a Panetone?” she snorted with disgust. “I hate anything with that candied citron stuff. Oh no! Tell me it’s not a Stöllen!” she ranted, “I hate Stöllen.”

“None of those” I cowered, “It is a Pan d’oro.”

Wrenching it away from me with a dimpled paw, she quickly tore off the festive paper wrapping that had protected my masterpiece.

“For your information Mister Food Blogger, that’s a cake, not a bread. I hope you brought the powdered sugar to sprinkle over it.”

“But it’s called Pan d’oro which means bread of gold, and it’s made with yeast” I simpered before being reprimanded in the most severe way.

“It’s a cake, and I asked you to bring wine.  Anyway, you’re not getting dessert until you’ve had all seven fish courses. Get in there and start eating. March!

Wake me up in time for Christmas. Please.

Whole Foods and me: a love story (gone wrong)

Spiral Bread

Spiral Bread

The people who run Whole Foods will, no doubt, be absolutely devastated to learn that I intend to never shop at their stores again. Shhhh. That noise you hear is them scurrying to hide under their desks so that they can curl into the fetal position and have a good cry at this news.

It’s not for the reason you think.

Many folks like to nickname the chain “Whole Paychecks” due to the (I think) inaccurate perception that their prices are higher. I’ve actually had great success over the years finding bargains on what I perceive to be excellent products. So what’s the problem?

Their stores are zoos. I just can’t stand it anymore. I’m not an architect. I’m not an anthropologist (well, not a professional one), and I have never worked in a grocery store, even as a bag boy (like the cool kids in my high school who all worked at the Triple A Market.) There are certainly other markets in New York that are equally crowded (that’s been the rap on Fairway for years.)

But there is something in the magic mix that is the Whole Foods shopping experience that is so anarchic, so impolite, so lacking in civility, so…unpleasant that I must conclude that life is too short to spend another moment struggling to navigate their aisles. I applaud their success. I applaud their aesthetic. I applaud their fish counter. But they are complete and utter failures at managing the traffic within their stores. Is it due to the carts that are the size of a humvee? Is it due to aisles that are perhaps too narrow? Is it due to their propensity towards placing islands of New Jersey blueberries smack dab in the middle of the most crowded part of the store? I just don’t know.

I’m the first to admit that I am a geek: I love to trawl the aisles of a supermarket. No matter what city I’m in the supermarket is one of my stops—even in Europe. It is an activity that brings me great pleasure. That’s why I resent Whole Foods so much: the experience of shopping in their stores (at least in New York City) sucks the pleasure out of the experience, making it a chore. There’s no time to discover new things: I’m too busy being in someone’s way. As I was checking out last weekend, the cashier, trying to be helpful, recommended that the best hours to shop at Whole Foods were early in the morning. I didn’t mention to her that I like to do my grocery shopping on my own terms, not when it is more convenient for Whole Foods.

I never did find what I had gone in there to buy. I wanted to make the incredible Spiral Bread you see in the photo above. This is based on a recipe from my beloved old Craig Claiborne-penned New York Times Cookbook. It is really just a hearty old-fashioned Farmhouse White loaf with a stuffing (You roll the dough into a flat rectangle, spread your filling of choice on top, roll jelly-roll style then place in the loaf pan and bake.) The cookbook gives recipes for two different kinds of fillings, one parsley and scallion, another anchovy-based (umami anyone?), both of which are yummy, but delicate.

With Super Bowl coming up, I wanted to make something with a bit more substance, ideally with some meat added to the parsley-scallion filling. On a previous trip to Whole Foods I had seen some very tempting American Speck, the herbal-infused ham. I thought that either the speck or some kind of Parma-style ham would give the bread the savory oomph I was seeking. (Hey, don’t laugh. I am trying to bring up the level of Super Bowl food. Sorry: not a Buffalo wing fan.)

Sadly the Speck was nowhere to be found at Whole Foods last weekend, so I switched to plan B: sausage. My thought was to cook some very nice sausage filling, drain it thoroughly, and use that as the filling.

I ended up experimenting with chicken sausage. Chicken sausage does not have the loose-knit consistency of pork sausage, but what it lacks in crumble it compensates with flavor and lower fat. Oh, and since it is pre-cooked I could skip that step.

You can see in the picture that I ended up dicing the chicken sausage. Looks odd, yes, tastes great, yes.

To give the bread a little heft I cooked some oats with the milk that goes into the recipe. You’d never know they are there because they dissolve as the dough kneads in the stand mixer.

Knead the dough by hand? Are you kidding? What is this 1962?


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Cheesy Easter

Vermont Triple Cheese Bread

Vermont Triple Cheese Bread

If you invite me for Easter dinner I promise to bring the bread. How much bread depends entirely on what you are cooking for the main course. If you’re cooking a Ham (or buying the spiral-cut kind) I’ll bring a loaf or two and some nice rolls. Lamb or mutton will mean I’ll need to rent a U-haul and make two trips. You’re serving mutton just like your Grandmother used to make? My Grandmother used to make Pickled Tongue but you don’t see me serving that for dinner. Easter dinner tip #1: stick with a main course you don’t have to explain.

In the past I’ve written that I consider a good bread basket to be the lifeboat that can rescue me from a bad meal. Talking mutton and lifeboats conjures images of a culinary Titanic.

Better yet, here’s a novel new idea: The First Annual Easter pot luck. The menu will be comprised solely of the items everyone in attendance gave up for Lent. With my friends in attendance there may be an oversupply of martinis and red wine, but that’s okay because there will also be an oversupply of cake, cookies, and ice cream. It’s called balance, people.

And yes, the point is moot for yours truly. Giving up things for Lent is literally not in my religion, but I can’t resist an occasion marked by a big meal.

How can Easter not be on my mind? Easter candy has been on the shelves of every drug store for what seems like months, the squishy, mellow neon of the Peeps calling my name like a Stay-Puft siren.

This is a good place to mention one of the landmarks of my kitchen: my recipe files. These could perhaps be mistaken for a paper recycling bin. I have a tendency to keep empty flour bags because a recipe printed on the side caught my eye. They tend to sit on the shelf for a while, waiting for an occasion when I will smooth out the wrinkles and bring them to life.

So it was that a long expired bag of King Arthur flour was reincarnated because of the words, “Triple Cheese Bread” printed on the side.

(I am not a paid spokesman for King Arthur flour and did not receive so much as a dusting of flour for this endorsement.)

I’m not sure why I felt like I needed an excuse to bake Triple Cheese bread. This is one of those recipes that deserves the reverse: a day of its own. I imagine that I’ll wake up one morning with the exhortation, “It’s Triple Cheese Bread Day!” on my lips.

In the meantime there’s Easter Dinner. Easter Dinner always holds an interesting allure for me. As much as I love winter, April always seems full of the warm promise of good things to come. (I was Bar Mitzvah-ed in April. Maybe that’s why I like April?)

Depending on the year, April can be both the last gasp of winter and the first whiff of spring, so it is time to celebrate with sun, flowers, and happy food. I think Triple Cheese bread is happy food because it makes me smile.

I repeat this often: if you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer then baking bread is really no harder than knowing how to set a timer. As this is someone else’s recipe I can only tell you my tips to success.

First: because all of the ingredients in bread can blunt the flavor of cheese, find the sharpest cheddar you can find. This can be tricky. I happened to find a Vermont cheddar by Cabot that they labeled “Seriously Sharp.” Its brininess turned out to be just right. (I’m not a spokesman for Cabot either. But I like this cheese and the implied harmony of pairing Vermont flour with Vermont cheese.)

Even though it may be counterintuitive, I avoided top shelf Parmesan, hoping that the modestly priced domestic version I used would lend enough saltiness and nuttiness to the bread—using the good stuff in a loaf of bread seems like a waste.

The third cheese seems like a cheat. Cottage Cheese? The name aside, I never think of this as cheese, but baking chemistry hints that this is a really good baking ingredient, tenderizing the dough into a pillowy soft foam.

Finally, here’s your choice: I used a loaf pan that is slightly oversized so my bread rose with flat top; use a standard load pan for the old-fashioned dome shaped loaf.

Triple Cheese Loaf isn’t just for dinner. The legendary Schrafft’s restaurants used it famous cheese bread in sandwiches, often pairing it with, what else—grilled, sliced ham.

Did I mention that it is amazing toasted?

No, I didn’t, because you’ll eat the whole loaf that way.


Here’s the Triple Cheese Bread recipe.


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Marshmallow Tweets?

If you’re reading this you may already be late

Breakfast on the run...

Breakfast on the run...

The brisk fall morning sight of children on their way to school makes me happy. No, it is not the prospect of learning or expanding one’s horizons that cheers me; it is the bald fact that I do not have to go to school anymore. I didn’t hate school, but I didn’t love it either.

Nah. Scratch that. I hated school.

I feel guilty admitting it, for I have a great respect for education. I’d probably be a better—or at least more attentive– student now than I was when I was a kid. I have a friend, a woman of “a certain age” who just got her Master’s Degree. She confided the same thing to me, including the fact that she was now a better student. My unscientific conclusion has always been that you can break school kids into the same basic categories as adults:

Category 1: the workaholic. My high school was loaded with them, including one annoying, “straight A” soul who would refuse to look at her tests as they were handed back with the big red grade on top. When the bell rang she would frantically exit to the hall, then perform ritual leaps of joy in celebration of her A+, like it was a big, freakin’ surprise. It’s several hundred years later and, yes, I’m still bitter and annoyed. (She now works for the I.R.S.)

Category 2: the rest of us. The “…For Dummies” series of instructional guides always manage to catch our eye. I don’t want to say that I was a bad student, but I recently flunked a vision test. Honestly, I can’t study a menu without breaking into flop sweat. (Ohhhh, I‘ve got a million of ‘em…)

I know that there are many of you out there who feel at home in this category.

The interesting thing is that being in one category as a kid doesn’t guarantee that you’ll end up in the same category as an adult. The workplace is littered with formerly indifferent students who now consistently take the later train home because they have “… just a little bit more to do.” I wish I’d been a better student, but as an adult part of me rejoices that I will never be labeled a workaholic. There’s so much other stuff to do…

Like you, I had a ten mile commute to school through forty inches of snow in one hundred degree heat. Uphill. Both ways. I would forestall my departure by eating a healthy breakfast. Our cook would have my pancakes, eggs, and bacon ready just the way I liked them, and I would…okay clearly I’ve gone off the rails here. I wrote the word “forestall” and everything went blurry.

The truth is I have only vague memories of eating breakfast when I was a kid. I know I did, but beyond the concept of a bowl of cereal the specifics are hazy. Wheaties? Cheerios? Cap’n Crunch? I’m really not sure. There may have been an experiment with instant Cream of Wheat, but that was short lived. We had a breakfast nook, but I think we used it to eat dinner and to watch my Dad’s 8mm home movies. Harrumph: a whole section of my life haphazardly executed.

Now I am much more deliberate about my breakfast choices. Will I get hungry too soon before lunch? Will it make me fat(ter)? Can I work and eat it at the same time? I look around and watch what others are eating for breakfast and notice with a great amount of apprehension that folks seem to be looking for one vital element in their breakfast: a kick start. Lordy, when did Coca Cola become the breakfast of champions?

No kick start for yours truly; if I wanted that I’d pay someone to slap me across the face a few times. (Don’t even try it.) Slow and steady is more my style. It works for me and I find that most mornings I am fully awake by 1 PM.

Still, I find my busy schedule sometimes doesn’t allow me to linger over breakfast. The question is: short of gruel-like instant oatmeal, what is a supercharged healthy breakfast that I can eat on the run? A chum swears by toast with a swipe or two of peanut butter. I need a bit more entertainment than that in the morning. I have devised my “best in show” breakfast on the run.

I almost resent the health benefits of oatmeal; Quaker oatmeal is practically advertised as an alternative to Lipitor. But I can put my crankiness aside long enough to include it as part of my breakfast. Thumbing through my beloved old copy of The New York Times Cook Book by Craig Claiborne I found a recipe for “Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Bread.” Oatmeal bread has always been a favorite of mine. Usually only mildly sweet, yet slightly dense, this recipe has a delicate crumb and a toasty crust.

Yes, I understand that the thought of baking bread gives most people pause. But if you are in possession of a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer bread making requires very little work and very little expertise. Yes the entire process takes several hours from bag of flour to loaf of bread, but most of that time you can do other things.

I also substituted almond butter for the peanut butter my chum uses. This was a choice dictated only by taste, and I also topped the almond butter with slices of green apple. The combination is almost pastry-like, but you can feel smug in the knowledge that the entire affair is very healthy. You can use any kind of apple you prefer, but I use green apple in the morning on the advice of a friend who is a singer. Green apples have an astringent quality that can help clear your throat of impurities.

That’s good news as a clear throat can help me maintain my phlegmatic demeanor through the rest of the day.


Click here for the recipe for Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Bread.


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If Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche Call It Breakfast Pizza

Breakfast Pizza

Breakfast Pizza. Ties are optional.

Thank goodness for modern technology: It has created a whole new gift category. Back in my Father’s time, dads got golf equipment, fishing tackle, cologne, and the dreaded new tie. My Mom used to try to buy my Pop sweaters, but I’m not sure any of them ended up escaping Filenes’ returns department.

Dads still want golf and fishing stuff, but they no longer have to worry about questionable sweater choices. Modern technology means you can give Dad a little electronic device that he can take to the beach and get caught up on his reading or even watch baseball. Try that with a sweater. Amazon now sells more e-books than paper and cardboard books. Every Tom, Dick, and Harriet on the subway is reading the latest best seller on a Kindle. Yeah, but what’s in their sweater drawer?

Father’s Day also doesn’t seem to have the same sense of ceremony as Mother’s Day. On Mother’s Day you slap an orchid on Mom’s shoulder and take her out for a frilly salad. Father’s Day honorees would rather go fishing—or like my brother, golfing—and come home to a nap and a good steak. I’m painting with a very broad brush, yes, but that’s okay. Let’s make dad a good breakfast and send him on his way to spend the day the way he wants.

Not that this means that Mom has to bear the burden of cooking a complicated breakfast. Quiche might be a good choice. Mom can make it the day before and then gently reheat it the next morning.

I can’t bake or eat Quiche without thinking of that ‘80’s spoof on masculinity, “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” I wonder what fifty million Frenchmen thought when that book was published? I am also a huge fan of Hitchcock movies, so any mention of Quiche also causes my mind to stray to the scene in “To Catch A Thief” (the most glamorous movie ever made) where Cary Grant’s character offers a guest Quiche Lorraine, and explains that while his housekeeper’s hands have an especially tender touch with pastry dough, she also used them to silently strangle a Nazi general when she was in La Résistance (this is, after all, Hitchcock.)

Alas, in 2011, I‘d be willing to bet that the only real men out there who would take exception to eating Quiche are members of the Lipitor club. Maybe we can find something in the cupboard that even the Lipitor club can enjoy. For Father’s Day, why not borrow the concept of quiche, and literally change course—as in, breakfast is served, Pops!

Granted Quiche has an aura of expertise and advanced skill, but peel away the aura and what have you got? Egg pie. C’mon: you can handle that! Even better: for my version, no special equipment is required; all you need is a big bowl, a fork, a couple of knives (dull is fine), and a couple of hands (yours or someone else’s). I am not talking about some “back-of-the-Bisquik-box-recipe-cheesy-egg-bake.” No sir. This is Breakfast Pizza. Dad will like this, and the good news is that the kids help make it.

Breakfast Biscuit sandwiches are big business nowadays—with good reason: people like them. Truth be told this version of breakfast pizza owes a great deal to the biscuit sandwich. While quiche has a delicate pâte brisée crust, and pizza uses yeast dough, Breakfast Pizza uses a simple baking powder biscuit dough. Instead of rolling and cutting the dough, after an easy hand mix, you dump it into the cooking vessel—a skillet—and press it into the bottom with your hands. Tricky folks can feel free to use the bottom of a measuring cup.

Toppings—besides the egg—are free choice. I stuck with items that are typically pizza in theme: peppers, tomatoes, cheese, and mushrooms. I even placed a few dabs of tomato sauce on top. Let what is fresh in your local market be your guide.

If Dad is a breakfast fiend, then make him happy by topping the pizza with some good organic turkey sausage, some diced potatoes, and mix a bit of thawed, frozen spinach in with the eggs (breakfast pizza is a great way of getting vegetables into the family tummy.)

The one I made in the photo above used four eggs—and serves four or five people. Even the most egg-shy folks can indulge. I made mine in a skillet, but that was only for looks. Feel free to use a pie plate, or any other pan you think will make an attractive presentation.

Happy Day, Dad!


Click here for my recipe for “Breakfast Pizza


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My Revolution

Eight Grain Hamburger Rolls

Ready for the backyard...if I had one.

I don’t like to write about politics in this venue. A friend of mine—much wiser than I—is fond of saying, “If you want to send a message call Western Union.” He’s usually talking about plays, TV shows, or movies that are used as vehicles to put forth a political or moral argument. I tend to agree when it is done poorly. But if you succeed in entertaining me, then I say, go ahead and preach.

It can be easy to dismiss these messages. Personal zealotry can be just as repellant as it can be appealing. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I had never given Jamie Oliver, the young British chef and restaurateur much thought. Fact is I’ve never given most celebrity chefs much thought. Do I think they are talented? Absolutely. Do I care? Nyet. I am most assuredly not a restaurant foodie; unlike most New Yorkers I prefer to eat at home. (I could have titled this posting, “Never Been To Nobu”.)

Yet there I am, in front of my TV each week watching “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” Didactic? Yup. Preachy? Affirmative. And totally my cup of tea because I am totally in step with the message being tooted.

The show, an extension of a program he started in the UK, follows Oliver’s “man vs. the machine” quest to improve the eating habits of America’s children, starting with the food they eat in their schools’ cafeterias. Last season concentrated on a couple of schools in Huntington, West Virginia; this season he has picked a bigger rock to roll up hill: Los Angeles.

In an age when TV executives seem unable to provide anything better than endless competition shows (“America’s Next [Fill In The Blank]”), freak shows (“Hoarders” which I think of whenever too much time has elapsed between apartment cleanings—so, often), and cotton candy (anything Kardashianic), one has to wonder how “Food Revolution” ever made it to network television. No one gets voted off. No one throws a glass of wine at anyone. No one is designing a line of jeans.

The closest the show has ever gotten to the voyeuristic realm of reality television was last week’s brief glimpses of Oliver’s family in the kitchen of their rented LA home which showed his baby daughter mesmerized by turning the faucet on and off with her feet. (I thought it was sweet, cute, and very funny. And yes, I am a sap.)

The answers are likely a combination of the show’s Executive Producer, that twenty-first century show-biz virago, Ryan Seacrest, the family-friendly Disney owned ABC, and the fact that the British version of the show was a hit.

What amazes me is the fact that the changes he wants to make are considered a revolution. Last year in West Virginia he noted that the only milk choices were Chocolate or Strawberry – both contain the equivalent of 3 to 4 teaspoons of sugar. He fought to get regular milk in the cafeterias—and lost.

When I was a kid (lo those many years ago) the schools served us a little half pint of regular milk each day. Ice cold. It was delicious—and I’ve never been a big milk drinker. Every once in a while there were kids who added a spoonful of Nestlé’s Quik, but for the most part they were the exception, not the rule.

I ride the subway and notice with increasing alarm the increasing size of our youngsters. When I was a kid if you were overweight you were ostracized because most kids were skinny until they hit their teens. Is overweight the new normal? Are we raising a “Big Gulp” generation? When did a tanker-sized cup of soda become the normal serving?

There are as many theories of what has caused the so-called “epidemic” of childhood obesity as there are people. I’m not claiming to know the answer, but I’m convinced that people have been overwhelmed by information: everything is bad for you, therefore, what’s the difference? Order whatever you want—sauce on the side.

Where, you ask, does a man who writes about baking and sugary treats get off attacking sugar? A valid question. The idea isn’t to make cake disappear. The idea is to eat good cake, made from quality ingredients, and as part of a healthy diet. It’s a treat not dinner.

In Los Angeles this season, Oliver isn’t trying to make burgers disappear. He is helping a guy who owns a typical LA drive-through burger joint change the quality of the ingredients he uses—ranch-fed beef, good sauces, and whole grain rolls. The trick is to make sure that the guy who owns the drive through continues to have a thriving business even though the ingredients may cost more. (He seems to have succeeded.)

Listen, I don’t know Jamie Oliver. I don’t know what compelled him to adopt this cause. But I sure do admire the work he has done. I admire the work Alice Waters has done with her Edible Schoolyard program where she has set up school gardens. The students raise the vegetables which are then used in their lunches. Maybe if kids get closer to understanding where their food comes from they’ll make better choices? (Question mark intentional.)

I thought it would be fun to recreate the Revolution Burger at home, at least in concept. The organic farm-raised beef was the easy part—Fairway Market here in New York took care of that. My responsibility was to create a hamburger roll that would make Jamie proud. Seven grains? Feh! I used eight!

A really good burger sitting on a rock hard roll is no one’s friend, so I knew I needed to make a roll that had some squish and richness. I “appropriated” an idea from America’s Test Kitchen: use cooked eight grain cereal in the dough. This is brilliant because uncooked whole grains can be too hard to digest while making the roll too dry to enjoy. Further, I cooked the cereal in milk which added richness to the dough. (Bread made with milk also tends to have a toastier crust.) A touch of honey brought out the sweet fragrance of the grains.

The result has the heft of whole grain and the squish and sweetness of plain ol’ hamburger rolls.

If you know Jamie, pass this along and ask him if he approves.


Click here for my recipe for “Eight Grain Hamburger Rolls


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Brain: Out Of Office

Sweet Potato Rolls

Lobster from the icy North Atlantic...rolls from me

In an exquisite bit of time travel, my brain has flashed forward and is currently enjoying the long Memorial Day Weekend at the beach. Sadly, the rest of me has remained behind in the city, two weeks of work and worry away from such pleasures. I think I am not alone this year, as most people are recovering from a rather abusive relationship with Winter.

The reason I am convinced that my brain is elsewhere is because I have already started thinking about all the food that I associate with the fun of summer: hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream sandwiches, and my New England faves, fried clams, and Lobster Roll.

While I love all of the above, Clam Roll and Lobster Roll are my travel folder summer meals. If I had to name a favorite food, they’d certainly be on the list. “The condemned man ate a hearty last meal of Lobster Roll. And then he had a Clam Roll and an ice cream sandwich.” Read that and you’ll know I’m gone.  I can’t actually name only one favorite food, but I think I have made my point.

Fried Clams are best consumed at a reputable clam bar, preferably overlooking a body of water, while jealous Sea Gulls circle overhead. But Lobster Roll remains within reach of the home cook, albeit with a hefty price tag dangling from one of the claws. Yes, my brain is down at the beach splurging on Lobster Roll.

The thing is, I feel very protective of Lobster Roll. It is so simple and basic, which explains why it is so easy to make it wrong. Lobster by itself is so perfect straight from the steam, cracked open, dunked in a touch of melted butter. When in doubt I try to not stray too far from that.

Some folks think that the same rules that apply to making Tuna Fish salad will still hold true when making Lobster Roll, but this is simply not the case. In Lobster Roll the mayonnaise should be kept to the barest minimum; just enough to coat may be too much. Some insist that you should dispense with the mayo altogether, and stick with a drizzle of butter. Not a bad idea.

For traditionalists though, a touch of mayo, and just the sparsest tumble of diced celery will suffice. No salt, thank you, the mayo and the lobster and the obligatory Wise potato chips served on the side have plenty. (French Fries? With Lobster Roll? On what planet?)

Phew! Glad that’s settled.

Oh wait! I forgot the most important part: the bread.

The real New England-style hot dog roll is baked side-by-side and sliced on top (as opposed to the side). When the rolls are pulled apart, more bread is exposed, so we butter and grill or toast the sides of the bun too. This holds true for hot dogs, Clam Rolls, and Lobster Rolls. Lobster Roll isn’t Lobster Roll without this key element. It’s the law (lower case “L”.)

The bun itself is all about texture. This is no place for whole wheat. Fluffy bread is good because the toasting creates a contrast of textures. But that should in no way imply that boring white bread is called for.

As a little treat, I decided to make my own hot dog rolls, and this called to mind the puffiest, fluffiest bread I could think of: potato bread. No, this is not a New England specialty; actually, I think it comes from Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Hold on there, buddy (you’re thinking), with all the great hot dog buns sold, why are you making your own? Is this one of those “Martha Stewart-raise-your-own-hens-so-you-can-have-the-best-scrambled-eggs” moments?

My answer: “Yes. No.”

Translation of ambiguous answer: rolls that you buy in the store are just rolls. Mine are artisanal. Yes, that’s right, I just dropped the “A” bomb on you. At $15.99 a pound, how often will I splurge on Lobster Roll? So I think it is worth it to create something special to mark the occasion. Also, New England-style top sliced buns are hard to find in New York. (You should feel free to use whatever rolls suit your fancy. No judgment from me, I promise.)

Potato bread tends to be very soft and fluffy because of the loose, gluten-free starch in the potatoes. Deciding to up the ante a bit, instead of using a regular potato, I used a sweet potato.  Its honey-like sweetness and carroty color would add a mellow tang to the bread. My intent was not to make an icky-sweet roll, just something sweetly laid back.

I diced and boiled the potato until it was cooked through, then drained it thoroughly before mashing into a smooth paste with a fork. Then I added it with some of the flour to the dough. Some potato bread recipes use a bit of the liquid in which you boiled the potato. Instead, I used milk for a touch of richness.

The result is a roll with a gentle sweetness, and a sunny saffron color which surprisingly coordinates with the rusty, salmon pink of the lobster. I have a few left over which I will pair with some Hebrew National hot dogs, or maybe some chicken sausage.

Meanwhile, I hope my brain is wearing sunscreen.


Click here for my recipe for “Sweet Potato Hot Dog Rolls


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In Defense of Defensive Eating

Parker House Rolls

Parker House Rolls

If you were to ask me, “What’s the worst meal you ever had?” my quickest answer would be that I can’t think of one that was all that bad. That’s saying a lot, considering (how can I delicately put this?) the passage of time since I started eating solid food.

But as I think about it, one or two meals come to mind that were doozies. One was in an exotically ethnic restaurant, to which I was dragged with a group of work associates. Dinner consisted of a series of mushy items presented in a series of bowls set in the middle of the table. To eat the items in the bowls you ripped a piece of seemingly sodden bread from a large sheet, and used that to scoop some food from the bowls, all the while praying that your table-mates were healthy. (Eagle eyed diners may have identified this cuisine by now.) I remember hoping that dessert would be a large flat brownie sheet that I could rip into pieces to scoop some ice cream and hot fudge, but, alas, it was not.

I mean no disrespect to any ethnic group, and, truthfully, I have no way of knowing whether or not that meal was a good or bad example of that cuisine. I do know that immediately following the meal I was desperate for something crunchy.

My sodden bread scoop dinner is tied with a meal I had as a kid at camp. The camp’s cook served something that was either fried Tuna Fish Salad or very wet Tuna Quenelles. Color? Gray. Taste? Meow.

Fortunately I had many allies in my distaste of that meal–including our counselor who grabbed the platter of Tuna a la Voldemort, returned it to the kitchen, and returned with a happy platter of sliced bread, peanut butter, and jelly. Unfortunately he did this after I had already taken a bite of the tuna, scarring my taste buds’ memories for life. I think of this meal every time I watch the movie “The Odd Couple” and see Walter Matthau throw a plate of spaghetti against a wall, yelling, “It was spaghetti. Now it’s gawbage.”

This is not to say that there haven’t been a great many mediocre meals through the years, some self-inflicted in the name of vanity (a/k/a, dieting.) But take note of the two stories above. My camp counselor was able to save the day with a loaf of bread, but the un-named ethnic meal was unsalvageable because even the bread was unsatisfying. My lesson? It comes in the form of an affirmation. If a meal is mediocre (or less), I reach for the bread basket, for I am saved by the bread — carbs be damned.

I may have hinted recently that the Corned Beef and Cabbage meal that is a tradition on St. Patrick’s Day is, for me, strictly a hit or miss proposition; it has to be really good for me to enjoy it. If not, I pray to St. Patrick that while he was driving the snakes out of Ireland he was also able to leave me some good bread in the basket.

When I eat out I have the questionable habit of judging a place by the bread basket. Am I wrong? You hear, “Never judge a book by its cover” ad nauseum; you never hear “Never judge a joint by the rolls” because they actually can be a darn good barometer of what’s to follow.

There was a long-ago time when every big city had its grand hotels. In those days it was the grand hotel that hosted the city’s finest dining room, the kitchen of which was likely helmed by an Escoffier trained or inspired chef. Indeed, if old M-G-M movies are to be believed, these gentlemen were invariably named Pierre, and were quite high strung.

I have previously written about Boston’s venerable Parker House Hotel as the birthplace of the Boston Cream Pie. The hotel also has the distinction of having an eponymous roll –which, yes, sounds like something that can be conquered with a few sets of sit ups. In reality, the Parker House roll is a lovely, buttery bread (which, yes, will sooner or later need to be conquered with a few sets of sit ups.)

Boston is my home town, so perhaps I can be forgiven for the undeniable (but perhaps outdated) claim that it is a very Irish town. Right or wrong, that explains why I consider the Parker House roll the remedy for a bad St. Patty’s Day dinner—or for that matter, the remedy for a bad Easter dinner (or any other big occasion.)

The Parker House roll is the brioche’s plainer, American cousin. Almost everything you love about brioche is there, except a bit softer, fluffier, with less egg, and more butter. (I may have just described the difference between the Americans and the French. You be the judge, I’ve stuck my neck out far enough already.)

While brioche can be somewhat labor intense and require a special fluted brioche pan, Parker House Rolls only require a rolling pin and biscuit cutter, equipment that can do many other jobs. I used an adaptation of the hotel’s recipe that is published on the Food Network website, cutting the recipe in half. This still resulted in about eighteen rolls, with a couple of more from scraps, although I prefer to call them “baker’s prerogatives.” Eighteen rolls is a good yield for dinner for four to five folks, or two if one of the folks is me.

In addition, I have annotated the recipe so that you can easily bake them exactly the way I did, using my Kitchen Aid mixer. Don’t feel limited by holiday meals; these are perfect breakfast rolls too.

It’s no secret that the moment I open the oven door to retrieve anything I have made from a yeast dough is always a thrill.

Not a thrill on the level of finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but still a thrill.


Click here for the recipe for Parker House Rolls.


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White (Bread) Christmas

Pull Apart Bread

Pull Apart Bread: Christmas potluck chic

The little kid in me resents it when Christmas falls on a weekend. There’s no logic to my resentment, after all, like most folks I will take just as much time off as I would have if the holiday fell on a Wednesday.  Most of my big holiday obligations have already been met: the tree is up, my cards are in the mail, and the majority of my holiday party baking is done. That can only mean one thing: it’s Holiday Movie Time. Bing Crosby is rehearsing, Rosie Clooney is getting into her costume, and Jimmy Stewart is getting ready to lasso the moon.

The splashy grand finale of this year’s holiday party baking was a friend’s annual holiday party. I don’t want to say he’s been giving this party for a long time but I think the guests at his first holiday party arrived bearing frankincense and myrrh. (Rim shot, please.)

ANYWAY, the party has always served as a laboratory for me to try out the big show off-y baking that you can only get away with around the holidays.  Over the years there have been Yule logs, cookie Christmas trees, and cookie tributes.

Cookie tributes you ask? Not to worry: there were no cookies in the shape of Elvis. But a few years back all of my holiday cookies were citrus flavored in tribute to the big cartons of Florida citrus fruit we would find sitting on our snowy doorstep each Christmas courtesy of my dad’s best childhood buddy. (Frosted orange-spice cookies were my favorite that year.) Ah, restraint…

This year I somehow had it in my mind to celebrate a slightly more humble aesthetic. I didn’t have a specific game plan in mind when the season started, but following the path of holiday basics from salted caramel-dipped chocolate drop cookies to Snickerdoodles to chocolate gingerbread revealed my destination the same way as when you pick your way through the trees and suddenly find yourself on the beach.

Two things come to mind here: the first is my fear that I may have been turning my nose up at this humble aesthetic—indulging in the sort of food snobbery that I outwardly confess to abhor. The second is that while I consider my experiences cooking and eating to be as much about educating myself as they are about eating well, I sometimes need to be reminded that I can learn as much from a really great brownie as I can from a really great Éclair. It’s up to me to keep my eyes open, yes?

I wanted to bake something for the party that had a relaxed, family / sharing / party feeling; flipping through a few copies of Life Magazine from December 1960 helped me to focus on the kind of friendly, frilly, holiday food I thought would still work at Christmas Dinner fifty years hence: a sort of Potluck Chic.

Please don’t confuse this with the smirking wink at “White Trash” cooking that came and went a few years back. This isn’t Bologna Macaroni and Cheese; It is Nancy Reagan serving Monkey Bread at The White House.

With all that in mind I settled on a simple Cheddar Pull-Apart Bread that had intrigued me some time ago while flipping through a cheap cookbook. A more savory, perhaps more sober relative of Monkey Bread, it also owes some of its DNA to the flaky, buttery Parker House roll. And the way my mind works, when I bake bread I especially prize yeasty concoctions that are as good—or better—toasted the next morning. A slice of this bread with a fried egg on top is my holiday breakfast of choice this year. (Thankfully there are two holidays so I can still have my yummy Yeast Waffles.)

The concept is easy: divide unbaked bread dough into ten even pieces, spread with the savory filling of choice, stack the pieces, then squeeze into a loaf pan and bake. Served warm, friends and loved ones can then “pull apart” the loaf. The recipe attached is very basic, but I’m anxious to try it with Challah dough. Add a bit of cinnamon and sugar and you’ve got an enviable sweet breakfast loaf.

Folks who fear working with yeast dough should feel free to try this concept with store-bought pizza dough. It crusty chewiness will pair beautifully with olive oil and a bit of chopped garlic as the filling. I may have to bring this to a big “five fishes” Christmas Eve dinner.

Have a wonderful holiday—the best of the season to you. Don’t forget to leave some cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer.


Click here for the recipe for Cheddar Herb Pull Apart Bread.

If you’re feeling ambitious but need a bit of cookie baking technique and guidance, read the Butter Flour Eggs Cookie Primer 101 for some basic cookie-baking tips.


Are you still trying to finish Santa’s List? Check out Laura Loving’s incredible, affordable range of holiday gifts. Each piece of art features her iconic designs and will be cherished for years to come.


The Ronald McDonald House of New York is an amazing facility which provides a temporary “home-away-from-home” for pediatric cancer patients and their families. The Ronald McDonald House is supported entirely by private donations. Please read about this amazing place, and keep them in mind when considering your year-end charity donation.


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Mild Thanksgiving

Smell the turkey?

Smell the turkey?

Life has become so contentious. Turn on the TV or read a newspaper and it seems like someone is always butting heads with an opponent. I feel like I am constantly being asked to choose sides. We just got through another election, and I don’t care which side of the aisle you’re on, if you’re like me I’m sure at one point during those endless strings of campaign commercials you stood in front of your TV and yelled, “Enough!”

I thought that when I became an adult (yes, a debatable fact) that I would be released from the “Nyah-nyah!” childhood playground dynamic. It just lacked subtlety.

That’s why I like Thanksgiving so much. Thanksgiving’s biggest debate is whether to cook the stuffing inside the bird or outside the bird. I’m not ashamed to say that I am an “outie”, but am sincerely delighted if you are an “innie.” Really! The fact is: I just don’t care. Happily, this is a debate right up there with whether the toilet paper should hang under or over the roll. (Don’t go there. We’re having a happy holiday, remember?)

Thanksgiving reminds me of my Nana: she always referred to herself as “mild.” It occurs to me that we don’t have enough “mild” in our lives anymore. What’s the best way to explain mild? You know how we had that little dustup between Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno? Think back to Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin. Ever see them fight? No. They were mild. That is why this year I am wishing you a Mild Thanksgiving –and meaning it as the best wish you could ever get. Slow down. Take a deep breath. Put away your BlackBerry. Take a moment alone with your thoughts. (Sounds very “Zen”, yes?)

I know, I know: there’s a lot of pressure on people around the holidays, but at least Thanksgiving spares us the whole gift “thing.” This year, if Thursday’s holiday meal finds us lucky enough to be seated in front of a plate of hot food then we can count ourselves lucky indeed.

Okay, you’ve taken your deep breath. You’ve slowed down. You’ve even put away your BlackBerry—or at least put it down— but now you’re alone with the thought, “What was that malarkey about cooking the stuffing outside the bird? Is he crazy?”

Clearly you haven’t relaxed yet.

That’s okay. Yes, I cook my stuffing outside the bird because I like it crunchy. That is my only reason. I’m not concerned with cooking temperatures or health. I just like the crunchy part. I understand that I am missing out on all the turkey drippings marinating the stuffing. I understand that it is called stuffing and should be used as such. (Well, I’m usually stuffed after the meal. That doesn’t count.) Of course there’s a happy compromise: cook some stuffing in the bird and some outside. Phew. Negotiations are exhausting.

On to the stuffing itself. It is safe to say that there are as many kinds of stuffing as there are birds on Thanksgiving. A good stuffing doesn’t require much skill, and is easily made to suit individual tastes. Texture is easily controlled by the choice of bread (crusty or not, whole grain or not, cornbread or not) and the size of the cubes you cut. I’m a loose texture, crusty, big cube guy. What do you like?

I grew up in New England, and have eaten many Thanksgiving dinners at a country Inn. It is usually simple, traditional Thanksgiving fare. But what I’ve learned over the years is that the hearty, old fashioned Yankee stuffing can be savory or savory with a touch of sweet.

With that in mind I proudly present the 2010 Butter Flour Eggs savory, slightly sweet, Yankee Thanksgiving Stuffing for “outies”. I use the label Yankee very loosely because I don’t think the Pilgrims used Ciabatta bread to stuff their turkey. But this is a question of style over substance. As with any cooking, I made a list of my preferences, and chose the ingredients from there. So my Yankee Stuffing contains Italian-style bread, dried figs from Greece, and chestnuts from China. The end result is very Yankee: a little starchy, only faintly sweet (except for the sweet snap crackle pop of the bits of dried fig), and almost florid in its traditional poultry herbs like sage, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. A little bit of diced pear is sautéed along with the celery and onion to add a bit of mellow sugar that helps the onions to caramelize. And “innies” shouldn’t worry: you can still stuff the bird with this stuffing.

Chefs, I’m sure would take great exception to the source of the herbs in my stuffing: Bells Seasoning. These little yellow boxes (produced in East Weymouth, Mass.) are ubiquitous in the supermarket at this time of year. Actually, you’ll find this venerable product handy all through the year whenever you cook poultry. (Pearl of wisdom: Mix it with a little kosher salt and butter or margarine and slip it under the skin of your chicken or turkey.) Yes, Chefs, I know it is not the same as using fresh herbs, but Bells adds a wonderful fragrance to poultry and stuffing that is traditional and welcoming. It is kind of like the poultry version of apple pie spice, and in its own way makes your house smell just as good (although I doubt there will ever be a Butter Flour Eggs Bells Seasoning scented candle.)

I am proud and thankful that you spent a few minutes with me during this busy holiday week. I hope you and your family have a happy—mild—and delicious Thanksgiving.


Click here for the recipe for Yankee Thanksgiving Stuffing.

Need some Thanksgiving inspiration? Read my previous Thanksgiving recipe ideas:

Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

Anadama Bread

Apple Pan Dowdy with “Baked Indian Pudding” Crust

Roasted Corn Soufflé


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