Pleasing a Crowd

December 28, 2014

Great Garlic Bread

A fragrant loaf of garlic bread is the best way I know to please a crowd.  While it bakes it perfumes the neighborhood, broadcasting such deeply nostalgic signals that it can send the staidest  grownup straight back to childhood.

It is both easier and harder to make a great loaf of garlic bread than it once was. Easier because these days it is far easier to find a great loaf of bread to begin with, And harder because the influx of cheap, imported garlic has made finding good garlic increasingly difficult. 

You don’t want old garlic because as it gets nasty and bitter when it sprouts.  You know the terrible taste I’m talking about.  If you can’t get your hands on good garlic, the only remedy is to go through your garlic, clove by clove, removing the bitter green sprouts.  It’s painstaking work, but it’s worth it.   

There are three other tricks to making great garlic bread.

 

  1. Use a lot of garlic.
  2. Melt the butter – don’t just soften it – and brush it liberally across the bread.  When you think you’ve used enough, use more.
  3. Bake it twice. Once to get the bread warm and completely infused with the garlic butter.  And again, to get a crisp, golden, crunchy top. 

 

Begin by buying a good loaf of sturdy French or Italian bread. Cut it in half, lengthwise (a serrated knife helps).  

 Melt a stick of sweet butter. Add one entire head of garlic that you’ve peeled and finely chopped.  (For an easy way to peel garlic, drop the cloves into a pan of boiling water for 10 seconds, which will loosen the skins.)

 Slather the garlic butter onto the bread with a brush.  Let it soak in. Use it all. 

 Place the loaf, cut sides up, in a 350 degree oven.  Bake for 15 minutes.

Turn the heat up to broil and broil for about 2 minutes, watching carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn. 

 

Optional additions.

Chopped parsley or chives will give your garlic bread a lovely spring-like look. Use about 2 tablespoons.  I also like to add the zest of one lemon, right before broiling. But my favorite addition is a quarter cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese, added just before it goes under the broiler, which makes this truly, decadently, delicious.  

 

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Rich Little Crackers for Christmas (or anytime)

December 26, 2014

Wafers

Bacon Cheese Coins

My friend Robin showed up for Christmas dinner last night with these really fantastic (and very rich) cheese crackers.

I asked for the recipe – and thought I'd share.

Gruyere and Bacon  Wafers

2 slices bacon
4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup finely grated gruyere
3 tablespoons grated parmesan reggiano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pinch cayenne

Cook the bacon in a cast iron skillet and chop in a food processor into small bits.
Add the butter, flour, cheeses, salt, and cayenne to the food processor.
Process until a ball forms. Be patient. It will happen eventually.
Form the ball into a log shape 1 1/4 inches in diameter using a sheet of plastic wrap.
Wrap the log in the plastic wrap and a sheet of aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Heat an oven to 375 degrees

Cut the log into 1/4" slices and place on a sheet of silpat or parchment paper. (do not grease)
Sprinkle with a little Maldon salt.
Bake until very lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. They will get a little darker out of the oven.
Cool on a rack.

yield: about 36 wafers

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2014 Gift Guide: Day 31

December 24, 2014

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Share the Wealth

Here is a remarkably simple—and smart—idea. Sharetable.org has persuaded dozens of San Francisco restaurants to donate a portion of gift certificate sales to the SF Food Bank. (Just make sure you buy the certificates through the Sharetable website, otherwise it's just a regular certificate.)

So while treating an SF-based loved one to an exquisite meal, you’re also helping feed those without enough to eat. What’s more, nearly all the best restaurants in San Francisco participate. 

What would I want? I can’t think of a better way to start off the new year than having $50 to spend over time at Humphrey Slocombe, one of this country’s great ice creameries.  

Here’s hoping Sharetable spreads to other cities in 2015. 

(Pictured above: Michael Tusk's irresistable agnolotti at Cotogna.)

If you're on the East Coast, and looking for an organization to support, I'd like to suggest my own favorite charity, Rural and Migrant Ministry, a group fighting for justice for farmworkers. 

Through their three offices around the state, RRM does advocacy, runs community education programs, and lobbies the state legislature to update the infuriatingly inept labor laws. In a time when it's estimated that at least half of the farmworkers in America are undocumented – and therefore open to exploitation – this has never been more important. Our food system cannot be sustainable until we recognize that the people who pick our food and care for our farm animals deserve decent lives. 

Learn more, and how to donate, here.

 

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2014 Gift Guide, Day Thirty

December 23, 2014

Books to Cook By

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to stand cooking in the kitchen, surrounded by wonderful aromas, listening to a good book.

If you know someone who's rather be in the kitchen than anywhere else, why not give them a good book to listen to?  A subscription to audible.com is an instant gift – and it will give your friend hours of cooking pleasure.

Here are some of the books I've cooked to this year.  (I've just realized that they're all by women; not sure what that means.)

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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman living in America goes in to get her hair braided, and in the course of one long day recalls how she got here – and where she's going. Beautifully written, it's about love and politics, race – and well, everything. It stays with me.

 

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Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Read by the author, who puts the emphasis on all the right places. Offill has a unique voice; she describes a marriage in shopping lists, in snatches of conversation, in notes and asides.  Somehow she makes you know these people; I often found myself putting down my knife, just to listen.

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 The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. What if, one day, you went to mail a letter and just kept going?  Harold walks across England on a mission to see a dying friend, collecting friends, enemies and adventures along the way.  It's a quirky book, and utterly unforgettable.

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The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, who we all know is really JK Rowling. Pure fun. Cormoran Strike is a fantastic character; when this one ends you'll want to hear the other Galbraith book, and then you'll find yourself hoping Ms. Rawlings writes the third installment very quickly. She sure knows how to tell a story.

 

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People of the book, by Geraldine Brooks.  I've loved every book Geraldine Brooks has written, but this literary mystery, which takes place across six centuries, is my favorite.  The adventure begins with a modern love story and then goes back through time, tracing the origin of a rare Haggadah.  

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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Some books are better listened to than read; having consumed Mantel's books with both eyes and ears, I'd argue that this is one of them. Read by Simon Vance, this will have you dreaming up new dishes to cook, just to keep listening.  And when it's done, you still have the pleasure of Bring Up the Bodies ahead of you.

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2014 Gift Guide, Day 29

December 22, 2014

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Some Like it Hot

This is probably the last day you can reasonably order a gift online to arrive in time for Christmas. So I'm going to suggest my favorite small kitchen appliance.  

I've had this small spice grinder for many years, and it just keeps trucking along. But these days, as I find myself using more spices, cooking more Mexican and Indian foods, I use it with increasing frequency. 

This is what I love about it: the motor is strong enough to pulverize even really tough spices like annato, and it reduces nuts to powder in a matter of seconds.

It does equally well with wet spice pastes like moles and marinades.

It's easy to clean; you simply throw it in the dish washer.

It's easy to store.

And it comes with a top, so if you want to save a marinade you simply put the entire cup in the refrigerator.

The grinder also makes a great gift because it's inexpensive (about $40) and not yet part of everybody's ordinary kitchen battery. Besides, you can always use an extra for super hot spices. 

 

 

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