Gluten Free Baking with Ella Bella

IMG_0416For folks with celiac disease being gluten-free is essential, eating gluten can make them very sick.  This is a different thing than the wave of gluten-free eating that has become a huge trend in the last couple of years. Continue reading

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Bar Tartine

Regular readers will know that  my latest obsession with Layer Cakes and Sour Dough Bread inspired by the folks at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, is actually just a further exploration of my love of the San Francisco food scene.

Originally inspired by Alice Waters and all the amazing people who worked with her at Chez Panisse: David Tanis, David Leibovitz, Lindsey Shere to name a few.  All of these folks have moved on and written great cook books.  Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Pruiett of Tartine are the latest addition to this increasingly long list of chefs/cookbook writers based in San Francisco (Chez Panisse is in Berkeley) which have found their way into my kitchen and made me a better cook.   All of them have one thing in common: reading their recipes/books is always educational, in the case of Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread book it’s like taking an in-depth course in bread making at a culinary school only without the tuition.

This morning I came across this video of Nick Balla the chef at Bar Tartine talking about his own personal culinary journey and philosophy and I just had to share it. I have never  never eaten at Bar Tartine, I’ve always wanted to, but for what ever reasons when I’ve visited it’s just never happened.

This video so sums up my aspirations, it’s what I try to do in my kitchen: make everything in-house.  Of course it’s easier to do that when you have, you know, a kitchen full of help.  Still a boy can dream.  And dream I do.

I often think in the last few years that had I one ounce of insight when I was young I would have gone to culinary school not theater school.  Who knows if I would have ever found my way to Northern California, but after seeing this video I am ready to pack my bags and go camp out on the door step of Bar Tartine and see if they need any middle-aged interns ;-)

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Snow Storm Menus and Sour Dough Bread

IMG_0464 Friday night of the big snowstorm our friends Jim and Michael were in town from London and staying with us.  What had started as a 1 night stay became a 2 night stay as all flights in and out of NYC on Saturday got canceled.  In truth I think they were lucky to be able to leave on Sunday.

It was fun having them here for the big storm.  Nice to share it with someone and have company already here, bit canceling because all the transit options have shut down!

The first night I had planned a dinner party (see menu above) the second night we made an off the cuff dinner, the boys had gone out around noon on Saturday and got very lucky as they market was still open as was the Mexican restaurant they wanted to eat at – an hour later and everything would have been closed.  Saturday night a very brave friend of Jim’s  came here on the subway all the way from Bed Stuy Brooklyn.   The subways ran throughout snowmageddon except on routes where the train goes outside.

The layer cake in the menu was inspired by season 5 of the British Baking Show, which I spoke about at length here just a while back,  I couldn’t help wonder every time the bakers are presented a challenge: how would I do?  Could I do make Phylo by scratch in two version in 3 hours?  It made me really feel like I wanted to up my game.

So I presented myself with 2 challenges, the first one is to over come my fear of layer cakes and become better at all those decorating skills that I have always been so bad at.  You know like piping fancy designs and words, using fondant and conquering Italian meringue.

The second challenge is to make sour dough bread from my own starter.  Years ago I had a starter and took a class on sour dough bread making and made some good bread.  Someone tho it never really inspired me, it was time considering and I never really felt confident that the bread would actually turn out.  I realize in retrospect that I wanted it to be easier and quicker than it was.  Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread recipe had just come out and it seemed to me that there was no point in sour dough when I could make great bread over night by simply adding flour, water and salt letting sit for 12 hours, shaping it up letting it rest and baking.  The results were reliable and good.  I made a whole wheat version for Jim and Michael and they loved it.  If only they had come a week later they wouldn’t have gotten snowed in and they would have been able to eat my first loaf of sour dough Country Bread — I can’t believe how much better it is!

The week they arrived my sour dough starter was just showing signs of  bubbles and my copy of  Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco had just arrived at my door.

Beyond radically changing the quality of the bread I make, this kind of natural, slow process of making bread has given me craft to hone, a practice, if you will, something to take pride in.  Every day I spend a few minutes feeding my starter (the closest I get to having a pet).  Making 2 loaves (the basic recipe) you have to start the night before, mixing table-spoon of starter with 200 grams each of flour and water.  The following morning  you mix the leaven with more flour, water and salt, let it rest, then put it in a container and every 30 minutes for up to 4 hours you knead it.

Then you let it rest.

Then you  fold it, then you let it rest for another 3 or 4 hours or overnight in the fridge (preferable as a slow rise adds flavor).  Then you bake it, as you would with no knead bread in a covered dutch oven for 20 minutes, the 20 minutes with the lid removed.

I finally get how cooking can be meditative.  When you’re engaged in a time-consuming task that requires focus that focus allows you to get way more done than just making bread.  It actually has improved my productivity in other ways totally non bread related.

Pictured below are the three breads I made for last nights dinner party: top left is an olive, walnut loaf with Herbs de Provence and lemon, below it Country Bread and next to them Potato, Thyme and Pecorino Romano Cheese Focaccia fresh out of the oven)IMG_0504Tomorrow my uphill battle with making the perfect layer cake apparently the 4th time is the winner.IMG_0503Just about to go into the oven.IMG_0522Ready to be eaten!

If you make sour dough bread I’d love to hear your stories or if you wanted share a recipe! I haven’t enjoyed reading a cookbook as much as I have Tartine Bread in years, maybe ever, totally engrossing.

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My Obsession With The Great British Baking Show

Late one night drinking red wine spritzers in front of my computer trying to find something interesting to watch on Netflix I glanced for the umpteenth time at the logo for the Great British Baking Show .  British people baking?  They made that into a tv series?  Well for what ever reason this particular night I clicked on the link and thought:  I’ll just check this out I can always turn it off.  I was up until 3 am that night unable to stop watching.

Now I can’t wait to see the entire series!

I’ve always hated and been perplexed by the reality TV thing.  Why couldn’t we just be happy to watch people who knew how to cook – cook?  Why does it always have to be put in the context of a competition? With this show I finally get it, our elated to some of the contestants your root for them, hope what ever it is they are making turns out…cringe and yell at your screen when they are choose best or given words of praise.  It’s all so very manipulative!  At least this show is more gentle than mean.  It features a grandmotherly woman (Mary Berry) and baking: how mean could it be?

It has a mildly bitchy side in the form of Mr Hollywood,  who went he gets super critical might tell you that your cake is dry or looks a mess.  

Someone does gets “eliminated” every episode, but at least done it’s done with a generous spirit, maybe I’m just making excuses because I love it so much?

What really has me so engaged in watching the show are the actual challenges.  It’s hard for someone who cooks like I do, to not think: what would I have made?  Or how would I have done?  Some of the things they’re asked to do are kind of insane, like the free-standing sculptured piece made from “biscuits” (or cookies as we would call them on this side of the pond).  Or all the individual stuff that needs to be perfect. Or the use of piping bags! I have an unnatural fear of those desserts that require excessive Martha Stewart decoration. Creative baked Alaska? You gotta be kidding me. I’d be asked off first thing!

The end result of this obsession is that it has me trying to learn more and up my game.  My last post about Brioche is an example of this: the reason I want to try all 4 recipes is because I don’t want to be complacent with the easy one that worked, but rather see what the differences are and indeed if I can make the other, more challenging ones.

Friday I’m once again going to try to make a Lemon Meringue Layer Cake.  This time I’m giving myself a full three days to prepare and assemble it.   Hopefully it will be more successful than the Italian meringue coconut cake I tried last year made with 4 discs of constantly moving layers lubed up by slippery icing that never set.

Tell me am I the only one with this obsession? Anyone else bing watching the Great British Baking Show?

IMG_0429Heres the cake as it looks in the cookbook, wish me luck!


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Easy Brioche

IMG_0370 My friend Jane wanted to celebrate New Year (belatedly) with our friend Michael, she had a big tin of caviar and a bottle of champagne, all I needed to do was provide something to put the caviar on.  Traditionally my favorite vehicle for caviar or Lox are corn cakes, but given how special this caviar was I wanted to make something a bit more fancy.  Brioche immediately came to mind.  Buttery and rich: perfect for Crème fraîche and deliciously briny caviar.IMG_0371I’ve made Challah before with pretty good success. The one time I tried to make Brioche before this, it was a catastrophe Continue reading

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Happy New Year (a little late)

I think I have finally recovered from all the dinner parties, cooking  and house guests from the last 10 days.  I love my friends who come to stay with us, what I don’t like so much is my absolute inability to say:  No I will not have another drink and I will not stay up until 4 am again!  It was the holidays, and I was trying to be a good host :-)

My friend and Urbanfoodguy reader Chris introduced me to a British cook who had her own very successful show: Fanny Cradock.   I’d never heard of before and immediately starting watching old Fanny Cradock videos on YouTube and went down the rabbit hole.

The most fascinating video I found was a documentary called: The Way We Cooked. Below is the first episode there are 7 they aren’t long and I found them very interesting and educational – it’s amazing how far we have come in our understanding and sensibilities about food and cooking:

(Before I found the above documentary about the reigning King and Queen of cooking shows: Fanny Cradock and Graham Kerr (aka the Galloping Gourmet) I watched an episode of Fanny making christmas cake. I have to say I was rather horrified. She looks like a 1950’s past her prime starlet who has morphing into a psychotic clown (what is up with the pasty white make up and those eye brows?)  My first impression about her was that she was a total monster.  I figured I was missing something.  In this video of her making Christmas cakes you have to watch for the spatula moment, I’m so glad I didn’t work for her!

The documentary does a good job of understanding the appeal of these two very opposite personalities.

As regular readers know I was a huge fan of the Galloping Gourmet when I was a little boy. One of the chef’s interviewed talks specifically about the appeal the show at with children, and what an impact it made, so much so some of them grew up to become chefs, or….Food Bloggers ;-)

Here is a great example of classic Galloping Gourmet:

I hope you all had a fun, food filled and festive New Years even and that you have happy, healthy, prosperous new year filled with loved ones and of course good food!



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Plastic Lemons

IMG_0328Contrary to the sign these lemons where not plastic.

I’m not sure what this means or why a grocery store has a sign below where they sell real lemons that says: plastic lemons.

This is at the chain grocery store across from our apartment that I don’t like, but in an emergency go to because, it’s across the street ;-)

Please folks help me out here, any ideas whats up with the plastic lemons sign?

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