Local Hawaii ingredients used with an international flair
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Catching up with Mark Bittman’s no-knead bread
by Larry Geller
It seems that almost everyone on the planet has tried Mark Bittman’s no-knead bread. The original recipe was in the New York Times article of November 8, 2006, The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work (recipe here), and there’s a video which will explain the whole thing to you (although Bittman’s recipe differs from the video, it’s close enough):
I’m guessing that if I lived in New York, nearly every neighbor would have already tried this shockingly simple way to make great bread. Here in Hawaii, not so. So I don’t feel so bad being a late adopter.
Why didn’t I try it right away? We didn’t have the necessary heavy pot. At Executive Chef, it would cost $280 for a Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot that might work. As the economy tumbles, however, there have been some great sales, and a similar pot appeared in a Macys one-day sale ad for $49.95. It was a 5.5 quart Martha Stewart enameled cast iron pot with a lifetime guarantee. It was not quite as heavy as the popular brand, but affordable. We picked up a metal Le Creuset knob for the pot just to be sure it could survive in the oven at the high temperature the recipe called for. The smaller pot is also a change from the video, made after Bittman adapted the original method to suit his own preferences.
So I did try it, at last. I made some mistakes along the way, and yet, strange thing, the bread turned out great! It had an incredible crackly crust as described. The inside was slightly underbaked but when the bread was reheated (we quarter the loaf and freeze the unused portion) it was perfect. I’ll fix that next time (the oven was not warm enough).
For me, kneading bread is something I look forward to. I used to bake frequently, but these days, with the availability of Bale bread at the KCC Saturday Farmers Market, I got lazy. I have a sourdough starter in the fridge that’s been neglected so long that I can’t remember when I last tended to it. Although I like to knead, I’ve been intrigued by the possibility that the whole ritual is, well, unnecessary. It’s something like my attitude to shifting a manual transmission in a car—why bother? Isn’t that why the automatic transmission was invented? So why knead, if great bread can be produced without it?
I tried the recipe as given in Bittman’s followup article, No Kneading, but Some Fine-Tuning.
My first mistake was that the dough was too wet. I used Bittman’s weight measures since we have metric scales. It was so wet that it stuck to the Silpat mat I let it rise on. It stuck to the plastic wrap. It was a mess. But I threw it into the oven-hot pot anyway, put on the lid, gave it the 30 minutes recommended and then 30 minutes with the lid off.
My second error was that I was impatient with my oven, which had probably not warmed to the correct temperature.
Amazingly, a perfect boule emerged at the end of this process.
Soon I’ll do it again, probably with part whole grain flour, and following that I’ll try a refrigerated dough as described in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Imagine taking a lump of dough out of the fridge, letting it sit and rise awhile, then throwing it into a hot pot—and voila! fresh baked bread for dinner, the lazy way.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Kookie’s Thai Kitchen—outstanding flavor and affordable
by Larry Geller
We were thrilled to learn that Kookie is back in Honolulu, and this time with her own Thai restaurant and exciting new menu. Kookie’s Thai Kitchen opened Friday (Grand Opening will be Sunday, November 23) in a completely redecorated location on Middle Street, near Rose St. We rushed right over, eager for the flavors we remember from when she was the creative chef behind Club New Pattaya in Nuuanu. Kookie prepares the same food that we remember from our visits to Thailand.
We can report that her repertoire has expanded (the menu lists 69 dishes) and along with her versatility, her enticing presentation should make this new venture an instant success. The menu is priced right for our challenging economy—imagine finding a restaurant that is both affordable and at the top of its class. The interior is bright, welcoming and simple. Everyone is cheerful and happy to see you.
The prawns must be fresh, because they will be eaten raw. Aromatic nam pla fish sauce is a staple ingredient in Thai cooking and resembles the similar variations that are ubiquitous in many Asian cuisines. This dish is a perfect introduction to Thai flavors as you would experience them in Thailand, rather than in restaurants offering stereotypical curries and dishes heavy with coconut milk. The prawns were fresh and crisp and perfectly seasoned. From the photo you’ll see that garlic is another key ingredient in this dish. You’ll also note Kookie’s creative hand in the presentation.
Next we chose a longtime favorite, Yum ma keau yao, grilled eggplant with hot peppers and lemon juice. Yes, we like it hot. Kookie can accommodate any level of heat, so don’t hesitate to ask. Again, the main flavor, slightly smoky eggplant, is supported by the crunch of raw carrot, cilantro and other vegetables in a sauce that’s appropriately spicy but that doesn’t overpower the eggplant.
Sticky rice, khao neow, is the perfect accompaniment for these dishes, but you have your choice. Dishes originating from central Thailand often go better with plain rice.
Try eating the way they do in Thailand—with a tablespoon and fork instead of chopsticks. There will be serving spoons to take some of each shared course onto your plate. Use your spoon to take a little rice. Then with the spoon in your right hand (if you are right-handed) as the main eating utensil, use the fork in your left hand to push things together. No one will give you funny looks in Kookie’s Thai Kitchen. You’ll see others doing the same. We’ve carried this Thai habit into our home. It makes so much sense for many dishes to dig in with a tablespoon.
We’ll be back soon to work our way around the menu. Kookie is always there to help with suggestions and to explain what might be best on a particular day. We always (always!) go with her suggestions.
Kookie’s Thai Kitchen
Saturday, November 15, 2008
It’s not just candy bars that shrink
Some supermarkets have jacked up prices more than others on a particular item. It’s hard for the consumer to tell whether increases are due to the higher cost of ingredients or just plain price gouging.
When the manufacturer shrinks the product, it’s easier to detect. Tropicana, which makes a not-bad fresh (not from concentrate) orange juice which we’ll buy when it is on sale and Florida Natural is not, must think we consumers are pretty dumb, though. They are promoting a new bottle as though it’s something so great we should rush out and buy it right away. In actuality, they’ve shrunk the product from 96 ounces before to 89 ounces in this new packaging. That’s almost one serving disappeared.
In exchange, we are supposed to love this new bottle. That’s hard to do. You’ll be cursing at it should it fall off your refrigerator shelf after opening.
Opening the cover initially is more difficult than just unscrewing the cap on the usual pitcher. Shutting it is easy enough wherever you push. I found myself pushing on the front lip of the cap so as not to hear the stupid “snap.”
What’s much worse, though, is that if you should accidentally drop a container with a typical screw cap, chances are that nothing will spill (it’s happened to me). With this container, the cap can pop open and you might have a few choice words for Tropicana about the convenience of their new pitcher.
To test this, I took my empty Tropicana pitcher into the bathroom, filled it about 2/3 with water, and dropped it onto its side from a height approximating the top shelf in my fridge (on a side-by-side model, the shelves would be even higher). Sure enough, the cap popped open and water began gurgling out. Three times out of three. Your mileage may vary, but it may not.
So much for the great advantage of the new bottle design.
(Click any of the pictures for larger image.)
(Yes, the picture is tilted, because the bottom of the container bulges out.)
The Nutrition Facts on the back still show a serving size of 8 ounces. The old 96-ounce size would have held 12 servings. This one is almost one serving short.
Consumers have a choice. You can buy this bottle or not.
We are not sheep, we have intelligence. Let’s use it. If you have a calculator handy in your cell phone or PDA, check for which brand is cheaper by the ounce.
Also consider how much effort it takes to clean up sticky orange juice from the kitchen floor on that day when, not if, a container slips off the shelf (and suppose it runs under the fridge. Ugh!).
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