Friday, February 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: French Bread

For February Daring Bakers challenge Mary of The Sour Dough and Sara of I like to cook picked the French bread recipe from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2". According to Mary and Sara the original recipe from Julia Child cookbook takes up to 18 pages. That made me nervous.

I'm quite proud of my bread baking skills, but till now I never made French bread. I usually bake with whole corn or rye flour and the process is in general much simpler than the process described in DB / Julia Child recipe. And I do not have the strict recipe that I fallow. I know in general what is needed to make a bread, but I usually do something different, always adding something like olives, capers, caramelized onion...

At the first I was overwhelm with the length and the precisions of the DB recipe. And I was sure it will be to complicated for me. Especially the part of the recipe that describes the kneading, rupture and all then hard "hand working" that I couldn't quite visualize.

Luckily for me, and all of you who need AV assistance when cooking something for the first time, I found a great video from PBS with Julia Child and Danielle Forestier that helped me understand what I'm supposed to do!

The process in video was a bit different from DB recipe and since DB rules request to follow the recipe I had no option but to follow the DB recipe and to use video only to help me with kneading and other technics.

From the very beginning I felt something was wrong. The dough was to hard to knead. I suppose I didn't add enough water, so for the next time I'll be sure to add more water. That was more or less the only problem, but it followed me trough whole process... dough couldn't rise enough, it was hard to knead and rupture...

I realized very soon that it needed more water but I was not sure could I just add it after the first rise. Well, next time I'll know better at the beginning.

The final result was excellent, no matter the problem I had during the process. Maybe it would be better if bread was little bit more "spongy", with more holes... I suppose it is connected with the lack of water... but it tasted great!

So, all I can say to all of you who are afraid of 18 pages long recipe is: "Do not fear!" Take one step at the time and just follow the recipe... it will take you there... "Let the force be with you!"

Monday, February 4, 2008

Jota - the Comfort Food Queen

If you ask me, when we talk about comfort food, nothing can beat Jota - thick bean and sauerkraut soup. It's one of those ancient dishes that no one can really tell where and when was prepared for the first time. It is topical staple food in Dalmatia, Istria, Slovenia and part of northmen Italy (around Trieste). Each region has its own variant, but two main ingredients beans and sauerkraut are the basics! If you are interested to learn more about history of this meal, original recipes... read the article about it.

I'm bringing you the recipe that I use. I do make variations with meat that I use. This time I used sausages but any other smoked meat like the knuckle of prosciutto, or pork ribs will do just fine if not even better.

Jota - bean and sauerkraut soup

250 gram beans

500 gram sauerkraut

sausages or other smoked meat according preference

100 gram fine-cut bacon

1 onion, fine-cut

2 cloves of garlic

carrot, according preference (I like to use lots of carrot)

parsley and celery root

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper to taste

0.5 dl olive oil

veal stock

Soak the beans overnight. I didn't have to do this since I had young beans that didn't needed soaking and long cooking. Instead I precook it for 1 hour.

Heath the olive oil in the large pot, add bacon and fry for 2-3 minutes on medium heath.

Add onion and brown it.

Add sliced carrot, parsley and celery root. This is not the part of the original recipe but I prefer it this way.

Add the sausages and let them burn a bit just to add the taste of sausage to the aromats.

Pour in the stock, bay leaf, salt, paper to taste. Add beans and cook until beans are almost completely soft.

Add sauerkraut. Pour more stock if needed.

Cook until beans and sauerkraut are completely tender.

Jota lets you be creative so use that. You can make numberless variations in every step of the recipe. You can use meat, but Jota can be great vegetarian dish too. Instead of sauerkraut you can use soured swede (purist will insist it is not Jota anymore, but trust me it is delicious too). Some add sour cream, some like to tick it with pestata...

Be careful with beans. If us "old" beans it will need longer time to cook. I do not cook sauerkraut too long for two reasons. The first is that I like to "feel" the crispy sauerkraut and secondly because Jota is one of those dishes that you prepare to eat for at least two days so you will re-heath it few times and sauerkraut will get very soft at the end.

As you can see, Jota is "flexible" so there are no reason not to do cook it today. Let me know how it worked for you.