Hooray for Bread!

 Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone; 
it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.  
 --Ursula K. Le Guin

Mmmm. Fresh-baked bread.

While I love to bring home paper-wrapped artisanal loaves from our local bakery, there's just something about making bread with your own hands.

I have a lovely weekend routine of bread baking here at Chez Gourmess. My go-to recipe for the past several years has been Jim Lahey's "No-Knead Bread" -- it's so easy to make and comes out the oven golden brown and perfect. Every time. You can add chopped nuts, olives, raisins, herbs, flax seed, etc., to the dough -- there doesn't seem to be a way to mess it up. I usually make the dough before I go to bed and let it rise overnight. A couple more hours of rising the next morning, and it's ready to go. The bread is usually in the oven by the time Chris is done reading the Sunday paper. Voilà! 
And now, I've found another bread recipe to add to my culinary repertoire, thanks to Food52.com. It's one of my new favorite food communities, and one of the prettiest food sites around. There are tons of great recipes, and I recently discovered a post there with Dan Leader's 4-Hour Baguette recipe. Ooh la la, baguettes! When we were in Paris this past fall, I loved seeing everyone walking around with their morning bread -- how great would it be to have fresh baguettes every day? Now it looks like I can do just that. (At least on the weekends.)

The recipe is relatively easy, with minimal effort, and the bread is simply délicieux. (I actually made it one-handed due to an injured wrist, and the three loaves turned out beautifully despite my clumsy, GourMESS efforts.) Of course, like any baguette, these taste best when they are still warm from the oven, but if you do have one or two left, don't worry. At the two-day mark, they still seem to be just fine for sandwiches and toast.


Yum. I will definitely be making these baguettes again this weekend. Why don't you get the recipe here and join me?

After all, le pain est l'amour.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip & Pecan Cookies

Best. Chocolate. Chip. Cookies. Ever.

You will be the star of every picnic, pot-luck, or office party you bring them to. True story.

Get the recipe here.


Slow Cooking: Chicken Cacciatore

It was a gorgeous fall day here today -- the air was crisp the sun was bright and while the leaves are just starting to turn here, there was a slight crunch underfoot as we strolled down the sidewalk.

Today's slow cooker recipe comes from Food Network Magazine -- with a few tweaks: "Slow-Cooker Chicken Cacciatore," just like Grandma used to make. Mushrooms, tomatoes, wine, basil, garlic, hot peppers, chicken thighs -- you can't really go wrong.
Crock full of flavor!
If you want to make your own batch, you can find the recipe here. Chris and I've tweaked a bit by adding some diced hot cherry peppers (and maybe a pinch of bacon salt when no one's looking) to the mix, but otherwise, it's straight from the book. Speaking of books, it was the perfect day to grab one and while away the afternoon.

Seven hours later, the house smells welcoming and tummies are ready to be filled. Served over pasta, rice, couscous or just with a hunk of crusty bread, it's a satisfying way to celebrate the arrival of another fall evening.

Have a delicious one!


A Stellar Standby: Buttery Shrimp Pasta with Garlic and Lemon

We all have our culinary standbys. . . those tried-and-true recipes we can make in our sleep. Tasty dishes that use simple ingredients, yet taste worthy of being on a restaurant menu. They're our favorites and our family's favorites -- the ones on our short list of what to make if someone special is coming to dinner. Although, here at Chez Gourmess, everyone who eats at our table is considered special and worthy of a delightful meal.
You've heard me moan and groan about Chris's disdain for eating pasta for dinner (something about not eating carbs at the end of the day, blah, blah, blah, etc.), so on the off chance we can eat early, I of course make pasta. One of our favorites -- an old standby -- is a lovely shrimp pasta that I've been making for years. Imagine if you will, a bowl of pasta piled high with plump, wild shrimp covered in a bright, buttery sauce bursting with lemon, garlic, and a sprinkle of fresh herbs. Yum! I should note that I really like using a whole grain pasta in this recipe -- it adds a nutty flavor that's a nice complement to the other ingredients, plus Chris doesn't seem to grumble as much if I point out that I'm using healthy pasta. This pasta dish pairs perfectly with a glass of crisp white wine (try a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or Chablis) and a green salad, if you feel like making one.

I've posted the recipe before, but I'll recap it again here.  Because it's worth sharing again and I do revise it a little each time.

Gourmess' Shrimp Pasta
1 13-14 oz. box whole wheat/multi-grain spaghetti
1 lb large, raw shrimp*
1 1/2 -2 cups mixed vegetables (peas/carrots)
1 TBS olive oil, plus more for serving
3 garlic cloves (minced)
Red pepper flakes
Juice of 1 small lemon
1 tsp garlic powder
Kosher salt
3 TBS unsalted butter
Italian-seasoned bread crumbs 
Fresh ground black pepper
2 TBS fresh parsley and basil, minced
*Note: I used extra-jumbo wild Patagonian shrimp since that's what was in the fridge. 
Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 2
To Do:
  • Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil, add in pasta and cook for about 7-9  minutes, or until it's al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid, then drain -- but do not rinse. Cover with a lid to keep warm. 
  • Make sure your shrimp is deveined (take out the black intestinal line) and remove any shells/tails. Rinse with cold water and pat dry. Chop into bite-sized pieces if extra large, otherwise leave whole. Set aside, but keep chilled. 
  • If using frozen veggies, thaw them in a colander. Note: I used frozen peas, but I peeled and diced 3 medium-sized carrots because I had some and I prefer them to frozen carrots.
  • Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  When the rim of your pan is hot, add the garlic and reduce the heat. Sauté until soft -- do not let it brown.  If using fresh carrots, add them to the pan and cook until tender crisp.
  • Add a couple shakes of red pepper flakes to the pan along with the lemon juice, garlic powder, and a couple pinches of salt. Stir in the butter and the reserved pasta water.
  • Add the shrimp and peas and cover the pan, cooking over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until the shrimp is pink and both it and the peas are heated through. Remove from heat, but keep covered.
  • Grab a large serving bowl and add the pasta, then the shrimp and veggies. Toss until incorporated and then add a TBS or so of bread crumbs and toss again. 
  • Do the "fork test" -- twirl a bunch of the pasta and a piece of shrimp on a fork and take a bite. If it needs more salt, or perhaps a drizzle of olive oil,  add it now.
  • Scoop into bowls, and top with pepper and the fresh herbs before serving to your smiling guests.


Reposting a Keeper: Grape Focaccia

I first discovered the recipe for Grape Focaccia in March 2012. I've made it at least a dozen times since, sometimes as is, and other times, I swap out the grapes, pine nuts, and rosemary, and use whatever I think sounds good: like tarragon, cardamom with blood orange-infused olive oil, or citrusy, marinated olives and Herbes de Provence and zero sugar.
No matter what goes into it, the focaccia always comes out amazing. It's one of those dishes that never fails to impress. It can work as an appetizer or savory dessert, and makes a great companion to a cheese plate or bread basket. So, as you start thinking about your upcoming holiday party menus, put this recipe on your "To Try" list.

It's a keeper.

Grape Focaccia
adapted from The New York Times
6 TBS extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 TBS fresh rosemary leaves
2 tsps active dry yeast
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup fine cornmeal
5 TBS granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 heaping cups seedless grapes (black or red are my favs for this)
1/2 cup pine nuts
Sea salt (for sprinkling)

Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 3

To Do:
  • Warm the olive oil and half of the rosemary in a small skillet over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool.
  • Place 3/4 cup lukewarm water in a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over it, and let stand until it foams, about 5-10 minutes.
  • When yeast is ready, add to it the cooled olive oil/rosemary mixture, the flour, cornmeal, 3 TBS sugar, and 1 1/2 tsp salt. Mix with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms.
  • Flour a clean surface, then remove the dough from the bowl and knead about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic -- adding more flour as needed (up to 1/4 cup more), but without drying out the dough. (The NYT recipe gives alternative instructions if you prefer to use a hand mixer, but hand-kneading is pretty easy, so why let the machine have all the fun?)
  • Oil a large bowl, add the now-kneaded dough. Cover the bowl with towel and set in a warm place. Let it rise until the dough has doubled, a little over an hour or so. (It usually doubles anywhere between 60 and 90 minutes for me, depending on how warm the spot is.)
  • About 20-30  minutes before your dough is ready, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large cookie sheet with olive oil.
  • Punch down the dough, then pat it into the pan, stretching it to a little less than 1/2-inch thick. Don't crowd the pan (dough edges shouldn't touch the pan edges). 
  • Slice the grapes in half if they are large. Then, toss in a medium-sized bowl with the pine nuts, the remaining 2 TBS of sugar, and the rest of the rosemary. 
  • Lightly imprint the dough's surface with your fingertips, then sprinkle the grape, pine nut, sugar and rosemary mixture over the dough, pressing down gently. Sprinkle the sea salt over the dough and drizzle all over with olive oil. (You can be pretty generous with the olive oil.) 
  • Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. (Browning happens quickly -- keep an eye on it!)
  • Let cool slightly, then slice into any size piece you wish, and serve. It's also great right from the pan -- especially for picnics.