Monday, November 10, 2008

What I cook on my day off, when I have a cold

It's been raining buckets all day. Just now it's raining double-buckets, which makes me glad that I have a cold and the next two days off. The cold isn't bad, really; I've been taking loads of zinc, which really does seem to help hold off the worst of the symptoms.

I also have a loaf of bread and a pot of soup. Therefore, the recipes:

Nurse Jo's When-You-Have-A-Cold, Clean-Out-The-Fridge Soup

1 small box chicken or vegetable broth
1 normal-sized can of diced tomatoes in juice
1 normal-sized can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Dump all of these into a big pot. In a skillet, saute without browning

A half of a fist-sized yellow onion, diced 
A couple of cloves of garlic, minced (I use, like, six; but I'm weird)
A couple of stalks of celery, de-stringed (you do this by breaking the tops off and zipping the strings down the stalk)

Dump the skillet's contents into the pot once everything is nice and soft and fragrant. Turn the heat under the pot on to the point where it's not quite boiling. Add:

A small potato, peeled if you like and cut into cubes
Some corn (I used frozen)
A couple of handfuls of sliced-up green beans (I used frozen)
Some carrots, chopped 
Zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, more tomatoes; whatever you have in the fridge.

Simmer for about twenty minutes, or until the potatoes are almost done. Add:

A biggish bunch of parsley, tied with a string if you've got it
Some lemon zest if you've got it; if not, try thyme
A little rosemary (everybody has rosemary, right?)
A shocking amount of ground black pepper
More salt than you would think

Continue to simmer until the potatoes are nice and soft and come to bits when you poke them.

Eat with Basic White Bread:

Sometime earlier in the morning, if you want bread, you will have wanted to mix up in a nice, big bowl:

4 cups high-gluten ("Better for Bread") flour
A cup and a half, roughly, of water (room temp is fine)
A packet of instant ("Rapid Rise", "Better for Bread Machines") yeast
A tablespoon of salt

Mix that mess on up until it makes a big lump in the middle of your bowl. The dough should look shreddy and weird and kind of like it doesn't really want to stick together.

Dump that mess onto a clean counter that's been lightly floured, or onto a big cutting board, ditto. Knead it by pushing down with the heels of your hands in the middle of the mass, pushing outward, and then folding back in toward you. Do this for ten to twelve minutes. Don't skimp. Turn the dough around between foldings to make sure it's all evenly beaten up. Meditate on something pleasant while you knead. Pleasant thoughts make good bread.

At the end of 12 minutes, you will have a cohesive mass of still-fairly-dry dough. It'll be tacky, but not sticky, and you won't have to have flour under it to keep it from sticking to the counter or cutting board. 

Scrape the remnants of dough etc. out of your bowl and toss in a tablespoonful or so of good oil. Toss the dough ball into the bowl, turn it once so it's nicely coated, and cover the bowl with a damp towel. Set it all aside and forget about it for one and one-half hours. First, remove a stick of butter (not margarine not Promise spread not I Can't Believe It's Not Nuclear Waste--BUTTER) from the refrigerator.

At the end of 90 minutes, which I suggest you use for a nap, punch the dough down. Without removing it from the bowl, push into it gently but firmly with your fist, all over, until it looks sort of deflated and defeated and flaccid. It will give off a nice yeasty smell when you do this. 

Cover it back up and go do something else for another 90 minutes.

At the end of your second nap, dump the now-floofy and soft dough back out on your countertop or cutting board. Rummage around until you find a pan that measures 9 by 3 by 4 inches, or a good flat cookie sheet, or something to hold the dough while it bakes. Butter or grease the pan/sheet/flowerpot well.

Turn your oven to 350 degrees.

Return your attention to the dough. Squoosh and push and coax it into something resembling a loaf, or a round peasant loaf, or a long baguette, or a bust of Elvis. Put it into your greased pan/onto your greased cookie sheet/into your flowerpot and let it rise for, oh, 30 minutes or so, or until its top is nicely rounded over the top of the vessel it's in. You'll know it when you see it; your brain will say, "Oh! That's a loaf of bread! Dayum!"

Put bread in oven. Bake for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes. It's ready when it's a nice, even, golden brown all over (this bread will not get very dark) and when the bottom makes a good, hollow THUNK when you tap it. 

Note: If this is the first time you've made bread--and I swear you can, with this recipe--you will be entranced with the THUNK the bread makes when you thwack it with your finger. Do not sit in front of an open oven, bread in your oven-mitted paw, THUNKing the bread over and over.

Take it out of the oven and let it cool on a rack, out of the pan, for about 40 minutes. This part is REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT, okay? If you cut into it when it's still hot, not only will it accordion on you and smoosh all down and get weird, but it will taste of uncooked dough. Bread continues to bake on the inside when the outside is done. So leave it alone. Do what I did today: take some cold medicine and have a whiskey-and-lemon and read for a bit. The butter will be soft enough to spread, and I promise the bread will still be warm when you cut into it.

If you're *really* smart, you'll start the soup when the bread is about ten minutes from being done--that is, when it's blonde instead of golden and doesn't *quite* smell like bread yet. That way, you can have your finished soup and your bread and butter and your hunk of smoked cheese from a dude that makes such things out of buffalo milk for dinner, and your dog will (as Max did tonight) sit quietly next to the table, whining and hoping you feed him some bread.

And then you can take some more zinc and feel good about your day off.


Dr. Alice said...

That sounds like the kind of soup I make, and it's delicious. I have never made bread, never having the nerve to try, but I think I may do so with this recipe on my next free day. If so I will report back on results.

Bardiac said...

I laughed at the bit about making a bust of Elvis!

I have a feeling that a dog at your side is a really important part of the cure here, too, eh?

shrimplate said...

I made bread weekly when I was a poor student; now, just on special occasions. Maybe that will change.

I used empty round coffee cans as bread pans because I didn't have anything else.

Good times, good times.

I like to flavour butter with some lemon zest or herbs.

Uro*MA said...

I loved this post as i bake as a stress reliever. It is nice to know that baking bread isn't a lost art anymore!!! I hope you have a great day!!