Friday, November 30, 2012

The Staff of Life

The staff of life - bread.  It is the manna from heaven.  The substance that was sent out of heaven to the Israelites as they struggled through the wilderness.  It tasted like a wafer made with honey and kept them on their journey.  From then on -basically since the beginning of recorded history - food made by mixing flour and water (and at times, various other ingredients) is bread.  It's basic nourishment.

Hudsonians have recently been blessed - yup, blessed - with a kind of manna from another place.  Can't say where but sure am glad that Bonfiglio and Bread (no website yet - but LIKE them on Facebook and you will receive daily updates) has landed on our side of the planet. 

Gabriele Gulielmetti and Rachel Sanzone, formerly of Loaf, have opened their bakery/cafe upstreet on Hudson's main drag, Warren Street.   I became a Loaf fan a few summers ago when visiting friends in town and was directed to Swallow where Loaf was selling their wares at the time.  I was won over at first bite.  I blogged about my experience and two weeks later received an email from Gabriele that said, more or less, " If you're the same Susan Simon that I think you are - I was your neighbor on 5th street (NYC)..."  you see, e piccolo il mondo

Now that he and partner, Rachel, in business and in life  have an expanded space - resembling a panetteria in the hippest Roman neighborhood - they have also been able to expand their repertoire.  You can watch their minds singing through ideas as they bake several varieties of bread, sweet breads, cinnamon buns topped with vanilla caramel, bialys, and pizzas daily. Special breads such as challah are baked for the Friday night Sabbath, and panettones and other specialties will show up for holidays and other special events.   In addition, there's always a sandwich of the day - the day that I took these photos (notice I didn't say "the day I was there" because it seems that I'm there just about everyday) it was grilled cheddar cheese with roast loin of pork and pickled jalapeno peppers.  The bakery's thickly sliced, buttery, grilled "sammy" bread oozed with molten cheese that seemed to erupt over tender slices of pork and bits of firey peppers.   Look for Rachel's soups and baked pastas too.

This place is dangerous.   Now I have an additction to their pain Viennoise - a sweet bread studded with chunks of chocolate or raisins and glazed with honey and butter.

Relative youngsters, Gabriele and Rachel haven't even turned the big 3 - 0 and look what they've done.  Gulielmetti thought he would be a sculptor and Sanzone turned her college major from biology to history and then just like that they became bakers using the same kind of mind sets that would have propelled their original career paths.

I knew Gabriele's late mother and father.  Maybe they sent that manna from the place where they now reside. Without a doubt, they are very proud.

SUSAN SIMON SAYS:   Try this recipe using Bonfiglio and Bread pain ancienne - baguette, with its perfect crust and crumb.
My friend Contessa Nally Bellati, true to her half-English heritage, regards "pudding" (British for dessert) as her favorite part of a meal.  In the decades of our friendship, Nally has made more versions of trifle and bread pudding than I can remember.  What I do remember is how much I loved them all.   Here's a bread pudding that she made on one of her visits to the States.

serves 8

1 crusty baguette
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sweet orange marmalade
2 crisp sweet apples such as Gala, Fuji or Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins
4 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or Cointreau
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar

1.   Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the baguette into 1/2-inch slices.  Butter the bread and cover each slice with marmalade.
2.   Butter an 8-cup baking dish.  Cover the bottom of the dish with about 1/3 of the bread slices, butter and marmalade sides up (you may have to cut a few slices to makes a good fit).  Place a single layer of half of the apple slices on top.  Scatter half of the cranberries or raisins over the apples.  Repeat with another layer of bread, the remaining apples, and the remaining cranberries.  Finish with a layer of bread, butter-and-marmalade sides down.
3.   In a bowl, whisk the eggs, vanilla, and Grand Marnier or Cointreau together.   Add the milk and cream and whisk to thoroughly combine.  Pour over the bread.   Use your hands to press down the bread to assure that the top layer has saturated with the liquid.  Evenly distribute the sugar over the top.  Bake for 45 minutes or until the custard is set and the top layer is golden.  Place under a preheated broiler for exactly 2 minutes to caramelize the top.  Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cranberry Sauce for Thanksgiving in an Artist's Studio

You may think that it doesn't make much sense to give you a recipe for cranberry sauce the day after Thanksgiving.  There is however great logic to my decision.   I wanted to see the finished product presented  and enjoyed before I  published the recipe.   Seem reasonable?    Cranberry sauce is good for as long as there are fresh cranberries around  and then some as raw cranberries freeze to perfection (I've held on to them for almost a year in the freezer), and the cooked sauce lasts, refrigerated, for just as long.  Cranberry sauce is not just for Thanksgiving.   Turkey is my least favorite use for the sauce.  I love it inserted into toasted Cheddar cheese  sandwiches.  And as we discovered last night it's just the right  accompaniment to gorgonzola cheese.  I like it in yogurt, and on a piece of cheese cake.  It makes a good base for a fruity vinaigrette, and when mixed with mayonnaise elevates a turkey or chicken or ham or tuna sandwich right up to the top level.

I'm lucky to have a sister who sends me cranberries from the Nantucket bogs - the world's largest naturally contiguous  bog (and certified organic) - every year around harvest time.  The berries arrive with tiny, threadlike stems, some leaves, some rotten berries and some that are still green, they are NOT sorted in a warehouse, instead just sold straight out of the rakes - well, just about. To make the sauce I sort out stems, leaves and rotten berries, and leave a few green ones for the incredible amount of pectin that they produce.  The sauce thickens up in the blink of an eye.

This is how I made this year's  CRANBERRY SAUCE:

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts

2 pounds fresh, rinsed cranberries
1 orange, thinly sliced then cut into 1-inch sections
juice from three oranges
2 cups organic light brown sugar
1/2 cup pure honey  (I use my brother-in-law's  honey whose bees drink from the cranberry blossoms in the bog a short flight from their hives)
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
4 or 5 cardamom pods
butcher's twine

1.   Add the cranberries, orange sections and juice, sugar,  and honey to a large non-reactive saucepan over medium heat.  
2.  Tie the cinnamon sticks, cloves and cardamom up in the cheesecloth and stir into the cranberry mixture making sure that it's completely immersed in the berries.
3.  Cook, stirring occasionally until almost the berries pop and the sauce is the consistency of loose jam, 20-30 minutes.  Let cool with the spice sachet inside.   Remove the sachet from the cooled berries and squeeze the syrup from the cloth.   Stir through the sauce.    Refrigerate the sauce in a tightly-lidded container until ready for use.

I was fortunate to share Thanksgiving meal with old friends who I met, decades ago on Nantucket, and have lived in Hudson for over 20 years.   Don't you just love when life's circles close.  

Margaret (no website - Google Margaret Saliske to see her work) set the table in her studio near some of her sculpture and  a few of her husband, Tony's Hudson River Valley landscape paintings.  We were in place, in place.  A small group of family, and I who has been around at least as long as most of them.  As the song says, "the vittles* we et were good you bet and the company was the same".


* .   roast turkey with chestnut and mushroom dressing, pan juice gravy
   .   roasted acorn squash
   .   spicy, sauteed Swiss chard
   .   roasted potatoes
   .   pan roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon
   .   cranberry sauce
   .   Kunik cheese and Amish-made gorgonzola cheese
   .   pecan pie
   .   raspberry linzer torte


Make these tea sandwiches for one of your wintertime gatherings - or when someone asks you to contribute to a potluck meal:

makes 48 two-bite sandwiches

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup cranberry sauce - above recipe
24 slices very thin whole wheat bread (Pepper Ridge Farm makes it)
1/2 pound sharp Cheddar cheese cut into 1/4-inch slices

1.   In a bowl, blend the butter and cranberry sauce together
2.   Line up the bread in pairs.   Butter each slice of bread with the cranberry-butter.  Cover one side of each pair with Cheddar.  Top the other side, pressing gently but firmly.  Trim away the crusts.  Cut each sandwich on the diagonal to make 4 triangular sandwiches.
3.   Serve immediately, or refrigerate, covered with damp paper towels, until ready to serve.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Disaster Averted, Distraction Not

This is the first time in over a year that I've let so much time lapse between posts.  And I don't have the excuse of having been without power due the destructive storm innocently called Sandy.  I was prepared for her arrival - she just never really demonstrated much force here in the upper Hudson Valley .  I remember a summer lightening and hail storm that did more damage than she did. So how did I prepare?   I cooked up a BIG pot of kale and mustard greens.  Actually, simply sauteed the leaves, ripped off their ribs, in olive oil with garlic, and hot peppers and finished with freshly squeezed lemon juice.  I knew that these cooked greens would last days longer than fresh greens and would serve as a backdrop to versatile preparations.   A poached egg on the greens,  for that matter an omelet with greens( and grated any kind of melting cheese), or chopped hard cooked eggs with greens would make rather tasty meals.   Fully aware that if the power had gone out that the first thing in the freezer to thaw would be the sausage so I preempted the possibility and made a potful of pasta e fagioli  - pasta and beans  (I actually used chick peas) with bits of grilled sausage tossed into the mix - the potful of starch and protein - cooked with an inch of its life would surely have lasted a few days - unrefrigerated.  And gotten tastier as each passed and the flavors of the ingredients absorbed each other.


Another freezer package that I knew would not have survived 12 hours without electricity were those plump strawberries from Blue Star  that I froze in June with hopes to let them defrost  on New Year's  Eve in order for them to accompany a first bite of panettone on New Year's Day (the Italians believe - among many other things - that a first-of-the-year morsel of the classic sweet bread augers well for the upcoming year).  Instead, I let them thaw and cooked them for a few minutes with light brown sugar and cinnamon.  I made pancakes - nothing special - just Bisquick pancakes - Yikes! you say?   Yep, from time to time I use a classic convenient food.  Pancakes with June strawberry sauce - for dinner.  Very satisfying.   And of course, a strawberry - banana smoothie makes for an excellent breakfast.


Not finished yet.  There was a big old cauliflower staring at me through its bag.  Something had to be done with it.  So I made soup:

.  Cut the cauliflower into florets, placed them on a parchment paper -covered baking sheet with sliced red onions, sprigs of fresh thyme and some red pepper flakes.  Tossed everything with olive oil and roasted them at 350 degrees F. until the cauliflower and onions were nicely browned - about 30 minutes.
. Added the cauliflower, onions and thyme leaves (removed from their stems) to a large saucepan and covered it with about a quart and 1/4 chicken broth.  Simmered the soup until the vegetables were soft.  When it seemed that the vegetables were about 2/3 of the way finished I added maybe 1/4 cup crumbled Black Ledge blue cheese from Cheese! in the Hudson Farmer's Market.  The cheese had begun to dry out but hadn't lost any of its wonderful nutty flavor.  It was a perfect addition.
. Pureed the mixture with an immersion blender.  Reheated soup and served it with a dollop of whole milk yogurt and some crumbled blue cheese.
Something happens to the cauliflower when it's roasted.  Its flavor changes.  The soup tasted almost like a veloute of Jerusalem artichokes.  Maybe it was the addition of the cheese too.

Would you be surprised to learn that more than two weeks after I made all of that food that I've just finished it?   Egad.  Better safe than sorry.  I guess.

Now, I avoided nature's disaster simply by geography.   I'm sorry for my friends and strangers in my favorite city, New York, and along the east coast, who suffered the supreme discomfort of lack of electricity (ancient doggies who had to walk up and down many, many flights of stairs several times a day) - and so much worse.

I am, however, extremely distracted from my normal routine because of the recent purchase of a new home - which is really an old wreck and needs more work than I ever could have imagined - even although everyone warned me this would happen.   Honestly, it makes me nervous all the time.  Except for the moments when I imagine all the beautiful colors on the walls.  Thanks to some friends, I was directed to Hudson Paint in Red Hook, NY.   I was bowled over by the colors and then learned that the wall paint was made with lime.  I was hooked.  In addition to all the benefits of having my walls painted with a substance that has low VOCs and is a natural disinfectant - my walls, when covered with the gritty paint will look like frescos - blank frescoes.
So, excuse me if I get distracted for awhile again.  You're never far from my thoughts.  Color = food, food= color.
FINALMENTE - finally.  BONFIGLIO & BREAD  (formerly LOAF) is set to open its 738 Warren Street doors on Friday, the 16th November.
VIVA  Gabriele e Rachel.   Can't wait to patronize you.