The Eclectic Quill

Website of Joshua McGee

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The best bread in the world (according to my dad)

Rosemary Dutch oven bread with Parmesan and Romano cheeses

When I shared this with my father, another dyed-in-the-wool foodie, he told me that this is the best bread he has ever tasted.  He said "You know, I used to go to Brothers restaurant in Solvang. They had a baker come in every morning and prepare bread for that night's dinner. I loved that bread. And this is the best I've ever had."

rosemary_dutch_oven_bread_with_rosemary_parmesan_and_romano

It's a simple tweak on a traditional Dutch oven bread recipe, with the addition of rosemary and cheese along the way.  All it takes is patience (letting it rise undisturbed for 18 hours); a piece of equipment you may already have in your kitchen (a Lodge cast-iron Dutch oven with a skillet lid); and one little trick (cooking the bread in an inverted Dutch oven).

The basic recipe for crusty Dutch oven bread is as follows.

Ingredients: [1]

  • 405g bread flour [2]
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1½ cup (355ml) warm filtered water

Whisk together dry ingredients in a bowl.  Stir in warm water until well-combined.  Cover bowl with a lid, or tightly with plastic wrap, and set on the counter for 18 hours to rise on its own.

Preheat oven to 450°F with the Dutch oven inside, with the lid separate from the base.  After your oven has reached 450°, it will take another 30 minutes or so for the Dutch oven to reach 450°.

During this preheating time, remove the sticky dough from the bowl with floured hands and placed on a heavily-floured surface.  Stretch the top into a smooth surface and tuck the edges underneath to form a round loaf.  Let it sit on the surface until the Dutch oven is fully heated.

Carefully remove both pieces of the Dutch oven from your oven and place on the stovetop.  Set the dough ball on the skillet side (the interior of the lid) of the Dutch oven, and carefully place the Dutch oven itself, upside-down, on top as a dome.  (Yes, you are cooking in the interior of an upside-down Dutch oven.)

Carefully replace the Dutch oven into your preheated oven.  I cannot stress the "carefully" bit enough.  For best results, wear silicone cooking gloves in which you are holding cloth potholders.  A heavy piece of 450° cast iron can cause serious injuries.

After 30 minutes, remove the dome, leaving the bread on the skillet surface.  Bake for another 10 minutes to brown and shake onto a cooling rack.

To turn it into rosemary bread with Parmesan and Romano, reduce the salt in the recipe to ½ tsp.  Take 1½ sprigs of fresh rosemary.  Rinse and pat dry.  Remove the leaves and snip the leaves into thirds with a pair of kitchen scissors, discarding the stems.  Add to the dry ingredients, along with unpacked, coarsely-grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses (about ⅓ cup total).  Add the warm water as you would in the basic recipe, and proceed as above.

And voila!  You've just made "the best bread in the world".  According to my dad.

[1] Yes, it's a little weird that I'm switching between imperial/metric and weight/volumetric units like this, but it's how I measure it.  Feel free to convert it.  405g of bread flour is about three cups.

[2] Using bread flour is important.  All-purpose flour does not have the necessary gluten percentage to form the delightful big air pockets.

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Fermented Ghost Pepper Sauce, Step One

With a small bumper crop of my ghost peppers, I wanted to try to make a fermented hot sauce.  As usual for fermented foods, Amanda Feifer's site Phickle comes to the rescue with great recipes and tips.  (I just got her new book, by the way, and it's well worth the investment.)

Amanda has a lovely post on making fermented hot sauces with detailed instructions.  I strongly recommend reading that post before following these steps.  The recipe looked promising, so I set about making (a miniscule amount of) ghost pepper sauce.

For anaerobic fermentation, you need to keep the ingredients submerged.  If they are touching the air, they can go soggy, rot, or get moldy.  So the trick is to find a way to depress the contents under brine so that the brine, not the plant matter, touches the air surface.  I was brainstorming ways to weigh them down, and it hit me: whiskey stones!

These are clean, nonreactive stones intended to chill an alcoholic beverage without diluting it.  This set by Corsicca is the kind I mean, although mine are from another manufacturer.  They're also very heavy.  And I had some sitting around.  Sounded like a perfect combination to me.

So I set about starting my ferment.  I gathered the stones and thoroughly washed the jar I wanted to use.

Whiskey stones

I thought it would be a good idea to sterilize the stones first, so I put them in (what I thought was) their unbleached linen bag and boiled them for ten minutes.

Whiskey stones boiling

Eek!  I guess it wasn't unbleached linen.  I guess it was dyed to that color, because it leached into the water.  Meh.  I'd have to use another bag.

The whiskey stone bag leached dye

So I wrapped the whiskey stones in a double layer of cheesecloth in a 3x3 grid and tied it off with twine.

Whiskey stones tied off with kitchen twine

I crushed the ghost peppers into the bottom of the container I wanted to use to pack them in tightly.

Ghost peppers packed into jar

I placed the bundle of stones in the cheesecloth into the jar.  The 3x3 grid was larger than the jar opening, so I had to fold the bundle slightly and let it expand once inside (I'm pretty sure I will be able to reverse this operation.)  I filled the jar with brine (1 Tbsp salt to 2 cups of room-temperature water) until the peppers were submerged — plus a little more, because I was worried about evaporation in our warm kitchen.

Whiskey stones atop ghost peppers

I covered the jar with a clean cloth, as directed, and secured it with a rubber band.  Yes, that's a square cut from an old pair of blue jeans.

Ghost pepper jar secured

Looking from the bottom, you can get a clearer idea of what's going on.

pepper_sauce_08_peppers_in_jar

I'm supposed to leave it at room temperature "for at least two weeks and up to 8 (or really, a year if you’d like)", which is quite a wide margin, so I set an alert to check it weekly.  To be fair, I'll probably be obsessive and check it more frequently than that.

Watch this blog for more as it progresses.  Next update in … two to fifty-two weeks, I guess.

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Marbled Yam and Acorn Squash Pie

Orange yam batter and molasses-darkened acorn squash batter are marbled in this recipe for a unique presentation and flavor. By Joshua McGee.

Marbled Yam and Acorn Squash Pie

Note:  This is a rather time- and labor-intensive recipe, but the results are worth it.  You can overlap the timing of steps to shorten the prep time (e.g., boil the yam, bake the squash, and chill the dough at the same time, and prepare the pie crusts while the batters chill.)  Still, you will likely need to set aside an entire afternoon for this, which is one of the reasons I wrote up the recipe for two pies.

Pie Crusts

  • 2 cups (260 g) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 sticks salted butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1 egg and 1 tsp water (for egg wash)

Place the cubed unsalted butter in a bowl and place in a warm spot to take the chill off.

In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour and sugar.

Sprinkled the cubes of butter over the flour. Use clean hands to squish the flour and butter together with your thumbs and fingers. Work the butter into the dough until you have what resembles a coarse meal with some chunks of butter.

Add the sour cream to the flour butter mixture. Use a fork to incorporate into the mixture.

Use your hands to gather the pastry dough together into a large ball. Use a knife to cut the ball in half. Form into disks. Sprinkle all over with a little flour. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to a day ahead.  If dough has been in the refrigerator for more than 2 hours, let it sit for 5-10 minutes at room temperature to become more malleable before rolling out.

To roll out, sprinkle a clean, flat surface with a little flour. As you roll the dough, check to make sure the bottom is not sticking. If it is, lift it up and sprinkle a little flour underneath. Roll out to 12 to 14 inches wide, to an even thickness.  Gently place each into a pie pan and mold to fill.

(The above is Chef Kathi Riley's recipe)

Yam Batter

  • 1 (1 pound) yam
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 40 to 50 minutes, or until soft throughout. Run cold water over the sweet potato and remove the skin.

Puree sweet potato in a clean food mill.  Add softened butter and mix well with a hand mixer.

Stir eggs, sugar, milk, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla into the sweet potato mixture.  Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth.

Decant to a 4-cup measuring cup, cover with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator to chill.

Acorn Squash Batter

  • 2 small acorn squashes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp dark molasses
  • 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

Cut acorn squashes in half and remove seeds and strings with an ice cream scoop.  Bake halves at 350°F, cut-side down on a silicone mat in a baking pan, for 60 to 75 minutes until a fork pierces them easily.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan to a warm temperature.

Separate pulp from skin with an ice cream scoop.  Weigh out 15 oz pulp and puree in a clean food mill.  Set aside.

Beat eggs in large bowl until frothy.  Beat in brown sugar until well combined.  Stir in squash, molasses, spice, and salt.  Gradually stir in cream.

Decant to a 4-cup measuring cup, cover with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator to chill.

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Pour the fillings side-by-side into two uncooked pie shells.  For each pie, slowly and simultaneously pour the mixtures on opposite sides of the crust so that they meet in the middle.

Carefully swirl with the back of a spoon to form a pattern.  This video shows me making a spiral pattern, but use any pattern you like (the featured image in this post is a more abstract pattern.)

Brush exposed dough edges with an egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 tsp water), if desired.  Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes.  Cover edges of crust with aluminum foil.  Lower temperature to 350°F.  Bake for an additional 50 to 60 minutes.

Cool the pie pan on a wire rack for 2 hours before serving.  Note that the pie will emerge puffed up and will deflate as it cools.

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Matcha and Ginger Sugar Cookies

This twist on a traditional sugar cookie melds the richness of matcha green tea with the piquancy of fresh ginger. By Joshua McGee.

Matcha and Ginger Sugar Cookies

Ingredients

  • 6 inches of ginger root, peeled
  • 1 tsp matcha (Japanese green tea) powder
  • 330 grams (about 2 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 16 - 20 ginger chew candies, refrigerated

(skip ahead to instructions without photographs)

Instructions with photos

In advance, remove butter from refrigerator, place in a bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and allow to warm to room temperature (at least four hours or overnight).

Take the peeled ginger root and run through a juicer.

Preparing to juice the ginger root

Let the juice sit under the spout to catch final drips and allow solids to precipitate out.  Here I am using my Juiceman juicer, which makes short work of ginger on low speed.

Here I am using my Juiceman juicer, which makes short work of ginger on low speed.

Whisk together matcha powder, flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside.

Dry ingredients combined

Add the matcha to the measuring cup first

On low speed with a hand mixer, cream together the softened butter and the sugar in a large bowl.

Tip: The more integrated you can get them, the better the cookies will turn out.

Creamed butter and sugar

Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, and 1 tsp (or 2 tsp, if you like a stronger ginger flavor) of the ginger juice.  Gradually beat in the dry ingredients until fully combined. 

Your cookie dough

Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap (to prevent drying) and place in the refrigerator to chill for two hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Remove ginger chews from refrigerator, unwrap, and cut into thirds with a heavy knife.

Cutting the ginger chews

Remove dough from refrigerator.  Measure out a rounded teaspoon of dough into your palm and roll into a sphere.  That is the size of dough ball you are going to be making.  Lay the dough balls onto a cookie sheet covered with ungreased aluminum foil, evenly spaced, fifteen to a half-sheet pan (they will expand considerably while baking).

Dough balls on sheets

Into the center of each dough ball, lightly press one of the ginger chew segments.

Dough balls with ginger chews

Tip:  If you lift each dough ball and set it down again before putting it in the oven, you will reduce the chances of it sticking to the foil.

Tip: The dough will stay easy to work with if you return it to the refrigerator between batches.

Bake each tray for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden.  Remove cookies from the oven, allow to cool on the trays for three to four minutes.

Allow to cool on trays

Remove to racks with a thin spatula and allow to cool fully.

Finish cooling on racks

And you have your cookies!

Your cookies!

Equipment Pictured

Text Instructions

In advance, remove butter from refrigerator, place in a bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and allow to warm to room temperature (at least four hours or overnight).

Take the peeled ginger root and run through a juicer.  Let the juice sit under the spout to catch final drips and allow solids to precipitate out.

Whisk together matcha powder, flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside.

On low speed with a hand mixer, cream together the softened butter and the sugar in a large bowl.

Tip: The more integrated you can get them, the better the cookies will turn out.

Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, and 1 tsp of the ginger juice.  Gradually beat in the dry ingredients until fully combined. 

Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap (to prevent drying) and place in the refrigerator to chill for two hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Remove ginger chews from refrigerator, unwrap, and cut into thirds with a heavy knife.

Remove dough from refrigerator.  Measure out a rounded teaspoon of dough into your palm and roll into a sphere.  That is the size of dough ball you are going to be making.  Lay the dough balls onto a cookie sheet covered with ungreased aluminum foil, evenly spaced, fifteen to a half-sheet pan (they will expand considerably while baking).  Into the center of each dough ball, lightly press one of the ginger chew segments.

Tip:  If you lift each dough ball and set it down again before putting it in the oven, you will reduce the chances of it sticking to the foil.

Tip: The dough will stay easy to work with if you return it to the refrigerator between batches.

Bake each tray for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden.  Remove cookies from the oven, allow to cool on the trays for three to four minutes, then remove to racks with a thin spatula and allow to cool fully.

Makes about four dozen.

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Cangrejo (River Crab) Potato Chowder Recipe

finished-soup

Cangrejo — river crab — are a specialty of Guayaquil, Ecuador.  You buy them live, in bundles.  At the peak of season they are $1 USD apiece.

These are cangrejo

These are cangrejo

Cangrejo parties are a common feast, where the crab are cleaned, killed, and boiled with seasonings to be pounded apart at the table.

Cangrejo party!

Cangrejo party!

The prized portions of cangrejo are the guts, the claws, and the large legs.  There is meat inside the abdomens (the equivalent of "lump meat" in an ocean crab) and inside the spindly legs, but I don't consider them worth the effort to open and eat.  I just gather those bits (without the carapaces) and take them home for stock.

If you don't want the pictorial guide, feel free to skip ahead to the complete recipes.

To begin your stock, remove the feathery gills and the beaklike appendage from the abdomens and cut them down the center.  If they are very large, cut the halves in half again to expose more meat.

Crab abdomens

Crab abdomens

Add to a heavy pot with the spindly legs.

Crab abdomens and legs in the pot

Crab abdomens and legs in the pot

I like to rinse and drain the crab in the pot at this point, but I'm not sure if that's strictly necessary or even helpful.

Cover with 2 - 3 quarts of water — whatever it takes to just cover the pieces.  Bring to a rolling boil, skimming and discarding any foam that rises.  Reduce heat to a fast simmer.

Crab pieces coming to a boil

Crab pieces coming to a boil

Add your vegetables and seasonings (the full recipe is after this image gallery.)

Your veggies and seasonings

Your veggies and seasonings

Give everything a good stir and cook at a rapid simmer for an hour.

Simmering stock

Simmering stock

Taste the stock after the hour.  If it's weak, cook it longer (up to 20 minutes more).

Strain your stock, first through a fine colander, then through a fine-mesh sieve. 

There you go, your stock is done.  Now it's time to start your soup.

Clean and dry the pot and add 2 Tbsp of canola oil.  Heat over a medium-high flame, and add the diced onion and celery.  Cook for two minutes, stirring frequently.

Diced onions and celery in the pot

Diced onions and celery in the pot

Add the diced potatoes and cook, stirring frequently, for another five minutes,

Potatoes added to the pot

Potatoes added to the pot

Add 8 cups of your fresh crab stock and the dried parsley and bring to a gentle boil.  Cook for ten minutes, until the potatoes start to get tender.

Soup before milk

Soup before milk

Whisk the flour into the milk and add to the pot, stirring as you pour.  Cook for another 5 minutes.

Soup after adding milk

Soup after adding milk

Turn off flame and transfer half of the soup to a blender.  To prevent splashing, don't fill your blender carafe more than 2/3 full.  Blend until smooth.

Half of the soup, blended

Half of the soup, blended

Add the blended soup back to the pot.  Turn on flame and warm the soup again.  Extinguish flame and stir in cream.  Add salt to taste.  To serve, ladle into soup bowls and top with grated Parmesan.

Cangrejo (River Crab) Potato Chowder

The soup served!

Here are the recipes.

Crab Stock

  • 2 lb cangrejo abdomens (halved) and spindly legs
  • 1 large white onion, chopped coarsely
  • 2 stalks celery, leaves removed, chopped coarsely
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato guts (from the last time you made marinara sauce, perhaps)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 dried bay leaves, edges torn
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme

Remove the feathery gills and the beaklike appendage from the abdomens and cut them down the center.  If they are large, cut them in half again to expose more meat.

Cover with 2 - 3 quarts of water — whatever it takes to just cover the pieces.  Bring to a rolling boil, skimming foam as necessary.  Reduce heat to a rapid simmer.

Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 1 hour.  Taste after the hour, and cook for up to 20 minutes more if the stock is still weak.  Strain the stock, first through a fine colander, then through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside.  Clean the pot for the chowder.

Cangrejo (River Crab) Potato Chowder

  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 - 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 6 medium, firm potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 8 cups of crab stock (recipe above)
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flower
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • salt to taste
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan

Add 2 Tbsp of canola oil to a heavy pot.  Heat over a medium-high flame, and add the diced onion and celery.  Cook for two minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the diced potatoes and cook, stirring frequently, for another five minutes,

Add crab stock and the dried parsley and bring to a gentle boil.  Cook for ten minutes, until the potatoes start to get tender.

Whisk the flour into the milk and add to the pot, stirring as you pour.  Cook for another 5 minutes.

Turn off flame and transfer half of the soup to a blender.  To prevent splashing, don't fill your blender carafe more than 2/3 full.  Blend until smooth.

Add the blended soup back to the pot.  Turn on flame and warm the soup again.  Extinguish flame and stir in cream.  Add salt to taste.  To serve, ladle into soup bowls and top with grated Parmesan.

I owe a great deal of thanks for help and inspiration for this post to recipes at Epicurious and The Pioneer Woman.