Thursday, April 14, 2011

Back to basics: How to perfectly caramelize onions and garlic

I'm learning more and more that the best possible end product is the sum of it's parts.  Each part of the process needs to be done well for it to be magic.  At the restaurant I am a lowly prep girl (ahm, really not so low).  But as the meat cook said to me the other day, each dish has me written all over it.  The care I put into my work transfers and builds with the care the line cooks put in.  If my escarole is dirty, my bacon dice sloppy, or my asparagus shaved into inconsistent slices - it affects the whole quality and outcome of the dish.  In terms of onions and garlic - no matter what the end product - if you take the time to caramelize them properly it will add more flavor than if you did a half-ass job.  This is not easily done on the fly, so to speak, but you can start it and watch it minimally while you do something else.  At the restaurant we let let ours cook low and slow for 1-2 hours, stirring the onions occasionally but never touching the garlic.  Here's how:

Slice your onions thin.  Oil your pan and on low heat throw on the onions.  Don't touch.  When the bottom starts to get a little color use a wooden spoon to stir or move the bottom to the top (and vice versa).  The moisture coming out of the onions will deglaze the pan helping to color the onions.  If it's sticking too much you can add a little water to help it go.  Keep up the the cycle until they're nice and caramelized.  They will taste sweet.  Add them to anything egg related, to pasta, to sauteed vegetables, to top off your hamburger, or puree with cooked fruit and a splash of vinegar for a nice cheese accompaniment.

Cut off the bottom of a head of garlic so it's exposed.  Spread a little oil around the head, put it in a pan exposed side up, cover it with foil, and pop it in the oven around 350F (hotter will take less time, lower heat will take more).  Don't touch.  You can check on it an hour later to see if it needs more time.  When it's almost done you will smell it everywhere.  It will smell awesome...if you like garlic.  To get the garlic out just squeeze the whole head and it will pop or smoosh right out.  Puree with lemon juice (and maybe a little vinegar),oil, and salt for a great full bodied vinaigrette (vin ratio 3-1, oil-vin).  Or spread it on toast.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Khachapuri, aka Georgian cheesy bread

Khachapuri is delicious.  It's the number one food I miss from Russia, though it's not Russian.  To catch up - I spent seven months teaching English in Russia after I graduated college.  I lived in the outskirts of Moscow at Domodyedovskaya - near the airport.  Everyday on my way to the metro I would pass by a bakery that always had a line around the block.  People would buy different kinds of fresh baked Georgian bread for really cheap.  There were no baguettes here.  My favorite item was the khachapuri, the cheesy bread..  My roommate and I became regulars at this bakery and soon they referred to me as "San Francisco" instead of my name.  They liked me so much I even got preferential treatment some days, allowing me to come to the back door and skip the line to get my fresh khachapuri.  I even inadertenly went on a date with their son who speaks no English (nor I Russian really).  He followed me from the shop talking in Russian as I talked back in English and we played shuffle ball at the mall and went to the bookstore. Before I left the family offered me their son's hand in marriage (joking...I think), and while I was set on going back to the states, I did contemplate the perks of marrying into the Georgian bakery (khachapuri for life!).  With all this said, I have been waiting oh so patiently for an opportunity to make my own khachapuri to try and replicate what I lost.  What I have isn't perfect (it didn't even come out even - though I have faith in this recipe).  However, it's pretty good, and it definitely shares some key similarities.  I plan to make this often in the future and tweak it accordingly until it lives up to my memory.  This recipe was taken from Gourmet magazine.

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
7 TB warm water
1 2/3 cups AP flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 lb Harvati cheese, or a substitute to your liking, grated
1 tsp butter, melted

  • Mix yeast with warm water, stir in 1 TB of flour.  Let stand until creamy and yeast activates (about 5 min).  Make sure yeast activates (if not, start over!).
  • Mix salt and flour, stir in egg and then yeast mixture, form dough.
  • Knead dough on a floured surface until it comes together and becomes smooth and elastic (about 5-7 minutes).  It will start out feeling very hard.  You're close to being done with kneading when the dough becomes softer and very smooth.  If you're not sure how to knead dough, look here.  Form a ball of dough and let it rest in a container covered with plastic wrap, pushing it down every hour for 3 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 500F, put bread/pizza stone in oven for baking (or sheet pan you plan to use)
  • Grate cheese, form it into a ball.  Flatten dough out into a 7in circle, put cheese in the center and gather the edges around the cheese.  Fasten the dough at the top and push down, pressing out the cheese from the center to distribute it evenly among the bread.  Flatten into an 11in circle.
  • Score the top to expose the cheese a little.  Bake on the stone for 10-12 minutes, brush with melted butter, and then continue for 3-5 minutes.
  • Serve hot!

Normally khachapuri is flat.  Make sure you spread the cheese evenly on the inside.  I had a section without cheese (just bread) and it rose higher, making the bread lopsided.  Lesson learned.  Does not affect delicious factor.