Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Get Excited–It’s Winter-Project-Cooking Week!


If you’re lucky, you’re not in the midst, or on the cusp, of experiencing my new least favorite phrase: the POLAR VORTEX. If you’re super lucky, you reside south of the equator and have never even heard of such a terrible thing as the polar vortex (likely coined by some overzealous junior meteorologist). Is it a glacial black hole? A new kind of fleece technology? The name of a dance club frequented by emperor penguins? An arctic tornado (actually kind of, yes)? I’ll tell you, it’s two things: A mass of friggin’ cold air about to be delivered to us from our neighbors in Canada, and an excuse to stay inside and cook. Specifically, to cook things that require days to prepare, what I call “project cooking”. I’ve been project cooking for the last few days and I can tell you it’s a pretty good deal. Make something that you normally don’t have the time to do, something that can also be stretched and eaten for several days or stored in the freezer for later enjoyment, and that gives you a reason to tell your family, “sorry, I can’t go outside with you and enjoy the polar vortex, I’m in the middle of baking fresh bread from scratch FOR YOU”.

If you’re the kind of person who gets queasy just by seeing the words “project” and “cooking” next to one another, remember that, just because something is a project,  doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be labor intensive. I’m not suggesting you take this time to learn how to master the art of puff pastry. I chose these cooking projects specifically because they require little hand’s on effort, you do minimal preparation and the ingredients spend most of their time by themselves, simmering, soaking, rising, and pickling. My motto for wintertime cooking projects is: Little effort, lots of time, big pay off.

This week I’ll be sharing my list for 5 (or so) things that I think are perfect for cold weather-cooking. Starting with bread. Specifically the much heralded no-knead bread by Jim Lahey.
P1290259I’ve been a big fan of Jim Lahey’s Sullivan Street Bakery and his Roman-style pizza dough for some time, but despite the years of hoopla over his groundbreaking bread-making technique (see the recipe HERE in the New York Times), it’s taken me awhile to finally carve out the time to make it myself. That’s because it requires an 18-hour rise, with an additional 90 minute final rise. Time management is key. But other than mixing the four main ingredients in a bowl: bread flour, yeast, salt, and water; finding a warm spot out of direct sunlight for the dough to rise, swaddling the dough briefly like a baby, then placing the dough in a hot cast iron pot (like a Le Creuset dutch oven) and baking it, you have little else to do. And the first time you lift the chestnut brown loaf out of the oven, I think you’ll be converted into a regular at-home bread baker. And yes, it’s better than anything you can buy at the store.

P1290283I think your first slice should just be plain, still warm from the oven so that you can truly marvel at what you’ve created from such humble ingredients. But after that, I vote for slathering a slice with butter and your favorite jam (in my case it’s a jar of Inna’s Meyer Lemon that I brought home from San Francisco during my book tour).
P1290291Then after that it’s off to the races! Open-faced sandwiches with smoked salmon and avocado, croque monsieurs with melted gruyere and baked ham, French toast with lots of cinnamon…the possibilities are endless. So crank up the oven while the wind is howling and give it a try! Polar vortex me damned!

(and tune-in tomorrow for my second project-cooking recipe!)

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